Alternative Altars

Alternative AltarsMany new religions and religious sects were founded in America in the mid-19th century, including Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, Christian Science, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Scientology. Many of these new religions arose out of popular Christian denominations, and some drew from Eastern religious and Buddhist texts for inspiration. Christian Science and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had complex and sometimes contentious relationships with the U.S. courts.

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Religious freedom also meant the freedom to innovate, and the American spirit has generated its own new forms of religious life. New immigration in the 19th century expanded America’s religious diversity. But America was also developing new religious movements from within. The 19th and 20th centuries saw religious pioneers who, although not newcomers to America, were trying to make spiritual sense of the world and were restless with existing religious and cultural norms. As historian Robert Ellwood describes, they worshipped at “alternative altars.”

Among those who contributed to the flowering of religious diversity in America was a group of thinkers known as Transcendentalists. The name was first intended as a criticism by others because of their lofty ideas, influenced as they were by the spiritual vistas of the East. Today the Transcendentalists are primarily remembered through the major literary figures belonging to the movement, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and his younger colleague Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862). They were hungry for the insights they could gain from the Eastern religious texts then beginning to be available in translation. Emerson read translations of Chinese and Hindu scriptures and found in their wisdom an alternative to both passionate evangelicalism and “corpse cold” Unitarianism. If Americans would embrace the ideas and literatures of China and India, he believed they would realize that a common spirit runs through the ancient and the modern, the Eastern and Western, and the Hindu and Christian worlds.

In 1845 a young Thoreau built a rustic cabin on the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. “I went to the woods,” he wrote, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” What is less often remembered is that Thoreau spent considerable time at Walden reading translations of the Hindu and Buddhist texts just beginning to be circulated among New England’s literary elite. His own most renown work, Walden (1854), is replete with references to Hinduism and Buddhism and, more generally, to the ideas of withdrawal from the world, non-attachment, discipline, and re-birth that many of his readers have identified as derived from the East. Thoreau immersed himself in Eastern religious texts to a greater degree than did Emerson, and he was also more blatantly critical of Christianity. In his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), he clearly registers his preference for Eastern traditions. While citing Jesus as an exemplar, he speaks more intimately of “my Buddha,” a gesture that cost him dearly in reviews.

While Transcendentalism was a small movement generally confined to New England intellectuals, Spiritualism was a religious movement that gained much more widespread and popular attention in the mid-19th century. The term was used to identify a loose set of beliefs and practices involving communication with the dead. In Hydesville, New York, young Maggie and Kate Fox, after hearing strange rappings in their house, learned to act as interpreters of what they understood to be visitors from the spirit world. Though by no means the first to claim direct contact with their ancestors, their experiences sparked a wildfire of public interest in communicating with the ancestral spirits and learning about the spiritual welfare of relatives and friends. While many spiritualists still identified themselves as Christians, their interest in the occult and their critique of Christianity placed them outside the dominant religious culture.

For some, involvement in Spiritualism was part of broader religious questioning and experimentation. Such was the case for Madame Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), a Russian immigrant, and Henry Steele Olcott (1832-1907), a respected corporate lawyer, who formed the Theosophical Society in 1875. In Theosophy they sought to uncover the “secret” workings of the divine, tracing current philosophies and religions back to their supposed “common origins” in the Ancient East. Theosophists drew their inspiration from the Neo-Platonic and Gnostic writings of the first three Christian centuries in the West and from recently published Buddhist, Hindu, and Chinese texts. While Madame Blavatsky’s discernment of a common “Secret Doctrine” clouded the distinctions within and among Eastern and Western religions, it nonetheless generated a flurry of interest in the world’s religions.

Not all new religious movements emphasized this intellectual and spiritual turn to the East. Christian Science, for example, responded to the rise of science—including medical science—to new cultural prominence. Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) grew up in a New England Congregational Church. As she suffered through the death of loved ones, complications in marriage, and physical and emotional ill health, she found that the church of her youth no longer gave her strength. Instead she found much comfort and inspiration in the healing techniques of Phineas Quimby, a popular “mind-cure” leader, and in the Biblical testimonies to Jesus’ healing the sick. Her work Science and Health with Keys to the Scriptures (1875) proclaimed what she understood to be the “true” Christian message: that religion and science, matter and spirit, the divine father and the divine mother are all one in the divine mind. In this understanding of reality, all humans can attain perfection, and religious faith is a key to mental and physical well-being.

Eddy and her followers rejected the emerging field of medical science but used the terminology of scientific experimentation and evidence to bring a “modern” sensibility to their faith. While Christian Science began as a spiritual journey of one woman on the margins of mainline religion, it grew into a religious institution of considerable size, wealth, and prestige. From its first charter in 1879, the Church came to include over 1,000 separate churches by Eddy’s death in 1910. Three years before her death, Eddy founded The Christian Science Monitor, a news publication with the goal “to injure no man but to bless mankind.” The publication continues to this day and is published in downtown Boston, just steps away from the Mother Church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Today, the Mother Church includes members in over 130 countries and is home to the Mary Baker Eddy Library and Mapparium—an attraction for Christian Science and non-Christian Science tourists alike. Globally, there are nearly 2,000 Christian Science reading rooms and Christian Science Church branches and societies in 70 countries.

Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more widely known as the Mormon Church, is another thriving religious community with founding roots in the mid-19th century. In 2018, the Church released a statement requesting that the shortened phrase “Mormon Church” no longer be used, and that adherents to the faith no longer be referred to as “Mormons.” Though the term  “Mormon” is not derogatory, it is no longer accepted within the Church. Adherents are now to be referred to as “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “Latter-day Saints.”

The story of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints begins with Joseph Smith (1805-1844), who had the profound experience of receiving messages from a heavenly courier named Moroni. Through this angel’s guidance, Smith is said to have discovered and translated an ancient text that became known as the Book of Mormon, which Smith published in 1830. Aided by God and guided by the Book, Smith led his followers first to Missouri and then to Illinois, where he was ultimately killed in 1844 by an angry mob of Christians and, perhaps, dissidents from inside the faith. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, the community then traveled to the Salt Lake in a territory later known as Utah and established their own state, known as Deseret—a new Zion where life would be based on the teachings of their holy book.

From the beginning, Latter-day Saints aimed to cultivate the temple of the body by avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco; to mirror the fatherhood and motherhood of God by sealing oneself in marriage, to practice baptism of the living for the sake of the dead; and to work for the spiritual and material progress of the religious group itself by practicing polygamy, giving generously to the Church, and establishing a government shaped by spiritual law. In the 1890s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had already burgeoned to almost a quarter million. By 1950 over a half million Latter-day Saints lived in Utah alone. There are now an estimated 4.5 million Latter-day Saints in America.

In the 1950s, L. Ron Hubbard’s book, Dianetics, brought Scientology to a national and international audience. Hubbard, a prolific novelist, former naval officer, and pilot, founded the Church of Scientology, a religion that understands its ultimate goal to be “true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all” and whose “roots lie in the deepest beliefs and aspirations of all great religions.” The influence of Hubbard’s own extensive global travels can be seen in the description of the religion as a bridge between “Eastern philosophy and Western thought,” which the Church understands to be “Man’s first real application of scientific methodology to spiritual questions.” In 1993, after three decades of conflict over the matter, the Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exempt status to all Scientology organizations, a decision that hinged on the answer to the question of whether Scientology is, in fact, a “religion.” The removal of a leaked internet video from YouTube in 2008 which featured Tom Cruise speaking passionately about his commitment to Scientology sparked intense cyber attacks by the group Anonymous which had targeted Church websites. Despite this ongoing battle and challenges to Scientology’s legitimacy as a religion in places like Germany, Hubbard’s writings are now available in over fifty languages.

All of these new religious movements encountered opposition, either by Christians or by the United States legal system—or both. A sample of anti-Mormon sentiment may be glimpsed in Josiah Strong’s Our Country, first published in 1886, and in the missionary tract entitled, “Mormonism: The Islam of America,” published in 1912. Mormonism, Scientology, and Christian Science have encountered legal challenges to their beliefs and practices. Mormons faced the resistance of U.S. law for their practice of polygamy, which was prohibited by law in 1890, and for attempting to establish a theocracy, which faded after Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896. In the late 20th century, individual Christian Scientists have also been brought to court for refusing access to hospital care for their children. However, both the Church of Christ, Scientist and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have flourished, home-grown contributions to America’s growing religious diversity.

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Excerpts from the Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson’s encounter with the ideas of India was through the scriptures, especially the Upanishads (which he refers to as the Vedas) and the Bhagavad Gita. The influence of the idea of the non-duality of the soul and the Supreme can be seen in his poem “Brahma,” which paraphrases some of the ideas of the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2). It was greeted with more criticism than praise when it was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1857.

I owed—my friend and I owed—a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Geeta. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.

[From Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, eds., Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909-1914), 7:11.]

In the sleep of the great heats there was nothing for me to read but the Vedas, the bible of the tropics, which I find I come back upon every three and four years. It is sublime as heat and night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble and poetic mind…

[From Letters from Ralph Waldo Emerson to a Friend, 1838-1853,  ed. Charles Eliot Norton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, The Riverside Press, 1900), 28-29.]

In all nations there are minds which incline to dwell in the conception of fundamental Unity…This tendency finds its highest expression in the religious writings of the East, and chiefly in the Indian Scriptures, in the Vedas, the Bhagavat Geeta, and the Vishnu Purana. Those writings contain little else than this idea, and they rise to pure and sublime strains in celebrating it.

[From The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward W. Emerson, Centenary ed., 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-1904), 4:49.]

If the red slayer thinks he slays
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again

Far or forgot to me is near,
Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the Sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

[From Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Brahma,” The Atlantic Monthly, 1 (November 1857), 48.]

Excerpts from the Writings of Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was introduced to Indian thought by Emerson. From 1845-7, he retreated to “confront the essential facts of life” at Walden Pond. His writings make clear that he had the Bhagavad Gita with him. His works A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854) give expression to his inner dialogue with the East.

These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wide men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them according to his ability, by his words and by his life. The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men. Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let “our church” go by the board.

[From Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Boston: Tinckor and Fields, 1854), 117-18.]

In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree within crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

[From Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Boston: Tinckor and Fields, 1854), 318-19.]

Blavatsky and Theosophy

The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky “to study ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences, and to investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man.” Olcott, Blavatsky, and the eclectic band who gathered around them studied what they saw to be the common secret mysteries of the religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and India. In The Key to Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky responds to questions about Theosophy.

Excerpt from Helena P. Blavatsky’s The Key to Theosophy

ENQUIRER: What are the objects of the Theosophical Society?

THEOSOPHIST: They are three, and have been so from the beginning.

1) To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, colour, sex, caste, or creed.

2)  To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the world’s religions and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, such as that of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Zoroastrian philosophies.

3) To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially. These are, broadly stated, the three chief objects of the society…

ENQUIRER: What are, in your view, [the] causes [preventing the establishment of a Universal Brotherhood]?

THEOSOPHER: First and foremost, the natural selfishness of human nature.  This selfishness, instead of being eradicated, is daily strengthened and stimulated into a ferocious and irresistible feeling by the present religious education, which tends not only to encourage, but positively to justify it.  People’s ideas about right and wrong have been entirely perverted by the literal acceptance of the Jewish Bible. [For example, the saying] “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” has come to be the first maxim of your law.  Now, I state openly and fearlessly, that the perversity of this doctrine and of so many others Theosophy alone can eradicate.


THEOSOPHER: Simply by demonstrating on logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and even scientific grounds that:

(a) All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy.

(b) As mankind is essentially one and the same essence, and that essence is one—infinite, uncreated, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature— nothing, therefore can affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other men. This is as certain and as obvious as that a stone thrown into a pond, will, sooner or later, set in motion every single drop of water therein.

[From Helena P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1893), 1-4, 28-29.]

Excerpt from Science and Health, by Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures has been in print continuously since it was first published in 1875.

In the year 1866, I discovered the Christ Science or divine laws of Life, Truth, and Love, and named my discovery Christian Science. God has been graciously preparing me during many years for the reception of this final revelation of the absolute divine Principle of scientific mental healing.

The apodeictical Principle points to the revelation of Immanuel, “God with us,”—the sovereign ever-presence, delivering the children of men from every ill “that flesh is heir to.” Through Christian Science, religion and medicine are inspired with a diviner nature and essence; fresh pinions are given to faith and understanding, and thoughts acquaint themselves intelligently with God.

Feeling so perpetually the false consciousness that life inheres in the body, yet remembering that in reality God is our Life, we may well tremble in the prospect of those days in which we must say, “I have no pleasure in them.”

Whence came to me this heavenly conviction—a conviction antagonistic to the testimony of the physical senses? According to St. Paul, it was “the gift of grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.” It was the divine law of Life and Love, unfolding to me the demonstrable fact that matter possesses neither sensation nor life; that human experiences show the falsity of all material things; and that immortal cravings, “the price of learning love,” establish the truism that the only sufferer is mortal mind, for the divine Mind cannot suffer…

Christian Science reveals incontrovertibly that Mind is All-in-all, that the only realities are the divine Mind and idea. This great fact is not, however, seen to be supported by sensible evidence, until its divine Principle is demonstrated by healing the sick and thus proved absolute and divine. This proof once seen, no other conclusion can be reached.

For three years after my discovery, I sought the solution of this problem of Mind-healing, searched the Scriptures and read little else, kept aloof from society, and devoted time and energies to discovering a positive rule. The search was sweet, calm, and buoyant with hope, not selfish nor depressing. I knew the Principle of all harmonious Mind-action to be God, and that cures were produced in primitive Christian healing by holy, uplifting faith; but I must know the Science of this healing, and I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration. The revelation of Truth in the understanding came to me gradually and apparently through divine power. When a new spiritual idea is borne to earth, the prophetic Scripture of Isaiah is renewedly fulfilled: “Unto us child is born…and his name shall be called Wonderful.”

[From Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures, (Boston: Joseph Armstrong, 1904), 107-9.]

Joseph Smith’s Account of His Revelation

Written by Joseph Smith himself, this piece describes Smith’s first experience of revelation in 1820. He sets it in the context of his confusion about the competing Christian denominations of his day. See the more historical portrait of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints in the Christianity in America section. 

Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist. For notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased–yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued; priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely—my mother Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia. During this time of great excitement, my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but, though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

Never did any passage of Scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of Scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if He gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. So, in accordance with this, my determination to Ask God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said—pointing to the other—“THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, HEAR HIM.”

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light which of all the sects was right—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; that “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them: and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.”

[From B.H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1902), 2-6.]

Excerpt from Mormonism, The Islam of America

The introduction to this tract of the Council of Women for Home Missions, Mormonism, the Islam of America (1912), was written by the Council’s editorial committee, expressing some of the concerns of Christians about the Mormons.  It compares in a general way the post-Biblical revelation to Joseph Smith with the post-Biblical revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, both of which pose similar challenges to Christianity.

The title of this, the latest of the text-books issued by the Council of Women for Home Missions, may need a word of explanation. It is generally acknowledged that Mormonism is similar to Mohammedanism in its endorsement of the practice of polygamy, and its ideas of heaven. Many other points of similarity between these systems have been noted by students, and the Book of Mormon has marked resemblance to the Koran. As all ancient religions have a modern equivalent, Mormonism can justly be claimed to be the modern form of Mohammedanism, and not incorrectly termed “the Islam of America.”

While the subject considered in this book should be approached only in a spirit of fairness and Christian sympathy, it has become of too great importance in our national life to be omitted as a topic for careful study. It is in response to a wide-spread realization that this subject is a national problem, and bears an important relation to Home Missions, that the Council of Women presents this book.

In beginning its study, it is wise to free the mind of some misapprehension. Prominent among our national ideals are those of religious liberty for ourselves, and toleration for our neighbour’s faith. No violation of this principle is involved in a candid, just and sympathetic study of any system of religious belief.

In the Handbook of our faith Christians are exhorted to prove all doctrines in order rightly to measure their truth and test their moral standards. In this spirit this text-book has been written. Dr. Kinney is peculiarly fitted to deal with his subject, both from careful investigation, and from personal acquaintance with it in Utah.

The Mormon problem is not primarily a religious one, nor should it be so considered. The hierarchy which embodies this system has extended its influence into so many lines of our national concerns, that Mormonism has ceased to be of merely theological or religious significance. It must be studied in its relation to government and commerce; to social conditions; to its influence on state policies and even on the utterances of the press, before it can be rightly understood as a factor in our present-day nationality.

In all these connections it is presented by Dr. Kinney, and while he regards with Christian sympathy the followers of the Mormon religion, he sees, and presents clearly, the dangers inherent in the designs, ambitions and methods of the all powerful hierarchy, which absolutely controls the affairs of the church and the lives of every one of its members. The undue influence in the affairs of the nation and the councils of the government attained by this powerful body makes its beliefs and practices of national concern. Dr. Kinney’s point of view is intelligent, broad, and just. The Council of Women for Home Missions is glad to give to its readers and students a text-book so full of carefully authenticated information, and written in a spirit of such justice and charity for those deceived, indeed, but honest in their mistaken beliefs.

[From Bruce Kinney, Mormonism, The Islam of America (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1912), 5-12.]