“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” – Henry David Thoreau, 1849 (from Walden or Life in the Woods)
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” – Stuart Chase
Qui a le droit de qualifier la croyance des autres de “superstition” ? » Jostein Gaarder (Le Monde de Sophie)
As the Republican convention draws to a close, many Americans are reviewing their knowledge of the Mormon religion due to the fact that the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon. This religion is based on a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement called “The Book of Mormon”. This “latter day” Bible was first published in 1830 by an American Christian Joseph Smith. Smith claimed to be just a messenger who was instructed to retranscribe an account written by the “Hand of Mormon” upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith as The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi (an ancient name in the old testament). He claimed that the last prophet to contribute to the book, a man named Moroni, buried it in a hill in present-day New York and then returned to earth in 1827 as an angel, coming to Smith in his dreams to reveal the location of the book and instructing him to translate it and spread the word that Christ had been resurrected in America in order to build his “true church”. Smith indicated that the United States was the new “Jerusalem”. The text says that during this American visit, he repeated much of the same doctrine and instruction given in the Gospels of the Bible and had decided to establish a more enlightened and peaceful society than what had transpired in ancient Palestine. Mormons believe that America is a chosen land protected by God and that Americans are like the new Israelites.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints is a very family-centered religion and the bonds of family are eternal. They also believe that deceased people can be baptized into the Mormon religion making it possible to meet again in the hereafter. They tend to have larger families than other Christian denominations as exemplified by Romney’s large family (he and Ann have 5 sons and numerous grandchildren). They pray frequently (several times a day), perform good works and read scriptures daily similar to the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish people.Mitt Romney served 30 months as a LDS missionary in France. Read about his experiences in the following excerpt of an article which appeared in the Boston Globe on July 2, 2007:
Mitt’s LDS roots run deep
By Michael Kranish and Michael Paulson
NANTES, France — Elder Romney didn’t even have time to put on his shoes.
The 19-year-old missionary was in his apartment when a woman burst in to say some Frenchmen were beating up one of his fellow Mormons down the street.
The barefoot Mitt Romney, who had been in France for just six months, joined his roommates in rushing into the snowy night.
They found a team of rugby players, drowning their sorrows after a lost match, hassling two female missionaries. The women had cried out “Allez-y!” which means “go on,” rather than “Allez-vous en,” meaning “go away.” The male missionary who leapt to their defense had been punched out. Romney ended up with a badly bruised jaw.
“There were about 20 guys, very large and very muscular, and we were a group of very young and very small American guys,” Romney would recall 40 years later. “If you get into a fight with Muhammad Ali, you don’t return the punch, you just put your arms up.”
In a lifetime of good fortune, the January 1967 rumble in Nantes stands out as a rare moment of defeat. But as a snapshot of his 30 months as an LDS missionary, it is less exceptional: His time in France posed one of the great challenges of his life. It was marked by frustration and, ultimately, tragedy. The victories were visible only in hindsight.
Day after day, he knocked on doors urging people, most of them Catholic but many of them hostile to religion and often to the United States as well, to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormonism was a religion of mystery to most French people, recognized mostly for its history of polygamy and, in a country that takes its wine seriously, for its prohibition against alcohol. Serving as a missionary was an LDS tradition. From the very start, in the 1830s, the Latter-day Saints had sent out missionaries to preach the gospel. “Your presiding officers have recommended you as one worthy to represent the Church of our Lord as a Minister of the Gospel,” said the letter sent to missionaries in 1966 by David O. McKay, who as church president was revered as a living prophet by Mormons. For 2 1/2 years, Romney would wear the dark suits and white shirts of an LDS missionary. He would be allowed to call home only on Christmas and Mother’s Day. There would be no drinking, no smoking, no sex and no dating. He would be alone only in the bathroom — Mormon missionaries are paired always with a companion to reduce the opportunity for mischief. All of his time, all of his energy, would be devoted to trying to persuade the people of France to join the LDS Church.
France was, of course, glamorous and beautiful, and the missionaries had half a day off each week for “diversions,” which often meant a chance to visit a chateau. But France was also one of the most inhospitable countries to Mormonism.
The first Mormon missionary had arrived in 1849, but the missionaries had been evicted during the reign of Napoleon III and fled again during World War II. By the time Romney arrived, there were just 6,500 LDS Church members in the entire country.
“Being in a foreign place in a foreign language with a foreign faith, you really do a lot of soul-searching about what you believe and what you’re going to do with the rest of your life,” Romney would recall decades later.
Romney said he found inspiration in the story of a Utah chemist, Henry Eyring, who, hobbled by cancer, nonetheless struggled to help his church weed an onion patch, only to learn that the row he had worked on didn’t need weeding. Eyring, as Romney tells the story, responded, “Well, that’s OK, I didn’t come here for the onions.”
“He came to respond to the call of service,” Romney said, “and I think that’s what happens to young men or young women who go on a mission.”….
Here’s a stirring song , “I Believe,” which is sung by a character from the musical play The Book of Mormon called “Elder Price” . Elder Price tries to reaffirm his faith after it is shaken during his experience trying to convert a Ugandan warlord….
Members are expected to donate not only their time but also 10% of their income to the Church. Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 who meet standards of worthiness and preparation are encouraged to serve a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. These young men are called “elders”. Women who desire to serve a mission must be at least 21 and generally serve 18-month missions and are called “sisters”. Retired married couples are encouraged to serve missions as well, and their length of service varies from three to 36 months. Here are a few more of these commandments:
- The law of chastity or no intimacy outside the sanctity of marriage
- No coffee, tea, alcohol or any other beverage which is mind-altering (which is why Utah is a “dry” state where the sale of alcohol is tightly regulated
- No smoking or using drugs
- The observance of “tithing” which requires all members must give 10% of their income to the church
- Mormons are encouraged to pray daily and study the scriptures
- Mormons worship at church on Sundays
- Adult members are encouraged to worship in the LDS temple as well
- Mormon temples are strictly reserved for members of the church; non-members cannot enter even to visit or admire the architecture (this really surprised me when I visited Salt Lake City and wanted to visit the Mormon tabernacle and the temple)
If you have the opportunity to visit the true birthplace of the Mormon religion in Salt Lake City and discover their Family History library to do some genealogical research, you can expect a visit from 2 missionaries (you’ll be asked some personal questions during your visit). Many Americans consider the Mormon religion a sect as many of the writings cannot be substantiated and divert radically from mainstream Christianity. Nevertheless, the Mormon church is growing not only in America but around the world.
Because the Mormon religion is so strict and obscure to many Americans, it has inspired a lot of mockery and criticism. It was also the inspiration of a religious satire musical called “The Book of Mormon” which became an overnight hit on Broadway and which is now appearing in London. The music was written by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. The show opened in March 2011 and won 9 Tony Awards including Best Musical and best Musical Theater Album. It tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to a remote village in northern Uganda which is being attacked by a vicious warlord (similar to Idi Amin Dada). The two missionaries seem to be oblivious to the fact that all the locals long for are an end to war, famine, AIDS and poverty. Instead they go about trying to push The Book of Mormon onto the population and one of their scriptures which only one of them knows very well. Naive and optimistic, the two missionaries find themselves totally out of their depth especially when they start learning the local language in order to be accepted and start chanting “F… religion” in the local dialect…of course totally oblivious of the true meaning of the words they are spontaneously repeating. I remember doing the same thing when I lived in Africa. In my quest to be accepted, I tried learning the local dialect and didn’t realize that I was using inappropriate words in certain social contexts…until someone kicked me under the table one evening during a formal dinner to warn me that I was shocking the other guests (I was using the French word “vachement” to describe the differences between California and Cameroon…not knowing that this word was far too familiar to use in formal circumstances…fortunately it wasn’t vulgar). Well…live and learn!
One of the most popular songs describes how young men perform their missionary “work”: Hello lyrics The Book of MormonThe happy and optimistic attitudes that these missionaries portray reminds me of the young troops who are trying to train the Afghan people on how to run their country and who are being killed in private attacks. The Mormon religion epitomizes this naive yet noble attitude that we can help and change people’s lives for the better. Maybe some people don’t want to be like Americans?
On a personal note, all of the Mormons that I have encountered in my life have been some of the nicest, warmest and most honest people that I have ever met. I’m sure that Mitt Romney embodies many of these characteristics. This is why most people consider that the upcoming elections in the United States are not about which candidate is the “nicest” but on the contrary which candidate has the best agenda and can move the country forward. What do you think?