No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
This admonition hasn’t stopped the LDS Church from trying however. Anthropologist Daymon Smith, in The Book of Mammon, contends that the LDS Church tries to serve both God and mammon, prophet and profit. The result is an organization that is too corporate to be truly religious, and too religious to be truly corporate (members’ deference to ‘inspired’ church leaders makes competition and accountability difficult).
The book recounts Daymon Smith’s experiences in the Church Office Building, where he worked as a media evaluator. Daymon gives us a rare inside-look into the church’s business practices, day-to-day operations, and office politics. Thread throughout the book are fascinating anecdotes about Mormon history and astute insights about Mormonism more generally.
The Book of Mammon is a must-read for serious students of Mormonism, but Daymon’s writing may deter the lay reader. Much of the book reads like an 19th-century exposé. It’s wordy, and flamboyantly so. I personally found it exhausting—initially, at least. It’s as if Daymon feels the need to prove his erudition on every page, lest the reader forgets he has a PhD. Thankfully, he does tone it down later in the book (or perhaps I just got used to it). The style wasn’t totally without its charms, however. It did occasionally make for fun and playful read.
My reservations about the style aside, I strongly recommend this book–especially to my Mormon friends. This is, in a sense, a vigorously pro-Mormon book. Daymon Smith is trying to rescue Mormonism from the LDS Church. Correlation and corporatism have replaced some of Mormonism’s finer truths. I have expressed a similar concern at this blog before.
Lastly, because many of you won’t read the book (it is, after all, 400 pages and $25 bucks), I want to share some of my favorite quotes and factoids from the book:
- “There is too much time given to corporations, stocks, bonds, politics, etc. by our leaders to please me. We are in all kinds of business interest.” — Brigham Young Jr., April 1890
- The LDS Church, as a church, doesn’t actually exist. It is a corporation, and was incorporated by Brigham Young in 1851.
- Eastern bankers found the LDS Church a sound financial investment, due to Mormons’ “sense of community,” “obedience to authority,” and “uniquely productive work ethic.” Similar attributes led sociologist Max Weber to compare Mormons to the German Army.
- Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley “made his fortune on stolen timber and child labor,” to quote his grandson, Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley. An entry from Charles’ journal reads: “It has become the custom in the church to give high seats in the synagogue to men who have made ‘money’.”
- President Heber J. Grant was the subject of a federal investigation in 1920 because of alleged war profiteering by the Sugar Trust (Mormons had a monopoly on beet sugar).
- In 1981, the LDS Church released the ‘Quad’–a combination scripture set (complete with footnotes and chapter headings) that many Mormons use today. Initially, sales for the new scriptures were sluggish. The CEO of Deseret Book worried that the new emphasis on Jesus was to blame (the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon was subtitled, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”). The more likely culprit was Deseret Book itself, which heavily advertised the pricey leather-bound sets to the exclusion of cheaper ones.
- Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, amid the Quads’ disappointing sales, Ezra Taft Benson made “flooding the earth” with Books of Mormon a theme throughout his presidency.
- Lorenzo Snow instituted the 10-percent tithe, and stripped bishops of stewardship over their congregations’ tithes.
- The LDS Church was working on (but eventually scrapped) a Mormon alternative to the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook.
- Of General Conference: “[T]he speakers seem to be conspirators in some extended Stanley Milgram study. How diminished can the content be, and still command silence, if spoken by a “prophet”?”
- The last year the LDS Church publicly disclosed its finances was 1959.
- Computers issue and sign mission calls. These computers employ an algorithm that sends missionaries primarily to those areas that will yield the most tithes. (Why the church presence in Latin America, then? The converts may be poorer, but they are also more numerous.)
- Half a million dollars are spent every year on vehicles for general authorities.
- The LDS Church once urged members to keep a one-year supply of food, but they suspected most members weren’t heeding this counsel. The church commissioned a survey to see how much food storage the average member has. The majority kept only a three-month supply, so the church lowered the bar and made that the new ideal.
- The LDS Church gives an estimated 1-2% of its annual revenue to charity (comparable to Walmart’s rate). “I would not be surprised if more was spent on PR than on those good works which are PR’ed before men.”
- “Even as early as 1962 David McKay expressed private doubts about Correlation, suggesting … that by these same means the early Christian church was made to stumble into darkness …”
- A group of African-American Mormons (the Genesis Group) submitted a script to the LDS Church for a play about black Mormons from the 1830s to the Civil War. The church approved the play, so long as they omitted the references to Elijah Abel’s priesthood ordination and Brigham Young’s polygamous wives, among other things.
- In 2009, the LDS Church not only vicariously baptized the late St. Damian of the Roman Catholic Church, but also married him to a spiritual wife.
- The FBI consulted with the LDS Church after the 9/11 attacks to model some of their security systems after the church’s genealogical software.
- The LDS Church initially declined to purchase the domain name Mormon.com. When its owner turned it into a porn site, a wealthy member bought it for upwards of a million dollars and donated it to the church.
- The LDS Church attempted to trademark the term ‘Mormon’, but were denied by the U.S. Trademark and Patents Office.
- The author was asked to evaluate church media geared toward ‘Latinos’. He ruffled feathers when he responded that ‘Latino’ is a fictitious demographic, imagined by advertisers to conveniently lump Mexicans, Chileans, and others into a single group. His boss threatened him with probation for being “too academic, too verbose.”
- A church contractor from 1997 to 2000 bribed the Argentine government to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars to expedite national identity cards for missionaries. Other documents that were needed to legitimize the church’s presence in Argentina and were harder to procure were forged.