Max Mueller, a Mormon writer at Religion Dispatches, has a piece arguing against the inclusion of weird Mormon theology in political discussions. He argues that Mormonism should not be reduced to “sacred underwear, baptizing holocaust victims, gods of their own planets”, as so many columnists and bloggers are apt to do these days.
After all, Meuller claims, these writers wouldn’t reduce “Catholicism to Popery, Hinduism to the worship of cows, or Islam to the promise of seventy virgins for jihadi martyrs”.
I agree that no religion can be “reduced” to its weirdest bits. There is much more to most religions than ludicrous theological beliefs.
But does this mean we should ignore those beliefs? I don’t think so. The fact is, if a presidential candidate like Mitt Romney actually believes all of his church’s claims, including those regarding angels, gold tablets, and planets, then I think his ability to think critically and independently must be brought into question. It would therefore be fair, I think, to ask him directly if he believes these things. If he does believe them, he should not be embarrassed to say so. And if he is embarrassed, then he should probably rethink his beliefs.
It is quite clear that Mormons are abundantly aware of how silly some of their beliefs are, which is one of the reasons they prefer not to talk about them openly. Instead, what we see and hear of Mormons is a sometimes eerily desperate, squeaky-clean, family-values image, free of theological baggage. Clean-cut suits, clean-shaven faces, wide smiles, and name badges.
The fact that the Mormon church doesn’t abandon it’s odder theological claims in the face of public ridicule is evidence enough that these claims are a fundamental part of Mormon theology and identity. Talking about them, then, is not an attempt to “reduce” Mormonism to something irrelevant, it is an attempt to shine a light on the hidden foundations of the church.
As for other religions, there are indeed many writers who, over the centuries, have ridiculed the papacy, the worship of cows, and Islam’s promise of seventy virgins. And rightly so: some of these ideas are patently silly, or even dangerous. They ought not to be swept under the rug simply to make their proponents look more reasonable.