France, July ’95—I still see the newly built and well-lit library. And I can see the shelf dedicated to religion. I was thrilled. I was hoping they’d have something about Mormons but didn’t expect to find three books titled Les Mormons, and by different authors. I picked one up with excitement, read the back cover, then another one—which seemed less sympathetic to its subject—and I looked inside the third book. And I took them out.
2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
3—A visit to the library changed the course of my life. Reading about deep doctrine puzzled me but I was captivated. The Mormon narrative resonated with me.
You can leave me in a book shop for hours and I’ll be happy. There weren’t many kids in the neighbourhood, so I often turned the TV on or open my books and hours would go fast. And if I now have more of social life, I’m still an avid reader who needs his alone-time with books.
It was so hot outside (and French homes—for reasons that are beyond me—have no air-conditioning). I stayed in my bedroom close to the basement where it was slightly cooler than the rest of the house. I spent two days reading in those three books and looked up references in the Bible.
I revered the Bible. I had bought one when I was in high school and I had enrolled in a long-distance course. I have a deep respect and a strong admiration for the Protestant Reformation—a godsend event that had been essential in restoring the true doctrines of Christianity that time and priestcraft had willingly and unwillingly corrupted. The books explained that my understanding of the Reformation was the premise of Mormonism. That was a good start!
Without knowing it, I already accepted several Mormon key tenets. It was like I had been prepared for what was to come.
I had always felt drawn to ‘Bible’ religions. I had fallen in love with Scriptures, so naturally Judaism had caught my attention. It will never stop fascinating me. To me it as the bloodstream of Christianity, Islam and Mormonism. I am amazed at the depth of its history, the richness of its language, the meaningfulness of its rituals, its groundbreaking theology and its peculiar culture. I sensed common ground with my own Hebraic vision of the deity in the pages of those three books I had borrowed.
Unlike most people I knew, I had drifted away from the ‘meek’ representation of God—or baby Jesus, so dear to the Catholic tradition—a long time ago and I’d adopted the God of the Old Testament—a powerful, passionate and somewhat ‘anthropomorphic’ God— instead. And that was the God of Islam too.
In high school, when Muslim friends had talked about God, their religion or the events depicted in both the Bible and the Qur’an—which I had read—we had shared the same views. It was before that religion became radicalised and girls in our school started to wear a hijab. I admired their devotion to God, their earnest approach to prayer, their deep respect for Scriptures, their commitment to avoid food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan—which I had done with them once—believing that fasting humbled them, made them empathetic towards the poor and subdued the body to the spirit. It was true religion, not like giving up the F word or chocolate for Lent! I read that Mormons fasted like Muslims for similar reasons. In those books, I found common ground with Islam on several levels.
The sunlight started to turn golden, like it only does in summer. The evening was coming; shadows were stretching, forming patters on my bedroom walls. Without knowing it, I already accepted several Mormon key tenets, as if I had been prepared for what was to come next.
When I thought about it, Judaism had already got me to reconsider the nature of God and His dealings with mankind—which at times took place face to face. It was the same in Mormonism. And because Islam had given me an appreciation for other sacred texts, I could accept additional Scriptures. The books I read also explained how Mormonism rejected the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity. ¹ And, if that made many Christians ill-disposed towards Mormons, not only didn’t that bother me but it was actually a big selling point for me since both Islam and Judaism had given me the conviction that that doctrine was false.
Some of those teachings ran contrary to anything I had heard or read before and come to accept.
Catholicism had been the religion of my childhood, but I was not a child anymore. Protestantism remained as an option. But while the Protestants I knew were too liberal in their interpretations of the Bible, my unusual views on the role of Jesus, and my rejection of the sacrosanct dogma of the Trinity, never made it an option. As for Islam and Judaism, although I considered conversion to either at a time, those were more than religions—they were worlds and identities of their own that I knew I could not claim for myself.
How I could identify with Joseph Smith’s plight! I had read about the First Vision in the library books. Like the founder of the Mormon Church, I had developed a strong and deep personal spiritual life. Like him and the first Mormon converts, I was interested in finding the truth, in stripping the Christian faith of all its traditions until only the Word of God remained. I craved to find the best way to worship God. As unsure I was about religions, His existence was the only thing I was sure of.
So, was Mormonism the answer?
It was now after dinner. The night was falling. I was drawn in and I knew it. Yet those books delved in some of the mysteries and covered some controversial aspects of Mormonism—including those no longer part of the Church. Some teachings ran so contrary to anything I had heard or read before that I didn’t know if I could ever accept them.
I am not referring to polygamy. Strangely, that question never was an issue for me. However, Mormonism teaches that God is not essence, but embodied—the same as Jesus. Not only that, but I read that Mormons claimed that God was once a man and that Man may become god. ² I wondered if I could blend those distinctively Mormon teachings with my childhood interests in astronomy and Greek mythology. I pondered that question a long time that evening. I also had a hard time accepting that males of African descent had been barred from being ordained to the Mormon Priesthood until 1978.
So, was Mormonism the answer? I did not know what to do, apart from taking the matter to the Lord. I was going to put Moroni to the test. ³ See, I had done my homework!
² “We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement — a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share. In spite of the opposition of the sects, in the face of direct charges of blasphemy, the Church proclaims the eternal truth: ‘As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be’.” (LDS Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, Ch.24, p.430 – p.431)
“This was the calling of Joseph Smith. He taught anew that God was in the form of man; that man was made in the image of God; … He taught them that they could become like their Father and God, who was ‘an exalted Man.’ And what is more simple and reasonable? Don’t you parents expect your children to become like you? Or do you expect your children to be something else than men and women? No. You men will see your sons become men; you women will see your daughters become women. Then God our Father–yes, and our Mother–in heaven, looking down upon this world– this school house in which their children are being educated–expect, and Joseph Smith taught it as a truth, that their children will be exalted, if they pursue the proper course, until they shall become divine beings themselves, worthy to stand upon that plane where stand their Father and their Mother in heaven. Like begets like; and the principle of eternal progress will make of man a God. (LDS Apostle Orson F. Whitney, Collected Discourses, Vol.5, May 8, 1898)