Thanksgiving 2002 featured stuffing and yams, but was otherwise untraditional for me. It was in Hawaii, so there was no crisp air or colored leaves. My only family within 5,000 miles was my wife, so it lacked the usual reunions, festive atmosphere, and Nerf football games. And, unlike most turkey days, two Mormon missionaries showed up at my door.
I invited them in. I don’t recall their opening spiel, but know it failed to mention that God lives near the star Kolob with a harem of goddesses. From this celestial perch, he sires billions of spirit children, who assume fetus, angel, or demon form. God was also a man at one time, but elevated to deity status by being so Mormon. None of this was brought up, nor was the secret password they used to get into heaven while wearing protective nightshirts.
I did mention some of this to them, and to their credit, they acknowledged it. When pressed, they also expressed belief in an extreme form of evolution, as they thought they could in time become gods reigning over their own planet. Otherwise, it was a standard religious presentation, attempting to explain why we are here, where we are going, and what it all might mean.
We ended up becoming acquainted fairly well. They came over a couple of times when I hosted social gatherings. We enjoyed each other’s company and, as a bonus, they left the beer supply untouched. The one issue was that I wish they would have just concentrated on being people and not Mormons, although I realized they were literally on a mission. Once, they were trying to justify a position by reading the Book of Mormon and I grabbed the Bhagavad Gita and quoted from it. I noted these words would mean nothing to them since they weren’t Hindu and that their book meant nothing to me since I wasn’t Mormon.
Their book was authored by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have found golden plates inscribed with a long-forgotten language. When I asked the missionaries where these plates were, they told me God took them back. Smith translated the tablets to Martin Harris, who demanded a sheet be placed between he and the reader, out of fear of the plates. Mrs. Harris grew tired of this taking place in her house and snagged 116 pages’ worth of transcripts. She noted that if Smith had these plates, and the ability to translate them, he could to it again. Smith then received a new revelation in which God warned him evil men would get hold of those 116 pages and twist their meaning, so to avoid translating them again.
This adaptability continues today, as the church president is able to hear God’s voice. Dictates are altered and even superseded after these divine encounters. This is quite distinctive from other Abrahamic religions, which pride themselves on being unyielding and stubbornly unchanging. I have to give the Mormons some credit here. Being able to change with the times and potentially consider new evidence and social norms is preferable to the way it’s done in most beliefs. It’s certainly better than some Baptist preachers I’ve seen, who praise the “unchanging, inerrant word of God,” while holding aloft the fourth revision of the King James Bible, which itself only came about after 16 centuries of edits, omissions, embellishments, debate, redrafts, holy wars, and council votes.
As to the Mormon president’s chats with God, these revelations led to a ban on warm drinks, though a further vision excepted hot chocolate. Following another celestial chat, Brigham Young announced God had forbidden miscegenation, and that this could never change for any reason. This later changed for some reason. There was also a proscription on black priests, which was overturned in 1978. While there theoretically can be black Mormon priests, blacks and Mormons are disinclined to act on this.
Mormonism is Christian, in that it believes in the deity of Jesus and in the Bible, but it is a distinctive subset. There are also splinter Mormon groups, sort of a spinoff-of-a-spinoff, like Good Times. These include fundamentalist sects that force 14-year-old girls into polygamous marriages, and which forbid most members from owning property. We also have the Strangites, whose founder unearthed the REAL undiscovered book, as unoriginal a launching point as there’s ever been for any sect. Then there is the Temple Lot, which teaches Jesus will return to Independence, Missouri. This is opposite of most apocalyptic visions, in that it announces the place, but not the time. Other subsets focus on ingesting peyote or extreme fealty to Israel, or are based on the suddenly-found 116 pages.
The most obvious difference between Latter-Day Saints and mainstream Christianity is the Book of Mormon. This is an interminable series of stories about the ancient peoples of America, for whom there is zero archeological, historic, or scientific evidence. With its length, battles, and super powers, the Book of Mormon is analagous to the Lord of the Rings, except for being awful. The ancient America inhabitants included Jesus, which means Mormons are awaiting his Third Coming. Unless his appearance in ghost form a few days after the crucifixion counts, in which case we’re up to anticipating the Fourth Coming.
In these battles, the Lamanites and Nephites kill and vanquish each other in a series of skirmishes, with the victor each time being the one that acted most obsequiously to God. Nephites win the war and the defeated Lamanites are cursed with bronzed skin. This strongly insinuates they were the ancestors of Native Americans, making it much easier to drive them off the land since it wasn’t theirs anyway.
Not only is there no archeological evidence for these people, there is no proof that cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, and elephants were here at this time, and all those are mentioned in the Book. There are also references to brass, iron, and steel, with no evidence those metals were in use in ancient America.
There are more disconnects between the Book and reality. For instance, there are no similarities between Native American languages and the tongues of those in the Near East, where Smith purports the Lamanites and Nephites emigrated from. Also completely lacking is any DNA evidence suggesting that Native Americans and ancient Near East persons are connected.
To counter all this, the Mormons’ only evidence is their claim that Joseph Smith was an uneducated yokel who would be unable to write anything like the Book of Mormon. If true, this would be a sign that someone else wrote it, but it’s hardly a reasonable segue to conclude that God was the author.
In another substantial break with other Abrahamic traditions, Mormonism is polytheistic, although ambivalently so. It believes other gods are out there, but Mormons worship only the Bible one and feel he is in charge of our universe and is the only one it’s worth trying to contact or please. As such, it remains unclear what benefit it is to the Mormon Church to have these gods. Smith and Young may have had some role in mind for these extra deities, but the ideas never came to fruition. One plus for the church is that bolsters its claim that we can all be deities with our own planet.
This brings us to the Mormon afterlife, which teaches that people and sprit entities reside eternally in one of four tiers. They, of course, go to the Platinum Level, along with God, Jesus, and angels. The next level is for Billy Graham, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama – folks good enough to be religious, but not worthy of Latter-Day Sainthood. Level three is for almost everyone else: Me, Johnny Depp, Heinrich Himmler.
There is a fourth level, their equivalent of Hell, which they teach is freezing as opposed to fiery (and which thus sounds more ominous to me). Other than Satan and his demons, the only other confirmed resident appears to be Judas. This is based on the idea that Level Four is only for those who see the full glory of God, then reject him. Seeing the full glory of God is reserved for Moses, the apostles, angels, and elite-status Mormons. The fourth level is used to keep Mormons in line, but it would seem to remove any incentive to join the church. Those outside are guaranteed unending bliss in Level Three. Why risk it by becoming a Mormon and potentially backsliding all the way to Level Four and eternal misery?
While Latter-Day Saints have on paper ended their discrimination against racial minorities, women are never allowed in leadership positions and homosexuals are strongly condemned. Still, with gay marriage having arrived in Utah, it is possible for the world’s two openly-gay Mormons to wed.