As pointed out in our last lesson Joseph Smith’s teaching that the spirit of man is uncreated comes into conflict with what is probably the most widely believed doctrine among LDS and FLDS Mormons: that our spirits were literally begotten by a heavenly father and a heavenly mother. Mormon scholar Dan Hale has pointed out that the origin of this particular doctrine…
“…has remained somewhat obscure…there are no clear statements of the doctrine in any of the [LDS] church’s four standard work…In tracing the doctrine of spirit birth backward we find hundreds of references to it throughout Mormon literature, and the teaching that spirits originated through pre-mortal procreation seems to have been the prevailing explanation ever since the Nauvoo period. What is surprising, however, is that none of Joseph Smith‘s recorded sermons--including those delivered in Nauvoo—teach the doctrine. In fact, several seem to teach a doctrine logically at odds with the belief that spirits are the literal offspring of God through pre-mortal birth…Smith’s own doctrinal teaching was that the human spirit as a conscious entity is eternal—as eternal as God. It has no beginning and no end. It was not created; it is self-existing.”
The idea that spirits were sexually begotten was introduced not by Joseph Smith but by early Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt. In a letter dated February 14, 1842, Pratt—while serving as a missionary in England—wrote to an Elder Walker:
“When I write to you I feel to let my imagination rove…let us indulge our follies at this time and wander into the field of imagination. Some thirteen thousand years ago in Heaven or in Paradise (say) we came into existences or in other words received a spiritual organization according to the laws that govern spiritual births in eternity. We were there and then (say) born in the express images and likeness of him by whom we received our spiritual birth.”
Orson Pratt made it quite clear in this letter that the above idea was mere speculation on his part; that it came from indulging his “follies.” Indeed, his notion that thirteen thousand years ago our spirits “came into existence or in other words received a spiritual organization” seems to contradict Joseph Smith’s teaching that “Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle.”
Why did the Mormon Apostles so eagerly embrace Pratt’s doctrine?
It should be remembered that it was among other things Joseph Smith’s secret practice of polygamy that set in to motion the events that led to his arrest and murder by a lynch mob. His death sent the Mormon community at Nauvoo, Illinois into chaos.
(Above) The murder of Joseph Smith a Carthage jail in Illinois.
Most—but not all—of the Mormon Apostles thought it was their duty to maintain order in the community by denying accusations of polygamy while at the same time secretly maintaining the practice. Eager to move Mormons out of the United States to Mexican territory where, free from U.S. law, they could practice polygamy openly, Brigham Young and the Apostles who followed him began constructing a theology justifying the practice.
Once Brigham Young and a newly formed quorum of Twelve Apostles had situated the majority of their followers in Utah territory—completely separated from mainstream American society— they decided that not only would they end their public denials of polygamy, they would announce to the world that polygamy was now official LDS Church doctrine and that all LDS Church members were expected to practice it. (Only thirty percent of LDS Church members ever did.)
Brigham Young called Orson Pratt to announce the Church’s new doctrine to the world, and to explain the theology justifying it. Pratt declared:
“…That spirit that now dwells within each man, and each woman, of this vast assembly of people, is more than a thousand years old, and I would venture to say, that it is more than five thousand years old.
“But how was it made? When was it made? And by whom was it made? If our spirits existed thousands of years ago–if they began to exist–if there were a beginning to their organization, by what process was this organization carried on? Through what medium, and by what system of laws? Was it by a direct creation of the Almighty? Or were we framed according to a certain system of laws, in the same manner as our tabernacles [physical bodies]? If we were to reason from analogy—if we admit analogical reasoning in the question, what would we say? We should say that our spirits were formed by generation, the same as the body or tabernacle of flesh and bones.”
Pratt begins his argument for his new doctrine on the premise that our spirits had a beginning, that they "began to exist." This premise is the exact opposite of the main idea that Joseph Smith laid out in the King Follett Discourse: the spirit of each individual had no beginning; it is eternal, without beginning or end; it has always existed and "there was no creation about it."
Despite completely contradicting Joseph Smith's teachings, Pratt’s new doctrine became the theological justification for LDS polygamy. Plural marriage gave one man the opportunity to have more biological children than he might have with one wife. Having as many children as possible in this life, by as many wives as would marry him, allowed a polygamous man the opportunity to experience on earth what Orson Pratt, Brigham Young and their associates now taught was the type of existence led by God the Father. In 1852 the LDS Church’s official position was only by practicing polygamy in this life could one become a God or Goddess in eternity; Godhood itself consisted of the ability to sexually produce spirit children eternally.
It should be noted that the two other Mormon communities at this time—those in Michigan under the leadership of James Strange, and those whom Joseph Smith himself (shortly before his death) sent to settle in Texas under the leadership of Apostle Lyman Wright—both practiced polygamy. Yet neither community taught that polygamy—or even marriage itself—was required to become a God or Goddess. The Texas Mormons taught that while marriage—either monogamous or polygamous—might add to one’s glory in the Celestial, they never taught that marriage was a requirement for Celestial Glory of Godhood.
Pratt’s doctrine (of the spirit being sexually generated by heavenly parents) was used by the LDS Church not only to justify polygamy, but to refute an almost universally held assumption at the time: that Joseph Smith’s plural marriages sprang from his own romanticism and sexual desire.
THE ROOTS OF MORMON POLYGAMY: ‘SPIRITUAL WIFERY’ & FREE LOVE
From the early 1830’s (before the concepts of Priesthood authority and Priesthood ordinances were introduced in Mormonism) there had been rumors that Joseph Smith secretly advocated polygamy and “spiritual wifery.”
During Joseph’s childhood and teenage years, in the same region of New York in which he and other founding Mormons lived, the controversial religious leader Jacob Cochran openly taught a form of polygamous free-love called “spiritual wifery.” Cochran established communities—The Society of Free Brerhren and Sisters—in Allegany County, New York and in Saco, Maine. In 1832 Mormon missionaries went to Saco to preach to Cochran’s followers, and according to Maine historians, many “Cochranites” converted to Mormonism—enough so that on August 21, 1835, the Mormons held a church conference in Saco.
An 1830's drawing of the Cochranites--a religious community near the boyhood home of Joseph Smith who practiced "spiritual wifery" and free-love. In 1832 Mormon missionaries preached to a Cochranite community in Maine, converting a significant number to Mormonism.
“Spiritual wifery” and “the spirit wife-system” were ideas that made their way into Mormonism early on, and stayed until shortly after the death of Joseph Smith. For proof one need look no further than statements from one of Joseph Smith’s own wives: Helen Mar Kimball Whitney—the daughter of LDS Apostle Heber C. Kimball. According to Helen: "At the time [in Nauvoo] ‘spiritual wife’ was the title by which every woman who entered into this order was called, for it was taught and practiced as a spiritual order."
HAPPINESS: JOSEPH SMITH’S JUSTIFICATION FOR POLYGAMY
An objective study of Mormon history indicates that Joseph Smith believed that in God’s eyes romantic love and the pursuit of human pleasure and happiness justified plural marriage. He did not promote sexual hedonism, but believed that the institutions of law, marriage and family should be made to accommodate humanity’s polygamous sexual nature. As in the practices of Cochran’s Free Brethren and Sisters, Joseph’s views allowed for female polygamy as well: many of his plural wives had husbands other than Joseph. He also believed that ignorance and prejudices found in the mainstream religious traditions regarding human sexuality blinded most people to the common sense and virtue of his liberal views, and that the world would be in an up-roar was it to learn of his beliefs and his polygamous relationships.
(Above) An 1840's portrait of Joseph Smith--The First MormonIn a letter written to Nancy Rigdon (the niece of Sidney Rigdon) and dated April 11, 1842, Joseph Smith explained the justification for polygamy. Considering that he had recently proposed marriage to Nancy (and she had refused), one would expect Joseph to have made some reference to the begetting of “spirit children” in eternity, or to polygamy being essential to Godhood. But as in every letter and journal entry he wrote, and every sermon and revelation he ever gave, Joseph Smith was completely silent regarding both of these two ideas.
In his justification for polygamy, Joseph Smith wrote:
“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it…That which is wrong under one circumstance may be, and often is, right under another.
“God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed…
“A parent may whip a child, and justly, too, because he stole an apple; whereas if the child had asked for the apple, and the parent had given it, the child would have eaten it with a better appetite; there would have been no stripes; all the pleasure of the apple would have been secured, all the misery of stealing lost.”
“This principle will justly apply to all of God’s dealings with His children. Everything that God gives us is lawful and right; and it is proper that we should enjoy His gifts and blessings whenever and wherever He is disposed to bestow…
“…in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances….
“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive…He says: ‘Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;’…no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.”
THE REJECTION OF ROMANTICISM
So why did the LDS Church ignore Joseph Smith linking of human sexuality with happiness? Why did Orson Pratt and Brigham Young feel the need to introduce into Utah Mormonism a theology that made eternal procreation not only the justification for polygamy, but also the means by which Godhood is obtained and human spirits come into being?
When Joseph Smith began sharing his unconventional views on sex and marriage with the leaders of the Mormon community at Nauvoo, few at first were receptive. Most of these men came from New England (the heart of Puritanism in America) and had, before converting to Mormonism, been members of Protestant congregations and movements that tended to be legalistic, strict and dour.
Brigham Young initially found Joseph’s views of sex and marriage at odds with his entire system of morals. Later in life when he referred to his weeks of struggling to understand and embrace polygamy, he said that when he saw a passing funeral, he envied the man in the coffin.
Orson Pratt was so horrified that he left Mormonism for a time, and turned against Joseph. Some Mormons recalled that for weeks following his break with Joseph, Orson lived alone out-of-doors along the banks of the Mississippi, so conflicted and distraught that many thought he had lost his mind.
Both Young and Pratt eventually accepted polygamy as a religious principle—both of them marrying many women and fathering dozens of children. But given their backgrounds and their initial reactions to polygamy, there is no reason to believe that they were completely comfortable with Joseph’s justification for polygamy.
While Joseph enjoyed the company of women and tended to be liberal in his views regarding their rights, Brigham Young declared that no man cared less for the private company of women than he did. When Brigham Young rose to power following Joseph’s death one of the first things he did was abolish Nauvoo’s Female Relief Society (the society which Joseph had taken great pride in helping establish). Later in Utah, he often lashed out from the pulpit at women who found polygamy emotionally painful, or who refused to submit to the rule of their husbands. While Joseph was very much the romantic when courting women—often quoting poetry to them, peppering his conversation with Latin phrases or speaking rapturously of having loved them before the world began—neither Brigham Young or Orson Pratt had any such inclinations—or talents.
For these two men—and for many of the Mormon men who migrated to Utah—sex was reserved for marriage and for the purpose of procreation. The culture from which most of them came—that of the backwoods Yankee and the Western pioneer—was suspicious of, and uncomfortable with the romanticizing of sexual love and passion. Sexual passion was part of nature, and to the frontier mindset nature was something that one had to subdue, harness and use for the good of society. Pleasure and personal happiness had to be put on hold, or even sacrificed altogether, in order to survive present ordeals. For many people the idea of marrying for love alone was still new and fraught with potential dangers. And so in the earliest days of Mormon Utah, marriage—be it monogamous or polygamous—had to serve some purpose higher than mere personal happiness and pleasure. Marriage existed for the survival of the human race and civilization itself. Marriage was an obligation, a sacrifice and ultimately a commandment that one was to obey without question or complaint.
This approach was mirrored in the theology of Orson Pratt: marriage was the relationship through which humans, in eternity, would sexually produce spirits, who would then be sent to inhabit future worlds. Heterosexual intercourse and procreation within the bounds of an eternal marriage, authorized by the LDS Church, became the sole means by which one became a God.
INTELLIGENCE & SPIRIT: WORD GAMES & THEOLOGY
Later Mormon theologians—realizing that this doctrine not only seemed to contradict Joseph Smith’s teaching on the uncreated nature of the spirit, but also that the doctrine was not explicitly laid out anywhere in Mormon scripture—tried to effect a reconciliation of sorts.
The brilliant Mormon scholar and theologian B.H. Roberts wrote at great length trying to reconcile the LDS Church theology with that of Joseph Smith. He tried to establish “intelligence” as something very different from a person’s individual “spirit.” Roberts proposed that “intelligence” was the uncreated, refined matter from which heavenly parents, through sexual union, organize the “spirit” of each of their children.
Modern LDS General Authorities and apologists have continued this line of reasoning—though the images that this theology brings to mind are rather odd to say the least: a God and a Goddess have sexual intercourse, and somehow through this intercourse a substance (“intelligence”) that exists uncreated in the universe enters their bodies and the womb of the Goddess, where it develops and from which it is eventually born as a new individual “spirit child.”
The attempt to different between the words “intelligence” and “spirit”—the attempt to present these as either two different things, or as one thing that somehow evolves from a lower state (“intelligence”) into a higher state (“a spirit”) is completely overthrown by the words of Joseph Smith himself.
Joseph Smith made not differentiation between the concepts of “spirit,” “intelligence” and “mind.” He declared in no uncertain terms:
“INTELLIGENCE is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. IT IS A SPIRIT FROM AGE TO AGE and there is no creation about it.” (King Follett Discourse)
Mormon historian Dan Hale sums it up, writing:
“Smith used the terms ’spirit,’ ’soul,’ intelligence,’ and ’mind’ synonymously to describe the inchoate, indestructible essence of life. This summary is drawn from eight documentary sources--dating from 6 may 1833 to 7 April 1844. None of them suggest that God presides over the spirits because they are his begotten off spring, but because he was more intelligent, more advanced, than they and because he organized them into a pre-mortal council…In conclusion, one of the most cherished doctrines of [LDS] Mormonism, that spirits are the literal offspring of God, has been taught by virtually all [LDS] Mormon leaders. The notable exception is probably Joseph Smith, whose direct statements teach a doctrine contrary to that of his closest associates, men and women who maintain that they were simply perpetuating what he had begun.”
THE CENSURED CLIMAX OF JOSEPH SMITH’S GREATEST SERMON
Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse not only contradicts the LDS and FLDS doctrine of the spirit being produced by sexually produced by a Heavenly Father and Mother, it also rejects the entire doctrine that heterosexual Celestial Marriage (monogamous or polygamous) is necessary in order for a human being to progress to Godhood.
While many LDS historians, Church authorities and apologists have written about King Follett Discourse, nearly all have ignored the visionary conclusion of this sermon.
Why have they ignored it?
Because the LDS Church has deleted it from every authorized publication of “The King Follett Discourse.”
In our next lesson we will print this deleted portion of the discourse, and explore the extraordinary vision of Godhood that it contains.
This censored portion of the King Follett Discourse undermines the LDS and FLDS doctrine that eternal heterosexual marriage is necessary for Celestial Glory and Godhood.