Religious articles are worn in almost all of the world's religions
Is Religious Bigotry Acceptable, If It's About Underwear?
When was the last time you heard a joke on TV about Jews who wear yarmulkes? Personally, I can't remember ever hearing a joke about yarmulkes, and it would be hard to imagine a mainstream comedian like David Letterman or John Stewart ridiculing Jews for wearing "magic skullcaps." The reason is obvious - to do so would be considered tasteless and anti-Semitic. So, why is it suddenly fashionable and funny to ridicule Mormons for the religious undergarments they wear beneath their street clothes? Could it be because underwear is always funny, even if it targets and offends a specific religion?
Faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons) who are qualified to go to the temple wear religious undergarments. These undergarments are relatively unremarkable in appearance, resembling the typical white t-shirts and boxer-style briefs that many non-Mormons wear. No one really knows what percentage of Mormons actually do wear the undergarments, because, let's face it - we're talking about underwear, here.
We're also talking about religious apparel - clothing or items worn by the rank-and-file members of a religion, and sometimes by the priests of a religion, as a constant reminder of one's faith. Religious apparel and clothing accessories are common to almost every religion on earth. Sometimes, the items are a religious requirement, and sometimes, they are optional. Sometimes, the line becomes blurred over time, and the items become popular even among non-believers.
Jews wear yarmulkes, tzitzit, tallit and tefillin. Catholics wear scapulars, relics, rosaries, habits, vestments, and clerical collars. The Pope wears a funny hat called the Papal Tiara. Sikhs wear various types of turbans. Hindus have their bindi, that little dot on the forehead. Clerical collars are worn by priests of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Apostolic Christian, and Oneness Pentecostal churches, to name just a few. Amish and Mennonite women wear bonnets. Beards or uncut hair are common among many of the world's religions. The list goes on and on.
The common denominator for each of these examples is, they are all outward signs of faith. They are visible to the casual observer, and they set the believer apart from the non-believers that surround them. It says to the non-believer, "I am not like you. I follow my God, and am proud to be who and what I am."
Conversely, a devout Mormon's under-garments are a private expression of his or her faith. It is not meant to be a public statement, but rather, an internal affirmation of faith, and a private token of one's commitment to God.
It is interesting to note that most of America's most popular comedians were raised in religious households, and continue to practice their religions as adults. John Stewart has said in interviews that he was picked on in school for being Jewish. Stephen Colbert is a Roman Catholic. Bill Maher was raised Catholic by his Irish Catholic father and Jewish mother, but as an adult became what he describes as an apatheist. Jay Leno is reportedly a Presbyterian, and Conan O'Brien a Roman Catholic.
As a guest on David Letterman's April 26, 2011 show, comedian Bill Maher accused Mormons of downplaying their peculiarities by saying, "Well, we’re just different types of Christians. No. No, I was raised Catholic,” Maher leaned in and raised an eyebrow, "And there was no magic underwear.”
Magic underwear? While there may be some folk-tales out there concerning a belief in the protective qualities of the garments, a Mormon's under-garments are no more "magic" than a Catholic's crucifix necklace, or a Jew's yarmulke. To suggest otherwise promotes a form of religious bigotry that shouldn't be tolerated simply because it's funny.
There was a time, not so long ago, when racial jokes were considered funny and acceptable, too. But our culture has matured, and that sort of humor is no longer tolerated by most Americans. Perhaps, when it comes to the juxtaposition of religion and underwear, a few of these comedians still have a lot of growing up to do.