Thursday, December 13, 2012


What is the Book of Mormon if it is not a record of pre-Columbian Hebrews revealed angelically to Joseph Smith, Jr.?
Science has not found any DNA evidence linking American Indians to ancient Semites; nor is there any firm archeological evidences that Book of Mormon geographical sites that actually existed.

There is evidence, though, that a lot of Ethan Smith’s ideas, expressed in his 1825 book, “View of the Hebrews,” do appear in Joseph’s record of the Nephites and Lamanites. So, does this mean that Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery or some other 19th Century individual wrote the Book of Mormon and plagiarized other people’s ideas to enhance its readability and theology? If so, was this not wrong?

First let us address the issue of plagiarism. Plagiarism was not even considered ethically or legally wrong until the 1700’s and then laws against it were loosely and ineffectually enforced. By the 19th Century, plagiarism, though illegal, basically in the same way that it is today with requirements to cite other works in footnotes or reference pages. (A Very Brief History of Plagarism) The writers of ancient scripture, though, the ones Joseph wished to imitate, knew no such concepts.

So, if all of this is true, does this mean that Joseph was a shyster, a flim-flam man like “The Music Man’s” Professor Harold Hill who sold music instruments and music lessons, “when he didn’t know one note from another?” Or is there some other, alternative way of viewing this Latter-day scripture and its translator? After all, “Joseph Smith, Junior” is listed in the very front of the first edition, the 1830 edition as “Author and Proprietor.”

Did he originally mean to have published the Book of Mormon as a religious novel like the many that appeared during the 19th Century, before and after Joseph, such as Civil War General Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” which appeared fifty years after the Book of Mormon but like the Book of Mormon, partook of American Evangelical Protestant doctrines and values? When did our young prophet decide to turn his religious novel into a religious myth and attempt to add it to Christianity’s already large mythology collection and why should we 21st Century citizens wish to read and study it?

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines mythology as,

“MYTHOL'OGY, n. [Gr. a fable, and discourse.] A system of fables or fabulous opinions and doctrines respecting the deities which heathen nations have supposed to preside over the world or to influence the affairs of it.” –: an allegorical narrative.”

The definition above leaves quite a bit to be desired. “An allegorical narrative,” though, is correct. I do personally feel that the term “heathen” is pejorative and should be removed.

Myths were the original way of writing theology. As civilization became more “advanced” and literacy became widespread, theology was set down in lengthy and dry tomes that only appealed to other theologians. Theology became what is known today as “systemized.” The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by Homer were stories that were epic poems and were often sung. They were the original scriptures of Hellenic civilization.

The Hebrew Scriptures, too, were myths that taught very subtle doctrines under the guise of history. The arts of philosophy and philosophical debate were developed in Greece and during the Bronze Age were unfamiliar with the early writers of the Hebrew Bible.

In fact, biblical experts today cannot firmly attribute any of the books of the Old Testament, Apocrypha, or the New Testament to the writers whose names they bear except for seven of Paul of Tarsus’ epistles. If one had a new theological concept and wanted a large audience for it, he or she would chose a long dead prophet and write under his name. This was known as a pious fraud. It might have been a “fraud,” in a literal sense but it was often the only way a gifted and creative religious thinker could get his thoughts read. The priests and the aristocracy of the day had a monopoly of religion and were adverse to any upstart outside theologians. To be recognized an individual would then claim he discovered a long lost scroll authored by Isaiah or some other already recognized prophet and if the writer was lucky, his forgery would become received scripture.

If Joseph Smith, Jr. did write the Book of Mormon, he was following in a time honored tradition. In 1830 upstate New York or anywhere in the United States for that matter, who would have listened to a farm boy with little formal education? This is probably one of the reasons why the Book of Mormon regales so much against the rich with their chances for learning.

There have been recently a number of propositions introduced at the Community of Christ World Conferences to de-canonize the Book of Mormon based on the view that Joseph wrote it and not pre-Columbian Hebrews. This would be most unfortunate in that for them to be logically consistent they would have to decolonize the entire Bible but for seven epistles of St. Paul. The Book of Mormon as well as the Bible should be considered for what is said theologically in them and not whether they authentic in the smallest degree or not.

The teachings in the Book of Mormon reflect the state of evangelical Protestantism in the early 19th Century and how young Joseph dealt with this. Joseph Smith, Jr. was a very creative man. His theological thoughts moved on from there climaxing in the beautiful King-Follett Discourse given on June 7, 1844 where he espoused the belief that God was once a mortal creature like us and through the acquisition of knowledge became an advanced being capable of creating worlds and universes, the ability to do this is being borne out today by modern Physicists and Quantum Physicists. (See “Kurwich Wonders" ) Joseph Smith the genius was far ahead of his time. Joseph was an extremely creative individual who built a worldwide religion of 14 million + adherents today (there are as many Mormons in the world as there are Jews) from an original membership at the Church’s organization on April 6, 1830 of only six. That is a 2333333.333% increase in 182 years or if the Church grew uniformly from year to year, which of course it did not, an average 12820.513% increase yearly. This is an astronomical growth, even adjusting this figure for the so-called “swimming conversions.” Why? Joseph built a fictitious world which was and still is in many instances, far warmer and more interesting than the work-a-day world of humdrum and boredom most of those who had investigated Mormonism had been used to before they converted.

Joseph sparked the imagination. Not only that, but he gave them a cooperative way of life where individuals and families could not fall through the economic and social cracks of society. Joseph gave them goals to work for and a way of life. I have not even mentioned the many Jungian archetype and other rich and meaningful symbolic representations in Joseph’s work, but that would make this presentation much too lengthy. So, even if Joseph Smith, Jr. did not tell the literal truth in all things, like Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” we who have been privileged to have touched his magic would be so much worse off if we had not. This is why Mormon history, Mormon culture, and above all those parts of Joseph Smith’s teachings that reverberate with modern science need to be preserved. This is why we are still Mormons even if we do not believe in the literalness of the Book of Mormon. If Mormonism is fiction, it is the very best fiction to have come out of 19th Century Western tradition.

TODAY’S REFORM MORMON GOSPEL DOCTRINE TEACHER, JIM NICKELS, INTRODUCES HIMSELF: I was a member of LDS Church for 44 years, joining the Church as a convert at age 21, 1969. I left the church in 2006 and was baptized into the Community of Christ. I have been very inactive in that church due to physical disabilities that have confined me to my home. I find both Reform Mormonism and the Society for Humanistic Mormonism, where I am Assistant President, to be my sources of spiritual nourishment. I am married to a beautiful lady, Tracey Levendusi-Nickels, who does not share my religious beliefs. While having been once baptized into the Community of Christ, she now attends the Protestant church to which she originally belonged. I am 64 years old. I have three grown sons. Tracey is my second marriage. My first "eternal" marriage was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1970. Eternity ended in 1991. When in the LDS Church, I was active and served in many callings including Sunday School President for over 5 years. I left for philosophical reasons. I like to think for myself and not be told that I am "on the high road to apostasy." I worked for the Lake County Indian Department of Public Welfare in public assistance, child welfare placement, child protective services, and quality control. I retired from all gainful employment 7 years ago when the doctor ordered me to. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in History/Comparative Literature (double major) from Indiana University in 1970, a Master of Science degree in History from Indiana State University where I had a teaching assistantship teaching 2 semesters of the "United States to 1877: End of Reconstruction" an introductory U.S. history course. I also have received a Master of Science degree from Indiana University in 1974, and an online Master of Arts degree in Creativity Studies (my concentration was "Creativity and Process Theology) from Union Institute and University in May, 2012. I am currently working on a fourth Master of Arts degree online from the same school in Psychology (concentration "Carl Jung and Religion), graduation date will probably be in 2015. I hope to do a Jungian analysis of Joseph Smith as my thesis. My goal? To become a polymath. I was born on August 25, 1948 in Russell County, Virginia. I currently live in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"VISITATION EVE" September 21st

On this night—September 21st—189 years ago, 17-year-old Joseph Smith claimed he was visited by an angelic spirit who told him of an ancient American history inscribed on gold plates, buried in a hillside in his upstate New York neighborhood, containing the fullness of the everlasting Gospel. For the next four years at midnight on this night, Joseph went to that hill where he claimed he was visited and interviewed by this angelic spirit to determine if he was ready to begin the prophetic career to which he had been called. For some Reform Mormons, the night of September 21st is a holiday: Visitation Eve. On this night Joseph’s stories of spirits, angelic visitations and gold plates (whether accepted as literal events or as symbolic tales) are remembered and used as vehicles for self-examination. And so tonight as I say my bedtime prayers and as I drift off to sleep, I will contemplate where I stand on the path of Eternal Progression. (Above: The attic bedroom of the restored Smith Farm House near Palmyra, New York, in which Joseph Smith claimed he was first visited on Sept. 21, 1823 by an angelic spirit.) I will try to be brutally honest with myself. I will envision a blazing angel standing before me, shining light into those dark places within I’d rather keep secret. I will envision a salamander or giant toad (characters from other versions of Joseph’s evolving story) smacking me down for allowing short-sighted greed or selfishness to undermine my attempts to develop within myself those Celestial attributes I envision my Heavenly Parents possessing. Come the morning I may not walk away from this symbolic angelic visitation with a Gold Bible tucked under my arm. But if I greet the day with a keener awareness of my weaknesses, coupled with a greater appreciation for the ever-present reality of personal revelation, Intelligence, Light and Truth—all of which will help me turn those weaknesses into strength—then I walk away with something more precious than gold plates.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

April 6th--The Day of Restoration

April 6th is an important day in Mormon history; a date that Mormons of all denominations reverence for different reasons.

Reform Mormons celebarte April 6th as "The Day of Restoration."

(Above: The Peter Whitmer Farm)

On Tuesday, April 6, 1830 representatives from the first three Mormon congregations (in Fayette, NY; in Manchester, NY, and in Colesville, Pennsylvania) met at the Whitmer farm in Fayette to legally form a new denomination according to the laws of the state of New York.

Originally called simply "The Church of Christ," this new denominations members were nicknamed "Mormons" or "Mormonites" by their neighbors and by the newspapers of the day, because of their belief in "The Book of Mormon"--a new book of scripture that was then being prepared for publication. On April 6, 1830 those first Mormonites/Mormons elected Joseph Smith (the author and proprieter of "The Book of Mormon") and Oliver Cowdrey to offices of First Elder and Second Elder over the legally organized denomination.

(Above: Joseph Smith was elected First Elder of Mormonism on April 6, 1830)

(Above: Oliver Cowdrey was elected the Second Elder of Mormonism on April 6,1830)

What set the original Mormonites/Mormons apart from their neighbors was a belief that God was immediately present in their individual lives, that God was again active in human history and that there had been a "restoration" of "spiritual gifts" that had mostly disappeared from the earth--spirituals gifts" including such things as Divine visions and revelations, prophecy and faith healings, the unveiling of new knowledge and the endowments of Divine power into human hands.

In short, the power and the intimacy between God and humans that these early 19th cnetury Americans had been reading about in the Christian Bible all of their live , had been "restored" as part of modern day (latter day) life.

This "collapse of distance" between the human and the Divine is a foundational concept of Reform Mormonism.

Reform Mormons do not believe that God is an all-powerful, unapproachable, mysterious entity in some far off heaven, Who they should fear, and Who demands their worship, their blind faith and their unquestioning obedience.

Rather Reform Mormons know God as an intimate presence in their lives. God is a loving Heavenly Parent who shares a common nature with them; Who understands from His own experiences everything that they are experiencing and feeling, and Who can, therefore, speak to their condition--whatever that condition may be.

Freed from the type of thinking that has for centuriues distanced huamnity from God, Reform Mormons are encouraged to live life fully, embrace as good life on earth, establish eternal relationships with loved-ones, to accept and encourage human progress, to develope their talents and abilities, and to fearlessly and happily approach God--just as one would approach a beloved father or mother.

In this sense, Reform Mormons hold that a proper understanding of humanity's relationship to God has been "restored."

Reform Mormons also embrace the original understanding of the word "restoration" that was made known to the world in the late Spring of 1830 when "The Book of Mormon" was originally published.

This concept of "restoration" is related to the central concept of a holiday celebrated by Christians each spring--the concept of "resurrection."

(Above:Luca Signorelli's "The Resurrection of the Flesh." Below: A detail from Signorelli's painting celebrates the reunion of loved ones in the resurrection--a concept central of Mormon ideas of the Resurrection and Restoration.)

Early Christians, drawing certain propheices found in the writings of older Jewish prophets (such as Ezekiel and Daniel), believed that at some future time, God's perfect justice would be restored to the earth,and that all humans who had ever lived would be resurrected from the dead, to stand before God, to be judged and rewarded according to their deeds.

The first generation of those who followed Jesus of Nazareth believed that Jesus himself had been resurrected from the dead following his execution on the cross by the Romans; that through this event, the bounds of death and the grave had been broken forever; and that the time was at hand when there would be a universal resurrection--when everyone who had ever died would be "restored" back to life. At that time "the tabernacle of God" would be established on earth in the presence of all huammity. An intimate relationship between God and the human race (like the relationship envisioned in the Garden of Eden story--between Adam, Eve and God) would be "restored" to the earth.
(Above: A painting by Mormon artist Arnold Friberg depicting a story from "The Book of Mormon" concerning the resurrection of Jesus.)

Such ideas of "restoration" serve as the foundtaion of Easter--the holiday which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. These same ideas consitute "The Book of Mormon" concept of "restoration"--as is evident in the following passages:

“… the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. O how great the plan of our God!... the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.” (“The Book of Mormon,” II Nephi 9: 12-13)

(Above: A Michelangelo's study of The Resurrection of the Dead)

"The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
(Above: A William Blake drawing of "The Resurrection of the Dead")

"Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 11:43-44)
(Above: Another William Blake drawing of the Resurrection, this one celebrating the restoration of couple once divided by death. A belief in the restoration of couples and families in eternity despite death is central to Mormonism.)

For Reform Mormons, existence is eternal. Death is not the end. There something eternal in each of us--something that existed before our birth, and which will continue after death. The knowledge that we gain in this life will stay with us eternally, and can benefit us forever. The relationships we establish in this life--our marriages, our families, our friendships--can last eternally. The experience of living here and now will stay with us lomng after this life is over-influencing our Eternal Progression.
(Above:Lord Frederic Leighton's "And The Sea Gave Up The Dead Which Were In It"--depicting the restoration of a husband, wife and son through the resurrection of the dead.)

In the end everything which death seems to destroy and take from us, will be restored to us.

With this vision, Reform Mormonism teaches that each of us should strive to see the eternal aspect of all things; to apporach God with the conviction that we have been restored to a loving relationship with Him; to live today as if we were already living in eternity--with faith, hope, love, integrity and joy.

For more information visit the Reform Mormonism website.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The 2012 Reform Mormon Directory

The 2012 Reform Mormon Directory is now being organized--and all are invited to be listed in it. (Only those listed in the directory will be emailed copies of it.)

The directory is a great way for those interested in Reform Mormonism to connect with others wherever they live.

Copies of the 2012 Directort will be emailed out the first week of April.

If you would like to be listed in it, submit the following info:


Email the above information to:

The deadline for submitting the above information is Sunday, April 1, 2012.