Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blaming the Victim

While I was running around Town Lake and trying to think about anything except the humidity, I recalled something from Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series that made me flinch. Since his hit Ender's Game series Card has made a living recycling Mormonism as Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories. I think it stands on its own and plays pretty well to non-Mormons, but if you are a Mormon or know anything about Mormonism then you read the books and go, "Oh come on! Couldn't you come up with your own ideas?" Specifically the Ships of Earth series retells the Book of Mormon as an intergalactic odyssey and the Alvin Maker series gives Joseph Smith his older brother's name and recycles a lot of stories and ideas from early church history including a Moroni-like visit and an incident very reminiscent of either the Fanny Alger or Nancy Johnson stores.

It was this last one that made me do a double take. At the time I read the book I didn't really know anything about the non-faith-promoting parts of Joseph Smith's story. In Card's book a teenage girl becomes obsessed with Alvin Maker to the point where she starts fantasizing about him and then telling her fantasies as if they were real. Rumours begin to fly and pretty soon Alvin finds himself run out of town and chased by accusations of taking advantage of an innocent little girl. Of course, all of this is the work of a hidden adversary trying to block Alvin's great work with lies and Alvin is completely innocent of all wrong doing and is only guilty of trying to make the world a better place.

I found this comforting at the time I read it because Card is very good at telling stories and building characters with realistic emotions and motivations so he makes it seem very plausible that these types of awful accusations could be heaped on a perfectly innocent man.

The problem is that now I know about the overwhelming evidence that shows that Joseph Smith, unlike his fictional twin, was completely guilty of all of the accusations and much worse. He "married" 16-year-old Fanny Alger to cover up what Oliver Cowdery characterized as a dirty affair. It seems likely that he either propositioned or had an affair with youthful Nancy Johnson which precipitated his tarring and feathering by the Johnson boys. Lending further credence to the Johnson affair is the fact that he had a well documented plural marriage to Nancy Johnson in the later Nauvoo period when Smith became more brazen in his practice of polygamy which would seem to follow a pattern of his marrying girls and women with whom he had been close since the Kirtland period.

Anyway, Card seems to have followed the pattern that has often played out when powerful men are accused of misdeeds: he blames the victim. Faced with accusations of polygamy and adultery starting in Kirtland and continuing throughout his life, Smith publicly and violently denied the accusations. He did so repeatedly and when people persisted he blackly attacked his accusers and slandered and attacked them to destroy their reputations and bring them down.

A classic example is when he proposed to Orson Pratt's wife while Orson was away on a church mission. When he returned his wife told him and he was rightly furious and confronted Smith. Smith denied everything and instead rounded up witnesses to testify that Mrs. Pratt had in fact committed adultery with John Bennett, once a member of the First Presidency of the church and now a virulent apostate and enemy of Smith and the church. He forced Pratt to choose between believing his wife and believing in the prophet of God. Sadly, Pratt was driven to the point of suicide but eventually chose Smith over his own wife. Nevertheless, Pratt was continually reminded throughout his life that he, for a short time, chose his wife over the prophet and despite being restored to his apostleship and in the quorum of the twelve by Smith, was later demoted by Brigham Young to prevent him from being able to succeed to the presidency of the church.

Anyway, it just struck me how easy it is for Mormons to dismiss the ugly facts about their church's founder without knowing all of the facts and instead blame the accusers.

P.S. One more note on the Johnson lynching. Mormons like to point to this as an anti-Mormon mob while carefully avoiding the speculations surrounding Nancy and the fact that some of the lynchers were family members in the house where they were living. They also don't point out that the mob brought a doctor for the express purpose of castrating Joseph Smith. Now why on earth would they want to do that? Again it seems to speak strongly that something sexual, not religious, was at the bottom of their motivations.


Sister Mary Lisa said...

Good thoughts here. My mom's dad was Luke S. Johnson, directly descended from the Luke S. Johnson of Joseph Smith's time. I'm secretly proud I may be related to those who tarred and feathered JS!

It'll be fun asking them all about it when we die, if we really do end up with our families in an afterlife.

Just one of many said...

I love Town Lake! Is it safer now? When I lived there there was a mugging or a rape almost every week reported on the local news!

Bull said...

I think it is safer, but I'd still be careful. I'm 6'2" 225 pounds and run with an 85 pound German Shepherd Dog and an 80 pound Golden Retriever so I'm not a very appealing target.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I enjoyed Card's ender games series, but was really bummed out about his Alvin Maker stuff... It started out good and then... just as you said... he recycled the BOM stories. I haven't read anything else of his since.