Though Atheists will often tell you “All religions are equally false”, they may give you a different answer when you ask “Which one is the most far-fetched?”
If Scientology is not an option, that is…
Mormonism, or as it’s officially known, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, is a Christian restorationist church with 15 million members worldwide.
One thing that’s always said about Mormons, and one that generally rings true, is that they are the nicest group of people you can meet. Recently, when stopped by a Mormon in my city centre, I was struck by how polite and friendly he was, even in response to my questions about the Church.
However, the pleasant behaviour of Missionaries on the street doesn’t rid away some troubling aspects of Mormon theology.
Firstly, the basic gist of the religion. In 1823, Joseph Smith was praying in a forest in Vermont. He was asking God about the one true faith on Earth – whether it was Protestantism or Catholicism. Then, in a vision, God told him to establish his own church, as all others had turned away from God. In a subsequent vision, an angel called Moroni revealed the location of golden plates. These golden plates would be the texts from which Smith would translate into English, forming the Book Of Mormon.
From this, Smith founded the Church and gained a following, before being killed by an angry mob in 1844. But his legacy lives on, as God’s final prophet on Earth….supposedly.
The founder of a religion is one whom the followers should see as a guiding force in their lives. Joseph Smith’s life, however, reflects somebody who isn’t entirely trustworthy.
In 1826, Smith was put on trial for defrauding Josiah Stowell. Allegedly, he charged Stowell money for ‘glass looking’ – essentially telling him that the stone would enable him to see fifty feet below the surface of the earth. Stowell ended up digging for ‘a box of treasure’, before Smith concluded that a lack of faith was responsible for their failure to find any.
Though he wasn’t officially found guilty, this incident does raise legitimate questions about Smith’s truthfulness (1).
Though the Church may wish to assert that it’s worshipping a God who ‘never changes’, they certainly have had to make radical changes to doctrines over the years.
Polygamy In Mormonism
Most notably, the policy on polygamy had to shift in order to improve relations with the United States. Between 1852 and 1890, polyagmy was practiced openly by between 20% and 30% of Mormon families (2). Joseph Smith himself even had many wives, some accounts listing 40 wives, some as young as 14 years old (3).
Utah, not officially a state at that point, clashed with the United States of America over this issue, as the church argued it was a matter of religious freedom. It even led to the Utah War (1857-1858), which is nicknamed ‘The Mormon War’. There were no notable military battles, but 38 soldiers were killed in the conflict.
Beginning in 1890, the Church began terminating the practice. Mormons still continued to have polygamous marriages, until church president Joseph F. Smith disavowed plural marriages in 1904, with a ‘Second Manifesto’. With the threat of ex-communication looming, several groups that wished to continue the practice split from the church. In the present day, the Church wishes to distance itself from polygamy and asserts that ‘the standard doctrine of the church is monogamy’ (4).
God seemingly ‘withdrew the command to practice polygamy’. Which raises the question of whether he knew he was going to change his mind all along…
But the morals of polygamy are debatable. They aren’t entirely damning of the church theology.
Surely a history of racism is though?
Racism In Mormonism
It was taught in Mormonism that black suffrage went against church doctrine, that God had taken away the rights for black people to hold public office and that God would curse any white person who married a black person.
Joseph Smith opposed inter-racial marriage (Which most people did at the time, in fairness) and said that black people should be “confined by strict law to their own species,”. Church President Brigham Young ( 1801 – 1877) said during a sermon, “If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
One reason given for the discrimination was that Black people had remained neutral in the ‘War In Heaven’ that’d taken place before the creation of Earth. But Mormon doctrine doesn’t officially teach this, it was given as a reason by preachers to justify the racist policies (5).
The policies the church had implemented – barring black people from priesthood, largely went unchallenged before the civil rights movement. But beginning in the 1960s, they were criticized by civil rights advocates. Though leaders within the church called for a vote to reverse the policy, the vote was not unanimous, so the policy stood.
In 1978, the Church came out and said another revelation from God had instructed them to change the policy. God changes his mind yet again, it seems…
However, like with polygamy, there are still those who believe in the fundamental roots of the church. And they’re not quiet about it either…
President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs has been quoted saying the following:
“The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth.”
“Today you can see a black man with a white woman, et cetera. A great evil has happened on this land because the devil knows that if all the people have Negro blood, there will be nobody worthy to have the priesthood.”
“If you marry a person who has connections with a Negro, you would become cursed.” (6)
Do a majority of Mormons hold onto these beliefs? No, in recent times, they’ve moved to openly disavow their racist past (7) (8) (9).
Religion is a subject that greatly interests me, and my personal interactions with Mormons over the years prompted me to write this article. It’s not an attack on any Mormons personally, all the ones that I’ve met have been entirely pleasant.
But you have to examine your beliefs and where they stand. No belief system is above examination and scrutiny.