I've seen a lot of references to Money Boo Boo's Mormonism on this site, and in plenty of other liberal communities. And plenty of these were excessively negative, or wrong in some way or another. Wanting to improve our reality based community, I feel it's smart to provide a basic (and accurate) look at the LDS religion, as well as the ways it may shape Romney's views on other things. If I'm wrong about something please feel free to correct me, because I'm not a Mormon and don't know any in real life.
Mormonism was founded, as you probably know, by a guy named Joseph Smith. Back in the early 1800's, Smith and his family were torn between different Protestant denominations. As anyone familiar with Protestantism knows, they have a pretty big tendency to fracture themselves repeatedly and then fight over members. In any case, Smith decided to pray to God for revelation about what the right church was (based his reading of one of the epistles, which states that God may provide wisdom if asked). According to Smith, upon doing so, he received a response. God the Father and Jesus appeared before him and told him that all the branches of Christianity sucked and were terrible.
Smith (then in his teens) shared this experience with his family, as well as other people in the area. According to his account, the local clergy met this sort of thing with scorn, believing that God didn't give people visions anymore, and that Smith's experience was obviously from Satan (I'd be mad too if someone told me that God said my religion was an "abomination").
Some time later, he said that an angel named Moroni visited him, and told him that he had a set of gold plates that had been made a long time ago, which contained a record of ancient people living in America, and the "fullness of the everlasting gospel."
Moroni told him the location of the plates, but refused to let Smith dig them up for a few years.
Eventually, Smith dug up the plates. Using a couple of "seer stones," he claimed to be able to translate them. This took a while, and eventually what he came up with was the Book of Mormon, which describes how at least some Native Americans were actually descended from Jews, and claims that Jesus visited America sometime around after his death.
Smith developed a devoted following over time, which became what is today called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Smith also developed more ideas that differed from the Bible, made a bunch of prophecies, and claimed to receive revelation at least once more.
It is probable that the golden plates, or something that could be described as such, existed. Smith showed the plates to a total of eleven people, all of whom signed affadavits. Many of them left the church later on (leading Smith to get majorly PO'd at a few), but none ever renounced their testimony. It's possible that at least a few of the witnesses only experienced the tablets in some kind of spiritual way (based on the language of their statements), but others claimed to have physically handled them, as well as having seen them.
As for the Book of Mormon (BoM, from now on) itself, it's generally agreed by scholars that it has little, if any, connection to known history. None of the places or events described in the BoM can be found, dated, or proven. The book also contains a fair number of anachronisms. However, since the BoM was published, this number has reduced in the sense that we've found proof that some of the things described could have happened. Many of today's Mormons believe the book refers to a rather limited area (often in Central America or the Midwestern United States), and that Smith may have filled in some details, expanding what he wrote from the less specific things he saw in his revelations. However, this is not the way early Mormons seemed to think of it.
The BoM's claim that Jesus appeared to the Native Americans is sometimes interpreted to refer to Quetzalcoatl, the Mesoamerican serpant god. Stories about Quetzlcoatl are occasionally compared to beliefs about Jesus, and worship of Quetzlcoatl appears to originate roughly around Jesus' lifetime.
Although the BoM itself basically meshes with Christian teachings, Mormonism later departed from Christianity in certain ways. Among these:
Heaven is divided into three "degrees of glory." Almost everyone is good enough to make it into one of them. Even the least of the degrees is still supposed to be quite a nice place. Mormons may try to convert you, but they'll pretty much never never tell you that you are going to Hell, which is quite nice, especially compared to the way fundamentalists do things.
God (often referred to as "Heavenly Father"), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are said to be different beings, although they are "united in goal and purpose." Mormons thus reject trinitarian doctrine.
God has a physical body. Although he is the God of this planet, he is still a part of the physical universe. In fact, many Mormons are materialists (believing that things like angels and souls are simply made of "finer matter," and actually do physically exist). They generally don't concern themselves with the question of why anything exists at all.
Marriage, when done properly, lasts forever in the afterlife. According to the New Testament, there is no law after death, and with it no binding marriage. This is seen by the Mormons as something the Bible got wrong.
People shouldn't choose where to go to worship. Everyone lives in one "ward" or another, and they're expected to go there. This prevents churches from competing and fighting for members. Unfortunately, it's also a big problem for people with shitty wards, because there's not a lot they can do.
Things you may have heard about Mormons, and their connection to reality
"Magic underwear" is a derogatory, possibly hilarious term used to refer to something that Mormons call "temple garments." Mormons don't generally believe these actually defend them from harm. Rather, they are a reminder of the covenant with God that the Mormon made in the Mormon temple. It's no different than things people of other faiths do to bring themselves closer to God. After all, fasting would seem pretty weird and non-spiritual if we hadn't all heard of it already.
Mormons don't actually believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob. Kolob is mentioned in the Book of Abraham (a work Smith claimed to translate from some Egyptian burial records he bought. Today Mormons aren't really sure what to do with it. Some reject it, some believe it directly cooresponded to a part of the records that were lost, and some conclude that since Smith got the book from spiritual revelation, it doesn't matter what was on the paper. This makes sense because Smith couldn't read Egyptian to begin with, making spiritual revelation a... ah, I'm losing track here. Moving on.), as a star (not planet) located near the throne of God. It might be metaphorical (since it was described in a vision given to Abraham), and nobody's tried to claim they know the actual location of Kolob. Functionally, Kolob is largely irrelevant to the Mormon religion, although it is mentioned in one of their older hymns.
Mormons don't believe that they each get their own planet when they die. This idea is based on a statement that goes like "as God can become man, so man can also become God" or something like that. Anyway, the idea that they all become gods contradicts the (more well-established) idea about heaven. Mormons seem to believe that a person can become a god, but this doesn't play a major role in the religion.
Mormons don't often "lie for the Lord." The page often linked to to prove that they do this is run by anti-Mormon evangelicals, and is not an unbiased source of information. However, it's true that many Mormons are somewhat uninformed (or misinformed) about the history of their church. I assume that some intentional lying probably goes on (just like in every community), but it's probably not as bad as a lot of people think.
Mormons don't generally accept the "White Horse" prophecy, which is sometimes said to refer to a Mormon saving (and taking over) America as president. It first surfaced some time after it was supposedly made, and its words don't actually say anything about the presidency (but rather the country in general). The "White Horse" seems (to me) to refer to Mormons collectively. However, some Mormons do take it the way we worry they do. Glenn Beck (a Mormon) has strongly alluded to it before, and as such possibly believes that Mittens is the Chosen One.
Mormonism and Politics (and Romney)
One possible connection between conservatism and Mormonism has to do with Satan. Satan's role in the Bible is quite varied. Today, many Christians take him to be a real dick who tries to get people to do wicked things, and attempts to blind them to various spiritual truths. On the other hand, Mormons believe that the only difference between Jesus and Satan is the choice they made.
According to Mormonism, shortly after humans were created (or evolved, Mormons don't obsess over that sort of thing like fundies do), Jesus and Satan each presented God with a plan for humanity. Satan suggested that humans should be forced to do the right thing, while Jesus believed that they should be given a right to make their own choices. A conservative might compare this to the difference between us and the GOP. We believe that some of people's tax money should go to doing the common good. Conservatives usually talk up private charity instead (and claim to be quite charitable), believing that we liberals are trying to "force everyone to do the right thing." Thus, we're possibly comparable to the Mormon Satan in some people's eyes, while people like Mitt are (shudder) comparable to Jesus. In any case, this likely shapes Mitt Romney's idea of the difference between liberalism or conservatism (assuming RW-Mitt is the real one, and not centrist-Mitt).
Additionally, of course, the Mormon church is quite socially conservative, and has spent money to fight gay marriage and other progressive things. Because Mormons are obligated to tithe, this means that all practicing Mormons wind up with some of their money going to RW causes. Thus, being a Mormon liberal is sort of like punching yourself in the face once a year.
I'm not sure how to end this, so I'll just go with...
7:41 PM PT: Just to be clear, I set out to write an introduction to Mormonism, not a history of it. Thus, this diary describes how they got started and where they are now. If you wanted to hear about racism and polygamy, there are plenty of places to read about them, but they aren't vital to Mormonism itself, especially as it is today