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June 24th, 2011
02:11 PM ET

Explain it to me: Mormonism

With two Mormons running for the Republican presidential nomination and a play riffing on the religion tearing up Broadway, the country appears to be having a Mormon moment.

Here are 10 facts about Mormonism. What other questions do you have about the faith?

1. The official name of the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2. Mormons consider themselves Christian but their beliefs and practices differ from traditional Christianity in key ways, including belief in sacred texts outside the Bible and practices like posthumous proxy baptism and wearing special undergarments.

3. There are about 14 million Mormons today, with more than half living outside the United States.

4.  The Mormon religion was founded in upstate New York in 1830, when Joseph Smith published a translation of writings he said he found and translated from Egyptian-style hieroglyphics into English.  That's the Book of Mormon, which believers say consists of writings produced by ancient American civilizations.

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has outlawed polygamy since 1890.

6. Early Mormons faced intense persecution, so church headquarters relocated from New York to Missouri to Illinois in rapid succession. Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois. His successor, Brigham Young, led early Mormons to the Great Salt Lake in what's now Utah, where church headquarters remains.

7. Mormon men are expected to perform two years of missionary work beginning when they're 19 years old. Women can also do missionary work when they turn 21, but there is less pressure to do so.

8. Famous Mormons include J.W. Marriott, founder of the hotel chain, Glenn Beck and Gladys Knight, a convert.

9. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney represent different generations of Mormonism that have related pretty differently to American culture.

10. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is running some major ad campaigns to take advantage of burgeoning interest in the religion.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mormonism

soundoff (3,741 Responses)
  1. Lance

    Mormons don't talk a lot about their belief that God lives on a planet orbiting a star called Kolob, but that doesn't mean they don't believe it (they do) and it doesn't mean their scriptures don't teach it (they do). They probably don't talk about it much because they realize it's embarrassing.

    June 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • JK

      Lance – This statement is utter nonsense!! I have been a member for over Ten years and have never once heard this. It's people like yourself who perpetuate hate and gossip about the Mormon religion. Where did you get this info? Post a link to the LDS.org website where this info is stated.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Lance

      Hi JK, do I have to post a link to LDS.org? Why not read your own scriptures? Try the Book of Abraham (chapter 3) in the Pearl of Great Price.

      Or is LDS.org what passes for scripture among Mormons these days...

      June 26, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Lance

      Also JK, you might refer to the song "If You Could Hie To Kolob" found in your own LDS hymnal.

      Gee, what's Kolob in that hymn? Again, I refer you to your very own scriptures.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Brian

      Because the church does not focus on trivialities. It would be like Christianity not teaching enough about burning bushes or talking donkeys.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Lance

      Hi Brian, trivialities? Is the question of whether or not God lives on a planet within our universe trivial? Is the question of whether or not Mormon scriptures claim God does a trivial matter? I suppose so, if you're a Mormon trying to sweep the matter under the carpet, because of course, it's embarrassing to talk about or admit to.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Brian

      Where does it say that Kolob is in our universe? Or that Kolob is even literal? Certainly it's not important to practicing Latter-day Saints. They just don't get bogged down on such trivialities. But it sure is fun hearing how antis like to make it out to bee some kind of important doctrinal issue.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Segev Stormlord

      Honestly? Outside of pure curiosity-satisfying, whether Kolob is where God truly dwells in the flesh and is a physical planet one could hop the starship Enterprise to fly to or not is irrelevant, and is not really explored in our doctrine. The Book of Abraham describes Abraham's vision of the hierarchy of the cosmos, which was very much through a spiritual lens and through the eyes of a man who, while doubtless wise and intelligent beyond many of his time, only had a very primitive (to us) understanding of astronomy and astrological bodies.

      To mormons, the bit about Kolob is unclear, not horribly relevant, and merely a point of interest. The Hymn in question is a poem set to song; or do you believe Dante's Inferno to be scripture and doctrine about how Hell really, honestly, truly works, as well as a faithful depiction of Heaven, rather than a bit of poetic license to illustrate a deeper spiritual point? "If you could hie to Kolob," from my flimsy memory of it (I think I've seen it sung in sacrement meeting once) is about harking closer to God and His teachings and His guidance and returning to live with Him in the end. "Kolob" is being poetically used the way "Heaven" is in many, many other songs and poems. Nothing more.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  2. Laird

    The more hate the Anti's spew, the more attention they bring to the mormons. Their strategy has backfired

    June 25, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Dmitri

      On the contrary, the closer examination of any religion is detrimental to that religion.
      Most atheists are ex-religious for that very reason.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  3. AF

    Book of Mormon – read it, pondered it, prayed about it, and believe it with all my heart. And like most good books, they deserve to be read over and over again. I for one am grateful that the Lord in his mercy continues to give us his word through modern prophets and apostles. The Book of Mormon was written for our time. The self-righteous religionists of our day will try to convince you otherwise. I challenge you all to get yourself a copy and make a serious study of it. It will change your life forever.

    June 25, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Do Tell Us Please

      As you have read The Book of Mormon so carefully, would you mind explaining the following problems that people have had with it? Thanks.

      Explain why are the following things mentioned when they did not exist in the Americas until many centuries after the "events" of the Book of Mormon ostensibly occured: a$$es, cattle, milk, horses, oxen, sheep, swi-ne, goats, elephants, wheat, barley, figs, gra-pes, silk, cement, steel, bellows, bra-ss, bre-ast plates, chains, iron working, plows, swords, scimitars, and chariots?

      Why are there absolutely no archeological remains of any of these items, or of the million man battles that supposedly occured?

      How were the Lamanites "children of Israel" when all native peoples (and fossil records of peoples here) are genetically proven to be of Asian origin?

      How did all these Israelites get to the Americas?

      How did the natives speak a variant of Egyptian for which no evidence exists in the Americas?

      How did Joseph Smith get the Book of Abraham from some ancient papyrus fragments which have been conclusively translated as funerary docu-ments by modern Egyptologists?

      Why is the word "bible" used 10 times referring to a period of about 550 BCE when the Biblical Canon was only created in 325 CE at the Council of Nicea – 800 years later?

      How is the name Isabel in there when the origin of the name is late Middle Ages France?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Brian

      The simple answer is that it is a translation, and as such it has known references that fit the culture and knowledge of the translator.

      And as for DNA, there is ample evidence that DNA traces are shared between North American natives and Middle Easterners to cause at least a raised eyebrow. Oh, and the fact that you can't prove a negative.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • Steve

      @Brian – There is no "fact" that you can't prove a negative. Yes, I'm sure that you've heard that stated, but it happens to be false.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  4. Justice

    you've got 5 anti-mormons on this blog parading like they are 50... and they have a real cancer in their heart. Self righteous Zealots!

    June 25, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  5. Best

    My best friend is a Mormon and the most decent person I know. Don't know much about Romney or Huntsman, but they appear to be very successful businessmen who could do circles around the circus in Washington.

    June 25, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  6. pusser

    Goog point, Eric. Mormonism was born of racist roots, and like some of the books it was based on in the early 1800s, it claimed that American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel, that Jesus visited the Americas during his ministry, and that black people were punished with their color due to their descendancy from a sinful group. As with polygamy, their perspective on especially African Americans changed only when it became politically necessary.

    June 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  7. pusser

    Some of the points above are misleading. For instance, LDS outlawed polygamy only when Utah statehood was in jeopardy. And early Mormons faced persecution due to their confrontational behavior with other "christians," claiming that theirs was the true church and all others were (as the Book of Mormon declares) wrong. Also, the LDS had its own military, and Smith was killed in a shootout, not as a martyr by a mob.

    June 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Brian

      Actually, Mormon opposition in the East was because they were anti-slavery- which by the way, discredits your issue with racism in the early church.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  8. Youmakemenervous

    Rice-a-Moroni; the Salt Lake City treat!

    June 25, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  9. Alan

    Good article. Mormon.org has more, if you are interested

    June 25, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Marie Kidman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig

    .

    June 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  11. mormoninfo.org was founded by a mormon

    MORMONINFO.ORG reveals the LIES

    June 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Brian

      If it was founded by Mormons, why does it say., "As Evangelical Christians, we also desire to convert Mormons and the state of Utah in particular" ???

      June 26, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • Steve

      @Brian – Probably because they are now ex-Mormons who converted to Christianity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian Church.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  12. Read mormoninfo.org

    MORMONINFO.ORG lays bare the hoax know as the LDS church.

    June 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  13. mormoninfo.org

    Read mormoninfo.org if you want the truth about the inbred fools known as mormons. Remember the Mountain Meadows massacre.

    June 25, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • ldsmom02

      If you want to know what Mormon's believe, go to Mormon.org. It's funny to me how people will believe anyone who is not a member of the LDS church about what Mormon's believe, but they won't believe a Mormon. That is just plain ridiculous.

      June 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Truth Is Harsh Sometimes

      Actually, non-Mormons really don't care enough to do anything about it. Most of the websites critical of LDS are done by former Mormons who figured out that their religion is a fraud started by a delusional conman named Joseph Smith, who obviously made the whole thing up. They just want to point out the real history of Mormonism, not the heavily-edited revisionist fairy tale the LDS church propagandizes the faithful with.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  14. imeubu

    Physicists have proven that "matter" can be "changed" without allowance for time and space. It has also proven that "perspective" affects "reality". Sounds like "supernatural" to me. How can we deny the possibility that someone may have "seen" things or "experienced" things that we cannot understand?

    June 25, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Individual Atheist

      You are incorrect. And I would bet you cannot cite any real support or sources for such a skewed view of science. Troll.

      June 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • imeubu

      Bell's Theorem – for time space and Copenhagen Theorem – for perspective.... I'm surprised you would take exception to what is empirically proven and reviewed in all major reviews. What I was hoping for was reaction to the "irony" of doubting something we cannot understand when we have proof certain that such a state exists in the most rigorous of scientific arenas.

      June 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Truth Is Harsh Sometimes

      Sorry, but you made a huge and unsupported jump from (misstated) scientific theory to the completely unrelated matter of the possibility of supernatural beings. That's a logical fallacy called non sequitur.

      You also misrepresented Bell's Theorum and the Copenhagen interpretation (not a theorum), so you clearly are repeating someone else's lame pseudoscientific attempt to prove the scientific possibility of a God. We've seen that before with tortured misrepresentations of the Third Law of Thermodynamics which are wrongly claimed to support the idea that God is the force resisting entropy.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Individual Atheist

      Bell's Theorem does not say anything of the sort. The theorem applies to any quantum system of two entangled qubits. The most common examples concern systems of particles that are entangled in spin or polarization.
      The Copenhagen Theorem is more about wave function collapse (observed) and makes no case for changing "reality" as you put it.

      You just want everything to be "supernatural", yet you cannot avoid the actualities of this multi-dimensional universe. Quantum entanglement is not proof of anything "supernatural", nor is wave function collapse.
      Quantum indeterminacy is not a philosophical manifestation, it is simply the description of our current inability to resolve more than one property at that level of resolution. It does not automatically mean that there is anything "supernatural" about this lack of resolution – it just means we don't have the proper type of "microscope".

      The idea of "supernatural" is not supported by any physics and there remains no reason whatsoever to rule it in.
      Quantum entanglement shows the effects of extra-dimensional properties, not anything "supernatural".
      You are jumping to conclusions without any supporting logic.
      Just because someone doesn't understand something (in this case, you), that doesn't automatically mean that there is a supernatural explanation for it, yet that is exactly what you are saying.
      So there is another point against you. You have left the path of logic and reason in assuming anything to be "supernatural" based upon....what? Nothing but your skewed interpretation of a few theorems? Please.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • imeubu

      Can we agree that supernatural means "unexplained by natural science" and leave it at that. Labels and semantics do not address the point to which I seek dialogue. Science does in fact acknowledge that "proof" does not necessarily entail understanding. Why is a "Rationalist" not allowed the same license?

      June 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • frank

      Lol, "Can we agree that supernatural means "unexplained by natural science" and leave it at that."
      Um, only if you don't care what words actually mean....

      June 25, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • imeubu

      BTW... just to be clear... Bell's Theorem is backdrop to a myriad of experiments (not just thought) that prove exactly that... that physical properties do change at a distance without local or non local rationale. As for perspective... look at the latest stuff my friend...Radek Lapkiewicz and 10s of thousands of measurements on tests on simultaneous transitting photons.... there is absolutely no doubt... but why be so criitical... ad hominem errancy... even if it exists here... is not the issue.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Individual Atheist

      We are not in the business of changing the meanings of words outside of the dictionary. To wit:

      su·per·nat·u·ral
      –adjective
      1. of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
      2. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to god or a deity.
      3. of a superlative degree; preternatural: a missile of supernatural speed.
      4. of, pertaining to, or attributed to ghosts, goblins, or other unearthly beings; eerie; occult.

      –noun
      5. a being, place, object, occurrence, etc., considered as supernatural or of supernatural origin; that which is supernatural, or outside the natural order.
      6. behavior supposedly caused by the intervention of supernatural beings.
      7. direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs.
      ***
      Physics is the study of the natural order, natural laws, etc. That includes all dimensions, known and unknown.
      The rational response to the unknown is to investigate and analyze, NOT to make stuff up based upon what you would prefer the answers to be!
      Multi-dimensional physics is enough to completely rule out your "supernatural" events and mystical assumptions.
      There is nothing rational about the irrational. There is only understanding and the lack of understanding, knowledge and the lack of it. There is no need to go looking for mystical beings when there is absolutely no proof of any such thing anywhere in physics or any other scientific field. You are out of order, sir.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • imeubu

      Frank... I'm really not trying to argue or bait anyone... I'd like to discuss what I believe is the essential issue. I looked up supernatural and found '|of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal". That's what I meant... sorry if I didn't seem to say that. My question is... if empirical derivation is to be the zenith of episteomology then why can't the des cartes philosophical sect amongst us get any respect when they use empirical conundrum as grist?

      June 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • frank

      @imeubu
      Fair enough, sorry, I have a migraine and probably misinterpreted what you were saying.

      June 25, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • imeubu

      I'm being "moderated" for some reason so I'll write this in the meantime. "there is only understanding..."? Wow! Probability is as exact as you can get and it's based entirely on the "fact" that there is no such thing as understanding.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Individual Atheist

      If you want to use the "unexplained" as "grist", then why don't you use epistemology to do so?
      There is nothing to base any "supernatural" belief on using proper logic, epistemology, evidence, and science.
      You still insist on jumping to conclusions and think it's okay. It's not. Where is your evidence? Your train of logic?

      Why not come at the problem (your problem) from a different direction?
      Simply use what there is and don't jump to conclusions. Use a blank slate. Observe the universe and people and see if there is anything suggesting anything "supernatural"?
      I did that. That's why I'm an atheist. Any mental aberrations show up in stark contrast that way. There is no proof of any supernatural "entlties" or "gods" throughout history. Why not "pray" that everyone be healed? It doesn't work even though there are such things as quantum entanglement. Why? Because there is nobody listening to you when you talk to the inside of your skull. The proof bears me out, or the lack of it, I should say.
      Hey, if your "god" exists, then it should be the easiest thing in the world to prove, yet no one has done it. EVER.
      Physics is the study of nature and it's physical laws. These laws always work. They do not stop. They continue regardless of human interference. Wave function collapse is not your "god", so quit trying to insinuate that it is.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  15. Eric

    This also ignores the racist history of the Church. Until 1978, a Black person was not permitted to enter a Mormon temple. They could not become a Bishop or marry as a full Mormon (i.e. in the Temple). This was 10 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr and decades after other Christians were protesting and at times dying in the battle against US segregation. This is a matter of history. Conveniently the policy changed as they started losing non-racist members, couldn't do missionary work in inner cities or Africa, and were becoming widely reviled as racist during that time when the country was so sensitive to the issue.

    I don't have a problem with churches making mistakes and changing, but all along the Mormon church in its literature condemns all other faiths, insists it is the only true faith to the point that your ancestors need to be baptized to be saved even if they died before the church was founded! THe church insists it's policies are directed by revelation from God, therefore I guess God must have changed his mind in 1978 about racism! You should check out the YouTube videos of Romney trying to avoid saying the church was wrong in this policy, while saying his prayed for it to change. Talk about a contorted view.

    June 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • ldsmom02

      Oh Eric, you have no idea what you are talking about. Who are any of us here to criticize the mind and will of the Lord? You don't have to believe the doctrine of the LDS church, but can you honestly say that you know what the Lord thinks and that you can speak to this matter with confidence that He will back you up? And what will you say when you find out your version of things just happens to be wrong?

      June 25, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Eric

      ldamom02-
      I don't get your point. My version is just history. It is what happened. I guess you are claiming to know the lord's mind yourself – that in 1977 he hated black people and then decided to love them in 1978. Oh, well. What about my version is wrong?

      June 26, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • HotAirAce

      @ldsmom02

      This is from http : // w w w .religioustolerance.org/lds_race.htm:

      "Pressure was also felt by the LDS during the 1970's because of the LDS' inst!tutionalized racism. The IRS was threatening to cancel the church's non-profit tax exempt status. University sports teams were refusing to compete in Utah. This pressure was relieved on 1978-JUN-6 when the church received a new revelation from God to end the practice of discrimination against persons of African-American heritage."

      How about honeslty dealing with your cult's racist past, rather trying to dodge the point by throwing up a bullsh!t argument about anyone knowing their chief charlatan's mind? But since you asked, that which does not exist (your charlatan and "his" mind) cannot be understood! :^))

      June 26, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  16. just be thankful

    pssst pssst pssst (TRoLL repelent)pssst pssst psssst Ooops got the wrong can its only right guard and it doesnt cover the stink left here by so many people trying to sway or disway by so many means.

    some by half truths others by convulted mixing of truth hmmm kind of sounds like opinion and we all have one. How ever bad they are one needs to understand people are varied as the opinions some flawed some oblivious to others. It doesn't mean that people being people do not have faults. Kids playing with kids they will always do so if you let them, how ever they will reflect what they are being taught. So if your children or you do not have the same moral or ethical back ground as someone else there most certainly will come some form of bigotry. One thinking the other is too good stuck up yada yada yada ....

    I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latterday saints.

    The sad thing here is some are closed minded and brand hate in what ever form. Others profess love and tolerance. I ask which are you? I choose my life to live by covenant I have made with God these tell me that if I live as the world as a whole I will not be blessed. They are a great moral center for me. I live with a conservative viewpiont on most or all issues. I testify that I have had the holy spirit ( holy ghost) witness to many things to me. God does live he communicates to us his children by many means. The spirit, prophets, rightous peoples, angleic means when needed, each taylored to the message needed for the person at that time. If you seek and ask the door will be made wide open. I ask those that can not fathom this concept to test these things out but Do SO with humility and sincerety for god will not be mocked or be made light of. We bicker like children over things that you can not fully comprend but desire to know of I wonder if God just says ok.... and chuckles knowing that in a mere 80-100 yrs earth time if you are lucky to live that long the truth will be known to you. hmmmmm

    June 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  17. frank

    I saw a holy revelation writ in runes of fire on my Golden Grahams cereal one time, or maybe I just had alcohol poisoning, who can be sure with such matters?

    June 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Meatball

      Only spaghetti will give you the true answers. All else is lies.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  18. Sunday

    See you all at church tomorrow, where the Sunday School lesson is on Love thy Neighbor

    June 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Not likely – atheists have completed Sunday School, and all other religious cult indoctrination sessions, with honours!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  19. Cedarstump

    Doesn't Satan seem to have god-like powers in the Bible? It sure seems that way to me. I thought there was only one god. I'm confused.

    June 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Brian

      Read the Book of Mormon. The key is in the book of Moroni.

      June 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  20. Factoid2

    A decent article covering basic beliefs, but I learned much more at mormon . org

    June 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.