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Defending the Faith: A shallow Joseph Smith wouldn't have been up to the task

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  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Feb. 28, 2013 6:22 a.m.

    And now for the litany of common complaints recycled post after post (despite many being disproved) by those who simply cannot abide the thought of anyone saying anything nice about Joseph. 3 . . 2 . . 1

  • Tulip West Jordan, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 7:08 a.m.

    Another great defense of the prophet Joseph Smith by Daniel Peterson. Your insights are always understandable and thought provoking. I can never get enough. Thank you.

  • Cats Somewhere in Time, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 7:32 a.m.

    A wonderful analsys and presentation. Thank you Brother Peterson. No matter how many detractors attack Joseph, they will never be able to stop God's work or the stone rolling forth.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:01 a.m.

    Joseph Smith was certainly not shallow. His intutitive intelligence transcended much of his deficiencies in formal eduction. But his claims and his character are fair game for biographers and historians to consider.

  • Whos Life RU Living? Ogden, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:36 a.m.

    Well this comment board is like North Korea. Enjoy.

  • LValfre CHICAGO, IL
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:49 a.m.

    @Whos Life RU Living?

    "Well this comment board is like North Korea. Enjoy."

    Now there's some truth. Freedom of speech doesn't apply here ... very biased moderation.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:56 a.m.

    As a non-believer, I would echo Bloom’s analysis.

    And even assuming good motives, do I think Joseph was talking to real entities and apprehend objective knowledge? No. But the same goes for every other visionary, mystic or prophet so it’s not meant to disparage.

    But the criticism of Joseph the man should not be casually swept under rug. Brodie may have cherry picked and made wholly negative assumptions, but it doesn’t make her wrong. Although Grant Palmer and Richard Bushman probably do a better overall job in their biographies – the main difference being that Bushman assumes Joseph was who he said he was, and Palmer does not.

    For me, he was a deeply flawed visionary and charismatic religious genius.

    Fair?

  • lloydlewisjr Montrose, CO
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:56 a.m.

    Your writing is always enlightening and fun to read. Thanks Bro. Peterson. Somewhere along the line I may buy a couple of your books. LOL

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 10:24 a.m.

    "The notion of Joseph Smith as a lazy, scheming, yarn-spinning ne'er-do-well without a single serious idea in his head simply can’t withstand scrutiny."

    In this respect, Peterson is accurate. Joseph Smith was an extraordinarily talented individual, very clever, and insightfully shrewd with an uncanny ability for understanding much of the religious thinking of his time.

    Many LDS critics casually dismiss Joseph Smith's ability, discount his contribution to religious thought, and try and paint him as a religious charlatan with surreptitious goals for personal power. I believe this is a mistake and it perpetuates an unfortunate ad hominem fallacy. Many of Joseph Smith's claims can be discredited easily enough without attacking him personally.

    The mistake Peterson makes is to advance an irrelevant association and correlate it with the veracity of Smith's prophetic claims. Peterson's use of "honor by association" fallacy is no different than Smith's ad hominem critics employing the old "guilt by association" trick. Both reasoning is equally flawed.

    Smith shares many of the same qualities as Ann Lee, Charles Taze Russell, Ron Hubbard, Elijah Muhammad, and Mary Baker Eddy. Such qualities don't necessarily validate their prophetic claims either.

  • Scott Thormaehlen Provo, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 10:37 a.m.

    Great analysis of the prophet's influence and position. In a simple to read description of the prophets efforts and what his revelation brought to my understanding about the Bible I've written "Day of Defense: Positive Talking Points for the Latter Days".

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:15 a.m.

    Just because Joseph Smith may have believed he was doesn't mean that he really was. You also can't conclude that because he was a good person and did good that he was a prophet. How many men of that time were good men? That doesn't make them prophets either nor does it validate any of there visionary claims. Many people die for their religion because they KNOW that it is true. Many are also incarcerated because of their beliefs. Just because they are right in their mind doesn't make it true. Many people since Joseph Smith have claimed they werer prophets. Well they can believe it all their lives, but I don't.

  • donn layton, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:30 a.m.

    RE: Craig Clark, Joseph Smith was certainly not shallow. His intutitive intelligence transcended much of his deficiencies in formal *education. But his claims and his **character are fair game for biographers and historians to consider.

    *(JS)"Don't employ lawyers, or pay them money for their knowledge, for I have learned that they don't know anything. I know more than they all." (D.H.C.. vol. 5. p. 467).

    **(JS)I have more to Boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.(HofC. Vol 6. pp 408-,409.

    **(JS)God made Aaron to be the mouth piece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don't like it, you must lump it." HofC, vol. 6. pp. 319, 320

  • Scott Thormaehlen Provo, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:39 a.m.

    @Brahmabull
    Your premise is grossly incorrect. It doesn't matter what was in Joseph Smith's mind...you have to compare what he recorded with what is in the Bible. If you record what others said with the Bible, you would have a very difficult time suggesting they were equally a prophet as Joseph Smith was. People die for all sorts of crazy reasons...not a good premise for your argument.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:48 a.m.

    Joseph’s claim to be a prophet of God surpasses traditions of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli whose claims as leading figures of the Reformation were based on human reason. But what need is there for a theologian if you have a prophet delivering the word of God? Joseph Smith should be held to more exacting standards considering the audacity of his claims. There’s nothing unfair about that.

  • Scott Thormaehlen Provo, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:54 a.m.

    @Craig Clark, what claims are you referring to? Those recorded in the standard works?

  • Henry Drummond San Jose, CA
    Feb. 28, 2013 11:59 a.m.

    I am not LDS but I find Joseph Smith to be a fascinating individual.

    I have read both Dr. Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" as well as Professor Brodie's "No Man Knows My History." Some have dismissed Richard Bushman's work as nothing more than apologia from a believing Mormon. Likewise, others disdain Fawn Brodie's book as the disgruntled writings of a lapsed Mormon. Reading both books for their content rather than serving up polemical attacks on their respective authors is far more insightful. Both deserve respect for their scholarship.

    Most Mormons tell me that their belief in Joseph Smith is based on faith, yet they insist that history empirically proves his prophetic claims. I've never understood that. It seems the focus of his life is artificially pushed into one of two camps - either he was a fraud or he wasn't. Wouldn't it be more insightful to simply agree that Joseph Smith believed in his prophetic calling and write a biography from that perspective?

    Unfortunately I fear such a biography would only draw fire from those obsessed with "proving" or "disproving" faith while missing the magnificent life of a unique American.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    Feb. 28, 2013 12:19 p.m.

    Henry Drummond,

    I concur with your views on Richard Bushman’s and Fawn Brodie’s biographies of Joseph Smith. Rough Stone Rolling is a remarkable achievement that can be held to rigorously high standards of scholarship with the author holding firm to his religious faith.

    In my view, Fawn Brodie’s biography has been unjustly pilloried by faithful LDS since it was published. It’s clearly the work of a Mormon who has lost her faith but I found it sympathetic to Joseph on a human level. It remains the most influential and groundbreaking of the bios about Joseph Smith.

  • Shimlau SAINT GEORGE, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 1:01 p.m.

    Twin Lights: How right you are!

  • The Scientist Provo, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 1:44 p.m.

    Shimlau wrote:

    "Twin Lights: How right you are!"

    Twin Lights: How wrong you are! How biased, closed-minded, and inconsiderate of others whose views do not exactly match your own.

  • Res Novae Ashburn, VA
    Feb. 28, 2013 3:16 p.m.

    @The Scientist

    Wow! Project much?

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    Feb. 28, 2013 3:22 p.m.

    The Scientist – “Twin Lights… How biased, closed-minded, and inconsiderate of others whose views do not exactly match your own.”

    Based on some of your past comments I recall, you and I are probably much closer in our worldviews (atheist/agnostic, science as the means to objective knowledge, etc…) then I am with Twin Lights (TL), but despite that fact I have never known TL to be any of these characterizations – with the possible exception of biased (but we’re all biased).

    Even following your last exchange with TL (Jainism article), despite the tone being a bit strident, I thought it was a good hard hitting debate.

    But this comment is not only disappointing, it’s lazy and beneath you.

    Everyone has a bad day, but in the spirit of being a positive participant in the marketplace of ideas, try to keep it above the belt.

    Wagging finger stopped… dismounting high horse.

    PS – Did get a good chuckle out of TL’s comment as it was clever “preemptive strike” against the JS critics, but that tactic can go both ways (e.g., “here comes the JS love fest… 3…2…1”).

  • Ernest T. Bass Bountiful, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 6:41 p.m.

    Kirtland Bank. Age of wives. Nauvoo Expositor, Book of Abraham papyrus.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Feb. 28, 2013 7:13 p.m.

    The Scientist,

    I don’t feel I have done anything other than play defense. But I am sorry if you were offended.

    Tyler D,

    It is the advantage of time zones . . . And thanks.

  • Unreconstructed Reb Chantilly, VA
    Feb. 28, 2013 7:41 p.m.

    Henry Drummond -

    "Most Mormons tell me that their belief in Joseph Smith is based on faith, yet they insist that history empirically proves his prophetic claims. I've never understood that."

    I don't either, and I'm Mormon. There's supporting evidence, but also evidence the other way. Biases lean us to one or the other, but ultimately it all has to boil down to faith.

    "Unfortunately I fear such a biography would only draw fire from those obsessed with "proving" or "disproving" faith while missing the magnificent life of a unique American."

    I think Bushman comes fairly close, but ultimately anything by a believing Mormon will ever be acceptably neutral. At least Bushman's upfront that he is a believer. There are some non-LDS historians openly admire Joseph Smith and his role in American history without trying to prove or disprove anything (Remini, Davies, DW Howe), but I'm a little surprised at how many people just absolutely have to pick sides.

    Then again, that his name is "had for good or evil" as Moroni promised might be another sign that it's all true! ;) (Sorry, couldn't help taking a jab with my own biases!)

  • the truth Holladay, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 7:50 p.m.

    @Weber State Graduate

    Yet you failed to discredit a single claim.

    Nor even attempt it.

  • Weber State Graduate Clearfield, UT
    Feb. 28, 2013 8:16 p.m.

    @the truth

    I don't have to discredit a single claim -- it's already been done by numerous credible scholars. Do your own research rather than expect me to do it for you on a comment board. If you attempt it, you will find it.

    That's the truth.

  • gcrobmd GADSDEN, AL
    Feb. 28, 2013 9:08 p.m.

    The breadth and consistency of Joseph Smith’s words are proof enough that he wasn’t a fraud. His words are tender. They empower the individual. They reveal human greatness through the love of God, and how evil thrives when people focus on personal gain. They reveal a God of more compassion, mercy, and justice than imagined since the end of the first century CE. His words answer the greatest questions of man’s destiny, the kingdom of heaven, and God’s dealing with His children. Joseph’s words reveal a loving heavenly Father who wants more than anything else that His children will be happy.

    I trust my feelings that faithfully loving, protecting, and providing for my wife and family is worthwhile. I trust my feelings that being honest and charitable is good. I trust my feelings that people can achieve greatness as communities and nations. Lastly, I trust my feelings that God lives and is good and that I love Him, and that Joseph Smith and others are His prophets. If I can’t trust my feelings for the last, then how can I trust my feelings for all the other stuff?

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 1, 2013 7:40 a.m.

    RE: Gcrobmd, The breadth and consistency of Joseph Smith’s words are proof enough that he wasn’t a fraud. His words are tender?

    Joseph Smith,” In the very beginning the bible shows there is a plurality of Gods. Beyond the power of refutation”.(Hof C v. 6 p.476).
    Genesis 1:1 Greek Septuagint In the beginning God (*o Theos, Grk. 2316). Clearly God, singular. *Nominative singular article.

    Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, Q. What is the Father? A. He is a personage of glory and of power. (5:2.). What is the son? First, he is a personage of tabernacle.

    (John 4:24 Greek N.T.) God [is] Spirit

    . “Our Father which art in Heaven with. The supreme being transcends space and time. The first goes to pieces if you begin to apply the literal(Mormonism) meaning to it. How can a sexual animal really be our father? How can it be in the sky? The *second falls into no such traps. C.S. Lewis.

  • Dante Salt Lake City, UT
    March 1, 2013 8:27 a.m.

    My opinion only:
    1. Men are imperfect and prone to error;
    2. God mercifully relies upon imperfect men to bring to pass His purposes;
    3. Joseph was born into mortality with unique talents/capacities which God later amplified. These spiritual gifts thinned the veil between this world and God's presence (examination of Joseph Smith, Sr. and his descendants reveals this trait may be somewhat hereditary, if vastly concentrated in Joseph Jr.);
    4. Human talents and traits often have dual strengths and weaknesses. Example: intensely creative personalities may be more spiritually receptive, but also more emotionally passionate, reactive, impulsive, and fragile. Intensely practical, rational personalities often find creativity and spiritual discernment challenging and remote;
    5. On one hand, Joseph's gift for being "spiritually-attuned" made guidance from beyond the veil uniquely accessible to him;
    6. On the other hand, Joseph's gifts or aspects of mind and personality left him prone to occasional impulsive errors of judgment in some statements and actions;
    7. Thankfully, minor human flaws do not prevent God from revealing His will through His chosen servants;
    8. More than we, God is loving, understanding, compassionate, and merciful to forgive.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 1, 2013 8:33 a.m.

    gcrobmd,

    That’s quite an eloquent testimony.

    For me, the power of Joseph’s words are not in what they reveal but in what they envision, not for man’s ultimate destiny but of his yearnings and aspirations. Whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet, his enduring legacy is a vital and vibrant religion. The controversies of his life aside, that much is self-evident to me.

  • mattmo Gallatin, MO
    March 1, 2013 9:37 a.m.

    Joseph Smith was a man with human faults however, called of God to do a work of restoration. Bringing back the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ namely Apostles and Prophets with Jesus Christ as the Chief cornerstone. And so it is Jesus Christ is the Head of his church. After Christ died his church continued to grow until the people killed the Prophets and Apostles then the great Apostasy happened (the dark ages) It was foretold by Prophets long ago it doesn't matter that the Lord used Joseph Smith as an instrument to bring about the restoration of all things just lay aside all your hatred for this man and ask God if it is true. I'm sure the people in the days of Noah thought he was a visionary man as well just full of hot air. Or Moses, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Isaiah, all became great men because their professor was God. I believe not because of Joseph Smith I believe because, like him, I asked and received a witness from the Holy Ghost, who bears witness of all truth.

  • Montana Mormon Miles City, MT
    March 1, 2013 10:29 a.m.

    @sharrona:

    I recognize and appreciate the knowledge you appear to have of the Greek Septuagint, so this question is out of genuine interest:

    How does the Greek Septuagint translate Genesis 3:22? "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." In this KJV verse, God uses the first person plural prepositional pronoun.

    I'm not asking this question to be confrontational; I just want to draw on the scholarship you have demonstrated in your previous posts that I have read, especially since you like to quote the Greek Septuagint.

  • atl134 Salt Lake City, UT
    March 1, 2013 1:55 p.m.

    @Henry Drummond
    "It seems the focus of his life is artificially pushed into one of two camps - either he was a fraud or he wasn't. Wouldn't it be more insightful to simply agree that Joseph Smith believed in his prophetic calling and write a biography from that perspective? "

    What you are suggesting would be closer to the perspectives used for Martin Luther or John Wesley (though they didn't really see themselves as prophets). However, there's one major problem with doing that for Joseph Smith. It's the plates. The concept of the plates translated by Smith is a very tangible thing that fits into a very definitive fact or fraud basis. With Luther or Wesley you can consider their teachings inspired or not but you can at least still consider them sincere even if you disagree with them. With Smith though... the plates either existed or they didn't. The room for thinking he was sincere but wrong is a lot smaller.

  • Michigander Westland, MI
    March 1, 2013 5:48 p.m.

    @Montana Mormon:

    "How does the Greek Septuagint translate Genesis 3:22? "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." In this KJV verse, God uses the first person plural prepositional pronoun."

    "us" is quite simply God the Eternal Father [JEHOVAH] speaking to His Eternal Son [Jesus Christ], who is the ONLY person born on earth to have had a pre-mortal existence in heaven. Very easy to understand.

  • Rikitikitavi Cardston, Alberta
    March 1, 2013 6:04 p.m.

    Greg Smith has done some of the most exhaustive, in depth research to date on Joseph Smith. Literally not one shred of evidence exists to disprove his (Joseph's) associates' claims that Joseph was spiritually in crescendo his entire life. Not one shred of evidence exists to substantiate claims that plural families were entered into by LDS leaders for physical gratification. Tired, worn-out claims glibly repeated over and over simply do not hold water when attempting to discredit The Prophet Joseph as a divine instrument of the Father and The Son in restoring the Gospel.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    March 1, 2013 8:19 p.m.

    As stated before apostates become the strongest critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is as it has long be stated, "They can leave the Church but they can't leave the Church alone." The Book of Mormon is full of these type of individuals who constantly stated that they once believed but don't now. They became Lamanities and fought against the Church of Christ. In the end they were all vanquished in some way or another. They are forgotten except as a paragraph in History but the works of the Lord's Prophets stand firm and constant. Joseph Smith who was a falible man, with faults and weaknesses as all men have rose above them and with the help of the Lord translated the Book of Mormon, established the restored Church again to the earth, wrote a book of Doctrine and Covenants (modern day revelations) and stood on the side of truth.

    Those who fight against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints become Satan pawns and nothing less, and nothing more. Yet, faith, repentance, baptism by immersion and the Gift of Holy Ghost is still there even for them.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 2, 2013 8:19 a.m.

    RE; Montana Mormon , Genesis 3:22-23 LXX) And God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of *us, to know good and evil, and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of life and eat, and so he shall live forever, So the Lord God sent him forth Out of the garden(**paradeisos, G, 3857) of delight to cultivate the ground out of which he was taken.

    The Trinity in the O.T.. Let *us make man in ‘Our Image’ image and likeness …”(Genesis 1:26)“So God created man in His “OWN(spiritual) Image” Male and Female…(Genesis 1:27) If there were more than one God it would read in “their image .”

    @Bill in Nebraska, Baptism, You underestimate God’s grace,Luke 23:43, verse(44JST), Jesus on the cross, to the thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in **paradise.

    Verse 46,Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 2, 2013 2:16 p.m.

    @ Bill in Nebraska, baptism, You underestimate God’s grace. Luke 23:43, verse(44 JST), Jesus on the cross, to the thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in **paradise.

    Verse 46,Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

    RE; Montana Mormon , Genesis 3:22-23 LXX) And God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of *us, to know good and evil, and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of life and eat, and so he shall live forever, So the Lord God sent him forth Out of the garden(**paradeisos, G, 3857) of delight to cultivate the ground out of which he was taken.

    The Trinity in the O.T.. Let *us make man in ‘Our Image’ image and likeness …”(Genesis 1:26)“So God created man in His “OWN(spiritual) Image” Male and Female…(Genesis 1:27) If there were more than one God it would read in “their image .”.

  • hermounts Pleasanton, CA
    March 2, 2013 5:45 p.m.

    I would have thought twice before quoting Harold Bloom's favorable comments on Joseph Smith, since Bloom has said elsewhere that he feels the modern LDS church has departed from the prophet's original "religious genius" ( I think that's how he pu iot).

  • germanygator Apo, AE
    March 4, 2013 4:06 a.m.

    Rather than debate whether any religion is true or not, why not just try it out? If it doesn't work, then fine. At least you haven't spent time and energy procrastinating a decision. You'll be one step closer to finding what is true for you.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    March 5, 2013 9:01 a.m.

    Bill in Nebraska - once again you like to quote yourself with the pawns of satan quote. Those who disagree with the church and voice questions over doctrine and history are not pawns of satan. They are honest people who have honest questions, most of which cannot be answered. The only answers are pray, read the scriptures and listen to the spirit - all of which don't apply to the questions that are being asked. You coined the 'pawns of satan' phrase, and you do not speak for the majority of the church (thank goodness). I don't recall any apostle or prophet recently that has used 'pawn of satan' so you are alone with that doctrine.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    March 5, 2013 4:34 p.m.

    Brahmabull: In a talk by Elder Dahlin H Oaks the following was stated "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, … disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, … despisers of those that are good, … lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:1–4). He also said that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). In a moment I will discuss what Paul told young Timothy about how to avoid this wickedness.

    The Apostle gave another warning against being deceived by the devil and his pawns:

    “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    “Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10)."

    There are some on this board who are trying to deceive the faithful who are not honest in the dealings or in what they say. So yes they do become pawns of satan.
    .

  • The Scientist Provo, UT
    March 7, 2013 4:36 p.m.

    Bill,

    The more you demonize people, the less inclined they are to consider you a Christian, much less have any desire to "fellowship" with you as a member of your Church.