“Magic undies”? Really?

Dear Fellow Progressives:

Consider this a rant.

For years now, you’ve accepted and been supportive of me and my faith, down to and including the multicolored beanies on my husband’s and son’s heads (and the scarf on my own) when we say our prayers.

But lately I’ve been hearing a lot of giggling and guffawing about someone else’s ritual garments: Mitt Romney’s.

Sneering at Romney’s sacred underwear, known among Mormons as their “garment,” is no better than sneering at my husband’s kipa. Calling them “magic undies” is not witty, it’s not original, and it’s not Progressive. It’s mean-spirited, it’s divisive, and it flies smack in the face of the kind of difference-accepting, diversity-seeking culture that is the hallmark of both this country and our movement.

I’ll be honest: I don’t get Mormonism. But then, I don’t get a lot of religions, sometimes not even my own. But do you know what we can do when we don’t “get” something? Educate ourselves.

In the official LDS explanation of Mormons’ garments (“Mormon Underwear“), we learn that

Garments are a symbolic gesture of the promises that Mormons have made to God. The garment is always worn under other clothing, next to the skin…. It serves as a constant reminder of the covenants made [before God in temple rituals].

Mormons believe in being “in the world, but not of it,” and the garment helps in privately yet consistently setting temple-going Mormons apart from the world.

Well golly. That sounds an awful lot like why Jews cover their heads, which is to demonstrate yirat shamayim — reverence, or awe, before the Almighty. Indeed, for Orthodox Jewish men (and some other Jews), there’s an additional garment called a tallit katan (sometimes referred to a tzizit), which is worn under the shirt, next to the skin, with four tassels hanging out — a constant, physical reminder to live a holy life, and further distinguish the wearer from the surrounding world. Huh. Fancy that.

I know you don’t like Mitt Romney. I don’t like him either. I don’t want him to be President, and indeed, I’d rather not even have to hear his voice again. But it has nothing to do with how, or why, or even if he worships his Creator, and everything to do with the fact that his political philosophy is one that devalues people and privileges wealth over shared human dignity. I’m also rather put off by all the lying.

I further know that a lot of you are agnostics or atheists, and think that religion of any kind is a towering pile of nonsense set against a backdrop of flaming hoohah. That’s fine. I respect your right to have no faith. But I do not, and will never, respect your right to disrespect me.

Or Mormons.

You don’t like the notion of sacred garments? Don’t wear them.

But if you want to defeat Mitt Romney, please do so based on the facts of his political life, not your interpretation of a faith system in which you have no share.

32 Comments

  1. THANK you. I don’t really get Mormonism either, but I flinch (and lose respect for the writer) whenever I see the phrase “magic undies.”

  2. Rae

     /  May 30, 2012

    Maybe people are curious, and they make awkward jokes? Here is the information on undergarments as I understand it from my LDS relatives. The garments encourage modesty, they offer a tangible reminder of God’s covenants with the wearers, and they offer spiritual protection. They are comforting,and once they are accustomed to wearing them, it feels odd to go without them. It’s sweet, not magical, not a joke. It’s ok to be curious, it’s not ok to mock anothers faith.

  3. Lise

     /  May 30, 2012

    Thank you. Beautifully said. Anyone have a problem with my little sister? You can come through me, the one who believes in nothing, and certainly not garments, but defends EVERYONE’S right to honor their relationship with the Devine as they see fit.

  4. Beautifully said. Most of our sacred rituals, whether religious, or civil involve acts, apparel, and movements that are rooted deeply in the individual brain and in sociality, itself. To ridicule anyone’s sacred rites that are not harmful or disrespectful of others is to forget our own deepest impulses as human creatures.

  5. Bob Jones' Neighbor

     /  May 30, 2012

    And realistically, not making fun of other folks religion is what we used to call (when I was a kid in the ’50s) being American. Respecting everyone “regardless of race, creed or color” (okay, I lived up North then, where we actually claimed to believe that). But yeah. respect for religion should be part of being an American.

  6. Captain Button

     /  May 30, 2012

    I have to agree. Everyone has silly customs. Trying to attack someone on other issues because you think their silly customs are sillier than your silly customs is, well, just silly.

  7. We can, however, knock the SOB for mistreating his dog.

    Dogs Against Romney! http://www.dogsagainstromney.com/

  8. stephen matlock

     /  May 30, 2012

    This is a tough topic. Religious belief is difficult to explain; it’s hard to live without one, though*.

    Thanks for posting this.

    * I realize this is ambiguous. I’m not offering an evangel for requiring a religious belief.

  9. MommyArtistLawyer

     /  May 30, 2012

    It is not acceptable to ridicule someone for their beliefs. Further, none of us have the right to impose our own spiritual beliefs on others. All must come to their own conclusions about matters of faith in the Creator. However, I absolutely reject the idea that I cannot take somone’s entire belief system into consideration when I’m asked to decide whether or not to choose them to be the leader of the free world. While I don’t have to the right to make fun of Mormons, having educated myself, I do have the right to to my own perspective on the foundation and tenets of Mormonism. Given the power of the presidency, I find it impossible to ignore the potential influence it might have on the things that matter most to me.

    • Not for nothing, but this is what the 1960s Right said about JFK, this is what some Christians say about Jewish candidates, and this is what today’s right says about Barack Obama, our secret Muslim President.

      When we decide to abandon the Constitution’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” that’s the company we’re keeping.

      • MommyArtistLawyer

         /  May 30, 2012

        “When we decide to abandon the Constitution’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” that’s the company we’re keeping.”

        That provision was meant to prevent the government from imposing a religious test. It was never intended to restrict individual citizens from voting for the candidates who most reflect their values. How would you even enforce the restriction? Thought police? It defies logic to insist voters must ignore a candidate’s religion when evaluating who is best suited for political leadership. Some religious beliefs are innocuous. However there are many others that are down right scary. Are you really prepared to argue that if a member of Westboro Baptist Church were running for president you wouldn’t take their religious beliefs into consideration? Personally, I want to know as much as I can about what motivates the person who wants to be POTUS.

  10. I respect your right to have no faith. But I do not, and will never, respect your right to disrespect me.

    Wait, what? Why not? I’m not trolling, Emily, I want to know what a lack of respect for a right to disrespect–not the disrespect itself, but one’s right to it–is supposed to imply.

    As to the rest of the topic, the point that Romney, a presidential candidate, shouldn’t be criticized for his sacred undergarments, is sound enough. Nor should one mock the average Mormon on the street about his own wardrobe, as it would be little more than an exercise in meanness.

    But I’m going to be the atheist turd in the punchbowl and ask, regarding Mormonism and religion more broadly, why we shouldn’t ridicule things that are ridiculous. I’ll admit Mormonism comes in for perhaps more mockery than it deserves, simply because it came about in the well-documented modern age, while the surely messy origins of the rest of the world religions remain safely in the darkness of antiquity. But the idea that the Native Americans are descended from Middle Eastern peoples is just flat wrong, and refraining from pointing this out for the sake of someone’s feelings is to value political correctness, as its commonly understood (and frequently abused) over factual correctness.

    Put another way, if we liberals can rightly sneer at people who believe, for instance, that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, why should we respect the feelings and opinions of people who think, for instance, that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?

    • I like that you raised this interesting question that tries to avoid disrespecting a person or group, but still wants to disrespect, even “ridicule” what some might claim to be “ridiculous” ideas. Birthers, Flat-earthers, climate skeptics should fit that category of people who deserved to be respected while we strongly disrespect their ideas on those subjects.

      However, someone might suggest that your ridiculing Mormons for their belief about the 10 Lost Tribes, or some Christians belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, is a category mistake. Rarely are our deepest-held beliefs about values and purpose and love matters that can be settled by looking up to see if they are factual. Religion is a category of meaning and human experience that is profoundly deep and ancient that has its primary roots in a symbolic universe that pre-existed historical thinking and concern with what moderns call “facts.” Matters like the virgin birth, Israel crossing the Red Sea, the encounter on Sinai and the tables of the Law have symbolic significance that has nothing to do with any “facts” about them. Great stories from ancient times, great stories from today (novels, plays, movies) are often more “true” than the “facts” that surround them, and rarely require factual discussion or acceptance for them to do their work shaping our characters, identifying ourselves, and promoting and describing our loves.

      I think the belief about the 10 Tribes is hooey, factually, but not being a Mormon I don’t know that belief operates in their symbol system. Also, with the virgin birth, or the Exodus, the religious meanings are more important than “did they happen?” Certainly fundamentalists take such things literally, and so for them, “facticity” is a big issue, but for the religions, themselves, facticity wasn’t an issue when the beliefs began circulating, and they aren’t now.

      Religious belief is NOT the same thing as scientific or historical belief and can’t be judged by criteria external to the religious imagination.

      • But see, I still think religion gets a pass that isn’t afforded in any other sphere of life. The best example I can think of is Greek and Roman mythology. It’s bequeathed us a wealth of art and literature and an invaluable cultural legacy. The plays and poems and stories are still read and studied and retold today. But no one is going to regard them as real or factual, as you said, nor is anyone (save, I guess, for the occasional pagan outlier) going to organize his life around patron gods.

        It’s so obvious that it wouldn’t be worth pointing out, except that this is simply not the attitude the most (all?) people have towards their given faith. They would more likely than not be insulted if you were to refer to their religion as mythology. Religions make specific and exclusive claims about the world that their adherents take very seriously, in a way that is not true of Homer, Shakespeare, or Joyce.

        • It boils down to what I said on Twitter: I have this crazy notion that I deserve the same respect that I afford non-theists.

          Believe what you want, believe what makes sense to you, teach what you want, advocate for whatever worldview you want, on and on — but when one actively mocks people of faith, one is being neither helpful, nor kind, nor wise.

    • A guest

       /  May 30, 2012

      But I’m going to be the atheist turd in the punchbowl and ask, regarding Mormonism and religion more broadly, why we shouldn’t ridicule things that are ridiculous.

      Because there’s something ridiculous about you, or about someone you know and care about, and you realize that the world would be a slightly better place if we all decided “you know what? That’s ridiculous. But it’s not worth trying to hurt someone over.”

  11. Well said! Thank you for your v.ery thoughtful rant

  12. MommyArtistLawyer

     /  May 30, 2012

    Benjamin has a point. My opinion that we don’t have the right to ridicule others is rooted in my respect for the Golden Rule, which is a part of my belief system. If another person’s belief system doesn’t mirror mine and sneering isn’t off limits to them, how do I have the right to insist they refrain from expressing sarcasm on a topic because it touches on issues of faith? While you can certainly censor the comments in your own blog it is something else to define the parameters of what it means to be progressive or to attempt to exclude someone who defines themself as a progressive because they dared chuckle at an idea that strikes them as ludicrous. I can’t say I’ve ever met the quintessential progressive and to be honest some of my favorite progressives, like Jon Stewart dip regularly in the well of sarcasm for the sake of a laugh. Really, like it or not ridicule is speech and the free expression of it, as American as apple pie. Perhaps we people of faith need to be a little less thin skinned and focus on taking greater care with our own words.

  13. Ash Can

     /  May 30, 2012

    By and large, I agree. But here’s my qualifier: If a tenet of the candidate’s religion translates directly to public policy, I would both want and expect that tenet to be examined more carefully. For example, Romney’s religion has traditionally taken a dim view of blacks and gays, and I would consider it perfectly legitimate to ask Romney to explain whether or not these tenets of the religion he publicly embraces would have any effect on the policies he would support. Likewise, if I were to run for public office, I would consider it both proper and necessary for constituents to ask me if my policies would reflect any of the pronouncements of Pope Benedict and/or the US Council of Catholic Bishops.

    JFK did the right thing by emphasizing his public policy independence vis-a-vis the Vatican, and I think that Romney should not be immune to questions regarding his likely policy decisions in cases where the leadership of his religion has already made pronouncements or issued guidelines for its faithful regarding these issues.

  14. D_R

     /  May 30, 2012

    thank you for this–I have little respect for the LDS religion (ok, pretty much none) and have been falling into the trap of making fun of it in a way I would never dream of doing for Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Or pretty much any other religion. You have pointed out some fairly biased thoughts, and believe it or not I’m glad you did. Thanks as always!🙂

  15. Retief

     /  May 31, 2012

    Thanks for this. As a practicing Mormon and a fervent Obama supporter, I am glad to see this kind of awareness.

    • Thanks for stopping by – and if I got anything wrong above, please let me know. Ignorance is a stubborn thing, and best approached with help!

      • MommyArtistLawyer

         /  May 31, 2012

        Respect is only real and meaningful when it is freely given to one who has earned rather than demanded it. That is a reality many have yet to comprehend.

  16. MommyArtistLawyer

     /  May 31, 2012

    The Mormon church was instrumental in passing Prop 8 outlawing same-sex marriage in California. So I have to ask, are gay men and women permitted to consider the potential impact of Mormon president on their lives or is it out of bounds for them as well?

    • LongHairedWeirdo

       /  June 2, 2012

      Near as I can tell, the complaint is not “we should not castigate the LDS church for its actions in proposition 8, nor demand that Mitt Romney provide his stance on it.” The complaint is “we shouldn’t point and snicker at the ‘garment’ and heap ridicule upon the various trappings of his religious beliefs.”

      • MommyArtistLawyer

         /  June 4, 2012

        @LongHairedWeirdo The post and follow up comments included the idea that not wanting Mitt Romney to be president shouldn’t have anything to do with how or why he worships his Creator. It went so far as to condemn the inclusion of religion into the decision making process as not only narrowminded but somehow unconstitutional.

        “I know you don’t like Mitt Romney. I don’t like him either. I don’t want him to be President, and indeed, I’d rather not even have to hear his voice again. But it has nothing to do with how, or why, or even if he worships his Creator” — Emily Hauser

        “Not for nothing, but this is what the 1960s Right said about JFK, this is what some Christians say about Jewish candidates, and this is what today’s right says about Barack Obama, our secret Muslim President. When we decide to abandon the Constitution’s provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” that’s the company we’re keeping.” — Emily Hauser

        There is no longer even any token attempt by elected officials to separate their private spiritual beliefs from their responsibilities to their constituents. Rick Santorum follows conservative Catholic teachings and legislates accordingly. So if a woman wants to make sure an elected official doesn’t eliminate her access to birth control she damn sure better pay attention to what the candidate’s religious beliefs dictate. My point was that a candidate’s religious beliefs can have a tremendous influence on our lives and we are foolish if we give it a pass out of misguided political correctness.

        • LongHairedWeirdo

           /  June 5, 2012

          First, “political correctness” is a meaningless term. But that’s a minor point.

          You’ve just made an absolute statement, that there is not even a token attempt by “elected officials” – no qualifications – to separate private belief from responsibilities to their constituents. So, John Kerry, a Catholic, is clearly trying to impose the Catholic Church’s beliefs on contraception and abortion, right? Wrong. Not even close.

          So, the question is not whether people try to impose their religious beliefs – not all do – but the question is, does that individual do so? Santorum does, Kerry does not. So, people should oppose Santorum if they oppose the imposition of religious beliefs (or, if the oppose the particular beliefs he’d oppose – hopefully for both reasons, but who knows?)

          None of this has anything to do with trying to create a point and snicker campaign about a pointless oddity about a particular religion.

  17. Wow. Thanks for that post! I’m LDS and a garment-wearer but also progressive and it really sucks sometimes to feel like you aren’t accepted by the group that’s supposed to accept lots of different folks, the progressives.