Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Mormons (Resurrected)

Note: In hopes of generating more discussion on the PBS documentary "The Mormons", which I think the series merits given the landmark breadth of its treatment on Mormonism together with the potential magnitude of its audience, yet in no way desiring to merely recreate Matt's apt inaugural post on the "The Mormons" and risk occasion for impetuous assessments of plagiaristic redundancy on my part -- I hereby resurrect Matt's post (together with its comment thread) as "new" or "most recent", or what have you... So, let us comment on comments unceasingly, and, by and by, the comment thread will yield fruits of insight, new perspective, and opportunity for each successive commenter to prove herself/himself more right than the commenter preceding.

I've heard a bit of negative and some positive feedback on the upcoming PBS two part series on the LDS Church. My understanding is that on the whole, part one is not a favorable portrayel of the Church, while part two is supposedly more reasonable. My brother is a bishop up in Michigan, and received a communication from a Church PR guy that effectively said it's not for the 'faint of heart.'

My questions to you all:

Will you watch? How best might you respond to others about, let's say, any 'over-emphasis' on some aspects of the LDS Church's history? On the whole, is PBS doing the public a service with a feature like this? (This last question may not be answerable until after watching it.)

Click here to visit PBS' site for more info.


Blogger Izdatyel said...

It will be interesting to see how PBS treats the Church and its history. At this point, I'm withholding any judgment, as I haven't seen or heard anything yet.

If there is some emphasis on the negative aspects of Church history (which is inevitable on some level), an easy response is that the Church is made up of imperfect people - no matter how true its message. We're all imperfect and trying our best. I think that makes sense to most reasonable people.

Hopefully, PBS' treatment will be much fairer than recent discussions of the Church at I'm thinking particularly of Jacob Weisberg's little attack article and Christopher Hitchens shamelessly bigoted piece that mocks the Church incessantly. What a crowd of pseudo-snobs. Yyyyech!

4/27/2007 9:02 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I trust it will be fairer than what you describe over at Slate. I visit Slate about once a week, but missed the pieces you mentioned... I guess I should be happy about that one. ;)

I spoke w/ my brother a little more about his communication w/ the Church PR guy, and I guess in particular the first episode carries on quite a bit about the Mountain Meadow Massacre and Polygamy.

I can appreciate the polygamy angle, as our history truly is entrenched in the issue, and the practice is carried on today in splinter sects. I'm sure while the division b/w the Church and these break offs seems so crystal clear to us, it may not to others. For some, I'd bet, they may look at the FLDS, for instance, similarly to how we and others have a hard time seeing the difference b/w various branches of the Baptist faith. I don't think that's a very precise comparison, but I guess in that context I can get a little better the confusion/fascination others may have w/ the LDS Church/polygamy thing.

The Mountain Meadow Massacre always strikes me as an odd one to focus so much on. I'm sure that comes in part as a reflexively defensive reaction, but it's been hashed and rehashed so many times, and at the end of the day one can make all sorts of compelling arguments or speculations about that case, but without fail I don't see much analysis from those local Mormons' perspective, nor do I see the same degree of analysis or speculation on what else may explain Brigham Young's behavior before, during, and after that event.

Either way, it surprises me that so many skeptics of the Church try and define us or even the early Church with this event. And beyond that, it just doesn't seem to be a point of question or concern for the vast majority of people. Having served a mission, served as a ward missionary, had my share of conversations about the Church with friends or acquaintances who naturally ask me questions when they find out I'm Mormon, I can say that I've never been asked about the Mountain Meadow Massacre, and maybe this is the reason I always find it odd that the media and anti-Mormon groups alike dwell so much on the incident. I guess in the end I not only feel some natural defensiveness on the issue, as I know this in no way represents what we're about, but I simply feel perplexed by the intensity with which some people hyper analyze the incident.

4/29/2007 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Okay, so part 1 is over. What did everyone think? My wife and I greatly enjoyed it and found the whole exercise to be well-presented and quite informative, (which I suppose is to be expected from the Frontline series in general.) The section on the Mountain Meadows Massacre was, as some feared(?), quite in-depth and while I tend to agree with Matt's assertion that documentaries such as this tend to put more weight on the event than the general public does (I too never once faced a question on my mission concerning the incident,) the focus did fit with the overall focus on the defining issues of the early church. One can't deny its impact on the mindset of the 19th century church.

I personally am fascinated by the topic of the Massacre. To me, it and the issue of polygamy put Mormonism firmly in the tradition of Old Testament-type religion, with all the paradoxes and difficulties that arise among any body of faithful in any era. "God told us to marry tons of women and then he told us to stop? Why?" "A body of people who call themselves followers of Christ slaughtered a bunch of innocents? And these guys were from my church? What happened?" I find such topics endlessly challenging and equally rewarding, at least as far as the development of my own faith goes.

By the way, do any of you guys read David Plotz' "Blogging the Bible" feature over at It's great stuff, as he goes through the Bible book by book seeing how it holds up as a readable text without commentary and input from various sects. He also brings up the topic of paradox and contradictions in holy texts and posits that these very things are part of the reason for the lasting impacts of such texts. Very illuminating.

Oh and let me just say, Christopher Hitchens is a total douche. Did any one just catch him on "The Daily Show?" Arrogant dick. I swear every one of his arguments against religion (in his new book "God Is Not Great") is countered by much of Mormonism if he, you know, actually bothered to look into it.

Part 2 of "The Mormons" tomorrow! I hope they explain that crazy magic underwear thing. What's with that?

5/01/2007 1:38 AM  
Blogger Izdatyel said...

Let me start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary series, thought that it was respectful and reasonably fair in context (yes, at times its emphases were overly punishing - but at others, its treatments were arguably generous), and was particularly intrigued by unexpected sense of being allowed to feel, however remotely, as if I were approaching an understanding of Mormonism from the outside-in, instead of from the usual inside-out. The foregoing sums up my general reaction to the program.

Having addressed all that, I now turn to a related matter with which you all may already be familiar (I know Jason and I have discussed it). I recently discovered what has for me become the most valuable thing come out this whole project. And it is this: At the official website for the series,, you can find a link to the "Interviews" page (or use the following URL to get there directly: This page contains full and partial transcripts of most of the interviews that were conducted for the documentary. Let me just say, there is much much more to most of these interviews than what you were shown in the documentary - and I'm referring both to volume and, particularly, substance. I've read several of the interviews already, and they are a gold mine. Based on what I have read so far, the best and/or most significant material (some of which I consider to be milestone-esque, if not outright milestone) from these interviews WAS NOT SHOWN in the documentary in most cases.

Most notable are the interviews with Elder Holland and Elder Jensen, which are of a unique type that only seems to come along from a General Authority once in a great while. Both interviews have a distinctive personal quality and are quite moving. They are both strikingly poigniant in their frankness, compassion, unguarded openness, and message. I highly recommend reading both interviews. I'll just leave it at that.

The scholarly interviews are also excellent. Again, some of the very best material, for whatever reason, was not selected for use in the documentary. I suppose it's worth remembering that what you or I would find most valuable or useful in the interviews may differ widely from what the production's target audience would find most interesting or useful. I'm just grateful the transcripts were made available. Many thanks to the producer and PBS for posting the transcripts online, along with the wealth of other interesting materials available at the website.

5/16/2007 11:44 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Ok... real quick because I'm at work right now. Overall Part I of the series was more even handed than I think the emails from the Church PR guy, forwarded to me, would have led one to believe. But, at the same time, and as a "FWIW" point, he was passing on what he'd heard, so we know how that game can go sometimes.

Between both parts of the series, it irritated me a bit how they gave so much more time on certain topics to those who opposed the Church over those supporting the Church. A couple of examples of this come immediately to mind, but first and foremost was the 'Heavenly Mother' ex-member.

She was the one who carried on about the details of her excommunication, pretty much unfettered. The only counter point of any substance to her entire interview was a comment that the Church never discusses the details of excommunications, pretty much painting the always annoying 'no comment' image for the Church (as if there's something they want to hide), rather than spending some time better explaining why the Church would never discuss such a sensitive proceeding.

PBS could have sought out examples of potential fallout to the Church discussing such issues, or examples where the Church does have a policy to announce such proceedings -- e.g. to protect the public from predators (this happened in one of my wards once), etc. In short, I felt that PBS failed to give proper context for stuff like this. Certainly such additional context would have given outsiders and even better understanding of how and why the Church does what it does. But rather, PBS felt satisfied painting the Church, on this topic, as 'The Man' holding down the little people. I recall no extended discussion of the doctrinal implications of what this lady was proposing either.

On the other hand, I found the homosexual ex-Mormon's story very sincere and compelling. (A little disclosure here: Maybe this one hit home a little more, as I have an extended family member struggling with this very issue, and I know in his heart he's a honest person who believes in God and wants to find a path in life that doesn't bring him daily torment.) However, that disclosure aside, I think we'd all agree that while he pretty vividly portrayed the personal challenges he faced as a gay man, he was also quite fair to the Church. He held no animosity toward the Church; he even went out of his way to praise the Church for their good works, sense of community, etc. I frankly expected worse out of PBS on this issue, but I think they chose wisely on how to frame this issue (for the most part).

More to come later...

5/18/2007 9:12 AM  
Anonymous LDS Art Show said...

Great post!

5/30/2008 9:41 AM  

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