When God became American

July 18, 2005 | 39 comments
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When God became American is the novelized biography of Joseph Smith by the French author Marc Chadourne: Quand Dieu se fit Americain. More than 400 pages. It ends with a fascinating introspection on the essence of Mormonism and its place within America. I thought to share this with our readers, as it also raises some questions for discussion.

First a short intro to this French author. Born in 1895, brave pilot of a flying machine during the First World War, brilliant student, Marc Chadourne became a world traveler as colonial administrator. His first novel, Vasco (1928), is set in Polynesia and met with an immense success at the time. His next work of fiction, Cecile de la folie (1930) obtained the famous Prix Femina. After visiting the USSR during the first years of Stalin’s rule, he published a devastating account of his observations. The 1930s saw him in Cameroon, Mexico, China, Vietnam… from where his extensive, critical reporting was avidly read in France, as well as his new novels. He was traveling in Asia when the Second World War erupted. Unable to return to France, he found refuge in the United States, where he became professor of French literature at… the University of Utah. His three years there, characterized by a captivated interest in Mormonism, finally led to the publication, in 1950, of Quand Dieu se fit Americain. That same year the French Academy granted him the prestigious Grand Prix de Litterature. He died in France in 1975, at age 80.

So here speaks a man with an exceptional international background, vast critical insight, who, at a mature age, was able to live for several years among the Mormons. His novelized biography of Joseph Smith is high in detail, based on multiple sources, well written like a sweeping novel. In contrast to most non-Mormon authors, Chadourne’s approach also contains an intrigued questioning as to the veracity of Joseph’s claims. Through the eyes of various characters he leaves room for both acceptance or doubt, and is always respectful.

Much more personal are his observations in some parts of the book. Chadourne meditates on the Book of Mormon, a book which he considers a “prodigy”. He describes, in wonderment, various facets of the Book, emphasizing its revelatory power which, “extending beyond ancient and more recent Scriptures, stirs up the dust of the oldest humanity, theogonies and dogma’s, to exhibit in an increasing glow a concept of Christianity, a redemptive Logos which encompasses and enlightens them”. Approvingly Chadourne quotes Henry A. Wallace: “Of all the American religious books of the nineteenth century, it seems probable that the Book of Mormon was the most powerful.” The remarkable dimension of this evaluation of the Book of Mormon, by a French intellectual, can only be understood by comparing it to the mockery and denigration of all his predecessors for more than a century.

At the end of his novel, Chadourne turns his thoughts to Utah, to Zion, and from there to the ultimate question which gave the book its title. The translation of the following excerpts into English is mine, as literal as possible, but unable to convey the charming flow of Chadourne’s style.

… “This is the place.” Words forever engraved in all Mormon hearts. At the very spot where they were pronounced, on a most rugged side of the mountain, a bronze memorial, monument sealed to the rock, reminds them to the traveler and the passer-by.

For three years, evening and morning, in front of that Memorial, a Gentile stopped, an anxious spirit, perhaps even incredulous, solicited, haunted, as he entered into the history of this strong and growing people, by the secret of faith or imposture, taken into his grave by Joseph – “of the lineage of Jacob and Joseph” – as well as of all the Prophets of which he made himself emulator and descendant. This stranger, this Gentile, then continued along the road, his eyes each day dazzled, his soul each day refreshed by the sight of the predestined site as well as by the accomplished miracle:

This Zion oriented towards its Temple and its Tabernacle, pursuing its ascent from mountain range to mountain range, spreading its destiny beyond the limits of sight, projected into reality by the Seer as well as by the acting faith of men. The stranger questioned himself: God without them would not have made it… But would they have built it without God?

As I lived among the Saints the question had not to be asked any more. Some kind of understanding established itself (even when I had to explain Voltaire, Renan or Gide to the students of their University). No, men who, between them, bankers or pastors, manufacturers, farmers or shopkeepers, continue to call each other “Brother …”, to pay to the Church, year after year, a tithe of their income, who, almost every evening, whether it snows, hails or storms, every Sunday at least, with wife and children in the car, gleaming Buick or pitiable Ford, go to the Temple or to the chapel, who forbid themselves even the lightest beer, coffee, tea, tobacco, who taste the water as if the staff of Moses had just made it gush out of the canyon, make appointments with Dad, Mom and grand-parents in the Millenial kingdom, make as many children as possible with their only wife now as the ancestors of the tribe with their circle of plural wives, who let their herds graze in the mountain sage, clear terrain, quarry, plant gardens when they return from works in the City, who only build with bricks and stone, like their fathers, for the future, men of such making, men thus carved for a wholesome and prosperous holiness, would not have built, would not build without God.

Which God?

A God whose principle is action, dynamism, creation, who sanctifies the works by a demanding morality and that morality by the success of the works; a God who, in his Son, became Overman, Ubermensch, to teach humans what they can become; a God whose reign, remunerating their efforts, must establish itself not in a problematic hereafter, but on this earth… But this God, would he not be, finally, the one that most religious Americans honor? … Perhaps. Because, as America was being made, God became American. Just as the first and the last who came to the New World, He naturalized himself…

It is important for the stranger, who was welcomed during three years in this holy community, to mark its strengths and its virtues: endurance, energy, fierce temperance and sobriety, candor and positivism, materialism pressed to the point of mysticism, soaring youth. Hardened by the West, offshoots of the puritans of New England, the Mormons are reinforced Americans, simultaneously by the practice of a religion born from the need to reconcile the different Christian confessions dividing America, by the persecutions and trials of the past, and by their mission for the future. A triple essence of Americans.

And so, to certain visitors pressured by the imperatives of their itineraries – do you remember, Armand Hoog* and you, dear Marcel Ayme*? – the acclimatized says: “In this Utah which seems to you the most lost corner of this immense continent and where you wonder what I am doing here, you are in the heart of a true America, authentic, natural, primordial, profoundly religious and industrious at the same time. You are here at the source of the things you want to learn most, and which Hollywood, New York, Chicago will certainly not show you. Many times, me too, I journeyed from West to East and from North to South through the vast regions you fly over. Here, among the Mormons, I make the voyage in depth, in a different dimension, to the roots of American pragmatism and messianism. Nowhere will you find more determined Americans. Here they recognize the promise of the Eternal God and put in on the license plates of their cars: “This is the place.” This place is “the” place, the microcosm where the nature of the American man and of the American cosmos are encapsulated… There is, in the faith of this religious people a uranium which will carry far. What God was, said their prophet in substance, you can be.”

Also to this land I said farewell. But – will I ever forget? – nowhere in the world have I known, brilliant in purer air, a more limpid luminosity than on those hillsides where, each evening, I saw the herds amble, the Lake emerge from the magic of the horizon, the lights of Zion switch on and palpitate, innumerable through the valley… Like then, now that I complete this book which I lived doubly – of a man, of another faith or of another God? – my thoughts irresistibly return to the young visionary of Palmyra and to his eyes which, in his last hour, he turned away from his assassins masked with soot to lift them towards the blaze of an empty sky… or of the Most-High.

Salt Lake, 1947
Paris, 1950


Thus ends, on the same note of intrigued questioning, this gripping finale.

***

For possible discussion:

1 What impression do these words of the “Gentile” Chadourne make on us now?

2 Chadourne lauds, in no uncertain terms, a strong, authentic Americanness in Mormonism. Can and should the Church retain, as it becomes more and more international, this perceived American essence? Not an altered, weakened, embarrassed Americanness (“We are not an American Church”), but its visionary affirmation of being the Promised Land, its combination of pragmatism and messianism.

3 Chadourne was impressed by the doctrine of eternal progression – “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” While we tend nowadays to deemphasize this principle, assuming it would hurt the way we are perceived, what to think when a critical outsider recognizes in such doctrine a major aspect of the uniqueness and majesty of Mormonism?

===
* Armand Hoog (1913-1999), French native, for 26 years Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French Literature at Princeton. Literary critic, novelist. Marcel Ayme (1902-1967), famous French novelist, essayist, and playwright. Both men visited Chadourne in Utah.

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39 Responses to When God became American

  1. danithew on July 18, 2005 at 1:54 pm

    This is the very first time I ever heard of Marc Chadourne. Thank you for your post.

  2. lyle stamps on July 18, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Hm…Princeton & U.Del. have copies, but not Upenn. Well, since I can’t read French (yet)..I guess it doesn’t matter. Maybe it will get an English translation when the copyright (started to run in 1950) runs out?

  3. Nick on July 18, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Lyle,

    I was wondering if anybody else also frequents the Mormon bookshelves on the fourth floor of the UPenn library. Now I know.

  4. Shawn Bailey on July 18, 2005 at 3:12 pm

    Wilfried:
    My general reaction: I am intrigued and would love to see an English translation. Any additional details regarding the cultural history of Quand Dieu se fit Americain would be interesting. Was it widely read? Well-reviewed? Did it change any minds in the french-speaking world regarding mormonism? Would french literati today be aware of this volume?

  5. lyle stamps on July 18, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Do we need to compile a “must read”/”best of” commentary by Non-MOs re: MOs?

  6. Frank McIntyre on July 18, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks Wilfried. That was very interesting. It is great to find these little tidbits lurking about in corners of the world. Where did you learn of this book? Is it common knowledge among the Mormon Belgians or the BYU French faculty?

  7. Ralph Hancock on July 18, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    Wilfried: Thanks for the tip – I thought I more or less knew French stuff re. Mormonism (I served mission there 72-74, and my son, too, 97-99), but I had never heard of this very intriguing item. I am reminded of the little book on Mormonism in the famous “Que sais-je” reference series that I came across on my mission (it may have been superseded in that series by now): this book reviewed various attempts to give a naturalistic account of the production of the Book of Mormon, noted that none really added up, and concluded by a disarmingly honest declaration: I can’t explain this (or words to that effect).
    On the “Americanism & Mormonism” question, a plea for moderation (vs. the tiresome “multiculturalist” criticisms of the more simplistically patriotic styles of Mormonism): if God prepared this place for the Restoration (and raised up wise men to Found it, etc.), then surely some aspects (but surely not all attributes) of the American character (perhaps indeed something suggested by the striking combination of pragmatism & Messianism) should be considered as part of that preparation.

  8. Wilfried on July 18, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for comments thus far! Shawn, to answer your questions:

    – Was it widely read? – Probably not. I guess it must have rather annoyed the reading public. For years, in France, Mormonism had been viewed as a source of wild stories centering around polygamy. Well into the 20th century, Francophone authors, some famous like Guillaume Apollinaire, Simenon and Pierre Benoit, used the Mormons in their unbridled fantasy. Chadourne’s trip into reality, and his tribute to Mormonism, did probably not strike the right chord.

    – Well-reviewed? – Would be worth some research, for it definitely would have attracted attention, the very same year Chadourne was give the highest literary prize by the French Academy.

    – Did it change any minds in the French-speaking world regarding Mormonism? – Perhaps momentarily for a limited public, but not in depth, not on the long term.

    – Would French literati today be aware of this volume? – Marc Chadourne certainly did not become an “immortel”, though specialists know him, his biography is in the “livre en poche”, and some of his best novels are still on sale. Better known is probably his brother Louis, a poet who died at age 35, and is still cited in numerous places.

  9. Wilfried on July 18, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    Frank and Ralph, to answer your query, here’s some info on my knowledge base for this book. In the 70s I studied the image of Mormonism in French literature, which was published in BYU Studies (available on line: Part I and Part II). In the course of that research I stumbled on Chadourne’s novel. But I never got to work out that part (the period after 1930). It’s still on the shelve. But I wanted to share this gem about Chadourne here and I hope the questions will trigger some discussion.

  10. J. Stapley on July 18, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    Merci. I found several copies for sale in France. I have never purchased from international vendors before, but you have inspired me.

  11. A. Greenwood on July 18, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    How is it that this man could say what’s been in my heart but I didn’t know how to say?

    I only hope he is right about us. If he is, if we make him right, then will be no doubt that the blaze is not the blaze of an empty sky, but of the Most High.

  12. Carl Youngblood on July 18, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    His being French and discussing religion in America reminds me of Alexis de Toqueville’s similar remarks (from DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA):

    “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her comodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies; and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast commerce, and it was not there. Not until I visited the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

  13. annegb on July 18, 2005 at 9:44 pm

    Thanks, Wilfried, that was lovely.

    But I wonder, how do you feel about it? How would you answer your own questions?

    Surely we are an international church, does that mean we are spreading Americanism as we are spreading Mormonism? Does that mean that converts should become more westernized? Are they becoming westernized? And then does that speak truth to the Muslim accusation of American intent on westernizing the world?

    I don’t have an opinion, I really want to know.

  14. Bryan Warnick on July 18, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    The question of the American nature of the Church is a good one. I think if the American-ness of the Church is manifest and perceived in certain ways, it can be one of our biggest assets. Specifically, if the Church becomes associated with American principles of liberty, equality, and democracy, then it will probably be an asset. If the Church, however, becomes associated with the equally Amercian principles of materialism, violence, arrogance, and cultural imperialism, that is quite another. In order to play to our strengths in this regard, we would need to emphasize things like dialogic revelation (as Givens describes in By the Hand of Mormon), deliberation through councils, cooperative creation, common consent, metaphysical and theological pluralism, and so forth. This is what would allow me, at least, to say, “Yes, it is an American Church.” The happy paradox is that if we become this sort of American Church, then we will also become the most culturally open, cosmopolitan, and tolerant.

  15. GreenEggz on July 18, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    I believe the true Gospel can encompasses different cultures of the present time just as it encompassed different cultures in past dispensations, Adamic, Semitic, Israelite, Jewish, Greek/Roman, Jaredite, Nephite, Lamanite, plus more that we don’t know about.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of people who receive the gospel having to adopt the culture of those who are delivering the Gospel.

    But, as Elder Oaks said in a recent conference talk, any cultural traditions that conflict with the Lord’s commandments are expected to be discontinued.

  16. K Christopherson on July 19, 2005 at 12:48 am

    As I read Chadourne’s description of how the Mormons are so definitively American: authentic, natural, primordial, profoundly religious and industrious at the same time, affected by a faith that desires to reconcile Christian confessions dividing America, a people shaped by the trials of the past with a clear and powerful vision of our future…., I felt like many Mormons today can still identify with some of all that, but to what degree? And what about Americans in general? Does Chadoune’s description have much of a place at all among us? How would Chadourne describe Americans in the 21st century? Can you really charictarize today’s diverse USA in a few paragraphs? If you can, is Chadourne’s description of what is American any more a reality today than Al-Queda’s generalization of us? Maybe we don’t have to worry about spreading “American culture” as we spread the gospel simply because “American culture” is no longer what it was 70 years ago. I live in L. A. and if what I see around me is American culture and we are spreading it with the gospel, heaven help us. Perhaps now we are just spreading plain old “endurance, energy, temperance, sobriety, candor… and soaring youth,” unfortunatley these qualities just don’t scream “America” to me.

  17. Wilfried on July 19, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Previous comments – thank you, Ralph, annegb, Bryan, GreenEggz, K Christopherson – drew the attention to the question of Americanness of the Church and its relation to the world. I too find this a challenging question and I have no definite answer to it. Just some thoughts.

    1 Americanness, as seen by Chadourne among the Mormons, is of a well defined kind. It’s good to reread the passages to fully grasp what he meant. It’s Mormon Americanness, as he still saw it in the 1940s, and which he considers the most authentic and the strongest. Note that the usual basic American concepts of “liberty and democracy”, though certainly not denied, are not on the forefront of his description.

    2 K. Christopherson raised the valid remark: “I felt like many Mormons today can still identify with some of all that, but to what degree?” If we look at this in a Wasatch Front perspective, the question pertains to the challenges of an encroaching world upon Zion. There are many facets to this, and Conference talks frequently address this issue, now in 21st century terms. Civil and political forces also continue to be inspired by Mormon norms to help ensure aspects of our identity.

    3 And then to the international Church. The Church is still in the process of shifting from a Gathering Culture to a Dispersion Culture. The message to “remain in your homeland” has been given for several decades now. But to what extent can Mormon Americanness, as portrayed by Chadourne and which is so much part of our history and our religious identity, be experienced in other countries and cultures? Doctrinally America remains the Promised Land and “Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent” (10th Article of Faith). For more than a century that perspective was part of the motor for conversions and emigration. It also forged our unity as a peculiar people.

    In a Dispersion Culture the rhetoric becomes less or even not America-centered, but the doctrine is still there. Moreover, we need to protect and even reinforce our unity in an expanding Church, to rein in centrifugal tendencies, avoid ruptures and schisms. We therefore need some form of cultural cohesion, for lack of it also contributes to our major challenge of inactivity. But to what extent can or should that cohesion, abroad, become (part of) Mormon Americanness? Also, as the reference to Elder Oaks’ talk reminded us, cultural traditions that conflict with the Lord’s commandments are not acceptable. What would be examples of such?

  18. annegb on July 19, 2005 at 10:08 am

    I think there are Native American tribes who are urged to give up their ancient traditions because they embrace other deities. I knew some Indian kids who really got their back up at that suggestion. That would be one example.

    As I was reading this, I thought about capitalism. I think that as other countries become more affluent and we Americans spread our way of life, it is inevitable that other countries who are more modern become westernized, because of economic advances.

    This is a complicated issue. What worries me is that a feeling of exclusivity will come into play, that we who are Americans will feel better than the less developed countries, or more entitled. I don’t understand how Europeans see Americans, I don’t understand how my “programming” in having “things” so readily available can make me arrogant or pushy, but I have heard that Europeans think we are that way. I think this will become more and more a problem as the church grows.

  19. Seth Rogers on July 19, 2005 at 11:21 am

    America today has lost a lot of what defined it in the early 20th century. In my view, mainline America today is defined more by an absence of culture and identity.

    Saying that our identity is “democracy” and “freedom” won’t cut it either. Those values are too broad to be useful as cultural identifiers. It’s like saying our culture stands for love. The statement is so vague as to be absolutely meaningless.

    Mailine America today has no identity. You can see cultural identity in the different ethnic groups: Japanese Americans, blacks, Latinos, Mormons, Jews, etc. But ask a college campus to define “white culture” and you get a lot of uncomfortable silence.

    Why do I bring up “white culture?” Because it’s a clumsy synonym for what the mainline American culture has become. It wasn’t always like this. American immigrants used to identify more with the motherland: Ireland, Italy, Germany, etc. But eventually, these white immigrants assimilated into the mainstream. Their sense of distinct ethnicity became lost in the “melting pot” of America.

    The racial groups I mentioned earlier retain their distinctiveness. But that’s only because they haven’t completed the transition and assimilated yet. But it’s only a matter of time before latino-Americans are just as undistinctive as the descendants of German immigrants in the 1800s.

    I suppose you could blame the loss of culture on the influx of “outsiders.” But this doesn’t really explain it for me. After all, the “influx of outsiders” has always been a constant in American history.

    I blame it on mass consumerism. Those wishing to make a real profit in America have to market to the widest slice of America possible. Often, this means going to the lowest common denominator (anyone watch the movie Godzilla?). Otherwise it requires emphasising values that are shared by everyone, like “love,” “freedom,” “happiness” and other broad, meaningless, and worthless terms.

    This is why the dialogue on TV is incapable of nuance, why summer movies are doomed to superficiality, and why there can never be a real “American culture” that actually means anything.

    “Caucasian America” has largely assimilated into this mass culture. That’s why when you ask people to define “white culture,” nobody has an answer. The whites don’t have a culture. They are too intimately associated with the “mass culture.” All white America has is an absence of culture. A cultural void into which all the other newcomers are gradually being sucked.

    “Give me your tired, your poor ….” and I’ll suck em in and make them just as bland as everyone else here.

    This isn’t universally true in America however.

    The one hold-out is religion. Religious groups in America remain distinctive. Practicing Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Mormons tend to retain a good deal of cultural distinctiveness. I say practicing, because those who don’t practice the religion typically have little alternative but to wander off into the wasteland of American culture, never to be heard from again.

    In fact, the insistent pull of the mass culture is often a motivator for loss of religious identity. People are often too busy trying to be good Americans to be good Catholics.

    I’ve quoted a certain Jewish comedian elsewhere on these forms, but it bears repeating:

    “I’m not a Jew, I’m Jewish.”

    Religion in America, more and more, is becoming like a set of merit badges. Something you did once, but are not doing anymore. Something you pull out of the attic on occasion to reminisce about, but not a present motivator of action and identity.

    Roger R. Keller wrote of Judaism:

    “While the Holocaust was a malignant, vile challenge to Jewish life, a more insidious and perhaps more dangerous threat today comes from a very different problem – assimilation. The strength of Jedaism has always been its uniqueness in the face of the world’s values. However, as Jews live in the comfort of the West, where few people ask questions about religious affiliation, more and more Jews are leaving their heritage and beginning to disappear into the surrounding culture. Sometimes assimilation comes through marriage with a non-Jewish partner. Sometimes it comes because keeping dietary laws or Sabbath regulations is inconvenient. Whatever the reason, Jewish identity is being threatened by the very openness and pluralism of Western society, particularly that which is found in the United States.”

    He continues:

    “Like the Jews, Latter-day Saints have become successful – and therein lies the danger to Latter-day Saints, just as surely as it is a danger to American Jewry. Both communities run the risk of being assimilated slowly and quietly into the fabric of Americanism. As several Latter-day prophets have said, the church will be tested far more by success and prosperity than it ever was by persecution. Ultimately, the danger for the future of Latter-day Saints and Jews alike is to become too much like the nations and not to be what God has called them to be.”

    Roger R. Keller, Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View, pg. 180-82.

    Personally, I think we might do well to consider what America has become … And avoid it like a loathsome disease.

  20. Wilfried on July 19, 2005 at 11:54 am

    That’s a lot of interesting information, Seth. The question, however, is less about what America has become, or about other groups, but about the authentic “religious-industrious-Zion-oriented” culture of the Church (as Chadourne noticed it in admiration) and the way it relates to the spreading of the Gospel worldwide. I agree with you there are challenges to the Church in maintaining the original culture and finding new balances, but those challenges have always been with us. As an “outsider” living in Utah, I can still recognize a lot of what Chadourne describes.

  21. Jeremy on July 19, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    I wonder if Harold Bloom read Chadourne. It seems Chadourne grasped the essense of Bloom’s observations (and a similar sense of wonder) half a century earlier than Bloom himself did.

  22. Wilfried on July 19, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    Interesting observation, Jeremy. We can refer to a post by Nate in that respect (and which ties in well with the discussion of Mormon Americanness as a form of nationalism). Of course, Bloom’s analysis also differs in many points. Chadourne has a much more emotional, subdued approach. No arrogant dissection. I would say: much closer to the Spirit.

  23. Shawn Bailey on July 19, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Whether or not we emphasize Americanness (as Chadbourne used the term), or the doctrine of eternal progression, or various other doctrines (such as literal zion-building, literal millenarianism, and so on) is a set of key questions about current church identity.

    People have mentioned the strain of growth on the church. It seems that growth may exert pressure in a variety of ways:
    (1) encouraging correlation-like centralization/simplification of church materials which may be both good (cutting out froth to focus on essentials) and bad (making things too bland).
    (2) encouraging tayloring of the message to be accepted at several levels — getting missionaries legally permitted to enter countries, getting them invited into homes, and getting the message itself accepted by individuals. The use of slick public relations comes to mind here.
    (3) encouraging leaders or members to down-play aspects of the tradition that do not seem conducive to growth—for example, because it is somewhat insular and less efficient at generating wealth, the literal zion model may not be conducive to building hundreds of chapels and temples around the world.

    Obviously a great deal is at stake here. It seems at least possible that the salt of the earth could lose its savor in the process of being brought out of obscurity and spreading to fill the whole earth.

  24. Jim F. on July 19, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    For Chadourne, Americanism is “endurance, energy, fierce temperance and sobriety, candor and positivism, materialism pressed to the point of mysticism, soaring youth.” I’d like to see more candor in Mormon culture, but other than that, it seems to me that the Church continues to focus on these things, without identifying them as Americanism (thank goodness). They are at the heart of why we continue to call naive 19- and 21-year-olds as proselyting missionaries. These qualities explain why many are attracted to the missionaries, even if they are not particularly interested in religion.

  25. Jeremy on July 19, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Yes, Wilfried, I didn’t mean to overgeneralize (it’s far too easy to look at what two respected smart people say about Mormonism and read too much into the mere commonality of their paying attention to us at all…) Perhaps I should have asked: has Chadourne had already written, or come close to writing (but in French) the kind of epic, awed rendering of Mormonism that Bloom said someone would write “someday.”

  26. Wilfried on July 19, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    Actually, Jeremy, I had not finished commenting on your excellent observation. I was in the middle of adding a sentence to my comment 23, and the site went down. This it was in essence: You are absolutely right to point out a remarkable similarity between Bloom and Chadourne, i.e. the fact that finally top intellectuals were looking seriously at Mormonism and recognized it as worthwhile topic for deeper study. That alone is a major breakthrough.

  27. Wilfried on July 19, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Shawn, the items you bring up in comment 24 are indeed key issues that deserve attention and discussion. The trend to simplify to essentials, correlate, taylor the message for PR reasons, downplay peculiarities seems to have both advantages and risks. I am not sure we are sufficiently aware of the risks and perhaps the future will show the risks are minimal. Still, finding the right balance between Christian generalities and a daring Mormon identity seems one of the major challenges for succesful missionary work and for the holding power of our members in the international Church. I found Chadourne’s point of entry interesting because this outsider, after three years of study and Mormon community experience, perceived the essence elsewhere than in a bland Christian message.

  28. Melinda on July 19, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    I have a comment about American culture being equated to Mormonism – specifically the industriousness. I was researching an issue in oral histories collected from Native Hawaiians who had joined the Church and moved to Utah. One woman’s recollections recounted her bitterness at the Church’s attitude towards helping her. She was alone, and she got the definite impression that the ward members disliked helping her because they thought she was lazy. She stated that the more laidback lifestyle was part of her Hawaiian culture, and she felt wrongly judged by her fellow Church members who were raised with a busy, industrious lifestyle.

    I’m still puzzled by the issue she raised (which is why I still remember it). Work is so important in Mormonism it’s practically one of the saving doctrines. But not every culture places such a high priority on productivity. Do more laidback cultures need to get busier? Or do American/European Mormons need to relax more?

  29. Zerin Hood on July 19, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    Once more I applaud your work Wilfried.

  30. john fowles on July 19, 2005 at 10:26 pm

    Wilfried asked, Chadourne was impressed by the doctrine of eternal progression – “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” While we tend nowadays to deemphasize this principle, assuming it would hurt the way we are perceived, what to think when a critical outsider recognizes in such doctrine a major aspect of the uniqueness and majesty of Mormonism?

    It certainly lends a point to the plan of salvation/the mystery of suffering during this life. And it is only offensive to those who have bought into the Trinitarian God, which takes as much faith in the inspiration of the purveyors of such doctrine as does a belief in the King Follett discourse. In other words, the (arbitrary) decision of a committee/committees and scholars over time to adopt neo-Platonic categories with which to define the life, work, and essence of God and Jesus Christ should be recognized by such Trinitarians as just as speculative as the doctrine quoted by Wilfried above. Why should the committee(s) who are responsible for the creation of the Trinitarian creeds have any more credibility or authority to lay down such doctrine than Joseph Smith, a young man claiming to be a prophet? The former demands an irrational belief in the supposed workings of God in guiding the formation of the canon and that particular doctrine, despite the concurrent belief that everything necessary had already been revealed and the heavens closed; the latter demands an irrational belief in the supposed workings of God in calling a prophet in the Latter-days, just like he called prophets as recorded in the Bible. That one French thinker was apparently willing to accord these beliefs of Latter-day Saints an equal standing of sorts among such ideas is refreshing indeed.

  31. Seth Rogers on July 19, 2005 at 11:30 pm

    Funny, the man becoming god idea is quite alive and well in all the wards I’ve attended in life. Of course, most of my wards were also located in the intermountain west ….

    Perhaps this doctrine is only deemphasized by those who have to deal with Evangelical Christians on a semi-regular basis?

  32. Wilfried on July 20, 2005 at 10:29 am

    Melinda (# 28) raises an interesting, but touchy topic: “Work is so important in Mormonism it’s practically one of the saving doctrines. But not every culture places such a high priority on productivity. Do more laidback cultures need to get busier? Or do American/European Mormons need to relax more?”

    That’s a question with a lot of ramifications, but we could try to limit it to the Church and its programs. Do some Church programs, requiring solid initiative and intensive work, need to be adapted to cultures? Or is the whole concept of “laidback” and “busy” cultures an erroneous stereotype?

  33. b bell on July 20, 2005 at 11:03 am

    Seth,

    In my experience in the Bible Belt (Fort Worth TX) LDS people are still teaching the truths of the King Follet discourse regarding etenral progression. I have seen it taught in Seminary, YM and Sunday School consistently. We are surrounded by evangelicals but I see no softening of the doctrine at all.

  34. Jeremy on July 20, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Perhaps Wilfried should spearhead the publication of a translation of Chadourne?

  35. Mike on July 22, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    What a powerful piece of literature.

    Every generation re-invents their religions. Since Chadourne lived in Utah, America has changed drastically. And so has Mormonism.

    The Mormonism described by Chadourne is a pre-correlation religion. What would a Chadourne say about living among the Mormons of today? Personally I feel like Chadourne describes the religion of my childhod and that to a large extent this religion has been hijacked. Perhaps it had to be thus. Beautiful as it is, I don’t think his description is current. I wish it was.

    But we have to move forward, and I have faith that the next generation will go beyond the problems of correlation and build on some of the positive aspects of it.

  36. Kent Larsen on July 22, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    FWIW, Quand Dieu se fit Americain doesn’t appear to have ever been translated into English. Nor does a subsequent edition appear to have been published in French, from what I see [Perhaps someone who speaks French can check the French National Library? to be sure.]

    Under US copyright law, the book is probably still covered (see http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/training/Hirtle_Public_Domain.htm), which means that the rights are either owned by the books’ publisher, Fayard, or by Chadourne’s family.

    And, in case anyone has hopes, Quand Dieu se fit Americain won’t be in the public domain before 2045.

    But I agree that it would be great to see this book in English. I’d publish it in a second.

    Kent Larsen, Publisher
    Mormon Arts and Letters

  37. Silus Grok on November 29, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    To anyone who cares, I”ve just received my copy of Quand Dieu se fit Americain (in French).

    It’s a beautiful paperback edition.

    * beems with pride *

    With some convincing, it may be available for lending to board members in the area.

  38. Wilfried on November 29, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    Enjoy the reading, Silus. I read the book again a short while back and have again be impressed by Chadourne’s treatment of Joseph Smith. Of course, it remains a novel, and some passages may disturb Church-members not used to interpretation. He is still a French intellectual who approaches Joseph Smith, but without prejudice, as a Mormon Enigma, and who is open to the possibility of the divine calling of the prophet. That in itself is already amazing. Add to that Chadourne’s poetic and majestic style, and his final ode to the Mormons at the end of the book.

    At BYU’s Special Collection I came across a 2-page unpublished “review” of the book, dated 15 February 1951, written by a French Church member to a Church leader in SLC. He condemns it in no uncertain terms: “impudent levity”… “this book may be the by-product of a well planned campaign directed against the Church by a rival or enemy organization.”

    Interesting as reaction: this devout Mormon was probably so convinced that any non-totally-pro publication must be an anti, that he failed to see that Chadourne may have been close to conversion (as can be inferred from the last pages of his book which I translated in the post). I guess the good man did not read the book until the end (or at all) or he would have used some of Chadourne in Mormon PR in the 1950s. He certainly missed the perspective and did not realize Chadourne’s literary genius.

  39. Silus Grok on November 29, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    I look forward to reading it… though I’ll need to buy a French dictionary — I’m afraid the author’s lexicon exceeds my own by no small amount.

    : )