Years ago, I learned that Mormons — not Indians — were primarily responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857.
Proof came from a distraught friend. Bill had researched the matter at length and concluded that Mormon guilt meant the church couldn’t possibly be "true." He left.
It wasn’t the first time I had encountered sordid things in the history of my religious family that never get taught in seminary and Sunday school, the things we try to ignore like some sequestered relative.
Ignoring the less seemly side of something we love protects the easily frightened. And it works, or at least it does until one of the kids asks, "Mom, who’s that crazy guy chained up in the attic?"
When that happens, you have to either continue pretending Uncle Griz isn’t there, or tell them something they aren’t going to want to hear. Unless, of course, they’re a kid like me, who actually finds that stuff really cool.
Bill’s news didn’t cause me to abandon my church. It merely reinforced a deeper belief that human beings — and particularly people who think they’re really special — are marginally functional idiots.
NOTE: This unflattering assessment applies to me, you, all our friends, our moms, anybody we know, anyone we’ve ever heard of, and especially anyone who actually wants to be in charge.
Of course this isn’t the consensus view, especially when it comes to religion. Lots of people want to believe that perfect people lead the way, that being guided by God means those people were automatically elevated to a higher level of smarts.
It rarely works out that way. People don’t stop being flawed just because God gave them an important job. In some cases, it actually makes things worse.
Faith in a church isn’t something that’s easy to hang onto if you expect perfection in all its parts. Dig deep enough with that logic and you’ll be disappointed.
This isn’t just a Mormon thing. It’s a human condition. Ironically, a large part of that condition is how much we enjoy the embarrassing truths in the foundations of others’ beliefs while ignoring them in our own.
Perusing the Bible reveals that prophets didn’t stop being bad just because they got to be prophets. Large sections of the Old Testament read like case studies in crazy.
Even if you believe that Jesus was divine, that doesn’t mean that the people who wrote the New Testament (long after he was dead) were entirely stable. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that more than a few weren’t.
I haven’t read enough of the Quran, the Talmud, Dianetics, or an Oprah biography to say one way or the other, but what are the odds?
Religions, like families, are a messy business. Both involve lots of embarrassing relatives. But the less you know, the easier it is to believe.
In the end, the history of your religion isn’t so much about what others did with it a long time ago than what you’re doing with it now. It might not make you smarter, but it at least ought to make you better.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.