I’m presently trapped in travel purgatory — my attempts to return to Atlanta last night were thwarted by thunderstorms around New York City — and unable to post the usual content. But I thought I would share an article I came across.
In my recent post on Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs and whether they ought to concern voters (to which I answered in the negative), I mentioned the argument that Mormon beliefs are simply so irrational and so plainly divorced from reality that anyone who believes in them cannot be trusted (not as a matter of character, but as a matter of rationality). In case you doubted whether this argument was being made, I thought I’d offer this example. This comes from M. Joseph Sheppard, who is apparently a Christian and a conservative. Here is the core of it:
Thus for Romney to hold, as I am sure he sincerely does, to the purported historic roots of the Mormon faith shows that, to me at least, he has thought processes that are a significant aspect of his personality that are questionable in respect of wider views he might hold now or in the future. These include concepts which, again to me, are totally divorced from reality. I would not look to a candidate for president to have, again as a major aspect of his very being, this sort of mindset. Simply put, if non-rationality at this core level can be accepted and acted on then what other non-rationality can also be accepted and acted on?
This is the kind of argument to which I responded — briefly — in the second part of my most recent post. I didn’t want you to think I was inventing a straw-man.
I am opposed to this. One of the things I most value about the academic experience is the attempt to enter imaginatively into a different way of viewing the world. Academics do not practice this evenly; they’re much more interested in sympathetically understanding Tibetan Buddhists than conservative Christians, for instance. But the practice is important.
To a person raised Atheist, for instance, it must seem very peculiar that I take my cues on moral and metaphysical matters from a collection of texts that are thousands of years old. But if one accepts the suppositions that (1) there is a Creator who (2) revealed himself and entered into a covenant relationship with a particular people whom he had chosen to be his vessels to the world, and who (3) most perfectly and completely revealed himself to the world by (the Second Person) becoming incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth, then it makes sense that I should look to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
When Christians look at Mormons and find certain of their beliefs implausible in the extreme, and move from that implausibility to mockery or a dismissal of the rationality of those who believe, I fear that we’re doing the same thing as the Atheist who mocks us for caring what the story of Lot in Sodom might reveal about the morality of homosexuality. It may be the case that Mormon beliefs are wrong, and it may be the case that they’re irrational (which are two very different things), but that judgment can only be made after studying those beliefs thoroughly and attempting to understand the thought-world in which those beliefs make sense to millions of Mormons around the world. And, further, even if some of those beliefs are irrational, this does not necessarily mean that Mormons as a whole, much less any one Mormon in particular, is irrational. Let me tell you, as someone who has known a lot of purportedly rational people on faculty at prestigious universities: rational people believe irrational things all the time.
If we’re going to ask people who reject our beliefs to acknowledge nonetheless our rationality, then I think we ought to extend the same courtesy to Mormons.