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Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

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In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, we reflect upon one of the stranger pieces of Mormon history:� Moon-men.Just before the turn of the century, the LDS Church� had begun publishing a periodical called, "The Young Women's Journal."� It was the one of the predecessors to today's Ensign and New Era magazines.O.B.

Huntington published an article in 1892 called "The Inhabitants of the Moon" where he recounts that in 1837, Joseph Smith had explained that there were men living on the moon.� Joseph went into some detail:� they dress like Quakers, and they live 1,000 years.� Joseph Smith Sr.

told Huntington in a patriarchal blessing that one day he would preach the gospel among the moon-men.He also said that Joseph claimed there was a lost continent at the North Pole where the lost tribes of Israel lived, and he was confident that one day science would not only discover these men on the moon, but this lost paradise as well.The inspiration of God caused men to hunt for a new continent until Columbus discovered it.

Men have lost millions of dollars and hundreds of lives to find a country beyond the north pole; and they will yet find that country - a warm, fruitful country, inhabited by the ten tribes of Israel, a country divided by a river, on one side of which lives the half tribe of Manasseh, which is more numerous than all the others.

So said the Prophet.It's fair to say that Huntington's recollection of all this could be suspect.� The article he wrote was published some 50 years after Joseph supposedly said these things.Even if he misremembered what Joseph told him, it was printed and distributed in an official church publication.� (Contrary to Mormon apologist "Gramps" who thinks it was quote-mined out of his personal diary by biased anti-Mormons just looking for embarassing statements.� No, the article is in an official publication of the church, you can read it yourself.)"One Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions" offers one curious response to all this by saying that Joseph may have been right:The fact that a handful of astronauts didn't see any inhabitants in the tiny area they viewed when they landed on the moon decades ago certainly gives no definitive information, any more than visitors to earth who might land in barren Death Valley would have any idea of the billions of inhabitants elsewhere.Ideas about life on the moon were not uncommon in the early 1800's, and Joseph would hardly have been alone in thinking there was life there.� The Great Moon Hoax hit the New York Sun just two years before this blessing is said to have taken place.� The hoax was meant to lampoon some of the outlandish claims being made by some astronomers at the time, but many believed the stories about dense forests, unicorns, and bat-people swarming the surface of the moon were true.� Even though the hoax was exposed, the Sun never issued a retraction, and it (and similar stories) still spread.� It wouldn't be surprising if in Joseph's mind, men on the moon was a given.� Of course, if either Joseph Smith or Joseph Smith Sr.

did accept these ideas, it only demonstrates that they were unable to distinguish between Gods word and whatever their society was saying at the time.At any rate, it fit in nicely with Mormon theology.� Mormonism teaches, among other things, that God lives on a planet orbiting a star called Kolob, and that since men and women can become Gods and Goddesses and go on to populate other worlds with their own children, the cosmos would be full of life.Mormonism had always prided itself on being more modern and encorporating more science into its beliefs.� Of course, if it were incorporating science from the 1800's, we would expect that some of what was taught would now appear laughable.For example, Brigham Young seemed to grant by default that men lived on the moon and that the sun itself was inhabited by perfected, celestialized beings.Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.

It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized.Although the belief that there were people living on other worlds waned as our telescopes became more powerful and our science more structured, more modern leaders were no less willing to assert their religion over science.In Elder Statesman, A Biography of J.

Reuben Clark, we find that in 1961, Apostle Joseph Fielding.

Smith said"We will never get a man into space.

This earth is man's sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it.

The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there.

You can write it down in your books that this will never happen."�By the end of that same decade, men did land on the moon.� It's also worth noting that six months after the moon landings, Joseph Fielding Smith became president of the church.Believers often attempt to assert religious claims over race, sexual orientation, evolution, population growth, lost Pre-Columbian civilizations, cosmology, climate change, and on and on.� They're perfectly willing to contradict or manipulate science in favor of a particular religious belief.� Allowing dogma and a prophet's word to lead them by the nose, they are caught off guard when the real world contradicts them.� So they must either stand firm and insist that they'll one day be proven right (relying on faith until that happens), or they must wash it away and let it be forgotten in time: that was just his opinion or it was a common idea at the time.Let's go ahead and grant that Smith, Young, and others could be imaginitive and speculative, and at times confidently taught at the pulpit or in church publications things they could have no knowledge of and were later found to be wrong.If this could be true of moon-men, why not a a visit from an angel Moroni?We're told two stories from the same man.� Neither has any more legitimacy than the other - they both have essentially the same amount of evidence.� "I saw an angel," and "There are men dressed like Quakers living on the moon."But one of these stories we believe as factually, objectively true.� Not because we obtained any additional evidence, but because of "faith" and because we feel good about it.If it weren't for a scientific age where we could observe the moon, even land on it, both statements would be equally valid.� Both come from the same man, both could be taken "on faith."� Neither statement could be disproven, and both statements could be prayed about with a positive feeling.�This is the danger of faith.� It elevates one claim above the other for no real particular reason.� It arbitrarily chooses one fantastic claim because we have the arrogance to think that whatever feels good to me must be reality for everyone else.So the Book of Mormon is a remnant of a lost civilization.� Or the earth was created in the last 10,000 years.� Or God lives near a star called Kolob.� Or a man-god let himself get nailed to a board so that he could absorb our sins, and we must believe this, or he'll punish us.Faith doesn't show that something is true.� It only shows what we think is true.� If we care about whether we're right or not, we need to look through a metaphorical telescope to find out.� And if there are no Quakers living on the moon, we move on.� If there is no lost civilization, we move on.� If there was no angel Moroni, we move on.Email Jonathan: [email protected] Jonathan's other articles on science and religion
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