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  #1  
Old Jul 8, '05, 6:53 pm
jgcase jgcase is offline
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Question Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

From what I've observed, people who view Joseph Smith as a false prophet seem to mainly classify him into one of three categories: either he was deceived by a demon masquerading as Jesus in his initial vision, he was actually possessed by a demon, or he was simply a con-man who deliberately deceived others to gain power and wealth over them. I'm sure some even suspect some combination of two or more of these possibilities were in play.

I know someone who suffers from severe schizophrenia, and witnessing his affliction has resonated with what I've read about Joseph Smith's life. (What few witnesses JS had to substantiate any of his claims proved to be very questionable, to my mind.) My friend spins me some really incredible tales, and, the thing is, he completely believes them to be absolutely true. If he had a more charismatic personality, I can certainly see the possibility of other people being drawn into his fantasy.

Could mental illness possibly be a factor in the rise of Joseph Smith as a religious leader...or, for that matter, the ascendency of Mohammed? (Their founding accounts are quite similar, as I'm sure you've noticed.) Every modern psychiatric ward has at least one patient who thinks he or she is Jesus, or some other messianic figure, after all. Given the non-existence of psychiatric medicine in his day, JS (and Mohammed) would have naturally remained in the general population.

There is a neo-pagan religious group that calls itself "The Church of All Worlds" (http://www.caw.org), which found its origin in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange World. Of course, we all know "The Church of Scientology" (http://www.scientology.org) was deliberately founded by the science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. I don't find it at all hard to believe that these modern examples may have been preceded by a highly-functioning, mentally-ill man who dictated his schizophrenic fantasies to others, and then published them as The Book of Mormon.

This is something I've been thinking about for quite awhile. What do you think? Is this scenario possible? And, if it is, does that mean that JS (or Mohammed) is not completely responsible for any negative consequences to his actions/teachings?


My Jesus, mercy!
  #2  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:06 pm
stillsearching stillsearching is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jgcase
From what I've observed, people who view Joseph Smith as a false prophet seem to mainly classify him into one of three categories: either he was deceived by a demon masquerading as Jesus in his initial vision, he was actually possessed by a demon, or he was simply a con-man who deliberately deceived others to gain power and wealth over them. I'm sure some even suspect some combination of two or more of these possibilities were in play.

I know someone who suffers from severe schizophrenia, and witnessing his affliction has resonated with what I've read about Joseph Smith's life. (What few witnesses JS had to substantiate any of his claims proved to be very questionable, to my mind.) My friend spins me some really incredible tales, and, the thing is, he completely believes them to be absolutely true. If he had a more charismatic personality, I can certainly see the possibility of other people being drawn into his fantasy.

Could mental illness possibly be another factor in the rise of Joseph Smith as a religious leader...or, for that matter, the ascendency of Mohammed? (Their founding accounts are quite similar, as I'm sure you've noticed.) Every modern psychiatric ward has at least one patient who thinks he or she is Jesus, or some other messianic figure, after all. Given the non-existence of psychiatric medicine in his day, JS (and Mohammed) would have naturally remained in the general population.

There is a neo-pagan religious group that calls itself "The Church of All Worlds" (http://www.caw.org), which found its origin in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange World. Of course, we all know "The Church of Scientology" (http://www.scientology.org) was deliberately founded by the science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. I don't find it at all hard to believe that these modern examples may have been preceded by a highly-functioning, mentally-ill man who dictated his schizophrenic fantasies to others, and then published them as The Book of Mormon.

This is something I've been thinking about for quite awhile. What do you think? Is this scenario possible? And, if it is, does that mean that JS (or Mohammed) is not completely responsible for any negative consequences to his actions/teachings?


My Jesus, mercy!
Yes, it would appear so, but it would be difficult to determine absolutely without him here to interview. However, many schizophrenics or those who in this case might be more accurately described as suffering from affective psychotic disorder, are actually very high functioning, can be very successful in terms of career, social interaction and family life. Many people suffering from affective psychosis have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder that focuses on religion, rather than the commonly known one of constantly washing their hands or whatever. Very often, people that have been involved in some type of extreme cult phenomena will exhibit some of Joseph Smith's symptoms after they have abandoned the cult as they have trouble adjusting to life after culthood. If, for instance, he already had a tendency toward the disorder, an extreme tramatic experience with a cult, no matter how brief, could cause an episode. The problem with schizophrenics and those with affective psychosis is that each episode that occurs cements, so to speak, the disorder. So the more episodes he had, the more episodes he would have in the future. Hallucinations in these types of disorders can be wide ranging in type as well: audio, visual, a combo, sensory and more. I would like to point out though that if Smith was psychotic, he probably in good faith believed absolutely every word he said and wrote.And of course, if he finds any family and friends, no matter how few, to support him, it would reinforce his confidence in his own delusions.
I am not saying for sure that is what happened here as Smith is obviously not here to examine or question. However, many of the things described as so very special in LDS and attributed to Smith due seem to be a rather garden variety expression of schizophrenia.
  #3  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:29 pm
jgcase jgcase is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Thanks, stillsearching. I thought it possible that I was completely off the beam; I'm glad to know I'm not. As you say, though, we'll never know for sure what the state of JS's mental health was, this side of heaven.


My Jesus, mercy!
  #4  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:37 pm
stillsearching stillsearching is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

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Originally Posted by jgcase
Thanks, stillsearching. I thought it possible that I was completely off the beam; I'm glad to know I'm not. As you say, though, we'll never know for sure what the state of JS's mental health was, this side of heaven.


My Jesus, mercy!
Your welcome.
It's unlikely that we will know on the other side of heaven as well. We will be too busy adoring Christ to worry about it.
  #5  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:41 pm
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Jerusha Jerusha is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

A well-respected Indian leader, I believe it was Winneshiek, actually had the moxie to directly tell him that he was crazy.

Accounts by other people confirm it. In my mind, it is clear that he was
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not completely responsible for any negative consequences to his actions/teachings?
  #6  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:50 pm
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

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Originally Posted by Jerusha
A well-respected Indian leader, I believe it was Winneshiek, actually had the moxie to directly tell him that he was crazy.

Accounts by other people confirm it. In my mind, it is clear that he was
Okay, Suppose we have an hypothesis that says this about Joseph Smith. From there, what do we do with those who 1, supported him, 2. took up where he left off, 3. are with us today? Because the present moment is rather more to the point, isn't it?
  #7  
Old Jul 8, '05, 7:55 pm
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Jerusha Jerusha is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

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3. are with us today
Realizing, on that basis, that there is a strong thread of cultural schizophrenia among Mormons. Therefore, dealing with their "delusions" with a rational, compassionate attitude.
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Old Jul 8, '05, 8:02 pm
stillsearching stillsearching is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

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Originally Posted by Jerusha
Realizing, on that basis, that there is a strong thread of cultural schizophrenia among Mormons. Therefore, dealing with their "delusions" with a rational, compassionate attitude.
True. But one has to be careful not to reinforce error out of some misguided sense of compassion. There is nothing charitable in that.
  #9  
Old Jul 8, '05, 11:03 pm
Paul G Paul G is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jgcase
From what I've observed, people who view Joseph Smith as a false prophet seem to mainly classify him into one of three categories: either he was deceived by a demon masquerading as Jesus in his initial vision, he was actually possessed by a demon, or he was simply a con-man who deliberately deceived others to gain power and wealth over them. I'm sure some even suspect some combination of two or more of these possibilities were in play.

I know someone who suffers from severe schizophrenia, and witnessing his affliction has resonated with what I've read about Joseph Smith's life. (What few witnesses JS had to substantiate any of his claims proved to be very questionable, to my mind.) My friend spins me some really incredible tales, and, the thing is, he completely believes them to be absolutely true. If he had a more charismatic personality, I can certainly see the possibility of other people being drawn into his fantasy.
You have created and interesting hypothesis. Was Joseph Smith suffering from schizophrenia? Lets see, he claimed to see angles, Heard the voice of Jesus did not waver from what he said he saw, was able to convinced others to follow him, and died with his believe unchanged and confident that he completed what was given him to do. Ops I forgot we were supposed to be talking about Joseph Smith not Paul the Apostle.

This kind of supposition is a slippery slope that the atheist would love to hear. If we are to take your evidences as reasons for mental illness, I can open up my DSMIV and find support for your claim. However, where would that leave us? We would have to throw out every scripture that has been written because my DSMIV would support a diagnosis of various forms of psychosis that the prophets and apostles could have suffered from. I donít know about you but that is unacceptable to me.

Oh yes, and I believe there is a fourth option in your list of possibilities: 4, Joseph Smith was telling the truth and is a prophet of GOD

Paul
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  #10  
Old Jul 9, '05, 4:33 am
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Jerusha Jerusha is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Just because a person is crazy does not mean that all that person said and did was wrong. Sometimes a person sees things differently from other people, and is partially right, "going against the flow" can make that person pretty nutty. It takes discernment to be able to tell what is right and what is wrong.
  #11  
Old Jul 9, '05, 4:37 am
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Quote:
But one has to be careful not to reinforce error out of some misguided sense of compassion. There is nothing charitable in that.
Crazy people sometimes do bad things. One must always be on the alert for betrayals, etc----trust is not the name of the game.
  #12  
Old Jul 9, '05, 5:53 am
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

I regard even Karl Marx as having been an insane prophet, who made the fatal errors of denying God, and saying that revolution must happen, rather than "If you don't become socially responsible as Christians, revolution will happen."

Not all that he said must be tossed down the garbage disposal.
  #13  
Old Jul 9, '05, 12:43 pm
jgcase jgcase is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

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Originally Posted by Paul G
Oh yes, and I believe there is a fourth option in your list of possibilities: 4, Joseph Smith was telling the truth and is a prophet of GOD
Unfortunately for the many nice, sincere, and well-intentioned people who do believe this, there doesn't seem to be much substantial, objective evidence to support this particular option. Instead, quite the opposite is true.

We've already established that there is no way to determine today if JS was, or was not, suffering from schizophrenia. This is only my speculation, based on my experience with someone actually afflicted with this mental disorder, in our own time and culture.

As a Catholic, I certainly do acknowledge that God can speak more dramatically to any person He chooses than to the general population. The pious tradition of the Church is full of those people and events. The difference between the Catholic Church's approach and the LDS's, however, is that Christian faithful are never obliged to accept private revelation--which is what JS's visions fall under--as equal to public revelation as preserved in Sacred Tradition (including Scripture). Private revelation is only binding on the person to whom it's given. Authentic private revelation never divides the unity of the Church...which is exactly what JS's private revelations and subsequent teachings sought to do, and continue to do today. Indeed, divisiveness is one of the tests of the authenticity of any particular person's revelation experience. Thus, I conclude that JS's visions do not have divine origin.

Personally, given the ongoing divisive ("contentious") consequences of JS's teachings, I would rather believe JS was not fully responsible (i.e., was mentally ill) for the deception of all the people who do believe in them, than that he deliberately deceived them, either under the influence of demonic activity or just his own perversity. I am certain that God, in His loving justice, has more mercy on the soul of someone who was genuinely mentally ill, than of someone who was not, when that soul comes before His throne, despite whatever the lingering consequences of that soul's earthly actions.


My Jesus, mercy.
  #14  
Old Jul 9, '05, 12:52 pm
Jo's_Dad Jo's_Dad is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Hmm... In reading through this I have to ask that since Moses gave a very similar story as Joseph Smith, are we to also assume that he too was Schizophrenic and made up the whole of the OT?

Hmm.....

God Bless
  #15  
Old Jul 9, '05, 2:18 pm
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Jerusha Jerusha is offline
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Default Re: Did Joseph Smith Suffer from Schizophrenia?

Sometimes there is a fuzzy line between genuine spiritual experiences and those which verge into mental illness. I do not see Moses' experiences as being as far out of the realm of genuine divinely inspired experiences as JS's. I think the acceptability of such private revelations to the general public, and, like jgcase says, the divisiveness of such revelations can serve to clarify that line.
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