Mormons Reflect on New Brigham Young Biography

Over at Times and Seasons, a Mormon blog, Julie Smith reviews the new book, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner. Smith writes:

I have serious reservations about recommending it to the average church member; if you need your prophet to be larger than life, or even just better than the average bear, this book is not for you.  I think there is a substantial risk that people raised on hagiographic, presentist images of prophets would have their testimonies rocked, if not shattered, by this book. Perhaps this is just an idiosyncratic reaction, but I felt an increased appreciation for Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball after reading their biographies.  I can’t say the same for Brigham Young; I liked him–and respected him–less.  Much less.

She says that Young did “…some deeply creepy stuff” and lists:

Dubious financial practices?  Check (page 52). Knife fights in the temple?  Check (page 53). Making false statements?  Check (pages 59, 76, and 153).  Polyandry?  Check (pages 94, 136, 376).  Lying about polygamy?  Check (page 97). Extra-judicial violence, killing, and castration?  Check (pages 122, 186, 188, 259, 285).  Racism?  Check (pages 124, 218, 222, 362). Sexist language?  Check (page 158). Secretly ordaining his pre-teen sons as apostles?  Check (page 382). Violent rhetoric?  Check (page 349 and 350).  Foul language?  Check (pages 173, 305, and 320).  Blood atonement?  Check (pages 186 and 258). False prophecies?  Check (page 197). Paying bribes?  Check (page 369).  Major hypocrisy?  Check (page 400).  Members of the Quorum of the Twelve questioning his use of church funds and his doctrinal teachings?  Check (page 410).  (Irrelevant side note:  I don’t know why people act as if polyandry is somehow worse than polygamy;  I think they are just being sexist and don’t even realize it.)

Glenn Beck and Cleon Skousen

The inimitable Aaron Wolf has a good post up about Mormonism and America. Excerpt:

And yet everything about this America-is-God’s-country ideology is Mormon to the core.  It serves as the false foundation of a religion that finds the center of human history not in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of Christ but in “another revelation of Jesus Christ” in the terrestrial “promised land” on which we stand.  It is Manichaean, declaring our external enemies evil and ourselves good, locating wickedness not in the hearts of sinful men but in the foes of a human government that will wither as the grass.  It is the religion of America—not the real, historical America, but the America of myth and fantasy.

“If we do these things,” Beck preached, “we will heal our nation.”  The phrase is reminiscent of 2 Chronicles 7:14, so often cited at rallies on the National Day of Prayer.  If my people, which are called by my name, shall . . . return to limited government (no. 19)?  Operate according to the will of the majority (no. 20)?  Be debt-free (no. 27)?  The assumption here is that Americans, like the Israelites of old, are uniquely “my [God’s] people.”  And that it is not “I the Lord” but “We the gods” who can “heal their land.”

Scrying

This is an interesting addition to the Joseph Smith file: a bit of background on John Dee:

In the early 1580s the English scholar and magus John Dee undertook an experiment with his “scryer,” who went by the name of Edward Kelley, to try to acquire otherwise inaccessible knowledge by means of invoking and interrogating angels. Kelley, by peering into his “seer stone,” mediated numerous conversations between these angels and Dee, and Dee left detailed transcripts of these encounters. He was told that the lost books of Esdras were still in the hands of the Jews. He was also told that he would be shown the lost books of Enoch quoted by Jude, but there is no record of this happening. Instead, the angels dictated a lengthy revelatory book called Liber Loagaeth, which was to restore all the lost holy books. Unfortunately, it is written in an “angelic” language (called “Enochian” by later followers of Dee) and, apart from a word or two here and there, no translation was ever forthcoming.

LDS Missions on Facebook?

In a piece of bad or misleading reporting, Ruth Gledhill says: "But soon the famously clean-shaven, clean-living Mormon missionaries might be shown the door for the last time." Her article goes on:

Elder Erich Kopischke, head of the Church’s European operation who is in London to mark the 175th anniversary of American missionaries setting sail for Liverpool on July 1, 1837, told The Times that one post on Facebook could reach 900,000 people in an instant. It would take many months, if not years, to knock on that many doors, he said.

He was speaking at a time when Mitt Romney is campaigning to become the first Mormon US President. The US musical satire The Book of Mormon is due to open in March next year in London.

Elder Kopischke, married with five children, who did his own missionary door knocking on doors in the Pope’s homeland of Bavaria, said: "Door-knocking was really the old way of communicating things."

There are 900 Mormon missionaries on the road in Britain, but the Church has a strong web presence and more than 600,000 people have "liked" its official Facebook page. "If you think about the idea of door-knocking, Jesus once said, ‘Your mouth speaks what your heart is full of’. Why do people knock on doors? Because their heart is full. Why do people use social networks? Because they have something to say. Door-knocking is sometimes understood as aggressive proselytising." Over time, he said, social networks would be more efficient. "If I want to share with you what is really on my heart or that I have observed something, it is easier than to make the trip."

Gledhill implies that Mormons are going to stop going door to door and will just reach out via social media, but the church says nothing of the sort. Rather, it emphasizes that it now does a lot of online chats:

A Church spokesman said that social networking was proving far more effective than knocking on doors. Over a 12-month period, Mormon social networking missionaries have taken part in more than one million online chats.

But I can’t see this replacing Missions at all. For one thing, the Mission is a formative tool in getting young Mormons to own their faith. They have to learn about it on the fly, defend it, and become apologists of sorts, all in a short, two-year time span while their secular counterparts are busy at keggers and hooking up. Also, they and their families have to fund the mission on their own, the church doesn’t pay for it. It is the central event of most young Mormon’s lives. Mormon families take enormous pride in their children successfully completing a Mission.
Also, many of the areas that LDS missionaries are serving aren’t exactly Facebook friendly. That approach might, *might*, work in the UK or the US, but how about Africa? And even in the UK, how many old folks or home-bound folks are on Facebook? There is no substitute for face to face interaction and I’m sure Mormons know this. If anything, the online chats probably lead to a follow up from the Missionaries.
So the tantalizing headline of this article is not at all fleshed out in the details. But I expect we’ll continue to see shoddy reporting on Mormon issues throughout Mitt Romney’s time in office.

Mormons and Tongues 3

I wrote a couple posts on this subject two years ago. I just came across another account of the same phenomenon in the book Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman:

A spiritual outburst on January 22, 1833, foreshadowed what lay ahead for the School of Prophets. A conference was suddenly visited with the gift of tongues. Joseph spoke in another tongue, followed by Zebedee Coltrin and William Smith, and finally all the elders, along with “several of the members of the Church both male & female.” “Much speaking & praying all in tongues” occupied the conference before adjournment “at a late hour.” The next day, the men came together again and started “speaking praying and singing, all done in Tongues.” Lucy Smith remembered hearing of the spiritual outpouring while she was baking bread. She dropped her work and rushed to join the meeting.

Joseph loved these times when the Spirit enveloped the Saints in “long absent blessings,” proof that New Testament religion had returned.

I wonder if modern, mainstream Mormons still practice tongues at all? It ought to give Pentecostals pause.

 

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing III

One well-known feature of the Book of Mormon (BOM) is its reliance on the Authorized version of the Bible. I have often wondered if Smith just pulled out the Bible and dictated these sections of the BOM from it, but Dunn addresses how these sections might have happened under an automatic writing model:

Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books that they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Smith’s scriptural productions borrowed material from the Bible, this is entirely consistent with other instances of automatic writing. This quirk of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of styles and literary patterns that are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Another common question is how Smith addressed the origin of Indians and certain theological concepts of his day in such detail if he didn’t have access to the texts current in his day? Dunn says:

But automatic writing renders such a question irrelevant. Automatic texts often contain information available to the writer in the most obscure manner imaginable. One researcher described a woman who, with a ouija board, produced automatic writing that recounted “almost exactly” the death notices in an available newspaper. Although the woman apparently had not read these obituaries, she had done the crossword puzzle found on the same page in the newspaper. It seems that her mind had picked up and stored material that was in her field of vision as she worked the crossword puzzle; she had unconsciously read and unconsciously written information of which her conscious mind was entirely unaware. Interestingly, the researcher further reported that the writing contained information to which the woman had no access whatsoever. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find Smith’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, camp meetings, or other settings without any concerted study of the issues.

Dunn ends his fascinating essay with a series of questions about what makes scripture into scripture? He really doesn’t have an answer. The test should clearly be doctrinal fidelity with previous Scripture, namely the Old and New Testaments. He doesn’t pose this as a test, but he should have.

I believe Dunn’s proposal to be the best explanation for the authoring of the BOM. Other explanations are a bit rag-tag in proposing dependence on this or that text, or the penmanship of Cowdrey or Rigdon. What he fails to consider is the possibility of demonic influence/dictation. Perhaps automatic writing is a combination of the subconscious with demonic guidance. I have addressed this before in relation to Socrates, who claimed demonic inspiration. Socrates said:

There is something spiritual which, by a divine dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up. It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do, but never urges me on to anything ; and if one of my friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same thing happens : it prohibits, and does not allow him to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince you of these facts.

As the Apostle Paul warned us, even an angel from heaven might appear bearing a false gospel.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing II

Dunn continues examining the various forms that automatic writing have taken over the years. He multiplies examples, many of which have obvious parallels with Joseph Smith. One obvious parallel are people who use scrying stones:

In such instances, the individual may experience some sort of vision while the hand writes. Typically, the text reports what was seen in the vision, but in some cases, the stone-gazer sees written words […] One psychologist reports that a young boy dictated a fantastic adventure story, which he saw enacted in the crystal while his hand wrote automatically at the same time.

Dunn cites studies suggesting that automatic writing may be a product of “the unconscious mind.” He also spends a good deal of time discussing Pearl Curran who experimented with an ouija board and produced the writings of one ‘Patience Worth.” Curran’s writings, like Joseph Smith’s, exhibited skills she should not have had, in her case it was the appearance of a massive number of Anglo-Saxon words, “proof” of their ancient nature. One scholar cited by Dunn calls these works a “philological miracle.” Dunn also says:

Another startling thing about the works attributed to Patience Worth is their accuracy on factual details that Curran apparently could not have known, a defense often applied to writings given through Joseph Smith […]

Dunn says, “Pearl Curran is like Joseph Smith in still another way: for both, available evidence militates against  the likelihood of conscious fraud.” Dunn then outlines evidence for the BOM being a product of automatic writing:

…the content of automatic writing is often similar to that of the Book of Mormon: Examples include multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, accounts of various ministries of Jesus Christ, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by a deity. […]

In addition, the bulk of the Book of Mormon, dictated after Oliver Cowdery became Smith’s scribe, was completed in approximately ninety days. This represents fairly rapid work for a book of this length-588 typeset pages in the first edition-even if the translation progressed will every day. Again, the speed and ease with which Smith worked is characteristic of automatic writing.

Dunn mentions that Smith “pronounced the words of the text with his face buried in a hat, looking at a seer stone” and concludes that “This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone is a well-known method of producing automatic writing.”

Smith had time to think through themes for the BOM before he launched his project, but Dunn says this isn’t unusual for automatic writing:

Before producing Oahspe, John Newbrough was visited by its angelic authors, asked if he would “perform a mission for Jehovih,” and was told to prepare for this experience…Finally, ten years after the first visitation, the angels told him to proceed with the automatic typing of their work.

Dunn brings up one critic, the ever-present Blake Ostler, and writes:

Blake Ostler has put forth what is essentially an automatic writing model, though he is reluctant to call it that. He states that Smith’s “state of consciousness differs from…most reports of automatic writing in that he did not lose consciousness of his surroundings or become dispossessed of his personal identity,” apparently unaware that the same is true of A Course in Miracles and all of the Patience Worth literature. “Further,” Ostler continues, “there is no evidence that [Smith] claimed to hear a voice or take dictation from another personality, unlike cases of spirit writing or channeled text.” But this also applies to such dramatic instances of automatic writing as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ and The White Goddess. In spite of his attempts to distance Smith from these works, nothing in Ostler’s characterization of the translation process is inconsistent with the best-documented instances of the this phenomenon.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing I

In his essay, Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon, (available here) Scott C. Dunn argues that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is the product of automatic writing. He begins with the example of Helen Cohn Schucman and her three volume “A Course in Miracles” dictated to her by “by an inner voice that identified itself as Jesus Christ.”

His second example is Jane Roberts who “conducted experiments” with the occult “which soon led her into contact with “Seth,” a discarnate personality who spoke through the medium of Roberts’s mind and voice. In these sessions, Roberts lapsed into a trance while Seth lectured on complex philosophical and metaphysical subjects beyond the educational experience of Jane Roberts herself.” He also mentions Levi H. Dowling, author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

For the purpose of his essay, Dunn defines “automatic writing” as “the ability to write or dictate text in a relatively rapid, seemingly effortless and fluent manner with no sense of control over the content. Indeed, except for sometimes knowing a word or two moments in advance of writing and speaking, the individual is typically not consciously aware of what the content of the writing will be.”

Dunn mentions channeled texts such as the Oahspe by dentist John Newbrough “who claimed that the book’s angelic spirit authors controlled his hands on the typewriter each morning for fifty weeks.”

Aleister Crowley wrote The Holy Books of Thelema under the influence of something he called his Guardian Angel. He said of his prose, “It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objectives which I should myself have raised.”

How about someone a bit tamer? Dunn brings up Charlotte Bronte who “is said to have written her masterpieces Villette and Jane Eyre at a constant rate with her eyes shut. Dunn writes:

Calling her a “trance-writer,” critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar quote entries from the author’s journal that describe her visionary experiences and moments of “divine leisure” in which “the stream of thought…came flowing free & calm along its channel.” Similarly, the English poet A.E. Housman once noted that entire stanzas of poetry would come into his mind all at once. More on the mystical side is the visionary William Blake, who claimed that his lengthy poem Jerusalem was “dictated” to him.

Anyone familiar with Joseph Smith can see where this is going. More in my next post.

A Chain of Gods

In the book The New Mormon Challenge, Paul Copan and William Lane Craig quote Mormon theologian David H. Bailey as follows:

“In that case God is not the being who crafted the universe at the big bang. If there is such a being, it is a deity beyond him.” In this breathtaking affirmation, Bailey states that God – that is, the typical Mormon God (Elohim) described by Joseph Smith and worshipped by million of Mormons – is not truly God. Rather, the true God is beyond him; the true God is the Creator of the universe ex nihilo. Bailey hastens to add that “Mormon theology, of course, allows the possibility of a hierarchy of deities (D&C 121:28).”

The quote is from Bailey’s essay “Scientific Foundations of Mormon Theology.”

False Finality in Mormon 3

After the Nephites take ungodly oaths in chapter 3 of Mormon, Mormon says that he “did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people” (verse 11). Yet, we find him in chapter 5 repenting of that oath and leading the Nephites into battle again. If this book was written at the same time, why wouldn’t Mormon say that he refused to lead the people “for several years” or something like that rather than making an absolute statement only to contradict it a bit later? The text of the book indicates that it was written after all these events were in the past (6.6), “therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi…”, which happens at the end of Mormon’s life.

The reversal of Mormon’s position instead is consistent with someone who is inventing the story as he goes along, not knowing the future events from the “present” events.