Do You Hate Mormons?

Jana Riess tips us off to an interesting finding in the much-discussed tome, American Grace.  She tells us that Mormons are the third-most-hated religious group in America.  She sums up the findings: “Mormons like everyone else, while almost everyone else dislikes Mormons.”

But Jana doesn’t stop there.  She goes on to chide her co-religionists to change.  For one thing, she has already asked the church to change its stance on homosexuality.  Now she goes further:

it would help if we stopped regarding ourselves as the finest people on the planet. We ought to take a long, hard look at the fact that we voted our own group tops in this research. It’s one thing to be proud of our religious group and its teachings, but it’s another thing entirely to communicate, as many Mormons seem to, that we feel we have a monopoly on religious truth and strong families. A dose of humility is in order here.
I’ve been in communication with Jana recently over my own discomfort at Mormon history and teaching, prodded by my recent reading of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, about the religious murder of a mother and child in 1984 by Dan and Ron Lafferty.  It’s a compelling and disturbing book, and I imagine it’s all the more so to a member of the LDS Church.  It is also controversial, as Jana and others have told me.
I’ve read three Krakauer books this year, and I honestly think this is the weakest of the three — though it’s a great read.  It’s simply too convenient of a connection to make from a violent, fundamentalist sect of a religion to the adherents of the mainstream religion.  It’s like saying that the Westboro Baptist Church idiots are representative of 2.1 billion Christians.  Here’s the New York Times hesitation,
However valid Krakauer’s linkage of past and present, it steepens an already formidable storytelling challenge. The contemporary parts of the book -skipping from the Lafferty case to sketches of two fundamentalist towns to a late-breaking chapter on Elizabeth Smart — can themselves disorient the reader with disparate detail. (From a strictly literary standpoint, polygamy’s main downside is its creation of lots of characters with the same last name.) With long historical sections mixed in, the momentum dissipates further. Almost every section of the book is fascinating in its own right, and together the chapters make a rich picture, but there is little narrative synergy among them.
In fact, this is the very thing that Terry Eagleton, the atheist-Marxist philosopher, accused “Ditchkins” of doing in his excellent book, Reason, Faith, and Religion: Reflections on the God Debate — I’m currently listening to the lectures on which that book was based, available on iTunes U.

However, my strange discomfort with Mormonism continues.  So Jana and I have talked about a blogalogue in the second half of 2011.  Watch this space for more details…
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  • Jeni G

    Tony, thanks for your thoughts and shared learnings. This topic has exploded this year as a family member has recently converted to LDS. Ack! Finding graciousness difficult; searching for a way to be kind yet honest. Maybe I should send the Krakauer book as a Christmas gift! Ha!

  • Michael Todd

    Nope. I just wrote a 66 page paper on them; one in which I quote Jana Reiss. The mainstream Christian denominations can learn a ton from examining the LDS. They are growing, even in the U.S. Who else besides Charismatics can say that?

    I will say this though, I take exception to her statement, “Mormons like everyone else…” I have rarely met an ecumenical Latter-day Saint. They believe in the exclusivity of their gospel, and decry the apostasy of the European church. I’m a United Methodist, and I am prepared to see them as peers, but from my few dozen times at an LDS congregation, they do not feel the same. It is a peer relationship. Their language is couched in their own certainty that they are exceptional and the rest of the people of the book are second-rate, at best. Those statements make my ecumenical teeth grind.

    Who knows, maybe I have a problem, because I want to be the one who is operating from the higher plane, to reach out and hold the hand of the more immature theology, and feel irritated they think they are standing on a ledge slightly higher than where I stand?

  • Michael Todd

    Correction: I meant to say, from my observation, they do not see it as a peer relationship.

  • Kenton

    To answer the question in the title: No, hate is WAY too strong of a word. In my experience, though, I have found that LDS folks rank really high on a smugness scale, (Something *I* certainly am above criticism for – lol) and it can drive me friggin’ crazy.

    My thought is that the smugness stems from their theology. You can’t expect the “dose of humility” from a crowd that espouses “what man is, God once was/What God is, man can become.” Especially when it’s combined with the whole “we’re in and everybody else is out” mentality.

    Am I missing something?

  • Whatever happened to blogging about universalism?

  • Bo Eberle

    I hate exclusivity. Exclusive theology, culture, and elitist attitudes. I don’t like being referred to behind closed doors as a “gentile.” I also don’t like the idea of being baptized by proxy to be saved in another life. Not that I’m famous enough for that…

  • Tony, I for one would LOVE to see a blogalogue between you and Jana. Consider this a prod in that direction.

  • Russell Whaley

    Hate? The way I define ‘hate,’ no. They are heretical, and I stand with/by the UMC’s conclusions that they are not Christian. However, that doesn’t excuse me from the obligation of every Christ-follower to love my neighbor, heretic or not.

  • BobW

    So many possible comments…

    I’m a Mormon who has read Under the Banner of Heaven. Aside from the extended details of the Lafferty murders and some of the background on the polygamous sects, there was nothing new or particularly troubling in the book from an LDS perspective, and frankly, I thought it was a great read. I would not hesitate to have a fellow LDS member read it, although the book contains some factual errors and what I believe to be unwarranted generalizations. But perhaps my perspective is shaped by my studies of the histories of other religions, including mainstream Christian sects, which when held up next to Mormonism, are no less violent or shocking.

    Regarding Mormon exceptionalism, while I understand that there is a certain exceptialism in the theology, I should clarify that it is by no means exclusive. Mormons are basicallly universalists. In LDS theology, all but a small handful of everyone who has ever lived will receive be resurrected and receive a place in a heaven, Mormon or not. That’s a lot more generous than most Christian sects who condemn all us Mormon “heretics” to eternity of suffering in hell.

    As for Mormon smugness, perhaps that is a fault too many of us have, but Mormons see a good deal of smugness in mainstream Christians who look at us as nothing more than weird cultists.

  • Anon

    I don’t care for the fact that if one is not Mormon and were to make a Mormon friend–no small feat, given how insular the LDS community tends to be–one would not be permitted to attend that friend’s wedding. I also don’t care for the homophobia and anti-gay activism of the LDS church, e.g., the large-scale funding of Prop. 8. The barring black folks from the priesthood (and basically all adult men are priests in Mormonism) until 1978 is pretty terrible as well. Even Southern Baptists, whose raison d’etre was to support slavery, were less racist than Mormons were during that period.

    Also, the historicity of the Book of Mormon is highly dubious. While scholars may doubt certain aspects of the Bible (e.g., the Exodus), there is no doubt that the Bible describes civilizations and peoples that actually existed. The same cannot be said for the Book of Mormon.

  • I grew up a non-Mormon in Utah, and in a small town, no less. I have many family members who are Mormon. The way I see it there are good Mormons and there are poor ones, just as there are good Christians and poor ones. I think we would all be better off focusing on how we each can be personally better carriers of our faith than to focus on those who aren’t.

    Authentic faith is magnetic and beautiful to those around us and faith performed in action rather than by rules, regulations, and words is far more important a virtue.

    I’m not comfortable with Mormonism as a faith, but I believe that it is possible for someone within the faith of Mormonism to find faith in Jesus Christ. I think it’s up to God, not up to us, to decide these things.

    Beyond that, isn’t it odd that we spend so much time worrying about who gets to go heaven when our real focus should be who is living the way of truth and light? Truth and light will always be remembered in the world because they are always remembered by God. Christians should be focusing on make themselves a reflection of the beauty of Christ.

  • We are the most prideful and arrogant people in the country, yet when we hear others say that, we reject it as an impossibility.

  • Donny

    I don’t hate mormons, but I feel as though they are way to arrogant for what the church evolved out of. Reading non-biased biographies of Joseph Smith and old versions of the Book of Mormon don’t strike me as divinely inspired, but more of a hodgepodge of antiquated beliefs and customs from 1800’s America.

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  • JJ

    “It’s like saying that the Westboro Baptist Church idiots are representative of 2.1 billion Christians.”

    Are you kidding me. The Westboro gang is exactly what Christianity is all about, right down to a T.


    How you get around this is by Picking and Choosing what in Christianity works for YOU.

    Why cant you people be good without God.

    You are all delusional.

  • Eduardo Reveles

    Dont hate me cuz I’m mormon. 🙁