In his book Jim Wallace, a homicide detective and former atheist turned Christian, identifies three key motives to a crime. These, he explains, are sexual lust, power, and financial greed. Having read his book I found this to be a good “template,” as he calls it, especially for identifying the genuineness of the motives of a specific person. However, I found Wallace’s diagnosis of Joseph Smith (1805 – 1844), the founder of the religion of Mormonism, to be quite illuminating. Since Smith is the founder, and should he be found to be deceitful, then it would imply that Mormonism is a false, manmade religion. So, how does Smith stack up when we apply this template?
1. Sexual Lust.
Smith is interesting as after having penned his book at age 24, the Book of Mormon, he managed to win over tens of thousands of followers. This, of course, led to his religion that is still quite alive today. Smith, however, taught and practiced polygamy. He had many wives, in fact, he had some 28 wives (1) (some would put it higher; historian Compton puts it at 33) (2). Smith claimed that God revealed to him that polygamy was a holy practice (3). However, Emma, his first wife, defended him in saying that none of his divine revelations related to polygamy. But when Emma caught wind of Smith’s polygamous activities Smith dictated a revelation in which he directed Emma to accept plural marriage. Alternatively, others, such as the founding members, left the group when Smith started this practice.
2. Power Hungry.
Through his alleged divine position Smith stood in as the only speaker for God. He used his authority to teach that the Church of Christ restored through him was a latter-day restoration of the early Christian faith. He claimed that the Church of Christ had been lost in the Great Apostasy (4). Smith’s followership grew and thus resulting in him gaining increasing power and authority. In fact, in 1843 he would try to compete to become the next president of America (5) with his goal to establish a theocratic monarchy (a “Theodemocracy”) (6). Smith then taught that this kingdom would be governed by theocratic principles, and at the time he would send ambassadors to a few countries around the world.
3. Financial Greed.
However, to realize his goals Smith required the backing of his followers through their financial support. Finances he received from his followers would be diverted to his own projects. At one point in Smith’s career he alleged that God have revealed to him that he should launch a bank. This was called the Kirtland Safety Society. Unfortunately, for him, the bank went under within a month (7), and many bankrupted Mormons left the church because they believed Smith’s only goal was to enrich himself and the Mormon leadership (8). Smith was also seemingly disingenuous in that he promised his followers that God would never allow his bank to fail of which it did.
Putting it Together.
Putting Joseph Smith to the test via Wallace’s template doesn’t paint a very appealing picture. Smith clearly stood to gain a lot by getting people to buy into his movement. I would find myself hard pressed to agree with Smith, and his followers, that he really did receive divine revelation from God especially given what seemed to be his motives. Smith stood to earn a lot through his fame and financial pursuits. He tried to found a bank with the intent of making himself and his leadership wealthy. I don’t think that His polygamous activities are also morally questionable. This strikes me as unfaithful, lustful, and the taking of advantage of women. Even when his wife Emma disagreed with his polygamous desires he then alleged that God gave him the command to tell Emma to accept it. This surely strikes me as manipulative and also an attempt at using divine justification as a vehicle in forwarding one’s own agenda. If God really has revealed himself to man it wouldn’t have been through Joseph Smith. The motives speak for themselves.
1. Jenson, A. 1887. Historical Record. p. 233-234.
2. Compton, T. 1997. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. p. 11.
3. Compton, T. 1997. Ibid. p. 22-23; Foster, L. 1981. Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community. p.206–11.
4. Remini, R. 2002. Joseph Smith: A Penguin Life. p. 84.
5. Bushman, R. 2005. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. p. 377.
6. Bushman, R. 2005. Ibid. p. 522.
7. Brodie, F. 1971. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. p. 195-196.
8. Adams, D. 1983. Chartering the Kirtland Bank.