Back in February of 2012 I posted an anti-apologetic response to a FairMormon podcast episode featuring Dr. Valerie Hudson who discussed “Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice.” ,  I recently discovered I had “published” two posts, one an earlier draft of the other – so I just deleted the earlier one. I also returned to the FairMormon podcast website to look at my comment again. There were a sufficient number of distinct ideas, as well as a response from Steve Densley, a FairMormon apologist, that I thought to paste them here. A bit of self-indulgence for sure, but Mormon polygamy is such a juicy target that I can’t help re-visiting it.
There … I’ve just pasted them under the “Fair use.” Now I’ll read them more closely and add commentary as motivated by my emotional responses (what other motivators are there?) that press me to think rationally (or so I hope). The commentary will be italicized, bolded, blue, [bracketed] and …
JTurn 22 February 2012 at 8:05 pm
This podcast afforded me the occasion to reread D&C 132 in light of this Abrahamic covenant perspective.
Among other bits, I am puzzled by the following verse that seems to point to the core of Dr. Hudson’s argument.
D&C 132, 50: I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.
This suggests that just as Abraham’s ram in the thicket provided him an escape from having to murder Isaac, Joseph should have been provided with an escape from having to consummate his various sexual congresses over the span of a decade or more. Either there is a fundamental asymmetry here or Joseph failed the test.
[I am interested in the symmetries and asymmetries that arise between faith-centered supernatural worldviews and philosophical naturalistic worldviews. This has become central to my critical comparisons of the two. For instance, many apologetic arguments leverage a basic epistemological asymmetry in their favor. Mormons, for instance, claim an additional source of knowledge (revelation) bestowed by the "Gift of the Holy Ghost" an accessed through confirmatory feelings or perceptions that can be distinguished from emotions. But many apologists leverage a claim to symmetry. They attack naturalism as being just as faith-based as they are. This latter strategy is an obviously weak, if not self-defeating, defense.]
Close your eyes and imagine holding a knife to your child’s throat, ready to slice it open because God commanded it. Seriously, experience this for a minute. If you are a faithful Mormon, own it.
[I admit, I did not do this myself]
Now, at least if you are a typical man, close your eyes and imagine the devoted attention of attractive young women living under your roof with God commanding you to take them to bed.
[I will not admit that I did this myself]
These are fundamentally different kinds of tests. The bias required not see this is profound.
Thus is just the beginning of what I find deeply disturbing about D&C 132, which I would not have revisited if I was not somewhat first disturbed by Dr, Hudson’s argument.
[At the time my daughter was a few weeks away from getting entering into "celestial" marriage. But saying "deeply" was a rhetorical exaggeration.]
An interesting bit did jump out that did not register with me before. Verse 51 points to a counter Abrahamic test that the Lord (through Joseph I presume) offered Emma.
51: Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
The obvious difference is that Emma was offered an “escape,” again through Joseph.
[Evidently, I wasn't through. Here's round two composed that same evening, well past my bedtime.]
JTurn 22 February 2012 at 10:14 pm
Has Dr. Hudson thought through the implications of basing one’s (or a group’s) moral philosophy on Abrahamic tests? Particularly when they are administered through admittedly imperfect men who may be found to have had problems distinguishing true doctrine from mere teachings?
["Moral philosophy" isn't the correct characterization. Perhaps "moral grounding" is better. The point is that plural marriage was instituted by revelation as necessary for exaltation - which makes it central to the Mormon Gospel of Jesus Christ. What this has to do with the Atonement is anyone's guess. Perhaps the Atonement is just about salvation (eternal life), but exaltation (celestial life) requires passing "Abrahamic" tests of faith, which is, to my mind, ludicrous. ]
As an aside, the expediencies of keeping Mormonism viable in American society have led to reversals in some of its doctrine – qua policies – such as the Adam-as-God doctrine and the priesthood/endowment ban on people of African descent. This has entailed discounting the revelations of prior “Prophets, Seers and Revelators” as high up as Brigham Young. Could Joseph Smith be next in line? That, could happen only out of desperation. And yet, there seems to be a movement in this direction. It’s taking the form of an ever-increasing emphasis on Jesus and marketing Mormonism as “Christian too” – a zero-sum game for air-time between Joseph and Jesus that will eventually have Joseph teetering on the edge of the memory hole and then, perhaps in 100 years, letting him fall in. ]
Imagine 1000 religions with 1000 prophets all invoking God’s will to practice moral exceptionalism to promote their ambitions or to confront internal or external stresses. But wait, this IS human history – which hasn’t been pretty.
[This has to be the strongest argument against revealed religion. It was cogently made by one of the most preeminent philosophers living today, Philip Kitcher . What is so dumbfounding to me is how little purchase this has on the mind of believers – including my own. This was a fact that stared me in the face for a long time without registering until other reasons – emotional provoking experiences – made it visible and useful for personal justification. How’s that for honesty?]
In my opinion the world would be much better off if every group would accept the moral obligation of dialing back their sense of such privileged insight in recognition of the mischief it breeds in the other 999.
Finally, has Dr. Hudson thought through the implications of how D&C 132 inextricably ties celestial exaltation to being willing to pass Abrahamic tests? [Does] this place Abrahamic tests at the center of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Is this really the corner that Mormonism must [paint] the Gospel into in order to preserve its faith in its own legitimacy? Is this need to preserve Joseph Smith’s authority Mormonism’s mess of pottage? Isn’t Joseph Smith a dead prophet who can now be superseded by a living prophet?
[What a heavy-handed self-righteous string of rhetorical questions! ]
Now, let’s read Steve Densley’s response to my comments. Steve is a Vice President of FairMormon, according to Wikipedia.]
SteveDensleyJr Post author23 February 2012 at 10:28 am
No analogy is perfect. There is always a difference between two objects in an analogy, otherwise, it would not be an analogy but would be a comparison of identical objects. Therefore, as in all analogies, it is possible to poke holes in this particular analogy. Therefore, the challenge is not in demonstrating that the two objects are not identical; they never are in an analogy. The challenge is in seeking to understand the ways in which they are the same. However, note that it is not Dr. Hudson that is making the analogy. She merely identifies an analogy that is drawn by God as He speaks to Joseph Smith.
["Fair" enough. But I don't think I claimed that Hudson is making that analogy. However, she is arguing for it - and it's the argument that I am pushing back on.]
So how can we reconcile the apparent problems? One way is to extend our perspective on this analogy beyond this life. While the ram in the thicket for Abraham appeared almost immediately, for those who were called upon to practice polygamy, perhaps the ram in the thicket is not meant to appear until the next life.
[This seems like a gratuitous speculation given to "save the appearances." Any problem can be swept into the next life - the argument is akin to "god acts in mysterious ways." And what are the implications of this? Does it create even more problems when one tries to think it through? This gives me something to think about. ]
Also, while it may seem that for a man, marrying multiple women is not comparable to being asked to sacrifice your son, I can imagine that for a woman, the pain of sharing her husband with another woman is not wholly dissimilar to being asked to sacrifice a child.
[Is there any suggestion that the purpose of polygamy was to test women more than men? Was it God’s idea to add a layer of “sacred loneliness” to the fate of “in sorrow [they] shal[l] bring forth children”? Is this argument another misogynistic by-product of male-privilege seeking to preserve it patriarchal hegemony?
As for the man, remember that Joseph Smith was highly reluctant to enter into polygamous relationships.
[Says who? Says Joseph? Was part of that reluctance his fear of being destroyed by a sword wielding angel – or was that ludicrous claim aimed at overcoming the reluctance of a young woman. ]
He clearly realized that polygamy would bring serious challenges to the saints and to him personally if it was publicly known that he was practicing polygamy.
[So did Bill Clinton when he had "sex with that woman." He too thought he could get away with it - or couldn't help himself. Sometimes danger is part of the thrill of the doing, which some are addicted to. Sometimes people are blinded by overconfidence born of high status and power. It is quite common.]
Ultimately, it seems that polygamy, at least in part, led to his death. In anticipation of the significant challenges and sacrifices that would follow the practice of polygamy, I can imagine that Joseph Smith viewed his entrance into the practice with fear, trepidation and even as a great sacrifice.
[Well, Steve is welcome to “imagine” anything he likes. But this strikes me as sanguine question-begging about Joseph’s thoughts and feelings and, given the facts of his behavior, amounts to special pleading. The more plausible inference – the inference based on the principle of analogy with the psychological study of human behavior – is that Joseph presented the characteristics of a sociopath. There is documentary evidence that could support many of these:
Egocentricity – Callousness – Impulsivity – Conscience defect – Exaggerated sexuality – Excessive boasting – Risk taking – Inability to resist temptation – Antagonistic – deprecating attitude toward the opposite sex – Lack of interest in bonding with a mate.
With respect to “wives” being a reward for practicing polygamy, it does not make sense that if Joseph Smith agrees to practice polygamy that he would literally be given multiple fathers and mothers in this world. Yet, read literally, that is what the verse says. So it seems that the verse is meant to be read figuratively. In that light, multiples wives is not a literal reward any more than multiple fathers and mothers would be. The phrase “I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children” seems to simply be a rhetorical flourish meaning that the reward for Joseph would be great.
[Meant to be figurative? Doesn’t inserting “wives” being “lands” and “children” make wives figurative too? And what do we make of Joseph being told he would receive these things “in this world”? And most important, Joseph was putting his “rhetorical flourish” on the lips of Jesus. Jesus is the one who is supposed to be speaking here. What could Steve have been thinking? By what criterion does he decide that a problematical scripture is figurative? More sanguinity. Indeed, there are other problems with this and the surrounding verses that I did not address )
Finally, with regard to celestial exaltation being tied to an Abrahamic test, see:
[My reply to Steve.]
JTurn 23 February 2012 at 2:42 pm
Thanks for the response Steve. I hope you can leave this discussion open for a several more days to give me time to think on what you wrote, to listen again to this interview, to review Genesis 16, D&C 132, and Jacob 2, and to read this piece on Abrahamic tests – all before reply and offering additional comment which are now only loosely formed intuitions. This is a very important topic to me. I have two daughters, one who will be married in the D.C. temple this June and another who is a freshman at BYU.
[I admit that I did not follow-up as I said. I don’t feel comfortable with that, though I was sincere at the time. This remains overdue homework put back on my to-do list. Be ready to call me out on this if you read this in a few months and I still haven’t read the “Sperry Symposium Classic” Steve referenced above – but given me a couple of months.
 The FAIR Examination podcast is here: http://blog.fairmormon.org/2012/02/15/fair-examination-9-polygamy-as-an-abrahamic-sacrifice-dr-valerie-hudson/
 My blog post is here: http://jturnonmormonism.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/mormon-polygamy-as-an-abrahamic-test/
 See http://jturnonmormonism.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/the-brilliant-philip-kitcher/
 In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith , by Todd M. Compton, pages 80-81
 Let’s take a look at the D&C 132 reference:
51. Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
[So, it seems Jesus commanded Joseph to offer Emma the opportunity to have sex (ostensibly with William Law) as her own the Abrahamic test. But then he intervenes, and has Joseph scrap the test. This all so ludicrous.]
52. And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.
[Interesting. It seems not all of Joseph's polygamous wives were pure - even though they were. Was Joseph being deceived in marrying them? Was Jesus when he picked them out for him? Were they ever destroyed? More craziness.]
53. For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice; and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him.
[One has to suppose that this refers to the next life because Joseph was living on borrowed time at this point.]
54. And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
[This is serious stuff. Jesus is threatening Emma with destruction if she doesn't get in line. Yes, Mormonism is just as Christian as any other sect. ]
55. But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said;
[What the hell does this mean? Is this a typo? Does he mean "if she will abide this commandment? That would make sense. How did this get through the divinely inspired editorial process.]
and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.
[The issue isn't so much that it is figurative, or a "rhetorical flourish." It's that Joseph Smith is caught up in a grandiose delusion using Jesus as his ventriloquist dummy.]
56. And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice.
[Jesus: "Do what I say. If you don't I'll destroy you. If you do I'll make your heart rejoice. You are free to choose.]