On “Smart Mormons”
By leahmsilverman on February 04, 2013
A week or so ago I was seeing a lot of this “Smart Mormons” article, written by one Mike Jensen on Canada Free Press. Conservative Mormons were loving it and it was popping up all over social media. I didn’t love it. Indeed, it really got under my skin. And it is not just that Jensen ignorantly lumps all Mormons together as though we are clones.
Although, that does bother me a great deal. It’s ridiculous. He talks about the American Mormon Republican as if that is the only kind of Mormon. Never mind that there are American Mormon Democrats, but most Mormons in the world aren’t even American and they hold vastly different political views all around the globe. (And NEVER MIND not all Mormons even have the exact same religious beliefs. Let’s just leave that out of the discussion for now.)
Whatever. What gets me more is that he refers to these generalized American Mormon Republicans as the “most political wise human beings on the planet.” (GROAN!) And he does so by making inferences about these political beliefs in connection to our shared religious beliefs. But it is all erroneous. The connections he makes between conservative politics and my religious beliefs are not sound.
For starters, he equates political liberty with our notion of free agency. But his interpretation of it is not accurate. Free agency is not the idea that we’ll always be free of anyone ever telling us what we should be doing. Free agency is our God given right to choose a life of good or evil. It is the right to decide between the choices that drag us down and the choices that will bring us back to God at the end of all things. It does not exempt us from responsibility. It does not exempt us from the consequences of our actions. And, most importantly, it does not exempt us from living and functioning within societies and the rules and responsibilities that come from functioning within a civilized society. And I guess in that aspect, it does have something in common with liberty. Because liberty—the freedom from captivity and oppression, which does NOT carry the same connotations as free agency—also does not exempt us from the rules and responsibilities that come from functioning within a civilized society. Heck, liberty also does not mean that we are free of anyone ever telling us what we should be doing. Liberty is not an anti-government notion, and neither is free agency.
Furthermore, Jensen makes this jump from the discussion of free agency and liberty to opposition of governmental tyranny, and I think he thinks he is explaining why all Mormons favor limited government (or, as I like to call it, crippled, pointless government. See? Some of us don’t favor it). He also claims that the Founding Fathers would’ve favored this Mormon notion, and his proof is that the Declaration of Independence also guarantees us “free agency,” or limited government, with its talk of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, the Declaration of Independence guarantees no such thing. These notions are borrowed from John Locke who wrote about the government’s responsibility to protect civil interest. He described civil interest as, “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things.” By saying we are all created equal and are endowed with certain gifts from God, the Declaration of Independence isn’t protecting us from the government. It is about the government protecting us from outside forces, including each other. And not all the Founding Fathers even agreed on what that meant.
So, beyond the fact that I really don’t like Jensen’s conclusion that all Mormons have the same political beliefs, I really don’t like—or agree with—the rationale he provides for those beliefs. And I don’t think that American Republican Mormons should be sharing this article as a way to explain themselves. Really, I think American Republican Mormons should probably steer clear of trying to base their political beliefs in doctrine at all.
They wouldn’t like my doing it.
I could talk about how very frequently Christ admonishes us to care for the poor. I could point out that when the poor are mentioned in the scriptures, it is not once in conjunction with the idea that they are lazy, dependent, and need to learn the value of hard work. I could point out that Jesus never said anything even close to the idea of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”(That’s just an old Chinese proverb, for the record.) Indeed, I recall that He actually just fed a lot of people fish. He didn’t seem to think that helping the poor was a disservice to them. Nor did he ever task us with the responsibility of making sure they were worth the investment. His assumption seemed to be that they always are.
I could talk about how when people asked Jesus if they should pay their taxes, He said yes.
I could talk about the forms of government that are applauded in the scriptures, the forms that we are told would be more utopic, and then I could point out how they much more closely mirror socialism than they do anything else.
But listen, American Republican Mormons, I’m not gonna start pinning my political beliefs on our shared religious beliefs and use that as a way to browbeat you into seeing our government as a useful tool that we could use to better the quality of life of all citizens in our society. I believe that using our shared religious beliefs to try to get you to understand that government is not the enemy is not only disrespectful to you, but also going to be a fruitless endeavor more often than not. And that is simply because we see the world differently and so have differing political views. And the reality is that those differing political views are still possible, even if we have all the same religious beliefs. Mike Jensen, who is not a Mormon, doesn’t seem to understand that. But you should.