Monday, September 24, 2007

When Good Men Do Evil Things

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics
In the mid-1990s I was an assistant ward librarian and one Sunday I was browsing the bookshelves in the church library and saw "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" by Juanita Brooks. I think I'd heard about the MMM growing up in the church, but never knew any details. I think that the only thing I knew was that it was an Indian massacre that enemies of the church tried pin on the innocent and righteous Mormons. I have always loved church history so I took the book home. Like polygamy, what I found was very unsettling. It turned out that the massacre involved the Indians, but was actually instigated and carried out by the Mormons against a wealthy wagon train of Arkansas natives passing through Utah on the way to California. They wrongly believed that the wagon train consisted of people who had participated in the mobbing of Mormons in Missouri and Illinois and people who had murdered Joseph and Hyrum Smith and who had recently murdered the apostle Parley P. Pratt in Arkansas. They initially convinced local Indians to attack the wagon train, but when the Indians didn't finish the job they called out the local Mormon militia who came to the pioneers' "rescue" by escorting them out of their encircled wagons under a flag of truce and with a promise of protection and then executed over 120 unarmed and peaceful men, women, and children at point blank range. The only survivors were 16 or 17 children that were too young to tell tales.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is back in the public consciousness due to its date, 9/11/1857, and the recent release of the movie "September Dawn". The church even has an article about the massacre in its monthly magazine, The Ensign. I'd encourage you to read the article since it's pretty short. Even though the church is trying to portray it as favorably for the church as it can, it is still pretty stomach churning. Unfortunately, the article follows the familiar church strategy of simply failing to tell the whole story because the rest of the story is so much worse.

The church protected the mass murderers for over twenty years and then finally gave the government a scape goat: John D. Lee. Last night I read his confession and I'd encourage you to read it because it gives a chilling account of how religious fervor and fanaticism can drive otherwise good men to commit such an heinous atrocity.

What's not clear from either of these articles is the involvement of Brigham Young in setting the entire chain of events into motion and then finally justifying it as a righteous thing that was pleasing to God. Young's justification of it and coverup are described by Lee. But the following information from RandyJ is also very helpful since it it pretty complete. Anyone who doubts that the Mormon temple oaths of secrecy, bloody penalties, and oaths of vengeance were more than symbolic should read Lee's confession and consider the literal realization of those temple covenants on a remote meadow in the Utah mountains.

I could say more, but I'd really rather encourage you to learn about this episode by reading the above articles. It's very pertinent to this day and time because it helps show how fanaticism, religious or ideological, can lead to events such as 9/11/1857 and 9/11/2001 as well other atrocities.