Monday, August 9, 2010

What Is Truth?

According to RLDS Doctrine and Covenants 90:4b (LDS D&C 94:24-25), “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; and whatsoever is more or less than this, is the spirit of that wicked one, who was a liar from the beginning.” In my opinion, this is the most accurate definition of truth I have ever read. When we see things for what they really were, really are, really will be, we see the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” And anything different than this is a lie.

Recently, I have been following the blogs of Alan Rock Waterman, Why I’m Abandoning Polygamy and Why Mormon History Is Not What They Say. If you have not read them, I suggest you do. They are excellent presentations of his discovery that Joseph Smith, Jr. may not have promoted or practiced polygamy and his view that mainstream history on this issue may need to be revised to support that finding. In other words, all the spin, all the hype, and all the interpretation needs to be peeled away from this issue to get down to just the facts. What has impressed me is his keen grasp that noted historians of LDS polygamy have omitted numerous documents by Joseph and other primary witnesses that Joseph did not teach or practice polygamy. I have always felt that any biography of Joseph dealing with the issue of polygamy which does not adequately consider his stand against it and does not consider the findings in the Temple Lot Case and does not consider the statements of his family who knew him best, is either suspect in its motives or just poor history. How can we get to the truth (“knowledge of things as they are, and as they were”) without considering all documents pertinent to this issue? My hat is off to Mr. Waterman for considering a shift in his thinking to the possibility that Joseph was telling the truth and for his eloquent and tireless defense of his position.

Since the basis for his shifting paradigm is the book Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy by Richard and Pamela Price, some of his responders commented that the Price’s association with the RLDS Church and their firm belief that Joseph was not a polygamist has tainted the information. In addition, some indicated that the quality of their work is suspect because their educational degrees in history are not sufficient to write credible history. When I was a young man, I heard a minister state in a sermon, “It doesn’t matter who is right. What matters is ‘what is right.’” In other words, truth is truth, no matter who speaks it or writes it. This principle has guided me in my life to accept the truth whether it is my idea or someone else’s or whether it comes from the most learned and degreed person or the simplest one. “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” regardless of where, or with whom, it originates. This principle has allowed me in my personal, professional, and religious relationships to cut through the “I’m right—No, I’m right” communication barrier to get to the heart, or truth, of the issue.

Even though the Prices do not have doctorate degrees in history and are associated with the fundamentalist part of the RLDS Church and believe with all their hearts that Joseph was not a polygamist, the principle indicated above allows one to look at the evidence on its own merit. Knowing the Prices, this is exactly what they want to happen. And this is what Mr. Waterman has done. He has looked at the evidence presented and decided it merits consideration, regardless from where it came. If the mystery of Joseph and polygamy is to be unraveled, then those who are unraveling it must look for the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” regardless of who is presenting it.

Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy is far from being completed. While the first volume is in print, the complete work to date (about 2 2/3 volumes) is online. However, the Prices have indicated there is enough documentation for four to five volumes. Thus, they believe Joseph did not teach or practice polygamy because the volumes of documentation, which they are working to make available to the public, support that position. Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy is not a biography of Joseph. It is, as the title states, documentation showing the extent of Joseph’s fight against polygamy. All of the biographies about him that deal with the polygamy issue indicate he lied about his involvement in polygamy and do not attempt to show otherwise. It is easy to conclude he lied if you do not show he stood against it. The purpose of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy is to let Joseph defend himself by his actions and his statements. It is to present the evidence which other writers have omitted. It is to show that in spite of all the allegations made against him, Joseph stood firm against the teaching and practice of polygamy. When this work is completed, the reader will have to judge for themselves. Did Joseph lie about practicing polygamy? Or, do the volumes of evidence supporting his actions and statements against practicing it necessitate the alternative conclusion that, in fact, Joseph Smith fought polygamy?