[quote=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” (caw.org)), which found its origin in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange World. Of course, we all know “The Church of Scientology” (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.