Would Joseph Smith “Die for a Lie”?
Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, was killed by an anti-Mormon mob 167 years ago today.
As I took a few minutes this morning to ponder the story of the supposed prophet, I couldn’t help but think about the famous “Would Someone Die for a Lie?” argument, oft-used in Christian apologetics circles these days.
You can watch the above video if you don’t feel like taking my word for it, but the “Die for a Lie” argument basically goes like this:
1) All of Christianity hinges on the Jesus’ return from the dead.
2) The apostles were in a unique position to know for a fact that Jesus had risen from the dead because they had personally witnessed it.
3) If Jesus had not risen from the dead, the apostles would have known that the resurrection story was a lie.
4) The apostles were willing to die (and in at least one case, did die) for their religion.
5) The apostles surely would not have gone willingly to their deaths had they known that the resurrection was a lie.
6) So obviously, the resurrection–and therefore, Christianity–must be true.
Upon hearing this argument, one might be quick to point out that many, many people throughout human history have died for their religion. The 911 suicide bombers are a popular example, and Strobel himself addresses that argument. He agrees that willingness to die for a religious belief is not unusual. But if a person is in the position, as the apostles were, to know whether their religious beliefs are based on truth, would that person ever be willing to die for something that he knew did not happen?
Like many apologetic arguments, it’s fairly easy to poke a few holes into this one, and the blog, Debunking Christianity, does a good job of that here. But I’d like to take a minute to explore this from a slightly different angle.
Strobel says that he looked “all throughout history,” but “couldn’t find one example of anybody anywhere who knowingly and willingly died for a lie.”
How long do you suppose he looked? Five minutes? Ten, tops?
Had he spent any significant amount of time searching, Strobel surely would have come across the famous Joseph Smith, whose supposed conversations with God, Jesus, and the angel Moroni led him to find a set of mysterious golden plates (which no other person has ever seen). Smith claimed that he translated the golden plates into the Book of Mormon; a claim which, of course, kickstarted the entire Mormon religion.
Although Joseph Smith gained many followers, it certainly was not all smooth sailing for him after that. As the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Smith was ”besieged with dozens of unjustified lawsuits and was often in jeopardy of his life. He was poisoned, beaten, tarred, unjustly imprisoned, and once sentenced to die by firing squad.”
And it only got worse. According to JosephSmith.com,
On June 25, 1844, Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois told the state militia that Joseph and his brother Hyrum were “dangerous men” (History of the Church, 5:563) and guilty of treason. The two brothers went to Carthage, Illinois , to deliver themselves up to the “pretended requirements of the law” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:1), according to the demands of the governor. Joseph Smith said of the event, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall be said of me—He was murdered in cold blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:4).
From there, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were put in jail. A few days later, they were shot to death by an angry mob that had overrun the place.
Now, if Joseph Smith had never been visited by God, Jesus, or Moroni, if he had never found any real golden plates, if he had known all along that the religion he founded was based on a lie–indeed, his own lie–would he really have been willing to die a martyr for Mormonism? Would he really have accepted a life of persecution and fear, complete with an early, violent end?
So, in a nutshell:
1) All of Mormonism hinges on Joseph Smith’s direct conversations with God, Jesus, and the angel Moroni.
2) Joseph Smith was in a unique position to know for a fact that God, Jesus, and Moroni had spoken to him because he had personally experienced it.
3) If Joseph Smith had not spoken with God, Jesus, and Moroni, he would have known that his story was a lie.
4) Joseph Smith was willing to endure persecution and die (and yes, he did die) for his religion.
5) Joseph Smith surely would not have gone willingly to his death had he known that his story was a lie.
6) So obviously, Joseph Smith’s story–and therefore, Mormonism–must be true.
So, Christian apologists…I guess you’ll be converting now?
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