[Edited for some glaring grammatical mistakes, and begging for your understanding regarding the remaining ones.]
I’ve been thinking–and of course reading–about the so-called shaken faith thing. What I’m about to say, is given without documentation, just some personal observation. Look forward to my presentation of some of the “hidden” Mormon history (usually “hidden” in the pages of the Internet-readable Ensign!) . I have a specific point to be made of that. (BTW, don’t expect this to be an easily digestible piece–or a quick read, either. 😉 )
One thing to start with: I’m not being “superior” here; I’m thinking from my own perspective that is probably fairly unique, what with everyone’s experience is somewhat unique–and at the same time fairly universal. So if I sound like I’m talking down, it’s just that my experience is fairly unique–like everyone else’s. Anybody else will have a slightly different one, if you look any deeper than the surface.
That out of the way, let’s talk about Joseph Smith first, because this Restoration thing more or less began with him. So, naturally there are plenty of people, who do one or more of the following:
- Idealize (and almost idolize) his life and experience; and his teaching, which naturally is not perfect in the sense that nothing new could be said after what he said–otherwise, why would we have a living prophet today, if he had a requirement that he couldn’t say anything about anything that Joseph had taught. It would be more or less the same as what you hear about the Bible, that in essence it is perfect as such, and no further revelation needed–as most Protestant denominations tell it.
- Think that Joseph (and every other prophet before and after him) was or at least should have been perfect, almost in the way that Jesus of all men alone (perhaps Adam or John the Baptist come near) was can and will be during mortal life.
- About the idea, that nothing more needs to come by revelation to the Church, I don’t know if there’s much more I can think of to say (which doesn’t mean I think there is nothing more to say). For me, just the fact that we have another prophet means that we don’t accept the Bible as the final word God has to his people. So of course Joseph’s successors as the presidents of the Church have said something that has changed some things that he taught–case in point being the Manifesto, which ended the practice (not the principle, to be honest) of polygyny (having more than one wife), which usually in everyday language we call polygamy (more than one spouse). Note that Official Declaration 2 did not necessarily change something Joseph taught, as there is no evidence he ever said that people of black African descent aren’t entitled to the Priesthood; that I think was something that came unofficially through Brigham Young (if I have read the meager bit of history that I’ve read, correctly).People talk of his “magical” world view, treasure hunting and stuff? I think it’s time we stop thinking that he should have been devoid of popular superstition or hobbies of his time. If a prophet like him were to arise today, should he be abandoned if his family (and he along with them) were keen on buying lottery tickets? Again we must remind ourselves that these people didn’t have soap operas around them so they spent their free time by telling stories of treasures and ghosts. If you read the Bible carefully, you’ll see that it tells stuff about most prophets that was something we’d think quite extraordinary from a person of today’s upbringing. In that regard, brother Joseph had nothing to be ashamed of. When I talk with some people from different backgrounds, I notice that their ideas about God or other important stuff can be quite different that mine, still without being something that I’d consider outside what in human terms should be defined as normal. I’ll be kind enough to not spell out some of the off-the wall hobbies that perfectly normal people in various geographic locations think of as “normal”. Normative is all about personal experience.
- People talk about the different versions of the First Vision account? Actually it beats me why people would think that he’d only told it one single story from 1820 (when he was 14) to 1842 (in the mature age of 36). When I think of my own conversion story, it’s clear that my understanding of what happened has evolved. First I remember about it as of now (30-odd years later), is that I was surprised at how some of the things about the experience stuck with me–despite my frantic efforts to drown (literally) them out of my mind. Then I just thought that perhaps there is something important to it, since I can’t get it out of my mind. It was quite some time later that I realized that it was the Holy Spirit that had testified about some things (like Priesthood authority).It wasn’t until I was a missionary myself, that I came into a rudimentary understanding of how personal revelation works. The years since have deepened my understanding; while not fundamentally changing the essentials of it, but enough so that many people who are not personally aware of how revelation comes would not even recognize it. So for me, it would be surprising if Joseph had not changed some things in his story. How could he have, in reality, understood the full impact of his calling, as a boy of fourteen? We all keep learning, hopefully, till we leave this life, and long after that.
- And, about polygyny, naturally, something must be said. What I’d like to say, is: Why on earth would that offend anyone? To me, the surprise would be had there not been a time when the Saints practised it. It definitely was practised during both Old and New Testament versions of the People of God. Remember Abraham, Jacob, Isaiah? If we think of the New Testament, it’s less obvious, but why else had Paul expressed his opinion, that the Bishop should have only one wife? Stands to reason, that the practice was found among the early Saints. The way I read Paul’s admonition is that he thought that a man is busy enough keeping one wide happy, let alone more. I say that only partially tongue-in cheek, and you’ll realize why if you read Pauline epistles carefully.
I’ve said about what I’m going to say about the subject. Let me just stress the point, that it makes little sense for us to expect brother Joseph’s life to conform to the proprieties of current middle-class (mid-western or western) Americans. If a sizeable plurality, at least, of the people of his social status around him did something, why would he not? Yes, we hear a lot about the examples where he did do something extraordinary such as declining a stiff shot of whisky.
To be quite honest, that was extraordinary, to say the least (besides being shakily documented, as far as I know; please let me know, if you do, who originally told it, as I can’t remember it from Lucy’s history of the Prophet), when you think of people, to whom “fresh water” was quite often something quite different from what we think of when we hear the expression. Modern ways of disinfection were not invented then, so having a goodly content of alcohol was the way of avoiding getting sick. There are numerous cases where the history of early Saints tells of disease most likely caused by contaminated water.
Because all of the above, plus much more that I’m leaving alone for now, I find it frankly amazing, that there are people, who have their faith shaken by some things that he did that would make his Bishop, if he heard it in a Temple Recommend interview in 2011 A.D., at most give some, perhaps strongish, words of admonishment (with the obvious exception of polygamy).
Most of all, what makes me say that, is that I have started by having a very strong spiritual witness of his prophetic calling. That makes me usually think, if something unsavoury is reported, that there are no reasons to hit the panic button. Because most of the time I am persuaded by the history of the Saints, by knowledge of secular history (reading the written stories of the day gives only a glimpse of the mores, because stories of that era tended to be quite strongly edited for decency), or something else like that, to think that given the right spin, it would fit right into his social environment. Or I find out that the main source is second- or third-hand hearsay in the original Hurlbut affidavits, and hence at least on shaky documentation.
About the Hurlbut (I have such a temptation to spell it with a double-t) affidavits: The interviews were most often livelied up by a goodly amount of whiskey, and encouragement from the interviewer, of the “can’t you come up with anything better” kind. Thing is, they didn’t even bother to hide it up too well, because that’s how they were always done. Which is one reason why these trials seldom progressed past a preliminary hearing (which you must have, if there’s a formal complaint, no matter how frivolous it is).
Regarding the quality of the documentation that those have, who wish to declare Joseph an unperson, let’s face the facts: If you’ve ever done anything truly original (even much less so than claiming something as out of the frame in his time as new revelation and scripture), you’ll know that there will be people, who are willing to exaggerate, or even perjure themselves if someone came fishing for something negative to say. Nobody “normal” wishes to hear, “so, you’re one of them folks, are ya?”
I’m not perfect, as is nobody else who is or has been a mortal human being–Jesus Christ alone forming the exception, AFAIK–but I’ve certainly never defrauded anyone from what was rightfully coming to them. Nevertheless, some people have heard that very accusation, if nothing else, because they’ve heard that a criminal complaint has been filed against me claiming the very thing.
What they don’t hear is that I’ve been cleared of the accusations in 8 out of 10 different claims in the case, and in the two, been convicted of embezzlement just because my name was written in the wrong documents; hence, I “should have been aware or at least had the duty to find out” of special circumstance surrounding some deals that I had approved of. Nobody ever even tried to show that I had actually received the money that was allegedly embezzled! Or that I actually knew or had any way of finding out about the shadiness of the deals. Yes, it is possible to “spin” circumstantial evidence to prove whatever we like.
If I’m not spending much time in documenting all of the above, it is because I assume that everyone is aware of all that I am aware of (a common fault). After all, that’s the case in most cases where you hear various claims about what brother Joseph supposedly did or said. Or at least much of what you hear has received a considerable “spin”.
If you’re LDS, remember that if you haven’t heard about something, it doesn’t mean that the Church hasn’t published it, and thus it’s hardly the fault of the Church that you didn’t know it. If you’re not LDS, remember that no organization whatsoever approaches people, whom they wish to join them, by presenting the things about their history that those people are most likely find most offending. At the same time, it is my opinion that we should be held against a higher standard of honesty than most people.
Make of this whatever you like, it doesn’t change the fact that I have received a reliable witness, as witnessed by my 30-odd years of more or less faithful service in the Kingdom. I have given that service, because the witness I have is far more reliable than any such that a human source can give.
But one thing I won’t do is proclaim an “unshakable” testimony. But it has been shown to be a difficult one to do so.