Friday, July 18, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 3:
Herein. Danger. Lies.

I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, called by God, authorized to teach, and given God's word for the world. I believe he taught pure truth, though to a largely unreceptive audience. 

I believe truth, and only truth, gives us power to exercise faith unto life and salvation, so I have a real problem when falsehoods are taught in Joseph's name, with a design to manipulate the gullible and confuse the ill-informed. 

Trusting your eternal salvation to such falsehoods is beyond dangerous. It is damning.

I want to know what Joseph knew. He parted the heavens, stood in the presence of God, and received the promise of eternal life. Therefore I'm keenly interested in ANYTHING Joseph taught. 

And I'm keenly UNINTERESTED in falsehoods attributed to Joseph that he did NOT teach. 

It's vital to know the difference.

Previously, we've examined some of the quotations attributed to Joseph Smith, Jr. in the
Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith manual, Chapter 27: Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy.

We need to continue with a couple more. Let's start with this gem:

"I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives."

This particular quote is cited as follows:

History of the Church, 3:385; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 2, 1839, in Montrose, Iowa; reported by Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards.

Therefore, this quote is cited from three sources:
  1. History of the Church by B.H. Roberts;
  2. Wilford Woodruff
  3. Willard Richards

The quote does indeed appear in Source 1, History of the Church, but that's not the original source. History of the Church simply lifted the quote from the other two sources, as follows:

First is Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, where we find the lengthy notes Woodruff took during the meeting in question. Trouble is, Woodruff's Journal completely omits this quote, though it directly (and without interruption) supplies the rest of the sermon used in History of the Church.

The other source is Willard Richards' Pocket Companion, which does contain this quote. 

OK, so got that so far? Woodruff omits this paragraph from the sermon. Richards has this paragraph in the middle of the sermon. Woodruff, no. Richards, yes.

Woodruff, who was present at the meeting in question, is considered the most reliable source because he recorded the notes of the meeting while in attendance. But this quote does not appear in that record. The sermon before and after this quote appears there uninterrupted, but the quoted paragraph is completely absent.

Richards' Pocket Companion is actually a collection of material Willard Richards copied from other sources. Therefore, though this material appears there, Richards was not actually present when Joseph gave this sermon, and Richards copied the material from elsewhere, most likely Wilford Woodruff’s journal. As to how the quote in question got into Richards' Pocket Companion while NOT appearing in the original record is a mystery. Nobody knows where it came from. It is therefore hearsay and not a historical record.

We are left to wonder where Richards obtained the quote and why he stuck it in the middle of a sermon he didn’t hear Joseph give. There is no original source that contains this quotation, and Richards was on a mission in England when Joseph was supposed to have said it.

The quote's dubious provenance is not helped by its doctrinal difficulties. For example, scripture is replete with true prophets, called of God, who did indeed "rise up to condemn others, finding fault with the church, saying they are out of the way." Some obvious examples are as follows:
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Lehi
  • Jacob
  • Benjamin
  • Abinadi
  • Alma the Younger
  • Samuel the Lamanite
  • John the Baptist
  • Jesus Christ
  • Joseph Smith

In fact, you can pretty much summarize the mission of any true prophet as calling people to repentance. (D&C 11:9) How is this not "condemn[ing] others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way?"

Therefore, since Joseph Smith himself was "on the high road to apostasy" if this quote were true, it is utterly preposterous that Joseph Smith ever said this. Nobody quite knows where this quote came from, but it wasn't Joseph Smith.

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

Orson Hyde, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, reported: 

"Joseph the Prophet … said, 'Brethren, remember that the majority of this people will never go astray; and as long as you keep with the majority you are sure to enter the celestial kingdom.'"

The reference given in the church manual for this quote is as follows:

Orson Hyde, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, June 21, 1870, p. 3. 

Now, the first thing you need to know is that this is how the church manuals cite early General Conference talks to avoid citing them from the controversial Journal of Discourses where the talks actually appear. Since the talks were also published in the Deseret News, the church cites them there. But good luck finding the original newspaper reference! You’ll have to go to the Journal of Discourses if you want to actually read the talk.

The statement can be found in the Journal of Discourses, Volume 13, page 367 in an address by Orson Hyde entitled "Punctual Payment of Debts," given at the tabernacle on May 5, 1870 while Hyde was serving as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

In this sermon he chastised the saints for being slow to pay their debts, and encouraged them to get out of debt.

Here are the relevant facts:
  • Hyde had long association with Joseph Smith as one of the original apostles. He undoubtedly heard Joseph speak on many subjects. Therefore he could have heard Joseph make this statement.
  • Hyde's relationship with Joseph was rocky. He was twice removed from the Quorum of the Twelve and once excommunicated. He also signed the affidavit against Joseph Smith that resulted in Joseph’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail and contributed to the Mormon War of 1838.
  • Hyde was 39 years old when Joseph Smith died.
  • This quote is from a sermon Hyde gave May 5, 1870 at age 65, at least 26 years after Joseph could have said it.
  • Hyde makes no other statement of source, circumstances when, where and to whom Joseph said it, whether he recorded it in writing, or how he remembers the wording precisely. Thus it is not a historical record, but rather is uncorroborated hearsay. 
  • The quote is placed in the talk seemingly at random, without any context. It certainly does not relate to the topic of paying debts.
But...Hyde was an apostle when he made this statement! In fact he was President of the quorum! Therefore he is trustworthy...right?
  • Well...Hyde was indeed an apostle at the time he made this statement, however, he was also an apostle when he swore an affidavit against Joseph Smith and the saints that resulted in Joseph’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail. Are you going to accept his affidavit as inspired as well? Position is NOT a reliable indicator of truth.
Ramifications of this doctrine:
  1. There is NO scriptural precedent or doctrine supporting the idea that the majority of the church cannot go astray. In fact, this idea directly contradicts the history of nearly every dispensation the world has seen, including the dispensation started by Christ in the meridian of time. Why would our dispensation be somehow different? Where is the scripture that says so? I know we tell ourselves this story continually, but you would think that if the Lord had truly promised we couldn't possibly screw this up, He would have told us somewhere in scripture.
  2. It's an odd thing to think that in one breath Hyde is chastising the saints for failing to do something so basic as pay their debts, and in the next breath stating that the majority of them will unavoidably go to the Celestial Kingdom. What?
  3. The majority of the church is currently inactive. Does that matter? Should I stay with the majority as Hyde suggests?
  4. The majority of the church does not pay tithing or hold a temple recommend. Does that matter? Should I stay with the majority? 
  5. This doctrine promotes the idea that being an average Latter-day Saint is all the Lord requires to receive His greatest reward. Therefore the average LDS can safely be "at ease in Zion" enjoying "carnal security" that comes from knowing "all is well." and "thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell." (2 Ne. 28:21,24-25.) 
  6. This doctrine precludes the possibility that the voice of the people could ever choose iniquity (Mosiah 29:27).
  7. This doctrine opposes the idea that we "stand in jeopardy every hour" (1 Cor. 15:30) that we "must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Mormon 9:27) and that all are astray save a few, humble followers of Christ, and even these are misled by their leaders (2 Nephi 28:14). This is false and vain and foolish doctrine. (2 Nephi 28:14)
  8. This doctrine teaches us that by merely being passable Latter-day Saints we will be saved. This is the same doctrine proclaimed by the Zoramites upon the Rameumptom (Alma 31:17), who considered themselves saved simply because they were God's most favorite people. How did they know they were God's most favorite? Because their anti-Christ leaders told them so! Just stick with the group and you're sure to go to heaven!
  9. Therefore, if this doctrine is true, we must be God's chosen people, and for no other reason than our church membership! Nothing else is required!
  10. This interpretation is so utterly self-serving and unscriptural as to offend the sensibilities of anyone who actually believes what the scriptures say and gives this proposition one iota of thought. It is pure garbage, propounded by those who would prop up their own authority by associating Joseph's name with false doctrine. It mocks Christ and His atonement!
  11. Most importantly, the list of scripture that utterly refutes this false doctrine would go to many pages. 

  • ALL these quotes come from the official church manual; yet...
  • NONE of these quotes attributed to Joseph Smith can be verified or corroborated by any contemporary sources. They cannot be tied to any date, sermon or historical event. They cannot be shown to have originated with Joseph Smith at all. EVERY one of them is hearsay from old men talking about what they "remember" Joseph said 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years after he allegedly said it. We have NO historical record of Joseph teaching the doctrine that the majority of the church, the twelve or the prophet cannot lead us astray. We have AMPLE scriptural evidence this doctrine is false. 
  • Yet, we put it in our manuals and treat it as fact. Is this honest? 
  • We quote it as the basis of our faith and insist our members kneel and kiss the ring of infallibility, or risk loss of temple recommend, fellowship, or even membership. Is this right?
  • Worst of all, we foolishly, blindly, arrogantly stake our salvation upon this false concept without ever bothering to find out where it came from. It's in the manual, and that's good enough for us. Is this wise?
  • It's hearsay, and it's heresy. It will surely damn those who believe it--and yet we don't seem to give a damn at all. 
Here is perhaps the strongest repudiation of this false doctrine: The vast majority of the church, the Twelve and the records currently teach and believe the false doctrine that tells us we will never fall for a false doctrine! Now that’s clever! The Devil has actually managed to lead us astray with the appealing idea that we can never be led astray! 

This is the same illogic Nephi warned us about: "[A]nd he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance." (2 Ne. 28:22)

No wonder the devil looks up and laughs, having a great chain in his hand. (Moses 7:26)

Bring on the faith-promoting rumors!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 2: Joseph Said That?

In my last post, we discussed the importance of sources when evaluating quotes attributed to Joseph Smith--particularly when we intend to stake our eternal salvation upon the principles taught.

Now with that in mind, I’ve selected some of the best Joseph Smith quotes from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith manual, Chapter 27: Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy. Considering these are included in an official church manual, which was written by our prophets…

     —Nope. (You really should check into how the manuals are produced.)

Er..edited and approved by our prophets…


Uh…read by our prophets?

     —Not likely. 

Well, considering it’s an official church manual, it should be correct. I’m sure it’s been carefully checked and correlated to only teach true doctrine from solid, reliable sources. With souls at stake, anything less would be absolutely unthinkable.

So on to some Joseph Smith quotes:

“I will give you a key that will never rust — if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.”

The source is listed as a statement by William G. Nelson, published in the Young Woman’s Journal.  This statement was published in 1906, 62 years after the death of Joseph Smith.

William G. Nelson, the source of this statement, was born in Jefferson County, Illinois, June 10, 1831; associated with the Saints in Illinois and in the West, where he served as a ward bishop and a member of the high council at Oxford, Idaho. The facts surrounding this quote are as follows:
  • Nelson appears to have been in a position as a boy to hear Joseph Smith make this statement in Nauvoo. 
  • Nelson would have been 13 years, 2 weeks, and 3 days old when Joseph Smith was killed.
  • Nelson published the quote at least 62 years after hearing it, when his age was approximately 75 years.
  • Nelson makes no other statement of source, circumstances when, where and to whom Joseph said it, whether Nelson recorded it in writing, or how he remembers the wording precisely. It is therefore hearsay, and not a historical record. There is no contemporary collaborating source.
  • This statement was published in an adolescent periodical magazine among other faith-promoting and folksy stories about many topics. Essentially, the Mormon Seventeen. It is neither doctrine nor scripture.
Some difficulties with what is taught are as follows:
  • Depending on whose account you read, the majority of the twelve were in open rebellion to Joseph Smith in Kirtland.
  • The records of the church were recorded by the official church historian, John Whitmer, who took them with him when he left the church, requiring a new history to be written. Therefore to stay with the records of the church at that time would have required staying with Whitmer in Missouri, outside the church.
  • If the "majority of the twelve" doctrine was openly taught by Joseph Smith, there would have been no leadership succession crisis at Joseph's death. The church members would have known to follow the twelve. But no such thing happened.
  • Also, if this doctrine were known to Brigham Young at the time of the succession crisis, he could have argued that Joseph taught the members to stay with the majority of the twelve. But Brigham made no such argument.
Nelson could have based his “recollection” on the following quote, published 4 years earlier:

Ezra T. Clark recalled: "I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters (sic), nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy" (Improvement Era 5 [January 1902]: 202). 

Ezra T. Clark was born in Lawrence, Illinois, November 24, 1823. He died in Farmington, Utah October 17, 1901. Relevant facts are as follows:
  • Clark appears to have been in a position to hear Joseph Smith make this statement in Nauvoo.
  • Clark was 20 years old when Joseph died.
  • This quote is from a testimony Clark gave July 24, 1901 at age 77.
  • Clark published this statement at least 57 years after hearing it.
  • Clark makes no other statement of source, circumstances when, where and to whom Joseph said it, whether he recorded it in writing, or how he remembers the wording precisely. It is therefore hearsay and not a historical record. There is no other contemporary collaborating source.
  • This statement was published in an adolescent periodical magazine among other faith-promoting stories about many topics. It is neither doctrine nor scripture.
  • Within the same testimony, Clark makes several demonstrably false statements about historical events, as well as statements about the content and timing of Joseph Smith’s last sermon, which Clark claims to have witnessed, thus showing his memory unreliable and at least some quotations of Smith fabricated.
The most obvious problem with this quote is that it teaches false doctrine. If the Lord will not suffer the majority of this people to be deceived by "imposters," the Lord would necessarily have to abrogate the agency of the Mormon people. And as you may recall, such a plan was proposed in the beginning, but not by God. We must be free to choose.

Clark may have based his “recollection” on the following statement, published 13 years earlier:

Edward Stevenson published a similar statement in 1889 as follows:
"a key by which you may never be deceived" is that "a majority of the saints and the records and history of the Church also" would remain with the Church (see Jenson and Stevenson, Infancy of the Church, p. 5). 

Edward Stevenson was born May 1, 1820, and died January 27, 1897.

Relevant facts are as follows:

  • Stevenson appears to have been in a position to hear Joseph Smith make this statement in Nauvoo.
  • Stevenson was 24 years old when Joseph Smith was killed.
  • Stevenson published this quote at age 69, at least 45 years after hearing it.
  • Stevenson makes no other statement of source, circumstances when, where and to whom Joseph said it, whether he recorded it in writing, or how he remembers the wording precisely. It is therefore uncorroborated hearsay. Again, not a historical record, even though it was published in a history book.

So...What do all the above quotes have in common?

  1. All were first published many decades after Joseph Smith died.
  2. None is from any official doctrinal or scriptural publication of the church.
  3. None is from any recognized church authority.
  4. All are hearsay--meaning they are just statements people claimed Joseph made. In my last post, we explored how hazardous it can be to take such statements at face value.
  5. All have important historical and doctrinal problems, contradicting actual history and doctrine.
And, most importantly,

All were published at a time when the LDS church was battling the RLDS church over which church was "true." Both had estimable claims to be the proper successor to Joseph's restoration. How convenient to have old men on hand in Utah to provide statements that the way to stay with truth is to stay with the Majority of the Twelve (Point LDS!), the records of the church (2-0 LDS in the lead!), and the majority of the membership (LDS for the WIN!!) Sorry RLDS, but thanks for playing.

Yep, good thing we've got old men with spotty memories to say what needs sayin.'

But it doesn't end there. Unfortunately, it gets deeper, broader, and yet more dangerous. I'll show you what I mean in my next post.

Until then, here's one other Gem from the Improvement Era in 1902, that I just couldn't resist sharing. It appears on the page before brother Clark, whom we discussed above.

Advice on Marrying 
     While you're at it, there's nothing like picking out a good-looking wife, because even the handsomest woman looks homely sometimes, and so you get a little variety; but a homely one can only look worse than usual. Beauty is only skin deep, but that's deep enough to satisfy any reasonable man...then, too, if a fellow's bound to marry a fool, and a lot of men have to if they're going to hitch up into a well-matched team, there's nothing like picking a good looking one.
--John Graham, the Packer, to his son Pierrepont.

Words to live by indeed. What do you think? You gonna stake your eternal life on that one?

Friday, July 11, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 1:
Is your Eternal Life at Risk?

"As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories..."
- Harold B. Lee, "Admonitions for the Priesthood of God", Ensign, Jan 1973

We Latter-day Saints are a gullible lot. Whether it’s the latest “faith-promoting rumor,” the carefully scripted lives of our LDS celebrity leaders, or whatever floats around the internet, if it sounds good, most of us Latter-day Saints accept it without question, often with tears of joy, and for bonus points, over the pulpit. There are entire websites devoted to debunking these “Mormon Myths.” The fact that such websites are necessary doesn’t speak highly of our critical thinking skills or our discernment.

Perhaps this tendency to “believe all things” springs from the founding story of our faith. A fourteen-year-old boy, confused about religion, retired to the woods to pray, and there had a personal encounter wherein he met God and Jesus. What’s more, this wasn’t some carefully trained and educated prodigy child. This was just farm boy in the right place at the right time, seemingly average in every way. 

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Faith promoting and inspiring to be sure! And I happen to believe it’s true. But the Miracle of Mormonism has been stretched and expanded mightily since that day in the woods, primarily in response to our unsatisfied thirst for more miraculous stories. It seems the really inspiring stuff ended with Joseph Smith--but that doesn't stop us from making up more.

About thirteen years ago, a story started floating around the fledgling internet that Boyd Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, made a lengthy statement about today’s youth. It started something like this:

And it ended with the assertion that other souls would worship today’s youth in heaven when it’s learned that these kids were raised at the time of Gordon B. Hinckley. I remember it being passed around at church and shared with joy and tears.

Trouble is, it was complete crap. Elder Packer finally got so sick of this bunk being pinned on him that he issued an official statement denying ever having said or believed such a thing. 

Several weeks after his statement, I heard the same “youth were generals” piece over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, read verbatim from the email printout. A 30-second internet search would have revealed it was falsehood taught “in the name of Jesus Christ” but nobody bothered to even check. We all nodded in wonder as the tears flowed down our cheeks.

Hey, it’s an email—it’s got to be true! Nobody would lie or embellish something like that!
And the “faith promotion” continues to grow. The growth and prosperity of the modern church are often lauded as proof positive of God’s approval, the trials and difficulties are touted and even imitated as faith-building rewards rather than cursings, and best of all, the tenets of the faith now include, indeed insist that the church itself and its leaders are miraculously, perfectly immune to any serious error, though they flatly contradict each other and even contradict scripture on very serious issues. 

How one simultaneously claims to believe there is such thing as absolute truth, while also believing past prophets taught it, and present prophets who flatly contradict past prophets also teach the honest-to-goodness, saving truth of the Gospel is an open question. So suspend your logic and don’t question. Otherwise you might be called apostate.

With apostates in the news so much lately, it’s time to take a look at the de-facto Mormon definition of apostasy. The church gives a specific definition of apostasy in the handbook, but completely ignores that definition in excommunicating people. The real definition of apostasy—the one that gets you thrown out—is to believe the church or its leaders might possibly make a mistake like the rest of us mortals.

Various church leaders at every level have made the assertion over the years: “The prophet can never lead us astray” is the most common variant, with the corollary that requires God to actually kill the prophet before allowing him to make an error. Other infallibles include the Quorum of the Twelve, general authorities, local leaders, and even the majority membership of the church.

In short, we’re going to heaven, no matter what. The church is a lazy river flowing inevitably to the celestial kingdom, and we just have to grab a raft and jump in to finally be saved in the end. Odds are, you’ll be exalted.

Rather than considering all the people who've asserted this unscriptural dogma over the years (which is quite self-serving when coming from the guy who says HE can never lead you astray) I think it’s more important to go back to the beginning and ask the question: Did Joseph Smith, the one who met God, teach this doctrine?

As dispensation head, his teachings kind of trump, or SHOULD trump those of modern interlopers who have changed a lot of what Joseph taught, and also claimed he taught a lot of stuff that he didn’t. In a friendly Mormon discussion, in a contest between Joseph Smith and, say, Heber J. Grant, Joseph generally holds the better hand. If you want to win a doctrinal argument, you trot out Joseph Smith.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the statements attributed to Joseph Smith wherein he said there’s no way we can screw this up. But first, we need to get some definitions in mind. When we look at sources of Joseph Smith’s teachings there are several ways to go. 

Writings: This is the stuff Joseph Smith wrote, edited or dictated. Most of it was published in his lifetime, and under his direction. Therefore, we can pretty safely assume it’s authentically Joseph, particularly when it’s in his own handwriting.

Contemporary Accounts: These are notes taken by people who listened as Joseph gave sermons. They were actually there, listening to what he said, and writing it down as he said it. They may have gotten some things a bit wrong, but in general, these are considered pretty strong historical sources. These are greatly strengthened in cases where there were two or more people taking notes at the same time and their accounts agree. Contemporary accounts are generally considered reliable historical records.

Hearsay: This is simply stating what you claim somebody else said. This sort of report is so unreliable it is generally not admissible as evidence in a court of law. The key to remember is this: Hearsay is not considered a reliable historical record.

If I claim I heard Joseph Smith say something, my word is assumed invalid until substantiated by another witness or contemporary account. Many people claimed Joseph said many sorts of absurd things throughout his life. If we accepted them all, we would have a very interesting religion indeed!

The above sourcing is complicated by embellishment—the tendency to make a story better so it will be more “faith promoting.” This is a common occurrence in our society, and was even more common and perfectly acceptable in the 19th century. History wasn't considered HISTORY for goodness sake; the job of history was to advance a certain viewpoint. If a story needed adjustment to fit the narrative, well, that was just fine. Even within the church, it was just expected that you would make the story as good as possible.

OK, so the point is that not all sources are trustworthy, and we ought to be selective about how much we stake our eternal salvation on some bit of truth from Joseph Smith until we know if he actually said it. 

Let me give you an example.

Joseph Smith said:

"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 and are quite general in style or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally, near a thousand years."

Ok, got that? There are people living on the moon, and Joseph can tell you all about them! This little gem sometimes gets trotted out by those who wish to prove Joseph Smith a fraud. Obviously, he was wrong about the moon being inhabited, so he can't be a prophet, right? Heck, even after the Apollo moon landings, some church members were still attempting to defend this silliness.

Now, before we start stammering out excuses, let's check sources.

It turns out this gem was written by brother Oliver B. Huntington, in his personal history in 1881 (see page 10). From there, it was repeated in The Young Woman's Journal in 1892, where brother Huntington offered some embellishments to the tale, stating that Joseph taught that information as early as 1837.

Now, let's look at some facts:

  • Oliver B. Huntington was born October 14, 1823. 
  • Therefore, if he heard Joseph teach about people living on the moon in 1837, he would have been no more than 14 years old when he heard it.
  • By the time brother Huntington wrote the quote in his personal history, he was 57 years old, reporting something he claims to have heard 44 years earlier as a child (though there is some indication he may have actually heard it from Philo Dibble in 1881, making it second-hand information.)
  • He puts the information in quotes, but does not give any indication where, when, or to whom Joseph said it, nor does he indicate how he remembers the information so precisely, or whether he recorded it at the time it was said.
  • Brother Huntington's "History" consists of a lengthy series of faith-promoting, but largely undocumented stories he's heard from other people. It's the Mormon Myth website of 1881.
  • When he writes the same information in The Young Woman's Journal 11 years later, he doesn't put it in quotes, but does embellish the story. He makes it clear he believes there are people on the moon and uses this quote to back up his opinion, while also asserting that recent scientific discoveries make the theory plausible. In other words, he had an agenda and he was using Joseph's name to give himself credibility.
  • The Young Woman's Journal was an official church publication for young women that included housekeeping tips, love advice, fiction, poetry, job openings, fashion advice, social graces, interviews, and various gospel ideas. It was, essentially, the equivalent of any popular women's magazine in today's grocery store, designed for entertainment, not doctrine.
  • There is no record of anybody else hearing the prophet teach this information, nor is there any contemporary witness to its being recorded. Therefore it is hearsay, and completely unreliable.

Based on the above facts, it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY Joseph Smith ever said such a thing, and anyone who attempts to use such apocryphal information to impeach the prophet is a fool. 

Risking Your Life

Now that you know the facts, you get to choose. Would you stake your eternal salvation on the belief that there are people living on the moon who dress like Quakers? 

Of course you wouldn't. 

But let's look at it another way. What if there were a quote, every as bit as apocryphal, and just as dubious in its source, that happened to say something you agree with. Would you trust it then?

This is where it gets interesting. And dangerous. Remember, only truth can save you.

In my next post, we'll look at some other things Joseph supposedly said...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dwindling in Unbelief

Alma 56:4
Now I need not rehearse unto you concerning their traditions or their unbelief, for thou knowest concerning all these things—

The word "unbelief" occurs 48 times in the Book of Mormon, with 23 of those instances occurring in the same verse with a form of the word "dwindle."

Dwindle is a funny word--one that we don't use much anymore. Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary (the usage current when the Book of Mormon was published) defines "dwindle" as follows:

          To degenerate; to sink; to fall away.

This is a pretty good explanation of what most often happens to truth when God sends it into this fallen world where it is not welcome. A frontal assault is so difficult when you're dealing with committed believers. Instead, Satan encourages a small change here, a simplification there, a self-serving narrative to explain what is otherwise uncomfortable. Giving a little authority here, creating a worthiness requirement there, changing a definition to match what you think you know. And soon, you have a religion with no saving power.

Perhaps the most telling dwindling we can study is found in 4 Nephi, when the 200-year Zion society established by Christ begins to crumble. Take a look:

 23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.
 24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
 25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
 26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.
Notice that as soon as pride crept in, as soon as greed destroyed the practice of keeping all things in common, the first thing people wanted was religion. They wanted someone in authority to tell them all was well, and this is how things should be. Of course, they knew something was wrong, but they quickly built up churches to tell them otherwise. Nobody likes a guilty conscience.

 27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.

It didn't take long to have a wide variety of false churches, all claiming to be Christ's, but all denying the more parts of his gospel.

Of course, we wouldn't be so foolish. Would we?

Fortunately, Moroni gave us some very clear instructions to guide us and help us gauge whether we dwindle in unbelief.

Mormon 9:
 18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
 19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

Think about this. Moroni is emphatically proclaiming that if we don't have mighty miracles wrought among us, the kind the apostles wrought, it is because we dwindle in unbelief and know not the God in whom we should trust. (Note: nowhere in scripture are we taught that we should trust in a man. Any man.)

Of course we've built up churches to tell us all is well. We make excuses for the lack of miracles by preaching messages about God's will and having faith enough to NOT receive a miracle. But Moroni begs to differ. 

In this Telestial world, entropy is the rule. Nothing stays static. Either we are growing in light, truth and understanding, or we are dwindling in unbelief. There is no middle ground.

And so we must ask ourselves: What did Joseph Smith teach? Are we teaching it? Are we learning and teaching even greater things, evidencing our growth in light and truth? Are we closer to Zion now than we were 184 years ago? Or have we degenerated, sunk, or fallen away since the days of Joseph?

Here are a few topics Joseph Smith openly taught. Most of them are in our scriptures. Ask yourself how thoroughly familiar you are with these things,  or whether you've even heard of them at all. Ask yourself which of these things our religion has helped you to not only understand, but also receive:

  • Ministry of angels
  • Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost
  • Becoming a child of Christ
  • Making your calling and election sure
  • Receiving the Second Comforter
  • Being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise
  • The TWO personages of the Godhead
  • Becoming a member of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn
  • Becoming a god
  • The establishment of Zion
  • The THREE levels of priesthood

Now, we certainly do have religion, and that in spades. We have rules and laws, duties and expectations, lists to check off, and things to do. We have meetings. Lots of meetings. We have handy ways to judge one another and control one another, even to the point of claiming we can damn one another by our authority and keys.

Remember, the people who murdered the Son of God were some of the most religious people on earth as well. They had the temple, priesthood, past prophets, scriptures, rules, laws, worthiness requirements, and leaders in authority who "couldn't lead them astray." It was these very leaders, whose authority was threatened by Christ, that eventually decided to have him killed.

If you currently believe we CANNOT be led astray, and we CANNOT dwindle in unbelief because we have God's unqualified promise that these things will NEVER happen to us, please ask yourself where you got that belief. Who taught it to you? Can you find it in scripture? Does this bother you?

We'll examine this particular unbelief next...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Opposite of Unbelief

In my last post, we talked about the definition of unbelief. It's important to understand that before we
go on.

In this post, let's start with saving truth. When Christ visited the Nephites, one of the first things he taught them was HIS doctrine. Here it is:

3 Nephi 11:31-40
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

 33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

So let's take a look at what Christ emphatically declares to be his doctrine--the doctrine that the Father gave to him. It consists of the following items:

1. Repent
2. Believe in Christ
3. Be baptized
4. Be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost as a witness from God that you have belief and not unbelief

That's it. That's his doctrine and it will lead you to salvation. Just to make sure we get the message, he also insists that anyone who declares more or less than this and calls it his doctrine, comes of evil.

Therefore, anything other than what Christ includes here, if relied on for salvation, is unbelief. 

Now the obvious first question is this: Christ taught lots of other things beyond this. He spoke in parables, he gave the sermon on the mount, he prophesied. What are we to do with those teachings?

I would suggest that believing in Christ includes believing his words and doing what he asks. You can't say you believe him and then live in a way completely contrary to what he taught. Belief in Christ is an active pursuit, consisting in trying to do the things he asks, and live according to his teachings.

And that's a magical recipe: Correct action based on correct belief yields faith. And by faith come miracles. It's all encompassed right there in Christ's doctrine.

Similarly, when you have received the Holy Ghost (the real experience, not just the ordinance of confirmation) the Holy Ghost will "show you all things what ye should do" (2 Nephi 32:5).

For a masterful sermon and explanation of the Doctrine of Christ and its implications, go read all of 2 Nephi 31 and 32. If you want to understand Christ's doctrine, that is.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What is Unbelief?

"...for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." (Moroni 7:37)

If we lack miracles and don't receive angels, we lack faith and cannot be saved. Mormon makes this clear beyond dispute in Moroni 7:35-38. See my last post for more information.

In this post we'll talk about WHY we lack faith and WHAT we must to to solve this problem.

One of the most important steps in starting the process of learning correct information about God is to let go of all the stuff we think we know. 

We Latter-day Saints spend a lot of time teaching and learning. Three hours every Sunday. Four years of seminary. Eighteen or twenty-four months on a mission. Often not only over the course of a lifetime, but for five pioneer generations back. That's a lot of investment in our ideas, and often, a whole lot of certainty that we know what we're talking about.

And yet, we have the voice of Mormon telling us that angels should be coming to teach us, and if they aren't it's because of something called "unbelief."

Now, right away, you may have a definition in your head of unbelief. Something along the lines of, "unbelief means that you don't believe the gospel or a principle of the gospel." That may be the dictionary definition, but it's not the definition that will get you anywhere in your faith.

In all actuality, we all believe. Whether we believe in God or not, whether we believe the scriptures or not, we all believe something.

One man may believe God is a divine force without form that fills the universe. Someone else may believe God is a person with a body of flesh and bones. And yet another may believe God is a monkey. They are not all correct. Anyone who believes what is not true cannot exercise saving faith. Faith is only possible based upon correct principles (Lectures on Faith 3:4)

To the degree any belief is incorrect, it is called unbelief, and it prevents faith.

It doesn't matter how sincerely it is believed. It doesn't matter the source of the idea or who teaches it. It doesn't matter how many people accept or reject the idea. It doesn't even matter if people testify of it over the pulpit with tears on their cheeks. If it is false, it is unbelief, and will bring about damnation, not salvation.

Even ideas which are partially false, or true but incomplete, fall into this category. Undiluted truth has power to save. All else removes this power.

How do you know if you have unbelief? 

Well, Mormon makes it pretty clear. Miracles and angels are the signs of true faith. Lacking these, we can be certain we are suffering from unbelief.

So what is to be done?

This is the hard part, but it doesn't have to be so. It can be quite easy if you want it to be.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Humble yourself. (Mosiah 3:18-19) This is often the hardest step, and it will take a great degree of mental effort and the help of heaven. You've GOT to consider yourself a fool before God. (2 Ne. 9:42) 
  2. Admit you don't know everything, and parts, even much, of what you do know is likely false. This can be mentally difficult because you'll have to deal with the realization that those who taught you your unbeliefs were wrong. Many of our traditions go back generations, but they are false. Let them go. All of them. Regardless of what you've been taught, or who taught it to you, let it go. Assume it's wrong until proven right.
  3. Decide what sources of truth you will accept as valid. Start with the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. If anything contradicts what is written in scripture, throw it out. Period. I don't care who teaches it.
  4. Believe what the scriptures actually say. Every word. Read the Book of Mormon without trying to overlay your belief system on it. Rather let it form your belief system. That book is NOT what you've been taught, and has an astonishing message and power. 
  5. Then learn what it means to receive the Holy Ghost so you can receive revelation directly from God. As you study scripture and ask the Lord questions, he will answer you by the power of the Holy Ghost, which can teach you the truth of all things (Moroni 10:5).
OK, that's quite a list, and just an overview. I'll discuss the above items more thoroughly in future posts. 

Remember, the idea here is to stop telling God what and who He is and start seeking to know him. This is life eternal. (John 17:3)

How Can You Tell if You've Got it Right?

It's human nature to believe we're right. We all act on our beliefs every day, and consider our actions to be aligned with our beliefs. It's unthinkable to consider otherwise.

Yet, when it comes to understanding God and seeking redemption, if we get it wrong, we lose. And we often get it wrong.

Rare, indeed, is the man or woman who has a soft heart, a humble attitude, and is ready to seek truth at all costs. The opposite behavior, which is nearly universal, is to judge ALL new ideas against the ideas we already carry in our heads.

This is NOT how truth is found.

Christ suggested a better way. He said,

"And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God." (3 Nephi 11:37-38)

To become "as a little child" means to forget what we THINK we know, and instead consider ourselves fools before Christ so he can teach us. It means to let go of our traditions and stop evaluating new truths against our old ideas. It means we don't put new wine into old bottles because the old bottles will shatter and spill the new wine. (Matthew 9:17)

Little children are new bottles. They ask questions. They are curious. They accept what they are taught, rather than attempting to correct the one teaching them. This is how we must become.

Adults nearly always do the opposite. We've got to stop that.

Jesus Christ wants us to seek truth and let go of untruth so we can correct our course. Since our salvation is on the line, he has given us very specific ways to tell if our belief system is correct so we can have faith.

He mercifully provided us a list of ways to know if our faith is, in fact, based on truth and therefore productive. He called them signs.

Here they are:

D&C 84:65-72
And these signs shall follow them that believe—In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick; In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; And the tongue of the dumb shall speak; And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them; And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.

Mark 16:17-18
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Mormon 9:24
And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;

Notice, these are not optional. The Lord uses the word "shall" not "might." Fruitful faith will produce these signs. Not that these signs are the focus of the faith--that's not it at all. Rather, proper faith in Jesus Christ will produce these signs as a byproduct.

Also, Christ specifically mentions these signs as applying to all those who are baptized and actually receive the Holy Ghost. These things are NOT just reserved for leaders, priesthood holders, positions of authority, or ancient days. They are for here and now. And they are not optional.

Therefore, if your religious practice and belief system is NOT producing these signs, then by definition, you do not yet have saving faith.

Now, I know there's a huge tendency to overlay our own experiences on the scriptures as follows: Sure, I hear stories about miracles and healings. A woman in our ward got a blessing before her cancer operation and it was a complete success. She wasn't supposed to live, and she did!

While I'm happy for the sister in your ward, this sort of thing also happens to those without faith. This is called "beating the odds." What about all those people who receive blessings and then die? That happens too.

No, the kind of miraculous things Jesus refers to are the sorts of things HE did. Giving the blind their sight. Causing the lame to walk RIGHT NOW, not after six months of therapy. Casting out devils and immediately freeing the sufferer from mental illness.

And even if we hear stories about these things happening, they only apply to the participants. Are they happening in YOUR life? They should be. Take a look at Mormon 9:11-27

Now, one more scripture to consider.

Moroni 7:35-38
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?

 36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?

 37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

 38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.

Mormon has been very specific. Miracles and Angels are the signs of faith. If these things are not happening, it is because there is not faith.

Now I know your tradition will try to talk you out of believing what is written plain as day. But before you start coming up with justifications and explanations about how and why these things don't apply, please stop and read it again. Slowly. Carefully. Each word. Is there room for doubt? Mormon couldn't have been more clear.

Then ask yourself if you actually believe what the scriptures say, or if you're going to go with the excuses we make to each other, trying to explain away what the scriptures say. And please don't tell me angels and miracles are only for church leaders, unless you're prepared to show it to me in scripture.

Please don't argue against God's word. Let it work in you to soften your heart. Is it possible the scriptures really mean what they say, and we really lack faith? If we lack faith is salvation even possible? (Moroni 7:38)

In my next post we'll discuss the actual cause of this lack of faith, and what to do about it.