An Interesting Account of Joseph Smith

June 28, 2010

I’d seen this before, but I stumbled across it again this morning. My ancestor, Frederick G. Williams, wrote the following about his association with Joseph Smith:

“Statement of facts relative to J. Smith & myself”

From the time I first became acquainted with Jos Smith I frequently assisted him let him have the run of my farm in Kirtland two year for which I recd no compensation though he frequently promised me he had given me Several notes for oxon farming utinstials waggon , for the run of the farm I never took any note ne[i]ther reced any thing for it

frequently Let him have money of which I mad[e] no account recollect letting him have 10 dollars at one time when making the road up the hill, also 31 dollars to redeem Kirtland currency with about the time we received the revelation [-] Page 240 if I recollect right a revelation was received regarding every one of of [sic] what was then called the firm to give up all notes & demands that they had against each other Should be given up and all be equal which we the [Cause?] that I never got any thing for my farm

I commenced writing for Joseph Smith Jr. July 20th 1832 as may be seen by S. Rigdons permission dated as above from which time up to the [-] of the Hebrew School in Kirtland I was constantly in Said Smiths employ and boarded myself

I also Let him have 27 dollars when he went to Missouri with the camp I also bought a patent [-] Silver watch for which [-] agreed to pay $50. …

From the time I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr. Which was in the mo of August 1831, I frequently assisted him by letting him have money & other things, among which was the use of my Farm in Kirtland for two years for which I never took any note or Security I also furnished him with oxon chair Sled waggon and other things, not now recollected for which he gave me his note to the amount [of] several Hundred Dollars

but about the time we received the Revelation under page 240 in the doctrine and covenants a revelation was received (but not writen) requiring a certain number amoung us (among which I was one) to [-] accounts & give up all notes & demands that they had against each other & all be equal which was done this included all that he was to give me for my farm & the obligation which I held against him &c. but he never gave me any obligation for my farm whatever

Fascinating stuff.

Mormon Devils: Defending the LDS Church

June 21, 2010

I had an interesting experience this morning. My wife had signed us up for a project that requires daily attention. Since she was working this a.m., it was my turn.

A woman who has been friendly with us was there this morning, and she mentioned that she had lived most of her life outside of Utah (I’m guessing she’s in her late 30s).

I asked her how she ended up in Utah, and she said that she had met a Mormon man, had joined the church, and had married him. “He seemed like such a good guy, like everything I ever wanted in a husband, but he turned out to be a Mormon devil.”

She proceeded to rant for several minutes about how the church was built on lies, its founder was a child molester, and its members were bad, bad people (she used the term “Mormon devils” several times). She also said that it was a corporation, not a church, and it existed to enrich certain groups of connected people.

I found myself defending the church and its members. I said that, although I saw the problems in its claims and beliefs, I wasn’t willing to write off all the members as devils. Most Mormons, I said, are good people with good hearts. And though I disagree wtih a lot of what the church teaches, I think it does teach some good things, such as love, service, compassion, kindness.

But I thought it was kind of surreal defending the church, particularly when I’m told that it’s the “nice” critics like me who are most hell-bent on destroying the church. I’m not afraid to say what I think about the church, good or bad, but I don’t think it’s all bad.

Politics and Apostasy

June 2, 2010

Yesterday I was reading an analysis of why liberals have made better use of the Internet as a political tool than have conservatives. The author, a political science professor at UC Irvine, cites a Harvard study that shows that political ideology shapes a group’s approach to community and discussion.

“Liberals, the research finds, are oriented toward community activism, employing technology to encourage debate and feature user-generated content. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more comfortable with a commanding leadership and use restrictive policies to combat disorderly speech in online forums.”

If this is true (and the Harvard study suggests it is), it’s no wonder that political discussion on the web skews left, as the Internet is tailor-made for a more anarchic style of debate and activism. And, though the article doesn’t mention talk radio, it’s easy to see that a mediated talk show, such as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, provides “commanding leadership” and maintains orderly speech and practices.

Thus, liberals tend to be more comfortable with activism, such as joining public demonstrations or boycotts, whereas conservatives generally work within established political structures. I think, for example, of my parents, who are deeply committed conservatives and Latter-day Saints. They had a Prop 8 sign in their yard, and they have donated generously to conservative candidates. However, they would never dream of demonstrating; my mother once reacted in horror when my brother suggested that, given the right cause, he would take to the streets. (Obviously, with the advent of the Tea Party movement, conservative activism is changing.)

It occurred to me that this same affinity for hierarchy and order might also be one reason Mormons tend to be conservative. I had always assumed that church members adopted conservative positions because they saw them as more compatible with the church’s doctrines, and that’s clearly true for such issues as abortion. But the link between Mormonism and, say, laissez-faire capitalism seems less clear. Maybe it is just that, as a whole, conservatism is more hierarchical and less anarchic, and that works well for people whose religion reflects that structure.

Some people around here have mentioned that people tend to move left in their politics upon leaving the LDS church, and though I don’t have any data to support that belief, that’s true for at least some people I know. The default assumption from some people is that, having abandoned the truth and turned their back on the Spirit, apostates are simply being drawn toward wicked political beliefs, such as supporting gay marriage. See, for example, the attack on Seth Payne for his support of gay marriage, which is seen as the ultimate in “open hostility” toward the LDS church; never mind that many believing members hold identical beliefs on this same issue.

But perhaps the reason for such gravitation left has less to do with joining the great and spacious “politically correct” world than it does in the loss of hierarchy. Simply put, leaving the LDS church requires walking away from the hierarchy and rejecting its authority. Without leaders to constrain the debate and shape opinion, the apostate is left to ponder what he or she really believes, not just in politics but in everything else. And as we’ve seen, liberalism tends to be a more welcoming place for those who don’t follow a hierarchy.