Almost anywhere in America today one may see two alert, conservatively-dressed young men, knocking on doors and approaching their prospect pleasantly with, “We are from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” By means of the best modern sales techniques, these somewhat mysterious and intriguing figures of the “Mormon” Church then offer a religion that claims to be the only authentic church of God, restored in these latter days by God and Christ in person, by angels, and by Peter, James, and John. They boast an extraordinarily well-organized welfare system and a love of culture and the good things of life. Using the standard Christian terms, they speak of the Godhead, of gospel and glory, of sin and salvation, of prophets and patriarchs—but they put into them a meaning radically different from that found in the Bible.

The group’s verifiable history begins in upper New York state in the year 1830 with the publication of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Jr., an able young man with little formal education. The publication of the book is represented to be the culmination of several “visions” and “revelations.” Smith’s first “vision” (allegedly received in 1820 but not published until 20 years later and now somewhat altered) informed him that all churches are wrong and all their creeds an abomination. The subsequent “revelations” led to the “discovery” and “translation”—by means of the “Urim and Thummim”—of “gold plates” which were buried in a near-by hill and contained the Book of Mormon. Echoing an idea current in Smith’s day that the Indians were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, the book basically relates how they came to America (about 600 B.C.), were visited by the Saviour, and fell into their present ...

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