I am currently suffering from extreme sleep deprivation, which puts me in a caustic and curmudgeonly mood. This means, of course, that I shouldn’t blog. I am likely to say mean and indefensible things, like what follows.
Who am I talking about when I talk about “liberal Mormons”? First, I am not necessarily talking about Mormon Democrats or the huge hordes of Mormon socialists (although a disproportionate number of those who I am talking about fall into these categories.) Nor am I talking about Mormon intellectuals per se, or those of all stripes who are interested in Mormon Studies. Rather, I am talking about that vast and motley crowd of self-proclaimed “critical thinkers” who like to get ostentatiously worked up about the “human” side of Church leaders, the “problems” of Mormon theology, the “dark side” of Mormon history, and confidently posit naturalistic explanations of every conceivable Mormon phenomena under the sun. I am talking about the people who like to endlessly and publically stew about what their Sunday School teacher didn’t tell them. I am talking about people who think that Steve Benson is an insightful critic of Mormonism. You know who you are. I am talking about you.
My problem with these folks is not that I think they are spiritually dangerous wolves in sheep’s clothing wreaking havoc amongst the flock of the faithful. Indeed, I generally object to this kind of rhetoric. It simply feeds into the “liberal Mormons'” sense of their own self-importance. Nor is my problem that they are “intellectualizing themselves out of the Church,” or that they are the “learned who think that they are wise.” I am not a good enough Christian to get consistently worked up about the salvation of these people. Go to the gold fields of California and go to hell for all I care. (To paraphrase a great man.)
My real problem with these people is that they are boring and insulting. First the boring part. The majority of these folks don’t have anything to say. They are simply a reaction against the conservative, orthodox core of Mormonism. They are completely derivative in the way that a mirror is derivative of that which it reflects. More often than not they only succeed in being interesting during the first flash of recognition of their existence. It’s all down hill after than. I think that many “liberal Mormons” implicitly recognize this fact given the pompous way in which they like to reveal their existence to less enlightened souls. You know the “Molly Mormon, you don’t know the secrets that I know that would blow your world apart”-smuggness that I am talking about. The obsession with the discovery narrative and the revelation of the secret is an implicit acknowledgment that other than novelty there is frequently no there there.
My second problem is that “liberal Mormons” are insulting. There is this constant assumption (stated or unstated) that the world is divided between those that are ignorant and those that are snarky, critical, and angst ridden. Those who do not stew in the concerns of the “liberal Mormons” are assumed to be victims of deception — the Brethren (play sinister music here) have kept these people from learning the “objective truth” — or alternatively, they are victims of self-delusion — it is only some psychological dysfunction caused by years of brain washing that keeps them from realizing the “truth.” And of course, there is always the possibility that those who disagree with the “liberal Mormons” are simply too stupid to understand the implications of the data. Hence, folks like myself get to occupy one or more of three unappealing boxes: deceived, deluded, or dumb.
So there you have it. My problem with the critical herd. The good news is that the indictment is not universal. There are “liberal Mormons” who say unexpected or interesting things. There are “liberal Mormons” who don’t assume that those who disagree with them are ignorant or self-deceived. (Or at least they successfully hide their belief.) The problem is that there are not nearly enough of this kind of “liberal Mormon,” and their presence is not enough to improve on the generally sorry showing of the group as a whole.