Islam’s long war

Michael Cappi, who got interested in Islam after being near Ground Zero on 9/11, has written what looks like a must-read book called A Never Ending War. Jamie Glazon interviews Cappi at Front Page Magazine, and Cappi has some very interesting things to say about the nature of Islam, the Koran, War and the West:

If anyone takes the time to read the Qur’an the answer to your question is simple and very obvious. For accuracy purposes I read three versions. They all agree in principle. The Qur’an is nothing like the Bible or New Testament. In no way and certainly not in substance or intent is it similar. By the way any belief system can be perverted to nefarious ends but if the system itself is fundamentally benign or moral any perversion of its philosophical premises can be righted. However, when the belief system itself is corrupt or evil no good can come from it. The Qur’an is just such a belief system: it is a “blueprint for war” and for the subjugation of the non-believer. To the extent it deals with any aspect of morality it is similar to the Judeo-Christian ethic but only if this ethic is not in conflict with the goals of Islam’s spread and world conquest.

The Qur’an is filled with endless directives compelling Muslims to convert, conquer or kill non-believers and to conquer the non-Islamic world. Further Islam dictates that the Qur’an must be accepted and followed literally. Apostasy is heresy and punishable by death. It is this belief system that throughout history has caused Muslims to endlessly embark on conquest. In 1400 years of history the only time the West has been at “peace” with Islam was from the end of the Ottoman Empire early in the 20th Century through the end of World War ll. The reason for Islam’s dormancy during this brief period was the overwhelming superiority of the West technologically and economically along with the impoverished and largely uneducated Islamic world. The difference made it impossible for Islam to confront the West in any way. The vast quantity of money flowing into the Middle East from the sale of oil after WWII has allowed Islam to buy what it needs to once again begin its quest. The modern jihad was born.

The oil money has funded the terrorists, the construction of endless mosques and madrassas- Islamic religious schools – throughout the West. Both school and mosque almost all preach the most extreme form of Islam – Wahhabism. Our “friends” the Saudis fund most of these activities.

Perhaps that was a long-winded way of saying that Islam itself is the enemy, not a number of terrorist groups. Terrorism is one of Islam’s tools but it is the religion of Islam that is at war with us. One might ask how can a religion be at war with countries? The brief answer lies in the fact that there is no separation of church and state in Islam. The law of Islam is Shari’ and it is derived from the Qur’an and Haddiths. Every Muslim country in the world is governed by Shari’a. (Turkey is an exception but even it does not violate Shari’a and in fact is suffering an internal struggle to adopt overthrow its secular laws in favor of Shari’a.)

The central theme found throughout the Qur’an and embodied in Shari’a is a concept of a very definite world order. There can exist, according to Islam only two states in the world: dar al Islam – the realm of Islam and dar al harb – the realm of war. If you are not part of Islam you are at war with Islam. The war can take any form, be it terrorism, subversion or economics.

Through Shari’a the religion of Islam and the state of Islam are one. For a Muslim there is no conflict in this regard. The absolute essential theme of every action of every Islamic nation and practicing Muslim is the establishment of Shari’a in every country in the world just as Mohammed commanded through the Qur’an. This has been a driving force for 1400 years.

And for those of you who insist on linking Mormons to Islamists as a way to defeat Romney’s candidacy — stop that right now.  I’m perfectly willing to concede that Mormon doctrine is strange to the uninitiated and that it is unforgivably derivative to Christian purists.

People also complaint about Mormonism’s subjugation of women, something that is certainly true for the more bizarre polygamists but that is not true for the mainstream Mormons.  (And I say this as someone who knows many, many Mormon families.)  The fact is that the Mormon approach to wives, although wrapped up in an admittedly peculiar afterlife doctrine, is in keeping with all Judeo-Christian religions that see a defined role for the woman that is separate from the man’s, and that gives the man pride of place in the family unit.  The most explicit statement of this doctrine I’ve ever seen was at the very beautiful wedding of super-fundamentalist Christian friends.  There the minister was at pains to remind the new wife that, just as Christ is the head of the Church, so her husband would be the head of the family. He also reminded the new husband, though, that whether in the Christian faith or the Christian family, a head with no body, or a head with a maltreated body, is ineffective at best and meaningless at worst.

To get back to Mitt — his Mormon faith believes in conversion through words and love, not through the sword which is the single most important distinction between it and Islam.  There are a few other important distinctions, though, and we’d do well not to forget them.  Mormonism it does not advocate the overthrow of the US government in favor of a Mormon theocracy; it does not advocate the subjection of Western women; it does not advocate the mass conversion of all Americans; and it does not consider Jews and other Christians to be inferior people who deserve death and slavery.

I could go on and on, but I hope you get my point.  You may not like Mormonism (I don’t myself), but please do not fall in the prejudiced fallacy of likening a solid American Mormon to a wild Islamic fundamentalist.

Are we willing to let little Iowa determine the entire Presidential election?

I don’t like Obama, whom I consider an empty shirt, utterly devoid of experience and elevated to his lofty position only because of his skin color, something that I consider that worst kind of racial identity politics. (I just checked and it turns out that, at this particular minute, Silky Pony, the radical rich plaintiffs’ attorney is in the lead in Iowa, a change from yesterday’s news, or even this morning’s. I find him just as distasteful as Obama, especially since I think he’s a huge hypocrite, living a life few of us can imagine, while demanding that we, in the working and middle classes, turn over our money to the government for him to manage. Pfeh!)

I’m no more thrilled about the Republicans’ potential Iowa frontrunner, Mike Huckabee. Indeed, the more I learn about him, the less I like him, despite his manifest charm. He’s a nanny stater; he’s too forgiving of sin, something that’s dangerous in a political leader, whether he’s being lenient to local killers or worldwide terrorists; he’s exceptionally ill-informed about the world about him, something scary in dangerous times; and he’s a religious bigot.

As to this last point, I have no problems with Huckabee being religious, a quality all of you know I admire. I do have big problems, however, with his exceptionally nasty remarks about Mormonism. I’m perfectly willing to concede that Mormonism has some wacky ideas but, viewed objectively, so do all religions. For example, to a non-believer, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation does not make logical sense; the Jewish belief in some sort of ancient old covenant with God, a covenant that has caused Jews until untold suffering over the centuries, is hard to fathom; and the central Christian doctrine about Jesus’ resurrection reflects a leap of faith that the non-Christian just can’t make.

What should matter in America is not doctrine, but values. You practice your faith, and I’ll practice mine (or not). However, what I will scrutinize closely is, not your faith, but the fruits of your faith as expressed in the way you live your life and, if you’re a politician, in the direction you wish to take this nation. As to this, Mitt Romney has lived an exemplary life, one of hard and successful work, family values, and fiscal and social conservatism (especially, with regard to the latter, in the last few years). Nor has he ever given any indication during his very long public and private careers that he intends to use either his wealth or political power to impose his religious beliefs, doctrines or practices on anyone. In that, he differs substantially from, say, a devoutly religious Muslim, whose faith obligates him to try to impose Sharia law against one and all, including stoning, veils, amputations, etc. Whatever Mormon doctrines are, there’s no indication that those doctrines would affect Mitt’s governance. For Huckabee to run a campaign implying otherwise is just dirty campaigning.

However, much as I may not like these guys (Obama, Edwards and Huckabee), they are still the favored candidates going into the Iowa primaries. So be it. But am I the only one who is noticing that all the punditry seems to be saying that, if they take Iowa, they’re essentially the annointed candidates for their parties in the 2008 elections? With all due respect to the wonderful citizens of Iowa, I don’t think that the outcome of a single state’s primaries — especially a state that, in terms of population, comes in 30th, behind such states as Texas, New York, California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — should be determinative of the entire election.

While Obama/Edwards, on the one hand, and Huckabee, on the other hand, will definitely get a boost if they take Iowa, the battle between the primary candidates will — or at least should — continue from one venue to another, and really won’t be resolved until February, when the big states have had their say. I mean, do you seriously expect all the other primary candidates just to drop out, to vanish, because these guys took Iowa? To ask the question is to expose the stupidity behind it.

I also think that, as least as to Huckabee, it’s just as likely that a Huckabee victory in Iowa will so frighten non-religious conservatives in New York, Florida, California, etc., that they’ll turn out in droves to vote for someone else during the primaries. (Of course, with Republican luck, they’ll vote for Ron Paul, won’t they?)

In any event, I refuse to fall into flat despair because of the Iowa predictions, nor will I respect American voters if they simply give up after Iowa and don’t turn out to support their candidate of choice. Iowa is a great place, I’m sure, but it shouldn’t be the alpha and omega of American presidential candidacies.

UPDATE: Noooo! Say it ain’t so, pollsters! Huck is tops nationwide, not just in Iowa? Well, so was Dean once upon a time. Americans can be fickle, and they like shiny new things.

UPDATE II:  Sorry for all the typos (including the one I corrected in the post caption).  I was pretty tired last night when I wrote this, and it shows.

Thinking like the master — before the master did

On May 23, 2007, I did a post in which I looked at Mitt’s Mormonism, and concluded that it shouldn’t matter because his values are what counts, not the path he took to arrive at those values. Based on comments left in response to that post, I updated it to explain that, as far as I could tell, Evangelical Christians viewed Mormons in much the same way as Jews view Jews for Jesus — a purported religion that’s neither fish nor fowl, and that’s carpet bagging on an already established name. Here it is, seven months later, and Dennis Prager is saying exactly what I said (only better, of course, because he’s Dennis Prager):

Most traditional Christians regard Mormonism not merely as not Christian, but as a falsification of it. It does not matter to the vast majority of evangelicals if a candidate is a Christian. Most are quite prepared to vote for a non-Christian — a Jew, for example. And they are certainly prepared to vote for Christians with whom they differ theologically — whether non-evangelical Protestants or Roman Catholics.

But they do not regard Mormons as fellow Christians with whom they differ theologically; they regard them as having a theology so different from mainstream Christianity that they are no longer Christian. It is quite possible, even likely, that if Mormons simply announced they were not Christian, but a new religion, even one based on belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, evangelicals would have fewer objections to voting for a Mormon with whom they shared social values. Rightly or wrongly, many evangelicals resent Mormons calling themselves Christian.

It is analogous to the resentment among Jews of “Jews for Jesus.” What Jews resent is not that a Jew who adopts Christian beliefs has become a Christian — most Jews recognize that in a free society people convert to and from all religions. What many Jews resent is that “Jews for Jesus” call themselves Jews and not Christians after leaving Judaism (even while continuing to identify ethnically as Jews) and embracing Christianity. So, too, it is that Mormons call themselves Christians while embracing a different belief system that rankles so many traditional Christians.


The reason is — and I have come to this conclusion after a lifetime of interaction with people of almost all faiths and writing about and studying religion — theology does not appear to have much impact on people’s values. Liberal Christians and Jews share virtually no theological beliefs yet think alike about virtually every important social value. So, too, conservative Christians and conservative Jews share virtually no theological beliefs, yet they think alike about virtually every important social value.

Meanwhile liberal and conservative Protestants are in agreement on theological matters — both believe in the Trinity, in the Messiahship of Jesus, on Jesus being the Son of God, on salvation through faith rather than through works, and more — yet they differ about virtually every social value. Obviously, shared theology doesn’t create shared moral or social values.


Therefore the theological beliefs of a public figure should matter only when one is choosing a theological leader, never a political leader — unless those beliefs form the basis of social and moral values that one abhors. It is very important to know the theological beliefs of one’s clergyman or the head of one’s seminary, but as far as the head of one’s country is concerned, only his moral and social values matter. I would much sooner vote for an agnostic whose values I shared than for a believing Christian or Jew whose values I did not share.

I have to say, I’m quite flattered by comparing myself to Mr. Prager. Hah!

There’s conversion and there’s conversion

I was thinking about religious conversion today — or, more accurately, about the means of effecting religious conversion — because I got called upon by some Mormons.  There was a dainty knock on my door and, in response to my “who’s there?” I was told that it was “Elder” This and “Elder” That from the Church of LDS.

When I opened the door to dismiss them — very politely — I discovered two young men, half my age, nattily attired in standard LDS uniform of black pants, short sleeve white shirts, and ties.  I wished them well, and sent them on their way.  They thanked me and left quietly.  And that was it.

The reason I opened the door to two strange young men was because I knew these men wouldn’t storm my house and try to rob or rape me.  And the reason I (politely) rejected their attempt to convert me was because I knew that these same young men wouldn’t turn on me with the sword for insulting their God.  While I’m not in the running for conversion right now (won’t ever be), I came away with a whole lot more respect for these men of faith — men who give two years of their lives to the believe that they can help others through their vision of God — than I can ever imagine having for the Jihadists who use death threats to effect conversions.  The Jihadists, incidentally, do not seem to be motivated by a belief that they can improve their converts’ lives.  Rather, its more like a pyramid scheme, where they relentlessly push their religion on others in order to increase their own standing in the faith.

My basic feeling when I think about the two modes of conversion, one by words, one by the sword, is that the Jihadists don’t bring new souls to their God.  Instead, they bring frightened, reluctant hostages as sacrifices to their altars.  Their conduct would be a terrible precedent for Christians of any stripe to follow.

If you’re wondering why I’m even thinking about Christians following the Jihadist road map for gaining converts, I have to admit that it occurred to me only because Heather, at From the Word Go, brought a Bryan Preston post to my attention, challenging Reynold’s prediction that Christians will start using these Jihadist tactics.  Heather focuses on Reynold’s argument that Christians will revert to that kind of behavior if they feel that the world rewards those who use it.  I think Heather is precisely right in saying that Christians will not go this route because it will never get positive feedback from those who matter — fellow Christians:

This behavior will never be widespread in the Christian community precisely because Christians know they will not be rewarded for it in the manner that Muslims are. Of course self-detonating Christians wouldn’t get sympathy from the media since they aren’t an approved minority with an approved grievance. But it is so much more than that.

Terrorist Christians would not get sympathy from other Christians. Unlike Muslim terrorists, Christian terrorists would not benefit from world-wide excuse making, fund raising, and network forming. Can Christians produce one-off nut jobs who do terrible things? Of course. But that’s all it will ever be. To paraphrase Mao, there’s no sea for the Christian terrorist fish to swim in.

You can read (and, I’m sure, agree with) the rest of what Heather has to say here.

Mitt the Mormon

I can’t help myself. I like Mitt Romney. I like his sunny optimism; I like his manifest competence (I really like that); I like most of his political stands; I like his committed marriage; and I like his looks, which I think are usefully telegenic. I recognize, however, that his Mormonism may be a roadblock between him and the White House. In the PBS documentary about the Mormons, a show that is either interesting in a boring way, or boring in an interesting way, and one that I am watching ever so slowly on TiVo, I heard that something like 25-45% of Americans would refuse to vote for Mitt for no other reason than the fact that he’s a Mormon.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and concluded that these worried people are right, because Mormonism is clearly a very scary religion. These people will do anything to gain converts, including beheading people. Oh, wait. That’s not right. It’s the Islamists who behead people to try to get them to convert. The Mormons just send their young men out onto the streets to talk about God’s love and their Prophet Joseph Smith. It’s not a religious message I can get behind, but there’s no violence in the message itself, nor is there violence threatened to those who refuse to listen to the message. So that’s not a reason to fear a Mormon in the White House.

Oh, I know. We should fear a Mormon in the White House because Mormons, if they do succeed in converting people, and those people become apostates (that is, they revert to their former faith), Mormons behead them. Whoops. I’m wrong again. That’s Islamists who kill apostates. Mormons, it turns out, are a little careless about maintaining their new converts, and about 50% of them just drift away never to be heard of again by the Mormon Church, according to the PBS documentary.

But surely we should be worried that, if Romney gains the White House, Mormons will impose their “lifestyle” on us, forcing us to give up pork, cloistering our women or making them wear burqas, mandating polygamy, killing Jews, marginalizing other Christians, stoning adulterers, cutting off thieves’ hands, etc. Oh, darn it. I just can’t seem to keep these things straight. That’s what the Islamists will do if they gain political ascendancy. I think it’s highly doubtful that the Mormons will do anything of the sort, even if they themselves eschew alcohol and caffeine. The fact of the matter is that Mormons have proven themselves to be exemplary American citizens whose only agenda is to thrive in the American way of life and, through positive example, to convince people to join their faith. As I noted, their faith has no attraction to me, but I’m not worried that, should Mitt become President, I’ll suddenly be placed in some fringe Mormon polygamous harem.

So really, if you cut away all the sillY stuff, the concern about Mitt’s religion boils down to people doubting Mitt’s ability to think straight. I mean, how smart can someone be who believes that Joseph Smith was a Prophet who received tablets from an angel recounting an alternative Biblical history that took place in America? Well, he’s as smart as anyone who believes in a specific religious faith. We believe because we believe. I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t believe in transubstantiation, but I don’t think less of those who hold that as a central religious doctrine. I’m not a Christian, so I don’t believe that Christ was the son of God, who was crucified and resurrected. I believe in him only as a great teacher, a Rabbi, and, as President Bush said, a philosopher. But I think all of you know I don’t question your faith, or the fruits of your faith (compassion, humanism, morality), and I stand ready to be proven wrong about my disbelief at the end of days. I’m not even a religious Jew, so I have strong doubts about the religious or supernatural aspects of the Torah, even though, again, I embrace the values flowing from that Book.

And really, values are what it’s all about. To me, faith is faith. For that reason, I would never challenge your belief system. However, I will celebrate your faith if the values that flow from it mesh with my values. To that end, I believe that Romney, through his religious beliefs, has values that are in harmony with mine — and with most mainstream conservatives. If your doubts about his intelligence flow solely from his religious beliefs, it may be a shortsighted mistake to use that doubt to turn your back on a candidate who is manifestly competent, who has a great political track record, and who will not to do you anything you don’t wish to have done.

UPDATE: I was trying to think of a situation in which I would look at a Presidential candidate in the same way those who are concerned about Mormonism look at Mitt. The closest I could get was the Jews for Jesus. I’ve always had a problem with that organization, which I think is theologically untenable. Since about 33 C.E., there’s been a name for Jews for Jesus — Christians.

I mean, the gaping divide between Judaism and Christianity is Christ himself. Once you’ve embraced Christ’s existence and his teachings, you’ve pretty much left Judaism behind. While they spring from the some roots, they’ve developed into different trees. And while I have no problem with people following their beliefs, and respect those who genuinely make the transition from one faith to another, I’ve always thought that Jews for Jesus represent the foolishness of people trying to slither around in an impossible doctrinal no-man’s land, only to end up being neither fish nor fowl, but some misshapen and useless creature in between.

(And I know that, about now, some of you are saying, “Come on, Bookworm. Don’t pull your punches. Tell us what you really think.”)

So, how would I feel if Mitt were a member of Jews for Jesus, a group that really gets my goat, rather than a Mormon, a group I just sort of observe from a distance? Certainly, I’d feel a whole lot less respect for him. I’d have my doubts about his intellect in light of the fact that he’s holding what I consider an intellectually ludicrous position. He’d stop being one of my top choices. BUT (there’s always a but), let’s try a thought experiment in an alternative reality where people’s politics are the same, but their religious beliefs are lined up a bit differently.

Imagine, if you will, an election where Mitt is still Mitt in all respects but one. Rather than being a Mormon, he’s a Jew for Jesus. And imagine that his opponent, whether Edwards, Obama or Hillary, rather than being a mainstream liberal Christian is, in fact, a devout Jew. Under those circumstances, despite my distaste for Mitt’s religious choice, and my concern that it represents a profound intellectual failing, I’d vote for Mitt.

The fact is, I’m not electing these people to be my religious leaders (thank goodness). I’m considering each of them as a potential political leader during times of national uncertainty. And as to that, while Mitt would clearly be someone handicapped by a peculiar religious monomania, I would nevertheless feel safer with the country in his hands than I would if it were in Hillary’s hands, no matter her impeccable (and entirely imaginary) Jewish credentials.

UPDATE II: My sister voiced one other concern about Mormons, which is the fact that Church leaders are still having revelations, something that, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, stopped thousands of years ago. As recently as the early 1970s, the Church leaders had a revelation that their teachings about blacks (that blacks were inferior) were entirely wrong, and they revised Church doctrine to make blacks full members in all respects. At the end of the 19th Century, they had a semi-revelation (it apparently was never stated in official “revelation” form) that plural marriage was a bad thing. I’ve also heard that, after they acquired a large interest in the Pepsi-Cola company they had a revelation that had them backing down on the evils of caffeine, but that may just be an urban legend.

My sister acknowledges that most of the post-Joseph Smith revelations have been aimed at bringing Mormons more in sync with mainstream America, but worries that having a member in America’s most executive position might trigger a different type of religious experience. Thus, my sister can envision a situation in which Mitt is in the White House and the Mormon leaders suddenly have a revelation along the lines of “the President of the United States must (fill in the blank).” Would Mitt feel obligated to fall in line with that revelation, she asks? It’s an awfully good question, and one that I think Mitt has to be willing to answer before Americans can freely vote for him.

Having said that, I’d still take Mitt over the Democratic candidates. I just wouldn’t necessarily elevate him to the top of the heap for the Republican candidates.

UPDATE III: The Captain notes that Mitt is finally making some serious headway in the polls. This should be interesting.

Are we fanatics?

I seem to be on a binge of books that make me wonder. Today's book is Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. This is a book I mentioned before in connection with my reflections on whether a religion can abandon founding tenets and still be considered true to itself.

Krakauer's book focuses on two breakaway polygamist Mormons who committed violent murder against their sister-in-law and her fifteen month old daughter. In tracking down the events that led to these killings, Krakauer tells, not only the murderers' story, but also the history of the Mormon church. And that history inevitably embraces those who now claim the banner of the original Mormon faith — something they do primarily by embracing polygamy. What characterizes so many of the fundamentalists he describes is that they started off as ordinary Mormons or non-Mormon Christians; they had various epiphanies that led them (they believed) to seminal truths; and they were convinced that, having learned these revealed truths, everyone who didn't embrace the truths was wrong or evil.

Well, folks, that could be me. I started life as an ordinary liberal Democrat (who always had conservative leanings); I had an epiphany in the wake of 9/11, when I decided the world had arrayed itself in an Us vs. Them pattern, and that those who deny this pattern are wrong; and I constantly hark back to a pure America of the Good War of the 1940s, and the (at least superficially) coherent society of the 1950s. I'm now sure enough of my newfound beliefs to blog about them regularly and to try to convince people, through my blog, to see the world as I see it. Certainly, my husband, who has remained true to his original Democratic faith, perceives me as having gone off the deep end.

So my question is: Have I gone off the deep end? Where does commitment end and fanaticism begin? When does a change of heart cease to be the reasoned development of the intellect and become the kind of blind faith that can lead one to commit dangerous or wrongful acts? Feedback anyone?

UPDATE:  Perhaps the self-restraint Dennis Prager discusses in this article (conservative vs. liberal self-restraint) is part of what separates the fanatics from those who are merely committed to a belief system. 

Can a religion change?

Much ink has been spilled (or should I say, many bytes have been generated) about whether Islam can be modernized so that Muslims can integrate with the modern world.  As many have pointed out, devout Muslims feel themselves absolutely bound to live by Mohammed's principles — principles that involve such anachronisms as polygamy, death by stoning, death for homosexuality, violent anti-Semitism, second-class status for all non-Muslims, death for Muslim apostates, etc.  All of these are ideas that are fundamentally at odds with modern Western notions of freedom and equality.  And all of them are the words of the Prophet.  So, clearly, Muslims are stuck with them.  Right?  Well, maybe not.

Folks, I give you the Church of Latter Day Saints and its followers, the Mormons.  As Jon Krakauer reminds me in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, polygamy was a fundamental tenet of Mormonism, as it was revealed to Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.  It was also the concept that most dramatically separated Mormons from the rest of mid-19th Century American-Victorian culture.  In the years leading up to the Civil War, polygamy, rather than slavery, was the issue that exercised the large majority of Americans.  It is unsurprising, therefore, that the 1850s ended with the American government actually starting a war against the Mormons (the Utah War), largely in an effort to stamp out polygamy.   The war failed, and the United States turned its attention to the War Between the States.  Still the issue was such a hot button one that Congress took time out from the Civil War to make polygamy in the territories a felony.  Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Congress acted to beef-up these laws.

Although the federal push initially did nothing to change the strong Mormon allegiance to polygamy, the feds kept pushing, and pushing, enclosing the polygamists into smaller and smaller legal boxes.  And it was always clear that, when it came to polygamy, the federal government was willing to put its money where its mouth was.  That is, these laws weren't simply dead words in untouched books, they were laws that the government relied upon with a vengeance.  Eventually, in the face of this relentless pressure, the Mormon leadership yielded and renounced polygamy

The Mormon Church wasn't just engaging in lip service when it turned its back on one of Smith's prophecies.  Instead, this was a wholehearted renunciation.  The modern Mormon church is vehemently opposed to polygamy, and works hard to distance itself from fringe Fundamentalist organizations that claim the Prophet's mantle and espouse polygamy (a principle that seems to give these Fundamentalists the right to gather around them multiples of really, really young brides).

One could argue that, under the First Amendment, the U.S. had no business forcing a religion to abandon a basic tenet of its belief system, but that's an argument that was lost more than 100 years ago, and I have no intention of fighting it now.  What interests me is that a religion could renounce a belief system and nevertheless continue functioning and, indeed, growing. In fact, the Mormon Church seemed to have learned a lesson from this early battle.  It has also changed its policies over the years regarding women and minorities, and has been rewarded by becoming one of the fastest growing religions in the world (although there are some doubts cast upon that claim).

My point, of course, is that a religion can cast off doctrines that are not in harmony with the world, while retaining core belief systems that keep the religion unique.  Sloughing off ideas that cause revulsion can help make the religion a magnet, and can help the religion focus on those doctrines that are most useful to gain converts or optimize the society in which the faithful live.  Indeed, with regards to converts, I've always had a huge admiration for the early Catholic church's ability to convince those pagans addicted to human sacrifice that they could abandon that disgraceful practice, since Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient for all human-kind.  It's an amazing doctrine, and the Church understood how to use it to invite people into the religion, rather than to force them into it.