Monday, July 18, 2005

The dilemma of Mormonism

Disclaimer: I like Mormons. Collectively, they are probably some of the best people I know. My brother-in-law is Mormon. He is also a good husband and father with well educated, polite children whose prospects for worldly success are rather good. In the service, my second in command was a Mormon, a fine officer, and a gentleman. In college, my favorite professor was a Mormon (teaching anthropology at Notre Dame, no less). So don't get me wrong, I think Mormons are great people.

Having said that, they have one seriously weird religion.

At Relapsed Catholic, this morning, I picked up on a story of an Australian geneticist (who happens to be Mormon) in trouble with the LDS for publishing a book which outlines the genetic impossibility of the Mormon account of American Indians being descendents of the lost tribe of Israel.

Most Mormons are well educated. The familial and church discipline which are part of Mormon culture tends to result in worldly success and high educational standards in that community, and more especially among Mormons living outside Utah who (I suspect) feel the need to prove themselves "normal" while living among a large, secular population which views LDS beliefs and practices in a vague sense of disdain.

My point is this: most Mormons are smart enough to know that there is no way the book of Mormon can stand up to scientific, linguistic, historical, or even literary analysis. And yet they are willing to suspend their disbelief to remain in good standing with their church.


My theory is that most Mormons like the value set which promotes a wholesome family life, are willing to accept the theology of multiple deities (which makes a certain sort of sense, as long as you ignore the way it flatly contradicts everything in the Bible), and are willing to simply ignore the bogus salvation history.

I don't mean they contradict, argue against, or create scandal about their salvation history. They simply think about and talk about it as little as possible. That's the reason the Australian geneticist in the story above is getting the hammer dropped on him. He might have had the intellectual courage to say: "This belief can't be so." But he did not have the ability which most Mormons have developed of ignoring their temptation to pry into things and simply leave the topic alone.

This sounds dysfunctional, but it isn't. It is no more dysfunctional than teens who ignore the cursing of their peers or the idiosyncrasies of their siblings so they can be accepted in their group. It is no different from the laborer in the non-union shop who ignores the absence of collective bargaining because the pension plan he anticipates really is a good one. It's no different from the wife who ignores her husband's weekend withdrawal because he really does bust his hump all week long. These situations are all far from perfect, but they are tolerable and worth the reward.

To Mormons, the odd belief system and unbelievable salvation history are tolerable because they have a church home which puts families first and, with it's mission program, challenges every single LDS member right down to his toenails.

Catholics take note. The sex abuse scandal has been bad. If we want to participate in the recovery of our Church, we need to think about promoting the authentic, Christian family and challenging ourselves and each other to get out of our comfort zones-- to invest our egos in our Church.