Thursday, October 1, 2015

Did Joseph Smith take the easy path?

(by Daniel Peterson 10-1-15)

Some critics have suggested that, by concocting what they deem false religious claims, Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sought an easier path to wealth and social status than conventional hard work might provide.

If so, he must have been bitterly disappointed.

Joseph’s mother remembered that “every kind of opposition and persecution” started right after Joseph's First Vision, where he prayed to find out which church to join and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared (see "History of Joseph Smith by His Mother" by Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Smith—History 1).

The Rochester Daily Advertiser announced the publication of the Book of Mormon under the headline “BLASPHEMY,” declaring that “a viler imposition was never practiced. It is an evidence of fraud, blasphemy, and credulity shocking to both Christians and moralists.” Within weeks, other newspapers were echoing the same theme (see "The Recovery of the Book of Mormon" by Richard L. Bushman).

“Soon after the church began to grow,” remembered Joseph Knight Sr., as recorded in “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History” by Dean C. Jessee, “the people began to be angry and to persecute and called them fools and said they were deceived.”

Knight recalls one occasion when Joseph was arrested in Chenango County and, because the trial couldn’t be convened soon enough, was held overnight. But when the charges against him were dismissed the following day, he was immediately arrested by an officer sent from Broome County to the south — where the charges were again dismissed. As the saying goes, this was the first day of the rest of Joseph’s life. His enemies allowed him very little rest. It seems, for example, that Joseph had to defend himself in roughly 50 criminal cases, though he was never convicted in any of them.

“The Book of Mormon is true, just what it purports to be, and for this testimony I expect to give an account in the day of judgment,” David Osborn heard Joseph testify in 1837, as recorded in "The Juvenile Instructor's" March 15, 1892, edition. “… If I obtain the glory which I have in view, I expect to wade through much tribulation.”

Many tours of early Mormon history sites visit the room in the John Johnson home near Hiram, Ohio, from which Joseph was dragged during the night of March 24, 1832, before he was scratched, beaten, almost mutilated, nearly poisoned, tarred, feathered and left for dead (see (A tooth chipped when his attackers tried to force a vial of poison into his mouth left him with a whistling "s" for the rest of his life. A baby that he and his wife had adopted died of exposure from the incident.)

And then there’s the cramped, dank and cold jail at Liberty, Missouri, where Joseph and others spent roughly five and a half months during the winter of 1838-39. And there’s Carthage Jail, in Illinois, where on June 27, 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were assassinated by an armed mob.

If Joseph’s goal was wealth and social advancement, his career plan seems to have been colossally inept.

Nor is there the slightest evidence for laziness in Joseph or his family. I’ve already discussed this subject in an earlier column (see "Were Smiths workers or slackers?" from May 2011), but please consider an additional fact:

According to Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, her family produced an average of one thousand pounds of maple syrup annually while living near Palmyra. To do so, they would have tapped more than 500 trees, collected 60,000 pounds of sap and burned 10,000 pounds of wood over perhaps a week of 20- to 24-hour days to boil off the water. Does that sound lazy?

Perhaps, though, Joseph founded Mormonism to escape such physical labor. Unlikely. One example, the 1834 march of “Zion’s Camp,” will have to suffice:

“The Prophet Joseph,” George A. Smith recalled, as recorded in "Ancestry, Biography, and Family of George A. Smith" by Zora Smith Jarvis, “took full share of the fatigues of the journey, in addition to the care of providing for the camp, and presiding over it. He walked most of the time and had a full share of blistered, bloody, and sore feet, which was the natural result of walking 25 to 40 miles a day in the hot season of the year. But during the entire trip he never uttered a murmur or complaint.”

John Chidester remembered him as the first man to help out with swamp-stuck wagons during the journey, sometimes barefoot (see "The Juvenile Instructor," March 1, 1892).

“He was always willing,” wrote George Q. Cannon in his "Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet," "to carry his part of the burden and to share in any suffering or deprivation inflicted upon his friends.” He “always sought to help the distressed. A cry of sorrow quickly touched his ear, and its appeal invariably aroused him to some helpful action.”

Lyman Littlefield described him as “the busiest man in the camp.”

Neither greed, ambition nor physical sloth seems to explain Joseph Smith. By contrast, the hypothesis that he sincerely sought to serve God seems to do pretty well.


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