After reading the book No Man Knows My History by Faun Brodie, I actually came to appreciate Joseph Smith, the man, as someone with the same human frailties we all have. Brodie gave Smith a real personality. I realized that there was more to the man than what the LDS Church is officially disclosing to the membership in their publications. Since reading Brodie's book and many other books on Smith, by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars (including Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman), I have come to view Smith (at the start of his career) in the same light as does Dan Vogel. In his essay, Prophet Puzzle" Revisited (1996), Vogel writes that the best theory to explain Smith's faults, combined with his religiosity in the early stages of his leadership (1829 - 1835), is that he could be termed a pious fraud: that is someone who deceived people in order to achieve religious objectives. Based on the research I have done on the man, this is a good summation of Joseph Smith in the early 1830s. Dan Vogel sums up his essay by saying:
"I would suggest that Smith really believed he was called of God to preach repentance to a sinful world but that he felt justified in using deception to more fully accomplish his mission. Like the faith healer who uses plants or confederates in his congregation to create a faith-promoting atmosphere in which the true miracles can occur, Smith assumed the role of prophet, produced the Book of Mormon, and issued revelations to create a setting in which true conversion experiences could take place. It is the true healings and conversions that not only justify deception but also convince the pious frauds that they are perhaps after all real healers or real prophets" (pg. 10).
However, after Smith produced the Book of Mormon and took on several, all encompassing leadership roles in the mid 1830s and 1840s, it appears that absolute power corrupted him and corrupted him nearly absolutely as we shall see.
It was after reading Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon by Robert D. Anderson, that I realized that Joseph Smith probably suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD for short).
Note: NPD falls along a spectrum. In other words, not every person with NPD is the same, some have more symptoms than others, and some have a mild form of NPD; and some have more severe forms of NPD. I believe Joseph Smith had severe NPD. Sometimes those writing about Smith have referred to him as an Egoist or Egomaniacal, this is another way of referring to his severe NPD.
Also note that by saying Smith likely suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) I am in no way using this psychological diagnosis as a “put down.” For there are self-aware people with NPD who overcome a lot of their self grandiosity and their struggle with a lack of empathy to become caring and well adjusted individuals. In fact, some psychologists would argue that we are all narcissistic to some degree. A recent book out by the Harvard Medical School psychologist Craig Malkin, argues that narcissism should be viewed along a spectrum:
In this post I am merely pointing out Smith’s apparent lack of management of, and lack of help for, his NPD; which I believe led to his extremist religious claims; for his narcissism reached the point that he elevated himself to the most learned man on earth, a prophet, king, general of an army, aspiring US President, husband to numerous wives, and soon to be a God in the afterlife.
- Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
For more information on NPD see psychdaily.com.
To begin, this short video summarizes the case of Smith having severe NPD.
Joseph Smith mastered, what author Robert Green calls The 48 Laws of Power, which is an amoral history lesson on, and guide to, gaining power:
Evidence of Smith's rise to power is documented on the webpage of Paul C. Graham, who lists Joseph's many titles and accomplishments:
"Joseph Smith, Junior: Founder of the Mormon church, translator of the Book of Mormon, and self- proclaimed prophet, seer & revelator. Also served in various secular capacities, e.g., as Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion, Mayor of Nauvoo, [and even ran for president of the United States]...Smith was made a Mason "at sight" by Grand Master Abraham Jonas, being initiated as an Entered Apprentice on March 15, 1842 and, on the following day, passed to the degree of a Fellow Craft& raised the sublime degree of a Master Mason..."(http://www.masonicmoroni.com/Images1.htm).
Smith not only gained great power over those around him in his lifetime, but his legacy continues to echo the power of his person. For Smith gained such confidence in his followers, that their conviction of his work spread from generation to generation, so that his work of persuasion and psychological power has convinced masses of people up to this day: as generations later people continue to believe that the Book of Mormon is a literal history despite every non-Mormon historian considering it to be a pure work of fiction about the American Indians; while Smith's ability to sell the idea that some Egyptian funeral scrolls are the alleged writings of Abraham, continues to be believed today despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Right from the start Joseph Smith was a highly ambitious young man of intelligence. He was not a dumb farm boy as some Mormons teach without knowing all the facts. His father for example was a teacher and Smith had access to many good books.
I believe Smith’s pathological narcissism began early. In his youth Joseph Smith pretended he had the power to unearth hidden treasure with a seer stone, gathering around him believers as he arrogantly claimed to have occult powers of scrying via the stone. When the people he duped into digging for lost treasure came up empty he’d often make up a story that the treasures moved beneath the earth (see The Changing World of Mormonism, chapter 4).
If we pick individual phrases from a lot of different physical descriptions of Smith by people who knew him as a man, we end up with the following list below:
As we can see Smith was not a small and insecure man but a man of great stature as described by all those who knew him.
"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book"
(B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 4:461. Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr).
He claimed that God told him that all Christian creeds were an abomination. Smith said that when he was visited by God the Father and Christ that they answered his question as to which church to join with:
Joseph Smith didn't just claim to speak to Jesus, he also claimed that he was the only man on earth who could channel the voice of Jesus! Smith begins his book Doctrine and Covenants with an alleged revelation from Jesus, who says that the Mormon Church is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, ..." (D&C 1:30).
So Smith claims to speak for Jesus who (Smith claims) said that all Christian churches are false, and only the church that Smith leads is true. So basically, Joseph Smith claimed to do what no one else on earth could do, that is restore true Christianity and channel the actual voice of Jesus which is what much of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants is. Smith had thus executed a major power play by side-stepping the traditional route of my interpretation is better than yours, by raising himself above the other ministers of his day as one like unto Moses and the apostle Paul: as one with a direct line to God and God's mouthpiece on earth. Think about the confidence it takes to make such claims.
Smith also made the power-play of seeking to rhetorically destroy his opposition. We saw above how he claimed that God found the creeds of his theological competitors to be an abomination. Smith goes on to say things like the following:
"But meddle not with any man for his religion: all governments ought to permit every man to enjoy his religion unmolested. No man is authorized to take away life in consequence of difference of religion, which all laws and governments ought to tolerate and protect, right or wrong. Every man has a natural, and, in our country, a constitutional right to be a false prophet, as well as a true prophet. If I show, verily, that I have the truth of God, and show that ninety-nine out of every hundred professing religious ministers are false teachers, having no authority, while they pretend to hold the keys of God's kingdom on earth, and was to kill them because they are false teachers, it would deluge the whole world with blood" (History of the Church 6:304; Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.).
As the video above covers, Smith also bolstered his power status by claiming to be visited by angels, and several persons found in the Old and New Testament. Ironically, his extravagant claims and over the top confidence (which I believe were a hallmark of his severe narcissism), only served him well in gaining more and more followers; which likely fueled his need for more admiration and power.
After discussing, in his essay, how Smith claimed to translate the ancient writings of Abraham in the LDS Book of Abraham (as a reinterpretation and a retelling of the Old Testament) author Mike Furness states:
"The translating Smith undertook was an imaginative attempt to change history. This is a brilliant idea, and it was not the only time he did this. Also found in the Pearl of Great Price is the Book of Moses, wherein Smith rewrote parts of Moses’ life story, therefore changing this pivotal character’s story from the way it was originally described in the Bible.
Controversial artist duo Jake and Dinos Chapman commonly do something similar: They purchase famous artists’ paintings and drawings and add something of their own onto them. Most, if not all, of these works appreciate in value after the Chapman brothers’ alteration. These artistic adaptations are seen by some as an improvement and, by others, as simply vandalism.
Whichever stance is taken, it cannot be denied that reworking someone else’s art is a bold act of vanity. Smith rewrote the character of another author’s book, which can be seen as a better or a corrupted version of the original.
VANITY & UNDOING
Vanity is a quality found in many artists. One of the most famously narcissistic artists was Salvador Dali, who had this to say of great artists: “The two things you need to be a great artist is 1. Be Spanish, and 2. Be named Salvador Dali.”
Smith’s vanity is evident in his self-fulfilling prophecies that he wrote for the Book of Mormon and in his translation of the Bible. According to the Book of Mormon, “plain and precious things” would be lost from the Bible; Smith then found and translated those missing portions. His translation of missing Genesis verses speak of God choosing a blessed seer to be brought forth in the latter days whose name would be Joseph.
Smith’s vanity was indeed an artistic strength, but unfortunately, it was also the single most detrimental aspect of his disposition, largely contributing to the events leading to his death.
Source: The Mormon Masterpiece: Joseph Smith Was Prophet, Seer And Artist By Mike Furness
As the video above covers, Joseph Smith was a man who sought to be above the crowd. He self-proclaimed himself to be a prophet, seer, and revelator. Even going so far to say within the pages of his Book of Mormon (that he composed with his seer stone) in regards to himself, that he was predestined by God to be a "choice seer" (that is seer stone gazer) and who'd be "esteemed highly" and would "be great like unto Moses" (2 Nephi 3: 6-9). He also became the Mayor of Nauvoo, and was even a general of his own army. His quest for power did not end there as he also ran for President of the
According to an online pamphlet:
‘Joseph Smith requested and received from Governor Carlin the commission of Lieutenant General and thereafter frequently jested about his outranking every military officer in the
Image Source: http://mtpleasantpioneerofthemonth.blogspot.com/2009/12/moses-martin-sanders-and-amanda.html
For more information on Smith’s warmongering see the book, The Mormon Hierarchy : Origins of Power by Mike Quinn. To read a summary of the details that led to “The [Mormon] theocracy in Nauvoo [that] ran both religious, civil and military affairs. [With information on the] Mormon army [that] grew to a third the size of the United States Army,” see The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power--A Review by Garn LeBaron. Also see page 114 of, The Theory and Practice of the Political Kingdom of God in Mormon History, 1829-1890. Masters Thesis, Klaus J. Hansen of Brigham Young University.
Joseph Smith The Charmer & Seducer
Many pathological narcissists display a charisma and charm that is attractive to many. Smith apparently displayed great charm even among non-members:
When his closest followers began leaving the church at Nauvoo over his doctrine of polygamous Gods and other issues, on Sunday May 26, 1844, Smith responded to them with defensive bravado and re-framing the losses with boasting, saying:
Smith also said, “The soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine, I know better…The mind of man is as immortal as God himself…God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all” (Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 615). For Smith turned God into "the Gods" that evolved from men who have eternal souls (this is actually made scripture in The Book of Abraham 3:18). In Mormonism, God evolved from man, and man's soul is eternal and self-created. Thus Smith had found a way to exalt himself to the status of a God.
This is what we would expect if Smith was a pathological narcissist: a man driven to expand his ego by not only claiming to become a God, but claiming his very soul was eternal and un-created by a God; and then, with excessive vanity, he extended his ego needs by continuing his self-image into the eternities through producing millions of eternal children that in turn would worship him as God over his own world.
In Smith's scheme of things man could become God and God was once a man before earth. Man was to perfect himself (and the means of this perfecting was controlled by Smith) until he turned himself into a God. Smith explained:
"You have to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one: from grace to grace FROM EXALTATION TO EXALTATION until you ATTAIN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD." (History of the Church; Vol. 6 Pg. 306; Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr).
Today, most Mormons are unaware that they are reenacting Smith’s sexual theology that crowns men king of celestial wives, children, and worlds without end. For the Mormon temple has the following fertility rite, where members parrot the incantation sounding phrase: "… strength in the loins and in the sinews, power in the Priesthood be upon me and upon my posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity." You can watch a video clip on the internet of this ritual reenacted in the HBO cable series Big Love.
Smith was apparently not satisfied with exalting man to the seat of Godhood but man would save the dead as well. Smith said, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead...They without us cannot be made perfect" (Times and Seasons 5:616; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 147; History of the Church 6:313; Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.).
Smith himself said, "Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charged with doing; the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault"
(History of the Church 5:140; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 29;Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 258; Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.).
Keep in mind, that when Smith wrote a private letter to Nancy Rigdon after she turned down his request for her to be another one of his plural wives; he was not claiming to channel the voice of Jesus this time but was writing as himself. And his motives appear to be quite clear in his letter as he tries to persuade Nancy to marry him; for he equates happiness with sexual pleasure as he attempts to woo Nancy with scriptural references and romantic prose. In the letter Smith writes the following [words in bold added for emphasis]:
Be wise today; 'tis madness to defer:
Next day the fatal precedent may plead.
Thus on till wisdom is pushed out of time
Source: Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136, See also "The Letter of the Prophet, Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon," Joseph Smith Collection, LDS archives; Web Source: http://www.i4m.com/think/history/smith_letter.htm
Smith nearly sounds Shakespearean when he writes, “Be wise to-day, 'tis madness to defer. Next day the fatal precedent may plead; Thus on till wisdom is pushed out of time.” It’s amazing what a man is capable of writing when a woman arouses his interest. Smith is attempting to persuade her to be his mistress or God will punish her since she’s not using her “talents,” isn't taking advantage of God’s “blessings,” and is disobeying God’s commands. Joseph's references to "Solomon," God’s “liberal views,” and God warning to her listen “to the voice of my servant whom I have sent” did not convince
In order to carry out his polygamous affairs, Smith not only lied to his wife Emma but he was, fitting Wes Cauthers’ criteria of narcissistic personality disorder above, “interpersonally exploitative, i.e., [taking] advantage of others to achieve his … own ends. [Also, he was lacking in] empathy: … unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.” Just read In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton to see the misery he caused his plural wives.
For more on Smith's sexual predation see the blog post, My Evidence that Joseph Smith was a Sexual Predator (that gives 23 Evidences by a person who works with students in a High School and often gives presentations to the students about the dangers they face from online sexual predators).
Also see the following data on D&C 132 at: http://www.mormonthink.com/d&c.htm#polygamy
As previously mentioned, in their book The Changing World of Mormonism, the Tanners discuss Smith’s fighting ways, his egotism, and desire for unlimited power in chapter 17. Read this chapter to get a fuller understanding of Smith’s big ego.
Source: The King Follett Sermon at http://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon
This quote is also part of a larger context in which Smith often boasted that he was privileged with special knowledge no one else was privy to. For example, Smith said on another occasion:
"Paul ascended into the third heavens and he could understand the THREE PRINCIPLE ROUNDS of Jacobs ladder - the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, when Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful to utter. I COULD EXPLAIN A HUNDREDFOLD MORE THAN I EVER HAVE of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision were I permitted and were the people ready to receive them." (DHC 5:402 Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.).
"If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me"? (“The Prophet said to me [Brigham Young] about sixteen years ago [at Kirtland], 'If I was to show the Latter-day Saints all the revelations that the Lord has shown unto me, there is scarce a man that would stay with me, they could not bear it'" (MS 13 [September 1, 1851]: 257); Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.).
These statements found in official church sources match those non-Mormons like Charlotte Haven (quoted above) who have commented on Smith’s self aggrandizement and boasting.
So far we've seen that Smith seduced women into polygamy through coercive methods, exalted man to Godhood, claimed to be able to perfect the dead, and said animal sacrifices would return in the future. Smith also said in the King Follet Discourse, quoted above, that matter precedes the God of this earth and man's spirit was not created by God but is eternal matter, which is contrary to what most Christians believe. Smith said:
"You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, 'Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?' And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos—chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end. . . . [T]he mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so . . . We say that God himself is a self-existent being. Who told you so? It is correct enough; but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. God made a tabernacle and put a spirit into it, and it became a living soul. . . . How does it read in the Hebrew? It does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says 'God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam's spirit, and so became a living body.' The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is [co-eternal] with God himself. I know that my testimony is true . . . Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven. . . . I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself." (History of the Church 6:308-309; Source:
This statement by Smith may have been a sign of Smith's NPD, for those with NPD will become attached to their narcissistic supply, sometimes at any cost. When his narcissistic supply was threatened with his followers seeking to remove their affection and adoration, he was willing to risk his life to sustain their approval of him. This is merely a hypothesis but it seems plausible in the context of the rest of this blog post. For more on Narcissistic Supply see http://samvak.tripod.com/faq28.html
Throughout this blog post we have seen how Smith claimed to speak for Jesus. When Smith decided to head back and be arrested, according to "the testimony of John Taylor, Smith commented, 'I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me. 'He was murdered in cold blood'" (D&C 135:4)." (Source: http://www.mrm.org/death-of-joseph-smith). If Smith was comparing himself to Jesus by saying he was going "like a lamb to the slaughter" this is one more self inflated statement by Smith. One of many where he compares himself to Jesus in some manner. For evidence that the LDS church believes this is what Smith meant by the statement see http://www.mrm.org/death-of-joseph-smith.
Today the Mormon Church continues this legacy of celebrating Smith's narcissism by plastering his picture on church materials and singing the hymn, Praise to the Man, which enthusiastically praises Joseph Smith with great reverence, a rising musical melody, and exalting lyrics. But what if all that changed? What if the LDS leaders realized Smith was a liability, and slowly removed him from the church curriculum and instead focused more on Christ and the Bible instead?
The original lyrics to Praise to the Man goes:
Praise to the man who commun’d with Jehovah
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
What if this was changed to the version by Smith's son, Joseph Smith III that instead has these lyrics:
Praise to the Lord for the great restoration
Brought by the angel to Joseph the Seer
Pleading with God in behalf of his brethren
The church to establish, the gospel declare.
Note: I replied to a comment below with a blog post titled Did Joseph Smith have NPD? - Part 2
No Man Knows My History : The Life of Joseph Smith by Fawn M. Brodie (niece of David O' McKay).
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell, Valeen Tippetts Avery (for another review of this book see here).
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith by Todd Compton (a Mormon): (for a review of the book click here).
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman (a Mormon)
Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism by Richard Lyman Bushman (a Mormon).
Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn