The Mormon Etch-a-Sketch


One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers points out something very interesting that I hadn’t considered, comparing Mitt Romney’s shape shifting persona to that of the Mormon church itself. That church has repeatedly changed its core beliefs if they are in opposition to the larger society:

The Mormon church is all one giant Etch-a-Sketch. All of it. Polygamy, African Americans in the church. “Oops, that policy isn’t working with the power that be, well, oh thank Moroni there is a new revelation! Oh that policy is incredibly backwards and bigoted. Oh by the power of Nephi, there is a new revelation!” It is just crazy.

But it must be pointed out that this happens in all religions, not just Mormonism. The Mormons, though, do so more transparently than most because they have “prophets” who publicly declare that God has ordered them to change church doctrine. The broader Christian church has done the same thing throughout its history, not by such transparent claims of new revelation but by merely reinterpreting the Bible — and often by pretending that the old interpretations never existed.

For centuries and centuries, the Bible was used to defend the institution of slavery (and rightly so; the Bible not only does not condemn slavery as immoral, it repeatedly commands and endorses it). A small subset of Christians joined with Enlightenment humanists (including Charles Darwin) in fighting to end slavery and the institutional church fought tooth and nail to preserve their barbaric beliefs. These days, you will only find support for slavery among a tiny subset of the most right wing Christians, of course, because after slavery was all but universally condemned, they simply reinterpreted their holy book, suddenly discovering that Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor canceled out the many endorsements of slavery found therein.

The same is true of any number of other barbaric practices. The use of torture and violence to force conversions was standard Christian practice for centuries. It was defended by reference to many Bible verses and to ideas expressed by the most important Christian thinkers, like St. Augustine, who famously endorsed the use of coercion to compel people to become Christians. These days you cannot find a Christian church or theologian who would endorse such a thing.

Christianity has been humanized by contact with Enlightenment humanism, but this fact is rarely admitted. More often, it is simply pretended that the barbaric beliefs and actions of the past, which were deeply ingrained in belief and doctrint, did not exist, or that they were simply a matter of bad interpretation. So I’ll give the Mormons a tiny bit of credit for at least admitting that they are making a clean break with the past, even if the means by which they do so is clearly absurd and convenient.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Despite some religions hatred of the word, “evolution”, they do evolve and quite rapidly at that.

    I’ts not always better though.

    The S. BaptistC was taken over by right wing extremists a few decades ago. They tossed most of the centuries old core principles of the baptist movement, including priesthood of all believers and the right to interpet the bible by individuals.

    After the obligatory purge, it became right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on. They’ve lost total membership for 4 years straight now. It’s just karma.

  2. raven says

    These days you cannot find a Christian church or theologian who would endorse such a thing (forced conversions by torture and threat of death.

    You are being far too generous here.

    If they thought they could get away with it, they would torture and kill nonbelievers in a heartbeat. Not all sects, but the fundies would.

    There have been calls by the wackier fundie leaders to herd evolutionary biologists into slave labor camps and work them to death. I suspect we haven’t heard more because they haven’t thought of it yet. Fundies aren’t real good at that thought stuff.

  3. Trebuchet says

    I think you’re being too generous to the Mormons. They don’t really change their core beliefs all that much, just their public facade.

  4. grumpyoldfart says

    So I’ll give the Mormons a tiny bit of credit for at least admitting that they are making a clean break with the past, even if the means by which they do so is clearly absurd and convenient.

    I’ll give the bastards nothing.
    `

    As soon as they sense a shift in the other direction, they’ll have another revelation and go straight back to where they were a century ago.
    `

    The same with the Christians. Just this year I’ve heard American preachers calling for atheists to be exiled, gays to be put into concentration camps, children to be beaten into submission, and this week Robert Anderson was cheered as he called for the death of millions of innocent people.
    `

    Does anyone think that if the Mormons or the Christians gain political power, they will put aside those threats and shower us, instead, with love and affection? I doubt they will.

  5. raven says

    and this week Robert Anderson was cheered as he called for the death of millions of innocent people.

    I missed this one. He is however, a mere dilettante in the xian mass murder wannabe game. Millions of dead people makes him a wimp.

    1. Rod Parsley wants to start a war between the 2 billion xians and 1.4 billion Moslems. Such a war would probably kill half the world’s population especially if it went nuclear.

    2. The Rapture Monkeys want to kill everyone. Their best idea is to hope that a Sky Monster shows up and kills them, 7 billion people, and destroys the earth.

    You would be wrong to think that killing everyone on earth is the ultimate. I’m sure some of them are hoping we discover UFO aliens. Then god can kill them too as tentacle possessing heretics.

  6. brianl says

    It was defended by reference to many Bible verses and to ideas expressed by the most important Christian thinkers, like St. Augustine, who famously endorsed the use of coercion to compel people to become Christians. These days you cannot find a Christian church or theologian who would endorse such a thing.

    The horrifyingly common practice of sending gay/”disobedient” children to church-run wilderness reeducation camps seems to have slipped your mind, Ed. The practice is still in use and happens far more than a lot of people are willing to recognize.

  7. coragyps says

    “The Christian’s Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes…. The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession — and take the credit of the correction. During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.”

    Samuel Clemens, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”

  8. Larry says

    When your whole religion is based upon a bunch of gold plates that nobody but the church’s founder could see, I’d bet that the tenets you hold so dear today are pretty much malleable.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    These days you cannot find a Christian church or theologian who would endorse such a thing.

    I dunno if Ann Coulter counts as a “church or theologian”, but her infamous call for the US to invade the entire Middle East and convert them to Xianism clearly ranks as an “endorsement”.

  10. raven says

    The horrifyingly common practice of sending gay/”disobedient” children to church-run wilderness reeducation camps seems to have slipped your mind, Ed.

    The Mormons have their own Gulag prison system for their kids.

    They aren’t all gay. Some are just apostates. Some are just kids that get in the way of their parent’s lives. This happens commonly when there is a remarriage and they end up stepkids.

    Got to wonder about a religion that has to have its own Gulag system. Hmmm, well actually you don’t. I’m just glad I wasn’t born a Mormon.

  11. says

    This is a very good point but it’s pretty ironic that it is being said by a practicing Catholic like Andrew Sullivan. The only difference between the Mormon prophet and the Pope is that the Mormons correct their mistakes quicker than Catholics do.

  12. Jeremy Shaffer says

    The use of torture and violence to force conversions was standard Christian practice for centuries. It was defended by reference to many Bible verses and to ideas expressed by the most important Christian thinkers, like St. Augustine, who famously endorsed the use of coercion to compel people to become Christians. These days you cannot find a Christian church or theologian who would endorse such a thing.

    We don’t see too many people making a call for forced conversions through violence or death (though I suspect there a lot not saying it that are thinking it). However, we do see a lot of people using the threat of violence and death as well as violations of privacy and destruction of life, limb and property in an attempt to either shut people up from expressing contrary beliefs or to get them to go along in action if not belief. That was one of the more disturbing things in Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family; that they don’t care if you believe, so long as you obey.

  13. says

    Isn’t Christianity this idea in general?

    OT Fire and Brimstone–>Prophet Jesus–> NT Forgiveness\Love\Etc

    *I have a very basic understanding of the differences in these books, having never been to church, so I could be off here.

  14. Childermass says

    Have the Mormons changed their religion any more than fundamentalist evangelicals? After all, 50 years ago they told that the Bible supported segregation by both precept and example.

    Of course they did not go straight to non-racism (at least those that actually have gone to non-racism as opposed to public non-racism). Some went through an intermediate form. I have Henry Morris books which say how a horrible thing racism is and then tell that Noah has three sons that created three types of people which are defined by basically clear racial prejudice.

    Mark my words, in 70 years (and possibly a whole lot sooner) the fundies will have most likely found some way to rationalize acceptance with gay people and their religion will have evolved again. I almost hope that they don’t so their religion will go into nearly extinct.

  15. wscott says

    For centuries and centuries, the Bible was used to defend the institution of slavery…The same is true of any number of other barbaric practices.

    In a conversation recently, I asked if there was a single significant moral debate in the last few centuries where there had not been God-fearing Christians on BOTH sides of the debate quoting scripture to support their position. The only exception to the rule we could think of was the women’s rights movement, which was almost entirely secular. So the only time Christians haven’t been on both sides, they were on the wrong side. Tell me more about this infallible source of all morality.

  16. slc1 says

    An interesting article in today’s Washington Post which is linked to below. Apparently, the Mormon hierarchy is keeping well away from the referendum in Maryland to overturn the legislature’s recognizing same sex marriage. If those fucktards had followed that strategy in California, the referendum to withdraw recognition would never have passed.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/mormon-church-is-conspicuously-absent-in-md-same-sex-marriage-referendum/2012/10/28/65d1eb16-1dfc-11e2-9cd5-b55c38388962_story.html

Leave a Reply