Here is another academic research paper I did this semester. It too is rather lengthy, but not as lengthy as the previous. I won’t give you any spoilers this time so you’ll have to actually read it yourself. But I promise this paper is much better than the last. You might actually enjoy it. No doubt there will be many people who will disagree with this paper and also many people who will agree with it. If you don’t agree with this, perhaps I’ve raised enough question to warrent your own personal research into the topic. After all, your faith is not your own until you’ve doubted and learned it for yourself. Otherwise, you’re simply believing the things someone told you to believe. That’s not good enough for me, and I hope it’s not good enough for you either. I also want everyone to realize that this paper is not a criticism of the Mormon belief system or the Mormon church, rather it is simply an objective critique of Joseph Smith’s revelatory claims.
Please note that the following material is copyrighted by me. Do not use or cite without permission. My sources are listed at the end. Please go to the sources rather than trying to quote me. This paper reflects an objective opinion based upon my research, and is not necessarily the opinion of NOBTS, its students, or of the professor. Please feel free to refute, but do so in an objective scholastic manner.
There are four pages to this article. Look for the Page number links to progress. They are at the bottom beneath the share buttons.
THE MENTAL HEALTH OF JOSEPH SMITH
A Research Paper Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart
Of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements of the Course
PHIL5300-01 Christian Apologetics
Division of Theological and Historical Studies
B.M., William Carey University, 2002
November 29, 2011
Joseph Smith, Jr. was born in 1805 to parents Joseph, Sr. and Lucy Smith. They lived in the western New York area, primarily near the town of Palmyra. Joseph’s experiences at the age of twenty-one would turn the Christian community of that time on its ear and set into motion one of the greatest religious movements in history. Joseph Smith, Jr. was the founder of the Mormon Church, today known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But does anyone fully understand what happened to young Joseph? Either he was telling the truth about his experiences, or he was the greatest conman who ever lived. This has been the position of many Mormons seeking to defend their faith, citing basic questions concerning Joseph’s motivations as evidence that he was not a conman. If he were a liar, why put his family through so much persecution? How could a man like that perpetuate a lie so convincingly for so long, even unto his death? No rational person would think Joseph was a liar, and so he must have been telling the truth. Serious errors in the translation process point to Joseph as not being legitimate as a translator, calling into question his other claims. Legitimate or not, Joseph believed that what he had to say was the absolute truth.
There is another possibility worth exploring that allows for both positions to exist together. Perhaps, Joseph suffered from a high-functioning form of schizophrenia, and was thoroughly convinced of the realness of what he claimed. Skeptics in the past have tried to pin various forms of psychosis on Joseph Smith, but were dismissed by Mormons because diagnosis of a mental illness is impossible without having the patient present. No doubt this paper will be likewise dismissed. However, there are legitimate clues in Joseph’s story that point to some form of psychosis, and at least the idea is plausible. These things should be taken into serious consideration. If Joseph’s mental health and claims are questionable, then his entire religion is also questionable. Mormons who are serious about their eternal souls, owe it to themselves to take these clues and explore them to their utmost, testing Joseph Smith’s legitimacy until it breaks down or weathers all scrutiny undoubtedly.
About the time that young Joseph was an early teen, revival broke out in the land. This outbreak may have been in part as a response to the pervasive superstitions of the region. Each denomination had its own revival, and there wasn’t a community or family in the region that was not faced with the religious teachings.
Young Joseph became anguished at the varieties of religious teaching. His family inclined toward the Presbyterian beliefs, but Joseph himself inclined to the Methodist teachings. Joseph retired to a grove of trees where he lay down in anguished prayer. This is the point, sometime between the ages of twelve and sixteen, at which Joseph Smith had his first experience. Various accounts give different ages. Joseph Smith himself seemed to not remember the exact time, and during different writings or tellings of the story, the age would fluctuate.