I wonder how many Mormons know Joseph Smith was put on trial for being a conman a few years before he founded the church?
The story goes like this:
“For several years preceding the appearance of his book, he was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver, &c. Although he constantly failed in his pretensions, still he had his dupes who put implicit confidence in all his words. In this town, a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure.
“At length the public, becoming wearied with the base imposition which he was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But, considering his youth, (he being then a minor,) and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape. This was four or five years ago. From this time he absented himself from this place, returning only privately, and holding clandestine intercourse with his credulous dupes, for two or three years.”
The above account is taken from the first published telling of events, written by Abram W. Benton and published in the Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate in 1831, about 5 years after the events occurred (via Omninerd).
The LDS apologists I’ve read online (including the author of the article on Omninerd) tend to try to brush it off by saying “well back then money digging wasn’t unusual”, missing the point that he wasn’t tried for “money digging” per se, he was tried (as far as we can tell from the surviving records) for being a conman, that is, he kept pretending he actually could locate buried treasure using his supernatural powers when, in fact, as far as the records show, he was totally unsuccessful in finding any treasure.
It speaks about the man’s character. And this trial happened 6 years after Smith claims that he had been visited by Jesus. I’d like to ask Mormons to engage their critical mind and ask themselves: is a conman who was going around the country trying to scam money out of gullible people the kind of person that you would put your trust in today? If someone who was a known conman turned up today and told you that he’d been visited by an angel or Jesus, would you believe him?
Read more about Joseph Smith’s career as a hustler here.
In addition, there is plenty of evidence that a lot of Mormon rituals and symbols were copied by Smith from what he learned from the Freemasons. His father was made a master Mason in 1818, quite a few of the original Mormons were also Freemasons and Smith himself became a master Mason in 1840. According to “MORMONISM AND MASONRY” by S.H. Goodwin (1920), Mormon temple worship shares an extensive commonality of symbols, signs, vocabulary and clothing with Freemasonry, including robes, aprons, handshakes, ritualistic raising of the arms, etc. The LDS church was started during a time in the United States when there was a backlash against the Masons. Did Smith just transform the Masonic lodge into a church?
Anyone interested in Joseph Smith’s story should read the classic “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn Brodie published in 1945.