Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cleaning Up After the New York Times...

On Monday, the New York Times published five short articles in their "Room for Debate" feature on whether it's a good idea to vote for a Mormon for President.

To call the five articles a "debate" is a bit generous of the Times: the three "con" pieces ("A Male-Dominated World," "It May Look Good on Paper," and "There Is a Dark Side to Mormonism") open with brief acknowledgments that Mormons have a nice attribute or two, then use charged language to give the faith an absolute pounding for various alleged transgressions of liberal values. The two "pro" pieces ("Can a Candidate Be Too Perfect?" and "Mormonism's Double Legacy") spend most of their time explaining why evangelicals hate us and comparing us to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Read them, my friends, and weep.

Then ponder. To be fair, it's nice to be harassed in print instead of tarred and feathered in person. And, unlike so many newspaper editorialists of the 1830s-1850s, no one on the Times panel actually called for or praised anti-Mormon violence (well...violence against living Mormons at least. Sally Denton did make a comment which seemed to endorse the 1857 federal expedition sent to crush a nonexistent Mormon rebellion). I probably should be thankful. I probably shouldn't whine about the combination of low levels of research and empathy with high levels of stereotyping, or ask why these article made it into a paper that feels as strongly about its civilizing mission as the New York Times.

But then again, according to an anonymous commenter on my other blog, I should also "go back to India" and consider the treatment of the dalits before I dare to criticize the morality of Newt Gingrich.

And so, New York Times, I am going to complain about your treatment of my faith. And then I'm going to do my best to explain why I think so many people are getting so much wrong.

As a favor to people with short attention spans, though, I'll split my discussion into three posts, which will appear over the next week or so. And as a favor to people whose attention spans are not yet exhausted, I'll give working titles and summaries for each in advance:

1: "The Priesthood, Cooperative Culture, and Why Mormon Women Don't Need Liberals to Save Them from Me"
Most white Americans grow up and live primarily in what I would call a "competitive culture." That makes it hard for them to understand how people think in the "cooperative culture" that is dominant in the church. Which makes it hard, in turn, for them to understand our concept of Priesthood--and why support for keeping the Priesthood male-only is even higher among Mormon women than it is among Mormon men.

2: "Dear Ian Williams: Next Time, Can You Please Keep Your Self-Righteousness to Yourself?"
What I learned about the world on my mission, whether it's fair to suggest that Mormons are all racists, and why criticizing anti-depressant use is probably a bad idea.

3: "Been There. Done That. Will It Happen Again?"
Why praising the invasion of Utah by Johnston's Army still hurts my feelings after all these years, and what an 1857 military stalemate has to do with the ERA and Prop 8. Plus, a brief rant about this recurring idea that stripping the LDS Church of its non-profit status would somehow strengthen the separation of church and state.

If you've made it this far, I hope you'll come back for the full posts. I will do my best to make it worth your while.


  1. I am looking forward to reading them.

  2. Thanks, James, for taking this on. I haven't read those articles yet. I'm trying to work myself up to it emotionally. :-/

    Did they bring up something about anti-depressants? Oh, dear. I've read at various times that (1) Utah Valley also has a higher rate of penicillin usage and (2) that Mormons don't have a higher rate of prescription drug abuse. Which indicates that Mormons tend to turn to legit medicine to help manage their emotional (along with their physical) health rather--than self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs.

  3. And as someone who deals with anxiety, I would say that American culture does as much or more to exacerbate the problem as Mormon culture does. At least Mormonism offers some solid solutions (ex: the understanding that my soul is of infinite worth) coupled with the high expectations. I can't say the same for American culture. Which makes people feel like it's completely their fault if they fail or succeed at something.

  4. Way to give away my surprise, Katherine. ;)

    Yeah--Iam Williams uses Utah's high rate of antidepressant usage to insinuate that Mormons are smothered by the restrictive Mormon lifestyle. I suspect that the high rate may have more to do with the fact that Mormons, having closer relationships with larger numbers of people through wards and extended family groups, are more likely to meet someone who helps them overcome the stigma of mental health medication.

  5. Looking forward to reading your posts. :)

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