The Signature Books Saga
The Signature Books Saga
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.
At the end of his career, the late Sterling McMurrin, one of my esteemed former
teachers, as well as a celebrated cultural Mormon polymath,2 mentioned his friendship
with George D. Smith, the wealthy president, publisher, and now full owner of
Signature Books. McMurrin generously described his close friend as “a historian
and writer of considerable capabilities, and a publisher of books.”3 Since
1981, Signature Books has issued over two hundred titles, with the target being
one new title a month, “or about 4,000 pages annually.”4 In addition,
Smith has published a number of often controversial essays on the Latter-day Saint
past under his own name.
A Secular Ideology and Anti-Mormon Agenda
Both George Smith and Signature Books have acquired a rather solid, singular
reputation. For example, from the Protestant evangelical camp, journalists Richard
and Joan Ostling have noted that “George D. Smith’s Signature Books . . .
continually publishes quality liberal thinking on controversial LDS
topics.”5 And from the perspective of what might be called militant,
fundamentalist, evangelizing, creedal atheism, Thomas W. Flynn has described
Signature Books as “the leading dissenting imprint in the Mormon community.”6
Terryl Givens, from within the Latter-day Saint scholarly community, but far
from the sometimes highly corrosive Utah intellectual environment, has observed
that “Signature Books is the main vehicle for publications that challenge
the borders of Mormon orthodoxy.”7 Speaking for the Mormon history
establishment, and as part of their effort to characterize various venues that
publish essays on topics related to the Latter-day Saint past, Ronald W. Walker,
David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen include the following in their commentary
on their own massive bibliographic survey:8 “Another publisher was
Signature Books, owned by George D. Smith, an LDS liberal activist
who published material largely in his ideological image.”9
And, in an item featured on the Web site belonging to Signature Books, Bryan
Waterman, whose work has been published by Signature Books and who is clearly
sympathetic with its agenda,10 describes it as “a sometimes renegade
Mormon publishing company.”11
After noting that the Association for Mormon Letters had once “presented
Signature Books with a Special Recognition award for providing a much-needed venue
for more literary sorts of LDS publishing,” Gideon Burton and Neal Kramer
as an “alternative” press, Signature has dared to publish what the
official and quasi-official presses could not. Its more liberal editorial policies
have made possible publication of works of high literary quality, but such policies
by no means guarantee literary quality, and can, in fact prove very narrowly liberal.
. . . The publisher’s liberal reputation has estranged not only
mainstream LDS audiences but many authors and academics. . . . Signature
has thus both filled a gap and created another.12
This criticism annoyed Gary Bergera, then managing director of Signature.
“I know,” he admits, “that some Signature titles bring a critical eye to
bear on certain aspects of LDS history and culture.”13 But,
he also insists, “such works comprise the very essence of freedom of choice
and conscience.”14 He then indicates that, “in fact, Signature has
probably had a relatively minor impact on mainstream LDS audiences” since it
is a “small publisher.”15 Bergera, it should be noted, does not deny
that Signature’s “liberal reputation has,” as its critics claim, “estranged
not only mainstream LDS audiences but many authors and academics.” Instead,
he describes Burton and Kramer as having chosen to “clothe a straw man” and
characterizes their remarks as “unfortunate” because they neglected to provide
what he considers “documentation.” Rather, he complains, they “allude to
a seven-year-old disagreement with one or two book reviewers at FARMS over a
review of one of Signature’s titles.”16 But has Signature Books indeed
managed, as these critics claim, to estrange “many authors and academics”?
Orson Scott Card—described by Signature Books as a member of its original
“impressive editorial board”17—has, like many others, become, if
not deeply disillusioned, at least skeptical of the Signature agenda. He argues
that “Signature is an anti-Mormon publisher that covers itself the
way Playboy has traditionally covered its pornography, by publishing
a few articles by serious writers in every issue.”18 He adds:
By publishing a few books that meet standards of respectable scholarship
on LDS topics, Signature gives the false impression that they are a “balanced”
publisher, when in fact their unrelenting agenda is to publish books
designed to shake the foundations of the Mormon religion. Their prey is the
budding Mormon intellectual who takes pride in being smart and educated but
does not yet have the critical skills to recognize manipulation and deception
when they are masked in the forms of scholarship.19
These observers have not felt the need to elaborate or to explain the meaning
of the language they employed, perhaps because they all recognize that their
readers will correctly understand what they seek to convey. It is likely that
all these observers have correctly assumed that by describing Signature Books
as “an anti-Mormon publisher” or a “renegade” publisher, or as being “liberal,”
or as a “dissenting imprint,” or as “challeng[ing] . . . orthodoxy,”
their meaning would be easily and correctly understood. In addition, these writers
do not seem to have believed that, in the Latter-day Saint context, by using
labels such as liberal to describe Signature Books or its owner’s ideology,
they would imply some political rather than strictly religious orientation,
or that the word activist would imply an engagement in partisan politics.
It is also likely that these authors had in mind, among other things, something
like the numerous books published by Signature Books that are either implicitly
or explicitly critical of Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims, including those
that attack the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon20 or
set out radically revisionist accounts of the crucial historical foundations
of the faith of the Saints.21
In addition to Signature Books, George Smith also owns and disburses funds through
the Smith Research Associates and the Smith-Pettit Foundation. The Smith-Pettit
Foundation and Signature Books are said to “share two common officers: our
president and our acquisitions editor.”22 These two foundations “sometimes
sponsor historical research, among other projects, and when they do, this sometimes
materializes into a manuscript,” which Signature Books tends to publish.23
George Smith thus advances his own ideology and exerts influence in ways other
than by merely contributing financially to various institutions and causes or
by being the president and publisher of Signature Books.24
An example of what gets funded and then published with the Smith Research
Associates imprimatur can be seen in an item entitled New Mormon Studies
CD-ROM.25 In a careful review of this useful searchable database,
BYU historian Grant Underwood points out it “includes virtually the entire inventory
of works published by Signature Books, as well an almost full run of the two
independent journals focused on Mormonism—Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought and Sunstone.”26 It “is a valuable collection as far
as it goes.”27 However, it is not, as it is advertised, a “comprehensive
resource library,” since it provides access to only “a fraction” of the relevant
textual materials.28 To get a sense of the ideology behind even this
database, it should be noted that one consulting it will not find in it the
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, BYU Studies, or the FARMS
Review. Underwood correctly indicates that, “for the scholar who approaches
the collection” of materials “with a bit of care and a sense of the politics
involved, there is much that is useful and that is not available elsewhere
in machine-readable form.”29 He argues that those who consult this
should also know that in response, and sometime[s] in overreaction,
to what Signature Books appears to consider the protective, even paranoid, posture
of the LDS Church toward its history, the company [that is, Smith Research Associates
and Signature Books] has tended to promote a “tell all, hold nothing sacred”
publishing agenda. As a result, it has not always successfully separated
the wheat from the chaff. Over the years a number of the included books have
been panned in scholarly reviews for being too ideologically driven and lacking
in sound scholarly methodology.30
Underwood is correct, of course—one needs to approach all of what Signature
Books publishes with “a sense of the politics involved”—that
is, with an awareness that what Signature Books publishes is at times “too
While perhaps even relishing being seen as a renegade publishing house, which
is the language posted on their own Web site, those at Signature Books also seem
eager to avoid having attention drawn within the Latter-day Saint community to
their owner as being “a LDS liberal activist” or to his press as publishing
“material largely in his ideological image.”31 John Sillito, special
collections archivist at Weber State University, thinks that Walker, Whittaker,
and Allen “are wrong in their assessment not only of Smith personally and
his role in the internal editorial process itself, but also of the nature of Signature
Books’ list generally, or even only its historical titles.”32 He adds
the following: “Of course, truth in disclosure would have me admit that
I am a member of Signature’s editorial advisory committee.”33 However,
even though Sillito wonders about the accuracy of the “characterization
of Signature Books” by Walker, Whittaker, and Allen, he makes a good point
when he observes that “every press has its mission and audience, every press
has a broader list than one might imagine, and over-personalization is always
problematic.”34 Sillito, of course, correctly notes that Signature Books
issues a very wide variety of titles, most of which are not, from my or Orson
Scott Card’s perspective, explicitly anti-Mormon. Some of the titles issued
by Signature Books seem to be at least harmless, while some are even quite useful.
It is obviously not true that every title published under the Signature Books
and Smith Research Associates imprints is overtly critical of the faith of the
Saints and therefore in that sense anti-Mormon or otherwise critical of the Latter-day
Saint faith. (And, of course, not all of the books published by Signature Books
turn out to be either badly written or lack scholarly merit.35 Some of the more
autobiographical items published by Signature Books have, perhaps inadvertently,
exposed what seems to be the soft underbelly of cultural Mormonism.)36 However,
this is easily explained, if one keeps in mind Card’s apt comparison of
the similarities in the publishing strategies of Signature Books and Playboy magazine.
In his apologia, Sillito ignores the historical titles published by Signature
Books that target Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Some items published by Signature Books have been nicely edited,37 and some have,
of course, also been solid scholarly collections or studies. However, a word of
caution is needed: at the end of the day the excellent materials published by
Signature Books might be explained by a line from the Disney musical Mary Poppins:
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”38 This pharmakon
(medicine) turns out to be an opiate—a secular religion intended to charm
the Saints away from a genuine faith in God.
Signature Books does not seem situated on Olympian heights above the struggles
going on below; its owner and employees do not seem detached from the religious
and ideological storms raging around them. They are, instead, in the thick of
the fray. This publishing activity, as some might imagine or assume, has not been
a series of random events. Books do not just happen—just as authors are
motivated to write, publishers are motivated to publish.
With “A Common Humanist Perspective”
Those speaking for Signature Books, of course, deny that their publishing venture
is driven by an ideology or that they have an agenda. They also insist that their
wealthy employer and his press are not “activist.”39 Apparently no
one has pictured either George Smith or his press as manifesting an “activist”
political disposition. In at least this sense Signature Books apologists are correct.
However, in rebutting such a charge, Signature Books apologists are clearly thrashing
a straw man. They also claim that their publishing and marketing activities are
merely intended to let some fresh air into what they depict as a stale Latter-day
Saint environment.40 They are not, they insist, concerned with the faith as such
but only want the Saints to know more about their past, and so forth. Such disclaimers
do not, however, explain all those books attacking Joseph Smith and the Book of
Mormon, the unusual Signature Books marketing techniques, or the way in which
they package some of their books.41
When engaged in public relations, Signature Books spokespersons neglect to mention
their employer’s ideology or the thrust of his own publishing endeavors.
Instead, they prefer to steer away from discussions of these matters. Occasionally,
however, they call attention to their controlling ideology. For example, Ron Priddis,
the managing director of Signature Books, has acknowledged what he called “a
common humanist perspective in all our books.”42 Such assertions seem to
concede both that there is a guiding “philosophy” behind Signature
Books and also what its substance might be. There is, however, more to the story
than merely this revealing label. It involves links between George Smith’s
publishing career to the American atheist/humanist movement.
“The Prometheus Books of Utah”
In 1969 Paul Kurtz started a publishing house called Prometheus Books, which eventually
became the leading English-language publisher of atheist literature. Something
similar to the ideology currently advanced by Kurtz was initially canonized in
1933 in a well-known creedal statement entitled “A Humanist Manifesto.”43
This manifesto was drafted by Roy Wood Sellars, a philosopher, and then worked
over by others, including a number of Unitarian ministers,44 among them Edwin
H. Wilson.45 Since Unitarians have an unusually deep hostility to creeds or formal
affirmations of faith, they seem to have favored setting forth their beliefs in
the form of manifestos. There is, it should be noted, a clear Marxist element
in the original manifesto, which can be seen in both its atheist and socialist
biases. Subsequent manifestos have tended to downplay the original socialist bias
and also to move away from characterizing humanism as a religion. But the original
supporters of humanism were not at all shy about describing themselves as religious.
They thought of their humanist version of atheism as a “religion”
and also as the ground for a “church” capable of competing with Christian
denominations. When Wilson, for example, was once described as an atheist who
had not “quit the habit of going to church,” he responded that churchgoing
“was a good habit. It organizes one’s life. It’s where your
But Kurtz and his close associates like to deny that their ideology is a religion,
and they do not see themselves as “churched.” Be that as it may, Kurtz
seems not to have been entirely satisfied with this original Humanist Manifesto,
since in 1973 he and Wilson drafted a Humanist Manifesto II.47 When Kurtz launched
the atheist magazine Free Inquiry in 1980, his fondness for creedal atheism led
him to include in the first issue of his magazine “A Secular Humanist Declaration.”48
He and his associates have also established or supported a number of atheist front
organizations closely linked to Prometheus Books and Free Inquiry.49 The best
known of these was called the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH)
until the name was changed in 1996 to Council for Secular Humanism.
In 2003, the Humanist Manifesto III was published,50 this time without the long
list of specifics set out in 1973, in an effort to get an even more boldly stated
atheism more fully in line with trendy new social concerns. Instead of specifics,
it is larded with banal slogans and glittering generalities, as humanists welcome
future challenges fully committed to freedom and responsibility. Earlier Kurtz
and his close associates issued “Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Plan for Peace,
Dignity, and Freedom in the Global Human Family,”51 in which Kurtz urged
“that humans not look beyond themselves for salvation.” Echoing William
Ernest Henley’s claim in his poem “Invictus” that he is the
master of his fate and captain of his soul, Kurtz insisted that “we alone
are responsible for our own destiny.”52
Twenty years ago, soon after having launched Signature Books in 1980, George Smith
became a collaborator and associate of Kurtz. Much of the product of this partnership
has not been especially visible within the Latter-day Saint intellectual community,
but it is possible to identify some of the fruits of this friendship. For example,
as recently as May 2000 Kurtz convened a gathering of atheists to deliberate on
their concern about what they described as “The Mormon Challenge.”53
In addition to George Smith, speakers included Todd Compton, a Latter-day Saint
whom Smith seems to have brought on board to tell tales of the evils of plural
marriage, especially of what he considers the suffering it allowed or encouraged
men to inflict on hapless pioneer women,54 and Vern Bullough, who was raised as
a Latter-day Saint but has had nothing to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints since his teens in the 1940s and whose understanding of Latter-day
Saints and their faith seems to have been arrested at that point.
Thomas Flynn, who has recently replaced the aging Kurtz as the senior editor of
Free Inquiry, introduced these speakers.55 To those assembled to hear why the
Church of Jesus Christ is a threat to secular humanism, Flynn claimed that George
Smith “is a historian of Mormonism. He has been published several times
in Free Inquiry and in various liberal Mormon publications.”56 Flynn boasted
of the ideological links between Paul Kurtz and George Smith and their publishing
ventures. He explained that “George Smith is president of Signature Books,”
which he then correctly described as “the leading dissenting imprint in
the Mormon community. Sometimes,” he added, “we call it the Prometheus
Books of Utah.”57
George Smith’s first contribution to Mormon literature seems to have been
a brief comment on Blacks and the priesthood,58 which was soon followed by the
publication of a paper he had read earlier at a Sunstone conference, in which
he offered criticisms of the Book of Mormon.59 Around the same time, he recorded
and transcribed the funeral services for Fawn Brodie.60 In a letter published
in a student newspaper, George Smith claimed that “Dr. [Sterling] McMurrin’s
faithful disbelief may offer hope to the ‘closet doubters’ who might
agree [with McMurrin] that ‘you don’t get books from angels and translate
them by miracles.'”61 “Faithful disbelief” seems to be
an oblique way of describing a persistent lack of faith. Unfortunately, Smith
made no direct effort to explain the meaning of this rather odd expression. By
“faithful” he seems to have meant something like constant, determined,
dogmatic, or persistent. Whatever he meant, Smith was pleased that this student
newspaper had published an interview in which McMurrin set forth his now famous
dogmatism. Smith soon published his own attack on Joseph Smith and the Book of
Mormon in Free Inquiry,62 along with a slightly modified version of the interview
given by McMurrin, which contains that now rather notorious remark about the Book
On Shaking the Tree of Life
On 22 July 1991, George Smith explained and defended his publishing ventures.64
The Salt Lake Tribune article in which his explanation and defense appeared described
him as a “shy man,” “a shadowy figure of considerable wealth
bent on reshaping Mormonism by digging through its past,” and a “Stanford-educated
son of a cigar-smoking United Parcel Service executive.” The Tribune depicted
Smith, whom it identified as “Signature’s president and longtime benefactor,”
as someone “committed to unfettered historical inquiry,” who was therefore
“the darling of like-minded scholars, but the scourge of Mormon traditionalists
whose mandate is to write ‘faithful history’—defined by Apostle
Boyd K. Packer . . . as history that bolsters belief and avoids awkward or embarrassing
detail.” In this context, the word benefactor suggests patron or financial
backer. Allen Roberts, then a member of the Signature board of directors, is quoted
as saying that “there’s an impression out there that he’s running
a one-man show.” Roberts explained that this is partly true—”it
is on the financial side, but on the editorial side it’s not.”65
Anderson quoted Smith as saying that he is “willing to shake the tree, and
perhaps others don’t like to shake the tree because it is sacred.”66
What “tree”? In a Latter-day Saint context, this remark would seem
to make sense if one had in mind Alma’s comparison of the word of God to
a seed, which if properly nourished will grow into a tree of life from which eventually
a most precious fruit—the fruit of the tree of life, or eternal life—can
be harvested (Alma 32:28-43). Understood in this way, the tree is, of course,
sacred to the faithful, just as Smith said, but not to those who mock from the
sidelines—in George Smith’s words, those eager to “shake the
Mocking Marriage; Leveraging Laxity
In essays he has published in Free Inquiry, George Smith has discoursed about
humanist slogans,68 although he has focused most of his attention on polygamy,
a topic with which he seems somewhat obsessed.69 He tends to focus on what he
clearly believes were the disgusting motives and evil consequences of that practice
in the early church. But there is a paradox in this.
In what comes close to being an official Signature Books account of a rather instructive
incident that took place early in 1990, Bergera reports that “since 1989″
Elbert Peck “had been running an occasional column [in Sunstone], entitled
‘A Changed Man,’ by former Sunstone staffer Orson Scott Card.”70
Peck is said to have
felt that Card, a nationally award-winning science fiction writer, brought a thought-provoking
conservative voice to the magazine. Card’s fourth column, which appeared
in the February 1990 issue, was called “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality.”
In it, Card declared that “the Church has no room for those who, instead
of repenting of homosexuality, wish it to become an acceptable behavior in the
society of the Saints. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, preaching meekness
while attempting to devour the flock.” He continued, “If we accept
the argument of the hypocrites of homosexuality that their sin is not a sin, we
have destroyed ourselves.”71
Bergera indicates that “Signature Books, which distributes the magazine
to bookstores and other retailers, informed Sunstone that if it continued to publish,
in Signature’s view, such irresponsible opinions, it might need to find
another distributor.”72 This might be seen as an instance of a threat to
use economic power to leverage others into following what appears to be the Signature
party line on homosexuality. While Signature seems obsessed by what they see as
the evils of the plural marriage once practiced by the Saints, they condemn as
“irresponsible opinions” objections to homosexual behavior.
Appearing Balanced; Privileging Revisionist History
Card points out that Signature publishes some solid essays for the same reasons
that Peck seems to have published a column by Card—that is, as part of an
effort to market its product to the faithful. This has resulted in some anomalies.
At approximately the same time that Signature had its attorney protest about what
he termed libel in three essays critical of books issued by Signature, George
Smith had Bergera put together an anthology assessing various ways of writing
about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Mormon past generally. The end
result was a book consisting of sixteen rather diverse essays.73
Bergera assembled some previously published essays setting out opinions more or
less supporting the Signature ideology,74 as well as essays by Martin E. Marty
and Edwin S. Gaustad, both prominent American church historians. Bergera had difficulty
getting Richard L. Bushman—whose essay entitled “Faithful History”
(first published in 1969) provided the title for the anthology—as well as
Neal Kramer, David Bohn, and me to agree to participate in the undertaking. I
insisted that we must know in advance the parameters of the project and that page
proofs be provided prior to publication. No changes were made in Bushman’s
essay, but other authors were hassled by Signature editors seeking to manipulate
the published form of their essays. Since the essays by Marty and Gaustad also
did not support the Signature agenda, two revisionist essays not in the original
table of contents were added to the anthology.75
The end result, despite the editorial mischief, was a reasonably good collection
of essays dealing with important issues. But one would not know this from Smith’s
introduction.76 Unlike his previous claim that, among other weaknesses, the traditional
history written by faithful Saints “avoids awkward or embarrassing detail,”
George Smith distinguished two meanings that can be attached to the expression
“faithful history”: the “history written to express and support
religious faith,” which he mocks, “and history that attempts to be
faithful to the past.”77 He neglected to mention that neither Bushman, who
gave us the expression “faithful history,” nor any of the others whom
Smith describes as “traditional Mormon historians,” believes that
one of these is possible in the absence of the other.78 Instead, Smith denigrates
what Bushman calls “faithful history” by linking it with “traditional
narratives of the supernatural [that] have usually been taught as factual events”79
and by insisting that the brand of history he favors strives to see “Mormonism
as part of American religious experience”80—that is, as a mere manifestation
of some larger flux of secular forces and consequently not what the faithful have
always believed it to be. For Smith, the work of those he labels “professional
Mormon historians” has produced what he describes as a “New Mormon
History,”81 which clearly includes for him efforts to argue that the Book
of Mormon is frontier fiction and not an authentic ancient text, with all that
implies for the faith of the Saints.
George Smith asserts that “traditional Mormon historians” “typically
reject compromises, such as the view that a mythical Book of Mormon can evince
religious authenticity as ‘inspired redaction.'”82 Thus he
seems willing to allow the possibility that Joseph Smith might have produced frontier
fiction that could simultaneously contain some inspiring passages. Unfortunately,
from his perspective, the Saints have wrongly believed that this book is an authentic
ancient history and also a divine special revelation. Joseph Smith simply could
not possibly have made available to us a genuine ancient history.
When the Encyclopedia of Mormonism appeared in 1992, Sterling McMurrin objected
that “the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is taken for granted.”83
In addition, “The Encyclopedia is saturated with references to the Book
of Mormon, reflecting” what McMurrin took as “the recent church movement
to give that work greater attention.”84 McMurrin then added the following:
In his excellent Sunstone lecture, “The Book of Mormon as Seen in the Encyclopedia
of Mormonism,” which should be read by anyone interested in the nature of
the Encyclopedia, George D. Smith has indicated that the Encyclopedia contains
about 200 articles dealing with the Book of Mormon. In his treatment of this subject,
Smith writes that “editorial selectivity favoring orthodoxy prevails throughout
The essay to which McMurrin referred was soon published in Sunstone.86 Because
the Encyclopedia does not offer revisionist explanations of the Book of Mormon,
Smith claims that it “is not the promised comprehensive treatment of Book
of Mormon scholarship; it is a statement of LDS orthodoxy.”87 Instead, according
to Smith, “it consciously omits important scholarship, but does comprehensively
present orthodox views of the Book of Mormon.”88 What follows in Smith’s
essay is a kind of litany of secular anti-Mormon objections to the Book of Mormon,
many of which repeat the objections Smith had previously published in Free Inquiry
and elsewhere.89 He seems to have wanted the Encyclopedia to detail and extol
objections to the Book of Mormon.
Some “Strange Bedfellows”
In addition to his writings in Free Inquiry, there are several other indications
of personal and ideological links between Paul Kurtz and George Smith. For example,
Kurtz celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Free Inquiry by describing some
of the great moments in his career as an atheist activist,
even involved George Smith and Signature Books. On that occasion, Kurtz reported
that “George D. Smith wrote a series of important articles on the Mormon
Church” for Free Inquiry.91 As already indicated, he had published a special
feature in Free Inquiry in 1984. This consisted of his brief introduction, followed
by his own essay and then one by Sterling McMurrin, both of which were highly
negative about the Church of Jesus Christ and were especially disparaging toward
Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Kurtz described George Smith as “a lifelong member of the church”
but more accurately as one who “provides a detailed critical examination
of Joseph Smith and his claim that the Book of Mormon was divinely inspired.”92
He described McMurrin “as one of the leading Mormons in America”93
and as “a Mormon since birth, who questions the treatment of the history
of the church by Mormon authorities.”94
On 6-8 July 2001 the editors of Free Inquiry sponsored another conference
on Mormonism entitled “Mormon Origins in Ingersoll Land.”95 They combined
a celebration at the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, which is located at “the
birthplace of freethought firebrand Robert Green Ingersoll,” with the musings
of “an expert panel” on “the founding of the Mormon religion
and the publication of the Book of Mormon, which took place in nearby Palmyra,
New York, in 1830.” They also attended the Hill Cumorah Pageant. “No
freethought event,” they reported, “has offered so immediate an experience
of Mormonism in action.” In the language one expects to find in the hype
of a travel brochure, the atheists who attended this event were encouraged to
“rub shoulders with Mormons from all across America” and to be “affable
when you turn . . . down” efforts at conversion. They were also
instructed to “marvel at Christian missionaries who throng pageant gates
struggling to ‘deconvert’ passing Mormons.”
Those who reflected on Mormon origins at this “once-in-a-lifetime experience”
included Flynn, who, in addition to being the senior editor of Free Inquiry, is
also the director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum. Flynn’s
remarks were entitled “A New Religion under History’s Microscope,”
and he was immediately followed by George Smith, who lectured on “The Mormons:
Pathology, Prognosis, and Why They Are Going to Eat Our Lunch.” Smith’s
remarks were followed by a lecture entitled “Scrying for the Lord: Magic,
Mysticism, and the Origins of the Book of Mormon,” by Clay Chandler,96 who
was at that time managing the Web site for Dialogue. His brother Neal Chandler—then
coeditor (along with his wife) of Dialogue—followed with his own comments
on “Recent Scholarship on Mormon Origins.”
The final talk at this conference on “Mormon Origins” was given by
Robert M. Price, who read a paper entitled “Nephites and Neophytes: The
Book of Mormon as a ‘New’ New Testament.” It should come as
no surprise that those at Signature Books recruited Price from among the stable
of secular humanist speakers assembled by Kurtz to assist them in their most recent
attack on the Book of Mormon.97 Price began his career as a born-again fundamentalist,
but then he did a radical flip-flop98 and is now a fellow of the Weststar Institute,
which sponsors, among other things, the controversial Jesus Seminar mode of explanation
of Christian origins. He edits the Journal of Higher Criticism and is a fellow
at the Center for Inquiry, which is a Council for Secular Humanism front organization
operating in the New Jersey/New York City area. He was also once the pastor of
the First Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey, which must be a rather “liberal”
congregation, given his essentially atheist ideology.
Some Strange “Dialogues”
According to Paul Kurtz, the Council for Secular Humanism has “convened
two important dialogues—between Mormons and humanists in Salt Lake City,
and Baptists and humanists in Richmond, Virginia. They were the first such dialogues
ever held.”99 Both of these events have included George Smith speaking for
the humanists. If one were to grant that both Baptists and secular humanists have
their own faith and were also inclined to employ a trendy new terminology, then
these events might be seen as interfaith dialogues. However, the dialogue between
atheists and Baptists was clearly not between feisty, evangelizing, “born-again”
Baptists and competent naturalistic humanists. Instead, it involved a few “humanists”
assembled by Kurtz to console some dissident Baptists who had come to deplore
the direction their Baptist denomination had recently taken and who were willing
to accept the assistance of atheists in voicing their resentments.100
It is, however, unlikely that a few disheartened seminarians, even with the help
of some humanists, will be able to challenge the aggressive fundamentalist faction
that gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1985 “through
virtual civil war”101 against somewhat more moderate fellow Baptists. The
diaphanous Harold Bloom, in his typically interesting, oracular, and assertive
way, has commiserated over what he thinks is a dismal decline in traditional Baptist
religiosity, as those caught up in what he denigrates as a new “Know-Nothing”
brand of fundamentalism have captured control of the SBC from an older, somewhat
more moderate and less unreasonable faction. Bloom claims that what has taken
place is an “analogue of a hostile takeover in the corporate world.”102
Could Kurtz, his associates, and a few disaffected seminarians possibly imagine
that this “dialogue” could change the direction being taken by the
SBC? Such does not seem likely. At best, some disgruntled Baptists vented their
spleen and sought some sympathy for their plight. It appears that some eccentrics
among those marginalized by the takeover of the SBC by a fundamentalist faction
sought at least some consolation from Kurtz and company, if not a full alliance.
With the aid of Joe E. Barnhart and Robert S. Alley, two of his close associates,
Kurtz drafted a statement entitled “In Defense of Freedom of Conscience:
A Cooperative Baptist/Secular Humanist Declaration.”103 Kurtz predictably
supported the complaints of these former Baptists by appealing to some trendy
slogans. Kurtz, Barnhart, Alley, and nineteen others, including George Smith,
endorsed this pronouncement.104
The dialogue between humanists and “Mormons” actually involved some
marginal or former Latter-day Saints or cultural Mormons including Lavina F. Anderson,
Brent Lee Metcalfe, L. Jackson Newell, Cecilia Konchar Farr, Gary James Bergera,
Alan Dale Roberts, Fred Buchanan, Martha S. Bradley, F. Ross Peterson, and,
of course, George Smith. Kurtz, Bonnie Bullough, Gerald A. Larue, Robert S. Alley,
and Vern Bullough set out a version of atheist/humanist ideology, while supporting
the grievances of the dissidents. This dialogue was jointly published by Prometheus
Books and Signature Books, with George Smith serving as editor.105 Since I have
elsewhere dealt at length with this dialogue, I will not comment further, other
than to point out again that George Smith was behind that venture, and that McMurrin,
the leading Mormon humanist, unlike Newell, did not speak at the conference.106
Discontented Baptist seminarians or disaffected Latter-day Saints are, of course,
perfectly free to break away from the Southern Baptist Convention or the Church
of Jesus Christ; they are free, if they so desire—that is, if their conscience
so dictates—either to move to some more congenial secular “religious
community” or to cease being Christians at all. Hence, without wishing to
defend the bloodletting that took place nearly twenty years ago in the Southern
Baptist Convention, it is difficult to determine who or what is supposed to have
challenged or violated the freedom of conscience of the now displaced or marginalized
Baptists. Disgruntled Baptist preachers, as well as former Latter-day Saints or
cultural Mormons who have for whatever reasons never really believed or have ceased
to believe and who may have even adopted an atheist ideology, have full freedom
of conscience. No one has taken or can take away their moral agency.
But slogans about a presumably unfettered search for truth, about freedom of conscience
and “free agency,” are used by dissidents to insist that they be allowed
to teach or be given power to control the destiny of religious communities. It
is even argued that the “liberty” the framers of the American Constitution
sought to guarantee to American citizens and that was incorporated into the First
Amendment somehow ought to be grounds for such a right.107 But this is just silly
slogan thinking; nothing more can be said about it. No one has or can prevent
cultural Mormons or humanist Baptists from being responsible moral agents. All,
unless intellectually defective, are responsible moral agents faced with the consequences
of their choices. Recognition of this fact does not thereby require that others
with whom they chose to disagree must celebrate, encourage, or finance their heresies
and apostasy. The harsh realities of recent denominational politics such as found
in the Southern Baptist Convention do not conflict with freedom of conscience
but are actually a sign of its vigorous exercise.
No one is or can be forced to engage in practices they abhor, at least in lands
where regimes prevail that do not strive to force ideological conformity. Even
in the most repressive regimes, no one can be forced to believe things they simply
do not believe. That we are moral agents does not somehow mean that others must
acquiesce to our demands. This is at least part of what is meant by moral agency.
However, in matters of conscience there is simply no requirement that the views
of those who believe something fundamentally at odds with a community in which
they find themselves must be tolerated or encouraged.
And this is well understood. Do atheist propaganda fronts open their publishing
venues to vigorous critical assessment of their own secular creeds? Should they?
Should they be demonized if they choose not to do so? Do atheists put in charge
of their institutions those who abhor atheism? By not doing so, have they violated
anyone’s freedom of conscience? Is there an indication that those in control
of the Council for Secular Humanism are willing to authorize the use of their
resources and publishing venues by those who believe in God and who are prepared
to defend their beliefs? Or who are prepared to sponsor and finance and celebrate
vigorous critiques of atheism? Are they somehow morally defective for not doing
If something labeled “freedom of conscience” or the search for truth
through what is labeled “free inquiry” demands that everyone, whatever
they may or may not believe, must finance or give equal time to unbelievers or
others with radically different beliefs, or provide a protest pulpit for dissidents
and unbelievers or others with competing or radically different beliefs, then
Kurtz and company betray such freedom, as do secular and sectarian anti-Mormons
generally. But atheists have not to this point made a plausible case for such
a moral requirement, though they work hard to convince others that their ideology
ought to officially dominate or otherwise be controlling.
And the Rest of the Story
One might grant that George Smith seems to have personal and ideological ties
to Paul Kurtz and his brand of secular humanism and yet not see this as necessarily
controlling or coloring the operation of Signature Books and his Smith Research
Associates. But this would be a mistake, as well as naÃ¯ve, since a significant
number of the books issued by Signature Books are anti-Mormon in the sense that
they overtly attack Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It is that literature
that reflects his ideology and agenda. There clearly is an ideology determining
what is being published. Signature Books follows closely what seems to be the
line advanced by its wealthy owner.
George Smith recently set up Smith-Pettit Foundation. The purpose of this private
foundation appears to be a way of both owning and financing Signature Books, perhaps
to provide a source of income to help regularize the support for that publishing
venture. The Smith-Pettit tax return shows that it had $8,767,866 in total assets
at the beginning of 2002 and $9,291,019 at the end of the year.108 The management
of this foundation has been turned over to Bergera, who also continues to function
as acquisitions editor for Signature Books. The day-to-day operations at Signature
Books do not appear to be directed by George Smith; he does not seem involved
in the routine operations of the press or the foundations he owns. And it is possible,
perhaps even likely, that his employees occasionally do things that annoy him.
But there are, in addition to personal (if not financial) links, also ideological
connections between George Smith (and Signature Books) and militant, evangelizing
atheist propaganda agencies, including Prometheus Books. This seems significant
and should be known in the Latter-day Saint community and also by evangelical
critics of the Church of Jesus Christ.109 And these ideological links help to
explain the books attacking Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon that flow from
Signature Books employees have neglected to mention to their Latter-day Saint
clientele the links their employer has to Prometheus Books, or to what is currently
known as the Council for Secular Humanism, and to other related atheist front
organizations servicing the wider community of militant, evangelizing atheists.
It is also noteworthy that those at Signature Books have been neither forthcoming
about their somewhat reclusive, very wealthy owner, nor about his and their motivations
and ideology. By giving close attention to the ideological nexus between Signature
Books and Prometheus Books, it is possible to understand what constitutes the
“common humanist perspective” found in the titles issued by Signature
Books and also what is meant when prominent Latter-day Saint historians—each
known for their moderation—indicate that Signature Books publishes material
largely in George Smith’s “ideological image.”
Those at Signature Books seem to want to be known as a “dissenting imprint”
and a “renegade publisher.” This proclivity can clearly be seen in
the “News Stories about Signature Books and Its Authors” posted on
a Web page it maintains.110 This collection of news items, ranging back well over
a decade, provides a good indication of what constitutes “the common humanist
perspective” in the books published by Signature Books and also how those
at Signature Books both understand and promote their publishing endeavors among
those on the margins of the Latter-day Saint intellectual community. In those
items there is much reveling in reports of conflict with the Brethren and with
faithful Latter-day Saints generally, especially with those who publish under
the FARMS imprint.
Skirmishes on the “Wasatch Front”
Why the passion on the part of Signature Books to demonize FARMS? Or why do Signature
Books spokespersons lionize authors who have public squabbles with the church?
The answer to these and related questions requires a little historical background.
Prior to 1989 (though there has been a constant parade of anti-Mormon books and
pamphlets), other than Hugh Nibley’s early apologetic essays and a few other
items, there were few, if any, genuinely scholarly or even nonscholarly responses
to either sectarian or secular critics. Instead, there was, as there continues
to be now, both a large and often lackluster devotional literature and also a
thriving and sometimes impressive Latter-day Saint historiography, the quality
of which seems to be improving. However, if we can believe one report, little
of what has been written since 1950 by Latter-day Saint historians has been focused
on defending the faith and the Saints.111 There are several reasons for this lacuna
in recent LDS historiography.
First, LDS historians have rightly tended to view the sectarian brand of anti-Mormonism
as thoroughly contemptible. They have also tended to see this literature and the
movement behind it as entirely unworthy of any of their critical attention despite
whatever damage it might be doing to the faith of the Saints and despite or because
of the quirky personalities involved. However, historians thrive on little known
or archival materials, and there is a wealth of such sectarian anti-Mormon literature.
And yet, despite the abundance of textual materials upon which to draw in telling
its story, virtually no attention has been given to this literature and consequently
to the individuals and agencies that produce and market such material. It would,
on this assessment, be a step backward to give attention to sectarian anti-Mormons
or the literature they generate. In addition, until 1989 there was no venue in
which scholars, even when so disposed, could publish responses to either sectarian
or secular anti-Mormonism.
Second, it seems that an entire generation of Latter-day Saint historians has
been taught to eschew controversy, and accordingly they tend to avoid polemics
even in defense of the faith. Walker, Whittaker, and Allen have argued that “instead
of defending or attacking LDS faith claims—one of the major characteristics
of nineteenth-century Mormon historiography—the new historians [that is,
those who began to publish after 1950] were more interested in examining the Mormon
past in the hope of understanding it—and understanding themselves.”112
This opinion may be extreme, but something like it seems to still be at work among
Third, since Latter-day Saint historians belong to a kind of club that includes
those outside or on the fringes of the circle of faith, responding to the secular
variety of anti-Mormonism seems to have posed a special problem for them, since
to do so would likely have led to criticism of colleagues or associates with whom
they desire to maintain friendships. In addition, to do so would have involved
unwanted, uncomfortable confrontations with those who entertain revisionist ideology
and who often have been in control or heavily involved in publishing venues such
as Dialogue, Sunstone, and Signature Books.113
But events beyond the control of Latter-day Saint historians made their situation
somewhat awkward. Mark Hofmann’s sensational “discoveries” in
the 1980s, which eventually turned out to be forgeries, spawned a literature highly
critical of Joseph Smith and the crucial founding theophanies, as well as of the
Book of Mormon. When Hofmann was eventually exposed as a forger who was covertly
pursuing a secular anti-Mormon agenda, critics on the margins of the Mormon intellectual
community merely made some adjustments and continued their attacks as if nothing
much had happened. Some venues, of course, were keen to publish such literature.
Signature Books was and continues to be preeminent among these publishing houses.114
Shortly after the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon was launched in 1989,
Daniel C. Peterson expressed his willingness to facilitate the publication of
a literature that would be “at once genuinely scholarly and authentically
Latter-day Saint.”115 In addition, he also opened the pages of this Review
to competent responses to both sectarian and secular anti-Mormon literature. Thus
the primary difference between the 1980s and now is that for fifteen years there
has been a venue willing to publish competent, scholarly responses to attacks
on the Church of Jesus Christ. In both word and deed Peterson indicated that scholars
interested in providing genuinely competent responses to the full range of anti-Mormon
literature would henceforth have a venue in which to publish. This development
has not pleased dissidents or cultural Mormons and former Saints—and least
of all those at Signature Books; nor has it thrilled those few sectarian critics
of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon who have bothered to acquaint themselves
with recent scholarly LDS literature. To this point, anti-Mormons have responded
to this unanticipated development primarily by ignoring the relevant literature.
Prior to the advent of the Review, critics may have anticipated pounding away
with impunity at the foundations of the faith of the Saints. This may have been
true of Signature Books, which got started nearly a decade earlier than this periodical.
The publication of the Review changed all of that. By 1991, those at Signature
Books could see that the books they published would receive much unwanted attention
in its pages. In an effort to thwart the open and honest discussion of books containing,
among other things, attacks on the Book of Mormon, George Smith had his attorney
threaten FARMS116 over review essays that had appeared that were critical of a
collection of essays edited by Dan Vogel.117 Waterman, an apologist for Signature
Books, then claimed that “Signature was accused of being . . .
‘Korihor Press,’ a label originally applied to the publishing firm
by a BYU religion professor in a book review.”118 What Stephen Robinson
actually wrote is that “Korihor’s back, and this time he’s got
a printing press.”119 According to Waterman, this “incident sparked
rumors of a lawsuit; according to Signature staff their attorney merely asked
for an apology.”120
Apparently a bit embarrassed by their effort at legal intimidation, the Signature
Books staff downplay the ploy. Why was an apology necessary, since what Robinson
said, in his pithy way, was simply true? An apology for what? Robinson demonstrated
parallels between the assumptions at work in many of the essays included in Vogel’s
collection and the program advanced anciently by Korihor. Are we now to be forbidden
from employing the powerful symbols found in the Book of Mormon (for example,
Korihor, the other anti-Christs, or even that expression itself) when we confront
the world in which we currently live? This episode ended in a slight clarification
of the language used in advertising the issue of the Review in which Robinson’s
essay appeared, but no apology for what Robinson or other reviewers had written.
In one of his more memorable introductions to this Review, Peterson described
this effort to silence criticism of attacks being published by Signature Books
on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.121 Subsequently, there have been a number
of similar and related skirmishes between secular critics of the Church of Jesus
Christ and those who publish under the FARMS imprint.
One instructive instance of what amounts to censorship involved Orson Scott Card,
who previously published with Signature Books and had, in better times, even served
on its editorial board. He had published an essay in Sunstone in which he defended
“the prophet’s sole authority to determine whether homosexuality is
or is not a sin in the eyes of the Church. Signature’s reaction was to threaten
to withdraw from distributing Sunstone unless they stopped publishing me.”122
“Their agenda was clear. You can attack the church under Signature’s
aegis, but heaven help you if you dare to defend the Church.”123
It is, of course, unnecessary to review all the details of these earlier untoward
efforts at intimidation and censorship other than to indicate that there has been
an ongoing campaign by the Signature Books staff to marginalize or otherwise discredit
those who publish with FARMS.124 And the fact is that we are once again faced
with a spate of essays and books, many of which are written by those who were
once Latter-day Saints but who have come to reject and attack Joseph Smith and
the Book of Mormon. These books are often published by or linked in some way to
Signature Books is hostile in several ways to those who are at all critical of
the things they publish. This can be seen not only in some of the books they publish,126
but also in the unseemly attack posted on the Signature Books Web site entitled
“Why I No Longer Trust the FARMS Review of Books.”127 This essay was
originally read at a Sunstone conference in Salt Lake City. John Hatch, its author,
was partway through undergraduate work in history at the University of Utah when
he launched his attack on FARMS.128 He was soon rewarded (1) by having his
essay posted on the Signature Books Web site and (2) by then being employed
by Signature Books to put together an anthology of essays on the Book of Mormon.
But when that project failed, he was shifted to editing the diaries of Anthon
H. Lund,129 and (3) he was hired as managing editor of Sunstone and also
assigned to coordinate their symposia.130
A “Great Debt”?
Elsewhere I have argued that at least some criticisms of the Church of Jesus Christ
seem providential, if one is of a pious disposition.131 Critics may even do the
Saints a service.
For example, Fawn Brodie’s criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon
sent a generation of historians back to the sources and also stimulated a massive
and continuing rediscovery of the Book of Mormon by the Saints. This sort of thing
is the desirable, though unintended, consequence of various efforts to pull the
Church of Jesus Christ from its crucial historical foundations. By attacking the
faith, critics may actually help direct our attention back to those foundations
and away from the charming fads and fashions floating around in the dominant culture.
Also, despite the tragic losses caused by such assaults–and they are real
losses–some anti-Mormon literature ends up focusing and strengthening the
faith of the Saints and thereby inadvertently assists in building the kingdom.
Our critics may thus help remind the Saints that the genuine work of the Holy
Spirit takes us into a world pulsing with divine power–one in which the
heavens are not closed, one in which signs and wonders are still present, and
one not unlike that found in our scriptures and also in the founding events upon
which our faith ultimately rests. Critics thus help force the Saints to take seriously
the crucial founding events and texts, which unfortunately we otherwise may trivialize
or neglect. Our critics oblige us to face matters that, given our highly secularized
world, we tend to downplay, ignore, or turn into conventional sentimentalities.
Sterling McMurrin liked what he saw being published by his friend, George D. Smith.
He thought that “through his company, Signature Books, he and others have
made great contributions to the understanding of Mormon history and sociology.
The Mormon church really owes them a great debt of gratitude for what they have
done and are doing, but it’s a debt,” he guessed, “that will
probably never be acknowledged.”132 Should we be indebted to George Smith
and Signature Books for the publication of attacks on the crucial historical foundations
of the faith of the Saints? I cannot, of course, speak for the church or its leaders,
but it seems appropriate to acknowledge what McMurrin called a “great debt.”
Some of the literature published by Signature Books may have some unintended desirable
consequences. McMurrin was probably right about George Smith and Signature Books,
but in a way that he probably did not have in mind. We can thank at least some
of our critics, both sectarian and secular, for helping to maintain the faith.
In addition, we also thereby have an explanation for the shape and contour of
the battles that have been raging for at least the last few decades along the
Wasatch Front. This expression is, of course, a common designation for the area
in Utah on the west flank of the Wasatch Mountains along which there is now virtually
a solid array of subdivisions and shopping malls stretching from Brigham City
on the north to Santaquin on the south, with Salt Lake City at its center. The
term also appears to signal something more ominous–a kind of war zone in
which the faith and practice of Latter-day Saints is contested by both secular
and sectarian anti-Mormons. Recently, from the sectarian side, the focus has been
on Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake City, where so-called street preachers, as well
as those representing the Utah Gospel Ministries and Alpha and Omega Ministries,
have carried on leafleting and protesting, in sometimes rowdy and obscene ways,
sometimes on church property and even directly in front of the Salt Lake Temple.
The protests have not been limited to preachers but have included one book publisher.
Servicing a Client
One can get an idea of the extent and dimensions of the secular side of this battle
going on along the Wasatch Front by consulting the public relations materials
posted by Signature Books on its own Web site.133 The news items recorded there
give an indication of the motivations and agenda of those at Signature Books.
They are also part of a war waged against the faith of the Saints. Those materials
seem calculated to signal what potential buyers can expect to find in at least
some of those books. Signature Books likes to celebrate the fact that a number
of the authors they publish are dissidents, have been in battles with the Brethren,
and have been excommunicated or had their memberships canceled. In addition, in
an effort to sell the books they publish, Signature Books not only takes advantage
of controversy surrounding the authors they publish, but also at times takes steps
to generate such scandals. The recent marketing of American Apocrypha, an anthology
of essays highly critical of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, illustrates
this tactic. This sales campaign involved Priddis and Tom Murphy, one of the authors
recently published by Signature Books.
Murphy has explained what led to widespread publicity over possible church discipline
for his attack on the Book of Mormon that appears in American Apocrypha. Instead
of treating his encounter with his stake president as confidential, he consciously
made a decision to “go public” and thereby generate as much adverse
publicity for the church as he possibly could. His intention was to use widespread
adverse publicity to force his stake president to back down. This is his version
of these events:
After I had expressed my intention to go public, Ron Priddis of Signature Books
forwarded my letter to Richard Ostling of the Associated Press who forwarded it
to Patty Henetz [a reporter eager for a juicy story]. Ultimately, I must take
full responsibility for my desire to go public and for agreeing to the interview
[with Henetz]. I did so because I believe that the best way to deal with
The expression ecclesiastical abuse was apparently coined by Lavina Anderson,
herself a former Latter-day Saint, to describe efforts by church leaders at any
level to counsel, admonish, correct, or discipline dissidents or apostates of
whatever variety. Her complaints about the Brethren and about various instances
of church disciplinary actions eventually led in 1993 to considerable publicity
over the so-called September Six. Five of the six, some of whom were marginal
at best in the Latter-day Saint intellectual community, were supported by well-organized
public protests staged at stake centers or at Latter-day Saint temples. At least
a few of these protests involved “candlelight vigils.” The whole point
of such antics was to draw the local TV stations and the press, who would be given
carefully prepared press releases so that they could easily file their stories.
Steven Clark, a well-known former Latter-day Saint as well as anti-Mormon agitator,
was not, as had been rumored, the one who launched the protests supporting Tom
Murphy. It was Murphy himself, through his publisher, who “leaked”
his story to the press. His actions generated widespread publicity about his problem
with his stake president. It is true that, in his own words, he
spoke with Steven Clark and many other people before my interview with my stake
president. Steven Clark played a role in organizing the candlelight vigils in
Salt Lake City and elsewhere but Kathy Worthington, who[m] I’ve never met,
played an even larger role. My students at Edmonds Community College, though,
were the first to suggest a candlelight vigil. When Steven Clark suggested the
idea to me later I put him in contact with my students.135
Priddis and his associates at Signature Books, it seems, actually launched their
Murphy publicity through a number of press releases intended to help sell their
recently released book critical of the Book of Mormon136 by generating or capitalizing
on controversy about one of the book’s essayists, Murphy. With the help
of those at Signature Books, Murphy provided the stuffing for sensational and
often distorted news items appearing in the popular press around the world. Priddis
and his fellow employees assisted in organizing protests against the Church of
Jesus Christ, one of which actually took place in front of the Salt Lake Temple
on Main Street Plaza.
Much of the publicity given to what should have been an entirely confidential
matter was generated by Signature Books to sell a book critical of the church.
But there is more—Priddis paraded on Main Street Plaza in front of the Salt
Lake Temple. He was there to protest an essentially confidential matter of church
discipline; he was photographed carrying two signs at this protest: one read,
“Thomas Murphy Burned at the Stake Center,” and the other, “And
it came to pass that no Lamanite DNA was found throughout all the Land.”137
The use by Signature Books of widespread publicity about what should be confidential
matters, and the staged candlelight vigils, began a decade earlier with well-orchestrated
and publicized protests over church discipline of the so-called September Six.
This is the mythology being paraded by dissidents who hope that they can
force the church to cave in by protests and other adverse publicity. In addition,
Murphy’s students may have spontaneously invented the idea of candlelight
protests at Latter-day Saint temples by those hostile to the church. They also
may have been coached by Murphy about the September Six and the associated protests,
as well as about the alleged “ecclesiastical abuse” by church leaders
presumably intended to frustrate free inquiry in the untrammeled search for truth
and so forth.
It would be nice to view things from the point of view of Murphy’s stake
president, Mathew Latimer. In an unusual move—which I applaud for various
reasons, one of which is that it clears me of the lie being circulated by Murphy’s
supporters that I “turned him in”—Latimer has written to Murphy
to explain exactly what his concern was in his case:
As you know, your papers are publicly available, and you have openly discussed
these matters in several venues. While it may be intriguing to think that a member
of the so-called “intellectual community” turned you in, I can assure
you my involvement in this matter arose out of much more mundane circumstances.
In the end, our discussions were never about suppressing academic freedom or honest
inquiry—despite what you and your supporters may believe. It was about encouraging
repentance, correcting error, and, hopefully, rekindling faith in Christ. For
me, it remains so.138
In English, following a pattern initially set down in Greek, the commonly accepted
way of indicating that one is against or in opposition to something, or that one
is speaking or writing against something, hence contradicting, disputing, rivaling,
and so forth, is by adding the prefix anti- to a word. To see just how common
this linguistic habit is in English and how ordinary and useful the words are
that are formed in this way, one should consult the Oxford English Dictionary.
There one finds listed and explained an enormous number of English words apparently
formed after about 1600 by adding the prefix anti- to various words to express
opposition or rivalry, to identify a process of the opposite or contrary kind,
to recognize a party or an individual as being against or opposed to something,
or to point out a product or agent that strives to inhibit, limit, or counteract
While the designations Mormon, Mormonites, and Mormonism were widespread in the
early 1830s, the expression anti-Mormon was initially used as a part of the self-identification
of those opposed to the faith of the Saints. The first published instance in which
the prefix anti- was attached to the word Mormon seems to be the Anti-Mormon Almanac,
for 1842, an obscure twenty-two-page pamphlet published in 1841.140 What is a
bit surprising is how long it took for those opposed to the faith of the Saints
to use the expression anti-Mormon to identify their opposition to the faith of
It should be noted that there is nothing unusual about the labels anti-Mormon
or anti-Mormonism. Nothing in the prefix anti- implies that those individuals
or agencies linked to this compound word advocate or participate in violence or
are mean-spirited, unsophisticated, evil, irrational, and so forth. When an individual
or agency either self-identifies or is identified by the Saints as anti-Mormon,
what is meant is merely that they oppose, dispute, or are against the well-established
beliefs of the Saints. Hence it is amusing to see people scrambling to avoid the
label, especially when they publish essays and books in which they clearly oppose
the crucial core beliefs of the Saints. There is nothing in the prefix anti- that
would justify limiting the use of the labels anti-Mormon
or anti-Mormonism to
the antics of street preachers, while exempting those peacefully leafleting or
otherwise protesting the faith of the Saints or those who operate sectarian outreaches
or ministries in opposition to the faith of the Saints. And, likewise, nothing
in the prefix would exempt secular opposition to the faith of the Saints, such
as is occasionally published by Signature Books, from inclusion under those labels.
No matter how mild or blatant their attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ, some
critics are inclined to express surprise and alarm, even to be deeply offended,
when they and their essays are identified as anti-Mormon. For example, in the
paperback edition of his One Nation under Gods, Richard Abanes, even with his
sense of decency and decorum and despite his obvious indifferent preparation for
expressing a genuinely informed opinion on the Mormon past, continues to insist
that “the history of Mormonism is rife with nefarious deeds, corruption,
vice, and intolerance. So far the fruits of Mormonism have included lust, greed,
theft, fraud, violence, murder, religious fanaticism, bribery, and racism.”141
Are these anti-Mormon sentiments? When we recall that the prefix anti- simply
means “against” or “opposite” in opinion, practice, or
sentiment, then the label anti-Mormon seems appropriate. The conclusions reached
and sentiments expressed by both Abanes and the author of the Anti-Mormon Almanac
are clearly in opposition to the faith of the Saints. One need not intend physical
violence against the Saints or their property to be staunchly anti-Mormon.
It should not be difficult for secular, as well as evangelical, critics of Latter-day
Saints and their faith to figure out why the Saints consider their writings—and
in some instances their tapes, videos, and other public and private activities
(including costly nuisance litigation)—stridently anti-Mormon.142 On the
facing page of the postscript added to the paperback edition of his book, with
his ebullience showing, Abanes expressed amazement that some “faithful members
of the LDS church” have characterized him as “an ‘anti-Mormon.'”143
However, if his book is not anti-Mormon, then the label simply has no meaning
whatsoever—there are not now and never have been anti-Mormons or anti-Mormonism,
notwithstanding all the books and essays opposed to the faith of the Saints, and
also the more flagrant persecution, protests, picketing, publishing of religious
pornography, leafleting, legal action, mobs, and expulsions.
Evangelical critics who publish essays and books attacking the foundations of
the faith of the Saints sometimes also pass out leaflets or protest when Latter-day
Saint temples are dedicated. Recently, as previously noted, Main Street Plaza
in Salt Lake City has been the focus for some of these protests—even on
church property and directly in front of the Salt Lake Temple—by preachers
who, among other things, sometimes file lawsuits against the Saints and the church.
These people also regularly insist that they are not anti-Mormon.144
Secular anti-Mormons are far more subtle than the sectarian variety. George Smith
and his associates and employees may resent having their activities and some of
the titles they publish viewed by the faithful as anti-Mormon. For personal, if
not merely business purposes, they may not appreciate being themselves so labeled.
But here is an irony. Priddis demonstrated on Main Street Plaza, presumably to
sell one of the books just published by the press for which he works.
Is it then any wonder that Jan Shipps observes, “because Signature Books
includes on its list many works that call parts of the canonized version of the
LDS story into question, some Latter-day Saints regard it as an anti-Mormon press”?145
It is, of course, also true that she thinks that “this is a mistake,”
since Signature Books, in her words, manifests a “willingness to publish
alternative interpretations of the Mormon experience” that she thinks have
“provided a richer picture of the LDS past than would otherwise be available.”146
But the mistake seems to be hers. She is right about the disposition of those
at Signature Books, but wrong in the conclusion she draws. One can, along with
others in the Latter-day Saint scholarly community, desire better written, more
accurate, more imaginative, more richly detailed accounts of the Latter-day Saint
past. And one can applaud the significant steps that have been taken in this direction.
And, of course, Signature Books, whatever its ideology, has played a modest but
not crucial role in this. It is not every item on its list but the constant pounding
away at the crucial founding events—that is, the attacks on Joseph Smith
and the Book of Mormon—that has led to its being described as a dissenting,
renegade press and being made a pariah. For the ideology it espouses, it has justifiably
garnered the label anti-Mormon.
A Necessary Personal Disclaimer
By identifying the personal and ideological links between Signature Books and
Prometheus Books—that is, between George Smith and Paul Kurtz and his humanist
operations—the “common humanist perspective” found in many of
the books published by Signature Books has been identified. This, of course, has
not constituted a refutation of the ideology of the owner of Signature Book or
the contents of the books published by the press he owns. My intent has not been
to offer a refutation. Instead, I have told a story. My historical account is,
as any sound history ought to be, grounded in textual evidences. These evidences
are easily available but unfortunately little known. My account differs from both
fiction and gossip by being supported by textual sources, which thereby constitute
the evidence for its veracity. And what I have written is not an evasion of some
intellectual issue; it is not ad hominem since the motivations behind deeds, ideological
or otherwise, are at the heart of intellectual history.
- Macbeth, act 1, scene 3, lines 123-26.
- For details, see L. Jackson Newell’s preface and introduction to Matters
of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin on Philosophy, Education,
and Religion (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), xiii-xxxii.
- Ibid., 361.
- Quoted from “About Signature Books,” www.signaturebooks.com/about.htm
(accessed 12 April 2004).
- Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling in their Mormon America: The Power
and the Promise (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), 353, emphasis added.
The Ostlings make much of this “liberal thinking” in their
own conservative Protestant critique of the faith of the Saints.
- Thomas W. Flynn, introduction to a conference that was held on 4-7
May 2000 in Los Angeles, California. Council for Secular Humanism Conference
Tape #18 on “The Mormon Challenge” was available from Free Inquiry
or the Council for Secular Humanism in May 2002. I quote from a partial transcript
that I made of the tape recording of the proceedings of this conference.
- Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched
a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 296 n. 123,
- See James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker, Studies in
Mormon History, 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2000).
- Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen, Mormon History
(Urbana: Illinois University Press, 2001), 91, emphasis added.
- See, for example, Bryan Waterman, “Editor’s Introduction,”
The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretative Essays on Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 1999), vii-xiii.
- Bryan Waterman, “Signature Books: A Little Something for Everyone,”
Student Review, 16 February 1994, 4; also at www.signaturebooks.com/sigstories.htm#something
(accessed 12 April 2004), emphasis added. (This is the first of fourteen
similar news items posted on a Signature Books Web page to signal how those
at Signature Books want to be seen by their clientele.)
- Gideon Burton and Neal Kramer, “The State of Mormon Literature and
Criticism,” Dialogue 32/3 (1999): 7, emphasis added.
- Gary J. Bergera, “Feint Praise,” Dialogue 33/1 (2000): vi, emphasis
- Ibid., v. It was more than a mere disagreement by Signature with “one
or two book reviewers at FARMS.” For details, see Daniel C. Peterson’s
introduction, “Questions to Legal Answers,” Review of Books on the
Book of Mormon 4 (1992): ix-xi.
- Quoted from the Signature Books Web site at www.signaturebooks.com/about
- Orson Scott Card to Louis Midgley, 14 April 2004, emphasis added. A
copy of this letter can be found in the Papers of Louis C. Midgley (MSS 2806),
in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young
University, Provo, Utah.
- Ibid., emphasis added. Similar remarks were made by Orson Scott Card on
27 November 2001 as part of the Harold B. Library Author Lecture Series
called “Stories Filled with Truth: How to Read Fiction, Scripture, and
- See, for example, the following publications by Signature Books: Dan Vogel,
Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (2004); Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe,
eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (2002); Robert D. Anderson,
Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (1999);
Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological
Search for the Book of Mormon (1996); Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches
to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (1993); and also
most but not all of the essays in Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on
Mormon Scripture (1990). See also Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s
Response to Skepticism (1992), which is a revised edition of Hullinger’s
Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon (St.
Louis: Clayton, 1980); Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from
American Pluralism (1989); and Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of
- See, for example, the following publications by Signature Books: Grant H.
Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (2002); Mark D. Thomas, Digging
in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (1999); and H. Michael Marquardt
and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record
- See www.signaturebooks.com/faq.htm (accessed 23 April 2004) for this
language and also some of the other relevant details.
- For details, see “About Signature Books,” www.signaturebooks.com/about.htm
(accessed 12 April 2004).
- See the searchable database put out by Smith Research Associates entitled
New Mormon Studies CD-ROM: A Comprehensive Resource Library (Salt Lake City:
Signature Books, 1998).
- See Grant Underwood, review of New Mormon Studies, in Church History 68/3
(1999): 748. Underwood’s essay was published a second time in Church History
69/4 (2000): 928-30. I cite the 1999 version of Underwood’s review.
- Ibid., 747.
- Ibid., 748, emphasis added. Those at Signature Books should not complain
about having Underwood’s reflections thrown in their faces, since they
have posted his remarks at www.signaturebooks.com/reviews/cd.htm (accessed 12 April
- Underwood, review of New Mormon Studies, 748, emphasis added.
- Walker, Whittaker, and Allen, Mormon History, 91.
- John Sillito, “Navigating the Difficult Terrain of Mormon Experience,”
Dialogue 36/3 (2003): 269.
- Ibid., 270. Those at Signature Books should keep this proviso in mind and
cease the name-calling and personal attacks on authors who publish under the
FARMS imprint. They should stop the parade of crude diversionary ad hominem
attacks on essays published in this Review when we address issues raised in
the books they publish. They attack the messenger and ignore the message.
- However, from my perspective, some of what Signature Books publishes seems
to be at least tasteless, if not obscene or absurd. Examples in this genre include
Paul Toscano, Music and the Broken Word: Songs for Alternate Voices (Salt Lake
City: Signature Books, 1991); Janice Allred, God the Mother and Other Theological
Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997); and Paul Swenson, Iced at the
Ward, Burned at the Stake: And Other Poems (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
- Examples in this genre include McMurrin, Matters of Conscience; and Brigham
D. Madsen, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian (Salt Lake City:
Signature Books, 1998).
- It must also be granted that some of the editing provided by Signature Books
is inept. For example, botany is obviously the study of plants and not animals.
Yet one amusing bit of garbling by editors at Signature Books made one author,
probably without his knowledge or against his will, complain about “botanically
unverifiable animals” in the Book of Mormon. Edward H. Ashment, “Historiography
of the Canon,” in Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History,
ed. George D. Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 284.
- Much earlier, the Roman poet Lucretius (ca. 99-55 BC), De Rerum Natura
(On the Nature of Things) 4.662-70, hinted at what might be behind his
own poetic endeavors when he mentioned that a clever physician will place some
honey on the rim of the cup so that it will be easier to get a reluctant patient
to swallow hellebore. What might his nasty medicine have been? The gifted author
of this powerful didactic poem set out in subtle ways the bleak message entailed
in Epicurean atheism. This famous text by Lucretius is readily available in
various translations and editions.
- These remarks were made by Ron Priddis, formerly Signature Books marketing
director and now managing director, when speaking on 17 March 2002 in the
Gould Auditorium of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah, at a meeting
of the Friends of the Marriott Library, “Signature Books: Celebrating
20 Years of Publishing”; a copy of this can be found in the Papers of
Louis C. Midgley.
- George D. Smith, also speaking at “Signature Books: Celebrating 20
Years of Publishing.” Ron Priddis and Gary Bergera, managing director
of Signature Books for sixteen years and currently the managing director of
Smith-Pettit as well as Signature Books acquisitions editor, also addressed
- A recent example of deceptive marketing can be seen in the case of Palmer’s
An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins—particularly in its title and
in the publicity provided for it by Signature Books. For some of the details,
see Davis Bitton, “The Charge of a Man with a Broken Lance (But Look What
He Doesn’t Tell Us),” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 257-71; and
also Louis Midgley, “Prying into Palmer,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003):
365-410, which should be compared with the “Statement Regarding
Grant Palmer’s Book An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins,”
issued in January 2004 by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day
Saint History, FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 255.
- Priddis, “Signature Books: Celebrating 20 Years of Publishing.”
Signature Books spokespersons insist that they “never talk about ultimate
explanations” because they deny that they believe that there is “one
true explanation” of the faith of the Saints. Ibid. Those employed at
Signature Books have not worked out for themselves a single, final secular explanation
for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Instead, they appear to brush aside
and mock what they describe as the silly things they were taught in Sunday School,
and, they conveniently neglect to mention, the very teachings to which they
once bore solemn witness as Latter-day Saint missionaries.
- See “A Humanist Manifesto,” New Humanist 6/3 (May-June
1933): 1-5; and Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I and II (Buffalo,
NY: Prometheus Books, 1993).
- See Edwin H. Wilson, The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto (Amherst, NY: Humanist
Press, 1995); and William F. Schulz, Making the Manifesto: The Birth of Religious
Humanism (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2002).
- Edwin H. Wilson began his humanist career in 1929 as a regular contributor
to The New Humanist, then a mimeographed newsletter; by 1930 it was published
under his direction. This little magazine ceased publication in 1936 but was
revived in 1941 under the title The Humanist, again edited by Wilson (from 1941
until 1956). See Teresa Maciocha, “Edwin H. Wilson: Unitarian Humanist
Leader, 1899-1993,” at www.harvardsquarelibrary
- Maciocha, “Edwin H. Wilson.”
- See Kurtz, Humanist Manifestos I and II.
- See Free Inquiry 1/1 (1980-81): 3-7.
- In addition to Free Inquiry, which is currently the flagship atheist periodical
publication in the United States, Kurtz and company also publish or sponsor
more than a dozen other newsletters, magazines, or other periodical publications,
including various series of pamphlets. See www.centerforinquiry.net/publications.html
for a listing of these items (accessed 24 April 2004).
- See the Humanist 63 (May/June 2003): 10-14.
- See “Humanist Manifesto 2000,” Free Inquiry 19/4 (1999): 4-20.
- Ibid., 18. More and more specifics were included by Kurtz in his programmatic
statement of how, since in his world there are no divine things, we can somehow
live an enhanced life and thereby save ourselves, whatever that might mean.
These include “a new planetary income tax, the regulation of global conglomerates,
open access to the media, population stability, environmental protection, an
effective security system, development of a system of World Law, and a new World
Parliament. The Manifesto urges us to rise above parochial ethnic nationalism
and divisive multiculturalism.” Paul Kurtz, “The Promise of Manifesto
2000,” Free Inquiry 20/1 (1999-2000): 5.
- This conference, “The Mormon Challenge,” was held on 4-7 May
2000 in Los Angeles, California.
- While pointing out that his understanding of Latter-day Saint history and
faith differs somewhat from what is common among the Saints, Compton affirmed
his own belief in God. He did not go into detail and seemed uncomfortable addressing
an atheist audience. He may not have known exactly what he was getting into.
- I would recommend having a transcript of this conference published since
it would provide a good illustration of both the level of understanding and
the controlling ideology of some eminent secular anti-Mormons.
- Flynn, introduction to a conference entitled “The Mormon Challenge.”
- Ibid., emphasis added.
- See George D. Smith Jr., “The Negro Doctrine—An Afterview,”
Dialogue 12/2 (1979): 64-67.
- See George D. Smith, “Defending the Keystone: Book of Mormon Difficulties,”
Sunstone, May-June 1981, 45-50.
- See “Memorial Services for Dr. [sic] Fawn M. Brodie, January 17, 1981,”
recorded and transcribed by George D. Smith Jr., available in the Brodie Papers,
Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. This was accompanied
by a five-page typed item apparently written by George D. Smith entitled “Dr.
[sic] Fawn McKay Brodie—A Personal View.” See also George D. Smith,
“Memories of Brodie,” Dialogue 14/4 (1981): 7-8.
- George D. Smith, letter to the editor, 7th East Press, 8 February 1983,
11, emphasis added.
- See George D. Smith, “Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon,”
Free Inquiry 4/1 (1983-84): 21-31; eventually reprinted without
illustrations in On the Barricades: Religion and Free Inquiry in Conflict, ed.
Robert Basil, Mary Beth Gehrman, and Tim Madigan (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books,
- See George D. Smith, “The History of Mormonism and Church Authorities:
An Interview with Sterling M. McMurrin,” Free Inquiry 4/1 (1983-84):
32-34, which is a shortened version of “An Interview with Sterling
M. McMurrin by Blake Ostler,” Dialogue 17/1 (1984): 18-43, which
originally appeared in the 7th East Press on 11 January 1983. McMurrin, it should
be noted, liked to report that he had “never read the entire Book of Mormon.”
McMurrin, Matters of Conscience, 114. He was not the least bit uncomfortable
in boasting about this lacuna in his literary endeavors, despite Thomas F. O’Dea’s
pungent observation back in 1957 that “the Book of Mormon has not been
universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read
in order to have an opinion of it.” Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 26.
- See Vern Anderson, “Revisionist or Truth Seeker? Publisher Defends
Research of LDS Church’s Past,” Salt Lake Tribune, 22 July 1991,
D1. The version of this article posted on the Signature Books Web site at www.signaturebooks.com/sigstories.htm#/controversy
(accessed 10 June 2004) as “Publisher Adds Controversy to the Pages
of Mormon History” has been condensed.
- All quotations in this paragraph are from Anderson, “Revisionist or
- Smith indicated that he was “not trying to hide anything.” He
is also quoted as having said, “I have no hidden agendas. I stand for
historical integrity and free inquiry on all subjects, religious and otherwise.”
Anderson, “Revisionist or Truth Seeker?” If this is genuinely the
case, then he and his employees at Signature Books should welcome an unfettered,
let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may, warts-and-all look at George Smith’s
publications for indications of both his motivations and ideology.
- See, for example, George D. Smith, “The Freedom of Inquiry: Introduction,”
Free Inquiry 17/2 (1997): 14-16.
- George D. Smith, “Polygamy and the Mormon Church,” Free Inquiry
7/1 (1986-87): 55-57; Smith, “Mormon Plural Marriage,”
Free Inquiry 12/3 (1992): 32-37, 60; Smith, “Strange Bedfellows:
Mormon Polygamy and Baptist History,” Free Inquiry 16/2 (1996): 41-45;
reprinted in Freedom of Conscience: A Baptist/Humanist Dialogue, ed. Paul D.
Simmons (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), 207-16. In this essay he
suggests that Joseph Smith might have gotten the idea for polygamy from John
Milton, who wanted to remarry when his wife deserted him, or that he might have
heard about Anne Boleyn and King Henry, or he might have heard something about
Anabaptist marriage practices. At the Mormon History Association meetings in
Tucson, Arizona, on 17 May 2002, he presented a paper entitled “Counting
Joseph Smith’s Wives.” Then Bergera responded with support for his
employer with “A Review of George Smith’s Identification of the
Earliest Mormon Polygamists.”
- Gary J. Bergera, “‘Only Our Hearts Know’—Part I:
Sunstone during the Daniel Rector, Elbert Peck, and Linda Jean Stephenson Years,
1986-92,” Sunstone, March 2003, 46.
- See George D. Smith, ed., Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992).
- Among others, these included D. Michael Quinn, Melvin T. Smith, Lawrence
Foster, Paul M. Edwards, and C. Robert Mesle.
- See the essays by Malcolm R. Thorp, “Some Reflections on New Mormon
History and the Possibilities of a ‘New’ Traditional History,”
263-80, and Edward H. Ashment, “Historiography of the Canon,”
- George Smith, “Editor’s Introduction,” Faithful History,
- Ibid., vii.
- Ibid., ix.
- Ibid., viii.
- Ibid., ix.
- Ibid., viii.
- Ibid., ix. Signature has on its Web page at www.signature books.com/reviews/faithful.htm
(accessed 18 May 2004) what purports to be a review of Faithful History
by Bryan Waterman that first appeared under the title “In Search of Faithful
History,” Student Review, 30 September 1992, 5. Waterman was then
an undergraduate student in English at Brigham Young University. On 6 November
1992, I phoned Waterman, and he indicated that he had lifted most of the review
directly from a press release written by Ron Priddis, then publicist for Signature,
and issued as “Mormons Clash over History,” Signature Books News,
4 September 1992. He sent me a photocopy of this item with the following
notation: “Brother Midgley—The editorial marks are mine. You’ll
see that the version in SR [Student Review] is close to this. I had a few personal
[paragraphs] that were omitted for space reasons.” Priddis then posted
what had originated as his own press release on the Signature Web page, but
under Waterman’s name. Needless to say, the assessment of Faithful History
by publicist-Priddis/reviewer-Waterman is tendentious, as well as garbled.
- Sterling M. McMurrin, “Toward Intellectual Anarchy,” review
of Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Dialogue 26/2 (1993): 212.
- See George D. Smith, “Orthodoxy and Encyclopedia: The Book of Mormon
in the Encyclopedia,” Sunstone, November 1993, 48-53.
- Ibid., 48.
- Ibid., 49.
- George Smith has contributed essays to Sunstone, Dialogue, the John Whitmer
Historical Association Journal, and the Journal of Mormon History. See George
D. Smith, “William Clayton: Joseph Smith’s ‘Private Clerk’
and Eyewitness to Mormon Polygamy in Nauvoo,” Sunstone, December 1991,
32-35; Smith, “Is There Any Way to Escape These Difficulties? The
Book of Mormon Studies of B. H. Roberts,” Dialogue 17/2 (1984): 94-111;
Smith, “Indians Not Lamanites,” Dialogue 18/2 (1985): 5-6;
and Smith, “Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46: A Preliminary
Demographic Report,” Dialogue 27/1 (1994): 1-72; reprinted in Dialogue
34/1&2 (2001): 123-58. In addition, he edited and published An Intimate
Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books/Smith
Research Associates, 1991 & 1995). When James B. Allen reviewed An Intimate
Chronicle in BYU Studies 35/2 (1995): 165-75, a tussle ensued in the pages
of Dialogue 30/2 (1997). See James B. Allen, “Editing William Clayton,”
129-38; George D. Smith, “A Response: The Politics of Mormon History,”
138-48; and then Allen’s “A Reply,” 148-55; and
Smith’s “A Rejoinder,” 155-56. Early in Smith’s
publishing career he got into a quarrel with William Hamblin over how to read
Isaiah. See George D. Smith, “Isaiah Updated,” Dialogue 16/2 (1983):
37-51, reprinted in The Word of God, 113-30; William Hamblin, “‘Isaiah
Update’ Challenged,” Dialogue 17/1 (1984): 4-7; and “Smith
Responds,” Dialogue 17/1 (1984): 7. See also George D. Smith, “Concepts
of Deity; A Brief Overview from Yahwist Writings to the Mormon Jehovah-Is-Jesus
Doctrine,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 7 (1987): 28-34;
and Smith, “William Clayton: In the Shadow of Power,” Journal of
Mormon History 19/2 (1993): 126-40.
- See Paul Kurtz, “On Entering the Third Decade: Personal Reminiscences:
A Humanistic Journey,” Free Inquiry 20/2 (2000): 29-38.
- Ibid., 32. These have previously been identified.
- Paul Kurtz, “The Mormon Church,” Free Inquiry 4/1 (1983-84):
20. George Smith was married in a Latter-day Saint temple in July 1970, with
all that this implies. However, it seems rather unlikely, if not entirely impossible
(given his public stance on the church and its historical foundations), that
he wishes to be known as a Latter-day Saint or that his name is still on the
- Editorial note introducing McMurrin’s essay, Free Inquiry 4/1 (1983-84):
- Kurtz, “Mormon Church,” 20. McMurrin was also married in a Latter-day
Saint temple in June 1938. He was never excommunicated nor did he have his name
removed from the church records, though he loved to boast of being a heretic
and for much of his adult life he chose not to be part of the community of Saints.
He was, instead, an observer of the faithful from the margins of the Latter-day
Saint academic community.
- This and other references to this conference have been taken from materials
posted on the Free Inquiry Web site at www.secularhumanism.org/ingersoll/mormon
- An essay by Clay Chandler, “Scrying for the Lord: Magic, Mysticism,
and the Origins of the Book of Mormon,” can be found in Dialogue 36/4
(2003): 43-78. (There is no indication in Dialogue that a version of this
essay was read to a gathering of atheists assembled by George Smith and Paul
- See Robert M. Price, “Joseph Smith: Inspired Author of the Book of
Mormon,” in American Apocrypha, 321-66. Compare this essay with
Price, “Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue 36/4 (2003):
89-96. See William J. Hamblin’s “‘There Really Is a
God, and He Dwells in the Temporal Parietal Lobe of Joseph Smith’s Brain,'”
Dialogue 36/4 (2003): 79-87; also found in a slightly revised version
as “Priced to Sell” in this number of the FARMS Review, pages 37-47.
- See Robert M. Price, “From Fundamentalist to Humanist” (1997)
found at www
- Kurtz, “Personal Reminiscences,” 36.
- This “dialogue,” heavily augmented by a miscellany of sermons
and previously published essays, was issued in 2000 as Freedom of Conscience:
A Baptist/Humanist Dialogue by Prometheus Books. Robert Price contributed a
sermon entitled “Bootleg Baptists?” (pp. 80-84) and a
previously published essay entitled “Inerrancy: The New Catholicism? Biblical
Authority vs. Creedal Authority” (pp. 175-81), which helped
to flesh out what originally took place.
- See the Ostlings in Mormon America, 384. A fundamentalist faction within
the Southern Baptist Convention won a decisive victory in what has been described
as the “Baptist Battles.” For details, see Nancy Ammerman’s
Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist
Convention (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990).
- Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian
Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 231. He may have borrowed the
expression from Ammerman, Baptist Battles, 14.
- Joe E. Barnhart, Robert S. Alley, and Paul Kurtz, “In Defense of
Freedom of Conscience: A Cooperative Baptist/Secular Humanist Declaration,”
Free Inquiry 16/1 (1995-96): 4-7.
- Ibid. For the full text of “In Defense of Freedom of Conscience:
A Cooperative Baptist/Secular Humanist Declaration; Joint Statement,”
see Freedom of Conscience, 263-70.
- See George Smith, Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience (Buffalo,
NY: Prometheus and Signature Books, 1994). Metcalfe’s talk was not included
in this book.
- For a commentary on A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue, see Louis Midgley, “Atheists
and Cultural Mormons Promote a Naturalistic Humanism,” Review of Books
on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995): 229-97. For a glowing review of this
volume, see Thomas W. Flynn, “The Humanist/Mormon Dialogue,” Free
Inquiry 15/1 (1994-95): 55-57. See “Atheists and Cultural
Mormons,” 257-67, where I dealt extensively with Newell’s
- See George D. Smith’s “Editor’s Introduction” to
A Mormon/Humanist Dialogue, vii-viii.
- The Smith-Pettit Foundation (which does not function as a tax-exempt entity)
owns 67 percent of Signature Books, which seems to have had a book value of
$768,150 in 2002; other investments of the foundation that year included mutual
funds with a book value of $2,536,569. One can get some idea of the size of
this investment by examining the Smith-Pettit Foundation tax returns, which
are available for 2002 at tfc990.fdncenter.org/black_pdfs/
- “Dr.” John Weldon, a countercult anti-Mormon, believes that
“Signature Books offers a wide variety of books documenting problems in
Mormonism that refute FARMS claims. What FARMS will not do, because it cannot,
is to fairly evaluate these Mormon writings because they disprove their claims
re: Mormonism.” This assertion, which shows how countercult critics of
the Church of Jesus Christ understand the literature published by Signature
Books, is quoted from the encyclopedic collection of over 8,500 pages of material
in what is called “Apologetic Index,” assembled by Anton Hein, a
pugnacious Dutch countercultist, at www.apologeticsindex.org/cpoint10-9.html
(accessed 24 April 2004).
- At www.signaturebooks.com/sigstories.htm#something (accessed 24 April
2004), see “News Stories about Signature Books and Its Authors.”
This can also be accessed from the Signature Books home page through the “News
and Events” link, and then through “News Stories about Signature
- Walker, Whittaker, and Allen, Mormon History, 61.
- Critics of the church seem to recognize and exploit for their own purposes
the overall ideological orientation of these publishing venues. See, for example,
the remarks about Sunstone and Dialogue by the Ostlings in their Mormon America,
- An instructive example is the recent publication by Signature Books of
Palmer’s tendentious An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins. For twenty
years, Palmer, while employed by CES, had been covertly working on the manuscript
for a book that was initially spawned by the confusion generated by Mark Hofmann’s
forgeries and his phony tales of a secret history hidden in the vault of the
First Presidency. For the details, see Midgley, “Prying into Palmer,”
- Peterson, “Questions to Legal Answers,” vii.
- See ibid., ix-xi, for the relevant details.
- See Stephen E. Robinson, review of The Word of God, ed. Dan Vogel, Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon 3 (1991): 312-18; and perhaps also Louis
Midgley, “More Revisionist Legerdemain and the Book of Mormon,”
Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 3 (1991): 261-311.
- Waterman, “A Little Something for Everyone,” 4.
- Robinson, review of The Word of God, 312.
- Waterman, “A Little Something for Everyone,” 4.
- Peterson, “Questions to Legal Answers,” viii-lxxvi.
- Card to Midgley, 14 April 2004, 2.
- Ibid. Though many at Signature Books seem appalled by plural marriage,
they seem especially sensitive to criticisms of homosexuality.
- Let me repeat again, so that I will not be misunderstood: no one that I
am aware of has claimed or implied that everything published by Signature Books
lacks merit or that all the titles they publish are overtly critical of Joseph
Smith and the Book of Mormon, or paint the Church of Jesus Christ, either blatantly
or covertly, in dark colors.
- Smith Research Associates is one of George Smith’s foundations through
which he funds anti-Mormon research. Occasionally a book is released collaboratively
by both Smith Research Associates and Signature Books. Works published by Smith
Research Associates are marketed though Signature Books. For details, see www.signaturebooks
- See especially D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View,
rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), passim.
- See John Hatch, “Why I No Longer Trust the FARMS Review of Books,”
posted at www.signaturebooks.com/sigstories2.htm#Farms (accessed 24 April
- Every item in Hatch’s criticism was answered by Daniel Peterson in
“QnA,” the editor’s introduction to the FARMS Review of Books
13/2 (2001): xi-xxi.
- John P. Hatch, ed., Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, forthcoming
in October 2004 from Signature Books. See www.signaturebooks.com/danish.htm
(accessed 24 April 2004).
- He is reported to be continuing his education in history at the University
of Utah and “at the moment researching the life of LDS president George
Albert Smith.” See www.signaturebooks.com/danish.htm#Hatch (accessed 24 April
- See, for example, Louis Midgley, “The Legend and Legacy of Fawn Brodie,”
FARMS Review of Books 13/1 (2001): 69-70.
- McMurrin, Matters of Conscience, 361.
- At www.signaturebooks.com/sigstories.htm#something (accessed 24 April
2004), see “News Stories about Signature Books and Its Authors.”
- Thomas W. Murphy, open letter dated 9 January 2003, emphasis added.
This letter can be found at www.tungate.com/murphy.htm (accessed 24 April
2004). The letter is item #23 in the collections of materials assembled in support
of Murphy by Mel Tungate.
- See Vogel and Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha.
- See twelve photos in “Murphy Supporters Rally on Main Street in Downtown
Salt Lake City, December 8, 2002,” part of a larger item entitled “Thomas
Murphy—Lamanite DNA News,” www.salamandersociety.org/news/ (accessed
27 December 2003; apparently this Web page is no longer available). Ron
Priddis was featured in several of the photos. The caption on one photo indicates
that Priddis “rallies on his clients [sic] behalf.” Priddis is described
as the “Signature Books publisher of Thomas Murphy’s ‘Lamanite
Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics,'” which is found in American Apocrypha, 47-77. One of these photos was also published in “Murphy
Supporters Protest on Main Street Plaza,” Sunstone, December 2002, 73.
- Mathew Latimer to Thomas Murphy, “Re: Dispelling Rumors,” e-mail,
21 March 2004. Murphy has reproduced this letter in his “Inventing
Galileo,” Sunstone, March 2004, 60 n. 4. Murphy still seems to believe
that someone must have turned him in. Those caught up in the mythology of September
Six must find some evil agent out there whose goal is to get “intellectuals”
and put an end to free inquiry.
- Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2004
), s.v. prefix anti-.
- Anti-Mormon Almanac, for 1842 (New York: Health Book Store, ).
- See Richard Abanes, One Nation under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church
(New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 436. It is noteworthy that the subtitle
to the Anti-Mormon Almanac, for 1842, reads as follows: Containing, besides
the usual astronomical calculations a variety of interesting and important facts,
showing the treasonable tendency, and the wicked imposture of that great delusion,
advocated by a sect, lately risen up in the United States, calling themselves
Mormons, or Latter Day Saints; with quotations from their writings and from
public document no. 189, published by order of Congress, February 15, 1841,
showing that Mormonism authorizes the crimes of theft, robbery, high treason,
and murder; together with the number of the sect, their views, character of
their leaders, &c., &c. It seems that the conclusions set out by Abanes
in 2003 are not all that different from those set out in 1841, when the label
anti-Mormon seems to have been coined.
- Abanes has been the target of such legal threats over plagiarism by a fellow
anti-Mormon agitator. See cultlink.com/ar/abanes-frost.htm, cultlink.com/sentinel/Vangorden
- Abanes, One Nation under Gods, 437.
- See, for example, Kurt Van Gorden, “Missionaries Not ‘Anti-Mormon,'”
Christianity Today 41/1 (1997): 15; and Alan W. Gomes, foreword to Is the Mormon
My Brother? Discerning the Differences between Mormonism and Christianity, by
James R. White (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), 12. Gomes claims that
“contrary to what some anti-evangelical Mormon critics may charge, Prof.
White is no ‘anti-Mormon,'” adding that “if White truly
were ‘anti-Mormon’ he would let them perish in their error.”
- Jan Shipps, “Surveying the Mormon Image Since 1960,” in Sojourner
in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Urbana, IL: University
of Illinois Press, 2000), 119-20 n. 30, emphasis added.
.htm (accessed 14 April 2004).
.html (12 April 2004). A portion of these remarks is quoted in an item
found on the Sunstone Web site under the “message board” link at
www.sunstoneonline.com/whatsnew/whatsnew-event.asp# (accessed 23 April
.org/unitarians/wilson.html (accessed 4 May 2004).
.htm (accessed 12 April 2004). I quote from a printed copy of these materials.
.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/humanist.html (accessed 24 April
2004). He describes his odyssey from what he flippantly brushes aside as a crude
fundamentalist ideology to his current atheist stance. Price is a favorite of
Internet Infidels; they have five of his essays listed on one of their Web pages.
See www.infidels.org/secular_web/new/1997/june.shtml (accessed 24 April
2004). Price, who was said in 2002 to be the “author of six books, three
awaiting release, and hundreds of articles, is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar
and Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry.” He is
also on the editorial staff of Secular Nation magazine, which is a publication
of the Atheist Alliance International, www.atheistalliance.org/library/news_082602.html
(accessed 24 April 2004). Price seems recently to have come to believe
that there was no historical Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus is simply, for him,
a myth invented by others.
870641442/200212.pdf and for 2001 at tfc990.fdncenter.org/black_pdfs/870641442/200112
.pdf (both accessed 24 April 2004). The other third of Signature Books
seems to be owned by George Smith through a holding company that also owns and
renovates properties in Salt Lake City.
.com/faq.htm (accessed 24 April 2004).
.htm, and cultlink.com/news/apr_2003_sentinel_eupdate.htm, for some of the details
(accessed 27 April 2004).