The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

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jfro18
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The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by jfro18 » Thu Jul 16, 2020 8:38 am

I think this was briefly discussed last Fall, but as I've been working this week I've been alternating between music, sports radio, and podcasts and I re-listened to the podcast on the Happiness Letter by Jonathan Streeter and Christopher Smith.

It is the most damning podcast about polygamy I think I've heard and the letter itself is just beyond abhorrent once you learn the context of it.

If you are interested, the podcast is @ https://mormondiscussionpodcast.org/201 ... ss-letter/

I started doing a write-up for the site on it last week and need some time to finish it, but it is one of the most damning evidences of how Joseph Smith abused his authority as well as speaking for God in order to get what he wanted.

And I wonder what percentage of members would read the letter and have ANY idea what the context was. I knew the "Happiness is the object and design of our existence" as a believer and never once knew what they was referring to. For those who haven't listened to the podcast, it's a reply to Nancy Rigdon after she refused his proposal to either be a polygamous wife or possibly a concubine situation, so he uses the voice of God basically to tell her that if she starts banging him she'll enjoy it a lot more than if she fights it and loses all of her blessings in the process. That might seem harsh until you read the letter with the background and history from the podcast.

Just an amazing job by Streeter and Smith and I wish every member could listen to that podcast.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Corsair » Thu Jul 16, 2020 9:54 am

It's a very problematic letter and the LDS church has done the best they could to minimize it. It starts out so pleasantly:
Joseph Smith wrote: Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God
Joseph is trying his best to pontificate some timeless wisdom and this statement is not controversial. I imagine that most theists and many philosophers would agree with it. Most believers only know a few snippets of the letter, but the danger is clearly in the context. This letter is using generic and good doctrine to justify plural marriage under a sophistry that would not stand up under the light of full context.

But since most LDS believers only hear the initial quote, it simply sounds like basic wisdom of obeying the (LDS) commandments. The advice to "Follow the Prophet" has been used in conjunction with this basic statement many time beyond Joseph's plural marriages.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by jfro18 » Thu Jul 16, 2020 10:29 am

Corsair wrote:
Thu Jul 16, 2020 9:54 am
But since most LDS believers only hear the initial quote, it simply sounds like basic wisdom of obeying the (LDS) commandments. The advice to "Follow the Prophet" has been used in conjunction with this basic statement many time beyond Joseph's plural marriages.
I think that's why the podcast was so shocking to me. And it's written in a way that with the context is just so insanely offensive. Joseph does such a great job of saying "God is OK with us having sex" without ever mentioning polygamy... even as he references Solomon to make the point that if you're listening to God, you can have whatever you desire.

And then the apple part of the letter... dear god.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Mormorrisey » Thu Jul 16, 2020 12:46 pm

I think that the Happiness Letter is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, conundrums in Mormon history - even bigger than the BH Roberts discussion. It is just so problematic for the church and apologists alike.

On the one hand, you had for years the accepted authorship of this letter by Joseph Smith, insomuch that it was included in Joseph Fielding Smith's book Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1976, and IN MY LIFETIME I have heard this exact statement, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence..." quoted by a member of the First Presidency. Monson quoted it in 1988, and Faust repeating it in 2000 - I can still hear Monson's quotation in my head! It's even in the current edition of the Joseph Smith papers project, added as an addendum as part of the Nauvoo Journals, written by scribe Leo Hawkins:

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper ... /284#facts

On the other hand, you have the toadies at FAIR and a couple of other journal articles claiming that maybe Joseph didn't actually write the letter - given that it only appears as part of John C Bennett's expose, and the only other surviving part is in the journals, and the bright lights at FAIR claim that it was only written down by a scribe to show the problems Bennett was creating, not as Joseph's own thoughts or his own letter. So their conclusion? According to FAIR, "historians are not in agreement as to its authenticity." Sure, FAIR. Only historians from your own cadre of apologists doubt its authenticity.

But then, what to do about the first part of the letter being quoted by apostles? Can't throw them or Joseph Fielding under the bus! Oh the irony. The church has had it both ways for so long, I don't think they're noticing people are just taking the detour.

And as to the coercive nature of early Mormon polygamy, this letter is the smoking gun. End of story.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by blazerb » Fri Jul 17, 2020 5:56 am

I tried to find something about the letter from FAIR. I could find almost nothing except for a footnote in an article. If there's an article, it's well hidden, it appears. When I was young, I loved the usual quote when I found it in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. When I found out the context, it made me sick.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Mormorrisey » Fri Jul 17, 2020 7:59 am

blazerb wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 5:56 am
I tried to find something about the letter from FAIR. I could find almost nothing except for a footnote in an article. If there's an article, it's well hidden, it appears. When I was young, I loved the usual quote when I found it in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. When I found out the context, it made me sick.
The most scholarly apologetics are found in Dirkmaat's paper "Searching for Happiness" - a free version is found here:

https://archive.org/stream/jmormhist.42 ... 4_djvu.txt

Basically, Dirkmaat claims that Leo Hawkins just added the letter into the History, and "we just don't know why." So the inference is that Hawkins and Bullock, later scribes for the History in the 1850s, got the happiness letter from Bennett's book, which of course is suspect because Bennett is suspect. So this gives Dirkmaat some plausible denial. The only time Fair chimes in is in this article, and in a book review:

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Poly ... ncy_Rigdon

https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2019/10 ... april-1842

What is interesting, is that in footnote 20, and in the text surrounding footnote 20, this anonymous author does state that "virtually all historians agree that the letter attributed to Joseph by Bennett is legitimate." As I read footnote 20, basically this was written to discount what Richard Price said, one of the most prominent "Joseph Smith Fought polygamy" deniers. So this article uses the letter to prove that Joseph sanctioned polygamy, so maybe it was written by Hales? But then the book review of the JS papers volume that has the Hawkins piece says this, in the third paragraph: "No known copies of the letter actually exist, and historians are not in agreement over its authenticity."

Now that I read this over, it's clear that not even FAIR can agree who authored the letter, because each author is using the letter to serve their own apologist agenda, so they don't even agree! What a joke apologists are. Once again, the Gee formula of starting with your conclusion, and just trying to make the evidence fit. Even when it doesn't.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by jfro18 » Fri Jul 17, 2020 8:50 am

I don't remember the exact things mentioned in the podcast to support its authenticity, but I believe they hit on three main points:

1. WW Phelps was using language that was in the happiness letter in a letter he wrote to his first wife before the Happiness Letter was published, which would indicate these phrases (and ideas probably around those he brought into polygamy) were being taught by Joseph at the time.

2. If Bennett was using this to torch Joseph Smith with a fake letter, why in the world would he dance around polygamy and sex so completely in the text? Of course Bennett published the letter within the context of what we have now, but again wouldn't he just go for the kill if he was making it up?

3. According to Christopher Smith in the podcast, at some point Joseph admits to writing the letter after first denying it. I don't have the source on that though, and I assume that it's not iron clad or there wouldn't be the out for apologists?

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Mormorrisey » Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:10 am

Which brings us right back to what Oaks said about apologetics - it's not the truth that's important, it's as long as you can muddy the waters so the faithful won't revolt. To me, this debate about the happiness letter and its authenticity are perfect examples of that.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by moksha » Fri Jul 17, 2020 11:28 am

Nancy Rigdon's Soliloquy

To polygamate, or not to polygamate--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous adultery
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing suffer lies. To be slandered,
Continually --and by suffer to say we endure
Unrighteousness, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.
Good faith does not require evidence, but it also does not turn a blind eye to that evidence. Otherwise, it becomes misplaced faith.
-- Moksha

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Hagoth » Fri Jul 17, 2020 2:57 pm

Mormorrisey wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:10 am
Which brings us right back to what Oaks said about apologetics - it's not the truth that's important, it's as long as you can muddy the waters so the faithful won't revolt.
I forgot which thread has the citation for the Oaks quote. Do you have that, Mormorrisey?
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Corsair » Fri Jul 17, 2020 3:23 pm

moksha wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 11:28 am
Nancy Rigdon's Soliloquy

To polygamate, or not to polygamate--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous adultery
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing suffer lies. To be slandered,
Continually --and by suffer to say we endure
Unrighteousness, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.
Well stated, Moksha. Clearly your eye procedure has not dimmed your eloquence. Nancy Rigdon certainly made her choice to take up arms against a sea of troubles rather than deal with plural marriage.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Mormorrisey » Fri Jul 17, 2020 11:05 pm

Hagoth wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 2:57 pm
Mormorrisey wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:10 am
Which brings us right back to what Oaks said about apologetics - it's not the truth that's important, it's as long as you can muddy the waters so the faithful won't revolt.
I forgot which thread has the citation for the Oaks quote. Do you have that, Mormorrisey?
I have spent waaaay too many hours this evening trying to find that Oaks quote. It was maddening! Now I'm not even sure I saw it on NOM - maybe somewhere else in my reading the past few days? But I'm not crazy, right, Hagoth? You remember seeing it somewhere as well?

In my further digging, I ran into three talks Oaks gave from 1985 to 1987, where he says a lot of things similar to what I quoted, just not as blatantly as I did:

https://zackc.files.wordpress.com/2008/ ... -oaks1.pdf

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/stu ... m?lang=eng

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/stu ... s?lang=eng

In the first talk, he talks about truths about church history filtered through things like bias, lack of balance and context, and we need to be careful in a search for truth; and then he famously echoes Packer by saying that not all truth is useful. In his criticism talk, he says things like "the uses of truth must be disciplined by other values." And of course his famous salamander talk where he dodged all sorts of bullets. Oaks also had this gem, which is along the same lines as what I said, but in a lot more diplomatic way then I put it, from the transcript of that PBS documentary in 2007:

"On the other hand, there are constraints on trying to reveal everything. You don’t want to be getting into and creating doubts that didn’t exist in the first place. And what is plenty of history for one person is inadequate for another, and we have a large church, and that’s a big problem. And another problem is there are a lot of things that the Church has written about that the members haven’t read. And the Sunday School teacher that gives “Brother Jones” his understanding of Church history may be inadequately informed and may not reveal something which the Church has published."

So unless I can find that direct quote somewhere, or remember where I read it, I'll retract it as a direct quote. I'm pretty convinced that Oaks means exactly what I said, in evidence gathered from these these talks, but I simply can't go around complaining about John Gee and his ilk misquoting things and then I hypocritically do the same thing. I really hope I find it or remember where I saw it. Either the Mormon memory hole is a real thing, or I'm getting old and there is simply a hole in my memory!
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by blazerb » Sat Jul 18, 2020 4:38 am

Mormorrisey wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:10 am
Which brings us right back to what Oaks said about apologetics - it's not the truth that's important, it's as long as you can muddy the waters so the faithful won't revolt. To me, this debate about the happiness letter and its authenticity are perfect examples of that.
Are you referring to Neal Maxwell's quote about "uncontested slam dunks"?
Here are a couple of places:
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Ques ... ogetics%3F
https://mi.byu.edu/miapologetics/

It's pretty obscure. I can't find the original quote anywhere. I haven't spent too much time, but I can't even figure out where Maxwell was reported to have said it.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Hagoth » Sat Jul 18, 2020 7:01 am

Mormorrisey wrote:
Fri Jul 17, 2020 11:05 pm
I have spent waaaay too many hours this evening trying to find that Oaks quote. It was maddening! Now I'm not even sure I saw it on NOM - maybe somewhere else in my reading the past few days? But I'm not crazy, right, Hagoth? You remember seeing it somewhere as well?
Yes, I remember it but I was coming up blank too. This morning it occurred to me that I think I heard it on the Mormon Stories Shannon Caldwell Montez interview about B H Roberts. I looked in the comments and saw someone asking for the source. Another commenter offered this:
https://rsc.byu.edu/historicity-latter- ... ook-mormon
I don't have time to read it right now but I'll get around to it later today.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by jfro18 » Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:16 am

It was definitely discussed in the Mormon Stories interview - I just can't remember what the exact quote was.

It was something like "Having an answer no matter how plausible it is, is better than not giving one."

I'll see if I can find it later if no one else finds it first.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Hagoth » Sat Jul 18, 2020 3:21 pm

So that article didn't have the quote I was looking for either, but it had some interesting points. Basically, Oaks says that anything that is derived by scholarship alone is inadequate and should be seen as inferior to true knowledge that only comes when you interject faith and testimony into that learning. It's kinda cute how Oaks doesn't understand that the burden of proof lies with those making the extraordinary claims, not the other way around.

Here are some excerpts:
I maintain that the issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is basically a difference between those who rely exclusively on scholarship and those who rely on a combination of scholarship, faith, and revelation.
Speaking for a moment as one whose profession is advocacy, I suggest that if one is willing to acknowledge the importance of faith and the reality of a realm beyond human understanding, the case for the Book of Mormon is the stronger case to argue. The case against the historicity of the Book of Mormon has to prove a negative. You do not prove a negative by prevailing on one debater’s point or by establishing some subsidiary arguments.
The opponents of the historicity of the Book of Mormon must prove that the people whose religious life it records did not live anywhere in the Americas.
The proponents of the Book of Mormon can settle for a draw or a hung jury on the question of historicity and take a continuance until the controversy can be retried in another forum.
In fact, it is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Its authenticity depends, as it says, on a witness of the Holy Spirit. Our side will settle for a draw, but those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon cannot settle for a draw. They must try to disprove its historicity—
God invites us to reason with Him, but I find it significant that the reasoning to which God invites us is tied to spiritual realities and maturity rather than to scholarly findings or credentials.
Oaks includes an interesting quote from Gordon B. Hinkley to illustrate his point:
"I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts in their proper context, with emphasis on those elements which explain the great growth and power of this organization.”
I suggest that we do the same thing and deserve the same rebuke as Peter [ "get thee behind me, Satan"] whenever we subordinate a witness of the Spirit (“the things that be of God”) to the work of scholars or the product of our own reasoning by worldly values (the things that “be of men”).
Those scholars who rely on faith and revelation as well as scholarship, and who assume the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, must endure ridicule from those who disdain these things of God.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Mormorrisey » Sun Jul 19, 2020 6:37 am

Yep, that's where I heard it! Good catch, Hagoth.

Those are some good points from that BOM article, and there is some good material there to intimate what Oaks is saying - I'm still not 100% convinced, though, that Oaks is blatantly saying what John Dehlin and Shannon are saying he's saying. I'm pretty confident he believes it, given the quotes you put here and the ones I presented above, but the quotes are not a pure match.

I was thinking this morning not only do I want to avoid the Gee trap of obfuscation and manipulation, but it's not even necessary to put words in Oaks' mouth that he didn't say. Ol' Elder "Research is not the Answer" Oaks has said enough stupid things that one shouldn't have to do that.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by jfro18 » Sun Jul 19, 2020 6:51 am

Mormorrisey wrote:
Sun Jul 19, 2020 6:37 am
I was thinking this morning not only do I want to avoid the Gee trap of obfuscation and manipulation, but it's not even necessary to put words in Oaks' mouth that he didn't say. Ol' Elder "Research is not the Answer" Oaks has said enough stupid things that one shouldn't have to do that.
That "research is not the answer" quote is so intellectually damaging, but I remember bringing that up to my wife and she immediately defended it by saying that Oaks wasn't saying what he was saying.

So if members won't believe you when you quote actual words, they will definitely attack you if you misrepresent a quote like what could have possibly happened on Mormon Stories.

It's why, as you're saying Mormorrisey, that we should be careful in how we phrase these things if we're not sure.

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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by Hagoth » Sun Jul 19, 2020 9:26 am

In fact, it is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Its authenticity depends, as it says, on a witness of the Holy Spirit. Our side will settle for a draw, but those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon cannot settle for a draw. They must try to disprove its historicity—
This is a very interesting quote because it can be expanded far outside of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. By Oaks' standard anything else that cannot be supported by factual evidence, but which elicits a Holy Ghost confirmation emotion can be assumed as truth against an argument that rests on empirical observation. And that is the biggest problem we're seeing in the world right now. Do you have an emotional certainty that the climate is not warming, or that your race is superior to another? Well that trumps the evidence. Has the Holy Ghost confirmed your radio preachers claim that the world is going to end next month? Better sell all of your stuff and move into the desert.

Combine this Oaks speech with Eyring Jr's Are You True to the Book of Abraham talk and you have a great recipe for a new Dark Ages.

The other problem with the above quote is that Oaks and friends don't actually have the option to settle for a draw. They have no evidence to bring to the table. Their critics have mountains of evidence. Oaks can only be satisfied if critics can prove a negative, but even then he will play the Holy Spirit card anyway.
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Re: The Happiness Letter - possibly the most damning evidence against polygamy?

Post by wtfluff » Sun Jul 19, 2020 1:38 pm

Hagoth wrote:
Sat Jul 18, 2020 7:01 am
Yes, I remember it but I was coming up blank too. This morning it occurred to me that I think I heard it on the Mormon Stories Shannon Caldwell Montez interview about B H Roberts. I looked in the comments and saw someone asking for the source. Another commenter offered this:
https://rsc.byu.edu/historicity-latter- ... ook-mormon
I don't have time to read it right now but I'll get around to it later today.
I just listened to the Montez interview. She quotes from the speech that you linked as follows (bolded)
Those lesser issues are, however, worthy of attention. Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted Austin Farrer’s explanation: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
So if I understand correctly, Montez is quoting Oaks, who is quoting Maxwell who is quoting Farrer?

Footnote on that quote is: Austin Fairer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965), 26.
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