I managed to watch “60 Minutes” last night and the lead segment covered Mitt Romney. For those unfamiliar with this candidate, Mitt is a Mormon running for president as a Republican. He is credited with being a very successful businessman, saving the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and as a governor of Massachusetts balancing the budget every year without raising taxes. Those three points are often overshadowed by his faith.
The problem with his faith has more to do with running as a Republican considering how active the evangelical community is in the party. I am a member of a Christian email group where I work and I constantly see Christians of all denominations attack Mormons. They say that they are polytheists, Joseph Smith was a fraud, and the religion is founded on lies. I would have a hard time disagreeing with any of those points. Anyway, after weeks of Mormon bashing, someone posted an email to the group that basically said, “Hey, didn’t Jesus say doctrine should be judged by the fruits it produces? Mormons typically have great families, lead good lives, and their communities are great. Let’s leave them alone because the fruits are good.”
I’ll go a step further. I grew up in Arizona, attended USAFA, and worked in Utah for over six months. I have met and befriended plenty of Mormons in my lifetime. I believe that we shouldn’t propagate stereotypes or try to classify people and that most behavior fits into a bell curve. Some people of one classification are good. Others are bad, but there is a huge spectrum and most fall in the middle. I will go on record and say of the hundred or so Mormons I have met, the vast majority were great people. Working in Utah was one of the best experiences of my life, there is nothing quite like the Mormon work ethic. The Mormons I did work with worked extremely hard, were very focused, and went home at 5:00! They were able to accomplish so much during the day and didn’t care about face time that they were actually able to create work life balance. In my line of work, leaving at 5:00 usually resulted in snide remarks about working a “half-day”. In Utah, it was not only acceptable but encouraged! Sign me up for any other project there!
OK, back to the email chain. Some other Christian responds with (name removed to protect the stupid):
“I could not disagree more (respectfully of course). If the doctrine is not a Biblical, Christian doctrine then the culture surrounding the false doctrine does not justify that false doctrine. We can all agree that the Mormon culture and societies are good things, but so are many other religions around the world. Are their doctrines good too? Looking at the culture’s fruit is not the right thing to examine. We must look at the object of the religion’s faith and if it not Christ then, by definition, it is false and not good. This statement applies to any religion.”
This “Christian” is saying the Mormons are heretics and it doesn’t matter if their religion producing good results because they are not worshipping God correctly. Results don’t matter – dogma does! So let’s take a look at where Mormon beliefs and mainstream Christian beliefs differ…
Jews, Christians, and Mormons start with the common story of the Old Testament. God creates the world, gets pissed at his creation and floods it, changes His mind, chooses a group of people for the Promised Land, leads His Chosen People out of Egypt, gives them Mosaic Law and the 10 commandments, works a few miracles, watches a temple dedicated to Him built and sees it destroyed, watches Israel invaded a few times, sees the second temple built, and then Christianity enters the picture (you try summing up the OT in a paragraph!).
Christians then believe that God came to earth via an impregnated virgin. Jesus was both fully God and fully human at the same time. Jesus had earthly temptation and desires but was absolutely free from sin. He worked miracles including walking on water, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, and curing the sick. He never had sex. It’s also implied that He never masturbated, but it’s not outright claimed because no one could possibly believe this. That would be the greatest miracle of them all. Far more unbelievable than raising the dead – that a man could live for over thirty years without sex or jerking off even once! But alas, I digress…
So the most perfect man ever known, flawless in every way, is then brutally tortured and killed. Jesus knew that he was going to die, that it was part of God’s plan, had the power to stop it, and went along with it because he loved humanity so much he was willing to sacrifice His life for the greater good. Three days after His death, he came back from the dead and provided all of us a way to enter heaven by accepting Him into our hearts. By praying to Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him, we can all be saved now. Yeah!
So that’s Christianity – the Old Testament plus the New Testament. Mormons come in saying that during the three days between the death of Jesus and His resurrection, Jesus went off to North America and established a ministry to the native peoples there. His ministry in America was recorded on special golden discs which were translated by God’s prophet, Joseph Smith.
Mormons believe that every individual can have a direct communication with God and that God speaks to the prophets of the LDS Church. God apparently is not very decisive because he told Joe that polygamy was cool and then reversed himself with a “revelation” to the lead prophet right when Utah was applying for statehood. Go figure on the timing of that one…
However, if you can believe all the tall tales of the Old and New Testaments, how farfetched is the Book of Mormon? You’ve already swallowed miracle after miracle, life after death, and resurrection. Why couldn’t Jesus come over to America? You buy the premise and you buy the bit, it’s the fundamental rule of comedy.
So even if Joseph Smith was a complete fraud, the cult – I mean religion he founded really does produce good communities and good families. The basis of the belief system is no more crazy than Judaism, Christianity, or any other mainstream religion. No one is getting hurt by it, so why don’t we leave them alone? Better yet, since most skeptics will agree that it was all made up, why can’t we just make up an even better religion based on common sense and reason?