Friday, 16 November 2012

The Mormon Mystique

In an article in their online magazine the BBC asks, “Has the Mormon Mystique been Lifted?”

Mystique is defined as “incommunicable spirit, gift or quality; the secret of an art as known to its inspired practitioners; a sense of aura, of mystery, remoteness from the ordinary…”

Certainly, Mormonism has traditionally been viewed as secretive, mysterious, remote from the ordinary. However, the fact that a Mormon American presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, lost the popular vote by just one percent, that a greater percentage of evangelicals (79%) than Mormons voted for a Mormon, and the consequential increase in people’s curiosity about Mormonism all seem to point to the idea that Mormonism is becoming “mainstream.”

What has happened to change that perception? Have Mormons become more open about their historical faith? Has the Mormon Church opened itself up to closer scrutiny? Has the world looked in “the vaults” and found nothing to worry them there?


"As far as world attention on Mormonism goes, it's huge," says Scott Gordon, a former Mormon bishop and president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, which aims to counter misinformation about the Church.

That last paragraph was lifted from the article and goes some way to answering the original question in the negative while explaining how the mystique appears to have lifted. This is the tame sort of reporting Mormonism thrives on.

Someone official-sounding comes along (Scott Gordon is not a church official) representing an official-sounding and impressively serious-minded organisation (FAIR is not an official Mormon organisation) and talks about the solemn business of countering “misinformation.” This is quoted uncritically and the mystique is maintained even as gullible, perhaps indifferent reporters think it is lifting.

A picture has been painted in the reader’s mind of an innocent, Christian mainstream church besieged by sinister forces spreading misinformation while said church does its best to dispel the rumours and correct distortions and misunderstandings.

talking mormonism

For organisations like FAIR, however,  it is the perception that they “counter misinformation” that matters much more than any attempt to talk openly about Mormonism. This countering misinformation has more to do with continual denial, prevarication, obfuscation and downright disingenuous and ad hominem commentary than ever to do with talking about Mormonism.

With a suitcase full of well-worn rebuttals Mormon apologists will argue that comments are taken out of context, are not official doctrine, are simply one man’s opinion.

They will put forward the “that was then this is now” defence when faced with their murky history. Failing that they marshal the “we don’t do that any more” defence, the “we don’t understand really what he meant when he said that but its all sorted out now” defence and, putting on a pious face, present a “the temple is not secret but sacred” gambit.

Mormons regularly blame others for how their faith is perceived, insisting that if it wasn’t for critics they would have no critics (they do major on the blindingly obvious) and, all else failing, will tell you sincerely that they know their church is true.

The one thing they will never do is actually discuss any concerns you might have about their Mormon faith. Bring up any controversial issue and they will respond, “You have been talking to enemies of the church, anti-Mormons!” Mormons don’t talk Mormonism as you might reasonably expect them to.

The BBC article, likewise, does not discuss Mormonism, only making political comment and repeating the same old Mormon sound bites as though they are the most up-to-date, cutting edge commentary. The real story runs thus:

Mormonism is secretive, mysterious and out of the ordinary but public perception is changing because Mormons repeatedly claim they are persecuted, misrepresented and hide behind a cloud of words that amount to nothing much at all. Because Mormons in the public gaze have an interest in playing down their Mormonism and presenting to the world a wholesome, patriotic, family-oriented and conservative image.

Because Mormons don’t, and in turn secular commentators don’t actually talk Mormonism perception changes even while underneath Mormonism is still Mormonism. The mystique is intact and Mormonism continues apace even as the latest public face draws smiles and approbation.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this excellent critique. I was amazed when I read "The Miracle of Forgiveness" from cover to cover. Spencer W. Kimball seemed to think that he was offering hope to the world. Far from it. Hopefully the despair that the book inevitably instills in its readers if taken seriously will push people out of the Church toward the real Jesus Christ, the only one who forgives sins free of charge.