Kudos to Bret Stephens for his defense of Latter-day Saints. Kudos to Simon Critchley for a similarly generous article. And kudos to the always terrific Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times for her article about a fragment of a document suggesting Jesus may have had a wife. In a way she didn't likely intend, Goodstein enhanced my faith in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
More on the Goodstein piece in a moment.
First, as a fan of the American news media at its best, I can't let pass my take on the first two pieces, oft-mentioned columns from last week that provided robust defenses of Latter-day Saints in two of America's leading news outlets.
By now, most people interested in news on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have seen Stephens' contrast of how some Americans treat the religious sensibilities of Latter-day Saints with how they treat the sensibilities of those of other faiths.
Stephens, obviously a conservative, remains among the most insightful writers about international relations as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal. He is on my must-read list each week.
He noted how New Yorkers are flocking to "The Book of Mormon" musical on Broadway with its disrespectful tone — with some song lyrics, he says, unprintable in a family newspaper.
He wrote, "So let's get this straight: In the consensus view of modern American liberalism, it is hilarious to mock Mormons and Mormonism but outrageous to mock Muslims and Islam."
I don't think any religion should be mocked, and I support free speech. So, I am not certain of the usefulness of comparing the two faiths, but I truly appreciate Stephens' defense of Latter-day Saints.
Similarly, Critchley's New York Times blog, headlined "Why I Love Mormonism," deserves thanks for its kindness. The blog, which became among the most read pieces on the Times website last week, included this, describing a group of scholars of his acquaintance from BYU:
"They were some of the kindest, most self-effacing and honest people I have ever met. They were also funny, warm, genuine, completely open-minded, smart and terribly well read. We became friends."
Critchley's blog made an important point: The gospel as taught by Latter-day Saints from Joseph Smith on down is filled with beauty and rigorous intellectual challenge and joy. The most philosophical of minds can find things to grapple with and the least interested in intellectual things can also be enriched by profound, faithful teachings.
Critchley wandered deep into LDS doctrine — you can call it theology — and my humble opinion is that he did fairly well on some of it, but erred greatly in his understanding of church teaching regarding women and exaltation. In contrast to what Critchley said, I understand that even though women do not hold priesthood office, they are no less heirs to exaltation and godhood than men.
I'm also disappointed Critchley didn't spend more time with the Book of Mormon. He described it as "tedious," as much of it as he could get through. Pity. The Book of Mormon sings for most Latter-day Saints. It should not be dismissed so quickly.
Frankly, I thought Hamlet was tedious the first couple of times I read it. Now that I understand the story and have taken time to ponder it, I see its epic value.
But I do Critchley a disservice in those critiques: His point is that LDS doctrine is rich and should be examined in more exquisite detail. I relish his kind words and thank him for them.
As for Goodstein and her article about a 1,800-year-old document that seems to say Jesus had a wife? How did it influence my testimony?
One of her quoted scholars quoted said the old document seemed authentic because some other old documents he'd seen were forged fakes: "Most forgeries he has seen were nothing more than gibberish," Goodstein wrote.
And so. What of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith?
Joseph Smith, a young, uneducated man from the rural countryside with no access to a library, published either an ancient text given him by an angel or he made some 580 pages up out of whole cloth.
I know this comparison is "inelegant" because Brother Joseph only publicly produced his translation, not the plates. But shouldn't it, if it were a fake, be obvious gibberish? Shouldn't it read like a 19th-century romance or a clunky, preachy adventure novel at best? That's how most people wrote back then.
I know others read Goodstein's article differently, but that's the little thing I thought about as I read Goodstein's interesting article. Funny how we read the news, isn't it?
Lastly, if you haven't heard, the Pew Research Center released a disturbing report about the religious environment in the United States and around the world. Tolerance for religion is declining while government limitations are growing all around the world, including in the U.S.
To be sure, some of their graphics overstate, in my view, the problems, but the trend and the report should be read carefully by those interested in religious freedom.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.