As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to Mormons and the Book of Mormon, it’s a good news/bad news situation. The good news: to this date, I’ve never met a Mormon I didn’t like. When I was in the Navy, I knew two Mormon guys, Al Cantwell, who was in my Arabic language class at Monterey, and Jim White, who I knew at Fort Mead, Maryland and who served with my on board the USS Coronado in 1982. (Whenever you called Jim White at home, he enjoyed answering the phone, “White House.”)
When I was public defender on the island of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, in 1999, I met a number of Mormon missionaries who were spending two years away from home, spreading the faith. I told them very politely that I simply wasn’t buying what they were selling. We did not have any problem at all.
When I was public defender in Bethel, Alaska for five years, I knew a lawyer named Dave Henderson who was Mormon. Good lawyer, nice guy, no problem. Of the Mormon celebrities, the first who come to mind are Marie Osmond and her many brothers, none of whom have ever been photographed for a mug shot, busted for drunk driving or been ordered into drug rehab. The most famous Mormon athletes who come to mind are Merlin Olsen, the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle who achieved greater fame as America’s most famous flower salesman pitching for FTD. Don Fulmer, the great middleweight fighter, was a Mormon. He managed two wins, one loss and a draw against the great Sugar Ray Robinson. I always enjoyed Robinson’s bewildered question after dropping a decision to Fulmer: “He’s a Mormon, but he fights like a barroom brawler. Where’d he learn to fight like that?” (A side note: if you get in a fight with a Mormon, hide in a liquor cabinet; they’ll never look for you there.)
In politics, there is former governor Mitt Romney and his father, former governor George Romney. Those two are certainly not the worst people on the political scene. Somewhere, there are sleazebag Mormons, but I have yet to meet a single one.
The bad news? While on Yap, I had occasion to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover and it completely fails, in my opinion, the giggle test. A young man with a criminal record named Joseph Smith claimed to have found a set of gold tablets in Upstate New York in 1827 which purported to tell the story of a group of Israelites who migrated from Palestine to America in the eighth century B.C. and founded a civilization and lasted for twelve hundred years. Interestingly, in the 175 years since, there has never been another copy of those plates found, and the originals, Mormons say, were raptured back to Heaven.
Further, no indigenous tribe, from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, is known to have a written language at all. For all the wonderful archaeological discoveries made since then, there’s not been a single bit of evidence to indicate there was a great walled city anywhere in the United States or Canada.
I found the story of the Nephite Migration pretty hilarious. Nephi and his followers build a ship and sail to the West. Kindly note that the Israelites had no seafaring tradition. That was very much a Phoenician specialty. The Jews of biblical times were barely able to handle fishing on the Sea of Galilee. So Nephi and his followers undergo on their westward journey. Do they stop in the Greek Isles? No. Do they stop in Italy or in Northern Africa, which was in the early days of the Cartheginian civilization. Do they stop in Spain or at the pillars of Hercules? No. They set sail across the Atlantic to the coast of America. It’s about 2000 miles from Palestine to the Straits of Gibraltar. It’s about 3000 miles-plus from Gibraltar to the American coast. That’s a voyage that took Columbus about three months. The Nephrites apparently made this trip with a gaggle of women and children. As a child, my parents would drive the family from Columbus, Ohio to eastern Kansas with one stop in Missouri. So I have some experience dealing with ten-hour car drives with six people in a station wagon. I invite the reader to ask exactly how long into a 3000-mile, three-month-long ocean voyage they would last before they would throw any children overboard. (“Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?”)
Upon reaching the shores of America, the Book of Mormon tells us, the Nephrites found horses and asses in the forest. This came as a surprise to me, as Native Americans had never seen horses until the Spanish brought them across the Atlantic in Columbian times.
The big finish: Jesus had a “second ministry” in which he came to America. His messages to the faithful were, word for word, the same as the Book of Matthew. How anyone can take the Book of Mormon seriously is beyond me.
The Mormons I’ve met are, without exception, wonderful people. They are far, far better than their religion.