Monthly Archives: March 2014

New release: “General Smith’s Views” on government

This brief (8 page) political pamphlet (on PG here) presents Joseph Smith’s platform for his presidential campaign. Joseph Smith (General of the Nauvoo Legion) ran for President of the United States in 1844 mostly because none of the other candidates were willing to support the Church against mob violence. (The Ensign ran a good story about the campaign a few years ago.)

So, what does it say? Much of the pamphlet is framed by a discussion, that tends to be neglected, of the patriotic history of the United States. It quotes addresses of many previous presidents and speaks highly of their policies, although he’s not enthusiastic about how the “blooming republic began to decline under the withering touch of Martin Van Buren.” This discussion, on the whole, demonstrates a remarkable patriotism by Joseph Smith, especially considering the legal treatment he was repeatedly subjected to.

Platform-wise, it proposes abolishing slavery by using federal revenue to compensate slaveowners for their resulting losses. (If only.) On economics, he expresses support for a “judicious tariff” and a system of national and state banks. He’s in favor of a hands-off foreign policy but supports the expansion of the United States in all directions, saying:

As to the contiguous territories to the United States, wisdom would
direct no tangling alliance: Oregon belongs to this government
honorably, and when we have the red man’s consent, let the union
spread from the east to the west sea; and if Texas petitions Congress
to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of
fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico;

He also advocated radical prison reform:

Petition your state legislatures to pardon every convict in their
several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them,
in the name of the Lord, go thy way and sin no more. Advise your
legislators when they make laws for larceny, burglary or any felony, to
make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works, or any
place where the culprit can be taught more wisdom and more virtue; and
become more enlightened. Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to
reform the propensities of man, as reason and friendship. Murder only
can claim confinement or death.

Anyways, it’s a fun little document, and gives you some idea of how a prophet might govern.

News: .zip of all ebooks, internships, new Supervising Editor, etc.

So, it’s been an eventful week or two for MTP. We’ve welcomed Nichole Eck aboard as Supervising Editor. Her bio:

Nichole Eck, Supervising Editor of the MTP, graduated with degrees in English and Linguistics and a minor in Editing from Brigham Young University. She has worked as a grammar and writing tutor at BYU, a proofreader on the 2013 edition of the LDS scriptures, and a writer and editor for the New Era and Liahona magazines. She writes speculative short fiction and occasionally blogs when not hanging out at home with her husband and 3-month-old daughter.

She brings a skill set and perspective that will be very helpful to the BYU editing interns we’re recruiting for this next summer. In related news, the BYU Editing Minor has officially approved our internship for class credit, and we’re advertising it at the BYU Publisher’s Fair in the Wilkinson Center today (Wednesday). We’re getting some interest in the history internship as well and have recruited our first intern, Mariah Averett.

We now have .zip files in the Available Texts section that contain all of the books in said section. This should make it a bit easier to get the whole collection without PG worrying about whether or not you’re a robot for how much you’re downloading.

In other news, we’re adopting a posting schedule. Release announcements will be posted on weekends. (There will not be a new release every weekend in the long run, but for a month or so here it may be close.) On weekends without new releases, we’ll typically post some commentary, quotes, etc. from a prior release. There should pretty reliably be weekend posts.

It’s not currently the weekend, which brings us to the other half of the posting schedule — when I have updates about the state of the MTP, announcements, or other meta-level material, I’ll typically post it on Wednesdays. There will only be Wednesday posts when I feel like there’s something worth posting about. On a related note, there are now blog categories for Project updates (typically Wednesday stuff), Book Commentary (typically weekend stuff), and Release Announcements (typically weekend stuff).

Good news: first-round proofing of History of the Prophet Joseph by His Mother is now complete. Second-round won’t happen until Mormon Doctrine of Deity is done, so it might be a while yet, but progress is occurring.

Also, if you’ve read this far, I have a confession. Project Gutenberg posted “General Smith’s Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States,” a new work we’ve done, a while ago. They’ve also just posted William Clayton’s JournalMy First Mission by George Q. Cannon, and Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith, which were previously available on the old MTP site but never got posted to PG before. All of these are now linked in the Available Texts section, and each will get its own full release announcement-style post on a coming Saturday, in an effort to spread the publicity out a bit. Going forward, I expect to continue this pattern; I will only formally announce multiple releases per week if we’re many weeks ahead, but I will try to keep Available Texts up-to-date even if the announcements are dragging a bit.

New Release: “Absurdities of Immaterialism” by Orson Pratt

In this pamphlet (available at PG here), Orson Pratt claims to be more scientific, more philosophical, and more religious than the “atheistical idolators” who worship an “immaterial god” or “deified Nothing,” i. e., basically every non-Mormon Christian.

With that introductory sentence, perhaps now is a good time for a disclaimer–Orson Pratt was a brilliant intellectual, but also a doctrinal loose cannon. Brigham Young officially condemned some of his doctrine, including much of what he proposes in this pamphlet. So, this should all be taken with a hefty grain of salt.

This pamphlet was a refutation of “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, Examined and Exposed,” which condemned the Church for its materialist belief. The relevant doctrine is stated in Doctrine and Covenants Section 131:7-8:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

This is obviously conflicts with the typical view that God is a completely immaterial spiritual being without body, parts, or passions. It also seems to have some philosophical significance regarding the nature of reality. Spirits, since they are “material,” seem to be more similar to material human beings (bound by laws, composed of a more or less fixed set of components, characterized by layers of complexity) than to, say, platonic forms (ineffable, ideal philosophical concepts). This doctrine also seems to be relatively compatible with a worldview based in the scientific method and incompatible with a worldview based in Plato, the Nicene Creed, etc.

Orson Pratt is fun because he is completely unafraid of all this. He’s enthusiastic about how compatible his beliefs are with the science of his day and the best related philosophy, and he’s prepared to grapple with what it all means. For example, he considers what “no immaterial matter” means for the Holy Spirit:

All the innumerable phenomena of universal nature are produced in their origin by the actual presence of this intelligent all-wise and all-powerful material substance called the Holy Spirit. It is the most active matter in the universe, producing all its operations according to fixed and definite laws enacted by itself, in conjunction with the Father and the Son. What are called the laws of nature are nothing more nor less than the fixed method by which this spiritual matter operates. Each atom of the Holy Spirit is intelligent, and like other matter has solidity, form, and size, and occupies space. Two atoms of this spirit cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In all these respects it does not differ in the least from all other matter. Its distinguishing characteristics from other matter are its almighty powers and infinite wisdom, and many other glorious attributes which other materials do not possess.

Is this true? Who knows. Is it established doctrine? Obviously not. Should anyone ever publish anything remotely like this in a public or missionary setting? No. But it’s refreshing to see how Orson Pratt was unafraid to take the best science and philosophy of his day and let it strengthen and work with his faith. He was intellectually humble enough to accept knowledge from all quarters and curious enough to poke at the boundaries, and arguably began a tradition of scientific faith later continued by Talmage, Widtsoe, Henry Eyring, and others to the present day.

So, in summary, “Absurdities of Immaterialism” is significant because it’s part of the great tradition of reconciling Mormonism with science and philosophy, and it’s worth reading not so much to see what Orson Pratt thought as to see how he thought.