on April 20, 2010
This is a very interesting book, written by a believing Mormon, who is also a cultural anthropologist. The book is described by its author as a book of fiction that nevertheless tries to show a hard truth. Those who hope to read another bashing of the Mormon people or their religion will be disappointed--the author is a believer. Those that hold to the adage, "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all" and those sated by the usual Deseret Book fluff will likewise be unsatisfied. Perhaps, it is written to those of testimony who attend the LDS Church often to serve and to learn, yet find themselves puzzled by and disconnected from the ever-changing stream of pamphlets, programs, events and activities that consume their time without enlarging their souls. This book addresses this audience and gives an explanation of how this came to be.
The narrative is centered on the author's experiences as an employee in a corporation that runs much of the headquarter activities for the Church. While most Mormons are accustomed to the idea that current Church institutions represent a natural and foreordained unfolding that will usher in the millennial reign, Smith challenges such notion. He argues that much of what is served up to Church members today is the natural outcome of battles fought and lost in the 19th century and the compromises and retrenching done during the 20th century.
The desire of Brigham Young to seek a Mormon refuge in the mountains of Mexico's Alta California failed as a result of the Mexican-American war. The end of that war brought the Mormons back into direct conflict with the U.S. government and the values of the influential in America. The visible damage of that conflict came with the eventual dissolution of the Church and seizure of its property, however, the unseen injury was the recasting of the language of its religion and the markers of faithfulness. Thus, the early 20th century was accompanied by a systematic turning of many the religious practices and doctrines on their heads and Mormons became the new champions of Americanism.
In a dispersed agrarian society most tithing was paid in commodities and therefore remained in a distributed system of local Bishop's storehouses to aid local members. By the end of the 19th century, tithing became monetized and therefore more easily centralized under the direction of a church headquarters. As membership grew and the nation prospered during the 20th century, so did the free will offerings to Church coffers. Money changes people, even corporate persons, especially when they attempt to transubstantiate Federal Reserve Notes into "the sacred funds of the Lord."
This new found wealth needed to be segregated from physical persons in order to eliminate the issues of commingling that troubled the Church after the deaths of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It needed management. The corporation sole demonstrated the ability to do this for the Mormons, plus its virility could spawn a host of corporate progeny. During the 20th century corporations were endued by statutes and court rulings with fictional legal personhood. Most corporations that become large institutions did in fact begin to act like persons. They developed personality or culture, a preoccupation with self-preservation and self-image, they had aspirations that formed mission statements and strategy, they mastered logistics to accomplish great good and they often behaved amorally.
Mormon corporations charged with implementing the visions of leaders face other distinct challenges. Their corporate revenue stream is wholly disconnected to the merit or value of the corporate product offerings to members of the religion. There is, therefore, no impetus to establish a straight forward system of feedback. Further, a Correlation Department is positioned to digest all offerings created inside the corporation before they are dispensed to the Mormons residing outside. This results in an ever-descending search for doctrinal purity and a lowest common denominator. Smith shows that regrettably, all too often the resulting fare reflects a pervasive under-valuing of real people who practice the religion.
In engaging prose and humor born of irony, Smith gives an inside look at the departmental turf wars, the odd effects of aping secular corporate practices and a host of mundane concerns such as branding, inventory control and return on investment that occupy the time and appetites of employees at the Cob. The driving recipe, though sounding a bit convoluted, is simple: Mix memories of historical persecution with the natural paranoia of fictional personhood, blend a rigid culture of hierarchy with exclusive access to truth, stir in language that prefers the abstract to the concrete and a preference for a virtual world over a real one, fold in a desire to be nice and an aspiration for greatness in heaven and on earth and finally, leaven the whole with frequent references to the Spirit (the author might add, "If the Spirit is not available, then an emotional cherry can be substituted). As Smith shows, noshing on a steady diet of this for fifty years causes things to become more than a little zany on a day-to-day basis on the corporate campus.
on August 9, 2011
The first thing do when I get a book is open to a random page and read it. In this book, the first thing I noticed on my random page was that the margins are essentially nonexistent, the font is tiny, and the paragraphs are by and large realllllyyyyyy long. The lack of paragraph breaks makes it difficult to read compared to an average book. I started reading a paragraph and found it both humorous and very insightful, but the sentences were likewise extremely long. The entire book reads like this. Also, I'm well educated but I needed a dictionary frequently while reading this book. There were a few words in other languages tossed in as well. While reading, I didn't feel like getting up to go use an internet translator, so I missed a bit of the meaning at times. Overall, this book will require commitment if you're going to finish it.
This book begins by explaining that it has been written by the author's evil twin, who has a very verbose and irritating writing style. True to these promises, the book was overly verbose- sometimes to the point of being quite painful- and some sections were difficult to understand due to the writing style. The style for the first several pages, with the computer plot, was so difficult that this section was almost impossible to follow. After that it improved somewhat. I found myself reading like an editor and identifying on nearly every page changes that could have been made that would have preserved the quirky style while making the book much more readable. I think the author would probably say that limited readability was often his intent, however, I got the sense that there were some areas in which there was less readability than he intended.
The content of the book was exceptionally interesting and most sections were quite engaging, however, it is a difficult read. I felt throughout that a good editor could have maintained the quirky style but made this book far more enjoyable. Basic things like margins and paragraph breaks would make a big difference. In areas where the author's point is unclear, some rewriting may have been in order. Overall I'm glad I read this book, and the content deserves five stars, but I'm not sure I'm glad that I purchased it. I'm not sure I'll read it again, and I would be uncomfortable recommending it to friends, especially friends who don't have graduate degrees.
As far as content goes, my favorite sections were his brief tangent onto what the temple means to modern mormons compared to early mormons, and the story about the welfare video being produced at the COB. I would have appreciated more length in the first section, perhaps making it a chapter section of its own as opposed to a tangential few paragraphs. The second section was detailed and mind-blowing. Anyone who wants a glimpse into the inner functions of the CoJCoLDS will be well-served by the contents of this book, though the journey may not be as enjoyable as they had hoped. Some of what happens is really quite saddening and anyone who believes that every decision made by the church is inspired will quickly realize that most decisions are actually made by lower-levels without the "prophetic mantle." Overall, however, this book cannot be called "anti-mormon." It is actually quite pro various church teachings, and the author's bias toward the gnosticism in both the early christian church and the revelations of Joseph Smith is made apparent in several sections.
In summary: beautiful content, presentation needs help.
on June 2, 2010
<< You mean the Church produced videos, DVDs, plays, digital media, and never actually did audience research, or evaluated their effects? And some stupid five-minute film costs how much!?! [...] after working at the COB I understand why saccharin does not measure the heavy handed artifice dumped upon our films. "Propaganda" is too kind, and ascribes too great an effect. >>
That's from Daymon Smith's new book The Book of Mammon: A Book About A Book About The Corporation That Owns The Mormons.
You may not be surprised to learn that "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" is a trademark owned by a "corporation sole", and that the fortune-500-level wealth of the church is owned by a corporation that consists of one man. It doesn't matter how much time and money you donate to this corporation sole (the corporation of the president), he owes you absolutely nothing in return. Notably, he doesn't owe anyone any public accounting for where that money goes and what becomes of it.
To see how that works out in real life, just read Daymon Smith's entertaining memoir of the time he spent working at the Church Office Building (COB). The bottom line is that if God needs flesh-and-blood followers to send money to Him, then it's reasonably to expect He'd need live humans scrutinizing the accounting books as well. You can't just toss (worldly) money into a grand, corporate black hole and trust that God is keeping an eye on how it's spent. If you've been trusting in God's accounting skills, it turns out that He's asleep at the books.
According to Daymon's tale, working at the COB has all of the crazy office politics you'd expect at an ordinary fortune-500 corporation. There's a big difference, though, and it's not just the church devotionals on company time or opening meetings with prayer. The problem is that they have absolutely no motivation to figure out whether their products are useful to their consumers. Mormons pay 10% of their income per year to the corporation (in order to be eligible for the saving ordinances in the temple), and the corporation gives back manuals, magazines, films, scriptures, garments, etc. -- but the direct market feedback that comes from consumers selecting the goods they purchase is completely cut off.
In economics, the private sector and the public sector each have their strengths and weaknesses. It's not a question of choosing which one is "right" and which one is "wrong" -- it's a question of optimizing your strategy by using the best of both. The COB has the worst of both because it has the advantages of neither: there's no market incentive to produce good products, and there's no public oversight either.
(The biggest irony is how ferociously right-wing the Mormons are, yet they give so much money to a corporation that functions just like the very worst stereotypes of the Soviet government economic system.)
One of the most amusing illustrations in Smith's book was how -- instead of doing any kind of reality-based market research -- the Cobbers would waste countless hours of labor creating "personas" -- that is, invented profiles that are meant to represent typical consumers of their products. Unsurprisingly, the "personas" seem to need exactly the sorts of things their COB-authors are poised to produce. The personas even have their creators' racism baked right in, as the Spanish-speaking persona not only wanted printed materials in Spanish, but also wanted them dumbed-down. (Actually, that one is a little surprising since I can hardly imagine these materials could be dumbed-down any further.)
Smith's book gives you the inside story on some products and programs you may remember if you're Mormon. For example, marketing the "quad" from the pulpit at General Conference and moving pallets of piled-up Books of Mormon through a program where Mormons were encouraged to buy copies and paste their pictures and testimonies in them for the missionaries to distribute. Plus he recounts some other episodes that are almost too amazing to be believed, such as getting feedback from members in Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines on an "educational" film for Mormon bishops about the importance of getting (Spanish-speaking) freeloaders off the church welfare rolls.
The whole story is written in the style of an 18th or 19th century expose. It reminded me of some of the French libels described by Robert Darnton, complete with an amusing line-drawing frontispiece illustrating the subject.
Overall, The Book of Mammon is eye-opening and quite entertaining. It's a little dense, but worth the effort.
on November 13, 2012
This should have been a great book. There is a natural tension between the need for a bureaucracy and the sacred mission of a church. This guy was a real insider with a very interesting view--a professional anthropologist, apparently.
The book is totally disjointed. It is randomly interspersed with moments of lucidity that are worth reading (thats why I very generously gave this book 3 stars). What a waste--I think there was some real insight that perhaps could have morphed into a great read.
on August 21, 2013
I'm sure that Daymon Smith has a very interesting story to tell and insights to share about working at the Church Office Building, but his chosen writing style is SO BAD that I have no idea what the story and insights are. Somewhere in the middle of the book he gives a list of 'Book Club' questions and one of them asks (in a horrendously round about way) if the writing style comes across as schizophrenic. That's probably the best description of it. It's insane.
Do not waste your time trying to decipher this book. He has a very interesting podcast on MormonStories.org, I would recommend listening to that. Listening to the podcast is what got me interested in reading this book in the first place -- he's very concise and eloquent when he's speaking. That's one of the things that made me think this book had to be a joke. I spent the entire first chapter waiting for him to get to the punchline. If you don't believe me, this book is a "Look Inside" book, just pick a random page and attempt to read it for yourself.
on February 28, 2015
You know, I enjoyed the nuggets in this book and the rare, fascinating perspective brought from within the halls of the Church Office Building. While a massive grain of salt is required for some of the anecdotes and assumptions made by the author, most of the conversations and encounters recorded in The Book of Mammon bear the hallmark of true experience. The inside baseball at the COB is hilarious, as is the vividly described Office Space/The Office-style politics. And the author's deep and sober philosophizing on what he calls the Church's focus on ecclesiasticapitalism is worth the purchase price alone.
But when it comes to the baffling prose found throughout, another reviewer put it very well: this is what you get when a PhD edits their own stuff. Not to be crass, but the cutesy, circuitous, faux-biblical writing style flew right up its own butt on so many occasions, I've lost count. I assume Smith actually has something to say at these points in his book, but I couldn't tell you what.
If the righteous indignation evident in some of the meatier passages is any indication, there's a lot more to be said on the goings-on of the COB and I hope Smith will write more on these important topics. But if it's important enough to be written, isn't also important enough to be understood? For all our sakes, make it make sense.
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - Albert Einstein
on November 27, 2010
I was an extremely active Mormon convert from the late 70s to the mid 80s. While I enjoyed much of my experience, there was a growing perception that troubled me. I had been attracted to a practical, more earthy spirituality that the [mainstream Protestant] one I grew up with. Mormonism, compared to my heritage, was like a box of homemade cookies: not factory-standardized and tasting better. But over the years of my membership it seemed to me that that taste was fading away.
Subtle pressures and new pronouncements from above gradually replaced individuality and authenticity. I attended one of the last Relief Society fundraisers. Relief Society was formerly its own organization, publishing its own periodical and running its own business. Not any more. Increasingly, everything was drawn underneath a canopy called "Correlation." Mormonism was formerly a red-blooded, two fisted religious culture. But now, the quirkier folks among us started feeling a chill in the air. Keeping "the spirit" increasingly meant, shutting up.
The Arrington Spring was followed by the September 6.
The process continued after I left. Now, outside sources and research to back up Sunday school lessons are unwelcome. Ward boundaries continue to be arbitrarily redrawn. I struggled with words to explain what I was feeling. The closest I came was, that a spirit of corporatism, a sort of corporate management structure, was consolidating its hold. I wondered if this was just my imagination.
Thank you Daymon, and I sure hope this isn't your real name. You've spilled enough beans to make President Monson himself want to hunt you down. (Of course, he has people to do that for him) The Mormonism I thought I was joining sure was fun, wasn't it? But that was then, this is now.
on March 14, 2013
The author seemed to get in the way of the story he was telling and made it difficult to get his message. I slogged on through to the end and found it confirmed some of the stories I had heard about what goes on at COB. It would have been a better experience if the author had not tried to be so "cute" about himself and what he was trying to convey. Too many tangents. Maybe he was being careful to "skate around" some of the issues without giving too much away about his time at COB or getting anyone still there in trouble.
on January 9, 2013
Okay, say it's my ADD kicking in, but I was deciding whether Daymon is really this in love with himself and wants everyone to know how intelligent he is, or he really does not know how he comes off. The podcast I listened to on mormonstories.org was great and I picked up a lot from that and he also has a good sense of humor. I've read a lot of books but the books are a little more straight forward than Book of Mammon. I started reading and thought when am I going to get to the part where he talks about...well, what he talked about on the podcast? I found out that the whole book is written in this style and thats when I was forced to conclude that Daymon is a pompous ass. Don't get me wrong, he is good at his job, but this was really disappointing.
on May 29, 2014
The Book of Mammon is a challenging read, both in content and literary style. From his experience working at Mormon corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City--the Church Office Building--Smith concludes that the COB is an enormous inwardly-focused, self-perpetuating machine fueled by the tithing monies of the faithful. In the realm of business that would be business as usual but in the realm of religion that is profoundly disturbing. I was surprised at the empathy I feel for Smith enduring the tedium and irrationality of working not so much for God's kingdom but for a manager whose motivation is to please other managers who in turn are striving to please yet higher managers.
Smith cloaks his conclusions in something of a scatter shot organization and a variety of literary devices, almost as if wanting to avoid coming right out and saying a corporation has co-opted the Kingdom of God. For instance, the first dozen pages are almost impenetrably dense with the style of an expose from the 1700s. I have a sense that if I'd had a broader background in literature or any background in Smith's field of linguistic anthropology I'd have had an easier go at it. I smelled an interesting story, however, and persevered with Smith's personal introduction to Mormon Mammon. This book provides a sharp contrast with Jesus Christ's remarkable, elegant definition of his church found in Doctrine and Covenants 10:67--those who repent and come unto him.