Joseph Smith’s Narcissism and Self-aggrandizement. Can you explain why a servant of God would engage in “Trump-like” self-aggrandizement, as Smith did, culminating in the creation of the Council of Fifty, a theocratic-political kingdom wherein Joseph named himself, “Prophet, Priest, and King”over the earth?
Likewise, his arrogant and boastful behavior, trumping the Savior Himself,
“I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet”.
We are all multifaceted individuals, full of complexity and deep mystery. The real Joseph Smith was far from the whitewashed squeaky clean image of him manufactured by the LDS church.
Throughout his life, but particularly toward the end when he was rich and famous, and don’t kid yourself he lived very well off his followers. Joseph Smith engaged in what I previously referred to as, “Trump-like” self-aggrandizement. This behavior culminated in his creation of the Council of Fifty, a theocratic-political kingdom wherein Joseph named himself “Prophet, Priest, and King”over all the earth.
After Smith produced the Book of Mormon and took on numerous, all-embracing leadership roles; it appears that power corrupted him, and corrupted him nearly absolutely.
In his diary on January 1, 1843, Joseph bragged that he had, “whipped”seven men at once and “whipped”a Baptist minister “until he begged.”
He also boasted about being, “…the only Lt. General in the United States,”seeking opportunities to parade around Nauvoo in his majestic uniform.
In Joseph Smith’s own history (original), he says: “I am a lawgiver; I am a big lawyer and comprehend heaven, earth, and hell, to bring forth knowledge that shall cover up all lawyers, doctors and other big bodies.”1
“I solve mathematical problems of universities with truth – diamond truth; and God is my right-hand man.” 2
Elizabeth Haven (1811 – 1892), a faithful member of the Church, pioneer and contributor to “The Overland Monthly,”wrote the following after meeting Joseph Smith, “Joseph Smith is a large, stout man, youthful in his appearance, with light complexion and hair, and blue eyes set far back in the head and expressing great shrewdness, or I should say, cunning… He is evidently a great egotist and boaster, for he frequently remarked that at every place he stopped going to and from Springfield people crowded around him, and expressed surprise that he was so “handsome and good looking.”… I could not but with wonder and pity look upon that motley and eager crowd that surrounded me, as 1 thought, “Can it be possible that so many of my poor fellow mortals are satisfied with such food for their immortal souls?”… his whole two hours’ discourse had rather a tendency to corrupt the morals and spread vice…”
Upon meeting with the Smith’s on another occasion Charlotte remarked that:
“Emma, for by that name Mrs. S. is known, is very plain in her personal appearance, though we hear she is very intelligent and benevolent, has great influence with her husband, and is generally beloved. She said very little to us, her whole attention being absorbed in what Joseph was saying. He talked incessantly about himself, what he had done and could do more than other mortals, and remarked that he was “a giant, physically and mentally.” In fact, he seemed to forget that he was a man. I did not change my opinion about him, but suppose he has good traits. They say he is very kind-hearted, and always ready to give shelter and help to the needy… Mrs. Smith was pleasant and social, more so than we had ever seen her before, and we were quite pleased with her; while her husband is the greatest egotist I ever met.”
William Law, Smith’s counselor in the First Presidency of the Church provides an up close and insider’s view of the ‘prophet’s’ character:
“One of Joe Smith’s weakest points was his jealousy of other men. He could not bear to hear other men spoken of. If there was any praise it must be of him; all adoration and worship must be for him. He would destroy his best friend rather than see him become popular in the eyes of the church or the people at large. His vanity knew no bounds. He was unscrupulous; no man’s life was safe if he was disposed to hate him. He sat the laws of God and men at defiance.”
There is a term in psychiatry called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD for short). It is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity and is witnessed by arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with a need for admiration; a view that he or she is “special” and unique accompanied by an attendant need for others to recognize their superiority. Those ‘suffering’ from NPD are often preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, sex and ideal love.
The question is, how does this boastful, arrogant behavior comport with what one might expect from a servant and disciple of Jesus Christ, let alone His prophet.
The Prophets in the Bible are not known for smugness, pride or arrogance. The biblical prophets loved the people and claimed them as their own; yes, they often spoke hard words but with broken hearts. Their response to faithlessness was grief, not indignation.
Humility is essential. Is not then vanity the greatest threat to a true prophetic ministry? Would God not establish a deep humility in the life of anyone he intends to speak for Him.
“Pride is a switch that turns off priesthood power. Humility is a switch that turns it on.”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The folks at FairMormon then post an opinion piece by a Stephen Webb as evidence of what a humble guy Joseph was,
“By any measurement, Joseph Smith was a remarkable person. His combination of organizational acumen with spiritual originality and personaldecorum and modesty is rare in the history of religion…”
“… for someone so charismatic, he was exceptionally humble, even ordinary, and he delegated authority with the wisdom of a man looking far into the future for the well-being of his followers. It would be tempting to compare him to Mohammed…” 3
Alright, if we are trading character references, I see yours and raise you one from someone who actually met Smith:
“Joseph Smith is a large, stout man, youthful in his appearance, with light complexion and hair, and blue eyes set far back in the head and expressing great shrewdness, or I should say, cunning… He is evidently a great egotist and boaster, for he frequently remarked that at every place he stopped going to and from Springfield people crowded around him, and expressed surprise that he was so “handsome and good looking…”
“… Mrs. Smith was pleasant and social, more so than we had ever seen her before, and we were quite pleased with her; while her husband is the greatest egotist I ever met.” 4
1The History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 289.
2Ibid. Vol. 6, p. 78.
3 Stephen H. Webb, “Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012),”
4 ” Elizabeth Haven (1811 – 1892), a faithful member of the Church, pioneer, and contributor to “The Overland Monthly.
Response to claim: Joseph Smith’s “arrogant and boastful behavior, trumping the Savior himself”
FairMormon provided boilerplate responses not specific to my comments. I stand by my earlier comments that Joseph Smith displayed narcissistic behavior and toward the end of his short life was the embodiment of Lord Acton’s dictum, that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”