I’ve been learning a lot about Mormonism, which is coming in handy now, as for the first time in history a Mormon has received a presidential nomination from a major political party. I took a few swipes at Mitt Romney recently, calling his religion “crazy”.
Romney: Vote for me, a businessman of faith. Now please ask me anything except questions about my crazy religion or my secret finances.
— Mark Jaquith (@markjaquith) September 2, 2012
But is Mormonism really any crazier than, say, Christianity? Well no, not in terms of its supernatural claims. Mormonism was built on the foundation of Christianity, much like Christianity was built on Judaism. It’s “Christianity+”. The Book of Mormon borrows heavily from Biblical language. And in terms of “events”, miracles, visions and divine revelations feature heavily in the church’s history. So yes, if you look at the mystical beliefs of Latter Day Saints versus those of Christians, they are both irrational, and both lacking in supporting evidence. It is no more crazy, per se, to believe that the creator of the universe lives on a planet orbiting the star “Kolob” than it is to believe that the first female human was created from the first male human’s rib. Both religions have crossed over into fantasy land. There are, however, two key differences between the religions: specificity, and the freshness and clarity of their origins.
In terms of specificity, Joseph Smith was incredibly ambitious in the claims he made in The Book of Mormon. He claims that native American tribes are descended from a lost Israelite tribe. No. They’re not. Conclusively. Smith claimed that one of these Israelites (Lehi) came across horses in America. No. He didn’t. There were no horses in America for 10,000 years before the Spaniards brought them over. I could go on, but there’s no point. Smith made far too many specific claims, especially about genealogy and American history that are outright false. Whereas the Bible speaks in poetry, metaphor, and euphemisms, Smith made many clear statements that we now know to be unequivocally false.
The origins of Christianity are mysterious. Paul of Tarsus just started writing about it, and Paul expressed zero interest in the life story of Jesus or in the origins of the religion. The gospel accounts came later, by unknown authors, and weren’t contemporary to the alleged events. Christianity benefits from that cloak of mystery. Myths without a clear origin story seem to have a better foundation, as that foundation can be imagined to stretch infinitely into the fog.
The origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are anything but mysterious. A mere 190 years old, it is by far the youngest of the four Abrahamic faiths. Good records exist about the story of Joseph Smith, an admitted liar and fraud, and the golden plates he claimed to have found and magically translated from a non-existent language he said they were written in. We know how the sausage was made. We know that when 116 pages of the translated manuscript were lost (or possibly stolen), he was not able to retranslate that portion of the plates, knowing that there was no way he could bullshit his way through those same 116 pages again and have it match up.
No thinking person can look at the history of the LDS church and conclude anything other than that it is all a giant hoax, perpetrated by a charismatic fraud. The same is not as clear with Christianity, shrouded as it is by blurry language, historical cobwebs, and an uncertain origin. In terms of claiming supernatural things for which there is no evidence, Christianity and Mormonism aren’t all that different. In terms of how crazy it is to believe either one, Mormonism is the uncontested all-American champion. And it is absolutely fair to question the judgement of a man who is so utterly convinced by this obvious fraud.