Mansfield gives an excellent review of Mormon history from the beginning in the early 1800's in the “burnt-over district” near Palmyra, NY, the scene of repeated religious revivals, through the westward movement first to Jackson County, Missouri and finally to Salt Lake City Utah. He gives a detailed account of Joseph Smith's meeting with the Angel Maroni and later with John the Baptist, as well as Peter, James and John.
Although retelling the history is important to get an idea of who the Mormons were, the most important contribution Mansfield makes in this book is telling who the Mormons are today. Mansfield, according to the introduction, has taken time to meet the Mormons and learn first hand what they think about their religion and their beliefs. He starts each chapter with a vignette based, he says, on real life stories. These glimpses of Mormons defending their faith, telling what they believe, and struggling with life's problems are the best part of the book. We can see the real people behind the popular ideas of strange underwear, unusual beliefs, and prophetic visions.
What emerges from this book is a picture of the Latter-day Saints as:
- People who strive for success, believing that life is a series of tests that must be passed. Their credo is progressing, achieving and moving forward.
- People who believe that family is important above almost everything else. How many other religions require families to meet once a week to discuss problems and successes.
- Education is extremely important to Mormons. It begins at an early age and most Latter-day Saints are very well educated, many doing graduate work.
- Patriotism is inbred in the Mormons. They believe in the free-market system, and more important view, the Constitution as of Divine origin.
When I started this book, I knew a few Latter-day Saints and thought well of them, but I didn't understand their religion at all. I have to admit that I still find their beliefs a bit unusual, but everyone in our country is free to believe what they want from Pentecostals, to Catholics, to Mormons, Jews and all Protestant congregatons.
I highly recommend this book. It's very readable and will give you a much better idea of who these successful people are. At the end of the book Mansfield deals with several problems the Mormons face by becoming more prominent. One is the concern that Mormons are bound by the revelations of Saints in positions of power. I don't think this is a serious concern. I remember the Kennedy election. People painted horror stories of the country becoming subject to the Pope. That didn't happen. I very much doubt that Mormon revelations will guide anyone in charge of the country either in the military or the government to perform acts that are not in the best interests of the nation. Church and State are separate and should remain that way.
I reviewed this book for Worthy Publishing.