In a discussion of Romney’s “Mormon Problem” on a recent Bloggingheads video, Amy Sullivan makes the following observation:
What really interests me about Mormonism is it’s very different from the situation Kennedy faced in that with anti-Catholicism, a lot of it was based on misinformation about Catholics and misunderstandings, and there, learning more about it, hearing Kennedy talk about his relationship to his faith and the lines that he drew actually did put some voters at ease. Whereas with anti-Mormonism, it’s practically the only bias where learning more about it actually makes people who were opposed more opposed—because they have kind of a vague sense that Mormonism might be a little weird to them, and that they might not agree with things—but they don’t really know the specifics of it.
Conventional wisdom is that prejudice is tied to ignorance, and can therefore be cured with education. Anti-Mormons, of course, have long propagated a narrative in which the reverse is the case: you might think that Mormons are good wholesome people–but once you learn the details of the religion, you’ll be horrified and realize that they’re a freaky cult. Sullivan seems to be here suggesting that there could be some truth to that narrative (at least for those who already had reservations.)
I can see how learning more Mormonism could raise real concerns; if what you know about Mormons is that they believe in strong families, and then you hear about stuff like Kolob, you might well increasingly come to view the tradition as strange, and perhaps disturbing. On the other hand, I think it can also go the other way; if what you know about Mormons is that they have crazy beliefs like gold plates and polygamy, you might be surprised by the ordinariness of actual Mormon life. (As I’ve sometimes commented to non-LDS friends, being a member of the Church is not nearly as exciting as some of the more sensationalist literature makes it sound.) So I would imagine that whether “learning more”about Mormons leads you to like it or dislike it depends to some extent on what you already know.
Of course, Sullivan is here referring to one particular group: those who dislike Mormonism without knowing much about it. It’s not hard for me to believe that learning more specifics about LDS teachings could intensify negative feelings among those who were already wary of the religion–though I’m not crazy about the suggestion in the comment quoted above that whereas anti-Catholicism was based on misunderstandings and misinformation, anti-Mormonism might be more credible.
A survey done this year by the Pew Research Center found a connection between knowing a Mormon and seeing the tradition positively, and an even stronger link between seeing Mormonism as Christian and having a favorable view of it. They also found 49 percent saying “they know a great deal or some about the Mormon religion and its practices.” But they don’t mention any links between this self-reported familiarity and either positive or negative views of Mormonism.
What do you all think? Are LDS beliefs still so bizarre-sounding to mainstream American ears that learning more about them is likely to strengthen people’s negative impressions of the Church?
- 5 November 2007