This is a follow up on my post about 9 church history facts I wish I had known. It mentions church history facts lots of people may not want to know or read about, so please skip this post if you would rather not know about the issues. I wanted to give a couple different interpretations of the facts I talked about. I am leaving out references, so this really is a poor quality post, but I wanted to at least let people know how some people make sense of these facts (goes back to facts vs. interpretations of facts; here are some interpretations).
Fact vs. Interpretation (these are not the only possible interpretations of the facts. Red is the non-believing perspective, blue is the believing perspective)
- Joseph Smith married some women who were already married to other men. Some find the evidence overwhelming that Joseph Smith was caught in an affair, which led to the “revelation” about plural marriage (basically justification for the sin). Then eventually he got cocky enough that he decided he could marry anyone he was attracted to, even other people’s wives. Another way to make sense of this fact is that Joseph was obsessed with the idea of unity and he saw eternal marriage as a way of doing this. He possibly thought that he was helping women by having them sealed to at least one worthy priesthood holder (himself). I probably didn’t do a very good job explaining this faithful perspective, but that is sort of the gist of it.
- Much of the temple ceremony is nearly identical to the ceremony used by Masons. Joseph Smith and many of the first church leaders were also Masons. Lots of people think Joseph pretty much used the secrecy of the Masonic ceremony as a tool to keep his plural marriages secretive. This perspective basically says Joseph stole the Masonic ceremony and made it his own by making a few slight changes. This means the temple ceremony could not possibly be any older than Joseph’s day, and certainly nothing like the Old Testament temple ceremony. Some of the symbols and signs used both in the temple ceremony and in the Masonic ceremony are very old. Maybe parts of the temple ceremony are crucial and maybe the signs and symbols and tokens are part of what is crucial. Joseph may have used the Masonic elements of the ceremony because he felt it was an effective tool for teaching and a ceremony that lots of people were comfortable with since many men at the time were also masons.
- J.S. was very secretive about polygamy, to the point he had a role in burning down a printing press that was going to out him as a polygamist (it would be a tough position if God was commanding you to do something that people largely despised…but it also looks an awful lot like someone trying to hide their mistakes).
- People, including (maybe especially) the prophets and apostles continued drinking alcohol long after the Word of Wisdom and continued marrying multiple wives after the Manifesto was given. The story of Joseph Smith keeping his teeth clenched closed so he wouldn’t ingest the alcohol the mob was trying to poor down his throat probably needs to go (him clenching his teeth so he wouldn’t ingest what he suspected was poison does make more sense, but doesn’t promote the WoW as much), since Joseph Smith (and basically everyone back then) drank alcohol his whole life. The Word of Wisdom was initially just a word of wisdom, it was advice, and some members followed it more than others. It has been taken more literally and also interpreted differently in modern times. We can follow the modern interpretation of it believing that interpretation is revealed by God. Stopping polygamy and consuming alcohol, tobacco, and coffee are not things you can just stop on a dime. People needed time gradually embrace these things before they became commandments. Like many things in the church, polygamy stopped once the political pressure to stop it was too great. The Word of Wisdom became a big deal during prohibition times when people started seeing drinking alcohol as a moral issue.
- Joseph Smith translated the majority of the BoM with a stone in a hat. This is evidence that Joseph was making the whole BoM up. Joseph’s mother talks about him telling stories about the native people of the land that were very believable long before he wrote the book of Mormon. There also are way too many similarities between the BoM text and other texts of the time, locations in Joseph’s area, and such that the case is closed. The BoM is not a historical document. Who cares how J.S. translated the BoM. All a person needs to know is that it came from God, Joseph using a stone to translate the book makes no difference. You can find this out based on the feelings you have while reading the book and praying about it. Sorry, but feelings do not equate to evidence of the truth of something. Sorry, but powerful experiences had while reading the BoM can be considered revelation from God.
- The Mountain Meadows Massacre happened. That Danites existed and did some bad things. That Mormons persecution was a two-way street–Mormons did horrible things too. People aren’t perfect. Prophets are people too. The early members of the church made mistakes, that does not make the church false. These tragedies are evidences that the prophet is not and never has been chosen of or inspired by God.
- There is lots of evidence that contradicts the historicity of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. There is also some evidence to suggest certain things about the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon could be historically accurate. I think members should be given some understanding of both sides–or at least not be criticized for trying to find out what the historical problems are. The names of places in the BoM are a lot like the names of places around where Joseph lived. There are also names that appear truly Arabic or Hebrew, which are unlikely for Joseph to have made up with such accuracy. Joseph was always a great story teller. Joseph used a treasure hunting stone to “translate” the book. There are a couple books that are very similar–in story line, ideas, and actual text–to many parts of the BoM. (This is probably one of the most compelling arguments to me). These are books Joseph would have had access to. Medals in the BoM didn’t exist during those times. Maybe they weren’t talking about actual steel, but something sort of like steel. Neither did horses, wheels, several plants that are mentioned, and lots of other things. Horses went extinct in N. America, but maybe a few hung around somewhere and we just don’t know about them. Chariots could have been more of a sleigh (without wheels). The growth statistics in the BoM are impossible, so are the huge numbers of people killed. No grave mounds of these proportions have ever been found. Maybe some of the numbers in the BoM were more metaphorical or categorical rather than specific. DNA evidence suggests the people of the Americas are of Asian descent, not Middle Eastern. Linguistic evidence may suggest Aramaic or Hebrew influence. There are quotes from the New Testament that appear in the Book of Mormon even though the New Testament wouldn’t have been written during those times. The BoM is a creative work, case closed. There is some evidence to suggest the BoM and BoA are authentic and possibly historical.
- Prophets said and taught some things that are no longer said and taught. Things like Brigham Young teaching that murders’ blood must be shed to atone for their sins, or that Adam was God the Father. The church now shies away from fringe teachings like this. You have to look at these quotes in their historical context and they make more sense for those people at that time. The early apostles were all converts and brought their own ideas from their previous religions with them. Prophets are no more inspired than their own personal ideas and biases. The church still does things that are sexist and homophobic and people don’t question these things because prophets say them.
- Prophets sometimes contradict each other. Some early prophets taught polygamy as necessary for exaltation, some modern prophets say this is not true, etc. Prophets can be inspired and yet still be human and make mistakes. Prophets sometimes are speaking as men and other times as prophets. How do you know when a prophet is speaking as a man or as a prophet. Some of the crazy ideas were spoken in ways that sound like prophecy and some of the crazy ideas were phrased in ways that made them sound like doctrine. It seems that people say prophets were “speaking as a man” in hindsight, when the church decides it no longer supports something a previous prophet said. Revelation is a complicated process that involves a man, with his biases and God’s inspiration. The result is something that is generally inspired but sometimes slightly incorrect.
- Kinderhook plates (This is actually a new one). J.S. said they were records from BoM people and started to translate the records. They turned out to be a hoax. This is evidence that Joseph was faking translation all along. Joseph was translating these plates by traditional means, using the Egyptian alphabet as understood by the First Presidency at that time–an alphabet which was entirely incorrect.