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In Other Words: Mormons - Fact and Fiction

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Here's your chance to learn more about religion of one of the GOP's front-runners.

Considering we might want to learn something about Mormonism, in light of the upcoming presidential election, here are some titles that explore the Mormon religion, in non-fiction and fiction. 

First from the more factual side:

The Mormon People: the Making of an American Faith by Matthew Bowman: Religious historian Bowman presents 180 years of Mormon history and doctrine, recounting the church's origin and development, and explaining how Mormonism came to be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.  He then sets the scene for the 2012 presidential election, with its potential to mark a major turning point in the way the faith is perceived by the American public.

Under the Banner of Heaven : a Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer:  Using mostly secondary historical texts and some contemporary primary sources, Krakauer details the history of the Mormon church from its early 19th-century creation to its violent journey from upstate New York to the Midwest and Utah, where, after the renunciation of the church's holy doctrine sanctioning multiple marriages, it transformed itself into one of the world's fastest-growing religions. While Krakauer demonstrates that most nonfundamentalist Mormons are community oriented, industrious and law-abiding, he poses some striking questions about the policies of the religion--and many religions in general.

Understanding the Book of Mormon : a Reader's Guide by Grant Hardy:  Hardy offers a comprehensive analysis of the work's narrative structure, by identifying the book's literary techniques, such as characterization, embedded documents, allusions, and parallel narratives, and shows how the narrators--Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni--each has a distinctive voice woven into an integral whole.

And now some pure fiction:

The 19th Wife : a novel by David Ebershoff: The story of Ann Eliza, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, and her crusade against polygamy is intertwined with a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in modern-day Utah.

The Lonely Polygamist : a novel by Brady Udall: Golden Richards, husband to four wives, father to 28 children, is having the mother of all midlife crises. His construction business is failing, his family has grown into an overpopulated mini-dukedom beset with insurrection and rivalry, and he is done in with grief: due to the accidental death of a daughter and the stillbirth of a son, he has come to doubt the capacity of his own heart. This is a tragicomic story of a deeply faithful man who, crippled by grief and the demands of work and family, becomes entangled in an affair that threatens to destroy his family’s future.

B Y Rogers March 20, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I question "Under the Banner of Heaven". Please see the reviews here: http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Books/Under_the_Banner_of_Heaven
Steve Rogers March 20, 2012 at 08:47 PM
I read "under the banner of Heaven" several years ago - absolutly marvolous book - probabky not the book that Mitt would recommend if you asked him about his religion - but it is still a highly recomended read. - just saying - slr
Lyle Ruble March 20, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Three must reads: Fawn Brodie..."No Man Knows my History, a history of Joseph Smith" Samuel Woolley Taylor...."Night Fall at Navoo" Robert Lewis Taylor...."The Travels of Jamie McPheeters"
B D March 20, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Why on Earth would you have several books on polygamy. Interesting? syre, but not a practice of the LDS Church for over 100 years. You might as well read a book on the Puritans to get a feel for Protestantism. My List: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Bushman The Book of Mormon Gospel Principles, the introductory Sunday School manual for adults. It's online at lds.org. It will give you the day to day doctrines of the church in easy to understand lessons. In fact, virtually every church talk and church manual is online at lds.org, making it easy to search and see what the church members are studying and hearing. Deseret Book also has a ton of books on various subjects. Nothing so sensational like Under the Banner of Heaven, but then again, Mormons are pretty boring in comparison.
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 01:08 AM
@B D...These books are not focused on polygamy but on the founding of the Church. To understand this American phenomena and the unique character of the belief system, one must understand the founder. Even today, in order to be a member one has to believe that Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet and revelatory; including the principle of apostolic succession. People need to reach an understanding by not only reading Church prepared and authorized materials and literature, but also countering views.
JohnB March 21, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Lyle your comment, “People need to reach an understanding by not only reading Church prepared and authorized materials and literature, but also countering views,” is interesting in that no Mormon Church prepared or authorized materials are mentioned. These are books on the founding of the Mormon Church I recommend: *History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by B.H. Roberts. *History of Joseph Smith by Joseph Smith. *Encyclopedia of Mormonism by Daniel H. Ludlow. These three are available at Google eBook. Church History in the Fullness of Times. This is a college textbook that can be downloaded at: http://institute.lds.org/courses/latter-day-saint-history.asp The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ and every manual used in the Mormon Church today is available for free at www.lds.org
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 02:55 AM
@JohnB...I don't understand why anyone would need to read up on Mormonism just because Mitt Romney is a Mormon. He is running for political office not for any type religious office. What the man personally believes has nothing to do with his political positions. I don't think that this would be the kind of forum to get into an active discussion of LDS doctrine, dogma and veracity. In the first place, those unfamiliar with the teachings and beliefs wouldn't even know the correct questions to ask. Therefore, continuation of Mitt Romney's belief system is unimportant.
Don Ormsby March 21, 2012 at 02:35 PM
A better name for Fawn Brodie's book is: "No, Ma'am, That's Not History." Brodies penchant for creating fiction from fact is extraordinary, to say the least. For a lively discussion of all things LDS, listen and call in to "Mormon Misc." on Sunday evenings at 5pm MST at: www.k-talk.com
Don Ormsby March 21, 2012 at 02:38 PM
"Under the Banner of Heaven" is fine if you wish to know about folks who have left "Mormonism" and have not more affiliation with the LDS Church that Mitt Romney calls home. For a lively discussion of all things LDS, listen and call in to "Mormon Misc." on Sunday evenings at 5pm MST at: www.k-talk.com
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 04:29 PM
@Don Ormsby...It has been a long standing position of the LDS Church that "No Man Knows my History" is a work of fiction written by an avowed apostate. Your Hugh Nibley quote is the general tactic utilized by members of the Church to discredit Fawn's scholarly work. First and foremost I am not anti-LDS or do I care that Mitt Romney is a member. Even though there are a number of publications that counter the early Church's official history that has nothing to do with the Church's unique belief system. It is not entirely the same as when Joseph Smith first dictated the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenant and the over three thousand changes he made to the King James Bible. The LDS have made a concerted effort to move from a fringe religious group to becoming an accepted main stream organized religion. The LDS are certainly not to be considered Christian in the accepted manner, but claims Christianity as their unique heritage as reestablishing the "true church" based on the Apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church. Even more unique concepts are tied to "eternal progression" and that the "Heavenly Father" was once a man who progressed to Godhood with a Goddess wife creating populations of spirit children to be born onto earth. There isn't enough room in this thread to go any further, but you get my idea.
Don Ormsby March 21, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Lyle: I said nothing about Brodie being an apostate. Nevertheless, having been a student of LDS history and doctrine since 1969, my assertion and use of Nibley's comments stands. Brodie's work can best be categorized as "Historical Fiction." When you suggest that "The LDS are certainly not to be considered Christian in the accepted manner...", we must ask what the "accepted manner" is. Any student of religious history can easily dismiss the concept that the "Biblical Christianity" of today is merely the latest popular concept of the issue. There are few, if any, concepts of theology in LDS belief that have not had their moment in the Christian Church as a whole. While many "Bible Christians" condemn Mormons, Christ will be the ultimate judge. In the meantime, I doubt He finds the bigotry and ignorance of so many critics of all things LDS to be any relation to the ideas He promoted. For a lively discussion of all things LDS, listen and call in to "Mormon Misc." on Sunday evenings at 5pm MST at: www.k-talk.com
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 08:58 PM
@Don Ormsby....I find your statement concerning the following disingenuous and misleading: "Any student of religious history can easily dismiss the concept that the "Biblical Christianity" of today is merely the latest popular concept of the issue. There are few, if any, concepts of theology in LDS belief that have not had their moment in the Christian Church as a whole." Pauline Christianity has never had the doctrine that Satan and Jesus were brothers in the per-existence. I have never come across in Pauline Christianity the concept of the three levels of heaven. I haven't seen in Pauline Christianity the concept of "eternal progression, nor God has a goddess wife. Pauline Christianity does not hold with eternal families or a man may be sealed to many women, let alone proxy baptism for the dead. Those are all core concepts of the LDS Church theology and are only a few of the things that are unique. In addition, the issues concerning being part of the "Lost Ten Tribes" and the unfounded Lamanite claims are completely unique to Mormonism. If people call into "Mormon Misc." all they are going to get is the official church answers. It would be better if you opened a local website and answered questions on it.
Don Ormsby March 21, 2012 at 10:27 PM
The radio program, "Mormon Misc.", is not LDS Church sponsored or endorsed. It is a forum for discussion on a broad range of topics relating to religious thought in general, and includes discussions on LDS history and beliefs from those of many differing beliefs. Your use of the term "Pauline Christianity" accentuates my point. "Orthodox", "Pauline", "Bible" - all are terms used to distinguish a certain point of view on Christianity from a specific school, predisposition and/or train of thought. Trying to pin down the specifics of Christianity, as presented by these differing beliefs and interpretations, is like nailing Jello to a wall. Since there is no authority to determine doctrine, aside from the individual and differing points of view on the Bible, "Christianity" is at the whim of the individual. When challenged with another point of view, such as Mormonism, the "Christian" must cling doggedly to whatever his point of view happens to be, and brand anyone with differing views to be a heretic. For a lively discussion of all things LDS, listen and call in to "Mormon Misc." on Sunday evenings at 5pm MST at: www.k-talk.com
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 12:43 AM
@Don Ormsby...Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. You are the first to use the proper argument concerning the critics of Mormonism. Pauline Christianity can and should be challenged as to their authority and veracity. The LDS belief system can be considered equal to that of the Pauline Christian movements' beliefs. Mormonism is still vulnerable to the "Sins of the Founders" only because the origin of the movement is relatively new in comparison to Pauline-ism. As time passes, the origins of Mormonism will also pass into a mythological narrative just as it has in Pauline-ism. Again congratulations, I respect your thinking. By the way I am not Christian, but Jewish.
JohnB March 22, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Lyle, I agree. I do not know why anyone would need to read up on the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) as Mitt Romney is running for political office not a religious office. But if Greenfield Patch is going to recommend things to read about the Church I can post my list just as you felt inclined to post your own reading list at 5:51 PM on March 20th. In reply to my post you wrote, “I don't think that this would be the kind of forum to get into an active discussion of LDS doctrine, dogma and veracity.” This is interesting in that four of your six posts do exactly that. For someone that has repeatedly written that you do not care about Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs and that you do not feel this is the appropriate forum to discuss Mormonism, you seem to have a lot to say about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 02:50 AM
@John B...If you carefully read the comment thread you will see that I was responding to Don Ormsby, He and I have been going back and forth. Don is the first person who has come up with the proper argument against other Christian faith's criticism of the Church.
Ray Swenson March 22, 2012 at 03:18 AM
You should move the Krakauer book into the "fiction" section, because most of what it reports about general Mormon history is second hand defamation written by an avowed atheist who hates ALL religion and targets Mormonism as an intense strawman for ALL religious beliefs. His thesis mainly consists of the notion that religion causes violence, end of story. But he ignores the violence that has been committed by people who have no religious motives, from inner city drug dealers and pimps to Communist dictators. People don't have to be religious to be violent. As for Mormonism, its basic ethic is the respect of the religious freedom and civil freedom of all people, no matter what their religious beliefs. National research, such as reported in the book American Grace, affirms that Mormons have affirmative feelings towards people of all other religions MORE than any other group, approaching the positive regard denominations have for their own group. Mormons believe 100% that people of ANY denomination can go to heaven. Many other denominations teach that only their own members avoid hell. These and other scientific research totally rebuts Krakauer's atheistic refusal to credit the good faith of Mormons.
Don Ormsby March 22, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Thank you, Lyle. Likewise, I find your point of view cogent and to the point, from your perspective. Methinks any further discussion might be the veracity of some various writings on the subject of LDS history and doctrine. We could have an interesting discussion on that, but perhaps this forum is not the appropriate venue. You would be a great guest on the radio show! For a lively discussion of all things LDS, listen and call in to "Mormon Misc." on Sunday evenings at 5pm MST at: www.k-talk.com - on air number, 801-254-5855
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 01:53 PM
@Don Ormsby...I used to listen to K-Talk while I lived in SLC. I would occasionally listen to Van Hale and he had some interesting programming. I was one of the few non-Mormons who used to watch or listen to Conference.

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