Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, by Matthew Bowman

(hb; 2012: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"With Mormonism on the verge of an unprecedented cultural and political breakthrough, an eminent scholar of American evangelicalism explores the history and reflects on the future of this native-born American faith and its connection to the life of a nation.

"In 1830, a young seer and sometime treasure hunter named Joseph Smith began organizing adherents into a new religious community that would come to be called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (and known informally as the Mormons). One of the nascent faith's early initiates was a twenty-three-year-old Ohio farmer named Parley Pratt, a distant grandfather of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In The Mormon People, religious historian Matthew Bowman peels back the curtain on more than 180 years of Mormon history and doctrine. He recounts the church's origin and development, explains how Mormonism came to be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world by the turn of the twenty-first century, and ably sets the scene for a 2012 presidential election that has the potential to mark a major turning point in the way this 'all-American' faith is perceived by the wider American public - and internationally.

"Mormonism started as a radical movement, with a profoundly transformative vision of American society that was rooted in a form of Christian socialism. Over the ensuing centuries, Bowman demonstrates, that vision has evolved - and with it the esteem with which Mormons have been held in the eyes of their countrymen. Admired on one hand as hardworking paragons of family values, Mormons have been also been derided as oddballs and persecuted as polygamists, heretics, and zealots clad in 'magic underwear.' Even today, the place in Mormonism in public life continues to generate heated debate on both sides of the political divide. Polls show widespread unease at the prospect of a Mormon president. Yet the faith has never been more popular. Today there are about 14 million Mormons in the world, fewer than half of whom live inside the United States. It is a church with a powerful sense of its own identity and an uneasy sense of its relationship with the main line of American culture."


Informative, engaging and history-based read from a non-Mormon author that zips along nicely, without getting too thick with theology, but cutting to the root of the problems, raptures and mindsets of those of the Mormon faith. 

Prior to reading this, I was hostile to the Mormon church - I mean, seriously, knocking on strangers' doors to tell them their worldview is wrong (a.k.a., "sharing the good news"), how arrogant/invasive is that? - but now, I just consider them (aside from their Prop 8 proponent members) to be well-intentioned, tax-cheating (as a collective church) and must-make-babies-machine people* whom I strongly disagree with, in matters of politics and religion (which should always be kept separate).  As one meme reads: "Religion had its chance to run the world - it's called the Dark Ages."

[*Note that in this regard, I refer to the church as a whole, not its individual members.]

The Mormon People is worth owning, particularly if you're a non-Mormon who wants to (try to) understand the Mormon mindset and or why Mitt Romney is so willing to his flip-flop on key political issues - elements Bowman's non-judgmental, just-the-facts writing focuses on. 

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