Monday, September 3, 2007

Trying to Figure Out the Mormon Story

I happen to live down the road from a Mormon chapel, which may be why, perusing the used books at a neighbor's yard sale over the weekend, I came across a copy of The Book of Mormon. I'm a big fan of book sales of any kind, the more eclectic and shabby the better, but I've never encountered this particular book anywhere. My curiosity was piqued. Aside from seeing a few episodes of Big Love, I don't know much about Mormonism. So, for 25 cents, I snapped it up.

The introduction of The Book of Mormon calls it "comparable to the Bible," and explains that its centerpiece is a description of Christ's ministry right here in North America, which he supposedly undertook sometime after his more famous ministry in the Holy Land. His followers, whom I suppose we'd call the ancient Americans, were actually transplants from Jerusalem, ordered by God to board a ship and make the perilous voyage over some 600 years before Jesus' birth. But even before they landed the immigrants began splitting into two groups, one godly and the other evil. Over the innumerable generations that followed, the two sides fought bitterly. The godly were killed but some of the evil ones survived. The descendants of those evil ones are today's American Indians.

Well. I've read 30 pages or so, and plan on giving the story a respectful hearing. It deserves as much, and far be it from me to suggest that the Mormon story is any more or less preposterous than the stories that other religions tell. But this is what I find intriguing: unlike other major religions, this one was born in modern times - the gold plates upon which these surprising facts were inscribed were said to be discovered in the 1820s in New York State, and the finder, Joseph Smith, is hardly the mystery that Jesus is. Indeed, he left quite a paper trail behind him, not all of it entirely flattering to a prophet. Which makes me wonder where today's Mormons, Mitt Romney among them, stands on some of the less savory or even way-out bizarre aspects of Mormon history. (For instance, are we to take seriously Smith's revelation that Jackson County, Missouri, is the once and future Garden of Eden? If so, I'd imagine the county's planners are going to want to factor that into their growth projections. And I hate to even think of the theme park possibilities.)

For now, I'm seeing at least one lesson here: for easy believing, perhaps it's best to stick with religious figures shrouded in the mists of time. They don't leave behind records of law suits, or newspaper stories that document them scrambling out of windows to escape the wrath of angry mobs.

Oh, one more thing. I'll bet Romney doesn't win the Native American vote. I'm just saying.

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