Life as a Useful Heretic

There were about five of them: middle-aged white men, wearing button-up shirts and jeans. I got the sense that they were family men with a moderate level of education and respectable careers. They bought the usual mix of fuel and snacks, and I put down my book and proceeded to ring them up. One of them spied the strange shapes on the cover of the volume, and he asked me what I was reading. I informed him that it was the Book of Mormon in Arabic.

“Oh,” said one of them. “So when Iraq invades us, you want to be able to tell them that you don’t love Jesus.”

My mind was flooded with rebukes both stinging and poignant. After all, my love for Jesus Christ had been the very impetus behind my decision to read the Book of Mormon in Arabic. However, my mind was able to form these thoughts into words only after the men had already left, with me standing in blank-faced shock.

Having grown up in a predominately Baptist town in Texas, and having spent much of my time as a teen on the Internet having discussions about religious and philosophical matters, I was no stranger to the criticisms and prejudices that many held to my religious beliefs: I had been told many times that I was a Satan-worshiper, a pagan, and any number of other things. This encounter, though, had been particularly shocking and infuriating. I think it was probably due to the fact that these men, while seemingly intelligent enough, had no interest in making any kind of intelligent criticism. Neither were they driven by some misguided but sincere concern for my eternal soul. Despite their respectable bearing, they were thugs, as they were interested in nothing but the didactic equivalent of a drive-by shooting.

One of the most disconcerting things about this experience is that I know that, if these men were to hear me make a public speech regarding my strongest convictions in only political terms, the chances are good that they would have been singing my praises. Such is the conundrum of being a Mormon in America: while the secular left hates the fact that you actually live your religion and apply its precepts to your daily life, the religious right hates you because you are (supposedly) a heretic. Criticism comes from both sides, with some calling you a sexually-oppressed prude and others calling you a sex-worshiper or whatever else that $50 book written by that career minister claimed.

The 2008 presidential race was groundbreaking in many respects. The diversity of the nominee field was something that drew a lot of attention, as the frontrunners included a woman, a black man, and a Mormon. Poll after poll tested Americans’ sensitivity to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc., and time and again, it became evident that Americans were much more prone to be prejudiced against a Mormon than to be prejudiced against a woman, a sexual deviant, or any particular ethnicity. (However, Mormons who read the results of these polls could take heart that they were still less hated than Muslims and atheists.)

That same year, Proposition 8 set off a firestorm of controversy on the West Coast. Along with a number of other religious groups on both sides of the issue, Mormons actively went out and voiced their opinion on the measure. When Proposition 8 was passed, the sneering and the finger-pointing turned largely upon the Mormons. Even though the measure still would have been passed had every single Mormon in California stayed home, the liberal propaganda machine called foul and demanded that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lose its tax-exempt status. The claim was that the Church had violated the limitations that are placed upon non-profit groups that take a stand on political issues. To the credit of our establishment, the official investigation that ensued found no wrongdoing. However, one should bear in mind that none of the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish groups that voiced their positions on the issue were made to face such scrutiny, even though their actions had been essentially identical.

It is commonly assumed that the main factors contributing to John McCain’s loss in 2008 were the fact that Obama was actually running against Bush; that Obama was a non-Jesse-Jackson, non-Al-Sharpton (half-)black man; and that, due to his centrist stances, McCain was unable to mobilize the Republican base. In 2012, one might say that two of those same issues still plagued Mitt Romney. However, Obama was no longer an enigma in 2012: we knew his policies, and we had seen how much of a disaster his administration had been over the last four years. It should have been easy for Romney. And yet, despite the dismal economy and a disastrous and scandal-ridden foreign policy, Obama still managed to get re-elected. People talk a lot about how Romney, like McCain, had been too centrist. However, all too many conservatives had actually stayed home not because they felt Romney was a closet leftist, but because they had heard some barely intelligible jabs about the multi-millionaire’s weird underwear.

As a major religious group, the Mormons are about as loyal a bloc as the Republican Party could ever hope for — more so than white evangelicals. Even noting the level of disagreement that exists between prominent conservative Mormons like Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Orrin Hatch, and Glenn Beck, nothing short of another extermination order would cause Utah or Idaho to go blue. And yet, citing doctrinal obscurities as if they will somehow have an effect on tax policy or abortion laws, Republicans across the nation continue to grind Mormon candidates under their heels, saying that they belong to a “cult” — usually without even knowing the actual definition of the word.

As our nation slips gradually into a post-Constitutional void, the last thing that American conservatives need is to alienate those who are their strongest allies. Otherwise, more and more Mormons will feel compelled to seek an alternative affiliation. Therefore, the question for the religious right regarding “the Mormon problem” is simple: Will you give in to statist policies by withholding your vote simply because a particular candidate has a slightly different understanding of God’s attributes? A decision in the positive becomes quite puzzling once one considers the fact that, according to your own creeds, God is utterly beyond human understanding anyway.