True Beauty

I know that of all the books in the Bible, it’s Song of Songs that LDS (and some Protestants) target first and foremost as not being appropriately included in the canon.

To offer a contrary viewpoint, few books in the Bible are as relevant to our every day lives and to our culture as Song of Songs. I’ll be posting talks on Song of Songs offered at my church over the next 5 weeks. I hope you can listen and hear a fresh take on this often overlooked poem.

Direct link here.

41 thoughts on “True Beauty

  1. Not bad. Bruce R. McConkie had a different opinion, but it wouldn’t be the first time he and I have parted ways.

    Was this a regular Sunday service, or some after-hours seminar (kinda like an LDS “fireside”)?

  2. Can you find a link to the McConkie’s opinion on Song of Songs? I’ve read what Joseph Smith has said against it but not McConkie.

    I do envy those with professional clergy on occasion.

    You can always feel free to listen in. 🙂

  3. No citation, and a Google search only yielded a bunch of overwrought anti-Mormon nitpicking. You can sift through it if you want, I can think of about two or three better ways to spend an evening.

  4. I listened to the sermon and I like the concept of embracing sexuality in a religious context. Mormons are generally too puritanical on this subject, which leads to unhealthy repression and denial. However I have is a question. What makes the Song of Songs more valuable than a good self-help book on the subject of sexual relationships and/or self esteem? . . . or even this particular sermon on self esteem?

    It seems calling it scripture is just a way of making people pay attention to it in detail and taking it seriously, the practical truths are nothing earth shattering and much less accessible and relevant than contemporary thoughts on the subject.

  5. What makes the Song of Songs more valuable than a good self-help book on the subject of sexual relationships and/or self esteem?

    I certainly believe “all truth is God’s truth”. It doesn’t have to be in scripture for us to embrace it. I think the difference is that people show up to church to hear exhortation from scripture (at least at most churches). There are plenty of places where we can hear about self-esteem and sexuality, but scripture tells us what God and his people think on the issues.

    As for Song of Songs holding to contemporary thoughts on sexuality, not even close. Turn on Mtv tonight or watch any dating show that happens to be on.

  6. Closed-minded, I’d agree with. Idiot, not so much. You’re overly minimalizing the scope and depth of his work for Mormon doctrine and thought.

  7. Since this thread has kinda run its course…

    Tim I found one early statement from your minister quite interesting. He was addressing the questions some might have as to how something that came from a fallen and sinful king like Solomon could be taken as scripture today.

    He remarked that sometimes God allows great things to come from imperfect men.

    Can I hold you guys to that on Joseph Smith?

  8. Sure, in theory. Joseph Smith’s personal failings (the drinking, the lusting, etcetera) don’t in and of themselves make him a false prophet. The scriptures are replete with human, imperfect prophets.

  9. The problem–for me at least–isn’t really that Joseph Smith drank or that Brigham Young was a flaming racist. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that they made stuff up and said it was God doing it. That’s not a question of human fallibility or a collateral attack on their prophetic status; it’s a direct challenge to it.

    Making false prophecies, lying and distorting the truth about revelation (or the absence of it), giving your own opinion and claiming it’s God’s opinion–these aren’t mere issues of “human frailty.”

  10. I don’t have any problem with flawed people writing scripture. I expect scripture to be written by flawed people.

    Joseph Smith, though, delivers to us flawed scripture, abused the power of authoring scripture, and delivers his scripture with the same method (seer stones) he used to swindle money out of people.

    It’s not so much that Joseph Smith is a flawed sinner with scripture, but that he sinned by offering flawed scripture.

  11. He was arrested and convicted for treasure hunting. He told people he had the power to find buried treasure on their land by gazing into seer stones he would place in a hat.

    Have you not heard this or are you squabbling over the word “swindle”?

  12. I’ve heard this. First-off, the court case was a complete farce. Secondly, although I’m well-aware that he hired-out as a supernatural treasure-hunter, I’ve never heard that he was ever cheating anyone. He honestly thought he had a gift at it, and so did everyone else. A common notion at the time period. What’s dishonest about that?

    This might make him deluded, but it doesn’t even come close to making him dishonest.

    The court suits often came later from his fellow diggers who were angry that he hadn’t cut-them-in on the Gold Plates (which they seemed to feel entitled to for some reason).

  13. I’ve never heard that he was ever cheating anyone. He honestly thought he had a gift at it, and so did everyone else. A common notion at the time period. What’s dishonest about that?

    It was against the law. That’s what makes it dishonest (and he certainly wasn’t being directed by God to make a career of it).

  14. He was charge with a misdemeanor for being a disorderly person. I was mistaken to say he was convicted. The trial doesn’t seem to have taken place.

    An examination of the law concerning “disorderly persons” leads to the conclusion that Joseph Smith would have had a very difficult time avoiding conviction if he had remained for his trial at the Court of Special Sessions. According to A New Conductor Generalis, published in 1819, page 108, the following would be “deemed disorderly persons”:

    “All Jugglers;
    All who pretend to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretend to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found;… 1 R. L. 1813. p. 114.”

    Webster’s 1828 dictionary gives this definition for the word juggle:

    1. To play tricks by slight of hand; to amuse and make sport by tricks, which make a false show of extraordinary powers.
    2. To practice artifice or imposture.

    Pro-Mormon source

  15. Did the court actually use a contemporary Webster’s dictionary for statutory construction?

  16. Actually, the 1826 “trial” wasn’t even a trial. It was more of an evidentiary hearing that went nowhere. Josiah Stowell employed Joseph Smith on numerous occasions as a hired hand and also to aid in locating buried treasure. It was a popular notion in those days and in that locale. Lots of respected public figures went in for that kind of thing (including various Protestant ministers). There was also a widespread belief in magic which was almost indistinguishable from popular notions of “spiritual gifts.”

    Joseph had a small reputation for a gift at locating lost items – including treasure. Joseph viewed it as a spiritual gift of God – in his family, the magical and the spiritual were indistinguishable. He felt, at the time, that he had a gift from God. Later however, he began to regret his pursuit of treasure as a misapplication of said gifts. The final time Josiah Stowell employed Joseph for the purpose of locating a lost silver mine, it was a reluctant Joseph who joined with him. Ultimately, Joseph convinced Josiah to abandon the idea.

    When Josiah became one of the first to warm up to Joseph’s religious claims, Josiah’s alarmed son instituted legal action with hopes of discrediting Joseph.

    It seems to have had no such impact. No prosecution was ever made. Most of the witnesses seem to have actually testified that Joseph did indeed have the abilities he claimed. Since it wasn’t an actual trial, there isn’t an official court record of the event. Of the other sources available, most are highly suspect. The whole thing appears to be a frivolous attempt to discredit Joseph brought by people who already didn’t like him.

    I don’t think this dog will bark.

  17. Seth, was it against the law? That was what you questioned me about.

    On the one hand you’re happy to say that Joseph was involved in the practice, on the other you say he wasn’t convicted and the trial was a sham. So after all that, we find out that we agree that Joseph was indeed involved in treasure digging. The question was not whether or not he was convicted in 1826.

    I’ll concede the point that Joseph was never convicted of swindling anyone.

  18. I have a hard time believing treasure-digging was against the law to begin with. Even given the text you quoted, Joseph wouldn’t have been guilty since he honestly believed he could do what he claimed he did. And several of the witnesses backed him up.

    It’s not like they were trespassing or breaking-and-entering. Free country right?

    In any case, the law in question seems of a rather silly and ridiculous sort. Kind of like laws (still on the books apparently) against fighting a bear with your bare hands to impress a girl.

    I don’t see what this really has to do with the original issue though.

  19. The question is, if God can make anyone write scripture, why not Joseph, even if he did lie about some things.

    David and Joshua committed genocidal massacre……can we agree thats worse than money digging?

  20. I think we’ve both already said that Joseph Smith’s imperfections don’t necessarily make him not a prophet or the Book of Mormon not true. If his imperfections implicate his honesty–or worse yet, specifically show that he told these kinds of lies before–then we have a problem. I other words, if he is a habitual liar, we can take that into consideration when evaluating his credibility when he tells us he saw God and translated the Book of Mormon.

    Is it possible he could be a habitual liar and stil have told the truth this one time, or this one set of times? Sure. It doesn’t seem that likely, but it’s possible.

    I think Joseph Smith was not a prophet for a whole lot of reasons, but “he wasn’t perfect” isn’t one of them. “He told lies about other things” is on the list, sure, but it ain’t at the top.

  21. There’s worse than money-digging to go after Joseph on anyway.

    The cost-prohibitive building of the Kirtland temple, and Joseph’s subsequent attempts to finance the project were an absolute financial and economic disaster for the early Mormons. Joseph ended up in the center of a bankruptcy institution hounded by angry creditors.

    A lot of early Mormons left the Church over that episode. They wondered how a true prophet could lead them into such utter financial ruin. Brigham Young had a good quote on the subject:

    “I recollect a conversation I had with a priest who was an old friend of ours, before I ws personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. I clipped every argument he advanced, until at last he came out and began to rail against “Joe Smith,” saying, “that he was a mean man, a liar, moneydigger, gambler, and a whore-master;” and he charged him with everything bad, that he could find language to utter. I said, hold on, brother Gillmore, here is the doctrine, here is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the revelations that have come through Joseph Smith the Prophet. I have never seen him, and do not know his private character. The doctrine he teaches is all I know about the matter, bring anything against that if you can. As to anything else I do not care. If he acts like a devil, he has brought forth a doctrine that will save us, if we will abide it. He may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor’s wife every night, run horses and gamble, I do not care anything about that, for I never embrace any man in my faith. But the doctrine he has produced will save you and me, and the whole world; and if you can find fault with that, find it.”

    Brigham Young, “The Gospel Like a Net Cast Into the Sea, Etc.,” Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 9 November 1856, Vol. 4 (London: Latter-Day Saint’s Book Depot, 1857), 77–78.

  22. Incidentally, Bushman’s biography indicates that Brigham Young’s reported experience of believing while having never met Joseph personally was actually a very common condition among early Mormons. Joseph just didn’t figure in that prominently in the belief systems or consciousness of a lot of early converts.

    Which raises questions about the assertions that it was Joseph’s charisma or personal magnetism that held Mormonism together (and undermines a central thesis of Fawn Brodie’s biography).

  23. “Brought people into the Church” and “held the Church together” are two really different things.

  24. For half of Joseph’s ministry, the Missouri Church operated almost completely without him – despite intense persecution and setbacks. Seems like it also “held together without him.”

  25. Yeah, I agree with seth here. I guess you could try and make an argument as to the degree of flaw in the BOM as compared to the Bible. But to simply argue that JS wasn’t a true prophet because he brought forth flawed scripture is excluding most (all?) biblical prophets as well.

  26. I think the problem is not so much with “flaws” as with “utter non-historicity.” The Book of Mormon isn’t a flawed book of scripture, it’s a flawed work of fiction.

  27. Actually to be precise, wouldn’t you say (from your perspective anyway) that is a perfectly reasonable piece of fiction, but a flawed history book 😉

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