A comprehensive history of the popular religion bearing distinctly American roots.
Timed for release just as the cogs in the 2012 presidential election start turning, Bowman’s (Religion/Hampden-Sydney Coll.) study of Mormonism shows how this brand of Christianity has always sported a strong relationship with American politics and values, whether in sync or at odds with them. Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith Jr., the “mercurial” upstate New Yorker and “seducer of biographers” who received visions and translated the “golden plates” on which were written the religious tenets revealed to him, the Mormon faith, according to Bowman, combines a “sacramentalism and priesthood reminiscent of Catholicism with a decidedly Protestant devotion to scripture and suspicion of trained clergy.” Writing to educate a readership unfamiliar with Mormon beliefs, the author claims that “Americans have admired Mormons for their diligence, their rectitude, their faith, and their honesty; they have feared them for their zealotry, their polygamy, and their heresy.” While many—including Mark Twain, who famously dubbed Smith’s Book of Mormon “‘chloroform in print’ ”—were skeptical of its apocalyptic dogmatism and determinism in building a new Zion, others quickly took to the values that somewhat mirrored the expansionist society and followed Smith west. Some of Smith’s ideas, such as abstinence from tobacco and “strong drink,” were right in keeping with those of the 1830s American temperance movement; others, such as the notions that God had a corporeal body and sanctioned polygamy, proved less acceptable to society at large. Bowman paints a multidimensional portrait of a separatist movement riddled with fascinating dichotomies: a patriarchal religion at once embracing community and committed to worldwide missionary service yet sanctioning at various times in its history gross discrimination against women, those of African descent and homosexuals. The author also includes informative appendices of the church hierarchy, lists of Mormon scripture, past presidents of the church and other significant figures, and a bibliographic essay.
A thorough, stimulating rendering of the Mormon past and present.