Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dead Prophets

Throughout history, most people have found it easier to follow dead prophets than God's living oracles. You can proof text (selectively cherry pick), misunderstand, or re-arrange the words of a dead prophet and he will never chastise you for misquoting him. Over time, powerful traditions build up around a dead prophet because large numbers of people are only exposed to the proof texted, misconstrued, or re-contextualized version of his words. People believe these traditions and think they understand the prophet behind the facade. Honest historians come along who challenge these time-honored traditions and people cry foul. How dare modern intellectuals revise the cozy folklore that has built up around a dead prophet of God? A living prophet comes along who makes some procedural changes, clarifies points, or teaches something more in step with modern thought and people cringe. How dare the current prophet question the mythology that has built up around one of his dead predecessors?

The children of Israel struggled to follow Moses, but by the time Christ came along, Moses was canonized and the Creator of the Universe had to deal with entrenched Moses mythology because most found it easier to follow the dead prophet than the living bread and water John 7:19, 22-23; John 9:28-293 Nephi 15:2, 4, 8. By the time Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 - 1844) walked the earth, people called him a heretic and blasphemer.
Joseph Smith, Jr. by Bathsheba W. Smith (1822 - 1910)
Sketched in Nauvoo, IL ca. 1843
His contemporaries "knew" what a prophet was supposed to be like, and the very human Joseph did not fit their mental mold. In 2018 we have people who lionize Joseph Smith, proof texting, misrepresenting, and re-formatting his message to suit their pet notions. Honest historians publish the Joseph Smith Papers and Saints, causing reactionaries among us to conjure up conspiracy theories to explain why certain content was or was not included in these official sources. There are people who liberally quote Joseph Fielding Smith (1876 - 1972) while they all but ignore the more international, culturally nuanced, scientifically sound teachings of Spencer Woolley Kimball (1895 - 1985), Howard William Hunter (1907 - 1995), Gordon Bitner Hinckley (1910 - 2008), Thomas Spencer Monson (1927 - 2018), and Russell Marion Nelson, Sr. It has always been so. Following a dead prophet does not require one to be humble, obedient, or thoughtful. People in their hubris can selectively quote, misinterpret, and re-package a dead prophet to fit their pre-conceived ideas of who, what, where, or how they think he should have been.