The Mountain Meadows Massacre may have happened 150 years ago, but there are still important lessons we can learn about it today, actor Jon Voight explained last night. During an intimate dinner in the back room of Teatro Goldoni, Voight held forth on religious fanaticism in the past and present—and why we must disavow both.
As he and a small group of journalists and Washington power players dined on a special dinner of rockfish and lobster risotto prepared by Teatro chef Fabrizio Aielli, Voight talked passionately about his new movie, September Dawn, which chronicles the 1857 massacre in southern Utah of more than 100 Westward-bound Christian settlers by members of the Mormon Church who posed as Indians. It's still under dispute whether Mormon leader Brigham Young had any complicity in the attack, although Voight says his research led him to believe that Young was involved.
There's a lot we can learn from the movie about the critical need to combat religious fanaticism and its dangers everywhere in the world, Voight said, drawing a direct comparison between the ideology that led the Mormons to kill the Christian settlers in 1857 and the breed of radical and deadly Islam that the western world is confronting now.
While acknowledging that the Mormon Church today is far different than it was in 1857, Voight said that he believed that it was important for the Church to recognize the horrors committed in its name at Mountain Meadows and come clean, as some nations have apologized for their past involvement in the slave trade and Germany has made war reparations. "This is important stuff," he said.
The movie comes at an awkward time for the 2008 presidential race, as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the first Mormon to run for President, tries to educate voters about about his religion and its history and tries to win the support of Christian evangelicals. The only major pop culture Mormon reference point right now is the HBO series Big Love, which chronicles the daily lives of a modern fundamentalist polygamist family in Utah. Voight said that he hopes to get the opportunity to discuss his movie and the massacre with the candidate.
In Washington as part of the round-the-world filming of the sequel to National Treasure, Voight said he's been keeping busy with the movie, meetings, and casual meals, and said he hopes to get a chance to visit the National Archives, which played a major role in the original National Treasure. He attended the Radio/TV Correspondents Association dinner last week, where he met President Bush and was particularly touched to talk with the daughters of the late NBC correspondent David Bloom, who died while covering the war in Iraq in 2003. The Catholic actor also visited with religious scholar George Weigel, whose biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, was a big influence on Voight's portrayal of the pontiff in the TV movie Pope John Paul II.