Saturday, March 14, 2015
A Brief History of the Mormon Church
This really is a relatively brief History of the Mormon Church compared to the enormous amount of information available although it may seem long for a blog; there is actually more that I left out than I included, so please excuse the length.
With two Mormons running for president the Mass Media has spent a brief amount of time reviewing the Mormon religion and like anything ales they’ve done it has been a poor review. The highest profile discussion of it occurred when Robert Jeffress said that, “Mormonism is a cult.” This wasn’t taken seriously by many people, including Chris Mathews, with some justification, due to the possibility that Jeffress was more concerned about rivalries among religions that have often, gone back centuries, or in this case since the rise of Mormonism in the first half of the nineteenth century. They rarely ever consider the dictionary definition of a cult, not that it would do much good if they did since it hasn’t been used consistently throughout history and the dictionary definition is generally based on the way it has been used in practice. It isn’t uncommon for many people, primarily atheists, to sarcastically say that a cult is the other person’s religion. While reviewing the way it is often used this isn’t entirely unjustified but it isn’t the proper and consistent way that a cult should be defined. The definition that I prefer to use is that a cult is an organization that dictates the truth to the followers often using coercion or some form of manipulation tactics. I don’t expect many people to accept this definition but as far as I can tell people like Robert Jeffress don’t seem to have a better one and if they do they can explain it themselves; I certainly haven’t been able to figure out the definition that they’ve been using, nor do I get the impression that they have.
The Mormon Church was established by Joseph Smith based on many alleged revelations that he received from a variety of angels or Gods. The most famous one is from the angel Moroni who told him where to find some gold plates that held a bible written in ancient Egyptian but this wasn’t the first, although it may have been the first that he told anyone about. The first was an alleged revelation that he had in 1820 from God and his son Jesus. The following isn’t exactly what he claimed happened after he asked which church he should join:
To the best of my knowledge this hasn’t happened to Joseph Smith or any other alleged prophet for any major religion; in order to come up with this I had to make it up, which wasn’t very hard once I considered the possibility that the hypothetical God they worship was benevolent as they believe and then try to figure out what a benevolent God would do. If this God is also much smarter than the human race and much more powerful then there should be no reason why this God couldn’t come up with a plan that was as good as this if not much better. Whether or not it is much if any better the following is what Smith claims happened:
I’m not convinced that this is the best way that a benevolent, powerful and intelligent God could have handled the situation assuming he existed at all; and there is some doubt about the timing of this vision or whether it happened at all. According to some reports including one from Mormon Think that claim that this vision wasn’t reported to the public until 1842, 22 years after the vision happened and more than 12 years after the church was officially established, for all practical purposes. Mormon Think is apparently run by a group of Mormons that don’t blindly adopt the beliefs as they’re dictated from the Church; instead they seem to attempt to try to sort through the details to come as close to the truth as they can and they seem to show the work to indicate how they came to their conclusions. In fact there appear to be many more moderate Mormons like this, at Mormon Think and elsewhere, who are subject to pressure from the Church that do some of the best research on the Mormon religion for one reason or another, although, at times, some of them may have shown other biases. It is unlikely that these people would fit the definition of what I called a cult although some of the more devout members of the Church might. There might be some justification to withhold the report of this vision at a time when no one would have believed him; however it is hard to understand why he would have withheld reports of this vision after he had a group of loyal followers that believed many other alleged visions that he had. However, regardless of whether it is legitimate or not, most of the Later-day Saints believe it is true without question; therefore it is worth considering as a hypothetical even if it isn’t true.
Joseph Smith doesn’t claim to have told anyone about any vision that I know of, until after the vision from Moroni; the following isn’t what he claimed happened when he received a vision from Moroni:
Well, that didn’t happen; however my impression is that if this hypothetical God that sent Moroni was benevolent, powerful, and intelligent then he would come up with a plan that was at least as smart as that and one that would have helped people as much as that. What allegedly did happen actually involves an alleged visitation from Mooni which according to the official version from the Church (complete version) led to the discovery of a Golden Bible that was translated eventually with the help of some seer stones called Urim and Thummim. Moroni’s visitation according to Mormon Think provides a different explanation or at least raises some serious doubts about the official version. According to the Mormons at Mormon Think the first edition of the Book of Mormon doesn’t even mention these stones; this can be confirmed by checking a copy provided by Dale R. Broadhurst. Apparently the fist copy of the Book of Mormon that included Joseph Smith’s testimony mentioning the stones was published in 1833. However, regardless of why devout Mormons’ believe the Book of Mormon was translated with the stones it is worth considering as a hypothetical, since that is what they believe.
Perhaps they used the stones in the same manner that scholars used the Rosetta Stone to translate many ancient texts. If the traditional academics can use a stone to translate ancient Egyptian why couldn’t Joseph Smith use the same method?
The original Rosetta Stone was very helpful in translating ancient texts but, unlike more modern versions of the Rosetta Stone it was used in a relatively simple although tedious manner that can be understood relatively easily with enough time. It involved a stone that had inscriptions from three different languages including ancient Egyptian and Greek that enabled academics to develop a translation process, eventually. This didn’t involve just one man in a back room that read to a scribe the way Joseph smith allegedly did. Instead they searched many different stones that also had inscriptions and slowly developing the translation dictionary that was subject to scrutiny by many scholars including Charles Anthon who allegedly confirmed the fact that some of Smith’s translations were legitimate. One version of this story is told at the LDS web site; however I’m quite certain there are other versions of this story, including one by Mormon Think. There is even one story told by Richard Bushman in “Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism” that involves switching the stones to see if Smith would notice, which he doesn’t initially but when he tries to translate he claims that “All is dark as Egypt,” Implying that there is something magical about the stones. Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism By Richard L. Bushman p.90 This version implies that the “seer stones” that were used look like any other stone that you might find by the river which contradicts other descriptions of the stones. The implication seems to be that if they can prove the fact that a miracle occurred then they can prove the conclusions that they drew from the miracle. This logic is flawed in at least two ways; first, the proof that the miracle occurred can’t be corroborated since it comes from witness testimony that can’t be cross examined. Second, the conclusions they drew from it doesn’t involve any explanation as to how this alleged translation process occurs.
As far as I can tell though, none of these involves an open line of communication that can be confirmed in any manner; nor is there much if any speculation about why a benevolent God would communicate in such a confusing and inconclusive manner. Generally, when asked questions like this many religious people often come up with complex answers which I fail to follow or find rational. My assumption is that this is the way many cults work; when it comes to confusing mythology or miracles that are hard to understand a charismatic leader often interprets it for the followers and often intimidates many people if they raise too many questions.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a legitimate unsolved mystery of some sort, although it does seem to raise doubts about the interpretation that they raised about it. The strongest claims for evidence that I can think of an unsolved mystery may be the fact that they were able to create such a large religion so fast and that a simple farm boy was able to come up with the Book of Mormon at all even though it is clearly not historically accurate it still requires some sophistication for other reasons. As far as I can tell is the practical use the Book of Mormon has is as a cult book that could and is being used in combination with other tactics to indoctrinate followers. Skeptics often describe Joseph Smith as a clever fraud, which certainly seems to be true; however that doesn’t explain how he became so clever. The creation of a religion this big and fast seems to be much more than a simple farm boy should have been able to do; yet one way or another it seems to have happened. They managed to recruit thousands of people to join their religion even though it was full of absurdities. They’re not the only ones to try to do this, by far, yet they had much more success than many if any other new religions since Mohammad inspired Islam. Critics often ridicule the beliefs but that doesn’t explain how they grew so fast; in fact it should raise even more questions about how they grew so fast.
Think about it, if you heard of someone that started a religion by receiving messages from God and dictated a book while talking into his hat would you join?
Of course it wasn’t that simple, few if any people heard about it in that manner; and must have been many other contributing factors. These would include how they were taught as a child; how they were approached; whether they had a supporting religion or family; whether the Mormons had any actual legitimate complaints about the current ruling class and other religions, or at least complaints that seemed legitimate to them. But still, this doesn’t explain how they managed to convince so many people to join while so many others that were trying to do the same thing failed.
Another issue that is often cited by believers is the alleged confirmation of the translation by Professor Charles Anthon. In fact this is part of the reason they were able to convince some people that the translations were legitimate. Martin Harris took a copy of the translation to Professor Charles Anthon to have him confirm it; there are multiple reasons given for why he did this depending on which version you read. The most common one is probably that he wanted to confirm the legitimacy of the translation before financing the publishing of the Book of Mormon; however there is another explanation that seems to indicate that he supposedly received a revelation himself telling him that he should go to New York to seek confirmation. In fact many of the other leaders of the Mormon religion claim that they had revelations and many modern Mormons continue to claim they have these revelations. Regardless of why he went to ask for confirmation there seems to be some evidence to indicate that the visit did take place and that he almost certainly did believe in the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon which is why he eventually sold his farm to pay for the publishing.
According to the Church the following happened:
Mormon Think provides a different view of the Anthon visit. The doubts they raise involve a letter written by Charles Anthon in 1834 that contradicts Martin Harris’ version of events; unfortunately they fail to mention the fact that apparently he sent a second letter in 1841 which contradicts his first letter. As Richard Bushman puts it:
Fortunately, another skeptic, Jerome J. Knuijt, did address both letters and provide his explanation in “The Anthon Affair” ; however a close look at it may raise as many questions as it addresses and it is based on at least one assumption that he made without any more ability to confirm the details than the Mormon’s had. Jerome J. Knuijt speculates about the possibility that Charles Anthon was responding to two different questions in the two different letters. This seems unlikely to me, however it is conceivable that he just didn’t remember the incident that well. This leaves them open to the argument that they’re making assumptions without evidence as well. It also provides some evidence, assuming you accept the legitimacy of the letters, for some of the claims that are being debunked by other skeptics including those at Mormon think. If you accept Charles Anthon’s letters, for the most part, then it would provide evidence of the claim that martin Harris believed in the description of the stones, Urim and Thummim, as provided by Joseph Smith as early as 1828 before the first edition of the Book of Mormon came out. The fact that they didn’t mention it in the book doesn’t prove that they didn’t use them or at least believe in them or incorporate it into their story one way or another. The letters also confirm the fact that they actually met and discussed the translation. It is hard to see why martin Harris would do this and sell his farm if he didn’t actually believe in the story he was receiving from Smith. A close look at the letters also seems to indicate that Harris may have been in an emotional state when he visited Anthon on one or both visits. This may have been due to the fact that he really did believe in the new religion. Of course, I can’t prove some of my speculation any more than Jerome Knuijt could prove his but it is enough to prove that the explanation for this is at best incomplete. The confusion about this story could be enough to enable people who are looking for something to believe in to latch onto.
Another issue which skeptics seem to be willing to accept without question is the claim that Anthon was acting purely out of the best interest of the simple farmer who is being swindled. This assumption may also be attributed to other anti-Mormon skeptics who may have had ulterior motives and were trying to discredit the Mormons for other reasons. The fact that there was so much anti-Mormon literature and that they were recruiting so many new flowers indicates that there were a lot of people with the motive to discredit them due to the fact that they were disrupting the established ruling class or that they could potentially do so. Both the anti-Mormons and the Mormons routinely portray themselves as being benevolent to the people but a close look may indicate that neither one of them were as benevolent as they attempted to portray themselves. This is typical of propaganda wars that are being carried out when two or more factions are competing to control the masses. It is conceivable that this could be part of the reason why Anthon came up with two contradictory answers; perhaps he was under pressure to tell the two people inquiring about it with the answer they wanted to hear. It is also possible that he was under pressure from Harris himself during the visit to come up with the answer he wanted to hear due to a highly agitated state. If so, this agitated state could be a sign of his sincere belief, in something, even if it is misplaced.
When considering Anthon to be the more rational one of the two it isn’t without problems when you consider statements like, “to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.” In the first letter and “that if he left the volume, as he said he intended to do, I should most assuredly throw it after him as he departed.” It seems to imply that he might have become almost as emotional as Martin Harris, perhaps out of frustration, but it also creates the appearance that he may have been concerned about his own reputation which leaves the opportunity to portray him, legitimately or not, as having a motive to hide his first conclusions. This seems more credible when it turns out that he contradicted his two versions.
The use of the term anti-Mormon has had its own misuses and different interpretations depending on the point of view of the speaker or listener; I’m sure some people might consider me an anti-Mormon due to some of the material that I have written here; and this would be partially correct; however a little perspective is in order. I am opposed to any cult activity that involves indoctrinating the public whether it is done by Mormons or other religions including the Evangelicals that are often the most critical of the Mormons. I’m also opposed to the anti-Mormons who intentionally distort their claims to meet their beliefs; however many of them almost certainly do this intentionally; and I don’t rule out the possibility that I will demonstrate bias any more than they, although I try to avoid it. I try not to be opposed to their good ideas and I’m not opposed to the more moderate people of the Mormon religion or any other that are trying to sort out the details and get to the real truth. From this point of view it is often necessary to sort through the details and figure out when the opposition is going to far in any direction.
A more modern review of some of the early anti-Mormon literature may indicate some of the bias that might raise additional doubts about the skeptics and class bias as indicated in the following excerpt from the first chapter of Eber Howe’s book which was one of the most popular early reviews of the new religion by opponents:
The reference to him as being “not much disposed to obtain an honorable livelihood by labor” may have some legitimacy if you look at only one part of the story. He certainly was involved in his share of superstition and fraud at times; however it was quite typical at that time and those that did work hard often didn’t benefit from it due to the fact that many other people were involved in fraud of one kind or another. This was a time when the leaders of society taught their own religions which had plenty of their own superstitions. This was a time when land speculators were often involved in fraud that robbed the poor of any opportunity they had to get ahead and many other preachers were trying to do their own recruiting for their own religion and critics like Howe almost certainly didn’t target them much if at all. This may have been part of the reason why the believers in Mormonism were able to dismiss their critics and it may have actually helped them with their recruiting if the followers knew about the other deceptions that were going on at that time. This may sound good to those that want to believe it but those that lived with the other scams that may have been ignored may have known better; and perhaps in many cases they may have responded by conducting their own scams, which seems to be the case. Absurd as Joseph Smith’s scams often were they may have come after seeing that the only people that truly got ahead were the ones involved in scams, although the successful ones usually had better political connections. The rise of the anti-Mormon literature may have been partially a result of the fact that Mormon scams were challenging the scams of the powerful.
In 1839 John Corrill first self-published “A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints,” which explains his reasons for joining and later leaving the church. His brief history sheds some light on how many people are drawn into a religion or cult based on misleading beliefs. In my opinion it seems to be less biased than many of the other literature at that time. This is partly because if he was inclined to take one side or another then he probably would have shown it in a more extreme manner. It is relatively brief only about 50 pages, so it come recommended and it could be read fairly quickly.
Apparently John Corrill was predisposed to believe that God did exist and that he revealed himself through “revelations” and that the bible was his word, as many other people at that time were raised. He was also, presumably taught to believe their religious authorities and some of the people preaching it including Sidney Rigdon were considered religious authorities. Corrill explains that the reason that he came to believe that the Mormons were worth joining in the first place was because after reading the bible he came to the conclusion that there could be additional prophets and that God might reveal the truth through them in the same manner that he had in the past, and that the legitimacy of these prophets can be confirmed by miracles associated with them. The following shows his description of what he considered possible miracles, some that he saw first hand and others that he heard about while with other believers:
The direct evidence that he perceived as indicated a miracle seemed to involve the “speaking of tongues” which is hard to confirm especially over a hundred years after the fact with all the witnesses dead. He also saw a lot of strange behavior that could have been similar to many religious revivals which were common in those days, and in some cases they still go on today although the stories about modern occurrences aren’t as bizarre in most cases and they can be observed by many modern psychologists and sociologists to see what is happening although the participants may prefer not to be observed. Most of us probably wouldn’t consider this evidence of a miracle unless there is more to it than he was able to describe in a book; and even if it was considered a miracle most of us probably wouldn’t have jumped to the same conclusions that he did. This is just a small sample of the stories like this; if it didn’t happen as Corrill described it then we still have a major psychological mystery to explain why so many people wrote down so many similar stories. Regardless of whether or not it was a miracle, he thought it was and so did many other people and they joined the new religion.
He later goes on to describe many experiences that may be typical of many cults; when first joining them they’re often much friendlier and more democratic; then after becoming more dependent on them and isolated from the rest of their family they become more authoritarian. Corrill describes many persecutions against the Church by outsiders and he claims that the Mormons weren’t the instigators with outsiders, although other reports say otherwise. This isn’t uncommon with many religious conflicts that are trying to control a large number of people and when a new religion comes up to challenge the authority of the older one.
Jacques Vallee might interpret the portion of John Corrill’s account about how “young persons became very visionary, and had divers operations, of the spirit, as they supposed. They saw wonderful lights in the air…” as potential evidence of a hypothesis that he has developed about many ancient events dating back thousands of years having the same root causes as modern UFO sightings and many of the surrounding myths about them. He wrote the following:
Jacques Vallee develops this hypothesis primarily with a large amount of myths from history, some of the most recent include Joseph smith and the Miracle at Fatima; however he often fails to sort through the details of many of these myths including Joseph Smith’s story and he doesn’t address many of the issues raised by many of the skeptics. One thing I would agree with is that the “transformation of an ordinary farm boy from rural New York State into an unchallenged leader of multitudes is an unusual fact that deserves attention;” although a closer look at the history surrounding Smith indicates that he wasn’t quite unchallenged among his own followers but he did overcome the challenges that did arise faster and more thoroughly than I would have expected.
Rodney Stark a sociologist seems to agree at least to some extent; although, as far as I know he doesn’t associate Mormonism with UFOs and he thinks that the primary research should focus on the scientific within normal academic and secular research methods; but he doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of something that people consider “divine” or “supernatural.” My own opinion about things that are considered supernatural is that if they happen they’re undiscovered science that is often surrounded by an enormous amount of hype, exaggerations, and sometimes pseudo-debunking that often dismisses legitimate mysteries along with the exaggerations and superstitions. Stark thinks that Mormonism may be one of the greatest opportunities available to study a large and relatively new religion as it develops as indicated in the following quotes:
My own point of view a miracle, or perceived miracle is just a dramatic event that is probably a result of an unknown trick slight of hand or science that the audience doesn’t understand. This could just as easily apply to magic, the supernatural or paranormal. Once people understand these events then they will cease to appear like miracles. This isn’t an uncommon belief now; however there are many pseudo-skeptics that avoid real research and rely on ridicule of unsolved mysteries to “debunk” them. When these pseudo-skeptics use the same tactics they are criticizing they lose credibility when people see the flaws in their logic. Also it was a much rarer point of view in the nineteenth century; yet apparently according to the following excerpts Brigham Young the leader of the Mormons after Joseph Smith died may have held it at least to some point.
Brigham Young seems to be implying the thing that makes God so powerful is the fact that he understands things much better than people do, therefore the things we consider miraculous aren’t a mystery to him. Young seems to believe that it is desirable for this hypothetical God to provide information when and only when it suits God’s purposes. He doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that if this God does exist and he behaves in such a manner that would essentially make this hypothetical God a cult leader who is indoctrinating people and enslaving their minds through people he chooses to designate as prophets. This wouldn’t be a god that deserves to be worshipped unless the target audience has had their mind enslaved through indoctrination.
Brigham Young didn’t always act in a religious manner though; in fact, he couldn’t have or the religion he was holding together would have fallen apart. In order to maintain a growing religion someone has to make an enormous amount of decisions that keep people together and enable them to grow. If the people don’t have enough food they will die and if they are abused too much they will rebel. A good leader has to know when not to push to far especially when starting a relatively new religion and it is hard to understand where or how Brigham Young or Joseph Smith could have learned this. Neither one of them was well educated they were farmers and craftsmen; they weren’t raised in households where their father taught them to lead a large group of people, especially Joseph Smith. Brigham Young apparently had a family history where his ancestors did some preaching in addition to carpentry but they weren’t the biggest leaders or the most charismatic. The importance of a good leader that doesn’t lead a society into collapse is especially important when the majority are taught to follow orders without questions; without a leader to instruct them they often fall apart which has happened in history on many occasion when a culture relied too much on one leader without setting up a system to educate a new set of leaders. In fact this is part of the reason why many cultures have collapsed in the past including the Egyptian and Roman empires; others like the Angkor empire is probably also in this category however the records to back it up are rarer.
As indicated in some of his sermons including the ones previously cited Brigham did have some understanding of science but it wasn’t as good as those that were in the scientific field. He was unable to successfully process iron but he was able to keep his people together.
Another possible mystery is why the original witnesses that didn’t stay with the church when Brigham moved to Utah never recanted their testimony or doubted the original claims that they witnessed a miracle that led to the writing of the Book of Mormon. Most of them were excommunicated or left on their own although a couple rejoined one of the sects of the Church. This has been cited as evidence of the claim that this was the one true religion. None of them questioned why the God they believed in abandoned them and allowed Joseph Smith to be killed. This isn’t enough to establish their claims but it does leave some unanswered questions that still haven’t been resolved.
Presumably if searching for traditional explanations for cult behavior it would be helpful to include the most up to date research on any applicable fields, this should include research into abusive childhood upbringing which unfortunately Stark doesn’t seem to do at a quick glance. I haven’t read much of his material myself, I found him through Richard Ostling’s book which I read and searched through some of his other books on Google to find what I could but there was nothing on corporal punishment or child abuse; so my best guess is that he didn’t focus too much on this like many other academic researchers. Not only does Rodney Stark fail to do this but secular skeptics like Michael Shermer also pay little attention to this even though it would go a long way to explaining the superstitions and “Why People believe Weird Thing,” without anything that would be considered supernatural or paranormal; and there is plenty of research in this that he can cite to support his explanations which the majority of people could understand, assuming they’re not in denial about how corporal punishment leads to escalating violence and indoctrination. This is especially surprising since Michael Shermer is a psychologist who should keep up with this type of material in his own field. This basically involves teaching children to believe what they’re told without question by using intimidation to discourage free thinking; I explained this in further detail in previous blogs including Authoritarianism and Dobson’s Indoctrination Machine. Understanding this would help understand how followers have been kept in line as indicated in the following excerpts about maintaining order during a sermon from Brigham Young’s Journal of Discourses:
If you follow the link to the full discourse you’ll see that he didn’t even want to tolerate crying babies, which annoying as they may be, are unavoidable especially when poor people can’t afford day care. This is a clear indication that he was raised in an authoritarian manner and that he thought it was right to maintain order on his congregations in a similar authoritarian manner. However, on other occasions, he has also indicated that using the rod or whip isn’t the appropriate way to raise children and maintain order as indicated in the following excerpts:
A closer look seems to indicate that Brigham Young wasn’t as tyrannical as many have indicated; however he still didn’t teach people to sort through the details and figure out what is true; instead he taught people to obey the will of God and in many cases the lessons they learned almost certainly involved using abusive behavior. In modern times some of the most extreme examples where children were raised in strict abusive and authoritarian manners were Mark Hoffman and Jeffery Lundgren (of the RLDS sect) who both turned into murders and they’re not the only Mormons that have resorted to extreme violence patrtially due to their upbringing and Mormon beliefs. This also leads to a congregation that follows orders without question and even votes the way the leaders indicate that they want them to as indicated in a meeting that happened in 1853.
There was no discussion about this issue which came up without any planning and the congregation simply voted the way they knew their leaders wanted them to. This was typical of the way they were taught. This control that leaders had over the votes of the masses continued at least into the 1930’s as indicated by a letter from Dean R. Brimhall.
The control over many members of the Church probably wasn’t quite as thorough in the seventies and the eighties but it was thorough enough to sway a large number of their followers to support the position of the Church on at least a couple of issues, the ERA amendment in the seventies, and the MX missile issue in the eighties, which they were able to rally their people behind. They were able to rally enough of their people including most woman to play a key role in stopping the ERA amendment even though it was clearly in the best interest of the woman to support it. Sonia Johnson was one of the few exceptions; she led some other woman in support of the amendment and she was excommunicated for her opposition. The MX missile issue changed suddenly simply because of a statement from the Church as indicated in the following quote:
The Mormons also have a long history of censorship or attempted censorship; however these attempts were actually doomed to failure from the beginning partially due to a practice of keeping extensive records that was initially ordered in the early stages, probably as a result of an alleged revelation to Joseph Smith instructing Mormons to keep journals especially prominent Mormons. This came back to haunt them when the culture changed around them in the twentieth century and the things that were acceptable, and even desirable, like authoritarianism, in the nineteenth century became unacceptable. In fact, this is part of what led to Joseph Smiths assassination; while there was persecution or alleged persecution on both sides Joseph Smith ordered the press of his critics to be destroyed. These particular critics were actually fellow Mormons and it isn’t the first experience that the Mormons had with censorship.
Prior to this they were actually the victims of censorship and the destruction of presses on at least two different occasions. When they were run out of both Ohio and Missouri their presses were destroyed and they were unable to obtain compensation. The problem of censorship has often worked both ways and the people with the most power often are able to get away with it at least for the short term; but in the long term it almost always backfires and leads to additional conflict one way or another. When Joseph Smith targeted his own dissenters he may have thought that he could get away with it due to the fact that they were his followers but it backfired anyway and the anti-Mormons in nearby Carthage used this as an excuse to run them off again and a mob that was ultimately acquitted participated in the murder of Joseph Smith.
Brigham Young also attempted to censor Lucy Mack Smith’s “Biographical sketches of Joseph Smith, the prophet” which he considered sacrilegious. More recently BYU refused to let woman professors issue a study of seventy-one LDS women who had suffered childhood abuse; two of the professors quit and published the research in 1999. (Richard N. Ostling, Joan K. Ostling “Mormon America” 1999/2007) Much more extensive evidence of censorship was exposed to the public when Mark Hoffman became infamous in 1985 when he was exposed in two murders and a forgery scam that he pulled on the Church. He sold them a lot of forged documents some of which made the church look good and they publicized them, others which made them look bad and they suppressed them. Ironically if the Church had done a better job checking the authenticity they could have received a public relations boost by portraying the critics of Mormons as relying on forgeries; but instead it was a public relations disaster since even though they turned out to be forgeries the Church was exposed trying to censor them.
This was reported in detail in “The Mormon Murders” by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith. The Mormons continue to preach obedience without question and Mitt Romney is very close to the leaders of the church; much closer than most people realize. Until recently I didn’t think Mormonism was a major part of his beliefs since he rarely, if ever, mentioned it while he was running for office in Massachusetts; nor did the mass media. Now that he is running for the presidency in a republican primary he is much more inclined to cite his faith; however he doesn’t go into details of it, presumably because the vast majority of the electorate is not Mormon and they oppose it but they do support the worshipping of God and Jesus Christ. Presumably he may be hoping that the religious followers vote without asking too many questions. This would be typical of many devout followers of religion. In fact, his father’s cousin was
Of course Mormons are also famous for their support of polygamy in the past. It is widely believed by many that many of them still practice this which, when it comes to the main sect, they don’t. the sects that still practice this are the break away sects that have mostly been excommunicated by the official church. The Reorganized Later-Day Saints (RLDS) based in Missouri never adopted this practice at all. When the Utah based Church first abandoned it under pressure from the US government they started by driving it underground but eventually actually stopped it and those that continued to practice it were forced to leave the official church and form their own sects. This has often been down played by saying that it was never the majority of the members of the church that practiced this and that most of those that did only had two wives but the worst part of this isn’t necessarily the multiple wives; it may be the abuse, coercion and misuse of power that has accompanied it from the beginning. Joseph Smith was apparently involved in pressuring people to give up their family members, including wives, so that he could take additional wives. The minority that had plural wives were the leaders and the ones that were involved in the abuse of power.
I’ve hardly mentioned the content of the Book of Mormon; which is worth a separate blog; in brief it tells about how a tribe of Ancient Israelites allegedly crossed the ocean approximately 600BCE and they were divided into two groups, the Nephites and the Laminites. The Nephites were the descendents of Nephi who followed the “true religion” and the Lamanites were the descendents of his brother who didn’t believe and they turned their skin dark. They’re allegedly the ancestors of the Native Americans. The Nephites more or less died off for one reason or another. Depending on which passage you read it was either because they lost their faith or they were killed by the Laminites because they refused to abandon their faith. Whether or not its true, they believed it, and it appears as if the hypothetical God that promised to bring salvation abandoned them in the end one way or another and this is still the God they’re supposed to worship. Mormons who’re taught to believe from birth presumably don’t see this problem despite the fact, in my opinion, that it should be obvious to anyone who reads the Book of Mormon without being indoctrinated into the religion. Presumably they’re taught how to interpret it as they go along and accept it without question due to the pressure they’re under.
Also, as an indicator of how the Mass Media continues to cover this, recently Ed Shultz mentioned an important verse from the Book of Mormon. It was only one but it was, or would have been, better than they’ve been covering it so far, if not for the fact that technically they took it out of context. It was the passage about God turning the color of the Laminites skin dark because they didn’t follow the right belief. Ed Shultz implied that this was a reference to African Americans when it actually referred to Native Americans. This is trivial since there are plenty of legitimate problems with both as well as woman, Gays and any other religion that doesn’t follow the “true path” however it leaves the door open to argue over trivial details which the Mass Media is very good at. Another example of the way they report on the Mormon religion is a recent article from the Boston Globe “Majority of the Mormons think US ready for a president of their faith,” where they discuss whether Mormons believe America is ready to accept their religion and how many Mormons support Mitt Romney without much if any discussion about the beliefs of the Mormon religion and their long history of scandal, some legitimate others not. They don’t do anything to educate the public about how this could effect the way Romney would lead this country or how it may have contributed to his elitist attitude and why many Mormons support him and their own religion without understanding either one of them.
I’m not aware of a thorough statistical study of the high profile Mormons that have made the news or that have been involved in violent crimes but it seems like their have been a lot and the following are just a sample of them. I don’t know whether this is more or less than that of other religions.
Ervil LeBaron Rulon Allred Bruce Longo John Singer Vickie Singer Ron Lafferty Mark Hoffman at mormoninformation.com Mark Hoffman at mormoncurtain.com Jeffery Lundgren Tom Green Brian David Mitchell, abductor of Elizabeth Smart Warren Jeffs at mormonfundamentalism.com Warren Jeffs at Mormon Voices church supporters
For additional information on Mormonism see the following:
Dale R. Broadhurst pages with extensive library
Jerald and Sandra Tanner of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry
Journal of Discourses by Brigham Young
"Romney’s Mormon Problem Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism." By Christopher Hitchens
(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)