Tuesday, August 28, 2007

After Seeing "September Dawn"...

Our plans changed and we couldn't make the show on Friday, but we saw a matinee of September Dawn Sunday afternoon. I'm glad we went because I learned a lot from the film. Yet even though I learned a lot, I have more questions lingering than answers learned.

The first thing I learned was about this incident in U.S. history. I'd never heard of it before I'd heard of the movie. I understand why Mormons wouldn't be thrilled about this movie coming out. I won't claim to know how LDS members, like LifeonaPlate who leaves comments on my blog, feel, but I can try to imagine. And I imagine it makes them feel similar to what I, as a Christian, feel when people say, "Christians?" and point to the Crusades. Or abortion clinic bombers. Or when Rosie O'Donnell says "radical Christianity" is just as threatening to America as radical Islam. But Mormons can give the rest of us a little credit. We can view the movie and understand that not all Mormons are out to massacre the rest of us. Even in the movie this was portrayed by a young Mormon man who was questioning what was happening and doing his best to stand for what was right. We're not circling the wagons in fear of all Mormons.

I also "learned" (or re-learned) from this movie as it brought back bits of information I'd learned in history class but had forgotten, like how the Mormons felt (or were) mistreated in Missouri and that led to them heading west. In the movie's story at least, this was an underlying cause for them to fear the wagon train from Missouri and the "immigrants" coming through. (I put "immigrants" in quotes because it really stuck out to me that the writers used that word in light of the current national controversy over immigration. I'm assuming they used that word because it was true to the time--what the Mormons would have really called the people coming through. And the screenplay was probably written before the current national discussion on immigration arose. I just found it interesting...that's all.)

The film also made me think about how I was viewing an 1850's incident from a twenty-first century viewpoint. "The wagon train just wants to pass through Utah to get to California. Why can't you just let them go?" Ah-ha! But in that day, (according to what I understood from the movie) it seems the Mormons considered that land their own nation. And they saw the wagon train folks as unwelcome immigrants coming into and threatening their nation. I can understand that fear.

As I mentioned, the film also brought up many questions for me. Here are some of the questions that linger in my mind:
  • Several references were made to the the sins that Christ's blood does not atone for. Do Mormons really believe there are sins Christ's blood does not atone for?
  • There were also several references to people needing to spill their own blood to atone for the sins that Christ's blood does not atone for. So their Mormon brothers help them out by spilling their blood for them (that means killing them)? Do I have that part right? I have to wonder, "Now how does that work out for that person in the end?" I mean, by the time a person whose blood has been spilled for his or her own sins figures out it's not going to do them a lot of good, they're dead. (Yeah, okay. I'm being a little facetious here. But then this is coming from a person who knows there is no sin Christ's blood cannot atone for.)
  • What I've heard and understand about Mormon beliefs you could probably fit in an 1857 thimble, but I have heard they believe (some?) men will become gods and will have their own planets to rule. Do I have that right? There was more than one reference to that in the movie.
  • According to Mormon beliefs, what happens to the women after this life? There was a reference to one woman becoming a goddess in the next life. (I would have liked to have had the benefit of "rewind" while watching, but the rest of the crowd in the theater probably wouldn't have liked that. And there actually was a small crowd there.)
  • In one striking scene, Jon Voight's character, Isaac Haight, is praying at the dinner table and the pastor at the wagon train was praying with that group. The scene cuts back and forth from one site to the other, juxtaposing the prayers of these leaders against each other. While the Christian pastor prays for blessings on the Mormons, Issac Haight prays down curses on the Christians. The question lingers in my mind: Is this true to what a Mormon would pray? Was this just the portrayal in a movie of a man filled with hate praying curses on another group, or is this really in line with what Mormons would pray? Back then? Even today? Of course the real answer to that question probably wouldn't be given to us "Gentiles," but perhaps only those who are (or have been) on the inside of the Mormon faith would know for sure.
  • The main character on the Mormon side (played by Jon Voight) who was portrayed as being the main instigator of what happened on September 11th, 1857, was named Isaac Haight. That's not a made-up movie character--that was the real guy's name. So my lingering question is, Is it coincidence or God's sense of humor that he was named Haight (pronounced Hate)?

The movie's story comes complete with what my husband called, "the Romeo and Juliette forbidden love" between two young people. Probably the scene I enjoyed most in the movie is the conversation between these two near a formation of rocks as they spent some time alone. The Mormon called the Christians "Gentiles" and that led to a conversation which repeatedly showed the confusion on both their faces. They were discovering the immense differences between their faiths. Like so often happens today, we use the same terms (salvation, God, atonement, Christian, Jesus, Christ, latter days, saints), but we are not speaking the same language.

Perhaps that's what Mormons really have the most to fear from this movie: that it reveals what they truly believe and how different that is from Christianity.

In my view, the movie is worth seeing whenever it comes to a theater near you.


ElizabethMThompson said...

Hi Dawn,

Many of your questions about Mormonism are answered in Irene Spencer's book, "Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife."

The Fundamentalist Mormons believed there were sins that Jesus' blood was powerless to forgive and yes, people would at times shed their own blood (or have the brethren kill them) to atone for their more grievous sins.

They believe that men will become gods and inherit their own worlds. Women will be saved only if their husband takes them by the hand and leads them through the veil into the next life. They had multiple wives to produce a sea of children who would rule their kingdom with them. It is a fascinating and very dangerous belief system.

According to Irene's book, fundamentalists believed that Christians were false prophets, infidels and Gentiles. (Think of the disdain the Israelites felt towards the Samaritans and you get the idea of the feelings of fundamentalist Mormons towards Chrstians.)

If you are interested in gaining a true insider's perspective, I would highly recommend Shattered Dreams. It is available everywhere. Irene has a website www.irenespencerbooks.com and she will be featured on talk shows and in print media over the next many months.



Jan said...

What an interesting review! I'm amazed at the revelrie over this movie. It seems to rival most of the "war tunes" I've seen, so I would perceive it to be rather typical.

I'd never heard about the belief that Mormons have brethren kill them to atone for grievous sins, seems a bit futile to me. However, given the beliefs of the terrorist that the only way they can get to heaven is to suicide bomb great numbers of people --- I suppose there are symbolisms in most faiths that seem the same.

As for the matrimonial sacrifice to get into heaven...

Thank God for Christ's atoning blood and the fact that I believe!

RedViking said...

You've asked some very good questions indeed. I'd like to warn that FLDS and LDS aren't the same thing. I've never read the above recommended book, but it might have some things that regular Mormons don't believe.

As for your questions, here's my understanding as a regular lay-Mormon (who studies ^_^). Christ's blood atoned for all our sins. Sometimes non-Mormons claim we don't believe that because in ridiculously rare cases, the gift can be rejected, but ONLY by those who have a KNOWLEDGE of God rather that just faith (in other words, they've seen God and KNOW he's real). If they were to suddenly start preaching to all that there was no God (when they know there is one), they've in essence, knowingly rejected Christ's atonement. They've claimed there is no sun when its rays are even then shining on their faces. 99.99999999% of people aren't even capable of committing this kind of sin.

As for spilling other people's blood for this atonement, that's ridiculous. No one's blood could do what Christ's has done. I don't know where the makers got this "belief", but Mormons certainly don't believe it.

I'll come back to your next questions in a moment. I haven't seen the movie, but no good Mormon would ever pray for curses to come upon anyone. We believe we should pray FOR our enemies (as Christ taught), not against them. In reality, a Mormon prayer and a Christian prayer probably wouldn't be too different (at least judging from the prayers I've heard from my Christian friends).

Now back to your earlier questions. In a regular Mormon sunday school, you might hear many of the same things as you might hear in any Christian meetings. Last Sunday, the lesson was on gratitude. Most lessons are on similar topics. This is the essence of what our church believes. We do our best to follow the teachings of Jesus and encourage everyone around us to do the same. The beliefs brought up in your other questions would go under the heading of "Deep Doctrine". While very precious to us, those doctrines are often misinterpreted by non-Mormons. One example is the above mentioned belief that wives will only be saved by being led by their husbands. While apparently a sexist belief, most people who read that fail to realize that the reverse is also true. An man equally needs his wife to pass through that veil.

As a side note, we use the word "saved" differently. We believe that EVERYONE who comes to this earth will be saved from death and their spirits will be reunited with their bodies, and they will have greater glory than before they came to earth (all because of Jesus Christ's atonement). But often when Mormons use the word "saved," they mean that a person has progressed to the highest degree of glory that someone can attain. Anyway, I'm getting side tracked. Sorry about that.

Most things under the heading of "deep doctrine" aren't even completely understood by Mormons yet! Often, people do a lot of speculation in this area and express their opinions (which are not necessarily doctrine). Incidentally, we do believe that we can eventually become gods and goddesses (but notice the lowercase). Our God (uppercase) Jesus Christ, however, will always be greater than all and will rule over all of us. While we recognize that our beliefs are strange, they are very precious to us.

Thank you for your questions, and I'm sorry I wrote such a long post. I hope this explains things a little better. As a side note, I'm not an official representative of the church (except for the fact that I'm an active member ^_^). God bless.

Sue Tornai said...

Dianne, you have made some good points and raised valuable questions. I plan to see the movie now and I want you to know I always look forward to reading your blog.