The Ethical Dilemma: One of My Favorite Writers Is a Bigoted Mormon!

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Religious Writes: I’ve always identified as agnostic, although I do have atheist and antitheist leanings. As with anyone who has thought critically about their beliefs, it’s more complicated than a label. That being said, I’ve found that I have a problem reading books from writers who are very open, and sometimes even pushy, about their religious beliefs. I think it came to a head when revelations of Orson Scott Card’s words against the LGBTQ community came to light. The way he vehemently expressed his views bothered and disturbed me. I couldn’t look at his writings the same way anymore. It seemed like everything he was writing was just another way of spreading Mormonism and, indeed, hate.

When I discovered that some of my other favorite writers were Mormon, I found myself not wanting to read their books anymore. I’ve fought with myself for quite a while over my own bigotry. On the one hand, I really enjoy their stories. On the other, I don’t want to experience the old bait-and-switch, thinking I’m getting a science fiction or fantasy story but then discovering that it’s religion in disguise. There are times in the stories when, as a reader, I can tell that certain beliefs are the character’s, and other times (probably during exposition) it’s obvious that it’s the writer coming through to deliver a blatant moral judgment.

I wanted to get your take on this. I don’t want to judge a book by its author’s religious beliefs, but I’ve felt betrayed by them in the past. I also don’t want to be a bigot.

—Wary Of Subliminal Messages

Dear Wary,

I just Googled Orson Scott Card and learned that he’s a great-great grandson of Brigham Young! So it shouldn’t come as a shock that he’s a card-carrying member of the LDS Church. And sci-fi is a genre particularly prone to conveying authors’ opinions of what constitutes utopian or dystopian universes. L. Ron Hubbard was a successful sci-fi writer before he decided religion was an even better business and founded Scientology.

The fact that you are now on guard against hidden agendas and biases in what you read suggests you are becoming well-armed against them. We all need to bear in mind that there may be conscious or unconscious slants in every form of expression, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, newspaper reports, TV news, films, paintings, cartoons, etc.

We can’t avoid tinted viewpoints, nor should we try. Certainly, once you realize a favorite author is always trying to sell something you don’t want to buy, you may no longer enjoy his or her books—even the ones you once liked. But remember that everyone is human, and everyone was raised with particular perspectives that will manifest in their work. It’s not a good or bad thing, just a fact of life. I loved the first Narnia movie before I knew anything about C.S. Lewis, and even once I did, I didn’t particularly recognize the lion as a Jesus figure. I could still enjoy the film as a fantasy about kids who discover a portal through an old piece of furniture into another world that had cool special effects and Tilda Swinton.

I also believe there’s a place for reading works like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf  or for checking out what various modern hatemongers and scam artists are saying. We need to be aware of what’s out there and what may be influencing people (including ourselves) if we hope to protect our rights, advance ideas we support, and counter those we disagree with.

If you shun all artists with religious backgrounds, you’ll have to turn your back on most art since cave paintings. But why would you want to do that? Religions and other schools of thought (capitalism, communism, libertarianism, hedonism, etc.) are part of the rich fabric that comprises the human experience. To be a member of society, it’s good to be conversant with diverse viewpoints, whether or not you agree with them. Living in a bubble is dangerous, no matter how nice the bubble may be. Just as I maintain that atheists have a duty to be informed about religions and their followers (in other words, world history and politics and most of the people inhabiting the planet), I say there’s something to be gained by reading authors whose philosophies may diverge from one’s own. How can you intelligently formulate what you do and don’t agree with unless you contemplate a broad spectrum of arguments with an open mind?

So be aware, but don’t torture yourself, about where authors are really coming from and what ax they may be grinding. Ideas aren’t Ebola. They are more like the gazillion bacteria and viruses we encounter everywhere every day. Yes, they can be contagious and infectious, but many are beneficial, and the more we learn and explore, the more we develop resistance to anything that could be false or harmful. Literature and other media can be approached on many levels, from casual entertainment to guidelines for how to live. Follow your interests and inclinations as they evolve (perhaps you’ve had your fill of Mormon authors for a while), and just keep learning and enjoying.