In my ignominious career at Bard College I studied theology and was always on the lookout for a good deal on books. One night I remembered that the Latter Day Saints give out the Book of Mormon for free. I invited the two local missionaries to campus. I even got them to cough up Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Boy were they surprised when a Catholic was “chasing” them through Scripture.
And lately it seems like everyone has something to say about the plausibility of Mormon doctrines. There is much to be said about that, but I’ll spare you the excerpts from my considerable collection of James Talmage and Bruce McConkie volumes. The more interesting question is this: what about the plausibility of Mormons themselves? That is, as our next American elite.
Like previous classes of American elites, Mormons at once feel themselves to be American, and yet their faith and the fact that they have a geographic base separate them just enough from the multitude that they feel a special obligation to build up their own private institutions and help each other economically. They are integrated and yet have a sense of solidarity.
For now we should put aside any speculations on the eugenic effects of temporarily allowing plural marriage in the founding generation of the Mormon faith. But have you noticed how, uh, successful Mormons seem to be? I have. Just about every Mormon I know takes a professional job, has a stable marriage, and raises several children
Anecdotally, investment bankers I know who find themselves approved by one prominent Mormon are suddenly in business with dozens of them. Just looking at their culture and history; I think of their incredible missionary efforts, the taming of the Salt Lake region and even the success of the Osmonds and say, “Wow, these people are organized.”. They are as clean-cut and dutiful as the old WASPs but they actually have self-confidence. Did you know that they even refer to their hulking Explorer Vans as “Mormon Assault Vehicles?” Somehow I knew that. Am I tickled by that fact? Yes. Secretly a little scared? Also, yes.
Something is happening here.
Mitt Romney may not make it to the Oval Office. But he has certainly left a more favorable impression than his father. Remember Gov. Jim Rhodes assesment: ““Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football.”
It is easy to imagine Mormons getting much better at this as they grow both through demographic expansion and missionary work. By 2030 they’ll be entering politics in huge numbers, acheiving the same success (or as Mitt would say “Turnaround!”) as they have in the boardrooms of America.
And while I can’t quite picture the bulk of non-LDS Americans singing “If You Could Hie to Kolob” on New Year’s as part of the canon of American civic religion, it is easy to believe that 100 years hence, a genre of literature will emerge about the alienation young Mormons feel while attending their Oregon prep-schools. Imagine a soul-searching story of young disenchanted Mormon named LaEarl Smith melodramatically burning his term papers on “Jesus, The Christ” or Nephite archeology and tearing his temple garments, enraged that he lives under the constant pressure to succeed his uncle as head of the CIA in the fourth Romney Administration of 2120. “The Catcher in Provo” or “A Separate Spirit Prison” may be what every American ninth grader reads in the 22nd Century.