Scripture Challenge: Calling Unbelievers

UPDATE:  You’ll notice from my responses to comments, that some simple readings of this post have generated foolish rejoinders to it.  Look.  I am NOT saying, “You must conclude Joseph Smith was a true prophet, because look how he suffered!”  That would be stupid.  And so, you should NOT say below, as if confounding my argument, “Look at so-and-so, he also did similar things, and he was a fake!”  Or, “Joseph Smith was crazy, because he did X!”  I am not making the case for Joseph Smith.  I am saying, “If you say Joseph Smith did X to get Y, and YOU also do X to get Y, I will believe that you believe your theory is correct.”  Otherwise, I respectfully retain doubts about whether you really believe what you are saying about Joseph Smith, or whether you are merely saying them to get A, B, or C.  Got it?  Excellent!


So, I’ve come across a few texts in my occasional reading of Mormon history, and even written a few myself.  The most recent attempts to explain the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, or “Mormonism” (whatever that means) are not new, nor original, nor to me very convincing.  A select few of these proponents are prospering by a reverse priestcraft, selling “truth” to free believers from “religion.”

I hereby issue the following challenge to anyone who concludes, “Joseph Smith (and others) made up the Book of Mormon to get a bunch of money or women or fame, and that explains it all.”

The Unbeliever’s 10 Step Challenge:

1.  Write a book with a story.  I’ll give you a pass on complexity and other literary matters, even length.  100 pages of story you know isn’t true.  Take as much time as you’d like.  Maybe you could draw on the most obvious books for inspiration, like, the Bible?  No one will notice the similarity, right?

2.  Pass off the story as true to your family, parents and children included.  Or include them in the deception, and hope they don’t rat on you.  Work out the risks yourself, I suppose.

3.  Let others take this fake book, (often without payment!) and present it to still others as being really true, as this is part of your plan to make money.  There aren’t any fiction best sellers yet, so what option do you have, right?  Consider it Viral marketing.  The money will come.

4. Let mobs attack and assault you and your family, your friends, and others brought into your deception, until your only option is to flee to the stix, middle-of-nowhere (like Ohio, ca.1830s).  Your new friends expect you to dress up and act like some figure in the book you wrote, which you’ll do, because eventually you’ll get totally rich from it.

5.  In your new town, you realize your plan for money might finally happen.  So, join with a group of weirdos who share their money and property.  And they are mostly poor, so you are now living in a single upstairs room, with a few other passing strangers.  Above a store.  The plan is working well, right?  Do this for like, five years, and send me all your income.  Maybe start a fake bank, and then go for broke once and for all?

6. Your little deception is finally paying off.  You have a house, after a few years; but sometimes mobs come in and drag you around, and threaten you with castration.  Sometimes they pour tar or oil on you, or attempt to poison you.  Sometimes your children die, for lack of food, shelter, or care.  How’s that plan working now?  Keep sending me all your money, so I know you are not really making money.  And if women is your thing, or power…well, good luck with that, Mr. Prophet of the Campbellites.  There are easier ways to satisfy these lusts.

7.  Keep up the deception for another decade, and make sure the dozens of people initially let in on the plan (who remain as poor as you) don’t sell out and tell the truth.  Let the mobs attack them, and hope they don’t all come out and say, “you know what, we totally lied.  Sorry guys.  We’re all cool, now, right?”  No doubt your fellow conspirators will fear your threats of retaliation more than the shotgun that just blew off the face of their only child.

8.  You should go to jail a few times yourself, leaving your family to figure out how to feed and shelter themselves, in the middle of winter, too.  No problem right?  Jail is super awesome, as Brother Jake would say!  Oh, and the reason you keep going to jail?  Because all the people you fooled don’t do what you ask, and those in on the initial story-fabrication have abandoned you. Without giving an expose, lucky for you!

9.  Repeat steps 2-8 for another half decade.  Maybe run for president?

10.  Go to jail, again, dragging your brother and others into your deception.  Watch them get shot in the face, and then get shot yourself, and then die.  Bankrupt.  But you did get to dress up as a general, once in a while, right?  And don’t forget all the hot ladies?  See the silver lining?  You did fool a bunch of people, and that’s pretty cool.

If any unbelievers follow through with this challenge, I will at least be forced to admit that your theory about Joseph Smith “making it all up to get X” is something you at least sincerely believe. And is NOT something you are saying merely to make money, or get women, or to get famous.  Put up or shut up, the Book of Mormon says somewhere.  

Your own death, unfortunately, won’t prove another guy didn’t take a similar route for different reasons, of course. 



  1. With a pay-off period of 5-20 years to women, money, and/or fame I don’t see why more people haven’t followed this program. Maybe they needed an easy to follow ten step program?

    When put into perspective how things actually turned out for Joseph it seems ridiculous to claim he did it for fame, etc. I can think of several examples of people that made stuff up to get rich, laid, etc. that actually got those things and didn’t have to die for their lies in the end.

    1. “a pay-off period of 5-20 years to women, money, and/or fame” – did he know the pay off period going in or was he in it for the long haul (see Council of the 50) and didn’t expect the abrupt ending coming? Would a Bernie Madoff in the 1847 US Frontier have given his life for his cause?

  2. Great points here. Honest question from a doubter (not quite a complete unbeliever):
    Could the environment from which the book sprang combined with inborn talent of the author who could have experienced psychological (or supernatural) phenomena and was personally convinced of the subject matter himself before it was written (revealed), be required as #0 on the list?

    1. Well, that would eliminate the “fakery” explanation, right? He could have been confused, or insane, but we wouldn’t then say, “he faked it for X.” Plus, it’s difficult to add that as a step. Imagine me writing, “Go get insane, or have an extraordinary experience.” Doesn’t work in a program, as I see it.

      1. You’re not thinking about this carefully enough, day2mon. Consider the old saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, once we practice to deceive.”

        JS might have originally intended the BoM to be received simply as a work of fiction, and to make money off of it the usual way: through royalties. Then at some point he might have decided to try to pass it off as inspired scripture, and pass himself off as a prophet, without really thinking through the eventual consequences. Once he did that, once he took that first step into deception, it wouldn’t be too long before he found that he was in it for keeps, that he couldn’t back down but instead had to double down.

        Think for a moment of the way Lance Armstrong kept doubling down, year after year, on his lies about his cheating. At first, there was comparatively little at stake. Early on, he might have come clean, and maybe been banned for a year, and then have been forgiven and gone on to have a racing career. But over time, so much came to be at stake that he couldn’t bring himself to ‘fess up. Think of all the good he was doing with his fame! Think of the disappointment and disillusionment of the thousands of needy people for whom he was such a great role model! Etc.

        This is one example of how a small initial lie can evolve into a mammoth lie, and lead eventually to tragedy.

        A similar dynamic might have been at work with JS.

        Alternately, JS might have started off with a small lie, and then come to sincerely believe it. Stranger things have happened.

        Anyway, the challenge is just silly. What JS managed to do was a matter of a certain kind of personality acting in a certain cultural and historical situation that doesn’t exist anymore. JS’s career is a testament to the wacky peculiarities of his time and culture, not to the authenticity of his book.

      2. I agree, your story could’ve been how it really played out. But must I conclude it is something more than just a possibility? Not really. You’ve offered a possible explanation, one that perhaps you even believe. I would say, if Lance Armstrong told me that about JS, I would believe he believed his story. “Might have,” and yet, you then conclude, using language I am familiar with, that some “personality” and a “cultural situation” with a “historical situation” is a “testament” (using the colloquial misunderstood term, when you mean, “testimony”) to his time and culture. Not the authenticity of the book. I think you’ll find I’m not saying anything about the book’s authenticity. Obviously. Read it again, with the new disclaimer. Maybe you’ll be less eager to call me names, or to say X is silly, lazy, whatever. Your conclusion is so certain, and yet, phrased so vaguely, full of circularity, that as a historical anthropologist, I could never take it seriously.

  3. A delightful, fresh perspective, Daymon. What would you say to those who those who speculate that Joseph was emotionally and mentally unstable?

    1. It depends on what evidence they are using to diagnose such. If they say, “He’s crazy, because he had hallucinations, or believed crazy things,” I’d say they were circular in their reasoning. IF they had other evidence, independent of the thing they are trying to explain, then I’d be willing to listen.

  4. Thanks, very entertaining. Who knows what Joseph Smifh’s actual motivations were. The underlying theme in the ten points you have entertained us with is the idea that Joseph Smith was a prophet who really did see and do the things he said he did – in the official account sort of way. The evidence that he didn’t see and actually do many of the things he claimed is often more than compelling. I prefer to understand Joseph Smith for what he must have been. He must have been very compelling, imaginative and with a double portion of personality. Why did he persevere as he did? His personality allowed no other option once he started – just as with others. The alternatives were not as attractive to him.

    I am sorry if I fail to understand your post.

  5. Mozart was a great composer. Joseph Smith was a great fraudster. The odds of your challenge message reaching a great fraudster are low. In addition, great fraudsters have a much better payoff doing something else these days.

  6. When did Joseph Smith lose children to these things; “Sometimes your children die, for lack of food, shelter, or care.” I don’t recall any of his children dying of starvation, exposure or neglect.

  7. I think your last paragraph is a little silly since the world is filled with those who don’t believe Joseph Smith and they aren’t making money, getting women (half of the non believers are women) or getting famous. These billions of people are just living their lives sincerely believing that Joseph Smith made it up. They probably don’t even care what you think about their beliefs, why would they?

    1. Probably not. I didn’t say, “If you don’t believe Joseph Smith,” right? I gave a specific criteria: if you believe he did X for Y, then go and try it, and then I will believe you believe your own theory. Simple. Whether anyone “out there” cares about what I think is, obviously, not something I am concerned with here.

  8. Don’t you think you should give credit to Hugh Nibley for this challenge (which is just as dumb now as it was when he first issued it)?

    1. No. Mine is different, if you care to read carefully enough. I only say, “I will believe you sincerely hold your belief.” Maybe mine isn’t quite as dumb as Nibley’s theory, if you think it through.

      1. Sorry, but your challenge is as dumb as Nibley’s. It doesn’t show that the “Joseph did X for Y” theory is wrong. It only shows that the conditions under which Joseph did X no longer obtained.

        That is, even construed narrowly, as a statement only about a particular theory rather than about the BoM generally, the challenge is still dumb.

        As I wrote above (and as others have pointed out), certain things can only be done if the conditions are right. People today are not like JS’s community in 1830. Back then, people were intensely religious, susceptible to particular claims about magic,* intensely patriotic and desirous of Christianizing America and Americanizing Christianity, obsessed with the question of Native American origins, etc.

        All of this was true of JS’s early followers. None of this is true of the readers of your blog. The conditions under which JS operated are not operating today.

        You might as well issue this equally ridiculous challenge:

        Astronomy Challenge: Calling Heliocentrists!

        So, you think the earth revolves around the sun, do you? You think Ptolemy was wrong, do you? Well, just try to do what Ptolemy did: offer up a theory that the sun revolves around the Earth, then become an honored leader in your community. Gain lasting fame as a historical figure! Get your name in all the textbooks!

        Obviously, no one could do this today, at least not in our modern society. People know too much.

        * If you want to say that I and mine believe in folk magic, go right ahead. But we would be talking about different beliefs than those of Joseph and his followers. They might not be conducive to the challenge, which is just another way of saying the requisite conditions no longer obtain.

  9. You’re in luck! Many people have indeed taken your challenge, or similar but close-enough versions of it:

    Christopher Nemelka
    L. Ron Hubbard
    Ervil Lebaron
    Kevin Trudeau
    Mark Hoffmann

    Should I continue?

    1. Then there are all the people who have skipped the writing “scripture” part and gone straight for the money, or women and of course some fame thrown in there. Jim Baker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, oh yes Joseph Smith is in mighty good company. They get off light these days though.

      1. I would then say, “I believe these men you’ve named would believe their theories about Joseph Smith having made it up to gain X.” I am not making statements about JS really being real. Please read the post again, a bit more carefully.

    2. no. I covered these men, and their texts, in my Cultural History. I am not unaware of them. Obviously, I am not making a statement about the authenticity of Joseph Smith, as evidenced in his life story. The above challenge is merely a way of proving one believes one’s theory about JS having invented X to gain Y. That others are willing to fake merely shows to me that they too would believe JS indeed faked it.

      1. How many people are gaining anything by believing Joseph Smith made it all up, you could probably count them all up on your fingers and toes.

  10. Pass off the story as true to your family, parents and children included.

    I must confess my inability to do this. My family is just not as gullible as Joseph Smith’s. They don’t believe in folk magic. They don’t believe you can find buried treasure by sticking your face in a hat and staring at a rock.

    1. I bet they do believe in folk magic, and as an anthropologist I could easily show you what sorts of ridiculous superstitions they, and likely, you, do indeed hold to. You mean, “I don’t believe in THAT folk magic, but I gladly believe my own works very well.” Take money, for example. Probably you have already convinced your parents and children of your own folk magic, though, being a Modern Intelligent Person, you no doubt took care to not understand your own magic AS magic.

    1. I am not defending anyone. Please read the post again. You’ll find me saying: “I will believe your theories about Joseph Smith making up X to gain Y, if you also would do such a thing.” I am NOT saying, “you must JS, because look how he suffered!”

      1. Richard Burton did not say that you were defending anyone! He simply said that the logic of your challenge could be used to defend someone.

        However, since the argument you’re challenging just happens to be one of the approaches to debunking JS, one can see why readers might suspect you are defending someone, in a roundabout way.

  11. I like this post. I just read the Letter to CES director and it brings up this very issue. I feel as if there are alot of things in life that simply don’t live up to the hype surrounding them, which are like the facts about the BOM and Joseph ect. One example is marriage and kids. You go into it thinking it’ll be one way, but find out it’s not all peaches and cream. But few would say what a sham it is and they were defrauded. I wonder if God didn’t want us to put so much spiritual reliance upon the church or Joseph. I think he wanted us to learn to rely upon our own inner witness. If Joseph was perfect, and everything was just picture perfect, would this lead to developing strong reliance on God and the Holy Ghost? I don’t think so. It would result in a weak faith, a shallow faith, an earthly faith. I know that it’s not easy to simply disregard all the issues laid out in the CES letter. But if one works backwards from it pondering why these facts exist, it doesn’t seem a stretch to consider that God never wanted us to base our belief upon the earthly facts. Base life choices upon only select facts and most would never love, marry, have children, or get a job. We always have to seek out the good to endure the reality of this place, or we fall. And if we persevere, we generate good. Proofs in the pudding, not the recipe, the ingredients might have all sorts of stuff we would never eat alone and without cooking, the recipe is just a piece of paper. The gospel is perhaps no different, it’s dressed up for a people who are at first idolatrous and care mostly about their own wants. I think Joseph knew this. If an angel did tell him to take all those wives ect., maybe it’s possible that the angel said hey, God doesn’t want people idolizing you, or basing their faith in God upon you. God wants people to believe upon the word of God. He wants to raise up a people who develop and follow that inner spiritual voice. So go out and marry all these women, and lie about it as much as you can or they’ll kill you. And in that day that it all comes out, God will test the faith of men whether it be built upon a rock or sand. I think the sure faith that remains will be like the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. There will be no earthly reason of how it was done, only the fact that it was.

    Facts are facts. But if someone talks about one set of physical facts while denying the other set of spiritual facts, how is that being fair? In the CES letter the writer claims that he cannot have faith in things that are proven to be false. Seems that his faith was just fine before he knew they were not true!! Or was it truly?? What kind of faith was it? It’s not the kind of faith God seems to want. How can we base spiritual faith upon physical proof? That seems contradictory. But I believe it’s a good conversation to have because it helps sort out what is true. Because of it I have glimpsed the future and have seen belief reduced finally to only it’s elemental components, the only thing that was ever really there… the word of God. I don’t mean the physical words of the BOM or the Bible, I mean the power of the words in them and how they nourish us and speak to us. It’s those things that create good and save, not the physical item themselves. Because, conversely if the BOM were scientifically proven to be true, what spiritual good would it do for a person to say they know it’s true if they never read it? It would do them no good at all! This is how God wants it I think, one day we’ll stand upon the power of the words alone or nothing at all. It’s the power in the words that lead to God, not the people who wrote or translated them, nor the institutions who printed them. The scripture: “Heaven and Earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away” comes to mind to describe the events I am seeing in others and in myself also. All faith in earthly facts or in heavenly truths are eventually on the chopping block, but not the word of God, or in other words, his voice. “My sheep hear My voice..and follow me”.

    Growing up, all the fact claims of the church just seemed to be icing on the cake to me, but I never based my belief in God in them. It was the other way around, belief in God lead to belief in the church and Joseph. It was always the power of the words, it was always the Holy Ghost/Spirit. I won’t say there were times I wasn’t confused, there were. Now as an adult who has been stripped of many of his youthful perceptions I feel to say; who cares how Joseph did it, or if he were on LSD when he did it. I don’t care, I’ll gladly take the words on their own merit.

    Some things that you didn’t mention on your list is that not only was Joseph a talented story writer but that he knew how to write chiastically like some kind mathematical poet. He also knew how to write in context using key words that are not obvious to an untrained reader, nor an untrained theologian. He also knew how to write in a way that brings on powerful spiritual responses like no other modern writer I have ever read.

  12. Seriously, this post is intellectually lazy and rhetorically slippery.

    It’s lazy because it only engages a straw man, the claim that “Joseph Smith (and others) made up the Book of Mormon to get a bunch of money or women or fame, and that explains it all.” There are, of course, more nuanced views (starting with Fawn Brodie’s).

    The post is slippery because it equates those who buy the straw-man argument above to the much larger group of “unbelievers.” Thus we get “The Unbeliever’s 10 Step Challenge” and the subtitle “Calling Unbelievers.”

    Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb….

    1. I assume you are commenting on my post? I cannot see evidence you read it, before you began putting things into boxes. Read again. You’ll see I’m not offering a comprehensive defense of Joseph Smith. I am not answering every critic. I am focusing on a specific claim: JS did X to get Y. And that if a person who espouses such a view indeed lives in a similar manner, I would say, “I believe you believe your theory about JS.” Dumb? Intellectually lazy? Rhetorically slippery? Big words, but I must admit, I don’t know what these words mean, when used by you. I assume you are saying, ” I don’t care to read what you’ve said, because I prefer to put stuff into boxes I already have labels for. Your stuff goes here, here, and here. When does my teacher give me the gold star for putting stuff into boxes?”

      1. But of course I acknowledged that you are “focusing on a specific claim.” Obviously, to say you’re challenging a straw-man argument, when there are better arguments out there, is to say you are challenging a specific argument.

        And yes, your post is slippery, because, as I said quite clearly, it implicit refers to unbelievers who buy the “Joseph did X for Y” argument with unbelievers generally. I even gave textual evidence — e.g., the subhead that reads “The Unbeliever’s Ten-Step Challenge,” which, call me obtuse, I read as a challenge to “the unbeliever.”

  13. Your plan has a fundamental flaw: unbelievers are inherently lazy.
    It’s easier to believe lies than to believe, let alone prove, truth. Thus no true unbeliever would ever consider your challenge.

    1. Your reasoning is very interesting. To remove any emotional charge, instead of talking about your religion, let’s use another one, so you can examine what you’re saying with neutral eyes. So, a believing Jehova’s Witness believes their crazy irrational doctrine because of his effort while the one who notices how inconsistent their doctrine is, can only be lazy.

      Wouldn’t it be the contrary? The believing one believes because he’s lazy and hasn’t actually examined his doctrine in a true intellectually honest way. He just finds it easier to go with the flow. The unbelieving JW disbelieves because he has went to the trouble to actually read it all and think about it, and has concluded that, despite all the hard implications to him, it must be false.

    1. I don’t think you understood what I’m saying. I’m not saying, “The BoM must be true, because look how he suffered.” And as I said, I’ve read a little bit already. The Munster Rebellion, as you call it, I’ve read about already. A long time ago.

  14. One obvious flaw in your argument is the assumption that Joseph was rational, but his behavior suggests otherwise. Even if the BOM were true in any sense, it doesn’t in any way account for Joseph’s very erratic and irrational behavior. Like you mention his running for president, and acting like figures in the book he wrote, etc. We can make quite a long list of things Joseph did which cannot be described as anything other than sheer lunacy. Prophet or not, thinking that he had a snowballs chance in hell of becoming president was lunatic. For him and the apostles out campaigning on his behalf. Sending out letters to the president of USA to get permission to assemble a hundred thousand man army and conquer Texas, lunacy. Declaring himself a general and king of the world, marching around like napoleon, lunacy.

    Joseph and his followers did a lot which plainly was out of touch with the real world. Look at Martin Harris, was he a reliable witness? After the Mormons he worshiped some lady that he thought was the resurrected Christ. These were all very ignorant and superstitious people who exhibited dubious behavior patterns. The strangeness of Joseph’s behavior is hardly a defense of the BOM.

    1. Again, you like other commenters have misunderstood my argument. I am not making the case for Joseph Smith being a rational being. Or being a true prophet, because he suffered so much. I am saying, “If you believe JS did X to get Y, and you live in a similar manner, I would then believe you really believe your statement about JS doing X to get Y.” The test isn’t about Joseph Smith. It’s about people who would explain something about him, and whether they really believe what they believe.

      1. Maybe people just don’t want what Smith had, why should they live like Smith? There are also many ways to get what he got that are not dishonest and manipulative, why shouldn’t they take those routes instead of Smith’s. And again why do you think anyone cares a whit whether you believe them, let alone cares enough to live their life like a lying adulterous conman just to show you they truly believe what they say?

      2. This is making more sense now. I appreciate the depth but sometimes philosophy can be improved by cutting to the chase 🙂 The question you’re posing is an interesting one. I recall Grant Palmer saying something similar to this when he described his experience in the church vault and got to handle the seer stones. If we really do truly believe that JS received the BOM through seer stones, among other peculiarities, why isn’t the church seeking after these types of things now? Very good question, do you have an answer? Or are you just offering this as evidence that modern church and leaders don’t really believe? I’m not intimately familiar with the history of all the prophets and apostles after JS, but my general understanding is that John Taylor was the last one who really promoted the idea of continuing revelation and seeking after spiritual experiences of this type. Revelations Taylor received were a bit dubious though given that they defended polygamy which his successor, Woodruff, put an end to. Perhaps when Woodruff ended polygamy he also inadvertently ended continuing revelation with it?

      3. I believe Joseph made it up. Let’s suppose for this comment that I believe he made it up for money and fame. Why do I need to do what he did and be motivated by money and fame—something I can’t just MAKE myself motivated by when I’m not—to believe that? How is that even possible?
        Please help me understand this!

      4. What I’m saying, is that you wouldn’t do that, right? So why assume Joseph did, when as you say, he didn’t get rich?

  15. Go read about Jan van Leiden, the Anabaptist prophet. His life mirrors Joseph Smith’s in every imaginable way, from adding scripture, being a direct conduit to god, introducing doctrinal polygamy to justify his affair with his maid, establishing his own theocracy, and dying for his cause.

    1. Got it. Like fifteen years ago. As I’ve said, now, many times: I am not arguing for JS being a true prophet because he suffered so much. I am saying, “If Jan van Leiden told me Joseph Smith did X to get Y, I would believe Jan van Leiden believed his theory.” A very different sort of argument than what you’ve interpreted from the post.

  16. Well this is exciting. Was exciting. Why can’t this be about whether or not Joseph Smith was really a “prophet” according to, you know, some unspoken standard shared by whoever and presumed understood by all? Because I have debunking angst and it needs to be vented.

    Serious question: I believe some stuff because I inhabit an order of ignorance (hm… that could be a band name. Or a priesthood!). Worse still, some “facts” seem to weigh heavier on my mind than others. So, in the end, it seems to me that the sincerity of my beliefs is independent of the narratives (such as those revealed in ten-step challenges) arbitrarily(?) arranged by others. What do you say to that? What is a sincere belief anyway?

  17. I liked your article. But I am not a bright man. I am slow to observe. So for the sake of time and for fear of burning a few cells in my head trying to figure it out: how is the point of this post not concluding (even if only to yourself) that the lack of proof is proof of lacking?

  18. I suppose one in the wrong audience might first need to consider becoming an “unbeliever” before being able to genuinely consider the challenge. As currently constituted, I’m not sure I can conceive how being in a state of unbelief could cause me to sufficiently believe myself capable of engaging in such a “10 step” sequence of Xing without, at some point in my many-yeared deception, amending my cost-benefit-analysis and opting for a simpler means to such an overwhelmingly desirious Y-end. I’m not persuaded I could demonstrate a true belief in my hypothetical hypothesis. But of course, it could merely result from my lack of sufficient unbelief. (“I believe; help thou my unbelief!”)

  19. Your list is very simplistic and ignores a multitide of possibilities. If you already haven’t please read at least a little on him, “Rough Stone Rolling” at the very least.

    JS was a very very complex character who did very very strange and contradictory stuff. He defies simplistic explanations, be it the “Pure innocent prophet” of the correlated LDS Church or the “Lecherous Con-man” of the Anti-Mormons.

    I tend to agree to Dan Vogel’s thesis in “The Making of a Prophet”.

    1. Or you could read the eight books I’ve written on the subject, alongside RSR, which I take to task in the Cultural History. But thanks for the recommendation, I’ll give it another look…

  20. I like that on #1. you said to take as long as you like, it’s always bugged me when I’ve seen other similar lists to this one that say something like “write an entire book in just 65 days” (or however long it was, I’m not sure I’m remembering right). The point of these lists is to show just how unlikely it is that anyone could or would choose Joseph Smith’s life using facts that are usually accepted by believers and nonbelievers alike, but the problem is that if you’re assuming it’s made up then Joseph Smith totally could have taken several years to write it and just, you know, lied to his scribes. There were a few other things that I liked about this list, but that was the main one

  21. I THINK I liked this post. I’m trying to wrap my head around it. I understand it from a perspective of the church NOT being true. I think.
    Are you saying that for me to believe Joseph made it up to gain money and fame, I have to do the same thing for the same reason and get the same results? Even though A.) I can see that he wasn’t particularly successful in gaining those things, and B.) I don’t want money and fame?
    Please enlighten my simple mind!

  22. After reading this repost, and after reading your books, plus every anti-JS material i could immerse myself in for a few years and after leaving the LDS Church permanently, i have come to one conclusion since the 2 decades have passed from the experiences i have had with that book in my life:

    It is TRUE.

    I cannot sincerely tear it down any further. Its existence is an enigma. Its effects are extreme by those who take it seriously on both sides of the fence.

    It remains astonishing to me more than ever and i cannot STAND the LDS Church.

    The Books of Moses and Abraham, after years of anger and dedicated studying of discoveries have lead me to the conclusion that Joseph indeed did have the gift of translation. He was a Seer.

    I believe the people around wanted him to be a Moses or similar. I disagree. He was a translator and did his job. And a most misunderstood person.

    The anyi-mormon or rather the anti-JS stuff brought me a seriously fresh perspective on him. And when all is said and done i think JS represents God’s attempt to restore people again on earth (esp the Lamanite Remnant, whoever they are) and i think we made JS into more and less of what he really was.

    i believe Moroni mentioned that would happen.

    I love the Book of Mormon. It humbles me whole making me realize the world’s history is FAR more complex and older than we think.

    and i believe Jesus is the Eternal God manifested in flesh.

    1. Thanks Jack, for your honesty and I’m pleased your search has brought a conclusion. The right conclusion, as it usually does, if persisted in long enough, it seems.

  23. I am former LDS, mormon, or whatever you call it.

    I stopped going to church(or rationalized such) because I felt I could not have a neutral perspective on doctrine with so much social reinforcement.

    I stopped believing after I started thought critically about the reasons I believed. Belief was very much a choice; I don’t think it was a bad choice given the context.

    What surprised me the most upon leaving is that I feel like I am largely the same person. It is almost like my beliefs were merely a switch. At one moment they were pointed one way, in the next, they were pointed somewhere else. My personality, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and attitudes were untouched. I was not inundated without bouts of existential nihilism as I had feared.

    What IS challenging for me has been no longer participating. Over time I have changed. Where those changes have been negative has been the result of missing out on social and educational resources and opportunities that were connected to my religious participation.

    Honestly, I might have preferred to keep attending services and activities(at least sometimes), but I did not feel strong enough in my “untestimony”, to have that delicate plant survive a continual onslaught of preaching, persuasion, and exhortation.

    There are many technical reasons why I don’t believe anymore. I tried writing an essay about it. It was a confusing mess with a few good ideas, like most of what I write.

    Perhaps the most important change was I no longer felt compelled to confront these kinds of questions you ask here. I really can’t answer and don’t know the answers.

    Inasmuch as I have indulged in trying to evaluate historical developments and assess the character of the actors involved, I have been unable to conclude that Joseph Smith and others were acting in “bad faith”.

    I know little or nothing about the history, and I have learned few reliable details since leaving. People on both sides casually throw around a lot of “facts” with the sole purpose of arguing a particular position. I draw my most significant conclusions from sources like Joseph Smith history etc.

    JS grew up in culture that greatly valued religion. He lived in the most “western” part of “civilization”. He was on a frontier of culture, excited by new possibilities, empowered by the freedoms of living a relatively new country, confronted by foreign cultures with undocumented histories.

    There is a saying on the internet these days: “Born too late to explore the world, too early to explore the universe, born just in time to explore dank memes”

    Whatever “dank” means, that quote highlights that what an individual values has a lot to do with the environment into which she is born. Recombining ideas and culture, “memes”, is a universal practice of people in any environment. JS didn’t have reddit and meme base: books, artifacts, and magic played a more important role in those cultures. I am starting to sound ridiculous, disregard any possible explanations of BoM implied by that last sentence.

    You don’t have to believe JS to believe he was sincere, and even that he had good reasons for doing what he did, wether or not he 100% believed everything.

    I have considered the possibility that the behavior of contemporary religious leaders that continue in his tradition might provide a window into understanding what Joseph was like. Sincere and charasmatic, a charming and powerful orator, a careful thinker, a caring leader.

    This is all just speculation, and historians and anthropologists like yourself are who we look for insights on the history and culture of mormonism. I can’t offer much more than my own experience to the conversation.

    I don’t believe the BoM is authentic largely because I don’t even believe in the divinity of Jesus or the accuracy(supernatural stuff) of new and old testament accounts.

    There is a youtube video where Dawkins comments on the BoM. He dismisses it as silly and ridiculous sounding, clearly fabricated language. I don’t really agree with Dawkins, and definitely don’t look to him for insights on the BoM, nevertheless, it highlights the fact that we decide what ideas we want to confront. With limited time, I wouldn’t expect a secular scientist, physicist, or biologist to spend their time evaluating the BoM.

    I loved watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” on netflix. His accounts of details like how crystals of radioactive isotopes form and then decay, allowing us to date the birth of meteors and formation of the solar system, are both accessible and scientifically accurate. These are the only creation myths I invest any time into believing.

    Mormon history is detailed and fascinating. Some things are inexplicable. I enjoy learning about it when I can, largely because it is a part of my history and the history of my community. Even so, it’s hard to figure out actually happened, even if you start by accepting declarations at face value. Was the Pearl of Great Price a translation or an inspiration triggered from looking at artifacts? When basic details like this are unclear, I have a hard time accepting things at face value.

    Most of all, I feel great relief from having dismissed all moral and social imperatives pressuring me to confront these questions. As much as I would like to learn more, I do so out of idle curiosity.

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