In honor of the big movie premiere of the Twilight Saga’s “Breaking Dawn, Part I” (because, of course, how could you possibly contain the passion that is the wedding of a sparkly vampire and eternally nauseous teenager triscuit in just one movie?), I give you: Mormons.
That’s right, Mormons. Or, as I hear they prefer to be called: Latter Day Saints. A truly American innovation if there ever was one. Wikipedia will tell you more.
Since moving to the West Coast, my Mormon awareness has gone way up. As a lifelong Easterner, I’m still not sure that I’ve actually ever met a Mormon, but that is going to change. They are big business out here. Take a look at this TV commercial:
Mormons are, quite literally, ubiquitous.
Twilight author Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon, and many people have looked at her books through that lens. The exaltation of the (vampire/Mormon) family, the traditional mores, and its treatment of the value of virginity and marriage represent conservative Mormon family values quite well. Writing for Beliefnet, Jana Riess says:
the overall theme of Twilight corresponds with one of the crucial issues in the Book of Mormon, which Stephenie Meyer has identified as her favorite book. That issue is overcoming the “natural man.” Edward Cullen is literally carnal. He has to make the decision every day to overcome his nature and be selfless and good–what the Book of Mormon argues is the challenge of every person. The natural “man” (or woman, or hottie vampire) is an enemy to God and has to be put off in favor of struggling for holiness. (Mosiah 3:19)
I don’t want to get into a theological debate about Mormonism. Frankly, I don’t know enough about the specific content of their doctrine to offer any definitive comment on that level. It does seem fairly clear, however, that they are well outside the orthodox tradition of Christianity. At best they operate as independents with a host of divergent practices and rather questionable founding documents. Historically speaking, there are somewhat similar to Islam. Both are offshoots of Christianity with core extra-biblical documents and the legacy of a motivated and charismatic founder.
Whatever the case, Mormons are apparently doing a good job at getting the word out and making it stick. The recent National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR) has highlighted the fact that much of America is awash in the designer faith and “feel-goodism” of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with little depth or hope for long-term sustainability. The bright and shining exception: our friends the Mormons. Christendom should take note.
Mormon dominance extends to the entertainment world as well. Evangelical Christian movies? Corny, and box-office dogs. Mormon movies? Corny, but blockbusters films apparently able to inflame the interest and driving passions of thousands of teenage girls. (Though I suspect werewolves sans shirts may have something to do with that.)
And of course, who could forget Mormon Mitt Romney? Despite the fluctuations in the Republican nomination process, it is clear that (barring the unforeseen) he is going to be their nominee. If the economy continues to falter, odds are good that he’ll be the next President of the United States. Like Obama ’08, American has the potential to break another barrier–this time religious–in its selection of a leader. All politics aside, what would it mean for America to have a Mormon in the Oval Office? Would it matter at all to us?
As long as that pesky Edward Cullen and his depressing wife don’t get invited, I’m fine with it.
Bonus: A special South Park take on Joseph Smith. When I first saw this years ago, I thought it was a cheap shot. Then I learned more about Mormonism’s founding and, well…