RICHARD L. BUSHMAN’S BOOK
JOSEPH SMITH: ROUGH STONE ROLLING
The following was gathered from an online web log I produced while reading the book. It is presented in a completely conversational and informal voice, assuming my audience to be friends. I do not claim to be a scholar or especially well informed, merely an interested reader with considerable “other” reading under my belt.
By way of format, all the quotes from the book are in highlighted boxes with the heading Richard L. Bushman at the top. On occasion, quotes from other sources are handled similarly, and the heading at the top of the box will reflect the source.
Reading “Rough Stone Rolling” So You Don’t Have To
My intention (and remember, the road to Outer Darkness is paved with good intentions) is to treat this thread a bit like a blog (“web log” to the uninitiated) as I read through Richard L. Bushman's "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling". Whether or not I remember to come back after each chapter and post something remains to be seen.
Let me state right from the beginning that I do not pretend to be an objective, 3rd Party reviewer of this book. Not even close. The reason I am reading this in the first place is that I believe that this book represents an effort on the part of the Church to begin the process of changing the way in which the faithful think about the origins of their church, and the mechanism most useful in such endeavors is a little device well understood by politicians and prophets alike: spin.
I'm looking for the "spin" in this book in an effort to expose it. And while I'll try to offer kudos where they are deserved, for the most part, I want to understand what the Church is trying to do as it redefines "faithful history."
So first, a kudo: It is written in a prose that is easy to read, yet without being insulting. He's a decent writer and he's had some decent editorial assistance.
If I come up with other Kudos, I'll share 'em. But in the meantime...
Bushman's bias as an apologist comes out in the very first page. I'll quote from the middle of page xix of the preface:
Everything about Smith matters to people who have built their lives on his teachings. To protect their own deepest commitments, believers want to shield their prophet's reputation. On the other hand, people who have broken away from Mormonism—and they produce a large amount of the scholarship—have to justify their decision to leave. They cannot countenance evidence of divine inspiration in his teachings without catching themselves in a disastrous error. Added to these combatants are those suspicious of all religious authority who find in Joseph Smith a perfect target for their fears.
See, believers are worried about Joseph's reputation. They want to protect that which is precious, namely their own "deepest commitments." In other words, they feel compelled to protect the Lord's anointed, and defend his foibles. They act out of honor for the man, lest any besmirch his good name, reputation or teachings. Deep commitments are noble, and protecting the innocent is a noble endeavor. Any fear they have is only that their prophet may have, during moments of lapse, acted only human.
From this same perspective, those who have left, or who have never believed, must be afraid. They are afraid to face the "evidence of [Smith's] divine inspiration" for fear they were wrong, and in so doing, discover the disaster that is their life now that they have strayed. Everything they do in researching Smith's story is in a pathetic attempt to justify their leaving, and presumably to justify the behaviors they must surely have embraced as a result, namely drinking and debauchery.
Therefore, the agenda of the apostate is to prove others wrong, thereby justifying the errors of their own ways; an ignoble and selfish agenda. The agenda of the believer is to protect the prophet, and thereby God; a noble and righteous endeavor.
Does anyone else read this into the quote above? It seems clear to me that he is drawing a line in the sand. It's a paradigm of "Reassurance versus Fear" and clearly good people land on the reassurance side, while the wicked land on the side of fear. The faithful often need reassurance...no harm in that. But the wicked have much to fear, for fear is the antithesis of faith.
Later on the first page, Bushman makes the claim that "Most readers do no believe in, nor are they interested in perfection. Flawless characters are neither attractive or useful."
I'm not convinced this is true. I am inclined to believe that the very reason the church has tried for years to cover up the "rough edges" of Joseph Smith is precisely because they wanted to portray an image of godly perfection. And I believe that the average, run-of-the-mill Mormon thinks that the worst thing Joseph ever did was perhaps, briefly, think a slightly unkind thought, of which he quickly repented. No, we were taught that he wasn't perfect—that honor was reserved for Jesus Himself—but he wasn't far from it. And it was in part his own personal "Perfection" that lent so much credibility to his outlandish story!
Bushman's confession—At the bottom of page xx, Bushman makes it clear what we are about to read: "Perhaps he [Joseph Smith] cannot be entirely known, but my aim has been to imagine him as fully as the record allows." (Emphasis added). In other words, "I don't feel constrained by objective reality, but rather I am free to interpret the man at will." Now, I have no problem with that, but the fact of the matter is, when we read history like that, we are learning as much about the historian as we are the subject. So what Bushman has confessed here in the preface is that we are about to launch into the projective world of Richard L. Bushman, and the vehicle in which we will ride is the life of Joseph Smith. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that most casual readers of this book, particularly of the Mormon faith, are going to appreciate this very plainly stated fact.
Okay, one more for this chapter. Bushman makes a big deal on page xxi of the Preface of exploring "a side of Joseph Smith not adequately examined in other biographies: his religious thought."
Frankly, I felt Fawn Brodie did a fair job of that, but Bushman apparently feels she must not have, else she would have inevitably come to the same conclusions that he has.
Anyway, Bushman makes quite a case for examining the religious thought of Joseph Smith, but makes no mention (at least at this point) of Smith's motive. See, it is clear already that Bushman doesn't question the revelatory nature of Smith's proclamations and assertions. Here's another example, from the bottom of page xxi (part of a longer argument during which Bushman asserts that Smith absolutely believed his own prophetic promptings and revelatory statements):
Toward the end of his life, he told a Pittsburgh reporter that he could not always get a revelation when he needed one, but "he never gave anything to his people as revelation, unless it was revelation." To blur the distinction—to insist that Smith devised every revelation himself—obscures the very quality that made the Prophet powerful. To get inside the movement, we have to think of Smith as the early Mormons thought of him and as he thought of himself—as a revelator.
In other words, if you really want to understand the Mormons, you've got to believe as they do. It's the classic Mormon argument for obtaining a witness to the truthfulness of the gospel...and I remember teaching it myself! It goes something like this: If you want to find out that something is true, believe that it is, and see what happens. If it produces good fruit (as in Alma 32), then it was good. If not, then toss it aside. That looks good on the face of it. But the reality is, it takes effort and commitment to believe in the first place. Otherwise, you're just trying to play games with yourself—and with God. So if you don’t gain a witness, that means you didn't do it right. Only if you do gain a witness can you be assured that you did it right.
It's an amazingly circular, self-referencing logic. And Bushman is employing the same thing. "If you want to understand the Prophet, you have to set aside your skepticism, because otherwise, you'll never see him for the divinely inspired prophet that he was. But if you do believe he was a prophet, then you'll see right away that he was!” (If that was confusing, don't worry...it was meant to be, because that's the rationale behind the argument, and it is at its core illogical.)
So then, to sum up the "spin" in the Preface, it's that Bushman is trying to bolster his credibility, trying to sound like an objective historian, but in truth, he makes it clear that he cannot be. He is faithful first, and that will guide the telling of the rest of his tale—just another faithful history, with a bit more candor.
Joseph Smith Chronology
Among the first entries to the book is a chronology, laying out for the reader the timeline of Smith's life, and giving some important insight into the issues that Bushman considers important. Although many (or all) of the missing chronological issues are covered in the book, I think it's very telling that they are missing from the list. Such a device is used to highlight "important junctures" in a person's life, and the fact that these have been left out means something about the author. I'm not smart enough to know what all is missing, but there are a few glaring items that I saw. Here are the few I caught:
1819 Joseph borrows Sally Chase's "green glass" and uses it to find his first Seer Stone.
1822 Joseph finds his favorite Seer Stone while digging a well for the Chase family. This is the one with which he translates most of the Book of Mormon.
1825 Joseph is given a third Seer Stone by diviner Jack Belcher.
1826 Joseph is tried and found guilty of the misdemeanor known as "glass-looking" and fined.
1833 Joseph "marries" Fanny Alger in a clandestine ceremony that quite possibly includes the unfortunate circumstance of Emma Smith spying the two of them having a romp in the barn.
1838 Joseph "marries" Lucinda Morgan Harris as the first of his polyandrous wives.
Note that Bushman does include Joseph's marriage to Louisa Beaman in 1840, noting it as the "first of many Nauvoo plural marriages." Now, that right there is more than many Mormons are aware, but Bushman stops there in his chronology. Emma gets a mention in 1827, Louisa gets a mention in 1840, but none of the other wives get a mention. It appears to me to be an attempt to gloss over the "hard stuff" in the name of expediency (it's just easiest to lump them all together in a single point in the chronology...listing each one separately would just draw disproportionate attention to this icky little black mark by the Prophet's name).
Bushman also glosses this issue over by including in his chronology for 1843, "Revelation on priesthood marriage recorded." Priesthood marriage?” Why didn't he come right out and call it "plural marriage?" That's what he's talking about.
It is also important to note here that in the heading for D&C 132, it states clearly that "Although the revelation [for plural marriage] was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831." There is no mention of that in the chronology, and I would suspect it's because in 1831, Joseph was responding to Oliver Cowdery's accusations regarding "the dirty affair" of Joseph and Fanny Alger, and working hard to appease the leaders who had learned of the matter. I think it's utterly clear to anyone familiar with Smith's history that Fanny Alger was a fling, an affair, with a 16 year old, and that the notion that he must have "married" her was a retrofit by people (Joseph included) who were desperate to account for something so explicitly prohibited by virtually every reputable Christian preacher and faith of the day. I haven't gotten there in the book yet, but Bushman has decided that these events were "unimportant" in the life of Joseph Smith...which is ironic that it is precisely these kinds of events that caused so many of us to go, "What the...?"
1842 Joseph joins the Nauvoo Freemasonry Lodge, and is immediately elevated to the status of Master Mason.
Now, Bushman does note that in 1842, the lodge was organized, but he makes no mention of Joseph. Considering the importance of Masonry in the creation of the Temple ceremony, which is considered the cornerstone of the current Mormon religion, you'd think it would be important to note Joseph's elevated status in Masonry. But the chronology doesn't even mention it. Gosh, I wonder why? Must have forgot...
1843 Joseph is asked to interpret the Kinderhook Plates, and he reveals that they are similar in writing to the Book of Mormon.
Again, Bushman considers this too unimportant to include in the chronology, evidence that he is choosing to "protect the reputation" of the Prophet. I realize he covers the Kinderhook Plates in the book, but the fact that they are left off the chronology indicates their importance to Bushman.
All those who think the Kinderhook Plates are significant, raise your hand.
Thanks...I thought you'd agree!
1844 Joseph is anointed King of All Israel
Man, wouldn't you think that a royal ordination would be an important event in a man's life? Surely this is merely an unfortunate oversight on Bushman's part, which will no doubt be corrected in later editions...
There are probably other notable issues excluded from the chronology, but these were the ones that jumped out at me.
Post Script: I readily acknowledge that a biographer is entitled to decide what chronological issues are important depending on how he or she defines relevance and importance in outlining a person's life. The reason I felt the omissions were significant were because each of those items plays such an important role in bumping so many people out of the Church. If it's important to note Smith's contributions that are responsible for causing many people to join and/or remain faithful, it is also important to recognize the many issues that keep people out or drive people out when they uncover them. Failure to acknowledge those items in the chronology leaves the reader with a rather unbalanced view of the man's life.
I’m not positive what Bushman’s objective is in the Prologue…I think it might be to demonstrate that other credible people who were not Mormons also recognized something special in Joseph Smith. The setting of this short chapter is the encounter between Joseph Smith and Josiah Quincy, a successful railroad executive and son of the President of Harvard who was traveling with Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams. The manner in which Bushman relates the tale suggests that he believes that Quincy could sense something “special” about the Prophet, but because of the pride of his learning, could never humble himself to accept ole’ Joe for anything more than a charismatic frontier leader.
Here are some excerpts that highlight this idea:
Quincy’s account of his Nauvoo visit, published the winter before his death in 1882, was filled with puzzled skepticism. He balked at the stories Joseph told him, and he knew his readers would find Mormon beliefs “puerile and shocking,” yet Smith struck him: “One could not resist the impression that capacity and resource were natural to his stalwart person.”
I believe Quincy is speaking exactly to the characteristics of Joseph that made him successful among men. He was a natural born leader, filled with “capacity and resource,” the kind of charisma that people often line up and follow because it looks like that person is going somewhere, anywhere, other than the hum-drum foot-dragging of normal daily existence living on the ragged edge between life and death.
Hitler had the same capacity, convincing a whole generation of Germans that his vision for their future was brighter than their own. This is not evidence of “other-worldliness” as I THINK Bushman is trying to suggest of Smith; it’s evidence of a great, charismatic leader. Hitler is a fine example that great leadership hardly requires the inspiration of God—it most certainly can be a human trait encountered with some regularity over the course of human history. I think the world can be glad Smith was born in a backwater time and place.
Unfortunately (and I believe unfairly), Bushman is quick to judge Quincy as inadequate spiritually, and therefore incapable of appreciating Smith’s prophetic calling. Bushman compares the early teachings of Smith to a handful of collected writings from Ralph Waldo Emerson, including a seminar given by Emerson to the Harvard Divinity School in which he extolled the virtues of seeking continued revelation (which was a concept of which the Unitarians of the day, including Quincy, had no appreciation.) Bushman says:
Had Emerson looked, he would have found thousands of kindred spirits among unsophisticated Christians, who longed for visions, visitations, inspired dreams, revelations, and every other outpouring of the Spirit. These seekers were Joseph’s natural constituency. Quincy was too caught up in Smith’s personality to see him as his followers did, as another Moses who brought news from heaven.
That’s a rather heavily laden statement right there. Think about what he’s saying! As I read it, it’s as if he’s talking about a “bunch of country bumpkins who believed in Leprechauns and trolls, and who also believed that buried treasure laid littered under the ground. (Oh, wait…they did believe in buried treasure…) He might just as well have said that Smith’s natural followers were gullible, uneducated folks who were filled with superstition, and who watched for demons around every tree stump and angels in every rafter. This is not inspirational to me, personally. These are the same people who perpetrated the Salem witch trials for example, and who, like Smith and his family, practiced magic for the purpose of getting rich or extracting vengeance on their enemies.
Now, I suppose you could say that’s evidence that God works his miracles through the simple, and no one could argue since no one really knows the mind of God. But if I apply Occam’s razor here, and assume that supernatural explanations are seldom the most direct, rational solution to a question, then it becomes far more likely in my mind that these people were easily manipulated by a bright, charismatic man filled with promise and knowing instinctively how to capture their imagination—with visions and heavenly messages and new knowledge delivered by angels. Of course this isn’t going to be appealing to educated and sophisticated folks…not because they are blind, but because they opened their eyes to reason long ago, and no longer view the world as magical and supernatural.
If you’ll recall from the preface, where Bushman accuses those who have left Mormonism as unwilling to “countenance evidence of divine inspiration in [Smith’s] teachings…” I think it equally as obvious that Bushman and all faithful members are equally unwilling to countenance evidence of the more mundane explanations of Joseph Smith. Remember the Simon & Garfunkle song, “The Boxer,” in which they sing, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”? Well, exactly my point. Bushman is at least as guilty of this as the apostates he condemns.
Next, I think it’s telling that Bushman refers to “visions, visitations, inspired dreams and revelations” as “outpourings of the Spirit.” He doesn’t question it. It’s a matter of fact. The Spirit acts in this way, and the people who have not been blinded by the learning of men yearn for the good old days when those kinds of things were common place, as evidenced by the Bible that they love (whole other treatise there…). So buried in that statement is the assurance on Bushman’s part that Joseph’s “natural constituency” was rightly predisposed to expect these kinds of spiritual outpourings, and that Quincy, by virtue of his pride, was “too caught up in Smith’s personality” to see him for the real Prophet that he was. What I’m saying here is that the writer, Bushman, is exposing his own bias in the retelling of this story and interpreting it for the reader. That’s okay…he wrote the book, he can do it however he wants, but it would be irresponsible to portray this kind of writing as somehow “definitive” or “authoritative,” which is what I fear will happen if the book is well received. It’s an interpretation, nothing more. Maybe even a good one, but merely one man’s opinion.
Last, I’ll wrap up with this final quote, which is a doozy:
At the end of the day, on their way to the [boat] landing, Joseph flashed a side of his personality that Quincy had not previously seen. Quincy remarked to Smith, “You have too much power to be safely trusted to one man.” Joseph replied that in Quincy’s hands or another person’s “so much power would, no doubt, be dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe to trust with it. Remember, I am a Prophet!” The manner of Joseph’s answer intrigued Quincy. “The last five words were spoken in a rich, comical aside, as if in hearty recognition of the ridiculous sound they might have in the ears of a Gentile.” Joseph knew his visitor was amused and skeptical, yet remained unfazed, sure of himself no matter what the Bostonian thought.
How can Bushman make that last assertion? How can he possibly attempt to know the mind of the Prophet in that moment? This is all Smith had to say about it in his personal journal:
May 15, 1844—“A son of John Quincy Adams, Mr. Quincy and Dr. Goforth visited at the Mansion. Much rain this A.M.”
I think it’s just as likely that Joseph’s narcissism prohibited his full understanding of the meeting. Quincy notes in his recollections of the encounter that here is a frontier leader wielding way too much power—the Nauvoo charter, being the de facto Mayor, Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion, President of the Church receiving offerings and making every religious and secular move on behalf of his followers—who simply brushes it all aside as the natural consequences of his personal greatness. Quincy is aware that Smith is running for President, and appears to me to be rightfully cautious about this renegade Prophet out west. Smith, for his part, can’t even entertain the possibility that these men might have served him well in his bid for the presidency, because his narcissism precludes him from seeing the value in anyone but himself.
As I said at the outset, I’m not clear what Bushman’s motive was with the Prologue, but it left me with a greater appreciation for the innate skills of the man Joseph Smith, and further convinced that it was in large part the product of his pathology (narcissistic personality disorder, perhaps?) that lead to the rise and fall of Joseph Smith, not any divine mandate from God.
Chapter 1: The Joseph Smith Family
Bushman spends this chapter laying the groundwork for Joseph's upbringing. Frankly, I think he does an admirable job of demonstrating just how "prepared" Joseph was to establish a new religion. There are a couple of interesting tidbits worth pointing out, but overall, this chapter is just background.
On page 9, Bushman quotes extensively from Lucy Mack Smith's memoirs in recounting the persecutions of her family (which were many). I found the following two to be especially odd:
When she saw the bodies of Hyrum and Joseph, she spontaneously asked why had God "forsaken this family."... Lucy calculated that six Smith martyrs had fallen because of persecution: Joseph Sr.; sons Don Carlos, Hyrum and Samuel; William's wife Caroline; and Joseph the Prophet.
I won't quibble over the possibility that God would be so brutal to the family he chose to restore the gospel in this dispensation, but doesn't it strike you as cruel to ask the Smith's to perform this work, and then reward them thusly? I know, I know—their reward is eternal in the kingdom of the Father. But is it really necessary for God to beat the tar out of everyone he loves, and who gives their all to him? Abraham; Moses; Jesus; the Apostles; and Joseph and his family? This is kind of a wacky God, not unlike Zeus and other vengeful gods... It would seem reasonable that if faith in God is supposed to bring happiness, then surely those with the MOST faith would be the happiest, but six martyrs in one family, all for the sake of God? How much happiness is that?
Then there's this:
Lucy's pride arose from the way her family met adversity. Joseph and Hyrum lay in triumph in their coffins because justice and charity gave them power over their enemies. She honored those who overcame.
Talk about black being called white, and vice versa. They were murdered, and thus they won? Justice and charity are such great commodities that they get you shot in jail? How can smart people believe this? Just exactly what was overcome? It seems to me that Joseph lost his life, and his people were driven out of their homes. Sure, their church survived...but so has Judaism survived for longer under harsher circumstances. This whitewash of tragedy, casting it as the final triumph is nothing but abject denial of the blatantly obvious. Sorry, but it's just not inspiring to me.
The next several pages recount the religious quests of great-grandparents, grandparents and parents of Joseph Smith. It is clear from their own lives that this was a family in a state of religious unrest. Here are a couple of quotes from the book along these lines:
Depressed and restless, Lucy sought comfort in religion: "I determined to obtain that which I had heard spoken of so much from the pulpit—a change of heart." She gave herself to Bible reading and prayer but stumbled over one obstacle. "If I remain a member of no church, all religious people will say I am of the world; and if I join some one of the different denominations, all the rest will say I am in error. No church will admit that I am right, except the one with which I am associated."
Does this sound like her son? Which restlessness came first, hers, or her son's?
Her [Lucy's] own quest for peace of mind and a church had not slackened since girlhood, and her husband's refusal to become involved troubled her.
Clearly this was a family that was distressed by the religious division of the day. The evangelical churches and the Universalists were greatly at odds, while reason and faith fought daily in the Smith family.
Lucy's personal concern in 1803 connected her with a vast movement, one that would course in great waves through the entire nineteenth century; to this day it has not spent itself completely.
Many churches were spawned as a result, and several succeeded in sticking around...including Mormonism.
Lucy recovered her health, but her mind still was "considerably disquieted" and "wholly occupied upon the subject of religion."
Someone obsessed with religion is likely to pass the obsession on to at least some of her children, eh?
She concluded "that there was not then upon the earth the religion" she sought. She resigned herself to Bible reading and self-instruction.
And thus it came to pass that it leaveth little doubt as to where the "uneducated" Joseph Smith could possibly have become so familiar with the Christian issues of the day, or learned to speak "Biblease" with such fluency as to be able to invent his own scripture in the same voice, thus sayeth the Lord God of Hosts.
Joseph Sr. "became much excited upon the subject of religion." What he could not embrace was the institutional religion of his time.
Without the help of minister or church, William [Smith] later remembered, Lucy made "use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our soul's salvation."
At this point, it should be increasingly obvious that the Smith family as a whole was interested in religion, and that the subject occupied their time and attention, but they were of the mindset that nothing on earth was correct. Joseph would have learned this from the day he was born, and grew up immersed in this mindset. Is it any wonder that the first words God allegedly muttered to him were, "none of these churches are true"?
And that sets up one of the first ideas that Bushman tentatively suggests (though not without qualification) that I personally agree with:
Orthodoxy seemed inaccessible, inanimate and hostile, but the distance between the Smiths and the churches did not harden their hearts. They were anguished souls, starved for religion. If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.'s revelations, it was to satisfy his family's religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, unmoored father. [Emphasis added]
Even given the qualification Bushman assumes with the word "If", still, he opens the door to the possibility that Smith was simply responding to the spiritual needs of his entire family, especially his father, but not least of all himself.
Chapter Two: The First Visions (First Installment)
I'm assuming I'm going to have more to say on this chapter, but I just finished the first part, which deals with the First Vision.
One word: Whitewash!
Here's a brief quote to demonstrate how Bushman handles the delicate issue of the varieties of accounts of the First Vision:
As Joseph became more confident, more details came out.
That sums up his appraisal. Here's a few more just to really paint the picture for you that he's gonna blow right past this important controversy.
The vision is called The First Vision because it began a series of revelations. But at the time, Joseph did not know this was the First Vision. Like anyone, he understood the experience in terms of the familiar.
Okay, hold the phone right there. In "terms of the familiar?" We're talking about the very appearance of God the father and his Son Jesus Christ, in person, talking to you, and giving you instruction, and he's gonna understand it "in terms of the familiar?" I don't know about you, but I think that's ludicrous! There's not ONE THING FAMILIAR about a visitation from God!!! I can't even BEGIN to harbor a FRACTION of an INKLING that it would be REMOTELY POSSIBLE to have an encounter with GOD and JESUS CHRIST and NOT know EXACTLY WHAT WAS GOING ON!!! Otherwise, how smart is GOD, if He can't be a little clearer? If it’s “familiar”, then it’s not a revelation…it’s a hallucination.
No, this is clearly Bushman setting the groundwork for allowing Joseph Smith license to adjust his first vision story to suit his needs later. Nothing more.
But twelve years after the event, the First Vision's personal significance for him still overshadowed its place in the divine plan for restoring a church. He explained the vision as he must have first understood it, as a personal conversion.... It was the message of forgiveness and personal redemption he wanted to hear....Like countless other revival subjects who felt forgiven, Joseph said his "soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me."
That's all it was, ladies and gentlemen. He had a spiritual witness that God loved him. How many bazillions of Christians have claimed the same thing? But, okay, he also claimed to have seen God. So what think ye of this?
Joseph did tell a Methodist preacher about the First Vision. Newly reborn people customarily talked over their experiences with a clergyman to test the validity of the conversion. The preacher's contempt shocked Joseph. Standing on the margins of the evangelical churches, Joseph may not have recognized the ill repute of visionaries. The preacher reacted quickly and negatively, not because of the strangeness of Joseph's story but because of its familiarity. Subjects of revivals all too often claimed to have seen visions. (Emphasis added)
Catch that? There was nothing unusual about Joseph's claim, and the preacher felt obliged to disabuse him of his hallucination! Too many times had he and other preachers heard the same, tired old stories from wild-eyed visionaries who got all spun up in the religious furor of a revival!
Bushman, of course, sides with Joseph Smith on this, assuming the preacher (and every other preacher) to be too consumed in a church that "draws near to Me with their lips, but far from Me with their hearts." Okay, maybe. But maybe he is once again the narcissist that assumes everyone else is crazy, but not him. There is no evidence to suggest that Joseph had a unique experience, other than his own final account (written over a decade later), and every evidence to suggest that he turned the experience into something completely different to suit his needs later. (By the way, I thought it very 'unscholarly' for Bushman to rely on the authorized version of the First Vision at times in this discussion, because I think it's clear to everyone who has ever looked into the matter that the final version was a carefully crafted statement with an agenda to persuade. Therefore it is hardly a reliable historical document.)
Here's one final tidbit before I sum up.
When Joseph came to, he found himself lying on his back. Returning to the house, he spoke to his mother but said almost nothing about the vision. When she asked about his apparent weakness, Joseph said, "Never mind all is well.—I am well enough off." All he would report was that he learned for himself that Presbyterianism was not true. His refusal to say more may have been the natural reticence of a teenage boy keeping his own counsel, or he may have held back for fear of ridicule. Two or three years later when he angel appeared to him, he again said nothing until explicitly commanded to speak to his father. As late as 1831, he was slow to say much about Moroni. He was not interested in notoriety.
Just in case, let me repeat that last sentence: "He was not interested in notoriety." Can Bushman actually say that with a straight face? Seldom in the history of mankind has there been a man more interested in notoriety than Joseph Smith!
But more importantly, it is clear from the above quote that Bushman cannot even consider the possibility that Joseph didn't talk about it much because perhaps it didn’t happen the way he said it did 13 years later! He can only consider that either he was just a quiet teenager, or maybe an insecure one, but he never questions the possibility that Joseph's experience was nothing more than each and every one of us have had at one time or another when we felt we knew for sure that God loved us, or the gospel was true, or that we should marry so-and-so...we've all prayed, and at one time or another been convinced God had spoken to us in some form or fashion. Why can't Bushman offer as one plausible explanation for Joseph's behavior the possibility that his experience was far less amazing, far less supernatural, and only turned into that many years later as a means for serving his own purposes? Frankly, applying Occam's razor again and assuming supernatural explanations are not rational, then it makes infinitely more sense that Joseph had a normal, boyish spiritual experience and then modified it to suit his needs, than it is to think God and Jesus actually appeared to the boy. Once again, Bushman has demonstrated that he "cannot countenance evidence" that Joseph's inspiration was perhaps not divine.
So here's the bottom line with Bushman's treatment of the First Vision. First, it is great that the church is willing to admit that the First Vision evolved over time, and that the first time it was written down it in no way resembled the final, authorized version. Fine. Appreciate that.
But what Bushman wants the reader to swallow is that Joseph simply "understood" the vision at deeper and deeper levels as he grew in his prophetic calling. At first he thought it was about his personal redemption, but later he realized that God was really telling him that none of the other churches were true, and that he shouldn't join any of them. In Bushman's worldview, Joseph's understanding just evolved with his growing prophetic power.
That completely ignores the fact that details of each vision description are uniquely different in each account, and that they cannot be rationally unified. He just glosses over it with his "Theory of Evolving Prophet" (hence the "Rough Stone Rolling" metaphor), and blows right past what, to me, is obvious: Joseph turned an otherwise common and mundane spiritual experience into a powerful vision to suit his purposes, and the reason he didn't talk about it earlier, or write about it earlier, was because he hadn't conceived it yet. He didn't yet realize the potential power amongst his potential converts. Once he did, he carefully crafted a story that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original experience, and then labeled it as historical fact. It evolved, growing like a snowball, rather than refined and polished like a gemstone that gets the “rough edges” knocked off.
Perhaps the better title for this book would have been, “Snowball Rolling.” Snowballs grow as they roll, adding to themselves as they roll, which is how I perceive Joseph Smith.
I've done that myself, by the way. In the heart of my Mormon days, I was quite capable of turning a fairly mundane experience into a powerful spiritual experience with real teaching significance. Not because it factually happened that way, but because I chose to interpret it that way, and embellished it to draw out the messages that I wanted to communicate...including the message that "I'm acceptable to God."
So...the first opportunity Bushman had to really redeem the church's unwillingness to address hard issues, he failed. Well, he failed from my perspective. He may have been very, very successful from the perspective of the faithful. He's crafted verbiage that admits there were differences, without allowing for the possibility that it was anything other than exactly what God had in mind. I guess that is success for the church...
Chapter Two: The First Visions (Second Installment)
By now, there are some critical omissions that are starting to bug me. First and foremost is the fact that Joseph Jr. joined the Methodist Church between the time of the First Vision and the time he established the church (1828 according to the records of the church he joined, or tried to). Bushman only suggests that Joseph stayed away from the churches, which is patently not true.
Further, when Moroni describes the Urim and Thummim to Joseph, Bushman has carefully protected the reader from knowledge of Joseph's familiarity with magic "seer stones." In fact, by the time Joseph records Moroni's message, he is intimately familiar with seer stones, but the reader is left to assume that this is just a marvelous and anachronistic relic of a bygone era which God uses to bring to pass marvelous works.
In fact, this is what is most disturbing to me about the rest of this chapter. It does in fact deal with Joseph's treasure digging, but it always makes it sound as if he's this reluctant visionary who is drug around by his father and his associates against his will. Bah. If he didn't want to participate, he didn't have to pretend to see anything (and anyone who doesn't believe he was pretending would no doubt be willing to consider a great deal I have on some ocean front property in Arizona...) No, Joseph was known to be quite a showman, helping everyone to lay out the magic circles, driving in a knife at the right place, and then groaning over the evil spirits who kept moving the chest of gold "just out of reach" of the diggers. Hardly sounds like a man who doesn't want to participate.
Another little tidbit that Bushman just fails to mention is that when Joseph tried to obtain the plates the first time and was "shocked" and rebuked by the angel, that the angel initially appeared in the form of a white toad in the box, only transforming into the angel when Joseph's devious mind apparently forgot what Moroni told him only hours earlier: You don't get to cash in on the gold, Joseph! This is the account that lead Mark Hoffman to invent the famed "White Salamander letter." The reason the church was interested in obtaining such a letter was because they knew such an account was plausible, and that it could just as easily have been a salamander since it was "amphibians" that had magical powers (they were creatures of both the water and the land).
Here are a couple of quotes that I think are important from this part of the chapter:
Buried treasure was tied into a great stock of magical practices extending back many centuries. Eighteenth-century rationalism had failed to stamp out belief in preternatural powers aiding and opposing human enterprise.
It's interesting to me that Bushman can just scoff at residual belief in magical powers, but admire the people, the same people, for their identical belief in visions, inspired dreams, revelations, and prophecies. He does acknowledge it to a degree, but manages to keep it separate:
Christian belief in angels and devils blended with belief in guardian spirits and magical powers.
He sees that the two were co-mingled, but seems just fine that out of that came Joseph Smith, who was actually prepared for his angelic visits because his mind was open to the magical worldview:
The visit of the angel and the discovery of the gold plates would have confirmed the belief in supernatural powers. For the people in a magical frame of mind, Moroni sounded like one of the spirits who stood guard over treasure in the tales of treasure-seeking.
Here's where Bushman's faith colors his interpretation too much. He cannot suppose that Joseph's prior experience with magic and treasure seeking simply served as a template for the story he later told about Moroni. He can only assume that Joseph's mind was prepared to accept such things, as was his family, because of their prior experience as treasure diggers. What is odd about this is the unstated supposition that God prepared them thusly...using falsehoods, because I don't think there is a person in the modern church who would believe the magic used to dig for buried treasure was valid, yet apparently that's what God used to prep the brain of ole' Joe.
You think I'm kidding? Try this lovely quote from page 54:
When he married Emma Hale in 1827, Joseph was on the eve of realizing himself as a prophet. He may still have been involved in magic, but he was sincere when he told Emma's father that his treasure-seeking days were over. Magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure seeking may have made it easier for his father to believe his son's fabulous story about an angel and gold plates.
Did you catch that? Bushman is suggesting that Joseph's involvement in treasure digging with peep stones in a hat, deceiving people into believing he could see buried treasure despite the fact that none was ever produced, was a "preparatory gospel!" Good grief! Do people realize what this man is suggesting? That God, because he's not quite omnipotent, had to "prepare" the Smith's with a falsehood, a lying practice, in order for them to believe? Are we to assume that without this "preparatory gospel," that Joseph wouldn't have actually believed what he was seeing when God appeared to him in the flesh and spoke to him?
Is this thing on? Does everyone understand what this guy is saying? This is nothing short of stunning to me!
One last thought along the lines of a "rough stone rolling." At the bottom of page 54, Bushman says:
The danger of treating the plates as treasure was underscored time after time. By 1826, even Joseph Sr. had come around to a more biblical conception of Joseph's mission. The plates were seen less and less as a treasure and more as a religious history, preparing Joseph to conceive of himself as a translator and a prophet.
First of all, think about what he's saying. Joseph Sr. can't seem to get it through his thick skull that the plates aren't a treasure--they're a book. Despite the fact that an angel of God practically killed his son over this very issue, still, it takes years for Joseph Sr. to come around to this idea. Why?
Well, duh! There weren't any plates in the first place! Joseph Sr. would surely have been immediately on board if there was any real confidence in the story beyond his own magical worldview. Besides, after four years of never seeing the damn things, he probably came to an awareness that he wasn't going to see them, and after a while, it began to dawn on him and everyone else that the REAL treasure lay in the story that Joseph was compiling, not in the mysterious and elusive gold plates themselves that probably people realized were more "magical" than real anyway. There was opportunity in that story, an opportunity that would provide the nice things in life (for a time) for Joseph's family in a way that no other "treasure" ever "almost dug up, but not quite" ever would or could. The story became the bridge between the magical fantasy and a treasure realized at last. And that’s why the whole Smith family was on board.
But Bushman wants us to believe that this is the "rough stone rolling," in that it took time for Joseph to overcome his desire to melt those suckers down for bullion and sell 'em off for cash. Are you serious? How confident could he possibly be in the angelic warnings if it takes four years to come to that conclusion? Not very, I'm guessing.
See, at the end of the day, it is apparent to me that the story of the gold plates was an evolution from Joseph's magic worldview and his days as a treasure seeker. He was seeking gold, and he "found it," but not the kind of gold that anyone could actually see. Oh, no. This was gold only he could see, but in order to have some kind of credibility, he had to have evidence, and the evidence he produced was the Book of Mormon. No one ever saw the plates, my friends. No one. Not Emma, not Oliver, not Martin, not David, not any of the eleven witnesses.
The whole story was founded from the beginning in the Smith family's understanding and appreciation for magic. It is part and parcel the same story, and the fact that Bushman has the audacity to call it a "preparatory gospel" just galls me.
Chapter 3: Translation (First Installment)
I’m struck again at how this “definitive biography” presumes faith in Joseph’s divine calling. Nevertheless, there are some interesting items that are brought out that might be disturbing for some people. Naturally, they are explained away as if they are trivial…
The chapter heading is a quote from Emma after she had re-married, and it includes her well-known description of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon, “sitting with his face buried in a hat, with the stone in it and dictating hour after hour, with nothing between us. He had neither mss [manuscript?] or book to read from.” That might be a tad disturbing for many of the faithful who still imagine Joseph and Oliver sitting at the table, Joseph with his finger on the plates virtually “reading” the characters aloud to Oliver, who faithfully wrote what was read. At this point, I haven’t read anywhere where Bushman either disputes or discusses this claim of translating in the hat. He sort of just lets it squat there on the table without really talking about it. [After note: He does address it later in the book.]
But I think there are some very telling bits of information in the tale Bushman tells. For instance, apparently the night that Joseph left to get the plates, he thought to ask his mother for a locking wooden chest to store them in. He woke her up at just before Midnight, and much to his dismay, she didn’t have one.
Hello? He had four years to prepare for this day, why does it not cross his mind that he needs to keep the plates hidden until midnight just before he leaves? Granted, it’s possible that it just slipped his mind until that point, but there’s a lot of “mind slippage” that goes on in this tale, and all of it strengthens my assertion that the entire story was a fabrication.
For instance, it apparently “slipped” God’s mind that Alvin wasn’t going to be alive when Joseph finally got the plates, and despite the fact that the angel had commanded Joseph that Alvin’s presence was the key to recovering the record, now there had to be a change of plans, and EMMA was the new key. Oops…God should really be a little more careful about those kinds of details.
It also just “slipped” Martin Harris’ mind that he wasn’t supposed to show the manuscript to any but his wife and four others. Oops! He showed them to everyone who came over! “Eh…God won’t mind. Sure, he commanded me, but what the hell.” In the process, keeping those pages safe just sort of “slipped” his mind, too. Furthermore, Joseph got distracted with the birth and immediate death of their first child and Emma’s dangerously poor health as a result, and the whole “God’s new record” just sort of “slipped” his mind for several months. Is this really even possible? I mean, if you really believed this work was of God, and that you, of all human beings on the planet, were being asked by God Omnipotent to do this whole little translating thing, do you really think it’s possible there would be so much carelessness and forgetfulness? It seems ludicrous to me. Not impossible, but ludicrous.
“Yo, God! Look after Emma while I go gather up those 116 pages!” “No problem, Joe. I got’cher back!” God seriously needs some help here…
There are also some other telling anecdotes. For instance, we’re all familiar with the tale of Joseph running heroically through the woods with 50-150 pounds of gold wrapped in cloth (making it that much more awkward) while being bonked on the head by bad guys. (They’re all armed, they brought their guns, why do they just hit him with them instead of shoot him with them?) We already realize that this is a tale that must have been Joseph’s hero identity manifesting itself. But there is something else he lets slip in his tale that I think is telling. You know how jokes always have things either happening three times, or to three different people? “There was a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.” Well, three happens to be a number with magical portent. Remember Aladdin’s three wishes? Exactly. Well, in Joseph’s hero story of running through the woods, he is attacked three times before he attains his goal (home). Coincidence? Perhaps. But then, remember that he also had to pester God three times before he could obtain Martin’s goal of allowing him to take the 116 pages of manuscript home to show his wife. And that three different people transcribed for him (Emma, Martin and Oliver) before he reached his goal of publishing the BOM. And that he had to have three witnesses before he obtained his goal of credibility. Now, I realize that it’s easy to see patterns where they don’t really exist. Still, the stories of running through the woods, and pestering God about the 116 pages, are told in the same, tired old format of so many simple stories and jokes that it causes me to be highly suspicious…
This quote was also stunning to me, when I consider that God managed somehow to keep the record safe for nearly 2000 years before he unloaded it on the goof ball Joseph Smith:
Lucy Smith said the angel warned Joseph as the record was turned over to him that “wicked men” would “lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get it away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed.” (Emphasis added)
The reason this is stunning is that it is this kind of logic early in the church that sets up the notion that God is utterly dependent on the Mormons to get His work accomplished. He is omnipotent, and yet he has to rely on Joe Smith, uneducated farm-boy from Vermont to keep the work moving along. Perhaps God chose Joseph not for his prophetic abilities, but his prowess as a wrestler?
One of the other things that struck me in this chapter is the doggedness with which the other money-diggers pursued the plates. They were downright belligerent about it, willing to trespass, steal and destroy property in the process, Willard Chase leading the pack (recall that the Smiths and the Chases had worked together on a number of magical occasions, and Joseph obtained his first seer stone when he borrowed Sally Chase's “green glass” to find it, and his second one digging a well for the Chases.) Now let’s think about this for a moment. Why would it be reasonable to assume that these were just “wicked people” trying to steal from Joseph what was rightfully his? Unless…he had promised them all along that they were part of the operation. In fact, David Whitmer recalled that he had met a group of incensed young men in Palmyra who claimed that before Joseph got the plates, “he had promised to share with them.” (Page 61) Why? Well, if you were familiar with the magic of the treasure diggers, you would recall that it often required lots of people to pull off a “successful dig,” (which is all the more ironic that they never actually pulled one off). To me, it only makes sense that the other diggers were as audacious as they were because they felt genuinely cheated. Here they had all been working together, almost getting rich a handful of times (except those darn evil spirits kept moving the treasure around…) , and suddenly, Joseph claims he finally found some gold, and he cuts them clean out of the deal. They would only have felt cheated if they had been involved from the outset. I contend that it was all part of the same magical shenanigans, but at some point, Joseph had a plan for the “mysterious plates,” and he had to “have them”—but he couldn’t let anyone else in on it, or they’d know that he didn’t really have them. So he finished the job of obtaining the plates by himself, (allegedly), and left the rest of the company with nothing. And they were understandably angry.
Also note that the Smiths never felt inclined to defend their property, nor get the law involved. It's as if they "understood" that anger of the other money-diggers, and just spent their time trying to stay one step ahead of them rather than seek justice or the support of the law. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Now, I’m just flat-out speculating about that, just trying to figure out one way to fit the pieces together. But it is clear to me that there is a valuable piece of the puzzle missing in Joseph’s story when I analyze the belligerence of the money-diggers. More than that, it is evidence that at first, Joseph had conceived of the plates as nothing but treasure, only contriving the “spiritual treasure” story later. Once he made that leap, the rest of the money-digging company was a hindrance, not a help.
Bushman and other apologists often point to the chastisement of Joseph Smith after the “lost 116 pages” fiasco as evidence that Joseph was humble, and certainly he wouldn’t “invent” a revelation that makes him look bad. After all, you look at other examples of “wicked” leaders, and they are only ever condemning of their people, not of themselves. I believe, and this is my opinion, that Joseph was good with “sleight of hand” distraction, keeping the focus shifting around enough to make it appear as though he is “humbled by the Lord,” when in fact he’s using his own self-deprecation to make himself actually stronger.
Here is a great example of that “sleight of hand” ability I’m talking about:
Alerted to an approaching danger, [by the seer stone in his pocket] Joseph took up the hearthstones in the west room and buried the box of plates there. They had scarcely replaced the stones when a collection of armed men rushed up to the house. Thinking quickly, [always the hero] Joseph threw open the doors, yelled loudly, and all the men in the house, including eleven-year-old Carlos, ran out in a fury. Surprised and disorganized, the mob fell back, ran for the woods, and disappeared.
Shift the focus, break the train of thought, keep the “mob” from reaching their objective. Works great.
But here’s the “chastisement,” which I find equally telling: “Remember God is merciful: Therefore, repent of that which thou hast done, and he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou are still chosen, and wilt again be called to the work.”
Sure, Joseph allows himself to take a few hand slaps, but God is first and foremost telling Joseph (and everyone else) that Joe is “still chosen.” The favored of God. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Lastly (up to this point), I close with this quote, reiterating an important piece of “spin” that Bushman is determined to drive home:
After 1828, Joseph could no longer see that magic might have prepared him to believe in a revelation of gold plates and translation with a stone. It did not occur to him that without magic his family might have scoffed at his story of Moroni, as did the minister who rejected the First Vision. Magic had played its part and now could be cast aside.
If you didn’t catch that, read it again, as I think this is the first truly significant piece of spin Bushman is introducing to the membership of the Church: Joseph Smith and his family practiced magic so that they would be prepared to accept the miraculous aspects of the unfolding story, including angels, seer stones, and gold plates!
Excuse me, but couldn’t God have come up with a better system for accomplishing this goal than using the deceptive practices of folk magic? If he needed Joseph’s family to believe, couldn’t he have called a family meeting and appeared to all of them? Couldn’t he have calmed their doubts as he did with Joseph of Nazareth when he learned that God had knocked up his espoused wife? In my mind, and it is admittedly just my opinion, this is utter nonsense. And yet, you mark my words, this will be the way church members deal with the issue of Joseph’s magic days.
“Yes brother and/or sister so-and-so, we know all about Joseph’s magic days. That magic was a preparatory gospel, paving the way for Joseph to convince his family that magic stones, buried treasure, and ancient spirits revealing their whereabouts are for real. Thank goodness for the foresight of God to prepare the way for the gospel to come forth!”
Chapter 3: Translation (Continued)
I have to start out with this quote from page 69 under the Oliver Cowdery heading, because it is SO telling:
Sometime in this dark period [after Martin Harris misplaced the 116 pages], Joseph attended Methodist meetings with Emma, probably to placate her family.
That's why it's dangerous for someone like Bushman to be credited for writing the "definitive biography" of Joseph Smith—he simply cannot countenance the possibility that Smith was anything than what he said he was, and inserts little "interpretations" like "probably to placate her family" in an effort to keep Joseph as the good guy.
But why is it so impossible that Joseph might have toyed at this point with giving the whole thing up? After all, the 116 pages were gone, he labored for months, his family was hungry, his reputation was questionable, and Emma wanted to go to the Methodists. Recall, however, that God commanded him not to go to any other churches, though Bushman admits that Smith "asked to be enrolled" in a Methodist class. In other words, he blatantly turned his back on God in this instance. Can you say, “Son of Perdition?” But Bushman can't handle that, and inserts the qualifier to make it all seem like he was just trying to cooperate with Emma. Like Eve of old, it is always the woman that beguiles...
Regarding the translation, Bushman is kind of interesting. He makes no bones about the fact that the plates were not technically being translated, for they were often not even in the room while Smith and Cowdery worked, and when they were, they were in a box or wrapped in a cloth. All the translation occurred with the seer stone. It is also telling, and again, Bushman just comes right out and says it, that despite Joseph's initial intrigue with the Urim and Thummim, he quickly reverted to his old seer stone in the hat, and the Urim and Thummim went unused. While Bushman acknowledges this, he doesn't in any way address the obvious contradiction here, namely that the Urim and Thummim were originally touted as superior, preserved by God for the translation of the plates, but Joseph can do better than God with his own rock.
Hello? Did anyone hear that? I'll say it louder. Joseph can do better than God with his own rock.
But now this is really interesting if you think about it: Joseph didn't need the plates to write the Book of Mormon, nor did he need the Urim and Thummim. He certainly didn't need the Liahona or the Sword of Laban. So why? Why in the world would God preserve things that nobody could look at or handle (other than with their "spiritual eyes"), and that Joseph didn't even use to write the book? What it sounds like is that God laid out this plan, but it didn't work, or wasn't necessary. That ding-dong! Why couldn't he do something useful for a change! And why can't Bushman et al countenance the possibility that the whole thing was a ruse from the beginning, and that ultimately Smith used what he knew—fabulous dictation and story-telling skills, and magic rocks in hats? Because for me, I'm thinking that anything God provides is probably superior to something I dug up while using someone else's green looking glass...but maybe that's just insecure ole' me.
Later in this chapter, Bushman falls into the same school of thought (a tired one in my opinion) that Joseph was incapable of writing the book because his neighbors described him as lazy and without intellect (the same accounts that are quickly brushed aside if they testify that the Smith family was anything but a fine, upstanding American family), and that the Book of Mormon is just too "complex" for a man without letters to accomplish. I want to grab Bushman and have him read Joseph's own mother's account regarding how he could entertain the family for hours spinning tales about the Indians that inhabited the land. And I'd like him to read all the critical reviews of the Book of Mormon that make it clear that it is hardly "complex," (I once wrote an essay in response to this claim of complexity, which I'll try to dredge up and post). In fact, it is linear, dull and with characters who are so exaggerated as to suggest that they (the heroes and the villains both) were the product of a childish imagination, and not a skilled writer. I flat out challenge the notion that the book is complex.
That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate that it was a remarkable achievement. I cannot imagine myself having the mental capacity to dictate a reasonably coherent story with my face in a hat for hours on end. I’m just saying it isn’t a complex story, and that fact has to be appreciated when you consider the possibility that Joseph really might have just rattled that story off the top of his head. Less complex, easier to accomplish.
One of the themes that Bushman begins to build at this point in the book, and which he develops further in later chapters, is that God was quick to correct Joseph as well as others, and that unlike other "false" prophets who simply whack their followers over the head with a guilt stick, Joseph gets whacked a time or two himself. But what Bushman fails to acknowledge is that in every instance, Smith is always reminded that he is "chosen" or "elect" and "that no man save him" could accomplish this "marvelous work and wonder." In other words, Bushman fails to recognize a false humility in Smith's writings, which are actually exceedingly narcissistic. In fact, the one word that appears in the margins of my book thus far more than any other is "narcissism" because there is account after account in which Bushman claims humility and I see self-adulation.
Moving along, here’s a little "spin" for you:
Critics pointed out how many of the witnesses were members of the Smith and Whitmer families, implying they signed out of loyalty or from a self-serving motive. Others have suggested the imagined scene was viewed only through "spiritual eyes," or that Joseph pressured the witnesses into thinking they saw an angel and the plates.
As I recall, those "others" who suggested they saw with their "spiritual eyes" were not critics—they were witnesses, but Bushman walks away from that completely, leaving the reader to assume that this is merely speculative and proffered by anti-Mormons with an agenda. Not so, and if I wasn't such a lazy son-of-a-gun, I'd go look it up.
I'll wrap up this chapter with a Bushman quote that is one of many that I personally believe is naïve at best and a lie at worst:
It [the Book of Mormon] was an unusually spare production, wholly lacking in signs of self-promotion.
Except for the times in which the Book either makes reference to other "translators", such as King Mosiah (who was both a king and a prophet, possessing the same gift Joseph claimed), or specifically in which it refers to the book coming to light in the end times to "Joseph, son of Joseph," a clear self-affirming reference. Now, it's true that the book could have done otherwise and prophesied at length about Smith as it did about Christ, but the simple fact of the matter is, Bushman is wrong when he denies that is in any way self-promoting.
Chapter 4: A New Bible
The primary point of interest for me in this particular chapter is the developing apologetic tone of Bushman. This chapter uses all kinds of pseudo-academic fluff 'n stuff to make it sound like the Book of Mormon is a serious academic pursuit, when in fact the logic that he uses to support that notion is typically flawed and circular. But to start off this particular discussion, here's a quote from page 93 that ought to make your blood boil, especially considering how very intelligent and informed so many of you are!
With so much at stake, the proponents [of the Book of Mormon] are as energetic and ingenious as the critics in mustering support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. On the whole better trained, with more technical language skills than their opponents, they are located mainly at Brigham Young University and associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).
:: pauses to allow readers to pick themselves off the floor or peal themselves off the ceiling ::
Anybody else want to ask the question? Okay, I will: Better trained in what?!! Oh, right...better trained in proving the historicity of the Book of Mormon. No other serious scholar in the world even bothers to get too well trained in the historical significance of the Book of Mormon (beyond it being a 19th century religious text and its associated cultural influence). However, the people doing the research that inadvertently also disproves the historicity of the Book of Mormon are hardly poorly trained! For instance, all the folks doing work on the DNA studies, or the people doing Mesoamerican archeology, or paleontology, or linguistics, or religious influences among Native Americans from the Yukon to the tip of Chile. This vast, carefully scrutinized, scientifically supported body of research, enough to fill libraries, finds no room for a historical Book of Mormon. None. And so it galls me that Bushman has the audacity to suggest that the FARMS folks are "better trained." As a scientist, I am appalled at the application of the scientific method that FARMS implements. Namely:
1) Begin with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is what it says it is.
2) Search for anything and everything that supports that conclusion.
3) Throw away anything and everything that doesn't support that conclusion.
4) Thereby prove that the Book of Mormon is true.
In light of this discussion, Bushman is clearly a proponent of the Limited Geography Theory proposed by FARMS:
One of the most interesting turns in recent Mormon argumentation is a revised conception of the extent of Book of Mormon lands. Early readers [and prophets and apostles...ahem] assumed the Book of Mormon people ranged up and down North and South America from upstate New York to Chile. A close reading of the text reveals it cannot sustain such an expansive geography.
Well DUH! But if you use the process of scholarly inquiry I outlined above, starting first and foremost with the assumption that the Book is what it says it is, than you cannot countenance the possibility that it was written by a guy with a limited sense of geography, and instead craft a new thesis that suggests that the early Church members (as well as the vast majority today) simply didn't recognize the reality of limited geography, instead assuming too much. Of course, it didn't help that Joseph Smith himself, prophet, seer, revelator and translator of the Book was the chief proponent of the extensive geography thesis...
Anyway, Bushman makes it clear that limited geography is THE solution, and that of course (you silly scholars) there were people who crossed over the Bering Straights, and of course there were many, many others in the land besides the Nephites and Lamanites, and that when Joseph Smith talked about the "Lamanites" to which he sent Oliver Cowdery to Missouri to proselytize, he didn't really mean "Lamanites," per se, he just meant...well...he must have misunderstood, that's all. Never mind that he sent Cowdery to the Lamanites by revelation. Allow me to quote from the Introduction in the Book of Mormon: “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness [sic] of the everlasting gospel…After thousands of years, all [Nephites and Jaredites] were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” (Emphasis added)
Apparently God is not familiar with the limited geography theory, either. He should study more.
[Note: Since this critique was originally written, the LDS Church has begun to revise the introduction to the Book of Mormon, beginning first with the commercially available edition published by Doubleday in 2006. The text now reads, "...and they are among the principal ancestors of the American Indians." It is a critical distinction, but one the Church prefers not to address.]
Speaking of Lamanites, here's an interesting and very incorrect quote from Bushman:
In this post-Indian environment, the Smiths exhibited no particular interest in the original occupants of the land until Joseph got involved with the gold plates.
In Lucy Mack Smith's book, she makes it abundantly clear that Joseph would often entertain them for hours spinning tales of the native people of their land, talking about their warfare, their customs, their clothing, their money, etc. In fact, there was a great deal of interest concerning the Native Americans, not the least of which was the theory that they were of the lost 10 tribes of Israel.
And speaking of the theory of Hebrew descent for Indians, Bushman makes the following observation relative to Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews when compared to the Book of Mormon.
Both books speak of migrations from Palestine to America and of a great civilization now lost; both describe a division that pitted a civilized against a savage branch with the higher civilization falling to the lower; both books elicit sympathy for a chosen people fallen into decay. Even though Joseph Smith is not known to have seen View of the Hebrews until later in his life, the parallels seem strong enough for critics to argue that Ethan Smith provided the seeds for Joseph Smith's later composition. [So far so good...quite a revelation for many Mormons, no doubt.]
But for readers of Ethan Smith, the Book of Mormon was a disappointment. It was not the treatise about the origins of the Indians, regardless of what early Mormons said. The Book of Mormon never used the word "Indian."
::waits patiently for forehead slapping to cease::
So there you go. The best evidence that the Book of Mormon wasn't copied from View of the Hebrews is that the Book of Mormon never, not one time, used the word Indian.
Duh! It used the word Lamanite over and over and OVER again, and the prophet who translated the damn book made the following equation very clear: Lamanite = Indian.
In other words, Bushman is simply quick to brush aside as coincidental any similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews, despite the evidence that Joseph Smith, combined with Oliver Cowdery, would almost certainly have been familiar with the themes of View of the Hebrews, whether or not they ever actually read the book, in the same way I am familiar with the themes of so many Shakespearian works without having actually read more than Macbeth, and that one under protest.
To make matters worse, Bushman wants us to believe that the Book of Mormon actually overturns American racism:
In its very nature, the Book of Mormon overturns conventional American racism. The book makes Indians the founders of civilization in the New World. The master history of America's origins is not about Columbus or the Puritans but about the native peoples. History is imagined [BINGO] from the ancient inhabitants point of view. European migrants are called gentiles in the Book of Mormon and come onstage as interlopers. They appear late in the narrative and remain secondary to the end. The land belongs to the Indians.... The Book of Mormon is not just sympathetic to Indians; it grants them dominance—in history, in God's esteem, and in future ownership of the American continent.
Now, I'm not saying miracles can't happen, and I'm certainly a vocal opponent to the doctrine of manifest destiny, but I think anyone who clings to the notion that the "Redman will Rise Again!" is deceived, if not downright nuts. Of course, this isn't proof that the Book isn't true...using the famous Christian and Mormon fallback position, we can always assume they will inherit the land after the Millennium and Christ comes again. In other words, it is a purely faith-based hope, not a logically sound possibility.
On the other hand, I think it's pretty safe to say that when you call dark-skinned people "cursed of God," that's going to contribute to "conventional American racism," not overturn it. Bushman is here calling white black and black white.
Moving right along, I found this notion to be rather silly:
The world is a hive of bible-making, and in the end all these records will come together, and people will know one another through their bibles. "And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews." The Book of Mormon is but one record in a huge world archive.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence anywhere of any bible-making activity in the archeological record other than that which supports "the words of the Jews." The words of the Nephites can be found in a single record, which were produced under suspicious circumstances (angels delivering plates that no one else could see, and then taking them back again), while the Jews records pop up in lots of archeological digs, Qumran and Nag Hamadi being just two of the prominent ones. But if there was a "hive of bible-making" resulting in a "huge world archive," it is hardly unreasonable to expect to find some of that...and yet it doesn't exist. Got that? IT DOESN'T EXIST. Yet Bushman talks very enthusiastically about it as if it's just a given! Makes me want to scream!
But the best part of this section was the following quote:
If Book of Mormon reasoning holds true, America should produce its own sacred text. Thus the way is paved for Joseph Smith.
That is circular logic at its best, couched in terms that make it sound so scholarly. Let me interpret for you: "If Joseph Smith was right, then Joseph Smith was right."
Well now! That changes everything for me! I will probably head back to church on that stunning bit of reasoning!
Bushman makes a fatal logic error in the following, and then expands that error greatly:
Embedding America in the Bible necessarily hallowed the nation, but the Book of Mormon also created a subversive competitor to the standard national history.
Any respect I may have started with is waning at this point. The "nation" was not hallowed...the land was hallowed! The United States of America is not what the Book of Mormon was about, and Bushman makes a critical error in confusing the two. He expands on that error here:
But the American story does not control the narrative. The Book of Mormon allots just nine verses to the deliverance of the Gentiles, and the rest of the book concentrates on the deliverance of Israel. The impending American republic is barely visible. Even at points where it should have been foreshadowed, such as the passages on government, republican principles are not sketched in.
"SHOULD" have been foreshadowed? See, what Bushman is doing is setting up the argument that IF Joseph Smith was just producing a book about what he knew, it SHOULD have been about American Republicanism. But all this really says is that Bushman apparently lacks the childish imagination that often accompanies the fantasies of kingdoms and kings...replete in the Book of Mormon.
Tragically, at this point Bushman points out that unlike American republicanism, the Book of Mormon goes from Monarchs to Judges. What a novel concept! Except that's exactly what happens in the Old Testament. The narrative isn't American; it's borrowed straight from the Bible, the other story Smith was familiar with, and could draw upon in his account.
Finally, he says:
The Book of Mormon does not plant the seeds of democracy in the primeval history of the nation. Instead of tracking the history of liberty, as a nationalist work might be expected to do, the Book of Mormon endlessly expounds the master biblical narrative—the history of Israel. (Emphasis added)
Bushman is essentially falling into the logic trap that, "If the book is not predictable, then it must be true." Yet it is nothing less than an academic "wish" that the book even ever was history in the first place, let alone predictable in that historical pursuit. Instead, why isn't it possible that Joseph just made up a narrative based on his understanding and familiarity with the Bible, and his heroic imagination? While it might buffalo the masses when he goes off on tangents about what you might "expect a nationalist work to say and do," the truth is, it was never intended to be a nationalist work, and to wander down that path for the sake of scholarly appearances is really nothing but hot air without any real substance, shifting the focus from the real issues. It is like angel-food cake...sweet, but in the end, little more than air and wholly without actual nutrition. I am woefully unimpressed...
Addendum to Chapter 4: A New Bible
One of the things I forgot I wanted to address in Chapter 4 is introduced neatly in the following quote:
The manifest message of the Book of Mormon is Christ's atonement for the world's sins. The Christian gospel overwhelms everything else—Indian origins, race, the Bible, America. No reader could miss the Christian themes.
Bushman is setting up the argument in Chapter 6 (Moses and Enoch) that the overtly Christian themes were part of what was removed from the Bible by wicked men in the centuries prior to Joseph's restoration.
It is terribly ironic to me that Joseph was all about the Jews, their "words", the restoration of Israel, blah, blah, blah, and yet he completely negates everything Jewish by insisting that Abraham, Moses and Enoch were Christians, not Jews.
Beyond that, though, I think it speaks to Joseph's naiveté that he has prophets of the Book of Mormon proclaim such overtly Christian themes hundreds of years before Christ, when the best that the Bible can do is make a vague mention about a king born of a virgin that the later Christians co-opted in claiming it to be a prophecy of Jesus, and which later critics have demonstrated was a generic messianic prophecy not specific to Jesus.
In my opinion, Joseph's prophets are not prophets...they are fortune-tellers, seeing into the future, such as might be possible if you happened to have, say...a seer stone. No prophet can reliably be said to "see the future," they are simply proclaimers of God's word. They speak in terms of generalities, "Repent or God will destroy you from off the face of the earth," but they can't foretell the future. Neither could Joseph, as the large catalogue of failed prophecies shows. Yet this is the operating paradigm of the treasure-seeking Joseph, who still believes in the power to see that which isn't yet or hasn't happened yet via magic; the operating paradigm by which the Book of Mormon was ultimately conceived and written. A magic worldview.
No, in my opinion—and I admit that it's possible I'm wrong—Joseph’s overtly Christian message in the Book of Mormon is actually evidence that it was made up after all the Christian themes of which we are so familiar were already developed...not before. Look at it. The Old Testament we know was written before Jesus, and it really cannot be argued to be a Christian text at all. In fact, the early Christians only included the Old Testament at all in order to create a link to the old Gods, and thus bring a sense of history to their fledgling religion. In some regards, the Old Testament was used as a counterpoint to the New Testament, to show how Christ overcame the law of the Jews and established a new law. Regardless, the Old Testament, allegedly written by Joseph's beloved Jews, a bible that was part of a "hive of bible-making in the world," failed to prophecy of Christ at all. But Joseph's bible, written 1830 years after Jesus, is able to testify of Jesus every bit as explicitly as the New Testament, even though much of it, too, was supposedly written up to 600 years before the birth of Jesus!
Well, duh! It's easy to declare prophecy after the fact. I can even do that...
Chapter 5: The Church of Christ
Notice from the title that Joseph couldn't even get the name of the church right the first time...that it, too, had to evolve to its present name...call me cynical, I know.
I mentioned in my section on Chapter 4 that one of the most popular words in the margins of my book is "narcissism." I want to address this a bit here in Chapter 5, too, as I believe that first and foremost that's the picture I'm getting of Joseph, ironically through the faithful interpretation of Bushman. So I'll start with this quote from page 111:
The Book of Mormon foreshadowed the practice [of ordaining all worthy male members to the priesthood, rather than withholding that privilege to an elect few, of course that STILL left out blacks and women, but we'll save that for later commentary]. "All their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support," Alma and Mosiah had taught. The purpose was explicitly democratic: "the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal." Joseph and Cowdery were the First and Second Elders, and soon after were designated apostles, lifting them up a level, but there were many elders, and a revelation the previous June had foreshadowed twelve apostles to be appointed later. Smith and Cowdery were literally first among equals. (Emphasis added)
Double-speak, that's what that is. First, it's clear that Joseph was responding to the fact that he was a preacher (or would be), while he lacked the credentials and learning of the ordained preachers of other denominations, and he was most likely putting them in their place, stating, "you are no better than me." But since that then makes him equal to everyone else, he has to have himself designated "first" or as Bushman puts it, "lifting them up a level." So not exactly equal. They were first among equals, making them a little more equal than anyone else. Joseph's narcissism shining through.
So try this one on for size:
The most important office was the one designated for Joseph in a revelation on the day of the Church's organization: "Behold there shall be a record among you, and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet and apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder in the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." ... The revelation told the Church that "thou shalt give heed unto all his words, and commandments, which he shall give unto you, as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me." He governed through his power to speak for God.
Now, if Pat Robertson made those kinds of claims (God forbid!), Mormons would just laugh out loud. But really, how gullible can we be if the only evidence that a man "speaks FOR God" is that he himself tells us he does!!? And how convenient that Joseph provides a "revelation" from God Almighty commanding the people to "listen and obey Joseph." No wonder the poor guy ended up so drunk with power that he did some of the stupid things that got him killed.
But Bushman is convinced that not only was Joseph not looking out for his own best interests, in fact he was too humble to do so.
He [Joseph] was not the luminous figure he is sometimes made out to be. Attention focused on his gift, not his personality.... The point was not that a great prophet had arisen among them, but that revelation had come again. His own personality was effaced.
Would any serious student of church history really believe that statement? Joseph's personality was "effaced" or inconspicuous? Hardly. To read the accounts of the early saints, they worshipped the man Joseph Smith, as the Church does today. It is first and foremost a personality cult, with Joseph as the principal personality. It was his charm, his charisma, his energy, and his enthusiasm that persuaded people that he was what he said he was. Imagine how successful the Church (or any movement) would have been if the initiator of the movement had been mousy and quiet. Failure.
To the contrary, I believe that Joseph depended completely on his personality to pull him through, but he knew his audience well enough to know that playing the "humble servant" card would serve him better than the "arrogant prophet" card.
Along these same lines, Bushman plies this one:
[Regarding casting the devil out of Newell Knight] Writing eight years later, Joseph could not hide his pleasure in the miracle. He was not inclined to enlarge on the sensational, but manifestations of extraordinary powers gave him confidence that God was with him.
Now, first of all, I think it's important to remember that it was common in those days to have a co-conspirator in snake-oil cons and miraculous events such as casting out the devils from people convulsing on the floor. Knight might just as easily have been in on the ruse for the purpose of helping show Smith was powerful. We'll never know on that one, but isn't it odd that you never hear of prophets or apostles casting out devils from convulsing possessed people any more? Wonder why? I don't...
But aside from that, what struck me about this statement was that Bushman would state that Smith was "not inclined to enlarge on the sensational."
Let me be very clear about this. Bushman's whole book is about how Joseph enlarged on the sensational. The notion of the "Rough Stone Rolling" is that Smith was an evolving person, with an evolving sense of mission, vision and purpose, and everything he did, he enlarged.
Of course, one of the best examples is the first vision that went from angel forgiving Smith's sins to a physical manifestation of God and Jesus making proscriptive commandments. Sound like enlargement?
But beyond that, Smith was a work in progress, and he evolved to bigger and bigger things (which is to his credit...we should all be so visionary to keep ourselves moving forward in ways that enlarge our lives.) I don't begrudge Smith that, but I do get chapped at Bushman for pretending it isn't so when it serves his purposes, when in fact he makes it clear that Smith was absolutely the opposite of this ludicrous assertion.
'Nuther story about Joseph's narcissism:
[From Oliver Huntington journal, 1881] Joseph & Oliver went to the woods in a few rods, it being night, and they traveled until Oliver was exhausted & Joseph almost Carried him through mud and water. They traveled all night and just at the break of day Olive[r] gave out entirely and exclaimed O! Lord! How long Brother Joseph have got to endure this thing; Brother Joseph said that at that very time Peter James & John came to them and Ordained them to the Apostleship.
The hero archetype shows up time and time again in accounts of Joseph, both from his own writings, his projection in the Book of Mormon, and the writings of his followers. The above is classic, with the "weaker" Oliver not able to go on, but the heroic Joseph perseveres, carrying his friend until finally Angelic beings come and minister to them (so great is their righteousness.)
The message in all these heavenly visitations is that Joseph Smith is one worthy dude, and nobody else is. Nobody in modern times can attest to these kinds of experience unless they have either gone off their medication or began smoking rock. Why is it that we are always in the position of hearing about the miraculous, heavenly manifestations from the same kinds of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, hmm? How come you never get a Thomas Jefferson or a Benjamin Franklin or an Albert Einstein or a Winston Churchill, or anyone like that having angelic visitations and divine manifestations?
So how 'bout this?
Like her father, Isaac, Emma worried about Joseph as a provider. The July revelation told her to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better."
In other words, "Quit pestering me about not having a real job, woman...can't you see I'm a prophet, for God's sake?" (Don’t miss the pun…)
But injunctions did not feed the household or provide for the future. An earlier revelation had said that Joseph's support was to come from the Church. "In temporal things thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling."
Doesn't prophethood usually come down to money, power and sex? Well, so far, we've got Smith exercising power and obtaining his sustenance from his people, while all he does is make stuff up, and we all know that the sex part of the story is coming. So Smith is lined up to be just like any other self-appointed emissary of the Almighty.
I guess the point I wanted to make from this chapter is that the spin that Bushman is creating is the idea that in establishing the church, Joseph Smith remained at all times a humble farm boy just doing the will of the Lord, when in reality it is plain to any casual, non-believing observer that Joseph Smith was a world-class narcissist, potentially with an axis-2 diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Wouldn't that be fun to figure out?
Chapter 6: Joseph, Moses, and Enoch
The title of this chapter alone is very telling in terms of Bushman's predilection—Joseph is among equals with Moses and Enoch.
Now, I know I've harped on the narcissism until I'm blue in the face, but it keeps jumping out at me...sue me. I'm gonna do it some more.
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, an early Mormon convert in Ohio, remembered when Joseph Smith strode into her husband's store in Kirtland in February 1831. "I am Joseph the Prophet," he said on meeting the Whitney's for the first time.
Of course, Bushman doesn't mention that Elizabeth would one day be Joseph's Mother-in-Law after he married their 17 year old daughter, Sara...
But aside from that, the audacity of that statement, "I am Joseph the Prophet" just struck me. Bushman, like most church members, probably finds this self-assurance rather reassuring, but for me, I find it arrogant. It's not unlike walking up to someone and saying, "Hi! I'm Peter-Mary! I speak for God!" Turns out I don't get invited to many parties if I do that...
This is also telling:
Ammon explained that a title went with the command to look in the interpreters. He who looked "the same is called a seer...A seer is a revelator and prophet also; and a gift which is greater, can no man have." In a curious refraction, the text Joseph was translating mirrored his act of translating. He doubtless saw himself in those words...
Okay, let's break this down nice and simple. The Book of Mormon says that Prophets are ones who look in seer stones. Joseph Smith looked in seer stones. No other prophet before or since has ever looked in a seer stone that we know of! There is no indication that Moses received the Ten Commandments through a seer stone. There is no indication that Ezekiel saw his visions through a seer stone. There is no indication that Isaiah prophesied by virtue of a seer stone. There is one book and one book only that says prophets use seer stones, and that book happens to have been authored by a guy using a seer stone.
Suspect? Me thinks so.
But more than that, Joseph is projecting himself into his book for the purpose of convincing people to follow him, but it continues to follow the logic pattern of "Joseph is a prophet because he says he is a prophet," yet utterly lacking any other external validation.
And finally, wow...God himself tells Joseph "a gift which is greater, can no man have." Does that make him special (read: elitist) or what? Without coming right out and saying it, Joseph is telling his followers he is the greatest man on earth. (He comes right out and says that later...)
The key to this chapter are the supposed revelations of Smith that absolutely Christianize the very Jewish prophets and stories of Moses and Enoch. No wonder the Jews were so angry when the Mormons posthumously baptized all the holocaust victims...
Incongruously for a supposedly Old Testament text, Christ enters the discourse almost at once and remains present throughout the book (of Moses). "Behold, thou art my Son," the Lord says to Moses, a son like "mine only begotten; and mine only begotten is & shall be the Savior." Joseph Smith's Moses is a Christian, as are the prophets in all his translations. The Book of Mormon had also Christianized prophetic discourse, even in pre-Christian times....When Moses prays, he is "filled with the Holy Ghost which beareth record of the Father & the son." A Christian godhead with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost presides over the world from the beginning.
Now, I know the Mormons argue this is okay because "Many plain and precious truths" have been left out of the Bible. Okay, they can make that argument, but understand that virtually every religious innovator, (read: cult leader) teaches his or her people that they and they alone have the full truth, and every other "truth" has been compromised by wickedness. 'Fraid Joseph Smith is no different.
But wait! There's more!
Joseph Smith's Book of Moses fully Christianized the Old Testament. Rather than hinting of the coming Christian truth, the Book of Moses presents the whole Gospel. God teaches Adam to believe, repent, "and be baptized even by water, in the name of mine only begotten Son, which is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ."
This is simply too much to swallow. What it says, and Bushman says it well, is that "the problem of history was to hold on to the gospel, not to prepare for its coming." In other words, the gospel existed from the foundation of the earth, and the first people were Christians.
And yet...there has not ever been one single indication from libraries full of archeological research into the myths and beliefs and rituals and practices of people dating back tens of thousands of years to suggest any inkling of the notion of a pre-Jesus Christian gospel. No serious student of religious history, anthropology, culture or archeology would give such a notion any credence whatsoever.
What it says to me is that Joseph Smith was limited by his Christian paradigm, and felt that if he was going to build a church, it had to be Christian...not Jewish. More importantly, he only understood the Bible as a completely Christian document, including the Old Testament...which is simply not true. So Christianizing the Old Testament was the only thing he knew how to do. It wasn't an innovation—it was a limitation because of his own lack of knowledge of pre-Christian Hebrew people and customs.
Here's another subtlety that again speaks to Joseph's narcissism. It comes in a couple of parts, so let me piece them together.
Enoch's story merits close attention because, like the vision of Moses, it bears on Joseph's prophetic identity. Later, when Joseph disguised his identity to elude his enemies, he took the name Enoch as pseudonym. As he was a modern Moses, so was he a modern Enoch... In the Enoch story, the prophet overcomes his adversaries by following God's instructions to anoint his eyes with clay. Afterward, Enoch beholds "things which were not visible to the natural eye," becoming a seer like Joseph.
Got that? Enoch is compared to Joseph, and Joseph considers himself a modern-day Enoch. Now read this from Joseph's Enoch story:
Wrath and sorrow alternate in God's heart. Enoch now understands God's anguish at knowing his own children must suffer. They have turned against him and one another; they "hate their own blood." Seeing the horrible wickedness that has blighted the earth, Enoch too "wept, and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned, and all eternity shook." (Emphasis added)
Joseph has cast Enoch with the power of God; whose heart was as big as eternity, and who, when his "bowels yearned," caused all eternity to shake. This is no small thing! Who but God or Jesus Christ can cause "all eternity to shake?" Apparently Joseph believes he can...he is, after all, a modern Enoch.
And yet Joseph utterly failed. He modeled Zion after the City of Enoch:
Though modeled after Enoch's Zion, Joseph's New Jerusalem was not to follow Enoch's "City of Holiness" into heaven. Quite the reverse. In Enoch's vision, latter-day people gather from all over the earth into a holy city, "called ZION, a New Jerusalem." Rather than rising, this city stays put, and Enoch's city descends from heaven to meet the people of the New Jerusalem on earth.
"A Tale of Two Cities," eh?
But Joseph couldn't pull it off like Enoch, apparently. The Mormons were driven out of Missouri, and then Nauvoo, and Joseph could hardly be characterized as having "overcome his enemies", as did Enoch, when he was killed before his New Jerusalem could be established to meet Enoch's City of Holiness. This comparison simply fails, and though I know there are pockets of Mormons still waiting to trek back to Jackson County, Missouri to await Enoch's city and the coming of Christ, for the most part, that's been erased from the Mormon consciousness. But it was on the front page of the Mormon consciousness up until the presidency of Wilford Woodruff, who finally threw in the towel and suggested the Church start joining the 20th century with the rest of the nation and forget about its millennialism that was fueled by Joseph's believing he was Enoch.
So to summarize what I think is Bushman's primary objective in Chapter 6 is that even though the Christianization of the Old Testament perpetrated by Joseph Smith is unique, Bushman casts this issue as evidence of Joseph's prophetic calling. Continuing the theme that "a poor, ignorant farm boy" could never have achieved such an audacious re-write of world history, Bushman clearly lines up with the Church in believing that God was in fact "restoring what once was" by revealing to Smith the Christian gospel hidden in the Old Testament. The world according to Smith, and now Bushman, was from the beginning Christian, and only because Joseph was a prophet of the same caliber as Moses and Enoch was God able to restore that Christian truth.
God sure is a bumbler, isn't he? Never does anything ever work out the way they are supposed to...but fortunately, there are always the Mormons to help him fix it!
Sidetrack on D&C 49
In reading Chapter 7 of Bushman's book, he got all excited about a "startling revelation" in relation to the new social order Joseph Smith was attempting to initiate, namely the "United Order." So I checked it out, and decided it might warrant a little sidetrack here for a moment.
D&C 49:20--But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.
And it struck me that the Church flat-out lives in violation of this, their very own scripture.
--The Church organization itself gives only a tiny fraction of its means to charitable causes, and keeps the rest for itself in building itself up.
--The General Authorities in the Church are all men of means, save Boyd K. Packer (who was an educator...and it probably helps explain his bitterness). They rose in prominence in the Church coincident to rising in prominence in the world. Poor people simply don't qualify to be prominent leaders.
--The members of the Church in predominantly LDS communities appear to be relatively affluent. Most of the large, metropolitan communities in the Mormon corridor are diminishing in the percentage of Church members, yet the lion's share of the political and business clout is still held by Church members because they hold the wealth and the power.
Aside from consecrating all your time, money and talents to the Church in the endowment ceremony, there is no other real effort on the part of the Church to encourage this doctrine of "material equality among all men". (Good thing, too, or temple attendance would plummet through the floor. As it is, everyone knows "they don't really mean it, so it’s still safe to go and pretend.") Mormons will tell you they contribute heavily to church causes in the form of tithing, fast offerings, and other donations, and they do...but not for the purpose of stripping them of their excesses, only to support the corporate monster that is LDS Inc. They are, in fact, promised that their excesses are a measure of their faithfulness. In other words, because of their righteousness, they are out of harmony with their own scripture.
I don't care who you are...that is irrational.
I would challenge any Member in good standing to demonstrate how the Church holds itself accountable to this scripture.
Oh, and as a side note, while trying to ensure that I read the above verse in context, I went back and read from the beginning of the 49th Section and found this tidbit.
[Context: Smith is sending Pratt, Rigdon and Copley to preach to the Shakers, a sect who preached celibacy]
15 -- And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.
16-- Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation;
17-- And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.
Goodness, if ever there was a good time for God to suggest that multiple wives is really the order of the day, that would have been a good one.
But no, it stands in stark contradiction to D&C 132 which gives Joseph free reign to do as Abraham and David in taking unto himself as many wives as he sees fit, and bestowing the same privilege to others.
In this scripture, God seems very satisfied that "the measure of man" can be fulfilled in the earth by virtue of monogamy. Yet later, we hear all about the need to "raise up a righteous seed" as the justification for polygamy. So which is it?
That God...He just confuses the heck out of me.
So anyway, what we have here are God's words, given through his very own, ordained mouthpiece, standing in stark contrast to one another, and everyone's just okay with that. No wonder we were nuts! Our scriptures made us that way!
Chapter 7: The Kirtland Visionaries
The most important concept that Bushman proposes in this chapter is the idea that Joseph was an empty vessel, receiving from the Lord, but frequently having no idea what it was he was receiving. Note that this helps frame his "rough stone rolling" thesis, in that Smith had to learn along with everyone else what the meaning of his own revelations were.
Here's an example from page 158:
The confusion may indicate that the division into two priesthoods, with elders in the higher and priests and teachers in the lower, was not clear before 1831. Joseph may not have realized that elders were part of the Melchizedek Priesthood already and were being ordained to the office of High Priest rather than receiving the powers of the high priesthood. Although he understood the distinction by the 1840s, he seems to have fallen back into the confusion of those early years when he wrote about ordinations. In this case, experience may have outrun comprehension. Because he knew so little about priesthood in the beginning, Joseph could no more grasp its meaning than he comprehended the full significance of the First Vision as a teenager. Although he understood such Church offices as teacher and elder, it took time to comprehend that the powers of priesthood were included in the authority that went with those offices.
Now that's actually a fascinating paragraph, filled with all kinds of stuff. On one layer, I agree with him: Joseph didn't understand the complete ramifications of his earlier revelations, and came to appreciate some of that later. He also failed to appreciate some of those ramifications altogether, such as the possibility that archeology would utterly fail to support any of his historical suggestions in the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.
On another layer, however, he makes a classical error: He presumes that the outcome of Smith's ultimate work is correct, and therefore any discrepancies with earlier work must therefore mean he didn’t understand the correctness. That really bothers me. See, I think this is the same approach to history that FARMS applies—namely that you begin with the assumption that the Church is true, and then figure out how to make sense out of the nonsense so that your original hypothesis remains intact.
Is it not just as likely that Joseph's growing awareness of the implications of his earlier actions was simply the same organic evolution that many of us experience as we grow through steps, adding new layers of understanding that build on old ones? This is nothing new...we've all experienced it. But Bushman puts this extra little bit of spin that suggests that there is this linear progression from ignorance to ultimate and inevitable truth that Joseph was standing on, and that he was guided by the hand of God and his own understanding to arrive at the ultimate truth, which just happens to coincide with the position of the Church today. That's like saying that when dinosaurs first evolved scales that were fluffy for the purpose of insulating a body with a warm-blooded metabolism, they didn't know yet that those same scales would be the very tool that would allow them to fly. That's true, but it puts a "working backward" slant to organic evolution, rather than the "working forward" slant that is open to infinite possibilities. We can only see that scales turned into feathers and allowed dinosaurs (birds) to fly now that it has already happened. That did not make flight true or inevitable when the first feathers were evolving. With Joseph, it is illogical to presume that those priesthood offices were already endowed with power by virtue of their ordination even though Joseph didn't know it yet. Well, it is illogical unless you already subscribe to the belief that the above statement is inherently true, which Bushman does...and that's what bugs me. The historian projects his own faith on the history, and guides it in the direction he believes it should go. That may be acceptable story writing, but I think it's bad history.
Another important aspect of this chapter is the effort that Smith makes to ensure that the other visionaries of his infant church do not usurp his authority as the “prophet, seer, translator and revelator”. As you are no doubt aware, most of the people who were drawn to Smith's early church were also inclined to a strong expectation of visions, manifestations, angelic visitations, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), etc. Even the practically minded Brigham Young was the first to introduce "tongues" to a church meeting. Of course, to the modern Church, all of this seems very foreign (and that all by itself should tell us something). But in the early days, it was common. There are examples of Satan bouncing around from one priesthood holder to another, as the other elders would scurry around and exorcise him, just to cause him to leap to another. After a day or two, Satan had personally occupied the bodies of most of them, some of them more than once, until they were tired and went home. (When was the last time you saw that in a Priesthood meeting? I'd probably be more inclined to go if I could watch that kind of fun.)
But if Joseph let it go unchecked, sooner or later someone was going to start claiming revelations for and on behalf of the Church, maybe even about him, which would undermine his authority. Bushman talks about it this way:
Gradually the excesses of the visionaries were checked. [Levi] Hancock, who did not know what to make of Burr Riggs swinging from a house joist [in a fit of visionary/ecstatic activity], was given a way to decide. If he met an intelligible spirit and failed to receive it himself after asking for it, "then you may know it is not of God." The saints were to proclaim against the evil spirit and overcome it. Joseph's revelation did not bring visionary outbursts to a halt, but he had laid down a line between Mormonism and the visionary culture of his converts.
Man, good thing most Mormons don't apply this idea to their temple experience, or else they'd never go back!
Part of what is interesting to me here is the obvious double bind that Smith puts on Mormons. He encourages them all to receive revelation, yet he creates a culture in which members are inclined to be disbelieving of each others' revelations. Spiritual experiences or “whisperings of the spirit” are fine—they are told over the pulpit every Fast & Testimony meeting in every Church building around the world—but that is not the same as revelation. Try telling your Mormon neighbor that the angel Gideon appeared to you in a vision and told you to buy the Nissan Altima and see how they start backing slowly away. Yet that’s the kind of experience Joseph claimed, and the kind he said every member should have. Yet the likelihood of two people sharing the same hallucination is so miniscule that the result is a revelation-seeking culture that is skeptical of revelations. Thank you, President Smith.
I recall one time when a neighbor told us very matter-of-factly about a message that Alma the Younger brought to her...in person. She was very moved, and we, because we were very good about taking our medications, just scoffed. Why? Because it was too incredible for our sensibilities, and there was no immediate burning of the bosom or anything to tell us our hunch was wrong, and so we just wrote her off as a kook.
But she, on the other hand, was participating in the culture appropriately, seeking the same kind of visionary experiences as Joseph Smith did when he allegedly went to the sacred grove and beheld the First Vision. See, the double bind here is that only Joseph Smith and the leaders of the church are allowed to have truly visionary experiences and share them with the membership, and yet members are told constantly to seek the confirmation of the spirit, seek a sure knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, by the spirit of revelation. But if you have a revelatory experience, you better not share it (unless it's pretty mundane), lest everyone else write you off as nuts.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that Bushman makes it clear that Joseph is all egalitarian and democratic when it comes to allowing all members to participate at the same level, but he doesn't seem to see that in the next sentence, he undermines that very thesis by having Smith literally knock the legs out from underneath the visionary world of Mormons. Why does it seem reasonable to us that God would need to work through the hierarchical structure of a Church, with a prophet at the top receiving all the revelations? It seems reasonable to us because we understand at a deep, core level that if God were revealing secrets to everyone, they wouldn’t agree. Which is odd, 'cause you'd think God could say the same thing to everyone, and they'd all be pretty good about understanding what the Almighty wants. But we know by experience and intuition that's not the case.
So my question is, "Why?" Why is it that God can't communicate to everyone simultaneously, without a single Prophet to act as go-between? Why does God trust that we'll all understand and follow a mere man better than we'd follow God in the flesh? If we are so inclined to misunderstand God's message if it comes from God, aren't we more inclined to get it wrong coming from one of our own? That's a rhetorical question, by the way. I believe with every fiber of my being that power-seeking men who were empire building have always implemented this model, and Joseph was no different. If he allowed others to believe they could receive revelation the same as him, then he lost power. And that’s what it's all about. Because the whole God/revelation thing is, I believe, the product of a fertile imagination, and not divine instruction.
Chapter 8: Zion
The city of Zion proved to be one of Joseph's first and most cataclysmic failures, although Mormons who are unwilling to accept as much continue to believe that Independence, Missouri is the "center place," where the city of Enoch will descend to settle on top of the city of Zion, uniting God's two greatest urban accomplishments. In this manner of thinking, the theory goes that "Joseph wasn't wrong, it just hasn't happened yet!" Considering how willing Mormons are to wait until the Second Coming (which ain't exactly hustling in) for all kinds of things to happen, then why not Zion?
Bushman joins Joseph in blaming the failure (or at least "the present unrealized condition") of the City of Zion on the weakness of the Saints. Joseph learned quite early that he was on safe ground blaming everyone else for stuff that went wrong. It's impossible to get "caught" in this ruse if you're the prophet. After all, God is perfect, but he can only reward righteousness, right? And so, if the people fail to attain the promised reward, God must have been constrained from releasing those blessings. And why would he be so constrained? Because they weren't worthy. And nowhere can you find a person who, though they may be good as gold, couldn't be a little bit better. Even Mother Teresa probably farted on occasion...certainly the rough and tumble Mormons on the edge of the frontier could be expected to incur "the wrath of God" on some petty charge.
Example from page 162:
Joseph may have been disappointed by the thin harvest of souls in Independence [remember that part of the mission to Missouri was to convert the Lamanites...and they were having none of it]. He expected to find a thriving branch, but only a handful had been converted. Edward Partridge, the man appointed to take charge in Missouri, who had understood Joseph's expectations as prophecy, was disillusioned. A few weeks after Joseph's arrival, a revelation rebuked Partridge for his "unbelief and blindness of heart."
Now I personally always found Edward Partridge to be one of the true saints in early Church history. He was willing to do whatever he was asked, did so without much murmuring, suffered mightily for his labors, even to the point of being tarred and feathered (with acid mixed in the tar to ensure that his skin hurt especially bad even after they managed to clean him up), and despite being humble, hardworking and faithful, he gets "a revelation" in which God tells him he's not good enough, and frankly, don't be surprised if it's all his fault if the whole kingdom of God goes to hell, 'cause of the "blindness of his heart."
Two words: Spiritual Abuse.
But this kind of stuff was common in the D&C, and it gave Joseph the ultimate escape hatch: blame it on the people, and he walks away indignant, but still "right."
Bushman does a good job of helping the reader appreciate the extent of Joseph's vision regarding the land of Zion, and if in fact he is faithfully reporting how Joseph felt, it was an interesting vision. However, Bushman knows "the rest of the story," and he begins to set it up early in the chapter with this:
[The preceding paragraph is all about Joseph's splendid vision for the city of Zion, how it compares to the "Promised Land" of the Israelites.] Somewhat incongruously, a somber revelation tempered this enthusiasm. Warning that only "after much tribulation cometh the blessings," the revelation implied that the enjoyment of Zion lay in the future.
Well, actually the revelation suggested that building a city would be hard work. But Bushman, with the benefit of hindsight, already knows that the idea failed miserably, and so he, like the Church, had to dig around in their bag of tricks to try to find something to help them demonstrate that "Joseph knew what needed to be done, but everyone else failed to do their part, but that's okay 'cause the Lord knew it would be that way and so did Joseph, so 'whew!' that was a close one, but it's still all good."
But here's where Bushman really prepares the groundwork (from page 176):
Revelation in the spring of 1832 demonstrated the power of Joseph's revelation to make major changes in an instant. A few phrases on Zion gave the New Jerusalem project a new meaning. In April 1832, a revelation added an expansive codicil to the instructions on Zion: "Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness: her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened: yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments."
Now, that sounds to me like the Lord is talking about how Zion would be the "center place" and that the City must expand it's borders (which remember, even after the Mormons negotiated the sale of their property in exchange for their lives in leaving Jackson County, Joseph was telling them not only to keep their property, but to buy more!) It seems plain to me that "strengthening the stakes" is about securing the ever-expanding perimeter, and making the city beautiful.
But of course, that's not how the later church has chosen to interpret that. I'll allow Bushman to explain:
Zion was to expand like a great tent, [or more like a "tabernacle in the wilderness, don't you think?] extending ever more curtains secured by stakes. Kirtland was to be a stake of Zion, making it an outpost of the holy city and an authorized place of gathering.
Wait...stop right there for a moment. Let's think about this for a sec. What Smith is potentially doing here is recognizing that Independence sucks, and that as long as he's living in Ohio, where things are a little more civilized, he better have the Lord say "that's cool." Otherwise, it won't make any sense at all to the people as to why Smith stays in Ohio when he's saying Independence is the "center place" or the very navel of the world. No, when I read this, I think it's clear that Joe is simply acknowledging the fact that the church is in fact stronger and more affluent in Ohio, and he needs to allow it to be "okay" for the saints to remain there without coming to Missouri.
Okay...where was I? Oh yeah:
Theologically, the revelation implied that Zion was not a single small spot in the center of the continent, but an elastic concept that encompassed any place where the Saints lived under divine law.
So there you have it...the result drives the motive, rather than the reverse. In other words, because Bushman already knows the end result, (failure), he ascribes new motive to Joseph's rather unambiguous revelation, interpreting it in such a way to just brush aside Smith's dismal failure in Missouri.
Of course Bushman is hardly responsible for this interpretation—we’ve all learned this every time we studied the Doctrine and Covenants in Gospel Doctrine class. But it is absolutely, categorically inconsistent with Joseph's understanding, as well as the rest of the Church leadership and the greater body of Saints...they knew that Zion was to be built in Jackson County, so much so that years later, Brigham Young and others of the Twelve would sneak across the borders from Illinois under cover of darkness to lay the cornerstone of the temple in New Jerusalem, for the express purpose of doing their part to ensure that's Joseph's prophecies on Zion would come to pass. No, ladies and gentlemen, Joseph Smith understood, because God allegedly told him so, that Jackson County, Missouri was Zion, as it was also the site of the Garden of Eden. It was where the story began, and it was the nexus upon which the salvation of the world hinged. It was not ever meant to be figurative--it was literal. Joseph knew it, and God knew he knew it, yet Bushman et al deny it.
Chapter 9: The Burden of Zion
There are several themes in this chapter that are worth exploring.
Okay, theme #1: Joseph had to be tough to put up with the abuse of his accusers. His accusers, of course, were wicked.
For instance, in this chapter we read about the criticisms of one Ezra Booth, who wrote a series of letters in the Ohio Star lambasting Smith and exposing his weaknesses. Here's what Bushman says on page 177:
Booth's observation [that Smith was "highly imperious and quite dictatorial" giving way to "violent passions bordering on madness, rather than the meek and gentle spirit which the Gospel inculcates,"] was not entirely unjustified. Booth was right about Joseph's strong reactions. He lashed back at critics and could be a bulldog when contradicted. As his response to Booth showed, he brushed off the jibes of his enemies. "Their shame shall be manifest," he would say of opponents, sure he was right. Incongruous as it seemed to Booth, that kind of strength may have been a requirement of Joseph's position. He had to be tough. A weaker, gentler soul could scarcely have survived the incessant hammering he endured as head of the Church...Only by shrugging off criticism and maintaining rock-hard resolve could he keep going. Even then, strong as he was, the burdens of office were sometimes too much.
Now don't get me wrong—I agree with this notion, but not the underlying assumption. Joseph could not have succeeded in creating a new religious movement from whole cloth without the "rock-hard resolve" that Bushman is talking about. Same can be said for any highly successful movement, including Nazism, the Communist Revolution, Green Peace, whatever. It takes a person with intense vision, passion and resolve who knows how to squash the opposition in order to bring about a powerful movement. Well, Gandhi is a notable exception, but they are much more rare than those who take a Machiavellian approach.
But what is Bushman assuming here? He is assuming that the Lord's work is right and good and true, and that Satan will do everything in his power, mustering all his troops and dupes to crush Smith in his mission, and that God, therefore, had to choose a naturally strong person to fulfill this mission.
Anyone else see problems with this?
First, it is remarkable to me yet again that the God of Miracles would have to rely on the puny strength of a man. The God who could let Moses part the Sea of Reeds could also endow Joseph with such a sure knowledge that he could peacefully go about his mission without beating people up.
But much more importantly to me is the realization that there was a real reason he had enemies...and it had nothing to do with Satan. He had enemies because his sense of manifest destiny, his arrogance, and the unchecked power he was creating for himself in the name of a God that no one else in the country recognized, created fear, animosity, hatred and ultimately enmity. And Smith did nothing to reassure his critics otherwise. He said in essence, "Join me, or be burned like chaff in the last days." He directed his people to buy up land, and placed notions such as these in the heads of his followers and his enemies alike (from page 169):
Mormonism offered an "everlasting inheritance" in the land of Zion, where the Savior was to appear; and the temple of God in the City of Zion, which would be a "city of Refuge, and a safe asylum when the storms of vengence shall pour upon the earth." On a more material note, "the riches of the Gentiles [were to] be consecrated to the Mormonites, they shall have lands and cattle in abundance, and shall possess the gold and silver, and all the treasures of their enemies."
Is it not more probable that Joseph had enemies in the first place because he made them? These enemies were so angry at him that they tarred and feathered him, were willing to castrate him, drove him out of Kirtland, Jackson, Caldwell and Clay Counties, and ultimately killed him before driving his people out of Illinois. Now remember that each place he or his people first moved to was willing to accept him, because they assumed he/they would be good citizens. But their practices and policies in relation to their neighbors proved to be anything but good citizenship. To quote Bushman's book (page 178):
Booth's friend Symonds Ryder shared the fears [of Joseph's despotism]. Like Booth, Ryder had been a Mormon for only a few months before becoming disillusioned. Writing thirty years later, Ryder could remember only evil of the Mormons. Naïve converts soon learned "the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the disposal of Joseph Smith the prophet." [Speaking of the tarring and feathering of Smith and Rigdon, of which Ryder participated,] Ryder felt the mob "cleansed" the community of a dangerous element.
See, here's the spin: Since Joseph is God's divinely appointed mouthpiece, he cannot be at fault for the way he is treated by others. The problem lies outside of him, because anything else would suggest God goofed. But anyone with an inkling of understanding and wisdom knows that for the most part, our demons live within us, not without, and if our lives are fraught with pain, misery, suffering, and filled with enemies, the first place we should look is inside...at ourselves. Smith couldn't/wouldn't do that, and neither will Bushman or any other faithful member. Sure, they are willing to allow Joseph his "foibles," but in their mind, he suffered because of his "righteousness," rather than his "unrighteous dominion," the latter of which seems more plausible to me.
I guess this next idea isn't really a "theme" of this chapter so much as a common example of Joseph's poor judgment, and the willingness of Bushman and the faithful readership to look past it. For instance, one of the lesser-known characters of early Church history was Jesse Gause, a convert from the Shakers. Shortly after Gause was baptized, Joseph ordained him to the office of High Priest, and called him, along with Sidney Rigdon, as a "counselor in the newly organized Presidency of the High Priesthood." He was later sent to Independence, and then sent on a mission...from which he just never returned. In fact, he went back to the Shakers and held a variety of positions of responsibility in that religious community, having no further contact with the Mormons. Bushman puts it this way:
In December 1832, Gause was dropped from the Church and faded from sight. His was not an exceptional case. In his need for talent and experience, Joseph frequently placed unjustified confidence in untried converts.
Of course, John C. Bennett would prove to be probably the worst character judgment Smith ever made, but really, when you look at the number of people that Smith called to his inner circle who later betrayed him (sometimes for honorable reasons, like William Law, others for ignoble reasons, like Bennett, and others who just became disillusioned, like Gause), it causes one to pause: Why wasn't the Prophet of God more inspired to call the good and faithful to such positions of responsibility? They were there...many thousands of his flock stood by him through thick and thin and formed the foundation of the church today. But so many of the men that impressed Smith turned out to be very poor choices. And yet, what does Bushman say about it? Essentially, he says he had no choice. Bull, I say...Bull! Truth is, Smith was easily taken in by people with education, or people who played his own game as well as he did. But these were not the traits by which God allegedly chose Smith...he was "the right man for the job," according to the story. For his part, Smith supposedly was effective because he was a common man, yet he was quick to overlook common people for positions of power. So if Smith is supposed to be "inspired" to call certain people to certain jobs, why can't God be as accurate in making sure "the right man for the job" is called to every other important position in the Church?
Anyone who has ever served in a position of leadership in the church knows the answer to that rhetorical question: It's because callings are not made by inspiration so much as they are by desperation. God has nothing to do with it now, and he didn't have anything to do with it then, leaving it up to Joe to make a good choice or a poor choice, in which case he frequently made poor ones. That God is a fool for entrusting so much, with so much at stake, to a guy who doesn't have better judgment than that! And I realize that my critics will say, "Well, obviously it worked!" To which I would respond, "It worked in spite of Joseph Smith, not because of him. The simple fact that the Church survived is not in itself evidence that it was all being done right from the beginning. It is only evidence that circumstances provided enough impetus for survival, and nothing more can really be said. Besides, the story of the Mormon Church is far, far from over."
Anyway, we'll watch for other poor choices in later chapters...I'm sure we'll find 'em!
The last really important element of spin that I want to discuss in this chapter is Joseph's failure to establish the United Order. There is considerable discussion on the revelations of the United Order, but to save time and space I'll pick up the discussion at the relevant point in the narrative on pages 182 and 183:
The two revelations on the firm [the United Firm or the United Order], like the others on consecrated properties, were long on principles and short on detail...Almost nothing was said about division of responsibilities, organizational structure, or procedures. One revelation dwelt instead on the connection of earthly and heavenly societies. The revelation put forth the arresting doctrine that the economies of earth and heaven must correspond: "If ye are not equal in earthly things, ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things." The leveling of property introduced the Saints to the heavenly order.
Now anyone who has read the D&C knows that the Lord can be pretty darn prescriptive when Joseph knows exactly what needs to be done, who needs to do what, or go where. But isn't it strange when Joseph only has a vision, but not a real business plan, all the Lord is able to reveal is principle without instruction? It is obvious to the outside reader that Smith simply has a notion, but doesn't understand it's implications, and that the so-called "revelation" is just Smith spouting off. In fact, Bushman alludes to that:
One cannot tell if Joseph Smith understood how much he was asking of his followers in requiring the consecration of property.
In fact, the evidence suggests Smith had no idea. First, it is important to understand that he was not oblivious to the idea of consecrated property, in particular he would have been familiar with the Shakers, of whom there were several in his church (like Jesse Gause). But because he had no first-hand experience, and because he knew it couldn't look like the Shakers (lest he accidentally lend any credence to their doctrines...), he really only understood that theologically this was an ideal situation, without any understanding of the practical, political, economic and cultural barriers to such a proposal. Nothing like this has ever succeeded in the long term...communism comes as close as anything, but even that has to be imposed by police force.
More importantly, at this point in time, Smith had nothing to call his own anyway, and never had. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain from his perspective. His whole family stood to gain immensely from the labors of others. That's not to suggest that Smith didn't give himself heart and soul to his church...I believe he did, but consecration of one's talents to one's own movement in which they stand to gain immensely is hardly the same as asking a convert, on faith, to consecrate an 80 acre farm, or all the earnings from their mercantile.
But like the rest of the Zion idea, the United Order failed, and failed badly. Bushman admits this, and then spins it wildly:
The system never worked properly. The lack of property to distribute among the poverty-stricken early members hampered the system's effectiveness from the start. Joseph struggled on, aided by Partridge and the loyal Colesville Saints [all of whom would suffer a rebuke for failing to be faithful ENOUGH, despite the incredible sacrifices they DID make...]...The system's two-year existence was about average for the various communal experiments being undertaken in the period.
Now stop right there for a sec..."communal experiments?" There was nothing in Smith's revelations, in which God commanded his people to consecrate their worldly possessions to the Church to be distributed to others, which suggested that they should, "try this out and see if it works." Is or is not God all-knowing? If God is all about free agency, and he knows full well the independent mentality of the citizens of the U.S., then I'm pretty certain God would have the notion that this was a dumb idea. And yet, by telling Smith to organize his people this way, all he really did was create a lot of suffering, a lot of hard feelings, and in the end, a lot of guilt to be heaped on the Colesville and Missouri saints who were asked to do something they never should have been asked to do, and did a remarkable job despite their shortcomings. This story produces the image of a spiteful God, tinkering with the lives of his children (like Job) to see what happens, and then beat the hell out of them when they can’t do what is impossible. But unlike Job, they don't have their possessions returned ten-fold...they just are left wounded and disillusioned.
Worse, Bushman compares the United Order to "other communal experiments" of the period. But he overlooks one tiny detail...none of the OTHER experiments were communicated by God to the living, modern prophet. So whose idea should we believe this to be? God's? Or Joseph's? You can put your hand down...that was a rhetorical question.
But here comes the spin:
After its brief life in Jackson County, Joseph never put consecration of property into full effect again. He attempted a modified form in a second Mormon settlement in Far West, Missouri, but nothing in Nauvoo...The short-term Zion experiment came to stand for individual sacrifice for the good of the whole. Brigham Young later called upon the consecration tradition to motivate the organization of cooperatives in Utah, and to this day the principle of consecration inspires Mormon volunteerism and the payment of tithes to the Church. (Emphasis added)
Did you catch that? The United Order didn't fail; it was preparatory in the sense of "Mormon volunteerism" and the willingness to give boatloads of money to the Church! See how nicely that works? The failed "experiment" stands as an ensign to us all, inspiring us to spend all our free time, and one hell of a lot of money to Joseph's Church! How inspirational is that!? If that’s all that God needed, then why didn't he just come right out and say that?
I'm afraid I can't buy that spin. Joseph said the United Order was revealed; it was God's will. It failed. Why? Because people in Western civilization don't think that way, but they don't mind sharing a little bit. 10% is acceptable. 100% is not. A couple of hours a week for the Mutual or the Relief Society—we can handle that. 100% of our time and talents? Forget it! What we see, then, is people driving God's will, not God driving people's will. Human beings and their institutions are in the Holy Driver's seat here. And you know what that suggests to me?
It suggests to me that in fact the God of Joseph Smith is created in the image of man, and not vice-versa, despite all the lip-service to the contrary.
Chapter 10: Exaltation
The context for this chapter is what Bushman calls "The Vision" which resulted in D&C 76, the revelation on the Plan O' Salvation, famous for being simultaneously revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in a meeting with a dozen other men. By the way, I loved this particular "hero reference", helping to build the mythology of the greatness of Smith:
Rigdon never commented on the experience, though an eyewitness writing in 1892 said Rigdon was drooping by the end while Joseph was still fresh. "Brother Sidney is not as used to it as I am," Joseph is reputed to have said.
This is actually quite curious. First, note that this "eyewitness account" was provided 60 years after the event allegedly took place. 60 years! Any chance the story evolved in 60 years? Yeah, I think so. But more importantly, why didn't Rigdon ever talk about it? Ever? There was a long period of time after he failed to ascend to the presidency of the Church in which he tried to operate his own brand of Mormonism, and you would think it would be highly likely that he would rely on charismatic gifts shared in common with the original Prophet in order to strengthen his own position. A vision of this proportion, supposedly witnessed by others, establishing a radical new view of heaven, would be a profound and important spiritual event in a church leader's life...unless it didn't happen... Just makes a guy wonder.
Anyway, why do we care? Here's why (from page 199):
The three degrees [of glory] doctrine resembled the Universalists' belief that Christ's atonement was sufficient to redeem everyone, or, alternatively, that a benevolent God would not eternally punish his own children. No sinners were beyond salvation.
Now remember, this was at a time when many, many Christians were struggling with the classic post-Calvinist puzzle, namely the arbitrary judgments of a Calvinist God who saved and damned according to his own good pleasure with little regard to human effort. The more Joseph studied the Bible, the less he could make sense out of a God like that, just like everyone else of his day. Got that? It was a commonly debated issue for his day.
But then Bushman points out this:
Strange to say, the Book of Mormon argued against universal salvation. A teacher of Universalist doctrine, Nehor, was labeled a heretic in the Book of Mormon, and his followers, a band of rebellious priests called the Order of Nehor, disrupted Nephite society. Alma, a preeminent prophet, refuted universal salvation in a discourse to his son Corianton, and another prophet, Lehi, delivered an elaborate philosophical discourse to show that the law must impose punishment on transgressors or good and evil had no meaning. In opposition to universal salvation, the Book of Mormon envisioned the afterlife as heaven or hell.
That should give any good Mormon pause. The Book of Mormon stands in direct opposition to Joseph's later revelation, and yet they profess that the Book of Mormon is the "most true book ever written," that it contains "the fullness of the gospel." It cannot contain the fullness of the gospel if it contradicts the Plan of Salvation, a key doctrine in Mormonism.
Hmmm...that means Bushman has to solve the problem...so here he comes to the rescue!
Where was Joseph Smith coming down on the question of universal salvation? Contradictory as they sound, the Universalist tendencies of the revelations and the anti-universalism of the Book of Mormon defined a middle ground where there were graded rewards in the afterlife, but few were damned. "The Vision" did not actually endorse universal salvation any more than the Book of Mormon did. It imposed permanent penalties for sinning, rewarding righteousness with higher degrees of glory, and assigned the sons of perdition to permanent outer darkness. But "The Vision" also eliminated the injustices of the heaven-and-hell theology. The three degrees of glory doctrine lay somewhere between the two extremes.
No it doesn't. The three degrees of glory doctrine in FACT provides universal, though graded, salvation for everyone. The sons of perdition were so few in number they hardly constitute a population worth worrying about. Most prophets and scholars suggest sons of perdition in the order of magnitude of dozens...hardly something the billions and billions of this planet's residents need to be concerned about.
What is important is that despite Bushman's attempt to place the plan of salvation in a "middle ground" position, it is not. It remains in stark opposition to the Book of Mormon. Bushman cannot countenance the possibility that when Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, he was heavily influenced by a simple, Calvinist approach popular among the preachers of the day, but that later, as he studied with Sidney Rigdon, he was exposed to a completely different idea that he liked better, and the two of them built this new notion of three degrees...and universal salvation.
Once again, it boils down to a matter of faith. If you believe the Smith story, then you have to find a way to make it work, including the supernatural revelations, coupled with the spin that Bushman gives it (cited above). If you don't believe the Smith story, it is a clear case of evolving doctrine based on his own expanding education and influences.
The next part of this chapter deals with the revelation on the Priesthood, and mostly it’s the same old pabulum. I did find some intriguing nonsense in Bushman's discussion on the temple, the foundation for which is established in the Priesthood revelations. From page 205:
If unappreciated at the time, the priesthood revelation laid the foundation for the later development of Joseph's temple practices. Once he had reinvigorated a sacral priesthood, he could adopt rituals manifesting that power....As early as the winter of 1833, he began foot washing, expanded in the winter of 1836 to washings, anointings, and sealings patterned after the consecration of priests. The priesthood doctrine opened a ritual world that Protestantism, with its emphasis on preaching, had closed off. Joseph's temple ordinances had the spirit of Roman Catholic practices, but resembled even more the rituals of ancient Israel.
Now, I don't know what he's going to have to say later about the temple rituals and their Masonic influence, but I'm here to tell you...the Mormon temple rituals do not in any way, shape or form resemble the rituals of ancient Israel. The closest thing I've ever read to a Hebrew practice at all (whether or not it was performed in the temple) was the washing and anointing of feet, something the Mormons don't practice, except in the rarely performed Second Anointing, reserved for General Authorities, I believe.
Let's be very clear. The Hebrew temple was a place of sacrifice, where the Levitical Priests (note: the sons of Aaron, and therefore of the Aaronic Priesthood, not any so-called Melchizedek Priesthood) received live animals, slaughtered them, sprinkled their blood on the alter, burned a portion and kept a portion for the sustenance of themselves and their families. Once a year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies for some ritual, and the rest of the time, it was pretty much like a slaughterhouse.
Now I ask you...does that in any way resemble your temple experience? No, I didn't think so. But Bushman just casually drops this reference suggesting that Joseph's temple rituals closely "resembled the rituals of ancient Israel," and leaves it at that. I believe he is setting up the argument (tired as it may be) that the Masonic rituals were originally accurate, but had been altered or lost, and that Smith restored them to their original form...just as they were performed in Solomon's temple. We'll no doubt talk about that more when we get there, but suffice it to say that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Masonic rituals had any origin in Hebraic tradition at all, let alone practiced in Solomon's temple. This assertion on Bushman's part is not only wrong; it's irresponsible for a historian to lean so heavily on a position that can only be supported by faith and not fact. Shame on him!
One final thought for this chapter. On page 212, Bushman introduces the Word of Wisdom, and there are a few interesting tidbits to draw from this, most of which you are probably already familiar. First:
The "Word of Wisdom," as the revelation was later called, came at a time when temperance and food reforms were flourishing in the United States. In 1835, Sylvester Graham lectured in New York and Philadelphia against tobacco, tea, coffee, and alcohol, advocating a diet based on whole grains.
The reason this is significant is that once again, rather than God revealing some new doctrine (which the modern Church tends to believe), we have Joseph simply jumping on board with fashionable movements of the day.
But this is the part that I have always found intriguing:
The Saints differed over how rigorously to apply the "Word of Wisdom." Some were inclined to make exact compliance a requirement of membership. Others were more relaxed. Joseph drank tea and a glass of wine from time to time. It was left to a later generation of Saints to turn the "principle with a promise" into a measuring rod of obedience.
It has always bothered me that God could make an optional "commandment," which the very prophet who received the revelation failed to abide by. How does this make any sense whatsoever, and what does it say about Joseph's commitments to his own revelations? Perhaps he just couldn't give up his own addictions, and though he felt it was fashionable to establish a food reform for his church, it wasn't all that important for him.
Now I can appreciate that addictions are hard to overcome. Still...I can't help but believe that if God told him to knock that stuff off, he'd at least wrestle with it the rest of his life. But he didn't, and neither did many of the other general leadership of the Church. In my mind, this greatly undermines the "divine authorship theory" of the revelation, suggesting strongly that once again, it was Joseph's whim and nothing more.
Chapter 11: Cities of Zion
This particular section can only be read by those of you who have been through the temple, since the goings-on of the House of The Lord are sacred—or secret—or whatever.
So...now that we've escorted all the heathens off the page, let's talk a little about temples, particularly about the early evolution of those icons of Mormondom. Bushman does a little spinning in this area, but actually, I found some of this discussion interesting. But let's begin with some "pre-spin", a little notion with which Bushman helps to set the stage for later spin (from page 216):
Joseph's idea of a temple did not come from classical civilization [referring to the Greek Revival architecture popular in that day for important buildings]; he omitted Greece and Rome entirely from his many recapitulations of world history. He was familiar with Masons who met in buildings called temples, but Freemasonry was not an attractive model in the aftermath of anti-Masonic political campaigns, and Masonic temples were non-existent in areas where Joseph lived.
I don't suppose I need to even discuss the Masonic influences on the temple ceremony itself (besides, that's not what this chapter is about.) But truly, I think Bushman is whacked out on this early stage of the game, too. Just as the Book of Mormon is decidedly anti-universal salvation and yet he easily reverses himself once he finds another useful model, or so decidedly anti-polygamy at the same time Joseph was practicing it, so it is with Masonry. The Book of Mormon is most definitely anti-Masonic, but at this stage of the game, Smith is surrounded by men who are Masons, some of whom, like Brigham Young and Heber Kimball, wield a lot of influence with Smith. I think it is very fair to say that Masonry is the model for temples at this point, in large part because temple ritual in Freemasonry is only a small part of what they do in their temples; they are first and foremost a place to meet. And that's exactly what the Kirtland temple was...a meetinghouse. (Also note that once the temple ordinances were conceived, where were they conducted? Upstairs in a room above Joseph’s store...just like Masons who didn't have a temple of their own.)
Then Bushman helps to strengthen my case with this:
By seizing upon the temple rather than the church for a center of worship, Joseph put aside Christian tradition in favor of ancient Israel. During the course of his life, he never built a standard meetinghouse, even in Nauvoo...Where he did not build a temple, he planned one. Having Christianized the Hebrew prophets in the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon, he turned to the Old Testament for inspiration. Gathering Israel to temples was in keeping with the Old Testament character of the entire Zion project.
He never built a meetinghouse. Now that's interesting...I didn't realize that. But on the other hand, the temples he was building were absolutely Masonic in their nature, and hardly the temples we think of today. They were places to meet, to lecture, to conduct business, and also to experience the ecstatic visionary indulgences that seem easier to achieve in sacred space rather than in mundane space. They certainly were not places to offer animal sacrifices to be burnt upon the alter, as were the temples of ancient Israel.
Masons call their buildings temples for the same reason Smith called his temples...it's a reference to the Old Testament, trying to connect the modern with the ancient, and lend a sense of timeless sacredness to the activities and rituals conducted therein. But Joseph had no idea what to actually do in those temples, and the Kirtland temple was built more like a double-layer, two-headed meetinghouse, with a stepped set of alters/podiums on the East wall and the West wall, one to seat the leaders of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the other to seat the leaders of the Aaronic Priesthood. The seats in the middle would swivel so the congregation could turn alternately to listen first to one Priesthood and then the other. Where were the alters for sacrifice, with the horn on each corner upon which the blood of the bull or the lamb could be sprinkled? Where was the great fire for burning the flesh of said bull or lamb as an offering to God? Where was the Holy of Holies? I don't have any idea why Smith didn't try to revive the real temple rituals of ancient Israel, although he alluded to the time when "the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed." D&C 84:31.
Anyone else find that interesting? Smith says, in a "Thus sayeth the Lord" revelation, that his generation would build just such a temple, wherein the ancient rites and practices of sacrifice, as conducted by the Levitical Priests, would again be offered. Besides the fact that the prophecy failed, it is also a spit in the face to the Christian tradition that Christ's atonement replaced the earlier law of sacrifice...that the blood sacrifice was in similitude of Christ's future blood sacrifice, and that once Christ was crucified, the law was fulfilled. In essence, Smith is saying, "I'm gonna undo what Jesus did," which helps lend a lot of credence to the Christian claim that the Mormons are not to be counted among the Christian sects...
But I digress...
Bushman says some other things on temples that lend strength to the notion that Smith's original idea for temples was far more Masonic than it would later evolve to. For instance:
A committee...sited the temple on the bluffs overlooking Kirtland Flats and the Chagrin Valley. In May, a revelation showed the dimensions of the temple's inner court: fifty-five by sixty-five feet, a cavernous space. (The same revelation called for a second temple, never built, of exactly the same dimensions, to serve as a printing office.)...To raise funds, the temple was presented as a place for preparing the elders to go out among the Gentiles for the last time.
So in other words, it was kind of a Missionary Training Center, not a place of covenant and ritual. But more importantly, and the reason I grabbed that quote, was the acknowledgement that the Kirtland temple's "twin" was a) never built (in defiance of God? Or just another failed prophecy?), and b) it was to be a printing office! In other words, "Temple" was the word Joseph chose for "Church Buildings", and the meaning was utterly different for him than it is to modern Saints. And utterly Masonic!
Bushman also notes that:
The project was far out of proportion to the Church's pitiful resources. Joseph Smith went deeply into debt and was hounded by his creditors ever after.
So then…two things. First, what kind of cruel God would push his people to the brink of starvation in an effort to build himself a lavish house in which to "worship" him? It's an insane model, if you ask me. But second, how virtuous is it that Smith, an emissary of God Almighty, goes so deeply into debt that he can never pay off his creditors? They hound him for the rest of his life because in essence, he stole the money! He borrowed more than he could repay, commanded his people to sacrifice beyond what is reasonable, and justified it in the name of his own ego.
Now the end result of that kind of sacrifice is a psychological "trauma bond" which served Smith and the early church quite nicely. And the modern church looks to those early sacrifices as key to strength of the fledgling church, and I don't disagree. I just think "trauma bonding" is a far cry from "holy fellowship," but whatever makes them happy. And it is beyond my comprehension to consider the possibility that a “just God” would use virtual bankruptcy and running from creditors as the means by which he achieves His great purposes. That’s too much of a stretch, even for me.
And further on the temple issue:
On June 23, Joseph sent plans for a similar temple [to the one being built in Kirtland] to Missouri, along with a letter of instructions and answers to questions. The Missouri temple was to have a simple shed like exterior, but the interior had the same plan as Kirtland's. The fledgling Church with only a few thousand members planned for two large temples for studying good books and receiving revelations from God.
Okay, once again, think about what the purpose of the temple was to be: a place "to study good books and receive revelations from God." Is that how modern members would describe the temple? Of course not.
But this part is really interesting to me. Joseph is planning on building two temples, knowing it will stretch his resources beyond their current capability. One of them is the place to which the Lord will soon return in all his blazing glory, and the other is, well, just a place to prepare the missionaries. One of them happens to be where Joseph lives, and the other one happens to be far away. So which one gets the go-ahead? And which one gets to be a magnificent stone building with neo-classical architecture, and which one gets to have a "shed-like" exterior? Right...Joseph's "home temple" gets to be big and magnificent, utilizing the lion's share of the resources, while the LORD'S temple in Zion, the center place of the whole universe, the place to which Jesus will return and the City of Enoch will descend...gets to look like a shed.
That's bizarre to me. Just plain bizarre. What it does say to me is that this is about Joseph’s ego, not God's, though of course Joseph commands the consecration of all funds in God's name, thus ensuring that his people do as he commands.
Not only was the printing office to be a "temple," but so, too, were ALL the public buildings in the City of Zion. Read what Bushman had to say about the plat for the city:
The most unusual aspect was the three public squares at the center with twenty-four temples, twelve to a block, standing on two of these squares. According to the description, the temples would serve as "houses of worship, schools, etc." One can imagine a town hall, a courthouse, and perhaps stores among the "temples," much like the public buildings around the green in a New England town. But the names assigned to the temples do not support this simple reading. The temples were grouped into threes and assigned to priesthood "quorums," the organizations of the various levels of priesthood. One group was to be called "House of the Lord for the presidency of the High and most holy priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of the Son of God." Another was "the Sacred Repository for the use of the Bishops," and still another group "the house of the Lord for the Elders of Zion, an ensign to the nations." And so on down to "House of the Lord for the Deacons in Zion, helps in governments."...neither commerce nor civil government is given architectural form in the City of Zion. Everything is subsumed under priesthood quorums, which presumably absorbed all other institutions. The plan specified that "Underneath must be written on each House--Holiness To The Lord."
So to wrap this up, the temples were not places of covenant, they were places of theocratic institution, including government and communal distribution. They were designed in direct opposition to everything the United States was founded upon...and they failed. Miserably. Apparently God forgot for a moment that the Constitution was a divinely inspired document, that the Founding Fathers were essentially "prophets of democracy", and instead thought he'd set up a completely theocratic government. But once again, his people thought otherwise, his plans collapsed, and nothing ever came of it. That God...such a bumbler.
The rest of the chapter deals with the persecutions of the Saints in Missouri that ultimately led to their being driven out of Jackson County. There is so much to comment on, but I'll wrap up with this quote:
The only recourse in 1833 [to the Missouri persecutions] was to flee. But what about the next time? Was flight the only option? Forming a private militia had no part in the revelations, but self-defense required one. How else could they react to depredations? The seeds of Mormon militarism were sown in this moment. The Mormons were later accused of threatening the peace with violence born of fanaticism. But their resort to militias was the result of being treated violently themselves. Violence originated in the democracy, not in religion.
And therein lies the biggest single blind spot of Mormon history. What Bushman and the faithful refuse to see is that the Mormon's religious fanaticism, best captured in the description above of the city of Zion, violated the principles of democracy, and threatened everything their surrounding neighbors stood for! They brought violence upon themselves by living and planning far outside the bounds of democratic society. And in so doing, they threatened the extermination of a way of life that people had fought and died for...and they weren't going to stand idly by and let it happen again. The problem was not democracy. The problem was the unwillingness of Smith to play according to the rules of democracy.
What else could they do in the face of depredations? Bushman and the rest of the Church do not consider for even one moment the possibility that they could have stopped doing the very things that brought about the depredations in the first place. The Branch Davidians could ask the same question, and we would all say, "Well, for starters, how about ceasing to stockpile weapons, sleeping with children, and sequestering yourselves in a compound where you live outside the law?" That seems obvious, even to Mormons, but they can't see the parallel in their own history. It's more than a parallel...it's the same exact thing!
I believe the key to this chapter is the realization that in many ways, Joseph was a like a child without any appreciation for the real-world consequences of his actions in the lives of real people, his followers. He just did whatever he wanted, commanded as he saw fit, justified it in the name of God, and had no concept of the mess he was creating in their lives—real lives. And when they couldn't do the impossible, he abused them and rebuked them, in the name of God, for being unworthy and unfaithful.
By the way, this tradition persists in the modern church, with Bishops playing "God" in the lives of their congregation, without ever realizing, or caring about, the mess they make. God’s will is a cruel master when administered by mere men.
Chapter Twelve: The Character of a Prophet
This is a carryover from the last chapter, but this time it specifically deals with Zion's camp, which is the most audacious of Joseph's militia attempts (and which, incidentally, failed once again...sigh...):
The mob had treated them like an enemy nation. The citizens did not prosecute the Saints in court; they attacked them like Indians and drove them out as if they were wartime foes. What could the Mormons do but defend themselves like a nation, organizing an army and preparing for war? The only alternative seemed to be slaughter or expulsion.
In the world-view of Bushman, as with most of the faithful, the Mormons were innocent of any offense, and the wicked men of Missouri acted with evil intent. Now, I don’t want to pretend that the actions of the Missourians were in any way honorable—they weren't. They were in fact the actions of a hostile mob. But to state again the great blind spot of Mormon history, the Saints did in fact have other alternatives: they could cease doing all the things that engendered such animosity. Their barns were not burned, their roofs pulled down, and their herds driven off because they had a funny religion. Those things happened because of the way the Saints interacted with their neighbors...in a not so neighborly fashion. On at least two occasions, in Clay County and in Illinois, the citizens welcomed the Saints at first, only to turn equally hostile later when the Mormons began acting the same way. Namely, asserting authority, drawing massive numbers to themselves with the attendant political power, threatening the Gentiles that "all that is yours the Lord has promised to us," and making no bones about the errors of their neighbors ways. It never took the locals long to grow weary, then resentful, then angry, and then violent in response to the nonsense of Mormonism.
So what does Smith do? Acts crazy, that’s what he does. He declares that he is going to Zion to redeem the land, and has the High Counsel nominate and sustain him as "Commander in Chief of the Armies of Israel." In case you've forgotten, Commander in Chief is the title reserved for the President of the Government that sponsors the army in question. Joseph was clearly more than a religious leader...he was a political figure with aspirations of power. But in reality, he was insane. I mean, think about it...he's going to raise an army and march to Missouri and wage war? The rantings of a madman...
Now interestingly enough, Bushman in fact briefly recounts the story of Zelph the White Lamanite who fought for the "great prophet Onandagus." He uses a few journal entries to describe the episode, including a quote from Levi Hancock, who simply said, in relation to the yarn Joseph spun about this great white Lamanite, "I could not comprehend it but supposed it was right." I mean, what are you gonna do with a story like that?
Nothing, it turns out. Bushman drops it there, with no analysis, no commentary. It's just "a simple matter of Joseph receiving revelation by the spirit" as far as he's concerned, and as loony as it sounds to us, it's apparently no concern to Bushman. Whatever.
As you all know, Zion's Camp failed...miserably. There was a lot of puffing and blowing, but when Joseph finally got to the point of having to put up or shut up, he backed down. Quickly in fact. The men who left their families, combined their money, and marched until their feet were bloody with the promise that God would fight on their side as they at last redeemed their beloved Zion from the hands of their enemy, were instead told to abandon camp.
Worse, Joseph declares the following in a revelation:
The June 22 revelation forbade aggressive action. Before the army of Israel could "become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon" and her banners terrible unto the nations, she must be sanctified, and the Saints were far from that state. The failure to redeem Zion, the revelation made clear, was ultimately the Saints' responsibility, not that of the Jackson citizens. The Missouri Saints had refused to impart their substance to the poor, and the Church at large did not volunteer enough men for the camp. Before they could succeed in Zion, the Saints must learn to consecrate.
Once again, Joseph's failure, and make no mistake, this was his failure, was blamed on the innocent men and women who were stretched to the breaking point for their narcissistic leader. God just brushes aside the atrocities of the mob, for which he had his prophet raise up a small militia to redeem, and lays all the blame, all the suffering, all the misery, at the feet of the poor people who have done more for Smith and his church than any people should ever be called upon to do. It was ecclesiastic abuse of the worst kind, and it is remarkable to me that anyone continued to put up with it. The Missouri Saints had refused to impart of their substance to the poor? Hell, they were the poor! These were people living on the mean edge of survival, with sod homes, dirt floors, scrabbling out a living on the edge of the prairie, desperately fighting for their very lives and meager property against the mob that was largely incited by their leaders, and Joseph's only answer is to give them the spiritual smack down. Wow...what a guy.
And then Joseph gets all kinds of revelations about how God tells them they can't do this kind of thing until they themselves are sanctified and until the elders are "endowed with power from on high." Hello!? Didn't God know this before he sent them on this wild goose chase?
Bushman spins the failure in the same way everyone else does.
Was Zion's Camp a catastrophe? Perhaps, but it was not the unmitigated disaster that it appeared to be. Most camp members felt more loyal to Joseph than ever, bonded by their hardships [read: trauma-bond]. The future leadership of the Church came from this group. Nine of the Church's original Twelve Apostles, all seven presidents of the Seventy, and sixty-three other members of the Seventy marched in Zion's Camp. Joseph's own devotion to Zion and the gathering grew more intense. When the Jackson County committee gave the Saints an opportunity to sell out, cut their losses, and start again elsewhere, he refused. A revelation had designated Independence as the place for a temple, and no other would do. After experiencing Jackson County anger and backing off, Joseph still predicted a return within two years.
There is a classic logic error in Bushman's and the Church's reasoning here. Because he can derive a pattern, namely all the leadership that came from those who marched, that pattern must mean that it was not an unmitigated disaster, but in fact all part of the Lord's plan.
Nope. Couldn't be more wrong. The circumstances from Zion's camp could have gone in lots of directions, and the fact that a handful of men as a result demonstrated their loyalty cannot be assumed to be the purpose of Zion's Camp, but rather merely a fortuitous by-product. For if you assume the loyalty of the men was designed from the beginning in conceiving the effort, then you also have to assume that the fourteen men who died from cholera at the end of the debacle were also part of the plan. And I don't think anyone wants to go there. No, you can only say that Zion's camp failed, AND you can say that after that, many men were especially loyal and as a result of their loyalty, they became leaders in Joseph's church. That's the way complex systems work. There is no foreordained outcome...there are only new opportunities created (and others lost) at each choice, at each juncture. The result of Zion's camp cannot be ascribed to its inception, only to the series of events that transpired during and after it.
But Mormons want the story to be more. They want it to be like Abraham and Isaac, whereby the Lord asks Abraham to do a clearly insane thing, to which he agrees, and then at the last minute stays his hand, thus proving Abraham's loyalty and worthiness to be a prophet. But to retrofit that story onto Zion's Camp is simply finding relationships among a vastly complicated pile of circumstances, and linking a few of them together to claim similitude. It proves nothing, I'm afraid.
Once again, this chapter highlights the impetuosity with which Smith commands his people to do insane things, and then beats them over the head with their own shortcomings when they fail to accomplish the impossible. He is an abusive parent figure, convincing his children that he has to beat them, because he, and he alone, loves them. Without him, they have no value whatsoever, but they are stupid, vile creatures that need to have that extricated from their souls. Hit somebody hard enough and long enough with that kind of abuse, and sooner or later, they start to believe you.
Chapter 13: Priesthood And Church Government
As the title suggests, this chapter is about the governance of the priesthood. Most of it is basic stuff, but there are some interesting things that come out of it.
First, it is evident that when Joseph initially established the offices of the Priesthood, he was modeling them after the other, familiar churches of the day. The offices then do not in any way resemble the offices today, although you might argue that the High Councils and the Bishops might be largely the same then as now. But aside from that, here's what Bushman has to say (from page 254):
Picking through the revelation [on priesthood], the limits of Joseph's vision when he organized the Church in 1830 quickly become evident. At the outset, he envisioned a simple structure. The statement of beliefs and organization...listed a set of officers much like the officers in other churches--elders, priests, teachers, and deacons--and closely following the church described in the Book of Mormon...The officers had familiar duties, like baptizing, blessing the sacrament, and preaching. Very little distinguished them from the parallel figures in other denominations.
Part of what is intriguing here is that the offices of the Priesthood were revealed by God and canonized in D&C 107. Yet God apparently screwed up some really important details. Like for instance, he failed to note that Deacons, Teachers and Priests are all boys under the age of 19. He failed to mention that the Twelve Apostles were to constitute, along with the First Presidency, the governing board of the entire Church. And he never did clear up why there is a distinction in the Melchizedek Priesthood between the Elders and the High Priests...near as I can tell, the only difference in those two offices is that Priesthood meeting is a real snoozer in High Priests, while it tends to be more lively in Elders Quorum. Aside from that, the only difference appears to be that older men think they are above younger men, and they like to separate.
The simple fact of the matter is, Joseph invented the Priesthood to mirror the offices in other churches, but by calling it a priesthood, he could "endow" his officers with "authority" that other churches lacked.
But let's take a look at the ridiculous state of the Priesthood offices now compared to how they were originally intended:
Then/Other churches: Originally, Deacons were officers appointed to serve on church committees, facilitate worship services, and assist in pastoral care. In most churches, a Deacon often represents the minister in conducting informal church business, such as visiting shut-ins, widows and the sick, delivering pastoral messages, etc. No church would dream of assigning such a position to any other than a spiritually inclined, mature adult.
Now: Deacons are 12 and 13-year-old boys with no real authority, and no responsibility save to pass the sacrament and collect Fast Offerings on Fast Sunday. No adult would ever consent to serve in the office of Deacon, because it would be utterly demeaning.
Then/other churches: A Teacher was a position in a church of great importance, because they were the ones who were tasked with instructing the congregation on the tenets of doctrine. They had to be knowledgeable, persuasive, and capable in front of an audience. Only those adults well trained and well versed in the principles of the gospel could serve in this capacity.
Now: Teachers are 14 and 15 year old boys, who seem to have absolutely no responsibility in the world beyond preparing the sacrament on Sunday. No one would DREAM of asking a Teacher to teach the gospel, because their knowledge is extremely fundamental, and their comfort level in instructing is nil. No adult would ever condescend to the office of a teacher, because it is beneath them.
Then/Other churches: Someone authorized to perform all the sacred rituals of the church. They are congregational leaders, conducting the worship service, leading people in prayer, officiating over weddings, funerals, baptisms, and christenings. They are preachers of the word, administering to their congregations. Typically a position that requires considerable training, a spiritual calling, and endorsement from an ecclesiastical body.
Now: Priests in the Mormon Church are nothing more than 16 and 17-year-old boys. They can bless the sacrament, and they are authorized to baptize, though they very seldom do. They also can serve as a "Jr. Companion" in a home teaching pair, doing the bare minimum required because they don't want to be there. Adult men who convert and are baptized are typically Priests for a year, though they attend Elder's Quorum or High Priests depending on their age. They are Priests in office only, not in function.
Then/Other Churches: Evangelists were traveling exhorters of the gospel, authorized by training and by calling to preach to the masses like a priest, but not responsible to a particular congregation. They often developed a significant reputation if they were particularly persuasive, and people would turn out for their meetings whenever they came through town.
Now: Oops...God cancelled the office of evangelist in the modern church. They were there in the beginning, but now they are gone...huh...
Then/Other churches: Typically a permanent officer in a church, assigned to assist the pastor, serve on church boards, and act as senior leaders of the congregation.
Now: Any and every male in the church over the age of 18, unless they specifically refuse (or are otherwise unworthy). Elders in the Mormon Church can serve in most leadership capacities, but because it is an office shared by every other adult male (whose hair has not yet gone white), it serves no special function beyond just able to fulfill normal church callings available to anyone else.
Then/Other Churches: Mormonism makes a real break here. You have to leave Christendom and head to Judaism to find High Priests. In ancient Israel, the High Priest was the chief priest of all the Levitical priests serving the Jewish community. It was a position of authority over all the tribes of Israel (I think...), and the only one authorized to enter the Holy of Holies on his annual trek inside that inner sanctum of the temple. Ironically, High Priests in those days would have been of the lineage of Aaron, and their Priesthood Aaronic, not Melchizedek...
Now: High Priests are any male over the age at which the rest of the high priests feel sorry for him having to hang out with the Elders. In order to serve in the highest leadership capacities, you have to be a High Priest (Bishop, Bishop's Counselor, Stake Presidency, High Counsel, etc.) But any older man is typically ordained a High Priest, with or without those leadership responsibilities.
Then/Other churches: I can't find any indication that any other churches have Seventies...so I don't know if there are parallels. However, back in the day, the Seventies were Elders with a special calling, namely missionary work under the auspices of the Twelve Apostles.
Now: Seventies are General Authorities of the church, called to serve for a specific period of time (5 years, I think), and who often have administrative authority over some aspect of the church organization, such as a Mission, a Region (collection of stakes), a Church school, the MTC, etc. Temple Presidents may also be Seventies, but I'm not sure.
Then/Other Churches: Someone called, especially by Jesus, to go out and preach the gospel. The first Twelve Apostles of Mormonism were to govern over the missionary field, serving as the chief administrators and preachers outside Stakes of Kirtland and Zion. In fact, they had no authority inside those stakes, and were subordinate to the Stake High Councils and Bishops Partridge and Whitney.
Now: Apostles are the highest level of priesthood in the Mormon Church, serving as the governing body of the entire church. Their missionary duties have been pushed down to the Seventies, and they have superceded all the authority of the local stake and ward leaders. Every other Priesthood office reports to the Apostles. This was a significant departure from Joseph's vision, and the shift primarily occurred when Brigham Young usurped power from every other Priesthood office and established the primacy of the Twelve over all others by use of trickery and charismatic influence.
The reason for the above little exercise is to demonstrate how far off the mark section 107 was when it was first revealed. Either it missed the mark, or the modern church has utterly apostatized from the original, revealed government of God's church! What this says to me is that Joseph was working with what he knew when he wrote the Book of Mormon, and when he first began establishing the vision for the Priesthood. It was only later that he began to conceive of a new, bigger vision for Church governance. But frankly, I don't know when the Aaronic priesthood came to be associated with minor children, rather than mature adults.
One of the lovely little vestiges of early Mormonism that continues to do this day is the role that women play in the leadership of the church. A fair question to ask is, "If the Priesthood organization was so fluid that it could change as much as it did, as outlined in my previous section, why couldn't it be dynamic enough to include women so they can participate in the governance of the church?" Obviously nothing else about the original priesthood organization was right, so why should women be convinced that this part is right? And that, my friends, would be a damn good question.
But we all know the answer, don't we?
Anyway, here's how Bushman addresses it (from page 260):
Absent from the leadership positions was a place for women. They were unrepresented on the stands and in Church government, except to the extent that their husbands and fathers stood in for them. Women had no equivalent to the quorums for men. The organizational plan would continue to evolve but at this point women were subsumed under the men, the same assumption prevailing in the American political system in 1835. Mormon women received instruction from their fathers and husbands, spoke their minds in the family, and exercised spiritual gifts in public meetings.
That's good. He acknowledges that women were subjugated under their husbands and fathers, just as every other woman was in the prevailing American culture of 1835. But is it inspiration to cling to current cultural norms? Does God bend his will to match the prevailing social values? If that were true, how does one explain polygamy? The church could be forgiven for being unenlightened in regards to women, much the same as they were unenlightened in regards to people of color...except they claim to be operating under a "Divine Mandate", in which case, they can make no excuses for being "unenlightened." Interesting that they corrected the situation for 50% of the people with "even one drop of African blood" (the male 50%), but remain steadfastly opposed to recognizing the nonsense of keeping women subsumed.
It is also important to watch here that Bushman is setting the stage to equate Relief Society, "The largest women's organization in the world" with the Priesthood. We'll have to watch as he does that, 'cause that will be spin-city.
So how does Bushman spin this further, you ask? Here's how:
Winding through the great priesthood revelation of 1835 was a fourth theme that would in time bring women into priesthood government.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Bushman concludes for the moment his comments on the absence of women in the priesthood—setting it up so that he can convince the gullible that women share in the duties of Priesthood, when so clearly that is not the case. Islam and Mormonism stand as two bastions of patriarchy unequaled in any other modern religion of which I personally am familiar. And both will talk until they are blue in the face that women are honored and revered in their respective religious cultures.
Keeping women subservient to men is anachronistic at best, misogynistic at worst, and only serves to further demonstrate what each of you already probably know: that the organization of the church is the culturally influenced creation of Joseph Smith absent any input from deity. Bushman acknowledges it, and then doesn't touch it, waiting to justify this position later. I'm just dying to see how he does it...
Here's something I didn't know, but which Bushman talks about for a couple of pages, namely the importance of family lineage in the priesthood:
In addition to the simple Church, the councils for the city stakes of Zion, and priesthood, the final layer was lineage and family. A passage in the 1835 revelation on bishops provided that "no man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendent of Aaron."
What the...? Really? Talk about your throwback to the days of ancient Israel, when the priesthood consisted only of the tribe of Levi, the Priest class in Hebrew society, in which all of that particular tribe were considered to be of the lineage of Aaron.
What's more, Smith says this several times:
Later in the 1835 revelation, the principle of descent in the office of bishop was restated with greater emphasis: "For unless he is a literal descendent of Aaron he cannot hold the keys of that priesthood."
And then again:
The Twelve Apostles were authorized to appoint "evangelical ministers" in large branches of the Church [akin to Branch Presidents] and told that "the order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendents of the chosen seed."
So how does Bushman deal with this dilemma?
The return to ancient lineage priesthood appears to be another manifestation of Joseph's penchant for Hebrew religion and no more than a gesture, considering the next verse provides that high priests may fill the office of bishop as they may officiate in any office.
In fact, D&C 107 states plainly that a High Priest may be ordained a Bishop if no literal descendent can be found. So why the emphatic stance in the first place? Why doesn’t the modern Church seek to identify (by Patriarchal Blessing) those who are “literal descendents of Aaron” to establish them early on as potential Bishop material? Is it in fact a "gesture" on the part of Joseph because he has "a penchant for Hebrew religion?" Does Bushman realize what he's suggesting here? As I read it, he's acknowledging that Joseph, not Jesus, is the author of this revelation! He doesn't say "Jesus has a penchant for Hebrew religion, and thus makes the overture to the lineage of Aaron," he specifically assumes this is Joseph's influence.
Well guess what...that flies in the face of the manner in which the Church is taught the Doctrine and Covenants are written. We were taught that these are the literal and true revealed words of God (Jesus) for the church in this dispensation, and the more correct even than the Book of Mormon, because they are literally the words of the Savior. So how can you justify the position that Joseph is making a gesture to his personal hobbies if he isn’t the author of the book?
Right—he is the author of the book. They are the words of Joseph.
Chapter 14: Visitors
The issue I most want to address in this chapter is that Bushman is using an encounter between Joseph Smith and another "extremist Prophet" to draw the line between Mormonism and cults, inferring, naturally, that Mormonism is not one.
The character in question is one "Joshua the Jewish Minister," real name of Matthias, a recently released murderer from New York. Joseph always did keep colorful company.
Here's what Bushman points out about Matthias' teachings (from page 276):
In lectures given at the supper table, Matthias taught the household that he was the governing spirit, or God, sent to establish male government over women. He outfitted himself in his trademark green frock coat with varicolored pantaloons and crimson sash with twelve tassels. When people got sick or things went wrong, he blamed the trouble on the sufferer's disobedience. He assigned couples to marry by designating them as match spirits. For himself he chose Benjamin Folger's wife, proclaiming her Mother in the Kingdom.
Now, let me simply restate this ever so slightly:
In lectures given at the supper table, Joseph taught the household that he was the prophet, seer and revelator for God, sent to establish God's government on earth that was strictly male (the priesthood). He outfitted himself with his Nauvoo Legion uniform, including a gold sash, sword and all the military trimmings. When people got sick, or when Zion's camp or any other Church endeavor failed, Joseph blamed the trouble on the sufferer's disobedience. He completely changed the norms of marriage, identifying those who were to be sealed for time and all eternity, and chose 43 other women to be his wife, including the wives of some of his most faithful followers, proclaiming them Mothers in Zion.
Seem terribly different to you? It certainly doesn't to me. But then Bushman says this in the very next paragraph:
Joseph sensed the gulf between himself and Matthias when he said Matthias's God was the devil [Joseph told him, "that my God told me that his God is the Devil, and I could not keep him."]
Got that? In Bushman's worldview, there is no comparison between the two. There is a "gulf" between them. In my way of thinking, this is another classic blind spot in Mormonism—they can see the dangerous, cultic practices of others, but are completely unable to see their own.
Considering the two together [Smith and Matthias] actually clarifies the nature of early Mormonism. Was it a radical cult, as the comparison to Matthias implies, led by a charismatic figure whose credulous followers blindly obeyed his commands? One difference was that, unlike Matthias's little household, Mormonism had an existence apart from Joseph...Matthias created a perishable cult, Joseph a viable church.
Paradoxically, it was the revelations, the main reason for linking Joseph to Matthias, that differentiated the two. Unlike other American prophets, Joseph wrote his revelations down, turning them into scripture.
Bushman expands slightly on that theme, but his motive is clear—because there were differences between Matthias and Joseph, and because Matthias was a classic cult leader, that makes Joseph not a cult leader.
Logic error alert!
It is true that Joseph created something different than Matthias, but the truth is, there are so many parallels that pointing out the few differences actually underscores, in my mind, how similar they in fact were! Joseph and Matthias were birds of a feather, but Joseph's vision was bigger.
Would Bushman suggest that since the Reverend Sun Myung Moon has established a sizeable following (numbering in the tens of thousands), or Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science movements are then on the same footing as Joseph's church? They have done many of the same things that Bushman used to differentiate between Smith and Matthias, so are they viable churches or cults?
In other words, what Bushman has done is brushed aside a very significant charge, that Smith's church was a cult in the classic sense, simply because there were in fact some differences between the Mormons and one tiny, insignificant cult leader.
There...now that he's taken care of that nasty business, on to the next chapter, and never look back!
Chapter 15: Texts
I'll start with this, a quote from Oliver Cowdery in which he attempts to elucidate what the Mormons believe (from page 281):
Richard Bushman quoting Oliver Cowdery
We believe that God is the same in all ages; and that it requires the same holiness, purity, and religion, to save a man now, as it did anciently.
This is one of those damnable aspects of Mormonism that I love to hate—the crazy-making language that says "God continually reveals himself anew in each dispensation, thus the need for a living prophet," and the flip side that says, "We are the restored church of the ancients, come to set right all that was destroyed by wicked men in the past." See, for me personally, if the Mormons only believed the former, and abandoned the latter, I could actually be much more charitable in my criticisms. But trying to say both, at the same time, seems, well—insane!
It's that kind of logic that allows Joseph to restore polygamy, by God's command, because it was the order of the patriarchs of old, and then the later church abandons it completely because God can't figure out how to defeat the Edmunds-Tucker Act. It's that kind of logic that restores the priesthood to the temple, and then utterly changes the role of the priesthood in the temple. It's that kind of logic that establishes the "endowment" in one way, restoring it to perfection as known by the Masons of old, and then changing it at a whim because certain parts got some pretty bad press after the Godmakers film came out. It's that kind of logic that in one sentence can say that Bishops must be a literal, direct descendent of Aaron, and the very next sentence say any old High Priest can serve as Bishop.
So that's why I find it so damnable...the Church claims the high ground of the restoration of all things, but keeps things so open, so ambiguous, so subject to change, that anything is possible, and nothing is dependable except death and tithing. How do you hang your salvation on "anything can happen?"
Bushman does a nice job of describing Joseph's role in this process, I think. The following is from a discussion on the Doctrine & Covenants, in which some members were concerned that the book constituted a creed, something Joseph was personally uncomfortable with:
Creeds fixed limits. They seemed to say "thus far and no further," while for Joseph the way was always open to additional truth: "The creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further—which I cannot subscribe to." He wanted the door left ajar for truth from every source. He revised his own revelations, adding new material and splicing one to another, altering the wording as he saw fit. He felt authorized to expand the revelations as his understanding expanded. In later editions of the Doctrine & Covenants this freewheeling style prevailed.
I do not for the life of me understand this. All the years I was a Mormon, I remember learning that part of what made the Doctrine & Covenants such a significant book of scripture was the fact that it was the literal words of Jesus, in his voice, as dictated by Joseph.
And yet, here is Bushman noting that Smith felt "authorized" to change, revise, add material, take away, delete entire revelations, or change names when people for which a particular revelation called to great works died or left before that could transpire. It makes no sense to me what-so-ever why Mormons put up with Joseph who says, "Thus sayeth the Lord," and then later goes, "Oh, I meant to say, THUS sayeth the Lord. Please strike that last revelation from the record." In other words, plainly these "revelations" are not in the words and voice of Jesus Christ, they are the whims and ideas, fancies and tirades of Joseph Smith. Period.
Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.
Most of the rest of this chapter deals with the infamous Book of Abraham. For me, the most interesting part of this chapter is that for once, Bushman says something that I kinda-sorta-not-completely-but-almost agree with. Bushman makes a strong case for the Book of Abraham recognizing the cultural achievements of Egypt, despite being African, and goes on to say (pages 288 and 289):
By associating the cursed descendants of Ham with Egypt, the Book of Abraham ran at cross-purposes with the usual arguments for black cultural inferiority and black slavery. The book exhibited an idiosyncratic type of racial thinking. Neither inferiority nor servitude were at issue, only priesthood.
...Joseph's concern in the first chapter of Abraham was with civilizations and lineage more than race. Pharaoh, Ham and Egyptus figure in one lineage and Abraham in another.
In other words, there is nothing inferior about the Africans, but because of the choices of their ancestors, they are cursed only from obtaining the priesthood. Racist? Possibly, but Joseph's obsession at this time was with patrilineal priesthood inheritance, and the Africans/Egyptians were of the cursed lineage of Ham (according to current-for-the-time biblical interpretation). In the days of the Israel of antiquity, the Jews believed that only the Jews could hold the Priesthood of the true and living God, and that only by the House of Levi. All the Gentiles were in the same situation as the Egyptians and Canaanites and Africans. This language is all about chosen people and cursed people, and not about skin color. Now the Book of Moses, on the other hand, does make reference to a "blackness coming upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people." Really, once again, we see a collision between what is fashionable (dark curses being associated with black Africans) and Joseph's personal obsessions (patrilineal priesthood), and voila! The Book of Abraham.
But I found this to be interesting and noteworthy:
Was Joseph racist in other contexts? The exclusion of black men from the priesthood was publicly stated only after his death. Except for a brief lapse in early 1836, Joseph advocated taking the gospel to "both bond and free," ignoring race. An essay against abolitionism published over his name in 1836 (a year when fear of abolitionism was at its peak) exhibited the conventional prejudices of his day in asserting that blacks were cursed with servitude by a "decree of Jehovah," but there was no follow-up. That spring, the house rules for the Kirtland Temple, the Saint's most sacred building, allowed for the presence of "male or female, bond or free black or white." The same policy was followed in Nauvoo, where "persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color...shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple." Nothing was done during Joseph's lifetime to withhold priesthood from black members...When he ran for US president in 1844, he made compensated emancipation a plank of his platform. He urged the nation to "ameliorate the condition of all: black or white, bond or free; for the best of books says, 'God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth." Joseph never commented on the Abraham text or implied it denied priesthood to blacks.
Here's where I'm inclined to agree with Bushman, kind of...aside from being tossed about in the cultural milieu of his day, and on occasion persuaded by it, Joseph actually appeared to be reasonably open minded toward people of African descent. And the Lamanites, though again "cursed with a dark skin," were the whole point of the Book of Mormon—i.e. they were of the House of Israel, and their redemption as such was critical to the success of the gospel. It was all about lineage, not so much about race.
So while we see cultural evidences for some degree of the racism du jour, I think it is reasonable to allow that Joseph Smith was probably at least as amenable to open race relations as any other white man of his day, which is not to suggest that he didn't still harbor some of the conventional prejudices of his day. Women still can't hold the priesthood, which is clearly a throwback to the "good ol' days of the 19th century." True to form, Joseph wrote and taught a perplexing, convoluted message when it came to race, not entirely clear one way or the other, something I'm thinking God could have cleared up had he been actually revealing all of this to Joe at the time.
Brigham Young, on the other hand, was an avowed racist, and when he had his shot at the leadership of the church, we saw Joseph's openness slammed shut for 125 years. Race relations between Mormons and every person of color (well, not so much Asians or Polynesians) have been dismal ever since, and remain dismal in my opinion. But I am inclined to agree with Bushman that it probably didn't really begin with Joseph—it was for later Church leaders to really screw it all up.
The rest of the chapter provides the usual arguments for why the Book of Abraham is not the fabrication most of us have come to accept it is. He argues that there are unique parallels with apocryphal Abrahamic texts, but they are so general in my mind as to be almost valueless, such as Abraham's father worshipped idols and Abraham was interested in astronomy (which to me is like saying he was interested in the way the universe works, i.e. the cosmic structure of all things, something any spiritual philosopher would be interested in). And of course there is the usual argument that they never did find the papyri that contained the text, only the facsimiles, but Bushman doesn't address why the damaged facsimile of Abraham on the alter has a human head drawn on the "idolatrous Priest of Elkenah" rather than the Jackal head of Anubis, which it so clearly would have been (except Joseph wouldn't know that...), or how Joseph couldn't have been more wrong on all his interpretations of the various components of those facsimiles....
Truth is, Bushman does a pretty poor job of dealing with the criticisms of the Book of Abraham, which is fine, since that probably is not his objective. But the criticisms of the book are legion, and he is willing to just assume it was a revealed work and leave it at that.
Chapter 16: Strife
You'll be pleased to note that there isn't much to report on in this chapter. It's mostly about how Joseph struggled at times to get along with others, a common difficulty for most folks afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (though completely unqualified to do so, I have diagnosed Mr. Smith as such...).
There are some disquieting notions that come out in this chapter, however, none of which will come as any surprise, it's just amazing to see it in print. I'll provide a few examples. First, from page 296, speaking of the "trial" of Henry Green, whose principal fault was having spoken his mind about Joseph in public when he accused Smith of "rebuking Brother Aldridge wrongfully & [being] under the influence of an evil spirit. Presidents Joseph & Hiram Smith were wrong in abusing the old man." He further went on to add that anyone who talked like Joseph was a "scoundrel" and "must have the Devil in him." Them's fightin' words in Joseph's world! Naturally, the High Council ruled that Green was at fault for criticizing the prophet. Anyway, this is the part that caught my eye:
...leaders of the Church, and especially the president, were not to be criticized. They were to be honored and regarded, even when a charge was brought against them. The disaffected were not required to stifle their complaints; Sidney Rigdon ruled that Green should have gone to Joseph privately. Public humiliation was the issue. There was no justification in "opposing the servant of the Lord while in the actual discharge of his duty."
In other words, the President is not a President at all. He's a dictator, and rules with the impunity of that title, hiding behind the façade of the title of president. Furthermore, what a troubling double-standard, that Smith can publicly humiliate anyone, including in a supposed "revelation from God", but should anyone else criticize him, their membership is on the line.
The same pattern persists today, and one of the surest signs that someone is headed down the road to apostasy is "questioning the brethren." This idea always made me go, "ick!" It violates every fiber of my being to be disallowed to question anyone if his or her actions violate my own sense of morality. I’ve struggled with this, too, while a member of the Church. In particular, I remember my wife and I struggling mightily while we were pursuing our graduate degrees and President Benson came out with his "Mother's Come Home" talk. After years of wrestling with that, we had to conclude that despite living in opposition to the Prophet's command, we were still good parents, still good people, and begged God to accept us despite this. But we were never "quite right" in the eyes of our fellow Ward members, because she was a professional woman and I "allowed her to be." Since that time, I have come to terms with most of the difficulties of being a Mormon, but that issue, and the heartache and suffering it caused us in our family as the result of one old man voicing his personal preference, hearkening back to the days of "Ozzie and Harriet", has never been fully resolved. It would have been fine if the opportunity to decide for yourself was always an option when the prophet spoke...but it wasn't then and it isn't now. Mentally healthy people are allowed to think for themselves, weigh the evidence, balance it with their personal experience, and move forward acting on their own conscience and wisdom. Mormonism fails to produce this kind of mental wellness...
::steps down off soapbox::
So where was I? Oh yes, the dangers of criticizing Joseph Smith. Here's more:
Aldridge's error was to question "the integrity of the heads of the Church." Joseph's office required him to detect evil spirits, and reproofs were necessary. As he said a few years later, "he rebuked and admonished his brethren frequently, and that because he loved them; not because he wished to incur their displeasure or mar their happiness."
Anyone familiar with the patterns of abusive relationships? This description fits the abusive pattern to a "T". Blame the victim of the abuse with their own imperfection, and lord yourself over them with the assumption of your perfection, and diminish them in their own eyes and the eyes of their peers "because you love them, despite how unlovable they really are." It pains me to think of the spiritual/emotional beatings the faithful, early Saints took at the hands of their leaders.
But even the leaders were not above "reproof" from Smith.
A revelation on November 3  announced that the Twelve "are under condemnation, because they have not been sufficiently humble in my sight, and in consequence of their covetous desires, in that they have not dealt equally with each other in the division of moneys which came into their hands." Three of the Twelve were mentioned by name for their "grievous" sins, and the revelation said, "the residue are not sufficiently humble before me."
Again, a stunning example of abuse, preying upon their fear of God and their belief in Joseph's calling as the mouthpiece of God, to manipulate their behavior into exactly what he wanted. It is unforgivable in my estimation to demean well-intentioned people in this manner for personal gain and satisfaction. Unforgivable...
Lastly, there is this stunning little insight into the life and mind of Joseph, something the early Saints would have been wise to have looked at closely:
When he could not have his way, Joseph sometimes rained down curses on his opponents. He was outraged when the Chardon County court fined his brother Samuel twenty dollars for avoiding militia duty. Apparently, Samuel’s claim to be a clergyman was denied for lack of a verifying document, and Joseph assumed the large sum was prejudiced, "a base insult practised upon us on the account of our faith, that the ungodly might have unlawful power over us and trample us under their unhallowed feet." When Samuel had to sell his cow to pay the fine, Joseph condemned the court: "I say in the name of Jesus Christ that the money that they have thus unjustly taken shall be a testimony against them and canker & eat their flesh as fire."
To me, this is like watching a two year old throw a temper-tantrum. First of all, how ludicrous to pronounce those "Old Testament" curses on the court. It obviously was to no avail, as I'm sure that had the court's flesh been eaten as if by fire, someone would have made a note "to not upset old Joe anymore on account of the dire consequences of same!"
But surely someone should have noted that he made a declaration "In the name of Jesus Christ" that came to nothing, and thereby should have caused them to wonder. Joseph was very willing to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord" with no thought or consideration for whether or not what he said had any foundation in reality. If he is capable of using the name of God with the same authority whether he is justified or not, how could anyone with an ounce of common sense believe anything he ever said in the name of the Lord again? Had not the parable of "the little boy who cried wolf" been written just yet?
Bushman simply doesn't care. He sees this as the human side of Joseph, the rough stone rolling, the diamond in the rough, whom the Lord is polishing for his own purposes. But me, I see a deluded, narcissistic, abusive megalomaniac who simply manipulated people of faith with fear and humiliation. Hardly the qualities of a man I'd care to follow...
Chapter 17: The Order of Heaven
This whole chapter is really about the promise of the Kirtland Temple. The only "spin" that I observed is that Bushman really talks about it all so matter-of-factly, despite the obvious disparity about "the way things were then" versus the mundane experience the rest of us have in the temple nowadays. The last time I heard about anyone seeing angels in the rafters at the temple, they were off their lithium.
One of the things that became evident while reading up to this point was that Joseph was preparing the Saints for a mighty, charismatic event along the lines of the great revivals of the day, in which people were so moved by the overwhelming "spirit" of the occasion that they swooned and had visions and remembered being overcome by the spirit...something that was really, I would guess, more about hype and ecstatic crowd manipulation than it was about an outpouring of heavenly spirit. Smith had been telling the Saints for years in advance of the Kirtland temple that they should expect "an endowment of power," and that the temple was the place to receive it.
Now what's ironic is that Joseph once again allowed things to evolve. The first experiences of the temple were categorically different than what it would ultimately become. In fact, as a side note, after the powerful charismatic opening of the Kirtland temple, Joseph entered a "dark" period, where it seemed to him that everything was done...and yet nothing really happened. Christ didn't come. Zion wasn't redeemed. His cares and concerns hadn't been eliminated. It was just humdrum, business as usual. He HAD to evolve things just to keep them moving forward...or they would die.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand, specifically Smith's declaration that "this is it," only to demonstrate once again that he's either wrong, or that he keeps changing his mind...
A solemn assembly was to be called and organized "according to the order of the house of God." Joseph was beginning to glimpse an unchanging and timeless temple order. "The order of the house of God has and ever will be the same," he told the Twelve, "even after Christ comes, and after the termination of the thousand years it will be the same, and we shall finally roll into the Celestial Kingdom of God and enjoy it forever."
And yet nothing was further from the truth. First, as we've discussed previously, the temple rituals that Joseph envisioned had nothing in common with the temples of old. Nothing. Second, Jesus essentially said that the ancient temple rituals were no longer necessary, as they were sacrificial in nature, fulfilling in similitude the law that Jesus claimed to have fulfilled once and for all. So the claim that it would all be the same still when Jesus comes again was nothing less than the abject denial of the role played by the temples of old, or the denial of his own proclamation that the "Sons of Levi would again offer a sacrifice of righteousness." And then most notably, the temple rituals of the Kirtland days, as first initiated by Joseph, were nothing like the rituals that would come later...and which would be modified long after his death, continuing into current times. Things that were so important, like temple adoption and polygamous marriage, keystones of God's gospel and the temple, were simply done away with. So how can this jive with "the order of the House of God will ever be the same?" It doesn't.
The Kirtland temple experience was all about washings and anointings, all very different than what we do now (for instance, no one these days baths in a tub of whiskey perfumed with cinnamon. At least I didn't, though I wish I did...) There was preaching and ecstatic, visionary prompting and coaching by Smith, who himself claimed to see the throne of God. But I found this quote to be especially ironic, given the direction that the temple would one day go. Remember that in the vision in the Kirtland temple, Joseph not only saw God, but Adam, Abraham, Michael [Oops! Adam and Michael are the same person!!!], but also his older brother Alvin, who had died when Joseph was seventeen.
How could Alvin be in heaven without being baptized? A voice told him that "all who have died with[out] a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it, if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God."
Stop right there. Joseph's first temple vision told him that there was nothing required of the unsaved dead for admission to the Celestial kingdom other than a willingness to accept the gospel had they ever had the chance to hear it. Contrast that with the need for proxy temple ordinances...and they are utterly contradictory. So when was Joseph right...the first time, or later?
Lastly I found this interesting:
The Kirtland rituals amounted to another form of revelation, comparable in importance to the visitations of angels, the voice of the Spirit speaking for God, the translation of historical texts, and the organization of Church councils by precedent and experience.
So why don't we do it this way anymore? I mean, truly... if the temple were the house of God, and he revealed himself to man therein, and it literally amounted to a form of revelation...why did it stop with Kirtland?
I'll tell you why. It's because the members of the early church were personally inclined to believe in visions, as was Joseph, and they created for themselves an ecstatic experience in the same manner as the best evangelists of today, who can get a whole audience of people singing, weeping, standing and swaying with their hands in the air, praising the Lord Jesus, and just certain that he touched their hearts and saved them...when I believe with every fiber of my being that they were simply caught up in a powerful, psycho/social/emotional experience generated by their wants and needs, and exacerbated by the perceived expectations of others in their immediate surroundings. I've been there before...I know how it feels. And I NOW know where it comes from, at least in my case.
Mormons these days aren't expecting those kinds of experiences...and lo and behold, they don't have them (unless they're off their meds). What does it mean, therefore, about the validity of the Kirtland temple experiences? Only that they could never be discussed as universally true, or even generally true. Nothing about them set any kind of precedence for the later church, and they have no influence over what modern Mormons expect what so over. Joseph simply hadn't figured out yet what the "endowment of power" was to be, but he had created a powerful, bonding experience for his people.
The Kirtland temple experience was nothing short of bizarre. Some have posited that the visions and ecstasy of some of the experiences were in fact wine induced. They may have been, for the wine was certainly there. Me? I'd probably go back to the temple if there was wine in abundance again...
Up next...Fanny Alger!
Chapter 18: Reverses
Bushman bites off a mouthful in this chapter. I'm only halfway through, so there may be another installment on this one, but since he's covered both Fanny Alger and the Kirtland Anti-banking Society in the same breath thus far, I thought I better catch up.
One of the things I love about apologetics is the manner in which they decide to give weight to one source over another. For instance, in the Fanny Alger case, Bushman is happy to give Mosiah Hancock's testimony, written in 1890, a good deal of credibility (because Hancock was faithful to Smith), whereas he discounts Ann Eliza Webb Young's testimony (who is most famous for having divorced Brigham Young and toured the country exposing Mormon polygamy) because she has an axe to grind. Neither of them had first-hand knowledge of the "affair," but Bushman prefers what Hancock has to say. Go figure.
Anyway, what's important is that at least Bushman raises the possibility that Joseph's motives with Fanny were less than proper:
There is evidence that Joseph was a polygamist by 1835. Was he also an adulterer? In an angry letter written in 1838, Oliver Cowdery referred to the "dirty, nasty, filthy affair" of Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger. What did that mean? Had Joseph been involved in an illicit affair?...Was he a blackguard covering his lusts with religious pretensions, or a prophet doggedly adhering to instructions from heaven, or something in between?
To Bushman's credit, he never really answers that last question fully. He insinuates that he prefers to assume that Joseph acted with propriety, following the "instructions from heaven." But he's vague enough in his treatment of the affair that you could go either way.
Mostly he wants everyone to understand that by the time the issue was coming to light (several years later), Smith was characterizing it as a "marriage." If Hancock is to be believed (and who knows if he can be), then it appears as though Alger's parents may well have been approached, and they consented to have their daughter married to the prophet, despite their obvious awareness of Smith's current married state to Emma. It's possible.
But here are the things that go completely unaddressed, and which, I believe, are very telling.
First, it is inconceivable to me that polygamy was ever legitimate, so I obviously come from a biased position to begin with. But that said, it remains inconceivable to me that Smith would have the audacity to practice polygamy, commanded by God to do so, and not bring Emma into the picture. It would seem to me that if this is important to God, then Joseph would have no choice but to call upon his wife's faith in his prophetic calling, explain it all to her by revelation, and then begin to practice the principle. If she couldn't do it, then the condemnation be upon her. But by hopping in the sack with young girls and other married women first, before trying to bring Emma into an understanding of the principle, he was doomed to fail with her, because she could never trust that it was of God, and rather always believed it was just Joseph using his prophetic position as a means of justifying his lusts. I'm thinking a smart God would have helped him navigate those treacherous waters much more successfully, particularly since it was allegedly the saving ordinance of the gospel, the highest principle, and the only one by which the highest levels of exaltation could be achieved. In other words, it's too damn important to go hiding, and playing chicken with your wife! What was he thinking?
He obviously wasn't thinking...his hormones were doing the thinking for him, a sure formula for disaster for any married man.
Second, I think it's very telling that Fanny Alger left Mormonism shortly thereafter, married a non-member, and had nothing to do with the Church forever after. She obviously didn't think there was anything divine going on between she and Joseph, and Joseph obviously treated her like an object of shame, rather than a proud "mother in Zion."
I also think it's interesting that Bushman notes that the High Council of Kirtland never brought Joseph up on adultery charges, but they were quick to excommunicate Cowdery and discipline anyone else for criticizing the prophet. Well, duh! Smith had already made it clear that criticizing the prophet was out of bounds, and anyone who did so had their membership questioned. I think it's telling that Cowdery, the Second Elder of the church and one of the most important early figures in Mormonism was willing to put his membership on the line because he didn't believe Smith when he claimed he was innocent. It is not surprising to me that the rest of the leadership would support their Prophet in a game of "he said/she said." Who are you gonna believe, the prophet of God, or anyone else? If you believe he's acting according to divine mandate in all things, including what he says, then you back him, and condemn everyone else.
But even more than that, Bushman seems to have forgotten that everyone who knew about early polygamy and who was determined to stay true to the church lied through their teeth to protect it!!! In other words, I don't believe a word any of them say related to this event. They are circling the wagons in the timeless manner that "Good ole' Boys" always have for the sole purpose of protecting their own.
Lastly, what seems most reprehensible to me is that regardless of whether anyone else—Fanny, Joseph, the Algers, anyone—thought that the "affair" between Smith and Fanny was a legitimate marriage, from Emma's perspective, it was adultery. How could it be anything else? She had no knowledge of any "revelation" on plurality of wives. She had no knowledge that such a marriage had occurred. She had not been asked how she felt. She had to find out about it second hand at best, or directly at worst (there is one account of questionable authenticity that suggests she actually saw the two of them having a romp in the barn). As far as Emma was concerned, she was a scorned woman, sullied by the adulterous indiscretions of her husband, and now she has to make sense out of it in her own mind, and justify it to others, without the benefit of any revelation or spiritual guidance. It was cruel, inhumane, and utterly selfish on Joseph's part, whether or not he believed he was acting out the Lord's commands. I have no sympathy...none.
The next part of this chapter deals with the disaster of Church finances. Again, to Bushman's credit, he lays some important stuff on the table, but as is by now his well-established pattern, he either just leaves it laying on the table untouched, or he provides a bit of spin.
He starts with this lovely story:
The purpose of the journey [to Salem and New York, undertaken by Joseph and Hyrum, Rigdon and Cowdery] goes unstated, but in Salem, a revelation assured them, "I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion; and many people in this city whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion." Uncertain of his next step, Joseph was casting about for financial resources.
This is, of course, the story about the alleged house in Salem that has a buried treasure in it that will solve all the Church's financial woes. And just like every other treasure seeking adventure of Joseph the glass-looker, this one came to nothing, too. Even Bushman seems to be acknowledging that this revelation is more from Joseph than from God, when he says, "Joseph was casting about for financial resources."
So aside from the fact that this was another utterly failed prophecy (for neither treasure nor converts came from their visit to Salem), it is yet another clear example of Smith a) falling back on his old treasure-digging days, and b) making stuff up and saying, "In the name o' the Lord!" What is dumbfounding to me is that people can't look at these obviously fabricated revelations and begin to extrapolate exactly what's going on with the others that seem to at least have an air of authenticity. In other words, if he starts spewing garbage in "thus sayeth the Lord" pronouncements, at what point do smart people start asking themselves, "Hey! If he's lying to me here and here, how do I know he isn't pulling my leg here, here and here, too?"
It boggles the mind, brothers and sisters...
From there he goes on to recount the looming disaster of the Kirtland Anti-banking Society, beginning with the usual dose of guilt for the struggling Saints, exonerating the leaders from their own folly:
At the June trial of two brethren accused of insufficient generosity, Frederick Williams put it bluntly: "The church is poor, Zion is to be built and we have not means to do it unless the rich assist, & because the rich have not assisted, the heads of the church have to suffer and are now suffering under severe embarrassments and are much in debt."
Did you catch that? Two men who had managed to make a decent living on the edge of the frontier were being tried for “insufficient generosity!” Apparently, you either give everything, or you're greedy.
More importantly, how could the leaders of the church be so foolish as to create a grand scheme in which they put themselves in so much personal risk, yet relying on resources that are completely outside their control? Only a fool would participate in such nonsense. How’s the saying go? “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Yeah, that’s it…
The result of all this financial disaster was the formation (illegal) of the Kirtland Safety Society, which Smith proclaimed was revealed to him audibly by the very voice of God. You all know how that failed...I don't need to recount it, other than to simply chock up one more dismal failure on the part of God and his boy Joseph.
But here's the important spin that Bushman places on the events leading to the failure:
In a simpler and more isolated society, where mutual trust was high, the scheme might have worked. In Kirtland, the bank failed within a month. Business started on January 2, 1837. Three weeks later, the bank was floundering. Skeptical (and perhaps mean-spirited) customers presented their notes for redemption, and the bank's pitiful supply of liquid capital was exhausted within days. (Emphasis added)
Don't miss the spin here—Bushman is saying, "There was nothing wrong with Smith's plan...the problem was with the mean-spirited people who made it fail." Never mind that the Kirtland Safety Society set the capital stock for the Bank at $4 million, even though they could only garner $21,000 from investors. Never mind that they were therefore issuing worthless pieces of paper with nothing to back them up, expecting the people (who had no way of knowing how undervalued their bills were) to just play along in the game.
And I loved this:
All the investors lost their capital, Joseph as much as anyone. He had bought more stock than 85% of the investors.
Makes me want to barf. First of all, no wonder so many people were angry...they lost everything to a scheme that they believed couldn't fail because it was dictated by God himself. Then we're supposed to feel sorry for poor Joseph, because "he was a victim, too!" Poor, poor Joseph! I guess we're just supposed to not notice that had he succeeded, he would have gotten personally wealthy off the backs of the faithful, since he was the most heavily invested person. What you ALSO don't hear from Bushman is that Smith was so deep in debt from his failed mercantile store in Kirtland, for which he owed $100,000, that he didn't have any real capital to invest anyway! Anything he invested in the Kirtland bank was borrowed money, part of the reason he had to escape Kirtland in the night with nothing but the shirt off his back and the horse under his butt.
The intermingling of the promise of worldly wealth if you invest in the church leader's financial schemes is a classic and unforgivable conflict of interest.
The bank episode not only hurt the Saints financially, it tried their faith. The notes had their Prophet's signature on the face. He had encouraged investment; his enthusiasm persuaded subscription...By April 1837, when the bank was floundering, Joseph was still telling his people that "this place must be built up, and would be built up, and that every brother that would take hold and help secure and discharge those contracts that had been made, should be made rich."...Widespread apostasy resulted. (Emphasis added)
Reprehensible. And yet, it sounds like so many other multi-level marketing programs that find such a peaceful home in the state of Utah...
Bottom line is, Smith was wrong. He encouraged his people into a scheme that would relieve him of the incredible debt he incurred because of his poor business acumen, while at the same time creating an opportunity to create wealth at last for his family. He manipulated his faithful followers into trusting him with their money, and then beat them about the head and neck for the lack of faithfulness when he lost everything. He should be forever ashamed...
Chapter 19: Trials
The gist of this chapter is how things really began falling apart for the Mormons in Missouri. Among the most important points that Bushman "spins" in this period of time is the idea that Joseph was not out front as charismatic leader for much of this period, living somewhat in the shadows of Rigdon and Sampson Avard, the leader of the Danites. What Bushman wants the reader to believe (and he may be right...I don't know, but I doubt it), is that Smith was uncomfortable with the violent turn of events, but the momentum of the situation swept past him, leaving it in the hands of more militant men. This is a useful paradigm for the faithful, because it means that the failure and suffering in Missouri is not Joseph's fault.
At this particular time, the leadership in Missouri was falling out of favor. It's important to note that this represents a "changing of the guard" from the old, visionary idealists of the early church to the more militant, simple and blindly faithful zealots of the growing Zion. Of particular note, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and W.W. Phelps all were excommunicated for showing a loss of confidence in Joseph Smith. Here's an excerpt from Bushman (page 348) that highlights the perspective of the dissidents:
Cowdery was charged with "selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to the Revelations," a sign he was withdrawing from the economic order of the Church. Joseph told the council that Cowdery had said he wanted "to get property and if could not get it one way he would another." For a couple of years, Cowdery had been trying to develop a law practice and obtain political office. The Saints suspected him of drumming up business by urging their enemies to bring suits for debts. He was charged with leaving "the calling, in which God had appointed him, by Revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of Law."
Anyway, the reason that's interesting to me is that Cowdery was really struggling under the growing burden of Joseph's dictatorship, and he could no longer subsume his American republicanism to Smith's Monarchial theocracy. But my question is, how would this be possible if Cowdery had in fact been witness to all the miracles of translation, blessings at the hands of heavenly beings, visions of God and angels, and all the things he claimed to have participated in? What Cowdery's actions suggest to me is that it was always an act of faith, and never an act of knowledge that kept him close to Joseph. Yet the stories would suggest possession of sure knowledge. I mean, if you've knelt on the riverbank and had Peter, James and John of antiquity lay their hands upon your head in the most literal sense and ordain you to the Priesthood, don't you think you'd know? Yet, he obviously didn't know, but rather only had a faith in actions and activities that were consistent with his own current belief system, and which could easily be shaken when he was moved outside his comfort zone. Cowdery said that he was "unwilling to subject himself to any ecclesiastical authority or pretended revelation." Oliver's membership in the Church, like anyone else's who is honest, was founded only on a faithful hope that it was true, and when it proved itself to be otherwise, or he lost hope, he left. He left because his conscience allowed it, and his faith was insufficient...he lacked the sure knowledge that Alma spoke of. When he returned years later, he was returning to the fellowship of the people he knew, but he never returned to the same level of zeal for the Church.
The next issue is one that I think Bushman spins, so it's important. He brings up the Danites, which is again one of those taboo topics among the faithful in Church, many of whom have never heard of them or deny they ever existed. Bushman does not in any way deny that they existed...but he does imply that they existed entirely independently of Joseph Smith, and were run completely by themselves, mostly under the leadership of Sampson Avard. More importantly, Bushman is arguing that the picture we have of the Danites was inflated by "impassioned accounts" stemming from the Mormon War in Missouri:
This republican language would be heard again in June 1838 after the "Danites" or "Daughters of Zion," were organized. In the impassioned accounts of Mormon crimes written in the aftermath of the Mormon war in 1838, the later conflict that resulted in expulsion of Mormons from Missouri, the Danites figured as an example of religious power run amok.
What Bushman is trying to do is distance Smith from this violent bunch by suggesting their activities were greatly exaggerated by the excitement of the writers capturing the events of the Mormon War. Bushman adds to that here:
The situation was further complicated by George Robinson, Sidney Rigdon's son-in-law and keeper of Joseph's journal, being a Danite supporter. Robinson may exaggerate the First Presidency's backing. (Emphasis added)
Bushman is speculating that Robinson "may" exaggerate, but he doesn't know...nobody knows. But it helps make his case if he lobs that possibility on the table.
Bushman then asks the question:
Was a vengeful Joseph the inspiration for the Danites, or was the band the work of the unscrupulous Avard?
Note that Avard gets the label "unscrupulous", but Smith is justifiably “vengeful,” in light of the depredations acted out upon his people. This is a classic example of the writer working to bias the reader in one direction without coming right out and saying it. The language, however, makes it clear.
What Bushman fails to address is that Joseph Smith was the acknowledged leader of the Mormons, and the Danites had sworn a blood oath to be loyal to Smith. Whether he organized the Danites or not, he must have condoned their existence because he could have removed them if he chose to. They had sworn to be "submissive to the Presidency." Therefore, if the presidency fails to disband them, then by their inaction they are in support of the Danites.
In fact, the Presidency, Smith included, blessed the Danites in a ceremony at a meeting recalled by Danite, John Corrill. Included in Smith's remarks at that time, he admitted that "he wished to do nothing unlawful, and, if the people would let him alone, they would preach the gospel and live in peace." Always the victim, never seeing that what he's really saying is that if "the people would just do as he says, they'd live in peace." But what I get out of this, contrary to Bushman, is that Smith is saying, "Look. If they'd leave me alone, we'd all get along, and we wouldn't have to do anything unlawful. But they don’t leave me alone, so what else am I to do?" The Danites knew exactly what he needed done...
Again, hearkening to the dissidents and their "freedoms of the republic" rhetoric that the Church leaders found so distasteful, I found this little tidbit to be most telling about Bushman:
According to Robinson, Corrill, who had accepted Joseph's revelations while serving in the Church, "says he will do, say, act, and believe, what he pleases." To which Robinson added [remember, he's writing FOR Joseph Smith, which writing was read and approved by Smith]: "Let the reader mark such republicanism as this, That a man should oppose his own Judgment to the Judgment of God, and at the same time profess to believe in the same God." The question could not have been stated more forcefully. How could a believer in God put his own will and judgment up against the will and judgment of God? On the other hand, how could an independent republican yield his judgment to another man, even one speaking for God? The exchange laid bare the source of Mormonism's conflict with democratic society.
I fully agree. But it is clear that Bushman can't be objective about answering that question, because he has already determined, contrary to John Corrill, that Joseph Smith in FACT speaks for and on behalf of God. See, John Corrill wasn't putting his judgment before God...he was putting his judgment before a man who PRETENDED to speak for God. When his judgment ran contrary to Smith, he had no choice but to rely on his own better judgment, lest he run afoul of his own values! Had Corrill KNOWN his judgment was in fact contrary to the will of God, he probably would have been willing to re-evaluate. But he wasn't...he was contrary to Joseph Smith, just another guy.
In the view of Bushman and the Mormons, it came down to a dichotomy that couldn't be resolved: pursuit of freedom, or truth? It was only Joseph Smith and his revelations that put them in this ridiculous quandary. Most healthy-minded people realize that freedom comes from truth, but despite the lip-service that Mormons pay to free agency, the truth is, they only believe you have agency in so far as you DO WHAT THE PROPHETS TELL YOU TO DO. I know, that sounds counterintuitive, and it is, but that's what they teach.
Lastly, there was this, which just made me shake my head in grim amazement.
Mormons were suspected of breaking the law whenever the Prophet required it. Joseph had indeed grown impatient with what he called "vexatious lawsuits," and repeatedly said he would not submit to such harassment any longer.
This sounds as if poor Joseph was the victim of litigious harassment. So just for grins, let's list some of the criminal behavior of ole' Joe that would certainly justify all those "vexatious lawsuits," shall we? Here's the list I came up with off the top of my head:
a) Glass-looking for non-existent treasure (for which he was convicted)
b) PROBABLY cheating his treasure hunting company from their "share of the booty" from the Golden plates (which is only a crime in theory, since there were no golden plates, but they didn't know that...)
c) Establishing a bank, or more accurately, an "Anti-bank" when the State of Ohio denied their application for one.
d) Escaping an arrest warrant and fleeing in the dead of night from Kirtland from those who wanted their money back from his failed bank.
e) Hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad debts that never were repaid.
f) Establishing a "mob" of his own to march to Missouri and "take care of things" outside the law.
g) Declaring state sanctioned marriages to be null and void, and taking it upon himself to solemnize whatever union he wanted, whether they were currently married or not, and without sanction by the state.
h) Taking to himself multiple wives.
i) Escaping from arrest (during the transfer from Liberty jail)
j) Ordering the destruction of a privately held press that published information he felt was personally defaming.
k) Avoiding arrest in Nauvoo on multiple occasions, (before he turned himself in)
And probably many, many others. The point is, the Missourians had good reason to fear that Joseph perceived himself above the law.
Yet Bushman justifies everything because they were the victims of mob abuse, and they had no choice but to retaliate. Well, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If they had been good neighbors to start with, none of this would have happened. They found themselves in the situation where they felt pushed to the brink of war because of the way they gave first devotion to their prophet, over and above devotion to the laws of the land, and that was highly threatening to the people who lived around them.
Imagine that you live in a small town, and suddenly radical Muslims start moving in. Hundreds of them. And with them comes a radical devotion to Mohammed, their religion, and the belief that the laws of the Quran must supercede the laws of the land. How are you going to react?
My guess is, the same way the Missourians did, especially once you really became afraid...
Chapter 20: War
There's not a great deal to comment on this particular chapter, since the behavior of the Missourians was as reprehensible as that of the Mormons. Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that jumped out at me, not the least of which is the growing suspicion on my part that Joseph Smith was a coward. Bushman doesn't quite say it the same way, but it's his description of Joseph's activities during the Missouri conflict that caused me to see it this way for the first time.
Example (from page 356):
When war between the Mormons and the Missourians broke out in the fall of 1838, Joseph remained in the background, more buffeted by events than directing their course. He favored resistance to the mobs, but others took the lead. The militants appeared to have called the shots. When action was required, they headed the troops. Near the end, when the Mormons' Missouri Zion was in tatters, Joseph emerged again as the central figure.
Then later on page 370:
How responsible was Joseph for the debacle in Missouri? The December letter [written by Smith in Liberty Jail to the general body of the Church] helps answer the question by shedding light on his attitudes toward the Saint's enemies in the preceding months when the spotty diaries reveal so little. The letter gives clear evidence of Joseph's willingness to do battle against the attacking Missourians and of his impatience with dissenters among the saints...When it came to violence, Joseph was a man of words. In 1834, he had mobilized an army to march on Jackson County, but stopped short of an attack. Four years later, he urged the defense of Daviess [County], but did not carry a gun in the Mormon raids.
In fact, John Corrill remembered Joseph coming along on some of the raids, but always keeping out of sight while braver men actually engaged.
What I appreciate is that Bushman doesn't deny that Joseph Smith must accept considerable responsibility for the escalation of the war, particularly in encouraging his Church members to conduct raids in Daviess County, his rhetoric stirring his militant followers to action. What I DON'T appreciate is that Bushman spins this all to Joseph’s advantage. Although Joseph had a fiery temper, he himself did not have the stomach for armed conflict. He seems to value it's power, but he himself would rather have someone else on the front line.
For me, it seems apparent that there were men who saw that their prophet was ultimately without enough spine to defend the homes, farms and families of his flock...and they stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum during the crisis. Bushman sees that as opportunistic, rather than expedient:
Joseph had enough power to be a target for an ambitious character like [Sampson] Avard who recognized that loyalty to the Prophet was an asset. Joseph's hold on the Saint's could be turned to advantage by making that loyalty the basis of a private militia under Avard's control. He won support by purporting to represent the Prophet and making submission to Joseph the heart of the Danite pledge. Considering Avard was the chief witness for the prosecution at the Mormon hearing, he appears to have acted with consummate cynicism. After he was cut off from the Church the following March, he gave no signs of ever having sincerely believed. He was astute enough to recognize Joseph's influence and to use it for his own ends.
Okay...maybe. But there were a lot of previously faithful members who had an unfortunate and disappointing encounter with the supposed "Prophet of God," and later turned their loyalty away when they realized Smith was all blow and no show. The Missouri conflict is a perfect example, and I would expect similar responses from many brave men who fought in defense of their homes and families, after having done all the things Smith told them to do, and found themselves losing to the mobs, God not offering any support or intervention, and their own Prophet cowering on the sidelines. I think it's just as likely that Avard was power seeking (as was Smith), but that he still believed he was fulfilling a divine mission in providing militaristic leadership at a time when the Saints were under siege without a strong leader to take them into battle. Like many others who sought the company of Smith, Avard may have hoped to make himself indispensable to Joseph, and thereby catapult him to a position of prominence in the kingdom.
After it was all said and done, Joseph cut off many of the leaders of the Danites and the militia, blaming them for the sorrowful state of affairs in Missouri. In my mind, this was also unforgivable, as it was none other than Joseph Smith himself that preached the divine imperative of the growth of Zion in Missouri in the face of mounting opposition by the locals. It was Smith himself who told them not to sell their lands, and in fact, to buy more in counties beyond Caldwell County even though that was the only land that had been set aside by mutual agreement as "Mormon Territory" in Missouri. And it was Smith who rained down curses and promises of destruction of his enemies at the hands of the righteous Saints, who would not only prevail, but also inherit the property of the wicked Missourians. What else were people to assume, therefore, than defense by military action, since military expulsion seemed to be the direction that Missouri was headed to keep Smith from achieving his objective?
When Smith failed, he blamed the disaster on men like Avard. However...had they succeeded, guess who would have taken the credit? Right...the faithful, humble servant of the Lord who prepared his people for the fight by redeeming them in righteousness. Men like Avard would have been heroes, and would have wound up Apostles or some such, had Smith been right and had the Mormons been victorious. But it didn't go his way, and since we all know that if Joseph fails, God fails, and therefore Joseph (and his faithful flock) had no choice but to find someone else to blame it on. The so-called 'dissenters' were excommunicated, and Joseph emerged afterward as the unsullied leader, ready to build yet another city.
Chapter 21: Imprisonment
The "spin" in this chapter is really nothing new, nor is it overt. It goes thusly: Joseph was imprisoned in Missouri, the victim of an utter miscarriage of the American justice system. Wicked and conspiring men prevented him and his people from seeking redress from the courts of Missouri, and he was taken as the "trophy" Mormon to be hung on the walls of that cretin Lilburn Boggs.
Since there's nothing new in this chapter, I thought I'd just pull out a few quotes that make for some interesting thinking in terms of our man Joe. In previous chapters I've mentioned the narcissism that seems to govern his life. At this point, he seems to be taking it to new levels, working hard to imbue himself with a Jesus/God/hero complex, such that his followers can't help but see that he and Jesus are two sides of the same coin. For instance, this from page 380:
He [Joseph Smith] would be honored and respected in the society he was creating himself, a society composed of the virtuous and wise. Traitors and enemies tore at this fabric and tried to wrest this society from him, but only "for a small moment and thy voice shall be more terrible in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce lion."
Meanwhile he would pass through tribulation, be put in peril, accused falsely, torn from his family, cast into the pit, sentenced to death, and all nature conspire against him. "If fearse winds become thine enemy if the heavens gether blackness and all the elements combine to hedge up the way and above all if they verry jaws of hell shall gape open her mouth wide after thee know thou my son that all these things shall give the experiance and shall be for they good...The son of man hath descended below them all art thou greater than he?" Christ had gone through worse and so Joseph must submit, too.
I think it's critical not to miss the implications in that passage. First, it is clear that the powers of nature are acting against Joseph, who is innocent like Jesus, but must suffer mightily to become purified. That, my friends, is a dangerous deception. We've talked already about the role that Smith played in the creation of his own suffering, but to the faithful, or at least in his own eyes, he was nothing less than a humble, obedient servant of God, and the wicked and conspiring forces of man and Satan were trying every way they knew how to frustrate the work, all to no avail. This is analogous to Jesus' 40 days of temptation in the wilderness in which Satan tried every manner of conniving to get Jesus to cash in his divine sonship and collapse the work of God.
Second, it is clear that Joseph is called upon to suffer for and on behalf of his people, just like Jesus. This myth is perpetuated to its ultimate (and powerful) conclusion when he is "martyred" at Carthage a few years later. Like Jesus, he is innocent, a servant of man, suffers for them, and dies an untimely death at the hands of wicked men. Although we don't have vivid accounts of Joseph's resurrection (like Jesus), we do have folk-tales and legends, from high ranking church leaders, who claim to have seen Smith in heaven, busily continuing the work there that he began here (although presumably he has to wait 'til the morning of the first resurrection to actually obtain his body back...) The parallels are in fact present (to some degree), but they have been so embellished by the Church, and herein by Bushman, that it is clear that Joseph Smith is a hero/god in the same mold as Jesus.
And lastly, the revelation to Smith says it plain as day; God calls him "my son" as he specifically likens Joseph's tribulations to the atonement of Christ, in which Christ descended to the depths of hell before resurrecting at last and conquering death. But what is interesting is Bushman emphasizes this with his own verbiage: "Christ had gone through worse and so Joseph must submit too." It is this kind of fawning adoration and hero worship that has elevated Smith even to this day above the rest of mankind and turned him into a God.
Doesn't this sound much the same as the hero worship of Islam for Mohammed? They don't claim Mohammed to be a god, but they treat and worship him as one. The Mormons are just a few centuries behind the Muslims in swathing their prophet in divine mythology. Heaven help the cartoonist in a few hundred years who dares to satirize Joseph Smith with a political cartoon...
I also found this to be particularly telling regarding Joseph's esteem of himself. Regarding the failures in Missouri, Bushman says:
In March of 1839, as Joseph was about to be tried for his life, the demoralized Saints were strung between Far West and Illinois. If ever there was a moment to give up the cause, this was it. Joseph puzzled over the Saints' suffering in the cause of God. Why had they been defeated? He never questioned his own revelations, never doubted the validity of the commandments. He did not wonder if he had been mistaken in sending the Saints to Missouri or requiring them to gather. He questioned God's disappearance. Where was He when the Saints needed Him?
First of all, I have to point out that Bushman is mind reading here. We have no idea what Smith's actual "doubts" or "wonders" were, only some speculation based on some quasi-biblical sounding lamentations dictated by Smith in a letter. He doesn't quite say, "O God, why hast thou forsaken me?" but instead says, "O God where art thou and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" From that one citation with obvious scriptural implications and influence, Bushman decides that Smith "never questioned" his revelations. Careful, Mr. Bushman, you're treading close to the historical precipice when you suppose you the know the mind of the subject of your biography...
But beyond that act of biographical indiscretion, Bushman and the Church want us to believe that Joseph was supremely faithful, like Abraham, but that God's ways are mysterious, and not always clear. It was shortly thereafter that Smith came forward with the revelation proclaiming "all of this shall give you experience." Ah-ha! Smith is the "rough stone rolling" and God is knocking off the rough edges!
To me, I see a guy who is a master of taking a situation and turning it to his advantage. In this case, when all seems lost and hopeless, convince yourself and your people that this is simply God testing you, and that soon you'll all break out into some glorified new existence, having triumphed over the hardest of tests. This worked for a while, but killed him four years later.
See, I really don't know if Smith was truly deluded, believing he was what he claimed he was, or if he was a master con-man, caught up in a charade of mammoth proportions. Either way, at this stage in the game, I don't think he realistically had the option to "give up the cause." If he was delusional, he couldn't see the errors of his ways and simply continued to live out the delusion. But if he was cognizant of his deception, he knew he would be abandoned by the very people who made him feel powerful and important, had as a hiss and a by-word by the whole world, and die an ignominious death with a legacy of utter infamy--all of which are utterly intolerable to the narcissist. Or he could try to keep the ruse up long enough for something to really happen...and it almost did. In fact, it did happen, but just not for him. His legacy is a world church, oddly enough.
Anyway, I believe that the doctrine of "those who would be like Christ must suffer like Christ" was nothing more than a clever strategy to keep his people engaged in the work, rather than abandoning him and his dream of building a city.
The rest of the chapter is nothing but the same old apologetic pabulum, and I'll spare you the details...
Chapter 22: Washington
This chapter deals exclusively with Joseph's trip to Washington D.C. in an effort to seek redress for the depredations of the Missourians. The coolest part of this chapter was the fact that when Joseph arrived in Washington D.C., he walked up to the door of the Whitehouse, knocked, and was let in for a meeting with President Van Buren. My, how things have changed!
Spin wise, there's probably not much in this chapter to get too spun up about. Nevertheless, there are some snippets worth plucking out for further examination.
Like this quote from Smith found on page 395:
In the Washington lecture, Joseph underscored beliefs held in common with other Christians. "We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing, but what is to be found in this Book."
Reading Bushman's words carefully, you see a stark contrast between what Smith said, which was patently not true, and how Bushman interprets it, which is that he sees Smith as "underscoring" the common ground. He goes on to point out that Smith has simply interpreted a few Biblical ideas, such as infant baptism, different than early Christian writers such as Justin, Origen and Augustine, but that the Mormon ideas come straight from the Bible. But he just glosses over the VAST GULF of ideas that so clearly distinguish what Mormons believe from those which are "in the Bible." The Book of Mormon? Not in the Bible. Modern prophets and revelation that trumps the prophets of old? Not in the Bible. Mormon Temples and rituals are not found in the Bible. The Plan of Salvation and the three degrees of glory? Not found in the Bible. The Priesthood as organized by Joseph? He borrowed somewhat from biblical titles, but gave them completely non-biblical meanings. Communal living? Not found in the Bible. Eternal marriage? Not found in the Bible (polygamy, yes; priesthood marriage, no). When Smith says, "We believe nothing, but what is to be found in this Book," he is deliberately deceptive for the express purpose of winning sympathy and possibly converts to his cause, withholding critical information that might cause them to rethink those sympathies. And Bushman is perfectly happy to just say, "He underscored beliefs held in common." No he didn't! He LIED about it! There's a difference between lying and emphasizing, the latter of which might have looked something like, "All the most important tenets of Christianity we believe in common with you. The difference lies in the revealed meaning of many passages in the Bible whose purposes were lost in the past 2000 years." THAT would be underscoring...
Okay, here's a little bit of spin, but Bushman mostly leaves it to the reader to draw this to its potential conclusion. Maybe he elaborates on it later...
The literature on the Mormon war in Missouri did have a long-term effect on Mormonism's public image. Mormons were depicted as a persecuted minority who had suffered unjustly for their religious beliefs...The accounts of the persecutions turned the expulsion from Missouri into an asset in the battle for public support.
In other words, perhaps God allowed the Mormons to be persecuted because in the long run, they would find it advantageous to their cause, and in classic biblical logic, the blood of the righteous could bear witness to the wickedness of their Missouri enemies. Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others who have felt persecuted often use this logic to try to turn their suffering into justification. It is often this very logic that causes the faithful to find virtue in suffering, namely that God is purifying his people in the refiner's fire. Mormons today can point to the relative "good name" that they have in contemporary American culture, and point to suffering of their forebears that paved the way for their relative comfort and security now. Is that "objective evidence" of God's hand, or just choosing to the see the glass as half full rather than half empty? You already know how I answer that rhetorical question...
Last item. One of the points that Bushman drives home throughout his book is that Mormons didn't really introduce Joseph Smith into their teachings until long after he died. Mostly, the emphasis during his lifetime was on the restoration of revelation, without talking specifically about the revelator. For instance, speaking of the literature being produced on Mormonism during Joseph's later life:
Joseph Smith as a person did not figure in this literature, but then neither did he in the writings of the Mormons. Defenders of the faith, like Orson and Parley Pratt contended with the critics, but said little either way about Joseph Smith. They spoke of revelation in the passive voice, as if it was received without anybody to receive it...Pratt emphasized the gathering of Israel in the last days and the abstract need for revelation. Finally, on page 122 [in Parley Pratt's "Voice of Warning"] he announced that revelation had come without saying anything of the revelator...Pratt tells the story of finding the book [of Mormon] and publishing it without mentioning Joseph Smith or even indicating that an actual person did the work.
The implication here is that the "revelator" is not the message, only the revelation. It's the message, not the author of the message, which matters to the Mormons. In my opinion, this is an argument that the apologists love, because it suggests that Smith might be nothing more than a tool in the hands of the Lord, rather than the toolmaker himself. But that's only one way to interpret this. It might also be possible that intelligent men like the Pratts recognize the improbability of their story, especially when attached to a simpleton like Joseph Smith, and feel it's best just to not talk about it. If people meet Smith, fine...he holds his own. But they didn't have any control over who was going to read their tracts and pamphlets, and they couldn't be there to explain away the unlikelihood of a Joseph Smith. So it's best just to not talk about it, much the same as today, where you never hear the missionaries talking about plural marriage, peep stones, treasure hunting or any other oddities of Church history, Joseph’s history in particular. The thinking is always, "If they find out on their own, so be it, but we're certainly not going to poison them on our own!"
Anyway, not much else to say about this short chapter...
Chapter 23: Beautiful Place
This chapter deals with the establishment of Nauvoo, and it really is mostly a fairly direct reporting of the events of the time. Not much of interest.
But in the spirit of finding something to report on, I found interesting Joseph's "motivation" for revelation during this time, which happened to coincide with the early, highly successful English missions of Young and Richards. Laying the groundwork for this increasingly transparent motivation is the following from page 409:
Success in Britain dispelled any thought that Mormonism was an American religion. The Book of Mormon may have had a special appeal for Americans, but in England Brigham Young and Willard Richards found "the people of this land much more ready to receive the gospel than those of America." ... And, as Brigham Young said in a report to Joseph, "almost without exception it is the poor that receive the gospel."
And that's the heart of the British mission, in my opinion. The Mormons happened upon an extremely impoverished working class of craftsman who were on the brink of starvation, faced with an opportunity to immigrate to a wild, open wilderness in the New World. The promises of the gospel, coupled with the promises of Zion, could well have been so compelling to those poor folks that it may have seemed a miracle, divine intervention, or an answer to their prayers.
And so they came, without money and without the requisite farming skills needed to tame the wilderness. And the burden they placed on the Church was enormous. Hence we see the following:
To Joseph's knowledge, the gospel had never seen greater success in the history of the world [he forgot about the Constantinian Empire...]. He urged everyone to come to Nauvoo, especially the rich who could build up manufactures and purchase farms, thus preparing for the gathering of the poor. (Emphasis added)
If you don't understand the economy of Nauvoo, you don't understand the real implication of what Bushman just acknowledged. First of all, Joseph leaned heavily on the wealthy members of the Church, applying guilt in powerful doses to get them to consecrate their means to him and the Church, which he in turn used to build his cities and other Church projects. But more importantly (and missed at this point by Bushman) is the fact that Joseph was mortgaged to the gills with land he purchased from speculators, and the only way to relieve any of the burden was to sell off farms. If he couldn't sell them, he would lose them to the speculators, and he desperately needed rich members to immigrate to help bail him out of his own poor business practices (which would haunt him later when they realized how many titles they held that could not be cleared...)
In that same vein:
The doctrines of the revelations had always made the great work a global, world-shaking enterprise...Nauvoo's temple would "undoubtedly attract the attention of the great men of the earth." "Awake, O kings of the earth!" the revelation proclaimed. "Come ye, O! come ye with your gold and your silver, to the help of my people--to the house of the daughter of Zion!" (Emphasis added)
Joseph is getting pretty transparent here, don't you think? "Bring your money!" But more than that, Joseph had a penchant for powerful people; something I believe speaks to his own insecurities. He was quick to rely on educated, smooth-talking people with apparent pedigrees, despite the fact they often used him and absconded with his money. John Bennett and Isaac Galland were the two most notorious characters of this ilk in the Nauvoo days. Still, Joseph lacked confidence in his own abilities, and yearned to attract powerful men to his kingdom and thereby lend their credibility to that which he lacked.
Equally interesting at this time is Joseph's shift from the failure of the United Order. I believe this shift is in direct response to the discussion above, namely that such a policy actually deters the very people he wants to attract: the wealthy. What fool would knowingly join a church with full awareness that they are going to lose all their hard-earned or family money? I believe Joseph finally understood that in Nauvoo, but as usual, he couched it all in revelatory terms. From page 414:
He decided not to institute the consecration of properties in Illinois. The system had had mixed success in Jackson County and Caldwell. Knowing the Saints would wonder about consecration--a command by revelation--he told an Iowa high council in early 1840 that "the Law of consecration could not be kept here, & that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it."
Hold on a moment...aren't "All things possible with God?" How, then, could God's command be impossible?
The reality of Joseph's desperate financial circumstances are discussed further in the next chapter, but suffice it to say, he was buried deep in debt, and I'm sure he would have loved to have been able to tap into the consecrated wealth of a bunch of rich members. But he could see that the financial liabilities of the Church were probably keeping them out, and elected to encourage them to come, knowing that a "thus sayeth the Lord" revelation would squeeze money out of them later on down the road if need be. In the meantime, he needed them to buy farms!
In one of those interesting twists of history, Joseph needed farms to keep the Church safe then, and the Church needs FARMS to keep Joseph safe today...ironic, ain't it? (It’s a pun…)
Chapter 24: Temporalities and Spiritualities
In reading this book, I've become especially appreciative of the bright and capable minds that have interpreted the meanderings of Joseph Smith. What I've also come to appreciate is the power of projection when faithful people endeavor to make sense out of nonsense.
This comes up again and again whenever Bushman talks about Smith's evolving and developing cosmology. An outsider looking in tends to see Smith as a thoughtful though naïve man of his day, describing things most of the times in language and terms that reveal his ignorance, coupled with his own searching and creative mind. The result is an ambiguous, convoluted and at times ludicrous view of the world, the universe and the place of humans in it all.
And that's where the power lies. Because it was simple-minded and convoluted, it creates an ambiguous "mirror" upon which later creative and capable minds can project their interpretations and find validation as it reflects back to them exactly what they were looking for. The end result is that people like Bushman, Nibley, Daniel Peterson, the entire FARMS crowd, the FAIR crowd, etc. can all piece together reasonable and rational interpretations of Smith, because he in fact is impossible to nail down. If he were easily nailed down, then he would have been thoroughly discredited years ago. But he isn't, and he hasn’t been. His story runs counter to reason, and that makes it powerful.
Just like the Bible, I might add, and the unbelievable library of intelligent, thoughtful "projection" that has resulted from some of the most capable minds of the last 2000 years.
It's really easy...you just begin with the end you want to achieve, and work your way backward, finding connections wherever you can, ignoring the obvious and clinging to the tenuous, and voila! A complex, philosophically satisfying system of belief that cannot be disproved because your starting point is too difficult to nail down.
Bushman talks about this in several places in the book, but here are some examples from Chapter 24:
One of Joseph's famed statements was a casual aside to a Methodist preacher: "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter but is more fine or pure and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We can't see it, but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter." No one at the time made anything of the radical idea...When he spoke the words, Joseph probably did not consider the longstanding philosophical argument about the nature of matter...
Bushman then goes on to provide excruciating detail about the implications of Smith's statement.
Fine. Maybe Joseph really had been exposed to a more refined sense of reality, and could therefore spout off these kinds of off the cuff statements that were nothing unusual to him, being so familiar with a radical new paradigm, but which took church philosophers years to catch up with him on.
I'm thinking it's really just evidence of Joseph's simple-mindedness and the lack of any formal training in either the sciences or classical philosophy (which is not necessarily a bad thing...it allows people the chance to think, unfettered by the lessons of the past, or often even by reality itself). But for me, whenever I read statements that affirm the existence of something that "we can't see", I stop reading right there.
But think about the power of this for a minute. It is so ludicrous, that it forces the faithful off their butts for a while to work on it, to figure it out. Suddenly, they begin to see the problems of such a statement, taking things to their natural conclusions, including things like "even the rocks have a spirit, with perfect faith, existing in perfect obedience to God." In time, stretching the idea to it's furthest reaches, always with the end-state in mind that it must be true else why would Joseph speak so matter-of-factly about it, yields a complex ideology...that Joseph never had nor meant. It was all invented afterward by well-intentioned, faithful people whose minds had to engage in fantastic mental gymnastics in order to arrive at a place where they could at last say, "Okay, if I accept all of this, then I can accept that Joseph was right. And since he was right, then I have to accept all of this, too."
But make no mistake, it is problematic. Take this example:
One of the exaltation revelations of 1832 and 1833 had touched lightly on the eternity of matter and intelligence: "Intelligence, or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be," and "the elements are eternal." After 1840, these bits were elaborated and underscored. Statements in Nauvoo began to populate the universe with realities--intelligences and matter--as eternal as God.
Yet we now can demonstrate that matter can be created from energy alone, and that elements are not eternal, but created in the natural processes that govern the existence of the known universe. Joseph had no way of understanding the complexities of the physics of his own day, let alone that of the next century. But God ought not to make those same errors, and ought not to be whispering falsehoods to Smith.
But how do the apologists deal with it? Same as Joseph. They assume that Smith was only referring to the eternal matter of the Spirit, associated with Intelligences, and that that is eternal, neither being created nor destroyed...nor observable. So they win. You can't see their matter, you can't taste it, touch it, smell it or hear it, but they "know" it's there...why? Because it would have to be if Joseph was in fact speaking for God!
Once again, they have to engage in mental gymnastics if they are to conclude what they want to conclude. But if you just ask the question, "What if Smith was just making stuff up?" then it's simple to come to that conclusion, too—your brain doesn't have to even do a simple somersault, let alone full-blown gymnastics!
This chapter also deals with the establishment of posthumous ordinances. In particular, it deals with baptism for the dead, and the great answer to prophecy that resulted. I read this anew for the first time with my new eyes, and I was stunned at my own previous blind gullibility. Tell me what you think:
Besides equity [for people who died before the gospel was restored, or before the age of accountability], however, baptism for the dead united the human family. Joseph himself underscored its value in turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. Something had to bond all the generations from the first to the last, going back through time, as the prophet Malachi had written, or the earth would be wasted.
What??!!! The earth would be “wasted?” Why??!!! That is an illogical statement if I ever read one! Please explain to me the logic that asserts that failing to "bond the generations" would waste the earth? Bushman is bringing a sense of urgency to an utterly empty statement!
Baptism was the means of helping past generations find salvation. This was what Malachi meant by the hearts of the children turning to their fathers and fathers to their children.
First of all, that's nothing more than a creative interpretation, since there's nothing in the original Malachi to indicate anything of the sort. But what of the assertion that "something had to bond all the generations from the first to the last..."? IF there were first parents, Adam and Eve, which the Mormons claim is true, then there is a familial link already that bonds the generations from the first to the last! What's with the baptism? When I read the last verses of Malachi, I am simply left with the same old icky feeling I get whenever I read the Old Testament prophet's cursing the wicked, condemning Israel for her idolatry, and the constant threats of being burned and trampled in the last day. There is no sense whatsoever about a required link establishing the bond of generations.
It makes sense from Joseph's perspective, however, to make use of this obscure prophecy, because it is precisely the same kind of ambiguous statement that can be interpreted to mean anything, and Smith operated from a paradigm of eternal order. So linking up everything under the structure of the priesthood, including families, was a powerful religious idea, and the ritual of baptizing your kindred dead was an emotionally powerful rite that helped the Saints feel like their mission was timeless, not temporal. It's good religion, but bad theology in my mind.
To conclude, Malachi 4:5-6 being used to justify the temple ordinances is as much a stretch as Isaiah 9:6 ("For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given...") being grabbed by the early Christians to justify their Jesus as the Messiah. It's simply not (probably) true, but it was an available, unfulfilled prophecy that could be made useful by justifying their man, Jesus, in the same way Joseph made use of Malachi to justify his temples. In such a creative and absurd interpretation, he inadvertently created a powerful religious icon that has since become the focal point of his Church.
Fascinating, really, what powerful meaning can be derived by people who want desperately to believe and who therefore project their desired outcome on the origins of their faith, yielding their very own, paradigm-driven faith system.
Chapter 25: Stories of Eternity
The primary "spin factor" to be found in this chapter is the manner in which Bushman tries to bring women into a sense of equality with men via the Relief Society and plural marriage. Yup, you heard me right. Polygamy is the means by which Bushman grants equal status in the Kingdom to women. I stand all amazed.
To kick things off with the Relief Society, Bushman begins with a sweeping statement on page 436:
A series of events compressed into a few months in the spring of 1842 seemed to signal a fresh vision of the Church's course. The organization of the Relief Society gave women an unprecedented role in Church government.
I'm not sure that it was "unprecedented" anywhere except in Mormonism, since I think other churches have long had Ladies Auxiliaries. But to suggest that Relief Society gave them a role in "Church Government" is nothing short of deceiving. All Joseph did was give them an organization for instructing themselves (not the general Church), and he did so under the auspices of the Priesthood, leaving the Relief Society utterly at the direction of the men. They have no real autonomy, they have no governing voice, they have no authority, but the Mormons like to pretend they do...
And I loved this, from page 446:
At the women's behest, [Sarah] Kimball went to Eliza R. Snow, well known in Nauvoo for her literary experience, with a request for a constitution and bylaws [to form their own "Ladies Society" with a mission to provide charitable assistance to the needy.] Joseph took an interest when Snow brought the documents to him for approval. He called them "the best he had ever seen," but said he had "something better for them than a written Constitution." He wanted to organize the women, he said, "under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood." Those words implied that he considered a women's organization part of the ancient order of things.
I think it's notable that Joseph had no intention of doing anything with the women until they started showing initiative in organizing themselves. Joseph had a nose for organization, and could see that he would lose control if he allowed a competing organization to rise up among the women, and Eliza's constitution was the spark he needed to nudge him to organize.
But I really get tired of the apologists who add subtle commentary to add a sense of timelessness to Joseph's ideas. I personally do not know how Bushman draws the conclusion that simply because Joseph saw fit to co-opt the Ladies' Society under the authority of the priesthood that he considered the Relief Society part of the "ancient order of things." That suggestion implies that even the Relief Society is a restored organization that existed in the primitive church. That suggestion is utter nonsense, as women were never more than property in ancient Semitic societies. The barbary we see committed against women under Sharia law today are replete in the Old Testament and the Talmud, suggesting no autonymous organization of women anciently, and Bushman knows it. Yet he still allows the reader to ponder the possibility that Joseph knows things that even our best and brightest historians don't know.
Lastly, Joseph's original vision failed (yet again):
He told them to elect a president who would choose counselors to preside over the society, just as the First Presidency presided over the Church. Let additional officers "be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers &C are among us.
Anyone who has ever served in a Relief Society or Bishopric knows full well that the President is not elected from among the membership, but rather called by the Priesthood, and though she typically has wide latitude for calling her counselors, she still has to have their names approved by the Bishopric, and they frequently tell her that despite whatever "cute little promptings she might think she received," the person she felt compelled to call isn't available. Worse, when it comes to filling the other "offices" of the Relief Society, I've seen times when the RS president was so exasperated at having every name she submitted rejected that she just threw up her hands and told the Bishopric to tell her who she could call, and save everyone the trouble. This is not an organization with any real authority, and Bushman is doing the women of the Church a grave disservice by suggesting that it is.
Plural marriage is also discussed in the context of bringing women into the eternal scheme of things, making it sound like there is finally a degree of equality. It makes me sick, frankly, that Bushman or anyone would actually have the audacity to suggest that plural marriage is beneficial in that it elevates women to an important role in the kingdom.
Plural marriage is nothing but an ideal that helps men expand themselves, both in this life and in the kingdoms of heaven. Women are simply the vehicle by which a man achieves eternal increase. She is nothing but a tool, and she only serves his male eternal purpose. Makes me hopping mad...
But I'm getting ahead of myself. At least Bushman begins the discussion of Smith's polygamy/polyandry with the recognition that, "Nothing confuses the picture of Joseph Smith's character more than these plural marriages. What lay behind this egregious transgression of conventional morality?"
He then goes on to brush all of that under the rug as "too simple a reading" of the complex teaching.
Joseph ordinarily followed the commandments punctiliously, as if disobedience put him at risk. In the case of plural marriage, he held off for two or three years before marrying Fanny Alger, and then after this one unsuccessful attempt, waited another five years. The delay showed an uncharacteristic reluctance, hard for one who feared God.
Here Bushman wants us to feel sorry for Joseph, because it's "so hard" to live such a difficult commandment. It never crosses his mind that Joseph might have been struggling with his own power and charisma and hormones, and that he got busted with Fanny Alger and was afraid to try again because he was fearful he might not get away with it.
Ultimately, it's amusing to me that God would threaten Joseph with a "smiting" by the sword if he didn't live the law of polygamy, but God makes no such threat on the Government of the United States if they don't let Joseph and his people live that way. Why is it that this most important of all doctrines was SO threatening to Joseph, but God couldn't do one damn thing to keep the U.S. from persecuting the Saints over the issue, and ultimately forcing them to cease the behavior at the risk of losing all their property and their lives? It just doesn't make sense.
Well, it doesn't make sense unless you consider the possibility that all of this was a figment of Joseph's vivid imagination...a possibility that Bushman is apparently reluctant to consider (more on this in a moment). Instead, he wants us to feel and believe that Joseph couldn't help what was revealed to him, and he was compelled to obey. In fact, Bushman even says:
"The angel came to me three times between the year of '34 and '42 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me." Others told the story with an additional detail: the angel held a drawn sword.
The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind, seems not to have occurred to Joseph. To him, the words came from heaven. They required obedience even though the demand seemed contradictory and wrong. The possibility of deception did occur to him. Satanic counterfeits concerned Joseph; he talked to the Saints about the detection of fraudulent angels. But when Lightner asked if perhaps plural marriage was of the devil, Joseph said no. [Like "duh"...what else is he gonna say after he's asked her to be a plural wife?] In his mind, the revelation came from God, and he had to obey or suffer. The written form of the revelation, recorded in 1843 (later canonized as D&C 132) said bluntly, "I reveal unto you a New and Everlasting Covenant and if ye abide not that Covenant, then ye are damned."
That says a mouthful, but here are a couple of interesting observations. Easy one first. How come we're no longer damned for not living the New and Everlasting Covenant, hmm? This language suggests strongly to me that Smith was trying to draw upon his power and authority among his people to push them in a ridiculous direction. The words of the revelation presuppose that no one will want to do this, because it jumps immediately to "if ye abide NOT..." This is not a revelation of promise, it is a revelation of threats, written by a man whose own enthusiasm and personal power have run too far ahead himself, and now he has to retrofit a threat big enough to cover the fingerprints of the massive crime he has committed.
But second, note in Bushman's language that he is much more tentative about who to ascribe this revelation to; God or Joseph? He continually uses phrases like, "In his mind," or "did not occur to him." When you carefully read what Bushman is saying, he is leaving the door wide open for the possibility that Joseph was in fact deluded in this case. Personally, I believe Bushman is smart enough to play this one carefully, because he realizes that Joseph's position on polygamy is tenuous, and new information could still come to light. He is subtly suggesting that plural marriage was something that Joseph "believed was from God," but that's not the same as "knowing that it IS from God."
Bushman notes on page 438 that Smith's polygamous teachings put him at odds with the antibygamy law of Illinois. What he fails to point out is that once again, Smith saw himself as above the law, which lends further justification to the non-Mormon citizens of Illinois (and Missouri before them) fears of Smith's anti-Constitutional bent.
Mostly, I think it's important that Bushman points out (without discussion) that all of Smith's polygamous marriages were done in utmost secrecy. That alone is evidence of the unhealthy system that the Mormon prophet had created in his Church. Secrets are designed to protect the secret keeper from natural and logical consequences. In other words, the secret keeper is knowledgeable of the "wrongness" of his acts, and seeks to protect himself, despite his wrongdoing, from the consequences. In Smith's case, he did that by guilting and threatening his most faithful members with stories of the threats on his life by sword-wielding angels, and with empty promises of eternal salvation for the bride-to-be's entire family.
In the case of the latter, doesn't anyone see that when Smith promises a man eternal salvation for his entire family if he will let Smith marry his wife or daughter, that really that is an acknowledgement that women are nothing but a trade-good to be bartered between two men?
Smith: "I'll give you salvation for you and your wife if I can illegally wed your 16 year old daughter."
Father: "Throw in the salvation of the rest of my family, kids and grandkids included, and we have a deal."
Smith: "Just you, the wife, and your children, but not the grandkids."
Father: "Okay, deal!"
How is a system in which women are simply a commodity ennobling to women? Clearly it isn't, but Bushman, like every other Priesthood holder trying to make sense out of it, has to do some serious rationalization:
The marriage revelation did not overturn the family order. If anything, women were more entrenched than ever in the roles of mother and wife. But procreation was lifted to the highest level of human and divine endeavor. Mothering was precisely what made "gods." And with mothering highlighted, the greatest work was not accomplished in the priesthood councils where women were absent, but at home, where women were present and central. The marriage revelation redressed the balance of the political and the familial, shifting emphasis from the corporate to the personal. While women gained by this shift, the revelation also relieved the loneliness and burden of male autonomy. Men would not become gods alone....Women—in partnership, not as individuals—were at last represented in Joseph's theology.
I'm sorry, but this just doesn’t move me.
And yet, I remember myself teaching the belief in Elder's Quorum that it was okay that women didn't hold the Priesthood, because they and they alone held "motherhood", and that at a minimum that seemed to balance the power.
Which is crap. From an institutional standpoint, there is no balance of power. The children are sealed to the father throughout eternity (provided he remains worthy), not their mother. What good is the power to create life if ultimately it doesn't belong to you? Women are nothing but vehicles to ensure the eternal progression of men in Joseph's theology, and any attempt on the part of Bushman or anyone else to make it sound anything other than awful is immoral in my mind, (narrow as it may be...)
Women have no voice in the government of the church, yet they are absolutely the labor force. Women have no voice in the government of the home (if they follow the teachings of the church, and so do their husbands), yet here again, they are absolutely the labor force. Women are only to teach children, whether at church or at home, the approved messages of the Priesthood leadership. And in the end, a woman can only attain salvation if her husband (or some other worthy and willing Priesthood holder) chooses to bring her through the veil. Despite what Bushman and the rest of the Church desperately want us to believe, women have always been chattel in Joseph's Church, and plural marriage and the Relief Society only underscore that reality.
Along with the fun that Joseph had with the ladies during this time period in Nauvoo, he was also getting along just fine with the boys, most notably the Masons in his midst. It was during this time period that the temple began taking on its meaning that begins to look recognizable to those of us who inherited the temple legacy. Here again, Bushman points out that the ideas surrounding the temple were a "rough stone rolling" in Joseph's mind, evolving as he did.
From page 448:
The concept of the temple had steadily expanded since it was first mentioned in revelation in late 1830. In Independence, the temple was understood as a place for the Lord to return--a place to lay His head when He came. In Kirtland, Joseph added administrative offices, a meetinghouse and school, and, more significantly, performed the rituals of washing and anointing in the House of the Lord. In Nauvoo, the ceremonies were further elaborated to include baptism for the dead, endowments, and priesthood marriages.
What makes this significant is that yet again, there are at least two important ways to interpret this. Bushman and the Church want us to believe that Joseph wasn't savvy enough to know what the Lord had in mind, so each time he gains something by revelation, he only "gets" part of it, misunderstanding what the final, ultimate purpose is. It begins as a Holy Hotel (Marriott, no doubt), then a Holy Office Building, and finally a sacred place of worship and ritual. Joseph didn't get all that from the beginning, and just bumbled along until the Lord straightened him out along the way.
That's a possibility.
Or, (and in my cynical mind, more likely), Joseph's ideas were evolving, and his instincts guided him to ever increasing spiritual and administrative significance as he moved from point A to point B to point C in his ever evolving Church. The first temple concept was a Holy Hotel because that's all Joseph could imagine, sort of a "Tabernacle in the Wilderness" where God and the Prophet could chill together, sipping red wine and admiring the dancing girls. As Joseph's Church evolved, with ever increasing levels of organization, so too did his sense of ritual, and the need for more of it to help bind his people together. I see the evolution of the temple as very organic, growing out of the mind of Joseph, not God.
Bushman does acknowledge the Masonic influence, but uses language that clearly down-plays the significance of that influence:
Portions of the temple ritual resembled Masonic rites that Joseph had observed when a Nauvoo lodge was organized in March 1842 and that he may have heard about from Hyrum, a Mason from New York days....The similarities were marked enough for Heber Kimball to quote Joseph saying that Freemasonry "was taken from preasthood but has become degenerated. but menny things are perfect." Joseph often requested revelation about things that caught his attention...He had a green thumb for growing ideas from tiny seeds. Masonic rites seem to have been one more provocation.
In other words, Joseph recognized the potential power of a strong ritual such as that practiced by the Masons, and so he inquired of the Lord about it, and had the temple endowment revealed. That's an easy pill to swallow for the Mormons.
Of course, the rest of us are convinced that he borrowed significantly from the Masons regarding the actual rituals themselves. The difference is the story-context in which those rituals were placed. In Freemasonry, the story is about Hyrum Abiff at the Temple of Solomon, whereas in Joseph's temple, the story is the creation story. But the rituals, the signs and tokens and penalties and the passing from one level to the next are straight out of Masonic ritual, even down to specific wording, identical signs, tokens and penalties, and Masonic symbology such as the square and the compass.
To Bushman's credit, he doesn't pass these off as "coincidental" or insignificant, like other shameless apologists have attempted to do. But he does spin it to suggest that the Masons had the raw material, and God inspired Joseph to rework it and purify it.
Of course, where does that leave us today, if Joseph "perfected" the temple endowment, and the modern church has altered it as much as they have?
The last part of this chapter deals with the Book of Abraham, which has already been discussed as coming forth in a similar fashion as the above mentioned endowment, i.e. that papyri were simply the seed material that Joseph used as fodder for inquiry, and the Lord then revealed the Book of Abraham, largely independent of anything that was actually written on the papyri. We all know what the problems are with that, so I needn't expand.
What Bushman chooses to focus on is the unique astronomy of the Book of Abraham, which apparently very bright, capable minds have pulled apart and tried to reveal a combination of Ptolemaic astronomy (which is what Abraham would have been most familiar with, i.e. a geocentric—earth in the middle of the universe—astronomy) and a Copernican astronomy (heliocentric—sun in the center with the planets in orbit).
The Abrahamic astronomy, unlike the astronomy of the Book of Moses, was a peculiar mixture of the Ptolemaic and the Copernican. In keeping with the new astronomy, Abraham speaks of central, powerful stars "governing" the planets as the sun governs the solar system: "And I saw the stars also that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones, which were near unto it." These great stars govern lesser planets and stars, like the sun governs the planets of the solar system, but in a different way. Abraham says nothing about orbits, solar systems, or gravity, the means of governance in scientific astronomy, but power still radiated from one to the other as the new astronomy prescribed.
Bushman then leans on the thinking of lots of smart people who have pulled a few lines of ambiguous, simple text, and imbued them with layers upon layers of significance, interpreting as they see fit using the new awareness that science has provided in the past 150 years. There is this detailed argument demonstrating how authentic the Book of Abraham must be, because how else could so much astronomical meaning be derived?
It's apparent to me that this is once again an academic paradigm problem, wherein smart, well-meaning and faithful people begin with the assumption that Joseph must have been inspired because he was a prophet, and then working backwards to find a way to bring a sense of meaning and complexity to an otherwise very simple-minded world view. Joseph wasn't teaching astronomy, he was setting up a picture of God's home on Kolob, and OTHERS have projected their own learning on this ambiguous and simple substrate only to have their own complex worldview reflected back to them, thus seemingly validating themselves.
The end result leaves the faithful member breathless because of the power and depth of the analysis, but it is so speculative, such an academic flight of fancy that the careful reader has no choice but to stop and say, "Hey...wait a minute. Joseph wasn't saying any of that! FARMS is saying that!" But it is one more arrow in the quiver of the Church with which they can shoot down the critics and assure the faithful that all is well in Zion.
But I'm not buying it...just because you can intellectually retrofit something doesn’t in any way make your observations real.
Chapter 26: Perils
Among the most important topics in this chapter is the falling out between John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith, mostly over the issue of Bennett's exposure of Smith regarding plural marriage. Probably the most important element of spin that Bushman applies to the issue of plural marriage is that he claims Joseph was adamant about being opposed to polygamy or adultery, except the way Joseph practiced it. In so doing, Joseph could speak out in condemnation of polygamy in general, while practicing it under the explicit instruction given him by "The Lord."
For instance, after Bennett leveled the charge of polygamy at Joseph, Smith managed to obtain a confession that cleared his name. Even a casual read of Bennett's statement makes it clear that he isn't really clearing Smith of the behaviors we now know he was engaged in. It's all part of the games that Joseph employed to allow him to pretend that he was living with integrity, when in fact he was living a lie:
Still unwilling to cut Bennett off, Joseph exacted a statement swearing that the Prophet did not license illicit sexual relations. In an affidavit before Alderman Daniel Wells, Bennett avowed that he "never was taught any thing in the least contrary to the strictest principles of the Gospel, or of virtue, or of the laws of God, or man, under any occasion either directly or indirectly, in word or deed, by Joseph Smith." (Emphasis added)
See, if you claim that plural marriage is NOT illicit, and that in fact it is consistent with the laws of God and virtue, then you can distance yourself from the rumors. Never mind that everyone ELSE considers plural marriage illicit...
I also thought it was interesting that Joseph was left to figure out how to deal with Bennett on his own...the heavens were silent. Nowhere is there any revelation from God helping Smith figure this out, and the pain that Bennett caused not only Joseph, but also the rest of the Saints was great. Why didn't Joseph seek the Lord's guidance, like he did on other issues? Or if he did, why didn't God give his boy Joe a little help? Makes no sense to me...
Further complicating things was the charge by Bennett and Sarah Pratt that Joseph approached her about marriage after sending her husband, Orson, away on a mission. Sarah was no friend of the Church, and distanced herself later in life, but her claim that Smith approached her about becoming a plural wife is not inconsistent with other similar rebuffs, most notably that of Nancy Rigdon. Smith denied the claim, calling her a liar. The end result was that Orson Pratt found himself in a situation where he either had to believe his wife and distrust the prophet of God, or follow the prophet and distrust his wife. Not a comfortable place to be.
Relating the incident later, [Brigham] Young said Pratt's "mind became so darkened by the influence of his wife, that he came out in rebellion against Joseph, refusing to believe his testimony or obey his counsel. He said he would believe his wife in preference to the Prophet." Joseph told Pratt that "if he did believe his wife and follow her suggestions, he would go to hell."
In my mind, this is classic "Good ole' boy club" stuff, in which the woman is always at fault, and the boys just can't or won't believe that one of their own could possibly be wrong. Especially if he claims to speak for God. Blame the victim, and protect the perpetrator, because the power base is at risk, and you have to protect that power at all costs...even if it means the life, happiness or well being of a woman. Since women are property, and merely a tool at the disposal of man for enlarging his kingdom, it is far better to sacrifice one for the great cause of protecting a man and his friends. This, unfortunately, is a timeless tradition that lives on today...
Furthermore, in the next chapter of the book, Bushman acknowledges the following with regards to the animosity of the early Saints toward plural marriage, including from Joseph's own first wife, Emma (from page 491):
Plural marriage was practiced secretly in 1843, and would be until well after Joseph's death. The doctrine was not publicly announced until 1852. In Joseph's journal, Willard Richards recorded Joseph's marriages in code...To safeguard the burdensome secret, Joseph publicly and repeatedly denied he was advocating polygamy. In his mind, he wasn't. He distinguished between authorized celestial marriage and the illegal practice of bigamy or the radical ideology of spiritual wives. By denying his involvement, Joseph was trying to wall of John C. Bennett's lascivious schemes for enticing women into illicit relations from the carefully regulated performance of priesthood marriages. (Emphasis added)
First, Bushman acknowledges that Smith lied openly and often about his engaging in polygamy, because it was too risky. In the case of Sarah Pratt, he had a choice; admit he was a polygamist, or smear the Pratt's. He chose to save his own hide at the expense of someone else's. How noble. Anyway, suffice it to say, this practice of protecting the boys by smearing the girls persists today in the office of Bishops and Stake Presidents around the church, only now it is about protecting sex offenders of all stripes, rather than just those who practice "celestial marriage."
But equally important in the above statement is how carefully the Church distinguishes between "what everyone else does" versus "what Joseph does." What "everyone else does" is illicit, while what Joseph does is "carefully regulated." Truthfully, though, if you are on the outside looking in, it all looks illicit, and the Church's complicity in protecting their most famous sex offender is beyond reprehensible! It makes me ill reading how Joseph created these awful double standards, while browbeating his followers into accepting it, or condemning them to hell. It was a sick, sick system, and Bushman is a little too apologetic here for my taste.
There's much more nonsense and narcissism throughout this chapter, but the above is the important stuff. Everything else is just detail to the image we already have of Smith.
Chapter 27: Thickets
The two things that were emphasized in this chapter were a) the growing rift between Joseph and Emma over his insistence on marrying other women (the NERVE of that woman), and b) the Kinderhook plates. I already spoke at length about the polygamy issue in the last entry, so I'll just discuss the significant "spin" Bushman applies to the Kinderhook Plates.
I don't know how many readers are familiar with the Kinderhook Plates (since you don't get to hear about them at Church...wonder why?...). So I'll let Bushman introduce them:
In April , a dozen men in Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois, said they dug twelve feet [an auspicious number...] into a mound on the property of a local merchant, and found six small bell-shaped brass plates with undecipherable writing on them. Within a few weeks, the plates were in Joseph's hands with a request for translation. [Robert] Wiley [the merchant whose land held the "treasure"] claimed he began the dig after dreaming about treasure in the mount three nights in succession. The more likely story is that Wiley [and others] counterfeited the plates by engraving the characters with acid. They cast this lure before the Mormon prophet in hopes of catching him in a feigned translation.
Now what's interesting is how Bushman helps Smith out of this trap:
[John] Taylor said he had not ascertained Joseph's opinion [about his ability to translate], but the Prophet had his chance when "several gentlemen" showed him the plates. [Willard] Richards said Joseph sent William Smith for a Hebrew Bible and lexicon, as if he was going to translate conventionally. [William] Clayton, in a conflicting account, wrote that "Joseph has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and the he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth." Joseph seemed to be stepping into the trap, but then he pulled back. Pressure from Taylor...did not push him any further. After the first meeting, no further mention was made of translation, and the Kinderhook plates dropped out of sight. Joseph may not have detected the fraud, but he did not swing into a full-fledged translation as he had with the Egyptian scrolls. The trap did not quite spring shut, which foiled the conspirators' original plan. Instead of exposing the plot immediately, as they probably intended to do, they said nothing until 1879 when one of them signed an affidavit describing the fabrication. Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation.
Bushman doesn't want anyone to get confused between the authentic scrolls, which were converted to canonized scripture (Book of Abraham), and the counterfeit Kinderhook plates, which yielded nothing.
But he skips some pretty important information, not the least of which were mentions of work on the ongoing translation in both the Warsaw Signal and the Nauvoo Neighbor. But in addition, it took Joseph 7 YEARS to finally publish the FIRST installment of the Book of Abraham. Joseph had the Kinderhook plates for less than a year, and those were tumultuous times, much of it spent running from the law and the mobs that eventually killed him. In other words, Joseph had more pressing things at the moment than translating plates...he was running for his life.
Others draw the same conclusion: from http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources...rhookplates.htm
If Joseph Smith had not been murdered in June 1844, it is very possible he might have published a complete "translation" of these bogus plates. Just a month before his death it was reported that he was "busy in translating them. The new work... will be nothing more nor less than a sequel to The Book of Mormon;..." (Warsaw Signal May 22, 1844) The fact that Joseph Smith was actually preparing to print a translation of the plates is verified by a broadside published by the Mormon newspaper, The Nauvoo Neighbor, in June 1843. On this broadside, containing facsimiles of the plates, we find the following: "The contents of the Plates, together with a Fac-Simile of the same, will be published in the 'Times and Seasons,' as soon as the translation is completed."
It would appear as though Joseph took the Kinderhook plates very seriously...why wouldn't he? If he could produce an unverifiable book from these plates that others could see and handle, then he would cement his place in religious history. He had no way of knowing they were a fraud, and he had been duped by others on many occasions. The only reason "the trap did not quite spring shut" was because Joseph was murdered before he could get himself forever entagled with the Kinderhook plates. In this case, it was good for the Church that Joseph was killed when he was...else they'd have the Kinderhook plates and the Egyptian papyri as damning evidence against his prophet translations...
Chapter 28: City and Kingdom
This chapter is somewhat interesting from the perspective of the rising Mormon culture, but there's not much to report on. I'll find something...
This chapter mostly deals with the last six months of Joseph's life, and among the things that stand out are the whirl-wind of activities he is engaged in at this time, with his hand in everything regarding the Mormon community. But he was also sensing the growing pressure from the citizens of the counties surrounding Nauvoo (he knew what to look for...it had happened to him before), and as such, there was growing urgency for appealing to the wider populace and government of the United States in an effort to convince the country that the Mormons were victims at the hands of anti-American mobs. Joseph was wrapping himself in the flag, ironically. From page 513:
Driven by political expediency, Joseph had made himself a son of America.
That identification was prelude to a description of the ironies of his situation: Loyal though he was, Joseph and his followers had received no relief from religious persecution. Mormons were deprived of "the blessings and privileges of an American citizen." They did not enjoy "life and religion according to the most virtuous and enlightened, customs, rules, and etiquette of the nineteenth century."
This is important because it reveals Joseph's blindness (and that of his followers) concerning the very real fears of their enemies—namely that despite Smith's professed loyalty and harkening to the Constitution for support, his theocratic vision of a Zionist Nation, with military and government falling under the guidance of a prophet and a divinely appointed "Council of Fifty" actually runs exactly counter to the ideals of American religious freedom. Smith may have claimed (and may have practiced) religious tolerance, but he made no bones about the fact that in the cities and Zion he intended to build, the Mormons would run the show...and THAT by revelation as HE HIMSELF claimed to receive it.
That ain't exactly the American way.
Bushman quotes the "anti-Mormons" of Carthage in spelling this out:
"We believe that such an individual [Smith], regardless as he must be, of his obligations to God, and at the same time entertaining the most absolute contempt for the laws of man, cannot fail to become a most dangerous character, especially when he shall have been able to place himself at the head of a numerous horde, either equally reckless and unprincipled as himself, or else made his pliant tools by the most absurd credulity that has astonished the world since its foundation."
That was the anti-Mormon argument: a pretended prophet, at the head of a numerous horde of unprincipled or credulous believers, sets aside the moral law. As one anxious editor put it, "Revelation now has the balance of power" in the county. Terrified of this "latter-day would be Mahomet," the convention resolved to assert their rights, "peaceably, if we can, but forcibly if we must."
It is incredibly ironic that as patriotic as the Mormons believe themselves to be (and truly, in most respects they are), in truth their Church puts them at odds with one of the most basic, fundamental principles upon which America was founded—the distinction and separation of power between the church and the state. The Mormons may have believed with all their hearts that this was the government that God wanted in America, but until God himself announced that in Washington D.C. and everywhere else, no one else was going to believe it. That meant that if the Mormons were to be successful, they must necessarily be at odds with the rest of the country.
And so it was...
In a similar vein, it was at this time that Smith had himself "anointed" King of all Israel. Bushman places this event in the context of the Priesthood principally, as "prophet, priest and king, blah, blah, blah." But in light of Joseph's political aspirations, and considering that he viewed a theocratic king called to the throne by God as infinitely superior to some petty president elected by a foolish people (my words...just explaining the situation), I think Bushman lets him off a little easy.
See, Joseph had established the "Council of Fifty" as a shadow government for the purpose of rising to fill the leadership vacuum in the secular government when that government failed and was "saved by the priesthood." It was a parallel body to the Priesthood, and was meant to govern the nation (and the world, by the way) hand in hand with the Priesthood, headed by none other than...Joseph Smith! Here's what Bushman says:
As the council's original records are not available to researchers [RED FLAG!!! Why not? These may be among the records hidden away in that Granite Vault...], its exact nature is hard to determine, but the council may have considered itself the incipient organization for millennial rule, a shadow government awaiting the demise of worldly political authority and the beginning of Christ's earthy reign. In early April, 1844, Joseph "prophesied the entire overthrow of this nation in a few years."
"I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the Kingdom of Daniel, by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the world...it will not be by Sword or Gun that this Kingdom will roll on--the power of truth is such that--all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel."
Those words should chill the blood of any American or any citizen of a free nation! Apparently, they did, as Joseph was summarily killed a few months later.
Anyway, it is within the context of Priesthood Government, an infernal system of hierarchies of which any Mormon is intimately familiar, that Bushman places Joseph's anointing as King. I'm inclined to be a little less charitable, and see it is highly narcissistic and ludicrously naïve.
Lastly, there are times when I sense Bushman appreciates that Smith was really in a world of his own devising, such as this final line from Chapter 28:
Lacking a purpose in the twentieth century, the Council of Fifty became a historical artifact of Joseph's dream of organizing the Kingdom of God on earth.
See, God reveals, but men dream. The government of God on earth, in other words, "Zion," was the dream of a man, not the mandate of his god. I appreciate that...and agree with it.
Chapter 29: Confrontations
I'm not going to say too much about this final chapter. We know about the dissent among the ranks that led Joseph to order the destruction of the printing press. While it is likely that Joseph was naïve in his belief concerning the protection of the law in this regard (ridding the community of a public nuisance), still, it was a gross violation of the constitutional orientation of the people of Illinois, and not taken lightly by Bushman. We know about the machinations of justice and law and chaos near the end of his life that had him first flee for his safety, and later return, placing his trust in the hands of the Governor, who in the end failed to protect him.
While I do not condone the actions of the mob, I think I understand them, and so does Bushman. I really didn't perceive any spin, and reading the account of Joseph's death was, once again, sobering. Whatever Joseph was, I am saddened by his treatment at the hands of the Carthage Grays, in the same way I am saddened by the treatment of the Fancher Party at the hands of the S. Utah fanatics, or the treatment of foreign hostages in Iraq. When anyone is treated unjustly, I am sad, and Joseph is no different. I don't need to get on my high horse about this unfortunate, final chapter.
I will note a couple of interesting items, however. First, Bushman devotes several pages to the insights into the mind of Joseph that can be gained by reading the King Follett discourse. Of course, I don't share Joseph's perspective on the matter of man's place in the universe, but philosophically he crafted a relatively unique worldview that has captured the imagination of a lot of bright, fair-minded people. If you're not familiar with the discourse, Bushman gives it a fair treatment on pages 533-537. My only question regarding this issue is, why has the Church never canonized this or a form of it? It is in this discourse that Joseph holds forth on the view of the heavens that Mormons to this day hold near and dear to their heart, most clearly elucidating the ultimate vision of the Plan of Salvation, and yet it can only be found in the academic section of the library, and nowhere in the scriptures. I have always wondered why.
Lastly, I would note that Bushman seems to suggest numerous times that the workings of Joseph's mind were just that...the workings of the mind of a man, even when he said, "Thus sayeth the Lord." For instance, from page 527:
For three years, [Joseph] pressed vigorously for construction on the Nauvoo House. In March 1844, finally recognizing that the double construction project [coupled with the Nauvoo Temple] exceeded the capacity of Nauvoo's economy, he suspended construction.
Rational calculation could not justify two such vast projects as the temple and the Nauvoo House, any more than it made sense to practice plural marriage or gather to Zion. Joseph's revelations drove him beyond prudence.
As I read this, Bushman seems to be allowing the possibility that the building of Zion, gathering to Zion, plural marriage, all of the grand vision that Joseph had, was ultimately nothing but "rational calculation," in the mind of a man trying to figure out how to be, live and lead. And it was beyond prudent.
God would ultimately understand prudence. A man would not. Where Bushman and I part company is that he continues to the end to see Smith as a Rough Stone Rolling in the palm of God, while I see him as a rough stone rolling along the long course of human events, shaped by the process, and shaping the outcome.
I had a bit of a useful paradigm shift in reading the epilogue, and I'll share it here. Many of you have probably already figured this out, and I guess I knew this intuitively, but it was helpful to see it spelled out.
The New York Herald's florid picture [of Joseph's role in history] came close to describing Joseph's own ambitions for the Latter-day Saints, although he would have preferred "Zion" or "the Kingdom of God" as a name rather than "empire." Almost from the beginning, he wanted more than a church. He was not satisfied with the conversions or building up a congregation. Six months after the organization of the Church, the revelations directed him to organize "Zion." The word implied a society, and in Joseph's revelations, Zion became a city. The unit of organization was not the parish or the synod but the community. He worked all his life to organize communities, and in the end he succeeded. The judgment of history has been that Joseph's great achievement was the creation of the Mormon people.
And that's the power in Joseph Smith. It was not that he created a Church. Lot's of people have done that. He created a community, a people, the MORMON people, and in that sense of identity that the community came to feel, they were able to outgrow their prophet. And outlive him.
Perhaps that's a fitting close to this review as we recognize the struggle that we all have felt at one time or another leaving the Church. Perhaps it wasn't leaving the church that hurt, it was leaving the Mormon people. It was leaving the community. It is that loss of identity that so many struggle with, and so many others fear to the point of not leaving...ever.
Me? I feel it a privilege to have belonged to that community, to have understood it deeply...and to have left. But it wasn't the church I had to tear myself from. It was the people. And sometimes that's still painful. I could never pay the tithing, or acknowledge another's "spiritual authority" over me. I could never again condone such a hierarchical/patriarchal outlook on the heavens or the earth. I could never read the Book of Mormon or the Bible with anything more than casual, cultural interest...but I DO sometimes miss belonging. To something meaningful and worthwhile.
There's a power in that belonging that I sacrificed for a similar power...the power to think and feel and choose for myself. I continue to choose that path, but it's not without recognition that the Mormons also have a good thing going, a sense of communal power that has successfully withstood the test of time. It's just not for me anymore.
If you've read this far...endured, as they say, to the end...then I thank you. YOU are an important part of the community to which I now belong.