Mike Otterson is coming home. Not all the way home (he is a Scouser) but a lot closer than he has been for most of his career. Otterson’s professional journey in journalism and then public relations has taken him from Liverpool to Canberra, from Tokyo to Salt Lake City, and now on his retirement he is coming back to London.
After a time in secular journalism, Otterson began work as a public relations officer, and eventually became the senior public relations officer for Mormonism worldwide. After decades in this work, he retired a few months ago and has been sent to London to function as president of the Mormon temple just outside the capital. In this new capacity he is not permitted to engage in media relations, but I had the good fortune to be able to speak to him in the month between his retirement and the assumption of his new duties.
Otterson was raised a Methodist. In his teens his mother’s health prevented her from attending their chapel but she insisted that her son continue doing so. This met some resentment. Growing up in Liverpool in the 1960s, Otterson drank in the revolutionary atmosphere. For him as an adolescent it seemed obvious that religion was merely the opium of the people. He was secretary of the Liverpool Astronomical Society. He built his own telescope and ground the lenses himself.
His journey to materialism seemed complete. And perhaps it was. But in the end it was to be a materialism of a radically different kind from that espoused by Marx and Engels. At this time one of Mike’s sisters became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons. Michael’s mother was not at all pleased at her daughter’s transformation and encouraged her son to look into the refutation of his sibling’s new creed. Michael buried himself in the writings on Mormonism to be found in the public library (uniformly hostile), but he also investigated his sister’s new religion for himself. The consequence was his own conversion to the creed of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith.
Near the end of the Book of Mormon – one of the books Mormonism’s 19th-century founder added to the canon – the text appeals to the reader to pray for enlightenment as to whether the claims of the book are not true. One might think this a rather audacious reversal of the burden of proof, but in Mike’s case there was no problem: he received enlightenment concerning the truth of Mormonism, embraced its rites and tenets and it has guided the rest of his life. “I put that passage to the test and received my answer to that witness,” he says.
Without trying to be impertinent, Mormonism is rather a singular creed. Its essential tenets are these: only bodies exist (spirit as conceived of by the Catholic Church and the Greco-Scholastic philosophical tradition does not exist). All beings, including intelligent entities, are bodily and all intelligent entities are of the same species. God, angels, men and demons are all essentially divine. The being that the Mormons call “God” is, in fact, just the oldest and chief of a great race of potential and actual deities – “gods in embryo”, as Otterson puts it – many of whom will or do rule their own planets as “gods”.
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