The Mormons, a cult whose members wear magic underwear and prepare for the end of the world while practicing polygamy. That’s the Mormons, right?
Not really. That’s more the stereotype many people all over the world have of Mormons but none of that turned out to be true. Well, in a way…
What Are Mormons Like?
I had just arrived to the US, was still trying to get used to the massive roads, big cities, and oversized shopping malls when my friend took me to visit her family in Utah… for a stay of almost 2 weeks!
She had already taken me to quite a cool, young, so-called “rock church” in San Diego and I have to admit that even that was a stretch for me.
I would normally call myself an atheist although here in the US that seems quite a strong thing to say: more than not believing in God, as an atheist here you seem to be against God. And I am not against God… am I? Ah who am I kidding, I was shocked to see how many people (of all ages) in San Diego believe in God and I’m kinda nervous about living with a Mormon family… yes, I am an atheist.
So there I was, at the dining table with my host family. Dinner was served and everyone sat down, ready to eat. I thought I’d be polite by complimenting the mother on the food while at the same time grabbing my fork and having a first bite. Oh crap, we had to pray first! Failure number one!
But, despite not always fitting in, this trip turned out to be a great and very unique experience!
My friend has a lovely family. Apart from the 89 year old grandma nobody tried to convert me (ok, there was this one night when they tried to get me to marry one of their cousins… but at least he was good looking! 😉 ). And they didn’t seem to mind me being honest about not being religious which, staying at their house, I was very grateful for.
By now I have met quite a few Mormons and if I have to choose two words to describe them those would be ‘conservative’ and ‘polite’.
Since Mormons believe we are all God’s children they really have to be polite and respectful to everyone and in my case that is probably a good thing because that kept us from having heated discussions about why you should or shouldn’t believe in God.
And yes, Mormons are conservative in many ways. The mother of the family clearly didn’t appreciate me wearing shorts too much (do you know how warm it gets in Utah in summer?!) and made a very polite but determined attempt to get me into wearing something more conservative the one time they managed to get me to go to church.
But conservative in bigger ways as well: premarital sex is a definite NO, and so is drinking alcohol, coffee, and even tea. Where I agree alcohol is not good for you and can understand where the no premarital sex comes from, I really struggle with the no coffee and tea idea (plus no Mormon was able to give me a good explanation of why coffee and tea would be worse than the huge amounts of soda and other sugary foods and drinks they put into their bodies).
With AC set to ‘freezing’ in most American houses and many public buildings I was constantly craving a nice hot cup of tea to warm me up. And what’s the fun in lazy Sunday breakfasts if you can’t have a good cup of coffee?! I really feel they are missing out here! 😉
And ok, that might sound like an exaggeration but until now I’d never really paid attention to the social aspects of a simple cup of coffee and of course even more of an alcoholic beverage.
How often do you (assuming you are not Mormon) say ‘let’s meet for coffee’ or ‘let’s go grab a coffee’. Besides them not saying that they simply don’t do anything like that: they don’t meet up with people to catch up over a cup of something. They don’t really go to bars to socialize while drinking a non alcoholic beverage… It seems that because they don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol they also don’t socialize in the way people who do drink these things do… And that to me was fascinating!
Instead, Mormons are well known for their ‘activities’: they meet up and play games. On the 4th of July I didn’t get drunk on large amounts of beer while listening to a live band and watching the fireworks. No, we went bowling…
At young adults’ birthday parties you don’t play vodka-based drinking games; no, you play… charades or the famous Mormon game of “Apples to Apples” (basically the very polite version of Cards Against Humanity).
And OK, I know I am generalizing and I am sure there are plenty of Mormons who do meet up for a cup of not coffee and do go to a bar to socialize and drink a non alcoholic beverage… but I haven’t met them yet!
Who Are the Mormons?
A very brief introduction:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose followers are known as Mormons or Latter-day Saints (LDS), was founded less than two hundred years ago by a man named Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith claimed to have received a personal visit from God the Father and Jesus Christ (Articles of Faith, p. 35) who told him that all churches and their creeds were an abomination (1 Nephi 13:28; Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith – History 1:18, 19).
Joseph Smith then set out to “restore true Christianity” and claimed his church to be the “only true church on earth” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 670; 1 Nephi 14:10).
Mormonism modifies and expands on the Bible.
Mormons believe that there are four sources of divinely inspired words instead of one:
- The Bible “as far as it is translated correctly”.
- The Book of Mormon, which was “translated” by Joseph Smith (even though he was pretty much illiterate) and published in 1830. Smith claimed it is the “most correct book” on earth and that a person can get closer to God by following its precepts “than by any other book” (History of the Church 4:461).
- Doctrine and Covenants, containing a collection of modern revelations regarding the “Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored.”
- The Pearl of the Great Price, which is considered by Mormons to “clarify” doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible (Articles of Faith, p. 182–185) and adds its own information about the earth’s creation.
Mormons dedicate large amounts of time and resources to serving in their church, and many young Mormons choose to serve a full-time proselytizing mission.
Mormons tend to be very family-oriented, and have strong connections across generations and with extended family, reflective of their belief that families can be sealed together beyond death.
Mormons also have a strict law of chastity, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage.
Mormons self-identify as Christian though some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity.
And Then There Is All the Prejudice Against Mormons
1. It’s a Cult
A Cult. Webster’s 1913 Dictionary describes the word cult as: “Attentive care; homage; worship” or “A system of religious belief and worship” and the Oxford Dictionary says: “A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object”.
If we follow these descriptions, then isn’t every religion a cult? Ok, the Oxford dictionary also gives the following option: “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister” So is Mormonism a cult then solely because non-Mormons see it as strange?
I have experienced Mormonism as a very open group of people, very willing to share their beliefs and willing to let any outsider in and ask questions. So personally I don’t see why Mormonism would be any more, or less, of a cult than any other mainstream religion…
2. They Wear Magic Underwear
According to one of their websites (www.ldschurchtemples.com) this is the story behind the ‘magic underwear’:
“Known to some is the fact that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear a special kind of underwear in connection with their religion. This is true of most faithful adult members of the Church. (Mormon children are generally dressed the same as any other children.) The special underwear is called a “garment” and it is directly related to Mormon temples.
Garments are a symbolic gesture of the promises that Mormons have made to God. The garment is always worn under other clothing, next to the skin. Mormons begin wearing it during their first visit to the temple, wherein they receive individual instruction on how the garment should be worn and cared for, and furthermore, they undergo a sacred ceremony called the temple endowment.
The garment or special underwear is worn at all times, both day and night, from then on. It serves as a constant reminder of the covenants made during the temple endowment.
Mormons believe in being “in the world, but not of it,” and the garment helps in privately yet consistently setting temple-going Mormons apart from the world.”
The website adds: “A particularly sharp contrast is felt in today’s society, where morals and modesty have deteriorated to a most horrific degree. Many moviemakers and clothing manufacturers, for example, design their respective products to reveal so much of the human body that virtually nothing is left to the imagination.
Mormons, on the other hand, are encouraged through the modest length and cut of their garments to always dress appropriately.
Devout Mormons understand that in only a very few instances might the garment be removed, such as for swimming, using the bathroom, or being intimate in marriage. The reasons for keeping the garment on far outweigh the reasons for taking it off.”
“Morals and modesty have deteriorated to a most horrific degree“?? I think I feel personally offended! And I’m surprised I wasn’t thrown out of Utah for wearing shorts! 🙂
The special Mormon underwear consists of a top and bottom piece and is normally white. This symbolizes purity. “It fosters a mindset of continual obedience to the Lord, which is crucial in keeping the covenants entered into in the temple. Through such obedience, a person can find physical and spiritual protection.”
So yes, there is such a thing as special underwear and if you take all of your information from a website such as the one quoted above I do understand why an outsider would see the Mormons as a weird, close-minded and overly religious group…
3. They Practice Polygamy
Between 1852 and 1890 a minority of Mormons openly practiced plural marriage, a form of religious polygamy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy in the 1890s (with the exception of a militant faction). The church is now very much against polygamy and states: “If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose.”
4. They Prepare for the End of the World
For Mormons, the term “last days” refers to the current period of time, the preparatory era before the second coming of Christ.
“The end of the world” is not the end of the earth, but the end of evil and the triumph of righteousness. At the conclusion of these last days, the Lord Jesus Christ will come again and personally reign upon the renewed “paradisaical” earth.
Now where that still sounds nice, they also believe that:
“In the last days, gross wickedness will cover the earth. This wickedness will result in wars of unprecedented destruction, parents and children seeking each other’s lives, great increases in crime, the destruction of many cities, and a “desolating scourge” that will reach plague proportions…”
For more information: eom.byu.edu/index.php/Last_Days
So yes, Mormons, in general, do believe in the end of the world as we know it… What I think of this? To me it sounds a bit like a fairytale that was created to help control people while they wait for a paradisaical world that they will most likely never get to see during their lifetime…
I have lived in Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish and now, briefly, Mormon environments and I have seen both the good and the bad: how members of each of these societies can work hard to improve their own lives and that of the people around them but also how some members can ruin a society and how religion and the controlling power that comes with it can be abused.
And although I can’t get myself to believe in many of the things practiced in most mainstream religions and I’m quite sure I’ll never become a fan of religion for many different reasons, being surrounded by it in such an intense way did make me see the good sides of it and I feel blessed (oh wait, I don’t believe in that) to have met such a lovely family to stay with.
But I have to admit, my first cup of coffee at the end of these two weeks tasted like freedom and I felt like a naughty teenager again when I had that one glass of wine that day I got to spend a few hours without the family and sat down in a bar…
No, I still don’t believe in God and I am critical of many things that have happened in the name of religion. But I can appreciate a lot of the values religion teaches people. The feeling of belonging to something and of being part of a society… I understand why people appreciate that and I have gained a greater respect for that.
I just hope that one day the world can be left with all these great values without all of the hate, abuse, killing, and exclusion that religion has created over the years…
- www.mormon.org eom.byu.edu/index.php/Last_Days
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