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    C.S. Lewis: "The Weight of Glory"
    "I am trying to rip open THE INCONSOLABLE SECRET in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence."

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The Fragile Industries Manifesto

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Important Stuff I Think You Should Know

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« Update on Der Hermes | Main | Hermes Update II »



My brother and sister-in-law recently recommended (highly) Under the Banner of Heaven to me. I think I'll have to try it.

Re: Hermes, if he falls through, you need only hang out at the shelter. Sooner or later, some little feline will capture yer heart.


Great run down on books on one subject.
I am reading "A peace to end All Peace" by David Fromkin and rereading (I just LOVED the book and bbc production) "I Claudious" by robert graves.
I guess we are not exactly into light reading for the summer LOL!
The religious landscape of this (usa) country is really fascinating.

Alma Allred

I've read the books you reference above, and have to say that this is the first time I've heard Brodie referred to as "unbiased." While it seems you automatically discount Hugh Nibley, you might want to check out his book "No Ma'am That's Not History." That was written, (I believe) in the 1940's shortly after Brodie's book. He points out some pretty significant problems with her scholarship that were echoed a couple of years later by non-Mormon, non-apologist scholars reviewing her book on Thomas Jefferson. You can probably also read a review of Martha Beck's book on FARMS site.

Although I'm biased (anyone who claims otherwise is a liar) I have a couple of better suggestions for LDS history: The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, "Kingdom of the Saints" by Ray West (former Mormon) and "Mormonism, Americanism and Politics" by Vetterli. These books are probably available through inter-library loan if your local library doesn't have them. They're a bit more scholarly than "Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon" fluff.

fragile industries

Mr. Allred --

I appreciate your visit to my personal blog, as well as your taking the time to present your views and alternative readings. If you have any fears that my blog is an anti-Mormon platform, or that I seek to influence anyone's thinking, please allow me to lay them to rest. This blog is nothing more than a personal diary on any topic -- many frivolous -- that catches my fancy, with few readers. It has no axe to grind, and my biases (I am a self-confessed political and social liberal, a feminist, do not belong to any church, but do have a strong individual faith in a Higher Power of my own understanding) are clearly stated to all. I would hope that anyone reading this blog comes to it with that in mind. I have a background in history, religious studies, and the law, but profess no singular expertise in any of those areas. My background simply gives rise to my interest in the history of the LDS Church.

I've said it before on this blog, but I'll repeat myself for clarity. I find political and religious debate to be a waste of time, because anyone motivated enough to debate an issue holds such a well-entrenched viewpoint that he is highly unlikely to change his mind. Moreover, as a vehicle for public enlightenment, debate tends to emphasize the polar views, each debater relying on sources within his or her own camp. One ends up preaching to the choir. I don't hold with black-and-white answers for most questions, particularly those of politics and religion, which can tend toward emotional "truthiness" rather than truth. Such issues are best left for personal exploration, which is my mission in my readings on Mormon history, and I simply have described it here in this post.

I finished "No Man Knows My History" a few days ago. I do take your point that Brodie's first edition was criticized by many (and uniformly by the LDS Church). Despite the criticism, her book was the first biography of Joseph Smith that was neither hagiographic nor demonizing. Considering the scope of her efforts and their originality, she did an outstanding job, in my opinion. At the time she wrote it (early 1940's) she was blazing a trail in uncharted territory, as she had no secondary sources upon which to rely. In a time before computers, microfiche, or even Xerox machines, she tracked down a great deal of unique original sources and laid a foundation for further, more precise work on each aspect of Smith's life. She was the first to give interested readers a full, dimensional portrait of a man -- who she frequently praises for his native intelligence, his growth into the role of prophet, and his genuine care and concern for his followers -- which shows his human frailties AND his many admirable qualities. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and came away with a real appreciation for the man Joseph Smith, in all his complexity. She did not approach the Book of Mormon or his other works reverently, nor should any scholar who hopes to remain unbiased. My own opinion -- I stress this is personal opinion only -- is that the origin and content of the Book of Mormon, as well as The Book of Abraham and other Smith works, leaves the objective viewer with much to question. When one takes into account Smith's pre-revelation background as a self-proclaimed mystical finder of buried treasure for hire, the clear and total refutation by Egyptologists of his interpretation of still-extant heiroglyphics reproduced by Smith himself, and the poor credentials for his "First Vision", for which there is no original contemporary material, save for his and his followers' descriptions years after the fact, I (and again, this is my personal opinion) doubt the divinity of the Books and Smith himself.

I would not place strong reliance on the work of Dr. Nibley in this regard. He was a man of great brilliance and a sincere seeker of truth, yet his written works were the sole support of a large and impoverished family, dependent totally on the favor of the LDS Church. Brodie had no such pressures when she did her scholarship. Nibley had a favorite's access to church records not available to Brodie, and no doubt could pick nits. I am not interested in the nits, but in the totality of the work (whether Brodie's, Nibley's or Smith's) and the influences of its origin.

I am now reading Juanita Brooks's "The Mountain Meadows Massacre," another seminal work of research by a professor of history at UCLA. In terms of background, I understand that Brooks remained a faithful Morman, wife, and mother all her life, although many privileges of the Church were denied to her after this book was published. I am sure later research found flaws here and there. As noted above, I have a much more recent work (2002) on the same incident by a noted scholar on frontier history in my reading list. It, as well as Brodie's and Brooks's work, are well reviewed.

I am well aware of the controversy spawned by Martha Beck's explosive book and have read the FARMS material. I would note first that FARMS is the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies within Brigham Young University. Beck's book has quite a bit to say on the quality and nature of the scholarship issuing from BYU, and the pressure on that university from the LDS Church to only produce "faith-promoting" product. This fell equally on Nibley, her father and professor there, as well as on Beck, who served as a professor of sociology at BYU for a time. I would also note that FARMS immediately published, unedited, entire, and unannotated, Beck's family's (the Nibley's) response to Beck's book. This response can be described as at best defensive ("Martha’s most egregious accusation – that our father molested her over several years and the family covered up the crime – is not true. While salacious accusations sell books, the reader should know that in this case it simply did not happen.") and at worst, as psuedo-Christian concern covering up a character assasination ("We love our sister and are very concerned for her at this time. We fear this is another instance of the self-destructive behavior that has haunted Martha throughout her life." And from a sister: "Her accusation that our family would in any way tolerate a crime as hideous as the sexual abuse of a child is probably just another sad attempt by Martha to claim the limelight and make herself the hero/victim in one of her fanciful stories."). In addition, the author of the "review" of "Leaving the Saints," Boyd Jay Petersen, expressly disclaims any intent to write a "review," as he is married to Beck and is not only Nibley's son-in-law but biographer as well. He calls his lengthy, and deeply personal, essay a "response."

As the furor continued, many others weighed in on the FARMS journal and website, and I have read some, but not all of that material. While repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse have certainly been manufactured by unethical publicity seekers and therapists, Beck showed some classic symptoms of sexual abuse from childhood well into adulthood: severe anorexia, deep suicidal impulses, and a yearning for the approval of the supposed abuser, among others. Whatever the merits of her story, I am delighted that she has come through her ordeals with her faith in a loving Higher Power intact. It must be a great comfort to her, having been so roundly condemned by her family, former religion, and neighbors.

Thank you again, Mr. Allred, for your interest in my personal edification. It is particularly valuable insight coming from an author in the area of Mormon Studies. (For the few readers of this blog, allow me to reprint your biography as published in the FARMS journal that accompanies one of your articles: "Alma Allred[:] Director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Utah. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Utah and also teaches church history at the University of Utah Institute of Religion.")

I will look for the Pratt, West, and Vertelli books, and will read them with an open mind, yet with an eye equally open to whatever influences may have come to bear on their production, as I do with any work I study for my education.

fragile industries

Note to above comment: I mistakenly stated that Boyd Jay Petersen, author of the "response" in the FARMS Journal to Martha Beck's book, was married to Beck. What I meant to say, and omitted in my haste, was that he is married to one of Beck's sisters, who was signatory to the Nibley family's statement in the FARMS Journal in the wake of the publication of the Beck book.

Not that anyone cares, but the legal-researcher-historian in me abhors innacuracy, particularly my own. I will correct any other misstatements in the foregoing comment in the same spirit.

Finally, what I wanted most to say is that I do not wish to impugn anyone's path to an understanding of a loving Higher Power, or the good works done in furtherance of that faith. Unfortunately, misplaced faith or zealotry can also lead to some very bad actions indeed. I hope to maintain that distinction as I continue my reading.


Oddly enough, in a completely different context, I came across the following book review by Mr. Allred, my correspondent:

Therein, Mr. Allred comments on, with faint praise, a work by Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness. Compton, a practicing and faithful Morman (yet one who rejects fundamentalist precepts) explores the stories of Joseph Smith's plural wives and the sacred commandment of Smith, shortly before his death, that Mormon men seal themselves in marriage to multiple wives. The issue of polygamy is certaintly the most troublesome for Mormons of old and the present-day splinter groups who still cling to the precept. Current mainstream Mormons, who now have rejected polygamy, grapple with the question of why their original prophet would have mandated such a duty.

Many books have approached the historical question. One of the best, which does not seek to answer the "whys" but rather simply documents the reality, is "Mormon Sisters: Women In Early Utah" by Claudia Bushman (1997).

It is a well documented historical reality that these were both physical and spiritual marriages, fully consummated, with children issuing from multiple mothers by a single father, that these relationships functioned as both family and harem for the Morman faithful throughout the 19th century. The practice of multiple marriage by the LDS faithful persisted well into the 20th Century, despite official church rejection of polygamy in 1890. Most current polygamists are members of splinter groups that still endorse the practice. However it is certain that there remain closet polygamists within the mainstream LDS faithful.

In any event, despite the historical realities, the current position on Joseph Smith's pronouncemnt on this "peculiar institution" is that Smith simply sealed with twenty-some women so that their entry into heaven was assured by a recorded marriage. You see, women had no free pass into the hereafter by a profession of faith in the LDS church, they had to be part of the heavenly baggage carried by a Mormon male. The logic of this is rather comic on several levels. First, many of these women were already recorded as sealed/married (sometimes with children) with other men within the flock. These women were already assured their heavenly place. Secondly, the evidence that the marriages were consummated by Smith, particularly with the more youthful and comely wives, is fairly well proven, especially by letters and writings by Emma Smith, Joseph's first and long-suffering wife. She and her son formed the Reformed LDS Church, splitting with Brigham Young before his move to Salt Lake over the very issue of polygamy.

This is the prologue to Mr. Allred's review. He twists himself into amazingly conflicting positions in order to criticize Compton's rather inoffensive work. Compton says that Smith was flawed, human, and, to put it crudely, horny. Smith's "revelation" on multiple marriages should be seen in that context, says Compton, and the insistence on Smith's divinity in all matters is mistaken, but this is no reason to throw the Mormon baby out with the polygamy bathwater. Compton urges continued faithfulness to the Church, but makes a common-sense appeal for the recognition that in this area, Smith was, simply, wrong.

This riles Allred as a reviewer. He takes the inconsistent view that no one ever called Smith infallible, but anyway, all those marriages and the call to the "peculiar institution" was only for sacramental, not carnal, purposes.

I can't summarize the entire argument, because of its internal illogic and desperation to put a square peg in a round hole. Do read the review for yourself, and if you have any interest, read Compton's quite mild and dutiful book for clarification.

I'm just intrigued by Mr. Allred's sense of duty to his church and faith, and the lengths he goes to -- including commenting on a little-read and non-inflammatory blog of personal reflections like mine -- to keep his tortured world view intact.

I still don't see how a monolithic, powerful structure like the LDS, with all the positive values it currently endorses, can be threatened by the candid examinination of its history and origin. It's very Orwellian, and the continued paranoia is both fascinating and disturbing in terms of the First Amendment (both the Free Speech and freedom of religion principles therein) and for historical accuracy.

If anyone can explain it to me, I'd welcome the input.

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