This is my 100th post on this blog, and I've written over 100,000 words--a good size novel (oh, and I completed a novel that size early this year too).
Two years ago, I began in September 2012, when I wanted to document my attending the Mormon church as the managing editor of Mormonthink. That was short lived, and the story is familiar to most of my readers. (You can google it if you want to read the news-stories. It's in the Daily Beast, NY Times and more.)
For this centennial blog post, I thought I would change it up.
What would my readers think if I told them:
Joseph Smith did something invaluable for human kind.
Yes, I would like to praise the man in a specific way. I'm serious. What he did might just change the world, and we might see that happen soon. Perhaps we are seeing it.
To explain, I want to show you a children's book, which was inspired by Carl Sagan for the original idea.
Some tell me, the gold plates were real, angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith, and God appeared to him and then helped him translate ancient records.
Here is a little tale for you. (Here is the source, by J. M. Odesluys, which makes a great children's story book.)
"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage," I tell you.
"Show me," you say.
I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon. But I know without a shadow of a doubt I can see it and the fiery breath.
"Where's the dragon?" you ask.
"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving.
"But I can't see her!" you cry.
I reply, "I forgot to tell you that she's an invisible dragon."
"Can I hear her?" you ask.
"You have to learn dragon whispers to hear her. She is silent to all others," I tell you.
"Can I touch her?" you ask.
"You can try, but she can only be felt by those who truly know dragons," I say.
You reach out, but feel nothing. "I can't see where she is. Perhaps we can spread flour on the floor of the garage and see where she walks."
"Now there's an idea!" I say. Thinking, I add: "But this dragon floats in the air. Flour won't show the dragon's footprints. Only those who truly love dragons can find her."
"Invisible or not, a dragon has fire!" you exclaim. "Perhaps we can get a infrared sensing, thermal camera and see her fiery breath!"
"You think a lot," I reply. "Unfortunately, the invisible fire is also heatless."
"Hmm." You think and think some more. "Let's spray paint everywhere in the garage, and see if we can make her appear!"
"Perhaps you are over-thinking this. Clearly, being invisible, heatless and floating everywhere, you must realize she's an incorporeal dragon. Without a body the paint won't stick."
"How big is your dragon?" you ask.
"She can be very very big, or very very small," I explain. "She can change into anything she wants at any size she desires. She's very magical."
"Can't be seen or heard?"
"Not unless you are a superior lover of dragons."
"Can't be detected with sensors?"
"Can't be painted and won't leave footprints?"
You sigh and ask, "What's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who breathes heatless fire...and no dragon at all?"
"Your problem," I tell you, "is that you don't have enough faith."
"I find your dragon, non-sensed, and un-real."
Now, compare this story to a brief summary of history on religion.
Social anthropologists find the earliest signs of religion in cave dwellings.
The hypothesis is that in the cave tribe leaders received visual and auditory hallucinations feeding words and vision, like one sees in sensory deprivation chambers. The "invisible entities" of hallucination were revered and perhaps offerings made to appease it for more revelation and protection. Further hypothesis is that the leaders took the offerings and became wealthy, perhaps lazy and even cruel. Eventually followers went into the cave and found the leaders lied.
The leaders eventually moved their spirits and gods to above ground, guarded shafts and lairs.
Great expense went into building them and the leaders ruled and lived lavishly, as if gods themselves. The pinnacles of these temples pointed up, while the gods were buried inside. The guards and others did know the truth, and eventually their cruel reigns ended.
The end of that epoch seems to have brought humility to religious leaders. The people couldn't build temples big enough, but they moved god to the highest points, even further away, out of reach for most people.
Ancient Hindu and Jewish texts speak of prophets going to mountains and finding inspiration or bringing down commandments. The Old Testament never mentions heaven, just that god is in the mountain of the Lord.
For a long time, the New Testament moved god beyond human reach, into heaven. Only god could reach the people when he wanted,to reassure chosen leaders that he is real and miraculously powerful.
Then science with telescopes peers into the skies and beyond. And as science found no heaven, and pushed at religion's claims,they have moved god beyond space-time, outside of the measurable universe. Beyond science even.
Each time the goal posts of god are moved, he becomes less personable. Non-corporeal, non human. An indiscernible force everywhere. Invisible, non-sensed, not-detected or found by any means except through faith and the feelings the religions tell you to have.
What did Joseph Smith do?
Smith brought god back to human form, residing within the universe at Kolob and revealing artifacts to back his claims. People loved the more tangible, personable, approachable god.
Joseph Smith did this in the golden era after the printing press and before the internet. Documentation exists, actually abounds, but was hard to access in his era and subsequent times. If one could collect all the old documents, newspapers, court proceedings, journal entries and more, one could piece it all together to see almost precisely how Joseph Smith created his scam.
Now that the LDS church has grown large enough to merit attention, we can scrutinize it as a model for how religions form and can be easily discredited. It is large enough, and the internet is now bringing back all the old documents, newspapers and more. Soon enough, we will have the jigsaw picture complete and it will serve as a model for how older religions, whose records are lost, also started from lies by charismatic leaders.
PS- I'll be taking a break for a while.