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Joseph Smith - Honest Seer or Lying Polygamist

5. Memory is not a reliable source for accurate historical events.

Joseph was sealed to Eliza R. Snow and she is considered one of his "wives." The story is told that Eliza was pregnant with Joseph's child and Emma was upset and pushed her down the steps of the Mansion house, Eliza miscarried and lost the child. However the story is false for several reasons. Eliza was never pregnant with Joseph's child and she wasn't pushed down the stairs.

In a letter from Eliza to Daniel Munns, an RLDS member:
You asked (referring to President Smith), did he authorize or practice spiritual wifery? Were you a spiritual wife? I certainly shall not acknowledge myself of having been a carnal one. (Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Vol. 1: History, p. 287)

A common story in Mormon history is the Transfiguration of Brigham Young on August 8, 1844. Even though there are many accounts of the event, there are strong reasons to believe that it didn't occur.

  1. There are no contemporary accounts. The first mention of something special came many years later.
  2. The church was sustaining the Quorum of Twelve apostles to lead the church, not Brigham Young.
  3. Testimonies from John D. Lee and Apostle Orson Hyde are marvelous and specific, but they were not in Nauvoo at the time and therefor could not have witnessed the event they describe.

All humans have some fake memories that the believe really happened, but did not actually occur.

We have a tendency to believe certain stories that we want to be true and ignore or discard those factual events that we want to deny. Denver Snuffer discusses this in Joseph Smith Monogamy (p. 7)

The late Boyd K. Packer’s lament that not all truths are faith promoting or useful (and should therefore be suppressed) is likely an inherited viewpoint reflecting the traditions of church leaders who came before him. Because of this, Mormon history is in some respects anti-historic because it ignores and denies some truth when it contradicts tradition or fails to uphold a desired position. This tendency clouds the historical record of plural marriage.

This pattern is indicative of a culture where speaking untruthfully to defend a narrative was not only justified, but expected. This tendency is, believe it or not, normal human behavior. Individuals and groups are prone to confirmation bias and even false memories. Human beings tend to remember past events in ways that conform to current thinking. Rather than viewing the embellishments of the LDS polygamists as something nefarious, perhaps one would more wisely view it as an unfortunate consequence of the human condition. However, it does call into question the evidence presented after Joseph’s death.

Recognizing that they were willing to invent, embellish, and falsely deny in order to protect a desired narrative demonstrates their desperation in difficult times. Knowing this makes it easier to doubt the validity of evidence from the late 1800s tying Joseph Smith to polygamy. It also highlights the importance of focusing on contemporary evidence of Joseph’s involvement.

Even so, analyzing contemporary evidence presents further questions of credibility. Many of the same key witnesses from the LDS church who claim Joseph taught them personally to practice polygamy are the same people who signed affidavits in Nauvoo stating there was no such practice. Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor both signed an affidavit in 1842 stating “we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants”.(Times and Seasons 3 [October 1, 1842]: 939–940)