Thursday, November 13, 2014

Apologists on Polygamy

The recent New York Times article that shared the church's essay on Joseph Smith's polygamy with the world has elicited some interesting responses on the internet and some interesting recirculations of already existing apologetics.

Reddit pointed me to a site called entitled, appropriately, Joseph Smith's Polygamy.  It's maintained by Brian C. Hales, a semi-famous apologist, and his wife.  And it's a treasure trove of mind-bogglingly obtuse excuses and mental parkour (because mental gymanstics is both overused and doesn't accurately portray apologists' tendencies to, basically, run away from the problem with a whole lot of style).  Here's a great example that flabbergasted me in the section about why it's not a big deal that Smith supposedly lied about his polygamy:
The 1827 Illinois State anti-bigamy law reads:  "All marriages, where either of the parties had a former husband or wife living at the time of solemnizing the last marriage, shall be void."
In other words, any person with a legal spouse could not be married to another according to state statute.  Any subsequent ceremonies would be "void" from a civil perspective.  A man or woman could never be legally married to two spouses.  Consequently, legally speaking it was impossible for Joseph Smith or any other Nauvoo pluralist to truthfully answer "yes" to the question:  "Do you have more than one wife?"
I'm currently working on a Leverage fanfic in which Eliot Spencer goes back
in time to kick the crap out of a 13-year-old Joseph Smith
Imagine the following scenario:
COP:  Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?
DRIVER:  I have no idea, officer.
COP:  You were swerving all over the road.  Have you been drinking?
DRIVER:  I have not.
COP:  (leans in)  Ugh, I can smell the alcohol on your breath!
DRIVER:  As I'm sure you know, officer, drinking and driving is illegal.  Therefore, I could not have legally gotten behind the wheel of this vehicle if I'd been drinking beforehand.  By the laws of this state, it's simply an impossibility.
COP:  (grins sheepishly)  I have to admit, you've got me there!  You have a nice night, sir.  Drive carefully!
Does this make any sense whatsoever?

When people asked Joseph Smith if he had more than one wife, they asked because they were suspicious that he was participating in activities that operated outside the legally established limits of behavior.  And this argument, no matter how inane, does nothing to repair the besmirched character of the prophet.  If anything, it paints him as a deviously deceptive man who hid behind frail semantics and willfully ignored the obvious basis of accusations against him instead of just painting him as a regular, old-fashioned, flat-out liar.

The other fun piece of reading material I came across was a post at Millennial Star that chides those who decry the church for having never taught them about all this shady polygamy stuff.  The author of the article makes the fair point that the church hasn't altogether eschewed mention of polygamyafter all, nobody's removed section 132 from the Doctrine and Covenants.  And the subject is touched upon (albeit lightly) in various church magazines and lesson manuals.

But then he makes the weaker point that it's unreasonable for people to assume that the church has time to bring up "all the lurid details" that shock people so much (polyandry, teenage brides, angels with drawn swords, et cetera, et cetera).  He calculates that the church only offers us about 45 hours of instruction a year.  I take issue with that.  Allow me to do my own calculations.

Assuming nobody is going to teach a toddler about whether or not the prophet had sex with his teenage brides, I'm going to focus on the approximate nine-year window between the time I received the Aaronic Priesthood and the time I stopped going to church. At 52 weeks a year, minus 2 for General Conference, minus 2 for stake conference, and minus 1 for "emergencies that will involve the cancellation of Church," I'm coming up with 423 weeks.  Agreeing with the article's assertion that Priesthood and Sunday School classes only have about thirty minutes of instruction each (and ignoring Sacrament meeting because it's usually just regular people babbling without an official manual), that's 423 hours of instruction.

But I'm going to add stake conference back in because it involves a lot of sermons straight from our local leadership.  With a youth session, a priesthood session and a general session at about 45 minutes each, occurring twice annually, that adds 40.5 hours of instruction, bringing my current total to 463.5 hours. And I'm definitely going to include General Conference, because that's ten hours every six months of the top leaders from the church talking to the entire body of the membership.  How is that not a golden opportunity to discuss the heavy topics and explain some stuff that needs to be explained?  With 180 hours of conference over those nine years, my total is now at 643.5 hours.

But let's not forget early morning seminary.  With 180 school days and approximately 30 minutes of actual instruction every morning over the course of four years, that's a whopping 360 more hours, which bumps me up to 994.5 hours.  And, of course, there's the monthly ten-minute home teaching lesson read straight from the First Presidency message in the Ensign, so that adds another 18 hours, pushing us into quadruple digits at 1012.5.

And we can also throw in the monthly youth firesides from the ages of 12 to 17, which might be fairly rounded down to about thirty minutes apiece.  That'll add another 36 hours for a running total of 1048.5.  There's also the five youth conferences I attended, which usually knocked out an entire weekend.  But, just to be on the safe side, we can call it about an hour and a half of instruction per day for three days.  That's 22.5 more hours which at least brings me back to a whole number of 1071.

That all constitutes most of the major opportunities for instruction from the church (although I might have missed something).  By this estimate, I'm just shy of 45 days of solid, non-stop teaching.  In that month and a half of learning, I heard polygamy addressed a few times.  But I never heard that Joseph Smith married anyone other than Emma.  I never heard that he married teenagers.  I never heard that he married women who were living in his house.  I never heard that he married other men's wives, sometimes while they were abroad on missions he'd sent them on.  I never heard that he kept many of his marriages from Emma.  I never heard that he claimed an angel had threatened him with destruction if he didn't take more brides.  I never heard that he lied about being a polygamist, whether he had reason to or not.

With 64,260 minutes of instruction during my adolescence and adulthood, the church had plenty of opportunity to briefly tell me just once, "hey, the founder of your religion married chicks who were currently married to other dudes and he did some other stuff you might want to know about too."  But it didn't.  In fact, it often implied the opposite.  For example, the Joseph Smith movie from 2005 depicts Joseph and Emma as so romantically and passionately devoted to each other that you'd never even imagine that anyone else could be in the picture.
Just look at the way they stare into each other's eyes while they cuddle up by a romantic fire
to share an intimate husband-and-wife discussion before going to sleep.
The author of the article closes with this:
The Church did teach you stuff about even controversial topics.  Perhaps you were distracted or didn't pay attention or were not curious enough to explore on your own.  You are ultimately responsible for your own learning, and you are responsible for how you respond to new information.  That is what the whole "free agency" thing is all about.
Pissed off that you just learned about Joseph Smith being a polygamist?  It's your own fault for not trying to find out sooner!  Never mind that that the church taught you repeatedly that you should only trust what they tell you and never believe stuff you read from angry people on the internet.  Never mind that you probably heard a glossed over version of historical polygamy in Sunday School and that it was mostly, "this stuff happened and here's D&C 132, but we don't do it anymore, and only bad people do it now, so don't worry about it, let's move on."  Never mind that you were taught to focus on the fact that the church was true so that you could take some initially troublesome information on faith.  You just weren't curious enough.

The author, in his defense, is a convert to the church, so maybe he doesn't really understand the indoctrination involved with growing up Mormon.  As a teenager, I was a voracious reader and a huge fan of American history.  But I never had any desire to brush up on my church historyafter all, the church would tell me anything I needed to know that I didn't already, right?  I had a blind faith instilled in my from childhood that told me that it was perfectly fine for the church to control the flow of information.  Why would I ever need to seek it out on my own?

Too many of us realize too late that the church has deceived us.  Not everything was a lie, and some shady topics were briefly touched on, but the existence and persistence of the deception cannot be overlooked.

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