In media discussions of Mormonism, one often comes across the assumption that Mormons are “secretive.” The accusation is rarely accompanied by facts or sources, but the grainy cult-like feel it seems to give the LDS Church has made it a pretty sticky meme for some. I’ve addressed the question at length in a two-part series of posts here and here.
Surprisingly, the New York Times Magazine appears to have ignored RomneyExperience’s take on the question, opting to publish the thoughts of a Harvard Law Professor instead. Noah Feldman authored a long article published yesterday hypothesizing on what about Mormonism so many Americans find troubling. I should note that Feldman is no polemicist or bigot, and he make several insightful points, alongside a few complimentary portrayals of Mormons (“If anything, the systematic overrepresentation of Mormons among top businesspeopoel and lawyers affords LDS affiliation a certain cachet — rather like being Jewish, but taller.”).
However, when one approaches the central thesis of Feldman’s piece, it becomes quite surprising to notice just how unable he is to support his argument. Feldman begins with a historical view of Mormonism, detailing how Mormons became secretive in their early days in order to protect themselves from outsiders who would persecute them due to their unorthodox beliefs, most prominently the practice of polygamy. Feldman briefly follows this up by noting that once in Utah, Mormons became somewhat isolated from mainstream America (natch). Let’s concede these points and move to Feldman’s central claim:
The Mormon path to normalization over the course of the 20th century depended heavily on this avoidance of public discussion of its religious tenets. Now that plural marriage was out of the picture, the less said the better about the particular teachings of the church, including such practices as the baptism of the dead and the doctrine of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form. Where religious or theological conversation could not be avoided, Mormons depicted themselves as yet another Christian denomination alongside various other Protestant denominations that prevailed throughout the United states.
What Feldman is saying, in essence is that as Mormons have become more mainstream over the last 80 or so years, they’ve decided to clam up about their distinctive doctrines and act like they’re just another Christian church. Continue reading The Soft Bigotry of Accusing Mormons of “Soft Secrecy”