The Golden Age of Joseph Smith’s Presence in Mormonism?
February 7, 2010 5 Comments
It is clearly the case that (for a multitude of reasons) the majority of Latter-day Saints share little interest in the tiny details of Joseph Smith’s life, or his ideas that extend beyond what may appear in the current correlated materials. Herding the minutia of Joseph’s sermons is what we do here and that’s an activity which raises little interest in that quarter. But an unintentional side effect of the natural loyalty many Saints have to the “correlated” materials generally leaves some fraction of them open to the shocks the various critics of Mormonism love to deliver. That, more than the history geeks, keeps alive some interest in the side lights of early Mormonism and the unofficial Joseph Smith.*
Consider the case of the late Reverend Wesley P. Walters, indefatigable digger up of obscurities that in part initiated a renaissance in the study of the early Mormon mythos.
But what is the fate of interest in such matters? With the 1970s came the Arrington years in Mormon history and while those heady times saw a somewhat negative response in some circles, Church sponsored professional history never died, just percolated and returned in a different form with the current Smith papers project and likely successors. What will be the effects of what seems to be a kind of dualism regarding how we tell the founding stories of Mormonism? Will there be a coming together of the official stories and the versions rising from the sources now becoming available to Mormons, not from critics, but from Church sponsored agents?
Personally, I think the official story will gradually become a simpler one, a more focused one, not a more detailed one. But what do I know?
* To be sure the response to faith claim challenges varies widely. For instance, I think of one man among my acquaintances whose response to uncomfortable facts is the familiar stone-wall approach. That person regards the study response as a waste of time and contextualizing Joseph Smith is viewed as something like a “faith crime.”