Back around 1985 or early 1986, when I was beginning to compose the lengthy essay that would ultimately become the core of my book Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, I was watching one of the nightly network news programs. The last few minutes of that broadcast were given over to a profile of the efforts of the Rev. Henry F. Fingerlin, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Littleton, Colorado.
Rev. Fingerlin was quite upset that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was building a new temple only a relatively short distance from his church, and he had launched a campaign against Mormonism that used his building as its headquarters. Among other things, he denounced Mormons and Mormonism as non-Christian.
Since precisely that charge was the principal focus of my essay, and since I was trying to identify and to deal with all of the arguments and evidence used to justify it, I immediately recognized that Rev. Fingerlin might offer a rich trove of useful primary-source material for my project. So I found his address and wrote a short, polite, and very business-like note to him, telling him about the piece that I was writing and asking him to send me a representative sample of the literature he and his co-workers were using to demonstrate that Mormons aren’t Christians. I offered to cover any expenses he incurred.
In reply, Rev. Fingerlin sent me an eight- or nine-page typed letter denouncing Mormonism. (I can’t recall whether he actually sent me any of his literature; I don’t think he did.) it was pretty-much standard-issue Evangelical anti-Mormonism, unoriginal and entirely recycled, and little if any of it was relevant to my project.
I do, however, remember that he spent a page or two of his letter explaining to me why I found the claims of Mormonism plausible. It was, he said — I’m boiling his analysis down to its essence — because I had never been outside of Utah and had never encountered the ideas of non-Mormons. I had, he said, literally no idea what people beyond the borders of my state thought about my so-called faith.
I responded to him, pointing out that he and I had never actually met, and that he could not have learned much about my biography from the single (and quite non-autobiographical) paragraph I had sent him. I explained to him that I had actually just moved to Utah; that I had been born and raised (and educated to the doctoral level) in California; that my particular academic field was Arabic and Islamic studies but that I also held a degree in Greek and philosophy; that I had lived for extended periods of time in Switzerland (where I served as a missionary and met several genuine non-Mormons), Israel, and Egypt; that I was multilingual; that my father had, until just a few years before, been a Lutheran (as half of my extended family still were and are); and etc. The suggestion that I was a Mormon only because I was a narrow-minded, untraveled, sheltered, provincial naïf seemed, with all due modesty, peculiarly ill-aimed in my case.
Rev. Fingerlin and I corresponded just a little bit further after that. In his final letter to me, he told me that, if I would send him a copy of my book, he would review it.
I sent him a copy of my book. I had even thanked him in its “Introduction” for helping to inspire its completion. But he never responded again, never sent a review.
Before and since that experience, I’ve been amused by people who have assumed — invariably without knowing me very well, if at all — that I hold the views that I do on politics and religion because of some combination or other of ignorance, provincialism, stupidity, innate evil, or insanity.
That’s why I’ve found it hilarious, in the wake of Tuesday’s election, to see certain liberal partisans attributing conservative ideas to the putative “fact” that those who have failed to bow the knee to Barack Obama are backwoods yokels who don’t get out much. One respondent to a blog entry of yesterday wondered whether I actually imagined that such “Obamaphiliacs” (as I termed them) would be convinced by my blog, and what value I saw in responding to them. No, I don’t expect them to convert — though I would welcome that miracle — but I do find them amusing and, in a curious way, instructive.
And, incidentally, no, I don’t appreciate it when people on my side of the political/ideological fence dismiss all who disagree with them as either ignorant, stupid, innately wicked, or crazy. I know plenty of sane, good, intelligent, and well-informed people who — for reasons that utterly mystify me — fail to see the world precisely as I do.