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Dan Vogel's Critique Of Pbs Special


Dan Vogel

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Here are my notes to episode 1, act 1, of the PBS broadcast "The Mormons." I know that many of the things I will bring up could not be covered in the documentary. I offer these comments in the interest of perspective and furtherance of the never-ending dialogue, of which the PBS production was but a snapshot.

ACT 1

FIRST VISION (1820)

Placement of Ken Verdoia's statement about revivals and religious controversy in the "Burned Over District" implies that was a motivation for JS's 1820 vision.

Dan Peterson, Jeffrey Holland, and Marlin Jensen all describe 1838 version of vision with two personages without any qualifying phrase like JS "claimed" or "said." It is described ahistorically as fact. Holland says that God and Jesus appeared to JS "with all the biblical features, the way Moses said he saw them, with eyes and ears and hands and faces." Moses saw the Father and Son? However, this claim that Moses saw God as a man goes unchallenged.

Marlin Jensen: I've always been struck honestly with the question he posed: "Which of the churches is true?" He thought there was a true church. That would have been the logical thing to think. And so he asked that: "Which of them all is true?," not "Is there a true church?," which, even in that question, I think, tells us something about his sincerity, his honesty. The answer was that none of them were. I mean, that was an earthshaking answer. I'm sure that it came as a very big surprise to him.

Surprise! Not according to the 1832 version, which states that prior to his vision--

... by Searching the Scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament ...

In this 1832 account, the question of which church is true was not even asked. Why would it? JS had already concluded the Christian world were in a state of apostasy. So he went directly to God for forgiveness, and obtained it, according to this version. He was even told by the one personage who appeared--Jesus--

I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life behold the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one ... I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father ...

Thus JS didn't need organized religion, because he was saved by believing in Jesus. Also, since Jesus appeared, there was nothing in JS's theology in 1832 about God the Father being a corporeal being. The "Lectures on Faith" included in the 1835 D&C said the Father was a "spirit"; the concept of God's corporeality came later.

The PBS documentary mentions various versions of the First Vision, but makes it sound as if these later versions were merely embellishments.

Gregory Prince: The first version of [his First] Vision was written in Joseph Smith's own hand in 1832. It was personal, it merely dealt with his sinfulness and he going to the grove to ask God for forgiveness, end of story. Subsequently over the next 12 years, there were other versions that emerged from Joseph Smith where the story got more detailed, more colorful, and one of the later versions became the official version. ...

Contradictions are not mentioned, especially the fact that the 1832 version did not mention the Father (which was consistent with JS's theology at that time).

Ken Clark's comments on the 1832 account, which undoubtedly mentioned the contradictions, are deleted, and begin abruptly:

... finally in 1838 we have God the Father and the Son visiting him telling him to join none of the churches. And it begs the question: was Joseph Smith building a story as he went, because the story certainly evolved and the story took on more miraculous and remarkable characteristics; and he certainly became a greater character with greater status in God's eyes in each of these stories with a greater work to do in each of these stories.

I suspect Whitney edited out the specifics of the evolution to avoid having to have a response from believers. Such as Terryl Givens's response in the transcript of his interview:

... The story of the First Vision has been told many different ways. Even Joseph himself told many different versions of it. I don't find that surprising when one sees the story of Christ in the New Testament is narrated in very, very different ways by his own followers.

http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/givens.html

With the suppression of the details of the "different versions," non-Mormons will conclude that the differences are not serious and on a par with differences between the Gospels, which they are not. Not only is this comparison highly questionable, it's irrelevant. It is typical apologetic designed to exploit the beliefs of potential critics--namely the Evangelicals--on the defensive. In effect, Givens is saying: "If you believe the Bible, and the Bible has contradictions, then you can't criticize JS and early Mormons for telling the First Vision story in different ways." This is an ad hominem, or tu quoque ("you too") fallacy.

Richard Mouw, Evangelical theologian, comes on and says that he doesn't believe the content of the vision, but instinctively believes JS was telling the truth. He doesn't think JS invented the story to manipulate people and get power over them. "And so I live with the mystery," he says. Well, it's no mystery to those acquainted with Mouw's recent public apology for misrepresenting Mormon beliefs "without making a sincere effort first of all to ask [Mormons] what [they] believe." I guess living with the mystery is preferable to calling JS a liar or something worse. If Mouw doesnâ??t believe JS lied, perhaps the mystery lies in his inability to decide if JS was deluded or demonically driven.

TREASURE SEEKING

Ken Clark gives a good description of the process of seeing (or scrying) with a stone, except that it lacked the theory of how it was supposed to work. Rather than images appearing in the stone like a crystal ball, images appeared on the surface, which for the adept was luminous in the darkness of the hat. A black top hat was shown brim down, and never with JS's face in it. One clip even contradicted this by showing JS reading from the plates that were partially covered by a cloth so that the scribe (Oliver Cowdery?) could not see them, although he was seated at the opposite end of the table from JS.

Simon Worrall, who has written on the Mark Hofmann forgery murders, introduces the subject of JS's 1826 court hearing in South Bainbridge, NY. Then Ken Clark mentions those who swore under oath that JS had the ability to see treasure slipping away under the ground or where they were buried. I'm not sure the average viewer will understand the folk magic belief that some treasures were enchanted or guarded by spirits or other beings that could keep the treasures moving away from the diggers. No connection was made to how this carried over to the story about the "angel" and the plates.

ANGEL AND PLATES

As with the First Vision, the story of the angel and plates is told as later sanitized to exclude any allusions to treasure lore. Most of the story of the vision is told by performance poet Alex Caldiero, rather than a historian. No mention is made of the oddity of calling a dead mortal an "angel."

Daniel Peterson mentions both the seer stone and the Urim and Thummin. Peterson says, "it was called the Urim and Thummin." By whom? Not the Nephites, and not the angel. Early Mormon missionaries connected the magic "spectacles" with the Old Testament "divination device" to give the Nephite/Jaredite instrument a biblical rather than magical context.

The stone shown with the black top hat (JS was said to have had an old white top hat) appears to be the green seer stone allegedly given to JS in Pennsylvania by Jack Belcher, which is now in Princeton University's Collection of Western Americana. The one JS used most of the time was a brown-colored stone about the size of a hen's egg now in possession of the LDS church, access to which is extremely restricted. Peterson finally gives a more detailed description of the mechanics of using the stone:

Poet Alex Caldiero comes on and says he hears the voice of JS in the Book of Mormon, but it's a mixture of human and divine. Then foremost Mesoamerican archaeologist Michael Coe expresses disbelief in the book's historicity, as he has done for decades.

I think this analogy is appropriate with JS, and I made it in the introduction to Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet. While many former Mormons believe JS was a fake from beginning to end, I happen to think he was much more complex.

Terryl Givens mentions the embarrassment of some Mormon intellectuals over Book of Mormon historicity, but dismisses the notion that the faith could survive without it. He declares that the book is "inseparable from the heart and soul of Mormonism, that one could no sooner divorce the historical claims of the Book of Mormon from the church than one could divorce the story of Christ's resurrection from Christianity and survive with the religion intact." Maybe Mormonism would become a religion with a different story and less apologetic force.

The narrator states that the story of the gold plates and First Vision are foundation events, that it is no middle ground for Mormon leaders. But that was once said about polygamy. However, the First Vision was not foundational. In 1832, the vision was only a personal event dealing with forgiveness of sins. Only later did the vision take on prophetic aspects. Early Mormons pointed to the angel and plates as the foundational event, not the First Vision. President Hinkley overstates the significance of the vision:

But since it was a personal revelation that did not inaugurate the restoration, then this is a false dichotomy that Mormons may one day find too confining. In the same vein, Givens argues:

I think Givens underestimates the resiliency of faith and its ability to adapt to changing times. However, believing that the Nephites were real people isn't necessary to believe God intervenes in human history, even for Mormons. Faith is required whether one believes God intervened in the form of an angel and gold plates or a direct revelation to JS. Mormons find it difficult to give up what they think is compelling evidence for their faith.

Harold Bloom comes on to say that he thinks anyone who believes in the supernatural shouldn't criticize Mormons for believing in their miracles. He says, "It makes little sense to present arguments against Joseph Smith and early Mormonism that would extend equally well to what we are told about the origins of" any revealed religion, such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. There's that argument from personal circumstances again. The problem with this thinking is that arguments against Mormon scripture don't "extend equally well" to other faiths for the simple reason that the Book of Mormon's historicity can be tested, whereas we are not in a position to test the foundational claims of these other religions. By the same token, JS's claims to revelation can't be tested anymore than Moses' encounter with God, or Mohammad's encounters with the angel Gabriel, or the apostles' encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Bloom doesn't seem to grasp how Mormonism presents a different situation. While the revealed or inspired status of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham can't be tested directly, the historicity of these books can be tested. The historicity of the Bible isn't connected to its religious claims in the same way that it is for the Book of Mormon. So, if scholars conclude that they are not historical documents, then certain claims about angels and plates become suspect. Thus, when Bloom concludes--"If you wish to be a hard rock empiricist, then you should not entertain any religious doctrine whatsoever"--he greatly mischaracterizes the issue. Arguing that Mormon revelations can only be consistently rejected by a "hard rock empiricist" (such as myself) is not only a subtle ad hominem but wrong. Perhaps Bloom could tell us why he chooses this argument to defend a revealed religion that declares all other revealed religions are false?

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Exodus 24: Dan, I believe Moses did see the Lord as a man on the mountain with the elders. Now it does describe His feet and the sapphire looking tile underneath them. It doesn't mention that Moses and the elders could not see His face. So my argument from silence is that His face could be seen. However in chapter 33 the Lord says that '..no one can see my face and live...', so Moses saw His backside. In Genesis, Jacob wrestled with God. In Judges Minoah and his wife saw the Lord. In Joshua, Joshua saw the man whom said 'My name is beyond understanding..'. Also in Genesis, Abraham saw the Lord and two angels at the Oaks of Mamre and fed them.

Dan,

The only way these seemingly contradictions can be explained is by belief in the Trinity, that is the Son of God has a body, but the Father (Genesis 33) does not. The bodily appearances of the Lord in the Old Testament were the preincarnate Son of God, second person of the Trinity, and He existed eternally.

St. Paul, '...whom alone dwells in unapproachable light which no man has seen or can see...'

In visions such as Stephen's immediately preceding his death, and in visions in Revelation, the Father does have a body, but these are visions, where anthropomorphisms are utilized to make them clear. The Father does not have a body. The Trinity though not explicitly taught in the scriptures is implicitly derived from inductive study of all the Bible.

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Vogel:

â?¦ a "hard rock empiricist" (such as myself) â?¦

But Dan, youâ??ve always worked so hard to resist that â??positivistâ? label. How can you so explicitly claim it for yourself now?

But tell me, Dan, if President Hinckley were to call a news conference tomorrow and proclaim that we no longer adhere to a belief in literal First Vision/BoM/BoA historicity, would you start doing your home teaching again?

I didnâ??t think so. So, your objections go a little deeper than that, donâ??t they?

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Placeholder

LOL... out loud.

Placeholder here too.

Please make sure nobody else gets my spot, would you please?

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I have a TV, I just hardly watch it. I didn't watch this, and I kind of regret that. Maybe I can pick it up in rerun.

Dan, I don't see how the religions based on the Bible don't also sink or swim based on the historicity of the Bible. CaliforniaKid's recent remarks show that he believes that ancient Israel's religion was essentially pagan, and that over a certain period of time God purged from it the paganism and left it instead a "true" religion. That's a paraphrase, and if CK feels I'm misrepresenting him then I'd welcome any correction. Other than the perplexing notion of a "true" religion based on a record of a people who were essentially pagans, and which incorporates a mythological history (much of Genesis) somehow turning into "true" religion.

The big picture, from my perspective, is that we have human existence for somewhere north of 100,000 years. There is evidence from cave paintings, apparently spiritually-motivated burial practices, and probably other things that the experts in the field could point out, of religious practices and beliefs going way, way back, tens of thousands of years. CK mentioned the religion of the Neanderthals. Obviously we don't know what the religion of the Neanderthals was, but there's zero reason to suppose it was related in any way to Christianity.

So, for 100,000+ years we have human beings believing all kinds of spiritual and religious ideas unrelated to Christianity, leading right up into ancient Israel, which believed and practiced some form of one branch of humanity's religious thought. Finally, after over 100,000 years of human beings living and worshipping and hunting and dying on Earth, God takes an ancient people (Israelites) and starts to mold their pagan religious beliefs into his own "true" religion, from which Christianity is one derivative?

Is anyone else having trouble with this "big picture" view? To me, the clearly mythological nature of the early parts of the Old Testament are explained perfectly from the point of view that ancient Israel's religious beliefs were just a particular strain in the religious beliefs of some regional inherited religion, which itself was just one branch of the superset of various and sundry non-Christian religious beliefs handed down and evolved through tens of thousands of years by many different branches of the human family tree.

I'm at a loss to pinpoint exactly when, from CK's point of view, or any of the LDS TBMs' point of view, the religion of ancient Israel stopped being the incorrect inherited regional paganism, and began to be God's real, actual, "true" religion. Since the remnants of this original paganism are seen by CK and perhaps some of his co-believers, and by some TBMs, and other theologians in the Old Testament, it would seem to me much more obvious that the religion of Israel in fact is just another mythology, and that Christianity, Judaism and Islam all represent mere evolutionary developments broken off in different branches from this ancient mythology, and that these mythologies, in the end, are no more "true" than the mythologies of any other people.

I see in the Old Testament not the groundwork being lain for the eventual revelation of the "fullness" of the Gospel in Christianity, but rather evidence of Christianity's pagan roots, with nothing standing out as any kind of sign or evidence of any shift from non-true paganism to God's True Religion.

This post was inspired by Dan's comments respecting the importance of the BoM to the LDS Church's truth claims as compared to the importance of the Bible to Christianity's truth claims, but I realize it could represent a fairly serious derailing from the OP. If you guys agree, and think this should go in its own thread, let me know and I'll copy and paste my post into a new thread and let it go from there.

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My question is why wasn't the infamous Dan Vogel interviewed for the documentary?

Dan was, in fact, interviewed at length for the show. But that "other Dan" was deemed far more photogenic and was therefore not left on the cutting room floor like poor Vogel's footage was.

But Dan, for what it's worth, I would have preferred you over that other pseudo-historian, Will Bagley. At least you have the cojones to come on this board and do battle with us deluded believers. Bagley, on the other hand, prefers to do his criticizing among nothing but "friends," opining in his inimitable 2-watt manner about the 5-watt intellects that prop up LDS apologetics.

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Dan was, in fact, interviewed at length for the show. But that "other Dan" was deemed far more photogenic and was therefore not left on the cutting room floor like poor Vogel's footage was.

But Dan, for what it's worth, I would have preferred you over that other pseudo-historian, Will Bagley. At least you have the cojones to come on this board and do battle with us deluded believers. Bagley, on the other hand, prefers to do his criticizing among nothing but "friends," opining in his inimitable 2-watt manner about the 5-watt intellects that prop up LDS apologetics.

What about Kerry and his 500mw Family Radio Service broadcasts?

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Hey Sethbag,

I appreciate your comments and I don't think you are misrepresenting me. However, I would like to point out that I think that much of the progress that has been made toward a "true" religion in terms of theology is the product of human reasoning (i.e. philosophy) rather than of divine revelation. God sends prophets to correct the morality of errant societies, not to correct their theology. While I believe in the miraculous based purely on my own experience and on anecdotal evidence, I think that divine intervention comes primarily as a response to human sin and suffering, not to theological error. People who claim God revealed to them a true theology almost always seem to be either delusional or liars. As far as theology, I think God allows us to draw our own conclusions.

-CK

EDIT: I don't want to derail the thread, so if you'd like to talk further we can start a new one.

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I only saw the last half hour or so, and during that time I can't recall a single mention of freemasonry. Judging from the comments I've seen on the board, I get the impression that it wasn't emphasized in the parts that I missed, either. Since elements of freemasonry are such an integral part of Mormonism, including the obvious influence on LDS temple ceremonies, I think the producers should have spent a little more time on it. Maybe they'll get to it when they discuss (or rather, tip-toe around) temple rituals.

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I only saw the last half hour or so, and during that time I can't recall a single mention of freemasonry. Judging from the comments I've seen on the board, I get the impression that it wasn't emphasized in the parts that I missed, either. Since elements of freemasonry are such an integral part of Mormonism, including the obvious influence on LDS temple ceremonies, I think the producers should have spent a little more time on it. Maybe they'll get to it when they discuss (or rather, tip-toe around) temple rituals.

I imagine it will get mentioned tonight as they will be talking about our temples.

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Dan Vogel,

I believe your summary of Richard Maow's view of JS is spot on! Maow would make a good politician, and as Lincoln said, 'There's a difference between a good politician and an honest one.' (not sic)

As to the individual who said JS's different visions could be compared to differences in the Gospels, I agree with you that it is a disengenuous statement. There are no doctrinal contradictions between the Gospels, only allegations of them! As to historical differences, see F.F. Bruce's writings. One gospel says there were two blind men who shouted at Jesus on the road to Jericho. The other gospel says there was one (Blind Bartemus). However it does not say ONLY one, it simply fails to mention the second beggar.

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Surprise! Not according to the 1832 version, which states that prior to his vision--

In this 1832 account, the question of which church is true was not even asked. Why would it? JS had already concluded the Christian world were in a state of apostasy. So he went directly to God for forgiveness, and obtained it, according to this version. He was even told by the one personage who appeared--Jesus--

Dan, why did you leave out part of the quote?

I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life behold the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the Gospel and keep not my commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me ... I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father ...

Joseph may not have mentioned the question in this account, but he certainly mentions the answer.

Thus JS didn't need organized religion, because he was saved by believing in Jesus.

Yet earlier in the very same account, Joseph specifically mentions that this vision was the first step in restoring the true gospel to the earth. Why didn't you mention that?

Also, since Jesus appeared, there was nothing in JS's theology in 1832 about God the Father being a corporeal being. The "Lectures on Faith" included in the 1835 D&C said the Father was a "spirit"; the concept of God's corporeality came later.

I am not one that believes the first vision necessarily requires that Joseph recognized a physical body. I have no problem believing that his understand of God having a corporeal body came later.

The PBS documentary mentions various versions of the First Vision, but makes it sound as if these later versions were merely embellishments.

Contradictions are not mentioned, especially the fact that the 1832 version did not mention the Father (which was consistent with JS's theology at that time).

It does mention the Father. Early in the account he says, "A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Chist the son of the living God...". Now, it is true that he does not specifically mention the Father in the visitation, but it cannot be ruled out either, the wording is rather awkward.

Regards,

T-Shirt

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I really think that Joseph Smith, like shamans everywhere, started out faking it.

Shamans everywhere fake it? CFR, Michael Coe and Dan Vogel.

-=-=-=

William the Conqueror,

That's difficult to look at the Bible like that, then try to not look at the visions like that. This has been hashed out many times, and I'm still looking for contradictions. Please, any? Maybe we can continue one of the old threads, so as to not derail...

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Contradictions are not mentioned, especially the fact that the 1832 version did not mention the Father (which was consistent with JS's theology at that time).

Dan,

How many times must this be laid out on these boards? What is your definition of "contradiction"? Why do you call not mentioning something a contradiction?

-=-=-=

The Dude,

I often have a chuckle when I read your answers...

Give a straight answer, with sources: are all shamans fake? Or is that too hard?

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