Struggling with Joseph Smith

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SunbeltRed
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Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SunbeltRed » 12 Jan 2015, 10:29

Over the last few months I have come to a place where I just don't believe any longer that Joseph Smith was a prophet, or if he was, I don't privilege him above other spiritual leaders who have claimed to receive divine mandates, or have claimed a connection with the divine. In that vein, I find myself entirely uninterested in the BofM, BofA, and most other Mormon doctrine or theology. I have been studying that stuff all my life, I am interested in exploring elsewhere. Which I guess means that I don't really believe Mormon theology or doctrine to be superior at this point in my journey, though perhaps I will come to see that it is in the future.

How are others of you able to hold on to the idea of JS's prophetic mantle and if so do you still value him as prophetic for the world or as another adding more to the rich fabric of our existential struggle?

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mom3
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by mom3 » 12 Jan 2015, 10:59

For me Joseph Smith moved into the category of a mystic. My first hero who was visionary was Joan of Arc. This allowed me a lot of room to determine my new Joseph Smith.

I took a few years to settle on my opinion. One of the things that helped me was reading Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. From the words in there, I was able to sense that Joseph wasn't all ego or maniacal. Surprisingly the study presented me with the idea that the church could have used any of his teachings and created a totally different religious paradigm. Once I understood that I felt comfortable recreating Joseph Smith. It's also helped me not get wound up when traditional members raise him to God status. That is their problem. I don't think Joseph would like it, so I choose not to add to it. I have selected my favorite Joseph Smith quotes and will let the rest be between him and God. If Joseph over stepped God gets to take care of it.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

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SunbeltRed
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SunbeltRed » 12 Jan 2015, 11:16

mom3 wrote:For me Joseph Smith moved into the category of a mystic. My first hero who was visionary was Joan of Arc. This allowed me a lot of room to determine my new Joseph Smith.

I took a few years to settle on my opinion. One of the things that helped me was reading Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. From the words in there, I was able to sense that Joseph wasn't all ego or maniacal. Surprisingly the study presented me with the idea that the church could have used any of his teachings and created a totally different religious paradigm. Once I understood that I felt comfortable recreating Joseph Smith. It's also helped me not get wound up when traditional members raise him to God status. That is their problem. I don't think Joseph would like it, so I choose not to add to it. I have selected my favorite Joseph Smith quotes and will let the rest be between him and God. If Joseph over stepped God gets to take care of it.
Thanks for the response. Follow-up:

If JS is now Mystic status to you, and you would also classify Joan of Arc as a Mystic, who's teachings or ideas get priority? Or do you prioritize based on your own personal context (JS lived later and you grew up in the tradition he created so you prioritize Mormonism)? Or what works personally for you (this is kind of where I am at and thus leaving the reservation to search out other things)?

(on another tangent, if JS was a mystic, (I'm skeptical), I guess I am also kind of tired of learning from an organization that claims JS's mysticalness, but doesn't really produce anything mystical. Another thread for another time...)

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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Roy » 12 Jan 2015, 12:02

I was telling my wife yesterday that if there was proof that JS sacrificed babies (as the most horrible hypothetical example I could come up with) I would still attend church. I told her that I do not attend for him. I do it for the people that I care about, to stay connected to them, to honor the heritage that was passed down to me.

I do not see my salvation tied to my participation. That then requires a re-evaluation of my service and the sustainability of my service. I need to have a personal understanding of what I will and will not do.

Now my actual view of JS is that he didn't kill any babies but istead was involved in some rather novel communal and sexual expiramentation :thumbup: .

I agree with Mom3 that the modern LDS church is loosely based upon his restoration work. How many LDS schism groups are there? Dozens? How many have claim on JS as their catalyst? I would answer that all of them do - just as Methodists, Catholics, and Mormons all have competing claims on Jesus and His legacy.
If JS is now Mystic status to you, and you would also classify Joan of Arc as a Mystic, who's teachings or ideas get priority? Or do you prioritize based on your own personal context (JS lived later and you grew up in the tradition he created so you prioritize Mormonism)? Or what works personally for you (this is kind of where I am at and thus leaving the reservation to search out other things)?
To me this is like asking if MLK or Malcolm X should get priority. They both had some good teachings that are good on their own merit. They also have some teachings that you could safely discard or not find very applicable to your life. As a white man I probably do not give either of them as much priority as I would if I were African-American.

I do not give equal attention to Joan of Arc and JS. I live and interact in a community where the experience of JS is relevant. If my loved ones and I belonged to the church of Joan of Arc then that would of course change and the experience of JS (true or not) would not be as relevant for my life.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

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"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

nibbler
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by nibbler » 12 Jan 2015, 12:34

Much of it hinges on how you define the term prophet, and that's not an attempt to cop out of answering the question.

Many people have faith that he is a prophet and I believe that person's faith can make someone their prophet. In that sense I believe that a "prophet" is just another medium through which people can find spiritual meaning. Joseph had faith in a peep stone, maybe he actually was able to channel something because of that faith. People have faith in a prophet, maybe they are able to channel something because of that faith.

I guess the real issue would be the idea that everyone must find spiritual meaning through prophets or through a specific prophet. In my mind that would be akin to asking everyone to pick up a peep stone and start prophesying. What works for some doesn't necessarily work for everyone, a prophet might speak to some but not to others.

I don't think JS should be privileged above others. If the scriptures are to be believed god is no respecter of persons. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. No mention is made of the source. Frankly I'd love to see more inspirational stories from spiritual leaders outside of the LDS faith incorporated into our lessons. Really live the articles of faith.
SunbeltRed wrote:I have been studying that stuff all my life, I am interested in exploring elsewhere.
I can empathize with those feelings. At times I feel like I've sucked all the marrow out of the bone that is mormon theology and I start to think that further light and knowledge will only be found in the study of other theologies. I probably won't be approaching studies by reading the BoM over and over and over again. I try to assess priorities and that means I'm also open to revisit the BoM when interest pulls me back in that direction.

When the material gets stale it makes it harder to receive inspiration. No harm in taking a break from mormon theology and adding things back as you feel you miss them (borrowing from Heber13).

It's kind of how I imagine learning a foreign language would be. You have your first language as an anchor to give meaning to your study of the second language. Over time you may become very proficient in that second language. There may even be words in your second language that you feel succinctly express a feeling much better than you could have expressed in your first language... but after it's all said and done, no matter how good you get, you still probably feel more relaxed in your first language. That's how I tend to view mormon theology. It's my first language, one that contextualizes any other language that I study. I may find jewels in other theologies that help me articulate my innermost beliefs but I feel more at home in my first language... oh, and I also might devote more time studying a second language than I would studying my first language because I presumably already know my first language. Some study of the first language is still merited though. You've got to stay hip with the new lingo daddy-o. ;)

One language certainly isn't better than another but languages do help us communicate and make connections.

One definition of prophet (said in "I'm starting a sacrament talk" voice) is:
a person who advocates or speaks in a visionary way about a new belief, cause, or theory.
I believe JS did those things. Note how it doesn't say that the new beliefs or theories have to be correct. ;) He introduced many visionary ideas that have helped me ponder the eternities. If anything, discovering JS's faults have helped me realize that communicating with the divine isn't reserved for people of a higher spiritual station than I could ever hope to attain. It's oddly given me a touch of confidence. If he could do it, so can I... and in realizing that I see how his role sill somehow managed to be prophetic in my life.

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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Curt Sunshine » 12 Jan 2015, 13:12

I have come to love and feel deep compassion for the Joseph that I discovered in my search to figure out who he was. He called himself a rough stone rolling, and I accept that - with some "roughness" much more rough than other roughness. I abhor some of the things he did, but that is true of every truly visionary person I have studied over the course of my lifetime.

I have come to love the man and not the caricatures at each extreme.

Also, absolutely study everything else you can. I believe that's part of Mormonism in its purest iteration - and I have come to love the basics of Mormon theology even more deeply as a result of my study of everything else.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

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SunbeltRed
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SunbeltRed » 12 Jan 2015, 13:56

nibbler wrote: It's kind of how I imagine learning a foreign language would be. You have your first language as an anchor to give meaning to your study of the second language. Over time you may become very proficient in that second language. There may even be words in your second language that you feel succinctly express a feeling much better than you could have expressed in your first language... but after it's all said and done, no matter how good you get, you still probably feel more relaxed in your first language. That's how I tend to view mormon theology. It's my first language, one that contextualizes any other language that I study. I may find jewels in other theologies that help me articulate my innermost beliefs but I feel more at home in my first language... oh, and I also might devote more time studying a second language than I would studying my first language because I presumably already know my first language. Some study of the first language is still merited though. You've got to stay hip with the new lingo daddy-o. ;)
Hmm..Interesting analogy. I like it. Thought I might end up going full native and never coming back to my homeland :smile: I do foresee the possibility of creating a new language that only makes sense to me....
Ray DeGraw wrote:I have come to love and feel deep compassion for the Joseph that I discovered in my search to figure out who he was. He called himself a rough stone rolling, and I accept that - with some "roughness" much more rough than other roughness. I abhor some of the things he did, but that is true of every truly visionary person I have studied over the course of my lifetime.

I have come to love the man and not the caricatures at each extreme.

Also, absolutely study everything else you can. I believe that's part of Mormonism in its purest iteration - and I have come to love the basics of Mormon theology even more deeply as a result of my study of everything else.
I appreciate that perspective Ray, I really do, I am just struggling with it right now. Perhaps the exploratory journey somewhere else (and by journey I just mean studying and reading and engaging with other ideas) will help me gain greater appreciation for him later.

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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by DarkJedi » 12 Jan 2015, 14:12

Good question, SBRed. I struggle a bit with Joseph, too, and I have many doubts about him. However, I don't believe he was evil or power hungry or looking for fame. I think he was sincere for the most part - but I also believe he made stuff up. I think much of what he taught was actually influenced by the teachings of other religions and philosophies of the time and whatever he didn't have an answer to he simply made up.

I suppose whether I consider him to be a prophet or not really depends on the definition of prophet. I generally define prophet as a teacher, and indeed he was a teacher. I'm not so sure any of his teachings came directly from God, nor do I believe he was necessarily a "seer" or "revelator."

Our notion of Joseph has generally been given to us by the church. That is, how we view him is for the most part influenced by what we have been taught all of our (church) lives about him and what we have taught is not necessarily accurate. Since my faith transition I have found that to not be unusual. I think part of what I had to deal with during the transition was that what I thought I knew about Joseph may not be true or correct - just like what I thought about God, prayer, and a host of other things.

As was already said, I don't go to church because of Joseph. Likewise, I don't see a belief in Joseph as necessary for my salvation - and I don't think he saw it that way, either. I go to church because it teaches the basic principles of the Gospel of Christ - and when someone isn't doing that I find something else to read or do.

I received Rough Stone Rolling as a Christmas gift. I am looking forward to finding the time to read it. I think the church would do well to stop romanticizing Joseph (and the other prophets, especially BY and JT) and allow people to see him as he really was. Seeing him as a very flawed individual actually gives me hope, because if he were indeed really a spokesman for God with all of his flaws and God really did exalt him, I think I'm in pretty good shape.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by hawkgrrrl » 12 Jan 2015, 17:39

I totally struggle with Joseph the man. He isn't even that good a person in a lot of ways. But I love his vision of God, which was totally innovative. I love his universalism. I love his response to the theological questions of his day. His sexual experimentation? Definitely not. His egomaniacal pursuit of glory? No.

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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Ann » 12 Jan 2015, 17:46

SunbeltRed wrote: How are others of you able to hold on to the idea of JS's prophetic mantle and if so do you still value him as prophetic for the world or as another adding more to the rich fabric of our existential struggle?
I could probably struggle less with Joseph Smith. I guess my real struggle is with current leadership, essays and curriculum that still paint him as infallible for all practical purposes. His errors, if there really were any, are characterized as inconsequential for us today. I think that not calling error error has serious, bad consequences for us today.

I really liked this post awhile ago at Rational Faiths. "Prophet," "mystic" and the author adds, "charlatan of God."

http://rationalfaiths.com/playing-the-ball-as-it-lies/

Years ago I read that in Nauvoo Joseph would sometimes go down to the docks, dressed in the worst clothes he could find, to meet newly arriving members. Without introducing himself, he would ask them what they thought about this Joseph Smith. To one man who had just expressed faith, he replied, “I am the prophet, but I have worn these rough clothes to let you know that if you expect me to be anything other than a man, that you should get back on that boat and go back to England.”[3] At the time I first read this I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear those same words.

I’ve finally had that conversation with him. I’ve conceded and will play the ball as it lies. I’ve become more interested in discovering who he was than deciding who he was. Some things still make me uncomfortable, but from my reading of scripture I’m not sure the gospel is as much about being comfortable as I wish it were. I’m not going to waste any more time insisting Joseph be different. God is trying to show me something. He’s trying to split my mind wide open and show me what he can do with the weak things of the world.

Joseph is that crumbly old rock dug out of the ground which, if we are observant and careful, will reveal the life of an ancient sea bed a million years old or give us clues about the age of the earth. He is a stone like many others, but he’s one that I believe God has touched and caused to provide light for our dark journey to the Promised Land. We would do well to remember that while this stone is a revelatory tool, it’s also still a rock and if we set it on the tablecloth it will leave a smudge. If we throw it away because of it behaving like a rock, well, if only the gift of prophecy guaranteed a well-behaved prophet. Prophets are people. That is all they ever have been and all they ever will be. In fact, it seems sometimes the gift of prophecy comes despite behavior rather than because of it.

As far as joseph’s work goes, I’ve read critiques of the Book of Mormon pegging it as a fictional work of obvious nineteenth-century American origin with its anti-Catholic or anti-Masonic themes. I’ve read how the Book of Abraham bears no resemblance to what modern translators see in the available source text or facsimiles. And so on and so on. And these aren’t silly arguments as some apologists would make them out to be. I can’t resolve them, yet I still believe. The Mormon historian Richard Bushman, when confronted by a Christian friend about the problems of the Book of Mormon, replied saying, “Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity [in scripture]? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work? We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journals to find out if the book is still true. We stick with it because we find God in its pages- or inspiration, or comfort, or scope. That is what religion is about in my opinion, and it is why I believe the Book of Mormon.”[4]

The poet, Alex Caldiero, when asked about his faith in Joseph Smith as a kind of coyote figure or trickster on one hand and a prophet on the other, said that to him Joseph was a “true charlatan of God.” He continued saying, “my testimony… is based on that connection…. Picasso once said that ‘art is the lie that tells the truth,’ and Joseph Smith for me is that kind of person, as Picasso would be. He’s the liar that tells the truth. Now some people have a problem trying to encapsulate those two ideas and make them coexist…, but for me it’s a natural.”[5] I like this description because sometimes I see in Joseph what seems like a propensity to get caught up in telling stories. It’s like he has a kind of uninhibited creativity. Maybe Joseph would be a good example of what Paul called being “fool’s for Christ’s sake.”[6] Maybe it was these very aspects of Joseph’s character, the ones that make us uncomfortable, that God was using as a channel of revelation, like Joseph’s flare for the dramatic or propensity to tell stories. Should it surprise us that God might take some mortal, or even broken, part of us and repurpose it or even redeem it?[7] Is this not what restoration is? This is, after all, what Joseph did with masonry. He took it and repurposed it for the temple.
"Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery." - Joseph Campbell

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

"Therefore they said unto him, How were thine eyes opened? He answered and said unto them, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes...." - John 9:10-11

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