November 16, 2011
Et tu, Harold Bloom? Mormonism, Mitt—and ignorance
“[Joseph Smith] was an authentic religious genius, unique in our national history. . . . Smith’s insight could have come only from a remarkably apt reading of the Bible, and there I would locate the secret of his religious genius. . . . So strong was this act of reading that it broke through all the orthodoxies—Protestant, Catholic, Judaic—and found its way back to elements that Smith rightly intuited had been censored out of the stories of the archaic Jewish religion.” – Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation
“All religion depends on revelation. All revelation is supernatural. If you wish to be a rock hard empiricist, then you should not entertain any religious doctrine whatsoever.” – Harold Bloom, “The Mormons” documentary
Like many Mormons, I have been quoting for years Bloom’s positive statements about Joseph Smith and LDS scriptures. Since Bloom is Jewish, I even included them in a speech on LDS-Jewish relations that I have delivered in more than a dozen countries. Tonight I deleted them. Anyone who professes to understand our faith while asserting that “[n]o Mormon need fall into the fundamentalist denial of evolution, because the Mormon God is not a creator” is delusional.
Since this is primarily a religion blog, I’d like to focus on Bloom’s statement that the 21st-century LDS Church “has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor.” Let’s leave aside the fact the church is still led by prophets, apostles, stake presidents and bishops, or that we’re still building temples and sending out missionaries. Instead, let’s consider how closely modern rabbinic Judaism resembles the Judaism of the Hebrew Bible.
To an outsider’s eye, they’re two different religions. Modern Jews worship without the benefit of prophets, priesthood, temples, revelation, sacrifices, and temples. To be sure, Bloom does mention Rabbi Akiva, who created “what we now call Judaism” in the second century CE, but he doesn’t go far enough. The rabbis responded to the spiritual needs of their people through the centuries by interpreting the Torah (both oral and written) in ways that they felt were inspired by God. Does this make their religion less authentically Jewish?
Just as it would not be appropriate for a thoughtful Mormon to criticize rabbinic Judaism for not being an exact replica of Mosaic Judaism, it is also improper for a Jew who sees Mormonism through a gnostic lens to ridicule the LDS Church for having adopted certain procedures and practices to meet the needs of 14 million members in nearly 180 countries. LDS leaders in the 19th century had different problems to deal with, and we believe that they received divine revelation to do so. In LDS Christianity, we don’t believe in a static faith. If Joseph Smith were the only prophet we needed in modern times, then we wouldn’t have a prophet on earth today. The most important prophet for us is always the current one, since he is the presiding high priest in covenant Israel as well as God’s mouthpiece to His people (think Ezra). Today’s LDS Church is no less authentic than that of Joseph Smith’s time, and it takes considerable chutzpah for a non-Mormon gnostic to assert otherwise.
Indeed, Bloom seems to think that his readers are completely unfamiliar with Jewish beliefs, especially ancient ones. What else to make of his bizarre claim that “[t]he American Religion centers upon the denial of death, literalizing an ancient Christian metaphor.” For the record, Latter-day Saints and other Christians don’t deny death, but affirm a belief in an afterlife. Just like Judaism once did. If my Orthodox Jewish friends are to be believed, it still does.