Friday, January 26, 2007

Should we judge Joseph Smith by present-day standards?

From the RfM board:

Many Mormons are not aware that Joseph Smith married other men's wives. In several cases he sent their husbands on missions and then married these women while the husbands were gone. Mormons generally are not aware he married girls as young as 14. These relationships were conjugal, including the young girls. That's what many Mormon apologists, and even some people who claim to be Ex-Mormons argue, when discussing Smith's relationships with teenage girls. One Mopologist, [Mormon Apologist] Russell McGregor, whose internet alias is "Pahoran", called that "presentism"---the act of holding historical figures, particularly Mormon leaders, to present-day standards.

For those people, I would ask a rhetorical question: When has it ever been a "standard" in the history of the U.S. for a married man in his 30s, who is an alleged Christian minister, to engage in sexual relationships with women and teenage girls to whom he was not legally married?

Another question for those who claim to no longer believe in Mormonism, but still defend Smith's polygamous behavior: Does not the fact that:

*polygamy was illegal in Smith's day

*Smith desperately tried to keep his polygamy teachings and practices secret, and denied them to his dying day

*Smith and his fellow polygamists viciously attacked and slandered people who tried to expose his secret polygamy practice

...tell us that Smith's sexual behavior was *anything* but "standard" for his time?

"Fabricated stories designed to protect the [Nauvoo polygamous] individuals are seen elsewhere:

Sidney Rigdon in the 18 June 1845 'Messenger and Advocate' reported that Parley P. Pratt, in speaking of the means by which church leaders should sustain Smith, advised that 'we must lie to protect brother Joseph, it is our duty to do so.'

Not only were church leaders willing to violate the law to promote polygamy, they did not hesitate to blacken the character of individuals who threatened to expose the secret practice of plural marriage:

Sarah Pratt was not the only woman to suffer from this policy. The 27 August 1842 'Wasp,' for example, branded Martha H. Brotherton a 'mean harlot,' and Nancy Rigdon suffered the same treatment after she opposed Smith's polygamous proposals.....Jane Law, wife of Smith's counselor William Law, was also blacklisted for rejecting Smith's polyandrous proposal." ("Mormon Polygamy: A History," Richard van Wagoner, pp. 38-39.)

Does this behavior paint Joseph Smith as a "pious" man whose extra-marital relationships did not violate the "standards" of his day?

Or does it paint him as a deceitful libertine who make deplorable and false character assassinations against his own disciples in order to cover up his illicit and immoral, sexual proposals and behavior?

Some of Joseph's defenders claim that his modern critics are judging him unfairly by holding him to today's standards of behavior. In fact, the opposite is true, and that any adult could make such an assertion, is only testament to how deeply our capacity for rational thought can be corrupted by emotional attachment to ideology.

Mormon defenders cannot have it both ways. Either, as say Mormon GA's, [General Authorities] society has fallen from a far superior moral state, and we now live in an era characterized by shockingly loose morals, where chastity is denigrated and mocked, where "traditional family units" are under threat "as never before", where sexual anarchy appears to be a possibility, etc. ad nauseam - OR, our era is in no way superior in sexual restraint and order to past eras. We will call the first proposition "F" (for "fallen"), and the second, "S", for "the same".

If "S", then Mormon GA's cannot be believed when they claim "F". And if they cannot be believed, then they are in fact "leading the church astray", and if that is the case, a canonized item of official doctrine is not true (see the Manifesto page in the D&C), and if that is the case, then Joseph's church isn't the only true religion in the world.

But if "F", then illegitimacy, immodesty, sexual "looseness" and "experimentation", promiscuity, etc., were ALL far RARER in Joseph Smith's era, than now - meaning that his era was far stricter sexually, than ours is. But if that is the case, and as church defenders ask, we judge Joseph Smith according to the "standards of his time", then modern critics are NOT JUDGING HIM HARSHLY ENOUGH. And in fact, history suggests exactly this.

For, who do these genius church defenders think would best be in a position to judge Joseph according to the standards of his own time, other than THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED IN HIS OWN TIME? And how did THEY judge him?

THEY FINALLY ASSASSINATED HIM. They drove Joseph's treasonous band of cult fanatics OUT OF THE UNITED STATES. And before that, they chased Joseph out of area after area. And why? "Because Joseph's church was the only true church, and Satan wanted to destroy it!"?

My member friend, just consider one other possibility.

Maybe...just maybe...Joseph wasn't exactly precise with his storytelling....and maybe, just maybe, he didn't actually meet up with back-from-the-dead Peter, James and John, etc....Maybe, like hundreds of other religious men of the time, Joseph didn't really have the experiences he claimed to have had...and keep in mind, that antebellum America was rife with innovative religious societies, most of which were patiently tolerated by their neighbours...

So maybe, all that expulsion had something to do with this:

That everywhere Joseph Smith went, in the service of his cult of self-aggrandizement, he gave the finger to American law, American religion, American tradition, American mores, American culture, everything that those "in his own time" regarded as sacred and necessary. And as a consequence, everywhere he went, almost EVERYONE got totally sick of him and his band of deluded, obedient followers. The illegal banking,[In Kirtland, Ohio] the vigilantes, [Danites] the false prophecies, the mockery of a religion most Americans thought true (Christianity), the bloc voting,[when Joseph ran for president of the U.S.] the occultism, the furtive sexcapades, the shameless public lying, the destruction of other's private property, the delusions of grandeur ("God is my right hand man", "I have no law", etc.), announcing other's people property belonged to "the Saints" by divine right, etc., etc...

And let's keep in mind, since we're talking about judging according to the "standards of the day" - for those totally dependent on what their own farms could produce for sustenance, and the good will of their neighbours for safety and stability, dependent on the preservation of property laws, with disaster and death never seeming very far, Joseph and his [church] - with their disregard for so many things their neighbours thought necessary for survival and happiness (including respect for contemporary sexual standards) - appeared to pose a danger.

Like...DANGER. Like, their livestock start getting stolen because JS [Joseph Smith] and his sidekick Sidney start telling members that everything around them properly belongs to Zion (it's not like locals could run down to Costco to get replacement food for the winter); like, their civil institutions start getting overtaken by religious voting blocs (how'd you like your school board taken over by devout Muslims who start reconstructing everything according to Muslim law? Now you know how local Missourians might have felt); like their sisters - AND WIVES - getting hit on by "the prophet"...

The truth is that church defenders ought to be GRATEFUL that Joseph Smith's modern critics may be judging him by the standards of today. After all, how many RFM posters are big fans of vigilante castration and assassination? Most of us would be more than happy to just see Joseph's bad behaviour exposed and reproached, and then see his lies fade into the oblivion they - and all other lies - deserve.

Joseph's contemporaries were a little more pro-active. When Joseph supposedly hit on (or actually had sex with) fifteen year old Nancy Marinda Johnson, Dr. Dennison, with the encouragement of a neighbourhood mob, nearly castrated him. THAT'S how people IN his his own time judged him "according to their standards". So, I guess by the "logic" of church defenders, who say we ought to judge Joseph by 1840 standards of right and wrong, the RIGHT thing for us - AND them - to all be saying now about Joseph Smith is, that he deserved to be dragged out of the Johnson farm house in the middle of night, nearly castrated, then tarred and feathered by a bunch of angry townspeople. No wonder Mormon defenders are confined to publishing their inanities in church-subsidized publications - it's only there that the accidental comedy can go unrecognized...

Of course, it is too much to hope, that some church member, just as sincere as I was, could ever read this, and begin to think, "Maybe...maybe I've missed something....". But in the miraculous case that someone does, here is a final comment:

It was not considered proper in 1840's America for a foster father to secretly have sex with his teenage foster daughters - and Joseph did that TWICE (with both the Lawrence and Partridge sisters).

It was not considered proper for a self-proclaimed religious pastor to secretly have sex with his housemaids.

It was not considered proper for ANYONE, let alone a "prophet" who had publicly BANNED polygamy in his church charter, to secretly proposition other men's wives, even telling them that unless he could "marry" (have intercourse with) them, that an angel would murder him.

It was not considered proper for ANY MAN to slander women who rejected his sexual advances, as Joseph did with Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Pratt.

It was not considered proper for ANY 38 year old to secretly have sex with a fourteen year old, and in so doing, consign her to a life of loneliness, devoid of love.

The truth is, according to the standards of the time, Joseph's character must be - and was - regarded by most as nothing short of loathsome.

And in case you don't believe me, my member friend, I suggest you read "Mormon Enigma", recommended by the official church historian, Leonard Arrington. It is on sale at your local Deseret Books. [I have a copy of this book]

In it, you will find another judgment made of Joseph, one made in accordance with "the standards of his time" by one of Joseph's contemporaries. In fact, that contemporary was none other than his wife, Emma. And her judgment, after finding out later from a mutual friend that Joseph's tomcatting was greater than she had known, was that - "he was worthy of the death he died!" (see "Mormon Enigma", page 292).

When's the last time you read THAT on the special Joseph website run by the church? Joseph Smith's OWN wife - that "elect lady" - the first president of the Relief Society, whose portrait can still be seen in church buildings all over the world, stated that Joseph's behaviour was such, *according to the standards of his day*, that HE WAS WORTHY OF BEING ASSASSINATED by a mob.

My suggestion to Mormon church defenders: Stop asking modern critics to judge Joseph Smith by the "standards of his day"; according to your own modern prophets and apostles, Joseph Smith's day was far superior in morality, chastity, sexual standards, modesty, etc., than today, so all you're doing is highlighting just how obnoxious and loathsome was the behaviour of the Mormon founder according to the standards of HIS day (as if the censure and violent retaliation of his contemporaries wasn't enough to prove it...Even his own widow thought he deserved to be lynched!).

There is simply no excuse for a married man in his mid-thirties to be propositioning any woman - let alone teenagers as young as twelve. Those who try and justify it are just as wrong as Smith.

Was there once a time when it was ok for 38 year old men to have sex with 14 year old girls?

*My thoughts*

I don't care if it isn't practiced anymore by members of the LDS church. The fact remains that it IS practiced by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and it is the main reason that their prophet, seer and revelator, Warren Jeffs has been arrested for. His behavior is a model of those prophets before him, and if it is wrong today, it was certainly wrong 170 years ago, in Joseph Smith's time.

Or are we saying that morals were "looser" in those days?

It seems that the argument goes something like: girls matured faster back then, they married sooner, they didn't live as long so they split from their families much earlier, etc. If all of those things are true, and they certainly are not, it should be noticed that Joseph was a full 24 years older than his youngest bride, and was ALREADY married to other women, some of whom were already married to other men. Is there any justification for an older man to take a teenager for a wife, especially if that teenager is already living in his household as kind of a foster child?

We arrest and punish men in this day and age for such lewd behavior, and yet I hear of members trying to excuse Joseph's actions as "ordained of God". What a bunch of crap. He had no more excuse for taking these young girls for wives than Warren Jeffs, and tell me who isn't happy he is behind bars.

For those of you with a 12-16 year old daughter...would you let her be married to a 38 year old man FOR ANY REASON? Angel or no angel, commandment or no commandment, I would go straight to HELL first, before I let any man claiming God's authority to take my child from my home and make her his plural wife, ESPECIALLY if I knew he intended to take full advantage of that marriage and consummate it, which of course he did with each wife he took, in fulfillment of the commandment to bring forth righteous seed. Tell me that they were only "spiritual wives"...oh please, you don't really believe that do you?

Warren Jeffs doesn't think that's what the 'principle' means and neither did Joseph Smith. He took those young girls to his bed, or stayed with them in theirs to avoid Emma's discovering him, and he did more than just preach, just like Warren Jeffs did to all his victims. Joseph was a pedophile, he had sex with underage girls, pretending that he was commanded to by God, and he hid all of his lewdness from public scrutiny, and his wife. He was lying, hiding, scheming, and strategizing for his next victims, and he threatened those who resisted with eternal damnation, excommunication, and public humiliation for failure to submit to the principle. The fact that the current LDS church denounced the practice in 1890 doesn't change the fact that they didn't oppose it's practice and would have continued to do so if the U.S. government hadn't insisted on it. The church sees nothing wrong with the actions of Joseph or Brigham, or any other of the early prophets, and have even allowed the likes of Warren Jeffs to go unchecked and unpoliced for decades. If that doesn't spell support for the 'principle', they could do little else to show their agreement with it. The church can't go on denying that this is a PRIME teaching of God's restored church, and all the members of the LDS faction are the ones who have failed to adhere to the original teachings, not the fanatical Fundamentalists.

Joseph Smith was judged by his own day's standards.....that's why he was MURDERED.

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