Sunday, August 07, 2011

Whitman wasn't singing a Mormon promise

James Carroll, a Boston Globe columnist and vital historian of the anti-Semitism embedded in Christian history, has made an interesting effort to explain Mormonism to the legions of us who find this variation on U.S. Protestantism cultish and simply weird. Like everything Carroll writes, it is insightful.

But I've got to say, these conclusions founder on a contradiction:

Mormonism may have roots in Calvinist Puritanism, but in important ways it broke free. Instead of the sinner standing alone before the judging God, or coming singly to Jesus, the Mormons stand together with each other in a radical communitarianism. No rugged individualism here. Family was the absolute value, a doctrine that initially reinforced a problematic - indeed, abusive - marital system that, willy nilly, vastly multiplied fertility. Commitment to the clan turned the religion into a people.

And, taking off from Smith’s own affirming personality, Mormon dogma left behind all Puritan notions of humanity’s innate unworthiness. Instead of Jonathan Edwards’ “sinners in the hands of an angry God,’’ Smith celebrated God’s beloved favorites. Hope, optimism, positive energy, expectation of success, success itself a sign of divine favor: such are the tenets - and appeal - of the Church of the Latter-day Saints. Indeed, the religion provides mythical underpinning to the essential American dream. “What Whitman sang,’’ Harold Bloom wrote, “Joseph Smith actually embodied.’’

Please, you've got to be kidding. Walt Whitman would have been shunned and cast out of the Mormon community as a gay pervert. The optimistic Mormon community spits out the fraction of its children who are gay. It is a brutal environment for a young person who is "different." And then it uses its organization to stigmatize them by committing wealth and political muscle to impeding the progress of gay marriage.

It is very hard to credit Carroll's hope that there is "an unexpected image of positive possibility" in what Mormonism offers to our discouraged country. At least it's hard for this lesbian to buy it. I don't need yet another religious style that erases and suppresses me, thank you very much.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I understand and support you completely. Anytime there is an incursion on the rights/beliefs of another, I always get the nagging feeling that I could be the next target which makes me very uncomfortable with being judgmental of others. Frankly, the Mormons make me more uncomfortable than most religions, e.g. Islam, which has never sent Arabs to my front door to convert me.

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