Mormonism, the religion to which the presidential candidate Mitt Romney belongs, is as Christian as Islam. Both faiths believe that they have built final edifices on the foundations of previous monotheism. In Islam’s case it was the 7th-century Arab prophet Muhammad who revealed the completed word of God. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, it was an upstate New York farmworker called Joseph Smith who was given angelic word of the olden pages of the Book of Mormon in 1823 and8 who dug them up in New York four years later.
On the basis of his revelations Smith founded his Church, detailing its theology, ‘‘revealing’’ its dogma and “gathering” its members together to live in precarious community in various townships in New York, Missouri and Illinois. Smith was, if you like, the Lenin of Mormonism, its founding genius. But his reign was short. Always in conflict and always being persecuted by the non-Mormon majorities, he was murdered while awaiting trial in the town of Carthage in 1844.
The man who stepped up to take over the bereft community—the Stalin of Mormonism—was a barely educated, uncultured farmhand called Brigham Young. A product of that period of intense religious questing called The Great Awakening, he had been sampling various forms of charismatic Protestantism hawked by groups and prophets when he stumbled across Smith.
Young became one of the most important men in the infant Church by virtue of his loyalty to Smith, his stamina and his organisational capacity. He was even sent to England in the 18305 to preach Mormonism, and was inducted by Smith into the secret hierarchy of the Church, which involved quasi-Masonic rituals and much “washing and anointing”. It was Young, who was declared president of the Mormon Church in 1847, who organised the remarkable migration of the Church and its adherents from the Eastern US, across Indian territory, to the Salt Lake basin in what is now Utah. There they founded Salt Lake City, built their temple, colonised the area and began to build their theodemocracy, their Paradise.
Like Stalin, Young became the central figure of a new republic that required sharp definition to be able to survive threats from the outside and disintegrating threats from within. His authoritarianism became one of Mormonism’s defining characteristics. Like Stalin or Mao he led a cleansing “reformation” of the doctrine. Non-Mormons were harassed and, in one notorious case in 1857, massacred. But somehow it worked. The Church he saved thrives.
Turner’s book is wonderfully well sourced and he has had the benefit of co-operation from the Mormon archives. Perhaps in consequence of this he is kinder to Young than the facts might allow. He suggests, for example, that male Mormons went along with “plural marriage” (a misnomer, since it was “plural” at the convenience of the men only) mostly out of piety. And I am the Queen of Romania. At 61, Young, who took more than 50 wives, married a woman 37 years his junior.
But that, in a way, was the beauty of it. The rules were made up and changed as they went along, to fit the needs of the times and the dynamic, questing, restless, religious spirit of America.
I suppose for Mormonism, any publicity is good publicity!
Edited by zerinus, 20 August 2012 - 12:46 PM.