11 - A Tangle of Strings and the Kingdom of God  pp. 262-277

A Tangle of Strings and the Kingdom of God

By John L. Brooke

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We've gotten into a jumble of late;

A deep intricate puzzle, a tangle of strings,

That no possible scheme can make straight.

Eliza Snow, Nauvoo, Illinois, August 1842

The hermetic restoration forged by the Mormons at Nauvoo was in effect an institutionalized antinomianism, with a fundamentally radical notion of divinization contained and circumscribed by the absolute rule of Mormon ordinance, “the perfect law of Theocracy.” The Mormon faithful were not to be held accountable to mere human law but to the higher law of the Kingdom of God. In writing the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith had reproduced and exaggerated conventional boundaries between good and evil, purity and danger. Now, with the institutional framing of the Kingdom, those boundaries were decisively set aside; the only boundary of any significance was that between the Mormon Kingdom and the corrupt world. The 1840s and 1850s, as the Mormons built their Kingdom on the Mississippi, only to pull up stakes and rebuild that Kingdom in the Great Basin, saw the most uninhibited expressions of hermetic divinity and antinomian innovation in American history. For a few years it seemed that the Mormons stood on the verge of a realized Kingdom, a Kingdom with political powers of organized violence and currency, a Kingdom of polygamous marriage and Adamic perfection. Then, once again their Kingdom was swallowed up in the American leviathan, and gradually and episodically, Mormons adjusted their culture to accommodate the American norm. The first story, running to the mid-1850s, is the subject of this chapter; the outline of the second story, running down to the present, is the subject of the final chapter.