I recently perused the November 27 edition of The New York Times Sunday Review. In it was Harold Bloom’s latest rant against religion and conservatives, written in the guise of benevolent social commentary. It was so audacious, so radical, that at first I didn’t believe my eyes. However, a second and third reading confirmed my first impression.
As you may know, Harold Bloom is a professor of English at Yale and has written widely on the American religious experience. In a way that only an Ivy League elitist or Maureen Dowd can understand, his column (“Will this election be the Mormon breakthrough?”) associates Mormonism, the Southern Baptist Convention, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush with each other and, having done so, dismisses them as too individualistic and out of touch for an enlightened modern society.
Of all his targets, Bloom is especially hard on Mormonism and the Southern Baptist Convention, which he appears to view as two halves of the same coin. He concludes his column with the words:
Mormonism’s best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy.
In Bloom’s opinion, modern Mormons are basically Warren Jeffs disciples with PhDs and Southern Baptists are still using bibs to wipe the remains of the primordial soup from their faces. (Full disclosure: I’m a Southern Baptist and had to write that last sentence three times since the drool running from my mouth kept causing my fingers to slide all over my keyboard.)
I’m still trying to understand the impetus behind Bloom’s castigations, especially considering the way they continue to promulgate liberal stereotypes of Republicans, conservatives and religious Americans.
What would cause an educated man to succumb to such obvious logical fallacies? I think the answer is fear. FDR famously stated that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but most progressives today seem to believe that the only thing we have to fear is faith itself. In that sense, people of faith are truly “straw men” a la the Scarecrow of Oz: They would be tolerable if they only had brains.
Contrary to Bloom’s opinion, faith is not the opposite of intelligence. Faith is the opposite of pride and teaches that people need the help of a being greater than themselves if they are to survive, both in this world and the next. To be sure, Mormons and conservative Southern Baptists don’t believe in the same God, but they both acknowledge the existence of a supreme deity.
Progressives and liberals like Bloom reject the idea of a supreme deity outright because they have an a priori acceptance of classical materialism. For thinkers like Bloom, it is a cardinal sin to admit that human intelligence is limited. All those who promote faith are rejecting humanity’s potential and should be considered less than human, having gotten off the evolutionary bus several stops too soon. Mormons aren’t as bad as Southern Baptists, because they are more agnostic, but compared to the intellectual elite, they are Charlie Gordon in his final state, wanting to put flowers on Algernon’s grave.
To Bloom, it doesn’t matter that our progressive president may have caused this country irreparable financial harm. Obama may be a Christian, but his faith is “irrelevant to his governing style and aspirations,” unlike his Republican opponents, who threaten to strengthen the American “theocracy.”
Burwell Stark is a columnist and freelance writer. A former teacher, he also has worked in the areas of legislative research, budget analysis and communications. He lives outside Wake Forest, NC with his wife and daughter. For more of Burwell’s columns, visit burwellstark.com.