Jana Reiss references research conducted by Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who reveal data in their book, American Grace regarding which religions are the most disliked in American society. To almost nobody's surprise, Islam tops the list, followed (surprisingly) by Buddhism, while Mormonism took home the bronze medal.
To be honest, I believe that what this research reveals (for the most part) is the fact that Americans are, by and large, astoundingly ignorant when it comes to the topic of religion. Our hatred for Islam, for example, is chiefly driven by misguided prejudice and extreme paranoia. And Buddhism!?! I fail to see how anyone could esteem that religious group as one of the more "undesirable" sects to have around.
Again, I believe that this survey illustrates the fact that Americans are completely illiterate when it comes to religion. In a recent article in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof notes recent data that I believe supports my general thesis. He writes:
Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable.
“Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion,” Stephen Prothero noted in his book, “Religious Literacy.” “Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here faith is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates.”
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they believe that the Bible holds the answer to all or most of life’s basic questions. Yet only one-third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and 10 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
Many Americans know even less about other faiths, from Islam to Hinduism. Several days after 9/11, a vigilante shot and killed an Indian-American Sikh because of the assumption that a turban must mean a Muslim: Ignorance and murderous bigotry joined in one.
All this goes to the larger question of the relevance of the humanities. Literature, philosophy and the arts have come to be seen as effete and irrelevant, but if we want to understand the world around us and think deeply about it, it helps to have exposure to Shakespeare and Kant, Mozart and Confucius — and, yes, Jesus, Moses and the Prophet Muhammad.As for the extreme disdain that many Americans have towards my own faith (Mormonism), I believe this data reveals at least part of the answer but not all.
Throughout most of its history, Mormonism has been a recipient of bigotry and persecution on the part of the American populace. Everything from the Haun's Mill Massacre, the murder of Joseph Smith and the eventual expulsion to Western territories in its early years, to more recent events like the Reed Smoot hearings and even questions about Mitt Romney's possible church allegiances during his presidential bids, Mormonism has had the proverbial target on its back for some time now. And though these (and many other) events demonstrate just how deep anti-Mormon sentiment can go, I believe there is another mitigating factor that explains why Mormons are one of the most disliked religions in America.
In short, it's OUR fault...and by our fault I mean us Mormons.
As mentioned above, blogger Jana Reiss references a study by Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, which reveals that Mormons are the third most disliked religion in America. In addition to this finding, the study also revealed what members of each faith thought about their own respective religions. To their surprise, Mormons came out on top:
Mormons ranked highest in “in-group attachment,” a finding the researchers felt was surprising, especially since three of the other groups that made the top five–Jews, Catholics, and Black Protestants–have their bonds cemented by a shared ethnicity. About 85% of Mormons say they feel a great warmth toward their own tribe.In short, Mormons really, really think highly of themselves.
So what do we make of a study that finds Mormons as one of the most hated religions in America, while at the same time emerging as the religion that loves itself the most? I believe Jana Reiss (a devout Mormon herself) provides the best answer possible:
It would help if we stopped regarding ourselves as the finest people on the planet. We ought to take a long, hard look at the fact that we voted our own group tops in this research. It’s one thing to be proud of our religious group and its teachings, but it’s another thing entirely to communicate, as many Mormons seem to, that we feel we have a monopoly on religious truth and strong families. A dose of humility is in order here.I couldn't agree more. I for one have grown tired of the old Mormon rhetoric which suggests that we alone are the guardians of all that is right and good in the world. We Mormons pride ourselves on our own delusions of grandeur. We prove more than willing to dismiss or belittle the beliefs of others by clothing ourselves in the blanket of pious superiority. Only our families are eternal, only our baptism counts, and only our priesthood heals.
Don't get me wrong here, I love my faith and I am proud of it. In my estimation, Mormonism is an awesome life choice and it has brought me a tremendous amount of happiness. With that being said, I must also admit that I have seen how we as a faith tend to ignore reality on too many occasions. We prefer the "hear no evil, see no evil" mantra as a way to reassure ourselves that "all is well in Zion." After all, the "church is perfect" isn't it!?!
Sorry, but it isn't that simple. We as members of the Mormon faith need to quit seeing ourselves as a people who are separate and apart from the evils of the world, or as having some sort of preferred status in the eyes of God. We would do well to remember the words of Christ, who reminded the Jews that God could raise up seed unto Abraham from mere stones (Matt. 3: 9). Instead of standing tall on our personal or communal "Rameumptoms" and thanking God for giving us "more truth," "more love," or "more righteousness" like the Zoramites of old (Book of Mormon reference for those not of my faith), perhaps we should first follow the advise of Will Rogers, who reminds us to "never miss a great opportunity to shut up."
***On a side note, have any of my fellow Mormons ever wondered why the Zoramite/Rameumtom story is in the Book of Mormon to begin with? Maybe it was meant for us?***
In addition, there is another reason that we as a faith need to be willing to not think so highly of ourselves and return to earth. Too often, members of the LDS faith suffer from the tremendous burden of having to "be perfect." We succumb to the false portrayals of what a "good Mormon" is supposed to look like, act like, feel like, etc. As a result, we become far too critical of ourselves and of others. We use the excuse of "righteous rebuking" to justify gossip and other forms of trash talk. In so doing, we make life VERY hard on anyone who doesn't fit the Mormon mold. It's no wonder why Utah leads the nation in the use of anti-depressants.
And shame on us! It's time that we as a faith recognize the FACT that not everyone is content in Zion. Popcorn doesn't pop on everyone's apricot tree, some families are not so glad when daddy comes home, there are some houses where love is not spoken there and some people find it too hard to turn their "frowny face" into a smile. And newsflash: IT'S NOT ALWAYS THEIR FAULT!!! Try as they might, they cannot pray away, fast away or obey away all the pain.
There has been many a member who has done a great deal of harm with the best of intentions. We may proudly sing of families being together forever but ignore the fact that some in our respective wards struggle with part member families or "wayward" children. We may give thanks to God during our testimony meetings for our awesome spouses or for heavenly healings granted to sick loved ones, while at the same time ignoring the single mother/father in the audience or the widow whose husband didn't receive divine intervention. Like it or not, maybe there are some instances when it is better for us to guard our tongues than to sing God's praises.
I don't mean to be too critical here. Mormonism is an AWESOME faith! I love it. In my estimation, we do more for one another than virtually any other faith. We care for one another, we pray for one another, we fast for one another, we serve one another, we bond with one another. But do we only do these things for those who "fit the mold?" Unfortunately, I think that sometimes the answer to this question is: yes. Mormonism is awesome when you are one of the 99 sheep, but it's not so awesome when you're the lone black sheep. It is my hope that we as a faith can be less critical of one another, more accepting of those not of our faith (along with their beliefs) and more willing to show Christ-like humility as opposed to ecclesiastical arrogance. When we learn this lesson, I think you will see us give up that unwanted bronze medal for most disliked faith in America.
Some awards just aren't worth having on your wall.