by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, August 13, 2012
Mormonism remained more or less theologically whole, with its holy book and its distinctive doctrines. But this sublimation of the energy of the faith into the energy of commerce seems always to have marked it afterward. Many faiths know a moment when a territorial practice gets pointed toward a symbolic and indoor activity: thus, most famously, the move from the Temple Judaism of ancient Israel to the Talmudic, rabbinical Judaism that arose after the destruction of the Temple. Less noted, perhaps, is the retrenchment of Roman Catholicism in France from the aggressive political role it played as recently as the Dreyfus affair toward the inward-turning N.G.O. it is today: the energy that produced Sacré Coeur in Montmartre now expresses itself in the number of water wells dug in Africa. For Mormonism, the intensity of the faith got sublimated into missionary zeal and commerce. Joanna Brooks explains this nicely: “Being Mormons we were taught never to go in for the bamboozle of mysterious sacraments of grace embraced by the rest of apostate Christendom… . No, no, we Mormons were taught that our works must carry us there.” The emphasis on works is a Protestant standby, but in this case it is without the grim Calvinist suspicion that maybe the works won’t get you to Heaven. Mormons know they will. Work and grace are not in tension but in neat accord. A mercantile church and a missionary church move in the same holy direction, and the vector that points both forward is the energy of enterprise.