Maybe you noticed the letters the last couple of days taking me to task for some innocent remarks I made about the field of Republican presidential candidates and in particular about Mitt Romney.
One writer said my column was “sick with venom” and claimed that I “crossed the line” in commenting on Romney’s Mormon religious beliefs, which I enjoyed even though it puzzled me.
The other said I “behaved similarly to bigots and racists who fail to recognize groups of people by their individual characteristics and qualities,” which I also enjoyed even though it too puzzled me.
I went back and looked at what I had written to see if I had anything to regret, and, bless me, but I could not find anything.
In the first place, it wasn’t so much me mocking Mormonism, though I would be willing to do that upon request, it was Christian evangelicals like Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, as I made clear.
He’s the one who called Mormonism a cult, not me. And it’s mostly evangelicals and other Christians who scoff at the “golden tablets and ersatz angels and phony-baloney lost tribes and magic underwear” that I cited.
I am no more dismissive of Mormon underwear than I am of any other religious garb. To me it is all equally self-regarding, whether it’s a Buddhist robe, a Jewish yarmulke, a Muslim headscarf or anything else.
Magic underwear, as a facetious name for what Mormons call temple garments, just sounds funnier, that’s all.
What puzzles me is the idea that religion is off limits as a subject of satire and that anyone who pokes a little fun at it is crossing a line.
Why should that be? Why should religion get a special dispensation?
If you tell me little green men are up on the moon reading your thoughts and you talk to them daily, it would be OK for me to chuckle about it.
But if you tell me Jesus is up in the sky reading your thoughts and you talk to him daily, then I’m supposed to defer to your “faith,” and your claims are supposed to be exempt from comment?
To take another example, how does it happen that Mitt Romney, as a young man, could go to France as a missionary and spend 21⁄2 years trying to convince Frenchmen to follow his curious beliefs but someone else is not allowed to comment on those beliefs, on pain of being called a bigot? What kind of one-way deal is that?
Talk about presumption. Can you think of anything more presumptuous than knocking on someone’s door, especially in a foreign country, and urging the person who answers to adopt your theology? Santa Maria!
And they say I cross a line. They say I’m bigoted.
Why bigoted? Because I referred to Mormons as a group rather than consider each one as an individual. But they refer to themselves as a group — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — just as all religions do.
You can’t very well go around saying we’re Mormons, we’re Catholics, we’re Jews, we’re Muslims, and then protest when someone else refers to you that way.
As for Mormonism in particular, its chief disadvantage compared with other religions is that it’s newer, so its bogosity is more a matter of record.
We know nothing about Jesus except what was written decades after his death by admirers who never knew him. Likewise with the Buddha. Likewise with Moses and Abraham, who in all likelihood never existed. We do have scraps of reminiscences about Muhammad, collected in the Hadith, but they are of doubtful reliability and not very flattering in any case.
But with Joseph Smith, the great founder and prophet of Mormonism, we know he was a mere treasure hunter, convicted of fraud in the “burned-over” district of Western New York in the early 19th century, called “burned-over” because of the raging religious revivals that kept sweeping through.
We know he dictated the Book of Mormon to various scribes from behind a curtain so they couldn’t see the golden tablets (if any) that he claimed to be translating from. And we know from reading the result that it is an exceedingly lame rip-off of the King James Bible, salted with such previously unheard-of dignitaries as Lehi, Coriantumr and Shared, who from time to time become “exceeding wroth,” and adorned with such novel localities as the Valley of Gilgal and the Plains of Agosh, as if the author had swallowed a Bible and spit it back up only half-digested.
You can argue that all holy books are absurd to one extent or another, and I wouldn’t disagree with you, but the absurdity, not to mention the fraudulence, of the Book of Mormon is so fresh and new that it’s especially stunning. Anyone who can read a page of it and not dissolve in laughter deserves an award of some sort.
One of the indignant letter-writers, a Mormon, says, I should get to know them: “As Mormons, we make worthwhile contributions to society in many forms such as the disaster relief provided in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont this past year,” and I don’t doubt it for a minute.
It’s one of the curiosities of the human brain that it has two tracks. On one track we can believe the most bizarre and even hateful things, and with the other track we can live our lives as perfectly normal and responsible persons, as if the first track didn’t exist.
It’s what makes it possible for Muslims, Christians and, I’m sure, Mormons too, to be good citizens.
Am I a bigot for making such observations? Do I cross a line?
Ladies and gentlemen, I throw myself on the mercy of the court. But please note in your deliberations that it’s not just me, an avowed infidel, who has reservations about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
It’s also the Vatican, which a couple of years ago directed its dioceses around the world not to provide birth and death records to the Mormons’ Genealogical Society of Utah.
Holy Mother Church’s objection was to the Mormon practice of conducting posthumous rebaptisms, acquiring the names of the long-dead and “praying them in,” as it’s called, to become retroactive Latter-Day Saints.
And it’s also the American Jewish Committee, which had similar misgivings when it discovered Mormons were “praying in” Holocaust victims, having obtained lists of their names.
Do you think we infidels enjoy the spectacle of believers fighting with each other over the ownership of imaginary souls? We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But I don’t think that makes us bigots.