Of Cages and Michael Faraday

Michael FaradayAccording to legend, 190 years ago Joseph Smith found those golden plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon. There is no doubt that there were no golden plates. But that still leaves an important question: was Smith delusional or was he just a charlatan? I tend to think the latter. What really makes me think that is the fact that Smith put together the Book of Mormon witnesses. If he had been simply delusional—prone to religious visions—he would not have felt compelled to justify his loony story. As a con, Mormonism is far more interesting than it is as a religion. As a religion, it is a throwback to much earlier faiths. By the start of 19th century, there was much more interesting religious thought and it just isn’t found in Mormonism. This isn’t to say that Mormonism is a bad religion. I figure that most religions started as one form of a con or other.

Singer Nick Cave is 56 today. Here he is with the Bad Seeds doing “Red Right Hand”:

Other birthdays: political activist Christabel Pankhurst (1880); Tommy Lasorda (86); Jeremiah Wright (72); singer Debby Boone (57); and comedian Sue Perkins (44).

The day, however, belongs to the great physicist Michael Faraday who was born on this day in 1791. In physics, we tend to only celebrate the theorists, but Faraday is one of the few exceptions to this. His experimental work led directly to the development of Maxwell’s equations, which are pretty much the beginning and end of of electromagnetism. Among Faraday’s many discoveries was electromagnetic induction. This is the process by which changing magnetic fields create electric potentials. In other words, if you apply a magnetic field to a circuit, it will cause a current to start. Faraday is an example of how one doesn’t need to know mathematics to do physics. Of course, he clearly had great mathematical reasoning ability—he was simply never trained in its formalism. My experience teaching physics was that students who claimed to understand the physics but not the math actually understood neither.

Happy birthday Michael Faraday!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Of Cages and Michael Faraday

  1. I used to assume Smith was a long-con sex offender, myself. And it’s quite possible he was. From the good people in Colorado:

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s07e12-all-about-mormons

    (Yeah, that one’s legal. For some reason, "South Park" has the rights to stream their own episodes online.)

    After reading the anthropological study of fundamentalism "When God Talks Back," by T.M. Luhrmann, I’m not so sure. Luhrmann describes how people who focus intensely on spiritual concentration can put themselves into a kind of altered state where they hear voices, feel the touch of a non-corporal hand on their shoulders, etc. (This is quite close to schizophrenia, and gazing too long into the abyss has long-noted consequences.)

    So, Smith? I’m not sure. I think it’s pretty safe to say Mohammed really saw, or believed he saw, some supernatural presence after fasting and praying long enough, and being a bright guy with an inventive mind to boot. Jesus, I’m pretty convinced, was just man-God Gnostic fanfic. Smith’s story is so ludicrous it falls into the category of reducto ad absurdum; if he was consciously lying to bang young women, wouldn’t he have come up with a less goofy alibi?

  2. I say, as a lifetime Mormon, I see where Joseph WAS delusional, AND a Charlatan (I prefer the term "huxter") AND was a pre-Latter-day Saint member of secret societies. It was the secret societies part you failed to address above that draws my attention, so I here fill that void. The long developing Knight Templar – Rosicrucian – Jesuit – Freemasonic cabal was instrumental in the bringing forth of America’s most successful indigenous religion. Granted, the present day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sadly watered down version of its 19th Century self, but the first 40 years of Mormonism (1820 – 1860) were (arguably) some of the most hermetically charged variations of kabbalistic gnosticism to magically emerge from the American landscape.

    Another gap in your statement follows your tantalizing mention of "much more interesting religious thought", but then you leave your reader hanging as to what YOU find religiously more interesting than Mormonism. More interesting? What, for instance, pray tell?

  3. @JMF – [i]South Park[/i] is a [i]Comedy Central[/i] show. They understand the modern world better than [i]Fox[/i] or [i]NBC[/i].

    I agree with you generally. I don’t doubt that most religions are based upon hallucination. My question with Smith is the fact that he seems to have gone out of his way to document something if it had really happened he would not have felt the need to document. If I found a bunch of gold religious texts, it wouldn’t occur to me to think people wouldn’t believe me. But I could be wrong. Also: I think that con men naturally understand the Hitler’s Big Lie observation.

  4. @Bob – I will not question your history of the church. Doubtless that helped to get the church going. What is interesting about that time is how seriously people took their faiths. I’m afraid we are left with just the worst aspects of it today. People continue to believe in a personal God but in the context of a generic "what my pastor told me" context. What I like about the movements of that time was the idea that any person could communicate directly with God. Now we are left with that idea but with total subservience to church hierarchy.

    What I mean in terms of more interesting religious thought is the kind of stuff that was coming from philosophers like Hegel and Schopenhauer. The problem I see with Mormon theology is that it is very much in the Abrahamic mold with God being very much a thing. That strikes me as a throwback, and not a terribly interesting one.

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