Brigham Young once said: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, he may not have said it but he lived it. What’s it called when you say one thing but do another? Hypo…NO! That’s not it. Ahh! It’s called being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days! It’s not okay for YOU, dear reader, and you should definitely confess to your bishop or branch president about any instance of transgression. But, if any of your duly ordained apostles happens to do it, that’s fine. It’s like polygamy. When God condones it because the ordained leader tells you He condones it, it’s not wrong and we name it something else like Plural Marriage. Whew! That was close. Thank goodness for
deceptive godly propaganda language and it’s essential companion credulity. As for hypocrisy, we ought to rename it, too. How about, apostling or ‘postling?
As we can see, George Orwell proves more prescient and wise than all the Mormon leaders from 1830 to today. Animals being more equal than others, as many of you recall, is from Orwell’s famous allegory, Animal Farm. The book presents the Russian revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin and the exploitation of the citizens that followed. Not only were proletariat and bourgeois exploited by the small, ruling body under Lenin during the revolution, but after Lenin died and Stalin, Trotsky, and others vied for power–Stalin ultimately conniving his way to the top–the people were made to suffer in the name of communism and to consolidate and maintain control. Everyone, aside from the senior leadership (and even those who were not name Stalin) were justifiable sacrifices to preserve people’s faith in the party, its unstoppable destiny, and the leadership that would take them there.
Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Stalin, like many others, took upon him a strong, revolutionary name that meant Man of Steel. He was a not a large man. The non-Russian was born in Georgia with some physical limitations including an underdeveloped arm. Trained in a Georgian Seminary with intention to become a priest, he was actually expelled from the institution before he could receive holy orders but, as some historians like Montefiore have pointed out, he there learned lessons in controlling and manipulating people. It’s no surprise to me that the egomaniacal Young was given or took upon himself the
revolutionary restorationary title, The Lion of the Lord. The moniker was attached to a house built for him.
Lion seems a strange symbol for a representative of the Good Shepherd…an alleged carpenter that really, really, loved sheep. But if you consider the allusion to sheep in the promise of the lion lying down with the lamb, it actually fits remarkably well! In the Biblical sense, since all disciples may be considered sheep and the words lie and lay have their own sexual connotation in Judeo-Christian cannon, it may even be a prophetic title. Brigham certainly did lie with a bunch of women during his lifetime. However, they ought not to be ridiculed for acting as sheep in a man’s world. These women are and were victims of men taking upon themselves the name of God in vain.
The Lion House in Salt Lake City was the second Utah home of Brigham Young, built in 1856. (Remember that year…) The other home, The Beehive House, was built two years earlier. The former boasted twenty bedrooms with gabled windows–quite the extravagance on the virgin frontier. The latter, according to the LDS website, “was the anchor for Brigham Young’s large property holdings.” He had other homes built, of particular note in St. George, Utah, but these were built at a critical time as the saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley.
If you haven’t read “The Devil’s Gate” by David Roberts, you may find the unbiased report on the history of Mormon Handcart Companies a worthwhile if infuriating read. You won’t find milquetoast pandering or highfalutin, apologetic prose and sanctimonious celebrations of faith in the face of adversity. If you’d like another, more concise yet still intriguing discussion, I recommend the Mormon Stories podcast with John Larsen (Episode 1489) titled, “The Worst Regional Conference Ever.” I won’t rehash everything Mr. Larsen says and I wonder if I could duplicate his passion and indignation which I admire. Rather, I want to discuss the Mormon iteration of the cult of death that is Christianity.
Christians love to stress the the New Testament imperative that animal sacrifice is abolished by the sacrifice of Jesus. (This is somehow an expression God’s unending mercy despite their reality that the same God commanded it in the first place.) Christ became the final sacrifice of flesh and blood to atone for the sins of God’s people and, indeed, all mankind that had lived, did live, or ever would live on Earth. Mormon scripture outlines, in the words of Jesus himself to people in America (although there is now prophetic instruction, most recently as of this week, that we should not consider The Book of Mormon as a historical document)1, that with the completion of Jesus’ sacrifice:
…ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.3 Nephi 9:19-20
Perhaps Jesus still requires human sacrifice–the blood and lives of some on the altar to purchase the salvation of others. When I left the church and informed my family, at my request, they were not to respond to my email for a week in any form. I told them I wouldn’t look at anything they sent for at least a that long. About six months later, I received a conventional letter from my parents outlining how disappointed they were in me. They expressed their concern for my eternal welfare and piled shame upon my decision in light of the sacrifices of my ancestors who left Sweden, Denmark, and England to cross the ocean and then a continent to gather to Zion and worship as they wished. Some travelled by handcart, watching their children and parents and friends die along the way. And their sacrifice was to extend to me and my children that same freedom to worship as we please in a free land.
Oh, the irony that, for me, that means worshiping how THEY please…I’m sure many of you understand.
If you think this is unique to my family, it is not. Just posit the question on Reddit’s r/exmormon and prepare to be inundated with hundreds of comments from fellow descendants of Mormon pioneers who were raised to honor the sacrifice of those who died to make the journey to Salt Lake City. The idea is so ubiquitous that a Mormon off their guard would not hesitate to agree with you that the lives lost were a small price to pay. If they realize that you find the idea reprehensible in light of the facts (see David Robert’s book or the John Larsen podcast or dozen’s of contemporary and modern criticisms) they will make their clever plural marriage/polygamy-esque word swap. The behavior is annoying but not uninteresting.
Follow the story and what was asked of these poor people and the reality becomes clear: Despite Christ’s alleged torture and death to end the rite of animal sacrifice, Mormonism continues to celebrate human sacrifice in the name of their faith. And, in 1856, their leaders promoted and even ensured it. I’m not talking about “broken hearts and contrite spirits” which certainly were and are a foundational tenet of the faith. I’m talking about the creation of an environment, practice, and expectation that directly resulted in the unnecessary, preventable deaths of hundreds after periods of unimaginable suffering. The inspired leaders, themselves, are to blame. The culture of shaming those who spoke truth to power and exploiting the “widow’s mite” from the destitute faithful who’d already offered all they had except their lives to “the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion.” And, like all tyrannies, the elite, ruling class glutted themselves upon the crippling burdens placed upon those who viewed the said leaders as called by God, chosen to rule, and ordained by mystical, heavenly power to ensure blessings AFTER the faithful have died. They can’t promise them in the known and tangible world, but they make guarantees of salvation and exhalation for the unknowable, unseeable-and-unseen afterlife!
Coincidentally, one of my favorite bands released a new album this week. One of their songs is playing in my noise-cancelling headphones as I write this in my favorite coffee shop. Here is a lyric that describes a tyrant and I can’t help but think of Brigham Young:
There’s a man who swears he’s GodColdplay, “People of the Pride”
Unbelievers will be shot
There’s a man who walks around
Like he owns the fucking lot
There’s a man who takes his time
From his homemade cuckoo clock
And he makes us march around it
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock
If you don’t yet hate Brigham Young, let me introduce to you Franklin D. Richards and Levi Savage. If anyone could be considered a hero, it would be Savage. If there is a villain it would take an Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, or Heath Ledger to pull off, its Richards. The lesson we learn from Levi Savage’s experience and the totalitarian regime ruling over the 19th century Latter-day Saints, it is that tyrants do not value wisdom at the expense of conformity and obedience. What’s worse, as we will see, the current Mormon narrative celebrates such conformity and repackages the horrific actions of the leadership during this time (and every time) as inspired, faith-promoting, and enviable. And we aren’t talking about using them as cautionary tales but heroic and hallowed.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
Levi Savage was not an idiot. He’d made the journey across the plains and understood the way the weather works in Wyoming during October and November. (I’m from Wyoming. September has its share of blizzards and cold.) Savage may have known that the leadership in Salt Lake City, sitting comfortably in their mansions with shelter, fire, and food were dishonest in telling the eager pioneers just how long the journey would actually take. These men who’d already made the journey themselves, nevertheless
deliberately misrepresented underestimated the distance by several hundred miles! Even after the disaster in which many saints starved or died of exhaustion or froze to death, the leaders that demanded others go out into the wilds to save the struggling pioneers in winter storms, claimed in a church conference that the handcart pioneers had made a miraculous journey in record time! All of it lies and, I’m convinced, not lies told in ignorance of the facts.
Many decisions were made to save money. While Brigham Young oversaw the construction of his second mansion in Salt Lake City, he required the poor saints from Europe to give all their possessions and money to support the effort of migration. And then, for those who couldn’t now afford their own handcart, he offered a solution: the Perpetual Emigration Fund! How about you give all you have to us and then, we will loan back to you some money to make a shitty handcart. But don’t worry, if you survive the trip, you’ll only owe us the money back plus 10% per year. And, oh boy, you get to build the handcart yourself with green wood! Oh, you’re a baker and have never done something like this? What an adventure for you. God showed Nephi how to build an Iron Age, transoceanic ship by himself. How could you miss this deal?
Savage realized that making handcarts of green wood, a perilously late start in August, a greater distance than they were being told, and the scant resources created an impossible situation. He wisely told everyone in a public speech that many of them would die if they left this late. That was something they might be able to change even with green wood and lack of experience. They could gain an advantage with proper timing. They would be better off to wait until the following summer and get an earlier start. For speaking wisdom to them, he was shamed publicly by the ordained leader of he party. Being the most experienced man among them, he realized that the people would die and, without him, many more were likely to die. His sacrifice, to join the fated handcart party, was done for his fellow saints. It certainly could not be for the church and its selfish leadership. After the shaming, he told the group that he would go with them and he would die with them. What would’ve happened had he not gone with him? He did survive the journey, but what if he hadn’t gone? What if he had come later and survived and lived prosperously with good health and happiness and wealth? I’ll tell you how the memory of a wise man would be handled by the church: he would still be considered a pariah. His experience would be told as a cautionary tale. Complete ostracization and ignominy for a man just for daring to be wise and speaking honestly.
You know who didn’t speak honestly? Franklin Richards. Franklin Richards, on his way to Salt Lake City with several other elders returning from the East with horses and all ability to travel with speed, came upon the fated Willey Company in September. Having heard, somehow, that Savage had already warned the pioneers of the very real and likely threat of bitter cold and deep snows with only thin tents and blankets to protect them, Richards proceeded to berate him in-front-of those he already promised to die with. Then, after promising the destitute saints that God would part the storms as he had the Red Sea for Israel, he demanded the fatted calf from their meager herd, had it butchered, and ate it, taking the remainder with he and his companions along their swift journey to Salt Lake City. He was obviously no moron for, upon arrival he quickly informed Brigham Young of the handcart pioneers likely dire condition in central Wyoming. Still, he promised them miraculous deliverance akin to the children of Israel in Exodus. A deliverance they did not experience and to say that they did is to neglect the memory of those who starved, froze, and were buried in shallow graves from Omaha to Casper, WY.
The difference: Levi Savage told his fellow pioneers, “I will die with you,” and Franklin Richards said, “You can die without me.” If ever there was a pig who walked on his hind legs and believed he was more equal than others, it is Frank. And amongst the company he held with Brigham Young and other tyrant-prophets, that’s saying something. Ask yourself, which man is more Christlike? If you are Mormon, which man is considered a special witness of Christ while the other’s story is told to you as one of a man who’s faith wavered?…faith in who/whom or in what? In a world of campaign posters that invite us to “Fuck ______” (name your politician). I think Franklin Richards and Brigham Young fit such a t-shirt or window cling like water to its puddle.
Not a lot has changed in 150 years. The wealthy brethren sit in their palaces in Salt Lake City while they expect the poor and rich alike to sacrifice everything they have and then come across proverbial plains with handcarts. The decision to utilize handcarts and then use green wood in their construction were money saving decisions and little more. They were told that they could not afford to wait nor could they afford wagons when Brigham–one of the wealthiest men in the western United States at the time–needed a second mansion built next door to his just-finished, first mansion. Current leaders could employ thousands of people in the U.S. alone to clean buildings, they actually did years ago. Instead, they expect the rank and file to clean the building, supply all the money for humanitarian aid separate from their tithing, fulfill missions and move members and offer all of their time, talents, and everything to the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth! They sit, protected in their ivory towers while they grow their obscene stock and real estate investment portfolios on the back of consecrated widow’s mites and protected from government taxation, being told that the Soviet Party-esque apostles are God’s anointed that rightly bask in the recognition and then demand everything from the members. They demand that members covenant in temples to “give their own lives, if necessary” to build the church. They are a cult centered around a bronze-aged human sacrifice that revere the practice and hallow it even in this time of their plenty. Brigham Young wouldn’t even let the handcart companies purchase iron to make their wagon wheels because it was too expensive.
Brigham Young, who road in the back of a wagon with plenty of food and bedding, orchestrated this tragedy and Franklin Richards as well as other leaders sold it. Individuals gave up cherished items to make required weight limits. Not only that, but they sacrificed shelter and bedding and food and clothing to reach the allotted weight limit of seventeen pounds. And Brigham managed, in the midst of this poverty, to have his heavy, solid wood furniture carried from the east to Salt Lake City? He walks on his trotters incredibly well while he watches the dedicated, hardworking, loyal and naive Boxer build the windmill for his benefit.
The pioneer anthem, Come, Come, Ye Saints is propaganda at its finest. Contemporary accounts tell us that the captains of the company, on more than one occasion, herded and whipped every child under eight as they moved along the trail because they thought the children were the problem with the companies many delays. This was a forced march–crosses on their shoulders and whips at their backs. If you fell along the trail you were left behind! A man crawled up next to his sick wife in the wagon while they were stopped just to comfort her and was beaten mercilessly for it…while they were stopped! A boy falls down on the road and his beaten with a stick until he gets up–until he wakes up from falling unconscious from malnutrition and exhaustion. Their planned ration, to save money that didn’t need to be saved, was 1200 cal of flour to walk 15 miles each day. That ration was repeatedly cut as the hardship increased. Restocks promised to wait for them at U.S. military outposts along the way, were not there. Most of the people who died, died of starvation when the boiled leather of their boots and wagon wheels failed to make up for the lack of nourishment. But, at least they had they privilege of sacrificing their best calf to a prophet of God.
How many individuals have been sacrificed on the altar of faith–not for themselves? And then, how has the church treated their death and sacrifice? As propaganda to promote their growing investment firm fronted by a church. They ignore the horrid stories and hundreds of not-miracles to tell of the seventeen miracles that are claimed to have happened. Isaac was spared, but the impulse to grotesque obedience is still celebrated even if it means sacrificing your child for your faith.2
We’re still sacrificing people on the altar of faith today. I lived in the neighboring stake from which a woman died doing a handcart reenactment for the youth in Oklahoma. I’m sure that if you asked her bishop or state president they would tell you how tragic it was and also that it’s not a reason to lose faith in God. This woman two left children at home to facilitate this reenactment and died of heat stroke on LDS church-owned property northeast of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I filled the same role she did a couple of years earlier, in the same place. In three days of barely strenuous activity in the summer heat, we had at least three adults taken to the hospital to be treated for heat stroke. Why? Some strange attempt to build the faith of teenagers? I hated it then and, mostly, was already on my way out when my wife and I went to be a ma and pa for a pretend handcart family. Yes, we pushed a handcart. We were lucky. I would certainly never consider my luck a blessing. The woman’s two children and husband will be without her. And I guarantee her death is packaged as a sacrifice for their faith by some clergy-assholes out there.
On that same trek in which the woman died, five of the youth were taken to the hospital including three who were already unconscious when paramedics arrived to rush them to an emergency room. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that the church didn’t offer a dime to this bereaved husband who watched his wife die. You know who will foot any financial expense: good members willing to donate. Crowdfunding from people who don’t know her or her family and a canned apology from the one-hundred-billion-plus-dollar church that exasperatedly reminds everyone that IT bears the name of Jesus Christ as HIS church.
So, here I am exploiting this woman’s memory in a way with which she might disagree and, perhaps those who know her best would also do. I express no shame. I would say the same regarding thirteen year-old girls living under religious tyrannies who are stoned to death for being raped.
Human sacrifice is an idea we have not yet managed to transcend. In coming to terms with it, we will debate abortion. We will also debate whether or not we should feed, clothe, and otherwise honor the life of those forced to birth by our laws. There are slippery slopes and guiding principles will not always be as clearly facile as pundits want us to think that they are. But I hope we can agree with regards to our human brothers and sisters that all animals are equal and no animal is more equal than another. The next barrier will be convincing the zealot that this means a one man or class of men should not have their second mansion built while demanding that others give their money to build it and then take out a loan to come and build it for him…if they survive the journey. One man doesn’t deserve your fatted-calf just because he calls himself a special witness. I mean, isn’t the term special witness evidence enough that these pigs think of themselves as more equal than others?
- Within 48 hours of publishing that LDS Prophet/President instructed members that The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as a book of history, the same report in LDS Living online. (See links in original blog text)
2. Judges 11:30-40