Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden?

I’m sorry to put on the Mormonism hat again, but I read something that I feel merits a response. Ken Brown mentioned an interesting little piece in a Christian journal called Touchstone about Stephanie Meyer (LDS author of the Twilight series) and her incorporation of a number of controversial Mormon (and even anti-Mormon) ideologies into her books. I started a comment on Ken’s blog, but it got too long, so I’ll review the article here. It’s called “Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden,” and it’s by John Granger. Ken’s comments focus on a specific part of the article, but I’m going to start from the beginning, which has the following thesis:

Here [in the Twilight series], the Fall is a good thing, even the key to salvation and divinization, just as Joseph Smith, Jr., the Latter-day Saint prophet, said it was. Twilight conveys the appealing message that the surest means to God are sex and marriage.

To begin with, Joseph Smith never said the Fall was the key to salvation and divinization. He describes it as a necessary piece of the puzzle, but the key to salvation and divinization (exaltation is the Latter-day Saint term) is the atonement of Jesus Christ. It always has been. A few texts illustrate this important distinction:

Mosiah 5:8: “There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ.”
Mosiah 3:18: “Salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
D&C 109:4: “Jesus Christ, the Son of thy bosom, in whose name alone salvation can be administered to the children of men.”
Moses 6:62: “This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten.”
2 Nephi 9:6–7: “As death has passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption.”

Sex has never been described by Joseph Smith or any other Latter-day Saint leader as the “surest means to God.” Christ is always described as the only means to God, but temple marriage and children are described as critical to exaltation. Sex is a part of this only insofar as it is an element of the process of childbearing. In and of itself it is not a key to anything in Latter-day Saint soteriology. Meyer has also stated on numerous occasion that she writes to provide novels which aren’t about sex. Granger’s opinion appears to be informed more by anti-Mormon theories of the motivations for early Mormon polygamy than by a working knowledge of actual LDS belief. If you’re getting the impression this shortcoming may be a pattern in his article, your concerns are justified.

Next the author addresses Meyer’s own story about a dream that inspired her novels. She mentions a meadow in the dream, and Granger pounces:

The key word in Mrs. Meyer’s dream is not “vampire” or “girlfriend” but “meadow.” The key confrontations in all four published Twilight books take place in meadows, usually a meadow in the Olympic Mountains. . .

“Mountain Meadows,” however, means something much less pastoral and positive and much more visceral and painful to American Latter-day Saints (LDS). The summer of 2003 saw the publication of three books that focused on the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which tragedy Mormon faithful in Southern Utah executed more than 120 men, women, and children on their way to California from Arkansas.

All three books paint the Mormon faith as inherently bloodthirsty, violent, secretive, and abusive to women and non-believers. The Twilight novels, especially Breaking Dawn, can be understood as a response to the challenge they posed to Mormon believers like Mrs. Meyer. In brief, Meyer was inspired to write works in which she addresses and resolves in archetypal story the criticisms being made of Mormonism by atheists and non-believing gentiles.

Now, there obviously isn’t a shred of evidence anywhere that the Mountain Meadows Massacre has anything at all to do with Meyer’s books, and it flat contradicts her story; and yet Granger states unequivocally that this was the inspiration for her books. That’s an incredibly presumptuous position to take, and it identifies Granger’s own preoccupations far more than Meyer’s. No one could possibly arrive at such a conclusion by reading her books. It only works if someone is looking for a place to make it fit.

The author’s next theory deals with an obscure idea that 17th century hermeticism informed the development of Mormon doctrine (promulgated in 1996 by John L. Brooke). Granger uncritically accepts this theory and apparently thinks Meyer does exactly the same:

Carlisle Cullen was born in the mid-1660s, the same period when historic Mormonism was born in Europe. . . .

By placing the birth of the Cullen “vision” in the same time and place as the birth of Mormon beliefs and by having Carlisle take up medical practice in the 1840s, the same time as Joseph Smith’s “restoration” of the gospel in America, Meyer indicates the allegorical—and apologetic—meaning of her story.

Despite Granger’s theory, Stephanie Meyer does not believe 17th century hermetecism is the root of Mormon doctrine. In fact, there’s very little chance she’s ever even heard of this theory. It’s circulated almost exclusively in non-Mormon polemical circles (in which Meyer shows absolutely no sign of ever having participated), and even then is not very prominent. In addition, Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1830. It’s an incredible stretch to insist “the 1840s” is a direct allusion to the “‘restoration’ of the gospel in America.”

Indeed, I think that resolving her misgivings and interior conflicts as a Mormon woman in a land of non-Mormons was a major impetus of Mrs. Meyer’s writing.

Again, nothing Meyer has ever said contributes to this conclusion. She was born in Connecticut and raised in Arizona. She’s lived most of her life there. Where the misgivings come from is something Granger doesn’t think is necessary to postulate. That she is uncomfortable being a Mormon outside of Utah is an assumption, pure and simple (and a bad one). It happens to ignore that the vast majority of Latter-day Saints in the world live nowhere near Utah (there are actually a lot of Mormons in Arizona, apparently unbeknownst to Granger), and appears to derive from a view of Mormonism as insular, sectarian, and suspicious of the outside world. This would fit a perspective of Mormonism derived primarily from anti-Mormon literature, though, which is the developing picture of Granger’s view.

Granger also appeals to recent Mormon-related DNA controversies:

Mrs. Meyer’s answer to this scientific challenge to her faith comes in the climax of Breaking Dawn. The Volturi have come to the Cullens’ Mountain Meadow for a showdown with the “vegetarians” and their allies, and it looks very bad for the latter. What saves them from the vampire-papists is an inversion of the genetics argument against the Book of Mormon revelation: The Cullens are saved by the ex machina appearance of a South American aborigine whose DNA proves that the Mormon vampires are telling the truth. Genetics isn’t the enemy; it’s the savior.

“Mormon vampires”? And how on earth does touting DNA as “the savior” engage the question of DNA and the Book of Mormon? The connections here are incredibly flimsy. Next Granger insists the fact that Edward is over 100 years old is an allusion to FLDS child bride controversies. Ridiculous, and clearly inspired by Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven. Again, his view of Mormonism seems exclusively informed by anti-Mormons. Then:

The Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, cited above, is an atrocity with few equivalents in American history. The only Mormon defenses for it have been the pathetic insistence that the migrating families somehow provoked the attack and that all Utah was in a panic that they were about to be killed by the US Army and California militias gathering at their borders.

While the Mountain Meadows Massacre was an atrocity, and was covered up for some time, characterizing the fact that Utah was hyper-defensive following the very real threat of war with the United States as “pathetic” is nonsense. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain it, and rejecting that explanation in favor of the notion that those responsible were evidently just bloodthirsty murderers is the very height of ignorance. The author does not seem to have read the most recent scholarship on the subject. The most authoritative is without question Massacre at Mountain Meadows, but Granger only seems interested in the literature that validates his presuppositions.

Yet, for all the apologetic recasting of arguments non-Mormons make against her faith, Mrs. Meyer also incorporates substantial criticism of her church in her story. Most obviously, in depicting the Celestial Holy Family, i.e., the Cullens, as vampires, whatever their principles about killing humans, she seems to accept a large part of Krakauer’s assertion that Mormons are, by definition, violent, dangerous, and disrespectful of those different from the Saints.

Complete nonsense. Granger rests this reading on his own misapprehension about the role the Cullens play in Meyer’s allegory and must arrive at the conclusion that if the allegory is to be born out to the end it must mean Mormons are violent, dangerous, and disrespectful. How a faithful Mormon mom could weave such a damning critique into her books while displaying unwavering faith everywhere else is another conundrum Granger doesn’t bother addressing. Granger’s opinion does fit, however, with the suspicion of anti-Mormons that Latter-day Saints all know, deep down, that their religion is a fraud. Why someone would fill a book with apologetic and expose such scathing criticism at the same time is a paradox for which Granger offers no explanation. His purposes are satisfied simply by making the assertion.

Mrs. Meyer also takes a poke or two at Joseph Smith, Jr., himself. Particularly telling here is the story of Rosalie Hale, a beautiful woman whom Carlisle Cullen turned into a vampire on her deathbed in 1933, half-hoping she would be a match for his “son,” Edward. In real life, “Hale” was the maiden name of Smith’s first wife, Emma, who did not accept the prophet’s “principle” of plural marriage.

Of course, it could just be a name she chose, and the character has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy. The parallels are stretched even thinner, though:

Rosalie is the very beautiful daughter of an ambitious family in Rochester, New York, who becomes engaged to the most eligible bachelor in the city, the rich and flamboyant Royce King II. The city and name both translate to the Mormon prophet because American Mormonism was born just outside Rochester, the “2nd” is a transparency for “Jr.,” and, since roi is the French word for “king,” “Royce King” points to a man twice crowned. Smith was twice ordained king, first in 1843 and then as “King of the World” in 1844.

Ludicrous. This is only a stone’s throw from gematria. The name “Royce” means “son of the king,” and Meyer probably has no idea about the Council of Fifty and Smith’s ordinations.

I think Mrs. Meyer’s opinion about the prophet’s “principle,” his treatment of his first wife, and that he deserved the death he received, in history and in her fiction, are well laid out in Rosalie’s story—an opinion well outside LDS orthodoxy, I don’t need to add.

Again, Granger is deriving these readings from his own assumptions about how Mormon women must really feel about their religion. This is a particularly reprehensible assertion to make about someone, though, and I find it shocking that a putatively academic journal would allow such accusations to be made.

Circles, for example, are a symbol of the transcendent being’s relationship with the visible. The center of the circle is invisible and unknowable but, mysteriously, it is only through the center, the defining point equidistant from all points of the circumference, that we know the shape is a circle. The first and most important of Mrs. Meyer’s circles is the perfectly circular meadow in which Edward reveals his true self to Bella, but circles are the repeated, almost default shape of key events in Twilight.

In Mormonism circles represent eternity. It’s pretty simple, but Granger wants to make it difficult so he can import his anti-Mormonism. Whether or not Mormon ideas of circles are relevant to Meyer’s book is unclear, but Granger’s reading is mistaken.

Allusions to alchemy, the traditional science featuring the three-stage transformation of lead to gold, represent human transformation from spiritual darkness (lead) to enlightenment (gold)—hence, the luminous golden eyes of the Cullen family.

Of course, the fact that the Bible repeatedly uses gold as an analogy for purity is irrelevant for Granger (or he didn’t think of it). Alchemy is much more tantalizing for the anti-Mormon looking to validate his worldview.

Christians understand Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God, their “original sin,” or Fall, as the beginning of man’s distance from God, a distance that man could not restore on his own, but that required the incarnation and sacrifice of a divine, sinless Savior to accomplish.

Mormons reject this interpretation. Not only do they hold the Pelagian view that human conscience and free will are sufficient for salvation, but they go a step further, asserting that, not only was the Fall not a bad thing, it was actually a good, even necessary thing for human salvation.

First, Mormons do not “reject this interpretation.” They unequivocally believe that the fall separates God from man, and that Christ’s atonement is the only way to restore that connection. What Mormons reject is the notion that humanity is born with inherent guilt. They believe humanity is born with the consequences of transgression, but that sin only comes when the difference between right and wrong is known. No baby is sinful. In addition, Granger makes sure here to very clearly contrast “Mormons” and “Christians.” Mormons aren’t Christians, in other words. A naive and sectarian staple of fundamentalism.

Pelagius also has nothing whatsoever to do with Mormonism, which has never taught that “human conscience and free will are sufficient for salvation” or anything like it. This is just a weak anti-Mormon attempt to associate misunderstandings about Mormon doctrine with heretical ideas. Regarding the fall as necessary for human salvation: without the fall there would be no need for salvation. Simple.

In some streams of Mormon tradition, Adam is, in fact, the finite God of earth (or the Archangel Michael), and Eve is his celestial wife from another planet.

No, this is just a misrepresentation and expansion of a short-lived and much debated idea taught in the 19th century. Eve was never imagined to be from another planet, and Adam is the archangel Michael in all “streams of Mormon tradition,” as well. Granger needs to do real research.

“Celestial marriage” is a core ordinance for Mormon exaltation (salvation), and without the “Fall,” man could not take this important step in his progression from mortality to post-mortal life as a god in the Celestial Kingdom.

This is a remarkable departure from orthodox, creedal Christianity with respect to sexuality and understanding how human beings relate to God. In traditional Christianity, sexual continence is adopted by those who aspire to devote themselves more deeply to the things of God, while in Mormonism, sex within marriage is itself an edifying, even salvific, spiritual exercise. A “single Mormon” is something like a “square circle,” and monastic vocation a sacrilege.

Sex is not salvific in Mormonism and never has been. This is another naive suspicion that anti-Mormons like to nurse. Their pursuance of that idea is not unlike early Christianity’s persecution at the hands of Roman authorities who believed Christians were sexual deviants and child-sacrificers. In early Christianity sexual continence developed from Greek ideologies about asceticism. It was rejected for quite some time by the early church as well, and only found widespread acceptance when the early church had been assimilated into Greco-Roman society. The very first commandment of the Bible is to be fruitful and multiply. Latter-day Saints take that seriously.

In a nutshell, Bella is Eve and Edward is the Adam-God of Mormon theology.

Ludicrous. Very few Mormons actually bother to investigate Adam-God.  A tiny percentage of those advocate it, and the faithful-Mormon-moms-who-write-teen-fantasy-novels demographic has nothing to do with that tiny constituency. It was a short-lived idea from 150 years ago and only gets brought up by anti-Mormons. There’s no chance whatsoever it is being advocated allegorically in Meyer’s series.

Mothers not wanting their daughters to grow up to be Mormons (or, worse, licentious individualists) might need to be concerned more for the weight and content of Mrs. Meyer’s Pelagian symbolism and meaning than about the bad example of Edward chastely watching over Bella every night.

What nonsense. Mormonism has nothing whatsoever to do with Pelagianism. Joseph Smith was no scholar of early Christian heterodoxy. For further reading, see my comment here.

Let’s here what the author has to say about this stuff, though. Regarding putting lots of Mormon doctrine in her books:

I have a novel I started that would be a Mormon comedy romance. I do wonder what it would be like, because I have these girls who will read anything I write, so I know they’ll read it, and I can’t imagine what their reaction would be. And what parents will think about their kids reading stuff that has quite a lot of Mormon doctrine in it.

Not what we expect from someone lacing every page with Adam-God theories, Pelagianism, criticisms of Joseph Smith, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Although some themes do come through:

Mormon themes do come through in Twilight. Free agency — I see that in the Cullens. The vampires made this choice to be something more — that’s my belief, the importance of free will to being human.

Very general and bland. Regarding messages hidden in the storyline, Meyer had this to say:

I never write messages. I always write things that entertain me.

No intricate intertwining of obscure Mormon and anti-Mormon doctrine. Just the author’s basic worldview finding its way into the text. That Meyer is no scholar of Mormon doctrine is indicated by her use of “free agency,” a phrase eschewed by Latter-day Saints who pay close attention to the history of doctrine. In fact, at every turn she shows her understanding of Mormonism and what’s important to her to be just what you’d expect from a Latter-day Saint mother and wife (and I don’t mean that disparagingly at all). Another comment Meyer made about why the books were written:

I wrote them for me.

On good guys and bad guys:

I grew up in a community where it was not the exception to be a good girl. It was sort of expected. And all of my friends were good girls too, and my boyfriends were good boys. Everybody was pretty nice. And that affects how I write my characters. There aren’t very many bad guys in my novels. Even the bad guys usually have a pretty good reason for the way they are, and some of them come around in the end. I don’t see the world as full of negatives.

Hardly what we would expect from a writer who apparently thinks Joseph Smith was a philandering phony who deserved to be murdered.

We can take the author at her word or, as Granger seems to suggest, assume she’s not being entirely honest and submit our own uninformed and vitriolic assumptions about what is driving her. As this review shows, Granger’s knowledge of Mormonism comes to him apparently exclusively through anti-Mormon literature, which gives him an incredibly skewed perspective. He appeals to rote anti-Mormon topics with the same naivety as a high school kid on a message board. He analyzes Meyer’s books as one with little experience tries to analyze the biblical text; he assumes every word is an allegory for something more profound and religiously significant. He draws his parallels from his insufficient grasp of the cultural milieu from which he imagines these allegories are being extracted. The result is an interpretation that, lo and behold, does little more than validate preconceived notions about what the Bible “really means.” That kind of biblical dilettantism doesn’t get published. Apparently when it engages Mormonism, however, it does.

The author refuses to take Meyer at her word and refuses to educate himself regarding real Mormonism and real Latter-day Saints, and his article is a good example of the product of that naivety and presumption. I’m honestly not convinced that he’s read a word of actual Mormon literature that wasn’t quoted in an anti-Mormon book. I’m shocked that a journal would publish such a shameful and uneducated anti-Mormon diatribe.

EDIT: Granger’s article is discussed on other blogs here, here, and here.

EDIT: Just ran across an essay wherein Granger explains his motivations for writing this article and a little about his methodologies. It’s quite a bit more objective than the article I review above, but still refuses to take the author at her word or fully inform himself of his subject matter. For instance, at one point he uses what he thinks is an LDS metaphor:

. . . “seeing-stones”, if I may be forgiven an LDS metaphor . . .

This isn’t an LDS metaphor. “Urim and Thummim” is often used by Latter-day Saints both literally and as a metaphor, and academically inclined Mormons speak non-metaphorically of a “seerstone,” but “seeing-stone” is not a term used by either. (It is the name of a recently published book, though.)


13 responses to “Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden?

  • Patrick George McCullough

    Too long to post it as a comment indeed! While I didn’t read anywhere close to this entire post, I just wanna tell you that I appreciate when people put on their “hats” whatever they may be. I would rather see someone be up front about their religious identity than pretend it has no effect on them on their austere biblical studies blog.

    As I read that again, I honestly don’t know to whom I’m referring. But I just like to see people’s perspectives coming out on their blogs.

  • Falling Up in Twilight « C. Orthodoxy

    [...] Daniel McClellan has posted a lengthy and biting response to Granger’s article. I am, at best, a novice when it comes to LDS doctrine, so I will not [...]

  • Ken Brown

    Thanks for the response, Daniel! I’ll defer to your knowledge of LDS doctrine and not attempt to defend Granger’s article, but I think you overestimate the importance of Meyer’s assertions that she was not intentionally incorporating Mormon symbolism. We can no more legitimately speculate about what she is “unlikely to have been aware of” than Granger can speculate about her motivations, and whether it was intentional or not is a separate question from whether the books actually do reflect a Mormon worldview. At the least, the use of the language and imagery of the fall to describe Bella’s becoming a vampire (which is clearly presented as a good thing) can hardly be denied, whether it represents LDS doctrine or not.

    That said, I like your explanation that Mormons do not believe the fall was a good thing, but simply deny that we are born guilty. I would probably agree with that, as noted in this post from a couple years ago.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Ken-

      Thanks for the response. I agree that we can’t know for sure what her intentions were, or how honestly she’s responding. In my post I am not trying to deduce exactly what her motivations are, but mainly trying to show how completely they conflict with Granger’s theory, and highlight the fact that he doesn’t engage them or give any reason that we should disbelieve her.

      I believe he’s just making assertions because he knows the majority of the readership will accept them without question and promulgate them actively without thinking critically about them. I’m hoping to provide a check to that (to whatever degree I can). What alternative underlying meaning may actually be present in the text is a question I’m not that concerned with.

  • clayboy » My Twilight ignorance and the necessary sin of Adam

    [...] intrigued to read both Ken Brown’s post on the Twilight series and Daniel McClellan’s erudite response. I confess right up front that I have not read any of Ms Meyer’s books. I have seen the film [...]

  • Was the Fall Necessary? « C. Orthodoxy

    [...] the Fall Necessary? Daniel McClellan posted a detailed and well-argued response to John Granger’s article on Mormonism and Twilight. Doug Chaplin then posted his own [...]

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    Ken-

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the honesty, and I hope you won’t worry about it. It’s part of our nature to accept ideas that are easy to understand. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t important issues where I take the word of the first person who comes along.

  • John Granger on Twilight | Sci Fi Blog

    [...] Chadwick’s “Where Twilight Studies Meet Mormon Studies,” and the second is “Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden?” by Daniel O. McClellan. I’m not interested in getting embroiled in an argument on the [...]

  • Camassia

    [...] among other things, called the Mormon view on the subject “Pelagian.” A Mormon blogger responded that this is not the case: “(Mormons) unequivocally believe that the fall separates God from [...]

  • Nathan R

    Great response, Dan. I was excited to stumble across your site! I miss the good ol’ RSC days. :-)

    Ken Brown:I like your explanation that Mormons do not believe the fall was a good thing, but simply deny that we are born guilty.

    Actually, it’s a little more nuanced than that.

    You can find many statements from Mormon leaders saying that the fall of Adam was a good thing, a necessary step toward becoming like God. You can also find many statements saying that it was good and necessary that we be temporarily removed from the Father’s presence for a time, in order to test our faith and obedience while on earth.

    However, we distinguish between the fall of Adam and each individual’s personal fall when we sin (some have called it the “fall of me” to distinguish the two). We believe sin is absolutely unnecessary and harmful, and that it alienates people from the Holy Ghost. It was necessary for Adam’s fall to separate us from the Father for a time, but it is unnecessary for individuals’ sins to separate them from the Holy Ghost.

    As I understand it, this is not a distinction that most other Christians make. I hope this clarifies the matter for those new to the idea.

  • Scripture focus

    What a white wash, McClellan. Keep it up and one day you might be able to replace Peterson!

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      If you have specific claims you’d like to challenge then be my guest. At this point your post amounts to little more than “Nu-uh!”

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