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A Mormon story

Since Mormons are in the news lately, I share herewith a story about my own pilgrimage to the Mormon Tabernacle back in 1971. The school year ended early as a result of the post Cambodian invasion student strikes. Four Bowdoin students, including me, decided to take the archetypal road trip, so we took off in an ancient car and headed West. We stopped in Salt Lake City and joined the other tourists at the Visitor’s Center near the tabernacle. As I recall, we infidels weren’t allowed into the tabernacle proper.
 
The visitor’s center was replete with dioramas about the Mormon religion, including tributes to some great Americans who had been retroactively, so to speak, Mormonized by the Mormons themselves. I recall particularly that somehow the deist Thomas Jefferson was actually a proto-Mormon. We also learned that the Book of Mormon was chock full of accurate prophesies about such things as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, all of which, by some strange coincidence, had taken place before Joseph Smith “found” the golden tablets.
 
At this point in my life I think it’s fair to say that I was teetering on the brink of agnosticism, but had not yet abandoned the one true faith. I had only a vague idea of the racist foundations of the Mormon faith. The one thing I did know is that they had compromised their belief in polygamy when it became politically inconvenient. To me this seemed like a cop-out.
 
The Visitor’s Center engaged in a rather hard sell, about which more later.
 
I don’t remember how, but we (mainly me), long haired hippies that we were, became involved in a conversation with some apple cheeked young Mormons, who were somehow replaced at a later point by a non-apple cheeked much older Mormon with whom I engaged in a civil but emphatic debate about the merits of Mormonism. My main beef, as I said, was their willingness to compromise what they said was religious doctrine, and our discussion more or less revolved around that point, though I’m sure their free and easy re-writing of history came up, as did other nonsensical points of doctrine.
 
Lo, and it came to pass that while we were talking a great multitude of tourists gathered round about us. And it further came to pass that eventually the Mormon elder gave up on this particular infidel and walked away. And the multitudes did crowd about me, and did slap my back and give other signs of approbation, be I hippie or no, insofar as they were all mightily fed up with the hard sell and explicit put-downs of their own religions. And lo, did I learn at that moment that you can only push people so far, and I do truly believe that Willard and his ilk will find that to be the case this year.
 
I signed their guestbook, bought a Book of Mormon and left. I tried to read it as we traveled, but it was written in what I can only call parodic King James style, much like the paragraph above, full of “came to pass”es, but lacking all the poetry and grace. I finally gave up, but not before gaining an appreciation of the racism that is a bedrock principle of the faith. The creation myth of the Mormons is no sillier than the Biblical but is explicitly racist. I can understand why Willard wants to leave the subject of his actual beliefs off the table, while nonetheless insisting that only those who believe in some ridiculous fairy story, never mind the details, have a place in our public life.
 
It turned out that signing that guestbook was a bad idea, because later that summer two more apple cheeked, white shirted, Mormons turned up at my door seeking to convert me. I was young and foolish, so I let them in the door, and proceeded to engage in another debate. They made no converts that day, and I got no accolades. This time the only audience was my mother, and she wasn’t impressed.

For those not conversant with the Mormon creation myth, it is recounted in cartoon style below (stolen from Oliver Willis). I don’t vouch for this being 100% accurate, but it accords with my recollections of this truly dreadfully written book.

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