An Insider’s Outside View of Mormon History

In the spirit of describing personal religious turning points, I am presenting this observational essay. At the same time it touches on a few posts with themes about intellectuals and faith.

The Discovery Years

While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young, interest in the subject started because my own personal faith had grown. My house was filled with history books both secular and religious. As a reader, I would try and find anything I could on whatever subject interested me the most.

My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was and more how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. Noticing more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me. Perhaps it had to do with my understanding of history as storytelling rather than a collection of facts that had to be accounted for to make things true.

My second encounter with Mormon history was brief, and I had already gotten a beginner’s start by reading a few chapters in Joseph Smith’s 6 Volume history. At this point my focus of LDS Church history set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I decided to find another one; and like so many other people picked up Fawn Brodie’s treatment. I read a few chapters at the start and a couple in the middle before reading the rest. Unlike so many people who apparently read her book and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Other than a few original for the time newspaper reports, “No Man Knows My History” mostly used the Joseph Smith HIstory volumes and Journal of Discourses. Much of what she writes was discussed in B.H. Roberts History of the LDS Church with a difference of opinion. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.

Before graduating High School and leaving my home for college, I read all the historical Ensign articles I could. They contained the most detail on specific topics I had access to at the time. The articles were impressive for someone who didn’t have other treatments to rely on for more information. I lament that such writings in the magazine stopped during the 90s, although one or two good articles came out later. Still, it got me reading more than the outdated books written by a small group of believers. Continue reading

The Mormon Intellectuals’ Trojan Horses

[The Millennial Star is pleased to welcome Jeff G. as a guest blogger with a fantastic post that should be shared and read widely.]

“When the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions…

“Those professors were all corrupt… “they draw near to [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him], they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts [source]

Personal Intro

As many of you in the bloggernacle might remember, about 8 years ago I left the church for intellectual reasons. While the exact arguments for my departure are not terribly important to this particular essay what is important is that I had gradually built up and reinforced several intellectual principles and values to a point where intellectual arguments could undermine my faith. I felt, at the time, that I was doing the right thing in following the arguments where they clearly (or so they seemed to me) led, all the while being upfront, honest and clear about my reasons for leaving. I have since realized, however, that my decision was a mistake which I will unfortunately never be able to take back. Furthermore, I can now see with the relative clarity of hindsight many of the ways in which I subconsciously allowed intellectual values to infect, transform and eventually undermine my faith. My deconversion was similar to a chess match wherein earlier, seemingly innocuous moves are later seen to be crucial stage-setting for a masterful killing stroke. In this essay I wish to expose some of these seemingly innocuous, stage-setting moves – these intellectual Trojan Horses, as I will call them – for what they are. Continue reading

Seeing with an Eye of Faith: Visualize Your Desired Future

A remarkable phrase shows up a number of times in the Book of Mormon. It involves “looking forward” with an “eye of faith” to a desired result in the future. The idea is that if there is something that you sincerely desire, you should use your inner “eye,” or your imagination, and picture yourself as already being there or having what you want.  Through your faith that it is possible, you can begin to see yourself as having already reached your goal.

In the book of Alma 5:15-16, Alma preaches to the people about the goal of being received into heaven when their life on Earth is over.  In order to direct them toward that goal, he asks them if they can imagine how things will be at that future time when they finally get there. As they “look forward with an eye of faith,” what kind of outcome do they see? He asks:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality … to stand before God …?

 16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

What Alma is trying to have his audience do is to visualize their own future in minute detail. They are to imagine being resurrected and raised to stand before God.  They are to imagine themselves hearing the approving voice of the Lord accepting them into heaven — reaching their ultimate goal.  He suggests that if they try to visualize this scene and what they envision is only negative, then perhaps they need to find that balance in their lives so that the way they are living is in alignment with a positive outcome and then exercise their faith so that they are now headed in this more desirable direction.

Continue reading

The Faith of Abraham

Back in my Mormon Matters days (a John Dehlin website), it seems like we’d get a post every couple of weeks about how the scriptures are full of bad stories of God commanding the death of someone. We’d get complaints about Nephi and Laban, of course, but the story that seemed to get the most attention was that of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac.

I remember one post, in particular that suggested the story should be changed to have Abraham refuse to sacrifice Isaac and the angel of God then praises Abraham for refusing to do something immoral even if God commands it.

I can see why this story is so troubling to theological liberals and non-believers. This story simply leaves no room to ethically explain it away. Continue reading

On Being a Believing, Traditional Mormon in an Amoral, “Nuanced” World

By any standard, I am still in the bloom and pluck of life, being only 35 years of age currently.  My physical health is outstanding, my hair is not going prematurely gray, and by contemporary American standards I am fit and within my recommended weight limit.  Financially I am fine (although “secure” is probably not the appropriate word).  I have a brilliant, loving wife and special children.  Truly, there is much to be thankful for.

And yet…I have sobering moments of reflection in which I survey the climate and landscape and resist shudders of despair.  By nature I am not overly pessimistic; I truly believe that over time, the good guys eventually win.  I look forward, with an eye of faith, to the time when righteousness will cover the earth as the waves cover the sea. Continue reading