The Use of Talking

There is no end of things in the heart.

Archive for August 2012

Mormonomania

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I ‘m a Catholic by faith, the son of a Jewish mother and a Southern Baptist father, and I live far from the Intermountain West. Yet ever since I walked into the Mormon pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair,  I’ve been fascinated by Mormonism.

At the fair it was the strangeness that captivated me: the farm boy and the golden plates, the armies of Lamanites and Nephites, the American theophany of the risen Lord, the spookily lit copy of the Thorvaldsen Christus. I gladly took home a handful of pamphlets and a copy of the Book of Mormon. I read the former and occasionally riffled through the pages of the latter, and filed the Saints away in my Weird Stuff folder along with Tarot cards and UFOs.

When I was at college, two things reinforced my interest in Mormonism: A graduate-student friend who was an acquaintance of one of the sons of an LDS apostle, loved to talk about the history of the church and his own visits to Utah. Here again, the accent was on the oddness. Then I took a class in American philosophy where Mormonism was taken seriously as the answer to Emerson’s longing for a new revelation and as a window into our American self-understanding. I pulled out my Book of Mormon and start underlining passages in I Nephi (it took me years to get much further). A Deseret Book catalog found in a Mormon chapel—very strange-looking books, and at fabulously low prices!—started me collecting Mormon books, and it wasn’t long before I fell into the world of Sunstone and Dialogue and Signature Books.

Then along came the internet and hundreds of websites and mailing lists and discussion forums. Many are the hours I happily passed (or, as my wife would say, wasted) clicking from here to there and back again, from official sites to Protestant anti-Mormon ones to ex-Mormons, apologists, bibliophiles, fundamentalists, cranks. When Sunstone  began posting mp3s of its symposium sessions (the older ones for free), I loaded them onto an iPod to listen to while doing my evening chores.

What to make of all this? To Mrs. C. it’s an almost incomprehensible escape from reality, a frivolous squandering of temporal and financial resources at best, and a danger to my and the family’s faith at worst. To me, it’s a never-failing source of fascination, unique among the American-born creeds—which, like Christian Science and the Watchtower, are often tedious—in its creativity and its audacity. And in its current encounter with the wider culture and the acids of modernity, it provides insight into the negotiations and adjustments that all believers have had to make in a post-Enlightenment world.

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Written by hans castorp

August 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm

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