Just Another Book?*
Here We Are Again: The logical point of departure for a study of Book of Mormon criticism happens to be, at present, the present; for today's researches have just achieved the completion of a full circle in the mystic discipline. At the moment the critics are right back where they started from 130 years ago. Such is the progress of scholarship. Today we are being told that the Book of Mormon can be explained fully as a faithful reflection of the mind of Joseph Smith and the world he grew up in. Which is exactly what Alexander Campbell said in the beginning.1 Indeed, the latest criticisms of the book can do no better than to quote Campbell's thesis word for word: "This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his Book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York in the last ten years."2
Furthermore, Campbell observes, "there never was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers. . . . I cannot doubt for a single moment but that he is the sole author and proprietor of it."3 That pretty well covers it: Smith was the author of the book, and its substance is a distorted image of his own times.
Now if all this was so perfectly obvious, then as now, why on earth did the critics forsake such a neat and comfortable explanation to wander for a hundred years in a wilderness of speculation and contradiction? It was because the theory of the local origin collapsed at a touch. No sooner had Mr. Campbell's explanation been received with cries of joy and relief4 than it was seen that the picture had not been clarified by it at all, but made much messier. An article in the American Whig Review explains the new embarrassment: "Those who were acquainted with the early life of the founder of Mormonism, with his ignorance and character for stupidity, wondered much at the publication of so invention-displaying and elaborate a work, of which he claimed to be sole author and proprietor; and as the prophet daily lived down his own boasts of superior value and wisdom, the wonder grew into a suspicion of the genuineness of his claims of exclusive authorship. A short time served to give this suspicion basis and confirmation, and a number of affidavits filed almost simultaneously in different parts of New York and Pennsylvania, and by witnesses between whom there was no opportunity of collusion, showed clearly the sources of the pretended inspiration."5
The statement deserves close examination. Note first of all that it was quickly realized, not only by the Mormons, but by the anti-Mormons as well, that Joseph Smith by his own wits could not possibly have written the Book of Mormon—and so farewell to Mr. Campbell's sublime certitudes: "I cannot doubt for a single moment but that he is the sole author and proprietor of it!" Note in the second place the admission that this obvious fact left the critics in a quandary—they "wondered much." And since quandaries are intolerable to critics, who are never at a loss to invent explanations, it is not the least surprising that "the wonder grew into a suspicion." From embarrassment to wonder and from wonder to suspicion: is there any doubt what the next step will be? Is suspicion ever at a loss to discover villainy? All at once, and last of all, comes the evidence: "almost simultaneously" people everywhere start remembering a certain unpublished and unregretted novel, a dull, befuddled composition that no one had the patience to read but the names of whose characters were remembered with crystal clarity by people who had forgotten all about the book until then. Then another "double-take" made it necessary to explain how Smith could have got hold of the book, and, presto! another brain-wave hit the public, and here and there people suddenly remembered a "mysterious stranger" who used to visit the Smiths by night, some three to ten and more years before! There is your answer, and no funny business, either: "There was no opportunity of collusion" between the "witnesses."
Only in such a case one does not look for collusion but for control. We do not have to look far for the controlling and coordinating agencies in the case of the affidavits against Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, for they were all systematically sought out and collected by two or three individuals, going from door to door and from town to town, telling people what they wanted and finding certain parties only too glad to oblige. No collusion, indeed!6
So Campbell's solution was short-lived, as the Whig Review has told us, and another had to be found. Accordingly we find a learned historian in 1835 voicing his and his fellows' relief at the new solution: "It has come out at last, that the Golden Bible was originally composed for a Novel, and being turned into a Bible by the ingenuity of two or three leading men among the Mormons, was printed and published as the basis of their religion. This developement we trust will speedily extinguish the new lights."7 The "at last" is typical: through the years the experts have continued to attack from every angle, and periodically we hear the joyful cry that at last they have struck pay dirt.8
The alternative theory having collapsed, and since it is much too late in the day to think up another one, the critics have no choice today but to go back to the old original theory of Campbell. But if that theory was so readily discredited (please note: it was not supplanted by the Spaulding theory but broke down of its own accord, and the Spaulding substitute was only found after a desperate interval of frantic searching), if it could not stand up for a year on its own merits, why should it work now? For the good reason that lots of things are forgotten in 125 years! The theory that Joseph Smith composed the Book of Mormon raises questions and involves corollaries which a hundred years ago were readily seen to present an insuperable obstacle to its acceptance. But the modern world can very easily overlook those questions and corollaries, and present-day critics are trying hard to do so.
One of the latest and most conscientious critics of the Book of Mormon, Dr. O'Dea, finds the answer to the whole thing just as simple and obvious as it was to Alexander Campbell: "There is a simple common-sense explanation which states that Joseph Smith was a normal person living in an atmosphere of religious excitement that . . . led him from necromancy into revelation, from revelation to prophecy, and from prophecy to leadership. . . . To the non-Mormon . . . such an explanation on the basis of the evidence at hand seems by far the most likely and safest."9
The trouble with this position is that all "the evidence at hand" refutes it. To be consistent with his own position, Dr. O'Dea must accept without question a number of perfectly untenable corollaries; for example, he accepts emphatically the proposition that as "a normal person" Smith reacted to the common stimulus of his environment just the way other people did, so that his Book of Mormon is in fact a "primary source for the intellectual history of the common man."10 Even his claims to revelation were but a "legitimate product of the intensified experience of the region." 11 Dr. Cross goes even further; for him all of the prophet's revelations, including the Book of Mormon, are "nothing more than [what] happens to any man who enjoys great responsibilities. . . . It might have happened to almost any one of Joseph's fellow Yankee migrants."12 Even the alleged treasure-digging and the finding of the plates "was by no means peculiar and quite naturally seemed authentic to ordinary folks," according to this authority, who notes that such a composition as the Book of Mormon "would scarcely seem fanciful, possibly not even novel, to their contemporaries."13
The modern school has dug in so deeply on this ground that it will be necessary for us to labor the obvious by way of calling their reluctant attention to it. Two fundamental corollaries of the theorem that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon are (1) that it was not beyond his ability to write such a book, and (2) that the book itself, as the product of a normal mind under the influences of everyday stimuli supplied by a given environment, was necessarily quite at home in that environment. Our modern critics accept these corollaries, but the contemporaries of Joseph Smith could not, however eager they were to explain the Book of Mormon. For they knew too much and they saw too much. Dr. Francis Kirkham has devoted the better part of a large book to quotations in which contemporaries of Joseph Smith, hostile or friendly, all express complete conviction that he could not possibly have written the book. And even more clear and emphatic is the unanimous verdict that nothing could be more completely out of place in nineteenth-century America than Joseph Smith and his book.
We are apt to forget this unless we look at the record. Today, the experts find it not only convenient but also essential to their argument to forget how the world has reacted to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Let us refresh their memories by listing in chronological order some thoroughly representative remarks by leading critics.
A month after the appearance of the Book of Mormon, the liberal Palmyra Reflector warned Oliver Cowdery that he might end up being sent as a convict to the Simsbury Mines for daring to proclaim its message in "the principal cities of the Union."14 Could this be the doctrine that "quite naturally seemed authentic to ordinary folks"? In July 1833 a widely heralded mass-meeting in Jackson County, Missouri, unanimously voted that all Mormons should leave "the country," that no more should be allowed to enter "the country," that the Mormon printing press should be destroyed (this was immediately done) and all publication by Mormons forthwith and forever cease. The reason for this perfectly illegal action was clearly stated and clearly understood: The community especially feared that their lives and property were in danger "in the hands of jurors and witnesses, who do not blush to declare, and would not hesitate upon occasion to swear, that they have . . . been the subjects of miracles and supernatural cures; have conversed with God and his Angels, and possess and exercise the gift of Divination, and of unknown tongues."15
In vain the newspapers around the country pointed out that you could not throw the Constitution out of the window simply because people had crazy religious ideas: "We regard the Mormons as a set of deluded and deceived fanatics, yet they have their rights and privileges."16 In vain the governor of the state asked why the Mormons alone of all fanatics should be so treated: "It is not long," he wrote, "since an impostor assumed the character of Jesus Christ, and attempted to minister as such; but I never heard of any combination to deprive him of his rights."17 At the same time a learned judge in the same state, acting in his official capacity, urged the Mormons to give up the cause of all their troubles, and warned them of what would happen, rights or no rights, if they did not: "The Honorable Judge Ryland . . . addressed the Mormons warning them against the danger of suffering themselves to be led by pretenders to the high prerogatives of the Prophets of God." 18 Such is the specific crime with which he charges them. A year later a western editor compared the Mormons with the early Christians; he also called the Book of Mormon "an artifice so vile, shallow, and contemptible that it can never deceive one intelligent individual; therefore [we] think it unworthy of so much notice as a contradiction!" But the remarkable thing about this perfectly orthodox statement is that the author, who was a freethinker, speaks of Moses and Christ and of the Old and New Testaments in the very same terms, sagely observing that the world's opinion of the Book of Mormon was also "unquestionably the opinion of the learned ancients, concerning the former revelations." 19 It was a direct hit which went unnoticed in the general cry, voiced by the Missouri Argus in 1838, that though the Mormons may be Christians, still they were "a sect with a peculiar creed, distinct from that professed by the rest of Christians."20 The general impression of the Mormons on American society at the time is eloquently expressed in the verse of Josiah Canning, the New England "poet":
Now Mormon, with his golden plates,
Says he has opened heaven's gates,
And hangs out many tempting baits
To prove the fact;
And old Joe Smith, his agent, prates
With school-boy tact.
. . .
Here in our own, our goodly land,
Some zealot has enrolled a band,
From heaven, I think!
The last accounts they seem to stand
Upon the brink.
. . .
That heathenism should be done
Beneath New England's Christian sun,
'S a crying shame—a grievous one;
And into jail
The imps should tarred and feathered run,
Or ride a rail.21
Here it will be seen that the same objections are raised to the Mormons in staid New England as in wild Missouri (and they are purely religious objections), and the same rough treatment is recommended for them. But today we are being told that such doctrines "would scarcely seem fanciful, possibly not even novel" in those early times. Who is kidding whom?
It was the oddness of Mormonism that arrested the attention of the Fabulous Forties, when the critics looked for the peculiar and found it everywhere. Everything about Mormonism was fantastic. Josiah Quincy said of the stately Nauvoo Temple, "It certainly cannot be compared to any ecclesiastical building which may be discerned by the natural eyesight."22 To Mr. Kidder, Mormonism was "threatening to unsettle the grounds of all rational belief."23 Wherever the Mormons went, "their fanatical religious zeal and some of their tenets and practices . . . [were] inconsistent or incompatible with the civilization surrounding them."24 "We are accustomed to boast of the intelligence of the nineteenth century," wrote the scandalized editor of the eminent Dublin University Magazine in 1843, "to laud ourselves on the march of mind in these modern days, and to speak of the popular delusions by which past generations were misled, as of the spectral shadows of 'the long night now gone down the sky.' Mormonism is a bitter reply to our self-laudation."25 "How, in the name of common sense," an English minister wrote to his nephew who had become a Mormon elder, "could you be so simple, as to let such a poor weak deluded creature, commit such blasphemy, as to put his hands on your head, and tell you that you should have the Holy Ghost descend upon you?—I would much rather have a pig's foot on my head, if it was well boiled."26
Everyone knows that the Mormons "are a queer, eccentric set; that they have got odd notions into their heads respecting religion and the Bible," a London editor observed in 1850.27 Charles Dickens was bemused at the idea of people "seeing visions in an age of railways"; it was just too incongruous for words.28 "It is most humiliating to our country and our age!" cries a devout American commenting on the same anomaly in 1853. "Who could opine that, in our happy land, in a nation of voters, freemen, newspapers, periodical literature, and general reading, such a gross and detestable imposture as Mormonism could find disciples and devotees?"29 Speaking of the death of the Prophet, the most noted literary journal of the age says, "We cannot deny that in his punishment, the wrath of lawless men fulfilled the righteousness of God." Actually it was "a death too honourable for his deserts. . . .To call such a man a martyr is an abuse of language."30 When one considers that this was written in Scotland, far from the political or economic troubles of the American frontier, and by a man who prided himself on his cool intellectual detachment, who had never had any contact with Joseph Smith, it is hard to argue that Mormonism was simply a normal product of the times. "It has been observed with some reason," an important American journal remarked in 1854, "that had a Rabelais or a Swift told the story of the Mormons under the vail of allegory, mankind would probably have entered a protest against the extravagance of the satirist."31
An editorial in the eminent Putnam's Monthly for March 1855 replies with a resounding "No!" to its own question: "Shall Utah be admitted to the Union?" It is the doctrines of the Church regarding God and man that decide the issue.32 A later thesis on the same subject in the Forum reached the same conclusions: the Mormons are as different from the rest of society as the wild redskins, totally devoid of "the virtues upon which alone Christian people can build republican institutions."33 In the same year, John Reynolds, a shrewd observer, wrote: "In all the great events and revolutions in the various nations of the earth nothing surpasses the extraordinary history of the Mormons. The facts in relation to this singular people are so strange, so opposite to common sense, and so great and important, that they would not obtain our belief if we did not see the events transpire before our eyes. No argument, or mode of reasoning, could induce any one to believe that in the nineteenth century, in the United States . . . a sect of religionists could arise on delusion and imposition."34
Yet our present-day critics do not even raise an eyebrow. They were born yesterday. A hundred years ago the critics agreed that "Mormonism is . . . the product of a bewildered brain, when it has evidence both to a moral and metaphysical nature, to prove that it cannot by possibility—I may almost say human or divine—be true! Before Mormonism can be true, the nature of man, the nature of truth, and the nature of Deity himself, must be totally subverted. . . . Nothing less than a total abcession in these parts can be tolerated." 35
While American passions had full play in other directions in the 1860s, England carried on the great tradition of anti-Mormon raillery. "Although it is not in general a Christian duty to speak ill of any one, especially after he has gone to answer for himself before his Judge," wrote a venerable vicar in a long dissertation on Joseph Smith, "yet in the case of a deceiver, whose lying doctrines are perverting thousands from the right way, the ordinary course of duty is reversed."36 For Smith alone the otherwise universal law of Christian charity is suspended. Another English divine describes Mormonism as "the great masterpiece of Satan in these last days, embracing every possible principle of antagonism to the word of God, whilst unblushingly parading itself as the purest form of Christianity extant."37 Yet the same man "thoroughly endorses" the statement of an American clergyman: "I have never yet conversed with a lay Mormon whom I believed to be a hypocrite. Their whole soul seems launched upon their infatuation, and for it they readily leave home and property. . . . What churchmen and churchwomen such people would make—humble although they are—if they were correctly informed and judiciously controlled!"38
"Intercourse with Gentiles has already revealed to many of the Mormons the fact," C. H. Brigham reported in 1870, "that their system has no sympathy outside of their own community, that the civilized world is against them, and that they are classed with Pariahs and lepers. . . . The gracious doctor who praises them from their platform, holds them up to scorn and horror in the pages of his book."39 As if the Mormons had not had reason before 1870 to know that! The "Mormon Problem," according to this authority, is the challenge of the question: "What is to become of this people? . . . Can this small body of insolent religionists defy much longer the will and force of the American nation? Can this blot on the civilization of the nineteenth century be longer tolerated?"40
An interesting editorial in Scribner's, 1877, noted that the treatment of the Mormons "is the sole apparent exception to the American rule of universal toleration. . . . The only church born in the country, with American prophets and apostles . . . has passed through what its own historians call 'ten general persecutions.'
"Here is a suggestive record: The Latter-day Saints have settled in twelve different places in the United States, and have invariably become embroiled with their neighbors unless the latter abandoned the vicinity en masse. In New York, while the church was yet confined to two families, they kept three townships in an uproar with quarrels and lawsuits, and sixty neighbors of the Prophet united in a deposition that they would not believe him or any of his party on oath."
Here there can be no question of the threat of growing political or economic power. Polygamy? our editor asks: "But the record excludes that idea; the Mormons had more trouble with the world before they adopted polygamy than since." At a loss for an explanation, he must seek it in "something peculiar to Mormonism [that] takes it out of the sphere of religion."41 Here he entirely forgets that as the persecution was uniform, so the explanation for it is uniform in every decade. Economic, political, social, and geographical circumstances changed rapidly, but the attacks did not change—the two unchanging factors in the picture are the persecutions and the religious teaching of the Mormons, and the persecution is always explicitly leveled at the teaching.
The "gracious doctor" referred to above was T. deWitt Talmage, whose sermons, delivered from his huge Brooklyn Tabernacle, were the most widely syndicated in the country. When deWitt Talmage spoke, all America listened and approved. And he called for nothing less than an extermination of the Mormons: "O good people of the United States, . . . I have to tell you that unless we destroy Mormonism, Mormonism will destroy us. . . . Every day as a nation we consent to Mormonism we are defying the hail and the lightning . . . and the earthquake of an incensed God."
It made no difference that the Mormons seemed to be very nice people—"I never addressed a more genial audience in my life"—the whole thing had to go, if necessary by "howitzer and bombshell, and bullets and cannon-ball. If a gang of thieves should squat on a territory and make thievery a religion how long would the United States government stand that?"42
All through the eighties eminent ministers echoed these sentiments. Mormonism was "an evil, peculiar, enormous, and prophetic of untold disaster."43 "It is acknowledged to be the Great Modern Abomination, the most pernicious heresy of this century. . . . Throughout our whole land it is universally despised and execrated; and if popular odium could extinguish it, it would speedily be sunk in the slimy depths of the Great Salt Lake."44 In 1889 the Reverend J. P. Newman meditated and commented on the impossibility of ever assimilating the Mormons into civilized society.
"We prophesied that it would be short-lived; we esteemed it as a standing joke. . . . Then it was said that the evil would succumb under the march of civilization. . . .They said the locomotive would sound the death-knell of Mormonism, that it would be the trump of its doom. They said, 'Complete the railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and this relic of barbarism will disappear.' Whereas the neigh of the iron horse has been the bugle of advance for Mormonism. . . . Then it was foretold that Mormonism was an anomaly, out of accord with the spirit of the age; that its perpetuity was an impossibility; that it would wither under the genius of our institutions; that the very spirit of the age would rise in its majesty and over-shadow the evil; whereas, this evil genius has remained and hurled defiance at the genius of our civilization. . . . They said, 'Let Congress legislate . . . and before the authority of the law the evil would disappear. . . . The people said, 'Let this Arch-Mormon die! . . . let that man, Brigham Young, die, and Mormonism cease!' "45
Newman's own solution for the problem was simple, direct, and unconstitutional: "Disfranchise the Mormon, not merely the polygamist, but the Mormon."46 The thought of treating any other religious body in such a way would have filled the good man with horror, but the rules don't count where Mormons are concerned.
In 1898 the League for Social Service published a declaration with the title Ten Reasons Why Christians Cannot Fellowship the Mormon Church. The list of officers of the league, including such eminent names as those of Washington Choate, Jane Addams, Margaret Sangster, and the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, reads like a roster of American liberalism. Those good people did originate the document but, generously and impulsively sponsoring any cause put before them as liberal, had approved it on recommendation by the leading churches.47 So here we are as near as we can get to an official statement of why Mormons are not Christians: "Christians of every name most earnestly desire to unite with the Mormon people in all feasible plans that have as their end the social, political and moral advancement of our commonwealth. There is, however, a line of demarcation that Christians cannot overlook, that they cannot disregard. . . . The question is purely a religious question. It goes to the very root of Christian belief and duty."48
So the objection to the Mormons is not social, economic, political, or moral after all, but purely religious. The "Mormon Problem" is simply, "Why cannot Christians walk in fellowship with Mormons, in religion, as they do with each other?" The first objection is that the Mormons claim that they alone have the true gospel; the second that "their so-called revelations of the present are put on the same level with the Bible"; the third that they regard "Joseph Smith as a prophet of God"; the fourth that they believe "that authority to officiate in the gospel is vested only in the said priesthood, . . . that it is invested with the very power of God himself"; the fifth that "the Mormon church teaches a doctrine of God that is antagonistic to the Scriptures, dishonoring to the Divine Being and debasing to man."49 Note these objections to the Mormons are all about what they believe, not what they have done; and that these beliefs are accurately described as "purely religious" ones. These beliefs alone set them off completely from all the Christian world. After adding five more intolerable beliefs to the list—which, unlike the first five, are incorrectly presented and not very convincing—the indictment reaches its ringing conclusion: "Nothing in common. With such a so-called church and system of doctrine, Christians can have nothing in common but the need of the great salvation of the God-Man, Christ Jesus."50
"It is a very curious and remarkable fact," wrote British scientist Samuel Laing in 1898, "that while so many highly intellectual attempts have been made in vain in modern times to found new sects and religions, the only one which has had any real success is that which is based on the most gross and vulgar imposture—Mormonism."51
The verdict of a much-reprinted book appearing first in 1900 is that "for climacteric comicality Mormonism should be awarded the palm. Its romancing is refreshing in its very audaciousness. Jules Verne dreaming is here eclipsed; Baron Munchausen marvels seem commonplace. Of absurdities Pelions are piled upon Ossas, but the pile rises ever higher. Untruth was never more picturesque. From first to last the history of this cult is dramatic and spectacular. One feels that he has stumbled upon a scene in the Arabian Nights, rather than upon a sober chapter of a real religion."52
An investigator in 1906 found that all the peculiarities of the Mormons "center in and are the outgrowth of their strange religious beliefs," beliefs which he can only describe as "grotesque and monstrous," yet which "at the same time have won a following unsurpassed in devotion."53 If the Mormons could only cure themselves of their bizarre taste for the grotesque and monstrous, and purge their religion "of its gross errors of doctrine," all would be well.54 "It seems almost beyond belief," one scholar wrote in 1919, "that such a crude farrago of superstition, if not fraud, as Mormonism could be brought forth by the most enlightened age of the world; . . . a terrible canker has attacked the heart of Christianity at home."55 Mormonism "may hope to survive," writes a typical representative of the new "liberal" school, "only if it is brave enough to jettison its out-of-date creed and face the future boldly, shorn of its absurdities and blasphemies. . . . That the Mormon Church will become the force predicted for it by its leaders, early and present-day, is impossible. That its doctrine could attract intellectual men is an insult to intellect. That it can continue to exist as a religious force is to expect too much."56
"We talk much about 'respecting' this or that person's religion," wrote G. K. Chesterton in an essay on the Mormons, "but the way to respect a religion is to treat it as a religion: to ask what are its tenets and what are their consequences."57 For Chesterton, "the basic Mormon belief is one that comes out of the morning of the earth, from the most primitive and even infantile attitude," namely the idea regarding God, "not that He was materialized once, as all Christians believe, . . . but that He was materially embodied from all time; that He has a local habitation as well as a name."58 This he calls a "barbaric but violently vivid conception," and bids us view the Mormons as "a number of dull, earnest, ignorant, black-coated men with chimney-pot hats, chin beards or mutton-chop whiskers [who] managed to reproduce in their own souls the richness and the peril of an ancient Oriental experience."59
It is a gaudy picture, and a phony one, but it leaves us in no doubt as to how a top-flight intellectual of the 1920s classified the Mormons: the only parallel Chesterton can think of is not that of the ancient Hebrews but of his own weird idea of them.60 It was at least an improvement on the psychic deductions of Theodore Schroeder, who a few years before had found the whole key to Mormonism in the doctrine of a heaven "whose greatest and only advertised bliss will be intensified animalism, prolonged through eternity."61
In all this it would be hard to tell who rates the Mormons lower, the Liberals or the Fundamentalists. The cry of the latter is that "from first to last there is not one teaching peculiar to Mormonism which is not contrary to the Bible and to evangelical Christianity." Its "ghastly ideas" of a God who has a body, the necessity of good works for salvation, and so on, "cannot but be viewed with abhorrence by all true Christians. . . . We ought to care greatly that such evil beliefs are even held by Mormons themselves."62 There should be a limit to freedom of religion, and Mormonism is it. A very recent "study" deplores the fact that "Mormons are generally considered by many to be 'Fundamentalists,' "since nothing could be greater than the gap between the two: "Mormons deny the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Mormonism denies the authority of the Bible. . . . Mormon theology denies the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ."63 Such conclusions may be absurd, but they make it clear enough that the "Fundamentalists" are as determined as anyone else to have no part of the Mormons.
Anyone familiar enough with the febrile literature from which we have been quoting to attempt writing his own book on the Mormons should recognize that nothing is more characteristic than the insistence of the critics on every side, that the Mormons are not like any other Christians or like any other people in the Western world. They may be compared with primitive Christians by freethinkers, or with primitive Hebrews or Moslems by people who have only the vaguest homemade conception of what these might have been like, but all are agreed that their presence in our Western civilization is completely and incredibly incongruous.
Critics may be permitted at this late date to try their hand at winning friends and influencing people by telling the Mormons of today that they are just ordinary folk with an ordinary church. But to say that such was also the case in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young is neither honest nor sporting. The genial and forced camaraderie of some of the present-day critics of Mormonism is that of the man who finds it easier to pick your pocket by affectionately locking arms with you than by hitting you over the head. The new humane approach is simply an obvious maneuver to rob the Church of a glorious history and to play down every remarkable circumstance of its origin. When it reaches the point of being told that while the Book of Mormon may seem very strange to us, to the contemporaries of Joseph Smith it "would scarcely seem fanciful, possibly not even novel," it is high time to protest. For even the most superficial acquaintance with the literature will show that the Book of Mormon was as baffling, scandalizing, and hated a book in the first week of its appearance as it has ever been since. The idea that the Book of Mormon was simply a product of its time may be a necessary fiction to explain it, but it is fiction nonetheless. If they may be trusted in nothing else, the voluminous writings of the anti-Mormons stand as monumental evidence for one fact: that Mormonism and the Book of Mormon were in no way a product of the society in which they arose.
* This article first appeared in two parts, published in the Improvement Era (May 1959 to June 1959). The article was part of a series of five articles, published in nine parts under the title "Mixed Voices': A Study on Book of Mormon Criticism."
1. Alexander Campbell, "Delusions," The Millennial Harbinger 2 (Bethany, Virginia, 1831; reprinted, Joplin, Mo.: College Press): 93. The passage is cited at length by Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1950), as an authentic explanation of the Book of Mormon.
2. Campbell, "Delusions," 93.
4. Campbell "unequivocally and triumphantly sets the question of the divine authenticity of the 'Book' forever at rest, to every rational mind." Thus, the Painesville Telegraph, 1 March 1831, cited by Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2 vols. (Independence, Mo.: Zion's, 1951), 2:96.
5. "The Yankee Mahomet," American Whig Review 7 (June 1851): 554.
6. The subject of the affidavits is treated in Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961); see also Richard L. Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue 4 (Summer, 1969): 13–28, and "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," BYU Studies 10 (1970): 283–314.
7. D. Griffiths, Two Years' Residence in the New Settlements of Ohio (London: Westley and Davis, 1835), 140–41 (emphasis added).
8. The works of Linn, Arbaugh, Brodie, Morgan, Davis, to name only a few, all promise to produce the true story of the Book of Mormon—at last! In such pathetic hopefulness the Rev. James E. Mahaffey published his Found at Last! 'Positive Proof' that Mormonism Is a Fraud and the Book of Mormon a Fable (Augusta, Georgia: Chronicle Job Office, 1902).
9. Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 24.
10. Ibid., 27.
11. Ibid., 13. O'Dea is speaking of the foundation of Mormonism generally, which includes Joseph's claim to revelation.
12. Cross, The Burned-over District, 143.
13. Ibid., 81.
14. Palmyra Reflector (Palmyra, New York), 1 June 1830, in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2:50.
15. "Mormonism!" Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's [sic] Lick Advertiser (10 August 1833), col. 3. Also reported in the Jeffersonian Republican (Missouri, 17 August 1833).
16. "The Mormons," Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser (21 June 1834), col. 2.
17. Letter from Governor Daniel Dunklin, 6 June 1834, printed in Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser (5 July 1834), col. 4 (emphasis added).
18. "The Mormons," Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser (28 June 1834), col. 1.
19. A. H. M., "Ancient and Modern Mormonism," Western Examiner, ed. John Bobb (10 December 1835).
20. Letter to the editor, written from Jefferson City, Missouri Argus (20 December 1838), col. 3.
21. Josiah D. Canning, "The Review," in Poems (Greenfield, Mass.: Phelps and Ingersoll, 1838), 107–8. The poem is dedicated to Daniel Webster.
22. Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past (Boston: Roberts, 1883), 389.
23. Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1842), 337.
24. J. Sterling Morton, Illustrated History of Nebraska, 3 vols. (Lincoln: Jacob North, 1907), 2:125, speaking of the 1840s. This is clearly illustrated in Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail (New York: Modern Library, 1949).
25. Editorial, "Mormonism; or, New Mohammedanism in England and America," Dublin University Magazine (March 1843): 283.
26. Rev. P. Alcock, Latter-day Saints, A Letter to His Nephew, E. H. Webb, Elder in the Church of the Latter-day Saints (Bristol: William Taylor, 39 Temple Street, 1842), 3.
27. Editorial, "What Is Mormonism?" Sharpe's London Magazine 5 (1850): 55.
28. Charles Dickens, "In the Name of the Prophet—Smith!" Household Words (19 July 1851): 385.
29. Samuel H. Cox, Interviews: Memorable and Useful (New York: Harper, 1853), 293.
30. William J. Conybeare, Edinburgh Review (London: Longman, Brown, 1854), 169–70; reprinted in the Traveller's Library (London: Jonathan Cape, 1854).
31. Editorial, National Magazine 4, no. 6 (June 1854): 481–82.
32. Editorial, "Shall Utah Be Admitted into the Union?" Putnam's Monthly 5, no. 37 (March 1855): 225–36, esp. 226 and 236.
33. Henry L. Dawes, "The Admission of Utah," Forum (January 1888): 483; the comparison with savages and anarchists is on 482.
34. John Reynolds, My Own Times (Bellevue, Ill.: Perryman and Davison, 1855), 562–63.
35. [The source of this quotation has not been found—ed.] See also Jesse T. Peck, The History of the Great Republic (New York: Broughton and Wyman, 1868), 499–504.
36. H. Caswall, quoted in William S. Parrott, The Veil Uplifted; or the Religious Conspirators of the Latter-Day Exposed (Bristol: Taylor, 1865), 19.
37. Ibid., 33.
38. Ibid., 39, quoting Rev. O. C. Duke of Omaha.
39. Charles H. Brigham, "The Mormon Problem," Old and New (May 1870): 638.
40. Ibid., 628.
41. Editorial, "The Mormon Theocracy," Scribner's (July 1877): 391–92 (emphasis added).
42. Thomas deWitt Talmage, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, A Collection of 104 Sermons (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1884), 55–56. In an earlier sermon, pp. 36–37, Talmage labors to implicate the Mormons in the assassination of President Garfield.
43. F. A. Noble, The Mormon Iniquity (Chicago: Jameson and Morse, 1884), 3.
44. Robert W. Beers, The Mormon Puzzle and How to Solve It (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1887), 17, reluctantly adding: "But thus far it has successfully withstood even the fiercest opposition."
45. J. P. Newman, "The Mormon Question," in S. Fallows, Hot Shot Fired at Fashion's Follies and Society's Abominations (Chicago: Standard, 1890), 99–101.
46. Ibid., 108.
47. It was drawn up "by order of the Presbytery of Utah, April 8, 1897. Endorsed by the Congregational Association of Utah, October 14, 1897. Endorsed by the Baptist Association of Utah, September 7, 1898." Ten Reasons Why Christians Cannot Fellowship the Mormon Church (New York: League for Social Service, 1898), 12.
48. Ibid., 1 (emphasis added).
49. These objections are found in ibid., 2–6.
50. Ibid., 12. The expression "God-Man" would shock a Moslem or Jew quite as much as any Mormon teaching about God shocked these liberal Protestants!
51. Samuel Laing, Modern Science and Modern Thought (London: Chapman and Hall, 1898), 231.
52. Edgar E. Volk, The Mormon Monster (Chicago: Revell, 1900), 17, quoting George H. Combs, Some Latter Day Religions (Chicago: Revell, 1900). This is the "standard" Baptist work on Mormonism.
53. G. A. Irving, "The Ways of Mormons," Outlook (December 29, 1906): 1064.
54. Ibid., 1068.
55. George Seibel, The Mormon Saints (Pittsburgh: Lessing, 1919), 7–8, protesting that in this study "nought is set down in malice," 9.
56. Stuart Martin, The Mystery of Mormonism (New York: Dutton, 1920), 307–8.
57. G. K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1921), 184.
58. Ibid., 185.
59. Ibid., 186.
60. Ibid., 189; "In other words, this strange sect, by soaking itself solely in the Hebrew Scriptures, had really managed to reproduce the atmosphere of those Scriptures as they are felt by Hebrews rather than by Christians." How does Chesterton know how an "atmosphere" feels to another person?
61. Theodore Schroeder, "The Sex-Determinant in Mormon Theology," Alienist and Neurologist (May 1908): 219.
62. John D. Nutting, Why Care about Mormonism? (tract) (Cleveland: Utah Gospel Mission, 1926), 1–2.
63. Walter R. Martin, The Rise of the Cults (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955), 51–53.