Elder Jeffrey Holland, when bearing his testimony, is fond of culminating with an emphatic statement similar to the following: “I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!” This is really a powerful way to phrase it, which is not surprising for Jeff. The man has a knack for turning a phrase.
So what defines a “fairy tale?”
Dictionary definitions include “a children's story about magical and imaginary beings and lands,” and “a fabricated story, especially one intended to deceive.” This got me thinking…which led to the realization that, really, almost all religion consists of fairy tales. Don’t pretty much all religions teach about supernatural, or “magical” beings? Don’t they all deal with places that exist only in the imagination?
But wait, there’s that “fabricated” part. What if the stories are true? What if the magical beings and imaginary lands actually exist? Well, that’s where it starts to get interesting. And that’s why I said “almost” all religion consists of fairy tales. If you happen to have true knowledge about things that actually exist, well then, my friend, you don’t have a fairy tale. You have truth. And it can save you. The trick is to know when you have truth and when you simply have a “fabricated story…intended to deceive.” Because…
…there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. (1 Nephi 14:10)If you learn and obey truth, you are part of the group Christ refers to as His church. If you believe ANYTHING else, you are in the other category. It’s pretty straightforward. Truth saves. All else is fairy tales.
This week, I watched people ritually wash, burn incense, throw coins, and pray in sincerity to stone statues, sometimes leaving an offering of food or drink. As I watched, I considered the role of religion in human existence. In my travels, I’ve observed a number of major world religions, and what fascinates me most is that the majority of them hold so many elements in common. In general, most religions consist of beliefs to explain the following:
- The nature and purpose of life
- The origin of the world
- The origin of humanity
- Belief in the unseen supernatural or divine, including good and evil forces or beings
- Belief in a god or gods, as well as a devil or demons who directly interfere and intervene in human life.
- A connection with or responsibility to ancestors who are dead
- Behavior and rituals required to please or appease diety, often involving purification to alleviate the effects of misbehavior or unfavorable events
- Expectation of favors or blessings for in return pleasing diety, often including health, wealth, love, luck, success, better circumstances, or whatever else one desires.
- Consequences for failure to please or appease diety, including punishments, loss of favor and blessings, uncleanness, etc.
- A belief in some sort of life after mortality, with favorable or unfavorable circumstances contingent on performance in this life
These common elements exist in the vast majority of religions, and seem to be part of the universal human experience. We hunger for explanations, meaning, purpose and direction. Whether we pray to a stone statue for rain, or to Jesus for money, the underlying principles hold. Though the answers and explanations differ, the universal hunger and need remains so deep seated and closely held that millions will kill or die in the service of their unseen gods, believing such behavior curries favor with the divine. We take our fairy tales VERY seriously.
Even in societies too “civilized” to kill each other over religion, we still find shunning, punishment, anger, fear, and hatred when adherents encounter someone who simply believes a different set of stories than they do.
And yet, the stories all exist to answer the same universal questions. Hugh Nibley referred to these as the “terrible questions” by which he meant the most fundamental perplexities of human existence. “Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is the purpose of life?” Which set of stories you prefer ultimately doesn’t matter if you don’t have the correct answers to these questions. For an entire generation, the marketing message of LDS mormonism focused on LDS answers to these questions.
And that’s where Joseph Smith comes in. Beginning as a fourteen-year-old boy, he somehow had the unique ability to see past the commonly accepted fairy tales and find the real thing. Therefore his religion is unique in the modern world, and rare in world history. I summarize Joseph’s unique teachings thusly:
- God is not unseen; I have seen Him.
- God is not unknowable; I know Him. He is a real person with a real body who exists in a real place.
- The purpose of life is to make humans into gods—not some unknowable, effete spirit sort of dead-ancestor god, but real, living, breathing physical beings who dwell in a family connection or kingdom of gods, in a physical place.
- And perhaps, most important, you DO NOT have to accept these things merely on faith. You can know them by personal experience. You can and should meet and converse with these divine beings. You can and should meet and know God personally. He will speak with you; he will teach you these things himself.
This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest. (TPJS 149)That is an absolutely revolutionary set of teachings, and it flies in the face of nearly all other world religions, where the gods remain unseen and unseeable, unknown and unknowable, forever the objects of blind devotion or horror until death ends the mystery of the great unknown. Joseph made the astounding claim that these not only AREN’T fairy tales, but that you can obtain actual, physical proof for yourself, as he did.
Unfortunately, we don’t much believe what Joseph taught anymore. Instead, the religion he founded has been hijacked, and revelation has been supplanted with tradition to bring great wealth and power to some few, while requiring the masses to pay, pray, and obey, but never expect to experience what Joseph did. Like all other religions, it has simply devolved into fairy tales, requiring a lifetime of blind faith and ignorant obedience to receive an undefined favorable outcome in the unknown afterlife. This is most certainly NOT the religion Joseph taught.
Much has changed since Joseph lived, and falsehoods have turned truths into myths. We have intentionally and unintentionally added “fabricated stories…intended to deceive.” Here’s an illustration:
On the Autumn equinox in 1823, Joseph Smith went to bed and besought the Lord in supplication and prayer. In response, an angel visited him in his bedroom. Throughout Joseph’s life, and in at least 4 direct, written accounts, he specifically identified that angel as “Nephi.” But somewhere along the line, after Joseph’s death, someone wrote “Moroni” to replace Nephi. The change stuck, the history became a myth, and now a golden statue named “Moroni” tops most LDS temples. The LDS church continues to tell the false story that Moroni visited Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823, even though the historical information that has come to light—and is published by the church—clearly demonstrates the error. (See here, here, here (page 753), and here (page 53).
But in the end, does the identity of the angel really matter? It seems a small error, really, and doesn’t much change your quest for redemption. Does it?
I’d like to suggest at least three reasons why something even as seemingly insignificant as the angel’s identity matters.
The identity is significant because it bears directly on understanding the gospel principle of resurrection. Nephi and Moroni lived a thousand years apart, at opposite ends of the Nephite dispensation. Between their lifetimes, Christ performed His mortal mission and attained to the resurrection of the dead. Nephi was resurrected at the time Christ was, and therefore appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being with a body. Moroni lived hundreds of years after Christ and therefore has not yet been resurrected. If he appeared, it would have been in spirit form only.
Joseph’s detailed explanation of the angel’s appearance therefore properly applies to a resurrected being, and not to a disembodied spirit. There was a physical being with a physical body standing in the air above the floor in Joseph’s bedroom. The fact that Nephi had a body would have been necessary to his ability to handle physical things in this world, like the gold plates. Nephi’s visit provides us the vital information that resurrected beings come here and minister, foreshadowing John the Baptist’s later visit, when he laid physical hands on Joseph and Oliver.
A proper understanding of the resurrection is indispensable to understanding the gospel. In fact, Joseph grouped it with what he termed the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead and the Eternal Judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (TPJS 149)By corrupting the angel’s identity, we fundamentally impair understanding, not only of the resurrection, but also of the covenants and connections that govern early resurrection, embodying Nephi in flesh while Moroni yet waits for that opportunity. These covenants and principles have become largely lost to us, and we therefore fundamentally misunderstand the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” A “small” error in identity has major ramifications.
2. Altered Records
Joseph’s records were altered after his death. In the Joseph Smith papers, you can see the alteration, where someone wrote in Moroni’s name. There is no explanation as to who did this or why, but the record has undeniably been altered.
Since this is the case for something as seemingly insignificant as a name, what happens when even more significant records have been demonstrably altered? Such is the case with polygamy, where Joseph’s clear and ardent teachings against the practice, were altered to promote polygamy.
Those who made this alteration in the written record attempted to turn their adultery into something sanctioned by God and taught by Joseph, and by so doing, they led thousands into significant error and gross sin. By altering Joseph’s words, they showed contempt for God, who said:
Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. (D&C 21:4-5)The records were changed to establish a false tradition, which is a nice way of saying “a fairy tale.” Will you continue to believe that fairy tale now that you have more reliable information about what Joseph actually taught?
3. In a Corner
In each case, faced with clear evidence that Joseph’s teachings have been altered, the LDS church has been required to make a choice: Admit the error, correct it, and move forward more closely aligned with truth, or double down and continue teaching the false tradition as if the real records simply don’t exist.
The trouble is that the false tradition also claims that the prophet, and by extension the church, cannot lead you astray. Therefore, any concession and error correction would also be an admission that the prophet and the church do indeed make significant errors, which admission would threaten the power structure built on the foundation of the false tradition. Sadly, because of this “all or nothing” facet of the tradition, the majority of those who discover errors, walk away from it all—concluding that Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, God the Father, angels, demons, and the rest are all just fairy tales. When it’s “all or nothing” many simply check the box next to nothing, and head off into atheism. Secular humanism becomes their new preferred set of stories. This is the most pernicious result of the all-or-nothing fairy tale.
The LDS church has painted itself into a corner. They—quite literally—rely on church members’ ignorance to keep the organization staffed and funded, and the leadership in power. They know they teach fairy tales, and hope to keep doing so, because admitting error is unthinkable, and produces disastrous results.
But reliance on ignorance doesn’t work so well in the information age. The truth is readily available and easily accessed. Many cherished LDS stories are turning out to only be fairy tales after all. The transfiguration of Brigham Young, the seagulls and locusts, false quotes from Joseph Smith, manufactured modern revelation…the list goes on. Here’s another one—and a quite important one—that has recently come to light:
Joseph’s Final Charge
It’s a well-known and undisputed historical fact that the original twelve LDS apostles were never ordained by Joseph Smith, and therefore could not claim, as Brigham Young attempted to, Joseph’s authority by virtue of the apostleship alone. The continuation of Joseph’s gifts, keys, and authority is, of course, foundational to the current LDS church claims to authority, which is a problem if you can’t quite explain how other men got what God gave to Joseph.
The narrative that solves this problem is now known as the “final charge.” The story goes that in March, 1844 Joseph Smith met in council with the twelve and gave them all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing powers of the priesthood, and that he rolled off onto their shoulders the responsibility to lead and govern the kingdom of God on earth. Various accounts of this meeting exist, though it was never mentioned until well after Joseph had died and the twelve needed a way to claim Joseph’s authority.
The trouble is that the minutes of those meetings are now available—and they tell no such story. Neither do contemporary journal entries of those in attendance. There’s no indication anything particularly significant happened at all. But as with other fables like Brigham Young’s transfiguration, the tale has gotten better and better through the years, until various versions have Joseph glowing as he spoke, threatening the twelve with damnation if they failed, and jumping up and down, clapping like a schoolboy as he rejoiced that he was off the hook as the only one carrying God’s authority.
Such is the tradition by which the LDS church claims rights to Joseph’s keys, powers, gifts and position. The historical record indicates it never happened. The church insists it somehow did—and thus the leaders must be obeyed and believed, even as they teach tall tales opposite what Joseph taught. Like I said, they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and they believe their only option is to double down on the lies, telling members not to look too closely, nor ask too many questions.
In other words, we ain’t gonna see a press release any time soon—not about Nephi, not about polygamy, not about Joseph’s final charge. We’ll just see more sound bites and general conference memes, pushing platitudes as if they had power to redeem. Those who point out the truth in the LDS church’s own published materials will continue to be accused of trying to “destroy faith” by telling you the truth.
And in the end it comes down to a question of truth. Joseph taught truth, including the reality of God and the opportunity to know Him. Others have traded truth for fairy tales, and continue to not only teach them, but insist you not question them. Do you want to hitch your wagon to that? Are you loyal to truth or to something else?
“I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!”
I’m sorry Jeff, but you have. We all have in some way or another. The Book of Mormon goes to some trouble to warn us against believing “the traditions of our fathers” when those traditions have no foundation in truth. That’s not the issue. The issue is how we respond when the traditions are unmasked as false.
Turn to God and alter your view to align with truth—this is the appropriate response. In fact, this is the very definition of repentance. It doesn’t matter if you used to believe a fairy tale; it matters how you respond when confronted with truth. If you refuse to change course, your heart is hard. And it will damn you.
It’s one thing to believe ignorantly, but once you see the written proof of the fabrication, will you still prefer tales over truth? Is it worth knowing what Joseph knew, and experiencing what he experienced? Or are you satisfied throwing a few coins, making a wish, and praying to gods of stone?
And so this brings us back to where we started. The religion of Joseph Smith—which is the religion of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Elijah, Nephi and Jesus Christ—brings men into literal contact with Gods. It worked for ancient believers. It worked for Joseph Smith. It has worked for people now living who can testify first hand. God wants it to work for you, as well.
If your chosen set of fairy tales doesn’t produce this result, then it matters not if you pray to a stone, a cloud, an elephant, or an emperor. Though your need for fables may be satisfied, your soul never will be. Nothing but actual knowledge of truth can adequately fill that void.
Thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands; And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away. For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel.
—3 Nephi 21:17-20