Mormons are somewhat fond of quoting Yale professor Harold Bloom when he refers to the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an "authentic religious genius."
He even repeated this in a recent interview with the Deseret News where he not only said Joseph Smith was a religious genius, but that "Had I been a nineteenth-century American and not Jewish I would probably have become a Mormon . . . "
But Mormons are not as likely to quote Bloom's opinion piece in the New York Times on Saturday titled, "Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough?" where he calls the LDS Church a "knowledge-hungry religious zealotry" and its leaders "plutocratic oligarchs."
In the article, Bloom treads a familiar path this election cycle as he examines the possible impact of the LDS Church on the presidential candidacies of Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney. Except, being one of the world's most respected literary critics, his language is bit more elevated.
He begins by saying the church's "highly original revelation" was a departure from historical Christianity, but lays the same charge against "Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God Pentecostalists and even our mainline Protestant denominations." In fact, he says he has "a considerable respect for such original spiritual revelations as 19th-century Mormonism and early 20th-century Southern Baptism."
Bloom points out the danger of concentrating on unfamiliar LDS doctrines in political commentary: "Our political satirists, with Mr. Romney evidently imminent, delight in describing the apparent weirdness of Mormon cosmology and allied speculations, but they forget the equal strangeness of Christian mythology, now worn familiar by repetition." But the heart of his argument deals with his interpretations of what Mormons — and Romney — believe.
Bloom seems to admire what he calls Huntsman's "secular seeming" leanings. But Romney is, in his view, "deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy." Although this is a weak misreading of Mormon governance (the church is governed by what it calls General Authorities, of which Romney never was one), Bloom is connecting Romney with what he considers the sins of LDS Church leadership. "The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as 'prophet, seer and revelator,' is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy," Bloom wrote. "The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage."
In other words, Bloom thinks the church has betrayed the original vision of Joseph Smith and become obsessed with money and power.
At the same time Bloom is saying the LDS Church has become just another Protestant denomination (with a taste for money and power), he also trots out readings, misreadings and near misreadings of LDS beliefs that he could have gotten from his former student who helped create Broadway's "Book of Mormon Musical": "a plurality of gods," "they themselves expect to become gods," secret temples, plural marriage, economic wealth and corruption, Mormons get their own planet, and so forth.
It isn't clear if these are the teachings he thinks Joseph Smith taught or if these are the teachings of the current church, and he gives no references to any recent church teachings, conferences, manuals, magazines, videos or websites.
Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches said although Bloom studied early Mormonism, he "cannot write authoritatively about Mormonism since 1840. Because aside from a short season of 'wandering' (as he describes it) about 'the Southwest from 1989 to 1991' he does not know it."
The danger, in Bloom's estimation, is if Romney believes these things, they will affect how he sees the world and nation and make it difficult for him to represent the views of the 98 percent of the country who are not Mormons — particularly what he calls Mormonism's allegiance to elite power and money. "Mormonism's best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention," Bloom concludes. "I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew."