Mormon America: The Power and the Promise Paperback – September 19, 2000
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About the Author
Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.
- Publisher : HarperOne; Reprint edition (September 19, 2000)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 454 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060663723
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060663728
- Item Weight : 1.27 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.25 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #11,830,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Now, about this book. It's a thorough examination of LDS history, doctrine and (as much as possible) finances written by a distinguished longtime religion writer for Time magazine and his wife. I was very impressed with the Ostlings' effort to be evenhanded regarding a major church that has built itself an empire in less than 200 years, yet has its share of detractors...very few people familiar with the Latter-Day Saints lack a strong opinion one way or another, but both sides of the various arguments are generally represented fairly here. This is neither a pro-Mormon nor anti-Mormon book; it's a fair and honest one.
Two things stood out for me personally: The chapter "Two by Two" deals with the omnipresent missionaries, who endure much more than the vast majority of outsiders could fathom to serve two years away from home. I gained a lot of respect for the young men (and now women) who give up a great deal uncomplainingly. There was also much biographical info on both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Hollywood could do a movie on the former, who'll I'll just say was a remarkable young man and leave it at that (read for yourself...start with chapters 2 and 4), while the latter took over the nascent church after Smith's death and through sheer determination and incredible organizational skills led the trek to Utah and then laid the foundation for the growing force the Mormon church remains to this day. Neither man was close to perfect but they were both impressive for different reasons.
I have little doubt the negative reviews here are from current LDS members who don't appreciate an unvarnished appraisal of a church whose leadership prefers to keep certain things out of sight (often for good reason), but I'd strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Mormon church or to current members who'd like to know more than what the General Authority filters down to them.
There is an exhaustive chapter on the polygamous past that's mostly irrelevant, and another one on the church's business "empire" that's filled with so many outdated statistics, including many from the 1950's, that it lacks any real credibility. I could go on, but suffice to say that "Mormon America" is a poorly organized attempt at social and religious history.
As I grew up, I learned quite a lot about theology. Though I've never felt the desire to leave my own church, my experience as a boy got me quite interested in Mormonism as a religious system. I've always wondered how people who were so strongly ethical could rationalize a theology that is often strange and inconsistent. Reading this book was a great help in clarifying some of my thoughts and experiences.
The reason this book is so well done for a person with an intellectual bent towards religion is that it is balanced. The Ostlings are do not come across as either pro- or anti-Mormon. They present the information they have gathered and judge certain things about the Mormons positive and certain things negative.
Many of their judgements mesh well with my own experiences with Mormonism. For example, they point out the strong family values that Mormons have as well as their incredible willingness to help others, particularly, though not exclusively, other Mormons. In fact, they have well-organized systems of relief for those who are suffering. Better, perhaps, than almost any other religion. In addition, they have a culture of service to their church that outstrips many others.
On the other hand, despite the protests of many Mormon scholars, Mormon theology is clearly a break from any traditional understanding of Christianity. They have a system of revelation which, though not a problem in principle, makes for inconsistent theological development with which it can be difficult to deal. (I've never understood why people would believe that God spoke to prophets thousands of years ago but wouldn't now. Still, any prophet, I think, would have to meet a certain muster to be accepted by a large population.) Additionally, Mormons are clearly secretive and very conservative which causes a lot of tension not only with other religions but also with disenfranchised groups within their church.
All of these aspects and more are clearly and deeply covered by the Ostlings in their book. Anyone with any interest in Mormons or Mormonism would be well-advised to read this book. It is a fair account not influenced too deeply by either side.