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Mormon Media Observer: A story from history reaffirmed my faith in the LDS Church

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 1:59 p.m. MDT

The story of 19th century communist Etienne Cabet helped me believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true.

His story inspired me in unexpected ways and taught me about the fickle nature of history as a guide to faith.

Before I describe his story, I should mention that lately there seems to be a cluster of news stories about members of the church who decide to leave the faith.

There's a common thread among many of them. Some people say they stumble upon an Internet post about the church or about its founding that fails to match their perception of what the history of the church is or of how they perceive the way that history was taught to them. Ultimately, they move on.

These stories are tragic to me. That's because history is fickle, based frequently upon perception and argument. As facts emerge, interpretations change depending on that context and upon perception. And much of history is always unknowable. It's a thin reed upon which to rest faith.

That having been said, the study of the history of the church has helped me believe.

To be sure, my belief, or as Latter-day Saints say, my testimony, doesn't originate in history. My belief comes through prayerful study of the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and through asking God about the truth contained therein. When I read the Book of Mormon and attend the temple and pray, I feel better inside. That feeling is deep, moving and profound. Truly, it is the peace that surpasseth understanding.

I think it likely my existing testimony strongly shapes my perception of history — just as a lack of faith might color another's perception of historical facts.

One historical story that moves me is the story of Cabet, an early communist. Indeed, some list Cabet as an important predecessor to Karl Marx.

Cabet was a Frenchman, a Christian and a journalist, if you will, who published a popular radical newspaper, Le Populaire.

He sat in the French parliament for a time, but was exiled to England for his radical views.

He became a utopian socialist, a communist as it came to be called. Eventually, Cabet wrote a book about his views of a utopian society called "The Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria." The book sold roughly a half million copies. Cabet became so popular that he stood for the presidency of France, but lost to Napoleon III.

By then, Cabet's followers had begun to establish communes. Cabet sailed to Texas to join some in the Red River Valley.

As Cabet arrived, however, the group suffered disease and other problems, so a new home was needed. Cabet headed north along the Mississippi River until he found a place.

Cabet and his followers, the Icarians, eked out a living until the group grew tired of Cabet's autocratic leadership. He was voted out. The group splintered. Cabet left and tried to start again, but he died a disappointed man a few months later. Groups of his followers continued their experiment for another four decades before the group disbanded in the 1890s.

How exactly does this story enhance my testimony?

It turns out Cabet settled in Nauvoo, Ill. just after the Latter-day Saints left.

Certainly, the Icarians have stories worth remembering and admiring, but I found the failure of the Icarian experiment at Nauvoo profoundly instructive because of the contrast it provides.

The contrast between the Latter-day Saints and the Icarians helped me see the success of the Latter-day Saint movement. My religion changes people and thereby changes the world.

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