Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/The "Occult"

Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Joseph Smith's Character: The Occult

Symbols and practices with an "occult" connection?

This section of the video is a good example of a common error: using modern standards to pass judgment on historical figures. The segment opens with the portrayal of an inverted pentagram, with sinister flames behind the symbol. The DVD obviously hopes that the viewer will conclude this is an "evil" symbol.

Congressional Medal of Honor

The inverted pentagram has a long history, and only took on negative connotations in the last one hundred years, well after Joseph Smith's death. Joseph Smith and others of his day would have known the symbol from its use in many aspects of American life. Many Americans were Masons, and used this symbol to represent light from the heavens to man.

The inverted pentagram is found in many contexts, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, on the Great Star Flag of the United States (used from 1837 to 1845), as well as in the cathedrals of Chartes and Amiens in France. Do the producers of this DVD expect us to believe that all these groups are, in fact, part of the "occult"?

Some occult groups have even used the symbol of the cross as part of their symbolism. Does this make all Christians "occult" by association? Such an idea is ludicrous.

The meaning of a symbol can only be defined by the person or group using it. If others find different meanings in that particular symbol it does not negate the meaning to the first group. For thousands of years the swastika had been used as a symbol of good fortune and well being by numerous societies. Does that mean we need to believe that the German Nazis, by their use of the swastika, wanted nothing but good fortune and well being for the countries they overran during WWII, or the millions of people they murdered in the Holocaust? The idea is nonsense. In the same way the cross, before it was utilized by Christians all over the world, was the symbol known as the "Staff of Apollo" and was used in the worship of that deity. The cross was also used by the people of pre-Columbian America, and people in other parts of the world, to signify the sun. Does that suggest that we ought to criticize those who use the cross to signify the Savior's atonement and suggest that they take their symbols from pagan worship? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. It is just as nonsensical to apply a later interpretation to symbols used by the Latter-Day Saints, and then attack the Latter-Day Saints for something which they do not believe.

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Claim: Money digging was an example of Joseph Smith being involved in the occult.

The video's first attempt to tie Joseph Smith to the "occult" uses the Smith family's involvement in "money digging." The video takes a practice common to the nineteenth century, and turns it into something sinister.

During the nineteenth century, belief in folk magic of this kind was common in the United States. Indeed, in parts of New England it is still a common practice with so-called "water witches" still listed in the phone book. (See, for example, the 2007 phone book published by Verizon, Inc., for Augusta, Maine.)

Dowsing or water witching was—and to some degree still is—used to locate wells, buried objects such as pipes or utility lines, and lost valuables. It was not then, and is not now (where it is still practiced), considered sinister or "occult." For these people, they simply consider it to be "how the world works." By analogy, such people might not understand the principles of magnetism behind a mariner's compass, but still use it because "that's how the world is."

The fact that Joseph Smith and his family were involved in seeking for buried valuables is not unusual. When Joseph was 16 years old, his local newspaper printed such remarks as the following:

  • "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
  • "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house."
  • "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!"
Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FairMormon link

Given how common and respectable such an activity was, it is hardly surprising that the poverty-stricken Smith family took a legitimate opportunity to improve their station in life. Despite all their toil, they lost their farm because they could not make the final mortgage payment.

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Claim: "On March 15th, 1842, Joseph joined the Masons which is an organization that believes Jesus is not divine and is on the same level as Buddha, Muhammad or any other religious teacher."

This is a severe misrepresentation of Masonry. Masonry is not a religion and has never claimed to be a religion. Masonry only requires that its members profess belief in a Supreme Being: Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims are all eligible. In this respect, Masonry is like many other such fraternal organization, or even the Boy Scouts. The policy of open membership does not make Masonry "an organization that believes Jesus is not divine." The millions of Christian Freemasons down through the centuries would find such a statement an insult to themselves and to Freemasonry.

For example, many prominent Baptists over the last two hundred years were also Masons. Robert E. Baylor, founder of Baylor University, was both a Baptist and a Mason. One of the university's presidents, William R. White (served from 1948 to 1961) was a 33rd-degree Mason and served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin, First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, First Baptist Church of Lubbock, and Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth. He also served as executive secretary, and later as president, of The Baptist General Convention of Texas.

George W. Truett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, was also a Mason and remained such as he served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1927 to 1929, president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1934 to 1939, and trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Are these men no longer Christians, or somehow involved in the "occult"?

These are just a few of the many prominent individuals who saw no conflict between their Baptist brand of Christianity and Freemasonry. Since their participation in Masonry would presumably not taint the roots of the Baptist faith, why would the several Baptist ministers associated with Search for the Truth find it necessary to insist that Masonry cast a sinister shadow over the roots of the Church?

To read more:

  • Famous Baptists Who Were Freemasons (Adherents.com) off-site

Claim: "Within one day Smith rose to the highest degree which is the sublime degree."

Church critics commonly make this error. The visual accompanying this claim shows an old Masonic chart showing the supplemental degrees of Scottish and York Rite Freemasonry, thereby implying that Joseph Smith was a member of these bodies. This would have been impossible, since Masonry in Illinois at the time (1842) did not have the Scottish Rite at time and there is no record of Joseph being a member of any of York rite supplemental bodies which existed in Springfield.

The video makes much of the fact that Joseph was raised in a single day, as if this was unusual and a sign of someone of great "occult" status, but fails to point out that Joseph's raising was actually done in two days and in complete accord with the Masonic practice of making a person a Mason "upon sight." The Sixth Landmark of Freemasonry states:

The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant Dispensations for conferring degrees at irregular times, is another and a very important Landmark. The statutory law of Masonry requires a month, or other determinate period, to elapse between the presentation of a petition and the election of a candidate. But the Grand Master has the power to set aside or dispense with this probation, and allow a candidate to be initiated at once. This prerogative he possessed in common with all Masters, before the enactment of the law requiring a probation, and as no statute can impair his prerogative, he still retains the power, although the Masters of Lodges no longer possess it.
The Landmarks of Freemasonry off-site

This was the process followed in Joseph Smith's case. While rare, it is not an unheard of or unprecedented procedure, and Grand Master Abraham Jonas (the grand lodge of Illinois grand master who raised the Prophet) was well within his rights in making Joseph a Mason "upon sight" without any sinister undertones.

Claim: "Joseph's Masonic membership affected the development of the Mormon church in many ways but the most significant area appears to be in the development of the Mormon temple ceremonies."

Masonry and the teaching methods it employs may well have had some influence in the development of the temple endowment ritual. The degree of that influence is a debated issue among Mormon scholars and laymen alike. The video does the subject a grave disservice by not acknowledging complexity of this issue. There are many more points of dissimilarity between the endowment and the rites of Freemasonry than there are of apparent parallel.

The video shows re-enactments of some LDS temple rituals (borrowed directly from the notorious anti-Mormon film The God Makers II) and implies that these originated in Masonry. This is simply not the case. The ordinances shown in the video (washing and anointing) actually first appeared in the Kirtland, Ohio, temple, many years before Joseph's involvement with Masonry.

Latter-day Saints consider the temple ceremony to be the most sacred expression of their religious worship. To have it held up for public display and discussion in this manner is in extremely poor taste. It is difficult to feel "loved" by those presenting the video when they do something which they know will be offensive and hurtful to most devout Mormons.

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Statement: "I suggest that enough evidence presently exists to declare the entire institution of the political kingdom of God, including the Council of Fifty, the living constitution, the proposed flag of the kingdom and the anointing and coronation of a king had its genesis in connection with Masonic thoughts and ceremonies." - Dr. Reed Durham

It is important to note that many of Dr. Durham's conclusions were subsequently thought by some to be premature and somewhat ill-advised. And Dr. Durham wrote a letter wherein he distanced himself from some of the things that he had said during his presentation. off-site

It seems that the producers of the Search for Truth video believe that Dr. Durham's statement somehow taints Mormonism. Even if it is true—a supposition open to debate among scholars—that does not mean much within the context of the times. Modern Americans are often unaware of it, but many elements of our society that we take for granted today have their roots in early American practices, and most have Masonic overtones. A quick examination of United States currency, for instance, will find many Masonic elements, such as the all-seeing eye, pyramids, and mottoes. These same elements (and more) are found on many governmental buildings.

There is some evidence that these symbols may have had their roots in Masonry or may have been heavily influenced by Masonry. Thus, it would not be surprising if some aspects of LDS governmental theory—wittingly or unwittingly—invoked some Masonic themes. Does this reality of nineteenth century life and thought mean that, somehow, the roots of American society are based in the occult?

Joseph Smith also spoke English, because it was the language of his time and place, but this does not mean that he had no divine revelations given to him. Prophets—Biblical and otherwise—express themselves in the idiom of their own culture.

Statement: "...included in the actual vocabulary of Joseph Smith's counsel and instructions to the sisters were such words...indicating that the society's orientation possessed Masonic overtones." - Dr. Reed Durham

Dr. Durham's assertions regarding the formation of the Nauvoo Relief Society are certainly interesting, but they are far from representing a scholarly consensus on the topic.

Dr. Durham, in other places, suggested a connection between the Relief Society and the Masonic "Lodges of Adoption" with women members—which were founded in revolutionary France. The problem with this theory is that there is no indication that Joseph Smith or anyone else in Nauvoo at the time (in the early 1840s) intended this. Lodges of Adoption never found their way to the United States and disappeared from France within a few years of their formation, well before the establishment of the LDS Church in 1830.

Claim: The Jupiter Talisman was evidence of Joseph's belief and participation in occultic rituals.

The final issue of purported "occult" evidence against Joseph Smith used by the video is perhaps the least significant of all. Strangely, it is the one upon which the most time is spent. The Jupiter Talisman allegedly belonging to Joseph Smith is an item which at one time was on public display in the old Church Museum on Temple Square. The carrying of tokens supposed to bring a person luck (like a rabbit's foot or a four-leaf clover) has been common practice throughout much of American history, and particularly in the nineteenth century.

Commentators in the video draw all sorts of conclusions about the Jupiter Talisman which are not supported by the available facts. Many respected LDS scholars do not believe that Joseph Smith actually owned the Jupiter Talisman, since it is claimed by some that he had it in his possession when he died but it was not actually listed among the objects found upon his person after he was murdered. Even if Joseph did own and carry the Jupiter Talisman, there is no record of what Joseph might have believed or not believed about it.

One video commentator, Sandra Tanner, claims that "The fact that [Joseph] died with the Jupiter Talisman on his body shows that throughout his life he continued to hang on to that hope and that trust in that magic object." Realistically, the only thing that it may show (if substantiated) is that he had it in his possession when the mob attacked. We do not know where the talisman came from, who gave it to Joseph, or what significance, if any, he applied to it.

It is telling that the only person who claimed that the Jupiter Talisman (a) belonged to Joseph, and (b) was on Joseph's person when he died was Emma's second husband's son. He made this claim over ninety years after the Prophet's martyrdom when he was trying to sell the item.

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