Monday, June 5, 2023

Debunking the Debunking of Rough Stone Rolling


The Stoddards trying to read Rough Stone Rolling

    The last time I discussed Rough Stone Rolling on social media I received many thoughtless drive by posts. I ignored them at the time because I don’t want to reward lazy thinking. But I suspected at the time that their link contained very poor reasoning and after a bit of examination I was correct. This post show the many flaws in the debunking site devoted to Rough Stone Rolling. The Stoddards, writing for the Joseph Smith Foundation misrepresent Bushman’s work by relying on sloppy and sometimes malicious editing to the point that we lose a true picture of Joseph Smith as a flawed but still impressive prophet. (All quotes from the debunking website unless otherwise noted.) 

    The first two complaints about RSR had no citations:

    They object that Bushman supposedly said Joseph was involved in ritual magic who used peep stones to find treasure.

    If they want to debunk a book and can’t do better than a social media post I see no need to respond. The next items had footnotes:

    They contend RSR says Joseph Smith suffered from “treasure-seeking greed,” “anger,” and “easily-bruised pride,”

    Greed is simply the implication of Moroni’s warning to Joseph, which is canonized in church history. Bushman cited Moroni’s words along with Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith saying Joseph immediately thought of financial concerns when seeing the plates: [Moroni told] me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them. Js History 1:40, 53.

    Joseph’s anger is seen in his own letters such as the one Bushman quoted on page 187 of RSR and cited in fn 44. The Stoddards seem to be under the impression that Joseph never had any emotion. But we don’t feel Moroni is any less of a man that could shake the foundations of hell because he showed anger, and we shouldn’t be offended over Joseph’s.

    Bushman isn’t insulting Joseph by describing his personality. This is a common complaint in just about every criticism of Bushman, and I will give same answer. Studying everything about Joseph, and not the whitewashed sanitized version of him will lead to stronger testimonies that can withstand new and unexpected information, because it already fits in the paradigm of the awesome and imperfect prophet.

    Getting back to Smith’s anger, we have many accounts of Joseph’s anger because his admirers shared these stories to show how great he was despite his flaws. In the example the Stoddards cite on page 249 and 250 of RSR they make it seem like Bushman simply denigrates the prophet. But when you put the statement in context, Bushman discusses Josephs anger, but also his leadership skills, and how the high council sided with Joseph because “they sensed that their prophet had a right to rebuke his followers, fiercely if necessary. Their dismay at his anger was balanced by their love of his good nature.”

    There is an irony here, as quoting outrageous information out of context is an anti-Mormon method. I find it very sad and saying that the Stoddards have to do the same shady tactic to try and slam Bushman. That should tell you how much to trust their quotes and videos, and why you should read Bushman, and pour through his citations for yourself.

    “Easily bruised pride” is also taken out of context. It is even worse this time because they ignore, literally, half the sentence that describes Joseph’s desire for peace. To start with, it isn’t insulting Joseph to admit he struggled with the man he is, with the man he wants to be. Elder Uctdorf said that a hypocrite is someone who falls short of the person they want to be, and we are all hypocrites. As a former marine that came from a home with an angry and abusive father, I know how hard it is to break out of patterns and respond in a more Christlike fashion. The supposed insult from Bushman, when put back into context on page 295, actually endears us to Joseph:

Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Joseph’s angry responses conflicted with the harmony and brotherhood he prized…The culture of honor moved him to contend with the offending parties to protect his easily bruised pride, even though all the while he wanted peace. He hated contention and tried to make peace by mutual confessions and brotherly arbitration….By 1836, when he made peace with his antagonists, the meaning of Zion to a man of his temperament was clear. To live in harmony with his brothers and sisters, as the revelations required, was reason to rejoice.

Harmony was valued in all the church’s councils. The Kirtland High Council’s hearings examined the attitudes of offending parties as well as their actions. The minutes refer to “the spirit of meekness,” or “feelings of the heart,” or the “spirit of justification and pride.”

    Not only is the above based in primary sources, so Bushman is not simply making up insults to Joseph’s character, but in context, Joseph appears much like the rest of us. He is trying to rise above his nature to live in harmony. I find my testimony and even love for Joseph strengthened after reading this.

    Joseph possessed “outrageous confidence.” 

    I take that as a compliment to Joseph. The world and the restored church needed a prophet with unbounded confidence in his mission to restore the gospel, bring forth new scripture, and translate previously untouchable ones like the Bible all while gathering his people, building zion and temples and withstanding endless defections, legal attacks, persecution and dislocation. I argue that anyone without “outrageous confidence” wouldn’t have been as successful as Joseph.

    Joseph “[f]rom time to time drank too much,” 

    The footnotes for this source show a variety of conflicting sources. It’s about a paragraph long and I highly recommend you read it on page 43. But without getting off into the weeds, it can easily be among the sins Joseph himself alluded to in his history when he said: I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. JS History 1:28.

    Of course, even if he did drink, so what? The prophet Noah in the Bible was found drunk and naked! The Word of Wisdom wasn’t given until a decade later and wasn’t enforced strictly until about a century after that. Prophets aren’t perfect, especially when Joseph himself says, canonized in scripture, that he fell into various misdemeanor sins in his youth.

    Joseph grew up with an “oft-defeated, unmoored father”—a father who “partially abdicated family leadership.”

    It is pretty common knowledge that Joseph Sr. had a great deal of hardships during his life. Joseph. Sr. wasn’t the prophet and he admitted he made many mistakes in life. The second statement misquotes Bushman who says Joseph Sr. may have abdicated leadership. And Bushman says that after quoting Joseph Sr. himself: I have not always set the example before my family that I ought (pg. 42).

    As a parent I can appreciate the humble admission. Joseph Sr. did what most parents do, and he wondered if he was doing a good job and felt badly that he couldn’t be more for his children.

    This is another out of context misquote from the Joseph Smith Foundation and this one might be the worst. They took something that was equivocal, (“may have”) made it a definitive statement, and then failed to quote the primary source, straight from Joseph Sr’s mouth where he admitted his failings when it was literally quoted right next to the supposedly insulting sentence. That is so deliberately edited to give an impression the author didn’t intend it seems deceptive to me. They deliberately want you to hate RSR (so they can hawk their books a second later) and have to mangle their quotes of Bushman to do it.

    There are more quotes from various discussions of RSR from Bushman and anti-Mormons but I don’t feel the need to make this post any longer by quoting them. Probably because those quotes are selectively edited like their other quotes. But more importantly, they don’t change any of the points I made above. The common complaint from the Stoddards and the JSF is that a Joseph with flaws is damaging to testimonies and insulting to Joseph. As I demonstrated above, studying Joseph carefully, including his flaws, makes him more relatable and appealing. I felt this as I read RSR and compiled this post.

    More importantly, I’ve said many times the only testimonies damaged by a more realistic picture of Joseph are those who believe in a perfect Joseph Smith of their imagination. Some are so ensconced in their imaginations about Joseph Smith they can’t even read books like RSR. That is so astoundingly small minded, and refusing to learn is far more damaging attitude than anything Bushman can say or write. If your brittle testimony can’t handle new information, you’ll still get the new information eventually, but you’ll have no mechanisms for how to faithfully incorporate that new knowledge into a faithful view of the prophet. That’s why so many people are overthrown by a reddit complied, dumb big list of stale criticisms. (The CES letter.) If you’ve always studied the real (and still awesome) Joseph, you’ll have a much greater ability to accept new information. The mention of a peep stone or treasure digging won’t send you into a faithless spiral, or hyper aggressive defensive response that is built upon sand.

    Rough Stone Rolling is far superior to the “debunking RSR” website. The answer is obviously provided by Bushman’s superior primary source analysis, as the Joseph Smith Foundation has to do the opposite, rip quotes out of context with highly suspicious editing to strengthen the animosity against Bushman and support an inferior fantasy about Joseph.

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