Wednesday, December 31, 2008


"Watch Night" was a religious celebration of New Year that began with the Moravians--a small European Christian sect of the 18th century who, among other things, emphasized the feminine aspects of God's character.

In the first decades of the 1700's, John Wesley began worshipping with Moravians, and his experiences with them inspired him to begin the movement now known as Methodism. Methodists took the Moravian traditon of "Watch Night" and made it a continuing part of Methodist tradition.(Just as Wesley had his first deeply felt religious experiences while attending Moravian worship services, so Joseph Smith--the First Mormon--has his first deeply felt religous experiences when in his mid-teens he began worshipping with Methodists in Palmyra, New York.)

"Watch Night" was celebrated on New Year's Eve, and it focused on the spiritual progress one made during the past year while encouraging one to recommit to personal spiritual growth in the coming year.

To celebrate "Watch Night," John Wesley's bother, Charles Wesley, composed a number of hymns. (Charles Wesley was one of world's greatest writers of hymns, and many of his hymns have become a traditional part of Mormon worship--appearing the hymnals of most Mormon denominations. Charles' most famous hymn is "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.")

The following hymn is one of Charles Wesley's "Watch Night" hymns. It is printed here in the spirit of the holiday season:

"Come, let us anew our journey pursue,
Roll round with the year,
And never stand still till the Master appear,
His adorable will let us gladly fulfill,
And our talents improve,
By the patience of hope, and the labor of love,
By the patience of hope, and the labor of love.

"Our life is a dream; our time, as a stream,
Glides swiftly away,
And the fugitive moment refuses to stay,
The arrow is flown, the moment is gone;
The millennial year
Rushes on to our view, and eternity's here,
Rushes on to our view, and eternity's here.

"O that each in the day of His coming may say,
'I have fought my way through;
I have finished the work Thou didst give me to do!'
O that each from his Lord may receive the glad word,'
Well and faithfully done!
Enter into My joy, and sit down on My throne!''
Enter into My joy, and sit down on My throne!' '

--Charles Wesley (Hymn 217 in the current LDS Hymnal)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas!

"I Heard The Bells On
Christmas Day"

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867



Saturday, November 01, 2008

WHAT ALL OF US KNOW: Exploring the Mormon Paradigm--Lesson 2


“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith, the First Mormon

Knowledge is what saves us, while ignorance or a denial of the facts, of truth, usually puts us at risk and peril.

The person who hasn’t learned how to swim is in danger of drowning; the person who knows how to swim is less at risk should she suddenly be caught in a flood or undertow.

The person who knows how to plant, cultivate and harvest—who knows how to hunt or fish is better equipped to avoid starvation. Without this knowledge, human survival is threatened.

Someone who discovers a tumor on his body but then continues on in denial of this knowledge, never seeking the advice of a physician puts his life at risk.

Ignorance of the facts—be it willful or unintentional—threatens human life, human progress and happiness.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

All religions claim to possess “the truth.” Most religions claim that if one will come to “know” the “truth” that they teach, one will be saved—from the woes of this life, or from damnation, suffering or loss in an afterlife.

The problem is that many of the “truths” proclaimed by most religions are principles that are supported by little if any objective evidence. Many of these so-called truths are faith-based principles that fly in the face of objective reality. Because of this, the type of “knowledge” that these religions champion requires a huge amount of blind-faith, denial of rational thought, compartmentalized thinking and self-deception.

Traditionally religions have issued broad declarations of a supposed truth regarding the nature of reality, and then have encouraged believers to deny or explain away any evidence that contradicts that declaration. For instances, a Biblical fundamentalist will declare that the heavens and the earth were created, a mere six or seven thousand years ago, in six days; that at that time God created human beings in their present form. A fundamentalist may claim to “know” that this is true. But when pressed such “knowledge” ends up be described as “spiritual” or mystical in nature; and this “knowledge” is maintained by denying and ignoring all of the physical evidence (and the scientific theories based upon that physical evidence) that the earth is, in fact, tens of billions of years old, and that all species of biological life (including humans) evolved from less complex life forms.

In short, traditional religions—while claiming to champion knowledge and truth—actually end up devaluing both.

The Mormon Paradigm is different.

Knowledge and truth are deeply revered by Reform Mormons—in fact, Mormon scripture equates the two concepts: “Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and of as they were and of as they are to come.” (The Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

In the Mormon Paradigm truth IS a knowledge of the facts regarding existence. The Mormon definition of “truth” is the same definition used by secular thinkers and rationalists. For Reform Mormons blind faith, mysticism and a belief in the supernatural are not required to understand truth. In fact from the Reform Mormon perspective, blind faith, mysticism and devotion to supernaturalism can actually undermine one’s knowledge of the truth.


Rather than beginning with broad declarations concerning the nature of God or the supernatural, the Mormon Paradigm begins by examining those things that ALL human beings can know objectively by virtue of their physical senses. The physical senses are the means by which human beings obtain information concerning one another and of the world in which we live, and rational thought is the means by which humans understand that information. As Thomas Jefferson declared, “Every man’s own reason must be his oracle.”

For a religion to be valuable to human beings—for that religion to inspire, encourage and cultivate human progress and joy—it cannot preach faith-based ideas that contradict what we all know to be objectively true by virtue of our physical senses.

So let’s begin our examination of the Mormon Paradigm by considering first those things that we can all agree are true—those facts upon which all of us (followers of a particular religion and atheists alike) can agree.


Consider the following ideas, taken from a classic work of Mormon theology: B. H. Roberts’ monumental study, “The Truth, The Way, The Life.”

Man knows himself as existing. He is a self-conscious entity. He knows himself as existing by many manifestations. He knows himself as seeing, hearing, tasting; as feeling…But most of all in all these manifestations through which man attains self-consciousness, he knows himself as thinking: “I think, therefore I am.”…One thinks, and one acts; therefore one is.

“And not only is one conscious of one’s self, but he is also conscious of other selves, of other men, such as he himself is, in the main; with the same kind of qualities which he himself possesses…”

“One’s knowledge is not limited to this consciousness of self and other selves—to the likeness and the difference between himself and other selves. He is conscious of the existence of a large external world. He knows the existence of earth; land, water, and air. He knows the earth is divided into islands and continents, seas and oceans, rivers and bays. He knows the existence of the town or hamlet or countryside where he was born…he knows, at least by report, of the great centers of world population….”

“Man knows objects by form, texture, and quality…. [But] man’s knowledge [is not] confined to material things. He is conscious of qualities, even of intellectual and moral qualities….He has a mind capable through the imagination of creating worlds and peopling them with creatures of his mind…”

“Man knows himself as competent to form normal judgments and realizes self-responsibility for his actions…He is capable of forming comparisons between moral states and conditions…

“…passing things in review and pronouncing judgment upon them as good or evil, better or worse, man becomes conscious of a very wonderful power that he recognizes as existing within himself: the consciousness of will; the power of self-determination; the power to choose which of two or more courses he will take. He can do as he wills to do. While there may be persuasive influences drawing him to one side or the other, yet he is conscious of the power to determine what his action shall be. He recognizes the truth avowed by the English poet [Shakespeare], “It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” This is not to assert man’s powers to do impossible things, especially impossible physical things…I have had in mind rather the fact of free moral agency, man’s power to recognize good and evil by their effects in human life, and his power to choose between them—to choose which he will follow.”

(B. H. Roberts’ “The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology.” 2nd edition, pp. 29-32)

(Above: B. H. Roberts--Mormon Theologian)

In coming lessons we will explore the Mormon Paradigm building upon the following facts:

--I think, therefore I am.

--I know that I share a common nature with all other human beings; in nature, we are all alike.

--I know that I exist in a physical realm. I gain my knowledge of world around me by virtue of my physical senses.

--As a human being, I have a level of natural intelligence that allows me to remember, to imagine, to think in terms of good and bad, to think abstractly, to make value judgments.

--Because as a human being I can make value judgments, by nature I am free to make choices; I am free to act on my own judgments.

--Because I am free to act based on my value judgments and choices, I must take responsibility for my actions and accept their consequences.


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:32)

"Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”—Joseph Smith (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

“Knowledge is what saves a man.”—Joseph Smith (The King Follett Discourse)

“Every man’s own reason must be his oracle…[God has bestowed] reason... as the umpire of truth.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I think, therefore I am.”—Descartes (from “Discourse on Method”)

“It is in our Wills that we are thus or thus.” –Shakespeare (paraphrase of “Othello 1.3.319-20)

(Left: A recently discovered 1843 photograph, reported to be the only photograph ever taken of Joseph Smith--the founder of Mormonism.)


Do you have any thoughts on this lesson---any ideas you’d like to share? If so, we will post them here. Email to us at:

In consideration of space and clarity, we reserve the right to edit any email we may post. All view points will be welcomed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

PARADIGM SHIFT: Mormonism's New Paradigm

When it comes to religion, the world is in midst of a monumental paradigm shift.

There is an overall concept regarding the nature of God, the universe and man that most people have accepted without question for nearly 2,000 years. If someone is religious, it’s assumed that he or she accepts that overall concept—that paradigm.

It seems virtually impossible to have any discussion on religion without having everyone involved in the discussion accepting the following ideas:

1. There is only one all-powerful, all-knowing God who created and controls all things. Some may define God in personal terms: as a Father or Mother, as an Almighty Lord or Heavenly King, as Jesus Christ or some other human figure from history or myth. Others may envision God as an impersonal Force, Power or Spirit. Regardless of how God is defined, most people tend to believe that there is but one God who is above all things that exist, who is the “First Cause” of all that exits.

2. The cosmos, the universe—everything that exists—has a definite beginning. Some may believe that the universe was created by God in seven literal days. Others may believe the earth was created in seven thousand years, or over the course of billions of years. Some think that existence began with a Big Bang. Despite differences regarding how existence began, all seem to agree that existence did have a beginning; that at some point nothing existed, and then existence itself began.

3. Human nature is inherently conflicted. Many believe that the physical body with its appetites and desires is in conflict with an immaterial spirit or soul; they may talk about “Original Sin,” and humanity’s inherent “sinful nature.” Others think of the conflict in terms of emotion versus reason, the heart versus the head. Still others consider the concept of the individual, as well a person’s self-interest or selfishness to be in conflict with the “greater good” of the masses and of selflessness and sacrifice. Still others pit the human tendency to question things and to demand evidence or proof against the human ability to accept ideas on the basis of faith alone. Regardless of exactly how the conflict is described, all religions tend to view human nature as inherently conflicted and therefore in need of change, redemption or salvation; human nature is defected and one particular religion has the remedy.

4. There is an external authority—separate from, and at times at odds with human reason, knowledge and understanding—which determines was it right and wrong, true and false, good and evil. Some believe that authority is God Himself, speaking or issuing commandments through a certain book of scripture, a particular church or religious organization, a certain group of human beings or a particular religious leader such as a pope, a guru, a priest or prophet. To cling to one’s own ideas (as rational at they may seem) instead of accepting whatever revelations or commandments may come through these sources is to reject not only God himself, but the very foundation of morality. Others may reject such visible symbols of external authority as scripture, churches and religious leaders—instead teaching that man must put aside his rational mind, his demands for evidence and proofs, and the conclusion he has reached regarding the nature of things; man must forsake his ego—his sense of self—and open himself up to God, to the Light, the Source of all things, the Spirit of the Universe, etc. Only through submitting to a mystical inner communion with the Divine, can man “be freed” from the pain, suffering and evils of life on earth. Regardless of how submission to an external authority is envisioned, the over-all idea is the same: ethics, morality, piety, virtue, holiness and righteousness consist of putting aside one’s rational mind, one’s own ideas of things, and submitting to an external authority.

5. After this life a person’s spirit receives some sort of eternal reward or punishment. Some believe this reward or punishment is the result of one’s deeds. Others believe it is determined by the religion one embraced in life, the God in which one had faith, or the church to which one belonged. Still others believe that one’s eternal reward or punishment is determined by the type of person one became as a result of how one lived his or her life. Regardless of how the reward or punishment is determined, the overall belief of most people is that after this life, one’s spirit passes on to am eternally fixed and static state. One is either saved or damned; one goes to either heaven or hell; one achieves nirvana or one does not.

For nearly two thousands years, the world has tended to accept (or to at least give lip-service and deference) to these ideas—to this religious paradigm.

However, over the past six hundred years (beginning with the Renaissance in Europe), individuals have arisen who have questioned aspects of this paradigm. Science and medicine have brought forth new knowledge regarding the universe, nature, the human mind and body.

The scripture and sacred writing of most religions came forth hundreds or thousands of years ago when people in their ignorance believed the earth was the center of the universe around which the sun, moon and starts revolved.

It was assumed that disease and natural disasters were sent by Gods, angels or devils to punish, chastise or humble disobedient and impure human beings. There was no concept of germs, bacteria or viruses; no understanding weather patterns or geological forces at work beneath the surface of the earth. People had no concept of impersonal natural forces causing events or spreading disease. If a disaster struck an area, if a plague or disease ravaged a particular community, then a God or supernatural being must have caused these things to happen.

In short, most scripture and religion came hundreds or thousands of years ago before the human race had developed an understanding of nature itself.

Over the past six hundred years that has changed.

We know now that the world is round, not flat.

We know that the earth is not the center of the universe. In fact, we now know that the universe actually has no center at all, but seemly extends onward and outward in all directions eternally.

We know that disasters and disease are the result of impersonal forces in nature. When wondering if a storm or earthquake might strike a particular area, people no longer turn to shamans, holy men and seers; they consult the scientists who study these natural phenomonans. Where ancient might have turned to oracles or priests for prophecies concerning coming storms or calamities, we now turn to TV meteorologists and weather reporters.

When a loved one is taken ill, witch-doctors and faith-healers are not consulted; most people don’t sacrifice animals on an altar in an attempt to convince gods to heal them. Again scientists (in this case, medical doctors) are called for advice.

When someone suffers from depression or emotional disorders, most people no longer hire an exorcist, or recite magical incantations in an attempt to drive away demons and evil spirits. Instead they turn to medical experts such as psychologists or psychiatrists.

In the modern Western world most people, regardless of how much they might believe in one all-powerful God, still maintain that individual human beings have certain natural rights upon which not even religion may infringe. Most modern nations have made an attempt to separate the powers of organized religion from the power of government. Whereas the ancient people who brought forth the world’s scriptures and religion had no concept of the individual have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of personal happiness, most modern people consider these ideas to be sacred.

Whereas ancient people believed that gods had every right to demand that an individual lay down his or her life, modern people consider human sacrifice to be an abomination. (For Jews and Christians, one of the most troubling stories in their Bible is the account of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.) Ancients believed it was honorable and right to execute heretics, adulterers, prostitutes, and children who dishonored their parents and families. While many modern people may consider heresy, adultery and prostitution sinful—even criminal in some cases—most would never assume that these things warranted public execution.

Despite all the progress achieved in our understanding of the universe and in our respect for human nature, most people still cling to an ancient religious paradigm—a religious “scheme of things”—that is at odds with nearly every aspect of modern life.

In short, we are in the middle of a monumental paradigm shift when it comes to religion.

That paradigm shift is the defining aspect of our age. One needn’t look any further than the morning paper, the evening news or current political and military events:

—The so-called “War on Terrorism” being waged by the United States and her allies is not so much a war on terrorism in general but a war against theocratic forces from Islamic nations who condone violence in order to defeat “infidels” and establish submission to what they believe is God’s will.

—In the United States, many Christian fundamentalists decry “secular humanism,” and insist that there should be no “wall of separation between church and state.” They insist that the United States was founded on “Biblical principles” and that such “sins” as homosexuality, pornography, no-fault divorce and abortion should either be declared illegal or in some way stigmatized by the law.

—Religious fundamentalists campaign to have ‘Creationism” and “Intelligent Design” (the doctrine that God created and designed the universe) taught in public school science classes along side the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection.

—While a greater portion of the United States population than ever before defines itself as Evangelical Christian (a high as 32% according to some polls), and while this segment of the population influences politics and government more profoundly than at any time in American history, these same Evangelicals nevertheless continue to see themselves as a persecuted minority whose rights are being attacked.

—Some of the best-selling books of the past few years have been in-depth defenses of atheism and attacks on traditional ideas of faith and believe. Such books as “God Is Not Great,” “The End of Faith” and “The God Delusion” are the works of some of the most respected thinkers of our day—and they have all become best-sellers. On the other hand, the best-seller lists also have included works such as “The Purpose Drive Life” (by a conservative Christian minister) and the current best-seller “The Shack” (written by a liberal, non-traditional Christian theologian.)

—For decades now people who have an intense interest in religion and in ethics but who are not fundamentalists describe themselves as being “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” Why? Because the majority of the population tends to view organized religion negatively; they equate it with fundamentalism, legalism, self-righteousness and bigotry. Despite this negative view of organized religion, these self-described “spiritual” people embrace many of the core ethics of traditional religion: love of neighbor, caring for those who need, defending the oppressed and outcast. And sadly enough, many of those who are most vocal in attacking the “bleed-heart liberalism” of these “spiritual” people are those who define themselves as “religious.”

Why is there some much contention over religion? Why the discord?

Certainly the history of religion generally is in large part a record of contention, discord and violence. But in our day something has changed.
The human race has simply reached a point in its progression where the religious paradigm of the past four two to four thousand years can no longer be taken literally; the paradigm—what we have been told we should believe about the nature of reality—is simply out of harmony with what we actually know about the nature of reality.

Reform Mormons embrace a new religious paradigm—what we call “the Mormon Paradigm.”

The Mormon Paradigm completely rejects the following ideas found in the traditional religious paradigm:

1. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that there is but one all-powerful, all-knowing God. Its understanding of God’s nature is completely different from that of all other religions.

2. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that the universe and the existence ever had a beginning. It completely rejects the belief that there was ever an “in the beginning.” It rejects the doctrine of Creationism.

3. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that human nature is inherently fallen, sinful or conflicted. An idea such as Original Sin has no place whatsoever in the Mormon Paradigm.

4. The Mormon Paradigm rejects the belief that morality consists of obeying or submitting to any external authority such as a book of scripture, a set of laws, the commands of a religious leader, the decrees of a religious organization or tradition, or an external spirit, power or force.

5. While believing that everything and everyone has an eternal aspect, the Reform Mormon Paradigm completely rejects the belief in a static life after death—either in heaven, hell or limbo.

From now on, this blog will explore that Mormon Paradigm in depth. We will explore how the Mormon Paradigm views things from the tiniest microscopic element to nature of God—and everything in between.


Because if one’s religious beliefs concerning any aspect of reality are out of harmony with what is known about reality (known by virtue of one’s senses, by virtue of objective physical proof, by virtue of sound reasoning), eventually trouble will be the result. If one’s ideals are out of harmony with objective reality and with human nature as it now is then eventually—in the name of those so-called ideals—human nature (and human beings) will come under attack.

Recently agnostic, religious skeptic and comedian Bill Maher said, “My theory is, if there is a God, He needs a break….we don’t know if He exits. But if there is a God, He is very put upon. He wants someone to debunk. Leave Him alone already. Keep the pressure off of Him.” ( Quoted in “USA Today,” October 6, 2008)

No one can argue that the religious paradigms of the past have inspired injustice, tyranny and violence in the name of God. God has gotten a “bad rap”—the most offensive being from those who have claimed to be his most devout followers and defenders.

To use the words of Maher, the New Religious Paradigm of Reform Mormonism “debunks” the false ideas, the irrational theologies and the silly superstitions that traditional religions have put forth regarding the nature of God, man and the universe.

And beyond this, Reform Mormonism’s New Religious Paradigm puts forth a theology a mythology, a philosophy and a set of ethics and values—the purpose of which is to exalt human beings and human life here on earth.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Concerning what is sacred, often I’m alone:
Set apart from other men; a sect all my own.
Pious men of good report assume that I’ve no God
Because the path I’ve chosen is not the path they trod.

But I have a god—though not the God of most:
No distant king, or vengeful Judge, or angry Lord of Hosts.

The glory of my God is everywhere revealed,
In burning sun, in languid moon, in heaven, sea and field;
In every law which keeps the earth and all things in it bound
The mind of my most gracious God is waiting to be found.

And man—of all God’s creatures—can learn his grand design,
so in the name of nature’s god, I hold this truth divine:

Free each man was born,
And free each man remains
Though he’s beaten and he’s torn,
And weighted down in chains.
In the strength of his convictions
He can stand before the crowd:
His heart beats free
And his head remains unbowed.

For there’s something in a man
That should not be denied—
Though it’s often sacrificed,
And for its sake men have died,
Paying the ultimate price.

Let persecutions come,
Let calumny defame;
The cause of human liberty
Flows onward unrestrained;
Should other voices fail,
I will sing strong and loud:
“My heart beats free!
My head remains unbowed!”

Classical Mormon theology puts forth a radical doctrine of human Free Agency: the mind of man is eternal, uncreated and co-equal with God. Freedom is not a gift from to humans; it is not the creation of God. Rather freedom is inherent in the very nature of man.

Because of this, Reform Mormons value the freedom, independence and individual agency.

Share your thoughts on freedom with our readers. Email them to:

Sunday, June 22, 2008


This past week California joined Massachusetts in legalizing same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago the governor of New York ordered all stage agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and nations. So it is that in the past week legally recognized same-sex marriages have become a reality in three of the most populated states in the U.S. At the same time this week, new scientific findings were released by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden on differences in the size and structure of the human brain in heterosexual and homosexual subjects. The findings offer yet more medical evidence that sexual orientation is not the product of personal choice or social influences but is an inborn biological trait, as immutable as height, gender or race.

Eventually all religions that have taken a stand against homosexuality and same-sex marriage will have to address the issues raised by these developments in law and science. In response to these events, this week’s Gospel Doctrine Lesson will address the Reform Mormon view on the meaning and purpose of marriage.

During the last half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, Utah Mormons found themselves, politically and socially, in the same situation that activists for same-sex marriage now find themselves: attacked for being “anti-family,” for being enemies to “traditional marriage,” and for being a threat to everything from Christianity to Western civilization itself. (Given its own history, it is ironic—to say the very least—that the LDS Church is one of U.S.’s most vocal and active agitators against same-sex marriage. Days after the California Supreme Court’s decision, it was the state of Utah that officially petitioned California, asking that no such marriages be performed until after an amendment to the state’s constitution—overturning the court’s decision—could be voted upon in the upcoming election.)

Almost from its inception, Mormonism diverged from popular and traditional views on marriage. In 1831, at a time when most white racism against Native Americans was nearly universal, Joseph Smith encouraged Mormons to form “matrimonial alliances” with the Indians of the American mid-west. By the mid-1830’s, Mormons were being accused of practicing polygamy. In the early 1840’s as the strict sexual mores of the Victorian Age were being embraced by Americans, Mormons were publishing religious tracts denouncing “monkish” attitudes toward human sexuality and teaching as a theological principle that sex was essential to human joy and happiness. In the early 1850’s, Mormons in the Territory of Utah instituted the most liberal divorce laws in the United States. (It would take the rest of the nation more than a century to catch up with the pioneer Mormon practice of no-fault divorce.)

With this history in mind, we will explore the Reform Mormon concept of marriage.

"It is not good that man be alone, for we are not alone." (Eloheim speaking to Jehovah in the pre-1970 LDS Endowment ceremony)

As Christianity was the official religion of Europe for over a thousand years, it makes perfect sense that the ideas of most Westerners regarding marriage descend from the Biblical creation myths. Mormonism itself evolved from 19th century American popular religion which was rooted in the Biblical traditions.

Biblical fundamentalists, Evangelicals and LDS Mormons currently argue that reproduction and the rearing of children is the main purpose of marriage. Yet none of these groups discouraged marriage among infertile or elderly heterosexual couples, or among young, fertile heterosexual couples who chose not to have children. They argue that because these couples could biologically reproduce if they were fertile, younger or disposed toward parenting, they should be allowed—even encouraged—to marry.

The idea that reproduction is the main purpose of marriage (indeed, of sex itself) comes from a literal reading the first creation myth—the Israelite creation myth found in he first chapter of Genesis.

According to the Israelite creation myth, God (Elohiem) creates the heavens and earth in six days. On the sixth day, after creating all forms of sea-life and animal life on earth, God last of all creates a nameless man and woman in his image. (Nowhere does the Israelite myth explain how God creates man and woman; there is no mention of creating them out of the dust of the earth.) God blesses the man and woman, commanding them to “be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth,” and to exercise dominion over all forms of life on earth. (See Genesis 1:26-31)

But a completely different creation myth—this one the product of another culture altogether, the Judean culture of southern Israel—begins in chapter 2, verse 4 and continues through chapter 4 of Genesis. Strangely enough, Evangelicals, fundamentalists and the LDS usually quote (or misquote) the Judean myth—and blend elements of it with elements of the Israelite myth, the end result being that they distort what the Judean myth actually says.

The differences between the Israelite and Judean creation myths is striking—and once the differences have been noticed, one may be astounded that so many Evangelicals, Christian fundamentalists and LDS Mormons remain ignorant of that fact that the opening chapters of Genesis actually contain two different and contradictory stories.

The Judean creation myth is filled with details—familiar to most Christians, Jews and Mormons—that are not found in the Israelite creation myth. Among these important details is that the Judean myth gives actual names to all the characters. In the Judean myth the God who forms the earth has a personal name: Yahweh—which has traditionally been translated into English as “the LORD God.” Also the man and woman—who are nameless in the Israelite creation myth—are here given the names of Adam and Eve.

Also striking—and most important—is the plot of the story told: Yahweh makes the heaven and the earth, but no time frame is given for this. Nowhere is a period of seven days—or of seven time periods of any duration—given.

Rather than creating man and woman last and at the same time (as does the God of the Israelite myth), Yahweh makes the man—Adam—first before making any other form of life. After forming Adam from the dust of the earth, Yahweh breathes the breath of life into his nostrils so that Adam becomes a living soul and the very first life form on the planet earth. In contrast to the order even of events in the Israelite myth, Yahweh causes all plant life to grow out of the ground, and plants “a garden eastward in Eden” after the appearance of man on earth (See Genesis 2:4-15) (It should also be pointed out that the Garden of Eden plays no part whatsoever in the Israelite creation myth.)

At this point the only living things on earth are the plants and one lone man. Yahweh declares, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The phrase “an help meet for him” is usually misquoted as “a helpmate for him.” However the word “helpmate: and the phrase “an help meet for him” have two very different meanings. “Helpmate” means simply spouse. But “an help meet for him” means “a helper worthy of, or equal to him.”

What happens next in the Judean myth is surprisingly. In order to make “a helper worthy of, and equal to” Adam, Yahweh forms every fowl of the air and every beast of the field out of the ground. Yahweh then brings these potential helpers “worthy of and equal to Adam” to Adam so that he (Adam) can give them names. (See Genesis 2:18-20)

Birds and the beasts are Yahweh’s first attempt to make for Adam a “helper worthy of and equal to him?”

For the millions of people who have misinterpreted Genesis by using the word “helpmate” (spouse), this bit of the Judean myth could be troubling to say the least. If Yahweh’s intention was to make a sexual partner (a “helpmate,” a spouse) for Adam, why did He form birds and “the beasts of the fields?” What are we to make of this portion of the story—and of Yahweh’s apparent ignorance of the biological difference between a human male and say an eagle or a horse? (If one wanted to be facetious and outrage fundamentalists one could suggest that Yahweh first intended Adam to choose a bird or a beast as his sexual partner—that the Lord original intent was that bestiality be the sexual norm for humans. To suggest such a thing, however, one must accept the fundamentalist’s mistranslation of “help meet” as “helpmate.”)

Back to the second chapter of Genesis: Adam names all the birds and beast but alas, among all these newly formed life forms “there was not found a help meet for him.” (Genesis 2: 20) In other words, Adam became acquainted with the animals of earth, but impressive as many of these species were, he found that none of them were equal to him.

So next Yahweh causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, take from his side a rib and from that forms a woman—Eve. When Adam is introduced to Eve, he recognizes her as “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23) Adam recognizes that Eve is like him; that they share a common biological nature.

What happens next? Does Yahweh command Adam and Eve to reproduce and multiply?
One would assume so if one listens to Evangelicals, Fundamentalist and LDS Mormons tell the story.

But this is not the case at all. In fact, reproduction is not mentioned until the fourth chapter of Genesis—after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of Knowledge, leave the Garden of Eden and are living on their own in the outside world.

Instead the next two verses of the Judean myth sum up the entire meaning of the story:

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave into his wife; and they shall be one flesh. And they were naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:23)

The central idea being explored in the myth is not reproduction but companionship, the union of two humans and intimacy.

There is a social stereotype (surely offensive to cat and animal lovers) of “the cat lover.” This stereotype would be the woman or man who has never known romantic love—who, in fact, has no close friends or relations, and lives alone in an apartment full of cats. Most people assume that a person who does not share his or he life intimately with another human, but instead builds a life around relationships with pets is someone to be pitied.

Why is this?

Because most people realize that as loveable and as affectionate as an animal may be, such a relationship is in no way comparable to an intimate, loving relationship with another human being.

Mormon scripture declares “the glory of God is intelligence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36)

Human intelligence is of high order than animal intelligence. It is because of the nature of human intelligence, that we humans can even conceive of abstractions such as “love,” “hate,” “alone,” “together,” “me,” and “you.” These abstractions—universal to all human beings regardless of time, location, nationality, race or creed—form the foundation of all human relationships.

Regardless of the intelligence of other species, there is no evidence whatsoever than any other known life form on earth can consciously hold these abstractions in mind, act upon them, communicate them and react emotionally to them in the way as do humans. The affection of a pet for its owner is of a different nature than the love of one human for another because the intelligence of a pet is of a different nature than the intelligence of a human being.

Other species mate, reproduce, nurture their young, then leave their offspring to fend for themselves—before moving on to repeat the cycle again and again until their bodies age past the point of being able to reproduce.

But this is not the case with human beings.

We approach relationships (or run from them) with a keen sense of ourselves and of others as intelligent individuals. We are constantly observing and judging one another—not just on the basis of fertility or strength, but on the basis of higher abstractions such as kindness, cruelty, goodness, evil, justice and injustice. To borrow the symbolism of Genesis, these concepts—which only a highly intelligent life form can fully process—are the ground and the dust from which our emotions are formed. Among these emotions are those emotions related to sexual arousal. Art historian Camille Paglia has written that “sex is where nature and civilization intersect.” Regardless of how “animalistic” one might label a particular sexual act, sex for humans will always have a profoundly psychological and emotional dimension—and therefore a spiritual and ethical dimension—that transcends the reproductive role that sex plays in other species.

“…intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence…” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:40) can

When Adam is introduced to Eve in the Judean myth, he recognizes her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. But a much deeper recognition seems inherent in this poetry.

Adam recognizes that here is another being who shares his level of intelligence. Here is another being who perceives him using the same processes through which he perceives her. Here is another being whose mind and emotions function in the same way; another being with whom he can communicate; another human being he known, and by whom he can be known. “Bone of my bone…flesh of my flesh…intelligence cleaving to intelligence.”

To reduce human sexuality and marriage to mere reproduction is to equate human nature with that of a barnyard’s four footed inhabitants; it is to debase marriage by equating it with the breeding practices of the stockyard.

And yet in the name of “protecting the sanctity and dignity of traditional marriage,” this is, in effects, what Evangelicals, fundamentalists and LDS Mormons do.

Consider again the last two verses of Genesis, chapter two: leaving one’s parents and uniting with another human being—this is the essence of marriage.

It is not good that a person be alone. A person needs to have a “help meet” for him or her. That means that each of us needs another being who, by nature, can experience life as we experience it, think as we think, feel the same type of emotions that we feel; another human being who can communicate to us what they think and feel; someone with whom we can communicate; someone with whom we can share the experience of living life on earth as an intelligent being.

Affection, closeness, nurturance, sexual arousal, physical pleasure—these are ends in and of themselves. Part of what makes us human is that by out nature we are able to conceive of arousal and pleasure and physical intimacy as separate ideas in and of themselves. Our nature as beings who exist in the image of God—who is also an intelligent being (see Abraham 3:18-19)—is revealed in our sexual nature.

The essence of marriage is companionship. In fact, marriage IS companionship of the most intimate nature.

Consider this: when do most people consider a marriage to be over?

One spouse may commit adultery, yet so long as the couple continues to live together we consider the marriage—though flawed—to be intact. One spouse may physically or emotionally abuse the other; we may consider the marriage dysfunctional, but so long as the couple continues on together, we still consider them married. The sex life of a couple may die, but so long as the couple are there for one another as companions, they are considered married.

Now consider this: a couple has had a fulfilling sex life; they have been faithful to one another; they share a common philosophy or faith; they may have children whom they love and nurture. But should one spouse dissert the other, should one leave and cease all communication; should one spouse simply not “be there” for the other when that spouse is facing illness or tragedy—should any of these situations exist, then despite their past history, despite the children they share, despite the blessing their union may have received from either church or state—most people would view the marriage as over.

Companionship, having “a help meet” for oneself—such is the essence of marriage. A commitment and covenant to such a relationship is the basis of marriage. Reform Mormons believe that marriage is a New and Everlasting Covenant between consenting adults; that because there is something eternal in the nature of human intelligence, the marriage and family relationship can extend onward beyond this mortal life; that the Holy Spirit of Promise—present when two individuals willingly and loving enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage—will seal that union for time and eternity.

Concerning eternity, Mormon scripture states:

“..the same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” (Doctrine & Covenants 130: 2)

The love of one spouse for another—regardless of gender—will continue because this kind of love is the product of human intelligence, and intelligence is an eternal attribute. Intelligence is the glory of God.

Reform Mormons believe that through marriage and family relationships, individuals may cultivate those virtues that are associated with God. The knowledge that we gain through out most intimate relationships with other humans is the knowledge that will ultimately exalt us and enable us to see things as God sees them. By fully immersing ourselves in these aspects of our humanity we become like the God in whose image we exist.

LDS and FLDS Mormons teach that marriage is essential for Godhood, but their theology is quite different from that of Reform Mormons. LDS and FLDS theology teaches that spirits are sexually begotten by a God and Goddess, and that the right to such divine reproduction will only be granted to those who are married for eternity. In other words, Godhood consists of being able to sexually reproduce in the next life.

What is surprising is the fact that this doctrine is taught nowhere in Mormon scripture; nor did Joseph Smith—Mormonism’s founder—ever teach this doctrine. In fact, Mormon scripture and Joseph Smith himself (in his famous King Follett Discourse) taught a theology on the nature of the human spirit that completely undermines such a doctrine.

(An earlier Gospel Doctrine lesson explores the history of this popular LDS and FLDS doctrine—showing how it was developed by Orson Pratt, after Joseph Smith’s death, as a theological justification for polygamy. To read this lesson, click on to our archives for the date of 10/17/04)

The LDS or FLDS homosexual who believes this theology can only get into heaven by prostituting his or herself. Such a person may go through a marriage ceremony, may have children, may cohabitate with a person of the opposite sex and give his or her self over to that person sexually—but the joy of experiencing mutual sexual attraction, of letting down one’s guard and communicating openly and honestly, of being secure that one is loved and desired for who one is; of desiring, wanting and valuing one’s spouse for who he or she is—these things which are essential to a truly happy marriage, these things they will never know.

The message of Reform Mormonism is that marriage should be available to all not because marriage is “the foundation of society,” but because the need for intimate companionship, the need for over-coming loneliness, to need to find “a help worthy of and equal to one’s self” is the essence of what it means to be human.

Do you have comments or insights on the subject being discussed here? Email them to us at: Emails posted here may be edited for grammar or length.

Monday, June 16, 2008

CLASS DISCUSSION: "Truth, Sentimentality & Comfort Zones"

In response to this past weekend’s lesson, Fabien in Edinburgh, Scotland writes:

“What an amazing lesson! I totally subscribe to what is written in it! I remember reading a long time ago that Brigham Young claimed that all truths were Mormonism and I interpret this as saying that Mormonism was a quest for truth and knowledge of God and all he expected us to do to become like him in all kinds of ways. So all truths would be working hand in hand with Mormonism to make this possible.

“I liked the image of Adam and Eve returning to a Garden that would not be what they remembered it to be...

“I also liked the idea of searching for God no into some "imagined immaterial world" but in this existence, on this planet. When I consider God, when I reflect on eternal truths and the mysteries of my faith, I do not think of some outer space world à la Kolob but I think of my own nature, created in the image of God, and then I feel so close to this planet, to the grass I sit on, to the leaves in the trees around me. When I commune with God this is not a silent prayer in a building built for that purpose. It can be, of course, but most often it is me being outside in nature and I feel the eternal side of me and that eternal side of me communicates with the kindred eternal side of my God.

“Thank you for another great and greatly inspiring lesson!”

Fabien publishes his own excellent blog in which he explores not only Reform Mormon ideas and concepts but also currents topics and news events relating to Mormonism generally. It’s entitled “Sorta Reform Mormon(s).” Link to it by clicking on to:

On the issues of "comfort zones" and fear of the unknown, Wilhelm in Germany writes:

"While reading through the posting, one thing jumped into my mind, an example for a lot of points that have been mentioned . Electricity in different forms and use reminds me of truth. In its basic form – as lightining – it filled humans with fear for ages. Those humans didn´t know what happened and this added to their fear of the possible destruction it might cause.Whatever our forefathers thought about it – it was there. Science has a long history of discoveries that brought us knowledge of things that we could not see, not smell – and that we better not touch. Today we know how to work with electricity – but still need to follow some rules...You might seem like a magician or even as a God if you met humans who had never known about electricity and they saw you use a flashlight."


In response to a lesson from our archives (published on February 9, 2007), Lincoln writes:

“I just read and enjoyed your post on "THE COMPLEXITY OF LIFE: Living in an Increasingly Interesting World". At the end of the post, you asked for readers' thoughts on progression and complexity. I certainly think the two are related in an important way: we progress by increasing in complexity, biologically and technologically. We can now readily observe that we have been increasing in technological complexity at an exponential rate for a long period of time (, and if this trend does not change then we will in the future continue to experience far greater changes in far shorter periods of time than we have experienced in the past. This observation corresponds in interesting ways with visions of the future expressed by Joseph Smith and other Mormon prophets”

The second link that Lincoln shares is to the website for The Mormon Transhumanist Association. You can link to their website’s homepage at:


This online Reform Mormon Gospel Doctrine Class is “discussion class”—a forum for Reform Mormons and those with an interest in Reform Mormonism to share their views on the doctrines and principles explored in the “lessons” published here.

So share your insights and views by emailing them to: (Emails may be edited for spelling, grammar or length.)

As Reform Mormons, we recognize that there are many different denominations and traditions within worldwide Mormonism—including the LDS and FLDS Churches, the Community of Christ (RLDS) and the Strangite LDS Church, as well as families and individuals who belong to no organization whatsoever. All are welcomed here. However this is not a forum in which to attack Reform Mormonism concepts or to proselyte for other Mormon denominations or traditions.

As Reform Mormons we acknowledge that we are different from other Mormons. We are not Latter-day Saints, nor do we claim to be Christian. Reform Mormonism is founded on the premise that mid-19th century Mormon theology (introduced in Nauvoo, Illinois) sets up a religious paradigm that is completely different from that of Christianity and other monotheistic faiths. For us, Mormonism is truly a new religion.

Join the discussion!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Truth, Sentimentality and Comfort Zones

“Truth is reason, truth eternal” Eliza R. Snow: “O’ My Father” (19th century Mormon hymn)

“Truth, the sum of existence”-- John Jaques: “O Say What Is Truth?” (19th century Mormon hymn)

“Truth is a knowledge of things are they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”--Joseph Smith, (“The Doctrine & Covenants” 93:24)

“What has stood the test of time is not necessarily worthy of endurance. An error a thousand years old is still an error. An untruth repeated a thousand times in still an untruth.”— Apostle Richard L. Evans (from his 1940 collection of “Spoken Word“ sermonettes entitled “Unto The Hills” pp. 77)

We can feel sentimental only about the things that we know.

Recollections from childhood or youth; memories of family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, of holidays and vacations; past accomplishments; stories, ideas and rituals passed on to us by parents or authority figures; even ancient taboos that have been unquestioningly accept by everyone we know—these are the things which seem to define us as individuals, which set boundaries for acceptable behavior, which endow our existence with order and meaning, and which stir our emotions. Sentimentality can give the familiar, the known and the traditional an aura of ultimate and transcendent truth.

On the other hand, the human response to the unknown is caution—even fear, or dread.

The unknown, the unfamiliar may be initially perceived as a threat. Certainly the unknown can threaten whatever comfort zone we now inhabit. How can we feel comfortable and secure when we don’t understand the nature of that which confronts us? That which challenges traditions, which undermines the stories passed on to us; which threatens to supplant familiar rituals, to overturn long-accepted authorities and to erase ancient taboos—it is so easy to condemn such a thing as wrong, as evil, as an enemy to the truth.

But things that are unknown and unfamiliar exist just as surely as do those things that are known and the familiar. The unknown has an existence and a nature regardless of our awareness of it. Only by remaining completely ignorant of something can we sustain the illusion that it is completely wrong, completely evil and untrue.

Exposure to what was previously unknown—exposure in any degree whatsoever—brings, to some degree, understanding. Ignorance begins to recede, and our minds—which will, on some level, always involuntarily follow the evidence presented to them—will begin to process the information. We may deny the reality of the evidence. In our minds we may create little compartments in which we attempt to hide away these new facts—usually in an attempt to preserve the lovely aura of ultimate and transcendent truth that sentimentality has endowed the things with which we are familiar.

But once we acquire any amount of knowledge concerning something that was previously unknown, the shimmer of past sentiment never shines quite as brightly as once it did.

Mythic Eden was a garden of eternal delights for Adam and Eve until they ate the fruit of Knowledge, and left the garden for the world beyond it gates. Were they to have returned to the garden after living in the outside world and experiencing what had previously been unknown, it is doubtful that they would have seen Eden as a paradise of endless pleasures or delights.

Exploring the unfamiliar and the unknown does that: it changes previous assumptions, makes familiar stories and conclusions seem simplistic; it opens our eyes to the contradictions and to the opposition that is present every where in the universe.

“In all the changing picture, it is good to keep in mind that while there is nothing so constant a change, neither is there anything so changeless as truth.” (Richard L. Evans)

For this very reason—the opening of our eyes to the true nature of reality—venturing forward out of our comfort zones is essential not just to our emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth but to over very survival on earth.

“Perhaps one of the things we should keep uppermost in mind as we live from day to day is the fact that there is little to be gained by fighting anything that is incontrovertible. There is nothing to be gained by fighting against the laws of nature, but there is much to be gained by recognizing them and using them. There can be no possible benefit derived from fighting against truth, even though truth gives us inconvenience at times; but there is much to be reaped from accepting and working within the laws of truth.” (Richard L. Evans)

There were cultures that firmly believed a human sacrifice to the gods would cause crops to grow, the rain to fall or the sun to shine, cure disease or plague, or ensure victory in an upcoming battle against an enemy. These beliefs held ultimate authority over the minds of such people, evoking in them all the sentiment, the powerful emotions, and the sense of comfort and security that our most cherished beliefs and traditions evoke in us.

But such emotions, such a sense of security did not change the fact that taking a human life on the altar of a god had no direct cause and effect on the weather, on fertility, on the natural course of disease, or on the movement of stars and planets. The emotions, sentiments and sense of security that such sacrifices inspired in those cultures could only be sustained as long as those cultures remained ignorant of natural law; as long as they stayed within the comfort zone created by traditions and taboos. Once they were exposed to the previously unknown and unfamiliar, what had been seen as transcendently true had to be questioned, reexamined and put in a new context that robbed it of its presumed ultimate authority.

It is no wonder that the Christian world interprets the myth of Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of Knowledge as a sin—as the Original Sin from which all misery descends. Knowledge endows us with a sense of our own nakedness before the natural elements, of our mortality and physical limitations, of the fragility of life on earth. The continuing revelation of truth more fully opens our eyes to the necessity of thinking for ourselves, of making choices and taking responsibility for those choices. What evaporates in this eternal drama of continuing revelation is the past illusion that we knew all we needed to know; that the meaning of existence was easy to grasp if we would accept as the final revelation of truth only those things that were already known.

But something eternally precious is gained with the passing such illusions: human progress; the advance of civilization; the ascendancy of a new vision in which human life itself becomes the highest value.

“…when truth comes into conflict with a man’s convenience, or with his traditional beliefs, there are several ways he can act toward it. He may pretend that he is not aware of its existence, thereby deceiving no one but himself. He may attempt to discredit it by assailing its veracity. Or, perhaps at great cost, he may accept it for what it is and make it a part of his life. If he does, no matter what he pays for it, he has purchased wisely.” (Richard L. Evans)

Reform Mormon theology deviates from nearly every other religion in its definition of truth.

Most religions in general offer an ethereal, mystical—and misty, fuzzy—concept of truth. They often described the truth as something separate from the physical sphere and natural world; as something that is “spiritual”—meaning, immaterial and thus incomprehensible to rationalistic human thought.

In contrast, Mormon theology defines truth as knowledge of things as they were, of things as they are and of things as they are to come. Mormonism teaches that the human mind is capable of learning new truth eternally; it declares that the human race can “comprehend all things” that are revealed; that at some point in time humanity “will comprehend even God.” (See “Doctrine & Covenants” 121:28-31 and 88:49)

While other religions teach that there are different types of truth which might contradict one another, Mormonism teaches that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.” (This is the symbolical meaning of the Compass—which is the central visual element in the symbol for Reform Mormonism.) Truth—being knowledge of existence—is true regardless of whether it is revealed through theological speculation, scientific research, or even through atheistic and secular search and discovery.

When all is said and done it is not faith, tradition, warm feelings or sentiments that save us—temporally or eternally; it is knowledge. Reform Mormonism embraces—fully, and without apology or equivocation—that “knowledge is what saves a man.” (Joseph Smith, “The King Follett Discourse.”)

The quest for truth is the quest for knowledge. The quest for truth is moving forward into the unknown and the unfamiliar. We humans are by nature rational beings. Our quest for truth does not take us out of the world to some imagined immaterial spiritual realm. Rather the quest for truth calls us to live in the world and to embrace life on earth—and in the cosmos beyond--more fully. To answer this call is to embrace our humanity—and ultimately divinity itself.

“Through the devious ways of life the seekers are the finders; the searchers are they who are rewarded by discovery; and, in the pursuit of all truth, all men approach nearer unto a knowledge and understanding of God. (Richard L. Evans)

John Jaques, the 19th century Mormon writer, celebrated this concept of truth in one of his best known hymns:

“Yes, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.
'Tis an aim for the noblest desire…
Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o'er.
Though the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

MY JOSEPH: Mormonism Outside the Box

Reform Mormonism is Mormonism “outside the box.”

What is “the box?”

For the most part it is the large church organizations that lay claim to the name “Mormon.” These are the institutions such as the LDS Church in Salt Lake City with its Temple Square, its Tabernacle Choir, its thousands of young missionaries knocking on front doors the world over.

The “box” is also an institution such as the FLDS Church, with its polygamous marriages, its women in swept up hairdos and retro-pioneer-style prairie skirts, its secret marriages of underage girls to older men, its distrust of modernity and the secular world.

The “box” is the attempt by an institution—especially the LDS Church—to proclaim that it alone is the “one true church.”

The “box” is the attempt by such an institution to convince the world that it is “THE Mormon Church,” and that all things Mormons can be properly understood only in the context of its laws and by-laws; of its history, traditions and policies; of it’s power, authority, hierarchy and priesthood.

Since all Mormon denominations and sects descend from the teachings of Joseph Smith—the First Mormon—the larger institutions try to keep Joseph himself in the “box” that they have created. They ignore his history, cover it up, apologize for it, deny it, lie about it, and create counter myths—all in an attempt to keep Joseph in their “box.”

The LDS Church in Salt Lake City has been particularly successful in doing this. It has convinced the world that—contrary to the proven facts of history—Joseph Smith prophetic calling consisted of founding their institution, which they claim is the “only true and living church on the face of the earth.” Just as in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had succeeded in convincing the world that one could not be a true Christian outside of their church and priesthood—and that the Apostle Peter was the first pope—so the LDS Church has asserted as fact that one can not be a true Mormon outside of its institution and priesthood. The LDS institution has created the office of church president, stuck the label of “prophet, seer and revelator” to it, and successfully convinced its millions of members that Joseph Smith was a “true prophet” in the way that the LDS institution defines “true prophet.”

In Temple Square murals and films, and in LDS Church educational and missionary publications, Joseph Smith is presented as the soft-spoken, outwardly meek and “Christ-like,” non-threatening person that modern LDS Church presidents try to be.

Proper priesthood authority” is essential to the LDS institution, and the LDS Church president is a “true prophet” BECAUSE he holds “the proper Priesthood authority.” The concept of this Priesthood authority is the most important aspect of the “box” into which the LDS institution attempts to cram Mormon theology and Joseph Smith.

For those Mormons raised in the LDS tradition, all concepts of Mormon theology and Joseph Smith are so intertwined with LDS institution’s authoritarian claims that they find it difficult to separate them one from another.

A few months ago I was explaining the tenants of Reform Mormonism to some good folk who had been raised LDS, but who had since left that tradition. Many had been so indoctrinated with the LDS Church’s official version of things that they struggled to even comprehend the basic concepts of Reform Mormonism.

Especially confusing and unsettling was the Reform Mormon approach to Joseph Smith—an approach which is more or less the same as that of secular historians.

One friend—Vahn—wrote the following to me:

“I'm actually very intrigued at what you believe and don't believe…One of the few things that separates Mormons [the LDS Church] from other denominations is the claim on priesthood authority…Why do you cling so heavily to Mormonism if you throw out the idea of Priesthood? A prophet isn't a prophet without it, only a charismatic man.”

Having been raised LDS, my friend had bought “the box” into which the LDS institution has tried to cram Joseph Smith; to take Joseph Smith out of this “box” (as we Reform Mormons do) was to deny that Joseph was a prophet. One simply could not BE Mormon outside of the LDS institution.

And so I wrote back, trying to explain not only how we Reform Mormons views Joseph Smith but also prophets in general.

I wrote:

“Why would something like Priesthood be required to be a prophet? Such thinking is part of the box into which the LDS and FLDS churches have tried to cram Mormonism.

“Joseph Smith was acknowledged as a prophet for years before he and Sydney Rigdon came up with the doctrine of Priesthood. The first Mormons organized a church in 1830 without any claims to Priesthood authority. For the next four years Mormonism flourished as a religious movement without any concept of Priesthood or Priesthood authority. The witnesses to "The Book of Mormon" deserted Mormonism because they argued that the doctrine of Priesthood, introduced for the first time in Kirtland in 1834, actually undermined the original prophetic spirit of Mormonism.

“You also said that a prophet without Priesthood is only a charismatic man.

“I humbly disagree.

“Instead I would say that a man WITHOUT CHARISMA is no prophet at all—regardless of how much Priesthood authority he might claim to possess.

“CHARISMA is part of what makes one a prophet.

“Joseph Smith was a prophet BECAUSE he had charisma.

“World renowned Jewish writer, Harold Bloom, in his great work "The American Religion" went so far as to say that Joseph Smith was killed BECAUSE he had TOO MUCH charisma.

“People use the word “charisma” all the time (usually when discussing celebrities). They seem to have no idea that “charisma” is a religious concept. Here is the dictionary definition of the word:

“ ‘1. Theology. a divinely conferred gift or power.
2. A spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.
3. The special virtue of an office, function, position, etc., that confers or is thought to confer on the person holding it an unusual ability for leadership, worthiness of veneration, or the like. "


“CHARISMA is that seemingly inherent quality that an individual has, that draws the attention of others; that seems to give power and authority to his or her words; it is that which wins the emotions and hearts of others so easily; that makes a person entertaining to a great extent.

“The decent, high-minded, successful business men and professionals who serve as the LDS Church’s General Authorities can claim all the Priesthood they wish. But to listen to them speak in their steady, low, sleep-inducing tones is to know that these men are not prophets— because they have no charisma.

“Mind you: I think they are highly principled, God-fearing men. But they are religious leaders—CEO's of a world-wide religious organization. They are not, to my mind, prophets.

“Prophets—because they are endowed with charisma—are rarely boring; they are rarely predictable.

“Because prophets radiate charisma, they disrupt society. They are an affront to the most cherished religious values and notions and traditions that people hold. Why would a prophet even open his or her mouth if the status quo were fine, or if the most cherished traditions of a culture were above reproach?

“Prophets enflame deep feelings in virtually all people with whom they come in contact—and those feelings include love, hate, admiration, revulsion, worship, loathing, sexual passion, despair and hope.

“The one sensation that a true prophet never inspires is the feeling that society is fine just that way it is; that tradition and the status quo--especially regarding religion—are to be protected and preserved.

“Only one thing can guide us through the maze of burning passions--positive and negative—that prophets arouse within us.

“That thing is REASON. Not reason unattached to emotion, but the rational faculty within humans that is--despite all we've been taught—the very fountain from which all our emotions flow.

“Under the light of reason, every word, action and principle of a prophet must be examined—for no prophet is infallible.

“A prophet is a still a human being. The office of prophet is a mortal office, not a divine one—though the divine phenomenon of charisma flows through it.

“Though the power of charisma may tempt us to do otherwise, the one thing no prophet must ever be given is mindless adoration or unquestioning obedience.

(This is a temptation that humans often give into to when entering the presence of Gods. Overwhelmed by the holiness of Deity, men believe themselves helpless; they drop to their knees, and give into mindless worship and praise--forgetting that "the Glory of God is Intelligence," and that mindlessness is the one condition that alone separates the human fromm the Divine; for the mind of man, like the Gods, is uncreated—and in the image of God does man exist.)

“To examine and question a prophet--and to find him or her coming up short, in no way diminishes their office as a prophet. In the end it is not the prophet, but the self-examination that he or she inspires within us that is of eternal importance.

“That examination must never end with a question like, "Will I obey or disobey this prophet? Will I submit or resist?"

“The final question must always be: does this principle conform to reality? Because truth is a knowledge of reality; it is a knowledge of what is objective; of things as they really are, really were and really will be.

“I decided to leave the LDS Church in January of 203, when I realized that certain principles Joseph Smith taught about human nature were true. In a moment that seemed revelatory, I saw human nature for what it was, and I saw how that nature was the one and only connection we humans have, not only to one another, but to the being we revere as God.

“At the moment I knew that I could never again enter an LDS Church or Temple as a believing member of that institution. But I also realized that on a level more deep than any I had ever contemplated or experienced, I was then—and would always be—Mormon.

“I wasn't raised Mormon or LDS. No missionary came knocking at my door to give me the discussions. I did not know a single Mormon growing up. But in my American history class, during my junior year of High school, we read one and a half pages of Mormon history. I was so intrigued by what I read, that the following Saturday I went to the local library and checked out everything I could find on Mormons. That day I began reading the first book I ever read about Joseph Smith: “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn Brodie.

“The title for this classic of Mormon historical scholarship comes from the last few sentences of the last public address that Joseph Smith gave to the Mormon community of Nauvoo, Illinois: his famous “King Follett Discourse.” Joseph ended his greatest sermon by telling his own followers that they did not know him; that they would never, in this life, know him; that no living soul knew him or his real history, and that he would never attempt to tell that history to anyone.

“How many LDS Mormons understand the profound implications of that utterance by Joseph Smith?

“That statement hints at not only the profound loneliness of a human being endowed with charisma, but the personal tragedy that prophets feel is their lot as human beings, no matter how close they may feel to the Divine or the transcendent. Brodie was a genius to have chosen that statement for her biography of Joseph!

“The Joseph Smith that I accept as a prophet was first revealed in Brodie’s classic book. And he continues to be revealed in the facts of early Mormon history that scholars are constantly uncovering.

“’My Joseph Smith’ was a genius who was born into poverty, drudgery, superstition and religious fanaticism. He became immersed in folk-magic as a teen; flirted with religious enthusiasm as a young man. Using his religion-making imagination, he took bits and pieces of ideas erupting all over the wild new American Republic, and began fashioning something completely new.

“The religion Joseph was creating was always a work in progress, and when he was murdered, I don't think it was any where near completion. But by that time, enough of a new religious paradigm existed that it could serve as the foundation for something exciting and new;something that could speak to rational men and women for centuries to come.

" ‘My Joseph’ was a religious fraud who eventually became a true prophet—not in the dry, institutional sense of LDS tradition, but in the Romantic sense; in the sense that Hawthorne, Dickinson, Melville, Whitman, Thoreau and Emerson were prophets; in the sense that America herself was born of a prophetic impulse.

“And so ‘My Joseph’ tromped and often times strutted across New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois (nothing meek or lamb-like about him.)

“He laughed and mocked the overly pious; enjoyed pulling sticks and wrestling in the street; smoked an occasional cigar and enjoyed a stiff drink often.

"’My Joseph’ would threaten and even bully someone he believed wronged him, while at the same time was so generous in his first impressions of people that he was forever trusting the wrong people. The volatile, fanatical zealot Sydney Rigdon, and the cunning, politically-minded John C. Bennett are but a few of “the wrong people” who at first impressed Joseph with their own brands of charisma, and who later misled, manipulated and then turned on him.

“Joseph once told a group of his closest followers that he would go to Hell to get his wife Emma if she were there—and "My Joseph” meant it, too; and yet he broke her heart by marrying many of her closest female friends behind her back...and all because, I think, he was a profoundly lonely individual who felt that no one on earth "knew his history."

"’My Joseph’ dreamed not of founding a church, but of building a great American city—a Zion, a New Jerusalem—which could boast every virtue, art and glory humans could devise, and to which the rest of the world would flow.

"’My Joseph’ never for an instant gave a serious thought to the devil, to hell or damnation—though everything in his upbringing told him that he should. He said once that if he went to Hell, he'd kick he devil out and make a heaven out of the place.

“Most importantly to me, ‘My Joseph’ could never get emotionally involved in the religious worship of his day. He freely admitted that when as a youth he attending camp meetings and religious revivals, he could never fall down, roll about and cry out; and though he could create narratives of past prophets quaking before the unveiled glory of Israel's God, "My Joseph” never experienced such a sensation when confronted by his God. "My Joseph” could only approach God as one man might another, as something of a mirrored image—rather like mythical Adam, when he first opened his eyes on the morn of his creation and gazed into the face of Deity.

“Over the years I have become convinced that fearlessness before the face of God is the mark of a true prophet. The true prophet is unafraid of bartering with God—as Abraham bartered with the God Yahweh in an attempt to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. The true prophet is unafraid to challenge God to a wrestling match; unafraid to use his own human strength to defend himself against a divine assault; unafraid to pin God to the ground if necessary and demand a blessing—demand that God treat him with the respect due to a being existing in the image and likeness of Deity.

“Of course, the true prophets are denounced, despised, persecuted and sometimes killed by the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees of their day. In this, “My Joseph” was not exception. It was his passionate battles with the highest leadership within the Mormon community at Nauvoo that led to his downfall, his arrest and his murder by a lynch mob.

“Sometime true prophets are fortunate enough to have their lives and teachings faithfully preserved in scripture. But those in later generations who claim to be their most devoted disciples—who claim the authority to defend, protect and honor their memory and the orthodoxy of their teachings—are the first to distance themselves from the implications of the most profound principles that those prophets taught.

“Such authorities—while devoting their lives to praising true prophets—are the first to gloss over, to tone down and to overtly deny that true prophets ever wrestled with Deity. Thus the Biblical account of Jacob wrestling with God is transformed into the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel—and most are never told that the actual meaning of Jacob’s new name ‘Israel’ is ‘to contend with God.’

“Such authorities build monuments to the memory of their prophets while intentionally obscuring what was truly prophetic in such men and women.

“You earlier wrote that you can no longer accept the Joseph Smith you saw on Temple Square and in the LDS Church films, paintings and books.

“I've seen those films and images; I've read those books. I've been to Temple Square many times over the past 29 years.

“I have never once seen a likeness of ‘My Joseph’ there.”