This blog isn’t going to be solely dedicated to responding to Andrew Sullivan, but 1. He’s writing a lot about Mormonism right now, 2. He’s a highly visible and influential blogger, and 3. He’s getting Mormonism wrong, so there we are.
In a follow-up to the original post that Ryan responded to here, Sullivan writes, “I look(ed) up a few references made in the piece to previous revelations.” Before moving on, I want to give Sullivan credit for directly consulting LDS Scriptures. It’s amazing to me how few reporters and commentators actually go to the trouble of consulting our Scriptures and the talks of our modern leaders. I’m still waiting for someone to liveblog General Conference or go through and read all the talks there. I know that takes time and effort, and it’s much easier (and less confusing) to cherry pick a few ideas and teachings without understanding them in their context, which is, I assume, why no one’s done it.
Now that I’ve given Sullivan extra credit, I’m going to give him a few demerits. His reaction to reading Mormon scriptures? “It’s hard to maintain a straight face.” Sullivan is referring specifically to this scripture, which says, “And in order that all things be prepared before you, observe the commandment which I have given concerning these things—Which saith, or teacheth, to purchase all the lands with money, which can be purchased for money, in the region round about the land which I have appointed to be the land of Zion, for the beginning of the gathering of my saints. All the land which can be purchased in Jackson county, and the counties round about, and leave the residue in mine hand.”
Sullivan informs us that he, “like Matt and Trey,” the guys from South Park, “loves the idea of designating Jackson County, Missouri as the new Zion.” He thinks this idea is ridiculous because . . . it is on its face ridiculous! It just is! Because he hasn’t told us why he thinks it’s ridiculous, I’m going to guess that the reason is because Jerusalem is holy and ancient and Missouri is . . . Missouri. You can drive there, in your car, and buy a corn dog. It’s all so profane and pedestrian, and therefore can’t have any religious significance.
This highlights one of the main reasons Mormonism comes in for so much contempt. In religious matters, the further away something is, both in time and space, the easier it is to believe. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.” That and that alone is why it’s so much easier to accept that there were prophets who spoke with God thousands of years ago in a place thousands of miles away. That distance gives us an out; it’s hard to believe that men talk with God, or that He enabled them to perform miracles, but those times and settings are so foreign to us that we can half swallow it. Talk about a man, today, in Salt Lake City, Utah, who talks to God, and that’s too close, too immediate. It means God is still around, still guiding the affairs of men, still performing miracles, and that’s a much harder thing to believe. And it also seems ridiculous, because many of us have been to Salt Lake, and there’s a McDonald’s there.
I have news for you, though: there was the equivalent of a McDonald’s in Egypt, and Canaan, and Jerusalem.Which is why Jesus’ neighbors, who knew his family, found the notion of his divinity so laughable. To them, Jesus was just a carpenter from their equivalent of Missouri.
One final note: It is inarguable that America is a country of vast world-historical importance. America’s contributions to liberal democracy, market economics, culture, and technology are beyond dispute. Yes, we’re young, and yes, we’re flawed, but even if it all ended today, would any clear-eyed observer argue that America wasn’t incredibly important in the history of man? Why then is it so so absurd to believe that the Creator of the world cares about this country and had a hand in establishing it? And why would that be any different from the attention he paid to ancient Israel?