July 31, 2009


I'd like to revisit the topic of what, if anything, is wrong with polygamy in general.

For the sake of argument, let's imagine for a moment that the practice of polygyny, or polygamy in any form for that matter, had no religious consequences whatsoever. Imagine that it was never a matter of obedience to God and never a sin. No threat of damnation either way. God creates the Earth and says, "It's up to you; you can have as many or as few wives as you want, I really don't care either way."

I think we can find out a lot about the rightness or wrongness of polygamy by considering it in this way. The question is, what kind of people would choose monogamy or polygamy and for what reasons?

I read an article a while ago written by a woman who was in a polyamorous relationship. She had met a man and they had fallen in love, but somehow also met a woman who was attracted to her boyfriend. The women became friends and the boyfriend had feelings for both, so they all agreed that they would not compete for affection. They eventually all met some other people, got along very well, and all moved into the same house, some married others, but only for legal benefits. They all dated amongst each other and some had children with one or several of the partners. These people all loved the setup. They had consciously made the decision to share those they loved with their friends.

Maybe what worked about this scenario and makes it seem okay to me is that they all made a choice. No one was threatened with damnation if they didn't do it, but it was what they wanted, so they sought it out and it worked for them.

I suppose if this had been the situation in the early days of the Church, I might feel differently about polygamy. If the choice had been up to the members, with no promises of eternal punishment either way, I would hesitate to condemn the practice. After all, just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean I am the ultimate moral judge.

Naturally, each member still had a choice. No one put a gun to Helen Kimball's head to marry Joseph Smith. But where I must make a moral criticism is the fact that her ability to make a safe choice with equal consequences was all but robbed from her when Smith told her that the salvation of her entire family depended upon her decision. So it could be argued that she did choose to be his 26th (give or take) wife, but I would counter that her actual choice was severely diminished.

Now, back to the question; What kind of person would choose polygamy if it were not a commandment from God? Historically it has been men who are rich, who treat women more as property than people, who desire several sexual partners more than emotionally intimate relationships, whose first wives cannot produce children, whose first wives are not as sexually interesting anymore, who want to spread their kinship ties to several other families by means other than betrothing their children, and sometimes who feel it necessary to support women who would otherwise not have the option of monogamy (click here and here for some interesting views on polygyny and economics). A woman might also choose polygyny over monogamy if she preferred her privacy, wanted children but not necessarily her husband too close to her, had no issues with jealousy, could not have children otherwise, or who needed financial support she could not otherwise have, and perhaps who decided that fidelity was not a requirement for trust.

Imagine then, what kind of person would choose monogamy over polygyny? Naturally, a man who could not afford more than one wife. But let us consider the pros and cons of one over the other when all things are made financially and religiously equal. A woman might choose monogamy who wanted equal partnership between husband and wife, a husband dedicated to her and her children more than anyone else's, emotional and physical intimacy from the same individual, who desired a strong and present father figure for her children. In short, a woman who does not want to share her spouse (call it selfish or self-respect, however you interpret). A man might choose one wife over several because he wants no one else - his first wife is maybe not perfect but at least close enough, he is too shy of other women, his first wife is the only woman who could love him, he wants children to whom he can be emotionally and proximally close as much as possible, he wants to invest his romantic and companionate love in one single individual, he respects his wife's feelings, wants her happiness above his own, and he would do nothing to harm her self-esteem.

Admittedly, these are my own thoughts about plural marriage and monogamy. Anyone reading this who disagrees is welcome to argue their case. In brief, it seems to me that polygyny has more to do with sex and money while diminishing love and respect. Monogamy has more to do with unity and trust.

Of course, the end argument from the LDS church is that "God commanded it, so any discussion is irrelevant". That is not fact, however; it is only interpretation. The fact is that Joseph Smith said God commanded it. That does not make it so; that only should focus the attention on Joseph Smith's credibility. I argue that while a perfect god may ask us to do things we do not want to do, he would never ask us to do things that are contrary to conscience and destructive of human relations with no clear benefit.

Could it be that the threat of damnation from God was the only thing that got most of these women to consent to become plural wives? What an odd act from the most perfectly loving being in the universe!

July 26, 2009

Realities Collide

I am terrified of spiders. I have been for as long as I can remember. Just the other day I was loading the dishwasher when a small spider surprised me on the dishwasher's edge. It got away and I was almost unable to go into the kitchen for a couple of hours for fear of it.

The emotion was very real. I cannot deny the feeling I had. My heart was racing and I was irritable, agitated, and anxious long after the encounter with the little arachnid. Nothing on this Earth could convince me that I did not experience what I did. I felt it with every fiber of my being without a doubt.

But while the emotion was absolutely real, the fear was groundless. The spider was absolutely harmless. I had no rational reason at all to be afraid.
Yet I was.

Realities collide when I see spiders. I have no reason to be afraid, and yet I am. The feeling contradicts reason, yet I cannot keep from feeling it. The fear is absolutely real, but it does not make the spider any more of a threat.

Perhaps there is a parallel here with the LDS church's methodology in obtaining absolute truth. The only reason I have to behave the way I do is my emotional state, no matter how ridiculous and unsupported by other realities (i.e., factual knowledge that spiders are not a threat to my safety).

Similarly, the feeling that believers have when hearing/praying about Joseph Smith's final version of the First Vision is no doubt a real feeling. I do not wish to argue that it is pretense or exaggerated. What I do suggest is that, just like my fear of spiders does not make them more of a threat, a love of Joseph Smith does not make his final version of the First Vision any more of a factual event occurring anywhere other than in his mind.

You may ask, "If it is not true, why would I feel so strongly about it?" Fiction moves us emotionally/spiritually all the time. How many of us have literally cried when reading a book or seeing a good movie? After the final chapters of a trilogy I read years ago, I became depressed for several days because I had become so attached to the characters and I felt their pain very literally as they were separated forever. It was not the words printed on the page that moved me, but becoming so involved in the story that it felt real. The emotions were real, no doubt, but they did not make the characters in the book any more alive physically. They lived in my mind, certainly, but nowhere else. In this case, I bought the book, so was invested in it; I wanted to be consumed by the emotion of it. I wanted it to feel real, and it did. Just because not a word of it was true, it didn't mean that I couldn't feel like it was.

I'm not suggesting that emotions are only detractors from reality and truth. I feel that they certainly have their place. But as I have stated before, if one is to make very serious judgments, the reality of emotion should also be supported by the reality of fact and vice versa. For example, if one falls in love over the Internet, the love and desire are certainly real emotions. But if it is to become a healthy, companionate relationship, it must be supported by real interaction, chemistry, time, proximity, etc. To ignore discrepancies and rely only on the feeling could have serious consequences.

Can you imagine someone knocking at my door and telling me to ignore the facts about spiders, and instead to cling onto that terror every time I see one; if I ever start to doubt that spiders are dangerous, I need only let one crawl on my hand, and that fear I have will confirm that spiders truly are dangerous killers? Yet the Church would have everyone ignore the problematic history and doctrine of the early leaders and cling onto the emotion. In other words, the Church insists that emotion dictates the rest of reality. But if we are to get to the actual truth, shouldn't fact confirm feeling?

Regarding my decision about the Church, I have been accused of reasoning my way out of a testimony because I don't want to believe it is true (for whatever reason). But if I were able to reason my way out of the one truth in the universe, why am I unable to reason my way out of arachnophobia?

July 20, 2009

Letter or Spirit of the Law

Whether or not Joseph Smith, Jr. can be called an adulterer is entirely dependent upon one's definition. I'd like to herewith give my two cents:

The argument that he did not commit adultery is supported only by the belief that his extramonogamous unions were legitimate marriages (the idea that he did not have intercourse with them has since long been debunked). Joseph Smith did not admit to adultery perhaps because he felt that he was actually married to these women (Bushman, 2005) and thus, only acting within his rights. After all, they had (however reluctantly) agreed to the union (often misunderstanding its nature), and made the vows in the ceremony (under the promise of familial salvation). So it could reasonably be argued that they were married, at least according to the letter of the law.

But what about the spirit of the law? I think most people would argue that there is more to marriage than a ceremony, a piece of paper, and a sexual act. As a husband of 4 years, I certainly feel that marriage consists of emotional attachment, commitment, time, and effort, at the very least. But it appears that Smith fell short of basically all of these. He did not put much, if any, effort into courting most of his plural wives; romance had very little to do with the unions (Bushman, 2005; Compton, 2001); he cohabited with them infrequently; showed no commitment to them other than the ceremony and consummation (evidenced mostly by his growing circle of wives); spent very little time with them; gave no or minimal support to them financially or emotionally; and gave little regard to their needs overall. I need not mention the complete lack of physical and emotional fidelity he displayed.

Of course, a lot of these were complicated even more because of the large number of wives he had. 34 total wives (at a minimum, at the end of his life) left about 42 minutes for each wife every 24 hours if my math is correct. Of course, Smith was at least human enough to sleep, was in and out of prison, and had dozens of other projects going on. That left him very little time to be a husband to any one of his wives.

Lucky for these women, at least 11 of them had their first husbands (some also had staged husbands; see Compton, 2001) to be in some proximity to them, help with the chores, provide financially, listen to their woes, mend the roof, laugh and play with, protect the family, and so on. But somehow Smith was the one sealed to them for eternity. Their first husbands had no claim to them in the afterlife. They, who had actually worked on their relationships with their wives, would ultimately lose them. In what way was Smith more of a husband than these men?
Perhaps the more appropriate question is "In what way was he more than an adulterer?".
Or maybe the final decision should be up to the scripture Smith dictated with his own lips; D&C 132:61 clearly states that a polygamous wife must be a virgin and belong to no one else, for "he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth to him and to no one else." If 11 of his wives did belong to their first husbands, then it appears Smith was an adulterer by his very own scripture.


Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

July 15, 2009

Means, Ends, and Agency

Imagine this scenario: a person with whom you're acquainted professes his or her love to you. You're not interested. He or she tricks you into drinking some magical potion that casts a spell on you, making you fall desperately in love with him or her. Did this person do something wrong? At this point you want nothing more than to stay with him or her, because you're desperately in love, so what's the problem? Is there a problem?

The question is centuries old. Moral judgment could be broken into 2 schools of thinking: deontology, and consequentialism. A consequentialist would say that it didn't matter how the person did it, but now you're in love and very happy, so the act was not immoral. The ends justified the means. A deontologist would say that this was a horrible thing, because the means robbed you of your choice in the matter. Even if rejection ended in the person feeling horrible and worthless, he or she must let you make your choices. It makes no difference whether you are happy in the end, it was the method in which it was carried out that violated ethical action. The means are how the morality is measured.

The way most people lean tends to depend upon the situation, but I like this illustration of the importance of agency. Most people respond to this scenario by saying that it doesn't matter how much in love you ended up, the immoral thing was robbing you of the choice. Most healthy people, when they love another, at least want that person to have his or her agency.

It is for this reason that I find so many of Joseph Smith's proposals to be troubling. Consider the following from Helen Mar Kimball and decide if this young woman's agency is being manipulated:
Without any preliminaries, my father asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives. The first impulse was anger... My sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father, and as quick he spoke , I replied to him, short and emphatically, NO I WOULDN'T! This is the first time that I ever openly manifested anger towards him. Then he (my father) commenced talking seriously and reasoned and explained the principle (of polygamy) and why it was again established upon the earth, etc. This first interview had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) and I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann to me as Joseph's Wife. This astonished me beyond measure. Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he (my father) offered me to him; this I afterward learned from the Prophet's own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the altar: how cruel this seemed to my mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for she had already taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice but the Lord required more. (source)
She later expressed the following: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it." (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 82)
And so how does this reflect upon Smith's respect for this young woman's agency? Is he justified because her entire family was now guaranteed eternal salvation: the benefits outweighing any negative feelings she had? Or is the method in which he convinced her to marry him a very real violation of Christlike morality and respect for agency?

This is also compounded by the fact that she was 14 years old (source)! If agency is what Christ died for, how could it be righteous and godly to coerce this young woman into marriage with a 37-year-old man? Is that how a perfect, merciful, loving god acts?

Post script: If Satan's goal is to have all of us be miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), it sure seems like Joseph Smith did a lot of his footwork in this instance.

Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

July 10, 2009


Regarding the massive changes in practice and doctrine (e.g., women performing priesthood ordinances, speaking in tongues, polygamy, racial status, etc.) in the LDS church over the years, many apologists argue that it is only necessary that any church should adapt to the modern cultural climate.

I agree to a point. That's why General Conference is televised and broadcast all over the world. That's why leaders have started shaving their faces, why missionaries are no longer required to have a part in their hair (I looked like a nerd my whole mission), why temples have elevators, why nursery leaders are no longer allowed to change diapers, etc.

But I see a huge difference between adaptation to the modern cultural climate and changing the most fundamental principles of doctrine in order to become more mainstream. I really have a hard time imagining a perfect, unchangeable god who lets cultural norms push around his infallible doctrine.

For example, in 1842, Joseph Smith announced that he had the endowment in its fullness. It originally lasted 6-9 hours (Buerger, 1994). These days it lasts less than 2 hours, because the Church has a hard enough time getting patrons to commit to that much every now and then. There's no way people would do 6-9 hours these days. Significant material has been cut out of the full endowment over the years. So if we can cut down the temple ceremony, why can't we sprinkle water on heads to baptize? I thought it was a sin to change around the original doctrine of God. Consider this quote from Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy:
The members of many churches in the world have been putting pressure on their leaders to change doctrine to fit the changing lifestyle of the members. Many have been successful, and more and more we see churches made up of the doctrines of men. There are absolute truths of eternity. They do not change as a society drifts from them. No popular vote can change an absolute, eternal truth. Legalizing an act does not make it moral. (source)
...And yet the LDS church has fallen prey to exactly the same thing - letting the progression of society dictate its doctrine! For instance, the U.S. government made races legally equal in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. Legally requiring nondiscrimination does not make it God's will either, but the Church sure followed suit when it ran into all sorts of PR problems in the following years! Are we seriously to believe that God trailed 14 years behind to make races equal in His eyes when He knew it all along? Shouldn't it have gone in the other order? Who's really in the driver's seat of the LDS church? Isn't it much more likely that at least in this case, God knew all races were equal, but the cultural norms of the day got in the way? Isn't that exactly an example of culture dictating doctrine?

I could give a dozen more examples. As one last huge example, several presidents and general authorities of the Church stated that polygamy would never be taken out of practice (source). Did these leaders all roll over in their graves when the Manifesto was read over the pulpit so that Utah could become a state? According to all of them, the FLDS church has it more right than the LDS church. What's a believer to do with such dissonance?

If the original LDS doctrine is the true, perfect doctrine, why not fight to keep it from changing? If the LDS church is so against homosexual marriage, why don't they spend just as much, if not more, time and resources on reinstating the eternal doctrine of plural wives (click here for "prophets" calling monogamy destructive)? If animal sacrifice is to be restored, why is the Church not doing anything to get rid of PETA?

And so who's really in charge of the doctrine of the LDS church? Is it God, or is it the culture of the day?


Buerger, D. J. (1994). The mysteries of godliness: A history of Mormon temple worship. San Fransisco: Smith Research Associates.

July 6, 2009


It occurred to me recently that perhaps where I differ from some believers revolves around the question "Why?" In other words, how entitled are we, as human beings, to answers from the Almighty?

Helaman 12 states that man is lower than the dust of the earth. This is because the dust obeys all commands of God without question, whereas we humans tend to want to know the purpose before acting. And yet, it was God who supposedly granted us the ability to reason.

The message I hear from some LDS is that we don't need to know the answers to my concerns. Some seem to suggest that it is a sin to even ask such questions; "His ways are not our ways," etc. The answers are apparently so far beyond our capability of understanding that to even attempt to know is detrimental to our souls, because we show God our lack of faith by asking why.

I'd like to present the exact opposite position. I believe that our ability and desire to know why is an absolutely essential part of our salvation. In fact, it stands to reason that God would demand that we ask why. If our greatest enemy is Satan, and he has dedicated his existence to making us all miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), and he is able to entice us, we must ask for reasons before following anything. If we did not ask why, wouldn't we all be easily led astray by the devil? Joseph Smith warned his followers about fraudulent angels (e.g., Bushman, 2005, p. 438; see also D&C 129), and at one point (at least) was deceived by a revelation that had come from the devil (Roberts, Vol. 1, 1965), so it seems appropriate that one should question every "prompting," teaching, doctrine, and commandment to know if it truly were from God, even if it were supposedly from a prophet.

So when I am told that plural marriage is a requirement to enter the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 132: 4; Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266), and it contradicts the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; D&C 49:16; Mosiah 11:2; Ether 10:5; Mark 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:17) and my conscience, it seems very important that I ask why.

God seems very willing to give answers about His other doctrines. We should forgive others because we are not without sin (John 8:7). We should not baptize little children because they are covered under the atonement (Moroni 8), and so on. So why are we not allowed to have answers about the very disturbing doctrine of plural wives? Maybe the fact that there simply are no answers is evidence that this doctrine came from a fraudulent angel, or a false prophet (Matthew 7:15), and those who look upon it with any allowance are evidence that the very elect are being deceived (Matthew 24:24).

And so, repeating what I have stated several times on this blog, we should not allow emotion to drive our actions more than reason. There must be balance. If something is true and righteous, it will have sound reasons behind it and feel intuitively correct.

Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Journal of Discourses (1860). A. Lyman (Ed.), London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot.
Roberts, B. H. (1965). Comprehensive history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.

July 3, 2009

Reflected Revelations

One of the most basic concerns I have about Joseph Smith is that his controversial revelations about marriage were directed towards himself. To put it bluntly, he was raking in sexual partners for himself because of this "revelation." That sounds rather convenient.

For example, Joseph Smith proposed to Mary Elizabeth Rollins after she had been married to Adam Lightner for 6 years and borne 3 of his children. Smith told her
“The angel came to me three times… and said I was to obey that principle [of plural wives] or he would lay [destroy] me.” Mary wrote, “Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in hell should never get me from him.” Additionally, she wrote that Smith told her, “I was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid.” Smith also promised her that if she accepted his proposal, her place in heaven would be assured (quoted in Compton, 2001, p. 212; Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 65).
In brief, Joseph Smith says that God told Joseph Smith to get Joseph Smith another wife, even though she was already married. The constant in the equation is Smith. I would react differently to this if Smith had said God revealed to him that Mary was supposed to be married to Jonny Thornbuckle, and was his before the foundation of the Earth was laid, etc. I would also react differently if Mary had a vision that she was to leave Adam for Joseph Smith.
The problem I see is that Smith had a license to do absolutely anything he wanted. All he needed to throw in was, "God told me to," and his followers would accept it, no matter how repulsive and immoral. It's as if a CEO (Smith) raised his own salary (number of wives) by 3300%, and said "No, I didn't actually want the higher salary. I'm just doing what's best for the company." Everybody knows what's really going on. Of course, Smith kept his "raise" as hidden as possible. Only when the others on the payroll started to find out about it did he tell them to raise their own salaries too.
I also find it troubling that these women who had allegedly been created for Smith had no idea. Zina Diantha Huntington, for example, refused Smith's proposal once while she was single, and again after she had married Henry Jacobs (Compton). If she were created for Smith, why did Smith have to be the one who broke the news to her? Why didn't Emma have a vision about it to comfort her? Does God treat women as property: goods to be used as rewards?

If those revelations really were from God, it sure seems like God was granting Smith a lot of favors, while really harming others who believed in Him with all their hearts.

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.