Friday morning, a short item played on the radio noting the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard. A high school teacher and former guard was interviewed and spoke of his town’s tradition of providing a large number of young men for that service to the Vatican. An honorable tradition. A tradition from which a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would become removed.
Many object to cultural embellishments being attached to Christ’s gospel. My voice, too, has sounded some of the objections. We don’t want gospel purity obscured. We don’t want unnecessary obstacles impeding those who will embrace it. We don’t want to pointlessly alienate those who don’t fall in step with a dominant style. Those who come out of the world to join Zion are losing part of their old connection with their communities regardless, however, and the more close-knit those communities are, the more the converts lose. They won’t be joining the Swiss Guard. Perhaps the Saints must simply devote themselves to the worship of God and do without various lesser pursuits. Or maybe we lean on a church culture more than we care to admit, and a reticence to recognize and embrace a church culture as such leaves converts with nothing in place of what they’ve lost.
Daniel Lazare wrote for The Nation a worthwhile review of Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century. The review starts by considering the many peoples across the world similar to the Jews: transnational, commercial clans (“Mercurians”) working the interstices of settled, agricultural host nations (“Apollonians”). The unique development for the Jews is that in late 19th Century Europe, the Mercurian qualities that had been the survival strategy for a marginal people dominated civilization for the first time anywhere.
The Mormons have an Apollonian past. Hundreds of thousands gathered to be a people in a place. In a Mercurian world, an Apollonian people could have a unique role, but how can Apollonians establish themselves around the globe as the Mormons currently seek to do? Russell Arben Fox wrote once that there is Spanish Catholicism, French Catholicism, etc., but no global Catholicism, and he expressed the hope that our church could also move in that direction. Even if this is true for Catholicism, it seems not valid for Judaism. A few thousand people embedded among many millions need deep roots to hold a persistent identity, roots held in common with others of their kind in the other nations. Likewise, Mormons are too few almost everywhere to have an identity isolated from Mormonism as a whole. I will refrain from ankle biting the next time Nate Oman yearns for extraneous Mormon culture.