I've just read one of The Best Books Ever: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air. It's probably commonly regarded as a sensationalist expose of the Mormon religion, but as he takes pains to explain, and as is clear from a close reading, it is an exploration of the nature of faith itself. Mormonism is the easiest and clearest example because (as he says) it is so new and recent (less than 200 years) in its genesis that its history has a clear written record. Despite the efforts of the LDS church to suppress all evidence of anything that is not, in their words, "faith promoting." In other words, the good old historical whitewash. The book is also an examination of the nature of fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Gentile, Jew, Mormon, whatever. Very very thought provoking. There is a universal need that prompts fundamentalism -- for a simpler, purer time. There isn't one. Never was.
I come away with the same conclusion as one of the writers he quotes, as far as Mormons are concerned: "If opponents of Mormonism have often asked, 'Can't we stop the Mormons from being Mormon?', ostensible admirers of Mormons as people [italics mine] have often asked, at least by implication, 'Can't we have Mormons -- but without Mormonism?'" (LA Times article, 1999)
I've known more than a few Mormons, but this is the first detailed description of the faith and its history Ive read. Love the people, by and large, but the institutionalized religion itself is, well, loony. Bigoted. Conservative in the extreme. Which can be said about the vast majority (I want to say all, but I'll keep an open mind) of institutionalized religions.
Which is why I worship The Giant Rat of Sumatra, may she enfold me in her holy whiskers.
No, seriously, I'm deeply spiritual, faith has become the cornerstone of my reality. Faith to me is a journey, not the pre-set destination fossilized by institutional religion. As this book makes clear, there are advantages and disadvantages to such a singular quest. One advantage is being in the middle of something alive, growing, intensely direct and personal. One disadvantage is that it leaves you with endless questions, whereas a prescribed set of beliefs is comforting and safe. Another disadvantage, to which adherents of the tenets of LDS are particularly prone, because of the belief in a direct line of revelation from God, is the development of schismatic sects (mostly fundamentalist in nature) that spring up around self-described prophets. Warren Jeffs, recently placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list, is just the tip of the iceberg. The book explores many of the splinter Mormon groups, and I am staggered by the array and incestuousness (both literally and figuratively -- the plural wives thing is frequently a cover for pederasty, and also the various groups tend to have multiple connections with one another in terms of family members and theory).
Again, I'm not singling out Mormons. I don't believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and I don't believe that sort of paranoid conspiracy theory about any faith, creed, or group (with the exception of the current Administration). It is just an example of fundamentalism gone berserk. We live in a country with a born-again President with a staff chock-full of fundamentalists, many at the extreme fringes. Just this side of snake handlers. Reading this book made me even more frightened by that reality.
Krakauer quotes the following:
THE SECOND COMING
William Butler Yeats
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.