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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mormons in the Media, but can the paper really tell us the "facts"?

It's being called "The Mormon Moment." 

Thanks to Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, the media is covering Mormonism with a whole new gusto.  You can take the Mormon history quiz at the Huffington Post (which I aced because I'm that slick) or you can read the Newsweek article "Mormons Rock" or if you're in New York, you might even check out The Book of Mormon musical.

Mormon Times' writer Lane Williams isn't all that impressed with the attention.  His column at Mormon Times laments the recent coverage stating that "there seemed little new beyond recycled news frames of the last few decades."

But the larger question is, how much can the media really tell us?  Religion of any sort gets terse treatment in the news.  We can only get the overview in a two minute segment or even a ten page article.  There simply isn't space to get into the nitty-gritty.

And let's face it, with Mormonism, there's a lot of nitty-gritty.

There are a lot of "facts" that get disputed over and over.  As a church investigator, I looked into the history of the Book of Mormon people.  I wanted to know about the possible existence of the Nephites, but what I found was an endless debate over every detail.

Eventually everyone sounded like the adults in Charlie Brown.  "Wah Wah Wah Wah."

It seems that few (if any) non-Mormon scholars believe that the Nephites ever existed.  Why?  For one, the Book of Mormon mentions lots of things that were not known to be in America during pre-Columbian times. 

Perhaps the most famous example has to do with horses. The book mentions horses, but most scientists say there were no horses in the Americas at that time.

But don't say that too loud or apologists like Michael Ash will remind you of 100 reasons why a horse could be a tapir or a deer or another animal that you may have never considered to be what Joseph Smith translated as "a horse."

I doubt the media will ever cover debates like this. Why?  Because these stories don't sell papers.  It's a tempest in a teapot, and no one cares.

In fact, a single article on Mormonism could never do the topic justice. It's a richly layered subject that involves personal faith, archeology, DNA, and personal histories of men who didn't want everything they did blasted to the public (google Nauvoo Expositor). 

Expecting a newspaper to cover all that seems naive to me, especially when so many elements of Mormon history come with baggage.

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