Tag Archives: joseph smith

Well Documented Evidence

“Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if they were less well-documented.” — Richard J. Maynes, Seventy

The founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith Jr., began his journey to prophet with an event that has been called “The First Vision.”  When I was growing up as a young Mormon boy, I was told that Joseph knelt to pray in a grove of trees to ask God which of the many churches was true.  According to the story I was told, Joseph was visited by both Heavenly Father (God) and Jesus Christ, who told him none of the churches were true, and that he was to found a new one.

In the 17 years I was active in The LDS Church, that was the only version of the story I ever heard.  It turns out that there are many versions, with widely differing timelines and subject matters.  The LDS Church even has an official essay on the subject, and you can read them for yourself at The Joseph Smith Papers Project.

FirstVisionsMormonInfographics

For many people, who were as ignorant to these facts as I once was, discovering this can be a bit faith-shaking.  This event is absolutely pivotal and essential in the Joseph Smith narrative, and the inconsistencies are troubling. One might think that such a momentous moment as meeting God, or God and Jesus, or an angel, or a Pillar of Fire, would be distinctly memorable.

If this is bothersome to you, let not  your heart be troubled;  Elder Richard Maynes explains how differing versions of an important story, with different dates, and different people, with different messages actually make The First Vision “the best-documented vision in history.”

To demonstrate my particular reaction to this breach of logic and reason, I present my original one-act play:

The Best Documented Dinner in History

[Scene:  Interior.  A small police department interrogation room.  Two detectives (Cop #1 and Cop #2 stand at a table in front of a seated ‘Gary’]

Cop #1: Hey, Gary. We brought you in because someone said they saw you over by the old Buckner place last Monday, just before it was robbed. Can you tell us where you were last Monday night? At about 7:30pm?

Gary: Oh. I was at dinner.

Cop #2: Yeah? Where’d you go? Any good?

Gary: Oh, yeah. New taco restaurant. ‘Los Amgios.’ Great chorizo.

Cop #1: That sounds great. What time did you get there?

Gary: Let me see. I started walking from my place at about 7:00.

Cop #2: And how far away do you live?

Gary: About 3 miles, which is why I took my bike.

Cop #1: But you just said you started walking?

Gary: That’s right I started walking over to Les Poissons, the French place.

Cop #2: Huh? Didn’t you say you were going to ‘Los Amigos’?

Gary: I did. It’s really good.

Cop #1: What about Les Poissons?

Gary: It’s really good.

Cop #2: Did you get a receipt?

Gary: Yup! It’s there in my wallet.

Cop #1: [shuffles through the wallet] Is this the one? To a restaurant called The Burger Bar?

Gary: Yup! I drove over there at a quarter after seven last Monday.

Cop #1: Is he putting me on, or am I putting him on?

Cop #2: So, on last Monday, you walked to a Mexican restaurant, biked to a French restaurant, and then drove to a burger joint, all on the same night, during roughly the same time period?

Gary: Of course! The consistent inconsistency proves how true it is.

A Wave of Truth

“You can leave The Church, but you can’t leave it alone.”

The quote above is a common phrase wielded at former members, like myself, who continue to expend time and energy to talk, write, and discuss various Mormon topics.

Members seem to wonder why those of us who don’t believe still care what anyone else believes?  This is not limited to Mormons; atheists are often asked the same question by believers of all faiths.

If anyone should understand the impetus to share new knowledge gained by hard work and research, however, it should be The Mormons.

The LDS Church sends out tens of thousands of missionaries each year.  Most of those young men and women leave home with the assurance they possess a knowledge that needs to be shared.  They know something that much of the world does not and are desperate to hear.

Those of us who have researched unofficial LDS History,  other faiths, religions, and philosophies also feel that we have discovered something that many around us have not.  We have new knowledge!  New information!  Many of us grew up in homes where knowing Church History was considered a duty and a virtue. When we encounter facts and writings and events that were heretofore unknown to us, our inclination and desire is to share it – especially with our loved ones – even if that knowledge contradicts and calls into question the claims of that same Church.

I left The LDS Church when young and angry and rebellious.  I tried once or twice to discuss my then less-than-scholarly objections with family members, only to feel unheard.  I think it discouraged me from being more frank and honest for years.  As I continue to read more and more, and learn more and more — and there is ALWAYS something more — I want to share my message.  I want to share what I believe to be the truth, as I have it.  I want those I love most to know what I know, because, ultimately it has made me happier and more fulfilled knowing that nothing needs be unquestioned.  Nothing needs be unresearched.  I can try (and fail) to understand EVERYTHING.  Just as LDS missionaries believe their message to be, I believe my message is one of joy and fulfillment!

A former ward-member once chastised me outside of the SLC Temple at a sibling’s wedding.  I penned an unsent letter in which I wrote:

I am not sorry for questioning my beliefs, past or current, even if it seems unpleasant to do so at the time.  I still remember the story of a 14-year-old boy questioning the teachings of those closest to him.

I often ponder Mormons’ seeming distaste for questioning the status quo of their faith whilst simultaneously holding Joseph Smith’s prayer in The Grove in such high esteem.  What if Joseph had been too afraid to walk into that grove?  Too afraid of destroying what he already knew with what he might learn?

Either knowing Church history is a virtue or a vice.  Either questioning is a virtue or a vice.  It can’t be both.

In that same letter, I also wrote:

I will grant that, however unlikely, it is possible that someday, due to continued searching and questioning, I may find that the initial teachings of my life were always correct.  If so, I will humbly admit my mistakes and return.  Having said that, if such a thing does occur, it will not because someone tells me that my father always wanted me to view the Temple, or because I want to see my sister’s wedding.  It will be because I have spent hours, years,  and perhaps decades in careful reflection of those beliefs.  There is no end on the journey for knowledge and understanding; only rest areas.

But you can’t find new knowledge by refusing to look for it.

http://www.cesletter.com

http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director

http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/

Sinews of The Soul

This is my much-less polite and anger filled resignation letter, as opposed to the message I sent to my immediate family.  This was originally posted at The Friendly Atheist.

—-

Dear LDS Church,

It is amazing how much The Church has changed since my early Mormon upbringing. So many of the messages and teachings have changed and evolved over time. For example, when attending church:

Yes. This last revelation was the straw that finally prompted this long overdue letter.

Although I have found other policies of The LDS Church hurtful, ignorant, and bigoted, this last policy change seems so malicious. So full of hatred. And I won’t be a member of a hate group, even in name only.

I received many odd and certainly unique lessons on sexual morality, and was frequently told in oblique ways that homosexuality was a sin, I was never taught that this kind of sexual immorality would damn the salvation of my children.

The LDS Church claims to be a loving, knowledgeable, and charitable representative of a just and loving god, but their actions speak louder than their empty words.

Potential converts to The LDS Church are asked to commit to baptism in the first discussion, then rapidly pushed through a shallow and superficial version of The Church’s doctrine and history in a mad dash to get them under the water and on the membership roles.

Eight-year-old children are encouraged, expected, and demanded to make lifetime commitments they cannot possibly understand, to a church which continues to hide, obscure, and deny it’s history and doctrines.  Heavenly Fathers wants everyone, and quickly, before they start looking too deeply into the closet.

Except in this one special case; a child raised by same-sex parents.

Even if that child is raised in this fraud of a church by those loving, caring parents. Even if that child believes with all his/her tiny, pure heart that there is a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus knows and loves each of his beloved and innocent children. Even if all that child wants for their eighth birthday is to be washed clean of their supposed “sins.”

The LDS Church will tell them, “No. You are lesser in the eyes of Jesus and Heavenly Father.”

“Though you have done nothing wrong, your parents are the worst kind of sinners.  Jesus does not want you as a member of His church, nor will He take you until you are old enough to curse the names of those who loved and raised you, and shake the dust off your feet at their doorstep.”

As of the writing of this letter, I am an atheist and an ex-Mormon.  Should a Mormon member take my young child to be blessed into your twisted organization, however, my child would be accepted and blessed without pause or question because I am married to a member of the opposite sex.

This hate-filled policy is designed only to cause injury to an already injured population; the same-sex attracted people who The Church considers to be the loved children of Heavenly Father, who are doing their best to make it through this life whilst still maintaining some measure of belief in the deceitful message of eternity and love that you spout between vicious jabs at these wounded souls. It cannot and does not serve any other purpose.

This manipulative “guilt by association” is revolting behavior from anyone, let alone an organization which spends so much time talking out the side of its mouth about the importance and necessity of love, acceptance, and eternal families.

I have not claimed membership in this deception for years, but have never felt it useful or necessary to make it official. I do now. I cannot and will not allow you to continue to count me amongst your hateful, heinous, hurtful, and peculiar number any longer.

I hereby resign my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Defending the Indefensible

In one of the most asinine articles I’ve ever read, Daniel Petersen of The Deseret News, the LDS-owned, for profit, pseudo-news source  in Salt Lake City, attempts one of the lamest, most intellectually devoid defenses of Joseph Smith’s seer-stone & hat method of “translating” The Book of Mormon:

Consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face. You need contrasting darkness so that you can see the screen without strain, and especially so if you’ll be working on it for lengthy periods. Otherwise, your eyes will tire and your head will ache.

Technology companies often solve this problem by making the display brighter, but apparently having Joe stick his head in The Hat was a more convenient “darkroom” for The LORD.

Mr. Petersen does not address the obvious impediments of dictating with one’s face in a hat; the muffling of Joseph Smith’s voice and the toll it must have taken to yell through the fabric of the hat. <end sarcasm – maybe>

Mr. Petersen goes on, in stunning fashion, to admit that the golden plates upon which The Book of Mormon was written, weren’t even necessary to the translation process:

According to those familiar with the process, he [Joseph Smith] dictated the Book of Mormon from words that somehow appeared in a “seer stone” or (much the same thing) in the Urim and Thummim. He rarely if ever actually had the plates with him; he couldn’t read what was on them except through revelation anyway, and he could receive revelation (via the “interpreters”) just as easily without the plates as with them.

Once you believe that everything is possible, anything is possible.  If the plates weren’t necessary, why was the stone?  Why not just the hat?  While we’re asking that question, why not just close his eyes and read the words off the inside of his eyelids?

His scribes needed light in order to work, but it’s quite understandable that Joseph sought to reduce the fatigue of his eyes by using a hat to exclude the ambient light.

The implications of this, however, are intriguing. A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read.

Petersen seems to believe that the only likely method of committing a fraud on the scale of The Book of Mormon is for Joe to be working alone and fooling his scribes.  Of course, if his “scribes” were doing more than writing, it could make such a deception much less complicated.  Oliver Cowdery, one of Smith’s scribes, just happened to be a distant cousin of Smith’s mother, and also happened to attend the same church of the pastor who authored ‘View of the Hebrews’, which strongly suggested that Native Americans were of Jewish descent.  Sound familiar?  If they wrote the book together, they wouldn’t have needed the hat, except to keep up appearances for visiting financiers.

It appears, thus, that Joseph was dictating from an unfamiliar text. It also seems likely that what he was reading provided its own independent light source, such that he could read it even with ordinary light excluded, in what one historian famously called “a world lit only by fire.”

For anyone who has ready anything but the official LDS version of history, the only thing that seems ‘likely’ in this story is that Joseph Smith was a talented “Glass Looker” in a gullible and trusting society.