Mitt Romney and the Ungrateful Dead

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.

11 Comments

  1. Yes, Mormonism may include strange beliefs but so does every other religion. And Mormon beliefs are really no more strange than those of any major world religion if you look into the details. Believing that God came to earth, was nailed to a tree and somehow that act helps save the world also sounds pretty darn strange and absurd to non-Christians.

    The only reason Mormon beliefs sound strange in comparison is because the religion is newer and we’re less familiar with it. That’s why religion is a “faith” thing after all… Christians can’t prove Christ performed miracles, Muslims can’t prove Mohammad ascended to heaven, and Mormons can’t prove Israelites lived in the Americas. If you pick on one particular religion at the exclusion of others with beliefs that are just as wild only because it’s smaller or less familiar to you then you may begin to appear bigoted.

    For these reasons religion should not disqualify a candidate from running for (or winning) political office and frankly Mitt Romney is probably the most qualified candidate running for the presidency right now in terms of experience. Has any other candidate ever even run so much as a McDonalds franchise let alone run a major corporation?

    And in reply to Jennie’s comment: You could find similar “survival” experiences with ANY religion. “I survived the Christians…” or “I survived the Muslims…” etc. Apostates always talk that way.

  2. While I am absolutely impressed with your writing skills, I’m am completely disappointed with your jargon (Mormonism, is that actually a word? I know that’s not what they believe, and that they don’t worship Mormon), and the fact that this is the ONLY negative trait that brings Romney down (the fact that he is a “Mormon”). Sheesh.

    If anyone had a legitimate argument, I would think that you could find something wrong with a Presidential Candidate other that his religion, because I don’t remember it being such an issue in the past.

    My parents are not even the least bit religious, but when my mom sold her business, she needed something to do, so he got into geneology and has traced our ansestors to the 1500’s. She says she never could have done it without the help of the LDS church, and she has said “thank you” a hundred times for their help. You might try showing a little gratitude for hard work and perserverence.

    Though Tolan seems not to have any belief in a Supreme Creater, he sure has the right ideas about the presidential race, religion, and the world. And Jenny, before running with what you might have heard from “one who’s been there”, you might want stick your head out from under that rock and find out the truth for yourself.

  3. Um, Sarah, thank you for the compliment, but in other respects you might have missed the point.

    I’m sure US blogs are brimming over with thoughtful, detailed analysis on the presidential race, but this is a British blog and I wasn’t really writing about that. I really don’t know enough about it. I don’t believe in sounding off about things I don’t know about. I was writing about Mormonism (yes, it is a word: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mormonism ) Hence the first para, where I declared my intention to “have a go at the Mormons”. It also occurs to me that the other two will have got to this blog having read this debate: http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-et-tu-james-1989.html
    which may make it clearer where I was coming from – a lot of what Tolan says is relevant to the wider debate we were having over there.

    And given that I was engaged in the enterprise of talking about the Mormons, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to mention Mitt Romney – who, of course, brought the whole thing to the surface of my mind. Think of it as a sidelight on the presidential race using the information I had to hand, if you like.

    I cannot take seriously your injunction to show a little gratitude. It seems excessively pious and on-message. It should be perfectly clear from what I have written that I *did* make massive use of LDS genealogy resources. Therein lies the contradiction, that even though I happily use their output, I find the whole idea behind its creation quite spooky. If I went down your somewhat uncritical line I would never be able to slag off the National Health Service because I use it.

  4. Hm, but Tolan, it’s neither a small nor an unfamiliar religion is it? (Not that I accept your implied contention that only attacking such religions is bigoted anyway). It’s apparently the fourth largest religion in the US (according to its own website). It’s a religion that in practice, if not in theory, condones polygamy, and is therefore worthy of comment. And it isn’t unfamiliar to *me*, for the reasons outlined.

    I don’t understand your point about apostasy. If someone survives polygamy in a Mormon situation, and someone else survives (say) a forced marriage in a Muslim situation, then yes, both have been through a damaging and traumatic experience – I’m sure you’re not saying that either one is devalued for the fact that they might use some of the same language to describe it.

    However, I entirely take your point that in terms of its belief system it’s really no weirder than any other religion – in fact in writing the last paragraph I was slightly self-consciously baiting Laurence B! I don’t, however, recall suggesting anywhere that religion should disqualify Mitt Romney or anyone else from running – that doesn’t mean I can’t point out a few salient facts.

  5. Alix,
    My only point about apostates was in response to Jennie’s comment that Mormons are “scary” because she happens to know ONE person that “escaped” the religion. Her experience is completely anecdotal! Every religion has it’s “apostates” so it’s not fair to call a whole worldwide religion “scary” because of an unhappy former member we may know. Using her logic we can call ALL religions (and institutions for that matter) scary. When I called the LDS church “small” it was only in comparison to other major world religions. 13 million is pretty small compared to Catholicism or Islam.

    Incidentally, I always find the polygamy issue, often brought up by other Christian faiths, a strange one since the Bible is full of the practice. Somehow it is ok that Abraham, Isaac, and David were polygamous but we can’t stomach the fact that a small group of Mormons practiced it 150 years ago.

    Super Sarah,
    I didn’t mean to imply that I personally don’t believe in a Supreme Creator because in fact I do. I was only pointing out that all religion includes belief in the supernatural – items of faith that can’t be proved – so we should be careful not to attack one over another just because it may be less familiar to us.

  6. I can’t believe other Christian churches find this practice so shocking. Paul alludes to it in 1 Corinthians 15:29

    And it answers a fundamental problem most churches face:
    If religion X is the one true religion…
    And if you must belong to the true religion to be saved…
    And if religion X has only existed for a few centuries…
    And if religion X has only a nominal influence over most of the earth…

    Then, why would God damn everyone else, just because they didn’t hear the truth in their land or in their time?

    Baptizing on behalf of the dead allows everyone a crack at heaven. If they (as spirits) accept Jesus and exhibit faith in Him, and repent of their sins, then they can receive the baptism of water and of the Holy Ghost!

  7. The Mormons knocked on my door this evening and saved me from getting too annoyed at Boycie, but instead I got annoyed at them for the way they suggest politics and religion are intrinsically linked. Only last week we had the JW’s round which started me venting to them on the importance of voting. There’s some kind of irony in all this, as aside from the flavour of their nutty fervour I thought they made good canvassers and taught me a thing or two.

  8. … I got cornered by a couple of Mormons on my way back to work today, but I was too tired to harangue them.
    Someone please explain to me how a someone in the same species as me can have such a differently wired brain! I felt like I was on a different planet for a few seconds…
    We most certainly do not need them in the White House!

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