The Wall Street Journal featured a nice little puff piece on the Hill Cumorah Pageant today, A Pageant of Mormon History and Mirth. This pageant, like other mormon historical sites and events, plays a crucial role in sustaining the faith of mormons in their church. One of the many oddities about mormonism is the role of the story of the Book of Mormon, both the events it alleges and the story of how it was “discovered” and “translated” by Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is sort of the gateway drug for mormonism. It doesn’t really contain any of the squirrelly teachings of mormonism about polygamy or becoming gods but mormon missionaries ask prospective converts to pray about the Book of Mormon to determine whether it is true or not. If you affirm that the Book of Mormon is “true” then you must aknowledge Smith as a prophet and therefore accept the rest of his crackpot theories and fanciful teachings, from men becoming gods to God Himself telling Joseph to cheat on his wife but not reveal this revelation until his wife wised up to his infidelity. Once you accept the Book of Mormon and join the mormon religion you are slowly introduced to the rest of the teachings of mormonism.
Unlike Christianity, where Christians lay it all on the table while preaching the Gospel, mormon proselytizing efforts focus on getting an emotion driven assent to a poorly written, repetitive book rather than on exaltation, the pre-existence, polygamy and other aberrant mormon teachings. Little wonder that new converts are banned from the “temple” for at least a year to make sure that they are deeply integrated into the mormon story and experience to offset the disturbing events of the “temple” ceremony.
Here is my comment on the original article.
Events like these pageants are crucial to the narrative of mormonism. Mormonism at its core is basically a fairly recent story and adherents really base their entire faith on the story told by Joseph Smith: Is it believable or not? Not the actual events of the Book of Mormon itself as those defy logic, history and evidence. No, the core question is whether or not you believe the most recent iteration of Joseph Smith’s story. Did he really receive some sort of angelic visitor that led him to some plates that were conveniently buried near his home, plates that he “translated” using a variety of methods depending on which version of the story you read, from magic stones in a hat to the “Urim and Thummim”. Did those plates really exist and were they really a record of Jews who fled to America, built an enormous civilization that vanished with nary a trace and were visited by Jesus Christ? If you believe that story, then Smith must have been a prophet and so all of his crackpot teachings that followed and his immoral and outrageous behavior must have had a good reason. If you don’t believe that Smith was telling the truth about the Book of Mormon then it follows that he made up the whole thing, a giant web of lies that kept expanding every time Smith was confronted with mummies or a woman (or young girl) that he lusted after.
If at any point you doubt the story told by Joseph Smith, the whole thing collapses, so it is crucial to drive this narrative home at an early age and constantly reinforce the mormon mythology where all of the mormons are persecuted heroes and all of the doubters dastardly bad guys. Whereas church history is tragically neglected among most Christians, in the mormon religion their church history IS the church. You must affirm the current prophet, no matter what he says, and every prior prophet or you lose the whole house of cards. The leaders of mormonism know this all too well which explains the pageants, the church historical sites, the constant reminders of mormon lore and they discouraging of ordinary mormons from digging too deeply into non-faith affirming history that tends to reflect poorly on the narrative being spun by the brethren.
Mormonism really is a religion based on the story told by Joseph Smith. It stands or falls on his story. If it is true, then mormonism is true no matter how it defies logic, history and especially the Bible. If his story is false then he is a liar, the Book of Mormon is a lie and ultimately mormonism is shown to be what it really is: a pseudo-Christian religious cult that mixed a few truths in with a bunch of lies.