Friday, October 14, 2011

Mormon Encounters: Part 4 - Mormon Battalion Museum & General Conference

Entire Mormon Encounters series
Part 1: First meeting       Aside 1, Aside 2 
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam & Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

The first weekend of October saw this year's 2nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Apparently this biannual event is a big deal to the Mormons. The missionary sisters hold their top level church leaders in such high esteem that not even the Superbowl would excite them as much as getting sit in front of the television to watch these revered old men (and one woman, the president of the church's Relief Society) speak to them about what god supposedly wants from their lives.

Being quite fascinated by their overwhelming adoration I decided to catch a bit of the GC Saturday morning broadcast online before heading uptown. It was quite interesting... for a while (there is only so many 'Obey the prophet! Be obedient!' I could take in any one sitting). The most revealing of the speeches I caught live was this one by Elder L Whitney Clayton... This church is nothing if not ambitious.

You can watch, listen, and/or read all the speeches here (I wouldn't just read the text transcripts without watching the videos, though, I've read several complaints by ex-Mormons about how portions of the talks that don't go over well with the general public have a way of failing to show up in the transcript). The active Mormons I've talked to afterward uniformly loved all of it and thought all the speeches were inspiring. Being an outsider heathen that I am, I wonder if they aren't all afflicted by church-induced Stockholm Syndrome. Boyd Packer frankly alarmed me no less than Whitney Clayton did, and Packer is next in line to become the church's president/prophet/seer/revelator after the relatively more easy going Thomas Monson. (It is a bit weird, thinking about it, how my missionary sisters all think that the church's presidency is divinely chosen considering how the post always passes onto the most senior member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles).

Saturday afternoon was even more interesting. I caught the bus up to Old Town State Park and walked around checking out the arts fair before dropping in to the Mormon Battalion there to see my proselyting sisters (they had invited me round for a free tour of the historical site). You know, supposedly most of the Mormon missionaries are elders (men), but somehow I am perpetually surrounded by cute missionary sisters instead. Is that lucky? I don't know... Of course, hanging out with cute and nice ladies who aren't talking about craft, makeup, clothes, or men (except for the late Joseph Smith Jr) is a decidedly pleasant proposition. The downsides, of course, are that they are practically nuns (no misbehavior allowed!) and utterly devout, having volunteered to do this missionary thingy out of their own religious conviction rather than from peer/social pressure like many of their male counterparts were subjected to.
Mormon Battalion in Old Town San Diego (Oct2011)
Located on the east side of Juan St just north of Heritage Row, the Mormon Battalion is actually owned and operated by the LDS Church rather than Old Town State Park. It is a well-kept building with lots of historical artifacts and a state-of-the-art video projection wizardry that would wow even non-religious skeptics like me during the guided tour. There are pseudo-interactive talking pictures on the walls, and well blended in movie screens in each room as visitors are guided through the events of 1846 when Brigham Young (the LDS church's then president/seer/prophet) compelled over 500 Mormons to volunteer to fight for the US Army during the Mexican-American War. 

The story is told in such unabashedly pro-church manner that I found myself almost indecently amused while listening to it. Whoever wrote the script evidently tried his best to present the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, in a highly favorable light, but group-thinking undermined his ability to accurately gauge his non-Mormon audience, making the propaganda so painfully obvious that I saw nothing but overt abuse of power from the LDS church leaders. 
Statue in front of the Mormon Battalion
According to the film, in 1846 the much prosecuted Mormons (yes, they were rather unfairly prosecuted and picked on by the over-reactive Christians back then) were encamped in Council Bluffs, Iowa trying to find a way to fund their emigration to the 'promise land' somewhere out west. They had a legitimate complaint against the US government's prosecution of their religion (nobody liked polygamists then... or now, even), and when the US Army sent Capt. Allen to the camp to ask for volunteers to march southwest to San Diego to help the United States fight against Mexico he found no taker whatsoever. 

The army's offer of money and arms caught Brigham Young's attention, though, so the prophet went about with Capt. Allen and told his flocks that this army enlisting opportunity was "god's will" that will provide the Mormons with enough cash to fund their trek west. With the prophet coming down on the side of the army and promising that they wouldn't have to use their weapon at all even though they were heading to war (the missionary sister who did the tour-guiding actually further clarified that god had promised the volunteers 'safety'), over 500 able Mormon bodies enlisted. They marched through the unforgiving terrain and forced a wagon trail all the way to the Pacific Coast. A few died of sickness along the way, and attachments of the sicks were diverted to rehabilitate in Pueblo, Colorado. The 1,900 miles trek took so long that the Mormons missed all the battles with the Mexican and arrived to San Diego after the end of the war. The only things they got to shoot at were a bunch of wild bulls that threatened to run over their camp along the way. 
A missionary sister (left, in costume) gives a guided tour of the Mormon Battalion. She spent much of the tour talking to pseudo-interactive talking pictures and window-like movie screens.
The morals of the day; Brigham Young promised 'safety' and that was delivered because they never had to fight the Mexican (never mind that a few did die during the trek), the journey was obviously god's plan because the financial gain from army payment and the irrigation skills the troops learned from the Southwestern Indians they met along the way allowed the Mormons to move into and successfully populate the modern day Utah. God protected the Mormons, and if you want to hear more about what this church is about and how you, too, can know god, don't forget to fill out this comment form here with your name and contact information. And, while you're at it, why don't you also put down the contact information of a few other friends who might like to hear from us, too?
Yes, precisely...
My two missionary sisters accompanied me through the tour and seemed to find the whole presentation uplifting and reassuring to their faith. The whole thing was obviously meant to cast the best of light on their organization, but I only found the church and its then leader, Brigham Young, to be quite obnoxiously exploitative toward its own membership. It is amazing to me that it is the church's own idea to give 'financial gain to fund the church's trek west' as the main reason Brigham Young used to justify compelling his followers to 'volunteer' against their initial will to join the army to fight against the Mexican. Since when is self-interest more admirable than patriotism?

And when the Mormon women raised their concern about the trip, the good prophet saw fit to sooth their fear by promising something he had no mean of delivering -- safety. That the Mormon Battalion got all the way to the San Diegan Coast without having to shoot anyone had a lot more to do with the Mormon men hem and hawing so long before finally joining rather than any special godly connection Brigham Young might have had. It was their lateness that saved them from having to fight any battle.

Of course, there also is this matter of the church rendering aid to the US government in an army recruitment... (did I already mention that this church-state interference was done to serve the church's own interest?). It may not bother my supposedly staunchly conservative Mormon neighbors, but it sure bothers a heck out of me. So much complaints about how the US government helped the Christians prosecute the early LDS church, and yet not a peep about President Young deliberately putting his flocks in danger when aligning with the government helped the church's own agenda. This 'the end justifies the means' modus operandi seems a recurring theme in my Mormon encounters, and I really don't like it one bit.

But I still haven't gotten around to telling you about my missionary sisters yet! That's coming up in part 5, hopefully in a few days.


Anonymous said...

I'm learning too much. Clayton's speech sent chills down my spine, too. How smugly entitlted he appeared saying those things.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful analysis. I admit, I couldn't watch the video only because I was raised being spoon fed this propaganda on a daily basis and it hits too close to home. Gives me chills too and not in a good way. ; )

What the Mormon Battalion propagandizers don't tell the unsuspecting audience (and what your sister missionary friends don't know) is the Mormon soldiers never saw a dime of that government money. Moreover, very little if any of it was used to fund the emigration. The handcarts Brigham Young proposed as a means of transport were a cheap and very poor choice, often paid for by the members themselves.

Brigham Young, being the greedy self-entitled narcissist he was, pocketed most of those government funds. During the years of his tenure he was by far the wealthiest man in Utah. He was a ruthless monopolist and exploiter of his own people.

"Prophet, seer, and revelator" -- my a$$. But the Mormon leadership's MO of spinning completely non-faith-promoting facts 180 degrees into an "inspiring story" is par for the course.

... Like how they love to claim Joe Smith was persecuted, tarred and feathered merely for boldly proclaiming his faith and standing for truth and righteousness. They conveniently omit the fact that his amorous advances toward his host's 16-year-old daughter (shortly after his wife, Emma, gave birth; JS was 37) angered the locals, including the victim's brother.

The Mormon Church's attempt to edit and control its own history is very reminiscent of Orwell's "1984." They really hate the internet.

TGD said...

Yes! You nailed it.

Stockholm Syndrome.

Also what Cognitive Dissenter said too.

Smorg said...

Hi JC: 'Entitled' is the word indeed. It's another recurring theme I'm sensing a lot in this clan. Luckily my nice missionary sisters aren't quite afflicted with it yet, though I've seen quite a bit of it in their colleagues' blog posts. :o(

Hi Cognitive Dissenter: I wondered about that, too! It seems not only are all the missionaries paying their own way while on mission, but they and the active Mormons are also expected to help run the church wards and programs and temples gratis... And this comes after they're already paying the 10% of their gross personal income to the church every month as tithe... Where the heck does all the money go??? Nobody knows and they don't even dare ask.

A lot of time when I go to church with them I get a distinct feeling that if only every instance of 'Joseph Smith' is replaced with 'Comrade Stalin' then this was exactly what it was like living in Moscow in the 1930's... But then aren't the Mormons as a group far to the right of the conservative right? It's weird how socialistic they seem without knowing it. :oP

Hi TGD: I'm glad you escaped, too! :oD Thanks!

Thanks very much everyone for stopping by! :o)

knotty said...

I'm waiting with baited breath for part five!

Smorg said...

Hiya Knotty,
Sorry to keep you and other waiting! I'm afraid I'm swamped with work at the moment. Hoping to get #5 out this weekend or a bit later. :o) Gotta add a few things onto it after more interesting experiences (the local ward's bishop had me and my mishies over for dinner at his house a few days ago!)... and do a lot of condensing. Thanks for patience! :oD

yvette said...

The relations between Church and History always come to interest. Money is the hard core of it, and it is hard to know who profits... and sex (disguised in eternal Love) is never far away... amazing to read all the accounts here.
Smorgy it is fascinating to read the sum of insights on this sect you are gathering. I never open my door to them, and here I learn a lot. In France they 'flock' in young men's groups. In the village there are two old ladies who do the job. They come now and again and I only look from the window... I am a strong atheist..another religion!!!!

Smorg said...

Hiya Yvette: Indeed! And especially so with this particular church. You are required to pay the church 10% of your gross personal income and to perform church callings (church service chores) gratis... and you don't even get to see the church's financial statement! It is ridiculous! A very practical example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely... and gets away with it because the absolute power is pretending to speak for god.

I have the hardest time understanding how the many bright and smart Mormons manage to suspend their disbelief when it comes to the way the LDS Church conducts its business. They wouldn't get fooled like this in any other endeavor... but just because this is a church/religion... :o( I like the Mormons I've met to bits, but their church is really creeping me out.