Monday, April 04, 2005

What Lenin and Joseph Smith have in common

Randomly selected students were paid money to participate in a psychological experiment. They had to stay at a campus square for one hour with posters saying something like, “Save Parazonian red spider!” The students were given no explanations about the insect and no information about the on-going environmental campaign. Actually there was no campaign: the red Parazonian spider was a made-up creature and there is no such place on Earth as Parazonia. When some of the students asked questions they were told: “Just hold the poster for an hour and take your 10 bucks.” It comes as no surprise that after the “protest” students just took money and forgot about the whole affair. Next time another group of students was selected to participate in the same protest action. Only this time another group of students while passing by sneered at them, ridiculed their slogans and made them look stupid. After that “protest” most of students not just walked away with money but started researching, showed real interest in environmental problems of Parazonia and were sincerely indignant with people who didn’t take seriously problems of the red spider. They were ready to participate in future protests for free. Some of them even decided to start a “Parazonian Red Spider Rescue Group”.
Such “field experiments” were very popular in early 70s at West Coast universities in the US. Many of them didn’t meet rigorous academic standards but the results are quite believable and commonsensical. I know several people who soon after getting a job at a tobacco company started believing sincerely that smoking is not that harmful and in some cases is even good for you.
Since I met Mormons for the first time in a god-forgotten Northern Russian town of Arkhangelsk in 1991 I was fascinated by their Church. How can a sane person ever believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? If he lived a thousand years ago one can argue that he was foully slandered by foes but he lived in the age of printing press in a free and open country. There are thousands and thousands pieces of evidence that he was an imposter, fraud, faker and trickster. His “prophesies” are so evidently self-serving. “The Book of Mormon” is a ridiculous collection of rambling fairy tales. We have on one side genuine Egyptian papyri with quotes from the “Book of the Dead” and on the other side Smith’s “translation” of them – “Book of Abraham”. What other evidence is needed? However ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ I met didn’t come across as mad zombies. They take their mission in spreading the teaching of Joseph Smith very seriously, they are never confused and no one can lead them astray. Moreover, this is the fastest growing church in the world.
The early history of Mormonism is one long violent struggle of “we” against “them”. That feeling – the whole world is against us – was overwhelming. Early Mormons were not innocent victims – their fate was really violent and at one time J. Smith had a private militia force that was bigger then the US Army. We are talking not about theological disputes but about violence, murders, bloody wars, driving out citizens of whole towns and even counties by force, exile, long journey west to nowhere. At the end the tormented community settled at the Salt Lake – a community of brothers and sisters surrounded by the hostile and blood-thirsty world. In this small world calling in question the honesty and truth of Joseph Smith’s teachings was tantamount to questioning the survival of the whole community. Uncompromising division – we against the whole world – sealed with blood, death, torment and starvation is probably the best way to make people believe in almost anything.
How comes that a small group of radical nihilists led by Lenin took the power in Russia in 1917? The Communist revolution by itself was nothing special. In 1917 in St. Petersburg it was possible to overthrow the government on weekly basis. One only needed a crowd of several thousand militant scums. Remember the Kyrgyzstan Revolution? Lenin’s “secret” is unimaginable cruelty and limitless violence – kill everyone who doesn’t agree with us on the spot, take hostages and murder them without remorse if the enemy doesn’t unconditionally surrenders, rob the robbers, terrorize, burn and forget about morality. Blind violence feeds counter-violence. The fly-wheel of rage turns faster and faster. The Civil War starts when atrocities committed by the Red Army are quite comparable to the atrocities of the White Guards. Violence makes a small group of “romantics” a strong force united by blood. The whole world is against us but we will not surrender – we will violently destroy the world of violence. This way it’s easy to compare Vladimir Lenin to Joseph Smith. Several years later the Civil War was over but the feeling of “we against them” was still there. One needed a new leader who would bring law and order without destroying that basis of the Communist regime. This way Joseph Stalin can be compared to Brigham Young. Only Utah is much smaller in comparison with the USSR.
Now what this post is about? I was asked – why there are so many monuments to Lenin in Russia? Why don’t you just torn them down and become a democratic country? Consider this post also as an answer why Russian WWII veterans still adore Stalin. Or why liberal democrats who ridicule Russian “slave” mentality have so little success. Or why Georgian revolutionary fight against “Russian imperialism” makes Saakashvili politically stronger in Georgia but at the same time this fight rears nationalism among ordinary Russians.
By the way, is there any way to make Mormons see that Joseph Smith was a fraud?

7 comments:

Scott said...

i just tore into the mormons in russia a month ago on my blog. i didn't have as elegant of a comparison, but hey.

http://tenpaceslater.blogspot.com/2005/02/mormons.html

Inna said...

Nice blog! Glad to see more Russians being involved in blogging...

Clublint said...

I found that whole experiment absolutely fascinating.


Deb

Anonymous said...

A little off topic, and I am not sure how funny this would be for Russians, but you might enjoy this-
Unitarian Jihad
http://www.2929entertainment.com/Index.cfm?FuseAction=Page&PageID=1000039&ArticleID=34

Alice Marshall
GOTV

briant said...

"Remember the Kyrgyzstan Revolution? Lenin’s “secret” is unimaginable cruelty and limitless violence – kill everyone who doesn’t agree with us on the spot, take hostages and murder them without remorse if the enemy doesn’t unconditionally surrenders, rob the robbers, terrorize, burn and forget about morality. Blind violence feeds counter-violence. The fly-wheel of rage turns faster and faster. The Civil War starts when atrocities committed by the Red Army are quite comparable to the atrocities of the White Guards. Violence makes a small group of “romantics” a strong force united by blood. The whole world is against us but we will not surrender – we will violently destroy the world of violence. This way it’s easy to compare Vladimir Lenin to Joseph Smith."

I don't see a comparison here. Lenin used violence, and Joseph Smith submitted to arrest (in a land that gave religious freedom to all) although he had the largest military group in the state (you are mistaken to claim that it was larger than the US army, it was only larger than any state militia). The Mormons went west instead of fighthing. Furthermore, where is the attitude now? Mormons no longer try to claim that the world is against them (unlike many minorities). to me it seems that the only similarity is that they were both leaders of popular movements.

As far as convincing Mormons that he was a fraud, you should follow your own advice: Okkam's razor. Is there a simpler way to explain why a boy with a 3rd grade education has produced a Church with 12 million followers. Which is more likely: fraud or divine help? If that does't give you an answer, email me. i mozhno na russkom takzhe. ya ne pisal zdes na russkom poskolku moya russkaya klaviratura doma. pishi.

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