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.