Making Mormon history

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Since its founding in 1830 by Joseph Smith, a young self-proclaimed prophet from upstate New York, the Mormon church has become one of the most influential religious groups in the United States. Officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), it claims nearly 7 million adherents nationwide, and even the lowest outside estimates - about 3 million American Mormons - suggest there are now more Mormons in the US than there are Congregationalists.

Mormons control politics in one state, Utah, and hold considerable clout in others, such as Arizona and Idaho. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, then the country's top Republican and one of its top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, will both be Mormons.

With the LDS church growing in membership and power, Americans are no longer at liberty to think of Mormons as some distant sect. The institution that most Americans used to know only through the pairs of clean-cut young men knocking on our doors as missionaries now has national and international reach.

Feeding Americans' curiosity about this home-grown religion are Jon Krakauer's best-selling 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven and PBS's recent documentary The Mormons. ...

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John R. Maass - 12/12/2007

Good article, although the author leaves out mention of John Brooke's prize-winning work on the origins of Mormon cosmology in The Refiner's Fire.

One important point that the author of this article makes is this: "As a newer religion, the LDS church is particularly susceptible to the challenges of historical muckraking. No one will ever discover if Moses truly heard God speak from a burning bush. But Joseph Smith left behind a long historical record - he wrote; his friends wrote about him; we know where he lived. Polygamy, a sensitive subject in the church, was banned in 1890, when the grandparents of many living Mormons were in plural marriages; history can seem painfully close."

This is I think also Christopher Hitchens' point as well in a Slate piece entitled "Mormonism: A Racket Becomes a Religion," at CH says "The actual story of the imposture is almost embarrassing to read, and almost embarrassingly easy to uncover."

Perhaps this is why many Americans look upon Mormonism as odd, and not Christian, because its roots are so fresh, recent, and exposed.