Finding a New Blogger… The Hard Way
I came across Meg Stout while reading her Amazon review of Brian C. Hale’s three volume series, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. Her reviews were thorough and humorous. I made contact with her and we began to talk about her own studies of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and her personal views. She surprised me when she mentioned that her studies had suggested to her the possibility that Joseph Smith rarely consummated his plural marriages — with even a chance that maybe he consummated none of them.
Now of course this view easily falls into the “too good to be true” category, so I politely asked her a few more questions out of curiosity but also to gently challenge her.
She promptly proceeded to bury me.
As I stood gasping for air and trying to spit factoids out of my teeth, I realized that this wasn’t just someone that was naively choosing to see what she wanted to see by ignoring all inconvenient facts. Meg was clearly someone that had done her homework and knew what she was talking about. I realized that I must have her as a blogger for Millennial Star. And if she wasn’t going to agree… then blackmail might not be out of the question! (Meg, honey, your rabbit is doing well, I promise! Just keep blogging and you’ll someday see Mr. Silver again!)
Mormon History, Polygamy, and Me
Many of you know my own history and struggles with faith and doubt that were in part prompted by concerns over polygamy. My concerns happened before books like Rough Stone Rolling, More Wives Than One, or Joseph Smith’s Polygamy even existed. I was forced to struggle through on my own without any background as a scholar or historian and with very few original sources available to me on which to form my own opinions. I reached a turning point when I came to realize that I was assuming the worst and there was no rational reason for me to do so.
It is human nature to assume the worst. Bad news is always believable. Good news is “too good to be true.” I’m sure there is some evolutionary reason for this bias, but it probably doesn’t help us get at the truth as much as we think it does. To use an example from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, if you have an ice cube and let it melt, you can make a pretty good prediction of what the final puddle of water will look like. But if you have a puddle of water, you can’t make a good prediction of what the ice cube looked like. Indeed, you can’t even be sure there ever was an ice cube.
The “historical record” is the puddle of water. There are an infinite number of actual events that might have created it. All too often we make our best to guess what that ice cube once looked primarily through a false understanding of Ockham’s razor: “the simplest explanation is the best.” But let’s face it, the “simplest explanation” always feels like the worst case scenario.
If I were to summarize what impresses me about Meg’s historical interpretations it would be two things. The first is that she challenges us to not assume the worst.
The second is that she takes a look at historical facts that all scholars before her have ignored. The best example of this is her research into the impact John C. Bennett had on Joseph Smith’s polygamy.
No one cares about John C. Bennett. Believers and non-Believers alike agree the guy was a dangerous scoundrel. (Though Meg’s research may force you to rethink even Bennett and humanize him a bit.) What we all care about is Joseph Smith. Believers want to see him cast in a prophetic light. Non-believers want to see him cast into a non-prophetic light. There is no middle ground on this question. So not surprisingly, most of the battles ignore Bennett and look only at Joseph Smith.
But have you ever asked yourself who the women were that Bennett and his ring seduced? And what happened to them afterward? How did Joseph Smith handle the aftermath? Were there any children born from these liaisons? To what degree did Joseph Smith’s ‘Celestial Marriage’ and Bennett’s ‘Spiritual Wifery’ end up getting confused later on? By asking herself these questions, Meg has opened up a whole new avenue for historical research into Joseph Smith’s polygamy.
While we can never, through scholarly means, truly ever know with certainty what really happened, it is refreshing to find Meg’s views at once plausible and positive. She brings a new perspective to historical and doctrinal issues tormenting so many today. Agree or disagree with her, her interpretation of history deserves further consideration.
Introducing Meg Stout
Meg Stout was born into a Mormon family. Her father was the first missionary convert in Taiwan and her mother is wholly descended from early Mormon lines that arrived in Salt Lake valley prior to 1857. Meg is an engineer by vocation and writer by avocation, Meg brings a unique lens to our history.
One of her early ancestors is Austin Cowles, whose affidavit in the Expositor helped kill Joseph Smith. Cowles daughter Elvira Annie was one of Joseph’s plural wives. Elvira Annie’s public husband served in the Mormon Battalion and built the wagon trail the Forty-Niners used to reach the California gold fields. Another ancestor was Job Welling, a handcart pioneer who married all three of Elvira Annie’s surviving children. Last to mention here is John Whitaker Taylor, the apostle whose excommunication proved the Mormon church had finally and completely ended the practice of polygamy in mortality. Apostle Taylor had married two of Elvira Annie’s grand-daughters on the same day in 1901.
Please welcome Meg to our little family.