Thursday, 02 June 2005

We're Mormons, Sort of, Every Last One of Us For reasons I'm reluctant to explain, I've been reading Grant Palmer's An Insider's View of Mormon Origins even though it's addressed "to other second-, third-, and fourth-generation Mormons who will better understand where I'm coming from" (9). Palmer, as you probably surmised, is himself a fourth-generation Mormon. But in one of those gossamer dovetailings* that follow any period of sustained research on two entirely unrelated subjects, I think Palmer's attitude toward the Mormon Church (which, if I'm not mistaken, recently excommunicated him) epitomizes the healthy attitude literary critics ought to take toward our pieties. He writes: We like to hear confirmations that everything is as we assumed it was: our pioneer ancestors were heroic and inspired and the Bible and the Book of Mormon are in perfect harmony, for instance. We never learn in church that the Book of Abraham papyri were discovered and translated by Egyptologists or that researchers have studied Native American genes and what the implications are for the Book of Mormon. Questions about such topics are discouraged because they create tension; they are considered inappropriate or even heretical. This approach has isolated many of us from the rest of the world or from reality itself in those instances when we insist on things that are simply untrue. I know the analogy only has so much mileage, but I think it may be an accurate account of the group dynamics propping up once-scientific but still-fashionable theories in the academic humanities. The analogy also suggests that, like most of the Mormons I've had the pleasure of knowing, the people doing the propping are earnest, intelligent and hard-working and not at all deserving of the condescending opprobrium sometimes issued from the mouths of self-righteous "rational extremists" like Y.T.** *I dare you to literalize that metaphor. **To toot my own horn: the next time you want to lob some opprobrium in my general direction, you could do worse than "rational extremists."

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