Two writers in national publications – one LDS, the other Jewish – commented this week about the challenges of religious faith, specifically referencing the history and theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Writing for the Religion News Service in the Washington Post, Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye uses two analogies – Christmas lights and sourdough bread – to make her point that although "human flaws are painfully apparent throughout the history of every major religious tradition – including Mormonism – that doesn't negate the experience, motives, or morals of all Catholics, Anglicans, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims – or Mormons."
Inouye, a Latter-day Saint who holds a PhD from Harvard in East Asian Language and Civilizations and who currently lives in Hong Kong, says "if a person looks at faith like a string of Christmas lights, they demand that 'light' leap from one point to another along a string of connections."
"If one junction along the string is flawed," she continues, "then the whole string is dysfunctional. Or, if the whole string is functional, then every single junction must be perfect."
The problem with looking at faith like that, Inouye says, is that it makes it too easy to discredit an entire faith tradition. "All you have to do is knock out a single light, and kaplooey, the whole tradition is dysfunctional, bogus, and unworthy of the loyalty of intelligent people," she said.
So Inouye says she prefers to look at religious traditions like sourdough, because they are both "complex, living things."
"They are both organization and organism, created and sustained from many different processes and actors, shaped by time and their environment," she writes. "They even can be naturally subject to corruption. And yet they are also susceptible – through this same process of leavening – to producing goodness.
"Appreciating this goodness," Inouye concluded, "and engaging productively with the complex processes that create it, is a project of intellect, not ignorance."
But not, according to conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager, a project of intellect alone.
"If all religious beliefs were dictated by reason alone, there would be no meaning to the word 'faith,'" Prager writes in Front Page magazine. "A healthy religious life is composed of both faith and reason. And so is a healthy moral life – no non-Jewish rescuer of Jews in the Holocaust did so solely because of reason."
Still, Prager, who identifies himself as "a believing and practicing (non-orthodox) Jew," takes issue with those who "note with disdain that Mormons have irrational practices and beliefs."
"I read and hear these dismissals of Mormonism with some amusement," Prager writes, "because everyone who makes these charges holds beliefs and/or practices that outsiders consider just as irrational."
Prager notes some of those seemingly "irrational" beliefs in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and even in what he refers to as "the secular world."
"Rarely has the warning to get rid of the beam in your own eye in order to see the speck in your friend's eye been as applicable as it is to those who today mock Mormonism for irrationality," Prager concludes. "We would do a lot better to judge Mormonism – and for that matter, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the left – by their fruits. And if we do, the religion of the Republican presidential candidate looks pretty good."