Sunday, February 19, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: did I mention you were adopted?

Sundays, time to read the comics. This week there was a story in the LA Times that was so bizarre, it only needed . . . well, I'm not sure what it needed. It's about Mormonism.

Here's a little background on the Church of the Latter Day Saints from the Times article by William Lobdell (warning: this is not satire):
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an angel named Moroni led Joseph Smith in 1827 to a divine set of golden plates buried in a hillside near his New York home.

God provided the 22-year-old Smith with a pair of glasses and seer stones that allowed him to translate the "Reformed Egyptian" writings on the golden plates into the "Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

Mormons believe these scriptures restored the church to God's original vision and left the rest of Christianity in a state of apostasy.

The book's narrative focuses on a tribe of Jews who sailed from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 BC and split into two main warring factions.

The God-fearing Nephites were "pure" (the word was officially changed from "white" in 1981) and "delightsome." The idol-worshiping Lamanites received the "curse of blackness," turning their skin dark.

According to the Book of Mormon, by 385 AD the dark-skinned Lamanites had wiped out other Hebrews. The Mormon church called the victors "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." If the Lamanites returned to the church, their skin could once again become white. (LA Times)
Sort of like believing there is someone up in the sky that controls everyone's destinies and if you don't do what He says he'll burn you to a crisp. Or that he had a Son who died for your sins (even though you weren't even born yet; how did he know you were going to shop lift that candy when you were 6?). Or that . . . you get the idea.

If, by itself, this isn't bizarre enough, consider the success of this story in proselytizing amongst Native Americans and Pacific Islanders. About a third of LDS's worldwide membership of 12 million now includes indigenous peoples of the New World who have been told they are descendants of ancient Hebrews and soon their day will come in the bosom of the LDS Church.

Unfortunately, DNA evidence about the actual origins of the converted seems to be pretty conclusive they aren't from Palestine. The indigenous peoples of North and South America are from Asia. This has royally pissed off some former Hebrews:
From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."
Never mind. If you really are needing to believe ridiculous stories, there's no shortage being peddled by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and the rest. Take your pick.

Meanwhile, Mormons are trying to figure out what to do with the inconvenient DNA evidence. In an otherwise fine article, we find this puzzling analogy:
For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.

For those outside the faith, the depth of the church's dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn't sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland — and that U.S. history books were wrong.
Huh? Why would I care if the original European settlers came from Iceland or Spain or Italy? And I don't have to imagine how I'd feel if US history books were wrong. Little I was taught from those books 50 years ago was factually correct.

Anyway, it's Sunday. Read the article in the LA Times. It's much better than the funnies.