Flunking Sainthood has a nice post up on the recent finding in the book American Grace that Mormons are the third most disliked religious group in the United States. Jana makes some books points, and her call for a bit more Mormon humility is surely a good idea. Although the in-group identification that she cites is not really a proxy for smugness as much as social cohesion, there is no denying that Mormons can appear smug at times. One of the puzzles that Jana puzzles over is why Jews are so well regarded while Mormons are not. I suspect, however, that there isn’t much of a puzzle here. Let me offer a theory.
Jews do well among conservative Christians and among liberal secularists. The reason for this is that while there is an anti-semitic strand in Christianity, there is also a philo-semitic strand that continues to see Jews as God’s chosen people in some sense and gives Jews a starring role in various eschatological dramas. Among conservative Evangelicals, for example, this shows up as Zionism from afar in the form of support for the State of Israel. Hence, conservative Christians — or some significant chunk of them — have theological reasons for happy thoughts about Jews. Secular liberals like Jews because there are a lot of liberal Jews. Hence, Jews are in the odd position of getting love for theological reasons from the right and love for political reasons from the left.
Mormons are in precisely the opposite position. Among conservative Christians — especially Evangelicals — there are strong theological reasons for disliking Mormons. (The theological reasons are coupled here with demographic competition for converts.) Secular liberals, on the other hand, dislike Mormons because they are political conservatives. Hence, Mormons garner hostility on the left for political reasons. There is not off setting love from the religious right, however. Hence, Jews are in the odd social position of being loved on both sides, and Mormons are in the odd social position of being disliked on both sides.