Damian Thompson writes:
Which leading US presidential candidate believes that ancient Israelites migrated to America before Columbus, where they were – get this – visited by Jesus Christ?
Mitt Romney's belief in the Book of Mormon has raised eyebrows. This pseudo-historical fantasy is just about the battiest single idea I encountered when I was researching Counterknowledge [Thompson's forthcoming book]. Yet a man who believes it currently has more delegates to the Republican convention than any other candidate.
Yup, we’re talking about Mitt Romney, who belongs to the only world religion built on a foundation of pure counterknowledge: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To be sure, all religions make claims that the outside world believes to be false. But the Book of Mormon is unique.
Why? Because, unlike the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran, nothing in it actually happened. Nothing.
The “Jaredites” from the Middle East did not travel to America 2,000 years ago and found a civilisation that Mormon “historians” have the nerve to identify as the Olmecs. In fact, the Jaredites never existed.
Israelites did not arrive in the New World in 600 BC and split into Nephites and Lamanites; this is total fiction, devised by young Joseph Smith from New York in the 1820s. And – do I really need to point this out? – Jesus of Nazareth never set foot in America.
Mormonism is the only religion whose major claims (solemnly discussed in Mormon academic journals that have all the credibility of Star Trek fanzines) have been officially declared to be untrue by the Smithsonian Institution.
Every professional archaeologist in the world can produce evidence to show that the “alternative history” of the Book of Mormon is complete bunkum, up there with Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock. So tell us, Mr Romney: why do you still believe it?
Like the popularity in Imperial Britain of the ancient "Jesus visited Glastonbury" story previously questioned in verse by Blake (although at least that could actually have happened - there really was trade between the Ancient Near East and the present West Country), and of British Israelism, the popularity of Mormonism in Imperial America doesn't really come as any surprise.
Furthermore, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and other all officially teach that the Second Coming will occur in America, and is there any American churchgoer who doesn't believe that, deep down? Likewise, just as Mormons locate in Missouri both the Garden of Eden and the future site of Christ's Return and Reign, so the followers of Mother Shipton located (and, in tiny numbers, still do locate) them both in Bedford.
Christianity, and with it the popular reception and re-working of Christian texts and themes, is on the rise both in China and in India. Watch those spaces.