Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mitt Romney, Lies and The Mormon Church 1/3

by Nomad

Recently I began to wonder: Disregarding the possibility that it is some kind of pathological problem, where did Romney learn to lie so much? It's really quite remarkable when you start looking at all of the strange things he has said in the campaign.

How did Romney get to be such a despoiler of truth? Was he born that way? Or was it a case of a failure of moral instruction. Or perhaps was a successful education but of amorality. 

To answer that question we must begin at the usual sources of such instruction. Most of us collect our moral or ethical education from our parents, our peers and our faith, which in this case, is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church), the Mormons.

To outsiders who know very little about the faith, Mormons are just another a quirky conservative religion. Jokes are usually made about the “magic underwear”- a kind of soft chastity belt- and that’s about all. Others have called the religion little more than a cult. 

The LDS Church likes to promote itself as merely a variety of Christianity but, for your average Christian, there are quite a few jolts and shocks in store. As we shall see, over the years, the Church has attempted to conceal its more extreme notions and to downplay a lot of its history. Hapless missionaries were left to explain as best they could what even they could not understand or justify. In recent years, the Church has undertaken to radically reform its belief system in order to resolve, once and for all, these problems. It won't be easy.

Still, with the possibility of America’s first Mormon president, it is perhaps time to ask some hard questions about the history and the principles of this, Mitt Romney’s faith.

A Hoax?
Let’s start with the most basic yet the most difficult question: 
Is the Mormon Church based on a lie?

It may sound like a provocative question but it is not a new question at all. From its very roots, some critics (many former Mormons) charge the origins of this religion were based on a fairly transparent fiction. 

Its founder once bragged that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct book on the face of the earth,” - a claim that most devout Christians would consider heresy. It is based on the belief that the Bible over the years has been edited and rewritten, amended and mistranslated until it can just as easily misdirect the faithful. (The Muslims- like Mormons- also hold to this idea.) 

The only problem with the boast about the superiority of the Mormon holy book is that is simply not true. There are countless historical inaccuracies in the text. These errors reflect that rather than a translation of ancient text the holy book is actually little more than a product of an early 19th-century hoax. (For a full account of these errors, you can find a detailed investigation here, and here.)

First a quick review of Mormon history.

In 1823 near Palmyra, New York, Smith said an angel (Moroni by name) revealed to him a buried book written on golden plates containing the religious history of an ancient people, a lost tribe of Israelites who build a vessel, like Noah, and sailed across the ocean to America.

Smith published what he said was a translation of these plates in March 1830 as the Book of Mormon, named after Mormon, the ancient prophet-historian who compiled the book.

In spite of this colorful idea, there is, unfortunately, not one piece of North American archeology to support the claims of the Book of Mormon. No graves, no artifacts, no bones, not one thing. 

There are also repeated anachronisms throughout the book, problems like techniques of agriculture and processes of metallurgy, biology, and language. 

In short, the book fails every scientific test.
For a book that is supposed to have been divinely discovered and miraculously translated, these are problems that cannot be easily resolved. (And there are yet more problems with the Smith's Egyptian translations.)The best response that Church leaders have given is to claim that the verdict is still out and only God knows what will be discovered to validate the words in the book. The Smithsonian Museum politely disagreed and considered there to be very little scientific reality in the Book of Mormon.

Twain’s Remarks
One of the earliest critics of the Book of Mormon was none other than Mark Twain. In his book, Roughing It, about his days out West, he studied the Book of Mormon with a satirical eye and made some amusing observations. 

“All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the "elect" have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so "slow," so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.”
After reading the book, he was less than impressed.
The book seems to be merely a prosy detail imaginary history, with the Old Testament as model, followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old fashioned sound and structure of our King James’ translation of the Scriptures; the result is a mongrel - half modern glibness and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained, the former natural, grotesque by contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern-which was about every sentence or two- he ladled in a few such scriptural phrases as “exceedingly sore” “and it came to pass” etc and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left it out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.
The Man Named Smith
Apologists would say that most religions have their inaccuracies. The New Testament itself has its own contradictions. However in the Mormon Church, it goes far beyond merely phony history and into purposeful deceit. Historians have alleged that Smith was, in fact, a charlatan who preyed upon the gullibility of the innocent. And this was an allegation even before he became a Church father. Specifically,
"It was charged that Joseph Smith was accused and found guilt of parting a local farmer from his money in a less than honest scheme, commonly known as 'money-digging' or 'glass-looking.' It was reported to have been an activity that brought him rebuke from his soon-to-be father-in-law, Isaac Hale. It is also historically recorded that he was removed from membership in a local Methodist church because of the activity and trial results.

It is a serious charge but until recently there was very little concrete evidence to support it. One Mormon historian Hugh Nibley, in his 1961 book, The Myth Makers, felt confident enough to state categorically that the claim was false. However, he also added, if evidence should ever be found it would constitute the most damning blow that could be imagined to Smith's claim of divine prophetship.

On September 16, 2005, further historical evidence emerged.
A historian in New York state has rediscovered historical records that detail how Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, a native of Vermont, was arrested on four occasions in the mid-1820s.
Chenango County Historian Dale Storms says she turned over the newly found documents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Partial records of the arrests had long been in the possession of the county and known to historians, but Storms says the documents fill in some historical holes.
The Mormon church says it's pleased the original papers of Smith's court proceedings in 1826 and 1830 have been returned. But the church says they don't reveal anything new about the Mormons' founder.
The documents include arrest warrants, court transcripts and legal bills from four separate charges. The cases detail Smith's involvement in glass looking, or treasure seeking, and being a disorderly person.
The Church collected the evidence, declared them to be valueless and, despite this conclusive proof of his arrest, launched no further investigation. To the followers and leaders of the Church, the arrest of Smith only proves that he was once both a treasure hunter and a mystic but that, in itself, does not contradict his religious convictions. 

Because of the antagonism that the Mormon faith created, it is impossible to know the true validity of the claims made against its founder. There were other charges against Smith are harder to ignore.
In Kirtland, Ohio, which became the headquarters of the church from 1831 to 1838. (According to at least one source, Smith was, in 1832, tarred and feathered in Kirtland for sexual indiscretions with 15-year old Nancy Marinda Johnson)

Another allegation includes larceny. Smith and Church leaders establish a bank.(Kirtland Safety Bank) without obtaining a state banking charter, The bank collapsed and Smith and his followers reportedly absconded to Missouri in the dead of night with the remaining funds. 

In Missouri, he and his followers ran into more trouble. History tells us that Smith called for insurrection, threatening to burn two towns to the ground. This led to a skirmish between the Mormons and the Missouri Militia, called as “The Battle of Crooked River.The Mormon was routed and forced to leave the state. Smith himself was eventually In 1838, was arrested for treason against the United States was imprisoned for several months.

A year later In 1839, Smith rejoined his some followers and settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, and after the setback in Missouri regrouped his power base. By now, Smith had- by some accounts- succumbed to full-blown megalomania. After the event in New York, Ohio and, Missouri, he decided to petition the lawmakers in Washington DC for his grievances for atrocities committed against the Mormon followers.This was quickly dismissed and critics claim Smith began actively began advocating the complete overthrow of the Federal Government.

Between 1842 and 1844, Smith established a Mormon government to replace the United States federal government. This included a King- himself-, a president, Brigham Young “and other church leaders in his secret "Council of Fifty" as Governors of the various states and territories.“ 

Additionally, he created a Mormon army of a purported "100,000 man militia" which was to be used to overthrow the US Government by military force. At this time, he made two far-reaching declarations. One, he decreed the doctrine of polygamy and in "Doctrine of the Constitution Versus the Law", he formally declared that Mormonism was the law of the land, which superseded America Law. (Like the Islamic Sharia Law supersedes the laws of some Muslim nations.)

However, things took another unfortunate turn for the Church when in 1844, several ex-Mormon published an article revealing the true nature of the Mormon church and in particular, Smith’s polygamy. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, (pg. 48)
“By 1844 Joseph Smith also faced serious dissension within the Church. Several of his closest associates disagreed with him over the plural marriage revelation and other doctrines…They became allied with local anti-Mormon elements and published one issue of a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. In it they charged that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, guilty of whoredoms, and dishonest in financial matters…The Nauvoo City Council and Mayor Joseph Smith declared the newspaper an illegal "nuisance" and directed the town marshal to destroy the press.
Furthermore, all copies of the newspaper were collected and destroyed. This would not appear to be an act of a church or a leader that values the truth. We certainly wouldn't want to see a president with such a low esteem of a free press. 

After a good deal of legal wrangling about what local authorities could and could not do, the community was riled by the exposing and had Smith imprisoned again. It was then, that vigilantes broke into the jail in Carthage, Illinois and murdered Joseph Smith in cold blood. (The full story of his death can be found here.) 
So much for the career of the Joseph Smith, Prophet.

The answer to the question I posed would seem clear but I will leave it to you to decide. In any case, for a  religion in its infancy, the Mormon Church could hardly have had a more tumultuous (some might say, disreputable) beginning.
In Part Two of this series, we will review the present church and ask the question: Is lying acceptable in the Mormon Church and if so, under what circumstances?

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