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The Economist and other media consider why Mormonism carries agitation among many

By Rhett Wilkinson

Mormon Times

Published: Tuesday, June 21 2011 5:30 a.m. MDT

A Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this month revealed that only 35 percent of Americans are "entirely comfortable" with the idea of a Latter-day Saint taking Barack Obama's seat in the White House.

It's an opinion that The Economist editors said they didn't quite understand.

Taking a more favorable step than the variety of Mormon pillars discussed by Newsweek earlier this month — Newsweek's analysis did include statements about how Latter-day Saints' "distinctive values and characteristics" have contributed to their "success" and the "remarkable growth" of the church since its inception in 1830 — the discussion in The Economist explored why the faith should be admired.

"I'd like to step back from the question of whether a Mormon can be president to take up a more fundamental query: why don't people like Mormons?" asked The Economist.com article titled "They're here, they're square, get used to it!" "No other faith, save perhaps Islam, catches so much flak in the United States. Even among Americans who aren't hostile to Mormonism, the default position seems to be scepticism or ridicule rather than anodyne appreciation for the varieties of religious experience. That's weird."

The article stated that one has to look no further than Mitt Romney's December 2007 speech on faith when he previously campaigned for the GOP nomination.

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God," Romney said at the time. "In every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings."

The Economist article followed by being complementary of Romney's positive recognition of other faiths, while also citing him as having mentioned Mormonism once in his speech, also mentioning the religion as "the faith of his fathers," much as Huntsman referred to his "Mormon heritage" to ABC's "Good Morning America" on May 20.

The Economist provided three main points as to why citizens of the United States ought to be endeared by the faith, citing its origination in the United States and connection to many of its "flagship virtues." The article also observed how, as a whole, "most Mormons are unusually upstanding citizens," describing how the list of dangerous criminals with membership in the LDS Church is quite small.

In many ways, this June 15 article in the Economist was a sequel to a piece headlined "When the saints come marching in: Can a Mormon get to the White House?" the publication ran in March.

"The core of Mormon philosophy," says Michael Otterson, the LDS Church’s spokesman, is “the idea of self-improvement," the article quoted from his Washington Post On Faith blog. "What, after all, could be more American?"

The March Economist article focused on a variety of other fruits of the faith at the time, including its "disproportionate success" in the business world — an observation echoed in the most recent issue of Business Week — as well as the benefits of having no paid clergy, conservative values and "the world's most sophisticated genealogical database" due to the belief in the eternal link of families. It also mentioned the church's system of missionaries becoming "paragons of self-discipline."

Email: rwilkinson@desnews.com

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