Mormonism is not the quintessential “American religion,” to use Tolstoy’s words, just because it got its start in upstate New York. The church has long embodied notions and practices that drive contemporary American capitalism. And those ideas, as author Chris Lehmann demonstrated last October in Harper’s Magazine, remain central to the shaping of national economic policy. —ARK
Chris Lehmann in Harper’s Magazine:
Perhaps most important, Mormons, unlike adherents of most mainline Protestant denominations, have very little ambivalence about the acquisition of wealth. One scours the endless, incantatory pages of Joseph Smith’s revelation in vain for any suggestion that wealth complicates the spiritual lives of believers. Not for Mormons the queasy business about the camel going through the needle’s eye before a rich man enters the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, paradise is pretty much set aside for the enterprising rich, whose upward mobility is thought to persist even in the three-tiered scheme of the Mormon afterlife.
These innovations in economic theology have long seemed a bit quaint—akin to the picture-book accounts in LDS scripture of wars and dynasties. But in recent years, and especially with the G.O.P.’s tilt to the right and the rise of the Tea Party, such beliefs no longer appear so fanciful. Indeed, the Mormon infatuation with maximal investor returns and precious metals has shaded steadily into the center of conservative mainstream thought.