Thoughts about Joseph Smith:
Upon Reading Donna Hill's Joseph Smith:
The First Mormon

Thoughts about Joseph Smith: Upon
Reading Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon

Thomas F. Rogers
Brigham Young
University, Provo, Utah

“Toute vue des choses qui n’est
pas Ètrange est fausse.”1

This paper first lists a number of
personal experiences which are mentioned but not unduly emphasized in Donna
Hill’s biography and which, taken together, appear to have been more than
coincidental influences on the formulation of Latter-day Saint doctrine and
Church practices. Against
the seemingly syncretic character of Joseph Smith’s activity as a founding
prophet who claimed divine authority for his principal pronouncements are then
weighed the following considerations, which cannot be easily dismissed or
explained away:

1. Joseph Smith’s essential innocence,
sincerity, unflinching forthrightness, other-directness, and self-effacement;

2. The profound and inspiring
explication of otherwise less well understood Christian principles in the
scriptures translated and brought forth by his hand and in the ordinances of
the temple;

3. The parallels between Joseph Smith’s
belittlement and persecution and that of acknowledged prophets in past ages;

4. The comprehensiveness of Joseph
Smith’s ontological vision.

This paper implies our need for
respecting and accepting Joseph Smith’s claims on empirical grounds, apart from
what in his history may prove disturbing and, though open to interpretation,
cannot be denied.

Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon strikes me as the man’s first fully
adequate biography2ócomprehensive,
detached, balanced, and fair. Or so it seems. Either what is therein claimed
about the Prophet is true or it is not. So far no one has come forth to dispute
its assertions. And I am in a state of shockóor was for weeks after I
read it. Nothing has so much forced me to reexamine my most cherished preconceptions.
I am a middle-aged professor who has for some time dealt with the literary
expression of mankind’s thorniest dilemmas. I have found the play of ideas a
delightful stimulation. Nor have I found it particularly difficult to live with
the ambiguity and paradox that seem to abound at life’s every turn and which
are so attested to in the scripturesóto remain tenuous about so much that
seems to “throw” many another believer. At the same timeóthanks
in part to a number of choice experiences afforded by callings in the
Churchómy testimony regarding the restored gospel and the reality and
divinity of the Savior has never been stronger, my faith never more profound.

If what has only so recently come to my
attention about Joseph Smithómuch of which in my thinking I had earlier
relegated to malicious rumorócan have “thrown” me as it did, at
least temporarily, I can well understand how in the past those who “knew
better” may have been anxious to keep the Prophet’s image so vaguely
idealized. By doing so, however, we fail, I believe, to recognize the nature of
the revelatory process in almost every dispensation and why prophets have been
so universally misunderstood, even detested. In his “King Follett
Discourse” the Prophet insisted that no man knew his history. How a reading
of Hill’s book confirms that statement: the more one ponders the available
biographical detail, the more enigmatic the man emerges, and the more puzzling,
at least on the surface, appear his motives. Like nothing else, the experience
reminds me of that existential trauma we all underwent when first
indoctrinated, whether by peers in the back woodshed or by parents, about the
birds and the bees. Those who first dissected the human body must have been
similarly amazed and, for a time at least, equally dismayed by what they
beheld. The facts of life and the reality that is more than skin deep do not
generally accord with a child’s uninformed suppositions. Why then should the
truth about another human being, easily as taxed and torn as we who are less
illustrious know ourselves to be, prove to be any less complex?

These are the thoughts which, on
balance, have occurred to me, since reading Hill, as I have pondered the man
Joseph Smith. What has been perhaps most disconcerting is that practically
everything he enunciated and brought forth was so syncreticóappears, that
is, to have been suggested by the ideas and the experiences he randomly
encountered in his particular social environment. The coincidences, if that is
what they are, suggest a consistent pattern of impressionability and truly
ingenious adaptation of both the most bizarre and seemingly most mundane
sources of inspiration, often secular, even spurious in character. We can no
longer deny, for instance, that prior to discovering the Golden Plates and the
Urim and Thummim he was several times hired to seek buried treasure by means of
a so-called “peep stone,” being sought after for his adeptness in its
use. Moreover, although there is nothing substantively in common between the
Reverend Ethan Smith’s View of the
and the Book of Mormon, the earlier work, published in 1823 by a
contemporary in a neighboring state, advances a similar thesis, claiming to
trace the history of descendants of the lost ten tribes among the American
Indians, and could well have been known to the Prophet. One of the Book of
Mormon’s most significant archetypesóLehi’s visionó bears striking
parallels to a dream whichóat least according to his mother’s 1845
accountóJoseph’s own father had earlier shared with his family members.3 Consequent to a dramatic
conversion late in life, moreover, Joseph’s maternal grandfather had published
a book of Christian exhortation and thereupon traveled about, peddling it in
the capacity of an itinerant missionary.

Another puzzling
“coincidence” occurs with the Book of Mormon’s quotation from certain
New Testament scriptures. The inclusion of passages from Isaiah in 2 Nephi is,
given the plates of Laban, quite understandable. It is also very conceivable
that, in visiting the Nephites, the Savior would reiterate, even verbatim, the
wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount. But the literal citation in Mormon’s
teaching of the familiar utterances of both Paul on charity (cf. Moroni 7:45 with 1
Corinthians 13:4-7) and John on divine sonship (cf. Moroni 7:48 with 1 John
3:2-3) can only be reconciled by assuming that such statements are so
profound and memorable, which these in fact tend to be, that Christ enunciated
them himself and that in both Jerusalem and among the Nephites they were
subsequently passed from one generation of disciples to the next. Consistent
with the statement in the New Testament that “there are also many other
things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I
suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be
written” (John 21:25),
Mormon asserts that “there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth
part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people” (3 Nephi 26:6).
The foregoing seems a plausible explanation, but, without it, credibility
wouldóat least for those who recognize and ponder such mattersóbe considerably strained.

In addition there is the weird and
convoluted history of the Egyptian sarcophagi that Joseph Smith acquired from
the descendant of a sideshow entrepreneur and that contained papyri which, when
translated, produced one of the Church’s four sacred scriptures. And there is
Sidney Rigdon’s prior experience with communal living among the Campbellites
and who, after he became the Church’s First Elder, probably urged Joseph to
consider instituting the law of consecration and stewardship or the United
Order. Finally, the correspondences between the Masonic ritual, to which Joseph
Smith was initiated, and both the apparel and symbolic gestures of the
endowment ceremony in LDS temples are so strikingly similar that it is hard not
to imagine that exposure to the one readily led to the genesis of the other.
Now that these circumstances have so fully come to light, it would ill serve
the cause of the Church to pretend they are not so. Both those within and
without who know otherwise will expect their recognition and further
explanation, while those who learn of them from non-Mormon sources will risk
even greater disenchantment.

Indeed, to anyone who does not already
have a personal appreciation of Joseph Smith’s spiritual nature, the cosmic
significance of his life and work, and their remarkable consequences in the
lives of now millions of human beings, the foregoing circumstances could hardly
lead to anything but skepticism and the view that Joseph was a brazen and
fairly incautious plagiarizer with one of the most unbridled imaginations that
ever found expression among the children of men. Let us, therefore, as we can
best discern them, take a reading of the other aspects of Joseph Smith’s
personality and behavior to determine how well these corroborate the notion
that he was or was not a charlatan, par
: First, a strong case can be madeóthough it does not
establish the veracity of his claimsóthat Joseph was basically innocent
and deeply sincere. As a fourteen-year-old with, by present-day standards, an
extremely limited education and knowledge of the world at large, he was, upon
entering the sacred grove, ideally suited to become the transparent vessel for
receiving and disseminating astoundingly pristine principles which those more knowledgeable
or steeped in Western theology were far more prone to qualify and compromise.
Such persons would also have been less inclined to seek answers from deity than
to rely on both already established authority and their own intellectual

By contrast, from the moment of his
hearing of the passage in James which prompted his inquiry about the true
church, the pattern emergesóso natural it seems profaneóthat no
revelation, no inspiration would ever come to Joseph without first being
prompted by some immediate stimulus which in turn impelled the recipient to
inquire about it by next petitioning deity. It is also worth noting that Joseph
Smith did not always appear to have so fully understood the import of the
answers he received as those who came after him. What he expressly went to the
grove to learn was fully communicated: no existing churches were authorized by
Jesus Christ and God the Father. The overarching significance of their
appearance as separate personages with glorified anthropomorphic bodies does
not seem to have dawned on him, at least at the time, nearly so much as on
subsequent Latter-day Saints. This may be another reason why the First Vision
was not recorded or even mentioned until some time later. Nor did Joseph ever
emphasize the fact that the nature of his experience in the grove, including
his initial encounter with the Powers of Darkness, was in the archetypal manner
of trial and initiation, always in some isolated natural setting, which the
founders of previous dispensations appear to have undergone prior to receiving
a divine commission to embark on their respective missions. Both the endowment
ceremony and the Pearl of Great Price recount comparable incidents in the case
of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The Old Testament suggests something
similar for Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as does the New Testament for Christ
during his forty days in the wilderness. But Joseph Smith never made anything
of the parallel in his own instance. It is likely that it did not even occur to

All of this tends to suggest that, far
from exploiting a number of circumstances which might have served his personal
self-aggrandizement, the young Joseph was even naively oblivious to their
possible implications. It makes him seem far less a scheming manipulator of
other men’s minds. Another area in which Joseph Smith seems less than shrewd
was in his uncompromising sense of urgency regarding the principles and
practices that lost for him the support of so many associates and made him and
his movement, in the minds of their gentile neighbors in Missouri and Illinois,
so much more suspicious and threatening. His undeviating persistence in such
matters led in fact directly to his martyrdom. Chief among these was polygamy.
As Hill points out, “Joseph seemed more and more determined that the
Saints accept the doctrine of celestial marriage as holy and necessary.”
Citing Joseph F. Smith, she adds, “as the late President George A. Smith
repeatedly said, to me and others, ‘The Prophet seemed irresistibly moved by
the power of God to establish that principle, not only in theory in the hearts
and minds of his brethren, but in practice also, he himself having led the
way.’ “4 Hill
elsewhere asserts, “It never occurred to Joseph and his followers that
their teachings had given gross offense.”5

One of Joseph’s most endearing
qualities was his magnanimity and generosity, his deep, impulsive affection for
others, particularly those of humble circumstances. T. Edgar Lyon has, for one,
recounted a number of anecdotal instances from reminiscences by various members
in the early days of the Church.6 Joseph’s failure as a
storekeeper in Kirtland because he could not withhold credit from needy Saints
is also well established. The accounts of his great distress at the loss of
those who died of cholera in Zion’s Camp and his joyous weeping on the occasion
of his own parents’ baptisms also attest to his sublime and expansive personal
qualities. It is surely meaningful that, knowing their son as only Joseph, Sr.,
and Lucy could, they and all his siblings were sufficiently convinced of Joseph’s
integrity, credibility, and claim to be a prophet. The great love and
undeviating lifelong trust in Joseph of such practical and worldly wise men as
Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young are also a strong testimonial to his
character; Brigham’s last dying wordsó”Joseph! Joseph!”óa
poignant evocation. Hill’s sensitive analysis further suggests to what extent
the Prophet’s insistence on extended kinship and polygamous marriage evinced an
uncontainable Christlike love for all his fellowmen:

If the prophet’s teachings and the
cohesiveness and comprehensiveness of his message are not ignored, it must be
recognized that his drive to establish polygamy was complex. It cannot be
dismissed, as some historians have tried to do, simply by the suggestion that
he had excessive sexual needs. Neither is it sufficient to say that Emma was
worn out and frequently ill from the hard life of pioneering and childbearing.
Nor can it merely be called an aspect of his Old Testament orientation, nor be
said to have relieved his strict Puritan conscience which would not allow
extra-marital sex, nor to have derived from a wish not to dishonor the women he
loved, nor to have been advice to cloak his proclivities by making polygamy
accepted by his community, although a case might be made to support each of
these assumptions. Account must be taken also of his enormous capacity to love,
which has been made manifest by scores of his contemporaries of both sexes and
all ages, and of his wish to bind his loved ones to himself forever, in this
life, in the millennium and throughout eternity.7

Reading Hill’s account of the Prophet’s
life further strengthens the impression that, upon leaving the grove and for
the rest of his life, Joseph never again knew a moment’s respite from either
persecution or misunderstanding on the part of his closest friends, even his
wife, Emma. One unwittingly asks how he or anyone could have borne it and still
maintained all he did if he did not know with a surety that the cause he
pursued was “well pleasing” in God’s sight. The severe test of that
saving knowledgeómentioned in the sixth Lecture on Faithówithout
which we must ultimately weary and fall short if we do not willingly sacrifice
“all earthly things,” including our very lives, is profoundly
attested by the faithfulness and eventual martyrdom of the Prophet himself.
That he fully knew what he professed is nowhere so plainly, hence forcefully,
asserted as in the Doctrine and
Covenants 76:22-23: “And now, after the many testimonies which have
been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God.”

It is difficult not to contrast to him
certain self-styled prophets who have arisen in our own dayóthe man named
Jones, for instance, who, in his final desperate hour, could not succumb without taking with him in Napoleonic
or Hitlerian fashionó”AprËs moi
le dÈluge
“óhis followers. How unlike such men was Joseph, who
knew how to roll up his shirt-sleeves and shoulder more than his share of toil
and whose life was worth nothing to him if not to his friends.

Despite his claims to be the Lord’s
vessel, Joseph was, in a number of instances, also remarkably self-effacing and
far more willing than most Latter-day Mormons to admit his own personal
fallibility. On one occasion, according to a gentile journalist, “he
remarked that he had been represented as pretending to be a Savior, a worker of
miracles, etc. All this was false. . . . He was but a man, he said; a plain,
untutored man; seeking what he should do to be saved. . . . There was no
violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be a religion of meekness.”8

According to Hill:

John D. Lee reported that in 1840 he
[Joseph Smith] said publicly that he had his failings, passions and temptations
to struggle against, just as had the greatest stranger to God, and that no man
was justified in submitting to his sinful nature. He did not want his followers
to sanctify him. In a speech of May 21, 1843, he said, “I have not an idea
that there has been a great many very good men since Adam. . . . I do not want
you to think I am very righteous for I am not very righteous.” To keep his
actions from being misconstrued, Joseph frequently pointed out the difference
between his behavior as a man and as a prophet. On one occasion he told
visitors to Nauvoo, “A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as

In addition, there are in the Prophet’s
teachings and public utterances a number of striking statements that further
convey his truly sublime understanding and espousal of the Greatest

If you do not accuse each other, God
will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you
will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I
will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will
not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over
yoursófor charity covereth a multitude of sins.10

Nothing is so much calculated to lead
people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with
tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what
power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow
up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.11

You must enlarge your souls towards
each other. . . . Let your hearts expand, let them be enlarged towards others.12

The mind or the intelligence which man
possesses is co-equal with God himself. . . . All the minds and spirits that
God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement . . . so that they
might have one glory upon another.13

According to Truman Madsen, the
critical and astute B. H. Roberts,

having gone word by word and line by
line through the writings of Joseph Smith, and having read everything he could
find on his life, . . . found Joseph Smith to be possessed of a deeper and
richer comprehension of Christ than anyone he had read in the Christian
tradition since the apostles. Through all Roberts’s buffetings and his
intellectual probings, honing his own mind with the major figures in the
history of Western thought, this conviction never diminished. And as his
extensive knowledge of the alternatives increased, his conviction deepened:
Joseph Smith told the truth, Joseph Smith was a prism of the Lord Jesus Christ.14

If, as Paul cogently argued, Christ is
the essential cornerstone in the foundation of the church that bears his name,
then Joseph Smith is as much the cornerstone of that church’s restoration. It
follows that, besides the priesthood and authority to which the restored Church
makes unique claims; the several volumes of scripture and revelation which came
to light through him, particularly the Book of Mormon; and also the ordinances
of initiation, endowment, and sealing that take place in Latter-day Saint
temples15 are
essential buttresses to the foundation and cornerstone of the restored Church.
By way of internal evidence and striking compatibility with its purported
cultural matrix, Hugh Nibley’s extensive and provocative writings on the Book
of Mormon leave much to consider.16 In addition there are
the aphorisms which, according to Madsen,17 Roberts thought
“comparable in their edge and insight not only to Biblical but also to
Hindu and Chinese classics” and like them reflecting “the moral
wisdom of the ages” which only accumulates throughout millennia of
life-and-death human experience. Among such “trenchant sayings,”
Roberts listed the following:

• Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:25).

• It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11).

• When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of
your God (Mosiah

• See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love (Alma 38:12).

• Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10).

• I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; . . . for if they humble
themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become
strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

• Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever (Moroni 7:47).

• Despair cometh because of iniquity (Moroni 10:22).18

I would expand Roberts’s list, in terms
of a number of remarkable spiritual principles nowhere so fully or clearly
expounded as in the Book of Mormon. These include:

• the purpose and function of scripture (1 Nephi 19:23, 2 Nephi 6:5);

• an ongoing elucidation of Christ’s atonement as the central event in human
history, including a powerful explanation of the need for Christ’s
passionóthat he might learn godly compassion
for all mankind (Alma 7:12);

• the unequivocal identification of Christ as Jehovah, thus resolving the Jewish
challenge to Christians that the Old Testament deity pronounced himself
“the Savior, and beside me there is no other” (3 Nephi 15:4-5; cf. also D&C
43:34; 76:1);

• an astoundingly sensible resolution of the faith-works controversy which has
for so many centuries divided Protestants and Catholics: both God’s grace and
men’s works are necessary to salvation; they are not mutually exclusive (2 Nephi 25:23);

• the accountability of adult human beings in every generation for their own
lives and behavior, with obvious implications for traditional views on Eve’s
complicity and Adam’s Fall: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are that
they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:11-25); on
infant baptism (Moroni
8); and on the terms, conditions, and consequences of our earthly probation

• the nature of true charity (Mosiah 4);

• the qualifications for true discipleship (Mosiah 18; Alma 5; Alma 38:12);

• the nature and process of developing faith (Alma 32),
discerning truth by the light of Christ (Moroni 7),
receiving a personal testimony (Moroni 10:3-5), and qualifying for sanctification (Moroni 10:32-33).

How, one asks, could anyone who was
either duplicitous or whose mind and heart were not in fact informed by the
Spirit presume to understand, let alone formulate, such a profound conception
of the gospel?

As they reread the Book of Mormon,
moreover, young missionaries readily identify with the personal struggles, the
attitudes and feelings of so many young prophets who embarked in great weakness
upon comparable proselyting ventures (cf. 2 Nephi 4:16-35; Enos; Alma 36).
With its account of their exploits and the conversions that followed those of
these young proselyters, the Book of Mormon is, among other things, a great
prognosticator of the workings of faith and the attendant feelings experienced
by many a latter-day missionary. It is worth noting, however, that the Book of
Mormon was translated and published before the latter-day church was ever
organized and its first missionaries called. How could Joseph Smith so
intimately know what missionary experience was like before he had undertaken it
himself? (It seems unlikely that his Grandfather Mack’s late tracting, as a
traditional Christian among fellow Christians, was nearly so compelling as the
accounts of Ammon, Alma, the sons of Mosiah, and others.) The book’s contrasting
depiction of recalcitrants, the atavistic degeneration of the ungodly, and the
mentality of apostates and anti-Christs (cf. Alma 30:12-18)
is, in twentieth-century terms, also strikingly realistic. How deprived the
world is without these additional role models and object lessons afforded by the Book of Mormon.

With the Dead Sea scrolls, a variety of
newly transcribed apocryphal sources, and his own research on the pyramid texts
in mind, Nibley argues that

the staggering prodigality of the gifts brought to mankind by Joseph is just
beginning to appear as the Scriptures he gave us are held up for comparison
with the newly discovered or rediscovered documents of the ancients purporting
to come from the times and places he describes in those revelations. He has
placed in our hands fragments of writings from the leaders of all the major
dispensations; and now, only in very recent times, has the world come into
possession of whole libraries of ancient texts against which his purported
scriptures can be tested.19

As Nibley also knows, these
corroborative sources equally support the view that the teachings and ritual
symbols of the Latter-day Saint temple have antecedents which long predate
Masonry. The endowment ceremony’s glorious vision of each mortal’s potential
for eternal exaltation and its culminating promise of eternal family union are
movingly enforced by ordinances which, by contrast with the Catholic Stations
of the Cross, suggest wherein Christ’s atonement was also a gesture of the
truest, most endearing fellowship wherewith Christ can raise us to him with
ever more secure handholds as, by covenanting with him, we acknowledge and
benefit from his ordeal upon the cross. His passion and our salvation
areóor can beóintimately one, culminating one day in his embracing
and welcoming us to his eternal kingdom as beloved heirs. Particularly
significant among the temple’s several ordinances is the initiatory anointing:
Bearing in mind what each initiate is individually promised there and that the
Savior’s title “Christ” itself literally means “the anointed
one,” it is no exaggeration, I believe, that with this most important
anointing we are in turn set apart to be “Saviors on Mount Zion,”
with all that implies about our consecrating ourselves ever after, consistently
blessing others’ lives rather than in any way impeding their spiritual
progress, and in turn, throughout the eternities as literal joint-heirs, while
realizing our individual divine potential, enjoying a kind of existence, a
fulness of challenge and self-fulfillment, which mortals could not and never
have imagined. What could ever more profoundly commit and motivate us to be his
faithful disciples? Such meaning, which is the heart and purpose of all the
rest, is quite absent in the mass as in the Masonic rite, by contrast a somehow
well-preserved but empty husk. Its occurrence in even more ancient fragments
like the aforementioned Egyptian rites; certain forms of Buddhist ritual; the
Hopi kiva ceremony; the concept of Kundalini Yoga; the consecration through
washing, anointing, and garmenting described in the Hindu Satapatha-Brahmana
Veda; an apparent Judaic source for washing and anointing; and the veil motif
in various Catholic churches20ónone of which
were known to Joseph Smithófurther corroborates its pristine origins.

So what was Joseph Smith? A facile or
not-so-facile plagiarist? Or one so in touch with the spiritual essence in
otherwise earthly phenomena that, somehow divinely directed to it in the form
of seerstones, sarcophagi, and Masonry, he was also led to interpret and wrest
from them a significance entirely alien to his culture and his times but of
astoundingly universal importófurther substantiating the notion that
“all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things
that are upon the face of it” (Alma 30:44)?21 Was Joseph Smith
unusually naive and impervious to the ways of men and to respectable, civilized
religious tradition? A megalomaniac who would rework it all to suit himself, in
his own fashion? Or was he, by virtue of his youth and cultural isolation,
still sufficiently pliable and open to what for almost two thousand years God
had waited to recall to men’s attention when their social circumstances would
once again allow such a cataclysmic intrusion in their settled affairs, their
rationally ordered but strictly temporal and self-serving alignments of
secular, economic, ecclesiastical, and domestic forces? Was Joseph Smith just unusually
stubborn? Or was he faithful unto death, one of God’s few true martyrs? Was he
merely sentimental or filled, like few others, with Christlike love and a
seer’s vision of mankind’s glorious potential as God’s own offspring? For all
Hill’s sound, instructive investigation into his lifeóa life not yet 150
years past with roots and a social context not unlike that of many other
English-speaking Americansówe seem no closer to a satisfying answer than

The only adequate confirmation must, it
would seem, be a transcendent one. But how appropriate and how needful that,
point for point, Joseph’s authenticity as a prophet would elude and battle
those who seek to understand spiritual matters by strictly rational means. Was
Joseph in this respect really so very different from the many other prophets,
including Christ, who were so often rejected by those closest to them? In the
“man of sorrows” versesówhich figure in the lyrics sung by John
Taylor in Carthage JailóIsaiah says that the Lord “hath no form nor
comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire
him” (Isaiah
53:2). To his contemporaries, Jesus’ teachings were hardly more popular
than those of Elijah, who cried, “The children of Israel have forsaken thy
covenant, thrown down thine altars, slain thy prophets with the sword; and I,
even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14),
or of Jeremiah, who complained, “The word of the Lord was made a reproach
unto me, and a derision, daily” (Jeremiah 20:8).
Christ seemed less than surprised that this was so: “Jesus knew from the
beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he
said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were
given him of my Father” (John 6:64-65).
Time and again he seems, almost deliberately, to provoke those who are inclined
to take offense at his words: “I am the living bread” (John 6:51),
he asserts, insisting that “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and
drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53).
“From that time,” we are told, “many of his disciples went back,
“(John 6:66).

Is this frustrating circumstance not
itself an archetypal substantiation which every prophet, including Joseph, was
understandably anxious to avoid but could not? The austere,
“unnatural” nature of a prophet is again well characterized by

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am
undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a
people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which
he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth,
and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and
thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send,
and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and
tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but
perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and
shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and
understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how
long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the
houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate (Isaiah 6:5-11).

Persons so commissioned do not put the
majority of men at ease and traditionally are often exiled or stoned. Joseph
was one of these.

Whenever a prophet arises in any given
generation, moreover, he is often least recognized by those who are most
attached to the prophets who preceded him. When the Pharisees taunted Christ
for blasphemy, he reminded them that in their cherished Torah their revered
fathers had been told, “Ye are gods” (John 10:33-36; Psalm 82:6).
Perhaps we too should make sure that whatever tends to violate our immediate
sense of what is proper and appropriate not preclude our better perception of
as yet unapprehended, ultimate truth. By analogy with the way we first reacted
to sex and the design of our bodies, we might well expect other realities to
shock us. Carl Sagan vividly describes with what tenacity and courage Johannes
Kepler finally came to recognize that the orbits of the planets were elliptical
and not, as seemed to everyone till then, indisputably circular. Of himself,
Kepler said, “The truth of nature which I had rejected and chased away,
returned by stealth through the back door, disguising itself to be accepted. .
. . Oh, what a foolish bird I have been.”22 And Sagan adds:
“The Thirty Years’ War obliterated his grave. If a marker were to be
erected today, it might read, in homage to his scientific courage: ‘He
preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions.’ “23 In this regard one
similarly recalls the statement of the renowned historian of Renaissance Italy,
Jacob Burkhardt: “The denial of complexity is the essence of
tyranny,” and the deep moral which underlies the otherwise seemingly frivolous
poem by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Robert Herrick:

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction:
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher:
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly:
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat:
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.24

Life is doubtless so wonderful because
it is so much more novel than our limited minds and imaginations would have it

Meanwhile, the claims made by and for
Joseph Smith are themselves so novel, so distinctive, their implications so
universally profound, that no one can afford to be indifferent or avoid their
serious, unbiased investigation. Truman Madsen intimates their import as he
discusses the sense of limitless multiplicity and ever-expanding, ever more
enriching interpersonal relationships and opportunities for self-realization
which, in key phrases like the promise of “eternal lives,” attended
the Prophet’s eternal vision.25 Madsen has acutely
perceived wherein Joseph Smith’s teachings resolve a number of otherwise
perturbing age-old philosophical questions: the paradox of God’s infinite
nature; the egoism-altruism controversy; the relativity versus absolutism of
Divine Will; the doctrine of Adam’s “wounding fall” and man’s
consequently deficient merit for salvation: “God has to save us though we
don’t deserve it”; man’s corrupt mortal nature, ostensibly precluding the
possibility of divine potential in human beings; and so forth.26 Among the many false
dichotomies inherited by Western secular and religious thought since Platonic
idealism reversed the astounding insights of sixth-century B.C. Ionians are
indeed the oppressive notions of disparity between what is material and
spiritual, emotional and intellectual, human and divine. By contrast, Joseph
Smith’s expanding vision restores a sense of true eternity (including a
premortal existence and the coeternality of intelligences); affords a sense of
relevant human spiritual history which, in terms of priesthood, ordinances, and
revealed doctrine, extends through the dispensations from Adam, rather than
effectively from the meridian of time, as with most Christianity; similarly accounts
for the spiritual history of both Eastern and Western hemispheres; sacralizes
the secular, subjecting all human experience, including health and marriage, to
eternal laws and positioning the Earth’s ultimate transformation into a
celestial sphere; binds the human family in ties of eternal kinship, literally
turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the
children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6);
links man to God as his literal heir and thus enables man to know and live for
a glorious eternal destiny of divine promise. Finally, with Joseph Smith’s
perspective and vision, faith and reason are no longer unalterably opposed, and
the role of Evil as a necessary counterpoint to Good dispels the dilemma of
theodicy, guaranteeing that, as an always extant intelligence, man is not only
fully accountable for his fate but ever free and obligated to choose.

As Nibley puts it, Joseph gave us
“a choice between nothing or somethingóand what a something!”27 As we ponder that
something’s seeming strangeness, we might profitably consider the criteria
which the Savior suggested in his own behalf: “The same works that I do,
bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36);
“Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of
me” (John
5:46); “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,
whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
John TayloróJoseph Smith’s counselor, witness to his martyrdom, and his
eventual successor (after Brigham Young) as prophet, seer, and
revelatoródeclared in 1853, “If there is any truth in heaven, earth,
or hell, I want to embrace it. I care not what shape it comes in to me, who
brings it, or who believes in it, whether it is popular or unpopular.”28 C. S. Lewis

Another thing I’ve noticed about
reality is that, besides being difficult, it’s odd: it isn’t neat, it isn’t
what you expect. . . . Reality, in fact, is always something you could not have
guessed. That’s one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It’s a religion
you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we’d
always expected, I’d feel we were making it up. . . . It has just that queer
twist about it that real things have. So let’s leave behind all these boys’
philosophiesóthese over-simple answers. The problem isn’t simple and the
answer isn’t going to be simple either. . . . Either this man was, and is, the
Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. . . . But don’t let us come
with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not
left that open to us. . . . I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying that
really silly thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus
as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be a God.’ That is
the thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of
things Jesus said, would not be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a
lunaticóon the level with the man who says he’s a poached eggóor
else he’d be the Devil of Hell.29

These words apply in a lesser measure
to Joseph Smith or any true prophet! “In the vocabulary of any relevant
faith there is bound to be the ‘word’ of desperation, as well as of
expectancy.”30 As I, a humanist, address this body of, among others, historiansósome,
like myself, believers in Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims, who sometimes doubt
despite their desires; some, skeptics who perhaps at times are overwhelmed and
wistful to believe “if it were only true”ówhat I would now like
to say is simply this: to remind you and myself that matters of faith and
religion are, by definition, fraught with logical uncertainty and that we can
never disprove or prove their claims of authenticity, however absurd or repulsive
certain features may strike us on the one hand, or however consistent,
comprehensive, and edifying they may seem to us on the other. So we should stop
trying. If we are really professional, we will, when addressing such phenomena,
dissociate ourselves from whatever prejudices and presuppositions to which we
are viscerally inclined. Or we will at least try to. It may also help to remind
ourselves that, in whatever we ultimately place our credence, we have, as Hans
K¸ng would say, consciously chosen to do so, and also that choice is
unavoidable: Not to choose is itself a choice.31 Therefore, meaningful conversion to any
religious propositionóeven its rejectionóinvolves a freely and
consciously willed personal choice and a commitment to a particular
metaphysical worldview. This is not to say that one’s choice and commitment
should not rest upon the very best, most conceivably rewarding, and spiritually
redeeming grounds. And my purpose here has been to remind us all in the express
instance of Joseph Smith just how redeeming are those grounds despite some
appearances to the contrary. Nor is this to deny the importance of
transcendental witness and spiritual confirmation, or that they are possible.
They are, after all, the essential epistemological component of all religion.
The Apostle Paul said, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the
Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians
2:14). The logical man, the scholar, as such, is the natural man of whom Paul spoke. No scholar is objectively
equipped either to dismiss or to verify the things of the spirit, at least not
in this life. No scholar is objectively equipped to call Joseph Smith either
“a conscious fraud” or, by
implication, an unconscious one.

On the other hand, any commitment of
faith which fosters reverence for the source of lifeóaffirms life itself
and the special significance of the life in every individual, sustains hope,
and encourages decency and goodnessóis sacred and deserves our respect.
Moreover, when we too freely begin to prescribe what we think is best for a
given religion, though it be in the light of what we consider most reasonable
and just, we are no longer submitting our mind and will to that of the Lord but subjecting it to our own instead. And that, however enlightened, is no longer

I was recently introduced to the
community of Russian Old Believers, five thousand strong, in Oregon’s
Willamette Valley. Since the seventeenth century these people have maintained a
tight-knit community whose every activity and codified gesture is permeated
with devotion to the gospel of Christ and whose families are strongly bonded by
that devotion. To maintain their identity they have variously migrated from
Russia to points as distant as Turkey, mainland China, Brazil, Argentina and,
more recently, the United States. But does it lessen any the beauty and the
nobility of their way of life to know that it originated during a dispute we
would consider downright silly? In the 1600s their ancestors broke away from
the official Russian Church because, among other things, its patriarch
proclaimed that (as in Greek Orthodoxy from which Russian Orthodoxy derived its
beliefs and customs) three fingers should be used in crossing oneself instead
of two and not two but three hallelujahs chanted in the liturgy. In terms of
this earlier historical precedent, the Old Believers and all the Russians
before them were seemingly in the wrong and, for their fanatical insistence on
Old Russian ritual, were ever after severely ostracized and persecuted. Yet
centuries later and despite their concomitant sense of superiority and
exclusiveness, we can admire, even envy, the way their religion so profoundly
informs, sustains, and integrates their individual and communal existence. If
Mormons tend to put others off because of a similar sense of exclusivenessóand
they doóit is really no different. As Kenneth Cragg avers, “With
religions comparative, one becomes comparatively religious. Decisive faith
appears unnecessary or intolerant.”32 And insofar as that
goes, I would reiterate Ed Ashment’s quite fairly posed rhetorical question:
“Why must the LDS Church stand or fall on the basis of ‘scientific
evidence,’ while it is not felt necessary for other denominations to be
subjected to such rigorous testing?”33 In all fairness the
Mormon Church’s both “unprovable” and “undisprovable” origins deserve the same open-ended recognition
by scholars as those of any other religionónone of which, including the
pristine Christian Church, has a more authoritatively reliable foundation in
secular terms.

But all we have considered so far has
at least been couched in a comfortable Christian context. What about the other
world religions in which Christ does not supremely figureóthose
“other guides than ours to life and meaning” which, as in the case of
too many a so-called Christian, “have not, for the most part, been options
freely chosen . . . but rather denominators of birth and culture, of language
and geography”?34 How ought we to address them, without feeling threatened, yet without
condescension? As Cragg, an Anglican specialist, asserts in his The Christian and Other Religion,
“The art of loyalty and the art of relationship must be understood and
practiced, as complementary. . . . Here . . . we have to do with felt and lived
religious meaning, rather than with its abstraction into ‘ism.’ “35 Cragg further pleads

the case of reverence for reverence and
the need to penetrate faiths as their insiders know them, if there is to be
hope of reciprocal awareness. This does not mean a sentimentality oblivious of
the compromises or the crimes of which religions have been guilty. But realism
has its positive duties, too, and the first of these is a hospitable mind.36

No less should be expected of those who
take it upon themselves to study the origins, its founding prophet, or any
other aspect of Mormonism. Again, in Cragg’s words:

A particular beginning is as
inescapable in any religion, as in any philosophy. One cannot start
presuppositionless. What matters is that the point of departure fulfills itself
in where it leads. To end authentically is to vindicate one’s beginning, and
this is what the Christian claims of his Old Testament indebtedness.37

But to those who in their turn
selectively handle Mormon history and discourage our probing it in a number of
areas in order to “gild” the Church’s “lily,” one needs to
say (or at least ask): Haven’t we been, if anything, overly cautious, overly
mistrustful, overly condescending to a membership and a public who are far more
perceptive and discerning than we often give them credit for? Haven’t we, in
our care not to offend a soul or cause anyone the least misunderstanding, too
much deprived such individuals of needful occasions for personal growth and
more in-depth life-probing experience? In our neurotic cautiousness, our fear
of venturing, haven’t we often settled for an all too shallow and confining
common denominator that insults the very Intelligence we presume to glorify and
is also dishonest because, deep down, we all know better? Isn’t our
intervention often too arbitrary, reflecting the hasty, uninformed reaction of
only one or a couple of influential objectors? Don’t we in the process too
severely and needlessly test the loyalty and respect of and lose credibility
with many more than we imagine? Isn’t there a tendency among us, bred by the
fear of displeasing, to avoid healthy self-disclosureópublic or
privateóand to pretend about ourselves to ourselves and others, and
doesn’t this in turn breed loneliness and make us, more than it should,
strangers to each other? And when we are too calculating, too self-conscious,
too mistrustful, too prescriptive, and too regimental about our roots and about
one another’s aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual life, aren’t we

Ultimately we only come to understand
the things of greatest worth through Christlike love: The nature of truth lies
not in knowledge, but in love. If we would constantly keep this in mind we
would not fear exposure or what others could ever say about us. We would have
more confidence in the redeeming light we’ve been given. We would fearlessly
let it shine, and it would convince othersóhow many more others?ódespite themselves and their own feeble
logic. The rest would not matter. If our own faith were only not so feeble. And if we were also that righteous. But, forgetting, we become extremely wary and
reticent to be fully disclosing, to the point that we are discouraged from much
alluding to even so familiar and fundamental a feature of the Mormon past as
polygamy. It may not be prudent to disseminate problematic historical facts or
freely allude to every complex and difficult real-life circumstance. We justly
resent the common imputation by so many elsewhere that present-day polygamous
cults and their frequently deranged, gangland-style leaders are part and parcel
of the mainstream Church. But it is equally ineffective to suppress the
ostensible facts or to intimidate those who know of, and are attempting to be
reconciled to, them. Suspicion, mistrust, the leveling of intellectual
expectations, the condescending slanting of available data will not do.
Instead, credibility indeed suffers and the unwarranted idolization of other
human beings, even divinely elected persons, prevents us from loving them as much as we might if we knew them better, together with the
traditions we associate with them. That is surely even more the case for those
who do not particularly cherish such persons and traditionsóin other
words, those we would most like to interest in them. It also offers a field day
to those who wish to disparage what we hold sacred, the implication being that,
the more we deny some things or appear to, the more we must ourselves harbor
serious doubts and have something to hide.

If we cannot afford to investigate and
face up to the “if only likely” facts, as these come to our
attention, and must instead be content with the most favorable and safe, the
most stereotypical generalizations, are we not, besides cheating ourselves of a
more approximate and more real acquaintance with the persons and events in
question, submitting to self-deceptionómuch as have the socialist masses
to Marxist theory and propaganda, to an inevitably one-sided explanation which,
deep down, no thinking Marxist believes? The dilemmas are not only historical.
They abound, as they always have, in the context of our contemporary social and
institutional life. What is needed is, in the first order, a willingness to be
more open and honest, more self-disclosing about our doubts and fears. The
consequence of doing so is not necessarily, as some suspect, the dissolution of
faith. And here I fully agree with Professor Foster that it need not
“reduce the sense of mystery, awe and power in Mormonism.”38 Indeed all that the
Prophet Joseph ever suggested regarding “unrighteous dominion” (e.g., D&C
121:37) seems most applicable here, particularly in terms of our need for,
and right to, personal intellectual inquiry. No, life and religion are not so
simplistic. God’s ways are not ours. Reality (with a capital “R”) is
indeed paradoxical and full of surprises. Our best attempts to make it seem
respectable, predictable, and homogenized in fact avoid and even thwart the
necessity to come to know and believe it alone through the witness that
transcends and surpasses our natural capacity for comprehension, and that is a
very personal undertaking. We cannot, moreover, possibly force ourselves to
agree with what we cannot confidently grasp or with what disturbs our conscience. To pretend otherwise is to live a lie.

What, along with our faith, we are
intellectually in need of is an essential empiricism,
which allows for, in fact, prescribes the prudent holding in balance of
seemingly contradictory phenomena and the statements made about them. This is
an approach which, admittedly, the mainstream members of few, if any, ethnic
groups are ever encouraged to consider. But for those confronted by the
dilemmas others manage to ignore, it can make a critical difference. Here are
the perceptive comments of a returned missionary and graduate student:

My mission was a glorious experience: I
may say, without boasting, that I did some amazing things, rare things,
miraculous things, because I realized that no one but me could be the judge and
director of my work; yet that realization made me sometimes feel alone, almost
existentially “nauseated” with the freedom and ensuing
responsibilities I had. When the sky is the limit (and not 60 hours proselyting
time), then you realize, not without a great deal of fear and trembling, that
you alone determine the success you will have, and not that success
automatically follows cheerful, but unthinking, obedience. In light of all
that, then, I think my question is: How do you, in the environment where
obedience operates in a causal fashion, try to instill a sense of the awesome
freedom and responsibility each individual missionary has? Or perhaps that is a
sacred, and therefore ineffable, secret, that only those find out who need to.
I suppose many of my companions never felt such an emotion, not to their loss,
they are just different. . . . Did I go too far in the mission field to realize
that obedience and visible results are not causally connected, that I was
horrifically free? Do I go too far now when I realize that though I have the
gospel, there are still . . . an awful lot of subtleties I must supply for
myself? That I ask these questions suggests I do not think there is a simple

Note these further remarks by a recent
convert and returned missionary:

To assume that paradox can be avoided
seems naive. There is no question of if, but only of when members of the Church
will be confronted and confused by paradox. . . . Is the confusion and
insecurity caused by confronting paradox any greater than that caused by
confronting family and friends (as a convert) and feeling all their negative
social pressure? Is it any greater than the confusion and insecurity produced
when the investigator with his shaky new-found faith has to confront his
temptations and weaknesses and overcome them to live the commandments? And if
paradox is avoided, can a meaningful conversion take place? Confidence and
conversion occur after the trials of our faith, and if we avoid certain trials,
what does that tell us about our confidence in the Lord and ourselves, as well
as the . . . [depth] of our conversion?

If we do not feel called upon to walk
such a razor’s edge, we may, as certain information even inadvertently comes to
our awareness, be called upon to do so. How likely is it, for those who become
so exposed but lack sufficient training and sophistication, that coping will be
at all successful, let alone easy? For those already exposed (an increasing
number), howówithout violating their innermost integrityócan such
informationóeven if it is largely secondary and, like all other earthly
information, incomplete and subject to further qualificationóbe ignored
and not somehow reconciled? Only weeks ago I received a pamphlet from the
ex-Mormons for Jesus which was intended to disturb me with respect to the
correspondences between Masonry and the endowment ceremony. How grateful I was
that I had already read a transcript of the Masonic rite and was already
reconciled to the strong possibility of syncretism in the founding of the
Church and of this being revelation nonetheless. But those who dare not
entertain that possibility could easily be “thrown” by the surface
truth in such assertions.

We have mentioned
“exclusiveness,” but, however exclusively right for him the true
believer must view his particular faith, he has no right to assume that those
in other traditions do not have as valid and meaningful an access to
transcendent virtue and inspiration. If, with all our soul, we are inclined to
witness to what is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or
praiseworthy” (Article of Faith 13)óhence sublimely trueóin
our own spiritual experience, we should also rejoice when anyone else can so
witness for his. This applies both to believer and critic. As Cragg puts it,
“only an instinctive courtesy can save him . . . from precipitate
judgments where rich issues will be impatiently foreclosed. He must beware the
instinct to set simplicity (his) over against evasion (theirs).”39 I have cited Cragg so
extensively because there are lessons here that many of us need. Mormons so
rarely see things this wayóor their critics.

“Dogma,” Cragg insists,

often thought of as defensive,
preservative, even clinical, ensuring truth, must be seen also as hospitable
and inviting. Frontiers that need guards and guardians also enclose areas in
which liberties are secured. Faith, as credally defined, is a territory to
inhabit, a house to occupy, as well as a fence to maintain and a wall to build.
What matters is that habitation should be open to prospectives as well as
defensible to inhabitants. Doctrine means invitation to discovery as well as
warning against deviation. . . . The deep sense the Christian must surely feel
. . . that he is in trust with truth he has no mandate to barter but only to
serve and to share, must always be paramount. The question about witness is not
Whether? but How? There must be no evasion of issues. . . . But they must be
appropriately joined. This means that they must be allowed to emerge within, rather than merely against, the
intimate meanings and preoccupations of the other man’s world. An alert sense
of the relevance to us and to our witness, of what otherwise we might be minded
to dismiss or to dispute, is truly consistent with the positive and inward
loyalties of Christian doctrine. . . . In so far as religions are cultures . .
. with legacies of pride and tradition, the lesson is clear. It is when they
are allowed their cultural selves that they can best reach beyond themselves.
It is when they are consciously under threat that they are suspiciously
isolated in temper. It is only when we are allowed our own humanity that we
seek an inclusive humanness. Reciprocal courtesy is, therefore, the wisest, as
well as the truest, prescript for relationship. . . . Relevance in any religion is relevance for all. While they may be deliberately
separate in their findings, they are common in their human habitation. Perhaps
the largest test of their integrity is their integrity about each other. . . .
The mystery of evil is not solved but dissolved, if there is no liability to

Or as Nibley might say to the
narrowness on either side, “A plague on both your houses.”

The intent of this paper has simply
been to point out those aspects of Joseph Smith’s biography which argue in his
favor as opposed to those which imply he was a charlatan; to list the
remarkable theological concepts which constitute his immensely comprehensive
and, at least for his followers, edifying system of thought; to suggest to what
extent that system profoundly explicates and interprets the already extant
Christian gospel; and finally to observe how his enigmatic character and the
common response to it in fact parallel what we know of others whom we have
traditionally cast in the prophetic mold. These matters are not intended as
testimony, though they may, of course, be witnessed to in a more personal and
subjective manner. The enigmas and controversies that invariably arise as, with
Donna Hill, we view the prophet’s earthly record, nevertheless tend to suggest
that few can be totally indifferent or dispassionate toward Joseph Smith and
the claims of the restored Church and that where, for whatever reason, people
resist them, they also tend to draw their own often unwarranted
conclusionsóa kind of testimony by default.

“No man knows [his]
history”óso why should any historian? We can view Joseph Smith with
great confidence, but only when assisted by the Spirit and by thoughtfully
weighing all he has given us. As we do so, may we, like Johannes Kepler, always
prefer “the hard truth” to “our dearest illusions.”


This was presented at the Mormon
History Association meetings on 7 May 1982 in Ogden, Utah.

1. Cited in Robert
Carlier, Jean-Louis Lalanne, et al., Larousse
Thematique: Dictionnaire des citations franÁaises
(Paris: France Loisirs,
1977), 557.

2. Donna Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).

3. Ibid., 44.

4. Ibid., 345.

5. Ibid., 114.

6. T. Edgar Lyon,
“Recollections of ‘Old Nauvooers': Memories from Oral History,” BYU Studies 18 (1978): 143-50.

7. Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, 342-43.

8. Ibid., 273.

9. Ibid., 343.

10. DHC 4:445.

11. Ibid., 5:23-24.

12. TPJS, 228.

13. Ibid., 353-54.

14. Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 93.

15. Hill,
incidentally, does not discuss the temple or its ordinances.

16. See volumes 5
through 8 in the Collected Works of Hugh

17. Paraphrases from
Truman G. Madsen, “B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 19 (1979): 434.

18. Ibid., 435.

19. Hugh Nibley,
“How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So?” Dialogue 12 (1979): 30.

20. Cf. Marcus von
Wellnitz, “The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple,” BYU Studies 21 (1981): 3-35.

21. This would be in
keeping with the peculiar Mormon insistence that all things earthly are indeed
spiritualóhence the emphasis on the Word of Wisdom as a spiritual law,
marriage as a celestial ordinance, a literal physical resurrection, and the
anticipation that the earth itself will be the focus of an eternal celestial
kingdom. Carl Sagan suggests how radically this view departs from that
generally held in Western culture, and why: “Plato and Aristotle . . .
taught that alienation of the body from the mind (a natural enough ideal in a
slave society); they separated matter from thought; they divorced the Earth
from the heavensódivisions that were to dominate Western thinking for
more than twenty centuries. . . . The Platonists and their Christian successors
held the peculiar notion that the Earth was tainted and somehow nasty, while
the heavens were perfect and divine.” Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 187-88.

22. Ibid., 62.

23. Ibid., 67.

24. Robert Herrick,
“Delight in Disorder,” in F. W. Moorman, ed., The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick (London, Oxford University
Press, 1957), 28.

25. Truman G. Madsen,
“Is Mormonism a World Religion?” Library Lecture, Brigham Young
University, November 1980.

26. Truman G. Madsen,
“Joseph Smith and the Problems of Ethics,” in Donald Hill, ed., Perspectives in Mormon Ethics (Salt Lake
City: Publishers, 1983), 29-48.

27. Nibley, “How
Firm a Foundation,” 30.

28. JD 1:155.

29. C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity (New York:
Macmillan, 1968), 36, 45.

30. Kenneth Cragg, The Christian and Other Religion: The
Measure of Christ
(London: Mowbray, 1977), 38.

31. Hans
K¸ng, Does God Exist? An Answer
for Today
, tr. Edward Quinn (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), 438.

32. Cragg, The Christian and Other Religion, 13.

33. Ed Ashment,
“A Questionable Enterprise” (review), The Sunstone Review 2 (1982): 24.

34. Cragg, The Christian and Other Religion, xi.

35. Ibid., xii-xiii.

36. Ibid., xiii.

37. Ibid., 51.

38. Lawrence Foster,
“New Perspectives on the Mormon Past,” Sunstone 7/1 (January-February 1982): 45.

39. Cragg, The Christian and Other Religion, 21.

40. Ibid., 25-28, 38.