A Pack of Wolves

Nate posted recently about the “Gentile Boogie” — that is, things people do or say when they don’t think a Mormon is around. Nate’s post suggests a world of subtle exclusions and small slights. There is a much darker side to the Gentile Boogie, though — one that I caught a glimpse of, a decade ago.

I was a junior in college, attending Arizona State University. At ASU, I was in the honors program, and as a result taking a number of required courses from the Honors College. One of these was a seminar on race, class, and gender. It was a class that satisfied several core requirements, so I was happy to sign up for it. And it was an interesting subject, too. We read and discussed all sorts of material: Martin Luther King, Virginia Woolf, Eldridge Cleaver. The class was small — 20ish students — and the discussions were good. At various points throughout the semester, we talked in varying levels of depth about the difficulties faced by various underrepresented and minority groups; the need to avoid such oppression; and so on.

The discussions were very open and dynamic; the teacher did very little talking and mostly encouraged student discussion. I liked this a lot. I was typically an active class participant. As far as I could tell, I was generally well regarded in the class. And it had a great dynamic — there were lots of bright, articulate students, and the back-and-forth in the discussions was always fun and interesting. We were also each preparing student presentations, to be given at the end of the semester.

I wasn’t much involved in student social life. I was a relative newlywed, and starting a family. It was a busy time in my life — I was working full time while going to school full time. So I didn’t have a ton of interactions with other students outside of class; it wasn’t like anyone knew my religious affiliation or anything. One thing that I often did was show up a little early for that class. We were a group used to hashing out issues of philosophy and class and economics and politics. Often there would be a lively discussion on some topic or other, in the ten minutes or so prior to class.

One day, around the middle of the semester, I showed up early to class, as happened sometimes. The usual light chatter was going on. And then one of the students made a random remark about Mormons, and the tenor of the discussion changed.

Another student joined in, and started criticizing the church. He said that Mormon beliefs were strange; that Mormons were hypocritical; that they didn’t let anyone drink caffeine, but they owned Pepsi, and they owned Smith’s food stores, and Smitty’s food stores, and were buying more stuff. And others students made a few remarks about weird Mormon underwear. Another student said that people shouldn’t shop at Smith’s, because that just supports Mormons, and we don’t want to do that. Another student made a remark critical of the church’s views on gays, and then there was another joke about Mormon underwear.

And I sat there, silently, watching my classmates turn into a pack of wolves. I could feel my face turning red, but I didn’t say anything. We had been talking all semester about oppression of minority groups. And so I sat, waiting for someone, anyone, to stop the train and get off. Someone to jump in and say guys, let’s stop this. Someone to defend the church. Someone to defend me. This was the Honors College, for Heaven’s sake, and a class about diversity and tolerance!

And then one of the discussants said that the worst thing is, that Mormons are allowed to teach their weird beliefs to their kids. Mormons shouldn’t be allowed to have kids. Heads nodded. And what about kids they have now? Any kids Mormons have should be taken away from them, sent somewhere else, to be raised in more normal homes. It’s for the kids own protection. Kids should be protected from being raised Mormon. There were nods of assent. The state should take Mormon kids from them.

I sat and waited, waited for someone to object. Waited for someone to say guys, we can’t just take Mormons’ children away. It seemed like an eternity. And no one said a word. No one objected to the idea of forced removal of children from Mormon homes. No one objected to the proposed destruction of my nascent family.

And finally I gave up on my classmates, and interjected “um, guys, I’m Mormon.”

The conversation stopped; everyone looked at me.

“Yeah, but are you like, a real Mormon?”

I’m as real as they get, I replied. Active member, returned missionary, married in the temple.

Incredulous. “You wear that Mormon underwear?”

Yes, I got asked about my underwear. In retrospect, I wish I had fired off some snappy retort about the propriety of the question; as it is, I just gave a defiant “yes.”

One student — one of the main discussants in the whole Mormon-bashing thing, and the one who had asked about underwear — started to criticize me personally for the church’s position on gays, but the others stepped in, with remarks that said hey, let’s not go there. Everyone, it seemed, was willing to criticize Mormons in anonymity, but not to criticize a Mormon classmate. A few students made half-hearted attempts to defuse an obviously tense situation, saying “we were talking about some Mormons we know, but not you.” And everyone was pretty uncomfortable.

And then the teacher arrived, and class started.

I spoke with my teacher afterwards. I was disappointed; I was hurt. She was pretty disappointed herself. I asked her if I could change the topic of my presentation, and she agreed. So at semester’s end, I presented about the history of Mormon persecution in America. Afterwards, several students went out of their way to tell me that they liked my presentation, that they hadn’t known the history of Mormon persecution, and so on.

I had no problems with the class; there were no further incidents. I’m not a real grudge-holder, and I was fine. The class discussed a number of other things over the semester, and I never felt ostracized. Everyone knew what had happened, but we seemed to have an unspoken agreement to more or less pretend that nothing had happened.

It was a real eye-opener, though, for me. Previously, I had assumed that others might think I was a little weird, but that any such perception was relatively innocuous. What I saw that day was different. It wasn’t a slightly amused and condescending acceptance of a quirky outsider group. It was a smart and vicious mob, talking very seriously about how nice it would be if the state destroyed Mormon families, and no one objected. And that was the eye-opener. A lot of people — your classmates, your friends, your co-workers — think Mormons are really, really weird. Not just crazy-uncle, roll-your-eyes-at-him weird; they think that you’re mad-dog, take-your-kids-away-from-you weird. Even in diversity classes, at an Honors college, in 1997.

Be careful if you seek, as Nate’s post suggests, to play Eddie Murphy and to see the Gentile boogie. Be careful if you scratch that surface. Under the veneer of acceptance may lie a pack of wolves.

64 comments for “A Pack of Wolves

  1. “Not just crazy-uncle, roll-your-eyes-at-him weird; they think that you’re mad-dog, take-your-kids-away-from-you weird.”

    You mean about as weird as faithful LDS people think former members of the church are? If so, whoa, that is bad.

  2. YOU? An active class participant? no…

    My story wasn’t AS bad.
    DePaul University, 1999, a history class. We got to the Mormons, professor says something like: “Mormons don’t even know how to spell their names, there is one too many M’s, they are really the Morons.” I immediately raised my hand and said I was a mormon. I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t think the teacher even apologized. The worst part was that I was doing really poorly in the class (a reflection on the professor b/c I was an A student), so I thought maybe he would really think I was a moron.

    I think that his way of apologizing was by giving me an A for my D work. I was ok with that.

    The other one was in 2001. I was auditioning for a children’s theatre that REALLY stressed diversity and all that jazz. One of the directors made a comment about people in Utah/Mormons having lots of wives. I quickly spoke up and clarified the church’s position on polygamy. He felt really dumb and apologized right away. I decided not to return the favor by making any jokes about his heritage (slavery or being black.)

    Many people are looking for a scapegoat. I view the conversation that your classmates had as a group of people who wanted to try to feel good about themselves. It is SO EASY to attack “weirdos”, and the “pack of wolves” imagery reminds me of little children on a playground picking on some weird kid. It is so easy and it makes them feel so good, and that is so immature and creepy. Obviously from the stories above I believe in standing up for myself, but I would say part of it is me being gracious to them…not letting their self-humiliation go too far.

  3. I’m shocked, shocked, to hear that people are ganging up on some faceless opposition.

    Kaimi, I’m half inclined to take your surprise as disingenuous. Surely this kind of thing is far too common, and this kind of observation far too banal to warrant a post at Times and Seasons.

    People don’t know that I am from the South, because I don’t speak with a southern accent. And, my oh my, you should hear what they say about southerners in Massachusetts!

    Democrats say the same things about Republicans in Massachusetts that you heard said of Mormons in Arizona (and probably vice versa, though I don’t know enough Republicans here to say for sure). Seriously, I know a Democrat who believes that people should have their children taken away if they think that gays shouldn’t be able to marry, adopt, etc.

    I’m happy to note that mormons never (never!) do this to others. For example, you’ll never hear gays openly labeled deviants in Mormonism. You’ll never hear abortionists labeled label child-murderers among Mormons. And unwed mothers never feel uncomfortable or out of place in our sacrament meetings. Oh, no. And thank heavens!

  4. UH *raises hand*

    I’m a wolfe. Can we stop using the “pack of wolves” imagery?

    I find that exclusionary and discrimanatory to Wolfes like myself. For shame, all of you for being so prejudiced and stereotypical about The Wolfe family.


  5. I wonder how it would have gone over if you had spoken for mormons, but not voluntarily identified yourself as a member. I realize that it is somewhat dishonest, especially since it would have put you in the position of a third party, so to speak. It seems, though, that you would have had more of an opportunity to talk them down from their pack of wolves (sorry Ivan) state of mind, and maybe talk some reason into them. It sounds like once you spoke up and said that you’re a member they either became defensive or embarrassed and shut themselves off to what you may have been able to teach them about how crazy they sounded.

  6. Most of us are guilty at one time or another of spouting off about things we know very little about. “Bright” people tend to be at least as bad as ignorant people, and in my experience usually worse…the hubris that comes with knowing (or just thinking you know) how smart you are leads to thinking and saying all sorts of ridiculous things. We would all do well to strive for a little more humility, and honest research into things before we jump on a critical bandwagon. It’s not uncommon for critical remarks and discussions to erupt in our gospel doctrine class when someone raises some issue about “Catholics”. I myself have been known to make scathing generalizations about Democrats and (sorry Kaimi) Lawyers 8^o

  7. Kaimi, remember to keep your hands wet and handle the posters as little as possible.

  8. Well, people will think we’re wierd, even loathsome, and that’s life. But suggesting that our kids should be taken away from us is beyond the pale. You showed admirable restraint, Kaimi.

  9. Boy, Dave, you sure seem to have lots of negative interactions with people in Massachusetts! Could be that you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd…

    As for Kaimi’s post, I can’t recall a single time where a stranger has said something derogatory to me or to others in my earshot about the Mormon religion, including when the stranger did not know I was Mormon. But, I quite frequently hear Mormons boasting about how every other religion is inferior or misguided. Today, I heard the word “abominable” quoted over the pulpit to describe the doctrine of a mainstream religious organization. I think we as Mormons have a unique responsibility to refrain from using such hurtful and incendiary language in our discourse about the practices of other religions.

    Also, I worry that witnessing such intolerance from non-Mormons as Kaimi describes nurses an “us against them” mentality. People do harbor prejudices, and it’s important to correct these prejudices whenever we hear them – following Christ’s example by showing love to those who do not understand us, and who may even hate us.

    I know this wasn’t necessarily Kaimi’s intent in writing this post, but I strongly disagree that the true nature of our non-Mormon brothers and sisters is that they are a pack of wolves waiting to tear us apart.

  10. I think some of the previous comments are more on the mark about it not being anti-mormonism per-se, but elitism run-amok.

    Kaimi, what you saw in your class in 1997 was not anti-mormonism per se. It was the hypocrisy, fascism, and phony compassion of elitist liberals who think they know it all.

    The “solution” would not be to educate them about real or true Mormonism. Teaching them correctly about what Mormonism is, does and believes would not solve the problem you observed. It would merely confirm their belief that Mormonism is a threat to their world-view.

    It was not anti-MORMONism, it was anti-“anything outside the bounds of what we elitists deem proper in our world-view”.

    I believe their attitudes would have been similar towards Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists, not just Mormons.

    In fact, it has happened. In Indiana, there have been cases in which home-schooling evangelical families had their children removed by a SWAT team on the say-so of school officials. No polite knock on the door, no investigation first. The FIRST contact of law-enforcement with the family was storm-trooper tactics.

    Upon investigation, the only legitimate complaint was that the children weren’t on record as having had eye-exams. So the bottom line is that the children were removed at gun point over eye-exams. There were no threats by the parents, no guns on the part of the parents, no barricading, etc., nothing that normally would justify the SWAT team. The first hint that the kids or the parents had that something was amiss was having the SWAT team point loaded guns at them.

    I believe that the demonizing of the Christian Right in this country has eery parallels to the demonizing of Jews in 1930’s Germany. Your classmates’ eagerness to remove children from the homes of Mormons supports that parallel. The SWAT team’s storm-trooper tactics initiated at the say-so of school officials in Indiana supports that parallel. (Though law enforcement agencies have now supposedly learned their lesson about not taking at face value the shrill accusations of public-school officials against home-schoolers.)

    I’m curious about whether those who would be quick to support removal of children from Christian/Mormon homes would be as quick to support removal of children from (those few?) Palestinian homes in which children are brought up to be suicidal terrorists/martyrs.

    Kaimi, your experience illustrates that those social-engineers who claim to be “concerned” and “compassionate” towards the under-represented, the minority, the misunderstood, the persecuted, and who want the power of the state to be used as the main solution to those problems, are damnable hypocrites.

    In my view, they are aligning themselves with the position that the Mormons attribute to Satan in the PofGP, that of forcing people to do what they consider to be “the right thing.”

    Those who want governments to replace religions and families as the shaper of a society’s morals and cultures, are in actuality working towards the destruction of our society’s morals and cultures.

  11. In the third paragraph of my previous comment (#11), I did not mean to imply that we should not attempt to educate others about what Mormonism is/does/believes. It’s just that doing so would not be the solution to the situation Kaimi observed in his class in 1997.

    A higher or (more) macro-level exposition of pro-Gospel and pro-family concepts would perhaps be more appropriate to counter the anti-Christian anti-conservative bigotry that he encountered.

  12. “It was the hypocrisy, fascism, and phony compassion of elitist liberals who think they know it all.”

    And people like that really annoy those of us who do.

  13. Ivan,

    I always thought that you were a sheep in Wolfe’s clothing, buddy. :)

    Dave and others,

    You understandably point to organized group opposition to other groups. Mormons as a group routinely bash other groups. I’m not a fan of this behavior, either, and I’ve criticized it on more than one occasion in this forum and elsewhere.

    Nevertheless, there is I think some substantive difference between that behavior and the behavior I observed. The behavior I saw was more problematic, I think, because it involved a group of people not otherwise linked by religious or other group identity. Their only link to each other was that they were all students in my class.

    So this was not “go to a Catholic church and hear Mormons bashed.” Or for that matter, “go to a Mormon church and hear Catholics bashed.” Rather, this was pulling together a relatively random slice of the student body — united only by the fact that we all had good grades — at a large public school in a state with a relatively sizable (15%, I think) Mormon population. That’s what I found particularly alarming about it. It wasn’t “Catholics dislike Mormons” or “Baptists dislike Mormons” or “communists dislike Mormons” or some other group-limited description. Rather, it was “the community dislikes Mormons.”

    Also, the lack of opposition was shocking given the existing class dynamic. This was a class built on intelligent discussion and back-and-forth. It was a class of students who had argued at length about feminism and socialism and affirmative action and a dozen other topics. It was a class of opinionated, strong-willed students with a variety of differing views. They had argued and fought and disagreed on every conceivable topic.

    Except on the propriety of removing rights from Mormons. No one took the other side. Not even as a devil’s advocate. That was a shock.

    Elisabeth writes “I think we as Mormons have a unique responsibility to refrain from using such hurtful and incendiary language in our discourse about the practices of other religions.”

    I agree. The attitudes held by some others certainly don’t excuse us from our own duties not to have such attitudes ourselves. And I don’t mean to imply that every non-member is ready to order removal of Mormon children. I think that most aren’t. I think that most of my classmates probably weren’t really enthusiatic about the idea. But the conversation tilted that direction, and people escalated from one step to another, and no one stepped in to stop it. And I wonder if that’s how mobs form — one or two firebrands, and a lot of people who tag along and probably don’t feel great enthusiasm for the idea, but who aren’t going to try to stop it.

    As any reader of this board knows by now, I think that Mormons often overdo the us-against-them mentality. I thought about not posting this, precisely because I know it will, for at least some people, simply feed that mentality. That said, I can’t deny things that I witnessed saw myself. I think that we’re often too paranoid; nevertheless, in at least some instances, the paranoia is based on reality.

  14. By the way, those who have made comments disagreeing with me — I’ve decided to put you all into my “them” category. Just thought I should let you know.

    (E., you were already on thin ice for saying that LoTR makes you go to sleep — you’re toast now, girl! And Heaven knows I need no excuse to pick on Landrith.)

    To the battlements!


  15. Kaimi, my guess is that you’re over estimating the intellectual approach of the class. In my experience, most “intellectuals” are just folks of slightly above-average intelligence who’ve found moderately thoughtful ways of expressing their views on a few of their pet issues. Once they deviate from those pet issues, you reach the bottom of the barrel quite quickly, as you observed with Mormonism.

    Nevertheless, I can read your post now in a different light. I can relate to it more as a caution concerning the ease with which a group can be taken over by something akin to a mob mentality, where thoughtless buy-in from the audience leads to repeated escalation until things get out of control.

  16. #16 – Perhaps this would more fittingly be called ‘Wolf followers’, since most of the people involved in the discussion probably had little knowledge or opinion of Mormonism going into it but followed the conversation stream of those that had negative positions. People have this tendency to not oppose casual conversation when it misinformed on all sides. I’ve noticed that a lot since I’ve been living in California. My response is to acknowledge that I can’t expect people to be sensitive for me, but I can and should awaken them to my position. Sometimes my position is enlightening to them – not because they agree but because it is different. Other times I find the person agrees with me; they were just ignorant of what my position was.

    The other thing is to realize that mainstream media attacked the Church for decades. Only in the past twenty years have they been willing to say anything positive about us or make correct statements about our positions. This is excessively unfortunate because we have much in common with other Christians and Jews, but bad press and bigotry have separated us from them more than should be.

    Of course we Mormons also excessively separate ourselves from other religious peoples. All too many times when I was at BYU, people at church used this isolationist statement ‘the world’s view is ..’. As if noone else believed in chastity, family values, or whatever. Elder Batemen even used this statement in the last CES fireside! A lot of people agree with us. They’re just as shy as we are to speak up.

  17. A few years back our Gospel Essentials teacher was teaching a lesson about prayer, and discussed how some churches have you pray to the Saints. I explained to him the rationale for that practice as I understood it. He responded by saying that he wasn’t comfortable, and that he thought it was better that we talk about the beliefs of our Church. I said “Good idea.” And that was that.

    Generally, I’ve found that what other churches teach about is is about as accurate as what we say about them. I tire quickly of comments about how “other churches believe that marriage ends at death” or things just as silly that I hear.

    What you experienced was another example of the tribal behavior I spoke of in the other thread. The Mormon tribe isn’t the natural ally of any other religious tribe (including the atheist and agnostic tribes) because we teach that all other churches are an abomination before God, while we are the One True Church >tm<, we fail to recognize the validity of baptism from any other Christian church (they have no problem recognizing each others baptisms, for the most part), and other similar party fouls at the Ecumenical House Party. Our members can also be very smug and superior, not to mention exerting descrimination against non-members when we get the chance (including using employment power to coerce “missionary” experiences). I don’t suspect that we have any higher percentage of members that do those kinds of things than any other religiously defined tribe has, but we certainly have more than a people that claims to follow the Father of us all ought to.

    I don’t justify what you experienced — I believe that we will be punished for our own sins, and not for stupid people’s transgressions. I’m trying to explain a little of where it comes from. And keep in mind that this kind of talk is not the kind of thing that leads to actions — when you see these folks passing around petitions that Mormon kids should be forcibly removed from their parents, let us know and we’ll get a bit more serious in addressing this. Absent that, this was a bunch of college kids shooting off their mouths about things they didn’t know as much about as they thought they did — hardly newsworthy. They learned that Mormons have faces, and they have a more clear impression of what Mormons are like thanks to you. It is unlikely that any of them has or will engage in a conversation like that again.

    Gotta work on that essay some more tomorrow.

  18. Kaimi, may I share a similar story? I was a senior in film school. We were a tiny group of 18 creative-type hipsters in San Francisco that were in a production program that lasted for two years. Our visiting professor/filmmaker for our senior seminar was to help us make our thesis film and graduate from the University. Unfortunately for me she turned out to be from Utah. And not Mormon. And an “authority” on Mormons because she was from there. And she incidently made scathing documentaries about Mormon culture. And we had to sit there and analyze them and discuss them. Being incredibly shy by nature anyway, I couldn’t say anything at first, and then it got to the point of being far too late in the semester to start saying anything now, so I sat there and took it. I’m so ashamed of myself! In my brain I kept screaming, if she were to replace the word “Mormons” with the word “Jews” “Blacks” or “Hispanics”, our class would be crucifying her. But everyone, including me, was just silent. Finally after one session of Mormon bashing, I must’ve looked ill or something. I went outside at the break and hung out. My two friends, a gay guy with purple hair and earrings from New Orleans, and a lesbian girl I used to give rides to on my motor bike hung out with me while they smoked. They asked me if I were Mormon. I was so shocked! It must have been so evident, me sitting there squirming! I said yes, and the guy said, “I thought so. I just want to tell you that when I was on the tennis circuit (!) I lived with a Mormon family for awhile, and they were the nicest, most decent people I’ve ever known.” I said thanks. The break was over and we went back in. No one ever said anything to our prof, but I knew that this liberal group of artsy misfits accepted me and never joined in with the bashing of any minority group – including mine. The wolves are there, but there are a lot of decent people in this world too. You just can’t always tell who they are by the way they look. Sorry this was such a long comment!!! Aack!

  19. Kaimi, this is a fascinating post. As you may remember from past posts, I spent most of my adult life as a Mormon-basher (until my mid-30s) even though I come from a Mormon family. I was very liberal and actively participated in group discussions like the one you describe bashing Mormons, Baptists, conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc. The views regularly expressed by intelligent, relatively thoughtful secular liberals were exactly along the lines of what you describe — we should take their children away, there should be government intervention to prevent them from brainwashing their kids, etc.

    So, when you describe this discussion, I can only nod my head and say, “yup, I’ve been there.” Since my conversion, I have come to a different kind of conclusion that you and many other people in Bloggernacle have, which is that your average conservative Christian or Jew or Mormon is considerably more tolerant than your average secular liberal. It is because of my experience — and scenes like you describe above — that I consider it incumbent upon me to warn our liberal-leaning Bloggernacle members that they should not consider liberal secular humanists to be their allies — they will turn on you in a New York minute once they find out you are a Mormon.

    Having said that, I do believe in the power of dialogue to overcome this. My neighbors are all secular humanist liberals who regularly bash conservative evangelicals and Pentecostals, for example, but because I have a good relationship with them I have been able to show them that all religious people are not so bad after all. It’s funny to hear them go off on ignorant Christians and then say “well, you’re an exception.” I’m not offended by that — mostly it’s a sign of their own ignorance. People tend to form caricatures of the people they don’t know. It happens all over the world. In Latin America, Colombians form caricatures of Venezuelans and vice versa — it’s the nature of the human experience.

    But I would agree that it’s especially important for us Mormons not to fall into the trap of forming caricatures of the other religious people around us. Elisabeth says she sees that all the time over the pulpit — I almost never hear anybody at my ward discussing other religions at all, which I think is probably the best policy. Let’s not concentrate on the negatives of other religions — let’s concentrate on the positives in ours.

  20. I’m with David. Of course, I live in the heart of Mormonism and those who bash are pretty much ignored or viewed as sour grapes-ish for moving here in the first place.

    My experience has been what David describes. I find myself often having to defend the minority, mostly because the few who have dissenting thoughts don’t have the courage. It’s not courage with me, it’s obsession and iconoclasm. So, no big deal to defend Democrats or gays.

    What I feel, really feel, goes deeper. I find myself increasingly alienated from the norm. Despite my devotion to basic gospel principles, I am “other” in my ward. That’s the only way I can relate to what you describe, Kaimi, because I’ve never experienced it. For one thing, I would have spoken up at the first second and probably used bad words.

    I think more active Mormons like me feel alienation from other Mormons than Mormons feel alienated from the mainstream. But I don’t walk in intellectual circles, so I have no frame of reference. I do believe that Mormons are the most score-keeping-est people on the planet. And yeah, anybody ever sat in Sunday School while the room ate people alive for their bad decisions? I think that is a lot scarier to speak up against than any group of professors.

  21. It occurs to me that with this post (and Nate’s gentile boogie post), that if Mormons are complaining about being marginalized and considered “other”, then there’s just no hope for progress with feminists and minority activists.

    Elisabeth, I don’t consider my interactions to be negative. Mostly fun and informative (on both sides, I hope). I work with and hang with a great group of people whom I hold in high esteem.

  22. Kaimi, I have had experiences similar to yours and relate.

    Elisabeth, I find it hard to believe that you think we shouldn’t talk about experiences such as the one Kaimi had, and such as similar experiences that I have had on numerous occasions, because it could theoretically reinforce an “us vs. them” attitude. So someone in your ward quoted Joseph Smith quoting Jesus (or perhaps quoted Moroni quoting Jesus re infant baptism) on the topic of abominable doctrines in other religions (I’m just speculating here because of how vague you were when you said that someone said some doctrine of another religion was abominable–numerous legitimate examples of this come to mind, infant baptism being just one). That somehow means that Latter-day Saints shouldn’t be cognizant of what many other people really think about them? Is such religious condemnation of a particular doctrine held by another religious group the same as suggesting that Mormons are so deviant that the state needs to take their children away? I think not. This is apples and oranges.

    But I am glad you have never been a silent observer to a group of people with mixed backgrounds united on one point of discussion: Mormons are so weird that they should not be allowed to breed.

  23. Elisabeth wrote I think we as Mormons have a unique responsibility to refrain from using such hurtful and incendiary language in our discourse about the practices of other religions.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this simply doesn’t follow, either from the discussion at hand or even per se. It is very pc though.

    If we believe that Jesus actually has something to say about false doctrines and the necessity of avoiding them, and if we believe, as we do, that some particular doctrines have been singled out and identified as abominations in the sight of the Lord, then we can’t pretend that we don’t have such knowledge or refrain from teaching it. (The comment might, however, be justified for an agnostic who believes that we can neither know if Jesus has a position on the doctrine of any other religion or even of the existence of Jesus.)

    We can teach these things as nicely as possible given the language already used to describe some such doctrines. Perhaps the person in your ward wasn’t very nice about conveying such a teaching. But to scold him or her for merely conveying it at all is unwarranted given what has been revealed through latter-day prophets.

    It is not the same as suggesting the state should take away the kids of Mormons and redistribute them to avoid their being raised with such bizarre beliefs and to wear such strange underwear. In fact, I would venture to guess that the speaker at your ward who used the “a” word actually believes that people who adhere to whatever religion was being discussed should be able to keep their kids and to teach them whatever they want. At the same time, the speaker was aware that Latter-day Saints have every right to preach to them regarding erroneous doctrine (that is the entire point of the need for a restoration of the true Gospel). Again, it is apples and oranges.

  24. I too am kind of surprised by the supposed Naïveté of Kaimi in this post and Nate in the previous post. There is still a rabid anti-mormon sentiment in much of this country. To think otherwise is, well, either naive or very disingenuous.

    I have had many experiences very similar to Kaimi’s — in undergrad, in law school, in the supermarket, at professional sporting events. I have been the fly on the wall and heard the nefarious ideas about mormons and mormonism. People, most people, don’t just think we are odd, they think we are dangerous.

  25. Bill, I don’t much care for feral pigs. I ran the article past a friend of mine who knows quite a lot about game and such and he scoffed. I’ll address an area closer to my heart, one that I actually went over in some detail: There was an article in The New Yorker a little over a year ago on the Scottish Enlightenment (a period which lately seems to have become much more popular then when I studied Hume, Smith, and Hutcheson and the term “Scottish Enlightenment” was rarely, if ever, used). The article was boorishly incorrect about everything that it was trying to be insightful about. If my memory serves, the first paragraph alone contained no less than 6 errors, most of which consisted of anacronistically attributing beliefs to Hume (supposedly laid out in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) that were basically derivative from Freud’s The Future of an Illusion. This is typical of any article I’ve browsed in The New Yorker whenever the topic has concerned something that I have any amount of knowledge about.

    As far as classical reviews: Come on, it really doesn’t take much skill to review classical music. I could do a better job than most of the jokers out there, and I’m barely able to play the kazoo.

    The Atlantic Monthly does a much better job in general, though you still have to be a little leery of the stuff that’s supposed to be “cutting edge.” For example, someone recently gave me a reprint of an article from the 1980s by Cullin Murphy (this person knows him) that dealt with reconstructing the Jesus of the Bible; predictably, it was pretty sad stuff.

  26. Cyril wrote People, most people, don’t just think we are odd, they think we are dangerous.

    That’s right. What I don’t understand is why Elisabeth either can’t see this or pretends it’s not so.

  27. Had an experience like this recently in the blogosphere. A guy whose blog I read for bachelor-food recipes came out of left-field with an anti-Mormon rant about baptism for the dead. Unlike the experiences detailed here, he didn’t get nicer after I identified myself as a Mormon. Good old internet– no reason to be nice to someone if you’re not speaking with them face to face.

  28. I had a similar class – but unlike Kaimi’s, these people’s discussions were neither intelligent nor sophisticated. It was just a bunch of platitudes spouted constantly, like “racism is bad” and “black people should be able to wear their hair any way they want” and “not all Middle Easterners are terrorists.” While I agree with all those statements, there was never any real discussion that went anywhere below the surface of them. There was quite a cross section of students in the class, because it too filled many requirements, so I had high hopes. I came to the conclusion that forcing people to take diversity classes does nothing to actually help relationships between social, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. It just lets people say “Hey, I’m tolerant! I took a class that says so!”

    What Kaimi experienced is truly sad, anytime people suggest that the state is better at raising kids than parents, it’s just heartbreaking to me. I agree with all the commenters that just chalk this up to elitism.

    Academics often think they know everything, without ever leaving their own world, and students are often trying to please those academics so as to get good grades – unfortunately, they too sometimes get caught up in the fiction that the academic world is the only world that truly matters.

  29. It never ceases to amaze me how people are even able to overcome their knowledge of human anatomy in order to bash Mormons, as in this story of my husband’s. While in the Air Force, and newly converted, he was assigned to a post where he and a few other guys had to babysit a large satellite dish. When one of the guys found out he was Mormon, he said to my husband, “I heard that Mormons have horns. Is that true?”

    Well, how do you respond to something this ludicrous? Luckily my husband is such a trickster. He immediately responded, totally deadpan, “Oh yeah! In fact, I’ve got some.” “You do??” the guy responded, astonished. “Of course! But since I’m a new member, they’re really small and they don’t stick up above my hair yet.” “No kidding!” said the guy. “Yeah!” replied my husband. “Here, give me your hand. Feel right there. Do you feel it? Do you feel… kinda stupid?”

  30. Wacky Hermit, a friend of mine who’s Jewish went to some regional Latin competition in junior high. He ran into two chicks from Georgia who asked him how he hid his tail so well. (Apparently, all right thinking people know that Jews have tails.) He dispassionately explained that he used duck tape.

  31. Regarding No. 29: the trick is finding a “diversity class” without the endless self-congratulatory platitude regurgitation. I found one. “The History of Jazz” was one of my favorites as an undergrad. We listened to a load of great music. We were required to attend several great live shows. The “diversity” content was only subtext to the primary content: understanding the sources and styles and development of a rich and distinctively American artform.

  32. “It occurs to me that with this post (and Nate’s gentile boogie post), that if Mormons are complaining about being marginalized and considered “otherâ€?, then there’s just no hope for progress with feminists and minority activists.”

    DKL: I am very slow. Please connect the dots for me. Which feminist and minority activists are we talking about here? What kind of progress? What is their connection to the idea of Mormons as other.

  33. Dave,

    I’m already using “wolves” imagery in this thread. (Can’t you tell?). I’m afraid if you keep introducing animals, we’re just going to confuse the readers. So let’s keep the chicks and ducks out of it, huh?

    Think of it this way. Wolves eat chicks. And ducks. And all that’s left is the wolves. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

  34. Good question, Nate. On the one hand, Mormons do not have a politically self-interested motivation for having the kind of fixation on minor grievances we’ve seen in the posts here in the past few days. Moreover, Mormon’s do rather well in terms of being accepted into decent colleges, getting good jobs, and making good money–so much so that Mormons don’t have a separate “mormon-rights” political agenda in the US. On the other hand, feminist activists and minority activists actually have self-interested political motivations (e.g., minority set asides and affirmative action) for emphasizing their grievances.

    So my argument is that if a group is fixating on trivial grievances when it is pretty well off and has no self-interested political-rights axe to grind when identifying them, then there seems to be little possibility of satisfying a group that actually has some self-interest in identifying their grievances.

    This is what’s known as an a fortiori argument.

    Kaimi, I did mean to type duct tape, but your point about beasts is well taken.

  35. I agree that some people have a negative view of Mormons and some smaller subset view Mormons as threatening. Do I feel persecuted? No. Am I worried that someone will take away my child? Not even remotely. [Am I channeling my inner Rumsfeld? Absolutely.] Reading through this thread makes me wonder if some of the commenters don’t have an exaggerated sense of the place Mormons occupy in other people’s psyche.

    I work with a woman who lived in Europe for a number of years while working at the United Nations. People would constantly share with her anti-American comments which sometimes took the form of jokes or anecdotes. She was often at a loss as to how to respond, but ulitmately concluded that it was best to let them know that we didn’t have any jokes about Switzerland in America. She tells me that would often upset people more and confirm their preconceived notion of Americans. Others would laugh, perhaps in recognition of their folly.

    The persecution narrative we teach and reinforce serves many useful purposes. It gives an accounting of our history, unites us, reinforces important differences we would like to preserve. But it can easily be harmful as well: make us overly insular, act as a ready excuse for shortcomings and lead us to unfairly demonize others. As for the students in Kaimi’s class, I propose they be sent to a reeducation camp.

  36. Ivan played for Green Bay?

    And why did the owners of that team take the extreme measure of naming it so they wouldn’t be confused with our sr. apostle’s family farther west?

  37. 34. DKL, I generally enjoy your postings. However, could you perhaps explain LDS hunky-dorey-ness in the U.S. to Mitt Romney and the press so they’ll quit worrying about the issues’s effect on his supposed candidacy.

  38. I’m of the opinion that if you took a Phillies pitcher, a feminist author of books about perceptions of beauty, and a Southern novelist who counts George W. Bush among his readers, and put them all together . . .

    . . . you would have nothing but a pack of wolves.

    I hope this clears it all up.



  39. DKL: A duo of posts out of the 2486 posts at T&S is hardly fixating. I do agree that there is an odd dynamic among Mormons. On one hand, we want to cherish our myths of persecution, and on the other hand we want to believe our own press about how loved and accepted we are by mainstream America. My point is not that we are massively persecuted today or that we should fixate on every sleight. Rather, my point is that we shouldn’t believe our own press. Lots and lots of people think that we are pretty nuts.

    I think that it is probably a mistake to define success when dealing with the agrieved as the satiation of the feeling of grievence, for precisely the same reasons that Mormons cherish their myths of persucution. Stories about past injustices are a powerful way of defining and cementing communities. (Think about the prominence of Egyptian slavery in the founding story for the nation of Israel.) It is not just that people want stuff, but also that the language of grievance is often about much more than stuff. There is more to life than public choice theory.

  40. manean, it’s far too early to tell whether anything published about his mormonism will mean anything. Frankly, I’m glad to see it come up so early, because the sooner the “mormon thing” gets played out the less it will matter come voting time. The religion thing never played out when Romney ran for governor because his opponent (Shannon O’Brian) was Catholic and the priest/pedophile scandal was just breaking; nobody wanted to touch religion with a 10 foot pole. My guess is that it will play like Clinton’s infidelity or his draft record–if Romney handles it correctly, then it will die out and people will learn to separate their personal objections from their political outlook.

    As a resident of Massachusetts, my prediction is that Romney doesn’t stand a chance of getting the nomination. He’s only an average candidate. He won in Massachusetts because Shannon O’Brian was a terrible candidate and because people distrust the overwhelmingly Democratically controlled (veto-proof) legislature, a control that only tightened at his mid-term in spite of his vigorous efforts. Once the primary debates start, he’ll flounder. He’s stiff and abrasive, and he’s easily made to appear aloof and out of touch. I don’t see how his candidacy can catch fire.

  41. DKL: I don’t live in Mass, but based only what I see of Romney on TV (which is where almost all voters will get their information about him), I think your judgment about his candidacy is exactly right: not a chance.

  42. #32 –

    Sounds like a great class. I would have taken that in a heartbeat to fill my diversity requirement if I could. I still don’t see the need for a diversity requirement, but I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  43. DKL, how well do you think Romney would do against Kennedy this year or Kerry in 2008?

  44. I still cringe when I think about watching Romney’s candidacy in Massachusetts. I remember in particular the adds that he ran showing him going around the state doing various working-class things — eg brinking in the catch with some Glouster fishermen, picking up trash on Beacon hill, etc. etc. They just screamed, “I am a doofy rich guy who doesn’t understand you.” Then there were the painful ads showing him and his wife walking through the forest and intersperced with snipets from her talking about how they got engaged. It was a like a kind of horrible political version of the Homefront ads run by the Church.

    On the other hand, I think that his chances depend entirely on who else is running and what their funding situation looks like. It is not as though America has not elected stiff, inarticulate, or abrasive presidents in the past.

  45. I am a little surprised by DKL, Jim, and Nate. I’ve only seen Romney on CSPAN a few times (I discretely present my nerd credentials), but he was certainly more articulate and engaging than most of the serious contenders I remember in my lifetime (Bush, Bush, Gore, Kerry, Dukakis, Mondale, Carter, Perot). He’s no Reagan or Clinton (even if those who hate either one have to admit they were compelling). But who is? Certainly not Frist, McCain, et al.

    I wonder whether we might be unduly sensitive/ insecure as Mormons about how he will come off.

  46. S.P. Bailey: I actually think that as a set piece speaker, Romney does a good job. I think he would give a good stump speech. In Massachusetts, I thought that his media campaign was painfully bad at times, and the performance in his one-on-one debates with O’Brien was not impressive.

  47. 41 & later
    Interesting discussion of Romney’s appeal as a candidate.

    However, my request in #38 was to explain what I read into #35 that LDS in the US are so well-regarded that there really would be no concern among the voters about Romney’s religiion. This was intended to be a follow-on to Kaimi’s original pack-of-wolves point.

  48. Overall: Mormons as different… The Latter Day Saint church is the largest church in the United States (and possibly the world) where there are “secrets”. Regardless what they actually are to the LDS themselves, to most outsiders, they are “secrets”. That separates.

    Only comparison that I can give is the limitation on outsiders being in Mecca and Medina, but as far as I know, there is nothing limiting a Muslim from describing in great detail the buildings and the activities.

    On Gov. Romney becoming President. Romney doesn’t really have a track record of succeeding in things while Governor. While dealing with the Mass Legislature would cause almost anyone as Governor to pull out hair, I don’t know which laws can he point to and say “that was mine”. If the Referendum on Marriage had made its way to the voters, that might have been something to hang his hat on (at least in the Republican Primary), but without it….

    I actually think Mitt’s Father George had a better chance of being President than his son.

  49. S. P. Bailey, I don’t think that Romney has the political experience to navigate the stormy waters of a presidential candidacy. It seems to me premature for him to embark on a presidential campaign. I don’t think that he should have stepped down as governor, because that may well be the only statewide office that he can win in Massachusetts. A single term as governor of a medium-smallish state isn’t much in the way of qualifications to start with, and if Romney wants to run again in 6 or 10 years (when he may well be ready) he’ll have to do better than 8 or 12 years out of office. Besides, Northerners don’t win national elections (tip: this is also why Hillary Clinton’s move to New York was a big mistake).

    The candidate to keep your eye on is the junior senator from Virginia, the son of the NFL coach (credited with inventing the shotgun offense while at Chicago) who took the Redskins to Superbowl VII, George Allen.

    But all this is just my opinion. I just get one vote, same as you. We can revisit this next year and see if I’ve got to eat my words.

  50. John Mansfield, I do not think that Romney would beat Kerry. William Weld couldn’t beat Kerry after Weld won consecutive governorships by a landslide and trounced Kerry in debate after debate–plus Weld is an exceptionally talented politician (even if, in hindsight, he’s proven to have been a lackluster executive).

    The Kennedy question is an interesting one. Romney has already been down that road, and he got trounced. He made a big splash for a few reasons. First, Kennedy is one of the few Senators whose campaigns are national as well as local–even Kennedy gets a startling amount of money from out-of-state. Second, Romney spent a bunch of his own money–that makes headlines, but it’s always bad idea; very few candidates win when they finance their own election, because raising money is as important for its organization-building aspects as it is for its spending power. Third, a couple of very poorly done polls showed the race as tighter than it was a few weeks before the election.

    Yet Kennedy remains controversial, and there may be some amount of Kennedy fatigue. Romney has an organization now, and he has a lot more experience politicking than he did in the first run. And here’s the kicker: Everyone loves a rematch. The new 527 groups seem uniquely suited to defeat someone as entrenched as Kennedy. In Massachusetts, if you say, “Kennedy is an SOB,” people defensively shoot back, “Yes, but he’s our SOB.” But with 527 groups at work, someone else can do the dirty work, while Romney looks on in dismay, offering principled objections, “I demand that people stop to using patriotism as a club to beat a sitting Senator over the head with! I honor his years of service. Blah, blah, blah…” In a rematch, I don’t think that a Romney victory is really likely, but it’s doable. So much so that I don’t think I’d bet heavily against it.

  51. Find another post if you have to be so long-winded about Romney.

    In reference to Kaimi’s original topic, Mormon’s really are dangerous. One day, we really are going to take over the world. Those of a telestial mindset should beware.

  52. greenman: Find another post if you have to be so long-winded about Romney.

    LOL. You have any specific post in mind?

  53. Many people on this thread have said they’ve rarely or never heard Mormon bashing. I fall in this group. What worries me, though, is what people say when I’m not there, or what they think privately. Should I, for example, mention my mission on my resume? No one’s ever going to SAY anything negative about it, but what will they THINK?

    I always get a kick out of watching the shock and then suppression play out on people’s faces when they find out I’m Mormon. You can almost see the cognitive dissonance: “All Mormons are weird. This guy is normal. Both of these propositions can’t be true. Confusion!!”

  54. Drudge Report links to this story about Comedy Central pulling an episode of South Park that mocks Scientology and Tom Cruise.

    Also from the article: “Isaac Hayes, a practicing Scientologist who has long been the voice of the character Chef, quit after objecting to a “South Park” episode called “Trapped in the Closet,” which lampooned both the religion and Tom Cruise.”

    I guess it’s okay to mock Mormons and other Christians, but when you mess with Hollywood’s own religion, watch out.

  55. John Morley:
    I used to put on my resume something like “2 year sabbatical for church service.” That accounts for the time without being in-your-face about missionary work.

  56. I read the Eddie Murphy thread and tried to put my two cents in. I think this thread really took it up a notch. I think the comparison of the ignorantly meanhearted undergraduates to wolves is really unfortunate and taking their conversation to be sinisterly representative of wider social attitudes is a real mistake. I teach undergraduates and, well, while some of their comments can be seen as marks of a wider ethos, most of the time sophomoric discussions are just a mark of the sloppy thinking of a subset. That said, I really do wonder what the contributing members too this thread would be looking for from non-Mormons. Are they supposed to be respectively silent? Are they not supposed to mention points of difference between Mormons and non-members when these differences are important, having to do with divergent conceptions of theology, society, community, etc.? I admit that the formulations cited above are crude (but also almost caricature) but, given that the gross population is never going to do deep research into Mormonism on their own and that church members here continue to sustain the claim that their faith is oppositional to (even transformative of) some non-Mormon currents and practices, what is the realistically attainable, hoped-for attitude you would like to see from non-Mormons?

  57. I read the Eddie Murphy thread and tried to put my two cents in. I think this thread really took it up a notch. I think the comparison of the ignorantly meanhearted undergraduates to wolves is really unfortunate and taking their conversation to be sinisterly representative of wider social attitudes is a real mistake. I teach undergraduates and, well, while some of their comments can be seen as marks of a wider ethos, most of the time sophomoric discussions are just a mark of the sloppy thinking of a subset. That said, I really do wonder what the contributing members too this thread would be looking for from non-Mormons. Are they supposed to be respectively silent? Are they not supposed to mention points of difference between Mormons and non-members when these differences are important, having to do with divergent conceptions of theology, society, community, etc.? I admit that the formulations cited above are crude (but also almost caricature) but, given that the gross population is never going to do deep research into Mormonism on their own and that church members here continue to sustain the claim that their faith is oppositional to (even transformative of) some non-Mormon currents and practices, what is the realistically attainable, hoped-for attitude you would like to see from non-Mormons?

  58. Bookslinger — I have never understood that approach. Why try to describe your missionary experience as something it isn’t? There is nothing “in your face” about stating what you actually did doing those two years: missionary work. Why backslide?

  59. Go get em Aletheia. Nice name by the way.

    I’m guilty of saying all kinds of crazy things in the past. It’s like that old saw (well, that saw from recent years), “I’m extremely tolerant except I’m intolerant towards those who are intolerant.” But the reason behind this exceptions to someone’s being tolerant are specious, really.

    An example: Jews claim to be the Chosen People and thus above others therefore this justifies others’ being intolerant of Jews (et cetera).

  60. “Jews claim to be the Chosen People and thus above others”

    I’ve never heard part 2 of your claim, and the Jews I’ve known would disagree with you.

  61. Ben S, ditto. Besides, we Mormons believe and teach that Jews belong to the Chosen People. And I’ve never been treated with the least bit of intolerance by Jews.

    That said, Althea is re-iterating what I stated in the final paragraph of my comment #3, which is, in turn a re-iteration of something I stated in several comments in Nate’s Eddie Murphy thread.

  62. I think Ben and DKL misunderstood Kimball’s comment.

    If I understand him, he’s suggesting that some Gentiles’ intolerant attitudes toward Jews arise from their (those Gentiles’) assumptions about what Jews think of themselves–that they are the chosen people and thus above others.

    Since Kimball describes this reasoning as specious, I think it’s fair to assume that he does not share those unnamed Gentiles’ feelings.

    Of course, we can take this one step further, and describe any feelings of intolerance those damned intolerant Gentiles for their intolerance of the allegedly intolerant Jews as baseless, since we don’t really know what they feel, do we?

  63. Let me flesh out my observation.

    “White Separatist” Vicki Weaver (intolerantly shot in the head by federal agents) believed European-Americans to be Lost Tribes of Israel. Bob Jones University also believes admixture of races to be miscegenation, so called. And likewise, only three decades ago my brother-in-law, a Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) bishop was ardently racist. However, whether any one of these above three cases believe themselves to be better than others is in dispute.

    Flashforward to graduate students bashing the intolerant. And in reacting to my once Mormon bishop, as I’ve said such crazily intolerant things: “These groups should be outlawed!”–with the thinking that such groups claims of exclusivity is itself intolerant to some degree? And to agitate and to be “anti” such claims is to be but “intolerant of the intolerant”?

    But after the Weavers and then the bible students of the seven seals (the “Seventh Day Adventist Branch Davidians”), who should be next ? Rulon Warren Jeffs?’ Or, just, the Taliban?

    If you are a Greek Muslim today–and even if your forebears had lived in Greece for 500 years–if you accept a job or go to university outside of Greece, your passport’s denied and your citizenship’s revoked without recourse to appeal (under Article 19 of Greece’s Nationality Law, resulting in today Greece being only 1.3% Muslim–with also the Turkish republic’s laws resulting in Turkey’s now being all of 99% Muslim). The late Milosevic was extolled in many Russian newspapers. And many champion the establishment Isreal and the Palestinian Authority as an Apartheid-like citizenship entities today. In early Mormon times–of polygamist theocracy, the “Mormon reformation” and guerrilla actions during the times of Johnston’s Army and thereafter–Mormons felt they needed to opt for separation as well. Yet if someone should find fault with such nationalisms and tribalisms of various stripe, s/he really shouldn’t feel completely intolerant towards them, either; as, any faith system claims exclusivity: if it’s the Mormon “restored apostolic church of the last dispensation,” the Jew’s “chosen people” or the Catholic’s “univeral church of the see of Rome”.

    But I’ve probably clouded things more than I’ve cleared anything up here.

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