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I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways: Part Deux

When we last left our goofball hero singing in the Book of Mormon musical, he was mocking us Mormons for believing in patently ridiculous things that clash with modernity – what Dickens called the “Age of Railways.” He was setting up a three-line stanza – known as a “tercet” or a “triplet” – wherein the first two lines describe relatively mainstream beliefs, but the third line gets a belly laugh for its obvious asininity. As the song continues, the beliefs get loonier – and they come earlier in the Age-of-Railways tercet.

Consider the next verse:

I believe that God has a plan for all of us...

Ok, sure. So do I.

I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet...

And starting at line 2, we’re back to wacky.

I have lived my entire life in the LDS Church. I spent two years knocking on people’s doors in a country across the ocean to teach them about the restored gospel. I have attended at least three hours of LDS meetings every week for the past forty-three years.

I have never, ever once heard a lesson about planet-getting.

Christ told his disciples that “All things that the Father hath are mine.” (John 16:15) Paul taught that those that Jesus saves will be the children of God, and “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) Mormons take these scriptures at face value. If the Father has everything, and we are to be his heirs along with Christ, then what is it, then, that we will inherit? Just a planet? Seems pretty tiny, all things considered.

Still, this is not the focus of our worship. The idea is that we will return to live in the presence of God. That’s talked about a whole lot. Interstellar real estate, not so much.

And, in what’s supposed to be the payoff of these three silly items:

And I believe; that the current President of The Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God...
I am a Mormon,
And, dang it, a Mormon just believes!

Now, I actually do believe Thomas Monson speaks directly to God. In fact, I’ll go one step further. I believe that I, Stallion Cornell, speak directly to God. I do it every day – usually several times a day. It’s a process called “prayer.”

Of course, that’s not what he means. He means God speaks back, face to face, hanging out, kicking back, while the two are drinking coffee together – or, in a Mormon’s case, hot chocolate or Postum.*

Now there may well be Mormons who believe this happens on a regular basis, but I’m not one of them.

I don’t find the idea absurd on its face. I do believe that if the Lord had occasion to speak to the Church as a whole and needed to make a personal appearance, He would do so, and He would do so to Thomas Monson. Those occasions have occurred in the past and you can find detailed accounts of the same – here’s one for you – but I think those occasions are few and far between.

Again, the only thing that makes this belief wackier than what most Christians believe – they think Stephen saw Jesus on the right hand of God and that Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, for pity’s sake – is time. Take away the railways and the angels are pretty much the same.

But I digress.  The guy singing the song then barges into the lair of the warlord who shoots people in the face and sings the next triplet directly to him.

I believe that Satan has a hold of you…

Um, OK.

I believe that the Lord God has sent me here…

Well, fine. Where is he going with this?

And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people…

What a flaming pile of haggis dumps.

This is easily the most offensive bit in the whole song, and, absent the profanity and vulgarity elsewhere, the whole show. I definitely don’t believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about anything. I don’t know of a single Mormon who does. In order to believe that, you have to determine what God thought of black people prior to 1978. Thankfully, the Book of Mormon gives us all the insight we need to answer that question in 2 Nephi 26:33:

“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

That was published almost a century and a half before 1978, and it’s been a constant throughout the history of the Church. I do believe that something significant happened in 1978, but it had nothing to do with God changing his mind. To frame it in those terms is as ignorant and cruel as one can possibly be, but, golly, those South Park boys sure love the Mormons, don’t they? What a sweet, affectionate musical The Book of Mormon is.

The last “I Believe” triplet doesn’t even bother to set things up with a plausible belief and goes straight for the comedy jugular with the first line.

I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob…

(It’s not a big deal, but it certainy doesn’t help that they pronounce “Kolob” wrong. It’s pronounced “COAL-lob,” not “CALL-ub.”)

Now do Mormons really believe this?

The only reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, which describes Kolob as follows:

And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God.

– Abraham 3:2-3

So, already,we’re off to a rocky start. Kolob is a star, not a planet, and it is a star “nearest to where God dwells.” That’s about all we know. We’re not really given any more specifics re: God’s dwelling, and “He’s somewhere by a big star” is a poor substitute for a zip code.

What this demonstrates is that Mormons believe that God actually exists within time and space. That’s radical in comparison to much of the Christian world, but His mailing address  is certainly not central to what we teach. Still, given that we’ve already been singing about planet distribution, the implication is that each of us gets our own Kolob or some other K-named planet. Mine would likely be Planet Kornell; some biker dude would get Planet Kawasaki, and the Lakers shooting guard would be the Lord of Planet Kobe.

The next line implies that Jesus is part of this planetary Ponzi scheme, too:

I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well...

Again, we don’t believe that. We believe far, far MORE than that.

And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

– Moses 1:33

Worlds without number. And remember, we are joint heirs with Christ. Mormons believe in a God who is God of an infinite universe, and that we are His children, who can one day become like Him and inherit all that He has. That’s far more audacious than the South Park gents seem capable of imagining. Their monorails and bullet trains look pretty chintzy in comparison.

But, of course, they save their goofiest idea for last. It’s a complete non sequitur to the planet stuff, but that’s to be expected. The juxtaposition of completely unrelated ideas makes them funnier, and they wanted to save the stupidest thing Mormons believe for the grand finale and present it as if it were the center of our faith.

So what could it be? What is the absolute goofiest thing you can imagine Mormons saying behind closed doors? I mean, it’s gotta be huge.  We’re talking off-the-wall, mind-bendingly, irresistibly stupid.

Ready? Here it is…

And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri…

OK, you got me.

*Alas, they don’t make Postum anymore. I’m somewhat bitter, although not as bitter as Postum is if you don’t put heaping helpings of sugar in it. I believe they should make Postum again. I like my Postum, and Postum just believes.

I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways
10 Things I Don't Believe

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  1. I do believe that if the Lord had occasion to speak to the Church as a whole and needed to make a personal appearance, He would do so, and He would do so to Thomas Monson.

    There’s a little more to it than this. You neglected to mention that the president, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, are called “Prophet, seer, and revelator“, which is a pretty serious title:

    “A prophet is a teacher. That is the essential meaning of the word. He teaches the body of truth, the gospel, revealed by the Lord to man; and under inspiration explains it to the understanding of the people. He is an expounder of truth. Moreover, he shows that the way to human happiness is through obedience to God’s law. He calls to repentance those who wander away from the truth. He becomes a warrior for the consummation of the Lord’s purposes with respect to the human family. The purpose of his life is to uphold the Lord’s plan of salvation. All this he does by close communion with the Lord, until he is ‘full of power by the spirit of the Lord.’ ” – Micah 3:8

    “A seer is one who sees with spiritual eyes. He perceives the meaning of that which seems obscure to others; therefore he is an interpreter and clarifier of eternal truth. He foresees the future from the past and the present. This he does by the power of the Lord operating through him directly, or indirectly with the aid of divine instruments such as the Urim and Thummim. In short, he is one who sees, who walk in the Lord’s light with open eyes. ” – Mosiah 8:15

    “A revelator makes known, with the Lord’s help, something before unknown. It may be new or forgotten truth, or a new or forgotten application of known truth to man’s need. Always, the revelator deals with truth, certain truth (D&C 100:11) and always it comes with the divine stamp of approval. Revelation may be received in various ways, but it always presupposes that the revelator has so lived and conducted himself as to be in tune or harmony with the divine spirit of revelation, the spirit of truth, and therefore capable of receiving divine messages.” – D&C 100:11

    Being a “Prophet, seer, and revelator” is serious stuff.

    Anyway, tell us about the End Times — Adam-ondi-Ahman, New Jerusalam, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, and the Celestial Kingdom. There’s going to a lot of burning as well. The wicked will be burned in big pyres? I want to hear about all the smiting of the wicked.

    Sorry, I’m like little Alex, reading the Good Book, before the Ludovico Technique.

    • Being a prophet, seer, and revelator is, indeed, serious stuff. I believe all of the things you’ve posted there, although your scriptural references are a bit odd. Are those just scriptures that were in someone’s conference talk? Because the paragraphs you cite are not the actual scriptures that your attributions would suggest.

      My point isn’t that Thomas Monson isn’t a prophet, seer, and revelator. My point is that I don’t believe that face-to-face encounters with the Almighty are commonplace or ever have been, even among prophets.

      As for the burning of the wicked, alas, I can offer you no special insight. I know nothing about pyres – size, temperature, appropriate wood – but I would think they would reek something awful.

      • I’m making a request: give us a Mormon End Times post!

        I want to hear about the final battle waged between Good and Evil, fought in the Missouri Plains, with pikes a-flashing, and maces a-twirling! I want blood, guts, and heroism. The Godly tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim prevailing over the minions of Evil!

  2. I have often times thought about the “age of railways” and whether or not people honestly believe that Samson killed 1,000 people with the jawbone of an ass, or that mana fell from the heaven to feed the wandering Israelites. The bible dictates that God is unchanging and constant, which is what I believe as well. The mere notion (not even conviction) that God and Jesus could appear to Joseph Smith in that case to restore a church, to me, is not only conceivable, but comforting (if one believes in the Bible). As for a conviction of such an event, well that is attained in a different manner – one taught by 19 year old in crisp laundered white shirts.

  3. Pretty sure you are clear (but it was an artful dodge) that the point wasn’t that God changed his mind about black people, it was that Mormons haven’t always historically been on the right side of civil rights and this is a poke at the hypocrisy of a church pretending to know the mind of an infinite being.

    • I have made it clear on this blog – see – that the Mormons have not been on the right side of civil rights. But if the point is not that Mormons believe God changed his mind about black people, then why is the line in the song “I believe that God changed his mind about black people?”

      The church only knows the mind of an infinite being to the extent that that being lets us know what his mind is, which He does by means of revelation. The revelations that have guided the church since its inception say that “all are alike unto God.” (2 Nephi 26:33)

    • I spoke too soon.

      “It is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the rights to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship… We call upon all men everywhere, both within and outside the church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.”

      The First Presidency made this official statement for the Church in support of full civil rights for all. What’s more, they made it in 1963, fifteen years prior to the 1978 priesthood revelation.

  4. No Spam, I’ll bet you Mormon beliefs in the End Times (especially Hell) would probably shock you that it isn’t as pyrotechnic as other Christians. Not that there aren’t going to be fireworks, but that they are less “avenging” than your imaginative views of things from what you have heard before. Mormonism is far more about saving than smiting.

    Visit my website for some more information on Mormonism. I sense the snarky, but deep down inside really are curious.

    Stallioncornell, I really have enjoyed your look at the song.

    • Christian Eschatology has been a fertile field for entertainment, at least for me. ..for example, S. King’s The Stand, but Mormon Eschatology is an untapped resource. I very much enjoy Larson’s Mormon motifs in Battlestar Galactica — TOS, but there’s no connection, that I know of, with Mormon End Times prophesy. Oh, there’s plenty of sealing and certain aspects of exaltation, but nothing about Adam-ondi-Ahman, New Jerusalam, Millennialism, etc. (and smiting, one cannot forget the smiting)

      I see a vast wheat field of entertainment, unreaped.