A reader posted several fairly in-depth questions in response to Monday's post that I thought I'd answer here.
Thanks so much for the kind comments. Really glad that you enjoy the blog.
OK, lots of big questions. Always happy to answer any questions as best I can.
1. What is the significance of having a long-time supply of food and is this a common practice among Mormons?
A: Simple preparedness. As a matter of doctrine, we are taught to be self-sufficient.
When I was little, I believed that food storage was laid up in store against THE end, and this may yet be believed by many in the faith, but I have not found doctrinal support for this millennial viewpoint. Members use their food storage for themselves and others when disaster strikes, wherever and whenever it does.
We do this not only on an individual basis, but collectively. For instance, there are large storehouses stocked with food and other supplies in various parts of the U.S. and around the world (like grocery stores without cashiers) that allow the Church to respond quickly to disasters. We take care of our own, and then others around us. My sister, for instance, has a year's worth of food storage for everyone in their congregation and probably their immediate neighborhood (she's a rare but wonderful cat). I need to work on ours in London - it's hard in such small spaces.
2. What are your dietary restrictions?
A: For the faith, it's nothing addictive - drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and tea.
Although it's true not everyone gets addicted to these substances, I think this is a lowest-common-denominator regulation. The revelation in what we call the Doctrine & Covenants introduces itself as "for the weakest of saints" and much later (perhaps 100 years?) was standardized to everyone as a requirement for temple attendance.
There is some interpretive differences here among members - I still drink herbal tea (which contains no actual tea) by the gallon-full, which many members take exception to, and some members drink caffeinated soft drinks, which is a bit of a grey area and was taboo in my childhood home. (Funny personal story - even though I know it's not part of the black-letter health code, I still can't bring myself to drink caffeine really. When after a spinal tap that wasn't healing properly my doctor told me to drink caffeine to regulate spinal pressure, I had to drink Barqs rootbeer as I couldn't bring myself to drink Coke or Pepsi... )
3. Many people make jokes about "magic underwear." A Mormon woman I worked with about 10 years ago told me she had to wear "garments" under her clothes and that the purpose was modesty. Since then, I've read that they are not to be taken off ever, except to bathe. Is this true?
A: An apostle once said that for many faiths, religious clothing is worn on the outside. For us, a lay clergy, everyone is "ordained" within the sacred temple halls and thus each is "of the cloth" and given special garments to signify this setting-apart. Because of the sacred covenants we make with the Lord in the temple, and because we treat those things which are most sacred to us in a fairly private fashion, we wear our "cloth" underneath our clothes. I try to avoid occasions to remove them, but there are obviously some things which require Garden of Eden-like states. ;-)
Feel free to provide your email here if you'd like a more in-depth answer.
4. This may sound silly, but do Mormons think non-Mormons will go to hell?
A: As far as Christian faiths go, ours is probably the most expansive when it comes to including people in "heaven" - it's just a matter of degree and what people are "willing" to receive.
Immediately upon death, we believe there is a simple, temporary division of those who have faith in Christ, repented, and have been baptized by one having authority, and those who have not. These two places are called "spirit paradise" and "spirit prison," both part of the "spirit world." Hell, again which is temporary and which is reserved for those who do not accept Christ's suffering, is part (but by no means not all) of Spirit Prison. We believe, as is explained in 1 Peter, that Christ spent his time between death and resurrection organizing missionary work for those in Spirit Prison who did not have the chance of baptism in this life. We have temples in part so we can perform vicarious baptisms for the dead as discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians. If those on the other side accept the baptism performed on their behalf, they are permitted into Paradise.
Then, after judgment and resurrection, each is apportioned a place in a "kingdom," which Paul in 1 Corinthians described as "celestial," "terrestial," and like the moon ("telestial"). As I understand it, those who go to the celestial kingdom are those who were also in Spirit Paradise - they have accepted baptism by one in authority (and have qualified to do so through faith and repentance). This is where families are allowed to be together forever. Those in the terrestial kindgom - which is glorious beyond description - are those that accepted Christ's suffering for their sins, but they are separate and single. Those in the telestial kingdom are those murderers and rapists, etc. who did not accept Christ's suffering and had to suffer for their own sins in hell. It is still a kingdom of glory (the earth is considered a telestial sphere), but those in it had to wait a bit, perhaps a millenium, to get there. Much of this is described here.
Basically, everyone gets to "heaven," it's just individualized to what people want. There is a very small exception to this, but hardly anyone is that bad, so it's not worth mentioning.
5. What do you say when people ask you how you know if Joseph Smith was the real deal. I know you believe it, but how do you defend it? Have people ever asked you how you know the plates were real? Is there evidence?
A: Joseph Smith - great question. How do I defend him? Over the past year, I started to have some doubts here. He was an imperfect man (terrible with finances, for instance) - how could he also be a prophet? I prayed about it a lot, spent some time in the Book of Mormon and other works, and got my answer while teaching a song about Joseph Smith to primary children. It came as a distinct feeling - an overpowering feeling - that this imperfect man was in fact a prophet of God. He communed with God, and was called to restore His church upon the earth. The only perfect man to walk the earth was Jesus Christ, and He has nothing else to work with to establish His word and speak for Him here on earth other than imperfect men and women. So it's that simple - you defend it because the "witness" comes after great effort of studying the "fruit" of Joseph Smith's prophethood, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, and praying, hard.
He's a prophet like Samuel or David when they were "called" in their youth. He just happens to have lived in the last 200 years rather than 2 or 3,000 years. Takes a lot more faith to accept a modern-day prophet rather than an ancient one, but the principle and concept is the same.
A: Golden plates - there are many who hefted the plates, saw them (there are accounts of 3 and then 8 witnesses in addition to Joseph Smith in the front of the Book of Mormon), and remained true to their testimony even though they later left the Church. But here, again, the proof is in the pudding. If the Book of Mormon is the word of God, then the plates were real, and Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And figuring that out requires a lot of study and prayer, and a sincerity and willingness to follow whatever answer you get when you do get it (we joke within the Church that it'll take all your time and money, and you'll never be happier - not far from the truth). Although there is other evidence that LDS and other scholars fixate on, the witness of the Spirit is the best evidence out there, and one which can't be denied.
Every "good" Mormon you meet (and a few who have lost their way but still know it's true) will have their own personal story of how they gained their "testimony" that the Christ of the Bible is their Savior, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that we have a living prophet today. Spirit works a little differently for everyone, but everyone can feel it - just takes some concerted effort.
My story is one of slow acquisition, but it begins with a challenge from an uncle to read the Book of Mormon before I got baptized at 8. I did, and then the challenge continued for all of the cousins. There were consistency and quantitative goals, and it got me started on the habit. My second time living in DC as a 19 year old, I noticed that I would fall asleep while reading before bed. So I started reading in the morning with breakfast hoping that, like Pavlov's dog, I would associate the love I had for my favorite meal of the day with the scriptures. Because I blessed my food, I started praying before reading. It worked. On my mission I started reading a bit more, and I have kept the habit over the last 10 years. I love the Spirit and peace that comes into my frantic life, the catered lessons needed precisely for that day, the power to resist the dumps and temptation, and the particularized knowledge of how the Atonement works on a daily basis that I gain from reading it.
Hope this helps! Again, feel free to provide your email for a more in-depth response or for other questions!