Critiquing Rob Latham’s Libertarian Invitation to Mormons

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.  Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.     -3 Nephi 11:29-30

One of the first links to pop up after a google search on “Mormon Libertarian” is this article.

The article was written by Rob Latham, a Utah Libertarian.  He recently ran for District Attorney in Salt Lake County.  After having read it, I acknowledge my sympathies with some of the author’s points.  For instance, I do find the ideas of libertarian thought consistent with some teachings of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon regarding agency.  However, I have a few points of disagreement.  For one, I think he misunderstands the quotation from Elder Jensen in a 1998 interview, wherein he stated that “There are just so many reasons I think to have a robust multi-party system going locally and nationally for us.”  He interprets “multi-party” as not just “more than one,” but “more than two.”  I grant that as a possibility, but judging from the tenor and content of the interview, it is far more likely Elder Jensen is referring to the dominance of Republicans nationally vs. Democrats, and that the idea of a third or fourth party, while not excluded, is not really discussed here.  Perhaps this it nit-picking.  But I feel it is a misrepresentation of the intent.

A larger issue I have is the dogmatic manipulation (if it is sarcastic I cannot tell) that if one is a Mormon, he should be a libertarian.  This is patently inconsistent with the title of the article, which is “Why It’s OK to be a Mormon and a Libertarian.”  I’m all for discussion as to why Mormonism is consistent with some political tradition.  But he states the following, “Did the Lord let one-third of the Hosts of Heaven choose eternal damnation only to see agency stifled here on earth for the rest of us? If the Doctrine of Agency is central to your beliefs, then you must be a libertarian.”  This is political manipulation, and it is false.

Many active Mormons are Democrats and Republicans.  I’m sure there are Green Party Mormons, too.  And the Constitution Party has a fairly strong following in parts of the Jell-O Belt.  Most party members are not terribly libertarian.  So does that mean that all the rest of Mormons are in some theological error?  That they are sinning or putting their salvation in great peril by joining another political party?

Far from it.  The Church maintains political neutrality, which means that as members, should we disagree politically, even vehemently, we have no right to use such forceful means to bind doctrine inextricably with one political ideology.  Far better to stick with the original idea of the article, that it is OK to be a Mormon and a libertarian, rather than the idea that a faithful Mormon must be a libertarian.  There is some irony that the author uses compulsory means (an anti-libertarian idea) to try and encourage individuals to join the political persuasion of non-compulsion.  If that sounds hypocritical to you, you are not the only one.

Yes, I am a hypocrite, too, for I fall into the same sort of trap.  But I am trying to mend my ways.  Far better to listen and understand with soft dialogue than to engage in harsh demogoguery, such as that which, sad-to-say, often characterizes libertarian expression.  I recall a discussion with a very intense libertarian associate, who called evangelical Christians who support the Republican establishment “war-mongering fascists.”  Such name calling is inaccurate, sloppy, and unbecoming, to put it mildly.  Far better to call them “misguided” or “confused” than the above terminology, or better yet, “They see things differently than I do,” without a harsh value judgment.

No wonder so many are turned off by libertarians.  If the message was presented meekly and optimistically positive rather than belligerently and bitterly negative, I wonder whether the response would differ.  Yes, I understand there is anger and frustration.  But when such is expressed with great zeal, there are often negative, unintended consequences.  Not only does the intended audience not really get the point (certainly not as it was intended it to be received), but the recipient of such vitriol may be turned off from future interactions.  Thus, what could have been the first interaction of many becomes the first and the last.

Far better to enter meekly and mildly, wise like a serpent but harmless as a dove, than like a fire-breathing dragon.  (Fire-breathing dragons are generally anti-social, except amongst themselves.)

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Filed under Libertarian, Mormonism, Personal, politics

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