All Hail the Protestants Part 3: Out of the Woods

I’m having a hard time slogging through the repetitiously violent and repressive movements of historical Christianity. It must be done however just to get to the point where we can intelligently discuss Joseph Smith and all the “funny” ideas detractors claim he had. I suppose that’s one reason why Mormons don’t bother to do so any more on any level. It’s tedious, contentious, and the vast majority of self-professed Christians don’t know much about any of it either, nor would they care to debate it with any intellectual honesty.image104

Most devout Christians don’t really want to even try to understand their so-determined “non” Christian peers at all. That’s because, if you are not a “Christian” as they define it, you are not their peers. You are not their brothers in Christ and you should be treated like any other heathen. ( They want to “save” you, because you are going to hell if you don’t see things their way. It doesn’t matter to them if you worship the Great Money God, Space Aliens, or Satan Himself. Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, followers of Zeus, it’s all the same to the Christian. Some Christian political and social apologists today will beg off this very central Christian doctrine by sliding around it with the argument that, no, they’re not our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they’re still children of our Father in Heaven. Anyone without a head not already firmly planted in a very dark and cramped place, would reply, well, if you’re a Trinitarian our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are exactly the same guy. It’s just more Christian “Mystery” gibberish.

The job of the Christian apologist in these enlightened times is to attempt to make fundamental Christian dogma sound pluralistically forgiving enough that the Christian can at least wait till you die of natural causes to let God dish out your eternal punishment. It sounds like the average Christian wouldn’t be inclined to hasten your demise because you didn’t measure up to their definition of “Christian.” The well-meaning but historically ignorant Christian will pretend his faith allows him to agree to disagree, to live in peaceful co-existence with the infidel in a culturally and religiously diverse republic. This however, has not been the “traditional” Christian social or political standard, or in fact shall I say, Christian military standard:

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before…

The late 1960’s produced the inventors of the “Jesus Freak” or “Red Letter Christian” modern embrace of the always loving and conciliatory words of Christ Himself. The concept of focusing almost entirely upon the teachings of Jesus is a very recent invention of the latter-day Christian recruiter. One of the most successful of these, Joel Osteen, who inherited the ministry of his father’s pioneering Houston Texas, Lakewood mega-church in 1999. He began to be pressed about his reluctance to send all non-Christians to hell in his sermons. This came to a timely inquisition mounted by fellow evangelicals framed by concurrent political events involving a prominent Mormon presidential candidate and other defense-of-family related political and social issues. Mormon elements and the evangelical Christian crowd had found themselves mixing together trying to meet mutually desired political results and it became imperative for Christian activists to draw lines for the future rule of the country after disposing of their temporary Mormon allies. Osteen replied essentially that he wasn’t going to be the one to define who was or wasn’t Christian, or who was or wasn’t going to heaven, Christian or not. Osteen said he was just trying to focus on the gospel of Christ’s gift of salvation and teachings of positive living. Osteen was immediately sent to the corner by his Christian fellows, with a dunce hat on his head.

Osteen is just the latest “Christian” with half a brain in his head to actually sit back and examine some of the preposterously evil tenets of “traditional” Christianity and try to find a way out of its inherently stupidjoel-osteen consequences. But in Christian circles, this sort of open thinking, or frankly, thinking at all, brings very active protest from the Christian establishment as quickly now as it did in Joseph Smith’s time. Osteen’s church has been literally mobbed and assailed by his fellow evangelical Christians in protest of his attempts to make the Christian faith sound intelligent and enlightened. A Mormon might be inclined to take Osteen’s side in this debate, but this won’t help Osteen any. His Christian protesters are right. Allowing the acceptance of Christ alone to be the primary indicator of a “Christian” faith represents a serious surrender of centuries upon centuries of stridently developed basic Christian dogma. The notion that non-Christians might not only avoid burning in hell but actually go to heaven is unthinkable in “orthodox” Christianity.

One of Osteen’s problems is that he did not suffer the lengthy education of divinity school or any sort of seminary, wherein he could have been properly conditioned to read the Bible in general, and the words of Christ in particular, in a properly slanted direction. Most Christian theologians, scholars and clergies through the ages have concluded that God deliberately created the savage, the heathen, the “non” Christian fundamentally without hope of salvation and of little or no worth to God or man. Christianity differs only in its understanding of whether or not God saves these worthless humans all on His own according to His whims, or if man has any sort of power or obligation to ask to be redeemed from his natural-born sentence in hell. In some cases, even the most current Christian theologians will propose clearly and boldly when asked, that natural-born man is entirely the spiritual creation of the devil, and physically born of filthy parents on a filthy planet that has been surrendered in God’s disgust to Satan. In most of Christianity, man is not only no son of God spiritually or physically, but he’s some other creature entirely created body and soul by Satan.

I use the word “legislation” here very purposefully, because that is exactly what the collections of bishops and Christian councils through the ages have been doing—legislating their particular Christian beliefs and settingnicaea-sistine appropriate punishments for not conforming to the religious-political bills they have thus authored. Christianity as it is popularly known today, based upon these generations of arguments and committee decisions made “orthodox” only by brute force, is no more infallible or inspired than your local city council meeting. The main difference between a city council meeting and say, the Council of Nice , is that if you lose the vote in a city council meeting they don’t draw and quarter you in the local park and sell tickets to the spectacle to fund youth hockey. (Unless you’re talking about my city council meetings…) Christian tradition is a litany of club rules no more “True” than the charter and by-laws of your neighborhood bowling league and bears no higher spiritual or moral authority to send you to either heaven or hell than the Cub Scouts or the Rotary Club.

All politics is local they say, and that’s exactly the level at which every now monumental Christian sect and tradition began. Through the centuries these local movements have fought, won, lost, amalgamated, grown, conquered and spread into worldwide institutions. But they all started with one, two, a handful of non-spectacular local guys with a few big ideas they pulled out of the Bible or a few “purifying” gospel gimmicks like full-immersion baptism or changing the Sabbath back to Saturday. They just kept selling their innovations or “restorations” or “reformations” by hook or crook, or through brute political force whenever possible. And then they outlawed and obliterated anyone or anything that preceded or opposed them.

The same of course, can be said of Mormonism—with the exception of these processes being almost utterly internalized. Brigham Young in particular was a very heavy-handed nation builder. He took Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, English, Irish, Scottish Immigrants, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and converted them directly into Mormons. Not Americans, but Mormons. Deseret Mormons.

Apart from an incident or two however, Mormons have made no effort at all to use any sort militant force to expand and conquer the Christian world by force. Since conquering pagans by force of arms is the history of Christianity itself however, Mormonism’s Christian opponents in the United States in particular, have always had tremendous fear that Mormon subjugation would be the inevitable outcome of allowing Mormons to have human and civil rights like any other citizen. Christians were already in the process of subjugating heathens in America and they naturally concluded that Mormons would do the same thing to them if they ever got a political or social foothold in a constitutional republic that protected their minority world view.

While Mormonism hasn’t obliterated American Christianity by any means even in its Utah home, within the traditions and educational history of the LDS church itself today however, and Insofar as present-day Mormonism is concerned, they’ve erased the entire history of Christianity right up until Joseph Smith was old enough to read a Bible.

In the Beginning, God created Joseph Smith.

This brings me back to my point of this collection of exploratory essays: God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ didn’t choose Brigham Young or John Taylor or any of Smith’s other better educated, better read and better prepared contemporary LDS church founders; Deity chose to appear to Joseph Smith. You would think the Mormon would thus be interested in understanding what Joseph Smith was all about at the time this choice was made. But not so. Joseph Smith was a Christian. Most Mormons today don’t even know what a Christian is.

In his own words,  Joseph Smith was just a confused kid in an era and in a region of the frontier United States that enjoyed its religion the way we’d go to a movie or sporting event today. It was what Joseph Smith did instead of watching TV or playing video games. The religion of the Smith’s day and chief sport in Joseph’s neighborhood was Mainstream Protestantism. They had a league and a set of rules, and you had to play the religion game their way or you were kicked off the field and out of the association of professional American religionists.

This is still particularly true of the sort of devout Christian who likes to mount the ever-popular anti-Mormon,exorcism1 anti-“cult” and anti-everyone-else sorts of crusades. It’s religious glory. It’s entertainment. It’s a living. Their mission isn’t one of helping you to understand the followers of the “false” gods they parade before the trembling faithful. The mission of these professional Christian spook-chasers is to bring the intellectually curious or wavering Christian back to Jesus by illustrating to them that exploring other religions leads only to blackest hell and eternal torment. These sorts of itinerant anti-Mormon, anti-cult crusaders make a fair living reassuring their fellow Christian meal tickets that their salvation is secure, and giving them just one more reason to feel even better about themselves being Christians. That, and just sitting around being pious or thinking of good works to do is boring as hell.

kotc faith is, in general, every bit the product of “occultic mind control” and “blind obedience” as Christian critics claim Mormonism to be. Most Christians were born Roman Catholic or Anglican or Lutheran or Baptist or whatever, and they don’t even know what that really entails other than party loyalty. They love Jesus. They know the Bible is the Word of God. They accept at face value that Bible says exactly what their clergy says it says, and that it comes to us exactly as God wrote it personally. Most of them recite lengthy creeds and prayers every week that just clang like cheerful little bells in their ears and make them feel better but make little sense to them.

When most Christians come up with questions their ministers and clergy can only dodge or answer inanely with an allusion to the “mysteries of God,” they frankly just aren’t motivated enough by sheer intellectual curiosity or spiritual insight to push beyond this unsatisfying response. So they passively concede the point and accept that some day when they are carried up to meet Jesus, they may start to understand how stupid they were for thinking that so many of their central church doctrines sounded idiotic, cruel, and heartless. They’ll look into their Savior’s eyes and suddenly realize, yeah, I get it now: You created those savages out in the jungle expressly so they could burn in hell. You put them there and prevented anyone from reaching them with a Bible because you were going to send them to hell anyway. That makes total sense to me now. That’s not cruel or unfair at all. You meant for it to be that way because you created them inherently worthy of hell. How could I have been so ignorant?

Because God’s will is a “mystery” beyond human comprehension, the discerning Christian will try very earnestly to stop being quite so discerning until all the overtly stupid parts of their religion no longer bother them. They will quietly and faithfully accept that they are saved from the fires of damnation. That’s the important thing. Those other guys aren’t. Those errant denominations, those false Christians, those non-Christians–as good as they might be in earthly terms–they’re going to hell and we aren’t. That’s all that’s important in the end.

Now, nowhere and at no time more than in Joseph Smith’s young America wasNY1830s this revivalist Christian war against the human intellect fought more fervently and openly between the competing branches of professional Christian recruiters. No criticism, no examination of Mormonism would be fair or informed without knowing exactly what Joseph Smith and his period fellows were responding to in their local Christian environment. Remember; God Himself was prompted to come down and straighten out the whole American Christian mess—if you believe Joseph Smith. That is the argument here you know.

Why Smith? Why America? Why then? Christianity had already decided amongst itself on various levels back and forth, over, across, up and down the globe, that Christ’s Church had in fact fallen all apart—several times and then some. They differed only on matters of how far the Great Apostasy had progressed and of course each little sect claimed to have either escaped it as a secret branch of “True Believers” or claimed to have “Reformed” the Church before it collapsed entirely. Most of the big Christian dogs acknowledged major failings in the Church but claimed that God had used a corrupt system in a corrupt institution run by corrupt men to pass along His perfect and unsullied Truth through “Divine Providence.”

Christianity had indeed been arguing the same question Joseph Smith was asking when he came back from the revival tents and tried to sit down with a Bible and make sense of their competing ideas: Ok then, Smith wondered, which of this stuff is actually gospel and who gets to say what’s in and what’s out? Until Joseph Smith however, every time Christianity brought one of these authoritative arguments to a head, the most politically connected side “won” and the other side became “heretics.” Joseph as it happened this time around, was protected under a spanking-new constitutional republic that granted him the unalienable right to worship in any manner he pleased without fear of legal reprisal. If convention, conformity, and peer ridicule wouldn’t work, America’s Christian industry needed to eventually invent ways around the law and Constitution, the Bill of Rights, so they could ban Smith’s ideas and kill this heretic anyway.main

Joseph Smith’s entire post-vision history from a legal and sociological standpoint can be summed up as a case of professional American Protestants repeatedly finding themselves out of luck on the score of being able to convict him of heresy and burn him as a witch. They struggled for decades at it and then finally tried to go for treason instead. When it became clear that he’d obviously win that court battle too, like he had won acquittal over the years on scores of their other legal gambits against him, they just formed a mob, stormed the jail and shot him dead.

Though Joseph Smith’s Christian detractors were arguing complaints against him as if Christianity was the official state or national religion, the Founding Fathers had already realized that if you do make Christianity the State religion, the first thing that would happen is the state and federal government would be empowered to define what was and wasn’t “Christianity” all on its own. This would allow the government to stifle, foster, proscribe, and persecute, whoever and whatever it deemed not to be “Christian,” or “Christian enough.” The Founding Fathers decided by Constitutional amendment, that there were never going to be any “official” heretics in the United States. Oh, there were plenty of “heretics” around mind you, and still are. The Founding fathers, many of them, were just as particular about their “orthodoxy” as Joseph Smith’s critics. The authors of the US Constitution however, just felt that the Church and/or State had no right to take these heretics down to the church basement with the local mayor and sheriff, beat a confession out of them with a blowtorch and an axe handle, and then burn them to a crisp in a public square or hang them from the nearest tree, in “traditional” Christian fashion.

caneRidgesketchJoseph Smith, like Jesus lecturing his elders in the temple as a child, passed into full heresy by alluding to his frontier American Christian clergymen and their various denominations as “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” This turning of scripture against those who claimed to profess its infallibility is particularly annoying to those being thus belittled. It’s a great putdown if nothing else. But really understanding what he meant by this isn’t possible unless you’ve spent the same childhood trotting from preacher to preacher, revival to revival, stump-sermon-to-stump-sermon in rural New York at the dawn of the 19th century. To understand Joseph Smith and all those who followed him into his radically liberal new form of 19th century heresy, you first have to understand what Smith’s home-town country preachers were sermonizing about all his life.

Joseph Smith started out a fervent Bible-believing Christian from a family of longstandingly fervent Bible-believing Christians, and yet became so disenchanted with the local promoters of this belief system, that he rejected many of the basic institutionalized doctrines of the religion itself. He did that entirely without the help of any angels. This is no small observation. Joseph Smith came to his heretical opinions primarily through the Bible. Modern Mormonism imagines it has taught itself about its history and formative leadership, but this amounts all too often to a superficial wallowing in self-indulgent tribute to the saintliness of joseph Smith and lesser Mormon demigods like Brigham Young. In reality, modern Mormonism has so sanitized and saintified its founders that it has no clue just how brilliant and insightful the foundational doctrines of Mormonism are.

In reality, Joseph Smith was a beer-drinking, stick-fighting, pioneer prophet who died with a belly full of wine and a flaming gun in his hand. Joseph Smith went out of this life in a hail of bullets and a blaze of glory, bringing down his assailants shot-by-shot. Even the mob that killed him essentially said, He lived good and he died good. (Footnote pg 285 BH Roberts Comprehensive History, from journal of PP Pratt.) Brigham Young by contrast, limped his wagon into the Salt Lake Valley a couple of years later, sat his portly old sack of bones wearily up from his sickbed in the back, puked over the side, said, “This is far enough, this is the place,” and set immediately about rebuilding Joseph’s radical little church into a docile Quaker’s Paradise.

Because it does not educate itself about “normal” Christianity, the sort of Christianity Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” was prompted by and the religious environment in which Mormonism was cultivated, the Utah Mormon culture is quite incapable of understanding, much less appreciating the nature, meaning, or beauty of the conversion experience they so pretend to admire in their pioneer ancestors. Simply put, you can’t emulate the original pioneer spirit sitting on your fat Mormon backsides in a comfortable Wasatch Front hideout for nearly two-hundred years trying to convince yourself that church basketball is as entertaining as the NBA and local Mormon musicals are every bit as good as Broadway simply because it’s by Mormons and for Mormons. You can’t then then pop your heads out of the dust into the real world after almost two centuries , and expect to carry on a sensible conversation with actual Christians as if you’ve really got anything in common with them any more. You don’t. Even the so-called “Christians” who invaded the peaceful Mormon valleys came out primarily to badger and hound and “civilize” and otherwise persecute Mormonism, so even the Christians Mormons have been in contact with out there remain an aberrant bent and Mormons have been ignoring if not shunning them outright for generations anyway.

Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, yes, all of those founding Mormon saints had everything in common with the greater Christian world. They were Christians from various accepted Christian sects and they’d already decided that Christianity was pretty screwed up before they ever ran into Joseph Smith. They had all independently come to find the same complaints against Christianity that Smith was addressing. They weren’t sure what was true any more, but they knew what wasn’t true. They may not have known exactly how to fix Christianity, but they spoke the same language. They thought the same thoughts. When Joseph Smith appeared before them giving new “Christian” answers that suddenly seemed to make sense, they accepted his inspiration because they’d already been through the same questions and prayed themselves into similar conclusions. All today’s modern Utah Mormon culture has left of this magnificent spiritual awakening is a correlated system of answers to questions they don’t know enough to ask in the first place. They know these answers are true only because the “Prophet” (insert current name here………) says so. For the native Utah Mormon this is a sad, shallow experience compared to their pioneer ancestors. And the whole truth of the matter is, the modern Utah Mormon experience simply can’t pretend to be worthy of the heart and soul of its newfound converts outside the Wasatch Front who are re-creating that pioneer Mormon rebirth on an ongoing basis.

unleashThe Mormon missionary program for one is little more than a sales-pitch made up of rote prattle that the young missionary has no understanding of whatsoever. Many now prevalent Mormon recruitment fables are actually embarrassingly contrived when presented to a Christian with any sort of Biblical education at all. In Matthew 16:18, Mormonism has back-engineered for example, a great Biblical argument to explain its own authority versus the Roman Catholic Church. The Romans for some time how have claimed this verse as proof of a direct blessing upon the Roman Church by Christ Himself. Protestants and the Eastern Church have however, debunked this verse for ages. When Mormonism inserts itself into the equation amid these two or three longstanding lines of interpretation, Mormonism just looks a little contrived and “me too.”

Whenever it was that Mormonism first eventually came into contact with the Roman Church and its proponents, it apparently never occurred to LDS leadership and apologists that there is no inherent need to prove via the Bible or Church tradition that Joseph Smith had the “authority” to found the most correct version of the Church of Christ. Most people would think that God coming down personally and telling Joseph Smith that he was the guy would be enough to make the prospective Mormon happy on that score. If Joseph Smith talking to God directly doesn’t impress you enough to believe he’s authorized to organize “The Church” you’ve just got no reason to join up.

But yes, if you have to scrounge up something in the Bible, Mormons can say Peter was the not the “rock” upon which the Church would be built, but it was the notion that Peter had come to know Jesus was the Christ through personal “revelation” to which Christ was speaking in this verse. Mormons claim then that It’s revelation  the Church would be built upon. Peter is a Greek word meaning “rock,” and you could say that Jesus is making a pun here in saying that it wasn’t going to be Peter  “The Rock” but a different “rock.”

And I say also unto thee, That thou art a “rock” Peter, but upon this rock instead–this whole revelation thing you’re talking about here–I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 Pro-Smith Version

Mormons say Jesus refers to revelation . To read it that way however, the word “but” should replace “and.” It would also help if you were drunk, because you can check any manuscript or translation you want, but it always says, “and.” The Mormon interpretation relies heavily upon connecting the previous verse’s inflection I suppose: Yeah, you’re one kind of a rock Peter, and (but) upon this similar rock, (your personal revelation that is) I’m going to found my Church…

pope%20benedictJoseph Smith’s Protestant peers however, have generations of anti-Pope rebuttal arguments that just seem to make far more sense than the Mormon attempt to hijack this blessing. Protestants have long said that Jesus was simply referring to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, and the Church would be built upon this principle of confessing Christ to be your Savior. Related Protestant interpretations have argued that that Jesus referred to the object of Peter’s confession itself, the Person of Jesus, meaning that Jesus was acknowledging that He was indeed the Christ and that His Church would be built upon Himself and the salvation He offers.

By relying upon this sort of interpretive reading, even out of the Bible, you are unfortunately playing the same self-limiting religious game in which Joseph Smith felt trapped. Young Joe indeed went out into the grove to pray his way out of this pointless self-imposed maze of self-defeating Old-World Christian Biblical lobotomizing. Joseph had been through the Bible back-to-front-to-back-again. He’d heard every scripture in the Bible read to him every which-way; upside-down, sideways and backwards. As a result, Joseph Smith had only concluded that religious professors were not much help in understanding Christian dogma even if they meant well. The only clear and universal answer he could find in the Bible was to take his questions directly to God and expect a direct reply. (James 1:5)

Quoting the Bible with a Mormon spin only sounds great if you give a damn about the Roman Church’s claim to primacy in the first place. Mormons have been pointlessly spinning and bashing that verse for absolutely no reason for going on two centuries now. Why? This Roman claim of primacy is a claim that the Roman Church took almost two millennia to concoct for itself and finally lobby itself into agreeing upon in the first place. That passage could in fact mean exactly what the Roman Church says it means and it would entirely irrelevant to Mormonism. The Mormon claim to authority doesn’t come out of agreeing upon an interpretation of what is or isn’t in the canon, and then agreeing upon what the canon actually means word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase. The Mormon claim to authority comes from God picking Joseph Smith to reorganize the Church and replace that whole process with a direct pipeline of communication from God’s mouth to Man’s ear. In any case, the Roman Church in everyone’s eyes obviously went straight to hell after Peter died anyway as far as anyone but the Romans are concerned. Rock or no Rock, Peter, Pope and all, you still have all the historical proof of Joseph Smith’s “Great Apostasy” even if the Romans are reading that verse correctly as some sort of initial blessing on Peter.

Roman Catholics were a scarce commodity in early America however. Joseph Smith didn’t go into the woods to pray about the primacy of a Roman Pope. The claims of the Pope in Rome were all but irrelevant in early American politics and religion. All the details of the generations of hardened religious arguments attendant to the Eastern Church v Western Church, or Roman Catholicism v Reformation were dumped happily on the other side of the pond insofar as American Christianity was concerned in Joseph Smith’s day. Papists were just bad. Papists were loyal to Rome, not America. No further discussion really. There may have been pockets of Roman Catholics here and there, but they were curiosities more than primary religious movers and shakers relative to Joseph Smith’s experience. America was about hard-core Protestantism at full throttle.

Almo300px-American_progressst at the same moment Joseph Smith was having visions in the trees, American Protestants were wrapping up their religious, social, and political mandate in a concept that came to be known as “Manifest Destiny.” This concept specifically named the “Anglo-Saxon” race’s God-given assignment to fill the North American continent from sea-to-shining-sea with devout Anglo-Saxon Protestants. (I can’t explain how such a large portion of this allegedly Anglo-Saxon blessing was actually perpetrated upon its victims by Norman, Irish, Scottish, or English/Nordic stock.) The specificity of this in all honesty “just plain white people’s” commission from the Almighty became very evident in several bits of legislation and forced removals of the highly peaceful and Christianized “Five Civilized Tribes” from the company of their White Anglo-Saxon Christian brothers in the Eastern states. This ethnic cleansing culminated in 1839 along the “White Man’s Trail of Tears” that left 4000 Cherokee dead and the rest half-frozen, half-naked and starving along the forced winter march from their homeland in the East to a piece of crap reservation in the raw frontier of Oklahoma. The Five Civilized Tribes were called so because they were almost entirely assimilated into “White” society and culture. They were some very serious Protestant Christians among their other “civilized” qualities. But that wasn’t quite enough. They were still “Indian,” and they were taking up some very convenient properHitler-with-Mullerty the Anglo-Saxon Master Race wanted to use at the moment. Joseph Smith and his Mormon adventure into not quite good enough American Christianity ended in almost exactly the same result for the very same reasons.

Of course today’s Christians resent any comparison to their treatment of Native Americans or Mormons for that mayoung_religiontter, with the actions of one Adolph Hitler. Manifest destiny, and the several Mormon Extermination orders drafted, some officially and legally, were pretty much the same program Hitler was using to justify the expansion of his own state religion and absorption of surrounding lands, peoples and cultures into it.

Almost co-incident with the Protestant Illinois and Missouri-based mobs that killed Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail in 1844, there was a series of major Protestant mobs that formed in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love” to riot and kill or drive the Roman Catholics out of that city’s Anglo-Saxon Protestant American Paradise.

Along with frontier America’s very mainstream WASPS of course, Joseph Smith would have been acquainted with a few local Shakers and other peculiar or aberrant Christian Protestants, but they were even less influential on a young man in the American wilderness than the Roman Catholics, because it turns out that in the Shaker example for instance, expecting members to willfully not reproduce or engage in any of the related fun activity both diminishes any recruit’s motivation to join the group, but ultimately thwarts expansion and continuation of the movement.

There were also Quakers and Mennonites and Amish and a whole host ofsdsdsdfa the odder sort of buttonless, funny-hat-wearing, primitive, Fundamentalist-Puritanical-Protestants floating over to early American and developing their clannish infestations in the US. These however, were mostly non-English immigrants and practitioners of closed or tight communal orders, often speaking German or some other foreign tongue. Especially in those days, plain, dumb, white, English-speaking Americans would not be in any way attracted to these odder sects and would in fact be prone to ridicule and persecute them. This worked out well for the Amish and so forth, because frankly, they didn‘t want anything to do with the “English” as they still call anyone other than themselves.

The Quakers or “Religious Society of Friends” unlike some of the other peculiar Reformation era spawns, spoke English and came out of a British Isle experience alright, but they were already condemned as heretics on numerous scores on both sides of the Atlantic. Most offensive to the American Puritans was the claim that man could talk to Jesus Christ directly without benefit of any clergy at all. In the Massachusetts Bay colony, Friends were outlawed Baptism_logoentirely and subject to immediate execution on sight. Several Quakers (Mary Dyer) were hanged on Boston Common for publicly preaching. In England, Friends were excluded by law from sitting in Parliament from 1698 to 1833.

The Baptists, descendants of the English and European Anabaptists who were universally despised by Roman Catholic and Protestant alike on both sides of the pond only two generations previously, had by Joseph Smith’s time gone almost mainstream. It had helped the Baptists to be separated from both the Inquisition and the Reformation, both of which found reasons to object to Anabaptist theology. But in New England, they were still battling lingering suspicion and condemnation.

1277995948-snake-handlingThe snake-handlers, the glossalalliacs—tongue-speakers–the whole Charismatic Movement had almost kicked off in Smith’s time, making the Baptists’ Old World controversy of infant baptism-verses-Believer’s Baptism hardly exciting at all. As for the Charismatics; these fledgling evangelicals got shunned into obscurity and were considerBenny Hinn at Maple Leaf Gardens on Sept. 28, 1992 photos by Tony Bock/Toronto Star and handout photo.ed freaks for the most part by the fervent and demanding New England conservative clergies who dominated Smith’s local scene.

Joseph admittedly experimented with “folk magic” or what became known as “Spiritualism.” Rather a lot of the Christians Smith fellowshipped with were into “divination” and other “spiritual gifts.” Though this benign activity translated into a history of detractors characterizing him as a “money digger” or “spook hunter” of some sort, had Smith been born a century later, his notions of prophesy and the “Full Gospel” gifts returning to earth would have by then become downright common.  As for “money digging,” this charge was a major hobby in Smith’s day, as every American believed the place was littered with ancient Indian gold and pirate treasure—the only issue at hand was the method of sensing where it was buried.

ORALProphecy in and of itself as a concept, OralRobertsTentactually became a big business in Christian circles a century after the founding of Mormonism–Smith was just a bit premature in this effort. Today you can turn on the radio or television at any given moment and hear fully-accredited Christian televangelists refer to themselves as “prophets of God” and talk at great length about their “visions” and “revelations.” One famous such proclamation came from the master evangelist Oral Roberts back in 1987 during the height of the televangelist era, when he prophesied that Jesus was going to call him home if he didn’t get eight million dollars to save his City of Faith complex in Tulsa Oklahoma, which was hemorrhaging cash to the tune of ten million dollars and more a year.,9171,964970,00.html Roberts had proven this strategy already in a previous vision in 1980 connected with raising funds for the Christian medical tower around which his oral_roberts_pyramidCity of Faith development was centered. This previous vision featured the image of a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus Christoral_roberts--300x300 towering over the completed skyscraper of his hospital–which is now CityPlex Towers and mostly office space, since the project immediately went belly-up after its centerpiece was finished. So far there are no mobs led by ordained Christian ministers burning Christian “prophets” like Oral Roberts out of their homes, raping their women, pillaging their villages, and seizing the property they are fohahn3rced to flee or die. Unlike their contemporaries in Joseph Smith’s day, Christian ministers have been most forgiving of their overtly sinful behavior. Most of thesswaggart_jimmy_televangeliste fallen tele-prophets went right back into business after a year or so of public self-flagellation and a lot of open weeping. There’s a reason for this. Christians believe that Christ died for every sin you have ever committed, every sin you are now committing, and every sin you will commit. If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior you are just flat out saved period no doubt no contingencies. You have been, are now, and always will be forgiven. And we’re all sinners anyway. Sin is sin big or small it’s all the same. Forgiveness is free. Heaven is heaven, and all Christians get there in the end. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t seem right does it? It’s God’s will though. It’s a mystery.


My Lutheran relatives however would correct; God may forgive you, but the congregation never will. I mean this literally, because archetypal Faith Healer Oral Roberts blitzed through the family homestead in North Dakota on one of his early revival tours and “healed” a relative who had a heart condition that required him to keep nitroglycerine pills handy when he had an incident. Roberts told him to trust Jesus and throw away the pills. That worked for quite a while. Oral Roberts was long gone with all his loot of course, when my kinsman had another fit, dropped nearly dead to the floor, and as he lay there struggling, everyone realized the pills that would have brought him out of it in a few minutes were also long gone.

Uncle Oscar should have had more faith I suppose. That must be his fault then.

A lot of effort has been put into revising Joseph Smith’s pretty orthodox childhood Christian credentials into some sort of hillbilly occultic humbuggery. This is to be expected from his critics, who believe Moillustration-of-joseph-smith-founder-of-mormon-church-preaching-to-a-group-of-indiansrmonism is Satan’s own Church. The thing to remember however is, they believe everyone’s church other than their own is going to send you to the devil as well. You don’t have to see angels or talk to God or be a false prophet to burn in hell as a non-Christian. Even John Calvin, who invented most of modern American Protestantism found that out when he was hauled into a heresy trial at the start of his religious career for merely being imprecise in his Trinitarian language. The truth is, when Joseph Smith went seeking answers in the Bible, he went seeking answers about mainstream, modern, institutionalized Protestant denominations and the problems he had with their doctrines. He wasn’t praying for help in digging up pirate gold. He wasn’t out in the woods asking for God’s divine plan to fund the first Christian amusement theme park. He wasn’t looking for a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus to bless his religious empire. He was trying to figure out what the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were all squabbling about amongst themselves. And when he studied his Bible, he studied it as one of them—he studied the Bible as a Christian.


About lrwhitney

American Saint but not Utah product.
This entry was posted in 11 All Hail the Protestants Part 3: Out of the Woods and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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