This is a special, joint presentation of Frontline and American Experience- So it is great. Four hours of Mormonism might be a bit much for most people but it was full of interesting history and the sort of factual information and first hand accounts that make documentaries great. The film is divided into two parts, but neither of them is particularly complete. They should really be watched together.

So, here is Mormonism is two paragraphs:

In the 1820s Joseph Smith was a “Gold Seer,” Basically he put his head in a hat and danced around and told prospectors where they could find gold (they never found much). In 1827 he wrote a story about finding some golden plates in the ground and translating them. Essentially, Jesus came to what is now America during the three days between his death and resurrection to teach the Hebrew people who were here.  So, he convinced his family and a few others of this and got run out of town. He moved further and further west over the coming years gathering followers and getting run out of town. Along the way, he came up with the idea of plural marriage- which is not in the book of Mormon. That was convenient, since he was sleeping with about 40 women, at least 10 of whom were currently married. Eventually a mob killed him in Illinois but by that time he had thousands of followers. Most cults die when their prophet gets killed but Brigham Young took the cult and turned it into a full fledge religion. Young seems like less of a scam artist and more of a “true believer.” Rather than using plural marriage as a way to have affairs and marry lots of young girls, Young used the opportunity to take in widows.

Following the murder of Smith, Young took his people out of America, to the Mexican territory (Now Utah). But less than a year later it became part of America – too bad. At one point they decide to help themselves to some cattle from a passing wagon train, but more of a fight is aroused than expected. So the Mormons tricked the wagon train into surrendering, then they murdered all of them. – Classy. Time goes on and the group becomes less and less secluded as the nation grows up around them. They change some so that they aren’t so reviled (like dropping polygamy) but they keep some creepy stuff too- like super racism and secret Temple ceremonies.

I know, I know. I just said a bunch of negative stuff but that was the interesting stuff. There are a lot of happy families too, and a bunch of good philanthropic work.

Did you know:

In answering the question of why Blacks weren’t allowed in the church, the Mormon President said that the only reason Blacks were allowed to survive the flood was so that Satan would have representation on Earth.

Mormons were the first people on the ground to clean up after hurricane Katrina.

Mormons who question Mormon leaders or doctrines are ex-communicated (which includes losing contact with their family).

There are still 30-60 thousand Mormons practicing polygamy- but they are not accepted by the larger church.

Joseph Smith ran for President of the United States.