Inside the Court of the Gentiles

Letter From Nauvoo

Tolstoy once referred to Mormonism as “the American religion.”  I only know that because one of my former assistants, a Mormon himself, used to quote the statement as corroboration of the Mormons’ belief that they are quintessentially American.  Despite all of his proselytizing efforts and the gift of a Book of Mormon, I took no interest in a church that could offer neither literature and philosophy nor brandy and cigars.  He did, however, pique my curiosity about the first major Mormon capital, Nauvoo, Illinois, and although I did not make it to Nauvoo during the brief period in June when the newly rebuilt temple was open to the public, I decided to make Nauvoo the centerpiece of my first sightseeing adventure in the state in which I have lived for 18 years.  “See Illinois and die,” I told my wife.  (Or vice versa, I thought to myself, if you have been bad.)

Like most of the middle Middle West, Illinois is (in Taki’s phrase) “corny and flat as a pancake.”  The drive down interstate highways from Rockford to Galesburg, where we were leaving cookies, clean clothes, and a younger sister with our son at Knox College, is entirely without interest.  The beauty of the prairie has been destroyed, and the marks left by man on the landscape are worse than vandalism.  The Midwestern farmer, judging from the look of his property, must hate...

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