Friday, May 11, 2007

CHRISTIANS AND MORMONS

In her Salon article of yesterday, Camille Paglia also touches upon Mitt Romney (“A cause they’ve long ago forgotten”, www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2007/05/09/scarborough/print.html).

She’s not pleased that the Mormons are not being taken at their word (or demand) that they are indeed “Christians”. After all, she huffs, there’s no reason for those bossy Fundamentalists to be the gate-keepers of who is and is not ‘Christian’. Who – so to speak - died and made them God?

I am in absolute agreement with her that the stereotypical Fundamentalists are in need of serious nemesis. They are arrogant, under-informed, gummint-worshipping zealots when they are not actually whackjobs. Who mightn’t draw some consolation for life’s dusty journey from seeing legions of angels come down and go after the most florid Fundies with flaming warrants and divine SWAT? During such a raid certain municipalities in this nation might resemble Berlin when the Soviets started coming up the street, but who could deny that the inhabitants had it coming?

That being said, I think she has drunk too deeply of the cup of modern culture in regard to this ‘Christian’ matter. Religion is not just a matter of personal choice or (in the Morman instance) specific-group choice. Just as the Mormons will not acknowledge a person as a Mormon merely because the aspirant has publicly declared a liking for their religion (and maybe even bought a bunch of stuff for sale on the website or at the gift shop), so too Christians (broadly, not Fundamentalistically defined) cannot accept a group such as the Mormons simply because the group has suddenly – for whatever purposes – opted to declare its abiding fondness for Jesus.

Nor does the simple feeling of abiding fondness for Jesus constitute ‘Christian-ness’ or ‘Christianity’. Not any more than feeling reely reely sad about Princess Di’s death automatically accredits one as a scholar on all things British. But you can see where the confusion might arise in our modern American reality.

Christians – as diverse and variously-diagnosable as they sometimes are (the multi-culti PC buzzword ‘rich’ doesn’t even begin to encompass things here) – are identified by their acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as Himself divine, and by their sustained aspiration to shape self and life according to His precepts.

Upon that rock the tides of many religions have rippled. Nascent Islam recognized Jews and Christians as People of the Book, recognized Jesus as a wise man and one of the great prophets, although only a precursor to the Prophet Mohammed. The Mormon approach was different: Joseph Smith made everybody divine in some form or another (quasi, semi, formerly, futurely, metaphorically) and thus Jesus was a Reely Great Guy whose life should be given a close look by the Mormon faithful. Jesus was not, however, divine in the sense of being THE Son of God, the only Son of God, God Made Flesh as Definitive Redemptive Revelation. Nope.

Without getting into the specifics of Joseph Smith’s revelations and illuminations and limiting oneself to the theological, the thoughtful student would have to say that Mormons are not Christians, and Mormon insistence on being considered so is not sufficient grounds for allowing them to wear Jesus t-shirts immune from public challenge. They are no more Christian than Blackwater gun-toters are officers of the United States armed forces even though the Blackwaterites have bought a lot of the neat stuff that said officers frequently wear and carry. And – it has to be admitted – in our modern American reality, appearances can so often pass for substance and reality among the distracted and too-polite-to-raise-insensitive-questions citizenry.

But in many areas of American life and culture now, the time for questioning – however painful – has come. Government officials don’t want to be questioned and would rather we all focus on the future and just move on (I’m sure Al Capone would have wanted to urge that approach on the judge if he thought American justice could ever be witless enough to take it seriously … but those were less enlightened times). Before that, various advocacies didn’t want their horror-stories or their ‘numbers’ questioned and threatened to feel even more pain if We tried (who can forget Cleavon Little’s magnificent performance holding his own gun to his neck in front of the townsfolk in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”?).

Now the Mormons, for some reason, are insisting that they be called Christians (and assume that We are sufficiently house-broken to keep our questions to ourselves without their having to threaten about pain, insensitivity, moving-on, patriotism, and freedom of religion). Well, actually, they are questioning anybody’s questioning of their being called ‘Christian’, as if they had been acknowledged as and had claimed to be Christians all this time and any current doubt as to their achievement must be sinisterly motivated. Perhaps politically motivated.

Like positioning one’s co-religionists for a run on the Presidency is politically motivated. That sort of thing.

Well, while Christianity is – thankfully – not completely identified with Fundamentalist whackjobbery, it is also not completely identified with modern American Gimme-Iwanna culture. It still has a Shape, a Trellis, that gives its being an ‘identity’, and thus sets boundaries, and those boundaries work both ways: Christians should and should not think or do or cultivate a desire for certain things, and persons not willing to trying to follow that regimen cannot be classified as Christians. No matter how much they wanna, no matter how much they demand Gimme, no matter how much their prospects for the Presidency are thus diminished.

The Mormons have – very shrewdly – overcome their early weirdness by making themselves into the American equivalent of Hitler-era ‘Aryans’: the quintessential exemplars and embodiment of all that is ideally best in the culture and the citizenry. And, being quintessentially American as well, the Mormons are banking on Us folks figuring that anybody who’s gone to so much trouble to be American should be allowed whatever they like in the store. After all, what’s Christianity but a commodity or a label anyway, so why can’t We give it away for free as a reward sometimes? If it’s justified, of course; folks have to earn it. Although demanding, if it’s done loud enough, is a form of ‘earning’ nowadays.

Human beings have a perfect right to make certain demands: demands in Justice, grounded in the rights each individual enjoys as a human being (you can see why the Imperial Unitariat is not real high on Kathlik flosofy now, especially if it’s preached to troops, especially guard-forces at … ummm … well, we don’t torture anyway so why go on with this sentence?)

Demands based on Desire rather than Justice are something else again, and enjoy no such privileged position. In fact, it’s insanely irresponsible to accord Demands-of-Desire the same authority as Demands-of-Justice. Which perhaps is why ‘questioning’ the clouds of ‘demands’ made here and there in the later Sixties and the Seventies was suddenly made out to be a not-Good Thing. ‘Desire’ was replacing ‘Justice’ as the engine of authority in Our society and Our culture. To try to distinguish the difference was simply being Oppressive and Insensitive; Nice people didn’t do such things.

Our niceness has led to some monstrous things. Our government – as is the nature of that beast – saw its way clear to serve its own ceaseless appetites, and while We were satisfied that We had blocked the rare Strange monster who kidnapped, abused, and murdered this or that child, the government took dozens of thousands of our slightly older young and sent them on an invasion-of-choice that has kidnapped, tortured, and killed untold dozens of thousands of other peoples’ children. We have been remiss.

It’s pure politics that nowadays the Mormons want to be considered Christians so as to tap into the Rove-ian ‘base’. It’s what the Unitarium wants, surely. But the political conundrum is that the aforesaid ‘base’ is so reliable precisely because it does draw hard and fast and clear lines of demarcation between itself (“Christian”) and all others (Islamofascists, Frenchmen, gays, Democrats, Kathliks, and – presumably still - Communists). The Rove-ian hope, I wager, is that the base are mostly ‘believers’ and not ‘thinkers’ and so most of them will not stop to reason through the proposition if they can be told a good enough ‘story’ to make them feel good about it (not much different a dynamic from the assorted Advocacies of the Left, come to think of it).

The Mormons are welcome to support one of their co-religionists for President. Diluting or doing an end run around the substance of American belief and the capacity for reasoned deliberation is not welcome. And if they have Our best interests and Our commonweal at heart, then they won’t try it. We’ve got enough trouble on Our hands now as it is.

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1 Comments:

Blogger David said...

It's a fact of life that, if you seek national political office in this country, you have to have your ticket punched by some "mainline" religion.

Catholicism entered that category only within the last fifty years after centuries covered with 'foreign' fleas in the same American doghouse as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and, of course,'un-american' atheists of the anarchist, communist and freethinking persuasions.

An upwardly mobile Mormonism is now striving mightly to be validated by the electorate as "mainstream". That may require more than a couple of runs by others than members of that ambitious first family manque, the Romneys.

Catholics began running with Gov Al Smith, forerunner of the New Deal and apostle of rum, romanism & rebellion in 1928.

Mormons don't help themselves by advertising the gift of a free bible on television and then sending out a complimentay copy of the book of mormon as a 'companion' gift. This subterfuge sums up the faux christian proselytism of LDS. It must be said that they lay it on pretty thick in the FAQ at the LDS.org homepage with much talk about the expiating, redemptive death and resurrection of Christ.

Likewise, 19th century Protestant missions were not above telling Chinese Jews who had been cut-off from their middle eastern co-religionists for centuries that Christianity was just another form of Judaism. (See history of the Kaifeng Jews).

Such sleazy tactics aside, we should, instead, take a look at the assumption that makes them necessary to wit: the "Karamazov thesis" of Dostoevsky that one cannot be a moral person without the support of a properly (Christian) organized religion.

Catholicism has (recently) abandoned the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus in the abstract in the case of virtuous patriarchs of old (Socrates, the Jewish Prophets, Confucius et al.) who had never heard the Good News. Pope Benedict is still, however, ready to consign to eternal flames those who have heard Catholic preaching and reject it - even, apparently, on the small matter of the 'morning after pill'.

It is a contradiction to hold faith-based born-agains up to ridicule and still, in the same breath, proclaim the nulla salus doctrine in any form - however 'moderate'.

The humble position that God intends the salvation of all men is bibically based. We, thus, have assurance that God comes to all men in a way that they can accept him.

As Catholics we are free to say that all grace is mediated by Christ. That is just a manner of speaking for, as author of the natural law, Christ answers for the salvation of all men of good will - whatever the quality of their theism.

7:32 AM  

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