Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield
In his book The Mormonizng of America, Stephen Mansfield mixes history with real life antecdotes to help his readers get inside the head of today's Mormon. He attempts to objectively present how the average person views Mormons verses how they see themselves.
To the average non Morman, Mormans are cult followers who believe they are going to one day be gods, each populating their own planet. And they wear “magic underwear” they can never take off.
If you watched (and enjoyed) the Broadway show, The Book of Mormon, you probably think they're a bunch of idiots. For that matter, if you're the sort of person to like a show like The Book of Mormon, you probably feel smugly affirmed in your atheistic belief that all religious people are idiots.
How do Mormons view themselves?
For one, they believe in premortality. This means that they and the family they will belong to- the spouse they will marry, the children they will have- pre existed before they came to earth. They refer to their god (no he's not the same as God as I'll explain later) as Heavenly Father. Mansfield relates a conversation between a Mormon husband and wife:
It's our duty, honey. I know you believe as I do that our family has already existed in premortality. I've become absolutely certain there are still more spirits who are part of us...We need to conceive so that the spirits of our unborn children can assume their bodies and be with us for time and all eternity.
Spirits? Children? You're talking about more than one.
Yes. I believe that we have three more children waiting to be with us. (pg. 15)
They also believe in post mortality (my word). However, not in the way Christianity or other religions do. Muslims believe that they will live forever in Paradise with “flowing water running by their feet” and “many blushing virgins”. Buddhists and Hindus believe they will reincarnate until they achieve perfection and reach Nirvana. According to World of Judaica the question is irrelevant to Jews (although some Jews may wish to debate that). Christians believe that only through Jesus Christ has the barrier of sin been removed between them and God and they will then live with Him and enjoy relationship with Him and fellow believers forever.
Mormons believe they will remain with their earthly families throughout all eternity. They will one day rule a world as Heavenly Father rules this world now with his family. Mormons do not believe Heavenly Father created matter; he organizes it (pg. 32). Once upon a time, he was a human with his family on another planet. He achieved god status and populated this world with his progeny.
They also believe that eternal life is not given through grace. It is merited by the works one achieves.
A Mormon believes he is in this world to pass tests... Mormons believe that this life is like an obstacle course they must master in order to qualify for what comes in eternity...Mormon rituals and doctrines are filled with the language of accomplishment and achievement, possessed of the virtue of reaching goals and passing tests. Much of the terminology of Mormonism sounds like it comes from the handbook of the US Military Academy at West Point or from the textbooks of an elite MBA program. (pg. 32)
What is the history of Mormonism and where did they get their beliefs?
Starting in the year 1820, in upstate New York a young teenager named Joseph Smith began receiving visions. An angel, Moroni, appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about a book written upon gold plates.
There were also two stones in silver bows....use of these stones were what constituted 'seers' in ancient or former times ; and the God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. (pg. 104)
Joseph Smith put these stones in his hat and would “read” them. Here are a few of his revelations:
The American Indians are the lost tribes of Israel
The Aaronic and Melshizedek presthoods were “restored” through which the Book of Mormon was recovered and translated.
The pure teachings of Jesus Christ were perverted...all Christian churches had become corrupt, ..and were an abomination to God. (pg. 146)
And then there's the subject of polygamy. Joseph Smith has this to say:
Verily, if a man be called of my Father, as was Aaron, by mine own voice, and by the voice of him that sent me, and I have endowed him with the keys of the power of this priesthood, if he do anything in my name, and according to my law and by my word, he will not commit sin, and I will justify him.
Let no one, therefore, set on my servant Joseph; for I will justify him; for he shall do the sacrifice which I require at his hands for his transgressions, saith the Lord your God.
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood -if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. (pg. 181)
Mormons believe in “progressive revelation”. That means what they may have believed in the past isn't necessarily what they hold to today. In the words of LDS president Ezra Taft Benson : “ A living prophet trumps a dead prophet.” Which is why Mormon president Wilford Woodruff, speaking as all Mormon presidents do-in the office of “prophet, seer, and revelator” declared polygamy at an end in his Manifesto, printed in 1908. (pg. 182)
This is also why Mormons hold to doctrines not found in the Book of Mormon such as: baptism for the dead, eventual exaltation to godhood, celestial marriage, eternal progress, a multitude of gods, varying levels of heaven, Temple ceremonies, and avoiding tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol...(pg. 183)
Though Joseph Smith was killed by a mob for "marrying" a thirteen year old in 1844, Brigham Young took over the church and was the one who eventually led them out West. Mansfield proceeds to bring us up to date from that point to the Mormon church of today.
Mansfield tells us from the beginning of his book that he is not a Mormon and he makes it clear by his research that he believes that the Mormon faith is built upon the foundation of a man who was described in his own day as a “magician and seer, and wicked charlatan.” However, at the very end of the book we come to his actual thrust.
In a nutshell, yes Mormons may be deceived, they may have a historically faulty foundation for their faith, they may be flat out wrong. BUT. Let's not call them a cult. Instead, Mansfield suggests that we refer to them as a “Fourth Abrahamic Religion” along with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Through out the book Mansfield extols the virtues of Mormonism: their work ethic, the emphasis they place on education, on tight, stable families. He lists all the famous Mormons who have achieved so much. His conclusion?
Mormonism is, at heart, about progress, about ruling pristine territory, about the spiritual matrix of family, about the democratization of spiritual experience, about sacred ritual, about the elevating power of community, about a people escaping a corrupt world in the east to establish a holy communion in the west, about a “land of Liberty”...This is the religion of the Saints, but it is also the underpinning of the American dream..
If this is true... it would mean that the earthly success of the Saints is replicable, that is occurred on the strength of principles the non-Saint may emulate. In this view, the Mormon distinctives would ...become principles of Americanism available to the willing of any faith. (pg. 242)
If this is true... that's the crux right there, isn't it? Is it true?
What does the Christian perspective say? For one thing, salvation doesn't come from our merit or works. That not only includes personal salvation but the salvation of a nation. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, it says,
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Mr. Mansfield seems to be under the belief that, even if a man belongs to a false religion, if the laudable -or at least, workable- characteristics of that religion will work for the country, hey! Let's embrace it. He seems to forget another important piece of scripture from Matthew 15:26:
For what will it profit it a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?
This book has come out at a convenient time, right before the election. I really have to wonder who paid to produce it. I know that many Christians will be voting for Romney because they want Obama out of office. I can appreciate that. But I for one can't pretend to overlook the fact that this man is a member of a cult that views the rest of us as “corrupted, ignoble spirits”.
If we think that's not going to carry repercussions, we're being naive.
I received this book for free.