The Truth Hurts Sometimes

Someone asked me why it was that the issues that so upset my friend (see the preceding post) did not upset me and do not seem to upset a lot of the apologists.

That’s a difficult question. I really can’t answer for anyone else, but it seems logical that most people would be upset if they learned that the religious leader they had been taught to revere as God’s chosen prophet had done some pretty reprehensible and inexcusable things (say, to pick one example, marrying teenagers and married women behind his wife’s back). Indeed, most people who find out these things before joining Mormonism will never join Mormonism. And many church members live blissfully unaware of such problematic pieces of history for years, and when they do uncover them, they are devastated.

But what of us who knew of these things and defended Joseph Smith and the LDS church anyway? Many church members simply deny that any of it happened, waving it off as an anti-Mormon lie. I know people who insist that Joseph’s marriages were platonic in nature and never consummated, despite all of the evidence, including firsthand testimony of the wives who actually did consummate the marriages. Of course, the simple truth is that most ofthe marriages were not platonic. Their sexual nature thus demanded the total secrecy Joseph maintained, including from his wife. There would be no need for public and private denials had these been the “loose dynastic sealings” the apologists speak of.

But a lot of apologists know very well of these problems (and there are far more problems than the plural marriage issues), but they seem untroubled, no matter the seriousness of the problems. I was one of these. I knew at least fifteen years ago of many of the problems with early Mormonism and its claims. Why didn’t it bother me? I think I went through a few stages of understanding.

First, I went into denial mode. Again, using plural marriage as an example, I rejected the information and dismissed it as exaggeration. The Joseph Smith I knew would never have done such things. There had to be some kind of misunderstanding, or the history was incomplete. And last, this really wasn’t an important issue because I had a testimony.

Next, when the evidence became to me undeniable, I rationalized. Well, he was commanded of God, I told myself. This wasn’t the behavior of a sexual predator but a solemn commandment of God made through an angel (with a drawn sword, no less). If God commanded it, it must have been right, and I was wrong to question it because my mortal understanding could not comprehend such holy things. Again, my testimony trumped all, and I accepted the rightness of the acts because I believed in the prophet.

Finally, that day in August of 2005 I acknowledged what I think I had known all along: there was no misunderstanding, and it wasn’t about doing anything holy. It was just part and parcel of the larger religious and financial enterprise Joseph Smith had built around himself. It’s no coincidence that almost every religion led by a charismatic leader ends up with his or her getting involved sexually with followers. It’s just one of those things that people with absolute power do, and Joseph Smith was no exception.

I’m glad I stopped making excuses because my conscience really did bother me all those years, and I suspect that at least some apologists feel that same nagging feeling that something is wrong. But I’d bet that they rest comfortably in their testimonies, as I once did.

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9 Responses to The Truth Hurts Sometimes

  1. GBSmith says:

    I’d guess that’s it’s testimony that allows a person to spin things in such a way that they can be justified. If a person has had what they interpret as spiritual experiences, confirmations of belief, and answers to prayer then it will act as a bufferor reserve against challenges to faith. Many hold out for that “testimony” hoping that they’ll have what others speak and write about and when it doesn’t come the end result is the same though not as emotionally shattering. The problem is that when faith is lost in mormonism it’s often lost in everything else.

  2. Seven says:

    Thank you for responding to my question Runtu. I was your typical Chapel Mo before reading “In Sacred Loneliness” & I know the initial devastation/shock/sickness I went through was also influenced somewhat by my abhorrence to the principle of polygamy and complete ignorance that Joseph Smith had practiced it, & even worse, as a requirement for exaltation. I had never expected a perfect prophet, and that has really nothing to do with why Joseph’s polygamy upsets me but apologists & TBMs often use that straw man.

    Another factor I’ve noticed is that it seems apologists had a very different upbringing than most. Many were church history buffs in their younger years or grew up in homes with parents who were well learned on the unvarnished history. Many of them knew Joseph had many wives the way that Chapel Mormons know Brigham Young did. This kind of inoculated them from going through any kind of shock at learning the history of plural marriage.

    The Mormon conscience (namely of an apologist) is a fascinating subject to me.

  3. aerin says:

    I think I’m actually like you Runtu.

    But I see it from a “why people believe strange things” perspective. I think sometimes people believe odd things – that don’t mesh with some of their other knowledge or values. What bothers one person doesn’t bother another person. I was thinking of this more the other day.

    My grandfather, for example, believes that cancer is a virus. Well, at one point people didn’t know what caused cancer – there were many different theories. There has been over 50 years of research, and now they have a better idea of what causes cancer (only one or two forms are thought to be viral).

    I don’t know Runtu. I guess I’m just comfortable with the fact that people have odd beliefs. Theoretically I shouldn’t be this comfortable – I should expect people to examine the evidence more fully – or bring their beliefs in line with different factors.

  4. John says:

    Why does it matter what others believe? Isn’t that the great thing about our country?

  5. I’m glad you’ve shared the story of your exodus here on your blog, Runtu. I never joined the LDS church in part because I started forming my own “shelf” as I was investigating it. Having read In Sacred Loneliness in high school, Joseph Smith’s questionable marriage practices were on my shelf early on. I read what LDS apologists said about it, and I listened to what my less-apologetically-inclined LDS friends had to say. Just yesterday an LDS relative made another push to convert me, and I brought up Smith’s marriages. She insisted that Emma Smith knew about every single marriage, she just refused to accept it. Ha. Ha. Ha.

    I get that there are similar hard pills to swallow in my own religion; I guess I’m just relieved that I’m not the only person who was disturbed by what I learned about Joseph Smith. There were a lot of things that I liked about the LDS church, but Nauvoo polygamy was a deal-breaker.

  6. K*tty says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with GBSmith when he says the problem is that when faith is lost in Mormonism, it’s often lost in everything else. I am still a little guilted that I could not endure to the end. And I am closer to the end than the beginning.

    I have always been a “you say white, I say black” kind of person. If someone tells me there is only one way to do something, it raises my shackles and believe me when I say, I will find the other way. I remember once in Relief Society testimony meeting that a lady said that she didn’t know what she would do if she found out the church was not true. I joked to the lady beside me, that I would just be a Methodist. But I do remember thinking, for me, I wish it were not true. All the stuff I found out later was only frosting on the cake. Now, although free, I still feel like I am in limbo.

  7. GBSmith says:

    K*tty, I agree. When you move on, what do you move on to?

  8. runtu says:

    John (good name, by the way),

    I don’t care what others believe. I’m describing my response to falsehood. If others choose to believe in things that are not true, that’s their choice. This blog is not about trying to change other people’s beliefs.

  9. […] the moving on department, Runtu explains that the truth hurts especially if you’ve been an apologist for the other side. Aerin contemplates how our past […]

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