Thursday, June 26, 2014

Resignation: Doctrine Cannot Be Separated from History

I left off my last post by describing the angry feelings of betrayal that I experienced after having read Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History. It wasn’t so much that I was reading things I’d never heard of before – although there were more than a few surprises. What Brodie did is look at Joseph Smith’s history and the early history of the institution of the LDS Church (which are pretty much one and the same) from a different perspective. She told the story that chapel Mormons never heard. The other side of the story. And it was pretty compelling.

In early 2012, I read D. Michael Quinn’s two books about Mormon Heirarchy, i.e., Mormon Heirarchy: Origins of Power and Mormon Heirarchy: Extensions of Power. As was the case with Brodie, Quinn revealed a very-well researched and documented account of early Church history that was very different than the one I was accustomed to reading. Also like Brodie, there were more than a few arched eyebrow moments when I read something I’d never heard of before but that was clearly solid history. 

Reading these books helped me to shake myself loose from the vestiges of belief I still had. As I expressed in my last post, my problem was that many of the core LDS doctrines – particularly those preached before the Nauvoo period – had made sense to me. The restoration argument was very plausible. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the doctrines it taught were plausible. Other doctrines developed by Joseph Smith were not only plausible but were attractive to me. 

But as I read, the evidence mounted. And so did my anger. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately deceiving its members about who Joseph Smith was and what he did during the 1820’s. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately and consciously advancing one story of how the Book of Mormon was translated while history reveals a different account (the seer stone in the hat method). 
  • Anger at the Church for concealing how early “revelations” were later changed to accommodate evolving doctrinal developments. 
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately glossing over glaring “problems” with the Book of Mormon that were presented to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as early as the 1920’s (by B.H. Roberts).
  • Anger at the Church for deliberately concealing information about Joseph Smith’s evolving doctrine of polygamy that began in the early Kirtland period.
I could go on and on. 

It was this evidence and this anger at being duped in so many ways that made it much easier for me to sever the remaining cords of belief in an institution and belief system to which I had given much of my life.

The First Vision? How could I believe in this doctrine if Joseph Smith himself described it in at least four different ways? How could I believe in this doctrine if his family knew nothing about it or about the visitation of Moroni in 1823? Rather, the evidence pointed to the fact that this doctrine, like all of Mormonism, was evolving into something quite different than it had originally been conceived of being. 

The Book of Mormon? How could I believe in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon if Joseph Smith himself never preached from it and uttered his thanks to be rid of the last remaining written manuscript when it was put in a time capsule in the Nauvoo House? How could I continue to believe in it when the church that evolved in the 1830’s and early 1840’s bore little resemblance to that described in the Book of Mormon? 

Joseph Smith? As the evidence mounted, I found a Joseph Smith emerging that was very different than the one depicted today by the Church. What was I to think of him? 

No matter how much some of the “doctrines of the restoration” are appealing, they cannot be divorced from the poisoned well from which they originated. (And let me state that I am not interested in debating the matters I have referenced in this post. The purpose of this post is to tell my story, not to prove it to someone else.)

When I was investigating the Church in 1983, I was once told that “it’s really very simple: if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Church is what he said it is.” In 2011-2012, I reversed this pithy little statement: If the Book of Mormon is not what it purports to be, then Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Conversely if Joseph Smith was not what he purported to be, then the Book of Mormon is – ultimately – a fraud. In both these cases, if Joseph Smith was not what he purported to be, then the “doctrines” that he advanced were not revelations from God. It’s really very simple.

That’s what I told myself in the spring of 2012. I came to a point where I told myself that I didn’t have all the answers, but I didn’t need all the answers. I knew enough to know that Mormonism is no more “true” than is Methodism, or Presbyterianism, or Catholicism, or any number of other “-isms.” In anything, Mormonism was even “less true,” because, ultimately, it is based on historical lies and deceit. No matter how appealing some of the Church’s doctrines may be, these teachings cannot be separated from the historical context in which they arose.

Thus were any remaining, lingering threads of belief I had in the Mormon Church severed … forever.

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