This diary is in response to some comments made in a brief diary I wrote called “Mormon Church Statement on Utah Ruling.”
That diary was a very brief post giving the church’s statement and my initial and hasty reaction to their hypocrisy. It was brief because my reaction was quick and fairly succinct and because the news was happening quickly. I wanted to get the statement out quickly as the news was happening and to get back to following the developments.
Most of the few comments agreed with my reaction. But one, from a Mormon, specifically made the case that Mormons aren't bad people.
I belatedly responded to part of that comment. But I think it brings up a topic that deserves to be explored more fully.
Specifically: All the Mormons I know (and that most people know) are good, kind hearted folks. How can they be such assholes when it comes to certain things?
I address that question beneath the Orange Squiggle of Doom. It's lengthy. But I'll try to break it up so that it's easily skimmed. (Yeah, I'm a skimmer. I try to support my fellow skimmers as much as possible.)
How This Diary Will Progress
To address the subject at hand, you have to understand a bit about Mormons and the Mormon Church. I'll try to give quick introductions to the main points, headed by nice headings, so the outline will be apparent. I will also try to provide links as appropriate. But most of this is from memory, so if you have questions google it.
This diary quickly grew out of hand. But everything in it needed to be said to explain my conclusion. Feel free to skip to the end.
Who Am I and What Do I Know?
I consider myself an atheist and recovering fundamentalist Christian.
Many of my family are members of the Mormon Church. Converts on my side. Descendants of early, polygamist Mormons on my wife's side.
We live a in area with more than it's share of Mormons and so many of my friends and acceptances are also Mormons.
I have held a bizarre fascination with the church since encountering it in my youth. In an effort to understand and relate to these folks, I've read all of their scripture multiple times. I've read many of the sermons by their General Authorities. I've attended their local services and sat through more than a fair share of their Sunday School classes. I've watched several of their biannual conferences on television. I've traveled to Salt Lake to attend a couple of their conferences. I've shaken the hand of a handful of their apostles. I've read many books by and about the church. And I have asked questions of many Mormons, both conservative and liberal.
I have come to the conclusion that Mormons are, for the most part, good, kind hearted people — even if their beliefs are a bit out there. In short, they are the Mr. Peanut of religious folks — polite, well dressed, well behaved nuts. And being nuts, they see themselves as perfectly normal.
(I should note, as a recovering fundamentalist, I now see much of what I used to vehemently profess as "nuts" as well. So it's a category in which I place myself in some regards.)
I like to think I offer an honest, sometimes critical, sometimes sympathetic, view of the church and its people.
Who Are the Mormons?
The Mormon church was begun in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who members consider a prophet. Like any good faith, it has split into many factions. All of them are small. Most of them are very small. The largest, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church, boasts nearly 15 million members worldwide and claims 99% of all people claiming to be Mormons.
It is this largest group that most people think of as Mormons, although people easily confuse it with other groups when polygamy hits the news — the LDS Church formally discontinued polygamy in 1890. Although some Mormons continued the practice after that date. Many of the splinter groups originally splintered as a result.
Founding of the Church
While many of the "facts" of the founding of the faith can (rightly) be disputed, I will confine myself to the official history of the church. We are trying to understand them after all and will leave debunking to others.
Followers believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet called by God to restore the one true gospel and church of Jesus Christ to the earth. Highlights of that restoration are as follows:
In 1820, at the age of 14, Joseph Smith prayed to God to find out what church to join. To his amazement, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him all the churches on earth were wrong (Joseph Smith — History 1:18-19.)
In 1823 an angel named Moroni appeared to Smith. Moroni was a resurrected prophet to the ancient Hebrew inhabitants of the Americas. Moroni told Smith of the record of his people, engraved on gold plates and hidden near Smith's home (Joseph Smith — History 1:29-49.)
In 1827 Smith is given permission by Moroni to retrieve the gold plates from their hiding place and begin translating the book from "reformed Egyptian" into English (Joseph Smith — History 1:59.)
In 1830 the first edition of the Book of Mormon is publish ("From a Book Coming Forth").
Also in 1830 Smith would formally organize the church with Smith as its official "prophet, seer, and revelator." The church tried a couple of different names before settling on "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
The Mormon church follows a pattern used by many successful sects (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.): Start with an existing tradition, add to it a new leader (prophet, messiah, etc.) and new scripture.
For Mormonism, the existing tradition is Christianity. The prophet, Joseph Smith and his successors. And the new scripture, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
The church considers the following to be canonical scripture ("The Standard Works"):
The King James Version of the Bible
The Book of Mormon — The Book of Mormon was translated from gold plates by Joseph Smith. It contains the record of two peoples who came to inhabit the ancient Americas. The first (chronologically, inserted late in the book) are the Jaredites. This is one of the groups scattered by the Lord after the Tower of Babel which made its way to the Americas. The group was completely destroyed by war, but left a record (again on plates) that was found by the second group. The second group, the Nephites, were Hebrews who left Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity. Their story makes up the bulk of the book. In the end, they too are destroyed by war (about 400 C.E.). Both groups had prophets who received and taught the true gospel of Jesus Christ (even thousands of years before His birth). And the book is a mixture of accounts of the wars of the people and the teachings of their prophets. The highlight is the visit of Jesus Christ, after his crucifixion and resurrection. The final prophet in the book is Moroni. The same Moroni who appeared to Smith and lead him to the plates.
The Doctrine and Covenants — This is a collection of revelations given mostly to Joseph Smith on governing the church and most are written in the Lord's voice ("Behold, I say unto you, that as my servant Martin Harris has desired a witness at my hand, that you, my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., have got the plates of which you have testified and borne record that you have received of me;...") To Smith's revelations are added: An announcement of the death of Smith by church leaders, a revelation given to Brigham Young, a vision given to Joseph F. Smith (a succeeding prophet), and the official declarations discontinuing polygamy and extending the priesthood to those of African descent.
The Pearl of Great Price — This is an eclectic collection of writings by Joseph Smith, which didn't fit well into the Doctrine and Covenants. The Book of Moses, the first eight chapters of Smith's inspired "translation" of the Bible (more on that in a bit). The Book of Abraham, the translation by Smith of an Egyptian papyrus written by the hand of the patriarch. Joseph Smith – Matthew, the last chapter of Matthew also from Smith's translation of the Bible. Joseph Smith – History, Smith's own account of the events leading the creation of the church from his First Vision to translating the Book of Mormon to receiving the priesthood at the hand of John the Baptist (now a resurrected being). And the Articles of Faith, the thirteen defining doctrines of the church.
In addition to these standard works, Smith created an "inspired translation" of the Bible. Basically, Smith went through the King James Bible of his day editing it to correct inconsistencies and to bring it in line with Mormon theology. Most of it are minor corrections or additions. For example Matthew 7:1 reads
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.The Joseph Smith Translation reads
2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.In addition to the many minor changes, a few large swaths of wholly new material were added by Smith, including those sections mentioned in the Pearl of Great Price.
Smith never completed the work and when he died the manuscript found its way to The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now The Community of Christ) — the second largest group of Mormons who stayed in Missouri. For that reason, the work became cannon to the smaller group but not the larger. The Smith version of the Bible is referred to as "The Inspired Version" by the Missouri church, while the Salt Lake sect calls it the "Joseph Smith Translation."
Relocations of the Church
From the beginning of the church well into the Utah period, converts of the church were called to "gather to Zion", i.e. pick up and move to where the church was headquartered. The result was that wherever Smith was, increasing numbers followed. Much of the following is taken from the church's website.
New York, 1830 — Joseph Smith was raised in New York state and the translation of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the church took place in towns and villages near his childhood home.
Kirtland, Ohio, 1830-38 — Sidney Rigdon was an early convert to the Mormon church and rose quickly to leadership. Prior he had been a Baptist minister with a congregation near Kirtland, Ohio. Rigdon had prophesied to his congregation that new revelations were about to come from God, restoring the fullness of the gospel. This congregation became an early target for conversion, and Smith moved the church to Kirtland to take advantage of the situation.
Missouri, 1838-9 — Smith had started a bank in Kirkland which issued its own currency. When the bank and currency failed upsetting the locals, Smith relocated the church to Missouri. Smith had recently received revelations saying not only was Missouri the location of the Garden of Eden, but the future center of Christ's earthly reign during the Millennium.
Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839-46 — The Mormons flooding into Missouri were mostly Northerners and Europeans which didn't sit well in a pre-Civil War slave state fearing an invasion of abolitionists. The Mormons were asked to leave, and Smith relocated northward to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Salt Lake City 1847-present — The church's influence grew significantly in Nauvoo but the church was not without detractors. In 1844 Smith ordered the destruction of a newspaper which was often unflattering of the church. Many folks weren't happy with this blatant show of force, and asked Smith and his brother to please leave the planet. After his death, pressure continued to mount for the rest of the Mormons to leave as well. And in 1847 Brigham Young, the new leader of the largest group of Mormons, moved them to Mexico to found a new city, Salt Lake City, where the church remains headquartered to this day.
This history is vital in understanding our Mormon neighbors. In each of these moves anti-Mormon sentiment was strong. People were tarred and feathered. Smith was jailed multiple times, in multiple jurisdictions, on multiple charges and eventually martyred. Houses and businesses were burned. Leading, eventually, to the congregation leaving the United States altogether and settling in the Utah desert, then in Mexico.
Add to this the Utah War and the faith being forced to give up polygamy and you have a strong foundation for a deep persecution complex. While fundamentalist Christians excel with their own persecution complex, Mormons have raised it to an art form.
At the head of the church is the First Presidency, consisting of a president and two (or more) counselors. Directly beneath them is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each of these men is considered to be a "prophet, seer, and revelator."
As an aside, take a look at these and the other top leadership of the church and see if you can find any patterns.
This too is vital to understanding Mormons. Their leaders are prophets of God. They are seers. And they are revelators. How often will a follower speak or act out against a leader he/she believes to the a prophet of God? Are they even allowed to?
Conditioned to Obey
Every Mormon household is supposed to be visited monthly by "home teachers" (previously called "ward teachers"). The First Presidency publishes a message each month which is to be the message carried into each home. The following is one of these messages. Please read it slowly, carefully. Read every word. Read it twice.
Any Latter-day Saint [Mormon] who denounces or opposes whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the prophets, seers, revelators’ of the church, is cultivating the spirit of apostasy. One cannot speak evil of the lord’s anointed… and retain the holy spirit in his heart. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it to believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the church to speak against their leaders and to do their own thinking.
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.
– Ward Teachers Message, Deseret News, Church Section p. 5, May 26, 1945
Back to the Question
Which brings us back to our original question and the reason for this diary:
All the Mormons I know (and that most people know) are good, kind hearted folks. How can they be such assholes when it comes to certain things?So here we have our Mormon neighbors, friends and family. Nice people. Good people. Honest, hard working, endearing folk. People who will stop by with a casserole when you're sick or a batch of cookies just because. People who run scout camps and show up in droves with needed hands and supplies when a natural disaster strikes. Well groomed, nicely dress, and overly polite.
How do we get from the people we know to people who contribute millions of dollars and man hours to oppressing their brothers and sisters?
The problem is they don't think. If their church has a position on something, "the thinking has been done." They somehow shut down the reasoning part of their brain and blindly follow the "Authorities."
They forget about the nice couple down the street who moved into that shack of a place 15 years ago, fixed it up, planted a flower garden, brought the grass back to life, and have been at every community event and fund raiser, offering their support when they got precious little in return.
They forget the boy at school who hung himself when he could no longer bear to live with his "sin."
They forget the girl who ran away when her parents began to suspect who she is and who hasn't been heard from since.
They forget the many sons and daughters who simply moved away as soon as they were old enough. Moved to San Francisco, New York, Boston and Seattle. Sons and daughters who never seem to marry.
They follow their leaders. Period. Full Stop.
Those that question are cowed into silence. "Be quiet and be faithful and one day you'll understand God's will."
And so, without thought or empathy for their fellow man, they do as they are told. They believe the horrible things said in the Name of God. They become bigots without knowing it. They do evil and call it good. And when you call them on it, they become the persecuted People of God.
The insidiousness of it all makes me sick.
I'm going to go ahead and publish this now (Saturday night). I'll respond to comments in the morning.