Poking fun at religious beliefs is supposed to be wrong. Even criticism of religion is supposed to be wrong, but apparently that's only true if you're an atheist who is criticizing or poking fun at Christianity in general. If you're an apologist for evangelical Christianity, though, it's apparently OK to poke fun at Mormonism. I guess Mormons are fair game for other Christians.
That's the lesson we can take away from the actions of a Fox "news" report from Memphis. Reporter Ben Ferguson sought out the opinions of "people in the street" about the Mormonism of Republican candidates like Mitt Romney and asked them what they thought about distinctively Mormon beliefs like "can you name the candidate for president who thinks if he's a good person he will get his own planet?" I suppose he got what he was looking for when one person said they wouldn't vote for anyone with such beliefs, declaring them "a little fruity, a little nutty."
The story-played strictly for laughs, of course-concludes with anchor Darrell Greene somberly adding perspective on Mormonism. "Of course you're talking about two different tenets of Mormon belief," and then asked Ferguson his take on how the folks he met "frame their politicians from a religious aspect."
Ferguson said "everyone I talked to did not realize what Mormons believe." Ferguson also says Mitt Romney's religion-should it be exposed to more in-depth reporting like Ferguson's-could be in trouble. "It doesn't bode well with the American voter."
Well, I have to agree that the idea that you'll become a god over your own planet is a little bit nutty. A lot nutty, in fact. But how is Mormonism any more nutty than traditional Christianity? If believing that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri is nutty, how is believing that it was located in the Middle East or Central Asia rational? If believing that you will have an afterlife as a god is nutty, how is believing that you'll have an afterlife in heaven rational?
Do you think that any reporter in America will ever ask the sorts of questions about traditional Christianity that Ben Ferguson asked about Mormonism? Do you think that any reporter in America for any corporate media outlet will ever ask sarcastic, critical questions even about the more extreme and reality-challenged beliefs of conservative Christians -- like young earth creationism, for example? No, not likely.
But they should.
You know, even liberal and moderate Christians like to insist that it's impossible for them to not bring their religious beliefs into politics. Even if they object to imposing religion via government force, they don't typically object to religion influencing the shaping of public policy that is imposed on all Americans. In that case, though, they must be willing to subject their religious beliefs to the sorts of probing, critical questions that may be asked about any ideology or philosophy. And that includes mocking, satirical, or sarcastic questions.
I'm sure you've noticed, though, that even liberal and moderate believers object to that.
This is so simple that anyone should be able to comprehend it; if they don't, we should suspect that they are lying or just in denial. If you're going to bring your religion, your religious faith, and/or your religious beliefs into politics, then you must subject your religion, your religious faith, and/or your religious beliefs to political scrutiny, political criticism, and all the other rough-and-tumble things that happen in politics -- including the dirty stuff.
What's more, if you are going to insist that it's impossible for you to exclude your religious beliefs from politics, then you don't get to complain when your religious beliefs are treated like any other ideology, philosophy, or set of political beliefs. You may not like this very much, but it's the price you pay for introducing your religious beliefs into the very public sphere of our common politics. If it bothers you too much, then the solution is to remove your religious beliefs from the public square -- and from politics in particular.