Firstly, a disclaimer. I'm neither a fan nor a regular viewer of South Park. This program often contains lots of clever satire, which I like, which is usually overshadowed by excessive crudity, which I don't like. However, last week I relented when SBS aired the episode All About Mormons, which manages to provide a mostly accurate account of the origins of Mormon history and theology.
In the episode, a Mormon family moves into the town of South Park. Their son Gary (pictured above, bottom left) befriends Stan Marsh at school and invites him over for dinner, where they explain their beliefs to him, and then later to Stan's father and the entire Marsh family. During these scenes the episode then breaks off into a sub-story, partially told in a hilarious song, about the origins of Mormonism, as outlined below.
Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith (1805-1844), a self-proclaimed prophet and restorer of the true church. The story goes that one day Joseph Smith was praying in the forest near his home town of Palmyra, New York, asking God which denomination he should join. God and Jesus appeared to him (or an angel, according to different versions of this story) telling him he shouldn't join any of them, but instead start his own. In another appearance, an angel named Moroni also revealed to him the location of a set of mysterious golden tablets which contained another testament of Jesus, buried in the ground somewhere near his home. He dug up the tablets, which were written in the hitherto unknown language of Reformed Egyptian.
Fortunately for Smith, or so Mormons would have us believe, also buried with the tablets were two magic peepstones, called the urim and thummin, which Smith placed in a hat and peered through to translate the tablets into King James English, dictating the words to his scribe, Martin Harris, a wealthy Palmyra farmer. Financed by Harris, in 1830 Smith published the Book of Mormon, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as it later became know, was born. This episode can be watched as a primer on Mormonism, because its full history is more complex and controversial.
In mainstream Christianity, Mormonism is rightly regarded as a cult, and the above story has no credibility whatsoever. As for its founder, Joseph Smith, his harshest critics have accurately labelled him as an occultist, bigamist, and con artist, amongst other things, and also highlight his involvement in Freemasonry. The website http://www.cults.co.nz/lds/index.html gives Mormonism a "danger" rating, which sounds like sage advice to me. I'm no expert on cults, but I've done enough reading and research to know that anyone who knows what's good for them should steer well clear of Mormonism. For more on Mormonism, I highly recommend reading the chapter in The Kingdom of the Cults, by Walter Martin (Bethany House, ISBN 0764228218).