Saturday, July 17, 2010

Complete Mor(m)ons

Some years ago, while I was still in the Air Force and stationed in Wyoming, the base got a Mormon chaplain. Now, the military has had Mormons in the chaplaincy since 1917 when three Mormons, including Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy, were appointed. But they aren't real common.

And since my wife was working in the chapel at the time, I got to see the reaction of the other chaplains to this guy. I'd never really paid attention before, but apparently, certain flavors of Christianity believe that the Mormons don't qualify as Christian.

So I looked into it. And, you know, with just a little research, you can pretty much see what they mean. In fact, some of their more off-the-wall beliefs start to sound a lot like Scientology.

The Mormons belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, or LDS for short ("Mormon" comes from their earliest religious text, the Book of Mormon). The LDS have some good beliefs: the healthy lifestyle (no alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea - except herbal tea), the much mellower attitude toward strangeness - although they have damned little acceptance of outsiders, they do make some of the best neighbors of any "true believer," after Wiccans.

But you pretty quickly get into weird ground. There's the spiritual aspects: the pre-birth life, the ability to have spirit children in one of the three heavens (the Celestial kingdom, the Terrestrial kingdom and the Telestial kingdom). But they believe that all other modern Christian faiths have departed from true Christianity, and the LDS church is a restoration of 1st century Christianity and the only true and authorized Christian church.

They have a doctrine called "exaltation" which (as stated in the Doctrine & Covenants 132:20) allows true followers to become gods in the afterlife.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
They also believe that God (Elohim) lives with his many wives on a planet (or by a star) named Kolob, God wants you to wear special underpants, and Joseph Smith really did not want to start polygamy, but a powerful angel with a sword threatened him and made him do it.

There's basic structural changes to how the Earth was formed: apparently, Elohim wanted to build Earth to give his billions of "spirit children" real bodies. His two oldest sons, Jesus and Lucifer, offered plans on how to do this. Elohim went with Jesus' plan, and Lucifer got angry and started a big war between the spirit children. After this war, any spirits that had stayed neutral were cursed to be born with black skin. (Hence the long-standing racism in the church.)

Elohim and one of his wives came to Earth as Adam and Eve and had a buttload of kids. Centuries later, Elohim left Kolob again to have sex with the Virgin Mary, to give a body to Jesus. Jesus took three wives (Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene), and had a bunch of kids with them (and, of course, Joseph Smith was one of the descendants of Jesus).

After His resurrection, Jesus came to the Americas to preach to the Indians, who the LDS believe are really Israelites. In fact, according to Prophet Spencer W. Kimball in 1960 (and the words of a Mormon prophet on church business become canon law), as they convert to Mormonism, Native Americans skin lightens to a more Caucasian hue.

Yes, that's right. It turns out that Mel Brooks was divinely inspired by Elohim.

Which, of course, brings us to the story of Joseph Smith himself. In 1820, Joseph Smith said he had his first vision, which he said was God telling him that all of his sins were forgiven, and that all other churches were false. (You know, like he'd told Mohammed that all churches were false over twelve centuries earlier. It's weird how many people claim that God tells them this.) Smith made his living by putting a rock in his hat (calling it a "seer stone") and claiming that it would lead him to buried treasure. And then a few years after his first vision, an angel named Moroni showed him where to find a breastplate fitted with two "seer stones" (we'll just call them his "magic glasses") and some golden plates inscribed with the story of those Jewish Native Americans I mentioned before.

After being unable to bring back the plates from where they were buried, because apparently he was using the wrong helpers, he finally got the plates and locked them in a box, because the angel told him that nobody else should see them (and that didn't sound suspicious at all). But the magic spectacles would let him translate them, and write them out in book form, and he could publish the books. (He made some of the later translations by sticking a rock in his hat again, but who among us hasn't misplaced their glasses, right?)

It's weird that nobody has ever found evidence of a gold mine used by the indigenous people of North America, particularly not in the New York or Pennsylvania areas where Smith was living at the time.

Smith was mostly illiterate (education being what it was then) - he could read some, but really couldn't write. So he had to sit in the kitchen on the other side of a blanket (or a screen, or a curtain, depending on the source you read) and dictate, first to his wife, and later to a guy named Harris.

A few years later, Smith had about 118 pages translated, and Harris lost the first translation (let's call it a "rough draft"), the angel took the plates away, and Smith lost the ability to read words from a rock in his hat. Until a few months after that, when he magically got the ability back, and God gave him a new set of plates, so that Smith could to rewrite the story - it had to be changed, of course, because the first draft might be in the hands of Satan by now.

(An uncharitable reading of the events of those days might be that Harris' wife, tired of her husband getting conned, took the pages and hid them, saying that God could just dictate them again and they'd be exactly the same; so Smith had to come up with a cover story to work around that. But we aren't uncharitable people, are we?)

So there Smith sat, dictating to some scribe or another. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!") From words he could see on a rock. In his hat. Which came from plates that God had recalled and replaced. (Maybe Smith hadn't been making payments - gold plates cost money, after all...)

So Smith gradually had the translations written out again, and set up his church. Of course, since people might not believe in plates that had been returned to heaven, Smith had eleven followers write statements saying that they'd seen, or even touched, the plates. The plates that the angel Moroni had said that nobody but Smith could ever see. (Maybe that's why God took them back! Hey, I think we've solved a mystery here!)

Weirdly, God couldn't be bothered to create a better story than he'd used before - he cribbed widely, from the New Testament, the Old Testament, and even from a crackpot book called View of the Hebrews: A History of the Ten Tribes in America, which claimed, yes, that the Native Americans were really Jews. (God as plagiarist; what the hell, right? But it had worked for Mohammed centuries earlier.)

Some years later, after escaping from the law in Ohio on charges of banking fraud, possibly marrying (or possibly just screwing) a 15-year-old named Fanny Alger, marrying several dozen other women and then claiming (since it was illegal) that he'd never supported polygamy, starting the Mormon War of 1838 in Missouri, bribing a sheriff to escape from jail, mobilizing the Mormon Nauwoo Legion to quell uprisings in the church (they later surrendered to the state militia), and finally going to jail and getting shot by unknown assailants, Smith died.

Today, the Mormons have almost nineteen million members worldwide, with at least 46 different schismatic versions of the religion still remaining, and at least 25 defunct, dissolved, or deceased sects fading into history.

But on reflection, I guess I can see where Mormonism doesn't really fit in with the more "standard" versions of Christianity.


Nohm said...

Hi NC.

Didn't really know where to put this, as your blog doesn't have an email address, but if you'd like to see a history of some people's opinions (mine included) on Stone The Preacher (aka Steve), please check out

If you'd like to join the community, please do.

The Real World said...

And hey! In other non-mormon news, looks like you got name-dropped last month in a blog called "Coffee Talk." and I think you rocked her world