My husband and I were having one of our interminable discussions about the church (he brings it up every. damned. day.) the other night, and it dawned on me that the story is actually very familiar. Bear with me.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there were a couple of con men. They had the perfect con, too. They went before the emperor, and told him of this beautiful cloth they had, which was full of amazingly wonderful virtue. The emperor was intrigued. “Tell me about this cloth,” he said.
“Oh, it’s magnificent. It will allow you to know, in an instant, if anyone is untrustworthy or dishonest.”
“How so?” the emperor asked.
“Why, only those people who are transparently honest will be able to see the cloth. Anyone else will insist there is nothing there.”
The emperor nodded wisely, and then, having suspected his prime minister was not quite above-board in his dealings, promptly ordered a suit.
“Your highness must understand,” cautioned the con men, “that this fabric is priceless, and to make an entire suit will be quite costly.”
“The money is not an issue,” the emperor said, and sent them off with a bag full of gold.
The two men rented a house, purchased a loom and installed it prominently in the attic, and then sat on their asses and drank a lot of ale.
After a month or so, the emperor was curious to know what progress was being made on his suit of new clothing, and, deciding to kill two birds with one stone, sent his prime minister to check on the status.
When the con men ushered the prime minister into the attic, he looked around curiously but saw, well, nothing. One of the men went over to the far wall where a rack was hanging, and held out what he said was a length of this miraculous cloth.
The prime minister squinted, but still saw nothing, and had only just opened his mouth to say so when it occurred to him that he would be signing his own death warrant. Therefore he praised the fabric in fulsome tones, and promised to take the news of the progress back to the emperor. The con men ushered him out, and as soon as the door was closed behind him, burst into loud, raucous laughter.
The king was delighted to hear the news not only of the progress of his suit, but to know that his prime minister was, indeed, an honest man.
A week went by, and a messenger arrived from the two men asking for another payment. The cloth was all woven, they said, and now they needed to purchase the golden thread with which to stitch it together, and the precious gems and pearls to sew onto it. So the emperor sent his valet to again check the progress and to take the gold.
The valet, too, saw nothing at all. But he was a sage and canny man, and knew that to say he saw nothing would be to sign his own death warrant (the king was notorious for putting dissenters to death), so he, too, praised the miraculous fabric.
Two more weeks went by, and one day a messenger arrived at the palace. The suit was ready, he told the emperor, and would be delivered the next day. The emperor was ecstatic, and he arranged a parade so that everyone in his fair kingdom would be able to see (or not) his fine new suit.
The next morning, therefore, he was ready in his chambers, having been bathed and scented. He sat in his robe, waiting, until the two men were ushered in. They unfolded the wraps, and held up the emperor’s new suit. He stared at it, dumbfounded. I can’t see anything at all, he thought. Egads! Am I then untrustworthy? No, of course not. I’m a good emperor, and I take good care of my people. But I can’t let them see that I can’t see any fabric, for then they would lose their faith in me.
So he allowed the men to clothe him in his new garments, and then proceeded majestically down the main staircase in the palace, through the grand entrance hall, and out the door. He was preceded down the streets of his town by servants clearing the way, and clearing the horse dung off the streets so that he would not ruin his fine new suit by having it dragged through horse dung. He was followed by 12 little boys who were holding up the train of his suit.
Everyone in the village stared until their eyes seemed ready to pop out, but all, remembering the virtues of the fabric, hastily praised it, oohing and aahing. Then, as the emperor was about halfway through the town–feeling most uncomfortable, for it was a windy day and his willie was flapping around most unpleasantly–something happened.
A little boy started to laugh. His mother hastily tried to shush him, but to no avail. His laughter grew louder, and louder, and heartier and heartier. “Hush, child!” his mother hissed again. “You’ll draw attention to us.”
“But Mother!” he gasped through his chortles, “The Emperor is buck naked! He’s not wearing any clothing at all!” And he laughed so much that he fell to the street, clutching his belly and rolling around, gasping for breath.
Suddenly the emperor realised he’d been taken, but good, but a bunch of charlatans. And sure enough, he realised, he was standing in front of his people buck naked. His courtiers cautiously observed him, not knowing how to react. But his valet, a sagacious man, rushed forward and wrapped a cloak around the emperor and assisted him into a carriage and took him back to the palace.
Everyone in the palace grew a little wiser that day, and vowed not to be taken in again ever again.
When I told my husband that the church is just like the story of the emperor’s new clothing, he asked me what that was. Can you believe it? He’d never heard the story. So I told it to him. But the mormon version goes something like this:
Once upon a time, there was a young man who craved wealth and power. He took money from people who believed that he had a special seer stone that would show him where buried treasure lay hidden. Only no treasure was ever found.
He wasn’t getting very wealthy or powerful through this method, though, so he had to try a new technique.
Gold plates, that’s the ticket. He would be given gold plates by an angel, and he would start a new religion, with himself at the head. That would give him power, he thought, and with power, one can always find people to provide wealth.
So he started telling stories of an angel who had appeared to him in his bedroom, who had given him, after four years of waiting, miraculous golden plates that had been inscribed by peoples who had come to the Americas in ancient days from Israel. But no one could see the plates. One had to have faith. It was kind of like how the saviour showed Thomas the holes in his hands and feet and the wound in his side, and said Thomas believed because he had seen, but blessed were those who had not seen, and had believed.
So no one got to see the golden plates. And stories were told of how Joseph sat on one side of a curtain, translating from the golden plates whilst a scribe sat on the other side of the curtain, never getting to see the plates.
Oh, sure, eventually Joseph realised he needed some witnesses, so he got some friends together who claimed they were able to see and heft the plates with their own hands. And then there were three special witnesses, who got to see the plates with their spiritual eyes.
Anyone else was shit out of luck, though, because once the translation was through, the angel took the plates back up into heaven with him.
The stories of how he obtained the plates, and the so-called first vision, continued to change over time, becoming more and more miraculous. And the true story of how the plates were translated was hidden until many long years afterward, when people found out that their romantic image was not true, that, in fact, he had stuck his head into a hat with his seer stone, and the character or word had miraculously appeared, and he spelled it out to his scribe, who recorded it. And it was the word of God, pure and undefiled, and if there were any errors, they were the errors of men, because this was a perfect book.
And people believed. And Joseph grew in wealth and power, and, as many men in power do, got to be quite full of himself. And he decreed that God had ordained plural marriage for men, and he did have many and numerous wives and concubines, and in none of these things did he sin, for he was ordered by an angel with a flaming sword, who was going to cut off Joseph’s willie if the woman he was currently pursuing refused to align with him.
Joseph paid the price for his hubris, as many men often do, and went down in mormon history as a martyr.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But Joseph, like those fabled con men of old, managed to convince people that these miraculous things did indeed happen. His enemies who opposed him by telling the truth were ground into the dirt. Fortunately, the internet came along, and those things that were hidden became known. No more gold plates. Nothing but a religion limping along buck naked, its figurative willie hanging out for everyone to see.
What do they want? Listen to conference. They want you to be obedient to God (which means being obedient to them, because they speak for God). They want you to pay your tithing to God (which means giving your money to them, because they are God’s messengers on earth). They want you to deny everything about you that makes you human, and be perfect. If you do not fit their ideals, they want you to adjust yourself until you do. They claim unconditional love, but their love (if love it is), bears unbearably heavy conditions.
Yep. The mormon church is nothing more than a new look at an old story. For shame.