It’s easy for atheists to dismiss a faith that abides by what was written on some golden plates, ostensibly found just outside New York by one Joseph Smith in 1823. But in the case of U.S.-centric Mormons, that “nonsense” is reportedly to the tune of $30 billion worth of assets, so who are we to diss it? And if you’re not a believer, then you probably won’t know these eye-opening facts about those who call themselves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the LDS Church.
20. They believe that Mary was no virgin…
Perhaps unexpectedly, Mormons abide by one belief that makes some scientific sense: specifically, that Mary wasn’t a virgin when she gave birth to baby Jesus. So while they still see God as his father, they concur that Jesus was created in, well, the normal manner. As LDS Church leader Bruce R. McConkie states in his 1958 book Mormon Doctrine, “Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.”
19. …and that God used to be human
So with the Mormons’ relatively literal interpretation of how Jesus came to be, you’d guess that God must’ve once been some regular dude wandering around and picking which woman was worthiest. And, indeed, founder Joseph Smith basically confirmed this, saying, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know… that he was once a man like us.”
18. The CIA and FBI recruit Mormons for their incorruptibility
That squeaky clean Mormon image seems to have real-world payoffs, as the CIA and FBI apparently like to employ them. One CIA recruiter said that this is because Mormons are obedient, have been brought up in strict hierarchies and are less likely to go off the rails like non-Mormons. That extra foreign language comes in handy, too!
17. Mormons believe that Native Americans are ancient Israelites
The Mormons like to connect their faith to the U.S. whenever possible. The golden plates that contain the Mormon doctrine were found near New York, after all. It’s also believed that Jesus will return again and head to Missouri and that, er, Native Americans are actually ancient Israelites. And that last point may seem weird, but it’s at least better than thinking of Native Americans as savages that need to be culled or penned into reservations, right?
16. Mormons are terrified of water
Plenty of people suffer from thalassophobia – an irrational fear of the sea – but for Mormons this phobia is somewhat legitimized. How? Because they believe that Satan controls all the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans. For this reason, Mormons avoid swimming where possible – and boating is a big no-no, too.
15. Mormon membership has doubled since the ’80s
Religion seems to be on the decline in much of the Western world, but the plucky Mormons have defied the trend. Indeed, membership of the LDS Church now stands at around 15 million – twice what it was in the 1980s. This is likely due to every Mormon man being sent on overseas missions: for two years, they work at spreading the word of the Church.
14. Plenty of Mormons are bilingual
And that commitment to preachy jet-setting means that many Mormons are fluent in a foreign language. Indeed, the Mormon heartland of Utah has become an unlikely multilingual hub, with the National Security Agency setting up ‘language analyst’ offices there. What’s more, 85 percent of senior Mormon students at Brigham Young University identify as bilingual.
13. They say that dinosaurs come from other planets
Dinosaurs are somewhat of a trump card for disproving that whole Adam and Eve business. But the plucky Mormons still reckon that Earth only dates back to 7,000 years ago. To explain the presence of dinosaur bones, then, it’s said that these are just unused bits and pieces from other planets that God decided not to use, throwing them to Earth like unwanted Legos to test our faith in him.
12. Mormons think that polygamy might be totally fine in the afterlife
The LDS Church has a long relationship with polygamy, having okayed its practice until 1890 before the U.S. government cracked down on it. Mormons still haven’t completely let go of the idea, however. Furthermore, it’s thought that those multiple marriages may also all be honored in heaven.
11. Boxer Jack Dempsey was one of them
Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey was the Mike Tyson of the ’20s. And given that he was a tough sort both in the ring and out, he’s perhaps the last person you’d expect to be a Mormon. Nevertheless, Dempsey was baptized into the LDS Church at the age of eight. Repentant about his unholy life, he once said, “I’m proud to be a Mormon. And ashamed to be the Jack Mormon that I am.”
10. God lives in outer space
On several levels, Mormons embrace the cosmos, accepting – perhaps after commercial air travel became a thing – that God isn’t just sitting around just above the clouds. According to them, though, God’s home is on a planet near to the star Kolob. He presumably went there after impregnating Mary, who then had to settle for the shepherd Joseph to bring up Jesus with her.
9. Mormons created their own state
For two years the Mormons had their own distinct area – albeit a provisional and unofficial one – called the State of Deseret. Somewhat greedily, this was to take up a big chunk of the western U.S., particularly parts of Mexico acquired by the U.S. in the Mexican Cession. But a compromise was reached when the U.S. government allowed the Mormons to govern the newly created Territory of Utah in 1850.
8. Black people, er, turn white when they become Mormon
Mormon teaching has it that dark-skinned people of Africa are cursed descendants of Cain, the first murderer ever. Furthermore, black people could only become Mormon priests from 1978, under the assumption that their skin would turn white as they were “purified.” Incidentally, this is around the time that Michael Jackson’s skin started getting lighter… was he a closet Mormon, perhaps?
7. There’s life on the moon
Continuing with the theme of wild cosmic speculation, Mormons at least used to believe that there were people living on the moon. This kind of thinking was common back in the 19th century, in fact, but respected Mormon Philo Dibble went further by detailing these people. Apparently, they dressed very similarly to Quakers, lived to one thousand years old and were about six feet tall.
6. The world’s most famous gun maker was Mormon
We don’t usually associate guns with the mostly peaceful Mormons – except for that war they had in 1838. So it’s kind of surprising that John Browning, the renowned designer of firearms like Winchester rifles and Browning machine guns, was a Mormon. But then again, the Second Amendment is also pretty much a religion to many Americans…
5. Twilight is a Mormon allegory
The teen vampire series The Twilight Saga is the work of practicing Mormon author Stephenie Meyer. And while Meyer has denied that the works are inspired by her faith, all the signs are there. Heroine Bella doesn’t consume alcohol, tea, caffeine or tobacco, for example, and subserviently does household chores like cooking and cleaning. Edward, meanwhile, is a beyond beautiful human being brought back to life – much how Mormons describe angels.
4. Mormons can’t be alone in a room with the opposite sex
Being alone with a member of the opposite sex isn’t allowed in the LDS Church in order to “avoid even the appearance of evil.” What’s more, there’s no dating until turning 16, and even then it’s only permitted to date in groups. But then this is a faith where around 40,000 people still practice polygamy, so maybe the group dates are intended to give the guys more choice?
3. Non-Mormons end up in sexless heaven
With their historical propensity for polygamy, Mormons are not against the idea of sex, and we’ve already established that plenty of it awaits them in heaven. But what of non-believers? Well, they still get to go to heaven, but to a lesser level where they must exist in a sexless state for all eternity. Isn’t that actually the definition of hell?
2. Mormons wear special underwear
Members of the LDS Church wear sacred undergarments – said to be “the whole armor of God” – as a blatant physical hint not to sin. And there have even been tales of Mormons being saved from car accidents through wearing their special underwear. Still, you probably shouldn’t use them instead of a seat belt, just in case…
1. Napoleon Dynamite is a Mormon
Jon Heder, the guy playing the titular character in Napoleon Dynamite, became a legend thanks to his turn in the hilarious cult comedy. But if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen him in a whole load more movies, it could be because he’s a practicing Mormon and has had to reject raunchier roles because of his faith.