This nonfiction book subtitled “The Beliefs, Rituals, Business Practices, and Well-Guarded Secrets of One of the World’s Fastest Growing and Moist Influential Religions” was recommended to me by a acquaintance I know who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when we were both seniors in high school. We’re both sophomores in colleges now albeit at different universities since he attends Brigham Young University in Utah and I attend at a highly liberal, non-religiously affiliated university in New England. He says he read it when he was on his own spiritual journey and it’s also heavily referenced on the Recovering from Mormonism website. Interesting dichotomy, no? (It was not, though, one of the books recommended to me when I ask for recommendations here.)
Written by a non-Mormon husband and wife team, the book examines some of the more controversial aspects of the Church — the now abandoned practices of polygamy, blood atonement, and racial discrimination — as well as decisions to baptize people posthumously such as Jews who perished in the Holocaust and questions of academic freedom at BYU. It discusses some of the conflicts the world’s fastest growing religion — Mormonism is considered by some to become the first major world religion to arise since Islam — might face as it expands beyond its geographical base of Salt Lake City, Utah in America.
“Compared with other world missionary faiths, the LDS Church bears heavy nationalistic baggage. It proclaims that God commissioned a prophet in the United States uniquely to restore the scriptures and priesthood, that Jesus Christ will return to Missouri and establish the future millennial kingdom when the earth is 7,000 years old, and that the American constitutional system is uniquely the product of divine inspiration. When the Mormon folk selected their own special holy day, it was not the anniversary of their prophet’s birth, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the establishment of the priesthood or of the church, but rather Pioneer Day, celebrating Brigham Young’s 1847 arrival at the Salt Lake Basin. Moreover, Mormons believe that God has granted total control of his one and only church to fifteen men in Salt Lake City, almost all of whom have been Americans” (pg. 379).
But before you think this book is an all-bad condemnation of the Latter-day Saints, it also traces church history with the relocation of the church from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah, its impressive system of welfare, and (heterosexual-only) family-first policy that was admired across faiths particularly during the 1960s and 70s. I found the geographical migration and location of religious sites to be particularly interesting simply because so many (myself included) think of Mormonism as the religion of the American West. Wholly untrue, especially when you look at the map included at the beginning of the book of existing and planned temples around the world.
I think this book is about the most fair and balanced portrayal I’m going to find as other books I’ve looked at have either been completely negative or completely positive in their dealings of the LDS Church. The Ostlings’ don’t attempt to play into the fascination with the LDS Church’s darker chapters of its history nor does it try to ignore them either.
(Note: This is the 1999 edition of Mormon America. The book has since been revised and was re-released in 2007.)
- Ostling, Richard N., and Joan K. Ostling. Mormon America: the Power and the Promise. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Print. 455 pgs. ISBN: 0060663715. Source: Library.
Book Cover © HarperSanFrancisco. Retrieved: August 15, 2010.