My Joseph Smith Narrative

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My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by felixfabulous » 12 Feb 2019, 08:22

I've been trying to reevaluate my view of Church History for the last 10 years or so. I wanted to share my narrative to see what others think and if this resonates with anyone else.

I sincerely believe that Joseph felt called to do a prophetic work. This was to save his family from their divisions over religion and to save America, which he saw as drifting into secularism and away from Christian orthodoxy. He was called to the work through a mystical experience (later reinterpreted as the First Vision) and bringing forth the Book of Mormon was the beginning of the work. Joseph was also a magician and showman, his work as a treasure seer involved some slight of hand and was usually dishonest. He had unbelievable charisma, people loved him and he realized that he could get people to do what he wanted. I think he felt a continual tension and guilt about doing deceiving people, but felt justified because he was getting them to do good things. I don't think he believed that people would accept the Book of Mormon without a miraculous story, so he used his showmanship and slight of hand to invent the gold plates story and have a believable prop to generate buzz. He was able to build on momentum and create buzz with his family and the money diggers. I believe that he was inspired to dictate the Book of Mormon, which is a message about America that spoke to people at that time and still resonates with people today.

The message of the Book of Mormon healed the rift in his family between his father's Universalism and his mother's Calvinism and he kept this going by starting a Church that was mainly focused on helping people exercise spiritual gifts and returning to the spiritual manifestations and organization of the New Testament Church. As the Church grew, he consolidated power and reshaped the narrative to give himself more exclusive authority and develop doctrine. He sought to keep bringing forth scripture, but his subsequent attempts didn't have the same magic as the Book of Mormon (Bible Translation, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham) and borrowed heavily from religious texts he liked.

As Joseph got more control and power, he wrestled with his own demons; mainly the struggle to reconcile and justify some of the deception he'd used to bring forth the Book of Mormon and starting the Church and the genuine spiritual experiences that people were having and that his goals were being fulfilled. He also struggled with lusts after other women, which he acted on maybe with Mirinda Johnson and for sure with Fanny Alger. He built a doctrinal scaffolding around this idea and developed the Plural Marriage doctrine to justify it. The fruits of polygamy were not good.

This all came to a head in Nauvoo with him being totally consumed by his ego (Council of 50, running for President, Nauvoo Legion, crazy marriages). Everything started coming out with the Nauvoo Expositor, he tried to stop it and went to far and it ended up with him being killed. Those close to him knew his many faults, but still loved him and worked to protect his legacy and create a mythical historical memory to honor him. The next generation took this a step further to shape a narrative that emphasized priesthood authority, restoration and get away from polygamy as the Church had to shift in the early 1900s. That shaped our current narrative, which worked well for 100 years and seemed to yield great missionary results and has only recently become problematic as it has become more difficult to reconcile with the historical data.

For me the story of Joseph Smith has so many valuable lessons. God works with flawed people to bring scripture and churches that point people toward God and help build communities (I see the Church as a tool to bring people to God and bring them together). People can be easily corrupted by power and tend to want more and more of it. Joseph built a structure that gave him unlimited power and it led to his downfall. We have built our narrative and authority on the myth of Joseph, but the worthwhile parts of the Church for me go back to what he started, building an orderly refuge from the confusion of our time, bringing people together and helping them experience the gifts of the spirit. For me, that is what Mormonism is really all about.

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Re: My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by AmyJ » 12 Feb 2019, 09:36

I like it:)

For me, I think that something happened and that Joseph spent a lifetime trying to define it and establish what it meant.

I struggle with the 1st vision shifting in meaning from "forgiveness of sins" as a personal matter to "vision of God" to establish doctrine. It doesn't make sense to me that the events changed so much. I would think that assuming that Joseph Smith saw God while he was asking for forgiveness of sins and then retelling the narrative to include Jesus Christ with a different message entirely is something that he would have remembered and written about the first few times instead of it popping up later.

The closest life-changing event that ever happened to me was delivering my healthy baby at home by myself. There is a specific sequence of events how it happened - and yes, there are some details that are fuzzy now, and I don't always share everything about that experience with everyone depending on my audience and the amount of time I think I have as social currency - but the central premise of having my baby at home (and it's meaning within the narrative) does not change. Additional meanings have enhanced the event over time, but have not changed it.

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Re: My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by Roy » 12 Feb 2019, 11:19

1) I believe JS held to a magic world view. Like those around him he believed in spirits and talismans and such. He also lived in a place where discovery of burial grounds or native American artifacts was not uncommon. This became fertile ground for JS to construct a narrative with proto-Christian lost Israelites living on the western hemisphere. He told his family stories about the ancient inhabitants of the land for some time before he received the plates. I do believe that once JS started talking about getting the plates he was given more attention from his family and others.

2) I believe that JS also began speaking for God. At first he did so using the seer stone that he had in his possession. Later he discontinued using the stone as he himself became the instrument of transmission for the divine will. He grew more confident over time. I am willing to believe that JS was not exactly clear on what thoughts in his head came from God and what came from himself.
felixfabulous wrote:
12 Feb 2019, 08:22
He also struggled with lusts after other women, which he acted on maybe with Mirinda Johnson and for sure with Fanny Alger. He built a doctrinal scaffolding around this idea and developed the Plural Marriage doctrine to justify it. The fruits of polygamy were not good.
3) I believe that JS was attracted to other women. I believe that his desire towards them was not just sexual but also romantic. I believe that JS and Fanny had more than a passionate fling. The developed a relationship that they seemed to feel was similar to a marriage. I speculate that this was confusing for JS. He had feelings and attractions toward Emma that led towards marriage and that was good, holy, and appropriate. He had feelings and attractions towards other women and that was seen as bad, temptation, and sin. Why? It appears that JS at some point wrestled with the idea that he might be an adulterer and subject to all the bad things that are promised to adulterers. He received a strong impression in his mind that he was not an adulterer. How could this be? Polygamy provided the answer. He was not being an unfaithful scoundrel. His wandering eye was not a defect. He was following the seeds of divine inspiration that God had implanted in his core. He even taught that earthly marriages were null and void unless ratified by some combination of pre-mortal commitments and/or priesthood sealing. And only those marriages so ratified had any force in the hereafter. There seems to have been significant motivation to have your marriage relationship so ratified and the acceptance of the doctrine of polygamy was part of the entry fee.

There are many other twists and turns in the JS story but the above 3 points comprise the major story or character arcs in my JS narrative.
"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

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

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

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Re: My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by dande48 » 12 Feb 2019, 12:16

I personally believe that all spiritual experiences can be scientifically explained, in a way that does not require divine intervention. That being said, I feel confident that Joseph Smith fully believed, 100%, everything he claimed. I believe, like you pointed out, there are underlying subconscious psychological reasons behind many of his actions, as well as the doctrines he taught. For example, JS Sr. was a drunk, and it caused his family problems. JS Jr. felt inspired that drinking was wrong, but would've been repulsed for his father to be condemned for it. Hence we have the "Word of Wisdom". FWIW, I think the WoW is a good standard to live by. But its goodness is disconnected from its legitimate authenticity (which is now I view most of the Church).

I believe Joseph Smith was an adulterer, both romantically and sexually. But I don't believe he believed he was an adulterer. I believe the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction. But I don't believe he believed that. Joseph Smith is just one of many examples where someone can believe and be committed to something they feel is absolutely true and right... even when they're wrong.
"The whole world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." - Horace Walpole

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Re: My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by Rumin8 » 12 Feb 2019, 14:51

I love all these narratives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this is what was taught openly and prolifically in the church? There is still plenty of room for spirituality and God in each of these accounts.

All religious origin stories are weird and incredible. Why not embrace it?
"Moderation in all things, especially moderation." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Be excellent to each other." - Abraham Lincoln to Bill & Ted

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Re: My Joseph Smith Narrative

Post by SamBee » 12 Feb 2019, 15:24

I don't really see the USA of Joseph Smith as going secular. People would be devoutly religious long after that. What I do see are dead churches who were talking about past miracles yet saying "But of course it doesn't happen nowadays.".
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
1ST PRES 1978 "[LDS] believe...there is truth in many religions and philosophies...good and great religious leaders... have raised the spiritual, moral, and ethical awareness of their people. When we speak of The [LDS] as the only true is...authorized to administer the Jesus Christ... we do not mean... it is the only teacher of truth."

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