A 1893 engraving by Edward Stevenson of the Angel Moroni delivering the Golden Plates to Joseph Smith in 1827. From Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Stevenson, 1893), 21. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lately I’ve had occasion to consider the concept of cults more carefully after listening to a fascinating podcast from Reasonable Doubts (see http://www.doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2009/07/episode-48-cults.html) on that topic regarding Scientology and Mormonism. Wikipedia defines a cult as:
a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices.
Under that definition Scientology and Mormonism would definitely be called cults.
Mormonism began in the mind of Joseph Smith when, in 1820, he was trying to decide which religious sect to join when he received a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Wikipedia then states:
Sometimes called the “First Vision”, Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism’s view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith’s 1838 written account of this vision is considered by some Mormon denominations to be scripture and is contained in a book called “The Pearl of Great Price.” Smith further claimed that in answer to his prayer: “I was answered [by Jesus] that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” By 1830, Smith reported that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.
An angel named Moroni allegedly appeared to Smith a number of times, promising to reveal to him later on in time that Book of Mormon. Eventually, we are supposed to believe that Moroni finally came through on his promise and showed Smith where to dig. The results? A number of gold plates on which were inscribed the holy Mormon text! Smith set himself to translating these plates (with the help of a magic dictionary supplied by Moroni). He used his neighbor as the scrivener, hanging a blanket across the room and sitting behind it, calling out the translation. No one–repeat, no one–ever saw those
English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
plates. But this religion was build upon their existence.
So if I’ve got this straight, an angel appeared to Smith but to no other, and he told Smith where to find these gold plates that were seen by no one else, and the angel gave him a dictionary to do the translation, but no one saw that, either. And, presto! A new religion is born.
I must say I see little difference between that beginning and the three well-established monotheistic boondoggles. So in the historical first, we’re to believe that God strolled in the garden with our ur-parents and everything was copacetic until that wicked Eve believed what the serpent told her (!) and went and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Then they got kicked out and she was punished by the pain of childbirth, not to mention the loss of Eden. The historical second faith begins with a virgin birth (!) in a barn. (Does anyone believe that any more?) and triumphs in a conquest of death, at least for the central character, who has morphed into God for some versions of the faith and a separate entity for others. Then, in the third historical belief, an illiterate shepherd who meditated in the mountains has a revelation from the Deity when he’s 40. For 3 years this continues, and the shepherd memorizes everything he is told and shares with his followers.
So, like I said, it’s hard to point the finger at Mormonism as a silly little cult when the big guys have been dealing in lies, fictions, and mumbo jumbo for far longer. But they’ve grown up and taken on the mantle of established religions, while Mormonism is only an infant comparatively. That means that Mormonism has to be labelled a cult because its beliefs and practices are, indeed, abnormal or bizarre.
I mean, their insistence on wearing special white underwear might almost be considered cute, but the prohibition against coffee, tea, or caffeinated beverages makes you wonder. And their cosmology, which holds that, if you are ‘sealed in the temple’ on your wedding (meaning you are married for eternity), then when you die you will be given your own planet in the universe to populate. Oh yes, you get to keep your wife but more women are to be supplied, too. (Can’t wear her out, you know.)
That latter belief kind of goes along with the earlier Mormon practice of plural marriage–one hubby and many (often under-aged, but who’s counting–) wives. And we haven’t even chatted about their penchant to baptize as many of the dead as possible, including victims of the Holocaust! I might give them a pass on this because the unintended consequence is to provide genealogical data that we would never have had.
I ask you. Is there any question this is not a cult?
Photograph of the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith, Jr. had his first vision in 1820 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)