Don’t Trust Smart People

One of Joseph Smith’s geniuses was his ability to anticipate and deal with objections to his movement. One can only stand in awe of the way he waved off inevitable skepticism of his tall tales.

Joseph had to have known that most intelligent, educated people, even in his day, would reject fantastic tales of Israelites traveling to the New World in submarines. He appears to have anticipated widespread rejection of his claims with this passage early in the Book of Mormon:

26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.

27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. (1 Nephi 8:26-28.)

This is really brilliant in that it accomplishes two objectives: it labels all skepticism as mocking and scoffing by proud and worldly (and evil, of course) people, and it tells us that church members who come to disbelieve are really just giving in to pride, shame, and peer pressure.

Indeed, throughout LDS scriptures, we are warned that education and intelligence are not to be trusted:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28.)

Similarly, Joseph Smith anticipated that educated people would reject the evidence for his scripture. He sent Martin Harris to show a copy of some alleged Book of Mormon “caractors” to one Professor Charles Anthon. After Anthon rejected the transcript, Joseph made sure to include this in the Book of Mormon:

14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.
16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.
17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.
18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.
19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.
20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.

Again, this is pretty brilliant. Essentially, Joseph Smith tells us that anyone who rejects the evidence does so “because of the glory of the world and to get gain.” Rather than put any faith in someone who could actually analyze the claims Joseph Smith made, we are to put our trust in a small group of handpicked “witnesses” who tell us an angel showed them the plates.

Thus, the contrast is always between the learned and prideful who expect real evidence before taking a known grifter at his word and those who humble themselves before God and accept things at face value.

It’s not surprising that the positives (faith, humility, steadfastness) lead toward believing Joseph Smith and the negatives (pride, mocking, worldliness) lead us toward healthy skepticism.

I’ve been told I have “intellectualized” Mormonism. Apparently, that’s a worse sin than, say, bedding teenagers and married women.

What’s weird about this is that Mormonism emphasizes education as a means of personal growth and as a way to support your family. But there’s this curious disconnect that derides education and intellect when they are pointed at Mormonism.

But what do I know? I’m one of those prideful folks pointing fingers from the great and spacious building.

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4 Responses to Don’t Trust Smart People

  1. Chris says:

    Runtu,

    Are you sure the passage about the “learned” was translated prior to the Anthon incident?

  2. runtu says:

    You’re absolutely right. I’ll have to check.

  3. Bull says:

    I was also going to point out that the things at the beginning were “translated” last. Count that as yet another thing I never learned in Primary, Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, or any other church approved source. After he lost the 118 pages at the beginning of the book Joseph didn’t return to them until the end. Instead he resumed the story where he left off in Mosiah, continued to the end, and then rewrote the beginning last.

    The timings would be interesting. In fact, I seem to remember the Whitmers and Cowdery bugging Joseph to see the plates and then he “translates” a portion in the Book of Mormon where it is prophesied that there will be 3 witnesses. Of course, then they’re really after him at which point he has a revelation that they are the prophesied witnesses.

    It really makes me wonder how dumb those guys were and how dumb I was to believe them.

    Of course, I can excuse myself a little because the church isn’t exactly forthcoming about the details and in fact is quite dishonest in how it portrays the events.

  4. sideon says:

    He was well gifted in the tongue department, that Joseph.

    Sure makes sense if you consider all the other men’s wives he coveted and conquered.

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