« What I Did With My Summer Vacation, Part I. | Main | Greetings from Ann Arbor! »

14 June 2007



Fascinating -- I'll have to hunt down that book. Was this the Atlantic article about the New Religious Movements book? Our library had that index and I checked it out right after I read that article; pretty gobsmacking the sheer number of interesting little religions and the number of followers they have. It was great reading, in the way that all encyclopedias are great reading.


Good post -- a bunch of food for thought here.

And yeah, please do post about the stylistic constraints at some point.

Re your last point -- "presenting everything as equally 'normal' does, in fact, involve an implicit value judgement" -- I don't want to focus *too* much on this 'cause I know it asn't your primary point, but I did want to note that it seems to me (at least usually) to be a sort of meta-value-judgment; a judgment that "objectivity" or "neutrality" or "moral relativism" is a good thing, rather than a judgment that the particular practices demonstrated are good things.

Re the Krakauer/Short Creek stuff, I wonder two things (neither of which are directly relevant to your comments):

1. What would modern reaction to fundamentalist/fringe Mormonism be like if there were no sex with girls under 18 involved? To put it another way, I wonder whether there would be a similar degree of outrage about deviance (from American culture at large) if it were polygamy only among consenting adults.

2. It might be neat if someone were to do a Nacirema-style article along the lines of the Krakauer or Jenkins books in which they discussed (for example) ancient Judaism as if it were a 20th-century American cult. (Then again, given the degree to which modern Judaism is still Othered, this might be both redundant and a bad idea.)

Susan Marie Groppi

Gwenda-- the article I'd originally been thinking of was "Oh, Gods!" by Toby Lester, published in February 2002, and unfortunately it looks like you need to be an Atlantic subscriber to read it online. The book you mention sounds interesting, though. Do you remember the title?

Jed-- interesting questions. It's hard to say for sure, but I'd guess that there would be a lot less outrage about the FLDS groups if not for the child sexual abuse factors. (Well, among the general public. The mainline Mormon church, as I understand it, would probably still be just as opposed, because they have a lot of theological problems with the FLDS. But I'm far from an expert on the LDS church.) It's possible that there'd just be outrage about some other angle, that the child abuse is just the first available, but I suspect that most people would be happy to... not accept it, maybe, but at least ignore it, if it really was just an arrangement between people who are old enough (and informed enough) to make free choices. But I can't say for sure.


The problem with the FLDS is that the child abuse and adolescent marriage aren't incidental to a few bad apples or even because of the strict social control, although the latter is a contributing factor. It's a predictable consequence of polygamy along with the expulsion of teenagers known as "the lost boys" from the community.

You have influential men competing for a limited number of available women. The competition guarantees that men who've accumulated status and wealth over time will seek a competitive advantage by marrying younger and younger women, to secure them early. Combined with an ethos that devalues education for all people, but particularly for women, and you have marriage of teenage girls to much older men. And of course, to what extent is that ethos driven by the polygamous power structure?


Jed: you said that presenting everything as equally normal is "a judgment that "objectivity" or "neutrality" or "moral relativism" is a good thing, rather than a judgment that the particular practices demonstrated are good things."

Which I sort of agree with, but I'm inclined to think that objectivity isn't the same thing as moral relativism; and I also think that the effect of this presentation does tend to produce the impression that the author is passing a positive judgment. I'm thinking especially of the way journalists sometimes want to get "both sides" of a scientific argument, so on "one side" they present the consensus of almost the entire scientific world and on the "other side" they present the view of someone who's considered to be a crackpot. That's based on the journalistic idea that you cover all sides of the debate, but sometimes that doesn't make sense and the readers end up with, in essence, false information.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Susan Marie Groppi

  • Susan Marie Groppi is a historian and an editor, currently living in Berkeley, California.


  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Susan Groppi. Make your own badge here.
Blog powered by Typepad