Inhuman Swill : Mormonism : Page 15
            

[Looks like marriage is in the air. For more info on what the heck is going on here, click here.]

The modern church has plenty of embarrassing historical specters hanging around, but few haunt it the way polygamy does. The church has tried to distance itself from the practice in the past century, but with mixed results. If you ask most Mormons today whether or not they believe it's proper to practice polygamy, they'll tell you no. But if you ask them whether or not it's a correct principle, they'll say yes.

In fact, the practice of polygamy is an excommunicable offense, and has been for many decades. This has not always been the case, however—polygamy was once, deservedly (and still is, erroneously), the chief distinguishing characteristic of Mormonism in the minds of most Americans—and many Saints believe it may not always be the case in the future. They look forward to the day when the moral and political climate in the United States and other nations has cooled enough to permit the church to reinstitute the practice—though the more reasonable of these don't expect it to happen until Christ's Millennial reign on Earth. (Note that I specified "the more reasonable.")

So, what is polygamy, and how did the practice arise?

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For the remainder of the hour, Elder Fowler and I wound Buddy Van Rijk in an increasingly constrictive net of dogma, woven from strands—even by Christian standards—of ever more tenuous logic. It was the type of snare that can only constrain a willing captive; one misstatement on our part, one question or concern unsatisfactorily addressed, and the whole careful construct falls away like trick ropes from an escape artist.

Elder Fowler explained the role Jesus Christ plays in the Plan of Salvation, negating through His sacrifice the effects of death and sin that would otherwise prevent us from returning to God's presence. (Being a sports fan, Van Rijk was surely familiar with the supporting New Testament verse—John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son"—that Fowler asked him to read aloud from the family Bible.) I described the process by which God makes the Plan known to His children: instructing prophets to pass His words along to all the Earth's inhabitants, which come to us as scripture. Relating an abbreviated version of Joseph Smith's First Vision as anecdotal evidence, Elder Fowler affirmed that God continues to speak to prophets in our modern day and age. Then I put forth the Book of Mormon as one of the premier fruits of Joseph's holy calling, and briefly summarized its premise and contents.

In these latter parts of the discussion, we painted Joseph Smith for our investigator the way weak sunlight paints a stained-glass saint for the parishioners inside a cathedral—we rendered him beatific and blessèd, aglow with a numinous radiance, yet for all that curiously flat, distant, and inscrutable. We applied no brushstroke that might have brought life to that colorful rogue, teased out no overlooked detail that might have shed light on his enormous charisma (a force so powerful that Mormons still love the man fiercely and recklessly more than a century and a half after his death). In our singleminded quest to prove both Joseph and his magnum opus modern witnesses of Christ, we certainly recounted no tale like the one I'm about to tell. But stories like these are as great a part of the appeal of Mormonism as the doctrine of eternal families—to long-standing members, perhaps even more so. Check this out:

It was probably late in 1812 that typhoid fever swept through Joseph Smith's family. The previous year his parents had settled with their six living children in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where, after a series of financial disasters, they had begun at last to regain their footing. Joseph would have been nearly seven when he and his siblings, including the new baby Catherine, took sick. All seven children eventually recovered, though Joseph's older sister Sophronia nearly died and Joseph himself developed a painful abscess (what he called a "fever sore") in one shoulder.

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What's my line?

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I just received one of the nicest compliments I've had lately. One of the departing employees, whom I may not see again in an office setting, told me: "You know, out of all the people in this department, if I had to pick the one that was a former Mormon or from Utah, I never would have thought of you. And I hope you understand I mean that as a compliment."

Of course I understood. I understood perfectly. And I'm so pleased I could burst. That was the goal, you know.

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Here comes the firestorm

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I knew this was going to happen, but that doesn't make it any less aggravating now that it has.

See, as part of this Mormon missionary memoir of mine, I've divulged secrets of the Mormon temple ceremony that I'm not supposed to talk about. In fact, I took gruesome oaths on my life in the Mormon temple never to reveal the contents of that ceremony.

Now that the book is picking its paraplegic way toward publication, I figured I should give my parents a heads-up about the coming betrayal. (Not only will the book contain, early on, this temple material, but I've also culled those pages out as an excerpt for my agent to try to sell to some major magazine.) I emailed my parents, told them about the contents and purpose of my book, and offered to let them see what I had written so far so they could be prepared for the consequences. My mother asked to see the book so I sent it to her a couple of weeks ago.

Well, this morning I received the following loving email from one of my siblings (I have seven):

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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William Shunn

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