Mormons and the end of america

Slate has a really fascinating series entitled How Is America Going To End which is an enthralling look at potential scenarios which would lead to the destruction and dissolution of America as we know it. As one of the last entries in the series, however, Slate writer Josh Levin has written an article that should be getting a lot more attention on the blogernacle than it has thus far. His article entitled The Catholic Church helped preserve Roman civilization. Can Mormonism do the same for America? is an insightful look on why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints might be the one American product to truly survive a catastrophic meltdown. It is an incredibly positive piece by a mainstream website looking at the positive and industrious aspects of our culture.

The article quotes extensively from famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, whom describes the extensive focus on disaster preparation encourages by our leaders.

“He explains via e-mail that Mormon culture “has strengths and weaknesses, but it has almost all the attributes of a civilizational winner. … We have organizational practices and ideological elements that make it highly likely that wherever we are, we will outlast the collapse of governments and civilizations.” As far as organizational practices go, a 2007 church pamphlet recommends that families put together “a [three-month] supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet” as well as stores of wheat, white rice, and beans for “longer-term needs.”* (Seventy-two-hour preparedness kits will suffice in a pinch.) The church, practicing what it preaches, owns a silo in Salt Lake City filled with 19 million pounds of wheat.”

Fascinatingly, this article goes back to Church history and links this survival instinct to the viciousness of persecution and need

“While the Mormons have never put their survival skills to the test during an authentic apocalypse, they have faced down continual threats to the religion’s existence. Shortly after Joseph Smith’s bank bubble, most of the Latter-day Saints consolidated in Missouri; the Missourians, fearful of a group they perceived as clannish, issued an extermination order that forced the Mormons out. In 1839, the LDS Church moved on to Nauvoo, Ill., where more amenable state officials briefly allowed the group to govern themselves. Five years later, Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob of settlers angered by the Mormons’ quasi-theocracy and church leaders’ polygamy.”

It is really refreshing to see someone in the mainstream press look seriously at how our historical past has helped to form our current identity. So many aspects of our culture, from our attitudes towards government to our open tolerance for different religious groups, stem from this minority experience and the drive to survive.

The article continues to lavish praise on the members of the church for their industrious hardworking nature.

Seen as honest and incorruptible, Mormons are recruited in great numbers by the FBI. Dubbed by Harold Bloom “perhaps the most workaddicted culture in religious history,” they have proved spectacularly successful in both secular and Church business. (1999’s Mormon America: The Power and the Promise pegged the church’s assets at $25 billion to $30 billion.) They venerate the traditional family unit, rarely divorce, and live as much as a decade longer than the average American. They are just like us, only they’re always on their best behavior.”

One of the most significant contributions of this argument is to attempt to dispel accusations that Mormon dominance would mean the imposition of our faith on other individuals world wide.

“In the event of the American end times, Card continues, the church would likely continue to “regard the Constitution of the United States as a divinely ordered document—including a reasonable separation of church and state. There would be no Mormon Taliban, no Mormon equivalent of sharia imposed on non-Mormons.”

It is encouraging to have someone recognize that our church places an extreme value on agency and on the ability of others to choose their lifestyle and path. A link back to the historical tolerance at Nauvoo or a mention of Joseph Smith’s pluralistic attitude towards other faiths may have enriched this analysis, but its still pretty encouraging to see it clearly stated that we do not believe in forcing our faith on anyone.

The article is on slightly more tenuous grounds when it begins to talk about our religious faith. The article originally stated that Jesus Christ would be resurrected to reign on the American continent ( a correction was latter appended) and repeats criticism that Joseph Smith’s millennial vision is what led to the Kirtland Safety Society failure, rather than a run on credit by avowed foes of the church. They also link the martyrdom of Joseph Smith to polygamy, when polygamy was at best a rumor at the time and the persecution was rooted in more deeply seated religious hatred.
This article also clearly shows that it is coming from a source that views our culture as slightly regressive and behind the times. This emphasis shows up in several locations.

“The LDS Church envisioned carving out a state of its own, Deseret, that would take up close to the entirety of present-day Nevada and Utah and large swathes of the rest of the Western U.S. Jan Shipps, the leading non-LDS scholar of Mormonism, describes the exodus to the West as a journey “backward into a primordial sacred time”—a re-enactment of the Israelites’ trek through the desert.”

This instance is the more accurate and positive one, the trek of the pioneers is linked to the exodus from Egypt which is a profoundly positive metaphor to be found in a mainstream source.

“Jan Shipps says the allure of yesteryear means Mormonism is always 25 to 30 years behind the rest of America. The church’s strong stances against the Equal Rights Amendment and gay marriage, she argues, show that the Latter-day Saints lag behind the country’s mores. (There’s also the BYU dress code, which bans sleeveless clothing.) If and when the end of America comes, Mormonism will go even more retro—just as the end of polygamy brought the LDS Church into modern times, the dissolution of the United States would send them into the past. The Latter-day Saints’ oscillation between contemporary society and their pioneer days makes them the perfect time capsule: They will always retain a piece of the American character, yet they have enough of a toehold in the past—and enough grain in the silo—to resume their pre-modern ways.”

There is an implication that traditional values are inherently regressive and that our country’s evolving progressive mores are always superior. This is perhaps a conclusion to be expected in a generally quite liberal publication such as slate, and in general is a pretty soft way to talk about our conservatism, but still this assumption must be pointed out. In our attempt to preserve the sacred we may be “lag behind the country’s mores”, but the very premise of this series is that something in this country’s mores or its practices was deficient and in some way culminated in national destruction. Thus, including this is a bit of a strange paradox. The notion of the church as a time capsule also does not show that the author has truly understood the true nature of a church based on continuing revelation and does not truly understand that our goal is more than just to maintain the status quo, but to perfect the saints.

The author takes a somewhat humorous look at what would remain from LDS culture

“If the Mormon Church does someday become a proxy for the United States, what parts of American civilization will survive? “Things that used to be American—motherhood and apple pie—would be restored to primacy,” Orson Scott Card says. Perhaps the wholesome Osmond family will come to represent the pinnacle of American entertainment, and Stephen Covey—the Mormon writer behind The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—will be hailed as our society’s leading philosopher. Long sideburns will forever recede from memory. More seriously, a Mormon society would continue to speak English, to spread the gospel of capitalism, and to put forward the idea that America was and is a sacred place, a nation worth remembering and preserving.”

Most of these things stand out as generally true if a bit stereotypical, the one thing that bothers me here is the insistence that we spread the gospel of capitalism or the notion that hard work and industry and capitalism are inevitably linked. The author does not seem to realize that as our ideal we place a true community of all believers sharing all things equally. We believe that all men and women of faith should work as hard as they can to sustain the Kingdom of God and that for this they should be supported. It is true, that we view this as a lofty ideal that can not be realized in the modern age, but to suggest that we preach a gospel of capitalism goes much too far. To suggest this is to denigrate the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants which suggest that the measure of a society is how it treats its impoverished and destitute. In a society where the church is not dominant, the church welfare system represents a private alternative to government safety nets, but in the scenario that is proposed by the author where America is not more, it is likely that church welfare efforts would have to increase dramatically to fill a large role of providing for the needs of poor saints. This would not be a model of pure capitalism or a gospel of wealth but a gospel of shared responsibility.

Aside from these minor flaws, this article is a must read and I encourage everyone else to post comments and to help to bring more attention to this article. This seems like the ideal image we should hope to portray to the outside world and the rest of American society.

One thought on “Mormons and the end of america

  1. The Slate piece was very lenient on current America, indeed! The shortest time frame when a cataclysm could occur is seen to be 100 years? If the banking crisis had really gotten out of hand, it could have been more like 10 months.

    And it just may yet. The global capital market is so built on US Dollar, that even the level of budget deficit soaring the way it is alone could soon remove all credibility of US Treasury Bills. Does anybody know how much worth of T-Bills there are out right now?

    With mainstream society selling out wholesale to unbridled hedonism, who indeed would preserve civilization?

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