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Monday, November 19


With an interest in 19th century American religion and a curiosity in the beliefs of a recent political candidate, I decided to take a look at Mormonism.  Here's a brief overview:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS Church or Mormonism) was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830.  Born in Vermont in 1805, Smith was brought up during the Second Great Awakening, a time of religious transformation and revival in America.  Unsure of which sect to follow, Smith went out into the country and prayed to God for guidance.  There, he claims, he was visited by both Jesus and God in a pillar of bright light and was told that he should begin his own church to restore Christianity to its original intent.  He was later visited by the angel Moroni, who informed him that Jesus had visited America during his first resurrection, with the visit resulting in gold plates inscribed with the words of God.  Smith unearthed these plates at Cumorah and translated them into the Book of Mormon.  Persecuted throughout his life, Smith died at the hands of his enemies at the age of 38.  His church at the time of his death in 1844 had grown to 26,000 members.  Today, with membership at 14 million, Mormonism continues with Smith's beliefs.  

The LDS Church follows 13 articles of faith. Many of the beliefs differ from those of other Christians, notably their perception of the nature of God and humans.  They believe that we are made from the same material as God, that we all existed as spirits at the beginning of the universe, and that by choosing good over evil we can reach God's level, although always remaining subservient to him as a son to a father.  This eternal progression towards higher levels of being is described by this quote from Lorenzo Snow (5th president of the LDS Church): "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be."

I like many of Joseph's Smiths ideas, such as this example from the 13 articles of faith: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." I like their principle that in life you should strive toward becoming a better person.  

However, the church's doctrine also includes views that I can't agree with. Polygamy is no longer part of the LDS Church, having been discontinued in the early 20th century, and is now only practiced by fundamentalists, but Mormons are still against homosexuality, abortion and pre-marital sex, and the church structure still maintains patriarchal overtones.  I also find it hard to believe that anyone could swallow Smith's story of the golden plates, which he claimed to have returned to the angel after only showing 11 people.  Then again, I don't believe in the supernatural happenings of any religion and prefer to see the stories as allegories about how to live life. 

As physics continues to reveal the true nature of reality and how little we know about it,  it seems prudent to keep an open yet skeptical mind.

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