April 25, 2008

Mormon Evolution

If the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints is more or a less a pyramid scam, in which the guys at the top hog the wives, how did the mainstream Church of the Latter Days Saints evolve into something quite different? I don't know anything about Mormon history, so please help me out here.

The mainstream Mormon organization in Utah today seem more like a mutual self-help society, sort of a private enterprise Sweden. If you agree to play by their rules, follow their cultural norms, and pay a lot of taxes, excuse me, donations, they'll round down some of the sharp, competitive corners of modern life for you. The intense and expensive efforts modern Americans make to "insulate, insulate, insulate" their families (as Sherman McCoy's best friend tells him people who want to raise children in Manhattan must do) are sort of taken care of for you by the Mormon church.

Of course, that's why Mormons are so Republican -- they've built themselves a private welfare state, without most of the moral hazard that goes with government welfare states.

For example, consider the admissions process to college, which is pretty maniacal for a lot of families these days.

Yet, the statistics on Brigham Young University don't look much at all like other universities. These days, colleges are extremely stratified by SAT score, but BYU isn't like that. The last time I checked (about five years ago), it's 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores were farther apart than just about any other prominent college in the country, meaning that a wide range of kids go there: both the smart Mormon kids and the average Mormon kids. The students at BYU just don't really care all that much about going to the school with the highest USNWR ranking.

Nowadays, most kids across the country apply to a lot of colleges and so acceptance rates are very low compared to just a decade ago, but then most colleges' "yields" (i.e., their admitted applicants' acceptance of them) have become pretty low, too. In other words, on April 1st the typical brand name college sends out, say, 5,000 acceptances and 20,000 rejection letters, and on May 1 it gets back 2000 acceptances of acceptances and 3000 rejections of acceptances. It's nerve wracking for all concerned.

But at BYU, it's pretty easy to get in. Non-Mormons don't want to go there, so it's not that competitive. And yet it's not a "safety school" -- most of the kids who get accepted choose to go there. It's yield is up there with Annapolis and Columbia and the like.

And the tuition is cheap. There's no real magic -- they have big class sizes. They just don't see the need to compete in the USNWR rankings by having smaller classes.

What BYU sounds like is the old State U. in 1950s Heinlein juvenile novels, where the hero (who is a math genius but nobody has noticed) has just graduated from high school and is working at the malt shop, and when customers ask him what his plans are, he says he really hasn't made any so he figures he'll just go to old State U. in September. Pretty low key ...

That's what UCLA was like when Heinlein went there for a few weeks.

Of course, nowadays, there are people in Seoul who have been grooming their prodigy child for acceptance at old State U. since birth, so old State U. isn't at all like old State U. anymore. In 2008, UCLA got 55,000 applications for the freshman class, the most of any college in America, with 45% coming from students with a 4.0 or higher GPA.

But BYU apparently still is kind of like Heinlein-era UCLA.

Anyway, my question is: how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

55 comments:

John of London said...

Hi Steve

An historical point: until 1880-something, most business in Utah was done by corporations owned by the (Mormon) territorial government -ie it was what became known after the Russian Revolution as State Capitalism. I think the public corporations were privatised as a condition for statehood.

Razib said...


Anyway, my question is: how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?


non-answer answer: exogenous shock in the form of the US gov. decades of persecution for being non-bourgeois means mormons have to overcompensate. the cultural toolkit developed during the days of polygamy come in handy when said culture is beaten into a monogamous state.

Anonymous said...

My theory is that religions fail upward. Most were probably started up by L Ron Hubbard charismatic types manipulating the lower plebs to access the poon and money.
After the founders die off their efficient structures are run by middle class types and they assume middle class structres and values - they get respectable.

William said...

First, Steve, it is, officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They would have newspapers, after the initial reference, refer to it as The Church of Jesus Christ, but I don't know of any that do. Most refer to it as the LDS Church, and many still call it the Mormon Church.


Anyway, my question is: how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?

Ha! You're trying to answer on a blog post what dozens have tried and failed to do in books.

To put it simply, Mormonism is essentially millenarian. It believes in the perfectability of mankind and believes in an idyllic community that (to the degree it is possible) shares resources for the good of all. Reality sets in, of course, and self-interested motives do tend to take over*, but in the early days Mormonism was more like the FLDS Church than they'd like to admit. The United Order was a plan by the Mormons for common ownership of resources.

It failed, for numerous reasons, and the Church has made no pretense of trying again.

As for your assumptions that the Church was a pyramid scheme in the 19th C, I'm not sure that's very accurate. Polygamy was far less common amongst Mormons then. That is one area where groups like the FLDS have gone to an extreme. The Mormons back then didn't have government welfare to lean on to support their prodigious spawn, and they couldn't very well tell young men they desparately needed to go to hell or else to Hurricane (pronounced "Her ih cun").

There were some near the top with several wives and some at the very top with a dozen or more, but most only had the one.

how did the mainstream Church of the Latter Days Saints evolve into something quite different?

Necessity - the federal government forced them to, by jailing their leaders and confiscating their property. When the Mormons regrouped they used what they had left - a lily white culture with a millenarian outlook focused on rural (i.e., traditional) values. Indutrialization came later, and they were culturally somewhat isolated until well into the 20th Century and their religious practices and local dominance of politics and everything else helped them maintain a culture they couldn't have in upstate New York.


The mainstream Mormon organization in Utah today seem more like a mutual self-help society, sort of a private enterprise Sweden. If you agree to play by their rules, follow their cultural norms, and pay a lot of taxes, excuse me, donations, they'll round down some of the sharp, competitive corners of modern life for you.

The Mormon Church for many becomes an extended family. It is maintained - and can only be maintained - by people demonstrating that they're willing to sacrifice personally (through missions, church callings and good behavior) and economically (via tithing).

I'm not sure that anyone in the Mormon Church thinks of it as "rounding down the corners of modern life," but the Church does form a prodigious support group for its members.


The intense and expensive efforts modern Americans make to "insulate, insulate, insulate" their families...are sort of taken care of for you by the Mormon church.

In Utah, sex education is all but an afterthought. Birth control is not taught, of course, and yet the state has the lowest out-of-wedlock birthrate in the nation and also one of the lowest abortion rates. Some of that is mitigated by the slightly higher teen birthrate (teens include 18 and 19 yo). Mormon society expects these young couples to marry.

Growing up in the Mormon Church I can honestly say that I never once drank alcohol as a teenager, never smoked, never did drugs, and never - much to my chagrin - got it on with the neighbor girl. The Mormon Church was - for me and many, many others - a great insulater from society's dumber ideas and vices.

Of course, that's why Mormons are so Republican -- they've built themselves a private welfare state, without most of the moral hazard that goes with government welfare states.

A big part of the reason. The great part about the private welfare state is that unlike the public kind you can discriminate for any damned reason you choose, up to and including just good judgement.

The last time I checked (about five years ago), [BYU's] 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores were farther apart than just about any other prominent college in the country, meaning that a wide range of kids go there: both the smart Mormon kids and the average Mormon kids.

BYU uses the ACT, last I knew, and the averages are in the high 20s. Kids in the low 20s often don't even bother applying.

BYU does a very good job attracting high caliber students. Few are turning down Harvard to go there, but many were nearly within reach.

The students at BYU just don't really care all that much about going to the school with the highest USNWR ranking.

Late teens/early 20s are prime years for religious enthusiasm, in just about any religion I know of. The kids who go to BYU are quite often looking for an uber-Mormon experience. They're looking for the lost glory days of the 1800s.

But at BYU, it's pretty easy to get in. Non-Mormons don't want to go there, so it's not that competitive.

That's not what you'll hear if you come to Utah or attend a Mormon ward just about anywhere. It's more competitive than you might think, and since the Mormon clique is so tight the level of information is high: Mormon girl X can say "My friend had a 3.7 GPA, graduated from seminary, and had a 23 ACT but didn't get in, so why should I apply?"

I know lots of young kids who want to go but opt not to apply. Because they're information is so good they know not to bother.

And yet it's not a "safety school" -- most of the kids who get accepted choose to go there. It's yield is up there with Annapolis and Columbia and the like.

See comments above.

And the tuition is cheap. There's no real magic -- they have big class sizes.

And relatively low-cost professors. It doesn't hurt that it's in a town with a low cost of living

William said...

Mormonism is both a wholehearted embrace of Protestantism and also, in ways, Roman Catholicism on Meth.

On the Catholicism side it has the big families, the hierarchical structure, the belief in the necessity of numerous rituals, the belief in confession, and the embrace of salvation through works rather than grace.

On the Protestant side, it embraces the priesthood of all (male) believers, the informality of Sunday services (called "Sacrament Meeting"), where the "Bishop" serves mostly as an Emcee rather than as the center of the service.

Mormonism seems to have adopted a lot of terms ("Bishop," "Sacrament") whose original meaning the uneducated Joseph Smith was only vaguely aware of.

I think it's time for some fieldwork, Steve. Look in the local phonebook for a few nearby LDS congregations, call them up and find the one with the latest start time, so you don't have to get up too early.

Just say you're a visitor and don't mention the whole polygamy thing and do not give your address to any young men between the ages of 19-21 with name tags on. Don't give it to any pretty young women, either, cause they'd just send guys over to your house, anyway - unless you could promise that your wife will be there when they come.

Anonymous said...

Well Steve, you know the answer to that. You know, in certain parts of the country, if you are well groomed and clean cut with blond hair and blue eyes, people ask "Are you Mormon?"

Mormon society is kind of Scandinavian-like because, well, Mormon are kind of Scandinavian-like. In a few generations, they might even be more Scandinavian-like than the Scandinavians.

Concerned said...

I'm not sure I can answer all of your questions but the Mormons gave up polygamy in exchange for being admitted to the Union in January 1896.

Also, maybe I'm misunderstanding your phrase pyramid scheme but I don't think it started out that way. Mormonism started out as a charismatic movement and spread among the poor. People came from England to the US to become Mormons, and pushed handcarts across the country to get to Utah. There was an imbalance of females. (Of course, this could partly have been self-fulfilling: more women joined the sect because they could be assured of a husband, while men shunned it because they had opportunities elsewhere, and they'd have to defer to higher status men.)

In any case, by 1896 I suspect there was more of a sex-balance, and polygamy was no longer needed.

Also: the West has strong traditions of group altruism, despite the Hollywood notion of rugged individualism. So the Mormons are just a slighter hyper version of that. And everyone being kinda related to one another, however distantly, might help the group altruism along.

My two cents.

treeelf said...

I can't say anything about Mormon history, but I can give a personal anecdote that verifies your main point.

I have relatives in the South, who a couple of generations ago were dirt poor. One of them, a great aunt, had a medical condition. She was visited by Mormons (I don't know how, but probably they were door-knocking), and showed interest.

They paid for her to move to Utah, and they took care of all her medical expenses. This saved her from a life of poverty and dependancy. Now her lineage is all Mormon.

And while I don't agree with much about the Mormon faith (what little I know), that sort of thing is to be appreciated.

Jeff Burton said...

In order to become a state, the guys in Salt Lake had to jettison polygamy. See The 1890 Manifesto. Other splinter groups, like the one under discussion, didn't want to go along with that. Joseph Smith's original revelation regarding plural marriage indicated it was "everlasting," so it's easy to understand why. BTW, there are lots of fascinating parallels between the founding of Mormonism and Islam. I wish someone who knew more about it than I do would look into it.

Dennis Mangan said...

"how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?"

They were forced by the U.S. government, which refused to allow Utah into the Union so long as it was polygamist. The Mormon elders then somehow got a message from their god that polygamy was no longer acceptable. At any rate, the original advocacy of polygamy apparently was due to a real man shortage; before people were born into the religion, it seems that it was mostly women who were attracted to Mormonism.

The young fogey said...

Good observations. I defend the Mormons' right to be but regret that as part of the (Faustian) bargain of being one of them you have to claim to believe something beyond the erroneous but still Christian teachings of Protestantism, something that's... how you say?... ah, yes, total crap. AFAIK in Mormon theology there's no prime mover - the Mormon God (one of many gods) is an evolved man (Adam?) - so no sale.

Essentially like any cult they get you so dependent on them socially and so busy with their work you don't have time or energy to ask those questions.

Back to the good points: the private (non-government) social safety net and the fairness...

It's my impression that before the Roman Catholics sold out with Vatican II (though on paper V2's not that bad) and assimilated into the Protestant/secular mainstream their institutions (their separate local school systems, founded to get away from the state schools' de facto Protestantism, and colleges like Notre Dame) did much the same thing for them.

Of course the RCs were regarded by Protestants with as much suspicion as the Mormons, yet they're the original Western Christian church and Mormonism is a made-up 19th-century religion, a cocktail of Protestant jargon, stolen Masonic ritual and Joseph Smith's imagination.

(The RCs were also disliked for being immigrants, new competition for low-level jobs, a reason besides Protestantism the KKK used to hate them along with the freed blacks.)

In a way the Mormons had it easier because they are quintessentially American: they came from the same culture as the mainline and evangelical churches and thus can sort of blend in. (A lot of people think they're a Christian faith - which they're not - that they're just another conservative Protestant church.)

Matt said...

Steve,

It may interest you to compare biographies of LDS Church leaders with those of their FLDS counterparts. You can find the LDS biographies here:

http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/leader-biographies

You could probably infer a lot by comparing a picture of Julie B. Beck with a some of the pictures of the FLDS women. Her picture is here:

http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/background-information/leader-biographies/julie-bangerter-beck

Matt Erickson
Bucksport, Maine

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: Anyway, my question is: how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?

My gut instinct is that that question is not amenable to the standard GNXP/Darwinian school of analysis.

Andrew said...

It seems to be a beautiful result of unintended consequences.

The LDS leadership chose to cave on polygamy in 1890, fearing the feds would run them off to Mexico or worse. The LDS announced their capitulation as an amazing new revelation straight from God.

It looks like they already had tons of rhetoric and in many ways spirit of community/brotherly love to support the polygamy (maybe that's a main way the pyramid leaders got away with pyramiding within their own communities...).

Maybe the Mormons also still felt very threatened by outsiders for a long long while after the capitulation...giving a strong Us/Them dynamic to reduce internal strife.

Also, they were pioneers! Self-reliance, achievement orientations. I imagine their communities honored independent success (further reducing moral hazard of their safety nets -- even beyond just everyone being personally known)...also Heinleinian! (I love the Heinlein's State U comparison. And, the malt shop evokes Pleasantville.)

Michael said...

Excellent questions. (Interesting facts too about the current college admissions game.) I can't volunteer any answers. But if you're on a boning-up-on-Mormonism kick, I can suggest a resource: the recent PBS series about Mormonism. It's slow and somewhat gloomy in that PBS-docu way, but if you can get past that it's one of the best PBS docs I've seen in a while. Straightforward on the history; real attempts to present a sensibly balanced view of the religion -- basically, if you're straight and conventional and white and love the whole "family" thing, then it might work very well for you, but if you're gay, or non-white, or not into "family," then it can be quite cruel to you.

Anyway: It can be watched online here.

JW Ogden said...

These groups fascinate me in that they seem to so much more with less. The Mennonites are my favorite because I used to have a friend who was a Mennonite and he was rich, his family owned a restaurant that he helped manage. Anyway I think that few had a college education they do not tale SS or any welfare but they seemed to do fine.
BTW according to Tyler Cowen central Americans who become evangelical Christians or Mormons on average greatly increase there income after conversion.

Private socialism seems to work well as long as it does not become too restrictive. In that regard the Mennonites like the Mormons are moderating.

Anonymous said...

I am not an expert on Mormon history by any means, but live in an area of upstate NY with a lot of transplanted Mormons. I've been told, in effect, that abandoning certain elements of the faith was the precondition to Utah's admission into the union. This pressure led to a reinterpretation of those aspects of the faith. (This is my interpretation: from my neighbor's standpoint, the spiritual reinterpretation was independent of the political necessity.)

In my opinion, it was an example of of an "immigrant" group partially assimilating into the dominant culture, while retaining its unique features which were not objectionable.

By the way, the Morman children who were friends with mine were anxious to establish that there was nothing weird about them. I took this as additional evidence of a self-perceived outsider's desire for acceptance. In fact they were the nicest kids in the world, and the best neighbors you could ask for.hvntyptx

simon newman said...

Hi Steve - here's a story might be worth checking out.

"Roommates.com Not Immune From Discrimination Lawsuit, Appeals Court Rules"

http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/04/roommatescom-no.html

"The Fair Housing Council sued the site alleging that the service allowed people to discriminate against potential roommates in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits denying someone a house or a rental on the basis of age, gender, race or religion, among other categories."

If that's true, not so nice for the single woman legally obliged to room with the strange man.

Alex said...

Don't know all the latest admissions numbers either (particularly the latest stratification), but my understanding is that the current class avg gpa and testing backgrounds would look more like a UCLA than State U. ala 1953.

From a very brief search is appears that the latest average gpa is around 3.78 on a non-adjusted scale and ACT of 27.9 (near the 92nd percentile).

Given the LDS communities ongoing population boom (even without multiple wives in the last 125 years), statistically it would seem that demand will continue to outstrip supply within BYU's admissions office.

Anonymous said...

They created a life that was tolerable, even desirable, for normal women, while the rest of America gave women a choice: be feminine or be adult. Heinlein can provide lots of clues here.

Anonymous said...

"how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today where life is more egalitarian than in the rest of America?"

I can't answer directly as I'm not a Mormon or a Utahn, but I imagine when the mainstream church banned polygamy that went a long way towards the monogamous, mutual aid Mormon society that exists in Utah.
The Mormons are hardly alone in providing mutual aid for members.
Here in central Illinois there exists a sect known as the Apostolic Christians. They are often involved in farming or farming related trades. Rumor is when a young AC man gets married (and AC priests or bishops often play matchmaker I understand) the church will often buy him a farm or loan him money to expand a family farm if they see potential in him.
The LDS Church I understand, was founded in upstate New York before the Great Waves of immigration. So you have mutual aid combined with good ol' Yankee ingenuity and industriousness.

A question of my own for anyone who's spent alot of time in Utah: I was told once that the old smaller towns founded by Mormon pioneers in Utah were laid out in very tidy grids. I was also told that streets weren't even given names, but rather coordinates ("I live at 700 N. 620 E"). Is that true? Is it still true?

-Vanilla Thunder

Paavo said...

"mutual self-help society sort of private enterprise sweden" sounds like the lestaedians in Sweden and in Finland would like to have. In actual Sweden and Finland (the great welfare states) the well to do mormons would have to pay half of their earnings to the state. And the sate is anti-lestaedian. You have to put your kids to public schools because, there isn't any private ones. So when you want your children to learn not have sex before marriage, to believe in Jesus and god, to believe in creation, they'll teach them the opposite. They''ll give 13 year olds condoms. theyll tell them things that are opposite to your core beliefs. But you have to pay for it. because of the taxation

the values of mormons, seem like the ones the finnish fundamentalis christians, the lestaedians, have. But in USA they have better opportunities to lead their life as they want to. In Finland, where the state takes half of your economic choices to itself you cannot choose. The clerks of the state and the majority rule decide for you. There is no tolerance for minority values.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I got to spend a lot of time talking with a devout Mormon when we were traveling on business together (we drove from San Francisco to Fresno and back, over a couple of days, so there was plenty of downtime). This guy was of Scandinavian ancestry, but had been sent to Japan for his missionary work. He was high-enough up in the church that he had one of the special ID cards you need to gain access to a Mormon temple, so on the way back, when we had time before our flights home, he gave me a tour of the big Mormon temple in Oakland. Interesting experience.

Anyhow, I did ask the guy about the polygamy thing. His answer was that polygamy had a logic behind it in the 19th Century, when Mormons were being persecuted, and this was a way to increase fertility and ensure survival of the group, but that this was no longer necessary today, and so polygamy had been outlawed.

Also, regarding Steve's point about the Mormon Church rounding off the sharp edges of modern life, it's worth noting that a side benefit of all the missionary work the Mormons do is that they have strong language skills and business contacts in many parts of the world.

- Fred

testing99 said...

Steve it's control of status-seeking. The Mormon Church has status based on hierarchy within the Church, not stuff you have (cars, boats, etc.) or various credentials that matter for jobs, mates, etc.

Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is good on why mormons gave up polygamy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigamy#Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints.2C_and_Mormon_fundamentalists

My guess on the egalitarianism is that it derives from the mormon's de facto control of Utah.

David said...

how did the mainstream Mormons get from being kind of a pyramid scheme back in the polygamous 19th Century to the set-up they have today

You might as well ask, "How did a rag-tag group of pissed-off colonists become the polished America of today?" "How did a college drop-out with $50 in his pocket transform himself into a billionaire?" "How did a nasty little acorn become a respectable oak?"

The question seems to betray a bewilderment over how "bad" people become "good" people. You are not alone there. But it may be that the people were not bad in the first place.

How did a chiseling youth, mooching off his parents until age 17, become a self-supporting adult, eh?

Anonymous said...

Vanilla Thunder,
here's central Provo, where BYU is. Having lived there, I can confirm that many of the addresses are indeed given in grid coordinates.

http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=40.233576~-111.662378&style=r&lvl=14&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1

Anonymous said...

JW Ogden: BTW according to Tyler Cowen central Americans who become evangelical Christians or Mormons on average greatly increase there income after conversion.

In his "debate" with Charles Murray, Nassim Nicholas Taleb made this same point about the Huguenots [the French Protestants].

I think what you're looking at here is essentially a self-selecting statistic.

sourcreamus said...

Those with a propensity to raise hell leave the church, those who can follow the rules stay and have many children. Mormons are the results of one hundred and fifty years of breeding for conformity, obedience, and gullibility.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the anonymous who confirmed Provo has some grid coordinate addresses. I think that's a neat system.
-Vanilla Thunder

melchizedek said...

I can't believe nobody has mentioned the HBO series "Big Love." For those without cable, watch the DVD's.

What atheists don't get is that of course religions don't make logical sense. From a rationalistic point of view, they are all nonsensical. You think Moses didn't know the tabernacle was empty? Of course he did. He had it built.

I would never trust an atheist to be president, because atheism attests to a failure to acknowledge human nature. That is a problem with Obama, by the way. Life is hard. People need belief to get up in the morning.

Real question is, what is the quality of life associated with a religion? Catholic cultures always tip towards traditionalism and authoritarianism. That includes Bavarians, like Herr Ratzinger. Protestantism is a purer religion in that it is more future oriented or millenial.

SFG said...

hanks to the anonymous who confirmed Provo has some grid coordinate addresses. I think that's a neat system.
-Vanilla Thunder

Me too, but isn't that seen in a lot of Midwestern towns, not to mention Manhattan?

Argent Paladin said...

I've often noted this school stratification phenomenon. Intelligence correlates with selectivity of undergraduate institution with one exception: religious schools. Schools with strong religious identity draw a higher class of professor and student, who are attracted not just to the education but also to the sense of community and identity. I would suggest looking at schools like Liberty College, Christendom, Ave Maria University, Thomas Aquinas College... actually I just found a list:
http://media.yaf.org/latest/2005_2006_top_ten.cfm

Anonymous said...

The figure I've seen for the practice of polygamy is around 15%. The record number of marriages was by Heber C. Kimball, who had 52 wives, but most polygamists were more like my great-great-grandfather, who had four. President Woodruff ended the practice (not the doctrine) of polygamy as a way of preventing the destruction of the Church by the US government. For those interested, his announcement and supporting arguments are still available as an addendum to the Doctrine and Covenants (online at lds.org, or on page 291 of the print edition). I doubt the end of polygamy was all that traumatic for the average Mormon. Most were probably happy enough to get on with their lives without the Feds breathing down their necks.

People who are unfamiliar with Mormonism tend to focus too much on hierarchy and don't realize that most Mormon life is lived in small congregations (300-600 members). The leader is a bishop, who typically serves for three-to-five years. He's invariably called from the congregation. He's somebody you've known for years, played basketball with, etc. He's usually middle class like you, has the same job problems, family challenges. In other words, he's not a particularly fearsome figure.

Because these wards are so small and because membership is local, they tend to function as real communities. We worship together, pray together, know who's sick and needs help, share a wide variety of social activities. It is, in fact, a delightful life organized around a common set of core beliefs and just enough hierarchy to keep the whole thing going.

William said...

In a few generations, they might even be more Scandinavian-like than the Scandinavians.

Britain is the largest source of US Mormon ancestry - see names like Marriott, Romney, Huntsman, Smith, Young, etc.

Scandinavian is the second largest. Utah even had one of the largest Icelandic settlements in the US, and the president of Iceland paid a visit back in 2004.

The Mormon future, though, is all Latin. English is no longer spoken by 50% of members, and it soon may not even hold a plurality. The Mormon Church seems to be all behind the current invasion.

At any rate, the original advocacy of polygamy apparently was due to a real man shortage; before people were born into the religion, it seems that it was mostly women who were attracted to Mormonism.

People came from England to the US to become Mormons, and pushed handcarts across the country to get to Utah. There was an imbalance of females.

The female imbalance claim is the one we were fed in Sunday School and it's almost complete and total bullshit. Even my psych professor at BYU didn't bother to maintain that lie. There may have been a little truth to it, but the reality is that young men were leaving Utah at prodigious rates during the age of polygamy, and old Joe Smith was marrying himself off to a whole lot of women who were already married.

A lot of people think they're a Christian faith - which they're not - that they're just another conservative Protestant church.

Whether Mormons are Christian or no depends on who is doing the defining, and wether they're defining it broadly or narrowly. Mormonism adds a lot of its own scriptures and revelations to the traditional cannon. Most have little effect on the basic theology of the Church.

Mormons believe in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the virgin birth, that Christ is the son of God, that he died for our sins and was resurrected. They believe in baptism and confirmation. They believe that one day Christ will return. Mormonism is substantially outside the bounds of historical Christianity and most days act as if the period between 33 AD and 1830 AD didn't even happen. In speeches by Church leaders the most oft-quoted non-Mormon is, of all people, C.S. Lewis. They act as if Aquinas and Augustine and all the rest never even existed. It is, intellectually, a more two-dimensional version of Christianity.

You could probably infer a lot by comparing a picture of Julie B. Beck with a some of the pictures of the FLDS women

Jule Bangerter Beck. You can also learn a lot about the church by looking at her name, as well as her photo. She is the head of the Mormon women's auxiliary. Her dad, William Bangerter, is a high ranking church official, too. Her uncle, Norman Bangerter, is the former governor of Utah.

No matter how large the LDS Church grows, what you see is that the same names keep popping up over and over. The recently deceased president of the Church, Gordon Bitner Wirthlin, was the cousin of current Mormon apostle Joseph Bitner Wirthlin. Joseph's brother Richard is also another "General Authority" (and Ronald Reagan's former pollster). Hinckley's nephew, Mark Willes, is also a retired businessm executive having held high positions at Times-Mirror, General Mills, etc.

What that tells you is two things: first, the leadershoip is highly incestuous (and, not surprisingly, self-selected). Probably all but one of the current apostles has pioneer ancestry, and many are related to each other, if slightly distantly.

Second, the leaders, whatever their other demerits, such as not having any formal theological training or great philosophical insights, really are smart men. I don't know how they'd compare to Joseph Ratzinger, but they'd blow religious leaders like Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori and Adrian Rogers out of the water.

I was told once that the old smaller towns founded by Mormon pioneers in Utah were laid out in very tidy grids. I was also told that streets weren't even given names, but rather coordinates ("I live at 700 N. 620 E"). Is that true?

Yes. Every Mormon city was laid out on the grid, but that is not the only significant aspect: while other towns had the homes out by the farms, in Utah towns everyone pretty much lived in town.

You can still see the original settlement pattern in most of the small towns and, to some degree, in the 'burbs.

Some streets have names. Many newer streets do, especially the ones which wind rather than orienting straight N/S or E/W. Residential streets in the 'burbs will often have both if they're straight enough.

In Finland, where the state takes half of your economic choices to itself you cannot choose.

Mormons are really only able to do it in the places they're politically influential: Utah, Nevada, Idaho, & Arizona.

He was high-enough up in the church that he had one of the special ID cards you need to gain access to a Mormon temple

Pretty much anybody can get those cards: be old enough, pay your tithing, and be morally "worthy." Men ususally first go the temple to "take out their endowments" when they go on their mission. Women do so if they go on a mision or, more likely, when they get married.

In his "debate" with Charles Murray, Nassim Nicholas Taleb made this same point about the Huguenots [the French Protestants].

Huguenots were the Jews of 17th/18th Century America. Interstingly and shockingly, there still are Huguenot churches around. Charleston has one.

Thanks to the anonymous who confirmed Provo has some grid coordinate addresses. I think that's a neat system.

Mormons would credit Joseph MSith or Brigham Young for this "revelation." I nominate Rene Descartes.

Catholic cultures always tip towards traditionalism and authoritarianism. That includes Bavarians, like Herr Ratzinger. Protestantism is a purer religion in that it is more future oriented or millenial.

But I think the ritualistic aspects matter as well. Greek Orthodox and Jews have that going for them. The Catholics did until Vatican II. Hopefully Ratzinger will bring that back. Too casual an atmosphere has its own disadvantages.

Justin Halter said...

Christ, Steve, don't bother to do research anymore, or what??? Want a question answered, just set the hive mind on it, eh? Must be nice to have a legion of research assistants at your beck and call! Clever bastard.

Steve Sailer said...

That's the plan!

Tom Merle said...

What might have been...

In October of 1862 my Great, Great Grandfather, Gen. Patrick Connor arrived in Salt Lake City at the head of the 750 volunteer soldiers from California and Nevada. Lincoln had ordered the Army battalion (or was it a regiment) to take over the guard duty--protecting the mail and telegraph lines from Indians--replacing the local militia of "Saints".

Connor was convinced that Brigham Young's sympathies lay with the South in the Civil War, and indeed Young believed the War was an Act of God to help create a self governing state of Mormonism.

Connor published an anti-Mormon newspaper, but more significantly encouraged his men to go out into the surrounding mountains to prospect for silver. He reasoned that were there a disovery like the Comstock Lode in Virginia City--which yielded over 20 years what in today's dollars would be the equivalent of 600 billion dollars--thousands of "gentile" prospectors would pour into the territory, diluting the strength of the Mormons. For better or worse, no such discovery occurred.

Anonymous said...

Some of the comments that have been left here are not correct and simply repeat myths that are widely believed within the church about why the church practiced polygamy. Being a lifelong member of the church, I have heard these myths frequently repeated by well-meaning church members who just don't know any better. Let's set the record straight:

Myth #1: Mormons only practiced polygamy because there were more women than men in the church and polygamy was a way to make sure women were taken care of:

Mormons did not practice polygamy because there was a greater number of females than males. In fact, it was quite the opposite. There were always more MALES in Utah all the way from 1850 to 1960 (according to US Census records). Thus, polygamy would have only exacerbated the problem of having more males than females.

See: http://www.i4m.com/think/polygamy/utah_census.htm
http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Why.htm (quoting a Mormon Apostle John Widstoe concurring that there were more men than women in Utah).

Myth #2:

The purpose of polygamy was "to increase fertility and ensure the survival of the group." The opposite actually ocurred: fertility among women in polygamous marriages in Utah was LOWER than among monogamous women.

See: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/90513626/ABSTRACT?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

John Mansfield said...

The mainstream Mormon organization in Utah today seem more like a mutual self-help society, sort of a private enterprise Sweden.

Through the last half of the 19th Century, after Joseph Smith died and the Mormon church settled in the Great Basin, Scandinavia was a very productive source of converts. In Iceland, Latter-day Saint missionaries made a big splash in a small pond; the first Icelandic settlement in North America was in Spanish Fork, Utah, and Iceland's Nobel Prize-winning writer Halldor Laxness made a convert seeking Paradise with the Mormons the protagonist of one of his novels.


The current leader of the church, the 80-year-old Thomas Monson, recently related a cute story about courting his wife:

The first day I saw Frances, I knew I'd found the right one. The Lord brought us together later, and I asked her to go out with me. I went to her home to call on her. She introduced me, and her father said, " 'Monson'—that's a Swedish name, isn't it?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "Good."

Then he went into another room and brought out a picture of two missionaries with their top hats and their copies of the Book of Mormon.

"Are you related to this Monson," he said, "Elias Monson?"

I said, "Yes, he's my grandfather's brother. He too was a missionary in Sweden."

Her father wept. He wept easily. He said, "He and his companion were the missionaries who taught the gospel to my mother and my father and all of my brothers and sisters and to me." He kissed me on the cheek. And then her mother cried, and she kissed me on the other cheek. And then I looked around for Frances. She said, "I'll go get my coat."

Sariah S. Wilson said...

I'm just sort of stunned at your comments on BYU. Out of all my LDS friends in high school in California, a group of at least 75, I was the only one who was accepted to BYU (and they all applied). I was in AP/Honors classes, involved in every club imaginable, had above a 4.0 GPA, etc. My counselor was actually quite upset with me that I only wanted to apply to BYU. I do remember that when I applied to the Y 15 years ago, while looking through a handbook given to us by my high school ranking the colleges and how difficult they were to get in to, BYU was a Tier 2 school (schools like Harvard and Yale being Tier 1) and there were five tiers.

BYU has their students take the ACT, not the SAT.

And yes there are large classes as a freshman, but isn't that true of every college? After that point most of my classes were 20 to 30 students, and in my senior year as I approached finishing my major, there were about 10 students in class. The reason tuition is cheap is not class size. It is because tuition is subsidized by the Church.

BYU has tried to turn itself into the "Harvard of the West," and as such has rigorous requirements for graduation to the point that many students find it impossible to graduate in four years.

I also have a sister currently working in admissions who laughed when I read to her how easy you thought it was for people to get into BYU. BYU is a difficult school. Anyone not-so-smart would have a hard time keeping up the GPA requirement to stay there.

Mormons teach their kids to set goals and pursue education. A high premium is set on excellence in education. So at the rate we're growing, and with so many kids doing exceptionally well in high school, how do you figure that BYU is some sort of dumping ground with a lax acceptance system? It is highly competitive - at least among the Mormon kids who want to go there.

I also had quite a few friends who were not LDS that went to BYU. So your assertion that no non-Mormon wants to attend is a false one.

Josh said...

My relations with the Mormon Church are are minimal,basically I went thru Marine Corps boot camp with a guy named Bystrom,who was the 1st and only Mormon I have know,aside from random guys I have seen walking around in suits. Maybe those were Jehovahs Witnessess. Anyway,Mormons seem to maximize their intelligence and live in a moral fashion and it works--Marie Osmond being the lone exception--which is prob one reason so many people hate them and want to wreck them. Point? We had a Mormon running for Prez,and it was decided he was not good enough...an acid test MET successfully,hi-ever by Barry Obama,Hillary and...McCain?? :{

Lucius Vorenus said...

Sariah S. Wilson: I am currently pregnant with our daughter

Are you still pregnant?

If not - how's your daughter?

Anonymous said...

sourcreamus:

It is difficult to see how a church can be the result of 150 years of breeding for conformity, obedience, and gullibility when well over half of its current members are first-generation converts. Did the church breed them to gullible even before they joined?

Carey said...

Actually, BYU's yield is the same as Harvard's. Pretty crazy!

John Mansfield said...

Here's something I wrote a couple years about an aspect of the old State U. feeling that BYU continues to have.

Anonymous said...

Me too, but isn't that seen in a lot of Midwestern towns, not to mention Manhattan?

Do y'all have some kind of inferiority complex or something? One guy asks if Mormon towns have a grid system, someone else confirms it, and the commenters go nuts trying to downplay it. Look, the grid system is neat, that's all. Chill.

Anonymous said...

Re polygamy--
given the variable religiosity between men and women, even among Mormons-- :) --I don't think that just adding up the numbers of men and women in Utah territory or looking at the average birth rates overall tells the whole story. The Mormon church would, I assume, be most interested in the *yield* of children who grow up in Mormon homes and become Mormon themselves.

Anonymous said...

william: "[LDS] leaders, whatever their other demerits, such as not having any formal theological training or great philosophical insights, really are smart men. I don't know how they'd compare to Joseph Ratzinger, but they'd blow religious leaders like Rowan Williams ... out of the water."

Nonsense.

Fine, so LDS leaders preside over Earth's fastest-growing religion.

Now Rowan Williams, he has made Anglicanism the fastest-shrinking.

Now tell me which requires more brains, huh? ;-)

- Wannabe-Apostate Anglican

James said...

My impression is that Mormon leaders are often lawyers. So, smart, but in a bad way.

And Steve you're essentially right about BYU even if the effect isn't as strong as you make it out to be. There are smart kids that go there who could have gone elsewhere and there are not-so-smart kids who go there who couldn't have gone elsewhere. This would be true of any school which catered to a distinct group.

William said...

The truth is uglier than expected: of 53 girls between 14 and 17, 31 either have had children or are pregnant. The state of Texas may yet redeem itself, if it can ever be bothered to get the number of children right.

My impression is that Mormon leaders are often lawyers. So, smart, but in a bad way.

A few are, most aren't. From the leaders of congregations on up to the very top, all have or have had private careers, mostly not as lawyers. The bios of the current members of the "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles" show a more diverse background than just lawyers (yes, the similarly named group in Battlestar Galactica was named after them - original series creator Glen Larsoon is Mormon) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quorum_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_%28LDS_Church%29

There are smart kids that go [to BYU] who could have gone elsewhere and there are not-so-smart kids who go there who couldn't have gone elsewhere.

Couldn't have gone elsewhere meaning where? State U? The local community college? I'll wager that virtually every kid there couldn't gotten into at least a halfway respectable state school. Maybe many couldn't have gotten into UCLA. But Sac State? Or Ohio State?

lloyd1927 said...

I know two very liberal people who became Mormons. The man was in his early 30's and expected the Mormons to help him get married (since only married men can have the highest place in heaven). He couldn't manage it on his own. The woman was in her early 50's, single and without close relatives. Enough said. Instant family!

William said...

I know two very liberal people who became Mormons. The man was in his early 30's and expected the Mormons to help him get married...

Well I'm sure there's something to it - a church is a good place to meet women looking to marry. OTOH, in a Mormon church the likelihood is you're meeting divorcees, often with kids.

The single 30-somethings I know here in Utah all tell me that people treat them like pariahs - like it's odd for anyone in their 30s not to be married already.

Anau said...

One day two of the Mormon infidels came to our village preaching their blasphemy. We stoned them to death, of course.

James said...

Couldn't have gone elsewhere meaning where?

I guess I meant "wouldn't have gone elsewhere".