History Magazine

Mormon History Machinations

By Cris

Over at Slate, David Haglund has posted a fascinating piece on the life and travails of Mormon historian Michael Quinn. Trained as an academic historian, Quinn obtained his PhD from Yale in 1976. When he applied for a faculty position at BYU, his credentials (and interest in early Mormon history) were viewed with suspicion. The church leader assigned to interview Quinn was Boyd Packer. Packer was less than enthused:

Packer said, “I have a hard time with historians, because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting.” That’s according to Quinn—my request to speak with Packer, whose health has badly deteriorated in recent years, was declined. But Packer certainly said similar things before larger audiences. In 1981, he gave an address to church educators called “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” which was organized around four “cautions.” The second of them is this: “There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith-promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

While Packer may have been a dissembler, he wasn’t dumb. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d think he had been reading Nietzsche (Beyond Good & Evil 39):

Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree.  Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure–or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.”

As Quinn discovered during the course of his research and writing life, too much truth about Mormon history can be dangerous. Though I was not familiar with Quinn until now, I just ordered one his books. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1998) looks superb, as this blurb suggests:

In this ground-breaking book, D. Michael Quinn masterfully reconstructs an earlier age, finding ample evidence for folk magic in nineteenth-century New England, as he does in Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s upbringing. Quinn discovers that Smith’s world was inhabited by supernatural creatures whose existence could be both symbolic and real. He explains that the Smith family’s treasure digging was not unusual for the times and is vital to understanding how early Mormons interpreted developments in their history in ways that differ from modern perceptions. Quinn’s impressive research provides a much-needed background for the environment that produced Mormonism. This thoroughly researched examination into occult traditions surrounding Smith, his family, and other founding Mormons cannot be understated. Among the practices no longer a part of Mormonism are the use of divining rods for revelation, astrology to determine the best times to conceive children and plant crops, the study of skull contours to understand personality traits, magic formulae utilized to discover lost property, and the wearing of protective talismans.

Mormonism is not, of course, unique in being magical. All religions are magical, with that which is orthodox within any tradition being deemed “not magic.”

Mormon History Machinations


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • 5 Reasons That You Need to Eat Prunes

    This shriveled up fruit can actually gross up the appetite of a few people. But once you learn the health benefits of the same, chances are that you will start... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Health_news
    HEALTH
  • International Women’s Day – A Thought for Kivu’s Mothers and Daughters

    By Jane NishimweCongolese women protesting against Rwandan support to M23 – September 2012Across the world, the 8th of March marks a global celebration in honou... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Therisingcontinent
    SOCIETY
  • On Keeping My Eyes Open

    I was very small. “You have to keep your eyes open,” she said. I assured my grandma that I would. “Not everything is what it appears to be, but His eyes are... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Pearl
    HUMOR, SELF EXPRESSION
  • Happy Birthday Baby

    We celebrated our little man’s first birthday yesterday, it was a quiet affair but that's just how we like things. The girls got to pick out a cake, balloons an... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Saltykisses
    FAMILY, TRAVEL
  • Middle-Eastern Dilled Yogurt Flatbreads with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

    I’ve had an intimate relationship this week with Justin and his peanut butter, and it’s not what you think. If you’re unfamiliar with Justin, you’ve probably ru... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Feedmedearly
    FOOD & DRINK
  • To My Ex

    Darling, Languid-Tepid-Shallow, I thought I would be. One breakup and days later, I strongly disagreed. To cleanse myself off you, First I cursed you day and... Read more

    The 09 March 2015 by   Sarusinghal
    SELF EXPRESSION
  • Lots Of Freebies

    Free Bottle of Pantene Pro-Vhttps://www.supersavvyme.co.uk/beauty-recommended/beauty-products/entry-screen/pantene-pro-v-repair-protect-sample Free Huggies... Read more

    The 08 March 2015 by   Hannah Staveley
    FAMILY, HOME

Add a comment