Why not Mormonism?

Periodically, one reads of an evangelical leader or Republican legislator who believes that the Bible has a great deal to say about America. Yet biblical scholars are buzz-killingly insistent that all of the biblical writings were composed during a time when no one in the Eastern Hemisphere had any idea that the Americas existed. Even more buzz-killing: if there is an analogue for America in the Bible, surely it is Babylon or Rome, both of which are demonized as simultaneously opponents and unwitting tools of God.

There is an existing version of Christianity that gives evangelicals everything they want: Mormonism. As people my age learned repeatedly from watching commercials offering free Books of Mormon, that book includes accounts of “other sheep” who will “hear my voice” (John 10:16) — i.e., Jesus’s post-resurrection visit to America. It’s a bold retcon, but it’s not the only one. It makes the American West the explicit promised land. It dials the emphasis on family up to 11 compared with traditional Christianity. It takes a belt-and-suspenders approach to textual inerrancy: the original document is written on metal plates (hence no need for a manuscript tradition that might introduce errors), and Joseph Smith’s translation is “re-inspired.” And if there is any worry about the Church becoming irrelevant or behind the times, there’s a principle of progressive revelation that takes the fundamentalist idea of dispensationalism (where God has different requirements in different historical periods) and shifts it into the contemporary world.

Perhaps there are signs of a rapprochement in the evangelical embrace of Romney last time around and the general trend of greater alliances on social issues. But if anything, the question is why it’s taken so long — Mormonism actually is what evangelical Christians think Christianity should be.

(Note: I do not say this to make fun of Mormonism, which I think is a really interesting historical phenomenon and which, all things being equal, seems to contain a similar mix of bad and good as evangelicalism or any other mainstream contemporary religious movement.)

A tale of two reviews

In recent weeks, I’ve come to feel more and more that reading mainstream liberal publications like the New York Times or New York Review of Books may be actively making me stupider. A kind of breaking point came when I read the NYT review of the new Brigham Young biography and then, a week later, the L.A. Review of Books review. In the latter, I learned of interesting experiments with anti-capitalist economic relations in early Mormonism. In the former, I learned that the reviewer felt that the author was too even-handed — specifically, that he didn’t make it sufficiently clear how gross and weird polygamy is.

Posted in ideology, Mormonism. Comments Off on A tale of two reviews

Critchley on Mormonism

Simon Critchley has a piece up at the New York Times praising the weirdness of Mormon theology. It’s well worth a look.