Mormon Media Observer: A response to Christopher Hitchens after his latest attack on Mormonism

Published: Monday, Nov. 14 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

I used to be a fan of Christopher Hitchens, but now I need to speak up.

Hitchens, a British intellectual and terrific writer, once took in the novelist Salman Rushdie as Rushdie was hiding from fundamentalists committed to his death for the book, “Satanic Verses.”

Hitchens' was a deeply courageous act.

Similarly, Hitchens has regularly traveled to war zones and argued for human rights. His call for action to forestall the suffering and genocide in Darfur was among the most movingly persuasive opinion pieces I have ever read.

Furthermore, his very public battle with a grave cancer diagnosis has been moving. I wish him well in that fight.

Hitchens is an atheist. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to his atheism, any more than I object to any belief system. It is a free county. I can learn from a principled atheist as much as I can a principled religious person.

In recent years, however, Hitchens became much more open and direct in his atheism. His 2007 book, “God is not Great. How Religion Spoils Everything,” gives you an idea of his tone in recent years. The book was a surprise best-seller.

Hitch has participated in numerous public debates between generic religion and atheism — including with his brother, an ardent believer.

Here’s where I ran aground: To my mind, Hitchens wrote one of the most vitriolic articles about the church during Mitt Romney's first run for president. He called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “mad cult.”

I long thought of directly replying to his argument over the years for what he had said, but debate and contention really isn’t my way. We become converts through prayer, not debate. Then, I thought of his illness and that time had passed. I thought it best to leave alone an article that was four years old.

But Hitchens is at it again. Only a couple of weeks ago, he called my Latter-day Saint beliefs “weird” and “sinister” in an article in the online magazine Slate.

He says we Latter-day Saints have a “supreme leader,” that we can be ordered to “shun” anyone leaving the faith, and that hefty donations are appreciated. He creates the impression of a coercive religion — a cult, really.

Of course, few Latter-day Saints care much about Hitchens. They’ve certainly seen worse than him throughout their history. And his arguments, to those who pay attention, are little more than warmed-over Fawn Brodie from 1945.

So, I write mostly to someone — maybe to one or two who stumble across me on the Internet — who might have read Hitchens and who have wondered about what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. I write to those who might think Christopher Hitchens conveys an accurate portrayal of Mormonism.

Putting it bluntly, Chris Hitchens was lazy and fundamentally inaccurate in writing about Mormonism — and he continues to be.

Consider the implication he makes that Latter-day Saints make their leaders wealthy. Look at President Thomas S. Monson. Were President Monson running a Fortune 500 company of the complexity of the church, he’d be compensated in the millions with stock options and have several homes around the world. He’d fly in his own private jet to Davos and Aspen and spend his weekends in the Berkshires.

But President Monson lives modestly in a Salt Lake suburb, a lifestyle not much different from most American Latter-day Saints. When he flies on a private jet, it is on one supplied by a friend, not to Aspen, but to meet with Latter-day Saints.

Many of his close counselors are doing far less well financially than they might have in business.

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