Religion is repulsive to every cultivated mind. Joseph Lewis (1889-1968) was revolted by it: "Religion invented hell, it invented blasphemy, it invented witchcraft. Why those three things alone, if you recorded the crimes committed in those names, would be sufficient to condemn it before the world."1
Religion is based on the fear of death. That fear of the unknown drives religious hope, which vests in the asserted power of a deity, the ultimate boy toy of various priesthoods.
This absurd deity construct has always astonished and disgusted the more intelligent of mankind: "God?" asked Voltaire. "I don't believe that I have ever been introduced to a gentleman by that name."2 Mill elaborated: "I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go."3
Every argument ever advanced to prove the existence of a deity has failed: the arguments from Cause, Design, Perfection, Life, Revelation, MIracles, Religious Experience, Morality, Wishes, and Faith fare no better than le pari de Pascal: the classic argument for crippling oneself as to ability, time, and clear thinking.4
The patent silliness of the religion and god ideas is so obvious that only fools would embrace them; and only ambitious fools would build their empires in these mares' -nests. Our purpose here is to examine just such an attempt by Elder Lieutenant General Mayor Supreme Justice President Prophet King Joseph Smith Junior, for such lessons as may lie hidden there.
Though an industrious child, Smith was regarded by his family as an illiterate bungling ass.5 From weaving baskets and peddling beer,6 Smith took to hunting buried treasure via seer stones. For this fraud he was eventually arrested and convicted of being a disorderly person and an impostor.7 Mormonism's foremost apologist declared this trial "mythical" and "a product of wishful thinking" in 1961, adding that "if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith." He had nothing to say when the record was found in the summer of 1971 in the basement of the Chenango County New York sheriff's office, showing Smith was tried and convicted of fraud before Justice Albert Neely on 20 March 1826.8
Smith thereupon eloped with the daughter of his landlord, who accosted him in August 1827. Smith admitted "he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false." Father-in-law Isaac Hale offered a grubstake if Smith would engage in honest work. Offer accepted, Smith double-crossed Hale and produced the Book of Mormon two years later. Hale's final assessment, 20 March 1834: "[T]he whole Book of Mormon (so called) is a silly fabrication got up for the speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary."9
A neighbor of Smith's family had published a work entitled View of the Hebrews in 1823. Its author Ethan Smith was the pastor of the family of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith's principal scribe for the Book of Mormon; and Joseph Smith was well aware of Ethan Smith's book.10 View of the Hebrews called for a work such as the Book of Mormon (p. 217). Joseph Smith rose to the bait and proved an assiduous student.
Ethan Smith claimed ancient American Indians worked in iron (pp. 192, 194), copper (pp. 193, 195, 196, 197), silver (pp. 194, 196, 197, 198), and swords (pp. 194, 197). Following suit, Joseph Smith claimed ancient America Indians worked in iron (II Nephi 5:15, Mosiah 8:10), silver (Mosiah 11:8, Alma 4:6, Helaman 13:28, Ether 10:23), and swords (Alma 1:9 and 17:37-38, Ether 14:2). To date (1999), no trace of any ancient American work in iron, copper, silver, or swordsmithing has been found by any archeologist.11 There are dozens of similar parallels, including word-for-word lifting from Ethan Smith's work.12
Joseph Fielding Smith, later a Mormon president, wrote that View of the Hebrews was but one of a score of 19th century books written to prove the American Indians are the lost tribes of Israel.13 As View's sequel, the Book of Mormon belongs exactly in this nondescript company. It has no connection whatever to history. Otherwise, its portrayal of Jesus Christ making public announcements on the day before he was born14 would be a fatal fetal flaw of the first magnitude. Extensive studies of the book's geography, fauna, archeology, and agriculture have produced no evidence that would support its reality as an historical record.15
In tying his future to it, Joseph Smith inescapably shouldered the burden of the dead religions of Christianity and Judaism. He gamely threw in and lopped off whatever he could to make his religion fly. He stole Masonic ritual wholesale and symbol for symbol, claiming it was rightly his.16 He introduced polygamy, informing his first wife the god of the universe directed her to allow him to copulate with other women.17 Her reply is not on record; but she was busy rearing their children at the time. With Smith out of the way in 1844, she lost no time marrying second husband Lewis Bidamon, who helped rear Smith's legitimate children, in whom Smith had taken minimal interest.
Towards the end, Smith claimed, "I am above the world, for I have no laws." He boasted that he had seen and heard (and recorded it in four discrepant versions) god almighty "at sundry times, and in divers places," also Jesus Christ, Michael the archangel, Raphael, Gabriel, Moses, Elijah, John the baptist, Peter, James, John, Elias, Moroni out of the Book of Mormon, and other "divers angels from Adam down to the present."18 Having covered most bases with these claims, shortly before he was killed he declared his faithful followers would become gods themselves, complete with authority and ability to continue copulating after death for billions and billions of years.
Not exactly the Carl Sagan of his time, he told one follower: "The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style.... They live to be very old; coming generally near a thousand years."19 Not quite the brightest sheep in the flock, this faithful brother immediately copied down and preserved the revelation.
So wrapped up was Smith in his myth that he remained contemptuous of his own country's government. In the 1840s he promised the Mormon vote to both Whig and Democrat, double-crossing one for the other.20 No suggestion of church/state separation here.21 In 1844 he ordered destroyed the press and type of an unfriendly newspaper, which led directly to his incarceration and the fatal shoot-out with his guards. So much for freedom of the press.
His followers then set about salvaging a workable religion from the wreck of his frenetic flight through the supernatural ruins of his day. The unscrupulous ruffian who succeeded him claimed that Smith had never been convicted of any charges brought against him, which is a boldfaced lie, since he had personal knowledge to the contrary.22 The sordid trail Smith left behind him has been detailed elsewhere,23 so let us conclude with such useful pointers as we can deduce, for the guidance of others who may fancy a similar run along the lines of Joseph Smith's vulgar nightmare.
1. Take care not to set yourself up as the ultimate authority.24
2. Take care not to wander too far afield from your game plan.25
3. A pinch of self control goes a long way.26
4. High class flim-flam need not violate the law.27
5. Compromise your henchmen.28
6. Never make a disprovable prediction or prophecy.29
7. Never overestimate the intelligence of your followers.30
And yes, Joseph Smith Junior betrayed himself by assuming the titles of Elder, Lieutenant General, Mayor, Supreme Justice, President, Prophet, and King. Basket Weaver would reflect credit on an honorable man. So,
8. No titles, this time.
This summary of a person of no integrity is presented as a contrast to the courage of the man or woman who chooses to put by that "baby talk of adults"31 called theology, in order to mature into a self-reliant adult in the real world of nature in which we live.
|1||Interviewed by Mike Wallace on WABD-TV on "Night Beat" (New York City, 22 May 1957)|
|2||Lettres, cited in Free Mind (September/October 1996), p. 8|
|3||Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865), ch. 7|
|4||Fully examined in Gordon Stein, Ed., An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1980), pp. 56-59 and essays following. Other good summaries: Ralph B. Shirley, God: The Greatest Hoax, and Fred Woodworth, There is No God|
|5||His mother, in her history of him (p. 84), cited in G. T. Harrison, That Mormon Book (Helper, Utah, 1981), p. 132; his wife, in Joseph Smith's private journal, cited in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, vol. 1 (1942), p. 195|
|6||Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York, 1867), p. 14,
accepted by Mormon historian Richard L. Anderson in "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Summer 1969), pp. 13-28
|7||Harrison, op.cit., p. 127; see also Wesley P. Walters, Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials|
|8||Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (1961), pp. 154, 157, 142, following Kirkham, op.cit., pp. 486-87 ("If such a court record confession could be identified and proved, then it follows that his believers must deny his claimed divine guidance"), in attacking the report in Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York, 9 Apr 1831, which was verified 140 years later (see Harrison, op.cit., p. 3)|
|9||Fawn McKay Brodie, No Man Knows My History ((New York, 1945), pp. 405-407, 410-11, 416-18|
|10||G. T. Harrison, Mormonism Now and Then (Helper, Utah, 1961), p. 44|
|11||Eric Kettunen web site: http://www.exmorm.org|
|12||Harrison, Mormonism Now and Then, pp. 45-66|
|13||Harrison, Mormonism Now and Then, pp. 66-67|
|14||Book of Mormon, III Nephi 1:13: "on the morrow come I into the world" (!)|
|15||Kettunen, loc.cit.; Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson's
Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, 1996); Salt Lake City Messenger (November 1996), pp. 1-4
|16||S. H. Goodwin, Mormonism and Masonry, in Little Masonic Library, Book II (Kingsport, Tennessee, 1946), pp. 251-336|
|17||Doctrine and Covenants, 132:51-56: "I will...give unto Joseph...an hundred-fold in this world, of...wives.... [I]f [Emma Smith] will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed.... I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law."|
|18||History of the Church, vol. 1, ch. 1-5; Documentary History of the Church 5:259; Doctrine and Covenants § 128 et passim|
|19||Journal of Oliver B. Huntington, vol. 3, p. 166 of ts at Utah State Historical Society, published in The Young Woman's Journal, vol. 3 (1892)|
|20||Robert B. Flanders, "The Kingdom of God in Illinois: Politics in Utopia, " in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1970), pp. 27-36; see his Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (1965)|
|21||His political demagoguery flourishes today. As president of the quorum of twelve apostles, Ezra Taft Benson announced: "The president of the church is god's prophet and his word is law on all issues including political issues." (Harrison, That Mormon Book, p. 157). Benson subsequently achieved the presidency.|
|22||Harrison, Mormonism Now and Then, pp. 295-96, citing Geauga County Ohio civil court minutes, U: 362 (8 Feb 1837) and other convictions under dates of 25 Mar 1837, June 1837, 9 Jul 1837, besides six suits settled out of court and others in which Smith was assessed damages. Brigham Young lied about this publicly and repeatedly (Journal of Discourses 10:111, 14:199, 18:361).|
|23||David L. Kent, "Joseph's Myth: A Fact Sheet on The Mormon Church," in American Atheist (April 1981), pp. 10-12; Kettunen, 1oc. cit.|
|24||Did Bruce R. McConkie lift his material from Innocent III or Adolf Hitler? "It will grow and nothing can stop it until it is both an ecclesiastical and political kingdom and it will govern in all things both political and spiritual." (Salt Lake Tribune, 13 Oct 1958, p. 8-A) But not to worry: "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done." (Deseret News, 26 May 1945, chuch section, p. 10)|
|25||Smith's venture into Egyptology reduced Hugh Nibley to speculation as to how many pharaohs could dance on the head of a pin; and led himself to be snookered by the Kinderhook plates hoax.|
|26||Sexual/ritual child abuse would of course follow the undelimited infinite copulation imperative, as would the rabid fornication at which "General Authorities" Richard R. Lyman and George P. Lee were thought to connive (see Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, vol. I  ). Another aberration is evident in the vicious and querulous temper that overtook both Smith and Young towards the end of their careers. Perhaps the burden of maintaining a massive deception takes its toll. Smith complained constantly of petty irritations such as postage due letters and unfriendly editorials, as, for example, this: "You will please discontinue my paper; its contents are calculated to pollute me. And to patronize that filthy sheet, that tissue of lies, that sink of iniquity, is disgraceful to any moral man. Yours with contempt, Joseph Smith. P.S. Please publish the above in your contemptible paper." (dated 26 May 1841, Nauvoo) The editor of the Warsaw Signal cheerfully did so on 2 June 1841, reminding Smith he owed three dollars for back subscription. The Nauvoo Expositor he attacked as "that infamous, filthy, libelous and seditious sheet" (Harrison, Mormonism Now and Then, pp. 283, 290). Next day, according to eye witness John Taylor, Smith's last act in life was to commit double murder.|
|27||Case in point: William Franklin Graham Junior (Rev. Billy) has improved his original lot in life as Fuller Brush salesman.|
|28||Smith notoriously made advances on the wives of apostles he had sent abroad to proselytize; e.g., Orson Pratt, whose brother Parley Parker Pratt, another apostle, had been shot and killed by a jealous husband whose wife Pratt had seduced to Mormonism and whom he was hurrying away to Zion.|
|29||As, for example, Smith's prophecy in 1843 that there were those "of the rising generation who shall not taste death till Christ comes." (History of the Church 5:336)|
|30||Smith remarked that if his critics could prove the case, his followers "are the greatest dupes, as a body of people, that ever lived." (History of the Church 5:472). Well: the case is now approaching iron-clad status. And regarding the Smith intelligence... In 1957 the Mormon church maintained a retarded descendant of Joseph Smith in its office building to strike pose on cue to illustrate the nobility of the Smith physiognomy for visitors. On the occasion of our visit, Smith slightly embarrassed our guide, Oscar A. Kirkham, by jumping his cue. And perhaps the less said the better about the tragic scene when Bishop Joseph Fielding Smith III fell on his ass into the Grand Canyon and perished, as reported in theDeseret News. Astride his burro, he had wandered too close to the edge.|
|31||A felicitous phrase I wish to credit to its coiner, James H. Dee|