…Get into the harness, or get out of the way!”
Oh, what to make of this complex character, Brigham Young?!
(Brigham Young cracks the whip on the LDS followers.)
Here’s just a smattering of what I picked up about this great Mormon leader:
- He was a redhead. (I don’t know why this surprised me; probably because I’ve never met a redheaded Mormon, and I know a lot of Mormons!)
- He claimed that he “only swore in the pulpit,” which I thought was kind of hilarious, since usually one would associate churchgoing with using LESS profanity, out of respect for God.
- He didn’t grow up Mormon. In fact, he was a Methodist for a while…
- He didn’t know how to read.
- At first, he was very averse to plural marriage.
As many others have said already, if we didn’t know these aspects about him were true, Brigham Young seems akin to Paul Bunyan– that is, he sounds like the protagonist of a tall tale centered around the American west. Considering he was such a fascinating guy just in and of himself, it’s easy to ignore the spiritual “repercussions” his leadership style had on so many people. But once we do, that’s when this American western drama becomes a horror story.
The Mighty Brigham Young, folk hero?
How can a man so devoted to his Heavenly Father preach against one of the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not kill”) by justifying mob-ocracy? In fact, I believe his direct words were that if anyone else dared bother the Mormons, they [the Mormons] would be justified in “cutting their damned throats.” That’s pretty heavy stuff, though I suppose he did feel they had been boxed into a corner of some kind (that corner being Utah), and had to lash out with whatever they had against “American meddlers.” As Mr. Turner pointed out, Mormons and politics never did have a harmonious relationship, which will make Mitt Romney an interesting candidate for study in the future of LDS.
Then we have Blood-Atonement: let’s not forget about that little instance of “spiritual charity.” This scared me less than other things I have learned about the Church of LDS, but I can understand why it would horrify some people. As John Turner put it, Blood-Atonement represented a “chilling perversion of the Golden Rule” by advocating harm to others and feelings of guilt associated with the crucifixion. Now, as we all know, guilt and religion are no strangers to each other; in fact, they seem downright married in some cases. But when it is put in the following terms, one must really begin reckoning how he/she regards Jesus’ absolute sacrifice in a modern age:
“Will you love that man or woman/brother or sister enough to shed their blood? That’s what Jesus did.”
This example of fear-mongering within the Mormon community is definitely a troubling aspect in the Mormon community of Young’s time.
Not to geek out about ol’ Brigham, but I’m really fascinated by him still. He seems like (pardon my language, here) an asshole and a bully, but also a brilliant, dynamic, fervent leader who believed ardently in God and his own actions. I am doing a little bit of research on him on my own, and getting my Mormon cousins to give me their views about him as a central historical figure who shaped their faith. Therefore, I will probably be posting about him again later this semester!