The Mormons Are Coming!

And they’re bringing to Center City a big, phallic temple that will endure forever. Not.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints this week got clearance to construct a 203-foot-tall temple at 17th and Vine streets—the first Mormon temple in Pennsylvania. I’m hoping it will have the same Wizard of Oz aura as the one outside Washington, D.C., which makes me look over my shoulder for flying monkeys every time I drive the Beltway. [SIGNUP]

The chosen site is two blocks from the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, the central church for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. These are interesting times for Mormons and Catholics. While the Archdiocese is drowning in a sea of woes—clergy sex-abuse scandals, the shuttering of parochial schools, a paucity of new priests and nuns—the Latter Day Saints are thriving locally, with members turning up on the mound at CBP (Roy Halladay) and the sidelines at the Linc (Andy Reid). Nationally, they’re on American Idol (David Archuleta), the best-seller list and big screen (Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight juggernauts), and the Presidential campaign trail (Mitt Romney). There’s a hit TV show, Big Love, about Mormons. Even Glenn Beck spurned Rome a few years back to embrace Salt Lake City. LDS: It’s not just for Osmonds anymore.

Religions are sneaky that way. The fastest-growing religion in the world, according to Foreign Policy magazine, is Islam, one not many of us gave any thought to before 9/11. Second on the list is Baha’i, which I’ve only ever heard of because of Seals & Croft. Kookiness seems no barrier to growth—it may even be a plus. Scientology is as goofy as they come—Xenu? Auditing? Thetans? And yet its membership rolls have included, besides John Travolta and Tom Cruise, such semi-normal-seeming folk as Sonny Bono, Chick Corea, Beck, Peaches Geldof and Greta Van Susteren.

When you’re sitting smack in the middle of Western civilization, it’s easy to forget that Christianity was once a splinter sect with tenets—a guy who rose from the dead, a feat adherents commemorate by consuming his flesh and blood—as unlikely as Joseph Smith and his golden plates. Religions come and go the same way fashions and teen heartthrobs do, just on a different scale. No one believes in Zeus or Ba’al or Ra anymore, yet people once worshiped them, gave their lives for them. Sometimes it seems those who talk the most about eternity understand least just how long it is.

SANDY HINGSTON is a Philly Mag senior editor.