Thank goodness that the Mormon Moment has finally come to an end. It’s been six months—a year, maybe—and what with all the Broadway musicals, billboards and radio ads, magazine spreads, the op-eds and the letters responding to the op-eds, the television news stories, the daytime pundits, the night-time pundits, the op-eds responding to the pundits and the letters excoriating the op-ed responses to the pundits, this Mormon is exhausted.
Now that the country has voted the highest Mormon in the land back to Boston or Wolfeboro or wherever, I’m looking forward to a well-earned break from the country’s daily construction of my identity.
For the past several months, I’ve hardly been able to leave my house without encountering some new and disparaging theory about what I am, why I am, and how I am. From moment to moment, lo, these many months, I’ve been a dolt, a savage, a dupe, a bigot, a heretic, a criminal, a prude, even a communist, a traitor, a miscreant, a rogue, and a wastrel. And my protestations have meant that I’m also a liar.
This bedlam of accusations came from every direction while the Nominee was on the trail. The religious right , of course, was already ready when the Moment began. Evangelical America has been flogging Mormonism as Satan’s own retail outlet for decades. But the suddenly ubiquitous appearances of the word cult on the eleven o’clock news and in ostensibly serious political conversations in the early primary days gave legitimacy on the national stage to the characterization of me as a glassy-eyed, reclusive loon from whom the neighborhood alley cats run in fear.
As the other candidates faltered and fell, the evangelical criticism of my character coupled with the paranoia of political factions. I found by way of the national press that I am not only Christian America’s nightmare, but also a politically conservative ideologue who hates gay people, resents the federal government, wants all minorities to go home or to remain in poverty here, would put women back in the kitchen and the kitchen back in the church, and, besides all that, would have dodged the draft had there been a war during the late eighties. All this because, everyone is certain, my religion says so.
As I have objected to being thus pilloried, on the grounds that I’m actually a selective-service-registered socialist in favor of gay marriage, opposed to plutocracy, and a big fan of eating out, many of my fellow Mormons have joined the public throngs that seem to know me better than I. So, not only have the strangers worked hard during this Moment to determine who I am, but so have my fellow weirdos. The outsiders have been sure they knew me for a religious zealot, but for many of the insiders I must be a former Mormon, one of the disaffected who has left the church and is now only out to exercise my antagonism to a religion that cannot accommodate my ungodly politics, because, they are certain, their religion says so.
As campaigns tend to do with complicated issues, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s march toward the White House worked to reduce Mormonism not only to the simplest possible configuration, but the configuration that best promoted the interests of the candidate. The Mormonism that was on display on the trail was a grotesque caricature of a widely accommodating worldview, divested of its more compelling parts and flattened into “moral values” necessarily shared by the voting blocs most needed by the nominee. Like civil rights, immigration, tax equity, foreign policy, and the federal government’s role and responsibility—matters of great complexity and import oversimplified to suit a strategy—religion was beaten by this campaign into a trinket both ugly and useless.
Perhaps more significantly to the national story, the construction of Mormon identity over the past year is an index of what makes America increasingly impotent. The insistence that our neighbors—Mormons and Muslims and Jews and Sikhs, nones and atheists, the middle class and the other classes, the politically conservative, the obstinately unaligned, and all the others—think this and do that, regardless of what those neighbors each say of themselves demands that the country stop at the limit of our own vision.
Now, perhaps, I can have my religion and myself back. Without a national figurehead, Mormonism can retreat into the obscurity that vivified it and nurtured its breadth and variety. And without a representative icon, perhaps the nation will allow me to represent myself.
At least until 2016 when Huntsman comes again.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter at @fatsodoctor .