I belong to a forum whose posts are open for anyone to read so I see no harm in quoting a post someone made there (they did not use their real name and I know nothing about who they really are). It was an opening post and included questions. I am quoting it and I am quoting my reply (which took two posts, then I added a postscript comment).
I view my reply as my testimony of truth. Because of that, I am making a blog post out of it.
From time to time I will hear or read about someone who claims to know all the dirty church history and yet believes. Frankly I do not know what to make of these people. Sometimes I think they really do not know everything, maybe some superficial stuff, but they have not explored it all. It is one thing to gloss over the BofA or polygamy, but when you dive deep you realize the very foundational stories you were taught all your life are suspect at best or more likely complete fabrications.
How does one stare so directly into the light and yet ignore it at the same time. For me and I think most people when they find the truth it takes but a short time to realize it is all a big lie. But there seems to be those few who can compartmentalize it enough to believe in spite of it all. What gives with this? Are they so vested in belief that nothing to the contrary can be contemplated? I just can not get my head around this approach.
I can accept that if you are ignorant of the facts you can believe. We all did at one point. But when faced with the evidence and you still choose to defend the church I wonder what scrambled thought processes you must endure.
I can't say I know it all. I don't think anyone does. What I have seen, in my studies, is that people can lie about others even in the 1800s. I look at the evidence and make my own decisions. Some of what people on NOM accept as true witnesses, I do not.
However, I think one thing that is different about me is that my hopes and salvation are not hung up on Joseph Smith or any other leader of the Church. No one is perfect and it's the most damning lie we are taught - that Joseph and every president after him were perfect and that the Church is perfect. A lie equal to that is that it is ALL true or it is ALL false.
When one believes the leaders not only are perfect, but have to be perfect (except in very minor things), then they have to compartmentalize some of the things, say, Brigham, taught. In fact, for years, I denied he ever taught the Adam-God theory.
I read much of the CES letter. When I looked at the examples of the funerary pictures (facsimiles?) that were being compared with the one about Abraham we have in the Pearl of Great Price, I noticed that the funerary pictures had dead people who were acting like proper dead people, but the one of Abraham was the only dead person I'd seen or heard of who was kicking and hitting. Apparently, he didn't know how to act like a proper corpse.
As far as masonry and the temple, I see it this way: Joseph was a mason. He had seen into heaven. He knew he was going to die soon. The people weren't finishing the temple and he knew they'd receive the promised curses (being scattered, for one thing). He wanted to give them some clues to hold on to in regards to what he had been trying to get through their collective heads. (That they were each to see the Lord for themselves and not rely on him so much.)
I believe that he saw, in masonry, signs and tokens that could be used as clues if the people could figure it out. I'm not so sure he intended such an air of fear and secrecy to accompany the temple ordinances, though.
Here are some examples, and I hope I'm not telling too much. First sign. Casting out the devil so he cannot answer your prayers to God. (There is an example of this in the temple film.) Second sign. Keeping the devil at bay and coming to God as a beggar. Third sign. Even after Jesus has cast Satan/Lucifer under your feet (via the atonement and you accepting it), you are still a beggar before God. Fourth. You approach the throne of God, speaking to Him three times to signify that you are in the lowest realm (telestial, terrestrial, celestial).
Translating the Book of Mormon. I don't care that he used a hat and a stone. Sometimes I wonder why he didn't translate like I was taught, but perhaps his gift was not intended to be manifest in a typical way. What I do is look at the finished product.
Now, there is a lie, by inference, going around. That lie is that Joseph translated the book perfectly and it needed no editing. Not one stitch. Well, I've been reading the 1830 version of the book and sometimes his grammar makes me cringe. And, when they "fixed" it in later versions, they changed some things that I wonder if they ought to have - like changing "Mary the mother of God" to "Mary the mother of the Son of God."
Because of stuff like that, I figure I have a right to look at the book as if it was a typical book by a typical author. Errors in the first edition. It doesn't have to be perfect. Not really.
I find the book useful. I find that I get closer to God by studying it. I have stopped studying it with a Mormon paradigm. I search to see what the book, itself, is saying.
For example, it comes down hard on the Gentiles. Moroni says, "I've seen you." Then he says, "Why have you polluted the holy church of God?"
We are taught that these references are to the Catholic church. Why would he say that to a church that was polluted a thousand years before the people he saw and knew would read the book.
The book damns us, the followers of Joseph Smith's religions. Reading that book with the idea that most of the references to gentiles mean us is a real eye-opener and fits what we have been and what we have become. It even gave a special warning about polygamy.
Part Two -
I believe that Joseph didn't have sex with all of those women he was accused of having sex with. If he did sealings at all, I think it had nothing to do with marriage and marital relations. I think there are a lot of holes in the women's testimonies. They gave one witness while Joseph was alive and another witness after he was dead and they had something to lose by not lying for the Lord for Brigham.
I believe Bennet accused Joseph to cover up his own sins.
The precedent had already been set for altering scriptures when a committee embellished the Book of Commandments when they wrote the Doctrine and Covenants - and I believe that some of D&C 132 was altered by the man who claimed to have written it for Joseph originally, because he was loyal to Brigham - and they had to prove to Joseph's sons that Joseph had had lots of sex with lots of wives - and to keep polygamy, they had to convince the gov't that it had been practiced since Joseph's time so they could keep it under the clause of freedom of religion. (Apparently, if it was an innovation by BY, the courts would have rejected it. They did anyway, but that's beside the point.)
Now, I don't expect you guys to believe me or to accept my point of view. I'm not interested in debating your evidences against mine. I'm no scholar and I'm not into debate. I only replied because the op was wondering something and I thought I would give a reply because I fit somewhat into the paradigm he was addressing.
But I don't fit into the paradigm completely, because I hold the opinion that only Joseph was a prophet, that he didn't have to be anywhere near perfect to be so, that the books he translated did not have to be perfect. I hold that the reason Joseph came was to share the revelations and books, and to tell us that we, too, could connect directly with heaven. In fact, that it was vital for us to be able to bear the Lord's presence in the flesh. Otherwise, there could be no Zion. And without Zion, the whole earth would be utterly destroyed because no one would be able to stand in the Lord's presence without sizzling.
I believe that a formally organized church was not intended by God, but was pushed by Sidney Rigdon and others. I believe that one can be baptized and accept the Book of Mormon without ever becoming a member of one of the offshoots descending from Joseph Smith.
I think Baptists can stay Baptist. Catholics can stay Catholic. And so forth. They may have to change some of their thinking to accept the new stuff, but there is no need to leave their own formal religion. I think God wants no formal religion, with hierarchies and "holy men" who boss people around and tell them what underwear to wear.
I think religion is deeply personal and no person has a right to tell you what to believe, how to approach God, or make a set of rules (no tats, wear white shirts, pay money to attend temples, follow a man or be kicked out, and so forth).
I know that most everyone here disagrees with my beliefs. I also know that we share some beliefs. I don't have a problem with you not believing me. I'm fine with you choosing your own path and accepting what makes sense to you. That's the way it should be.
*steps down from soapbox*
I hold the opinion that only Joseph was a prophet,
This means that I don't think BY down to and including TSM are true prophets. These men may have held the title, but they were not and are not the real thing.