The following was printed in Times and Seasons, September 1, 1842.
Sir: Not long since, I had the honor to be in the company of a clergyman, as he styled himself, and as our religion was the engrossing topic of the conversation, I have thought it would be no harm to community at large, if some of the items of our conversation were made public.
Clergyman.–Your society, I perceive, belive in the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God.
Saint.–Yes! certainly: all truth came from the Lord by revelation.
C. Why dont you show the plates and convince the world at once?
S. For the same reason, sir, that you do not show the stone tables, and convince the world at once. They were held sacred in the ark of the covenant, and he that looked into that died. Besides Mr. Smith would be the only proper person to exhibit and explain them; and for him to travel and exhibit them to covince the world at once, over a globe of about 25,000 miles in circumference, embracing various climes and inhabitants, using more than 300 different languages, and numbering more than 900,000,000 souls,–would be an eternal work. To do nothing but travel he would do well if he convinced one a day, which would be 365 a year. At this rate, could the present inhabitants live so long, it would require more than two and a half millions of years, leaving the increase, as the world is now, in heathen darkness.
C. I see you are prepared to resist natural reasons by arguments which have never before been presented to me. But as to its being a revelation the world doubts.
S. Don’t the world believe the witnesses to the book?
C. No: they testify too much: anything that an angel came down from heaven and brought the plates, and showed them.
S. Is any thing contrary to scripture that an angel should come from heaven in this age of the world, more than another?
C. Yes! The idea of seeing angels is preposterous. Dr. Gill, Dr. Scott, Dr. Clark, and all our great men in divinity discard the idea. Why sir, the presence of an holy angel would consume us.
S. I see you dont believe in the administration of angels in the church of Jesus Christ.
C. No: not I–it is next to blasphemy to suppose that God would send a holy angel among men in such an enlightened age of the world.
S. Sir, your reason is contrary to the bible; now listen to me a moment and I will show you that God never had a church and people upon the earth, without administering to them by angels…[He then goes on and gives several detailed examples of angelic ministrations in the bible]
C. You Mormons have too much scripture–you take all. Now we believe that reason and philosophy have the place of revelation, and as the old testament has been fulfilled, so as also the new, when the apostles died, ceased to be any thing more than the foundation upon which our learned divines were to build up churches until they converted the world to christianity, and brought in the millenium.
S. Too much scripture! why sir, the apostle says all scripture given by inspiration is profitable for doctrine and reproof, &c., and that in the last days God, not man, would pour out his spirit upon all flesh; and they should prophecy, dream dreams, and see visions; and the Lord would reveal the abundance of peace and truth: gather children his from every country whither he had scattered them, and return to them a pure language, that they might call upon him with one consent; gather all nations to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and destroy them, that the children of Israel would be seven years in burning the carriages and implements of war; that instead of your reason and philosophy, Paul says, beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, and after the rudiments of the world, and not after the doctrine of Christ; that instead of your easy times, the powers of heaven are to be shaken, and a time of trouble ensue which will baffle the skill of philosophy, while earthquakes, rebellion, bloodsed, and calamity will continue until great Babylon falls.
C. Must bid you good bye, sir, that doctrine is unpopular.
There are several things I find intriguing from this text. First, the very interesting explanation the Saint gives regarding the Gold plates; he makes no mention of the common defence that faith is required, rather, he gives a sarcastically-driven response emphasizing the impossibility of Joseph Smith personally showing it to everyone.
Second, and most important to me, the “clergyman” in this dialogue meets many of the stereotypes we have for the “hard-headed” gentiles that frequent common Latter-day Saint discourse. He meets Moroni’s description of not believing in angels, Nephi’s description of rejecting further scripture, and the general concern of relying on “learned” counsel rather than revelation. In fact, I think this is the exact “clergyman” I was trained to confront in the MTC. Whether or not this dialogue ever really took place, this version of the stereotype has persisted even today.
Any thoughts on this type of “strawman” specifically, or of this dialogue in general?