Ep 351 – The First Vision

Panel Discussion

Posted March 12th, 2017

Last weekend, the Church released a new and improved video depiction of the First Vision that claimed to incorporate the various accounts Joseph Smith gave to “provide additional perspectives and insights into this remarkable event.” Glenn, Matt, Randy, Bob, and Jake decide to do a bit of remarking themselves.






  • Allison

    I’d like to say it was the way the church treats women that toppled my house of cards but it wasn’t. It was the first vision (thank you John Larson). The day I listened to his podcast on the subject (it was general conference Sunday, I remember that) and subsequently did some research on my own is the day I told my husband that I had lost all belief. With the feminist movement going strong in the church at the time, I could play the victim, be a martyr (this was MY experience of it), but once that lightbulb came on and I realized Smith was making it up as he went along, it was like the screen of Mormonism went blank for me. The TV was dead. As a believer, I didn’t think a lot about the first vision. It just happened and I knew it and the church is true. As a non-believer, the first vision would be way down on my list of problems with the church because there is a lot of shitty stuff that goes on—stuff that affected my daily life and the lives of my loved ones. It was the realization that I had given up so much of myself for so long because of a lie—a pack of lies—that finished the church off for me.

    • Thanks for sharing, enjoyed your perspective.

  • Devonne Clinton Amos

    Gotta say, that I was always taught 2 personages too. However, in our very old Pomona, Calif. Chapel, on the back wall of the Chapel, was a mural of Joseph Smith’s Vision with only one personage. It was hard for me to teach when I never had a “testimony” of Joseph Smith…LOL But I loved Jesus, and gave it my best…

    • Travis Gower

      That mural is really a thing?!? That blows my mind. Did that not raise questions?

    • Anonymous Chicken

      I used to live near Pomona long ago, but I didn’t meet in that building. Pomona was in my stake.

  • Devonne Clinton Amos

    It’s a valid concern, once all the other things come into light about the lies; it turns our youthful hearts back to the beginnings of our little Primary Teachings, or the base of our “Little Testimonies.” Yes Glenn I agree…It all hurts!

  • Sorry, guys, these accounts are all too detailed to have missed how many “personages” were present. I’m pretty sure that some of the accounts were embellishments, not “recovered memories.” If Joseph had run back home immediately and breathlessly recounted the vision to Hyrum or his mom or somebody who then wrote it down or retold it, missing a detail here and there, it might be like eye witness testimony which is very brief when told to an officer at the scene but becomes more detailed in a calmer setting. The accounts are actually more like versions of a movie script that gets changed many times before the final cut. They might not all tell the exact same story, but they do all make the same point and that right there is the point. It’s the Mormon narrative. Religions aren’t fact or fiction. They are narratives. You subscribe to a narrative. Same with politics, and nowadays, even news. Less and less is really true or really false; it’s which narrative has, in your opinion, more toe-curling, spine-tingling zingers. Take your pick.

    I laughed out loud at the speculation over Celestial skin tones (is Jesus European-white or would he tan well?) and the final conclusion that all shades of white are welcome in the Celestial Kingdom (how magnanimous).

    The likening of current prophesy to a stalactite drip was funny enough, but followed by conjecture concerning octogenarian urination . . . now there’s a narrative for ya.

    • DontSpamMeBro

      Very good point

    • windy_way8192

      No shit. I’m getting irritated listening to this one. My husband was assaulted last year by a man who trespassed into our backyard with flashlights into our garage. He confronted the guy, didn’t touch him. The guy punched him to the ground, and he briefly lost consciousness. Our daughter saw this. The other guy got off with a fine and a day of anger management class by saying my husband pushed him. But no, my husband did not touch him at all, although he did piss him off by confronting him verbally.

      The pushing there is foundational. It changes everything about the story. Someone saying it doesn’t matter imo is way too theoretical.

  • Larry

    Acknowleding bias and emotional motivation is helpful. Recognizing our own ability to be wrong is powerfully helpful for our own growth but doesnt transfer well to others. But remember bias doesn’t infer wrongness. Reasoned arguments can be impactful and have proven their worth over time.

  • Travis Gower

    My biggest gripe with the First Vision — aside from all the other inconsistencies and contradictions — is that the official version shows Smith making up history that didn’t happen. According to the PofGP account, after he disclosed his vision to a few folks, his region was quickly abuzz with the news, and the most important local religious leaders were united against this poor farmboy.

    Except there’s zero record of that. There are recorded accounts of other folks claiming visions in the same region, but nothing about this kid, who claims 20 years later that it was a local sensation. Everyone was talking about it! The powerful preachers were all against me! Smith didn’t even tell his family — or at least, they never mentioned it in writing or interview.

    As you guys mentioned, it’s an increasingly tall tale. And it’s never taller than when Smith is making up his disclosure to family and neighbors, making up collective opposition from prominent local clergy, and making up his own faithfulness in affirming his account (“I was like the great Paul of the New Testament… “). The inconsistencies about which heavenly beings were doing what is bad enough; the lies about what earthly beings did, and would leave some record about, means this is a matter of fact, not faith.

    • Great points!

      • Travis Gower

        … and with no fewer than two 3-patterns!

  • Susan Mowers

    Okay – here’s my Mormon cred having taught in the MTC. As a teacher I worked with the missionaries to memorize the JS story (at least for Stateside missions). If they learned nothing else in their few weeks with me, the JS story was the key to have down pat. First discussion: 1st principle=God, 2nd principle=Jesus, 3rd principle=prophets (incl. Book of Mormon), 4th principle=Joseph Smith story – the quoted “There was a pillar of light”, 5th principle=Holy Ghost – pray to know that both BoM and JS are true. The 3rd discussion on the restoration does go more into detail on why the restoration was needed, with the ancient church going into apostacy. So yep, for many of us it was drilled into us the EXACT words from PoGP, and why memorizing it was so important. Which is why varying accounts for believers was for some of us quite jarring. To Glen’s point – as a believer I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to realize that stories should have variety, so I totally get Jake’s point that this is a decently big deal for many TBMs because of that.

    • Thanks for the recap, so Glenn was right that both Randy and I were right in different ways. 🙂 For whatever reason, I remember the version in the 1st discussion not being super effective. And we weren’t supposed to ever jump to the 3rd discussion (heaven forbid we go out of order!). But then, I don’t know if your Stateside version of materials also included this special JS pamphlet that could be whipped out at any time (or if that was something specific to our region). Anyway, that JS pamphlet was our go-to source for getting the conversation to a more interesting point more quickly.

      • Susan Mowers

        I don’t remember that Joseph Smith pamphlet, at least on my mission. But I think the Joseph Smith story will forever be burned into my brain! I can still recite it. It’s funny though because as much as they try to correlate everything, each mission still had their own way of doing things. Which makes the brethren trying to inoculate against everything kind of a shotgun effort. Everyone who’s left has their own different tipping point, and scale of severity of all the different issues, so all of the discussion as to whether this essay matters to what degree can never really be pinpointed. (Personally I lost my faith in God first, so everything afterward was a moot point.)

  • Marc Means

    I just wanted to acknowledge what has been going on in these last few episodes. I’m seeing the struggle to try and reach back over into this “other” side, be that politically or religiously. For my part I’m enjoying feeling challenged on my preconceived views of the “other”. I’m hopeful that these types of discussions will help us figure out how to talk to one another.

    If any of you infants are up for another area needing some discussion I’d love to hear some smacking up, down, and around of these pages.
    I’m conflicted over the site myself as someone who has family history of mental illness.

    • Kim

      I’m conflicted too about this site.

  • Brady Andersen

    I agree with Glenn that it’s not necessarily unreasonable retain belief in some core claim shared among different and even disagreeing versions of story. So, yeah, Joseph Smith told first vision stories and each story is a little different, and some of them even contradictory. Does that strongly establish the unreasonableness of the core claims shared by the stories? I don’t think so, and I think Glenn is right to point out that too much has been made of different versions of the first vision.

    There are much better and more obvious reasons to think the first vision story is probably bullshit. For one, it’s a claim about the existence of, at least one, benevolent super-being who hails from another star system with powers of teleportation and levitation. The mere extraordinary content of the core claim makes the claim an unreasonable one to hold without strong evidence in its favor. Who cares what details are different across versions of the story. No evidence is being offered in proportion to the claims being made.

    You don’t need to get caught in the apologetic weeds or become an expert on early Mormon history to decide how seriously to take Mormonism. Just look at the claims it makes. Recognize that they’re extraordinary (I’m understating this). And appreciate that no evidence is being offered commensurate to the extraordinary nature of the claims.

  • Leslie North

    The reason I gravitate to podcasts in the first place is because I love radio drama and y’alls reading of the different versions was beautiful. If I were a person who was just hearing this story for the first time, I would come away feeling so nourished and moved. The readings were all amazing and inspiring because of the sincerity (and the added music). As you read them and I allowed my own imagination to create the story, there didn’t seem to be any big difference in the versions.

    If the church could go back to a simple story of making a connection with heavenly beings in a vision available to everyone and finding a forgiveness of sins, this would be a very nurturing and fulfilling church. It is the weight of every other thing packed on top that sucked the life out of this mythic tale and out of the correlated church. I particularly loved Glenn’s version where Joseph describes being able to see and feel the divine in every creation.

  • Profet

    Hi guys, Fridge Profet here, (church of the fridge) I listen to you all the time, often jumping to comment on my drive to work, I’m not the only listener that does that right?

    anyway, the nerd comment made me laugh and think of this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNtnN_DiP3o

    Thanks to our religion we are all kinda nerdy, after all we can’t leave it alone can we? 🙂

    anyway, the one thought I had on this episode that I wanted to add was in line with the fact this story came long after all the BoM stuff… I personally have a theory that it is a spin off from the angel Moroni story that took on a life of its own after a generation had gone by and people were digging up history and reteaching it.

    (I read haight too ;)) Human psychology became my passion after leaving the faith and trying to figure out how a logical critical thinker like myself could have been fooled for so long.

    May the chill be with you breatheren, I even like the politics stuff… because psychology!

  • kkdigger

    The problems of the first vision weren’t quite the catalyst for my loss of faith, but it’s definitely up toward to top of my list.

    Whenever I hear or read any discussion about the first vision I feel like there is way to much focus on the wrong stuff. I don’t care that in one version he was praying to know which church is true, and in another version he was asking for forgiveness of his sins. I don’t care that one version has angels and another doesn’t. Here’s what really gets me about the first vision:

    Consider the first vision from the churches own point of view. Joseph had this vision in 1820. At that time, he and his family had a Trinitarian view of the godhead. Pretty much every Christian church (and every Christian) at the time had the same belief. When Joseph had his vision, he saw two beings. Two separate beings. Two separate beings with flesh and bone – they were HUMAN. BOTH of them. The Father was a human being completely separate from the Son. Again, from the church’s perspective, that this visitation was an actual event that actually happened – that must have blown Joseph’s mind! To see with his own eyes that his previously held belief about God was incorrect! If Joseph told anyone he saw God the Father and the Son as two separate beings, and they believed him, it must have blown their minds too. I think this is foundational to religious belief – What are the characteristics of God? – Who is he, and what is he like? This is HUGE – to have a Trinitarian view of God, then to find out that view is completely wrong – that the Father and the Son are actually two separate human beings. The church views this as a big enough deal that I taught it as the 1st freaking discussion.

    So…that was in 1820. Joseph organized the church 10 years later in 1830. From 1830 to 1838 the church grew to over 17,000 members. Think how many people that is. 17,000 people that believed Joseph and his story. 17,000 people that once believed in the Trinity, then heard Josephs story and believed him. They all changed their mind about a fundamental characteristic of who God is. That’s what the church says…

    For 18 years from 1820 to 1838, there is not one single shred of evidence that shows Joseph ever told one of those 17,000 people that God and Jesus are actually two separate beings. Not one journal entry, not one sermon, not one mention in meeting minutes. No mentions in the newspaper. Not even the scriptures – the Book of Mormon itself was edited from verses that were clearly Trinitarian, but only after 1838. So for 18 years, and over 17,000 converted members, we have thousands and thousands of pieces of historical documentation. Yet…not one single person wrote one single thing about the one thing that is considered to be one of the biggest foundational Mormon doctrines. HOLY SHIT!!!

    • Thanks for sharing, love the framing of this point. It is difficult to comprehend how seeing two dude gods wouldn’t be the punchline of the retelling of his story, given the circumstances. Way to bury the lead for 18 years, Joseph.

      • kkdigger

        Exactly, that’s just it! It is the punchline. That’s the part of the story that just doesn’t get skipped over based on the audience you are speaking to. You never miss the punchline.

    • Ron Hill

      He not only buried the lead, or missed the punchline, the most damning point kkdigger is making is the First Vision story was not even told at all, and is non-existent in the history surrounding the early church. The early church’s central message was all about the Golden Bible, with all the accompanying strange stories that are everywhere recorded during this period. The First Vision story is clearly a later fabrication since it’s absolutely absent from any and all recorded or published accounts by the church, church members, and especially even church detractors. I’m pretty sure if he were floating this story back around the time of organization of his church or earlier that it would have been fodder found in Howe and Dr Phil Hurlbut’s famous expose, Mormonism Unvailed to further mock and discredit Joe. It is not.

  • Ryan Gregson

    Here’s how I see it. if I were mugged, I could see over time unintentionally changing my story from one to two or more assailants. But, if I were mugged by say, Elvis and Tupac. Well the Who becomes central to the story. Because the “who” changes the whole meaning and purpose of the story. Ridiculous example I know. But that’s why I think some of these changing facts are crucial, and more than just shifting details that would be expected, and thus, a big deal.

  • Cliff

    2 things:
    1) The first vision accounts were a big deal to me in leaving.

    This is the single most important event that, if it happened, proves the Mormon church is true. So discovering that there were other accounts that did not include prophetic callings of ending the great apostasy by staying the one and only true religion was very troubling to me.

    2) This may sound like an insult but I don’t mean it to be. But sometimes I listen to infants in thrones while slightly to moderately inebriated. And at those times, all of Bob’s points make so much more sense to than when I’m sober. One could say that this is the case because the alcohol is providing me moments of clarity that allow me to connect with Bob on a higher level. Others might argue otherwise but fuck those guys.

    • Bob’s observations often have a “beginner’s mind” quality to them (ever read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind?) that makes me back up and think, “Well, yeah, but . . .” It reminds me of when neighbor kids would wander into the garage while I was working on something and ask a question, the answer to which you would think was absolutely obvious, but as I was rattling off the obvious answer, I would stop and think, “Well, that’s mostly true, but not always and not entirely . . .” What they would do occasionally was short circuit my assumptions and make me go, “Hmmmm . . .” Call it the Bob Effect.

    • Haha, you guys, thank you? Hmm… the Bob Effect, sounds good.

  • windy_way8192

    Oh god, this episode was so frustrating, guys!

    Example: quoting the church statement that “any variation is evidence” is a total strawman. The problems are the whole picture created by the available information.

    The biggest variation is the absence of and then insertion of God the Father. This alteration is foundational from the human perspective. The Lord is god in the flesh. God the Father is, for all intents and purposes, an alien to the human race. So all those passages just deny this presence and the point of the story completely and absolutely changes because of it. Instead of merely legitimising himself as Born Again as was commonly done in evangelical circles, the story becomes one of establishing himself as the prophet of the Last Dispensation to distinguish Mormonism from Protestant Christianity.

    Also, broader context: Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, and Heber C. Kimball all retrospectively taught that the Restoration was NOT through a visit from God or the Lord, but was ushered in through an angel’s visit to Joseph. The First Vision was not taught by the church until the 1900s. Times and Seasons acknowledges this.

    Reasonably, it appears that as the LDS needed to make impressions beyond their isolated Utah boundaries, they latched on to the one Father and the Son account. They resurrected the least common, least believed, most improbable version when they needed it.

    Dammit, guys, it totally is a dealbreaker on its own.

    The problem with the way the story functions today and for decades as missionaries preach to investigators is that Joseph was established through the story as the prophet, through which everything from the church flows: priesthood, temples, authority, patriarchy, polygamy.