The profound and lengthy “Mormon Moment” initiated by the Broadway Musical “The Book of Mormon” and the 2012 presidential election has piqued the interest of Jews and Jewish journalists and public persona. This blog has already commented on the flak and fallout of Mormon baptism for the dead. Here are some other pieces of news and commentary involving Jews and Mormons.
Religion Blog at CNN did a piece on the years-long friendship of a Mormon, a Black Christian, and a Jewish Rabbi. The friendship shared among Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Michael Benson. Booker is 43, “a rising political star and headline grabber” who is Black. Boteach is 45, “a TV personality, former radio host, and prolific author, who is considering a run for Congress. He would be the first Orthodox Jewish Rabbi to do so. Benson is a “47-year-old political scientist and president of Southern Utah University.” Benson is a Mormon, a grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, a late prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and former secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The three met at Oxford University in England, where Rabbi Boteach headed a popular Jewish organization regularly attended by non-Jews.
The L’Chaim (“to life”) organization at Oxford grew to be the second largest club on campus with over 5,000 members with only about 800 of them Jewish. Benson got involved with the organization. Booker arrived at the campus a year later and played basketball on the Oxford Blues with Benson. Booker actually did a stint as president of the organization.
The rabbi and Mormon say the mayor’s humanity and heart inspire them. Booker says these two faithful men taught him to love and respect different religions, while helping him deepen his own beliefs and sense of awe. Likewise, both the mayor and Boteach say Benson changed how they and hundreds of others view Mormons.
That the three are fast friends becomes obvious quickly as they share barbs, no-holds-barred jokes that often refer to race, religion, or family size (Boteach has nine children).
Dennis Prager Talks About Mormons
People of all religions somehow think Mormons have irrational beliefs. The beliefs that Christians find strange were commonly held ideas in the primitive Christian Church led by Christ and His apostles, but most Christians seem unaware of that, and they consider anything outside their own realm of belief weird. Prager, however, is Jewish. He believes that Moses led the Children of Israel from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground.
In his Dennis Prager Show column, Prager addressed the criticism of Mormonism due to the practice of wearing a symbolic undergarment once Mormons have made vows in holy Mormon temples. Mormons are constantly ridiculed for this practice, even though virtually all religions incorporate symbolic holy vestments. Said Prager:
it is worth noting that Jews have worn a “sacred undergarment” for thousands of years. Those who belittle Mormon undergarments might as well belittle the “fringes” (tzitzit) that observant Jewish men wear inside or outside their clothing. Yet, neither the Jewish nor the Mormon practice is in any way irrational. Wearing a garment to remind oneself to always act in a morally elevated manner hardly constitutes irrational behavior.
Prager said that a healthy religious life combines faith and reason and reminds his readers that Christians believe that the Son of God was born to a virgin, and that Moslems believe the Koran was dictated by an angel. Mormons believe that the first prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith, saw a vision, but the Bible is full of visions and Mohammed was a visionary man.
Prager went on to mention the irrational beliefs of liberals and atheists. One silly idea he cited is that boys and girls are the same. Or that Marxist Socialism was the inevitable outcome for all governments. Said Prager:
It seems to me that our secular age is a more irrational one than when America was more religious.
Rarely has the warning to get rid of the beam in your own eye in order to see the speck in your friend’s eye been as applicable as it is to those who today mock Mormonism for irrationality.
We would do a lot better to judge Mormonism — and, for that matter, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the left — by their fruits. And if we do, the religion of the Republican presidential candidate looks pretty good.
The “Mormonization” of America
Stephen Mansfield is the author of the new book called The Mormonizing of America. Mansfield had already written about George W. Bush and Barak Obama, but he felt the Mormon story was bigger than the Mitt Romney story. The Los Angeles Times interviewed Mansfield. Mansfield envisions The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaching “critical mass” in America. There are over 6 million Latter-day Saints in the country.
Said Mansfield: “I know that we want to believe that we’re beyond any kind of religious bigotry in politics, but I just don’t think we’re there yet.”
In his book, Mansfield speaks of a “Mormon machine” but says he does not mean the phrase to be pejorative.
I mean that when Mormonism gets planted into a culture, it begins to create this sort of machine — this sort of complementary system of families that believe that their unity is ordained and will be eternal and that all their individual salvations are tied to their family life. They believe they should invest radically in education. They believe they’re in this life to pass tests, so they almost do it joyfully and with great energy. They stay away from drugs, they stay away from alcohol, they stay away from some of the addictions that tend to bring poverty and destruction and humiliation and divorce and embarrassment. They are big pro free-market people; they are hard workers; they are religiously called upon to faith; they are religiously called upon to give. When you look at all the parts of what Mormon doctrine produces at the practical, almost secular level for the Mormon community, it is the engine of economic success. And that’s what I call the Mormon Machine.
Mansfield calls the entire Romney family, including Mitt’s father, George, over-achievers on stun. He claims this is a product of the Mormon ethic. Through the ages, Jews have been remarkably successful because of their own ethic. Perhaps Mansfield would call this the “Jewish machine.”