Will Mormons Preserve American Civilization?

Inspired by a hint from Mormon sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, Josh Levin has a piece at Slate suggesting that Mormonism might be for American culture what the Catholic Church was for Rome: a time capsule.

He gets excited, especially, about the Mormons’ capacity for resilience and self-reliance.

As far as organizational practices go, a 2007 church pamphlet recommends that families put together “a [three-month] supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet” as well as stores of wheat, white rice, and beans for “longer-term needs.”* (Seventy-two-hour preparedness kits will suffice in a pinch.) The church, practicing what it preaches, owns a silo in Salt Lake City filled with 19 million pounds of wheat. The Mormons’ ideological preparations for the end of America include the widely held belief that the United States will not endure—and that when the Constitution “hangs by a thread,” Mormons will be there to save it.

He also points out Mormonism’s status as the American religion par excellence:

Mormonism is an American religion. It was birthed in this country, and the church’s missionary work has made the religion one of the most-recognizable American institutions around the world. If the U.S. government dissolves or the continent gets submerged by rising seas, the Mormons have more reason than most to stick around. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds that the framers of the Constitution were divinely inspired, that American Indians are partly descended from an ancient Israelite tribe called the Lamanites, and that upon his return, Jesus Christ will rule both in the old Jerusalem and on American soil.

That’s not even the half of it. Explore the great Mormon settlements of Utah and you’ll see the American dream laid out before you; wide, orderly streets (plenty of room for SUVs), sprawling neighborhoods, economic conservatism mixed with an informal safety net (no big government necessary), fantastic manners, simple churches (thrift and practicality), and resplendent temples (to one-up Europe). Traveling in Latin America, I’ve found that the only place to find a basketball court—and be reminded of the good ol’ U.S.A.—is every single Mormon church. The list goes on. For a certain, though mostly nonexistent dreamland picture of America, Mormonism is the perfect time capsule.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.