A fascinating book about the Mormons and other religious groups in the United States is Harold Bloom’s The American Religion. Bloom is an internationally recognized literary critic. What he says about the LDS tradition, Joseph Smith, and the future of the Church, has engendered a wide range of responses. Accordingly, BYU Studies has gathered four discussions of this book, one by an essayist, another by a Mormon philosopher, a third by one of Bloom’s current students, and a fourth by a physicist.
Eugene England adopts without reservation Bloom’s postmodern notion that it is never possible to perfectly interpret a text or the ideas of another person. Every interpretation is but a “misreading”—either “strong,” meaning going beyond and expanding upon what was originally said or written, or “weak,” in that what is said about the initial insight is distorted or perverted. According to England, Bloom’s “misreadings” are on the whole “strong,” getting Joseph Smith’s teachings and Mormonism’s orientation within the canopy of religions in America basically right. Englands’s focus is on what many believe is Bloom’s major point—that the American Religion (by which he means mainly Protestant Fundamentalism and, even more so, Mormonism) is becoming, in England’s words, “increasingly conservative, anti-intellectual, powerful, resentful, and repressive of diversity” with all that this foreboding picture portends for the future. While disagreeing with the prophecy, England believes we should nevertheless take warning from Bloom’s assessment of what England believes to be our abandonment of the “social gospel.”
Truman Madsen, on the other hand, refers only in passing to the political agendas of The American Religion, seeing Bloom’s Americanized orientation toward Mormonism as out-of-date. . . .