Failing the challenge: Maddow among the Amish!


Who qualifies as a bigot: We take back everything we’ve ever said about the nation’s professors.

This morning, a professor from Ashland University in Ohio writes a fascinating op-ed piece in the New York Times. On the surface, his piece concerns schisms among the Ohio Amish.

In fact, his piece is really about the way we humans love to hate other groups.

Joe Mackall writes about the way “the English” enjoy disliking the Amish. More memorably, he writes about the way the Amish in southern Ohio split up into rival camps and then enjoy hating each other.

According to Mackall, the most conservative of these groups is wonderfully called the Swartzentrubers. Mackall describes the way the different groups arrange to dislike each other. Just last week, these schisms led to some widely-discussed assaults:
MACKALL (10/21/11): Schisms and splinter groups are prevalent among the Amish that I know. Mr. Stutzman’s neighbor, Mr. Gingerich, also a Swartzentruber, recently broke off from Mr. Stutzman’s group over the issue of adding a second lantern to buggies. Mr. Gingerich is set to move to Maine later this month to start his own settlement.

All Amish seem to fall into the trap of believing their way is the true Amish way. The Swartzentrubers believe that the more liberal Old Order groups and the even more liberal New Order groups live dangerously close to the modern world, a world from which all Amish are to remain separate. The more liberal orders deride Swartzentrubers for taking baths only on Saturdays, and they call them gruddel vullahs (or “woolly lumps”) for getting cows’ milk in their beards. So it comes as no surprise that the attacks in Bergholz, which included the forced cutting of hair, were the work of a splinter group that believed somebody had betrayed the true cause, if the attacks can be credited with such lofty motives.
Routinely, comedians find an easy target in the ways of the Amish. These days, the Mormons are getting ridiculed too. This brings us back to the New York Times—and to Rachel Maddow, who failed a test called The Maddow Challenge on her eponymous TV program in the past two nights.

Two weeks ago, a southern preacher named Robert Jeffress stated his views on Mormons and Mormonism. “I believe Mormons are good people,” he said. Repeatedly, he described Mitt Romney as “a good moral person.” He said he will vote for Romney next fall if he’s the GOP nominee against Obama.

But Jeffress also said that he doesn’t think Mormons are Christians. With regard to the general way he votes, he said he would “prefer competent Christians to competent non-Christians.” He also said Mormonism is a “cult,” although he stressed that he didn’t mean the type of “sociological cult” one might associate with settlements like Jonestown. (He said he thinks Mormonism is a “theological cult.” He explained what he means by that term.)

On her eponymous program, Maddow described this conduct as “bigotry.” She thundered as she did, displaying her standard vast confidence. This set her up for The Maddow Challenge, which we incomparably issued this past Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, Maureen Dowd wrote a typically unfortunate column about Mitt Romney’s religion. (For our previous post, click here.) Jeffress had gone out of his way to say nice things about Mormons in general, and about Romney in particular. Dowd provided no such courtesies. It’s impossible to imagine such a column appearing in the New York Times about a Catholic candidate for the White House—or about a Jewish candidate, or about a Muslim. Dowd was openly insulting about Mormon practice and belief. She made little attempt to show how her ruminations related to Romney’s candidacy.

Dowd is always a world-class ninny. But in two separate parts of this column, she groped about in this place:
DOWD (10/19/11): As for the special garment that Mitt wears, ''we wouldn't say 'magic underwear,' '' Bushman explains.

It is meant to denote ''moral protection,'' a sign that they are ''a consecrated people like the priests of ancient Israel.''

And it's not only a one-piece any more. ''There's a two-piece now,'' he said.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! In fairness, Dowd has groped so many pols in the past dozen years, she may have felt she had to go there. (She also likes to grope and insult their wives—as long as they’re Democrats. This includes Howard Dean's wife, who was much too mousy, and Barack Obama's wife, who was big, bossy and black.)

Maureen Dowd felt that she had to go there. But please understand: To Dowd, this special garment is comical, strange. Meanwhile, people of her own Catholic faith will often wear a pendant showing a person who is being tortured to death by dint of being nailed to a cross.

To a disordered mind like Dowd’s, the one adornment calls for groping. The other makes perfect sense.

As we’ve said, the fact that Dowd is a press corps icon is a deeply remarkable fact about this nation’s failing upper-end culture. The fact that “liberals” have widely accepted her reign means that we simply aren’t smart enough to create a political movement.

Our intelligence can’t be insulted; Maureen Dowd has proved it. That said, we asked a question on Wednesday morning: If Robert Jeffress is a “bigot,” why isn’t Dowd a bigot as well? Incomparably, we posed The Maddow Challenge:

Will Rachel Maddow denounce Columnist Dowd, as she denounced Pastor Jeffress?

Obviously, Maddow has done no such thing. This helps us answer a basic question: Who qualifies as a bigot?

The answer is fairly obvious: Exclusively, bigots are found in the other tribe. In Maddow’s world, Jeffress is a southern white conservative who is supporting Rick Perry. By definition, this qualifies him as a bigot. Pleasure is gained when Sister Rachel denounces him before her own congregation, which is every bit as tribal as any group Jeffress has led.

Dowd of course is a whole different story. It doesn’t matter what Dowd says or does. She comes from Maddow’s tribe!

“All Amish seem to fall into the trap of believing their way is the true Amish way.” Maddow’s tribal mind works that way too. She maintains an arsenal of B-bombs. But they’re only used against “those people,” the ones in that other tribe.

A note on the comments to Dowd: It’s interesting to note how few of Dowd’s regular readers seemed to see a problem with her Mormon-mocking column. A certain contingent said all religions are equally dumb. But even they didn’t seem troubled by the way she had singled out one.

Later in the day, more commenters posted complaints. We’ll guess that they heard about the column somewhere—that they may not have been regular readers.

Those comments are well worth reading. It’s instructive to see how many lofty New York Times readers had no problem whatsoever with the things Dowd wrote. Meanwhile, some Mormons said Dowd was clueless about various aspects of Mormonism. Given Dowd’s persistent clownishness, we’ll assume they’re probably right.

We’ll offer two comments from the first day. We thought each comment was on-target. The first is short but sweet:
COMMENT 190: It surprises me that Dowd would write this. It also surprises me that none of the comments, which strike me as unusually perceptive and thoughtful, have called her on it. The fact is that this article is blatantly bigoted. Dowd would never write this kind of shallow, catty, sensationalized, twisted piece about Catholicism, or Judaism, or Protestantism, or Hinduism, etc. But somehow Mormonism brings out the bigot in her. Why is that, Ms. Dowd? You owe the world an explanation, and you owe the Mormons an apology.

On the other hand, I suppose I'm puffing hot air. I see little evidence that any of the writers here or elsewhere ever read comments on their work.
We wouldn’t drop that B-bomb ourselves. We do think Dowd’s column came as close to outright bigotry as anything you’ll ever read in the Times. And we agree with the writer—it was striking to see how few of Dowd’s commenters were troubled in any way by her insulting, irrelevant remarks.

The next commenter made some strong points—though he shared a naivete with Commenter 190:
COMMENT 262: I must admit that even as a sometime critic of religious orthodoxy, I found Ms. Dowd's comments about Mormonism distasteful. A segment of our population will disqualify Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman for office because of the faith they inherited from their parents, and that is also distasteful. How Mormonism informs policy choices to be made by one seeking office is fair game, it would seem. That analysis was notably absent from this editorial.

There is so much to criticize in the public life of Mitt Romney, from his work at Bain to his plasticity of principle in Massachusetts, to his feckless politics. Why then, take the lazy way out and write about his religion, without connecting it to his worldview or his platform?

I would be troubled to read public criticism of Ms. Dowd's religion, whatever it might be, unbalanced by mention of what good it has brought to the world.

Making fun of Mormon beliefs might be easy, but I daresay you don't get to be an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times by going for the easy laugh that doesn't inform. Or maybe, these days, you do.
As with Commenter 190, Commenter 262 was surprised to find such lazy work being done by a Times columnist. In fact, garbage like this virtually defines the work of this upper-class newspaper.

Come back later to see Collins discuss that dog on the roof of that car.

Such garbage defines the work of this paper. It’s a major failure of the “liberal world” that intelligent people like these commenters still haven’t heard this said.


  1. She can say it about mormonism because it's such a new religion that it's easy for someone with even a 3rd grade history education to see that it is completely fabricated.

    At least Christianity has the excuse of its history being 2000+ years old. Mormon scriptural history, being much more recent, is demonstrably false on its face.

    Seriously, is Bob actually saying all religions should be treated equally in the public sphere? Does he believe all ideas should be given equal weight too? Isn't that the journalistic relativism we have been railing against for years?

  2. I don't think the a person who doesn't regard Mormonism as Christianity is a bigot. However, Jeffers and the SBC can try and change the word "cult" to mean what they want it to, but that isn't what it means to most people when they hear the word. I don't know if there use of the word "cult" is poor word choice, or something more sinister, but it doesn't make it any better.

    I would be interested in someone asking Jeffers why he thinks voting for an evangelical Christian is more desirable than an equally qualified candidate who share similar views. I think that is bigotry, and very uncharacteristic of traditional Baptist beliefs.

    Having said that, Dowd's column still stinks.

  3. I don't think that people need to go in the "Well, what if someone said that Dowd's religion is a cult and called it weird?" It happens all the time. There was a time when people thought drinking wine and eating bread but thinking that those things are a god's body was weird. Or that throwing water on your face and performing a ceremony in a language you don't know is weird. Or that explaining all the bad things you do each week to a pedophile in a little booth is weird. Etc.

    And there are plenty of Protestants who don't think Catholicism is a form of Christianity.

    So maybe Dowd is going to the "Someone once called my religion weird and now I'll take it out on someone else" route? I think that's Bill Maher's position, as he recently talked about how he was bullied as a child and now he bullies people on TV.

    Or maybe she just didn't know how to fill up a column. It's not like she has real opinions like Maher does.

  4. @snaporaz: Maybe because religion is about something bigger than factually true or false stories? Maybe because there are ways of understanding truth that are more enigmatic than "X happened and we can prove it," and the entire point of religion is to get at those truths?

    Just because Catholicism and Protestantism are older doesn't mean they should be judged by a different, lighter standard. There's plenty of reason to believe that the Bible isn't truth with a lowercase t.

    The argument that it's OK to make fun of Mormonism because it's "more obviously" a fraud is itself a fraud, a justification for making fun of one set of beliefs but not another that isn't based in fact.

    Now, religious fundamentalists like to say that their religion is meant to be truth with a lowercase t, but I don't see why the rest of us have to buy into that.

  5. what does mo have to do to finally be committed, start gnawing on the furniture and foaming at the mouth? i exhibit no surprise at her recent column, because she's been doing the same for the past 20 odd years.

    mo, the pulitzer committee called, they want their prize (and reputation) back.

  6. Mormonism is a weird form of Christianity, whether you come from a Protestant or Catholic background. Mormonism is just as weird as Protestantism or Catholicism if you're not a believer. Although I could be wrong, I have a feeling that most people, all three of them, commenting on this blog are either not believers or are very particular in their theological beliefs.

    Apparently as this point in our society a "bigot" is someone who wants the world to be as they believe it is. The individual is the locus of control in their own life. We have to remember that the opposite of that is that without "bigotry" the locus of control is external, meaning that others get to dictate what the world is to an individual. Is this what freedom loving liberals and libertarians ultimately want? By forcing individuals to give up their own concept of what the world should be like, they are ultimately defeating themselves and giving up control to larger and more powerful forces.

  7. In a way, the essence of liberalism is knowing that your opinions are that -- your own opinions.

    Hence liberty, equality, brotherhood, democracy.

    I believe bigotry means intolerance of other opinions. So you're right sometimes, it does seem to me Mr Lloyd, that it can seem to make the liberal weaker, by allowing bull headed bigots the field.

    Still, a liberal can't refuse to take his own side in an argument.

    But his argument is: liberty, equality, brotherhood, and the rule of law.

  8. Just found your blog and think your point of view is great.

    I was searching for Amish and bigotry. I work for a company that contracts with a warehouse facility in the northeast that has a staff. When detailed work needs to be done the prevailing wisdom is to hire the Amish as a cheap work force. (an Amish owned company)

    I have seen emails from the U.K. talking about "the Amish." Am I being too sensitive? I am originally from the deep south and grew up with segregation. I can even remember the signs on water fountains and in public buses.

    I can't imagine that I would see emails that say "the orthodox Jews" even if it was a company owned and staffed by orthodox Jews.

    Am I beign too sensitve?