Flavin's Corner October 2002

God or Governor?

Willard Mitt Romney, a millionaire businessman and the Republican candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election in Massachusetts, is a Mormon.  News-media coverage of the Mormons, a 19th century American cult based upon the writings of Joseph Smith, Jr., has been sparse and superficial.  Romney ran an unsuccessful campaign for the seat held by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) in 1994, though the media deemed unnecessary any background investigation on their part to inform voters about the brief history of the Mormon cult and its central tenets.  Instead, the media decided to report on Rep. Joe Kennedy II and his criticism regarding women and blacks in the Mormon cult, as well as Kennedy’s subsequent “apology” after learning that the Mormons had somewhat quietly altered their doctrine in 1978, because of an alleged conversation between God and the Mormon president at the time.  During the recent legal debates about the Mormon temple and its massive steeple in Belmont, as well as when Romney was hired in early 1999 to prevent further embarrassment to corrupt Utah businessmen (largely Mormon) involved with the 2002 Winter Olympics, the media continued to sidestep, maintaining that Mormonism is a religion and it would be insensitive to expose or attack a religion.  Mormons are members of the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS), an economic entity recognized by our government for tax purposes as a religious institution (as are many neo-pagan and witchcraft groups), but regarded by experts as an American cult with a strong public relations department.  While the media has gone to admirable and costly lengths to give backgrounds to the cults of Scientology and the Unification Church (both recognized as tax-exempt religious institutions), the LDS has been given a free ride.  This isn’t fair.  It’s important that Massachusetts voters understand what a Mormon is and stands for.  The media has failed to perform a basic public service and provide voters with essential and requisite information regarding Romney and the Mormon cult.  Here goes.

So, what’s a Mormon?
On April 6, 1830, “The Church of Christ” was founded and incorporated in Fayette, New York, and was based upon teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, by Joseph Smith, Jr. (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), which was published a few weeks earlier. The Book of Mormon was presented as Smith’s 1827-1829 translation of ancient writings found on golden plates in upstate New York which described, among other things, a visit to the New World by a resurrected Jesus and a subsequent cursing with dark skin (the origin of Native Americans) of those who chose not to recognize Jesus’ divinity.  Smith changed the name of his corporation to the “Church of Latter Day Saints” in 1834, and again to the “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints” in 1838.  Though preferring the self-referential “Saints,” members of Smith’s church are called Mormons by the general public as an eponym, after 'Mormon', the alleged author, prophet and military commander, whose son buried the golden plates in c. 421 CE, according to Smith.  As a name or proper noun, Mormon has yet to appear in any record before Smith’s 1830 publication.  The “golden plates” of Mormon were never publically displayed and they are not extant, as Smith claimed he “delivered them up” to a [heavenly] “messenger” who would forever safeguard them.  Twelve individuals, including Smith, attested to the existence of the “golden plates,” and though there have been imaginative apologetics which hold that Smith may have discovered genuine Native American artifacts and was divinely inspired in his compositions (the Mi’kmaq of New England and Canada are believed by some to have possessed a pre-Columbian writing system said to have been used on soft metals), the language, grammar, and narrative borrowing in the Book of Mormon all display a nineteenth century authorship and the “golden plates” were probably forged as disposable props for Smith’s initial establishment of his cult. 

What do Mormons believe?
The Book of Mormon is presented as a compilation of ancient works which have been structured and classified much like post-King James editions of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament.  As such, it purports to accurately describe epic struggles long ago and leavens the text with poetic suggestions of proper behavior and casual comments about cosmic causality.  Its basic message is that the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament are to be superceded by claims that the New World is where all the good stuff took place.  The Garden of Eden?  Someplace in Missouri, if I remember the claim correctly.  In c. 591 BCE, before the Iraqis invaded Israel (that is before 586 BCE and the assault on Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar II, a neo-Babylonian or “Chaldean” king, and a significant defeat and widespread dispersal of the Hebrews), Smith and his Book of Mormon hold that a contingent of Hebrews under the direction of God (much like Noah) built ships and sailed from the Old World to the New ...to do whatever it is an ancient hypothetical people are supposed to do.  There were battles, another voyage by still more Hebrews to the Old World, Jesus is made to appear in the New World with some of his greatest hits (i.e., selections from the “Sermon on the Mount” taken word for word from the King James version), and still more battles.  The theme of ancient Hebrews in the New World had been used before and did not originate with Smith.  The Book of Mormon is readable as a biblical pastiche and contains some instructions, however it’s with Smith’s other writings that his followers were encouraged to believe they possessed the "true" traditions of the ancient Hebrews, as well as the early Christians.  Some highlights: 

Polygamy was introduced by Smith in 1843, a year before his death, though as a condition for statehood, Utah and the LDS renounced the doctrine in 1890.  A related ritual, “celestial marriage,” which extended the nuptials from “‘til death do you part” to all eternity, continues to be practiced, but without the blatant association with polygamy. 

Exaltation and the plurality of gods: all Mormon males who participate in certain temple rituals will one day be “exalted” and become gods with their own planets, also believing the God of the Hebrews was once human.

A census fetishism called “baptism for the dead” in which names throughout history are collected and proxy baptisms are performed to spiritually convert the dead to Mormonism.  It’s said the dead are free to accept or refuse the conversion.  The LDS have collected over two billion names on microfilm at their Granite Mountain Records Vault facility about twenty-five miles outside of Salt Lake City.  They proxy baptized Hitler, Eva Braun, and many WWII holocaust victims.  The LDS estimates the total number of humans since time began at around seventy billion and keep some of their temples open twenty-four hours a day to churn out the proxy baptisms. 

How do historians and anthropologists regard Mormon claims?
The events described in Joseph Smith, Jr.’s Book of Mormon are not supported by archaeology, genetics, linguistics, or any other scientific study.  Some approach Smith as an American original and “religious genius,” others as a predictable result of the hermetic and millenarian expectations prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and there are many who regard Smith as a con-man, counterfeiter, and violent revolutionary.  While debate continues concerning the possibility of Old World peoples in the Americas before Columbus (other than the Norse), few serious researchers entertain the impossible confluence of claims in the Book of Mormon (horses, camels, wheat, silk, advanced metallurgy, etc.).  See: The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation, by Harold Bloom, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992; The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844, by John L. Brooks, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994; and New Perspectives on the Origins of Americanist Archaeology, edited by David L. Browman and Stephen Williams, Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2002 (Oestreicher’s description of the Book of Mormon as an “American forgery,” on p. 84, is honest and refreshing). 

How do major religions regard Mormon claims?
According to Time Magazine ("Kingdom Come," by David Van Biema; Aug. 4, 1997; Vol. 150, No. 5), “In 1995 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued national guidelines stating that the Mormons were not ‘within the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church.’”  The United Methodist Church adopted a policy in 2000 which recommends baptism before a Mormon joins the denomination, as the Methodists do not recognize LDS rituals.  Last year, in 2001, the Vatican formally denied the legitimacy of Mormon baptism.  Even though Mormons echo mainstream Christian traditions with mentions of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, they believe these are three separate gods, and are only sometimes united as a single divinity.  The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints does not hold ecumenical council with other churches and faiths, their rituals and services are off-limits to outsiders, and most religionists express either sympathy toward the victims of the Mormon cult or disdain and fear of their power and money. [Note: Though rapidly becoming outdated, The Mormon Corporate Empire, by John Heinerman and Anson Shupe (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985) remains a solid introduction to Mormons and money.]

Should voters overlook Romney’s Mormon lifestyle and belief system?
Fine, the company that Romney founded owns Staples, Inc. office superstores, Domino’s Pizza restaurants, and recently bought the Burger King Corporation, and while that type of capitalism benefits from tax loop-holes, gutting companies, and callous disregard for workers, its cold and impersonal approach should not be welcomed as a desirable trait in the next governor of Massachusetts.  The job requires more than a cruel savvy when it comes to saving or spending a buck; it needs someone with the morality and ethics to reach across the state and work for all voters and residents, and not just the favored.  Members of other religions and philosophies live their lives as best they can, whether they believe in an afterlife or not, but only Mormon males expect to become gods of their own planets one day.  How do you trust a man who wants to become a god?  Don’t.

Other states have had Mormon governors, why not Massachusetts?
There’s Utah, a state where a non-Mormon governor is the exception and not the rule.  Then, there’s Michigan, where a Mormon served as governor from 1963 to 1969, calling out the National Guard against Michiganders in 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. [Note: In 1970, while the ex-Michigan governor was serving in Nixon’s cabinet and despite continuing anti-war and racial tensions, no federal troops were activated against Michiganders.]  Then, recently, there’s Arizona with its Evan Mecham fiasco.  Mecham was impeached and served less than fifteen months in office.  Outside of Utah, it may be fair to conclude that Mormon governors haven’t served their constituency well. 

If someone approached me and claimed that purple grapes are sentient and cry out when made into wine or jelly, that red grapes possess self-awareness and giggle as they’re squashed and green grapes just giggle ‘cause that’s what they do, I’d likely smile and check for immediate escape routes.  We know that some people believe funny (and, conversely, not so funny) things and we accept and deal with it as best we can.  Some affect, others pretend, and then there are those who actually believe in The Twilight Zone.  While common decency requires that we provide comfort and care to reality-challenged individuals, we don’t have to vote for them.

A god or a governor?  Some would have neither, but the rest of us have a choice to make.  He thinks he's better than us.  He's not.


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