I am going to take a break from my series and discuss “Does Mormonism Rise Or Fall On Joseph Smith’s Character?”
The reason that I am bringing up this issue today is because I just watched the live stream of the UVU conference: Mormonism and the Internet and yesterday Patrick Mason said that Mormonism does not rise or fall on the character of Joseph Smith.
My first response was – yes it does. I mean if Joseph’s character is in question, that puts in question whether or not he told the truth about the angels and the gold plates, etc. Right? And if those are lies than Mormonism is a total waste of time.
Well maybe yes and maybe no. This is why I am thinking about this.
Let’s read a little bit about the notorious John Friend as an example.
First read here about the scandal.
Reminds us of Joseph Smith, eh?
Now read his bio.
Similar personality of Joseph Smith, right?
So we can come to the conclusion that both men have character issues and in Joseph’s case that probably means Joseph is not to be trusted when he talks about finding and translating gold plates and being visited by angels.
But does it mean that neither of them brought anything that was worthwhile into the world? I would say maybe they both did. I must note here that Joseph Smith also helped to bring bad things into the world of Mormon communities (i.e. polygamy, racism, homophobia, persecution, unnecessary suffering) but you must also place blame for these things on other people as well (i.e. the Bible).
I saw a quote on the Mormon Stories community facebook page today that said:
“Religion is never Science (understanding reality or truth through objective means) but Religion IS an Art (seeking provocation of emotion and reflection through subjective means). So the problems occur when people try to make religion a science or when people dismiss religion as the amazing Art it can be.”
So if you look at Mormonism this way – if you see it as provocation of emotion and reflection through subjective means and reject it as truth and objectivity then perhaps you have something to hold on to no matter the character of the founder – no matter if the Book of Mormon is not historical. What matters is: Can attending the Mormon church make you feel emotion and reflect on your life? Can it make you a better person? Do you feel moved? Do you feel community connection?
I can say that sometimes Mormon church services are very moving (sometimes not) and I think that inspiration comes when people do not try to make it true and objective, but instead insightful into the human condition. It is only then that it becomes Art and not just nonsense.
Throughout history there have been many people with bad character that have brought some worthwhile and good things into the world (musicians, leaders, artists, politicians, authors). I think it is a great idea to find the good in things and do your best to reject the rest.
John Dehlin’s uncorrelated Mormon movement is trying to get Mormonism to open up so it doesn’t need to rise and fall on the character of Joseph Smith or the historicity of the Book of Mormon because if it holds too tightly to this false notion, then it will eventually fall.