Salvaging the quixotic, inconsistent First Vision?

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Holy Ghost
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Salvaging the quixotic, inconsistent First Vision?

Post by Holy Ghost »

Truman Madsen has penned a piece that appears beginning on page 26 of the Spring 2020 BYU Today entitled "Fire from Heaven, the First Vision and its Aftermath."

Truman begins by explaining that in 1969, BYU Studies published a collection of four known written accounts, 1832, 1835, 1838 (official) and 1842 (touched upon in the Wentworth letter). Starting out this way is good advocacy. Many if not most of Truman's readers were likely born after 1969--thus, 'it has always been' and not kept secret by the church.

Then Truman quotes Joseph Smith that "Behind that [the nighttime sky] there must be a majestic creator of heaven." While Truman explains that Joseph Smith's bias of the existence of God is borne of this rhetoric, Truman does not examine that presumption by Smith. Rather, Truman simply uses it as a given, that those reading would share that same bias. However, what is the validity of it? Just because one finds the beauty in his surroundings, it does not follow that those surroundings must have been the result of an intentional design.

Truman next attributes to Smith that "Order in heaven, disorder on earth. How could God be responsible for both?" More rhetoric, rather than trying to delve into the validity of Smith's assumption here, Truman uses this as a springboard to the 1938 addition to the FV story of Joseph Smith first being overcome and 'struggling' with Satan. But in this idea thread, Truman weaves also that "[w]e can almost visualize the boy--pur-minded, spontaneous, even a little unrestrained, as teenagers are... ." Really? Not quite like the boys I went to scout camp with and knew growing up (nor myself). But, Madsen's mileage in this regard obviously varies.

To Smith's question in prayer, "[w]here is the truth?", Madsen: "The response that came to Joseph as an answer, I believe, to millions of prayers, offered down through the centuries on both sides of the veil." God has withheld answering to millions of prayers, but now tells this one particular person.

Back to Beelzebub (Truman's flourish, not mine), Truman notes that Smith taught the Saints that the devil can have no power over us except as we allow it. Right before that, Truman mentions that Smith had said while struggling, in a pre-1838 account, Smith "could not speak, as if his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth." Smith apparently had allowed that, but then summoned the faith and strength to be released from Satan's grip.

Truman explains that Smith's terminology for the descension of Jesus and Elohim was fire-->spirit/light-->glory. Whatever it was, Smith thought it would consume the leaves and boughs of the trees, but it did not.

Truman next appeals to the 1842 Wentworth letter wherein Smith said that resemblance of Jesus and Elohim to one another was exact, not just similar. In trying to explain away some of Smith's early Trinity expoundings, which later morphed into distinct beings, Truman explains "[y]oung Joseph Smith learned in the Sacred Grove that to see the Father is to see the Son, and vice versa." Followed a few paragraphs later that when Jesus "says, 'I and my Father are one,' He is not expressing a metaphysical identiy. He is speaking of oneness of spirit,... ." Thus, bringing transforming Smith's Trinitarian claims to his later and the current LDS teachings.

Truman then goes on to cite the 1835 account to claim that the divine manifestation was Jesus, Elohim and angels (not just Jesus and Elohim as the 1838 account mentions).

Truman finds important that Smith says the first principle of the gospel is to know the character of God, not that God exists. "Why not? One answer: Because one does not begin to argue about a thing's existence until serious doubts have arisen." Truman here tries to tell the reader that you must assumed God exists until there might be serious doubts about that. "Acids eat away at us. Sometimes it is the taunting of other voices [LDS read: evil apostates]; but somtimes it is nothing more than our own sins and weaknesses and the betrayals of the best in ourselves. Doubt naturally follows." That is, people only doubt to justify their wanting to sin, or because they are weak.

Truman next reels around to epistemology, talking about Doubting Thomas. Truman uses this petard to then claim that "the one power, even beyond sight, that can burn doubt out of us and make it, as it were, impossible for us to disbelieve--is the Holy Ghost." Don't expect, reader, that Jesus, Elohim or even angels will appear and answer your inquiry--you're just one of the millions of prayers that only get answered by the Holy Ghost; the First Vision to Joseph Smith answered your prayers too, who himself "saw, as a later revelation explains, not through the natural or the carnal mind but with the spiritual." (Nicely teeing up the ball for the Witnesses movie to swing away.)

Truman concludes, "Anyone who has enough of the Spirit of God to know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ, by that same spirit will be brought to recognize that one of the prophets called by the Father and the Son was Joseph Smith." If you don't agree, then you just don't have enough of the Spriit of God.

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honorentheos
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Re: Salvaging the quixotic, inconsistent First Vision?

Post by honorentheos »

Is this a different Truman Madsen? I thought he died a while ago.

ETA: Nope, same one. Still dead.

This is a condensed version of a lecture delivered by Truman G. Madsen, a former BYU professor of philosophy and the Richard L. Evans Endowed Professor, at BYU Education Week on Aug. 22, 1978. For the complete address and seven more lectures on Joseph Smith—with full notes and citations—please visit speeches.BYU.edu.

ETA2: Link to article: https://magazine.BYU.edu/article/fire-f ... aftermath/

ETA3: Link to original: https://speeches.BYU.edu/talks/truman-g ... aftermath/

Ah, the mission memories that series revives...

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honorentheos
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Re: Salvaging the quixotic, inconsistent First Vision?

Post by honorentheos »

I had a sad epiphany here. We had a copy of Madsen's eight part series on Joseph Smith in one mission apartment that we listened to often while cooking or cleaning. I liked it enough I bought a copy when I returned home. My realization is it would have been the first time I heard mention of other accounts of the first vision. But for whatever reason, be it that I was limited in access to outside materials or just lazy and slothful as a Chapel Mormon so it failed to trigger enough curiousity in me to want to ask, "I wonder what those accounts say and if they match?". It didn't occur to me that they would include discrepancies so it didn't really register they were DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS rather than just different tellings of THE account. So I never truly thought of there being multiple, different accounts until hearing about them in the internet age. And the different accounts, with the poor apologetics behind them, played a meaningful role in my realizing how untrustworthy the Church has been with it's teachings resulting in setting me on the path away from Mormonism for good.

This became an epiphany because it adds a layer to my own experience with the Church. Dr. Peterson was the first, but hardly the last, defender of the faith who told me my own shock at discovering the information was not due to the Church hiding it. The information was out there for anyone to find, and being shared openly. I insisted I hadn't encountered it before so clearly they weren't being all that open about it.

Turns out we both had it partially right and partially wrong. I had in fact encountered it much earlier, it wasn't being "hidden" exactly, and I do have to admit part of the fault lies with me for not catching the implications.

But looking at how it was shared, I can see why my 20-year old self who hadn't taken a college class yet (AP high school classes not considered the same) heard the descriptions and assumed that the story would be the same. It's my sceptical modern self that might have had the wherewithal to hear that and pause to ask a question. Even with the clear difference Madsen outlines, I see why my young, zealous missionary self didn't have the same reaction to this as I did when he later told of Smith firing a revolver at Carthage. The latter challenged my mythical understanding of Smith while the way the former was presented supported it.

Anyway, thanks for sharing, HG. Someday you may earn your body after all. :)

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