Harold Bloom, Mormons and spleen-venting

Harold Bloom, America’s Greatest Living Literary Scholar™, wrote an essay for the New York Times over the weekend titled “Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough?” The title doesn’t seem terribly ominous, Bloom has famously written a book on American religion, and he’s known for having a fascination with Mormons. What could go wrong?

Well, in this case, just about everything. This kind of essay isn’t typical GetReligion fodder, but I think it merits discussion in that I can scarcely believe the Times published it. I am going to venture that they did so only because Bloom is seen as an influential figure, and because I fear that Bloom is so influential, other journalists and commentators will take their cues about Mormonism and politics from this piece.

As it is, it’s not so much an essay as a series of unsupported and derisive generalizations strung together by a filament of purple prose. To wit, we’re only in the second paragraph before we hit this brick wall at 60 miles an hour:

Mr. Romney, earnest and staid, who is deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy, is directly descended from an early follower of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, whose highly original revelation was as much a departure from historical Christianity as Islam was and is. But then, so in fact are most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God Pentecostalists and even our mainline Protestant denominations.

Bloom’s hardly the first person to make the Mormonism-is-like-Islam comparison. But that’s a pretty loaded comparison to toss out there without fleshing it out some. And to say, “most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States” are as radical departures from historical Christianity as Islam without in any way explaining it? You could try and make sense of this, or you could just accept, like the editors at the Times apparently have, that you are reading Harold Freaking Bloom and as such, you are lucky he deigns to deposit his Solomonic nacre at your porcine trough. Moving on:

The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as “prophet, seer and revelator,” is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy.

The Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed has little enough in common with the visions of Joseph Smith. The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage.

Is the Mormon church run by “plutocratic oligarchs” consumed with “corporate greed”? This is profoundly unfair, and he’s not going to provide any facts or arguments suggesting that it is. But hey, this Occupy Wall Street thing is hot right now, so why not riff on that for a bit? Sounds relevant. And I think we all know the recent proletarian unpleasantness really cries out for more commentary from ivy-league professors:

Joseph Smith continues to be regarded by many Mormons as a final authority on issues of belief, though so much of his legacy, including plural marriage, had to be compromised in the grand bargain by which the moguls of Salt Lake City became plutocrats defining the Republican party. The hierarchy’s vast economic power is founded upon the tithing of the faithful, who yield 10 percent of their income to the church. I am moved by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations but remain skeptical that you can achieve a lessening of money’s influence upon our politics, since money is politics. That dark insight has animated the Mormon hierarchy all through the later 20th and early 21st century. The patriotism of Mormons for some time now has been legendary: they help stock the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the military. Though the powers of the presidency are at this moment somewhat diminished by the Republican House and the atavistic Supreme Court, they remain latent. A Mormon presidency is not quite the same as an ostensibly Catholic or Protestant one, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists on a religious sanction for its moralistic platitudes.

So aside from Mormonism’s supposedly corrupting wealth, at least they’re patriotic right? Wrong! Mormon cosmology suggests this is actually a sinister, corrupting patriotism or something:

The 19th-century Mormon theologian Orson Pratt, who was close both to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, stated a principle the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never repudiated: “Any people attempting to govern themselves by laws of their own making, and by officers of their own appointment, are in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God.”

Mormons earn godhead though their own efforts, hoping to join the plurality of gods, even as they insist they are not polytheists. No Mormon need fall into the fundamentalist denial of evolution, because the Mormon God is not a creator. Imaginatively liberating as this may be, its political implications are troublesome. The Mormon patriarch, secure in his marriage and large family, is promised by his faith a final ascension to godhead, with a planet all his own separate from the earth and nation where he now dwells. From the perspective of the White House, how would the nation and the world appear to President Romney? How would he represent the other 98 percent of his citizens?

Now one of the Mormon church’s 13 articles or faith is: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Further, if Bloom begins the essay by asserting Mormonism and American Christian religions are the result of radical evolution, why does he insist that the church still reflects the political attitudes of single statement by one Mormon leader from over a century ago offered wholly without context? Even if Orson Pratt’s statement did definitively speak for the church at the time, he died in 1881. The church renounced polygamy and Utah became a state in 1896. To suggest that Mormons are somehow suspicious of the democratic process or that the church’s relationship with American politics is stuck in the 19th century is pretty slipshod and obvious sophistry.

As for the time Bloom spends on Mormon cosmology (and there’s a lot more in the essay than I am excerpting), I’m just kind of gobsmacked. Bloom is basically insinuating that Mormons teach taking care of each other and are biding time until they all get their own planet, so in a political context they might exhibit little desire to look out for their fellow, non-Mormon citizens. This is insulting. As for the actual details of Mormon cosmology, planets and all of that –  it is tricky stuff. One would hope that it would be treated with more care, but Bloom seems to be wielding it cavalierly to paint Mormons as The Other.

But take heart, Latter-Day Saints! In the final paragraph, he does offer you a backhanded compliment at the expense of unfair swipe at another religion:

Mormonism’s best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew.

Ah yes, we need to end on a high note, so hit ‘em with the bit about slouching toward the inevitable American theocracy. The faculty lounge in the Yale comparative literature department is in complete agreement that one more election under the banners of flag, cross, fetus, exclusive marriage between men and women and Americans and we’ll be trying on the yoke of a Tea Party Charlemagne.

I think I’m still only scratching the surface here, but as a matter of journalistic practice I would hope that even essays and opinion pieces be far less redolent of obvious biases and dubious interpretations of the facts. Because Bloom wrote a book about American religion almost two decades ago, I do not think that makes him qualified for all time to weigh in on these matters. But I worry that the biases might, in fact, be the point. One New Republic writer has already praised the piece as “bluntest warning against electing a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that I have seen this season.” (If that’s the case, I look forward to the New Republic‘s inevitable hand wringing about how Harry Reid is marching us to theocracy any day now.)

Bloom is entitled to vent his spleen. But giving him a prestigious journalistic platform to tar-and-feather an entire religion when he can’t tell where his political opinions end and someone else’s faith begins does a disservice to the political dialogue.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Times running this story that reads more like a bigoted diatribe than a thoughtful analysis makes me wonder if “The Powers That Be”– and other liberal and media elites– are a bit nervous about a Romney candidacy for president.

  • Stan

    I take it that you don’t like the essay, Mark, but the essay is not put forward as journalism but as opinion. Are there any errors of fact? As opposed to a difference of opinion? Your attack on Bloom seems as intemperate as his attack on Mormonism. I don’t know whether Bloom’s contempt is justified or not, but surely the secrecy and checkered history of Mormonism, to say nothing of its recent political activities, invites the kind of reaction we see here.

  • Jake D.

    Is the Mormon church run by “plutocratic oligarchs” consumed with “corporate greed”? This is profoundly unfair, and he’s not going to provide any facts or arguments suggesting that it is

    For those on the inside can see the corporate prosperity of the church is second in importance only to tithing receipts. Building a 2+ billion dollar mall and investing copiously in the corporate businesses of the church is strange “Christ like behavior”. Good thing all the poor and needy of the world are taken care of.

  • http://lucemichael.wordpress.com lucemichael

    “…I would hope that even essays and opinion pieces be far less redolent of obvious biases and dubious interpretations of the facts.”

    I agree that Bloom’s polemic smacks of a personal spleen attack, but my only surprise is that you are surprised. It’s the NYT, after all, that publishes Maureen Dowd an essayists whose whole career seems to stand on her ability to play fast and loose with easily verifiable facts, while spewing venom, contempt and disdain.

  • Reg

    I saw a South Park episode that I didn’t think was very fair to mormonism either. I think you should address that next.

  • Ryan K.

    This is awful and sad that the NYT would publish this.

    I am curious if an editorial of the same ilk was written about a secular candidate’s worldview would be published.

    What if some philosopher or professor of religion was to opine about how atheism left this candidate with no grounding in morality since we all have evolved from slime and might makes right? What if this editorial asked probed how the atheist candidate had no cause to serve and be honest other than personal preference? Or if they asked why our hypothetical secular candidate should worry about the future at all since the Earth was bound to be destroyed one day at the explosion of the Sun?

    I can already hear the outrage and offense many secular people would take to these notions, I just never seem to hear it when it is done to someone who has a theistic worldview.

  • Reed

    Article 6 Blog (www.article6blog.com) in a response on November 13 by a Mormon lawyer and a Presbyterian evangelical make the thoughtful point that Bloom is slamming all religions with his scattershot rhetoric. I for one found it a piece the work, a pure and simple hit piece. He has lost all credibility. This Emperor of Lit has no clothes.

  • Bill

    So, according to Mr Bloom, there was no Judaism before Roman times. No Judaism in the time of Kings and Judges and Solomon’s Temple and the City of David. Well, ya learn something new everyday.

    And I learned from the learned professor what religion is all about: “What I call the American Religion, and by that I mean nearly all religions in this country, socially manifests itself as the Emancipation of Selfishness.”

    Yet barely a paragraph spews by and we are treated to this: “A dark truth of American politics in what is still the era of Reagan and the Bushes is that so many do not vote their own economic interests.” We are so selfish we do not vote our own economic interests. Q.E.D.

    Mormons are to be especially feared, we learn, because the LDS Church “insists on a religious sanction for its moralistic platitudes.” Shocking! No other religion does that! And although a Mormon president would be worse than a Catholic one for that reason, having six of those pesky papists on the Supreme Court has rendered it atavistic.

    The corker is this: “Doubtless Mr. Obama’s Christianity is sincere, but happily it is irrelevant to his governing style and aspirations.” Yes, yes! We want someone whose beliefs he believes are sincere and irrelevant. (Lest I be accused of bashing the president, Bloom’s assertion is rather unfair to Mr Obama.)

    I’m also glad to be warned of the impending theocracy. Turn on TV, check out the magazines in the supermarket checkout and one can’t help but notice the shroud of religious censorship and oppression we are suffering under.

    I know this is an opinion piece, but it is presented with an appeal to the authority of an Ivy League professor who had done all the deep thinking we lesser boobs are incapable of. We are not of his class, dear. Not of the Times class. Once again, I read the NYT and feel its spittle on my face.

  • sari

    Bill, you misread this quote:

    “What we now call Judaism was essentially created by Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph to meet the needs of a Jewish people mired under Roman occupation in Palestine and elsewhere in the empire.”

    The piece was nasty and mean, appalling, really, but the above is an accurate statement. Judaism existed prior to R. Akiva, but Jewish *practice* changed dramatically after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from Israel following the Bar Kokhba rebellion. R. Akiva’s teachings helped Jewry shift from the Temple service to a service of the heart and became the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism, which became the prevalent practice.

  • Clyde

    The NYT is right to publish varied opinion pieces to entice people to learn more as its particular important to have folks informed and come to their own opinions, including about various religion because of its role in our society.
    Is the Mormon church run by “plutocratic oligarchs” consumed with “corporate greed”? This is profoundly unfair, and he’s not going to provide any facts or arguments suggesting that it is
    Its entirely fair that people know about the Mormon religion, and its fair to assert that Bloom derives his opinion comes for an educated perspective. Most people are uninformed about the Mormon church. Realize that the United States had to invade Utah to suppress the militant religious fiefdom there after Mormons massacred Americans who dared cross their turf. Joesph Smith tried to create a religious state within US territories, a theocracy with its own army built around a personality who considered himself a god. In its early stage Mormonism most closely resembles Islam except that Mohammed only considered himself a prophet.
    Bloom is dead on with his view of the “Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed” and and we shouldn’t be buffaloed by the corporate PR make-over.

    Please learn more for yourself. Bloom brings some attention to a little understood religion, and unfortunately people have taken it on good faith that Mormons have a similar moral and religious background as others. It couldn’t be further from the truth, and tacking the name of Jesus onto the name of the religion doesn’t change anything. Bloom’s article is successful even if it only prompts people to find out for themselves more about the history of the Mormon church and the cult around Joesph Smith.

  • mark

    Clyde,

    If people want to make arguments that the Mormon church is about “corporate greed,” I’m not necessarily opposed to your right to do so.

    What I do think is unfair is to simply make that assertion and don’t try and support it with any facts or evidence. Which is what Bloom does. And it’s what you do in your comment above. That’s not being “buffaloed by PR” — it’s simply the basic rules of respectful debate.

    Best,

    Mark

  • mark

    Ok, folks. Keep the discussion confined to the journalism please.

    Also, before one more person suggests that I’m somehow unfamiliar with the topic at hand — please consider where I’m coming from.

  • carl jacobs

    This is just the NY Times pandering to the prejudices of its secular readership. Most of them don’t know much about Mormonism. This article serves two purposes.

    1. To fill the knowledge void so that NY Times readers will know why they are supposed to dislike a serious LDS candidate.

    2. To establish that serious Mormons are just as dangerous as serious Evangelicals and serious Roman Catholics.

    The thing that interests me is the possible analogy to JFK and Roman Catholicism. Would Romney get a pass if he said he didn’t take LDS doctrine seriously?

    carl

  • Karl

    He thinks that Southern Baptists are anti-intellectual? It sounds like he (and the editors at the NYT) doesn’t know that the SBC has seminaries or that people like Al Mohler exist. Not to mention that Reformed Baptist theology has become somewhat popular in the SBC recently, and the Reformed tradition is not exactly intellectually lax.

  • Bill

    Thanks, Sari. ( #9) I knew of the change in religious practice after the destruction of the Second Temple, but were there not attempts at worship outside the Temple in Jerusalem dating to the divided Kingdom? It just struck me that Bloom was a bit cavalier about a millennium or two of Judaism by saying it was essentially created by Rabbi Akiva.

    As for the US Army mobilizing against the Mormons, I keep waiting for a report tying Romney to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, as they tried to warn Catholic voters about Michelle Bachmann’s complicity in all those harsh words against the pope the early 15th century.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Romney was a stake president over a decade ago. There are nearly 3000 stakes in the LDS Church. Most people would limit the hierarchy of the Church to the general authorities, and maybe to the additional area authorities. This would not include Romney, so such a claim he is “deep within the labyrinthine hierarchy” is just untenable.

    For example stake presidents are not among those leaders of the Church who were specifically enjoined not to participate in politics as candidates or fundraisers in a directive from the First Presidency of the Church recently.

    Some do compare stakes to dioceses but this is a weak comparison. There are nearly as many stakes as Catholic dioceses, but there are about 1000 times more Catholics. Stakes tend to have about 10 congregations (wards or branches), with most congregations having no more than 600 members, so in most cases stakes have under 6000 members. They are like dioceses in that they are multi-congregational, but they are much smaller than most Catholic dioceses. In fact there are Catholic parishes with more members than some stakes.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Mark,
    The Church renounced polygamy in 1890, it was only Utah Statehood that was 1896. You may not have menat to say these things happened in the same year, but your wording seems to imply this.

    One thing that happened between the renouncing of polygamy and the granting of staehood was the attempt to get Mormons to join the two major political parties. The Church had to prod some members to become Republicans because the Republicans had lead out in attacking the Church, with Republican backed laws having taken the Church’s property and been built around trying to destroy it as an institution.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The mall being built in Salt Lake City is not at all finaced by tithing reciepts. It is being financed by long-standing business interests owned by the Church.

    The reasons for these business interests date back to Brigham Young’s goals of community development.

    That said, the need to keep the area around the Church’s headquarters viable is key, especially considering that temples can not move. However the Church spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually building new temples to try to make them more accessible to more people. Many of these temples are developed in countries with low income levels.

    The Church also has the Perpetual Education Fund, an organization which works to privide educational opportunities to Church members in Latin America, Africa and other places. These tend to be people from backgrounds of poverty who would otherwise spend their lives in poverty.

    There are also the welfare and humanitarian programs of the Church. Anyone who has ever listened to Thomas S. Monson speak knows he is someone who cares about people and relationships, and knows he is as far from a plutocrat as possible. Calling him such is just outrageous. Of course, Bloom indicates no actual knowledge of President Monson, it is the type of attack on a leader that comes when the group is seen to represent something a person does not like.

    I get the sense that Bloom has a deep-seated hate for either Romney and or the LDS Church. I also have the sense that he is not honestly telling us the reason for this hate. In this sense I think this is an inherently dishonest editorial. It is driven by an unexplained agenda.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Bloom’s implication that Mormons believe that Joseph Smith has been deified is false. Generally my understanding is Mormon belief says that no more resurrections will occur until the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, so Jospeh Smith is considered to be in the spirit world awaiting the resurrection.

    Other people can say these things and be largely ignored. When Bloom says them people will start to believe them because his claims to have studied Mormonism give him some credibility.

  • Mark Baddeley

    I don’t have a problem with NYT printing Bloom’s screed. If it’s clearly marked as ‘opinion’ then printing something like this, from an ‘expert’, is part of journalism’s business.

    My complaint is that they only seem to print things like Bloom’s screed. Are we going to see a screed from a theonomist in the NYT writing something equally embarrassingly inaccurate (or at least equally contentious) about Obama’s ‘socialism’? Are we going to read something that compares secularist approaches to politics to the spectres of nazism and communism?

    Such things would be about as valid a contribution to national debate as Bloom’s little effort, and no more partisan. It’s worth knowing what views are out there, and getting a glimpse of where their support is, especially when one doesn’t ‘get’ them. I’m better off for this glimpse into Bloom’s (unfortunate) perspective, and for seeing positive responses to it. And the same would go for equally marginal views on the ‘right’.

    But I doubt we’ll see the latter in the NYT.

    And that’s the basic problem here, at least for those of us who think that journalism shouldn’t be partisan. Either no partisan editorial voices, or deliberately seek to make the news outlet relatively balanced in giving a wide range of partisans their platform. Either approach can serve public discourse, but just handing the mike to one set of partisans ensures that eventually only partisans of that set will listen to you.

  • Sam

    Harold Bloom: Blah blah blah blah everyone should hate Mormons because they’re basically Wall Street because I say so and all religions are bad but Mormons are worse in conclusion a Mormon president would be bad and you have to believe me because I used big words.

  • mark

    John,

    You’re right — I didn’t mean to imply those things happened in the same year. Thanks.

    Mark

  • Mer

    Funny enough, I find this no more (really, no less) ridiculous than The Invention of the Human.

  • Stan

    Mark Baddeley, #21, has a curious idea of journalism. This is an opinion piece. Newspapers traditionally publish opinion pieces, even heavily partisan opinion pieces. Do you think the opinion pieces in Deseret News are non partisan? Or in the Wall Street Journal? This is an op-ed by a distinguished scholar. Nearly all of these comments find Bloom’s tone objectionable, but very few dispute his facts. Actually, given the secrecy and exclusiveness of the LDS Church, it is very difficult to dispute the facts. In any case, the LDS Church has thrust itself into politics, taking the lead role for example in passing Proposition 8 in California, and a consequence of doing so is to invite scrutiny and criticism.

  • Franklin

    Professor Bloom’s NY Times piece was a masterful essay of gobbledygook with a little, if any logical thread to follow as he jumps from one unrelated topic to another. But then again, without a Yale Ph.D., what do I know? This I do know, if the Times prints it, then yes, it must be true.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Re: Stan #24

    Mark Baddeley, #21, has a curious idea of journalism.

    Okay, let’s read on and see what my curious idea of journalism is.

    This is an opinion piece.

    I said that, so this can’t be my curious idea.

    Newspapers traditionally publish opinion pieces, even heavily partisan opinion pieces.

    I said this too, so it’s probably not this either.

    Do you think the opinion pieces in Deseret News are non partisan? Or in the Wall Street Journal?

    I didn’t say anything about those publications, so it’s probably not here.

    This is an op-ed by a distinguished scholar.

    I said that too, I called him an ‘expert’.

    Nearly all of these comments find Bloom’s tone objectionable, but very few dispute his facts. Actually, given the secrecy and exclusiveness of the LDS Church, it is very difficult to dispute the facts. In any case, the LDS Church has thrust itself into politics, taking the lead role for example in passing Proposition 8 in California, and a consequence of doing so is to invite scrutiny and criticism.

    And this has nothing at all to do with my comment.

    I said: either no partisan voices or balance in the partisan voices

    And after reading #24 I still have no idea what’s the curious idea about journalism inherent in that statement.

  • Stan

    Mark B: your curious idea is that you think newspapers are supposed to be nonpartisan even in their opinion pieces. You also say of the NY Times, “My complaint is that they only seem to print things like Bloom’s screed.” This is simply not true. The NY Times publishes lots of things, and even gives voice to conservative commentators, though its identity is clearly urban liberal.

  • Stan

    P.S.: the relevance of Deseret News and the Wall Street Journal is that they too are partisan newspapers, and in their opinion pages, their partisanship is evident: the former as a mouthpiece of the LDS Church, the latter as a Republican establishment newspaper.

  • http://forgottencenotaph.blogspot.com J. Lahondere

    I am a Latter-day Saint and even I took less offense at Bloom’s piece than Mark did. But I will say that I grow tired of the “each Mormon gets his own planet” thing. I’ve been a faithful member of this church all my life and I’ve never been told that I’ll one day “get my own planet.” From my understanding of my religion, we believe that we may someday learn to become like God and inherit all that He has as it states in the scriptures. Since the universe is already His, it stands to reason that we will inherit the universe.

    Becoming god-like would entail the ability to do what he does, which is create. We view God as the Supreme Creator, and we hope to also be creators as He is. So if anything, we believe we may go on to create endless worlds in the eternities. That’s the ultimate goal of existence to us. But this whole “get his own planet” thing is inaccurate and lame, even though I see it popping up all the time in the media.

  • MC

    Paraphrasing Harold Bloom,

    “Mormonism is so shot through with greed that it has betrayed all its religious principles and isn’t so much a religion as a multinational corporation. Also, Mormons are religious zealots who want to impose a theocracy. If you can’t see how these two things can be simultaneously true, you obviously didn’t go to Yale.”

  • Sgarff

    I really like Harold Bloom, but I think he is overstating his case here. To say that Mormonism and mainline Protestantism are as much a departure from historic Christianity as Islam is claiming way too much. True, Mormo…nism and American Protestantism both differ radically from their historic predecessors but the fundamental Christian tenens (divinity of Jesus and Biblical authority) remain largely intact, as opposed to in Islam, which rejects both.

    His claim that the “oligarchs of Salt Lake City” sponsor Mr. Romney is without factual basis. On the contrary, the church is staying completely neutral on Romney’s candidacy. Just exactly how is the church sponsoring Romney’s candadacy when they have made no statements suporting him, no donations to his campaing, and issued no encoragement to vote for him, to members or otherwise?

    His characterization of the church as an “empire of corporate greed” is also a huge overstatement. Corporate empire, sure, but the people who run the church aren’t exactly getting fabulously wealthy as a result. Nor are there any stockholders receiving dividends. Rather, the church uses its vast wealth for purposes that church leaders believe are beneficial to humanity (church administration, facilities, expansion, publications, etc.). One may argue about the benefit of these purposes but it’s a stretch to equate that with greed.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Stan re: #27&28,

    The difference in those three publications, however, is that the NYT presents itself as being non-partisan. We’ve had a number of pieces highlighted here on GetReligion where editors have rejected the idea that the NYT is partisan, and have claimed that it is even handed. Admittedly they have argued this over Republican versus Democrat rather than religion or social values. But I think my point stands nonetheless. They claim to not be partisan, indeed not even to be pro-Democrat, in the way they handle matters. And a claim like that needs to be reflected in opinion pieces as much as reporting.

    Yes, the NYT publishes conservative points of views in its opinion pieces. But I doubt you or I would ever expect to see such a tendentious hit job as this was, being aimed at a progressive, secular leaning, Democrat candidate in the NYT. The NYT publishes moderate conservative opinions, centrist positions, conservative progressive opinions, and full-on partisan progressive opinions. It doesn’t publish the conservative equivalent of this Bloom piece, or at least, does so with an awful less frequency than it does this kind of thing.

  • Mark Baddeley

    *Sigh*. ‘conservative progressive’ in the above comment should have been ‘moderate progressive’.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Apparently Mormonism is a blank slate onto which critics who fear us can project all of the things they most hate. For Professor Bloom, it is plutocracy and patriotism, while for Reverend Jeffress it is weird cult-like religion. How all of these contradictory things are true at the same time is the puzzling thing.

    Apparently for Bloom, all of the things which denote to most people that Mormons are a quintessential American success story are the things he finds most threatening about us. My gosh, we seek higher education! We serve our country in the military and in law enforcement! We work hard and succeed in business!

    I served America in the Air Force for 20 years. I don’t think I have to apologize to Bloom for that.

    As for education, I recall that at least one Mormon apostle, former BYU president Jeff Holland, has his PhD from Yale. Others have graduate degrees from other universities, in law, medicine, engineering, and organizational management. Yes, we are educated, darn it. Although how they are “zealots” is not clear. Because they are more familiar with the teachings and life of Joseph Smith than Harold Bloom?

    Why Bloom thinks that US Mormons’ patriotism is not sincere, but a giant conspiracy of 6 million Mormons to take over the country and make it a theocracy, is not explained. Besides, if Mormons are succeeding so well in the current situation, why should we want to change society?

    I am not sure how Mormon leaders are supposed to be Plutocrats. They do not have “stock options” in the Church. Everyone who has known them personally knows that the salaries they earn are not exorbitant, and most of them were making a lot more dough in the private sector before entering full time Church service. Most of the church’s assets are tied up in chapels (about 300 or so new ones every year), and also pay for such things as missions, Church welfare programs to care for the poor, and higher education (the three BYU campuses). One reason the Church is relatively prosperous is that its local and regional ministers are all self-supporting. The predominant model of Mormon economic behavior is not amassing wealth through the Church, but donating both time and resources to helpf others. It is a massive training ground for unselfish behavior, and Romney is one product of that.

    Romney is not “entwined” in Church leadership; after he did his stint as stake president, he became a Sunday School teacher. They pay the same (namely nothing). And “Plutocrats” like Romney give away over 10% of their income to charity. (He also worked for years, at the Olympics and for Massachusetts, without pay.) In fact, Mormons are more generous in donations of all kinds than the average. Isn’t that sort of an anti-Plutocrat thing to do?

    The Church owns a chunk of downtown Salt Lake around Church HQ and is interested in ensuring it is a viable community environment for the Temple and Conference Center. Would Bloom prefer it be allowed to deteriorate into tattoo parlors and vacant storefronts? The construction of the new downtown retail/housing has kept hundreds of people employed in through the recession.

    I personally know Mormons who have been deeply involved in aiding Haitians and Japanese recovering from earthquakes. They are donating their time and own funds. Does Bloom think this is a plot?

    As to Mormons’ alleged lack of loyalty to the earth, we believe that the earth will be the primary home for us in the resurrection. Indeed, N.T. Wright was criticized for his thesis, in his book Surprised by Hope, that the resurrected will be physically resurrected and inherit the earth, and therefore should care for it now, by being called “Mormon”. Wright responded that the Mormons have just read the Bible more attentively than most other Christians. Frankly, anyone who is an atheist hardly has any expectaton of a long term affiliation with the fate of the planet after they are dissolved into their constituent atoms. Surely THEIR loyalty to Mother Earth should be the MOST suspect under Bloom’s formula.

  • Vader

    “As for education, I recall that at least one Mormon apostle, former BYU president Jeff Holland, has his PhD from Yale.”

    Fortunately, Elder Holland seems to have recovered from the experience, and gone on to have a distinguished and productive career.

  • Stan

    Mark B: You don’t read very well. The New York Times has said that their newsreporting is non partisan (though they have said that even there they have values, such as support for gay rights, that some people might see as taking sides in the culture wars). They have not said that their opinion pages is nonpartisan. How could they? And why would they? They regularly endorse candidates. Most of their columnists, such as Frank Bruni and Maureen Dowd, are also unapologetically partisan. In any case, the whole purpose of op-ed pieces is to publish opinion pieces that argue a particular point of view.

  • E. A. Jarred

    Back in the early 2oth century, a modicum of anti-Semitic sentiment was quite fashionable, as well. Still, it suprising to have such tone approaching an anti-Mormon version of the Protocols of Zion be such a major part of Professor Bloom’s essay.

    (Hyphothetical/”thought problem”: U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is an observant Orthodox Jew. Were Lieberman a presidential candidate, would a famous thinker living in the Intermountain West–where there are not so many Jews as there are on the coasts–be given a pass if he or she spent too much ink worring about the inherent patriarchy of Orthodox Jewry and about the prospect of a President Liberman being beholden to his rebbe?)

  • sari

    E.A. Jarred,
    Lieberman is a Hasid? That’s news.

  • E. A. Jarred

    sari: He’s Modern Othodox.

  • E. A. Jarred

    Guess I was a little glib with the allusion to Sen. Lieberman’s hypothetical “rebbe.” …Still, in my defense, here is a quote (supported by two citations) from Wikipedia (for what it’s worth, of course, lol):

    To the ideological right, the line between Haredi and Modern Orthodox has blurred in recent years; some have referred to this trend as “haredization” [7]. In addition to increasing stringency in adherence to Halakha, many Modern Orthodox Jews express a growing sense of alienation from the larger, secular culture.

    Your mileage may vary.

  • sari

    Lieberman is not Haredi or even black hat. The lines may be a little blurred between the two, but he is neither. Anyway, the situations are not analogous. Lieberman follows a religion which is highly decentralized, whereas the Church of LDS is quite the opposite: a highly structured hierarchy where decisions made at the top are incumbent on all its members.

    If the NYT was easier on Lieberman than it’s been on Romney, consider its readership.

  • Cameron

    @Stan 24 “given the secrecy and exclusiveness of the LDS Church, it is very difficult to dispute the facts”

    Actually nearly every claim he made is untrue, that is what bothers us so much. It is not the bias itself, but the blatant misinformation.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The Deseret News publishes a range of views from a political perspective. It often runs opposing editorials on the same topic.

    It may not be as liberal as the NYT, but it is not overly conservative, and has been one of the strongest voices for the rights of immigrants out there. A very quick search showed me this article http://www.deseretnews.com/article/791294/Election-winners-Bush-Hatch-Leavitt-Cannon-and-Matheson.html where the Deseret News says specifically it does not endorse candidates. This LA Times article shows that other newspapers do endorse candidates http://articles.latimes.com/1992-10-13/news/mn-106_1_detroit-news

    So bringing up the Deseret News was unwise, because it tries to be less partisan than many other newspapers do.

  • Daniel

    Just when, where and how Mormonism departed from Joseph Smith and early Mormon prophets is something I would like to see covered. Apparently many Mormons haven’t read Joseph Smith with scrutiny. I am, however, not prepared to give Bloom a pass for his misinformation. Reading Smith and the early prophets in context, (and as originally published), will give you an idea what I am talking about. What the church is today and what it was intended to be at its outset may be contrasted. A careful analysis of Mormon evolution would be fruitful.

  • Stan

    Deseret News may not endorse candidates, but that does not mean that it is nonpartisan. I rather doubt that it would run an editorial opposing any policy of the LDS Church. How did it stand on Proposition 8 in California? Links please.

  • Kevin

    Unfortunately, Professor Bloom fails completely to get “inside” Mormon beliefs and realities. What follows is not designed as an offense to him and his three books will remain firmly on my shelves. In fact, he got far more right than wrong. I acknowledge up front that Mr. Bloom might see a critique of this sort as both fastidious and finding meanings he never intended. Still, in the first half of my adult life I learned that being outside a paradigm, and hopefully reasonably neutral, often allows you to see some things more clearly than those on the inside. It was later when I realized those inside, the engaged, have an equally potent advantage. In my case, I proceed as once believing Mormon, trying to get the best of both paradigms.

    Romney is hardly deep within the Mormon hierarchy. On that point, he would be a fairly ordinary competent Mormon (i.e. he went on a mission and served as a bishop). Bloom misses that Romney is a corporate guy and not moving up the Mormon ecclesiastical ladder. Of course, Romney isn’t a stranger to the church leadership, but Bloom is not aware of the de facto dichotomy in the Mormon structure, of which Romney proceeded along the opposite path of career to the one Bloom defaults, namely church positions. Besides, the label “labyrinthine” shows ignorance of the LDS command-and-control leadership structure. There is no ambiguity about leadership in Mormonism: The Mormon prophet, his two counselors and the 12 Apostles at the top run the entire show. There is zero ambiguity or complexity.

    Romney has many Mormon connections, but attending Brigham Young University and marrying in the Mormon temple are hardly sufficient for the claim he is entrenched in the supposed labyrinthine Bloom puts forward. On a related point, Romney’s family came from the other side of the tracks and were self-made in their business success, which by the way all happened on the East coast in Michigan and Massachusetts, and hardly on the coattails of hierarchy connections.

    By mainstream Mormon standards the Romneys are politically moderate, going as often against the grain as with it. On issues like civil rights, George Romney was ideologically divergent from Mormon doctrine and the prevailing views of Mormon members (i.e. mostly Goldwater supporters). Mitt Romney has, at least historically, not bowed to any perceived Mormon conservative stereotype on major social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and healthcare. However, perhaps for political reasons unrelated to Mormon beliefs (i.e. an effort to be a broader-based Republican) Romney has ironically moved in that same direction. To think that Romney needs to worry about getting the Mormon vote would be naïve. Bloom never tells us why he labels Huntsman as secular and presumably “freer” from the clutches of Mormon leaders, while Romney is defined as incapable of that. In their Governorships, Romney and Huntsman have both clearly shown themselves to be politicians that act independently of their religious beliefs. In my opinion, the same cannot be said for some other Republican candidates. Bloom erroneously and unfairly labels the two Mormons as “zealots”.

    To call top Mormon leaders plutocrats shows an ignorance of the way those individuals live their daily lives. Their lifestyles and homes are moderate and humble. It is true that the generous stipends they receive leave them living quite comfortably and economically stable, but they are hardly opulent plutocrats. Other than the leaders that rose to prominence within the LDS Education System, most Mormon leaders would have accumulated far more wealth outside the hierarchy by continuing to pursue their professional and private endeavors. The Romney and Huntsman families are two of the most obvious Mormon examples. It would have been a much stronger argument for Bloom to position “Mormon royalty” as an “oligarchy”, rather than attempt to malign them over a leadership of opulence that does not exist.

    Mormons and Muslims have vastly dissimilar theologies regarding Jesus Christ and they see the authority of the Bible and other Christian authorities very differently. Bloom rightly points out that other Christianities are equally divergent from historical Christianity, but his analogy did not come close to putting Mormonism in theological context. Other outsiders, like Jan Shipps, have proven far more capable of understanding Mormonism’s religious heritage.

    “The Salt Lake Empire of corporate greed”? Seriously? Straight out ad hominem. Besides, how exactly does the Salt Lake City leadership “sponsor” Romney? To their credit, the Mormon Church has made a tremendous effort (even more in the post-Ezra Taft Benson) to avoid promoting any politicians, including Republicans over Democrats. (For that, I am sure Harry Reid is grateful.)

    If Bloom were current on Mormon scholarship, he would know that most academic arguments over the last decades (never mind that the same historical debate has gone on since Mormonism’s founding) consider Joseph Smith anything but the sole inventor of the religion. To say nothing of Smith’s use of third party sources to augment his theology. As well, to gloss over the major theological influence of other leaders, like Brigham Young, B.H. Roberts, John A. Widstoe, James E. Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, most Mormon prophets, and many other leaders is a failure.

    Credit to Bloom for seeing Mormonism’s leadership as having deliberately moved the church into the Protestant mainstream. Yet, even that accuracy is simplistic: To many secular minds and much of the voting populace, Mormonism is just another fundamentalist Christian mindset. To many fundamentalist Christian minds (i.e. a major source of Republican voters), Mormons are as astray from Protestantism as Hinduism or the occult.

    Bloom’s polytheism conclusion is cursory and careless. To ignore Mormonism’s monotheistic side is to miss its doctrinal core, which unambiguously puts “God the Father” and his son Jesus Christ front and center. Equally significant, day-to-day most Mormons believe and act as monotheists. In summary, Bloom, presumably unaware of the paradox within Mormon theology, unwittingly turns the Mormon polytheistic side of its doctrine into the whole story.

    Bloom criticizes Mormonism on the basis of restricted temple access by comparing it to the openness of Pentecostal and Baptist churches. While I doubt he was being mean-spirited, at the least his point is based on a fundamental ignorance of the difference between a Mormon temple and a Mormon Church building. An outsider might be able to criticize why Mormon congregations are welcoming and embracing of new visitors, but not whether there is an effort to be friendly and accessible.

    Bloom’s quote by Orson Pratt is straight proof-texting and approximately 175 years out of context. It lacks understanding of Mormonism 101, e.g. the place of the LDS prophet, the role of LDS General Conference, and the standing of current Mormon leaders versus dead ones. More significantly, it misses the fact that Mormonism’s core tenet on this point is exactly opposite and firmly established in Mormon scripture and practice. This point on governance is central in Mormon doctrine, as the enshrinement in number 12 of the Articles of Faith highlights. How could Bloom miss or ignore the very strong thread of Mormon patriotism, their view of the U.S. Constitution, and the loyalty they have shown to the United States? Staggering. This point is so obvious that Mormons are more often criticized for the opposite fault of being provincial and too loyal to America. At the least give that truth equal billing.

    Bloom properly compliments Mormons for their views on seeking education. He should be forgiven for not having the depth of experience to understand the actual Mormon reality for better and worse on that topic.

  • bootapa

    Small oversights or inaccuracies are acceptable, I suppose, even in a New York Times article written by a “Professor at Yale.” However, misrepresentation of facts relating to the major theme of the article should be suspect.

    Professor Bloom’s article included the following statement by Orson Pratt:

    “Any people attempting to govern themselves by laws of their own making, and by officers of their own appointment, are in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God.”

    Prior to the quotation, Bloom bolstered Pratt’s credentials by describing him as a “Mormon theologian…close both to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young”–an accurate characterization. However, considering the religious leanings of one or two current presidential candidates, Bloom’s next point is of potentially far greater significance: he referred to Pratt’s statement as “a principle” and one which “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never repudiated.”

    Having read that, one could hardly miss the implication that, according to current-day Mormon theology, the Constitution (“laws of their own making”) and our elected officials (“officers of their own appointment”), constitute a government which is “in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God.” And therefore, the implication continues, were a Mormon to become President, those “plutocratic oligarchs” (Bloom’s words) in Salt Lake City would be intent on having (their White House marionette) do whatever possible to pull down the Constitution and replace it with a Mormon theocracy!

    However, after reading the article this weekend, I only got a link or two away from Google before discovering that as early as 1865,

    “…a majority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the [Mormon Church] officially condemned some of Pratt’s doctrinal writings, [saying]:

    ‘…writings by Pratt contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints [church members] who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed.’” (Wikipedia.org/Orson Pratt. [References Deseret News, Aug. 12, 1865, 373; and also B.H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 1912, 2:294.])

    “Officially condemned,” “doctrines we cannot sanction,” “felt impressed to disown,” “should be cut out and destroyed.” That sounds quite a bit like “repudiation” to me! And if I found it after only a couple of clicks online (at Wikipedia no less), is it possible that someone such as the esteemed professor, who spent three years “wandering” to learn about religion in America and then wrote a book on the topic, would not know about it? Maybe not. But at the least we might expect that it would come to his attention prior to the completion of his pre-article research. After all, it does relate to perhaps his most disconcerting point. Would it be overstretching to wonder if a bit of fact-finagling was present as part of the professor’s preparation?

    Perhaps Dr. Bloom’s misrepresentation of a major fact in his article was simply due to a lack of adequate research, but either way, it is sad to think that most of his readers will never know the truth about what this article so carefully led them to believe.

    Or will they?

  • E.A. Jarred

    Actually, sari, my point was that Modern Orthodox (in general, not addressing the particular Modern Orthodox adherent, Sen. Lieberman, of course) ARE quite centralized. Here are the opening sentences of an article about the M.O. published by the JTNews (“The voice of Jewish Washington”):

    Another month, another round of recriminations in the Modern Orthodox community. Two months ago it was a breakaway rabbinic organization established, in part, to promote decentralized conversion standards. Last month it was a public forum on homosexuality in the Orthodox community. http://www.jtnews.net/index.php?/viewpoints/item/7144/C26

    –~~~~

  • sari

    I don’t live in an enclave like those found in NYC, Baltimore, L.A., or S. Florida, but I am observant and quite familiar with the different groups and the dynamics of the frum community. You misread the article, E.A.J. It’s really an opinion piece by an Orthodox Rabbi who leans towards the more liberal end (look him up)and it contradicts your assertion. As R. Hain desrcibes it, the Orthodox community is fragmented and heavily decentralized; some desire to reconcile the Halakhah with the mainstream while others do not. In other words, nothing has changed in five thousand years.

    While there are a few large and respected rabbinic organizations, like Agudath Israel or the Orthodox Union, degree of observance is left up to the individual and to the rabbi(s) of any given community. There is no equivalent to the Mormon Prophet or the Catholic Pope and no organizational hierarchy: no wards, parishes, dioceses, etc. We no longer have a Sanhedrin to legislate for the Jewish People. A Bais Din is not the same. Anyway, folks go where they are comfortable. While most who self label as Orthodox subscribe to a given set of generalities (e.g., basic kashrut, basic sabbath observance), the specifics vary depending on how one was raised and which rabbi one follows.

    The term “Modern Orthodox” has no real meaning; I wish people would quit using it.

  • E.A. Jarred

    I certainly bow to your expertise (and personal experience), sari. And I no doubt erred in blog thread etiquette by resorting to reductio judei-um in the um foist place. Let me recast my argument entirely then, kay?

    ‘Tis certainly possible to construct an opinion piece that both (1) points out a politician’s level of religious obsersance (“full vs. less activity,” in Mormon parlance) (2) frets about some possible, negative things possibly arising therefrom, all the while avoiding coming across as bigoted; and, I actually think that Prof. Bloom achieved the goal of such avoidance pretty well. However, I think that if, say, the politically progressive editor of the op/ed page at the Ogden, Utah Standard Examiner (who happens himself to be Mormon) was Bloom’s editor (which I doubt he submits to in the first place, actually), some slight tweaks of tone might have been suggested here and there to allow Bloom to hit a target even wider from that mark, so to say.

    Searching for an analogy, I could pick many. {laughs} (Long aside follows.)

    Instead of Gore’s running mate, I could pick himself and his wife and their membership in the So. Baptist Conv. Would Gore be too beholden to the centralized determinations of religious practice within that church–as, say, applying to such issues as warning labels on popular music?

    Former Baptist Gingrich is now a Catholic. There are various practices that seem normal within Cathollcism that Protestants find unusual (eg, Pope John Paul II practiced a form of physical self-flaggelation, of sorts). Should a scholarly analysis be careful to avoid seeming to give oxygen to those in the U.S. who harbor anti-Catholic bigotry?

    Gingrich amassed a part of his net worth writing alternate histories. Here’s one: Let’s say that Bobby Kennedy hadn’t been shot. Like Gingrich himself, Bobby marries his, let’s be frank, mistress–who, to make our fiction interesting, we’ll have be the rumored Marilyn Monroe. Like Gingrich, Kennedy converts to his new wife’s religion, which in this case is Christian Science: a form of Christianity considered heretical to the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant communities. Kennedy runs for office and a scholar is writing an opinion piece examining how the centralized nature of the Church of Christ, Scientist, might affect Kennedy’s governance. “Will the mother church in Boston exert undue influence in a Kennedy II administration ?,” the scholar (in effect) asks via the piece. Yep, this can be done–just as Bloom himself achieved–without the writer coming across as overly bigoted.

    I appreciate the reader’s allowing the above self-indulgence.

    In any case, if I were giving Bloom editorial pointers, I would simply ask him to expand the part wherein he terms Huntsman the most secular candidate. How is Jon H.–who’s from a “Mormon Brahmin” background and the former governor of the state of Utah itself, more removed from the undue influence from the LDS Church than Michigan-bred and Massachusetts-livin’ MItt? Fill that out and: voila! a piece automatically comes across as not prejudiced against Mormons, per se. Just my two cents worth (hehheh, if that!)

  • Charles Irish

    How could someone with the background of Professor Bloom not be aware of the LDS World Wide Welfare Program?

  • http://WWW.JennyHatch.com Jenny Hatch
  • E.A. Jarred

    I liked your post, Jenny Hatch. (Also here is a reeally interesting take on Bloom by James Olsen):

    Snippet: He [Bloom] openly, blatantly delivers not arguments but personal prejudices and preferences, wrapped in self-indulgent, well-turned phrases, and does so while setting himself up in stereotypical fashion as the ivory tower guru – one who knows what only can be known by those who have fully immersed their toes in the cold waters of religion (he did after all, spend two years “wandering” about the Southwest). It sounds almost as if Bloom has read all of the glowing praise and seen how often we quote his short passage on Mormonism and Joseph Smith’s genius, and was annoyed, and so decided to publicly pat Chris Hitchins on the back over the mutual joke of Mormonism. —-”WHY BLOOM, ET AL, ARE WRONG”