A Prequel Rant

I’ve neglected this blog. I know I have. I feel just awful about it. Well, not really, but I ought to pretend I do.

I don’t want to abandon this blog. Yes, I write columns and such for the Deseret News, but I can’t let loose there the way I can here, and I don’t want to give this up. So how to get excited about writing here again?

Simple – I need to get a few good rants out of my system. That ought to be fun. (For me, anyway. Not sure if anyone else wants to read them, but you’re here, and no one’s holding a gun to your head. )

In my latest column, I compared “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” to the execrable Star Wars prequels, which I do not consider to be Star Wars movies. I called these films “miserable failure[s]” and dismissed the whole prequel trilogy as a “joyless, plodding mess.”

My column produced several comments, some from those who agreed with me, but also some from prequel apologists.  “Bennett was a little harsh me thinks on the Star Wars movies… All in all they were pretty good… Sure made a lot of money for being failures,” wrote goosehuntr from Tooele, Utah. Someone named vangroovin said “I like all six Star Wars movies. And I still enjoy watching them. I think the prequels were not as fantastic because you already knew the end result.” And Mike Johnson of Stafford, Virginia said “Interesting, a movie (Phantom Menace) makes over half a billion dollars and is called a ‘miserable failure.'”

Boy, those would be great blurbs on movie posters, wouldn’t they? Instead of “two thumbs up!” or “five stars!”, the posters would say “not as fantastic!” or “pretty good!” or “well, they made a lot of money, so, you know, that’s something, right?”

No. No, it isn’t something. They made a lot of money because there is an almost inexhaustible well of good will left over from the original trilogy, and everyone desperately wanted the prequels to be good or at least palatable.  With each new movie, everyone held out hope that the next prequel wouldn’t be as horrid as the last. And each time, those hopes were dashed, and now, in hindsight, it’s clear that there is nothing good about these movies.

I repeat: there is nothing good about the Star Wars prequels. Nothing. Nothing at all.

There are no redeeming features. There is no silver lining. There is nothing but missed opportunity, crushing disappointment, and Jar Jar Binks.

I will now argue with a straw man who disagrees.

“Oh, Stallion, but what about the cool lightsaber battle in Episode I between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon?”

It was bad.

“No, it wasn’t! It was so much cooler than anything in the original trilogy, where they couldn’t do all the flips and kicks and double-bladed saber stuff. ”

You’re right, they couldn’t. The very first lightsaber battle in “Star Wars” – I hate calling it “A New Hope” – featured an aged Alec Guinness up against Darth Vader, and nobody flipped once. In terms of pure gymnastics, it had nothing going on – but it was infinitely more compelling than a cluttered, noisy battle between cipher characters that didn’t matter. When Obi-Wan died, it meant something. When Darth Maul died, it only meant the movie was almost over – which was the best something that “Phantom Menace” had to offer.

“But what about all the cool visuals? The space battles? So much better than the originals, no?”

No.

The original rebel attack run on the Death Star – pre CGI-cluttered Special Edition version – was fairly simple and straightforward, but you cared about the outcome, so you were on the edge of your seat the whole time. Compare that with the Episode III opener, which is a wildly complex, visually oppressive CGI assault on the senses with no other goal than to show how nifty it is. I don’t even remember what was supposed to be going on.

The prequels are nothing but visuals without context in the service of plots that don’t matter.

Allow me to illustrate with an illustration:

AsiaPyramidPoster_Dean
This is an album cover. It’s got all kind of weird images in it. Neat, huh? Well, maybe, if you like that sort of thing. None of these images are connected to any ideas that matter to me, so I don’t really care about them much. Why does the pyramid have eyes? Because it’s supposed to be cool that a pyramid would have eyes. Yeah, whatever.

All the prequel visuals come from the same self-indulgent hubris that produced this album cover. Funky ships and weird landscapes and quirky aliens are supposed to be applauded for their own sake, not because they matter.

Because they don’t matter. And neither do the prequels.

“Oh, but Stallion, you’re just put off because Jake Lloyd/Hayden Christensen/whoever wasn’t a very good actor.”

Really?

Anakin Skywalker: You are so… beautiful.
Padmé: It’s only because I’m so in love.
Anakin Skywalker: No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.
Padmé: So love has blinded you?
Anakin Skywalker: [laughs] Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.

What pair of actors, living or dead, could make that scene work? Go ahead – I’ll wait. But I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here, everything is soft and smooth.

Fact is, the dialogue in these movies was impervious to talent. Whenever anyone quotes a Star Wars movie, they quote from the original trilogy – unless, like me, they’re trying to mock the prequels.

“Oh, but Stallion, the Clone Wars TV shows/novels/other crap are really good and have enhanced the prequel story.”

No, they haven’t. The plotline of anything connected to the prequels is doomed from the outset. The Clone Wars – the fictional wars in question, not the shows that use that as the title – were all a ploy by the Emperor to grant himself unlimited power. The outcome, then, is completely irrelevant – if either side wins, Palpatine wins regardless.  Battles in a pointless war are pointless themselves.

“But what about…”

Oh, shut up, straw man. I have defeated you utterly, and my defeat of you is even more significant than anything connected to the Star Wars prequels, which are not good and filled with badness. I’d rather breathe the bottled farts of a thousand eskimos than sit through “Attack of the Clones” one more time.

Well, that was fun. Next rant will be political, which may not be as fun.

Dear Hank

(As a reminder to those of you who are not Hank, Hank slammed me pretty hard yesterday. You’ll need to read his comment for this reply to make sense.)

Dear Hank,

I’m pleased to know you don’t hold a grudge, but it leads me to wonder how much nastier you could have been if a grudge were part of the equation.

You call me “useless,” and I can’t deny it. The fact is, my uses are few. The best I can muster is that I’m a competent breakfast cook, a licensed driver, and a nearly-adequate installer of ceramic tile. I don’t even know any card tricks.

As for my being like unto “road kill,” everyone knows that roadkill spurs pity, not contempt. (That poor raccoon!) Perhaps, then, my squashed-mammal presence was a solemn reminder of your own mortality – there but for the grace of Michelin go thou.

Yes, I was obnoxious, loud and rude and mean to everyone, but that you understand.  Apparently I crossed the line when I “took every opportunity to be a douchebag.” Does that mean there are obnoxious, rude, loud teenagers who see an opportunity to be a douchebag and don’t take it? What good is it to be obnoxious, loud, and mean if you turn up your nose at a perfectly serviceable douchebag-being opportunity?

All sarcasm aside, this is why it’s very hard to take your criticism with any degree of seriousness – it’s all snark and no specificity. I can’t think of anything I could have possibly done to you to merit such a Captain Ahab-esque bile screed twenty-eight years after the fact. I assume that in the decades since we last met, worse things have happened to you than being teased by me for a few months in 1986. (If not, then congratulations on your charmed life.)

So when bad things happen to you, do you always lash out like this?

“Triple A was twenty minutes late to jump my car battery –  damn them, their demon spawn, and their douchebag-being livestock!”

I am not surprised, however, to learn that I was “nothing but a ‘negative’ to everyone and everything.”  Truth is, I was shunned both by people and inanimate objects. Not only did I have no friends, but even the furniture hated me.  The silver lining is that Neil Diamond’s complaint in “I Am, I Said” about chairs not listening to him makes more sense.

You lose me when you start going off on my “dubious” writing skills, as people who write “you’re platitudes” when they mean “your platitudes” really don’t hold the literary high ground, as it were.

Incidentally, and also tangentially, how did you find this dubiously written blog in the first place? Why would you seek out someone to whom you’ve given no thought at all who writes like an ape?

I have done you no bodily harm, I don’t owe you any money, and I haven’t published any compromising photographs. (Yet.)  And still your rage endures like a thirty-year-old canker sore.

Fact is, this is now officially your problem, Slick, and not mine.

Please know I don’t hate you. I’m not even mad at you. And I think you have talent! (You were an especially good fencer in “Desdemona,” and I’m sure you’ve only gotten better with age.) I’ve actually gotten something of a kick out of this. Anytime you want to call a truce, I’m in.  I have no interest in extended this animus any further beyond its expiration date.

But the fact remains that while I readily admit I was kind of a jerk thirty years ago, you’ve made it clear to everyone that can read English that you’re kind of a jerk now.

I think I got the better end of that deal.

Toodles!

Jim

On Being Hated: Seven Years Later

In reviewing an incident about which I posted early in this blog’s history, I realized this blog is now in its seventh year. That strikes me as being a very long time to be writing political
rants and bowel jokes, even if I don’t update it as often as I ought.

Yet this blog still survives because I have become the de facto online locus of all those with a beef against the Order of the Arrow, which still amuses me to no end, even as it enrages many O of A supporters. Yet I recently received a very kind comment from someone called “Andy Arrowman” who acknowledged the legitimacy of my original point and suggested I seek a formal apology for my experience.

Fact is, I don’t want or need a formal apology or anything like it. My comments about the O of A were always meant to be funny, not vicious. If I were to be actively still holding a grudge after thirty-five years, I’d be the one with the problem.

Which brings me to my latest comment, which was attached to a six-and-a-half-year-old post titled “On Being Hated.”

For those of you unwilling to click the link and read the old post – you slothful readers, you! – it’s an article where I recounted an unfortunate incident from my Kids of the Century (KOTC) days. KOTC was the performing arts group I participated in during most of my adolescence, and the timing of this comment seems appropriate. Just this past week, I was back in Los Angeles, and several of my old KOTC friends, many of whom I have not seen in decades, came out to a gathering in which we renewed old friendships, caught up, and generally had a delightful time. The story recounted in the post was also discussed on that occasion, which leads me to believe that it somehow inspired the comment I’m about to address.

Anyway, here’s the scoop.  Back in the day, there was a couple in KOTC, and in my piece,  I called them Hank and Sheila, which are not their real names. Hank and Sheila were very comfortable with public displays of affection, which resulted in much untoward mockery and general nastiness from yours truly. When I ran into  Hank and Sheila back in, I think, 1990 or 1991, which was five or six years since I’d seen them last, I went to say hello, and, while Hank was quite friendly,  Sheila was decidedly nonplussed and unwilling to speak to me, still quite angry about how she had been treated.

Well, today, Sheila had her say.

______________

“This is Sheila,” she wrote. ” You could have apologized for all the belittling, harassment and bullying you gave me, my now husband and brother-in-law but you sat next to me without any regard for your actions. There are consequences to your actions and You were a very big bully to most of the people in our group. Our incident would not have happened if you learned the art of remorse.”

______________

Ouch.

So here’s what I wrote back:

______________

“Well, hello, Sheila! Glad you found me! I hope you, your husband, and your brother-in-law are well.

I am grateful for this opportunity to apologize to you for how cruel, rude and boorish I was back in the day. If I could go back and undo my unkindness, I would. I have no excuse, nor do I pretend to have any.

Yes, there are consequences to actions, and it seems that my actions have cost me the opportunity to be your friend. I sincerely regret that.

My point in this post was not to justify my behavior, but rather to illustrate that holding grudges hurts the grudge holder a whole lot more than the object of the grudge. Having held a fair number of grudges over the years, I learned long ago that forgiveness is healthy not because the forgivee deserves it, but rather because the alternative is so destructive. As my old boss used to say, ‘hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.’

Your timing is appropriate, as I was in Los Angeles this past week with my family, and I spent an evening with a host of old KOTC friends that was the highlight of the trip. The people who showed up to see me were some of the dearest friends I have ever had or ever will have. I remember them – and you – with nothing but fondness.

I apologize again. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy.

Jim”

______________

(Unlike “Hank,” “Sheila,” or “Stallion,” “Jim” is, in fact, my real name.)

I just want to share a few more thoughts that have occurred to me here.

While in no way trying to deny that I was, indeed, an insufferable boor toward Sheila, I find it interesting that she insists I was “a very big bully to most of the people in our group.”  I just don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t want to start a new quarrel with Sheila and add additional insult to injury, but I’ve stayed in contact with enough of these people to realize that this perception is distorted by Sheila’s ill will toward me – which, again, I earned by my actions.

Rather, I think this serves as  the point of the post, which was not to say I was a good guy, but rather to say that hating people, even bad people, does nothing but damage to the person who hates.

At the same time, I think many misinterpret what forgiveness is. Sheila, even if she were to forgive me, would not be required to have anything further to do with me as a condition of that forgiveness. People talk about how important it is to “forgive and forget,” but those are two very different and often contradictory things.

I can forgive someone who steals from me, for instance, but I’m not obligated to give them my PIN number. I can forgive someone for being an alcoholic, but I’m not going to take them barhopping in the future. Those who suffer any kind of abuse should forgive their abusers and, at the same time, do everything in their power to avoid suffering abuse at their hands ever again. We should forgive, but we should not forget. Remembering allows us to  prevent further abuses that prompted our forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not acceptance or an embrace of the wrongs perpetrated on us, of which there will be many in this life. Rather, it is the abandonment of the hostility and hatred that accompanies those wrongs.  That’s something we ought to aspire to, incidentally, even if our hatred is justified.

Or perhaps especially when our hatred is justified.

The Christian principle isn’t just forgive those who deserve our forgiveness, but rather to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

That’s an impossibly hard thing for many to do, but I think the alternative – living with hatred – is even harder.  Forgiveness, while beautiful and noble, isn’t an entirely selfless act. It’s necessary to protect ourselves from what our own bile can do.

To sum up: I forgive you, Order of the Arrow. But don’t expect me at the next staff meeting.

UPDATE: Hank weighs in!

Sheila’s husband Hank sent me the following message:

______________

and this is HANK…it’s not that we harbored any grudges…in fact, you were such a useless individual that we never thought of you once, up until we happened to have the unfortunate instance of stumbling upon you…(kind of like when you’re out walking and happen upon road kill)…I understand that during KOTC you were obnoxious,loud,rude and mean to everyone to cover your lack of talent and teenage insecurities…being several years older than you, I saw you for the boy you were….however, you took every opportunity to be a douchebag, and, in general, were nothing but a ‘negative’ to everyone and everything around you. I’d love to believe you’ve finally grown up, and I see you’re fond of throwing around quotes to attempt to bolster your obviously dubious writing skills, so here’s one for you…”stupid is as stupid does..”..and wrapping yourself in pretty words won’t alter the core. Rather than giving advice to others, heal thyself…and if you’re platitudes aren’t just that and you are truly sincere, spend your time with less focus on blogging and more figuring out how you can contact and make amends to the dozens of others your infantile antics haver injured over the years.

No response required.

______________

 

Loving the Prick Kickers

That phrase has a naughtier connotation now than it did in 1839 when Doctrine & Covenants section 121 was written. But verse 38 describes the phenomenon of those who try to exercise their priesthood unrighteously:

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (D&C 121:38)

I posted that scripture at the top of a news article announcing that a judge in the UK threw out the frivolous complaint mentioned in my previous post.  That led to an exchange with an old friend from Scotland who attended the hearing. This friend is no longer a member of the church.

“I was there,” he wrote.  “[T]his was not a total win. But enjoy the win.”

Enjoy the win. I read those words with astonishment tinged with – what? Sadness? Regret? Pain?

I winced. What “win?”

How was this in any way a “win?” For it to register as such, I would have to have been in a fight or a contest, and my side would have had to have prevailed.  But I don’t live my life at war with the people who hate my church and are trying to tear it down.

“I don’t see it as a “win” so much as a correction of an egregious legal error,” I wrote back.  “This should never have gone as far as it did.”

This prompted another exchange about the merits of the case, accompanied by my friend’s assurance that the efforts to bring down the church’s “constant lying on basic ideas and principles” would continue unabated, and that he would continue working on the front lines to make that happen.

He is not alone.

Let me step back for some background. I remember when another friend was moving to Utah years ago and expressed concern that she was going to find herself surrounded by “Utah Mormons.” That phrase is used to describe Latter-day Saints who, surrounded by fellow church members along the Wasatch Front et al, participate in the culture of the majority while taking their commitment to the principles of the gospel lightly.

I confess to to having used that label rather liberally to describe others myself prior to my own relocation to the Beehive State. Now I find it to be a generally ignorant stereotype which is usually tells you more about the name caller than the name callee. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Anyway, when I shared my friend’s reticence about becoming a “Utah Mormon” with one of my cousins, my relative responded that he was more surprised, upon his own Utah move, to find how open and prevalent anti-Mormonism is here. And, as a transplanted Californian-turned-Utahn of twenty-plus years, I have to agree.

My family moved from Utah right after I graduated from high school in Calabasas, California. I stayed behind in Southern Cal and attended USC before heading off for my two-year stint as a full-time missionary in Scotland, and then I returned to a home in Utah in which I’d never lived. I spent that year at the University of Utah, and I found myself appalled at the stark divide between that which was Mormon and that which hated that which was Mormon.

Every classroom discussion that touched on philosophical ideas degenerated into a Mormon/anti-Mormon thing. It was like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches had all found religion, and the ones who didn’t have “stars upon thars” were railing on the ones who did. And, to be fair, the Mormons didn’t conduct themselves with any degree of distinction, either. Things would get heated very quickly, and I always found myself wishing the division wasn’t hanging over everything that happened on campus from beginning to end.

So I returned to USC, where Mormons were blissfully ignored. I liked it better that way. I still do.

Things have changed since then, however. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, and the Church has become too large and too prominent to be ignored. We’ve endured the so-called “Mormon Moment,” after all. The kind of religious vitriol that once largely confined itself to classroom debates in Orson Spencer Hall on the U of U campus has now spilled out over the global virtual canvas of the World Wide Web. Every article about the church that appears on every website is inundated with hordes of nasty comments belittling and misrepresenting everything I believe.

But nastiness I can handle. What breaks my heart are the “exit stories,” the ex-Mormons who go online to share how and why they lost their faith. Everything was going fine until they learned Joseph Smith polygamously married other men’s wives/discovered the Book of Abraham is really a funerary scroll/DNA proved the Book of Mormon false. They felt betrayed; they were lied to; they had to leave. And now they’ve been shunned by their families/lost their jobs/been hung out to dry.

Please understand my tone here. I’m not writing this to mock these people. I’m also not trying to offer an apologetic explanation for the doctrines they find so troubling, except to say that there are resources that address these issues better than I could – fairmormon.org is a pretty good place to start if you read the preceding paragraph and lost your testimony. I think the church is becoming more proactive in responding directly and honestly to people’s doubts. In the age of the Internet, there are no secrets, and the Church is now telling its own story rather than letting its enemies tell it for us.

But there will still be those who leave. And as much as I’d like to persuade them to come back, I know that, for many, that’s not an option.

My point in all this is not to affirm my testimony of the church I love, although that testimony remains vibrant and strong. I am not even trying to cast aspersions on those who hate my church, either out of ignorance or, as is too often the case, sad experience brought on by the mistakes of imperfect people.

My point is that I will never shun someone who leaves the Church. I will not cease to care for them. I will not cease to pray for them. This includes both friends and family. If my children grow up and decide to be Jehovah’s Witnesses/atheists/carnival folk, I will adore them and do everything in my power to let them know that their father’s love is unconditional, just as I believe our Heavenly Father’s love for all of us is.

Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. I knew I had a point in here somewhere.

 

 

Mormon Apocalypse Not

So the editor of a virulent anti-Mormon website, which I will not link to or reference here, has filed a legal complaint in England against Thomas S. Monson under the British fraud statute passed in 2006. According to the suit, Monson has deliberately perpetuated seven separate lies for the intent of bilking two British citizens out of ten percent of their income via tithing payments to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The plaintiff insists that this stunt will result in a “Mormon apocalypse” that will cause the entire church to implode from within, leaving nothing but theological rubble in its wake.

Yowsa.

The supposedly fraudulent premises that President Monson used to get his hands on tithing receipts are as follows:

    1. The Book of Abraham is a literal translation of Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.
    2. The Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith, is the most correct book on earth and is an ancient historical record.
    3. Native Americans are descended from an Israelite family which left Jerusalem in 600 B.C.
    4. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.
    5. The Illinois newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor had to be destroyed because it printed lies about Joseph Smith.
    6. There was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago.
    7. All humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.

The plaintiff seems to be chomping at the bit to get each of these statements to be considered by a court of law, which would presumably find them demonstrably false. The problem is that each has its problems, and many aren’t accurate representations of what Thomas Monson and the church over which he presides teaches.

Contention #1 is the “smoking gun” for anti-Mormons, because fragments of the papyri Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham turned up in the 1960s, and they consist of excerpts from the Book of Breathings, and ancient Egyptian funerary scroll. The problem is that they represent a tiny fraction of the documents in Joseph’s possession, and they aren’t part of the so-called “long scroll” that contempory witnesses pegged as the source for the Book of Abraham. The Church does not teach that these scraps are the source of the Book of Abraham, which means the contention stems from a false premise.

Contention #2 requires the plaintiff to prove a negative, which is all but impossible. In Joseph Smith’s favor, there were 11 witnesses who saw the physical plates, and there is much internal and external evidence that suggests that The Book of Mormon is indeed a historical document, evidence that critics either dismiss or ignore. As for the book being the most “correct” on earth, critics often seize on grammatical errors therein to prove this a false statement, when, in fact, the case for the book’s “correctness” rests on the idea that, in Joseph Smith’s words, a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” At issue is the definition of “correctness,” and legalistic word parsing ignores the context and the clear intention of the statement.

Contention #3 again attempts to prove a negative based on faulty assumptions about DNA studies that have failed to produce evidence of Semitic genetic markers in Native American populations. Such studies are severely limited in what they can definitively conclude, and they do not constitute proof that Lehi didn’t exist. And if Lehi did exist and has any living descendants, modern genetic science suggests that all Native American could therefore claim him as a common ancestor.

Contention #4 again takes a legalistic approach to the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Those who murdered them in cold blood did so for a host of reasons, but surely their hatred for the men was fueled by their stubborn insistence that they were engaged in the work of the Lord, and the Book of Mormon was at the center of their ministry. Had Joseph and Hyrum abandoned the Book of Mormon prior to their incarceration, it is unlikely they would have lost their lives at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob. Believers who therefore chose to characterize them as martyrs are well within their rights to do so.  In any case, the definition of martyrdom is entirely subjective.

Contention #5 is utterly bizarre. Prominent, faithful Mormon historians, notably Truman Madsen and Richard Bushman, have characterized Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor as a very bad thing.  Ben B. Banks, an emeritus General Authority and my former mission president, gave a 2006 devotional at BYU Idaho in which he stated that “both friends and enemies of the Prophet now agree that the act, legal or not, was unwise and inflammatory and was the major immediate factor that culminated in the Prophet’s death.” If a high-ranking church leader can criticize this event with impunity,  surely it’s ludicrous to suppose that support for the Expositor’s destruction is a key tenet of Latter-Day Saint teaching.

Contention #6 is not Church doctrine. To quote Brigham Young: “whether [God] made [the Earth] in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject.”  Yes, there have been church leaders, notably Joseph Fielding Smith, who have believed this, but there have been many  others, notably David O. McKay, who have not. The Church does not teach this as doctrine and does not require members to believe it.

Contention #7 is an indictment of the vast majority of Judeo/Christian thinking for thousands of years. Good luck with that.
That, of course, illustrates the central problem with this suit.  You want a court to affirm that the Adam and Eve story isn’t scientifically verifiable? Then how about Christ’s resurrection? Mohammad’s ascension? Moses parting the Red Sea? Every fundamental doctrine of every major world religion would therefore be a basis for fraud based on lack of empirical evidence.

All of that, of course, is tangential to this lawsuit’s real problem, which was summarized by a friend of mine who posted a link to this complain of Facebook.

“So this is what Thomas S. Monson will have to answer to in London,” my friend wrote. “Knowing deceit. ”

In other words, it’s not enough to prove that the Book of Mormon is hooey and that there was no Adam and Eve, despite both of those being unprovable negatives. No, to win this case, this guy has to prove that Thomas S. Monson knows that the Book of Mormon is hooey, and yet he lies about it in order to “to make a gain for himself,” to quote from the complaint. He also, apparently, has to prove that the reason he champions the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor is because he’s trying to bilk people out of their tithing dollars.

I asked my friend to explain this to me. When, for instance, does the deception begin? High-ranking church leaders start as low-ranking church leaders who genuinely believe this stuff. At what point do they abandon their integrity to actively perpetuate a lie? Do they discover the church is a fraud when they’re called as bishops? Stake presidents? Area authorities? Or do you have to become an apostle in order to get in on the secret – that this is all a scheme to line the pockets of the guys at the top?

Sure the integrity these men have at the lower levels doesn’t just vanish as they age. If they were, indeed, called upon to deliberetaly perpetuate a hoax,  their consciences would eat them alive. And yet, none of them waver in their commitment to the lie. And they seem serene and content rather than fraught with guilt. And Thomas Monson is the serenist and contentist of the whole bunch.

If this is the best the anti-Mormons have in the way of sparking a Mormon apocalypse, then they must be pretty depressed. This case is going nowhere, and everyone knows it. What mystifies me is the fact that so many who hate the church are willing to believe the worst of those who continue to support it.

Sustaining the Fallible

My briefly resurgent acting career led to many backstage discussions on a variety of topics, but religion usually came to the forefront. On one occasion, I was asked how I could support a church where the policy is that “when the prophet has spoken, the thinking has been done.”

I responded by saying that wasn’t the policy, and that I didn’t believe that.

“No, no, I’ve heard that over and over again through the years,” my debating partner said. “If that’s not the policy now, then they’ve changed it – which means it wasn’t inspired in the first place.”

So I took to Google, and I found the source for the quote in question. It comes from a 1945 church magazine, wherein the uncredited author states the following in a Ward Teaching message:

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.

Yikes.

What to make of this? For if this is true, then our leaders who get to think for us must be infallible.  But infallibility is at odds with the central doctrine of agency, which ensures that even the prophet has the freedom to make mistakes. To presume, then, that everything our leaders say flows directly from the mind of the Almighty is to suggest that at some point, either agency is extracted from the souls of the church hierarchy, or they achieve perfection in mortality.

Since neither of those is a workable possibility, that statement must be wrong.

Lest you think me faithless in coming to that conclusion, I share the concurring opinion of President George Albert Smith, who was the president of the church at the time this statement appeared in a church publication. In a letter written to a Unitarian minister criticizing the idea of mindless Mormons, President Smith had this to say:

The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church… [which] gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.”

I shared that with my debating partner, who scoffed at the idea. “Do you get to pick and choose, then? Who gets to decide what’s true and what isn’t?”

 We do.

Not only do we get to decide, we have the responsibility to decide. And God will hold us, not our leaders, accountable for the choices we make.

My debating partner saw this as a cop out. I see it, however, as the central principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let’s cite a practical example. Our leaders have taught us that it is essential that we keep the Sabbath day holy. It’s one of the Ten Commandments; Christ Himself reiterated its importance during His mortal ministry, and modern revelation commands us to do it, too. So how do we go about it?

Well, back in the time of Moses, most of the thinking on the subject was done for you. Specific rules were prescribed that outlined exactly what you could and couldn’t do.  By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the rules had been codified to the point of absurdity – you can take X number of steps on the Sabbath, for instance, and only eat eggs laid on the Sabbath by a “laying hen.” Jesus rejected all that – he “fulfilled” the law, meaning that the principle of the law was still in effect, but you were responsible for how you obeyed it. You keep the Sabbath Day holy, and you justify to God why your choices make that happen.

No leader stands between you and Christ. You, personally, are accountable for every choice you make.

Of course, that’s not just true of you and me. That’s true of Thomas S. Monson, too – and every other prophet who has ever lived. If it were not so, then agency would have no meaning, and the purpose of this life would be thwarted.

I thought about that as I read this essay by a guy named Ganesh Cherian at Patheos.com, a guy who probably ought to know better. He’s a former bishop and a current high counsellor who read the LDS Church’s brilliant new essays on difficult subjects and is now experiencing a crisis of faith because, whether he realizes it or not, he believes both the Church and its leaders are supposed to be infallible.

Consider Cherian’s reaction to the essay about the Book of Mormon translation process, which discusses the various accounts of the translation which suggest that Joseph used a seerstone in addition to the Urim and Thummim. “How was I to know that a stone he found in a well was instrumental in this process of translation?” he laments. “Every picture, or  video I have ever seen has him sitting at a table with the gold plates before him pouring over these ‘curious characters’ by the light of a candle!”

So now it’s not just infallible prophets Cherian expects – it’s infallible pictures and videos! Never mind that there is no information in that essay that hasn’t be readily available for over a century to anyone interested in looking for it, and that the stuff he finds so problematic has been mentioned in General Conference and discussed intently in a variety of forums. The fact that he passed along his own uninformed opinion is evidence that the church is engaged in disinformation. Apparently, Cherian’s error is the Church’s fault.

Or try this on for size:

“As recently as June I reasoned with a friend that polygamy was needed because there were so many more women than men at the time,” this guy writes, noting that it is “an argument that the polygamy essay seems now to repudiate.”

Well, yeah. It’s an argument that’s also repudiated by the 132nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which explains precisely why polygamy was practiced and has been in print for over 150 years. The article quotes John A. Widtsoe’s 1945 statement that debunks this Mormon folk legend, so it’s not as if the Church has suddenly shifted gears radically. Yet, once again, his lazy acceptance of a hoary folk story is somehow a sign of the Church’s mendacity. “I love my church and credit where I am in my life to years of church service,” he says, “but I cannot ignore the dishonesty.”

Dishonesty? Whose dishonesty? All the information that shocked him has been around forever. Every issue Cherian finds problematic stems from his own mistakes and misunderstandings. It is likely that Cherian will continue to compound his error, as his essay makes it clear that he expects infallibility from his leaders and his church. “I understand how essential it is to ‘sustain’ the Brethren,” he says,  “but these days I live with a caution that those ideals that I believe today could be dismissed by future First Presidencies.”

Well, of course they could be, but its unlikely they will. It’s doubtful that First Presidencies will dismiss genuine ideals – don’t expect the Law of Chastity to go away anytime soon. But will future First Presidencies gain greater insight and change church policies in the future? Of course! Isn’t that the reason we have a First Presidency? Living prophets guide the church through the times in which they live, and the church adapts accordingly. Line upon line, precept on precept. If Jesus went from “grace to grace,” as the Doctrine and Covenants said He did, we should certainly expect his church to do likewise.

Yet are these leaders going to make mistakes along the way? Of course they are. They don’t forfeit their agency when they accept high callings, nor should we expect them to. But so many do expect them to, and that’s the problem.

So many people who find themselves doubting and then abandoning the church feel they’ve stumbled on some great secret when the discover their leaders are fallible. This has always been the case. In the days of Joseph Smith, people left the church because the prophet misspelled their names in revelations. Joseph, and all of his successors, have repeatedly made it clear that they are imperfect human beings, but the expectations of others won’t allow them the right to fallibility that they claim for themselves.

Returning to my backstage banter with my debating partner, the question was then raised as to how I could sustain a leader if I know they make mistakes. Could I sustain them and follow them even if what I know what they’re asking me to do is wrong?

Well, yes and no. There’s wrong and there’s wrong.  I’ve never been asked by a church leader to violate the principles of the gospel. I have, however, been asked to do things with which I disagree.

For example.

I had one bishop who addressed our elder’s quorum with his concern that some of us were not adhering to what he called “the uniform of the priesthood.” He insisted that to wear anything other than a white shirt to church was an act of disrespect. (At the time, I had a black shirt that I thought looked really cool, and I had almost worn that they day he raised this issue.) He told us we all ought to wear white shirts to church from there on out.

The members of the quorum reacted in a number of different ways.

Some, who wore white shirts regularly and didn’t need to do anything to come into compliance with this requirement, took it in stride and paid little attention. Others, including the bishop’s counselor, took it as a point of pride to wear colored shirts from that point forward to demonstrate that the bishop had overstepped his bounds. (None of those who did this, incidentally, were disciplined in any way for ignoring the bishop’s counsel.)

Then there was me.

I thought, and still think, that this is a silly bit of nonsense. The Lord is not offended by colored textiles, and this struck me as a bit of cultural nonsense that the bishop had accepted as being more important than it really was. I disagreed with his counsel.

But from that point forward, I wore a white shirt to church.

Why? Because this bishop was a good man, and I sustained him. And he was a righteous man who loved and served the Lord, and he was in a position of leadership that deserved my respect. And if all I had to do to show my support of this man was don a white shirt, it was the least I could do.

We are not supposed to sustain church leaders in spite of their fallibility. We sustain them because of their fallibility. Because they’re imperfect, they need us to help them and bear them up, not criticize them for every misstep. Sustaining the fallible is the point of having a church in the first place. That’s the central purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior expects us to love others as he has loved us. He has loved us knowing perfectly just how imperfect we are. When we expect perfection from others, even those at the highest levels of the church, we are not being remotely Christlike.

There. Stallion has spoken, and the thinking has been done.

(That’s a joke.)

The Settling of Science

In my real life job, I teach prisoners and parolees to identify the consequences of their behavior. To illustrate that some consequences are non-negotiable, I propose a bet.

In this bet, I hold a book, and I say that I’m going to let it go. If the book falls down, they have to pay me fifty bucks. But if the book falls up, then they get the fifty bucks. To date, no one has taken the bet.

Why not? Simple. The science of gravity is settled.

Nobody is willing to argue that the book might fall upward, because the mechanics and properties of gravity are verifiable and replicable, and have been proven by years of study and direct experience. If I want to drop a bowling ball off the top of the Empire State Building, a scientist can calculate precisely how long the ball will take before it hits the ground. Other factors may come into play – wind resistance, say, or some foreign object interrupting the ball’s fall – but the effect of gravity on the ball’s trajectory isn’t really open to debate, and the velocity can be reliably determined with a great degree of accuracy.

That, see, is how science is settled. Not by fiat; not by some bullying, fallacious argument from authority. It is settled by a consistent series of observed results.

By that standard, those who use names to belittle critics of anthropogenic climate change theory fail miserably. Calling people “deniers” and censoring anyone who dares to question global warming orthodoxy is indicative of a subject that people are trying to “settle” by means other than science. There are no “gravity deniers” because gravity is impossible to deny, and anyone could confront a deluded soul unwilling to accept Newtonian physics with empirical evidence that they’re wrong.

The global warming crowd, on the other hand, can’t do the same. In fact, they do just the opposite. They boast of their unanimous “consensus” in order to silence legitimate inquiry in the hopes that you’ll overlook the fact that their consensus has been demonstrably wrong for more than a decade and a half.  Yet I’m the one branded a denier, a heretic, a troglodyte, because I refuse to allow the credentials of the scientific community to persuade me to overlook the facts.

Here are some facts. Or, if you prefer, these are genuinely settled science.

1. Global warming stopped seventeen years ago.

2. None of the alarmists in the scientific community predicted that there would be no global warming from 1997 until 2014.

3. There is no unanimity among scientists or anyone else on some of the most critical tenets of climate change alarmism.

4. None of the proposals on the table to combat the (non-existent) rise in global temperatures would lower global temperatures. they would, however, keep billions of people in developing nations mired in poverty. 

Let’s address each of these in turn.

1. Global warming stopped seventeen years ago.

This is true, but it’s also heresy. Notice my word choice – the politically correct verb to describe the nearly duo-decadal absence of global warming is “paused,” not “stopped.” Inherent in the word “pause,” you see, is an assumption of temporariness. Yes, the world hasn’t warmed for 17 years, they tell you, but there’s no doubt it’s going to pick up again.

This from the boys who cried wolf who were off about how much warming there would be between ’97 and today by 300% or so. 

300%!

So, tell me again – how on earth is it “settled” that warming will pick up again? It’s the opposite of “settled.” The observed facts contradict the predictions. (Remember, gravity works every time.) I don’t care how many degrees you have, Michael Mann or James Hansen. I don’t care how famous you are, Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio. You were flat out, dead wrong these past seventeen years. What credential could possibly compensate for an error this huge?

2. None of the alarmists in the scientific community predicted that there would be no global warming from 1997 until 2014. 

These are the people “settling” the science –  the people who were, you know, flat out wrong. The people who demand we make radical changes to industrialized societies that will have devastating economic impacts on the poorest of the poor based on demonstrably flawed climate models which didn’t accurately reflect the past but must be militantly obeyed without question as we dismantle the future of developing nations chasing a chimera that left the scene in the last century.

3. There is no unanimity among scientists or anyone else on some of the most critical tenets of climate change alarmism.  

“No, that’s not true! 97%! 97%! 97%!”

That number is repeated, mantra-like, to silence all skeptics. 97% were wrong about the 17-year absence of warming in the past, but who are you to challenge them about the future?

I’ve already addressed that, but let’s break that 97% figure down a bit more, shall we?

The figure comes from one guy’s website, where he ran an analysis of 12,000 peer-reviewed papers, 97% of which claimed that humanity is having an impact on the climate. 

Badabing, badaboom. There’s your consensus.

So 97% think that humans are the dominant factor in climate change? Well, no. Quite the opposite. The website guy admits that, while 97% acknowledge some human impact, less than 50% of those papers maintain that humanity is the primary driver of said warming.  That’s hardly a consensus, but even that’s misleading. “Less than 50%” tacitly implies something in the 40-45% range. How much less than 50%?

Try 65 papers out of the 12,000 reviewed. 

65. Out of 12,000.

For you fans of settled mathematics, that is, indeed, less than fifty percent. In fact, it’s less than one percent. Yet every screeching news story, every Al Gore rant, every high priest of alarmism demanding that climate change heretics be burned at the stake – or disposed of by some more carbon-friendly means – is pulling a bait and switch, pretending that 97% is less than 1%, and those asking questions are going against settled science.

This makes my blood boil, thereby increasing my personal impact on the climate.

See, I’m part of that 97% consensus. I think humanity has an impact. I even think I, personally, have an impact. But I’m not arrogant or asinine to assume that when I turn on my heater on a cold January night, my contribution to the climate is greater than that big, fiery ball of flame that floods the earth with light and heat.

4. None of the proposals on the table to combat the (non-existent) rise in global temperatures would lower global temperatures.

Cap and Trade. The Kyoto Protocols. A direct carbon tax. Climate reparations for poor countries. All of these have been put forward as “solutions” to the artificial crisis of global warming. They’re each different in their approaches, but they all have one thing in common: not one of them would actually reduce global temperatures. True, we have no observed facts, but even the proponents of these misguided policies have publicly conceded that they would do nothing to the climate. You want consensus? That’s consensus. Yet these abominations are still pushed as options, even though they represent a regressive economic burden of trillions of dollars to be borne by the world’s poor.

These proposals are not only ineffective; they’re immoral.

Honestly, you want to tell an African nation with a GDP 1/100th of the United States that they can’t mine coal and drill for oil because some completely ineffectual international climate change protocol tells them they can’t? The benefits of development are prosperity, freedom and hope. That development is stifled by climate change proposals, which have the benefit of making the draftees feel morally superior while doing jack about the problem they’re designed to solve.

You back these proposals,  and you’re advocating that more people subsist and eke out their lives in grinding poverty. You pass these proposals, and you don’t prevent a theoretical warmer future. You do, however, ensure that more people die right now.

The more I watch this debate unfold, the angrier it makes me. There is no symbolic gesture, no “good start,” no “consensus” that justifies the deliberate oppression of the world’s poor. And that’s precisely what all current climate change “solutions” now on the table really are.

You want to settle the science, alarmists? Give me empirical facts, not flawed models. Show me a plethora of accurate predictions, not empty credentials. Justify your stupid, expensive, oppressive proposals by showing they’ll produce real benefits, not poverty and death.

I’ll settle for nothing less.

A (Reluctant) Capitalist Manifesto

I’m a capitalist, and so are you.

Now, you may find that statement offensive. It seems many capitalists don’t realize they’re capitalists, including My Esteemed Colleague, who has devoted a great deal of time and energy to championing the principles and ideology of the former Soviet Union. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that the Soviets were capitalists, too.The fact of the matter is that everyone who has ever set foot on this planet was and is a capitalist, regardless of the silly labels we all dress up in to make ourselves feel better.

We’re all capitalists not because we want to be, but because we have no other choice.

Keep in mind that no one is saying you have to be happy about being a capitalist. I often find it a downright miserable experience, myself. I’d much rather enjoy wealth without responsibility and live on a Caribbean cruise ship for the rest of my life. But no, capitalism requires me to get up in the morning and do something that somebody else is willing to pay for, even when, or especially when, it’s something I really, really don’t want to do.

It means I end up competing in the open market against people who are smarter, more skilled, better-looking, younger, and luckier than I am. It means I am routinely screwed over by my own incompetence or by the whims of fate, not necessarily in that order, but usually. Who wouldn’t prefer a world where such indignities weren’t necessary?

I’m not a capitalist because I dig capitalism. I rather hate it, actually. But I’m a capitalist because that’s how the world works.

Compare capitalism to any other natural law – gravity, for instance. Personally, I’m not a very big fan of gravity. I think flying without benefit of aircraft would be kind of neat, and gravity has broken my arm and back on occasions where I wasn’t mindful enough of its influence. But regardless of whatever vote we might take on repealing the law of gravity, it’s going to ever be with us. Hence, if we are going to live in a physical universe where gravity is more or less a constant, the sensible thing to do is make the most of it rather than rail against its injustices and inequities.

Capitalism operates on a similar principle.

Every economic system in the world boils down to the reality that people are rewarded for either what they have or what they can do. Redistributive systems designed to thwart capitalism invariably fail because they ignore that the wealth necessary to meet their utopian goals can only be generated by capitalistic means. Wealth redistribution only works when there’s wealth to redistribute, and wealth is only created when somebody uses their skills or resources to provide value to somebody else. When governments dilute the incentive to create wealth, they create more equality of outcome, but that equality is married inescapably to poverty. 


All that said, we have both gravity and airplanes. That’s not because airplanes foolishly try to ignore gravity, but rather incorporate the realities of gravitational principles into their designs. Similarly, people’s lives are improved when economic system recognize capitalistic realities and account for them in how they structure their societies. Thus redistribution is a poor substitute for wealth and job creation, and policies designed to use the market rather than subvert tend to result in a higher quality of living overall.


One other addendum. Too many members of the church think that capitalism is somehow divinely sanctioned, when, in fact, it’s anything but. It’s a reality, yes, but it’s the reality that exists solely because we live in a fallen world. In Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t have to be capitalists. It was only after they were expelled from paradise that suddenly the deal was that “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” Capitalism was inflicted on us; it’s nothing to celebrate.


Yet after President Obama was reelected in 2012, an LDS Stake President addressed his congregation by lamenting the fact that this was a victory of “socialism over capitalism,” as if capitalism itself is a divine virtue. If that were the case, then we can expect capitalism to be the order of the day when the Savior returns. But he’s told us to seek a Zion society instead. In such societies, “the people are of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Communists have tried to replicate that without the righteousness and achieved lamentable results, but the goal is to get to a place where the curse of capitalism is finally lifted from us. Mormons who think capitalism is the bee’s knees ought to spend more time reading the Doctrine and Covenants and studying the United Order.


Until such time as we are righteous enough to live the higher law, capitalism is what we’re stuck with. We need to acknowledge that, even as we yearn for something better.

A Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

How are you, my jolly friend? Not well, and not jolly, if this video you made is any indication.

First off, could you be more specific as to where this was filmed?

Every other movie where I’ve seen your digs has shown me bright, colorful, charming mansions with high ceilings and ample lighting. Yet there you are, sweating in some creepy, dank basement with water dripping everywhere and only a flashlight for illumination. I’m not quite sure how that works, given that the Weather Channel tells me the current temperature up around your parts is a balmy -15°F, and that it hasn’t been warm enough to melt anything for weeks on end.

Has your furnace gone haywire?

How else to explain your ragged appearance with your red coat hanging open and your sticky, soiled undershirt on full display? If the furnace is cranked up, that means your electricity is probably working, too. Why the flashlight? Where is the video crew getting the juice to power the camera you’re using?

Look, why don’t you go upstairs?

I think we’re supposed to presume that your workshop is washed out, or something like that, except your backdrop looks more like a subterranean bunker than high ground, and no doubt the strange, isolated tropical weather that’s put you out of business would’ve flooded that space first. So what gives? After all, you’re Santa Claus. Jolly ol’ St. Nicholas.

Sainthood is not compatible with dishonesty.

I hate to accuse you of skirting the truth. I really do. Your centuries of reindeer-fueled philanthropy have built you a stellar reputation, which is clearly what Greenpeace wanted to exploit by featuring you in this dreadful propaganda piece. The weird, Unabomber-meets-Blair-Witch setting you’ve created here isn’t the only thing that’s false in this video.

The bottom line is that you’ve got your facts all wrong.

“My home in the Arctic is fast disappearing,” you tell us. Except it isn’t. Ice in the arctic grew 29% in a single year. And down south, the Antarctic ice sheet is at a 36-year high and continues to grow. We got ice coming out our eyeballs, so maybe you should see a plumber about all that dripping.

Fact is, the globe hasn’t warmed at all for 15+ years or so. Even the alarmists at the UN have been forced to admit that. Your new friends at Greenpeace tend to respond to these awkward facts by citing the hoary 97% statistic that has been misrepresented to show unanimity among climate scientists that agree the planet is boiling over, and it’s all our fault. Except none of their models predicted the current decade-and-a-half pause in warming. So if 97% of scientists have now been proven wrong, what good is it to know that they’re all wrong together?

It seems none of these facts have deterred you from your alarmism. “Unless we all act urgently,” you warn us, everyone’s going to have “an empty stocking forevermore.” But even that’s bullplop. Scientists are 100% in agreement that there isn’t any proposal on the table that would actually lower global temperatures. So even if “we all act urgently,” the climate’s going to continue to do what it’s going to do. And what it’s going to do is change. It’s been changing for millions of years before humans appeared on the scene, and it will likely change for millions of years after we’re gone. The hubris of assuming that humanity has the power to set a global thermostat one way or the other is pretty galling, especially in light of how hopelessly wrong “the consensus” has been up to this point.

Sorry to beat up on you, Mr. Kringle, but what we’re left with here is an alarmist organization willing to lie repeatedly. Greenpeace resorts to threatening the demise of a fictional character to support their provably false premise, yet, somehow, it’s the Republicans who are “deniers” and “hostile to science. ” Not quite sure how that works.

I’d suggest coal in your stocking, Santa, but I know how Greenpeace feels about fossil fuels. But I just wanted to let you know that this creepy, sour video was a really stupid idea.

XXOO,

Little Stallion

P.S. I want a pretend horsey and a choo-choo train.  Also multiple fracking permits on BLM land.

Why is it okay to mock the Mormons?

Years ago, noted actor Dustin Hoffman played the role of Shylock in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” That generated a certain amount of controversy, given the fact that “The Merchant of Venice” is a decidedly anti-Semitic play. Shylock is nothing but a collection of hoary Jewish stereotypes, as well as a melodramatic stock villain a la Snidely Whiplash. It’s not hard to imagine audiences in Shakespeare’s day booing and hissing at him as he performed the Elizabethan equivalent of tying a damsel in distress to the railroad tracks.

But Hoffman, himself Jewish, was lauded for performing the role in a way that turned Shylock into a three-dimensional person, generating a degree of sympathy for the character and his cultural plight. Ever since then, every production of “The Merchant of Venice” has taken a similar approach, which is entirely appropriate. Modern audiences, to their credit, refuse to tolerate ignorant slander of groups of people because of their race or religion.

There is, however, at least one glaring exception.

I was watching a late night rerun of “The Simpsons,” in which Homer and his family find themselves in an indoor play place, with a huge slide that leads to a dark hole in the ground. “Where does that slide go?” Bart asks. The answer comes as we follow a young boy down the slide as it empties into a room filled with dead-eyed children wearing white shirts and ties and standing in rows. The boy finds himself wearing a white shirt and tie, too, and he hears a voice over a loudspeaker saying, “Welcome to the Mormon Church, America’s most respectable cult.”

Cue uproarious laughter.

My guess is that, unless you’ve seen that particular episode, this is the first you’re hearing about this snotty little dig at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The broadcast was not followed by protests or outrage. Members of the church who saw it took it in stride. I wonder if the same thing would’ve been true if Shylock–style stereotypes were hauled out of mothballs for a throwaway sitcom gag. There’s really no way of knowing, because no producer would ever do something so disrespectful to the Jewish community, and furthermore, no audience would find it funny. But when the Mormons are the butt of the joke, laughing is acceptable and indignation is absent.

If you doubt that, look no further than the Broadway stage, where an extraordinarily vulgar musical portraying Mormons as deluded, albeit well-intentioned imbeciles is the toast of New York, hauling in big box office and winning hordes of prestigious awards. Now imagine if the show were called “The Koran” instead of “The Book of Mormon,” and it depicted the Prophet Mohammed having zany adventures alongside some of his most dimwitted followers. How many Tonys do you think that would win?

My point in bringing this to light is not to lobby for Mormon victim status. To the contrary, there’s something positive about the fact that Mormons are now considered worthy of ridicule and no longer ignored. It’s also a credit to members of my church that the specter of violence is never raised when Mormons are mocked like this.

At the same time, I wonder if the people who would recoil at Shylock but laugh heartily at a performance rife with Mormon caricatures even notice the double standard. I would hope so, but I also know that it took hundreds of years before Shylock stopped being funny.