Monday, May 31, 2010

Filling in the Gaps

By Mister Curie

Madame Curie and I listed to another excellent installment of Mormon Stories Podcast last night and it really filled in a lot of the gaps.  The podcast guest was Daymon Smith, who did his Anthropology PhD at the University of Pennsylvania (where I currently attend school) on the subject of the  LDS church correlation program.  It was an absolutely fascinating podcast that I highly recommend.  Learning real church history, not the stuff they teach at church, largely led to my disaffection.  It became obvious after doing a minimal amount of research that we do not learn a lot of the real church history because it has been sanitized out of the curriculum by the correlation program.  The question I have had since becoming disaffected from Mormonism is wondering how we went from the crazy 19th century church founded by Joseph Smith that was filled with charismatic gifts and alternative lifestyles (polygamy) with a definite anti-American government bend to the organized and decidedly American religion we have today.  In studying church history, it seemed to me that there was a shift in things around the turn of the 20th century, right around the time that Utah was obtaining statehood and polygamy was being banned.  But it was more than just banning polygamy, so that didn't explain everything.  Daymon Smith researched this exact time period of the church and has some fascinating  insights.

I was raised as a "Correlated Mormon" with the false world view that the church correlation program provides.  The church correlation program gives the impression that the LDS church is the receptacle of eternal truths that have always been present throughout history because they come from an Eternal God.  This gives the impression that modern inventions, such as the Temple Endowment, were originally instituted with Adam and Eve and have been repeated in all dispensations of the world, such that a temple endowment was performed in the Jewish tabernacle and temples (such as Solomon's temple), and that Christ gave his apostles the endowment (but evil and designing men removed reference to it from our scriptures), and that even BoM peoples had the temple endowment.  Such correlation reinforces processes that Joseph Smith initiated with his translation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  Correlation presents the image that if the Bible had been translated properly and not altered by evil men, it would largely read like the Book of Mormon with its testimonies of Christ, as if Old Testaments prophets (and you could group Lehi, Nephi, and the Brother of Jared into people from the same time period as Old Testament prophets) knew and bore testimony of Christ.  Once you strip away the correlated world view, it becomes obvious that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century religious commentary that doesn't even match our own correlated doctrine.  Abinidi's sermon to King Noah is not an exposition of the Godhead (where the role of the Holy Ghost wasn't cannonized until the early 20th century largely through the efforts of James E. Talmage), but rather a 19th century trinitarian exposition.  The "fullness of the Gospel" with Priesthood ordination, temple endowment, and Eternal marriage are not in the Book of Mormon.  In fact, the current structure of the church that we "Correlated Mormons" know and love has only been in existence since the early 1980's.

My favorite quote from the podcast is: "Through the institutionalization of what is called correlation, you can explain away every error of correlation as an error of faith, but you can credit everything that happens in the church as a result of correlation."  To me, this quote explains how you can find perfectly documented historical information from church history that is simultaneously historically true and "eternally" false. 

I highly recommend the podcast, you can listen to it here:
Daymon Smith


  1. I listened to the whole thing a few days ago and I was blown away. Like you I had a hard time reconciling the early church with the product we have today. Correlation also explains why older books like the Journal of Discourse or even more recently Mormon Doctrine are being thrown out. They want to present this picture of consistency and continuity that just simply isn't there... I really want to read his book.

  2. His book seems to largely discuss the corporation aspects of the church, and does sound fascinating. I also want to read it. However, if you are interested in correlation, you can read his PhD disertation here:

    I have started reading it and it is fascinating. I love chapter 13 where he discusses how correlation is used to create the "Teachings of the Presidents" series and effectively creates this impression of eternal truths while divorcing the quotes from historical context and misrepresenting the original intent.

  3. The book you want is Roots of Modern Mormonism by Mark P. Leone (Harvard Univ Press, 1979).

    From the blurb: "Leone applies anthropological methodologies to his study of Mormonism to explore the ways in which a nineteenth-century outcast utopia survived in a hostile environment, both physical and cultural, to achieve worldwide success in the twentieth century."

    This very readable book shows how Mormonism went from an interesting and freewheeling band of outsiders and ended up as the stodgiest kind of establishment religion imaginable. It was a remarkable transformation. Leone also puts the focus on Utah's statehood and its aftermath. I really liked it.

    I also am a big fan of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, a historically accurate and extremely well-written biography of Joseph Smith. It's a real page turner. There was an interesting discussion of this book on a Mormon-themed blog recently. (See The interesting thing about this book is that the church has spent two generations vilifying it as an apostate's personal vendetta. The church's own apologist-in-chief Hugh Nibley did a particularly unscrupulous (and embarrassing) hatchet job on it. However, when Richard Bushman, a faithful LDS historian, finally got around to writing Rough Stone Rolling, the closest thing there is to an uncontested Joseph Smith biography, he borrowed so heavily from Brodie that he effectively vindicated her. The Church does not contest Bushman, but his book contains the same facts as Brodie! (In fact, I argue that it adds so little, it should not have been written.) The only difference is that Bushman softens the tone for consumption by a Mormon audience. (Brodie's book is much, much better written. She has a gift for language.) After all those years of Brodie-hating, the Church has effectively granted all her points. I guess it's too much to expect an apology. In any case, I can't recommend NMKMH too highly.

    To fill in the gaps left by Brodie, I also like Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Newell and Avery. Emma Smith's story is fascinating and puts a lot of the other material in context. Official Mormon history (the correlated stuff) pretty much leaves women out.


    (Glad to see you posting again. I love your blog.)

  4. "Roots of Modern Mormonism" sounds fascinating. I'll have to find a copy of it.

    I also recommend NMKMH and Mormon Enigma. Both are great books and uncorrelated Mormon history is absolutely fascinating!

  5. University of Pennsylvania? Heard that fun people go there ;)

  6. @Romulus - Absolutely. The University of Pennsylvania is a very happening place!

  7. Daymon's stuff is great. But there still is a lot of uncorrelated LDS stuff out there in the church, echoes from the past, and the same spiritual gifts. So maybe best to see correlation as just one series of movements in an even larger, messier LDS world. I'm fascinated by correlation. But it isn't the only way I experience my Mormonism. Since I've always been interested in LDS history, I've never really had any WTF surprise moments and have always known that sometimes the "official" history is just one view of a much messier past.

    BTW, I'm nearby up in Upper Bucks. Are you down in the city our out in the burbs?