Since, to my lasting horror, I keep being forced into the position of defending religion by dint of simply being a cussedly reasonably human being, I thought I would redress the balance by having a go at the Mormons. I mean, after all, there is a limit.
Some years ago, when I was a little spod whose greatest desire was to go to Oxnod and study histebod, I traced my family history. It may be fashionable now (to a given definition of fashionable) but before the televisual facelift, record offices were in every sense like tombs. There were no pretty copperplate volumes lying ready and waiting on sponge cushions for Tony Robinson to enthuse over, there were no long ranges of oak bookshelves kindly dispensing wisdom via the medium of Stephen Fry, and there were no magic answers. There were metal filing cabinets, evil-smelling choleric dust, resentful silence, and the chill of wasted time (you have to remember I was an extremely troubled adolescent).
Joseph Smith’s troubled adolescence occurred in the 1810s and his outlet was actually far more fashionable than mine – he had religious visions in an age of evangelical revival. All well and good, until one of these visions sought to address the inconceivable fact that none of the events recounted in the Bible had taken place in Amurrica. An angel called Moroni (apparently a coincidence – “moron” derives from the Greek “moros” meaning foolish, but seemingly was not in use as an insult until the twentieth century) appeared to Joseph and told him the whereabouts of certain gold tablets on which were inscribed the narrative of a flight from Israel to America and God’s contact with them there. He published this “lost” book of the Bible (you can read it for free on t’internet) and devoted the rest of his life to preaching and converting, and by the time he was killed by a mob in his late thirties, his Mormon religion had 26,000 followers.
This is an impressive haul for a delusional egotist by the standards of any age (more impressive than Jesus, for a start), but still dwarfed by the 190,000-odd Mormons (or Latter Day Saints) living in the UK today. Like absolutely every reformed church in the history of everywhere, they think they are the ones returning the church to the pure state Christ originally intended. Their beliefs are expressed with touchy-feely care: polygamy was officially discontinued over a century ago (oh, that’s all right then); they are apparently noted for their tolerance towards other faiths; there is emphasis on the importance of family and there is also a belief that earthly life is a middle phase in the soul’s existence. So not only is there life after death, but before birth as well, and families can actually be reunited post the earthly life if the appropriate sacred covenant is made in a Mormon temple on earth.
The reason I mention all this is that the Mormons have a project. Actually, two projects. One is Mitt Romney, the alarmingly Ken-like (doll, not mayor) Mormon who has just taken his second state in the still wide-open Republican contest. The other is the collation of massive databanks full of dead Christians from everywhere on earth, so that Mormons can trace their family history and – you may wish to sit down for this - make Mormon covenants on behalf of all their ancestors so that they can all be one big happy multi-generational, a-nuclear family in the afterlife. Imagine being a sixteenth-century Lincolnshire swineherd and waking up in the Great Beyond to discover that your genes have given rise to Utah’s finest and then having to have Sunday dinner with them for all eternity.
This gathering in of the unwittingly faithful has been going on quietly for about thirty years, incorporating literally millions of baptism and marriage and census records from all over the UK. It has had the effect of revolutionising genealogy. No-one tracing their ancestors can do anything without the efforts of the Mormons. Any names found in these databanks have at some point been mass-covenanted in Salt Lake City in the course of a morning. Now, I quite obviously couldn’t give a toss that my ancestors have a spiritual option on Mormonism, but I venture to guess that some of them would have objected. Even been terrified out of their wits at the very idea. Certainly the Catholics.
The casual mass production values involved are chilling when you consider what it’s all based on. They may look deceptively normal alongside scientologists, and disquiet in the British media has been more focussed on Mike Huckabee of late, largely because he has come from nowhere to take on the Mormon challenger for the evangelical vote. But Mormons still believe that a teenager copied the word of God from miraculous gold tablets in the same period as the invention of the locomotive engine, they believe that there was an Israelite exodus to America in ancient times and they think they know better than the silent majority itself. And one way or another, they’re on the up.