Excersus LXIX: Plan B
I've been reading Fawn Brodie's old biography of Joseph Smith as of late, and have found myself veering between outrage and genuine admiration. There is no denying that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was a charlatan - his career as a treasure hunter, his ludicrous Egyptian translations, his completely unscrupulous use of his position to frighten unwilling teenagers into marrying him, his hyper-specific Revelations from God that used Old Testament language to delve into the legal minutiae of land speculation percentages. And, unlike, say, PT Barnum, whose charlatanage was generally pleasant and harmless, Joseph's inflicted untold suffering and death on the followers he dragged over the United States, and continues to hold millions in intellectual stagnancy.
BUT I will say that, as religious inventors go, he is by far the most interesting in the Christian tradition - more than Luther, more than Calvin - his vision, as it evolved, was entirely unbeholden to anything dogmatic that got in the way of his living life as he thought it ought to be led. He replaced monotheism with a polytheism centered on the idea that anybody, by work and study and reflection, could become gods themselves. His vision of heaven threw out Monotonous Bliss and Perfection to include self-development, struggle, screwing - everything that makes life good here, just on a more celestial scale. The ballsiness with which he tore apart Christian theology and replaced it with the creations of his own mind and fancy is impressive, and the ultimate creation, if not admirable for a number of reasons (including the built in racism and misogyny of his core ideas), is interesting as an exercise in universe building. As a religious figure, Joseph Smith's existence is unfortunate - but I think he could have written interesting comic books.
- Count Dolby von Luckner