Eddie Murphy on Richard Bushman

There is a classic Saturday Night Live skit (from back when it was funny) that perfectly captures one of my nagging anxieties about being Mormon. In the skit, Eddie Murphy is in a room full of white guys. They are all polite and friendly, but painfully stiff and formal. Murphy tries in vain to get them to loosen up. He then leaves the room, and the stiff white guys immediately cut loose, cranking up the music, boogying (the skit is from the late 1970s), and generally acting “black.” When Murphy enters the room again, the boogying white guys immediately return to their uptight WASP-ish persona. And so on.

The skit is telling, poking fun at the powerful and subtle exclusion of blacks from white society. The nagging black suspicion illustrated by the skit is that no matter how friendly the stiff white guys seem, you are not really part of the group. Things are different as soon as you leave the room. I have similar suspicions about Mormonism and the WASP establishment. American Mormons live in the world created by a century of assiduous assimilation on the part of the Church. In the words of President Hinckley, our message to the world is “We are not weird.” We look like you. We act like you (except for the coffee and booze thing). We fit in. We are WASPs to, just without the Protestantism, and really we’re almost just like Protestants anyway. We fit in. We can be part of the group.

And it appears that we are. We get to be in the room, and generally speaking we get treated with polite and friendly respect. But what happens when we leave the room? Do they all cut loose, giving lie to the veneer of acceptance that we saw when we were there? Underneath the politeness are we still outsiders? It is hard to say, and I suspect that most of the time the reaction to Mormons is that there is no reaction. Religious identity just isn’t an issue. At other times, however, I feel like Eddie Murphy and I have stolen into the room early only to find the stiff white guys cutting loose.

In many ways, the reactions to Richard Bushman’s book strike me as this kind of moment. I certainly don’t want to suggest that there is anything wrong with criticizing Bushman or his book. Indeed, there are important and valid criticisms to be made. (There always are.) On the other hand, a great deal of the Gentile reaction to the book has been revealing. It hasn’t made any substantive criticisms, or even tried to substantively engage the book. Rather, it has simply dwelt upon the fact that Mormonism in general — and Joseph Smith in particular — are just too weird, and frankly we probably can’t trust Bushman to talk about them because, you know, he is one of them. And hence my suspicion: Behind the pleasant and respectful veneer that Mormons generally encounter in America, what are they really thinking? I suspect that they think we are nuts.

Of course, at the end of the day this is probably not such a bad thing. One of the nice things about living in a liberal society, is that you can have peaceful, productive, friendly, cooperative interactions with people who think that you are nuts. It needn’t be an issue. Furthermore, I wouldn’t want Mormonism to be made completely safe. The subtle frontier in the WASP-filled room marks off my identity as something meaningful and powerful. Without it, I am just another stiff white guy trying to boogie.

70 comments for “Eddie Murphy on Richard Bushman

  1. StealthBomber
    March 10, 2006 at 11:00 am

    I think the dialogue involving the potential (inevitable) Romney 2008 candidacy serves to substantiate your suspicions, Nate. It isn’t so much the nature of the dialogue about Romney’s faith (although that’s a part of it), it is that there so much dialogue.

  2. Cyril
    March 10, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Adam, you are dead on here. I just got finished trying to help Tom Campbell, an LDS lawyer, defeat Tom DeLay in the Republican primaries here in Houston. Campbell was endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, NASA, and even the Ft. Bend Star, the main Sugar Land newspaper. DeLay is from Sugar Land, as is Campbell. But the race wasn’t even close. Roughly 65 -35.

    Now, there are a lot of reasons why Campbell did not win that have nothing to do with his being Mormon. But, as I worked the polls on election day and spoke with the voters, I got the sense, though very subtle, that one of the main reasons he could not persuade WASPs and evangelicals down here was because he is, after all, one of those Mormons.

    I think this outsider treatment is why I always feel some affinity toward blacks and Jews. They too rarely get to sit in the WASP circle and let it all hang out with the boys. It will be a nice reversal in the next life when the first are last and the last are first.

  3. Cyril
    March 10, 2006 at 11:07 am

    Err, Nate.

  4. Nate Oman
    March 10, 2006 at 11:09 am

    “It will be a nice reversal in the next life when the first are last and the last are first.”

    I wouldn’t take any consolation in that. I don’t think that we know who will be first and last in the next life, other than that he who hung on the cross will sit on the throne.

  5. March 10, 2006 at 11:28 am

    Nate, I wrote about this once here. I think that you are dead-on.

  6. Last Lemming
    March 10, 2006 at 11:31 am

    Campbell was endorsed by … NASA


  7. March 10, 2006 at 11:39 am

    The fun (or perhaps sometimes not-so-fun) part is when they are boogying and cutting loose because they don’t know you are a Mormon. There have been a few of those a-ha! or whoops! moments in my life. I’m not sure there are really as many safe zones for people to “boogy” when the Mormon isn’t in the room. These days there is usually a Mormon or someone who is somehow connected to Mormons in the room.

    I have a co-worker here in New York City who is very likeable. But I never would have guessed she had any kind of LDS connections in her life. She smokes and occasionally swears f-bombs and talks about maybe picking up a bottle of wine at the end of an especially hard workday. So I was shocked when she told me her Dad “used to be Mormon and is from Salt Lake City.”

  8. Bookslinger
    March 10, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Nate, I think you’re overly preoccupied with what other people think. Do the right, and be the right, and things will fall into place correctly.

    “One of the nice things about living in a liberal society, is that ….with people who think that you are nuts.”

    But true liberals would not label us nuts. To them, Mormonism should be an “alternative lifestyle” which should be respected, tolerated, and even “celebrated.” In fact, we should demand respect, toleration, and especially “inclusion” just like any other minority.

    Let’s all wear ribbons! (What color hasn’t been taken already?)

    What should be our motto? How about “Breeders have rights and are people too!”

    But seriously, what about Mormons playing the “Minority Card” ?

  9. s p bailey
    March 10, 2006 at 11:52 am

    There is truth in this: many times I have witnessed (or heard stories about) negative reactions to Mormons given in the presence of a Mormon the speaker assumed was a card-carrying WASP.

    But there is another reaction to Mormonism, perhaps worse than being thought a nut: people not thinking about us at all—ignorance on top of indifference, plain and simple.

  10. s p bailey
    March 10, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Regarding No. 8: does the current church’s emphasis on public relations indicate that we ought to care a great deal about our image and what other people think?

    While I am not unequivocally excited about PR per se, I sure like it when the church gets good press!

  11. Cyril
    March 10, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Neither do I, personally. But the general principle gives me great comfort for all those to whom it will eventually apply.

    Boy, Nate, you can really rub the wrong way some times. Don’t plan on living anywhere where subtle civility matters.

  12. Cyril
    March 10, 2006 at 11:58 am

    Last Lemming, NASA is headquartered in Houston (actually Clear Lake) and is in DeLay’s congessional district.

  13. s p bailey
    March 10, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Regarding No. 12: yes, but I think ethics laws prohibit government agencies from endorsing particular candidates. Enron and DeLay’s escapades nothwithstanding, I certainly hope NASA didn’t flout any ethics rules. Not that they don’t have alot on the line (I assume DeLay has brought home the bacon)! What was the nature of the endorsement?

  14. Jeremy
    March 10, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve caught the WASPs boogeying three times that I can remember:

    I was setting up for a class I was TAing once, which happened to be taking place on Halloween, and as the students wandered in I heard a couple of them talking about what costumes they had chosen for a big party that night. One kid said “My roommate and I are going as Mormon missionaries!” Everybody laughed. The kid then said, “I wish we could steal a couple of those black name tags, though, to make it look authentic.” I casually interjected: “You can borrow mine if you want.” They got wide-eyed and sheepishly quiet.

    In another class I was TAing, a couple of students walked in talking about garments; one of them had seen pics on an anti-Mormon website. They loudly no-waying and seriously-dude-ing, and making fun, until somebody nudged them, whispered something, and tried to motion inconspicuously in my direction.

    Recently, I was working in a computer lab one aisle over from a couple of knuckleheads, one of which was recounting (in barely recognizable fashion) the First Vision story (which I imagine he discovered on an antimormon site or maybe on South Park. I happened to be the only other person in the lab, and I’m the only Mormon on the faculty, so statistically they should have been relatively free to mock without fear of offense. Alas, I didn’t say anything at the time, but they’re regulars in the lab, so perhaps I’ll have another opportunity.

  15. Mark Simmons
    March 10, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Back in 96 an LDS friend and I were just getting off of a six hour welfare delivery route from the bishop’s storehouse. On the way home, my friend pointed out the sign at a presb or methodist church indicating evening Bible study at 6:00. It was nearly that time, so out of curiosity we decided to invite ourselves to the study. We had an edifying, enjoyable time reading from the book of Acts, when about 20 minutes into the study, there was a mention of Paul’s missionary activity, and the question was asked how that applies today. Out of nowhere it turned into Mormon bashing, which was ironic since the question should have elicited positive responses based on the example of Paul, which in many ways is emulated by Mormon missionaries. My friend and I sat there trying to hide the smirks on our faces. What was perhaps most funny was the fact that the t-shirt I was wearing had a very visible reference to a scripture in the Book of Alma. We didn’t disclose our affiliation but left afterwards with laughing together and having a new perspective on how others view “us”.

  16. nate oman
    March 10, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    Re 11: My apologies Cyril. I didn’t mean to mock or offend. On the other hand, taking comfort in the supposed inferior post-mortal status of the Gentiles didn’t strike me as a good exercise in subtle social tact :-)

  17. nate oman
    March 10, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    I hereby dubb thoughtless comments mnade about Mormonism by non-Mormons when they think no Mormons are present “Gentile boogy.”

  18. manaen
    March 10, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    “One of the nice things about living in a liberal society, is that you can have peaceful, productive, friendly, cooperative interactions with people who think that you are nuts.”

    Yeah, well I live in SoCal where nuts is normal (mormal?) and weird is required.

    If you play the minority card, though, you’re excluded because you’re then seeking acceptance into normalcy — which breaks the cardinal rule: thou shalt exalt in thy uniqueness. This is because uniquenes/weirdness/novelty/”“some new thing” is more entertaining, and we value entertainment — feeling good — above truth, principles, or growth.

    Oh, the joys of seeking guidance in a mirror.

  19. Veritas
    March 10, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    I love this post. I have a friend who was always very unreligous, but decided she should join a church when she got married. Despite my best efforts, she joined the Presbyterian. She is completly obsessed with my mormon status however, and equally obsessed with how weird mormons are and how much the stick out. She emails me daily telling me about the lessons they had on us at church (which always lead to fun discussions), how she defended mormons to a friend, or how she saw a mini-van with a BYU bumper sticker and multiple car seats (‘you guys are so crazy’).

    While I’ve had many similar experiences to those described above (though I never would have been able to keep quiet! These situations are the best cause they feel so sheepish they were ‘talking behind our back’ they always listen quietly while I set the record straight). The best experience was totally the opposite, however.

    I was in a college class in a ultra-conservative evangelical christian environment in a Mass Comm theory lecture with about 200 students. Somehow (I don’t remember the context), a student decided to share a story about how she was late for class one day, it was about 110 degrees outside, and she went out to her car to find it had a flat tire. The Missionaries happend to walk by, saw her upset, saw the tire…and proceeded to change the tire in their white shirts/ties. They simply left a pass along card and went on their way. She told the whole class this and how amazing and nice she thought they were and how ‘not weird’ and how she wished their were more guys like that at school. The whole class proceeded to tell positive stories about friends in HS or teachers or when the missionaries came to their house and how un-weird the mormons had been and how they get a bad rap. No one knew I was LDS. It was really cool, and the missionaries were stoked when I told them.

  20. March 10, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    In his essay “The Social Dimensions of Reality”, Bushman demonstrated what happens when the “pleasant and respectful veneer” disappears: he was at a conference and the speaker/colleague was talking about religion in the classroom and the speaker “forgetting that [Bushman] was a Latter-day Saint… proposed the idea of an angel delivering gold plates as an example of a religious phantasm … beyond the boundaries of plausibility.”

    Bushman described his colleagues’ assessment of his beliefs: “the crazy Mormon side of my mind is envisioned as sequestered in some watertight compartment where it cannot infect my rational processes”

  21. March 10, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    As a personal anecdote, I had a wonderful history professor at the University of Utah (fairly young guy, very smart) who, in a moment of candor said to me, “Oh come on, you have to realize that about 90% of the history faculty here thinks you Mormons are nuts, and are actively trying to convince you of it? And the other 10%? we think you’re nuts, too, we just are too damn lazy to do anything about it.”

  22. March 10, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    “Let’s all wear ribbons! (What color hasn’t been taken already?)”

    I think there are a few shades of yellowish green left. ;)

    “What should be our motto? How about ‘Breeders have rights and are people too!'”

    It’s true, but it’s never gonna fly. There has to be an oppressor group against which to assert one’s rights, and I don’t think the usual politics-of-difference crowd (to whom this slogan is meant to appeal) are going to buy that a majority can be oppressed by a minority. You can literally get booed out of a sociology class by insisting that white people have a worthwhile culture, too.

  23. yossarian
    March 10, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    I can’t tell you how many times that I have had the same feeling and observation about Mormons and our place in society as Nate. I think that this is also something that intermountain west Mormons are not as aware of. Mormons are respected and liked, but sometimes in an eye rolling way. I found this out the hard way when I questioned a professor and he snapped at me “put your Mormon hand down.” To a large portion of the establishment we will never really be a part of the in crowd.

  24. Ben S.
    March 10, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    On Mormons as Halloween dress-up, see post here.

  25. DKL
    March 10, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    I can’t believe I’m hearing a bunch of Mormons complain about other people judging them! It my experience, non-Mormons are generally more accepting than Mormons.

    Maybe it’s just that I’m better than everyone else, or perhaps I’m just in the wrong places at the wrong times. I’ve never–not even once–been made to feel like an outsider because I was a Mormon. Indeed, I have only a few Mormon friends; most of my friends are non-Mormon.

    The closest thing that I’ve ever encountered to “outsider” status is once when a guy that I work with told me, “You know, Dave, Mormons used to really irritate me until I met you.” (Feel free to pause here for a moment while you recoil at the notion of me representing your religion…) I supposed it was intended as a compliment. I just thought it was a funny thing to hear.

    For those of us Mormons who aren’t so weird that we don’t have cable, there’s actually a show on FX called “Black and White” that started last week. It’s a reality show where a black family is made up to look white, and a white family is made up to look black, and they get to see what life is like from each other’s points of view. The results are surprising on several levels. It’s a reasonably well put together show.

  26. March 10, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    I am more inclined to think it is the LDS who are sometimes exclusionary. I grew up in an area where the Church was not very well known. It was (is) certainly an eye opener to live in a place where the Church is dominant. I know there are many non LDS who feel shut out. They shouldn’t. We should know better than that. But then when we see ourselves as being a cut above, this tends to happen. Honestly, I don’t think non members are so overly concerned with us that they go out of their way to exclude us. Let’s not think TOO much of ourselves.

  27. March 10, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    I grew up in the South, in a highly-religiously charged atmosphere. I have been excluded because I am Mormon and I have been treated like a lesser-person because of it. This does happen. I operate in an atmosphere of academics and have been politely denigrated for believing in God (to be fair, Mormonism only was a target as I was a Mormon; the idea was that all religious belief was equally ridiculous). It happens.

    We can be exclusionary (ask any non-LDS person in Utah). Our lack does not, however, excuse theirs. We all ought to shape up.

  28. March 10, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    John C.

    I agree with you, however, we can’t control what THEY do. We can only control what WE do.

  29. March 10, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    8 — The ribbon should be green.

    With little flecks of orange.

    As to the greater point of liberalism’s response to Mormons, it’s a bit more complicated than one might think. I recall my Northwest History teacher (a definite socialist with a healthy respect for Marx) describing the mistreatment of Mormons, the gerrymandering of Deseret, creating Idaho as a geographical barrier to keep Mormons out of WASPish Oregon, etc. He saw plural marriage as a valid alternative lifestyle in the context in which it was practiced at least. I think much of his position was because it was counter-cultural and he saw Mormons as another persecuted minority in American history.

    Nate — you’re describing a problem of tribes. I’m working on an essay now that describes what I mean by that better, and I might submit it here or a link to it when it’s done, but you’re describing not only how a bunch of WASPs act with a Mormon in the room, but how a bunch of Mormons act with a nonmember around. Or how a Japanese family behaves with an American house-guest. We normally put on our “best” behavior when we are around outsiders, so as to not be a bad example of what “we” are.

    It can also work in a different dimension, thus the joke “Why do you always take more than one Mormon fishing with you? Because if you just take one they’ll drink all your beer.”

  30. Razorfish
    March 10, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    ““We are not weird.â€? We look like you. We act like you”

    How we as a LDS people are perceived by the outside world is an interesting case study, especially with the proliferation of the Internet and the ability to share very private and sacred things to an unreceptive and mocking world.

    For those who take the time to research the LDS faith on ex-mormon sites, it causes pause when someone meets you and curiously interjects…”oh really, so you are Mormon? Interesting….”

    We will likely never win the PR war with our peculiar teachings (considered heretical by most Evangelicals), and rigorous faith, and demanding requirements. However, certainly we should be respected for living a rigorous faith.

    What I find more interesting than the internal vs external comparison, is the comparison and strata of members within the faith. That is some people are weird to start with and the doctrine or stringent nature of the commandments turns a weirdo into a religious zealot weirdo.

    Also, I think there should be enough room under the tent of LDS faith to allow for diverse viewpoints that ask and demand a deeper doctrinal discussion of faith and introspection (within the bounds of faithful LDS membership). For example the issues raised in Bushman’s book that I’ve read certainly are issues that should be fair game for LDS circles and audiences to rigorously explore and debate. I don’t like the over simplified Church Correlation Committee blender approach of pray-pay-obey mantra, where all issues are reduced to a 8 year old level of intellectual curiosity.

    Maybe I’m alone on this point, but I accept the unique nature and tradition that associated with being tagged with the LDS faith. I’m not ashamed of it and if that makes me a marked person to the non-LDS person so be it…I just wish there were better forums within the faith to have tough conversations about the history of our faith and the occasional rough edges that often seem buried (see Bushman’s book) and never see the light of day in the 3 hour block.

  31. DKL
    March 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    John C, here’s what I see: We eagerly pit themselves against the rest of the world based on being principled, value oriented, and unified. Then we respond with resentment and outrage when outsiders turn the tables by calling us rigid, backwards, and cult-like.

  32. DKL
    March 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    Correction in previous comment, It should read to start with: We eagerly pit ourselves against the rest of the world…

  33. S.
    March 10, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    Honestly, Nate, Rough Stone Rolling has a clear Mormon bias.

    There are many instances in the book where events have multiple possible explanations, and Bushman makes it clear that the explanation that he believes — and finds most plausible, historically supported, etc. — is the supernatural one.

    And the natural non-Mormon response is, “Okay, well that’s clearly ridiculous. If we rule out the supernatural, what is the second most likely explanation? Can you help me sort this out?”

    And in many cases Bushman answer is simply no. He has little interest in trying to help people sort out which of the possible non-supernatural explanations for Joseph Smith as a fraud/imposter/mentally disturbed soul is the more likely. He himself says—repeatedly, and very explicitly—that studying the “how and why” of Joseph Smith as a fraud is a “distraction” from the narrative as told by people who believe.

    In these cases, for people who can’t imagine believing the supernatural explanation and are trying to figure out what “really happened’ (i.e., the second most likely explanation—after the supernatural one), Bushman’s book, although interesting, is at times genuinely frustrating. To conclude:

    1. I loved Bushman’s book.

    2. I fully sympathize with non-Mormons who are a little uncomfortable debating/discussing the book with Mormons in academic sittings.

    3. There is no excuse for Mormons in most of the United States to have a persecution complex. In all my experience, people are about are just about as kind and welcoming to us as any people in history has ever been to the members of a somewhat odd minority religion in its midst. It seems that just about every other strange minority in this country (blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, Catholic priests, fundamentalist Christians, Arabs, Indians, poor people, academics, lawyers, union members, hedge fund managers, etc.) is getting beat up in the press (and sometimes literally) more than we are.

    So let’s not feel too sorry for ourselves.

  34. DKL
    March 10, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    I wonder what Wilfried thinks of this conversation about how terrible people are for their perceived social slights against us Mormons, since I’ve heard him speak about real, institutional bigotry against Mormonism outside of the US–like it’s being on the cult list in some European country.

  35. jjohnsen
    March 10, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    “Let’s all wear ribbons! (What color hasn’t been taken already?)”

    The primary colors are one, two, three. . . Red, yellow and blue.

  36. Carolyn
    March 11, 2006 at 12:49 am

    A number of years ago a colleague at work made an offhand negative remark about a prominent member of the church who had been featured in a newspaper article. After a brief hesitation wondering if I should I let this go by, I responded with a smile and said, “Don’t you be talking down Mormons. You know I’m a Mormon.”

    He burst into peals of laughter and gave me a playful punch in the arm. “Yeah right.”

    “I really am a Mormon.” I said still smiling.

    Louder laughter. At this point he was clutching his sides. “Yeah right.”

    “I really am a Mormon.” I was starting to feel a little sorry for him. He was basically a good guy, just a little misinformed about our faith, and I realized how embarrassed he was going to feel once he checked with our fellow employees and found out I was telling the truth. “I really am a Mormom.”

    “Yeah right.” I could see the doubt creeping into his eyes and perhaps a glimpse of tomorrow’s embarrassment as he slowly backed away on his way out to lunch.

    It seems that some days I can’t even pass for a member of the church. The worst part is that I take it as a compliment!

  37. Nate Oman
    March 11, 2006 at 9:45 am

    I am not talking about persecution here. I don’t think that American Mormons are persecuted. The Eddie Murphy skit is not about persecution. It is about insider vs. outsider status. I don’t think that people are bigoted against Mormons, etc. etc. I just think that they regard Mormons a bit wierd and that can create a kind of subtle exclusion.

    As for S.’s criticisms of Bushman’s book, I thought I made clear that I have not problem with criticizing Bushman’s book. Larry McMurrty’s review in the New York Review of Books, however, did not make anything like this sort of a coherent critique.

  38. Nate Oman
    March 11, 2006 at 10:28 am

    “Maybe it’s just that I’m better than everyone else”

    No doubt…

  39. annegb
    March 11, 2006 at 10:35 am

    We could wear white ribbons. I’m okay with that.

    Carolyn, your story made me chuckle. I get that a lot. I’ve actually had people, friends, introduce me as a Jack Mormon. I laugh, it’s not insulting, but it embarrasses them when I tell them I’m not, I’m actually orthodox.

    Maybe I’m just not a good example. I would be up there laughing with the rest of them. My gut reaction is “oh, I’m so glad they think we’re funny and not stuck up because God told our leader to start us.” I love to hear how others perceive Mormonism, it’s what I loved best about Krakauer’s book.

    Mary, you’re right, but maybe that’s just in Utah.

    Nate, I wonder if there’s a side of life I just don’t experience. Oh, I just cracked myself up. Of course there is. It makes me feel sorry for you guys who are highly educated, intellectual, and aware. I hope you don’t feel outside and people aren’t mean to you. I could beat them up for you. I would be the one saying, “Hey, ****hole, shut up. Let’s take this outside.”

    I had an interesting experience on this cruise (home, thank God, yes, there’s nothing to do but eat and try to avoid the mob). Jessie and I don’t look at all alike and she is sort of clingy. So I am this little chubby sort of red headed woman with a dark amazon rubbing my back and hanging on me and trying to sit on my lap. I honestly think some people thought we were a gay couple.

    She drank and I did not. I quietly said, “no” to drinks and told a few people I was a Mormon. I bet they thought, “yeah, Mormons are strange. They cuss and they are gay.” Nate, doing my job, ruining your reputation for the rest of the world.

  40. March 11, 2006 at 12:03 pm


    well, i don’t think it’s just in Utah, it’s alive and well in southern Alberta too :).

  41. DKL
    March 11, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Nate, McMurtry’s review was pretty bad, but consider the source. The New York Review of Books is pretty sad stuff. Most of their reviews are very much like McMurtry’s; the “reviews” are often just essays on topics that are kind of tangentially related to the book.

    McMurtry did make Mormon’s sound like a weird and strange people, but then again, so do many Mormons. (Incidentally, I sent them a response to McMurtry’s review. So far as I can see, they didn’t publish any responses at all.)

  42. Nate Oman
    March 11, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Jed Woodworth and I also wrote a response, which was similarly ignored.

  43. DKL
    March 11, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Nate, would you mind sending me your response? I’d love to read it?

  44. Tatiana
    March 11, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    It’s really not fair that we should get the companionship of a living God, and full acceptance by human groups too. I mean, what more can we want? Of course they think we’re nuts, bless their sweet hearts! When you hang around with deities, the neighbors are simply going to look askance at you. Bilbo got to participate in the great sweep of events of his time, to live and work hand in hand with the exalted powers of his universe, with Gandalf, Elrond, Arwen, Aragorn, but he couldn’t do that and still be thought respectable in Shire society. It’s just not how things work. :-)

  45. DKL
    March 11, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Incidentally, the funniest part of Eddie Murphy’s skit (in which he pretends to be a white man) is when he goes to a newsstand. There is a black man in line, and everyone is dutifully paying for their magazines, newspapers, etc. Once the black man leaves, everyone else leaves, putting Murphy at the front of the line. Murphy offers the guy at the cash register a quarter for the paper, and the guy looks at him like there’s something wrong with him. “Just take it,” he say, “Take it.” Murphy looks around, takes the newspaper and walks away. Murphy follows up with a voice over, “I discovered that when black people aren’t around, white people give each other thins.”

    I wonder if when Mormons aren’t around, non-Mormons give each other things.

  46. John T.
    March 11, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    A curious non-Mormon who googles “temple garments” and “endowment ceremony” will be left with the impression that some aspects of Mormonism are “weird”. Rest assured, the subtle frontier will exist until those things hoped for, but unseen, come to pass.

  47. March 11, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    DKL: That skit is funny and I know you understand this, but I think it is worth pointing out anyway. At least in the skit you are referring to, I think that Eddie Murphy is subtly poking fun at the mentality in the black community at the time in the “lesson” he learned from that experience–that white people give each other things when black people aren’t around. It sort of pokes fun at such a ludicrous idea and emphasizes the paranoia involved in it. But of course, as we all know, just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you. Thus, not all LDS discomfort with outsider status is due to an imagined situation, which I actually suspect was your point with recounting that funny skit. I am genuinely glad that you have not experienced exclusion based on your Church membership. That has not been my experience. My experience has consistently supported what Nate has written about insider vs. outsider status.

    It’s okay though. We are weird. We believe things that seem weird to non-believers. In an ideal world they could overlook our weird beliefs and fully include us, even if we believe an angel showed Joseph Smith where the Golden Plates were and that he translated them with seer stones, etc. But this stuff is nonsense to a non-believer and we can’t really expect them to overlook it in their interaction with us.

    A lucky scenario is when people meet you and form their opinioms about you before they know you are LDS. Then, when they learn you are, they are forced to deal with the cognitive dissonance that results from how what they know about you and your approach to things differs from what their preachers (or college professors) taught them about Church members.

    But, in the end, we shouldn’t want to be counted among WASPs, or even counted as WASMs, should we? Unfortunately, the temptation of insider status is great, and we do want it.

    Commenting from a blackberry is very tiring. Please excuse any typographical errors in this that have resulted from typing only with thumbs!

  48. Bookslinger
    March 11, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    I really liked the comment about “tribes”. I think that better describes Nate’s original point.

    Almost *everybody* experiences being an outsider at various points. Whether it’s just dealing with a clique, the “old guard” at work or in an organization, or whether it’s ethnic, cultural, nationality, or religion-based.

    Mormons do it too.

    I got my feathers extremely ruffled, and was a bit offended, when I was treated as “someone from the mission field” by those from Utah.

    I was amused (not offended, but I did roll my eyes) when I was treated as “just a convert” by BIC Mormons.

    When I was in grade school and high school I was maligned by WASPs for being of Jewish descent.

    My non-religion-practicing family was maligned as “heathens” by some of the WASPs in our neighborhood while growing up.

    My Jewish dad was told that he was going to hell by my Presbyterian mom’s family, if he didn’t convert.

    My dad’s WASP boss tried to get him fired when he found out dad was Jewish.

    When I “accepted Christ as my Savior” at age 14, I caught a good deal of emotional abuse from my inactive-Jewish dad. But I also received a bit of disapprobation from mainstream Christian friends, classmates and associates because I was more or less evangelical/fundamentalist.

    Tatiana is right. Once you believe and *know* certain things, the natural order is that you won’t fit it with those who don’t know.

    John F. is right. We don’t want to be counted the same as WASPs. We should want to be, and be seen as “nice but different” or “different but nice.”

  49. Bookslinger
    March 11, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    I don’t think we should apologize or hide or be ashamed of our belief in the miraculous events surrounding Joseph Smith.

    The ONLY difference between our grand miracle stories and the grand miracle stories of other religions is that ours are more modern, it’s just a matter of time-frame.

    The miracles surrounding Joseph Smith are not essentially different from those of prophets in the Bible. And are not much different in magnitude than those attributed to Mohammed.

    Believing that God the Father, Jesus and Moroni, appeared to Joseph Smith is not much different in magnitude or “strangeness” than the Blessed Virgin appearing to Catholics.

    Although you could find academic differences in the details, our belief that Gordon B. Hinckley speaks for God is not much different than devout Catholics believing the Roman Catholic Pope speaks for God. You gotta do what the Pope says to be a “good Catholic” pretty much like you gotta do what GBH says to be a “good Mormon.”

    So just as we respect Catholics and Muslims, and just as Catholics and Muslims can receive cultural acceptance or at least polite respect in our modern US society, so can we.

    In the same manner that pious rank-and-file Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims respect each others’ beliefs, there’s no reason Mormons can’t also fit right in there, us respecting them, and them respecting us.

    I believe we should politely counter anti-Mormon bigotry spoken in our presence, just as we should make known our displeasure when someone in our presence expresses bigotry against any other sincere religion.

    But defending religious freedom, and freedom of conscience (Article of Faith #11) should not be a demand of inclusion. I also believe in freedom of association.

    I believe the gospel requires us to offer our friendship to others on a silver platter. We can hope, but we have no right to expect or demand others to partake or associate with us.

  50. annegb
    March 11, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    Intellectually, I agree with you, Bookslinger. But I’m feeling contrary and emotionally, I don’t think I owe anybody anything on a silver platter, especially if they’re not going to be decent. My membership doesn’t make me a door mat.

  51. Tatiana
    March 11, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    A new coworker in the next cubicle over was telling another coworker last week, in a voice that carried the whole room, that his wife grew up in Utah and her family were Mormons and those Mormons were pretty weird because they spoke with God twice a day. Ifti, a Muslim from India laughed and replied that those people scared him, that he loved God but didn’t want him talking to him twice a day. I popped my head around the corner and said with a smile “Is your wife LDS? That’s cool, I am too!” in what I hope was a friendly way. Then I winked at Ifti and told him not to worry, that I would try not to scare him. I wasn’t sure if I handled it well or not. Is it considered eavesdropping when you overhear people speaking loudly in the cubicle next to yours?

    They both acted somewhat embarrassed, but I don’t think I acted at all put out or upset. I was trying to be really friendly, but to let them know immediately to avert any future embarrassment for them. Mormons are rare enough around here that it’s not unusual for people to assume there aren’t any in the room. The new guy hasn’t spoken to me since then. He averts his eyes and doesn’t respond to my greetings if I happen to encounter him in the passageways. What should I have done?

  52. March 11, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    Tom Campbell, an LDS lawyer, defeat Tom DeLay I had no idea Campbell was LDS. Did you ever talk with him about the arson directed at the LDS Church in South Texas?

    As for my personal experience, I’ve been thrown out of Bible study lunch groups (and then invited back) for being LDS, had job offers withdrawn (twice) because people became uneasy with my religion and have often felt like an outsider. The wryist thing that ever happened was someone calling up and asking for help, pro bono help, and telling me that they hated me because of my religion, and wouldn’t ask except no one else would be able to help them and they had no money. I took care of them, and they told my wife thank you.

    As for McMurtry — someone ought to remind him of what happened to the Mormon who opened a restaurant in Archer City. I still remember talking about that down at the courthouse after he had been burned out of town. They were kind of pleased about it all. Of course then that left them with only the Dairy Queen as a place to eat, which made them grumble when I pointed that out. From my perspective, the irony included the fact that he was a jack mormon. At least his insurance paid up after I dropped a line for him.

    I’ve had a different emotional resonance with Archer City, Archer County, Texas, ever since.

  53. Mark
    March 12, 2006 at 2:48 am

    If I may, please allow me to share my perspective as an ex-Mormon. I’m still nominally a member, but effectively left the faith a couple of years ago and have been attending a UU church for several months.

    You’re definitely onto something here, Nate. In business and in many other social settings, I always felt accepted and respected as a Mormon. I never realized the degree to which I was an outsider. I think that most people perceive Mormonism as really weird. At the same time, I think that most people are generally nice and respectful, so they’re not going to tell you that. When people find out that I’m an ex-Mormon, they make all kinds of comments and ask all kinds of questions that I never heard when I was an active, observant Mormon. I have a lot of friends in Japan. Over the past couple of years, I have had opportunities to visit many of them. Inevitably, religion comes up because it has been such a defining thing about me to my friends, so I have informed them that I no longer subscribe to my former beliefs. These are close friends with whom I thought I had had frank, honest relationships. I’ve been really surprised at the way they have opened up and told me how relieved they are that I finally got over that weird religion.

    There was a glass wall there before, and now it’s gone. I mean no disrespect in sharing this with you. Obviously, if you believe that it’s all true, the glass wall is just a part of the ultimately small price that you pay.

    All the best – Mark

  54. DKL
    March 12, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Mark, I’m surprised on several levels at you’re surprise that people find Mormonism to be weird. The top reasons I’m surprised are that (a) that mormonism is pretty weird; (b) Mormons know this, and that’s one reason getting them to do member-missionary work is so difficult; (c) Mormons themselves do not tend to be terribly accepting of others; and (d) people (mormons & non-mormons) tend to harbor simple, reductive beliefs about others and use them in order to construct their own identity; hence, the persistence of stereotypes based on ethnicities, regionalisms, religions, sexual orientations, political persuasions, genders, etc.

    I did a stint for about 15 years as an ex-mormon (not officially; like you, I was still nominally a member). I heard all kinds of things said about Mormonism that I probably wouldn’t have heard if people thought I was a practicing Mormon. Plus, I heard all kinds of things from my non-mormon friends after I left. But if people don’t know you’re a Republican or a Democrat, then you may also hear all kinds of things said about political persuasions–things that people would state much more carefully if they knew your political persuasions. It’s just a mistake to take any of this personally.

    (Funny story: a guy who works for me had his parents in town when he’d only been on board for about 3 weeks. He brought his mother to show off his new place of employment. Someone (not me) brought up some recent headline related to politics. She started talking in opinionated terms about this assuming everyone was a Democrat–normally a safe assumption in Boston. Apparently, fearing that I’d be offended or even just slightly bothered, he was visibly nervous. He’s a great employee and a good guy all-around, and I hope that he never feels like there’s any personal distance between us due to our respective political positions.)

    Moreover, I’m perplexed to hear about all of these situations in which people know about someone’s church membership prior to their meeting him. Is this because BYU is on the resume? I can’t remember the last time someone learned that I was a Mormon before I met them.

    I imagine some guy wearing a pocket protector asking me if he’s an outsider because he’s a programmer. The polite answer is, “Yes.” I imagine some introverted, bookish type asking me if he’s an outsider because he’s a librarian. Again, the polite answer is, “Yes.” I could go on and on, but the real reason these people are outsiders is because they just are. Truth is, it doesn’t really matter.

    I just have to re-iterate how very bizarre it is to here mormons ruminate about being treated as outsiders. What comes to mind is Matthew 7:3: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    Lastly, Forgive me if I’m pretty vocal on this issue, but I’m quite interested in this topic. As a white man, I get told a hell of a lot of the time that it’s not my place to speak about how other people are made to feel because they’re not white or not male. But I am a Mormon, damn it, and I know what it feels like to be one.

  55. greenman
    March 12, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    I’m not sure if the term glass wall adequately describes the scenario. To use the words of Nephi, it’s more of an “awful gulf” that separates the Saints from those in the large and spacious building who are “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.”

    It’s quite safe to say that Mormons are perceived as “a peculiar people.” True Latter-Day Saints have a special mission to fulfill. We are the elect. Let our light so shine before men. Who cares if people entangled in the pride of the world want to “point the finger of scorn” in our direction? Sure, it can lead to some awkward situations, but it goes with standing in holy places.

  56. anson cassell mills
    March 12, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    A few reflections from a Gentile:

    1. Chances are that as a political and social conservative, I’ll get along better with the average Mormon than with any random non-Mormon.

    2. I’m offended by “Mormon jokes,� especially when the teller is as ignorant as a post about the LDS Church.

    3. Larry McMurtry’s review of Bushman was a travesty. After reading the review, I wondered if McMurtry had read the book.

    3. I think the numerous ways in which Mormons—including Richard Bushman—accommodate to the oddities of their religious system and its history are as strange (and as interesting) as the oddities themselves.

  57. Seth R.
    March 12, 2006 at 4:56 pm


    You know, some of us get a kick out of the uncomfortable silence that follows when we enter a room.

    They say that “true” eccentrics are happiest in a small, tight-knit, and homogenous community.

    Being eccentric in New York City doesn’t mean anything. They’re a dime a dozen there, and nobody cares anyway.

    But being eccentric in Moscow, Idaho … now people care about you. They may hate your guts, but at least they notice you.

    In some ways, it is indeed a good time to be a Mormon in the USA.

  58. Bill
    March 12, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    “McMurtry did make Mormon’s sound like a weird and strange people, but then again, so do many Mormons. (Incidentally, I sent them a response to McMurtry’s review. So far as I can see, they didn’t publish any responses at all.) ”

    You may have missed it, but last week I posted the link to Bloggernacle Times, of McMurtry’s reaction to all those letters:


    See comment 17

  59. DKL
    March 12, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    Bill, thanks for posting that link to McMurtry’s response. It is quite revealing. In it, McMurtry shows his true colors, dropping all pretense of having an objective interest in mormonism and basically admitting that he was doing a hatchet job (he refers to “the fraud at the heart of Mormonism” and openly admits that he has an axe to grind concerning the Mountain Meadows Massacre).

    The question is, “Why would someone like that be chosen to review the book?”

    The answer is that it’s the New York Review of Books. What do you expect? It’s just another one of those low-brow media (up there with The New Yorker and NPR) that seemed designed solely to allow otherwise ignorant people to sound educated about topics they know absolutely nothing about–all pretense, no substance. (Did you see the New Yorker article on feral pigs? Sounded interesting enough, until you talk with someone about it who actually knows something about game control or pigs.)

  60. Bill
    March 12, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    I did see the feral pig article, but not being a pig or game control expert, I remained woefully unenlightened about its failings. Perhaps you can set us straight since I haven’t yet seen your letter to the editor on that topic in print.

    In my area of expertise, classical music, it happens that NYRB and the New Yorker have, in Charles Rosen and Alex Ross, the two best critics writing today.

    I’m not quite sure why you’ve gone on a crusade against those publications. Maybe you could suggest some general interest periodicals that you consider superior.

  61. sid
    March 13, 2006 at 10:02 am

    As an Indian immigrant who joined the Church while a student at the Univ of Michigan, people never get around to assuming that I am a Mormon. Too much of a stretch for them. So, I do get to hear a lot of negative things said about Mormons. But, in Ann Arbor, Mormons get bashed ( verbally, of course), becasue our Church is known as a conservative Church that does not do the bidding of NOW, NARAL, and the many GLBT groups that are very active in our town. We are a bunch of generally socially conservative people on a town that is just a little less than Berkeley , so, we, as a group are not much appreciated.
    The only people I have met locally who seemed to hate Mormons with a passion, were members of the various Evangelical groups.

  62. March 13, 2006 at 11:41 am

    DKL wrote Moreover, I’m perplexed to hear about all of these situations in which people know about someone’s church membership prior to their meeting him. Is this because BYU is on the resume?

    Yes, if BYU is on your resume, then people definitely know you’re a Latter-day Saint from the outset.

  63. DKL
    March 13, 2006 at 11:51 am

    From what you (and others) are saying, John, that sounds like a very good reason not to go to BYU. The continuing ecclesiastical endorsement (which led to my expulsion from BYU when I ran afoul of it by never going to church) turned out to be a great blessing for me and my family. And provides a further testimony to me of the inspiration of our leaders–the Lord works in mysterious ways…)

  64. March 13, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    I think that it can be a “con” of going to BYU actually. I have it on my resume twice. Even though I also have Oxford on my resume, I look inbred to many.

  65. annegb
    March 13, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    I always stand up for the underdog. Mormons in Utah are the over dogs, which places me in a strange position. I think it would be easier for me to defend the church if there were less of us and we were weaker and less prosperous. I know that’s not quite the feeling I should have, but it’s the feeling I do have. I most often find myself defending others against my fellow Mormons who are quick to keep score and condemn.

    Whatever’s happening outside of Utah doesn’t compute with me. I find myself constantly battling my inner feeling of superiority to the rest of the world, I can’t relate to feeling inferior because I’m a Mormon. And because I’m tired, I’m not gonna apologize to anybody. Today.

  66. Jordan
    March 13, 2006 at 2:18 pm


    You would have the “same” potential “inbred” negative if you had done both major degrees at the same university anywhere else in the country.

  67. Polly
    March 13, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Jordan Says:
    You would have the “sameâ€? potential “inbredâ€? negative if you had done both major degrees at the same university anywhere else in the country.”

    ‘cept Texas. It’s a badge of honor, here!

  68. March 15, 2006 at 2:08 am

    Cyril wrote: “I just got finished trying to help Tom Campbell, an LDS lawyer, defeat Tom DeLay in the Republican primaries here in Houston.”

    KUDOs for doing so!! Better luck next time…

  69. Aletheia
    March 15, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    I always discover new things when I surf this board. It seems to me as a “Gentile” of the Greek Orthodox persuasion that the anecdotes here run a little thin as proofs of the continuing exclusion of Mormons from mainstream American society and/or displays of persistent prejudice or misunderstanding by non-Mormons. That’s not to say that Mormons don’t come up for some undue criticism of their religious beliefs qua religious beliefs (I think they get to play the stand-in for alot of the rest of us) but I’d remind the board of the sometimes experience of the extra-Mormon world with particular LDS members. There’s a good quorum of Mormons among my colleagues and I’ve even been a minority member of some graduate classes on history of the West where LDS members formed the majority (and were there, in part, to police and correct any criticism of the Church in that context). As a rule, my colleagues and classmates have been reticent to engage in comparative religious discussion of any depth (overcome somewhat with time and long acquaintance), seem quick to point out what’s weird and uncommon in other religious ideologies, and pull together rather staunchly when faced with even mild critical comment on actions of the Church or particular Mormon subsets in the larger history of the West (I’m thinking of the class here). Which is all to say that Mormons can practice an insularity (outside of Utah too) that doesn’t reflect well on them or do them credit when they call attention to experiences of discomfort when passing or standing-alone in the non-Mormon world.

    Let me suggest an alternative that, while not a solution, will make for a better environment and may even give those on the board a sort of place on the moral high ground. Be open to conversations with interested non-Mormons and keep them within the realm of sincere but rigorous exchange (as opposed to an opportunity for proselytism or debate that leads to conversion in the short or long terms (Of course, this goes for both sides)). Reflect a little on those signs and signals, subtle and not-so-subtle, that Mormons as a group can give to non-Mormons that, whatever’s said or done, true community will come to exist once non-members leave the room. Sometimes the beat of the Mormon boogy can be felt even before one leaves the room. Doing so might give more force to the concerns and complaints voiced in the long discussion above.

  70. March 15, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Aletheia: touché

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