Joseph Smith and the LDS Ossification

Joseph SmithWould I be allowed to just skip the birthday post today? I think so. It’s just horrible. Really. But what am I gonna do? I would be so upset if I missed a day. So we grind. We grind along. We grind another birthday post out, even though I really need to get to the grocery store and start cooking for Christmas. Yes, I know: Christmas is two days away. You know what I really need? I really need to uncork that Louis Jadot Beaujolais. But I’m saving it for Christmas. All right, enough chitchat. On with this really sucky birthday post.

The poet Robert Bly is 87 today. I’m not that into him. But I remember my friend James Haining used to make fun of him, saying his poetry always seemed like this:

The white house
Next to the black pond.

It’s totally unfair. But very funny.

The great guitar player Adrian Belew is 64 today. The following isn’t a great video, but listen to him play!

Other birthdays: actor James Gregory (1911); trumpet player Chet Baker (1929); bowling icon Dick Weber (1929); co-inventor of TCP and IP Bob Kahn (75); mathematician Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov (70); comedian Harry Shearer (70); soap opera legend Susan Lucci (67); comedy writer Reinhold Weege (1949); and a musician who isn’t even worth mentioning, Eddie Vedder (49).

The day, however, belongs to the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement—the Mormons—Joseph Smith, who was born on this day in 1805. Was he a religious visionary or a charlatan? You know, I really think that he was both. And I think that’s true of most religious leaders. Of course, that’s the best way that I can put it. A less charitable person would say, he bought his own bullshit. I mean, his story is amazing with golden plates and the “seer stones” and all that. But I suspect that if he told the truth—he had a mystical or at least creative experience—no one would have cared. It probably didn’t hurt that he told men they could have multiple wives. (I’ve never quite gotten that myself; I always though one wife was too much; I’d be more into a wife that just spends Tuesdays with me.)

And that name! Could there be a more white bread name for a white bread religion? Why, yes; yes there could: John Smith. But still: it’s second in line. But you gotta give the man credit; he was continuing to expand the religion to the end. And if there is one thing that religious people don’t like it’s uncertainty. And that really did lead to his death. And like most of the founders of religions, death was a great career move. I doubt very seriously that the Mormon Church would have become the colossus that it is today.

There is no doubting that he is a very important figure in the history of the United States. In general, I would say he’s been a net harm. But I’m not sure that’s true during his lifetime. That period of spiritual awakening in America was authentic. It is sad to see how religions like the LDS and the JW have ossified into what they are today. Certainly their founders didn’t want that.

Happy birthday Joseph Smith!

5 thoughts on “Joseph Smith and the LDS Ossification

  1. I’m not an avid Bly reader, but I do credit him as being as influential in the mythopoetic men’s movements as the Dadaists were to today’s poetry slams. That new way of thinking allowed for the growth of Burning Man as a free spirited event. And he did write some enjoyable thought provoking work, "Snowbanks North of the House", for instance.

  2. @Moine – Well put. As I said, Jim was just being mean. Jim was a hell of a poet too. He published [i][url=]Salt Lick Magazine[/url][/i]. His book [i][url=]A Child’s Garden[/url][/i] is still one of my favorite poetry books.

  3. Do you happen to know if James Haining’s poetry, mail art, manuscripts etc from his Salt Lick Press and personal archives have been preserved anywhere in an academic institution? If so, I would like very much to research such a collection

  4. @Check – I’m pretty sure it is. When I lived with Jim, he had said something about that. If I had to guess, I would assume University of Texas at Austin. That’s where Gerald Burns’ stuff went. But I am guessing. He did, however, live in Austin before moving to Portland. And then moved back to Austin. So that is where I would start.

    If you write anything, please let me know. And good luck!

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