Salon's piece on racism vs. anti-Mormon prejudice
misses an important point: It is permissible to insult Mormonism because the religion was invented by a man who was, demonstrably, a con artist.
There are those who would argue that all
religion is a con. Most of us would agree that, at one time or another, con men have made evil use of just about any faith system you can name. But I'm talking here about the thing-in-itself
; the origin point of Mormonism vs. the origin point of older religions.
Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed may
have been con artists. We don't know. They lived long ago. (And yes, all three of them did
live. Academic historians agree on that point; most of those arguing otherwise have been populist pseudo-scholars appealing to recovering fundamentalists with minimal educations.) Our records are insufficient and biased, depriving us of a complete picture. They may have been corrupt; they may have been honest but foolish; they may have been mentally ill; they may have been supremely wise; they may have been inspired. From the standpoint of objective history, we can't prove conclusively any of those interpretations -- and so we let faith or prejudice or guesswork or inference do the rest of the job, as our natures dictate.
But Joseph Smith lived in more modern times. In his case, we have an ample amount of truly objective information -- not so much as we might like, perhaps, but enough to make a fair assessment. Fawn Brodie's biography No Man Knows My History
leaves no room for doubt: Smith was a liar. Take, for example, the Book of Abraham hoax
: Anyone who can rationalize away the evidence that Smith lied stands condemned as a fool. Mormonism has always been a provable fraud, and therefore undeserving of the respect accorded to other religions.
The same, of course, can be said of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology and of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The inventors of those religions lied constantly, compulsively; they lied even when doing so did not benefit them. What's more, they knew full well
that they were liars.
We can't say the same of, say, the Jehovah's Witnesses; all evidence indicates that Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Rutherford genuinely believed in the doctrine they taught. (That doesn't mean they were right
, of course.) Similarly, the record indicates that the inventors of modern Wicca -- Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders -- were sincere individuals, even if they did have a weakness for grandiose self-delusion.
For this reason, it is appropriate to denigrate anyone who adheres to Mormonism, Scientology or the Unification Church. Personally, I would never insult a Jehovah's Witness or a Wiccan. Needless to say, it is never permissible to insult someone else on the basis of race.