Today I will give a shout-out to a different religion. I am not a Mormon, have never been a Mormon, and have no connections to Mormonism at all, other than that I once briefly dated a young women who was Mormon. (Very briefly.) So I don’t have a dog in this fight. (Or as Joseph Smith would say, I don’t have a goat in this fight.) But they’ve been in the news lately due to the release of the Book of Mormon musical, which sounds to me as vulgar and stupid as anything else that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have ever done. In a way, when someone devotes an entire Broadway musical to attacking you, you know that your religion has arrived and become relevant. No one has ever gone after the Hutterites in a Broadway musical, for instance, and I doubt anyone ever will. But what distresses me is that any pop culture mention of Mormonism focuses only on the issue of polygamy. First of all, the early Mormons technically practiced polygyny, not polygamy. More importantly, why obsess over something that they haven’t done for 121 years when there’s so many other fun things to poke at? Lately, a few “anti-mos” have expanded there repertoire to topics such as the LDS Church’s long history of racism and the Temple Garments, but even so that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to converse about Mormonism at parties, I offer the following list as a way to get the discussion rolling.
1. Oops! We’d better change that.
The fundamental claim of Mormonism is that Jospeh Smith received a genuine revelation from God on a set of golden plates, which he translated with divine assistance and a “seer stone” (see #4 below). The Book of Mormon, as originally published, contained thousands of errors, and later editions had to be changed to correct this, which isn’t too convenient for a church trying to claim that God gave the words directly to Smith. The Church claims that all of the changes are of grammar and spelling errors in the original. In truth, most are, but some are due to major errors in continuity. Characters would die and then inexplicably show up again. or they’d be mentioned and discussed before they first appeared, and so forth. The process of editing the Book of Mormon continues to this day, with the latest changes occuring in 1981.
2. Quakers on the Moon.
Oliver Huntington, an early Mormon convert, said the following in a Mormon publication called Young Women’s Journal in 1892:
“As far back as 1837, I know that he said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do — that they live generally to near the age of 1000 years.
“He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style.
“In my Patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel before I was 21 years of age; that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants upon the islands of the sea, and to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.”
And what does the modern-day LDS Church have to say about this? Well, according to Steven Gibson in the book One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions:
At the present time, man has no scientific or revealed knowledge of whether or not there are inhabitants on the earth’s moon. The fact that a handful of astronauts didn’t see any inhabitants in the tiny area they viewed when they landed on the moon decades ago certainly gives no definitive information, any more than visitors to earth who might land in barren Death Valley would have any idea of the billions of inhabitants elsewhere.
One wonders what the two-minute answer would be?
3. Worshipping beer – Pay Lay Ale
At the Great Endowment Ceremony, participants chant the phrase “Pay Lay Ale” while holding their hands above their head and then bowing down three times. According to Joseph Smith, these words mean “Lord, hear the words of my mouth” in the language spoken in the Graden of Eden. Then, in 1991, the LDS Church abruptly changed it to the English phrase. While they don’t give any official reason, it probably has something to do with the fact that many people simply got confused and thought they were chanting “pale ale”. It seems that thousands, perhaps millions, of Mormons spent their life thinking that they were supposed to chant the name of a beer at that point in the ceremony.
4. The seer stone.
Few people even among church members know what profession Joseph Smith was before ‘finding’ the famous golden plates. He was a professional con artist who tried a variety of means for suckering people out of their money. One of his favorite tricks was to show up in town with a magic ‘seer stone’ and claim that he would use it to find buried treasure. Gulible locals would buy in for a share of the treasure, after which he’d find nothing and try to make off with the money. In 1826 he was put on trial for this and other crimes, and the trial records are the best documents we have of his early life. Among other things, it appears that the stone he used for the phony treasure hunt was the same one he used to ‘translate’ the Book of Mormon.
5. The Journal of Discourses.
The Journal of Discourses is a book from the early years of Mormonism containing the text of every sermon gives by the Prophets and Apostles from the first forty years or so in Mormon history. According to Mormon doctrine, these church leaders are infallible while giving relevations from God. (Not infallible at all times, but certainly while claiming to be speaking for God. Brigham Young, Joseph Smith’s successor, handled the problem nicely by saying that all his sermons were revelations from God.) Some of the material in this book is a bit embarrassing to the LDS Church. How embarrassing? Well, in the early 20th century, church authorities ordered all the copies to be turned in, so they could be destroyed.
Unfortunately for them, a few slipped through.
6. Law of Adoption – sealing man to man.
The LDS Church has been active in fighting against gay marriage in recent years. What few people know is that in addition to polygyny, the church in its early years practiced something that certainly looks a lot like gay marriage. They used the term “sealing” to indicate special marriages performed in the Temple in a ceremony supposedly received from God by Joseph Smith. While Mormon leaders, including Smith, generally had dozens of wives “sealed” to them, there was also a ceremony for “sealing” men to other men. This was called the “Law of Adoption” and one manned was called the father while the other was called the son. However, the two men were usually of the same age. One has to wonder.
7. And on the next day, God created vampires.
It is a part of Mormon teaching that prior to the Fall, neither Adam nor Eve nor any of the animals in the Garden of Eden had blood in their veins. Exactly why they had veins when there was no blood to flow through them is not explained.
8. Kinderhook Plates
Even during his lifetime, people living near Jospeh Smith speculated that he was merely spinning tales off the top of his head based on anything he found that looked like an ancient artifact. In 1843 some local farmers created a forged set of brass plates, decorated with faux-Chinese characters copied from a tea box. Joseph Smith took the bait and composed an elaborate fake history to explain the existence of the plates.
9. Nephi or Moroni
Central to Mormonism is the claim that the angle Moroni first lead Joseph Smith to the golden plates and then, after he’d translated them, received the plates back and carried them to Heaven. Oddly enough, Smith himself didn’t say that. He said that a different character, Nephi, appeared to him and showed him the plates. (In Smith’s theology, all angels are former humans; both Moroni and Nephi are characters in the Book of Mormon.) Later generations of church leaders apparently decided that it made more sense for Moroni appear to Smith than Nephi, and they changed the name in all relevant church documents.
10. “Come un into”
As I began this list with the fact that thousands of changes have been made since the original printing of the Book of Mormon, I’ll conclude with something that probably ought to have been changed but wasn’t. In the King James Bible, the phrase “come in unto” is a euphanism for sex. For instance:
“And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.” [Gen 30:16]
It seems safe to say that Joseph Smith did not know this, since the Book of Mormon has verses such as:
“Now the queen having heard of the fame of Ammon, therefore she sent and desired that he should come in unto her.” [Alma 19:2]
These are the humorous reasons for not taking Mormon claims seriously. There are serious reasons, too. This post on Dale Husband’s blog is a bit aggressive, but it’s also, in my opinion, entirely true.