The Guardian reports that Cardinal Francis George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has recently commented “on the positive attributes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), more commonly known as Mormons,” which is surprising given “the enormous theological and demographic differences between the two groups.”
Surprising is an understatement, though when common political interests are in play little should surprise us. As Mitt Romney continues to till the cultural ground in preparation for his 2012 candidacy, I am often reminded of this and am routinely surprised when I come across assertions that Mormonism is a variant of Christianity. Romney, of course, would like Christian voters to believe this. But this is like saying Islam is a variant of Christianity became Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet.
Because it was founded so recently and there are many original documents of its early days, Mormonism offers a unique opportunity to study the founding of a religion without having to rely on believers for information or church doctrine for interpretation. For those interested in this history, I recommend Fawn Brodie’s classic No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. Brodie studied at the University of Chicago and was a professor at UCLA.
Brodie grew up in the LDS faith and eventually lost it, so she might have had an axe to grind. Regardless, the book is well-sourced and beautifully written in the psychological-interpretive style. It is, of course, anathema to Mormons and they have devoted much time and energy to attacking it. If for no other reason, one suspects it contains a great deal of information that the LDS would like to forget.