I’m amazed at how outraged the leaders and “intellectuals” of the Left are over the election. They are in total shock, unable to comprehend how anybody could have any point of view other than their own. A difference in opinion is not possible among intelligent people, they think, so the problem is obviously that everyone else is an unteachable moron, blinded by ignorance and bigotry. This inability to understand differences in viewpoints is the exact opposite of the concept of “diversity” and “tolerance” that they preach so eloquently (when it’s about accepting their personal immorality or their viewpoints).
Though many of the most vocal anti-Mormons appear to be Republicans, I find a remarkable similarity in the worldview of the shocked leaders of the political Left and the attitude of many anti-Mormons toward Latter-day Saints. They tend to see Mormons the same way that isolated left-wingers see the inhabitants of the red states: mindless, deceived, ignorant fools who deserve contempt for not seeing the obvious truth of our opponents’ viewpoints.
As an example, look at the recent article from the good liberals at Slate entitled, “Why Americans Hate Democrats–A Dialogue: The unteachable ignorance of the red states” (Jane Smiley, Nov. 4, 2004). It is informed by an arrogance, intolerance, and level of prejudice that I find to common to many of the most popular and vocal anti-Mormons. Here is an excerpt:
Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. . . . The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are . . . and they have a taste for violence. . . .
Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you–if you don’t believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.
Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That’s what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do–they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.
Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor. But by this time you don’t need much encouragement—you’ve put all your eggs into the ignorance basket, and really, some kind of miraculous fruition (preferably accompanied by the torment of your enemies, and the ignorant always have plenty of enemies) is your only hope. If you are sufficiently ignorant, you won’t even know how dangerous your policies are until they have destroyed you, and then you can always blame others.
The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class. . . . They know no boundaries or rules. They are predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant. Lots of Americans like and admire them because lots of Americans, even those who don’t share those same qualities, don’t know which end is up. Can the Democrats appeal to such voters? Do they want to? The Republicans have sold their souls for power. Must everyone?
Progressives have only one course of action now: React quickly to every outrage–red state types love to cheat and intimidate, so we have to assume the worst and call them on it every time. We have to give them more to think about than they can handle–to always appeal to reason and common sense, and the law, even when they can’t understand it and don’t respond. They cannot be allowed to keep any secrets. Tens of millions of people didn’t vote–they are watching, too, and have to be shown that we are ready and willing to fight, and that the battle is worth fighting. And in addition, we have to remember that threats to democracy from the right always collapse. Whatever their short-term appeal, they are borne of hubris and hatred, and will destroy their purveyors in the end.
Whew! Look, there are honest critics of the Mormons who do try to understand our views and sincerely differ with us, but the most popular and vocal anti-Mormons have a sad tendency to follow the kind of “thinking” that I see in Jane Smiley’s article. They can see us only as evil and deluded, as hopelessly unteachable bigots who have sold their souls and who must be opposed with every tactic possible. But I believe change is possible, and hope that some of them may be touched by the Spirit, as happened to Saul, the erstwhile persecutor of Christians, that they may repent and join us, or at least show a little tolerance.
Fortunately for our critics, the Mormons aren’t going to take over the country and lead America into the Dark Ages, so they won’t need to flee to Canada or Cuba to seek utopia – unless, like some extremists on the Left, the thought of a country that would tolerate Republicans is more than they can bear.