Everyday I look I run into some interesting sites or blogs. One I ran into today was “Faith Promoting Rumor, subtitled: Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion.” My picture of Mormons is a very limited one–a stereotype to be sure. I think of the fresh young white boys with their white, short-sleeved shirts, navy blue pants, ties and “Leave it to Beaver” haircuts. Pretty two-dimensional, wouldn’t you say?
When I found this site and started reading the responses and feedback generated by the readership I was amazed to find a diversity of opinion. One person was all for Mitt Romney while others stated they were excited about Barack Obama. When one poster mentioned wanting to pray for direction on how to vote for, others came back stating that God doesn’t care who we humans have for a leader. I’m afraid this all blew my mind so much that I decided to post my reply to them to give a flavor of the layers of opinion I found on the site:
“Hello. I’m not an LDS member. Most of the discussion on here I like. It’s at least kept below the level of a snarl. However, I can’t get over the idea of people believing in God picking a modern leader. I have no idea what to say about the Israelites, but I know that Congressional business is not recorded in ancient Hebrew and pretending that we are so important smacks of more pride than is good for us.
I’d also ask you to think about the current President Bush. Did God really tell him to create, or at least amplify, so much strife in the Middle East? How many Iraqis have died in our ill-informed attempt to set them on the path to “freedom and democracy”? I shudder to think of a God who would ask human beings to be his agent in such activities. By the way, when he meets with the Pope, or LDS leaders, who decides which message from God will be followed during that meeting? That would be a discussion I’d love to hear.”
I guess much of this is evidence of how some of my responses are still shaped by thinking out of the Enlightenment á la Voltaire. As Carson pointed out to me, most of the big minds of the Enlightenment may have thought that slavery as a concept was abhorrent. This matter had to be kept congruent with their other statements on human rights, after all. And yet, in the real world practical application of these ideals, they often overlooked their own prejudices toward people from Africa, Asia, India, Native people on any continent. Indeed, any people who were not light-skinned Western Europeans.
As time went on these sociological and philosophical ideas were oftentimes further entrenched by scientific experiments which aimed to prove differences and inferiority by race. Stephen Jay Gould’s book, “The Mismeasure of Man” shows examples of Victoria-era scientists who used craniometry who attempted to use skull volumes to prove the intellectual superiority of Caucasians. If the racist notion of this concept doesn’t prick up your ears, the ad absurdum lengths to which they took the the concept of racially-based superiority reduces the whole thing to a frightening silliness from our vantage point. After finding suspect ways to compare skulls and prove that Caucasians had more brain capacity, these craniometrists (Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a craniometrist!) then parsed the results to show that a Frenchman had more brain capacity than a German and an Englishman more than a Frenchman! My guess is that if you were Scots, Welsh, or Irish you needn’t even worry about being in competition with the Germans.
These ideas about difference and the apparent meaningfulness of one characteristic or another such as skin color, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation can seem quite silly, but these are ideas which have been damaging throughout history and their ghosts are with us today. For those of you over forty, do you remember parents calling children with light- and dark-skinned parents as being “mulatto” and thinking they were being respectful? I wonder if the words “bi-racial” or “multi-racial” will embarrass our children one day.
I didn’t intend to get on a soapbox and preach. I feel I’m a spiritual person but I don’t have any answers that are likely to satisfy you. I’m just thinking out loud about how much I have yet to learn and I’m trying to get on it. Thanks for your time.
P.S. I forgot to mention an important dimension to this Victorian scientific adventure in the attempt to quantify intelligence: gender. Since it was taken for granted that women were not as intelligent as men. Although brain size can have an average difference of as much as 100 cc, a person would need to answer the question, “Does size make a difference, or do body proportions also play a role in the need for a larger brain?” Besides, isn’t one measure of intelligence for a man whether or not he would ever tell a woman he thinks men are smarter? Put me down as saying individual differences matter the most, please.