The emancipation of selfishness. The fecund faculties of myth making. Harold Bloom created a furor with his article on Mormonism, but for the most part it was misinterpreted, or rather interpreted in a literal sense. Bloom understood the fantastical and science fiction elements of the faith and recreated that spirit almost as a leap of faith over the normative barriers which hem in and yank out the faiths extraordinary properties. Its a literary eldorado. Given Bloom’s interpretation of Yahweh as impish and self contradicting, he is certainly not denying validity to this mostly unique American apparition of faith which connects both a hyper-naturalism with the supernatural, very much in Bloom’s assertion of God wanting man to be like him, but thwarting him when he tries.
For Bloom, religion is never about good or evil, in fact, the normative tradition dries up the magical and fantastic into a boring inertia. At its elemental level Mormonism dictates a rational basis for everything even to God, meaning everything can be understood. The idea that there are rational explanations tends to naturalize god, and that it is not condoned to investigate those explanations. Perhaps a central reason why so many mormons are drawn to science-fiction. This is perfectly coherent to Bloom who called the Fall from Eden, ” a punishment far in excess of the crime,” that god “haggled” with Abraham over the number of decent people required not to destroy Sodom, and that jews were wandering around the desert after the Exodus, “for no apparent reason.”
Mormons hold a position that science explains the way God accomplishes his tasks. Religion is only concerned with the why and science is left to deal with the how, which supposedly complement each other. Some of the particular aspects of Mormon theology affirm that God organized matter in creation rather than creation out of nothingness, then God perceived nature almost scientifically and arranged events according to natural principles. Yet at the same time no belief in evolution, but a belief in aliens from other worlds who also know him as god, which is pretty much a science fictional concept.
One of the differences between Mormonism and say Catholicism is the concept of God, which avoids rational explanations with great ardency. Mormonism would say, in contrast, that very advanced technology cannot be differentiated from magic, which seems a very gnostic and material view. Like science fiction where advanced peoples appear miraculous and god-like. The is concordant with Mormon belief that we can become, evolve into something more. Where the idea is postulated that God is only a super-evolved man,technologically, Mormonism implies as well that God is morally and technologically extraordinarily-evolved entity.
Harold Bloom: His likely opponent, the Mormon Mitt Romney, will be a pioneer figure whatever the outcome, since no previous member of that very American church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has ever secured a major-party nomination. Even should Mr. Obama triumph, a crucial precedent will have been established. …
Mr. Romney, earnest and staid, who is deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy, is directly descended from an early follower of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, whose highly original revelation was as much a departure from historical Christianity as Islam was and is. But then, so in fact are most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God Pentecostalists and even our mainline Protestant denominations….
…However, should Mr. Romney be elected president, Smith’s dream of a Mormon Kingdom of God in America would not be fulfilled, since the 21st-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor. The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as “prophet, seer and revelator,” is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy.
The Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed has little enough in common with the visions of Joseph Smith. The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage. Though I read Christopher Hitchens with pleasure, his characterization of Joseph Smith as “a fraud and conjuror” is inadequate. A superb trickster and protean personality, Smith was a religious genius, uniquely able to craft a story capable of turning a self-invented faith into a people now as numerous as the Jews, in America and abroad. According to the church, about six million American citizens are Mos, and there are more than eight million converts in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. …
Persuasively redefining Christianity has been a pastime through the ages, yet the American difference is brazen. What I call the American Religion, and by that I mean nearly all religions in this country, socially manifests itself as the Emancipation of Selfishness. Our Great Emancipator of Selfishness, President Ronald Reagan, refreshingly evaded the rhetoric of religion, but has been appropriated anyway as the archangel of American spiritualized greed.
Marxist slogans rarely ring true in our clime, where religion is the poetry (bad and good) of the people and not its opiate. Poetry is a defense against dying. The American Religion centers upon the denial of death, literalizing an ancient Christian metaphor.
Obsessed by a freedom we identify with money, we tolerate plutocracy as if it could someday be our own ecstatic solitude. A first principle of the American Religion is that each of us rarely feels free unless he or she is entirely alone, particularly when in the company of the American Jesus. Walking and talking with him is akin to receiving his love in a personal and individual relationship.
A dark truth of American politics in what is still the era of Reagan and the Bushes is that so many do not vote their own economic interests. Rather than living in reality they yield to what oddly are termed “cultural” considerations: moral and spiritual, or so their leaders urge them to believe. Under the banners of flag, cross, fetus, exclusive marriage between men and women, they march onward to their own deepening impoverishment. Much of the Tea Party fervor merely repeats this gladsome frolic. …
AS the author of “The American Religion,” I learned a considerable respect for such original spiritual revelations as 19th-century Mormonism and early 20th-century Southern Baptism, admirably re-founded by the subtle theologian Edgar Young Mullins in his “Axioms of Religion.”
A religion becomes a people, as it has for the Jews and the Mormons, partly out of human tenacity inspired by the promise of the blessing of more life, but also through charismatic leadership. What we now call Judaism was essentially created by Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph to meet the needs of a Jewish people mired under Roman occupation in Palestine and elsewhere in the empire. A great sage, Akiva was also a leader of extraordinary charisma, an old man when martyred by the Emperor Hadrian, presumably for inspiring the insurrection of Bar Kokhba that ended at the siege of Bethar….
…Joseph Smith, killed by a mob before he turned 39, is hardly comparable to the magnificent Akiva, except that he invented Mormonism even more single-handedly than Akiva gave us Judaism, or Muhammad, Islam.
I recall prophesying in 1992 that by 2020 Mormonism could become the dominant religion of the western United States. But we are not going to see that large a transformation. I went wrong because the last two decades have witnessed the deliberate dwindling of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into just one more Protestant sect. Without the changes, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a fellow Mormon, would not seem plausible candidates. …
Our political satirists, with Mr. Romney evidently imminent, delight in describing the apparent weirdness of Mormon cosmology and allied speculations, but they forget the equal strangeness of Christian mythology, now worn familiar by repetition. Jorge Luis Borges shrewdly classified all theology as fantastic literature, and Joseph Smith’s adventures in the spiritual realm are at least refreshingly original, and were even in 19th-century America, when homegrown systems of belief sprouted prodigiously. Smith was not a good writer, except for one or two of his sermons, as reported in transcriptions by his auditors, but his mythmaking faculty was fecund….
…The accurate critique of Mormonism is that Smith’s religion is not even monotheistic, let alone democratic. Though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer openly describes their innermost beliefs, they clearly hold on to the notion of a plurality of gods. Indeed, they themselves expect to become gods, following the path of Joseph Smith.
There are other secrets also, not tellable by the Mormon Church to those it calls “Gentiles,” oddly including Jews. That aspects of the religion of a devout president of the United States should be concealed from all but 2 percent of us may be a legitimate question that merits pondering. When I wandered about the South and Southwest from 1989 to 1991, researching American religion, I was heartened by the warmth that greeted me in Pentecostal and Baptist churches, some of them independent indeed. But Gentiles are not allowed in Mormon temples….
…Joseph Smith continues to be regarded by many Mormons as a final authority on issues of belief, though so much of his legacy, including plural marriage, had to be compromised in the grand bargain by which the moguls of Salt Lake City became plutocrats defining the Republican party. The hierarchy’s vast economic power is founded upon the tithing of the faithful, who yield 10 percent of their income to the church. I am moved by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations but remain skeptical that you can achieve a lessening of money’s influence upon our politics, since money is politics. That dark insight has animated the Mormon hierarchy all through the later 20th and early 21st century. The patriotism of Mormons for some time now has been legendary: they help stock the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the military. Though the powers of the presidency are at this moment somewhat diminished by the Republican House and the atavistic Supreme Court, they remain latent. A Mormon presidency is not quite the same as an ostensibly Catholic or Protestant one, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists on a religious sanction for its moralistic platitudes.
The 19th-century Mormon theologian Orson Pratt, who was close both to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, stated a principle the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never repudiated: “Any people attempting to govern themselves by laws of their own making, and by officers of their own appointment, are in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God.”
Mormons earn godhead though their own efforts, hoping to join the plurality of gods, even as they insist they are not polytheists. No Mormon need fall into the fundamentalist denial of evolution, because the Mormon God is not a creator. Imaginatively liberating as this may be, its political implications are troublesome. The Mormon patriarch, secure in his marriage and large family, is promised by his faith a final ascension to godhead, with a planet all his own separate from the earth and nation where he now dwells. From the perspective of the White House, how would the nation and the world appear to President Romney? How would he represent the other 98 percent of his citizens?
Other Christians look askance at Mr. Romney and have no trouble saying so. Because of his religion, they will vote only reluctantly for him, or even not vote at all. One of the recent grace notes of our politics was sounded by the ebullient Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, which boasts 10,000 members. Mr. Jeffress pronounced that the Mormons were a non-Christian cult, as he endorsed his favorite candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, a Christian statesman.
Mr. Perry gently demurred at Mr. Jeffress’s dictum, indicating also that he did not endorse the pastor’s assertion that the Roman Catholic Church was “the Scarlet Harlot,” presumably the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. Whatever his tactical sleights, the Texas governor displays a continuous religiosity, unlikely to divert secular Republicans clustered in gated exurbia and gracious Eastern suburbs.
We can be certain that President Obama will not care to address these arcane matters in his debates with Mr. Romney. Doubtless Mr. Obama’s Christianity is sincere, but happily it is irrelevant to his governing style and aspirations. There appear to be no secular seeming Republicans running for the White House, except, ironically, Mr. Huntsman.
Mormonism’s best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew. Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/will-this-election-be-the-mormon-breakthrough.html?pagewanted=all
In the end, it is only from a secular standpoint that Mormonism appears to be supernaturalist. Indeed, Evangelicals tend to regard Latter-day Saints as being far too naturalist or even materialist, concerned about Mormon beliefs that collapse the ontological distinction between human beings and God, between the physical and the spiritual, and between the earthly and the heavenly. Summing up such concerns, Terryl Givens describes as “the principal danger” of Mormon theology the fact that “the sacred as a category threatens to disappear altogether (and with it, perhaps, worshipful reverence).” In “a culture that sacralizes and exalts the mundane even as it naturalizes and domesticates the sacred,” he goes on, “transcendence is virtually annihilated as a possibility.”
Richard Bushman in turn beautifully captures Mormonism’s theological immanence in a comment on a passage from the Doctrine and Covenants, a text in which Joseph Smith laid out the basic history of his encounters with angels (D&C 128:19-21):
No passage better captures Joseph Smith’s restoration than this one, mingling the names of “divers angels”—Michael, Gabriel, Raphael—with specific mundane places that one could locate on a map—Fayette, Seneca County, Colesville, Broome County, and the banks of the Susquehanna River. That mixing of the mystical with the plain was pure Joseph Smith. This very concreteness gave him his highest pleasure.
As early as Joseph Smith, then, and with remarkable consistency since his time, Mormonism has preferred, theologically and philosophically, a collapsing of the supernatural into the natural.
What, though, of Mormonism’s commitment to God, to angels, to miracles, and to spiritual gifts? Strikingly, the history of Mormon theology is the history of attempts, in one way or another, to naturalize all of these traditionally supernatural concepts. Read More:http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleSpencerPostmodernism.html