Millennial Miscellany

Trees on the north tip of Manhattan

I’ve collected a range of thoughts in the past two weeks as I flitted between DC, Manhattan, and Tokyo. Individually they might not merit a post here at M*, but as a collection might be interesting. These are:

  1. How Barack Obama caused Prop 8 to be passed
  2. How Moroni 9 argues for the truth of the Book of Mormon
  3. The contemporary importance of the Articles of Faith, and
  4. More cool stuff about the Word of Wisdom

Barack Obama and Prop 8

The morning after the 2008 elections, a Christian colleague of mine congratulated me on passage of Prop 8. He, like so many others, presumed that it was the efforts of the Mormons that had made the difference.

At the time, my response was, “I actually think that credit for passage of Prop 8 goes to Barack Obama.” As we have just lived through an election, let me review my logic on this.

2008 was a presidential election year, a year when a larger percentage of minority voters show up to the polls. With Barack Obama, a black man, as a presidential candidate, this meant an unusually large number of minority voters made it a priority to make it to the polls. No one wished to miss this historic vote.

Exit polls at the time showed black and hispanic voters favored Prop 8 by significant margins. These California minority citizens might not have bothered voting had it not been for the presence of Barack Obama on the ticket. But once they were in the booth, they also cast their vote for Prop 8.

I wish I had the skills to analyze the 2008 Prop 8 election and determine whether Prop 8 would have passed without the unusually prominent Mormon contribution towards the Prop 8 campaign. As it stands, those unhappy about the outcome of that election were able to blame Mormons for the outcome, rather than focusing on the strong adherence to traditional family values amongst increasingly numerous minority populations.

Moroni 9: A Proof of Joseph’s Veracity

I owe this thought to the oldest of my sisters. Where I am an engineer, she is a psychiatrist with an MD/PhD. We were hanging out with our mother prior to surgery and talk turned to Church and the gospel.

My sister’s contention was those who claim Joseph simply copied the Book of Mormon or made it up fail to account for Moroni 9. This is the second of two letters from Mormon that Moroni added to the plates in the end, just before he expected to die. Time and again Moroni had come back to the plates and added some portion that seemed precious. And in this final addendum, comprising the entire final book which is named after him, Moroni reflects on those ordinances that he holds dear, that he won’t renounce even though he expects to be hunted down and killed as a result.

First he speaks of the power to convey the gift of the Holy Ghost, next the manner by which priests and teachers are ordained. Next are the sacramental prayers it is the privilege of priests to voice. The culmination of the ordinances Moroni covers is baptism. After talking about baptism (Moroni 6), he gives us the text of a sermon his father, Mormon, delivered on baptism (Moroni 7). Unwilling to leave this topic, he also includes a letter Mormon wrote to him regarding baptism, specifically the theology of baptism that makes infant baptism a heresy (Moroni 8).

Logically, Moroni would then end this final segment with his testimony. But instead, he inserts one more letter from Mormon. Perhaps this was the last letter he received from his father. I like to think Moroni included the letter to show how quickly a people can go from a minor heresy (infant baptism) to utter depravity. Or perhaps it was intended to display how even such a depraved people should still be labored with, to bring them to Christ.

Whatever the reason for Moroni 9, it contains a description of terrible atrocities (Moroni 9:7-10). These are wartime atrocities which we are hearing about in our day. But in the early 1800s, there simply isn’t discussion of warriors raping women, torturing them to death and consuming the raw flesh as a sign of bravado. For that matter, the lesser atrocity of feeding prisoners on the flesh of their dead is pretty awful.

My sister’s point, with which I agree, is that it is not credible that Joseph would have inserted this kind of description in a book he was making up. The concise and sparse narrative conveys horror unknown in Joseph’s day. What is the material that could have inspired those four verses? If such horror sprang solely from Joseph himself, why don’t we find the rest of Joseph’s writings filled with similar horrors? Instead these four verses are surrounded by counsel to continue laboring to bring souls to Christ and to retain hope in Christ, despite the evil being performed by the people.

The Articles of Faith in 1842

The other night I was saying goodnight to my middle daughter. It was late, and we hadn’t read scriptures as a family. So I asked my daughter to select an Article of Faith and say it.

You likely have this one memorized as well, though it is the longest of the thirteen articles:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul–We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

As she spoke, I remembered that Joseph wrote these articles in 1842. Looking it up later, I found that Joseph had written the Wentworth letter on March 1, 1842, and published the text in the Nauvoo newspaper.

This is significant because in early 1842 Joseph and Emma were trying to root out a band of seducers who were teaching women it was appropriate to have sex without benefit of marriage so long as it was kept secret. The Smith’s investigation into the perpetrators of “spiritual wifery” would result in the excommunication of Dr. John C. Bennett in June 1842 after significant testimony had been collected by the Nauvoo High Council.

But in March 1842 the investigation could only have uncovered the beginnings of the breadth of the corruption. How could Joseph convey that spiritual wifery was utterly wrong, when he didn’t even know how many men and women had fallen victim to the vile teachings?

It is in this circumstance that Joseph chooses to enthrone honesty, virtue, and chastity as the culminating tenet of our faith.

We know that it was around this time, March 1842, that much-bedded Catherine Fuller began to be concerned that she was ruining herself by participating in spiritual wifery. The Widow Fuller had consented to engaging in sex with several men, most of them for more than a single session. But after Catherine would have read the 13th Article of Faith, Catherine would turn down offers from two men who wished to support her in exchange for (presumably exclusive) sexual privileges. Instead she became the honest wife of Brother Warren. It would then be Catherine’s testimony before the High Council that finally exposed John C. Bennett as the ring-leader of those practicing spiritual wifery.

Catherine never specified what caused her to think she was ruining herself, after nearly a year of believing spiritual wifery was right. But for my part, I will always think of Catherine from now on when I hear the 13th Article of Faith.

The Wisdom of the Word of Wisdom

Finally, these past two weeks elevated the importance of diet, as my mother faced surgery to remove cancer. Mom currently won’t consider chemotherapy, even though the cancer had begun to affect the lymph nodes and therefore might still remain despite surgery.

I know of several people who died as a result of treatment. One died riddled with cancer only months after being told that the years of radiation and chemo had finally rid her of the disease. So chemotherapy, while a marvelous option, is not a cure-all.

As a result of this frank discussion of cancer and outcomes, I learned about the Alkaline Diet. The idea with the Alkaline Diet is that some foods reduce your pH un-naturally. The resulting acidosis promotes the growth of cancers and causes other negative health conditions. A diet where foods create a neutral or slightly alkaline pH for an individual suppresses cancers and other negative conditions. Beyond the hype, I have since learned of a friend who has gone on the Alkaline Diet and seen significant reduction in what was pervasive lung cancer.

So what is this Alkaline Diet? It is a diet that uses little meat, particularly avoiding red meat. It avoids smoking and coffee. It stresses whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables. Sounds like the Word of Wisdom, if only the Word of Wisdom had also thought to excoriate refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.

The reason my mother’s cancer was discovered was severe anemia, which caused her to be continually weary, unable to walk for more than a few minutes before she felt faint. With the cancer now gone, her strength is restored.

In light of this recent experience, the final verses of the Word of Wisdom are particularly poignant:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings… shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And… the destroying angel shall pass by them…

Even though all we mortals must eventually die, I am glad that my mother has a chance to remain with us. And I imagine that her future strict adherence to an expanded interpretation of the Word of Wisdom will extend the number of remaining days she can spend with us, as well as provide a guide for how we, her children and grandchildren, can enjoy improved health eating what I’m sure will become our comfort foods.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

19 thoughts on “Millennial Miscellany

  1. I haven’t analyzed the way the BOM was written, read scholarly articles on how it couldn’t have been drafted or patterned after another book, etc. My pragmatic view says back in the those days, it one wanted to gather a following or congregation, and had decent oratory skills, all you had to do was plant yourself down and start preaching, and soon enough you would have a congregation if you were willing to preach something remotely familiar to the people. There are a ton of churches today built up around the persona of a principal preacher. So, why bother writing a lengthy, somewhat complicated book which would could be reviewed for it’s authenticity? Joseph could have simply started preaching (even saying many of the things he did say, leaving out the First Vision stuff) and he’d have been an overnight sensation. I have to think if Joseph was smart enough to “make this stuff up,” he was smart enough to have preached what the people wanted to hear, and he’d have had money and fame and fortune instead constant misery and harassment.

  2. Hi Seldom,

    Scanning through that article on war atrocities, the only mentions of cannibalism are on page 396, with an instance of prisoners being cut up and fed to the other prisoners and another instance where an aggressor placed a piece of bread on the burned corpse and then ate the piece of bread.

    An aggressor placing a piece of bread on a dead body and eating it is a far cry from consuming the raw flesh of a woman the aggressor has just raped.

    I mentioned that my sister is a psychiatrist because that is germane to her assessment of the depravity of the actions portrayed in Moroni 9:7-10. Also, the article on the French wars seems to indicate that these tales of depravity are told in private memoirs years after the event in most cases. So it is unlikely that these reports, benign compared to Moroni 9:7-10, informed Joseph Smith, a relatively uneducated farm boy in New England.

  3. Looking at the analysis, they are making the argument that it was church attendance rather than race that determined how folks voted on Prop 8. Then they admit that blacks and hispanics are almost 30% more likely to attend church at least weekly (57% compared to 42% for whites).

    Exactly. Liberal democrats who attend church regularly (as one finds more often for blacks and hispanics) showed up to vote for Obama and lingered long enough to vote “Yes” on Prop 8.

  4. Meg, I was under the impression that native american cannibalism (and African cannibalism) was known about in Joseph’s day. Not that it occurred among the tribes in Northeastern America, but that tales of it from various parts of the Hemisphere had circulated.

    However, “plain” non-cannibalistic torture was known among at least some tribes of all areas. It gets kind of complicated since some torture methods were either taught to Indians by Europeans, or were transferred from one tribe to another by Europeans.

    That would be an interesting apologetic study to compare publication dates of tales of native cannibalism to the Book of Mormon. But my recollection is that the Spanish had already reported ritualistic sacrifice and cannibalism among Central and South American natives.

    I have a book, The Incas, by Garcilaso de la Vega, who was supposedly the last Incan prince, who was then educated by the Spanish. He wrote down the Incan history as it was verbally taught him. I’ll have to recheck that book.

  5. I personally like Helaman 5:12 as a “proof” of the truth of the Book of Mormon. In that well-known verse, we see a description of not the desert whirlwind that Isaiah had written about, but a visceral description of a hurricane/typhoon and storm surge. That is not something that I would expect Joseph to have known about, at least to the level of including it in such a verse.

    Another “proof” that speaks to me is the tale of the Queen of the Lamanites, where the marriage patterns and transfer of power reflects levirate practices that were no longer part of Western culture by the end of the 11th century.

    A third fun note is the original manuscript, which reflects the linguistic patterns that had been in place in the time of Tyndale. Tyndale, as you recall, was the Bible scholar who first translated the text into English, who once said he would that a boy at the plough could read the word of God in his own language (paraphrased as I don’t have the reference in front of me), who ended up being killed for having performed and published such a translation. These linguistic patterns were no longer the daily speech in Joseph’s day. I love the idea of Tyndale and Mormon and others on the other side dictating the text of the Book of Mormon to Joseph. This would explain many things, such as the faithful reproduction of so many Bible passages by a guy with a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible who was looking into a hat.

  6. My wife learned about the pH diet around 10 and a half years ago while I was fighting cancer. It, along with the Word of Wisdom, is one of the things we credit for the fact that I’m still here today.

    Many people view it as a silver bullet that fixes everything, but it’s more an additional weapon in your arsenal for everyday living. Probably the single most important thing we’ve retained from our experience is a focus on raising our pH, coupled with a good greens formula. The latter is critical.

  7. I’d be careful on the cannibalism issue as proof of Moroni 9. It was a popular view up through the end of the 19th century that Indians were cannibals and that cannibalism was part of their warfare. The dirty little secret is that cannibalism wasn’t that unknown in Europe. Obviously there are the survival stories – usually shipwrecks – that one often finds. However human fat was used in candles, people drank blood at the scaffolds, and remedies from crushed bone (especially skulls) were common. See for example this Smithsonian article:

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-gruesome-history-of-eating-corpses-as-medicine-82360284/?no-ist=

    As for the popular view of Indians it was found in many places. Consider this painting from the end of the 17th century:

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/05/09/article-2141858-1301694A000005DC-391_634x463.jpg

    The trope of the cannibal carrier is a big one that continued well into the 20th century – especially relative to south and central American stereotypes. In the 19th century there were various shows displaying curiosities that also portrayed indigenous peoples as cannibals.

  8. Hi Clark,

    Again, that was from my sister, who is a psychiatrist. The issue isn’t so much whether or not cannibalism was known. The issue is whether or not any of the sources from which Joseph allegedly cribbed the Book of Mormon contain this sort of information, or if it is credible that Joseph would insert such heinous and graphic information in a book that he was making up, in that era.

    For example, it that era it was relatively common for the family to make a meal from the placenta of a recently-delivered baby. And yet that isn’t a detail you find in the open literature.

  9. Joseph didn’t have a rudimentary knowledge of the bible – like most literate northeastern people of the day – he and been reading the bible for years and years and was familiar with the writing. Joseph may have been uneducated, but he was by no means unintelligent or ignorant. The funny part of of being inspired to dictate exact sections of the bible – why did he include translation errors present is the the King James Version he had? Wouldn’t the heavily being that were inspiring him not make the same mistakes? Also, if the bible transcripts were divinely inspired why did Joseph later change some of the verses in his later translation of the bible? Just some thoughts.

  10. Rick,

    All of the items you mentioned (the Biblical dictations, the inclusion of translation errors present in the Biblical text, the later editing and formatting of Biblical inclusions) have been thoroughly treated, analyzed, vetted, and explained in a number of venues. In short, they are not barriers to prevent anyone from having and treasuring a heavenly witness that Joseph Smith was called of God to be a modern prophet.

    “Wouldn’t the heavily being that were inspiring him not make the same mistakes?”

    This question betrays a particular assumption shared by many folks who have a beef with the concept of fallible prophets. You assume that an angel who visits you is required to point out your errors like a third grade grammar teacher. What if I told you that God wants us to learn things the hard way sometimes? Would that blow your mind? Just asking.

  11. Joseph also didn’t correct the printer’s errors. Some of them really bug me. But that doesn’t make him a false prophet.

  12. Meg, An interesting project that I would like to see explored is who all would have had to be “in on it”, besides Joseph, if Joseph had made it all up, and perhaps who was likely to have been in on it. The three witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer) and Sidney Rigdon immediately come to mind as _having_ to be in cahoots with Joseph if Joseph was making it up.

    I like Elder Holland’s point a few years ago in General Conference, that Joseph could not have been a pious fraud or well-meaning-but-deluded, and that the Book of Mormon cannot logically be inspired fiction, and cannot be a pious lie.

    I’m not steeped enough in the early history, but I’m also guessing Emma and the eight witnesses would likely have had to been in on it.

    The purpose would be to show that Joseph could not have been a lone fraudster, and that none of those people, who would have had to have been co-conspirators, admitted any hint of conspiracy or a scheme to cover up any modern creation of the Book of Mormon.

    Well after the establishment of the church, those who turned on Joseph and the church and did call him a fraud were not participants in the founding events (eg. Bennet), nor did they claim to be. Those who were participants in the founding events who did leave the church never denied the founding events, and while some of them called Joseph a “fallen” prophet, the very same epithet shows their acknowledgement that they still considered him to have been a prophet during the founding events.

    I realize that such a project would not be dispositive proof of the Book of Mormon and the restoration, but I think it would lend some additional plausibility. I think it would be helpful along the lines of some of Jeff Lindsay’s work, such as Jeff’s proposed “Vast Frontier Library”, which is a list of books and works that Joseph (or any other supposed modern day creator of the BoM) would have had to have access to in order to get so many internal details correct in the BoM.

    Jeff’s list is sprinkled throughout his “One Day in the Life of Joseph Smith” satire that illustrates the far-fetched-ness of the conspiracpy/fraud theories, at
    http://www.jefflindsay.com/oneday.shtml

  13. I agree that for those willing to study the early history of the Church, the idea that Joseph and dozens of others colluded to pull over a fraud doesn’t make sense. I am always in favor of someone making a case regarding that early history that shows how ludicrous the claims of fraud truly are.

    My mother once said that I pursue the projects that catch my attention the way a dog pursues a rabbit. Joseph Smith and polygamy is one of those rabbits for me. A detailed exploration such as you propose is, alas, not one of my rabbits at this time.

    I mention little gems that I’ve found persuasive because they are not consistent with the prevailing theory that it was a fraud. If I can get someone to recognize the tsunami and storm surge in Helaman 5:12, they will always have to explain why that one verse exists if their fraud conclusion were true. A single verse (which also happens to praise Christ) is concise enough for almost anyone to retain in memory, a stone in the otherwise comfortable shoe of their smug disbelief. However an extensive book arguing to the unconvinced that people long dead were honorable might not be quite as effective. After all, they could merely refuse to read the thing.

    Such a book would be persuasive to those who wish to believe, and are asking for someone to help their unbelief. So from that standpoint, again, I strongly encourage anyone who might find that project something worthy of becoming their “rabbit.”

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