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Donegal Descendant

Donegal Descendant
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As of December 1, 2012 I will also be posting on Our Salon. Note that I am unable to open any pm's I receive due to software dysfunction here.

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JUNE 17, 2012 5:21PM

Mitt & Salt Lake Mormon Memories

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Many things which have given me pause about Mormon communities are not actual LDS religious doctrines or teachings. They are attitudes, values, customs, and habits of thought, group norms, or unwritten rules that have arisen within Utah LDS communities evidently without being dictated by doctrine, but that have grown up, half-consciously or unconsciously. I’m not here to criticize Mormon theology or religious beliefs which are no more fantastic than those of many other religions. I want to share some observations I picked up through living in Salt Lake City for six years in the 1990s while paying attention to my cultural surroundings there.

Mitt Romney’s explanations for his not serving in the military, for example. Asked why, given his hawkish views and declared support for the Vietnam War and marching in favor of conscription, he never served in the military [full disclosure: neither did I].  Romney explained that serving as a Mormon missionary in France was of equivalent, if not greater patriotic value than service in the US military. He was bringing the LDS brand of Christianity to France. I am not interested in ridiculing this. What interests me it what this reveals about the way he thinks, his values, his assumptions, his priorities, and the apparently automatic and natural equating of the LDS mission with the advancement of US interests around the world. The French laughed his presumption of introducing them to Christianity, over 1700 years too late. During their two years of full-time work in France he and his fellow missionary failed to convert a single person to the LDS church. Romney received a total of five and a half years of religious draft deferments, deferments normally only given to full-time ordained clergy of other churches.

(Maybe he shouldn’t feel bad. The legendary 19th century Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone converted exactly one African to Christianity during his lifetime—a Muslim who later ‘relapsed’ back to Islam.)

Asked more recently why none of his five (5) adult sons ever served in the military despite their father’s continuous advocacy for a larger, stronger US military and a more openly warlike, belligerent foreign policy, Romney said, “they made different career choices” and they are “supporting our nation by helping me get elected!” Thereby doing a greater patriotic service to America than military service. Again personal ambition and self-serving choices are equated with patriotism and national service. It is these automatic, seemingly unconscious assumptions (presumptions?) that troubles me.                                                                        

One of the things that annoyed me during my eight years living in Utah was the Mormon leadership frequently revising and rewriting their own history at the very same moment they were swearing up and down they never did any such thing-while they are doing it right in front of us. In the mid-1990s, for example, an LDS spokesman announced The Church had never had any restrictions on Black people or any teaching that they were associated with fallen angels, the children of Ham, or in any way lesser or inferior, either spiritually or socially. Certain prominent 19th century individual members of the church had expressed their private, personal speculations about the origin and nature of black people of African ancestry and, unfortunately, as a result some individuals mistakenly came to believe such individual personal opinions were actually official LDS doctrines and teaching, when in fact they were not and never had been. [here cue patronizing chuckle]: "Sorry you misunderstood." Many friends of mine who had been raised Mormon, were outraged at this pretense and denounced it as a total lying whitewash. “We were definitely taught in Sunday school that black skin was a curse showing they had the souls of fallen angels, those who rebelled against God.” Every organization evolves over time or it doesn’t survive. It doesn’t bother me that they changed their beliefs, but it irks me they piously deny they ever change them, in the teeth of obvious evidence.                                                           

Sometimes I would meet someone who claimed the Book of Mormon was historically accurate and supported by historical and archeological research, especially about the Maya and other early civilizations of the Americas. Invariably we would get into a debate in which I would point the evidence from science and scholarship until, realizing he was losing, my challenger would suddenly declare, “I’m sorry you are prejudiced against our church.”

“Hold on,” I’d say. “You are the one who said this was a matter of facts, evidence, reason, science and scholarship. Now you suddenly shift ground and announce it is a matter of faith? If it’s all just blind faith and arbitrary belief, then there’s nothing to debate. Evidence doesn’t matter. You just believe whatever you wish to believe.”He would retort that since I hadn’t read all the thousands of documents pertaining to LDS beliefs, apologetics, and history in existence, I was not well-informed in this matter and not intellectually competent.

“No, I admit I haven’t read every document, diary, letter, or scrap of paper written since 1830—and neither have you! No one has time. Most, if not all, are irrelevant anyway.”

“Well,” he’d sigh in condescending conclusion, “I’ve gotten used to dealing with religious prejudice every day.” I gave up on attempts at serious discussion of the history of the Americas.                                                           

The leaders of the Utah State legislature called a press conference once to denounce the arrest of one of their number on domestic violence charges by the Utah State Patrol after he had fled in his car, leaving his wife at home with a black eye. The State legislators were righteously indignant. They angrily pointed out that this man---let’s call him Brother Smith—was a pillar of both the community and the church, had a very successful business, an outstanding income, and lived in a luxurious house in a fine neighborhood. How, they asked, could such a man be a criminal?These Utah state government leaders said, in essence:  “When we created this new domestic violence law two years ago, our intent was to put a club in the hands of law enforcement to use against the disorderly lower classes of society. It was never intended to be used against our kind of people and it’s an outrage that is should be! The Chief of the State Patrol has a lot to answer for. We’re going to be doing an unscheduled review of the State Patrol’s annual budget right now and I have to say, it doesn’t look good.”Almost all of these people were lawyers and, no doubt, temple-worthy LDS members. No doubt they’ve both taken and taught courses in constitutional law. Yet they see nothing wrong with different sets of laws for different classes of people. They apparently think that’s the way it should be. (Perhaps they were simply ahead of their time. Today many conservative “constitutionalists” want to ignore or repeal the 14th Amendment entirely, including its equal protection under the law clause. Not to mention the 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 19th amendments, too, in spite of their assertion they worship the constitution as God-given and infallible.)                                                           

A few months later, an investigative piece in the Salt Lake Tribune reported that  one or more legislative committees had held secret caucuses, in apparent violation of their own open meeting (“sunshine”) laws.  Again there was a press conferemce called by the state leaders, brimming with righteous indignation. They openly declared that their status as lawmakers put them above the law. A law-maker cannot possibly be accused of being a law-breaker. That is a logical impossibility, a contradiction in terms! Like accusing the Pope of violating Catholic doctrine, right? He’s the Pope; he has the final say on what doctrine is. This false and scurrilous accusation against the state legislature collapses from its own absurdity!                                                           

This sort of “logic” almost made my head explode. I was naïve enough to be shocked by it but there was little popular outcry or protest or disavowal, as I remember.                                                           

A three-and-a-half-minute long celebratory Mitt Romney campaign ad from 2008 is being revived and circulated now on the internet. It is called “Gimme Mitt.” You can easily find it on You Tube, as well as various blog sites. In it, the crooning narrator asserts that Bain Capital “straightened out America one firm at a time.” Whatever you think of Bain Capital, how can you possibly seriously assert that they “straightened out America”? Next we are told Mitt Romney “turned the tide in Washington.” When? How? WTF are you talking about? Finally, the pious devotee concludes “he turned water into wine…” And walked on water, too, no doubt. With Disney World in the background and fireworks exploding across the heavens. (Isn’t it sacrilege for serious Christians to claim a presidential candidate  performed supernatural miracles?) And this clip is not a joke, at least, it was not made as a joke and evidently Romney admirers see nothing wrong with it. They are dead serious.                                                           

This is what disturbs me about the Mormon culture, Mitt Romney, and what might be called the Mormon Mind, much more evident in the leadership than in the rank and file. I repeat: this is not about religion per se. It’s not their theology, origin myths, or explicit religious beliefs, which are no more fantastic than those of other religions, but there is something in their leadership’s groupthink, their assumptions and presumptions, their cultural norms, that I find very disturbing. I have no precise label for it. Some combination of militant self-righteousness and what I will call unconscious cynicism and unreflective shallowness is as close as I can come at the moment. I really do not know how much of it is conscious and deliberate and how much of it is unconscious and automatic. Maybe some readers can help clarify my thoughts. Other communities have their own brands of weirdness but these are examples of what has stuck with me since my years (1991-99) in Utah. Living among Mormon neighbors is fine; living under Mormon leadership would be a troubling prospect.          

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A big issue with the attitudes of the Mormon Church derives from the idea that their leader is a prophet; when the prophet speaks, it's supposedly from. Since the prophet can never be wrong, they have Mormons have to go through some serious contortions to explain their history, from flat-out denial to twisting the truth. Mormons can rationalize a lot, all in favor of promoting the "one true Church."

I grew up in a very staunch Mormon family, left when I was seventeen. My family is still heavily involved in the Church. If you have any questions about Mormon doctrine/culture, I am happy to answer them for you. And being a non-Mormon in Utah is tough; one of my husband's college classmates (the two of them went to college in India, where no one knows much about Utah or Mormons) ended up doing his Ph.D at BYU. By the end, the poor guy was so frazzled he just gave up on being social.
They call it brain-washing in the military. Kids who are pre-conditioned to only speak their clanspeak, if you will, are doomed to repeat the mistakes their parents made.
Under Mormon leadership, how much more clanspeak would become a part of popular culture ( i.e. mainstream America), drowning out our truth?
I wonder.
R
Excellent post. This is exactly what disturbs me about Romney. I own a home in Utah. The hypocrisy and outright lies regarding the history of the LDS Church's position on blacks is documented for anyone who cares to look. Google the pharse, "White and Delightsome" and the teachings of black's being unworthy of the priesthood and marked as unworthy by the color of the skin is discussed, as is the changes to church doctrine to try to erase (like an etch a sketch) those doctrines. Mormons were also encouraged to marry Native Americans to dilute the race, and one of the church presidents pointed out that Native American Indians that had come into Mormon families were becoming lighter of skin.
While these fairly recent and easy to research items are just the tip of the iceberg, it is disturbing. There is a huge entitlement issue among the leaders of the LDS Church. Mitt is the poster boy.
r./
I always try to look to the "root cause" of any problem or phenomenon, at it appears to be that the root cause of the circular logic and rationalizations of the "unwritten rules" of Mormon communities lie in the necessity of the early patriarchs to justify polygamy to their women... no small feat in mid 19th Century America.
George Orwell's rule in 1984: Some animals are more equal than others.
Any religion pretty much is like this. That's why people worried about Kennedy (or even that Obama would be 'tribal') - but Catholicism as it is practiced by most adherents has lost that kind of cohesion. And the evangelicals would like a monolithic similar approach, but are too internally fractured (into sects, even if their 'theology' is consistent). Mormonism is still relative young & cohesive and its followers well and thoroughly in the group-mind, so I would worry about Romney on religious grounds as well as all the other reasons he'd be disastrous...
@jmac: Not only to "justify polygamy," but also to debase womankind.
If what you say is true, then I'm truly concerned for the non-Mormon Republican voters who would support someone from this background. Our democracy is a thing of beauty when it is allowed to flourish free from religious zealotry and bias. ... Great post. R.R.R. Wish I could rate it more than once.
I lived in Salt Lake City and Provo in the 1970s. At that time, according to J Spencer Kimball, the head of the Mormon Church, people with black skin were ineligible for the priesthood, as women still are. Domestic violence against women by "white collar" Mormons was rife, and prescription drug abuse by Mormon wives was an enormous problem.
That law-maker/law-breaker non-dichotomy reminds me of Nixon's claim in the Frost interviews that "if the president does it, it isn't illegal". And turning water is ironic since Mormons aren't supposed to drink. That's probably why he failed to win converts in France.
It's hard to sort out the different aspects of religion because they tend to be intertwined one way or another but the idea of focusing on one aspect is of course fine. The one you mentioned about a legislator and presumably Mormon leader being arrested for domestic abuse has more relevance than many people realize. This is how their indoctrination begins and they beat the truth into children or use intimidation tactics.

This is also present in many other religions; one of the more obvious is James Dobson who has taught to do this; however the Mormons may be even more extreme than Dobson, partly because they've been isolated and didn't learn with the rest of society.
Thanks to all who read, thought, and/or commented.
*postmormongirl--I've been following your posts and will continue to do so. I believe SLC is now acutally more than 50% non-LDS due to migration from other states. Provo and the pioneer settler towns are now the bedrock-Mormon communities in Utah.
*poorwoman--I'll remember your colorful term, "clanspeak"! Thanks.
*onislandtime--the relative ease of scrutinizing early LDS history via the internet may tend to undermine faith, especially if young people are inclined to "check out" what they're taught by googling the subject. I, too, sense "a big entitlement issue among the leaders."
*jmac--funny how so many charismatic leaaders are such lusty fellows! Polygamy is one solution to reconciling 'family values' with an overactive libido.
*ONL--Orwell died 62 years ago with no knowledge of the post-1950 world, yet he still remains amazingly relevant, doesn't he?
*Myriad--If Romney wins the election, the LDS leaders may regret how much increased controversy and scrutiny that apparent success brings upon their church.
*Deborah--it's certainly the truth of my own experiences, although I am not (alas) infallible, omniscient, or omnipresent (darn it!). Religious fanaticism and unlimited corporate money are dominating our political process in very destructive ways.
*Dr. Stuart--I seem to remember hearing Prozac is more widely prescribed in Utah than in other states.
*Abrawang--the phrase "water into wine" is ironic in this context, isn't it? Point taken on your Nixon observation: we are good people, our cause is just, therefore everything we do is good.
*Zachery--is it possible to separate theological beliefs from cultural norms? I thought so when I composed this but maybe not. I'm struck by the LDS adoption of the habits, appearance, and customs of 1950s WASP America as the religio-cultural-stylistic ideal. The local TV stations used to show endless re-runs of John Wayne films and The Lawrence Welk Show, for example.
Thanks again to all for your thoughts and observations.
[r] Donegal, belatedly here. thank you for this.

i know so little about the Mormon faith. I do remember being a tour guide decades ago and I was a pretty wise-cracking and entertaining tour guide. Well a bus arrived chock full of Donny Osmond type handsome young men, my age. I looked forward to the tour, but as we moved room to room of the mansion I was describing and its famous occupant (long dead) and his quotes I was getting no reaction to the charming and funny anecdotes. i even began to wonder if these guys spoke English. At the end of the tour I asked where they were from. "We are Mormons from Utah." I was told soberly! Ohhh. I tucked that one away. something off with the sense of humor maybe?

B/W thinking like that with Romney. authoritarian following? to authoritarian? spooky. religious/spiritual incest on young independent minds reined back from critical thought? exceptionalism? sigh.

best, libby
This is a POV that deserves the light you shine on it.
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i think you put the nail on the head identifying the problem with all indoctrination. "unreflective shallowness" describes not just the examples of mormon behaviour you've given but the behaviour of anyone who has sufficient fear of change coupled with false ideas of what comfort and happiness is. Delusion is another good description, and all of us suffer it to varying degrees. But those who militantly defend their righteousness with "unreflective shallownes" guarantee their delusions at everyone's expense. Everybody, not just institutions, need to know how to change, to admit mistakes and grow from them. I'm rambling. Will end with appreciation for your clear thinking that does not fall for dishonesty and to speak up, and for your ability to reflect more deeply. Thank you.