While I’ve already detailed some of my major historical and doctrinal issues with the Mormon faith, there are so many to still touch on. What follows is a grab bag of issues that I found in my research. As a Mormon, these concerns were easy to dismiss when I encountered them a la carte. Some of these I knew about – some I didn’t. But when you now know the full back background of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s fraudulent behavior and when you look at ALL the issues, then it becomes obvious that these problems exist because it’s all made up.
The simple explanation is usually the best and once you allow that Joseph Smith made it all up, then the following concerns need no further mental gymnastics to explain. The pieces don’t fit because the original claims are untrue.
Book of Mormon Witnesses
The declaration that eleven other people saw the gold plates is always held up as an example of why Joseph Smith couldn’t have been deceitful. At closer inspection, however, it seems that the witnesses never actually “saw” anything as we would describe it and as it is portrayed in modern Mormon literature. Likewise, their additional belief in various spiritual fads shows that they were easily persuaded.
Most of the witnesses who are listed in the Book of Mormon believed in something called second sight. Traditionally this included the ability to see spirits and even their dwelling places in local hills and elsewhere.
Ezra Booth, an early Mormon convert for example, reported of Joseph
“He does not pretend that he sees them with his natural eyes but with his spiritual eyes and he says he can see them as well with his eyes shut as with them open.”
Grant H. Palmer recorded several samples of many New York and Pennsylvania stories of second sight and treasure digging:
“They are too numerous, too similar in content, and too diverse in origin to be dismissed as non-Mormon contrivances. The fact that the Smiths organized and participated in treasure digging expeditions indicates their belief in the physical reality of what they saw by second sight. Significantly none of the Smiths’ seeric ventures yielded any real, physical treasure. This is why when the family began telling of gold plates in mid 1827, people were skeptical about ‘their pretended revelations.’ The unsuccessful treasure episodes had created credibility problems.”
Martin Harris testified to Anthony Metcalf of Elk Horn, Idaho that “ I never saw the golden plates, only in a visionary or entranced state.”
If we take the witnesses’ statements so seriously, shouldn’t we also accept other things that they witnessed just as powerfully? For example, Oliver Cowdery claimed that he saw Joseph Smith making love to 16 year old Fanny Alger and called it a “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair…” David Whitmer testified that Joseph Smith never as much as hinted that the priesthood had been restored until years after it had supposedly happened. Let’s accept those testimonies as well. At least those statements came from their own mouths. How can it be suggested that the witnesses are SO reliable that I should base my life on their testimonies, and then in the next minute tell me they are unreliable when they CLARIFY their experience?
The Stories were Changed
Moroni or Nephi
Regarding the angelic visitation where Joseph was shown the gold plates, it was originally recorded:
“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.” (The Times and Seasons Vol. III, pp. 749, 753)
In modern printings of the History of the Church, this has been changed to read “Moroni”. It is interesting to note that Joseph Smith lived for two years after the name “Nephi” was printed in Times and Seasons and he never published a retraction.
In 1853, Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also said the angel’s name was Nephi (Biographical Sketches, p. 79).
The name was also published in the Pearl of Great Price (1851 edition, p. 41) as “Nephi”. The original handwritten manuscript of the Pearl of Great Price dictated by Joseph Smith reveals that the name was originally written as “Nephi,” but that someone at a later date wrote the word “Moroni” above the line. All evidence indicates that this change was made after Joseph’s death.
Lastly, in 1888 J. C. Whitmer made this statement (it should be noted that a majority of the Book of Mormon is alleged to have been translated in the Whitmer home):
“I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi.” (John C. Whitmer, “The Eight Witnesses”, The Historical Record, Volume 7, October, 1888, p. 621)
Why would the church feel the need to change Joseph Smith’s story? Perhaps because Moroni makes more sense than Nephi, given that it was Moroni who buried the plates in the first place. But Joseph originally said the angel was named Nephi, not Moroni.
Multiple Versions of Joseph Smith’s First vision is another anti-Mormon argument I had heard before. As with every other claim contradicting my LDS leaders, I assumed I was being told the truth that there really was no substantial difference in the different version and so the church merely used the most well written and thorough explanation of that marvelous event. After study, I do think there are substantial differences which lead one to question if the event ever actually happened.
In fact, numerous individuals recorded that Joseph saw an angel rather than the Father and Son for his first vision:
William Smith – “He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged, it appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right…” (William Smith On Mormonism, by William Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother. pg. 5 (1883))
Brigham Young – “[When Mormonism began] the Lord did not come – but He did send His angel.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. II, p. 171).
John Taylor – “None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, p. 167 (1879))
Church Historical Record – “The angel again forbade Joseph to join any of these churches, and he promised that the true and everlasting Gospel should be revealed to him at some future time. Joseph continues: ‘Many other things did he (the angel) say unto me which I cannot write at this time’.” (Church Historical Record, Vol. 7, January, 1888) [Note that in this quote the first reference to “the angel” was later changed to “the Holy Being” and the second reference to “the angel” was changed to “the Christ”]
The earliest known account of the First Vision was given in 1831 or 1832. As Joseph dictated to his secretary, Frederick T. Williams, he saw Christ but there is no mention of God the Father in his vision.
In the second known account of Joseph’s first vision, he related the tale to Joshua the Jewish Minister, which was recorded by his secretary, Warren A. Cowdery on November 9, 1835. This time, he described seeing two personages and many angels, and also pushed back his age at the time of the vision from 16 to 14.
Over the years Joseph’s story changed from an event in the year 1823 to 1821 to 1820. Depending on the account Joseph gave, it was either a spirit, an angel, two angels, many angels, Jesus, and finally, the Father and the Son. For such a momentous event, it seems to me that one’s recollection would be much clearer.
If something happened that Spring morning in 1820, there is no record of it in Joseph’s home town, despite his later claim that he was greatly persecuted for telling the story.
Joseph Smith’s behavior and the records available of Palmyra in the 1820’s lead one to believe the 1832 version of his first vision is truer than the official 1838 version. Records indicate for example that no religious revival occurred in 1820 but it was rather in 1824-25. (Grant H. Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, pp252)
My greatest question is why it took 18 years for there to be any documentation of God and Jesus Christ actually visiting Joseph Smith especially in light of the fact that he claimed to be persecuted for telling people about it. Joseph’s later claims of finding the gold plates are well documented in local diaries and other historical sources at the time but there’s nothing on the first vision. Yet he claims it created a stir.
Why also would Joseph Smith teach in an 1835 Lecture on Faith that God is a spirit if he had indeed seen God in the flesh?
“They are the Father and the Son–the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made of fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after His likeness and in His image.” Lectures on Faith 5
Nowadays the church insists that the validity of the church rests on the latest First Vision story being literally true. We’re supposed to discount the testimonies of all the people who knew Joseph Smith personally and rely on a version canonized by leaders who had no personal connection with Joseph.
I have to say I was shocked to find that there was any dispute regarding Joseph Smith’s Priesthood Authority.
The problem, as I found out, lies with the clear, simple telling of priesthood restoration events as currently done in the LDS church. Things simple didn’t happen the way we are told they did.
Early records in the Book of Commandments indicate Joseph’s ministerial authority was obtained in the same way described in the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses – by the voice of God. In none of these examples do we find otherworldly beings laying hands upon mortals to bestow priesthood authority.
The Book of Mormon clearly accepts the prompting of the spirit to be authority enough to baptize and ordain others.
Accounts of angelic ordinations from John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John are in none of the journals, diaries, letters, or printed matter until the mid 1830’s. Early members of the church report never hearing of John the Baptist or the three original apostles restoring the priesthood.
David Whitmer, one of the three special witnesses to the Book of Mormon said:
“I never heard that an angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood until the year 1834…in Ohio. My information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revelation through Joseph.”
Early missionaries declared that they were called of God but never said their authority originated with heavenly messengers.
William E. McLellin , an early convert and apostle recorded:
“I joined the church in 1831. For years I never heard of John the Baptist ordaining Joseph and Oliver. I heard not of James, Peter and John doing so. I heard Joseph tell his experience of his ordination[by Cowdery] and the organization of the church, probably, more than twenty times, to persons who, near the rise of the church, wished to know and hear about it. I never heard of Moroni, John, or Peter, James, and John although I carefully noticed things that were said.”
False Prophecies by Joseph
Joseph’s prophecy of the Civil War (D&C 87) is often pointed to as evidence of his prophetic calling, even though it’s really just a plagiarized version of contemporary thought. However, I was not aware of the numerous specific prophecies from Joseph, which were never fulfilled.
The Government Overthrown
The plight of the early Saints after being driven out of their homes time and again is well known. Their wrongs were never redressed. Well more than “a few years” have passed since that time. Yet, despite the following prophecy from Joseph, the U.S. government continues strong.
“I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left, for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunger and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrated a foul and corroding blot upon the fair name of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 394, May 1843)
A Temple in This Generation
On April 30, 1832, Joseph prophesied that a temple would be built in Independence, Missouri before the current generation passed away(D&C 84: 4-5)
Allowing the widest possible latitude of 100 years for a generation, that still leaves the prophecy unfulfilled more than 70 years late and counting. There still is no LDS temple in Independence, Missouri.
Abridgement of D&C 137
In 1976, the 137th section of Doctrine and Covenants was submitted to the general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a vote to be “sustained” as scripture. It is a narrative of a vision supposedly seen by Joseph in Kirtland, Ohio in 1836.
What the members who voted on this new addition to scripture were not told by “the Brethren,” is that whole paragraphs (216 words) of the actual revelation as recorded in The History of the Church had been conveniently left out of the version to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants. These were prophecies so obviously incorrect that even the average LDS reader would pick them up. Therefore, they went down the “black hole” of Mormon history.
First, at least seven of the twelve who were promised the celestial kingdom in the revelation were soon excommunicated or apostatized from the church: John F. Boynton & Luke S. Johnson (1837), Lyman Johnson (1838), William E. M’Lellin (c.1838), Thomas B. Marsh & Orson Hyde (1838), and William Smith (1845). How could they have ever attained the celestial kingdom under those conditions? Although a few of these men later returned to the church, the majority remained apart for life.
Second, in the revelation the vision of M’Lellin preaching and working miracles in the south never came true because he apostatized from the church without ever doing it.
Third, although Brigham Young did bring the Mormons west and was a great colonizer and orator, the vision of Brigham Young preaching to “men of color” in their own language, in some strange and faraway place in the southwest never took place, or at least there is no trace of it in the very detailed records and diaries concerning his reign as prophet.
Finally, Zion (Independence, Missouri) was never redeemed as promised, and has never been redeemed in the 150+ years since the prophecy was made. Is it any wonder that the Brethren chose to remove whole chunks of this revelation?
In D&C 104:1 (1834) a prophecy is given concerning the LDS institution, the “United Order” (a theocratic, communistic method of distributing and controlling property and goods):
“…I give unto you counsel and a commandment, concerning all the properties which belong to the order which I commanded to be organized and established, to be a united order, and an everlasting order for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men until I come…”
LDS history reveals that this “everlasting” order had to be disbanded soon after because it failed. Mormons today do not practice a communal approach to property.
Mission to Toronto
In the work, An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer, (one of the “Three Witnesses” to the Book of Mormon who had disaffected by this time) related that in the winter of 1829-1830, Joseph Smith sent Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery on a mission to Toronto, Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon. This mission was ordered by a revelation that Joseph claimed he had received from God.
Unfortunately, both the mission and the revelation were failures. This is yet another false prophecy, as the man anxious to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon never appeared. As Oliver Cowdery related:
“We did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed…I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made fools of us, where we thought in the simplicity of our hearts that we were divinely commanded.” (Oliver Cowdery, Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-Day Saints)
When Joseph was asked why the revelation had failed, he explained that:
“Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil…When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p. 31)
But the question must be asked, if the “prophet” Joseph Smith cannot tell which of his revelations are from God and which are not, why should we trust any of them?
The Lord’s Coming
I remember having discussions with fellow missionaries in Brazil about the Jehovah Witnesses’ expecting the second coming to occur several times in the past and then reformulating that revelation to have a different meaning when it failed to occur. I couldn’t believe that they could buy into it! I had no idea my church could have fallen for the same thing. In History of the Church, volume 2, pp182, it reads:
“President Smith then stated…it was the will of God that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord, which was nigh – even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.”
Joseph Smith also wrote:
“There are those of the rising generation who shall not taste death till Christ comes.” (History of the Church, vol. 5, p336)
When the Twelve Apostles were first ordained, some of them received promises that they would live until Christ came.
Of course none of the Apostles lived to see the coming of the Lord and Joseph’s statement of fifty-six years did not come to pass.
While sustained as “prophets, seers and revelators,” LDS prophets have failed to prophesy most major world events since the birth of the church – World War I, the Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, natural disasters and the Moon landing. Even the Word of Wisdom is void of the simple and revolutionary health advice that would have certainly saved hundreds of lives at that time… Boil your water! Instead, it warns against drinking hot liquids. The pioneers who disregarded that counsel and hefted coffee and tea with them across the plains probably saved their own lives by disobeying the Word of Wisdom revelation.
Yes, there’s still more. A lot more. I advise checking out my book recommendations. Some of the most powerful reading I’ve done has been in the books from Act I that have little or nothing to do with religion. Many of the facts that I’ve gathered for this series of essays have been from Act II: