Mormonism in the Modern World
March 7, 2007 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been reading quite a bit about Mormons, and I find the history of the church of the LDS completely compelling. I was wondering if there are any liberal/progressive Mormons who could help me better understand how the history of the church and the historical representation of their founder, Joseph Smith, can be squared with the modern church.

First of all, let me say that in no way do I wish to imply anything negative about Mormons by the asking of these questions. Because I tend to respect many (but not all) religious discussions on Metafilter, I am hoping that this does not turn into chatfilter or rumors-about-a-religion-I-don't-like-filter. If at all possible, I would like to hear from actual Mormons and not from people like me, who have only read about Mormons.

Also, I am looking for responses from Mormons who are liberal and/or progressive and have a relationship with the church that is a bit more complicated than the average Mormon - I'm assuming that if you're a Metafilter reader and a Mormon, then you're probably not a die-hard, absolutist Mormon (of course, that is an assumption and could very well be wrong). I don't know any Mormons myself, so I can't ask these questions to a friend or acquaintance. I know that in regards to Protestant Christianity, there are many people who have come to a more skeptical understanding of their faith, but who are still Christians - i.e., they don't believe some of the more fantastical things in the Bible (or rather that there are not literal but metaphoric), they understand that the Bible is a historical document that has changed through time at the hands of Men (and therefore is not the Word of God), but yet still believe that Jesus was either a really groovy dude worthy of admiration, or was the Son of God. Are Mormons "allowed" to bring this kind of skeptical reasoning to their understanding of their faith, or would they be thrown out of the church?

Also, as a Mormon, how do you reconcile the perception of Joseph Smith as a fraud, a treasure-seeker, and a false-prophet? By almost every account, he was an amazingly charismatic, kind, generous, and moral man. However, he was also an undeniable (and convicted) schemer with a fertile imagination. As the leader of his young church, he ordered the murder of many Gentiles in Illinois and Missouri. He took plural wives and received in D&C 132 the revelation of plural or celestial marriage. This revelation was reinforced by other Mormon leaders like Brigham Young and John Taylor. I know now that polygamy is discouraged by the current LDS church, but how is it that Joseph Smith could have received an incorrect revelation if he were indeed the Prophet? Do you consider Joseph Smith to have been "wrong" in his revelation and, if so, was he a good man except for D&C 132?

Also, the story of the Nephites and Lamanites confuses and frustrates me. I'm assuming that Mormons do not officially, as a religion, believe in evolution. Can a Mormon choose not to believe in the story of the Nephites and Lamanites and the visit to North America by Jesus? If so, how do you explain the Book of Mormon - basically, do you believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and do you view it as a more relevant text than the D&C?

Lastly, do you believe that Mormonism is sexist or mysoginistic? It is a patriarchial institution, like Catholicism, which has itself suffered under accusations of sexism. Do you think there will come a time when women will be allowed to be priests or will be allowed to sit on the Quorum of 12? Is the patriarchal nature of the church problematic - conversely, do I misunderstand the relationship of men and women in Mormonism?

I am leaving out a lot of questions that I have for the sake of space and time. I understand that the response to some of my inquiries can be either "because that's the word of God" by die-hard Mormons or "because they're stoopid" by atheists and people of other religions. If at all possible (and if there are any Mormons of this ilk out there), I'd love to know from those of you who think, "Yeah, I think some of it is bunk but I'm still a Mormon and here's why..."
posted by billysumday to Religion & Philosophy (49 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps it's cultural.

I am atheist though I still consider myself quite Jewish. It's the trappings of the heritage that are important to me: The holidays/events, the food, the music, the art, the language these are the things I grew up with and are quite separate from the religion.

Perhaps Mormonism is old enough and developed enough of it's own pervasive culture that a non-believer/non-devout considers themselves still part of it due to heritage and genetic reasons (though it will be centuries more of genetic isolationism before there could truly be a Mormon race).

So could it then be possible to be an Athiest-Mormon? Perhaps. I know I get pissed when some schmuck says I can't be a real Jew because I don't believe Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt.

Apply the same to them. Perhaps they're Mormon mainly because they have Mormon parents, hang out with Mormons, sing Mormon songs, and like to sit down to a plate of traditional ancient Mormon cuisine.
posted by sourwookie at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2007

Not exactly an answer to your question, but if you want to read a great book about the faith, I recommend "Under the Banner of Heaven," by John Krakauer. It technically focuses on the Fundamentalist LDS offshoot church, but gives an interesting history of the church as a whole.
posted by elquien at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2007

Mormon America has a number of interviews with laypeople addressing some of the issues and experiences you are interested in. It was written by non-Mormons so some of the harder questions that will not show up in books sanctioned by the church are asked. At the same time it is not an attack piece on the church.

I'm sorry if that goes outside of what you're explicitly looking for here.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:05 AM on March 7, 2007

It technically focuses on the Fundamentalist LDS offshoot church

Just to be clear, the offshoot sect is fundamentalist Mormon, but is not LDS. That term refers only to the mainstream(ish) church to which almost all Mormons nationwide belong. All my Mormon friends are quite adamant about this distinction.
posted by rkent at 8:13 AM on March 7, 2007

You should read Roger Launius' book about the Community of Christ, which was organized by followers of Smith who did not follow Brigham Young to Utah.
posted by parmanparman at 8:43 AM on March 7, 2007

I am a Mormon, but I am probably what you would label a "die-hard" in that I believe in the revelations and the Book of Mormon, etc. A great site that I would point you to is FAIR. Fair is an acronym for Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research. FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS (Mormon) doctrine, belief and practice. Basically these are "die-hard" people who try to come to grips with some of the criticisms you mention above.

I don't have time to get into each specific issue, but virtually all adult Mormons who stay in the church at some point confront these issues. My view of most of these issues is that most Mormons believe that most of the really negative stuff about Joseph Smith is not an accurate representation of him or his character. Polygamy is not viewed as having been "wrong" but as a practice that God allowed in ancient times (Think of Abraham, etc) and for a time allowed, albeit quite selectively, in more recent times.

One thing about the LDS church is that it is actually much more difficult to not believe in the doctrines or revelations and stay a member. Believing in those things is a very central part of the church and our faith. So I would posit that most adult members of the church really believe in all of the teachings of the church, likely more so than in other religions. I hope this is helpful for you.
posted by bove at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2007

I live in San Francisco and am friends with several Salt Lake City Mormons who now live here in the Bay Area. Two are gay men (one is a current member who is closeted when doing Mormon stuff, the other is an ex-Mormon); one is a straight woman married to another Mormon. The two current members have expressed much more of a "cafeteria" approach to Mormonism than bove describes. Each speaks enthusiastically of the culture, music, traditions, family, events, but have also stated off the record that they don't believe in everything. The ex member states that he can't imagine still being a member because of the conflict in beliefs, although he misses the culture. All three report being very careful about what they say in Mormon settings.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:13 AM on March 7, 2007

I grew up as a "gentile" in Utah in the 70s and 80s with a father who had a PhD in english lit, had put in a few years at the University of Chicago divinity school, had been raised a Lutheran, met my mother during a Bahai phase, and later before he died, ghost wrote sermons for a Lutheran Church.

Some how he fell in with a group that published a magazine for Mormon intellectuals called Sunstone. My impression is that the magazine was tolerated by the church establishment, but only barely, and that it's contributors were probably on the edge of excommunication. My father, who, I think, was most devoted to stirring the pot, provided them with a lot of free editorial help.

It appears that Sunstone is still around and, near as I can tell, continues to pursue a similar mission. Some of the articles are available online.
posted by Good Brain at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2007

Well, if it helps I'm was raised Mormon. My folks and much of my family are still Mormon, and I'm not quite sure where you're coming from with this question.

First off, almost zero Mormons will publicly acknowledge Smith as a fraud. Much of the church's history is whitewashed, and believers almost exclusively buy into the church's official version of events, which doesn't exactly square with the historical record. Most mormons know a tremendous amount about the founding of their church -- with the exception of anything controversial.

Lastly, while Smith was no doubt charismatic -- the description of him as "moral" is a bit baffling. He began practicing polygamy with extremely young girls and without telling his wife, he had delusions of grandeur and ran for president, Mormon banks and other institutions he was involved in were notorious for fraud etc. When Smith was "martyred," he was in jail for leading an angry mob across town to burn down a printing press within the Mormon community that was publicly exposing much of his fraudlent financial dealings as well as criticizing polygamy. The guy behind the newspaper exposing this was formerly his good friend and if I call correctly was encouraged to start publishing the truth about all these things by Smith's own wife (the first one, whom he was still married to at the time this was all going on). When confronted with such stories, almost all Mormons are either ignorant or claim that secular historians are out to get them and distort the church's history.

As for how Smith could receive a revelation such as polygamy only to be contradicted by later prophets -- the church believes in active revelation. That is, when God told Smith to enagage in polygamy that was the right thing at that time -- it grew the church. Later when polygamy became a major political issue and began to harm the church's growth and legitmacy, god told later prophets to stop the practice. It's a very problematic and theologically questionable way of looking at divine revelation, but it's not inconsistent. (And as a side note, Mormons believe that every faithful church member given "the gift of the holy ghost" is capable of receiving divine revelation -- which is partly why there are so many ex-communcated Mormons and crazy sects floating around that have been kicked out of the church. Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven," deals with a couple of Mormons who kill their family believing God told them to do it. And FWIW, I also reccommend that book.)

As for whether or not a Mormon can choose to believe the literal word of the BoM, absolutely not. It is believed to be a divinely inspired document direct from God. Mormons believe it to be more accurate than the Bible itself. The church's articles of faith state the church believes in the bible "as far as it is translated correctly" -- with the BoM there's no doubt about the translation. Are there lots of cultural Mormons floating around who love the institution of the church and what it teaches but maybe don't believe the crazy stories? Probably, but they don't dare speak their mind publicly.

As for whether the church is misogynistic, well not really. Most orthodox christian faiths still don't allow women to be pastors or priests. Biblical teaching is pretty clear in condemning that, and the BoM and D&C certainly reinforce that even further. Only liberal church bodies that reject the literal word of the bible allow women pastors and that is largely a new development in mainline protestant churches within the last 50 years. I don't see Mormons handing over the priesthood to women within my lifetime certainly. But who knows? The church believes in active revelation so that could always change.

But as for the misogyny, I didn't really feel that it was necessarily that way growing up. Women are limited in what they can do in the church, sure, but the church emphasizes self-reliance to an extreme degree and that extends to women. They have their influence, and are hardly second class citizens in the curch. (Funny story -- my dad was appointed head of the board of elders of our ward growing up, and as such got to choose his advisors. One of the names he submitted was the head of the Ward's Relief Society, the female equivalent to the Board of Elders. They didn't seriously entertain the idea, though my dad's argument was never one that he wanted to give women more religious authority -- simply that the social well-being of the church depends on the church making sure that the voice of the priesthood's wives was heard.)
posted by Heminator at 9:22 AM on March 7, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm LDS. I served a two year mission for the church, and I live in the center of the beating heart of Mormonism. It's actually a little North of Salt Lake these days, and not in Salt Lake City proper.

I'm taking a few minutes on this question because of the genuinely curious tone of the question. I don't bother with the ones that generate flame wars.

I'm far more progressive than almost all of my LDS acquaintances, and they are accepting of me.

I'm active in the church and in the community. I have a better than average understanding of church history and doctrine. In some cases this is problematic, and in some cases it really helps put things in perspective.

So that's me.

About Joseph Smith. It's hard for a non-LDS person to understand the reverence he's held in among the believers.

"he was also an undeniable (and convicted) schemer with a fertile imagination."

It's deniable, and flatly denied. Not by me, because I don't imagine that I know everything about Joseph. Even among academics who study Joseph's life in depth, there's a lot of dissent on this.

One thing that is "undeniable" is that Joseph is/was controversial, and that he was a little strange, or was lied about a lot, or some of both.

I don't believe that Joseph ordered the murder of gentiles, as you say. That's a new one for me, and I know my Mormon history. Now, put Brigham Young in that story instead of Joseph, and it's not new anymore. I still don't think it's true, but it's at least a little more mainstream.

Ok, next. Polygamy. The official stance on that is that when it was practiced, it was right and the revelation was indeed from God. Later, the very existence of God's church in the United States was threatened because of the policy, and God caused the practice to be discontinued (through a later prophet) in order to protect His fledgling church and keep its members from being complete societal outcasts.

So the LDS God is pragmatic. That works for me.

Polygamy is not simply discouraged in the LDS church today, its practice brings automatic excommunication, no questions asked. There are groups that broke off around the turn of the century who chose to continue practicing polygamy, but they are in no way affiliated with the LDS Church. One of the largest of these is in Colorado City, AZ, just south of St. George, UT.

Your question about Nephites, Lamanites, the BOM, and D&C is unclear.

The church hasn't taken an official stance on Creationism vs. Evolutionism. I think, for the most part, we believe that while God did create Adam and Eve (and so forth) something like six thousand years ago, but that doesn't mean that there weren't other things happening on the planet before that time.

So sure, dinosaurs could have lived here 200M years ago, but God hadn't put people here yet. Or something. As I say, it's not doctrinal, just conjecture from someone who understands what doctrine there is.

An interesting side note here is that the physics-class laws of thermodynamics have ground in Mormonism. We're expressly taught that God doesn't create things from nothing, and so it's possible that this Earth is made of material from other planets that had big, lumbering dinosaurs on them. So the idea that a rock is 150M years old and can't have been a part of an Earth that was created 6,000 years ago doesn't hold water with us.

The BOM and the D&C are both considered canon and doctrinal. If there's a specific conflict you're concerned about, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

I don't believe that Mormonism is mysoginistic. Sexism, I think, is largely in the eye of the beholder, so you can make your own choice.

No, women will never serve in priesthood offices in the LDS church, but anyone who understands the question immediately sees the silliness of it.

Other religions pay the clergy, or at least grant prestige with ecclesiastical callings. The LDS pattern really turns that on its head. There's an old LDS quip that "Anyone who wants to be a bishop deserves it."

What I mean by all this is that anyone desiring any particular calling in leadership--male or female--is really missing the point, and is in for some rather sharp surprises if they get what they want. He/She would find themselves in a position that requires loads of work, pays nothing, and except for the Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, grants no recognition.

And another point that is consistently and fundamentally missed here is that the pattern of the priesthood does in fact put the power of the priesthood in the hands of women.

This is poorly understood even among our own membership, but it's easy to find among doctrinal writings and plays prominent roles in many stories in the history of the church.

A man's priesthood is not complete until he takes a wife in Celestial marriage (this happens in the temple. I won't be discussing temple ordinances here). Together, they are one in the sight of God. She holds the priesthood through him, and her priesthood is in no way diminished in power. It is his calling to use the priesthood in the family, i.e.: father's blessings, blessings of healing, revelation on behalf of the family. She has these gifts as well though, and when he is not available, she can do these things in times of need. It's his calling, but she stands at his side, and may take over in a time of need.

The relationship between men and women is that they stand side-by-side in the family and in the church. Priesthood offices are seen as a responsibility, not a privelege, of the men. There are many callings in the church that are only offered to women, particularly in the Relief Society. These are also positions of responsibility and service, not of privelege.

As your last paragraph alludes to, much of the doctrine only works on the basis of faith. Why no occasional glass of wine? I don't know. I have to have faith in the commandment.

There are many things I don't know. There are many times in the Church's history that don't seem to keep the standards that we try to maintain. There are questions about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others that are hard, if not impossible to answer.

Religion doesn't work without faith. The LDS faith is no exception.
posted by SlyBevel at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2007 [8 favorites]

Ah yes, I was going to suggest checking out Sunstone, but forgot. My folks had a subscription at one point.
posted by Heminator at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2007

SlyBevel, thanks for your response, and the time you put into it. Let me ask a few more questions to clarify some of the things I was asking earlier. As for Joseph Smith not being a deniable schemer, I wonder if you believe that it the stories of Smith possessing a peep stone and seeking buried treasure, and his career as a "money-digger" are fabrications. What opinion do you have of the trial that occurred in 1826, The People of the State of New York vs. Joseph Smith, in which Smith was found guilty of being "a disorderly person and an imposter," in regards to his services as Josiah Stowell's scryer? This was three years before the book of Mormon was published so it seems like it would be outside the realm of slander - at least relating to Smith's identity as the founder of Mormonism.

As to the Nephite/Lamanite matter, I wonder if you believe that God punished the Lamanites and made them dark-skinned, and that they then became the Native Americans. Do you believe that they will become more light-skinned as they become more righteous? Or is this an out-of-date belief? It just seems that from an historical/archaelogical (and even genetic mapping) view-point, the story of the Nephites and Lamanites is difficult to justify.
posted by billysumday at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Joseph Smith was a character, no doubt about it. The LDS Church puts a very different slant on the peep stones and the money digging.

To us, the peep stones were an ancient artifact called the Urim and Thummim, used in the Old Testament by Isrealite Priests.

I understand that money digging was a rampant practice in that day (accompanied by dowsing at times), and I don't know to what degree Joseph engaged in either practice.

Personally, I suspect that these activities went on in the Smith family at large, Joseph participated, and the stories got more notable as he did. But again, I don't know.

The trial seems to be a similar circumstance. I suspect that Joseph's notoriety was well out of his own control and that with all the rumors and claims about him, his presence probably was in fact disorderly. I'd say 'no contest' to that charge.

Joseph Smith is a big question mark for anyone who takes the time to make a serious study of him. He's not around to ask anymore, so I'm pretty sure things will stay that way.

The color of Lamanite skin issue is doctrinal, but it's not as popular a doctrine as it used to be. You don't hear people revolting from the idea outright, but it's certainly not brought up nearly as much as it was 15 years ago.

Personally, I think that skin color doesn't have anything to do with personal righteousness on an individual level. It's hard to find a black person here in Zion, but they do exist, and many are in the Church. Their skin color isn't an issue to anyone, as far as I can tell, and my liberal guilt is telling me to make sure that I say that I like black people, they're my friends, and hey we're all just a happy color blind family out here. :)

I don't know if the skin color doctrine will change, or get conveniently ignored, or newly refreshed and reconfirmed. And I really don't know what to make of it, on a personal level. If God is God, then He can change skin color. No problem. Will he change it back? Will we notice? Who does the change apply to? You got me.

For sounding like I know a lot, I sure don't know much, right?
posted by SlyBevel at 10:07 AM on March 7, 2007

SlyBevel said Your question about Nephites, Lamanites, the BOM, and D&C is unclear.

I really appreciated your response, but this issue is the one that interests me the most, and I'd love to hear your feelings about it.

Can a Mormon choose not to believe in the story of the Nephites and Lamanites and the visit to North America by Jesus? If so, how do you explain the Book of Mormon - basically, do you believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and do you view it as a more relevant text than the D&C?

The story of the Nephites and Lamanites is obviously somewhat problematic. While I understand faith is crucial here, there is no evidence of ancient civilizations as described by the BoM. So is the feeling just that the evidence is out there and we just haven't found it yet? Or that the adherent's faith needs to be strong in the BoM, and as such God does not feel the need to provide "hard" evidence. I'm totally speculating here based on my experiences with young-earth evangelicals (the two above lines of reasoning are the ones I hear most).

I don't see how you could believe in the BoM without believing the backstory about Jesus coming to America. Which is why Nephite/Lamanite issue seems nontrivial to me. Maybe I'm just really missing the point.
posted by phrontist at 10:13 AM on March 7, 2007

Interesting responses here so far. Again, if you are really interested in this stuff I would suggest FAIR. Here are some links that directly respond to your above questions.

Joseph Smith the Treasure Digger

1826 Trial of Joseph Smith

The issue of racism in the Book of Mormon

Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon and DNA evidence
posted by bove at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2007

I'm non-LDS but have several LDS friends. Fortunately my friends are as fond of theology as I am and are more than happy to openly discuss just about anything about their faith, and to take critical questions.

This very topic came up more than once, especially after I read Fawn Brodie's very critical bio of Mr. Smith. Even though I'm a non-believer in LDS doctrine, I thought I came up with the perfect and more-or-less logical solution to the dilemma of reconciling some of Joseph Smith's unpleasant excesses with his exalted status and favor with God.

From what I've been told about LDS doctrine regarding prophets: God will strike down any prophet who starts to hurt the church. Therefore my solution was very simple: God made Joseph Smith a matyr before he could cause permanent damage to his young church. And the timing was nearly perfect. The church was at a point where it needed more practical and less visionary leadership, and Brigham Young seemed a good fit for ensuring the church's survival in a hostile environment. So Joseph's exit was well-timed in that regard as well.

The beauty of this solution is that it allows the church to embrace Smith's faults, rather than either ignoring or excusing them. They could now say that Joseph Smith was not a perfect man but God could use him anyways, and God kept his church safe by taking Smith before his weaknesses could cause lasting harm.

And there would be parallels with the Bible, the most notable example would be Moses, who was killed by God for his sins before he could enter the promised land. But this death didn't cause his status to lessen in the least.

My friends thought this was an ingenious solution but, due to their reverence for Jospeh Smith, didn't think this was the case. However, I'm wondering if any LDS theologians have arrived at any idea similar to mine, in order to resolve the situation.

This doesn't answer any of your other theological questions, but does provide a solution regarding the dilemma of Joseph Smith's character vs. his status in the church.
posted by pandaharma at 10:34 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Allow me to second Krakauer's "Under The Banner Of Heaven". While the net effect is far from complimentary to Mormonism, it is equally far from a hatchet job on the Mormon faith.

To my mind, and I say this as someone who is highly critical of organized religion in general, it came off as an excellent "outsider's account" of Mormonism: Krakauer asked serious questions and tried to reconcile certain tenets of Mormonism with the historical record, but he also talked extensively with "true believers" without attempting to spin or categorize those people.

Throughout the book, he often lets Mormons speak for themselves, without passing judgement either in writing or framing.
posted by scrump at 10:34 AM on March 7, 2007

I was raised as a Mormon, and stayed in that church until I was sixteen or so. (I'm now twenty-three.)

The thing about mormonism is that it's very, very time-consuming. When I was sixteen, I went to church for four hours on Sunday, several hours on Wednesday, and every day in the morning I went to a "seminary" class before school for an hour.

They also give you one or two "jobs" in the church -- from caring for children during the church, to organizing the telephone directory, to working in the church library a few hours a week. Almost everyone above the age of twelve has some sort of extra-curricular activity that takes up some of their time each week even when they're not at church.

Couple this with an actual job, or school, and there really isn't -that- much time leftover.

Some of the things mormons believe do seem really fantastic, but honestly, as a mormon you spend a -lot- of time around other mormons. And you don't actually hear a lot of the arguments against mormonism. I always thought it was sort of curious that mormons denounced polygamy in time to vie for statehood, allowed african americans/people of color to be priests during the civil rights movement, and so on. But they -do- have an answer to everything -- some are better than others. Just as with many religions, too much questioning isn't really looked well upon. Even if something doesn't make sense, you're supposed to accept it as part of a larger divine plan, and go on faith instead of observations.

Also, the mormon beliefs may seem really bizarrre. But think about the story that most christians believe objectively, if you can. It's not really that much less weird -- just more familiar. The idea that Jesus came to America doesn't seem strange to me because I've been hearing it my whole life. To me, the idea that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are all the same guy, but not really, is really confusing. I still haven't really figured out how the trinity is supposed to work. So some of it's just perspective, I guess.

As far as sexism/misogyny -- I do find, and did find the mormon beliefs to be very sexist/misogynist. As a young girl, I remember asking my mother if I could ever be a Bishop some day, and she had to explain to me that I never could because I am female. Also, I was told over and over that when I married, I should always obey my husband, "the priesthood holder" even if I disagreed with him, because he has the priesthood, and I wouldn't. And of course, mormon families are supposed to have as many children as they can support, so that as many soul as possible can be born into mormon families.

The activities for young girls usually involved cooking or sewing, where the young men went out camping and spelunking. I always hated being forced to learn domestic tasks, being forced to wear dresses to church, and so on.

It was the sexism inherent in the mormon church that drove me out of it. I was really involved in the mormon church prior to my break with it, but eventually I just couldn't reconcile my own belief (that I'm just as worthy as any given guy out there) with the church's beliefs. And that was that.

One last note: On the story of the Lamanites and the Nephites... the way I remember it is this: Every time some evidence -supporting- the story popped up from here or there, there was a lot of huzzah'ing and backpatting. But we never really talked about, or heard about, evidence to the contrary. We just chose the bits of news we wanted to believe, and ignored any bits that we didn't.

I don't think you're going to find too many mormon scholars trying to determine the truth of the matter, since this implies a lack of faith, if that makes sense. Why research something if you already know that it's true? People might be interested in evidence confirming the story, but never in determining its truth, since its truth is given.

I apologize for the rambly nature of this reponse!
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2007 [6 favorites]

Pandaharma, your logic is beautiful, and it shows a solid understanding of that part of LDS faith.

But at the same time, no LDS person would ever take your proposal seriously, because the regular members don't think Joseph every did anything contrary to the highest of standarsds. The members who do understand the history aren't willing to talk about it so they can keep the peace. The non-members who split because of problems with Joseph wouldn't accept it because it would acknowledge Joseph's holy calling.

You have a uniquely unacceptible theory! I love it.

And...I think I hear my bishop calling.
posted by SlyBevel at 10:42 AM on March 7, 2007

Marginally on-topic: here's an Evangelical Christian issue paper about "emerging spiritualities and new religions". Essentially, it is a updated response by a main evangelical body about how Christians can best relate to other religions (especially those once branded "cults", like Mormonism). It's been a while since I read it, but I recall it making a distinction between referring to Mormonism as a "culture" rather than a "cult".
posted by puddleglum at 11:04 AM on March 7, 2007

ZeroDivides, I respect your opinion, but you're wrong or misleading on several points.

1. The Sunday block is three hours, not four, and if you're 23 then it's been that way your entire life. Before 1970 or so, church took all day, but then they consolidated everything into the uniform three hour block.
2. The time on Wednesdays you're talking about couldn't have been church...our meetings are on Sunday. I'm guessing that you are talking about Young Men's/Young Women's activities. These activities are optional, and are usually only loosely church related. I was an advisor in the Young Men's program for a while. Our activities were generally something along the lines of hiking, bowling, getting ice cream, and so on. It isn't church, but it is young people from the church doing fun things together.
3. It's true that many people in the church have callings. Nobody I know of in the Church calls it a "job," so I don't know why you put that in quotes. Bishop is usually the busiest calling in any given ward. He'll spend 20-40 hours working in that calling per week, depending on the need. Most other callings are far less demanding. Greeting in sacrament meeting requires about 20 minutes per week. Most people aren't offered a calling until they are an adult.
4. I disagree that asking questions is frowned upon in general. Certainly, there are leaders who are less understanding, but to make such a sweeping generalization is inappropriate.
5. You were given a distorted view of marriage and priesthood authority. I'm truly sorry about that. The canon and Church authorities state more times than I can count that the woman and the man stand as equals in marriage. Decisions are to be made in unity and each has an equally important role in reaching those decisions.
6. Spelunking has been a prohibited Young Men's activity during your lifetime. The Church has ruled it too dangerous (and too Freudian, if you ask me). I don’t know how the program was run in your ward, but in all the wards I’ve been in, the Young Women’s activities were mostly similar to the Young Men’s, with sewing/homemaking type activities only occurring in Relief Society events (also optional).
7. If you were forced to wear a dress to church, again, I'm sorry. This is not doctrinal, as we believe that God loves us whether we wear dresses or not. We also believe that we should dress nicely in church to show respect to God, but if your idea of dressing nicely is different than mine, who am I to judge?
8. FARMS, a famous ancient civilization research program, is operated out of the Church-owned Brigham Young University, and they research the very issues that you express doubt of research for because it would imply a lack of faith. Hugh Nibley, a prominent LDS scholar and academic, was famous for his research on these very topics with FARMS before he died.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2007

I'm a Mormon who considers himself quite progressive, doesn't live in Utah, and absolutely can't stand Mormon culture. (I can't understand why anyone would be in the church who likes the culture but doesn't believe in the religion itself, since I'm the opposite -- to each his own, I guess). I am about as active in the church as one can possibly be.

I don't have time for the kind of detailed answers that your many questions demand, but here are short versions:

1. We do believe in evolution, we don't, as a religion, believe in the "big chunks of other planets" theory (which is scientifically ludicrous), and we don't believe, as a religion, that the earth or humans are only 6000 years old. There are certainly Mormons who do believe that, but it's not part of our religion as far as I know.

2. Being skeptical and open minded should be the very core of Mormon faith -- it was ostensibly what brought J.S. to ask God about religion in the first place. In my opinion, we must question everything, always, and insist on getting the actual answers to our questions, rather than stopping when we find one we like. Most Mormons and skeptics of Mormonism stop far short of actually finding answers. The model of spiritual inquiry from the beginning of Mormonism is a) study the issue out using all available resources - logic, science, reason, etc; b) then ask God if your conclusion is correct. The kind of personal revelation that we believe in depends first on our diligent search for truth and second on our developing a relationship with God that will allow for that search to be divinely guided.

3. how do you reconcile the perception of Joseph Smith as a fraud, a treasure-seeker, and a false-prophet?

I flatly disagree with that perception. I also refuse to consider any account that is not backed up by primary sources, and then I consider carefully what the primary source, if any, actually is and how much credibility it has compared with other sources. And I don't pay any attention to FARMS, because I think they're silly.

4. As for Lamanites and Nephites, I try to focus on what the Book of Mormon actually says, rather than on what people like to assume it implies. It doesn't say that its peoples were the only ones on the American Continent, it doesn't say where it takes place, and it was translated into the religious vernacular of an uneducated young man in the 19th century. Even if you believe, as I do, that J.S. actually translated it by the direct power of God, he translated it into his own imperfect vernacular. But again, skepticism is vital, and I continue to ask the difficult questions and will do so until I find definitive answers. If you start from the assumption that Mormonism is "wrong," you've jumped to a conclusion before even starting.

5. Lastly, do you believe that Mormonism is sexist or mysoginistic?

I believe that Mormon culture is often very sexist and misogynistic. I don't believe that God is sexist or misogynistic. I believe that one of the biggest mistakes that Mormons, or anyone, can make is to assume that, having found insight into the nature of God, that they or their organization becomes infallible or that all of its actions are by definition correct or just.

My views and understanding of my religion are constantly changing as a result both of my skepticism and of my increased understanding both of doctrines and of the way that church policies have been shaped by culture over time. I recognize that the Mormon church has made mistakes over the course of its history, both institutionally and on the level of its individual members. It's frustrating that so many very intelligent people leave the church based on superficial things, or after conducting only a partial search for the truth, finding things that cause them to doubt, but not pursuing their questions until they actually get complete answers. My biggest pet peeve is when people make assertions about church history or Mormon beliefs without citing primary sources that are available to the reader.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:46 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thirding "Banner of heaven". Excellent book.
posted by lalochezia at 3:31 PM on March 7, 2007

Wow, I can't believe no mention has been made of the ties to the Freemasons. From what I understand, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both Freemasons of high degree, and there are deep parallels between the secret handshakes that are used in the church and the ones used by the masons. Do mormons ever talk about where these secret rituals come from?
posted by mullingitover at 4:21 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

mullingitover, the reason nobody has mentioned that is that it wasn't part of the compound question at the top of the page. We're trying not to derail.

And yes, Mormons often talk about where our rituals come from. We're not likely to participate in a discussion about it on MeFi, though, since we believe that we shouldn't discuss certain sacred things publicly.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:33 PM on March 7, 2007

mullingitover: I'm pretty sure most influential/successful men in the 19th century were Freemasons. It definitely makes for an interesting line of inquiry/discussion, but it doesn't seem like there's anything nefarious about it.

Thank you JekPorkins, bove, SlyBevel, and Heminator for your responses. I guess that perhaps my greatest question was answered - that Mormonism (is that a correct -ism?) tends to keep a tight hold on inquiry in the church and that it is not possible to seriously doubt the morality and righteousness of its founders without abandoning the church and/or being excommunicated from the church. JekPorkins, your comment, "My biggest pet peeve is when people make assertions about church history or Mormon beliefs without citing primary sources that are available to the reader," seems a pattern with what I've been reading today (laregly from the sites provided by bove) - any primary source that can be viewed as portraying Smith or Young negatively is voraciously discredited while any whisps of evidence even marginally justifying the veracity of the BoM is loudly proclaimed. Such it is with any religion, I suppose. Thanks again for your responses.
posted by billysumday at 4:43 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

(and ZeroDivides!)
posted by billysumday at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2007

that Mormonism (is that a correct -ism?) tends to keep a tight hold on inquiry in the church and that it is not possible to seriously doubt the morality and righteousness of its founders without abandoning the church and/or being excommunicated from the church.

Actually, it's pretty darned tough to get excommunicated from the Mormon church. Outside of unrepentant sexual misconduct, embezzling from the church, spousal abuse, excommunication is pretty rare, especially outside of Utah. In Utah, people can get a bit zealous. A great piece on the topic is Nibley's "Zeal Without Knowledge." (I don't normally get into Nibley, but that one's great).

any primary source that can be viewed as portraying Smith or Young negatively is voraciously discredited while any whisps of evidence even marginally justifying the veracity of the BoM is loudly proclaimed

Such is the case with any kind of apologetics. It's one of the reasons I ignore FARMS. But the anti-mormon folks tend to do the same in reverse. It certainly makes it tough to look objectively at it, which is frustrating, since anything that calls itself scholarship should be more objective than that.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:03 PM on March 7, 2007

I'm assuming that if you're a Metafilter reader and a Mormon, then you're probably not a die-hard, absolutist Mormon (of course, that is an assumption and could very well be wrong).

It's wrong. My life is in complete lockstep with the doctrines of the church. Also I'd like to add that I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. The restored gospel, with all its doctrines, is too deep and too inspired to be the workings of an uneducated plowboy - or anyone else for that matter.

Good luck with your search billysumday. Great thread!
posted by dropkick at 6:16 PM on March 7, 2007

Also I'd like to add that I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. The restored gospel, with all its doctrines, is too deep and too inspired to be the workings of an uneducated plowboy - or anyone else for that matter.

Too coincidental to be the workings of an uneducated treasure-digger, perhaps.
posted by Brian B. at 7:08 PM on March 7, 2007

Ha, this is probably one of the better discussions on "mormonism" that I've ever read. I'm a true-blue, died-in-the-wool mormon, and a convert to the church at that. I served a mission, spent a year in Utah, and am about as active in the church as anyone can be. Here's a few of my thoughts:
  • Intellectual debate: I've always found members of the church, and especially leaders of the church to be very open to discussions about the very cores of our doctrine, and I've noticed that the more active and "higher-level" someone is in the church, the more open-minded and honest they are about them.
  • Evolution/etc: The church has no official position on this, they actually say "We don't know, God hasn't told us; Do your best to figure it out, and ask God to help you." One of the things I LOVE, and I mean absolutely LOVE about the church is the feeling of intellectual honesty, and the encouragement to seek knowledge, understanding, and truth, where ever it might be. There is a undercurrent of self-improvement and self-examination that I have never found anywhere else.
  • Culture/Doctrine: I think it's very important to understand that there is a very profound difference between mormon doctrine and mormon culture. This means there are a lot of things that members of the church believe that don't fit within the stated positions of the church. Are there racists in the church? yes. Are there sexists? yes. People that don't believe in science? yes. But none of these are reflections on what we term "the gospel". People are imperfect and prone to mistakes. We don't believe the doctrine is.
  • Joseph Smith was not a perfect man, in many ways he was deeply flawed, but as he himself said "there is no error in the revelations I have received". I take it as very comforting that God could use such an imperfect man to do such a great work. His contributions to humanity are immense. As a side note, one of the things that bugs me is that most people think of Joseph Smith as someone who "received the gold bible from the angel", which he did, but his First Vision is much, much more important, when he saw, and spoke with face-to-face (like Moses) God, our Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ. That's what started it all off, the Book of Mormon is a symptom of that, not the cause of it.
  • Belief in the Book of Mormon: Many of the prophets of the church has stated very clearly that our belief in the Book of Mormon (and the doctrines that flow from it), and our support of the continuing revelation given to church leaders are what make us different as a people. If you do not believe the Book of Mormon to be a divine revelation, (whether you believe it to be historical fact could be a different issue) then how could you call yourself Mormon? It is definitely NOT easy to be a member, it would be easier to stay home on Sundays, not pay tithing, not serve in the church, not avoid alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. But people live these things because they believe and know them to be true. But not only that, I live these things, and I can see how my life is better than it ever was before. I love the church, just love it. No one gave me this belief, this knowledge. Before I joined the church I read everything negative or contrary to the church that I could find (isn't the internet wonderful), and I found more contradictions in what people wrote against the church than in any of its doctrines. When it came time for me to decide, I prayed, I asked God, and he told me. Yes, he litterally told me, he communicated with me in ways that I won't share here. We expect everyone to go through this same process. And we expect that everyone will receive the same answer. We're sure of it.

  • posted by blue_beetle at 7:52 PM on March 7, 2007

    Sorry if that got a bit preachy, I don't generally get like that. honest ;-)
    posted by blue_beetle at 7:55 PM on March 7, 2007

    Oh, and as for your question about women holding priesthood offices, and being members of the quorum of the 12, well, it would take a revelation; but that's also what we're all about.

    I do also think that there's a general misunderstanding of the priesthood among non-mormons, because it's viewed as equivalent to the priesthood in other churches, such as the catholic church, I think it's very different. As far as offices go in the church, the clergy are not employed, permanent, or different than any other members, and in general positions are rotated through the membership. No one applies for a position, men and women have separate organizations run by the members of their individual organization. There are a million and one programs run by the church, but outside of sunday meetings they're pretty much optional and self-directed.

    As to the question of "Also, as a Mormon, how do you reconcile the perception of Joseph Smith as a fraud, a treasure-seeker, and a false-prophet?" I do not attempt to reconcile or accept that perception. Fraud? Nope. treasure-seeker? Sure, I can accept that. False-Prophet? Not a chance. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.
    posted by blue_beetle at 8:01 PM on March 7, 2007

    I apologize in advance for the very long post, I'm a little passionate about this subject.

    I am a lapsed Mormon, with all the credentials - born and raised in Utah, served a two year Mormon mission, etc., etc. But I've always had an uneasy relationship with the LDS church because of many of the issues addressed in this thread.

    My father was very active with Sunstone in the 90's and is still very close friends with five of the September Six - prominent, excommunicated, Mormon intellectuals. Take a look at the bios for those people and I think you'll see the LDS church does not take kindly to criticism by its own members. You'll also see that three of the six excommunicants were outspoken feminists. Take that as you will.

    JekPorkins says he's willing to consider primary sources. If so I would highly recommend anything by Michael Quinn. His books are copiously researched, and all his sources, virtually all primary sources, are meticulously noted. He was still excommunicated.

    I had, and to a great extent, still have a lot of difficulty sorting through the issues that started this thread. Many have posted about how open and forthcoming the church is regarding questioning. But my experience has been precisely the opposite.

    The LDS church began as a very progressive, socially radical religious movement. Joseph Smith ordained blacks to the priesthood, started the Relief Society - the church's women's organization - which was one of the largest female organizations of the time, instituted polygamy and started the church on a path of a communal community called the United Order - based on the very communist Law of Consecration.

    Even up until as late as the 1960s the church was quite tolerant of dissent and questioning. Church president and prophet David O. McKay even came to the defense of prominent Mormon intellectual and perennial dissenter Sterling McMurrin by volunteering to testify on McMurrin's behalf at an excommunication court.

    But since then things have changed drastically. The church created an organizational arm known as the Correlation Committee tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all church materials are "correlated," or on-topic. All official church manuals on the origins of Mormonsim have a very abbreviated, very white-washed version of the events.

    While there is only one official version of Joseph Smith's account of his First Vision, in which he claims to have spoken with God and Jesus face to face, in reality Joseph wrote and published a number of different tellings of his vision - some which never make mention of seeing and speaking with God and Jesus.

    No official church manual or publication on Brigham Young contains any mention of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    From my perspective, for the last 20 years the church seems to have been working very hard at assimilating with traditional, conservative American values while ignoring, or even denying, the far more socially radical doctrines and origins of the church.

    I do not mean to only present the negative aspects of the LDS church here. My extended family is all very Mormon. I am still very interested in the machinations of the church and greatly admire their international humanitarian work. I am still very invested in and influence by much of Mormon doctrine.

    But for a church that claims to be ever-changing and lead directly by Jesus Christ through divine revelation to the Prophet - they sure are slow to change. I am greatly disappointed by the LDS church's total failure at providing a place for homosexuals, among whom are some of the church's most spiritual and dedicated members. Not only has the church failed to address the needs of these members in any way other than telling them to remain celibate, or marry a woman, they have actively solicited donations from church members and used tithing funds to support anti-gay-marriage initiatives across the country - adversely impacting the lives of gay people with absolutely no affiliation to the church.

    I am also equally disappointed by the church's inability to provide anything more than lip-service and a handful of scripture quotes to the concept of gender-equality. Despite all of SlyBevel's insistance to the contrary, women are very much in an inferior position when it comes to the governance of the church organization. Which is important to note, because ostensibly one cannot be exalted without participation in the rites and ordinances of the organization. Men are granted the priesthood, which doctrinally grants them the literal power to act in God's name, while women are only granted such access through their husband, father, bishop, or any other such person with the proper genitalia.

    Anyway, that's my blow-hard rant, FWIW.
    posted by Grundlebug at 8:53 AM on March 8, 2007 [10 favorites]

    I'd like to chime in once more to say that this thread has just been fantastic for the civility with which most opinions in it have been expressed. I really hope it continues, and doesn't devolve into flaming, because I, for one, feel like I've learned a heck of a lot from it.
    posted by scrump at 10:11 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

    This is a marvelous thread. I wonder if I could tag on a question that has always nagged at me though: in a religion that encompasses active revelation, meaning God can speak through a Mormon at any time, how does the church decide what is real revelation and what isn't? I mean, I guess disagreement of this kind is the main reason there are so many fundamentalist offshoot sects, but if a Mormon were to announce tomorrow that God wants everyone to wear pancakes on their head, how does the church leadership "vet" the revelation?
    posted by poxuppit at 11:43 AM on March 8, 2007


    The answer is that each member has his own "stewardship." Hence a man can receive revelation for himself, or his family; a bishop (like a pastor) can receive revelation for his ward (like a parish); only the prophet can receive revelation for the whole church.

    That's a little simplified, but it's more or less the case. From a Mormon perspective.
    posted by Grundlebug at 11:57 AM on March 8, 2007

    Confessions of a Mormon Boy.
    posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on March 8, 2007

    Pandaharma says: the most notable example would be Moses, who was killed by God for his sins before he could enter the promised land.

    According to the Bible, God banned Moses from entering the promised land, and Moses died (at age 120), just before the Israelites entered the land. He was not killed by God. There's a big difference between exile and capital punishment.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:46 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

    I second the book Mormon America, it is a fantastic read. You'll also learn more at Ask this question on the boards for some more insight. It isn't as biased as you might assume.
    posted by necessitas at 6:18 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

    So did anyone answer this question?

    I'd love to know from those of you who think, "Yeah, I think some of it is bunk but I'm still a Mormon and here's why..."
    posted by Brian B. at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2007

    You know, as the solicitor of the question, I was a little disappointed in the fact that that specific inquiry was not addressed (or not addressed by someone who fit that question explicitly). There seems to be a rigidity to the religion that is different than, say, Protestantism (which is what I am most familiar with), which I see as a broad umbrella of quite varying denominations. There are even specific differences from congregation to congregation within the same denomination. The Baptist church here in my town is vigorously liberal, who'd a thunk it. It's more of a bottom-up thing with Protestantism, I think, than with LDS, in which "revelations" and directives come from the top and are expected to be obeyed and adhered to amongst the entirety of the church. As someone said earlier, "How can you be Mormon but not believe in the BoM?" True enough. How can you doubt Joseph Smith and be a Mormon? How can you doubt the story of the Nephites and the Lamanites and be a Mormon? You can't, I'm guessing.

    Still, the responses have been great. It makes sense, in a way. I mean, once you believe in a heavenly, supernatural Being who can flaunt the laws of biology, physics, space, and time, then you can believe anything. Pretty much all religions require a leap of faith - perhaps Mormonism requires significantly more because of the not-too-distant founding of the church, and the problematic written and oral histories of its founders, but c'est la vie. More power to 'em.

    Also, it was argued earlier that the church does not really excommunicate people for disagreeing with them or for asking too critical of questions. But Michael Quinn, a former professor at BYU, who had a long history of demanding more transparency on the part of the church leadership, was excommunicated in 1993 along with five other scholars for apostasy. As he had put it, "The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials."

    Clearly, this is not what the council or quorum or whatever who controls the church wants to hear from its own scholars and the employees of its privately-funded university.

    My prediction is that if Mormonism continues to grow (as Krakauer and other authors have predicted), the church is going to get to a point where it will not have as much control as it does now. Perhaps there will be a Mormon Luther, nailing a new 95 theses to the door of the temple in Salt Lake City. That would be interesting.
    posted by billysumday at 12:16 PM on March 9, 2007

    I mean, once you believe in a heavenly, supernatural Being who can flaunt the laws of biology, physics, space, and time, then you can believe anything.

    See, the thing is, we Mormons don't believe that God can flaunt the laws of biology, physics, space, and time. I'm not sure how unique we are in that belief, either.

    But Michael Quinn . . . was excommunicated in 1993 along with five other scholars for apostasy.

    But what, exactly, did "apostasy" mean in the context of his excommunication? Apostasy isn't the same thing as disagreeing with church leadership on minor points or asking critical questions. I don't know what, exactly, Quinn's and the other professors' alleged "apostasy" was, but from what I've read, Quinn was excommunicated because he failed to show up for the hearing. That seems a bit heavy-handed to me on its face, but I'm not privy to the confidential record of the proceedings, so I really can't say. Utah Mormons can certainly get zealous, though, and that does bother me. It seems like there was a period during the 90s where there was a real showdown in Provo between local leaders and a few scholars trying to push the envelope of what they could get away with. The results were both disappointing and predictable, and make me glad I don't live anywhere near there.

    Clearly, this is not what the council or quorum or whatever who controls the church wants to hear from its own scholars and the employees of its privately-funded university.

    I had several professors at that university who said things like that all the time, and none of them were excommunicated or lost their jobs because of it. I say that sort of thing all the time, and I've never heard anything but agreement on the subject from church leaders. Perhaps those of us who have been well-received are just more diplomatic than Quinn, Allred and others. Or maybe the content of their criticism goes more to the fundamental doctrines of the church. It's hard to say.

    erhaps there will be a Mormon Luther, nailing a new 95 theses to the door of the temple in Salt Lake City

    Perhaps. But what would those 95 theses be? If they included things like questions about the divine nature of the Book of Mormon or the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith, wouldn't that be like if Luther's theses had included questioning whether Peter really was an apostle, or if maybe when Peter denied Christ three times, that was evidence that Peter was a con man? Luther didn't question the central tenets of Christianity, he questioned the manner in which the organized religion purported to carry out God's will. That sort of questioning is vital. But if someone makes assertions that the central tenets of a religion are false, how can they consider themselves adherents of that religion?

    As liberal as any congregation of any religion might be, what makes them a congregation and not just a random group of people is that they share common core beliefs. I mean, you don't go to a Baptist church and find a faction of the Baptists who are fervent Baptists but don't actually believe that Jesus ever existed. For Mormons, those core beliefs include beliefs regarding the divine sonship of Christ, his atonement, and, yes, belief in Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God and of the Book of Mormon as being what it purports to be. As a very skeptical Mormon, I'm happy to say that I think that much of what the majority of Mormons believe is bunk, because I believe that much of what they believe is something other than or contradictory to those core beliefs. I suspect that much of my own understanding of divine things is also bunk, but I'm trying to understand it better and not be bogged down by false assumptions or beliefs.

    So did anyone answer this question?
    I'd love to know from those of you who think, "Yeah, I think some of it is bunk but I'm still a Mormon and here's why..."

    So, in case it's not clear, here's my answer to that quesiton: Yeah, some of it is bunk, but I'm still a Mormon and here's why: I don't believe that the central tenets of the religion are bunk. I believe that a huge amount of the garbage that everyday Mormons believe is bunk, but I don't believe that garbage has anything to do with the core beliefs. I believe that I probably believe several things that I'll later figure out are bunk, and I'm trying to figure that out sooner rather than later. There is such a long list of typical Mormon beliefs that I think are folklore rather than doctrine that I could write a series of books.

    But that doesn't affect my belief in the central tenets for one reason: I, like many other Mormons, have had numerous experiences that I believe have been direct indications from God that those central tenets are true. I believe that my prayers have been answered time and time again. When you ask someone how they reconcile what they believe God has told them with what some historian has theorized, what God told them will win every time. You can call them crazy for believing that God communicated with them, and that's all well and good. But "you're crazy" has never been a very effective way of convincing someone of something.
    posted by JekPorkins at 3:06 PM on March 9, 2007

    I believe that a huge amount of the garbage that everyday Mormons believe is bunk, but I don't believe that garbage has anything to do with the core beliefs.

    What everyday beliefs are you referring to?
    posted by Brian B. at 3:17 PM on March 9, 2007

    See, the thing is, we Mormons don't believe that God can flaunt the laws of biology, physics, space, and time. I'm not sure how unique we are in that belief, either.

    Maybe not all Mormons. But do you believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead? Was He the result of a virgin birth? These events are supernatural. How did Jesus get to North America (honestly, I don't know) - but if I recall it had some supernatural element to it. Some would argue that the belief in the spiritual realm (angels, demons, speaking with God, etc.) is the belief in a irrational, non-physical world.

    But what would those 95 theses be?

    Sorry, I didn't explain that very well. From my perspective, it seems like Mormonism is very like Catholicism, with a rigid heirarchy. What I'm saying is that the larger the church grows and the further it deviates from its original intent and foundation (you said yourself that the original church was quite radical, while the current church is growing more and more conservative and capitalistic), the more likely it will be that someone will say, "I refute the direction the Mormon Church is heading in and I believe that this is the way..." Of course, many fundamentalists have said this, to poor effect. My Martin Luther comment had more to do with the church structure being disputed rather than issues of faith or doctrine - someday there will be a split, just as the genesis of Protestantism was a cleaving from the heirarchal, patriarchial "institution" of Catholicism.
    posted by billysumday at 3:45 PM on March 9, 2007

    But do you believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead? Was He the result of a virgin birth?

    Mormons generally believe that Mary had sexual intercourse with God's physical body. Since Mormons claim that God dwells in a separate solar system named Kolob--they haven't escaped supernaturalism in believing this.
    posted by Brian B. at 6:27 PM on March 9, 2007

    I think that's probably "flout", not "flaunt". Sorry. Pet peeve.
    posted by flabdablet at 8:40 PM on March 11, 2007

    Mormon perspective: God uses more laws of physics, biology, space, and time than we do. In fact, He uses all of them. On a vastly smaller scale, we today use a few more than we used to, and do things that would have been considered impossible mere centuries ago. Consider the refined aluminum in a 747, never mind what that 747 does even ... mind-blowing, to see that quantity of metallic aluminum. I'm inclined to believe that there may yet be applications of laws, technologies if you will, that we have not yet imagined.

    And sorry, Brian B., but Mormons generally avoid making pronouncements on how God got His DNA and Mary's together. And most that I've known take the word 'virgin' more seriously, if anything, than they need to. May I suggest that you drink your Mormon beliefs from the spring, not downstream after the cattle have waded?

    And thank you, flabdablet. Pet peeve here too.
    posted by eritain at 5:04 AM on May 1, 2007

    Re the Nephite/Lamanite thing, recognize two things. The first, of which the average Mormon is becoming more aware, is that those terms mean different things at different points in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes they are tribal identifiers, sometimes national, sometimes connected to skin color and sometimes not. The second, which is more subtle, is that there is a distinction in the text between the curse, namely ignorance of the true God, and the mark, which was dark skin for the literal descendents of Laman, Lemuel, and Ishmael (and another mark for at least one other group dissenters). The curse is removed; the mark loses its significance as such.
    posted by eritain at 5:10 AM on May 1, 2007

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