Are We Politically Correct Yet?

I’ll admit it: I’m a Bill Maher fan. Sure, he can oversimplify things in nicely packaged quips. But I’m a sucker for libertarian boilerplate. On his Friday night show, he was complaining about one of his favorite targets, religion. While discussing the differences between red states and blue states, he pointed out that he knows it’s politically correct to pretend like we’re supposed to respect everyone, regardless of their beliefs and not think less of them. But, he reasoned, this is foolish. You shouldn’t respect people who believe blatantly ridiculous things. Then, he pointed out that Mormons believe in magic underwear.

I’ve always put up with Maher’s swipes at religion, even though I largely think it’s too broadly applied, because he makes many of the same points I’ve always tried to think about or make: That religion is too often about saying we know who the Man in the sky is, and you don’t; that if women under Islam were treated that way for any reason other than religion, we wouldn’t put up with it for a second; that it’s a bit silly to put your faith in another human being, whose brain is no bigger or brighter than yours, and believe what they tell you about God, afterlife, sin, etc. But his comment on Mormons and magic underwear bothered me. Mainly because I know most Church members, even the most literal among us, tend to see garments as sacred symbols of covenants made in the temple. They know it isn’t going to stop a speeding bullet or have them leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

But it also got me thinking about how close the Church is to obtaining politically correct status. If Bill Maher is taking shots at us, we’re almost there. A book a couple of years ago argued that one of the last acceptable prejudices left was anti-Catholicism. Be it through Kevin Smith’s movie, books like The Da Vinci Code, or good old fashioned jokes about priests and little boys, it’s a-ok. But remember the uproar over the Passion of the Christ and its so-called anti-Semitism? Few people would get away with jokes about Jews or criticism of Judaism.

I’ve seen Mormonism trying very, very hard to position itself to be like Judaism and not like Catholicism. The outrage over Jon Krakauer’s book, and the public affairs response to it, sounded similar to something the anti-defamation league would print. The “how dare he” attitude seemed to suggest he had no right to even publish the book, rather than advocate an approach of open discussion.

So, is it still open-season on Mormons — are we more like our Catholic friends or are we more like our Islamic and Jewish friends (ironically), where criticizing our faith is largely, if not entirely, off-limits?

Comments

  1. I have a couple of comments.

    1) I’m a big fan of Maher as well, but unfortunately I don’t get cable. Doh!

    2) I am inclined toward his position about respecting other people’s beliefs but I think we need a clear definition of what he means by “respect.” I accept that people have reasons for their beliefs and that they views don’t seem nearly as absurd to them as they do to me. I can respect them in holding such views. BUT this don’t makes their views any less rediculous. It gets difficult for me to respect such people’s refusal to engage the reasons most people have for consider these views as flat out wrong.

    3) With regards to Mormons, I do feel like we are with the Catholics. I breifly perused the book you are referring to and saw obvious similarities between their situation in the media and ours. Unfortunately, they have a much longer history and membership from which critics can pull material which makes them an easier target.

    It would be nice if we could be included in with the Jews and Muslim’s BUT I feel this would involve our taking ourselves way too seriously. We as members sometimes believe and do stupid things. We have some embarrassing points in our history and membership. We can’t run around with a chip on our shoulder interpreting essentially every statement (even some accurate ones) about Mormons as insults.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    I wish I could say I were a fan of Maher, but he has always struck me as boorish and insulting. This news only cements my dislike for the man.

  3. a random John says:

    Jeffrey,

    You didn’ get this from me:
    http://www.torrentspy.com/search.asp?query=maher&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

    Now back to the discussion at hand… Mormons considered an acceptable target for some reason. I am amazed at the things that people say to my wife’s face at her work. If she turned around and said something similarly offensive about their religion (often Jewish) it would not go over well. Catholics in Boston have it worse though. They are everybody’s favorite punching bag for the last few years. Even the Catholics are after the Catholics at this point.

    It is interesting though how some groups have been able to position themselves as off-limits while others have not. It would be nice if everyone could engage in respectful dialogue about religion, but given that this is not the case, I think I would prefer that we were all on the same no-holds-barred playing field.

  4. Mark B. says:

    I hate to seem like Steve’s sycophantic admirer, but I agree with his assessment of Bill Maher. His attacks on others’ faith is simply evidence of his own ignorance of that faith. He’s the master of the straw man argument, whether in matters political or religious, and his arguments are persuasive only to those completely ignorant of the real positions he attacks.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    I’ve never had a sycophantic admirer before — it feels pretty good! Thanks Mark B. I agree with your views entirely.

  6. It is interesting though how some groups have been able to position themselves as off-limits while others have not

    RJ: I think the Jews are off-limits, not because they have “positioned themselves” that way, but because of the Holocaust.

  7. danithew says:

    I’ve never been much of a Maher fan. I like the Daily Show.

  8. Krakauer’s book was filth that misrepresented the LDS church at every nearly every turn. It’s barely a step above Beck’s book. I don’t see a point in openly discussing the book with anyone.

    And I can’t stomach Mahar. I find his abraisive ego-maniacal tone to be overbearing. And he treats the people who work for him like dirt; that makes him simply detestable to me.

    That said, I don’t much care about magic underwear comments. People who know me are quite open about asking me questions about Mormonism. Questions about magic underwear will just give me an oppurtunity to give them an educated point of view. Basically, it’s a starting point.

  9. I agree with Ronan. Mormons have always given as good as they got. Catholics, too. Jews have been the punching bags of Christendom since the first Crusade. A Catholic who converts to something else is not subjected to anti-Catholicism; a Mormon who converts to something else is not subject to anti-Mormonism (they’re more likely to become anti-Mormon). A Jew who converts is still Jewish, in the eyes of anti-Semites.

  10. Aaron Brown says:

    John said:
    “They know it isn’t going to stop a speeding bullet or …”

    Actually, John, let me tell you a true story that happened to some elders on my mission….

    :)

    Aaron B

  11. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m with John H on Bill Maher. I actually do find him funny, if too repetitive and occasionally something of an ignoramus. I actually haven’t watched much of him since he moved to cable. Alas, I don’t have cable anymore.

    Aaron B

  12. SeptimusH says:

    What if Mormons shouted with rage about their sufferings? Why not tell more people about the extermination order, people getting tarred feathered, the murdered leaders, the families driven from their homes? What then? Where’s the outrage at such injustices?

    Not gonna happen. I wish it would. It seems we’ve always been easy victims.

    Oh, and if you ask me Bill Maher is a no talent ass clown.

  13. a random John says:

    Ronan,

    I was going to go into that, but I couldn’t come up with a equally good reason why Muslims are off limits in our society.

    However, given that Jews are off limits, should everone else be off limits to Jews? In an oddly related way, let me tell a story. While in college a wedgie war spread through our dorm. Basically at random times guys would wrestle in the hall in an attempt to give the other a wedgie. Possibly as an act of self-preservation, but perhaps out of a sense of respect for the garment, I brought up the topic that it was probably inappropriate to use my garment to give me a wedgie. After some discussion the others in the hall agreed, but also decreed that if I could not receive a wedgie, I couldn’t give one either. I thought this sort of missed the point of why I couldn’t receive one, but I agreed.

    Should those that are off limits for historical reasons feel that they have free reign to attack others as they please? Or should they be especially sensitive?

  14. Last Lemming says:

    Who says Muslims are off limits? When a member of the presidency of my former stake made a comment about guys wearing diapers on their heads, I figured they were fair game.

  15. Nate Oman says:

    Who is Bill Maher?

  16. Bryce I says:

    Everyone should see the classic movie Pizza Man before passing judgment on Bill Maher. Just look at that cast of characters!

  17. Mark B. expressed my sentiments exactly (except being a Steve Evans sycophant and I’m undecided on that point).

    James Lileks made a comment on his site a few months ago to the affect that Mormons are now the only “safe” target.

  18. John H says:

    Nate:

    Bill Maher is a liibertarian stand-up comic, best known for his show “Politically Incorrect” on ABC. He now hosts “Realtime with Bill Maher” on HBO.

    Mark B.

    You said, “He’s the master of the straw man argument, whether in matters political or religious, and his arguments are persuasive only to those completely ignorant of the real positions he attacks.”

    Not surprisingly, I largely disagree. I do think Maher, particularly with his criticism of religion, is guilty of attacking a minority but representing that minority as a majority.

    Politically however, I think he has some fair points. Oversimplified? Sure, but it doesn’t make some things any less true. Take his comments on American over-consumption and wealth. Sure, the geo-political makeup of the world means that it is complicated to help starving people in other countries and not as simple as sending a doggie bag to Africa.

    But the complexity of the situation doesn’t change the reality: Most Americans (Maher points out that in America even poor people are fat) live in luxury while huge numbers of people across the world go without. Is there a simple solution? No, but there’s still something very, very wrong with this picture.

    Last Lemming:

    You said, “Who says Muslims are off limits? When a member of the presidency of my former stake made a comment about guys wearing diapers on their heads, I figured they were fair game.”

    Sure, there’s a few people out there who will make mocking comments, but I’d argue after September 11th, Islam has been a politically correct religion that is protected from criticism by our culture. Which is a shame.

    How we say we respect a religion where women are kept completely covered and in some Muslim countries, not allowed to carry a drivers license, is beyond me. It’s a red herring to claim it’s just a few nutjobs in caves who believe this way. It’s whole countries and their leaders. And it’s appalling. Islam could be a great religion of peace, like we’re currently told it is, but it just isn’t right now in those countries. And that needs to change.

    Unfortunately, as Maher points out, we’ve become tolerant of intolerance. It’s been reported that the new Prime Minister of Iraq won’t even shake hands with women. But people defend this as not wrong or bad, just different. Newsflash: It’s wrong and bad.

  19. John H says:

    I’d add, I wasn’t trying to create a politicaly firestorm by bringing up Maher. He just mentioned the magic underwear, and I thought I’d post about it :)

    I hope if we do discuss Maher and his politics, we can keep it civil (as has been the case thus far).

  20. Ronan, you really think the Jews receive their immunity from insult solely from the Holocaust? I would say they’ve had a conscious hand in organizing they way they are perceived as well. Besides, if a great disaster is all that is required to be protected from mockery, one would think that many other groups who have also suffered would have gained similar protections. I would never say that the Mormon persecutions even come close to what the Jews have been through, but they should have been enough to earn us a bit of immunity, wouldn’t you think?

    A Random John: Muslims are off limits not because they are a religion, but because people think of them as a race. Because Americans think of all Muslims as Arabs, they are reluctant to make fun, because that would be like making fun of blacks or Asians, etc. (just my theory).

  21. Aaron Brown says:

    Bill Maher fans will want to catch him in that early classic, “Amazon Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death,” or whatever it was called.

    Am I the only person who both (1) actually saw that “Politically Incorrect” episode right after 9/11 where Dinesh D’Souza made his scandalous comments about terrorists not being “cowards” and (2) totally agreed with his comments (which were widely misunderstood in the media, in my opinion).

    (Sorry, John, that I’m not sticking to the topic at hand).

    Aaron B

  22. John H says:

    Ryan Bell:

    My thoughts *exactly*. Well said.

    Aaron:

    I also saw that episode, and agreed with D’Souza’s comments and Maher’s comments, both of which were misrepresented as labeling Americans cowards.

  23. The ability to respond with equanimity to harmless mockery, however much in bad taste, is a sign of maturity and confidence. Only the insecure respond by issuing fatwas, etc.

  24. I declare a fatwa on Bill! Free-thinking infidel!

  25. Ryan C. Benson says:

    While on the issue of garments in the media…

    Did anyone see last nights episode of Cold Case on CBS? Here’s a breif description of what happened…

    Two guys and a girl are at a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a full production -with various audience members acting out roles in the film at the front of the theatre.

    One guy (Roy) leans over and and ask the girl who the transvestite on the screen is. The girl answers “He’s a transsexual alien” Then Roy answers “My God lives near a star called Kolab” (note:he might have actually said Kola – I’m not sure)The girl then says to the other guy “Roy’s a Mormon he’s never seen Rocky Horror before”

    As the scene progresses the girl gets Roy up infront of the theatre audience to act out a scene from the film with her. She proceeds to rip off his clothes and he is standing there in his garments. I was watching this in hi-def so i can confirm these were authentic garments, down to every last detail. Needless to say my jaw dropped. Roy’s mother later said “You stood there in front of that audience in nothing but your garmy’s”

    As the show progressed it turned out that Roy (who’s middle name was Brigham)was the serial killer. His mother told him that the voices in his head were voices from God and he should do what they say. Unfortunately Roy was a psyco-path and the voices in his head were telling him to kill people.

    Last year they showed garments on the HBO mini-series “Angels in America”. This was not quite as disturbing to me considering the context of the show – yet still a little shocking because of the sacred nature of temple garments. (Personally – i throughly enjoyed “Angels…”)

    What gives? Is this strange to anyone else? I try to think of things that are sacred to other people that I wouldn’t have respect for, and off the top of my head I can’t come up with anything.

    Should we as members of the Church be up-in-arms about this? Or should we look at it as simply a teaching opportunity?

    About a month ago Ricky Schroeder was on Howard Stern (Schroeder is a temple recommend holder) and the topic of “magic underwear” came up. Ricky handled it pretty well. Some of my co-workers heard it and i actually gave one of them a Book of Mormon because of the discussion. So maybe we should look at it as a teching opportunity.

    ok – this is my first post – I’m a friend of Aaron Browns – will i get in trouble now because i watch HBO and i listen to Howard Stern?

  26. Hey Ryan!

    No worries. HBO & Stern are well approved in these parts.

    All I can say is that it’s a good thing that Cold Case sucks. Hard. What weak writing, that they need to rely on sensationalistic views of religion.

  27. Ryan C. Benson says:

    Yes Steve, Cold Case does blow chunks. What is with that chicks hair?

    Once I heard an old lady utter the word “garmy’s” I couldn’t turn away though.

  28. Aaron Brown says:

    Hey Ryan,

    Aren’t you that guy who won on “The Biggest Loser”? If so, can I have your autograph, and tell people that I know you, so that they will think I’m cool?

    It’s so awesome that so many celebrities visit BCC. What other big Hollywood stars hang out around here? Jennifer Aniston? Tom Cruise? Bill Maher? CarrotTop? Inquiring minds want to know. Show yourselves!

    Aaron B

  29. Bill Maher is a jerk who occasionally manages to be funny. He’s pretty much made his career from being offensive, so his comments aren’t unexpected to me. By the same token, I don’t feel too bad about his comments, since he’s succeeded in insulting nearly every imaginable group over the years.

    The cold case episode sounds really, truly offensive.

  30. Ryan C. Benson says:

    Yes indeedy – I am the Biggest Loser.

    For an autographed picture just send $10 to me in beautiful West Van Nuys, CA!

    Please don’t tell people you know me.

    You know WAY too much about Star Wars to ever think of being cool. (iread your other blog).

  31. I guess my question is “Does sacred mean secret?”.

    Yes we are to protect the sacred nature of our garments, but to what degree do we become fanatical about it and lose the sacred nature of them. Is every joke by a non-member worthy of debate or scorn. How many members will turn him off now in the fanatical desire to make the sacred become secret?

  32. I think as long as we’ve got Mountain Meadows in our background, we don’t really have much grounds for immunity from being mocked.

    Watching a rich, white dentist from Mesa, Arizona froth at the mouth about his ancestors’ persecutions is actually kind of comic.

  33. Miranda PJ says:

    Rich, white dentist from Mesa?

  34. a random John says:

    Ann,

    Please say the same thing about the rich Jews, ok? Not that I have anything against Jewish people, but your statement just highlights the fact that Mormons are an acceptable target.

    Though you do bring to mind a good point. I think most would agree that members of a group are allowed to mock themselves. What about those that have left the group? Are they still allowed, or is it in especially bad taste?

  35. You can’t compare Mormons and Jewish people. We are not an ethnicity and we try to convert as many people as possible. There is no stable Mormon identity. Any one can become a Mormon and can also stop being a Mormon at any time.

    Being Jewish is being part of not only a deplorably-treated religious minority, but also a long, rich ethnic background. They do not encourage conversion. Their identity is very static. The persecution they have suffered just for their ethnicity is not irrelevant either. You can’t equate the holocaust with the Extermination Order.

    I think it is offensive to off-handedly say we should be able to substitute “Jewish” for “Mormon” and call it equivalent.

  36. Ann,

    I’m not following your logic. If as a general principle you believe it is improper to hold a group of people in derision, what is it about Mountain Meadows that dictates an exception for Mormons? I never thought of Moutain Meadows as the defining event of Mormonism-the event on which our creed rested, or ought to rest and the event by which the rest of the world should judge us. Rather I have tended to view it as an event we properly grapple with and are troubled by, an event that is important to our history, but which, when placed in context does not excuse derision, unkindness or mockery. Moutain Meadows does not place a scarlet letter on our collective forehead; but just as the puritans obsessed over the sins of their neighbors, so do some fetishize MMM to the point that it covers any Mormon good and excuses any who would treat them poorly.

    Likewise I can’t penetrate the logic of your second statement. What does being rich or white have to do with a sympathetic view of your ancestors’ history? Is the poor white man more entitled to froth?

  37. Good points iggy.

    Do “we” have Mountain Meadows in our background anyways? To what extent can the actions of “them” be attributed to “us”?

    Don’t we all have some crazy ancestors somewhere down the line? Wouldn’t that mean that no one has grounds for immunity from being mocked?

  38. Eric,

    I think you are asking the right questions. Within Mormonism we usually claim the actions of not just the leaders, but the rank and file as a part of our core identity. When we relate a history of a particular handcart company or a particular saint we tend not to draw distinctions between the individual and his Mormoness unless they have acted in opposition to the leadership or have perpetrated an act that shamed the community. If we continue to base a large part of our identity on actors in the early church, however, I believe we have to be careful when we start to pick and choose after the fact which ones we want to claim. We run the risk of idealizing our history and warping our identity and, it seems to me, denying the fact that we have always been an imperfect people seeking perfection. We have a proud history and sanitizing it betrays its strength.

    I’m not sure anyone needs “grounds” for immunity from being mocked. I take it as a general principle that it is a pecadillo to mock an individual or a community. Mocking connotes contempt which doesn’t jive with the second commandment. That said, I engage in it myself on occassion. My descendants will, no doubt, shake their heads sorrowfully as they contemplate my wickedness.

  39. a random John says:

    NFLanders,

    I would argue that for many being Mormon is much more than a religion, and that it borders on ethnicity. It is a culture, a shared history, and a way of identifying oneself that for many ranks ahead of profession, nation of birth, skins color, etc.

    In any case I wasn’t comparing the two so much as asking why one statement is acceptable and the other isn’t.

  40. I agree with you, RJ. My non-Mormon acquaintances tend to have a once-a-mormon-always-a-mormon type of outlook. The ones that know of (for example) the Tanners think of them as disaffected Mormons, but Mormons nevertheless. Perhaps we all do, too. Why else would Lou midgely for show up unannounced at Lighthouse Ministries and rudely interrupt George Smith having fondue with the Tanners? At any rate, I think that many Mormon’s underestimate the impact that their membeship in the LDS church has on the way people view them.

  41. john fowles says:

    Ann, so all evangelicals are to be discounted and targeted b/c BTK murdered all those people, and surely with the approval of his church?

  42. a random John says:

    AT,
    You have to admit that was a strained insertion at best.

  43. I admit it.

  44. I think most people view Mormons a bit like Scientologists. There are enough cool Mormons (Steve Young, Danny Ainge, Dale Murphy, Mitt Romney, Gladys Knight, etc. – see post on T&S about famous Mormons) just as there are enough cool Scientologists (Tom Cruise, John Travolta) to make the Mormon religion generally respectable.

    That said, a lot of people I know try hard to be respectful and not to laugh at the “magic underwear” and other urban legends about Mormons (polygamy?).

  45. Ten minutes ago, I was talking to my secretary about what I’d be doing for Mother’s Day. When I mentioned church, she asked me which one I attend.

    “Lutheran”? she asked.
    Me: “No. Mormon.”
    “Oh. So how many wives do you have?”
    Me: (Knowing she has met my wife and children) “Umm.”
    “It’s just that I see Mormons all the time on Jerry Springer and those shows and they’re crazy!”
    Me: “Ha Ha. Not that kind of Mormon. (smile)”

    This is all to say that I agree with AT that “many Mormons underestimate the impact that their membership in the LDS church has on the way people view them.” I have a sister-in-law who has known me for ten years now that still thinks crazy things about me because of what she’s heard about the Church.

  46. The Holocaust definitely makes any jokes about Judaism fall flat. But I think that beyond that, and the reason that Judaism and Islam are generally above the taunts of mainstream culture, is that no one wants to make anything resembling a racist comment.

    You make fun of a Muslim, you come off as a racist. You make fun of a Mormon, who cares?Generally, I don’t (although that Cold Case episode was in incredibly poor taste).

    I used to like watching Bill Maher, but he comes off as bit of a degenerate if you ask me. He lost me when he said “Of course Bill Clinton had affairs because great men have great passions”. Yeah, being a kinko didn’t make Clinton great, and it doesn’t make Bill Maher great, either.

  47. Does anyone remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is bugged because he thinks his dentist converted to Judaism just so he could tell Jewish jokes? I think it was called the Anti-Dentite episode or something. Sort of goes along with the idea that you can criticize your own religion (family members, etc.) but as soon as someone else starts to criticize it, they are seen as incredibly gauche.

  48. Tess,
    Yeah except that if you remember when Jerry was “confessing” to the priest he said that he wasn’t offended as a Jew, but that he was offended as a comedian.

  49. If you’d like to write a complaint to CBS about the Cold Case Episode, go to http://www.cbs.com/primetime/cold_case/#

    Then, go to the bottom and click on feedback, then leave your comment.

  50. Seth Rogers says:

    Jokes about Judaism fall flat mostly because Jews are politically organized and hold events to make sure we don’t forget the history.

    It isn’t just because of the holocaust.

    Who remembers the Armenians today?

    But then again, the Armenians don’t have clout on Capitol Hill, don’t organize events commemorating the Turkish slaughter of their people, and don’t occupy as prominent a place in our society as the Jews do.

    I don’t say this to criticize what the Jews have done, but I simply wanted to point out that people have short memories. Mormons may be entitled to a measure of national guilt, but they aren’t going to get it until they start rubbing people’s noses in it.

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