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The writers also include Frank discussions of church history and theology, including the emphasis on family, community, and missionary work. But according to the Ostlings, the church's self-told history contains troubling inconsistencies. The late church leader Brigham Young had more than 20 wives, for instance, yet official church documents characterize him as a monogamist.
Sealed With Blood
Nauvoo, Illinois, today sits at a picturesque bend in the Mississippi River, a tourist attraction and state historical park with visitor centers operated by competing churches at opposite ends of the restored town. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the imposing brick Heber C. Kimball house and the Masonic lodge. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) owns Joseph Smith's grave and his two homes. Relations are polite. The visitor can take the LDS tour in a cart pulled by Amish-raised draft horses and admire the cornfields and soybeans, the rushing creek, the restored shops, and the old Masonic building. There is no sign of the once mosquito-infested malarial swamps, and neither church has restored any of the cramped wooden hovels in which most of the Saints actually lived during Nauvoo's brief moment of glory.
Today as one breakfasts at Grandpa John's Cafe in the backwater country town perched on the high bluff above the river, it is hard to believe that in its day--five years of growth and fame before it became a ghost town--Nauvoo rivaled Chicago. Nothing like this theocratic principality inthe heart of America had been seen since Pilgrim and Puritan days. Here the prophet Joseph Smith maintained a militia of 3,000 to 4,000 men under arms, at a time when the full U.S. Army had only 8,500 soldiers. At its height the population of Nauvoo proper reached 12,000 citizens; several thousand more Saints tilled the ground in nearby Hancock County or across the river in Iowa. These were frontier days, and the white limestone temple rising 160 feet high on the crest of the hill was an imposing sight for miles around.
Praise for Nauvoo's impressive achievements appeared in the newspapers of Boston, New York, and elsewhere. A steady stream of visitors came in 1843 and 1844 to admire the town, visit the strange exhibit of Egyptian mummies in its little museum, and sample Smith's hospitality. They included Charles Francis Adams, son of former president John Quincy Adams, and Josiah Quincy Jr., son of Harvard's president and later the mayor of Boston. Quincy was impressed with Smith's charisma and how he "won human hearts and shaped human lives." But Quincy also sounded a somewhat ominous cautionary note when he observed that Joseph Smith was far more than the entrepreneurial mayor of a successful, if unique, frontier town: "His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet."
That influence had begun in Palmyra, New York, fifteen years earlier with the translation of the golden plates that Smith testified had been lent him by the Angel Moroni. These latter-day scriptures described the migration of Israelites to the New World--where they became ancestors of Native Americans--and the risen Christ's ministry on American soil. Smith translated these writings into the Book of Mormon, a revelation that Mormons would place alongside the Bible. The influence continued as a band of six followers incorporated a new church and multiplied into a movement of thousands willing to follow their prophet anywhere. And it did not end when a mob left Joseph Smith's bullet-ridden body propped against a well outside the jail at Carthage, Illinois.
The assassination of their prophet left the Saints grief-stricken and dispirited. Nevertheless, as in Quincy's prediction that "the end is not yet," from that bloody atrocity there emerged the most successful faith ever born on American soil, a church regarded by some today as a major emerging world religion.
In the spring Of 1844 matters were spinning out of control for the prophet. He was charged as an accessory to attempted murder and faced an extradition warrant to Missouri, where a thug had pumped buckshot into the head of Governor Lilburn Boggs, who had cruelly mistreated the Saints. Amazingly, Boggs survived. It was rumored that the assailant, never caught, had operated at the behest of Smith. Despite vigorous denials by church officials, talk also abounded of something unthinkable--that the prophet and other top church officials were secretly taking multiple wives. Accusers also said Smith was profiting from land speculation over the miseries of poor Saints. Some of his closest colleagues were beginning to regard him as a fallen prophet.
Never passive, Smith responded with a frenzy of political activity. First he declared himself a candidate for president of the United States. Shortly thereafter he organized the secret Council of Fifty to plan an ambitious political future, and he had that body anoint him as "King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth." He petitioned Congress for authorization to raise and lead a 100,000-man army, personally loyal and answerable only to him, that would subdue the western territories from Texas to Oregon. He proposed that anyone who would "attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith" in this design was to be liable to two years' imprisonment. Congress did not oblige.
In the midst of all this, Smith preached the most important sermon of his career. The doctrines he presented in this discourse--multiplicity of gods, eternal progression, a heavenly Father who had a body and used to be a man, denial that God created the cosmos "out of nothing"--departed radically from Christian orthodoxy.
Joseph Smith once said, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." The Saints' readiness to sacrifice all things had already been well tested. Just five years earlier the Mormons had arrived in Illinois, fleeing east across Missouri up into Iowa and across the frozen Mississippi. Missouri's Governor Boggs had thrown them a threat: get out or face extermination. Joseph Smith was in jail in Liberty, Missouri, that winter of 1838-39, under threat of execution for a trumped-up charge of treason. His loyal...
Excerpted from Mormon America - Revised and Updated Edition by Richard Ostling Copyright © 2007 by Richard Ostling. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Introduction: A New World Faith|
|1||Sealed with Blood||1|
|2||Beginnings: A Very American Gospel||20|
|3||The American Exodus||38|
|4||Polygamy Then and Now||56|
|5||Redefining the Kingdom of God||76|
|8||Some Latter-day Stars||130|
|9||The Power Pyramid||147|
|11||A Peculiar People||173|
|12||Rituals Sacred and Secret||184|
|13||Two by Two||203|
|16||The Gold Bible||259|
|17||Discovering "Plain and Precious Things"||278|
|18||"How God Came to Be God"||295|
|19||Are Mormons Christians? Are Non-Mormons Christians?||315|
|20||Rivals and Antagonists||334|
|21||Dissenters and Exiles||351|
|22||Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century||372|
|App. A||Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse||387|
|App. B||How the Income and Wealth Estimates Were Made||395|
|For Further Reading||432|
|About the Authors||441|
Posted June 7, 2006
The Ostlings have done something special here. Part history, part biography and part adventure story, they have woven a tale too strange and amazing to be fiction. You just can't make this stuff up. Everything you wanted to know about the Mormon church but never knew to ask. The history of the church from its earliest, unlikely beginnings (Joseph Smith seems a bit of a 19th century L. Ron Hubbard), the rites of the church (not coincidentally similar to rites of the Freemasons), the nature of the church leadership (nearly none of the church heirarchy owns degrees in graduate-level theological training) and so much more. Don't miss this chance to learn so much about this fastest-growing of religions. Some of it may shock you, some of it you simply will not believe. But its all meticulously documented and noted, and its all done with the respect and reverence the Mormon church deserves. If comparitive religion interests you in the least, read this book.
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Posted June 19, 2004
This book gives a detailed, mostly unbiased look at one of the least-understood religions in the world. I give the authors credit for seeing the good which the Saints' culture promotes: strong families, healthy lifestyles, community service, etc. I also admire the Ostlings for not whitewashing the questionable accounting practices and unsavory characters of Mormon history. When making an addition to a discussion as polarized as that on the LDS Church is, it must be very hard to stay neutral. I believe that the Ostlings have done so, and at the same time, the product of their work is readable and above all, engrossing.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2001
The Ostlings need a hobby. People are dying of AIDS in the world and these two have nothing better to do than to publish a book on their opinions. Much respect to what they think but that's all this book is, full of opinions and personal experiences. Most people are seeking that peace everyone has with God and The Ostlings put down the church. I myself, think alot about religion, but the world is so full evil, you are just looking for some comfort and guidance. If the church is so bad and so built 'upon nothing', what church is there that would contain the fullness? What church is it in their opinion has been restored in it's fullness? If these two knew God, they would know that they need to back off the Mormons and move on in their lives. I am a Catholic living in Salt Lake City and with all the mormons that surround me, I know my place and where I stand, it's sad that others feel so crowded that they feel they need some followers to support them in their quest for MOROMON HATERS!!!!!!!!!!
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