I am what is known in the trade as an “accommodationist.” This means that I think science and religion in some ways can be reconciled, or at least that there is nothing in science that precludes some fairly significant religious belief. Not everything—no universal floods, for instance—but a lot.
Many people, particularly those of a New Atheist inclination, think that this means I have gone over to the dark side and am soft on religion. News to me! My point is that I don’t think science addresses some questions—like “Why is there something rather than nothing?”—and it is open to the religious to have a go. It does not mean that I think religion is true or beyond criticism.
Without keeping count, in the two years I have been writing for Brainstorm, I have been critical of Catholics about sex abuse and how it stems from the organization, I have been critical of Calvinists about Adam and Eve, I have gone after the Quakers for their hypocrisy over their very expensive private schools, and I have chastised Muslims in Toronto for treating menstruating teenage girls as pariahs.
Naturally enough, not all of my opinions have met with approval, but nothing quite prepared me for the response to my worries about the Mormons. Talk about a flood, private and public. The range has been from the decent, thoughtful letter I have just posted on Brainstorm, to threats about senior Mormon administrators on my own campus and the need for my dismissal.
In a way, I am fascinated by the response, because so much of it has been infused with the sentiment that one should not be mean to Mormons and, whatever else you do, DON’T MENTION THE UNDERWEAR. I am not going to spend my time replying in detail and I am certainly not about to apologize, but here are three thoughts I have to the reaction.
First, the fact that someone believes an idea with full sincerity is no reason at all not to criticize it. I can see that it might be necessary to show tact and that sort of thing, but all ideas and theories—and this applies indifferently to science and religion—are up for discussion. If we ever forget that, we truly are lost. I have incredible admiration for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their stand for their faith in Nazi Germany. I bow humbly before them. I think their theology is absolutely crackers and will go on saying so. And just so you know where I stand, I don’t think someone dying in agony on a cross in the Middle East two thousand years ago does much to get me off the hook for my sins.
So I am pretty unrepentant, even about the underwear. It is part of a system and as such is open to criticism. I could have taken other things, like baptizing dead Jews or identifying the native people of America with Lost Tribes of Israel. The point would have been the same.
Second, it is right and proper to take into account someone’s beliefs, including their religious beliefs, before voting for or against them. Take an example close to home for me. The followers of Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophists, think that childhood illnesses are part of normal development and so they are against vaccinations against things like measles. My father, who became enthralled with the movement, believed that to his dying day, despite the fact that he himself was half blind because of measles in his childhood.
I defend to the death my father’s right to believe what he did, but I would never have voted for him for a role that would have put him in charge of health or education or whatever. How could a man who thought vaccination morally and medically wrong be put in charge of a situation where compulsory vaccination is being advised or pushed? I still think that in light of the way that the Mormon Church intervened in the California fight over gay marriage, there are legitimate concerns about a Mormon candidate for the presidency.
Third, and this applies specifically to the presidency of the United States. He, or I hope someday she, is not just a politician. The president represents the country. In the years since I have been in the USA, I have spent a great deal of time in immigration offices. For the first eight years, on the wall of the main room was always a picture of President George W. Bush. I think that was right and proper. But it doesn’t mean to say that I shouldn’t think about what the President believes as a person and that shouldn’t influence my voting decision.
To take a minor analogy: For several years we Ruses opened our home for the neighborhood Christmas party. Then it was discovered that I am an evolutionist and the party now goes elsewhere. Do I like it? Not particularly. Do I respect the feelings of those who think that they don’t want to break bread in the house of someone such as me? Yes, I do in the sense that I think that that is their choice and that is how we function in such a society as we have.