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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. Tybar

    There's a bit more to the story then "Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois." Smith was killed by a vigilate mob while in jail pending trial for ordering – he was the Mayor – the destruction of a newspaper's presses after the paper published negative articles regarding Smith. Mormonism actually has a very interesting history, regardless of how you feel about the religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Veritas

      Joseph Smith was looking for a place where he could take over everything, but failed in Illinois where people did not want to submit to him. He eventually found Utah and built his empire, the whole reason he invented his religion in the first place, there.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Veritas

    One book no mormon wants you to read: "Under the banner of heaven" by Jon Krakauer.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tybar

      I agree, a very interesting historical book. But you could fill in the blank for any religion. The one book any _______ would not be proud of is ___________.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • bob

      Written by a complete idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Veritas

      @Bob: Case in point. I assume Bob is a mormon.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  3. R Burns

    This article is a white-wash of true Mormon doctrines. It may encourage some to investigate the religion further, but doesn't reveal some of the key differences between Mormonism and the faith that Christ taught. Was it written by a Mormon or someone who was given information by the Mormon church? When discussions take place they should include all sides who agree to disagree, without accusations of "prejudice". The Mormons hide behind this term.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  4. BenE

    Mormons believe: (1) God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s. (2) God created multiple worlds and each world has people living on it. They also believe that multiple Gods exist but each has their own universe. They are only subject to their God and if they obtain the highest level of heaven they can become gods ourselves.

    Such heretical beliefs place Mormons FAR beyond the limits of Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant and Evangelical Christianity.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Zoomie

    With a Mormon in the White House, we can have a First, Second and Third First lady. Another good thing if we have another war you can convert to Mormonism and they will send you to France on a church mission that makes you draft ineligible, just as Mitt did.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Robert Meyers

      Funny, but not true – Mormons have officially banned polygamy since 1890.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • bob

      your an idiot

      October 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Veritas

      They were forced by the US government to abandon polygamy in 1890. Only the FLDS, i.e. Warren Jeffs and his pedophile cohorts, still practice the original version of mormonism that includes polygamy and incest.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Veritas

      @Bob: Your eloquent argumentation style is not very convincing 😉 Mormon much?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • ***

      @bob
      "your an idiot"

      Saying, "your an idiot" is so laughable, it makes my sides hurt.

      When you want to say "you are", the contraction is "you're", not "your".

      So, who's the idiot there, bob?!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Joe

    I suspect there have been no famous or noted historians who were Mormons. No one with any grasp of world history–and the physical evidence for it–could ever wrap their brains around the idea of ancient American civilizations writing in hieroglyphs, or the notion that somehow the spontaneous translations of those writings ended up sounding like 17th century english.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Veritas

      You obviously are oblivious to the magical powers of seer stones 😉

      October 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Robert Meyers

      Yeah Veritas, how could anyone believe that God could do something like that? I mean, that would be almost as crazy as believing He could split the red sea, or appear to Moses and deliver tablets inscribed with the ten commandments.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Veritas

      @Robert Meyers: Obviously ALL religions are full of this type of ridiculous nonsense since they are all made up by con men with vivid imagination and a drive to establish power by deluding the ignorant masses. You jumped to the incorrect conclusion that if someone is critical of mormonism they have to be christian.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  7. Mike

    What really bugs me is the negativity that is being spoken of a group that I know of as being good people. I have had many experiences with Mormon's and actually respect what I have seen. Funny beliefs or not when a religion produces good people there has to be good behind it. Are all the mormons good or is everything they do perfect? of course not but that isn't any different than any other religion.

    Please for those of you that are only writing negative anti beliefs could you please share with us what you do believe. If you simply believe in nothing what is the point of being so critical of something? and if you do believe in something else what is it that you believe that we could all benefit from. As far as I can tell in this forum the only ones that are at least backing up their comments with substance are the Mormons who are sharing what they believe.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • BeBetter

      Well stated, Mike.
      Thank you!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Scientology Kills

      It isn't the people, it is the bizarre beliefs that some of us take issue with. This goes for all religion, all of which is made up. Some of us think that religion has been holding us back and dividing us as a people for far too long!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Veritas

      We don't have to believe in magical fairy tales or an afterlife, life is good as it is. Live and love here and now. People can believe whatever nonsense supernatural fairy tales they please, but when religions get too much power bad things usually happens, as we can see in places like Iran or Pakistan, or in Europe a few hundred years ago. I would not want to live in an America ruled by christian evangelicals. I just wish people would keep their silly delusions to themselves.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Johnny Huntsman

      There are certain negative aspects of Mormon culture – not that it is all different from all other fundamentalist religions beliefs – for example, women's rights are constantly being suppressed in the name of male dominated patriarchal order, and the church's staunch involvement in funding the California anti-gay legislation, just to name a few. Yes, individual mormons are nice and honorable. That doesn't change the fact that certain elements of the church system is troublesome. I bet you that most communist party members and common nazi party members and their families are just decent people. That doesn't change the fact of the party's fundamental problems.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • jason

      @johnny Really you jump to Nazis and Communists. No other intermediate. Get out in the world and learn that there is a whole range and you don't need to jump to extremes.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  8. spindrift

    Lauren- "leaders and members having different opinions" indicates profound internal LDS schizophrenia. Either it is true or not.
    Froth- Pre- columbian dna is absolutely correct. From the Arctic to Central America remains tested showed nearly complete Northern Asian decent. Only in post-columbian dna is there more mixture. And, as expected, predominately European, not Semitic.
    Again, rhetoric over substance is trotted out. It is not hate to look for honest answers. Any belief system that can not hold up to solid questions needs to be re-examined.
    I have many Mormon friends. They have never failed to show kindness and gentleness. Yet when we get on LDS subjects they, to a person, seem uneasy to go beyond the comfort zone of easy, traditional belief. They are neither peaceful nor happy with the leadership yet are unsure of where to go next. Really search and maybe find something so damaging as to negate their own history? Or continue on hoping for the best?Sadly, I find the latter most often.
    And, yes, I have read and studied the Book of Mormon. Much of it is invented history and much is plagiarized from multiple (provable) sources.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • bob

      I love when people say, "I have studied the BOM" it makes me laugh. You have no idea what you are talking about. So much of what you say is totally wrong, from one non mormon to another. I have nothing but complete respect for the faith that practically developed the US as they were terrorized from one location to the next. I have studied US and World History for 27 years and can say, without question, this faith has made all of us stronger and more prepared.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • spindrift

      Stepped on a "truthful" toe? Try Mountain Meadows on for LDS furthering of our western history. Murder, slander and lies. All American way.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • jason

      Sorry but your first comment is a farce.. Are you suggesting that any religion has all of its members agreeing with all of its leadership? That's why there are so many religions. Any religion is a belief structure not based on facts so there is no accepted truth to rely on.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  9. Scott Walsh

    As for all cults, look to the top of the pyramid to see who's really benefiting in power, money, control of sheeple, etc., etc.!!!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • sami

      What does this comment mean? Sheeple?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  10. iham

    Among the idiocy that is religion and faith
    Moronism and scientology two of the absolute most stupid and insane. Believes should be culled from society if severe electroshock therapy doesn't cure them

    October 9, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      A guy with my name founded Mormonism on based on polygamy and then Woodrow Wilson messed up his plan

      October 9, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • bob

      Man you people have no idea what you are talking about. Do you realize that the mormon faith is responsible for billions of dollars in relief aid and care around the world? The work done in Africa alone is amazing, what the heck of you done of good repor in your life, I guessing not much. Get a life, learn to respect others, and get your information correct before posting.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • ***

      @bob, "what the heck of you done of good repor in your life, I guessing not much."

      If you are as sloppy and error-prone in collecting and assimilating information as you are in language, it's no wonder that you are so far removed from realism.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  11. Been there done that

    I was conned into being a mormon for some time. They claim to put family first, but when I broke free of their falsehoods my inlaws and many other members of the church encouraged my wife to divorce me (we had 5 minor children) because I could no longer "take her to heaven" and I was "of no use to her anymore". She did. So much for putting family first! Church comes first to them. Turns out the Book of Mormon was plagarized from a book of fiction written by a Protestant minister in 1815 that was never published because he died of illness while the book was at the publishers office in Pittsburg. It lay unnoticed for some time until a scheming protestant minister Sidney Rigdon, gave it to Joseph Smith to pretend he recieved if from an angel. Rigdon was no angel, Smith was no saint. Most of the people in the mormon church are sincerely deluded. They put you in a double bind when they tell you that if you are honest and sincere then if you pray to find out if the Book of Mormon is true, God will tell you that it is true. They say that if you can't tell it is true, there is something wrong with you, you're not good enough.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  12. jason

    As far as belief structures go, it is difficult for anyone that professes a faith in an unseen God to make any fact based arguments that heir religion is better. If God exists he will judge. I think that's in the Bible. The facts that you can argue is how the people behave. Mormons appear to me to be decent, respectful, and law abiding. Many actually help the poor and try and make their communities better. They are not perfect, they has the whole prop 8 in California, but I rarely see the hate that other Christian religions profess towards other religions. Maybe its because they had a recent history of strong persecution, so they know it is not a good feeling to be attacked.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • scotonfire

      The LDS church consider any religion if it does not follow the Book of Mormon an abomination as stated in their doctrines and covenants. Does this sound like a tolerant society? They don't mention that in public anymore because of the obvious backlash it incurs.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  13. scientificpoetry

    I think South Park addressed Mormonism very well. Mormonism is "dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb"... Anyone who believes the nonsense of Mormonism is simply a colossal fool.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  14. jason

    Here's a few extra beliefs-
    The Mormons have an extensive welfare system where they take care of their own. It is an extensive network of farms and factories so that many of the essentials can be individually made. This system was the model for the relief effort in rebuilding Europe after WWII. The church actually does try to help the poor in and out of the church through the system instead of sending them to the government.

    The ministry in the church is unpaid. They all have regular jobs that they do in addition to their church responsibilities. In the church bishops are equivalent to pastors (in charge of a congregation of around 500 people. They do it completely unpaid because they believe people should not profit from teaching the word of God.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Sounds like Communism.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • jason

      They actually had a form of communal sharing at the start, but like most utopian societies, that fell apart as those with poor work ethics entered the system. From all I can tell now, they are ambitious and strong believers in personal growth, whether that be education or income.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • BeBetter

      Jason-
      I've read several of your posts and am quite appalled. I can't quite find the word that describes one who would promote execution of a person for their beliefs.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Scott

    The Articles of Faith
    of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

    1, We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

    2, We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

    3, We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

    4, We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    5, We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

    6, We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

    7, We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

    8, We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

    9, We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

    10, We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

    11, We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

    12, We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

    13, We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

    Joseph Smith

    October 9, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Thank you Joseph. How come you had to leave NY so fast before those guys you conned into thinking they were getting those golden plates took you out.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Jason

      14. We believe in magic underpants

      15. We believe having dark skin is a punishment from God

      16. We believe in taking 10% of your income.

      17. We believe native americans descended from Jews.

      18. We believe any of those that leave the church are evil and will harass and intimidate those who oppose us.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Science Prevails

      And #5 is where it mostly goes wrong. Who says who is the "Authority" on this stuff? Oh yeah, the leaders who inherited or powergrabbed the position!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Moldy Melkesidic

      You also believe that only worthy priesthood members can be called forth from the grave by Joseph Smith, not by Jesus. Subsequently" you also believe that your wives can only be called forth by the husband. That is the reason that women are not told their real temple name. It is the "second class citizen syndrome" common to all religion.

      You also believe that ZION will be restored in Missouri, and that all non believers will be destroyed by the Stripling Warriors who will be backed up by Native Americans or as you call them lamanites. Spilling their blood on the ground. Oh yeah can you feel that!

      You also believe that the Bible is "tainted and mistranslated" and that The Book of Mormon, DOC, and Pearl of Great Price to be Superior to the bible, and hope to someday cast it away or at the very least' marginalize it. Oh yeah baby ' the truth is hard.

      Nice try on the sweetness and bs story though. It works fine for keeping women in their place. Making baby's and kitchen duty. Very uplifting!.......... cookies and brownies anyone?

      October 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  16. Coyote

    As I understand it, these folks also believe a woman can't get to heaven unless a man takes her up with him to be his eternal worshipper, as he is his own God in this heaven. The kids are somehow involved also in this divine family of worsippers. Polygamy was only given up under duress, because, the more wives, the more children and the more subjects in heaven. The whole thing is offensive....not much more so than most religious mythology that denigrates women, but in its complete absurdity.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Joseph Smith added the polygamy part as an excuse to bang his 14 year old house maid. That's all it was.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • frothiego

      Interesting comment. Simply, not true.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Jason

      Wrong, it IS true. Like Scientology, don't ask Mormons about their religion. They are trained to lie about the "cooky" parts to suck you in. Only after you've been trapped do they really explain all that stuff, with the hopes of it being too late. Go to their website and try to find information about the magic underpants. It's not there.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Paul in Louisville

      Polygomy was abolished only after the United States made that a condition of joining the Union in 1890. In order to attain statehood, they had to "give it up". Mormons also believe that when you die, that they become "gods" themselves to other beings or whatever. People are right when they say that family comes last. Heck if you are not even a member, you cannot even watch an "official" wedding inside a temple. I used to be one until I realize it to be what it truly is....a cult.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  17. moruk

    Look up kolob, the mormon planet. It just get goofier and goofier the more one knows about this bizarre group.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • DocD

      "God says dig up your back yard. That makes perfect sense."
      They're all cults.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Lauren

      Granted, there are leaders of the church who have stated interesting personal opinions, but it is their opinion. Yes, contrary to misguided belief among people who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, its members are free to think and have their own opinion.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  18. Topaz

    I wonder if Jesus knew when he was alive that there will be so many divisions in the gospel he preached! I don't believe in the first place, HE started out his journey to spiritualism with the intention of starting out a new religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Erin

      Topaz- he did know there would be divisions. But, nonetheless, he taught what was true.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Veritas

      Jesus was the Joseph Smith of his time, a charismatic con man.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  19. spindrift

    Mormon apologists: Please explain your planet "Kolob" theology; the teaching that Native Americans are really lost Jews ( disproven by DNA testing); and where, actually is the hill "Palmyra"? NY or Central America? Also please expand on how Jesus' purported return and earthly reign will be from Independence, Mo. versus Jerusalem, Israel? I have yet to get an answer that does not confound history, science, Biblical eschatology and common sense. Your turn.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • frothiego

      Actually, The genetics have not been completely disproved.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Lauren

      You are confusing the personal opinions of some of the leaders of the church with the basic beliefs of the church. It is possible for members and leaders to have differing opinions. If you want to know the basic truths of the church, go to LDS.org. If you are just trying to start a fight, that is your loss. You should check it out.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Pete from Salt Lake

      Actually, yes they have.
      Look, it's clear for any person who looks at things objectively that Mormonism was invented by a pedophile, racist, quack. And that's ok. If a group of people wants to believe in modern mythology, that's their prerogative. What's wrong is them not admitting or having the ability to admit that its religious tenants are BS and that it has racist and pedophilic roots.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Jason

      None of these things listed are "personal opinions". THAT is BS. If you have to lie to yourself to cover your belief then you should seriously take a look in the mirror. Truth, in it's purest form, requires no self delusions.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  20. Sandy

    Fact all Religions are cults.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Jason

      While this is true in essence, there are certainly different degrees of "cooky", "strange", or in the case of Mormanism, just plain stupid and offensive. I wouldn't have any issue at all with these whack jobs getting all herded up and executed.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
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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.