Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith
Robert D. Anderson
Diagnosis and Commentary
A brief discussion in chapter 2 summarized the advent of Mormonism as a product of the dying subculture of magic. But Mormonism emerged at the crossroads of magic and Christianity. The first part of this chapter describes how the Age of Enlightenment promoted acceptance of the Book of Mormon. While scholars have ably located Mormonism within the U.S. political, economic, and social milieu,1 surprisingly little has been written about the Age of Enlightenment; and the only significant study I am aware of, written by a Lutheran minister, takes what I consider to be an overly charitable position toward Joseph Smith.2
The second part of this chapter provides a psychological diagnosis of Smith,3 focusing on the psychological forces within him, their possible origins in his childhood and background, and his fit into known psychiatric categories. Examples already discussed from the Book of Mormon will be mentioned, as well as biographical examples to age twenty four with occasionally references to his last fourteen years of life. My main diagnostic category is that of the narcissistic personality, but four modifications will better approximate Smith’s personality: (1) combining this personality with the anti social personality; (2) the proximity of the narcissistic personality to imposture in origins and characteristics; (3) the ability of the impostor to believe his fantasy (pseudologica fantastica); and (4) the enhancement of all of these characteristics by the “groupthink” of his followers who abandon critical assessment as they strive to touch the eternal world of omnipotent perfection (or “projective identification”). Projective identification, an important psychological defense for narcissists and some other personality types, is the psychological basis for charisma. I will discuss it last because it will serve as both a foundation and introduction to any assessment of Smith’s last fourteen years.
The Treason of the Clergy
Christianity has now been in decline for 900 years. That decrease has taken the form of a teeter totter response to the slow rise of rationalism. The Western European opposition to Christianity coalesced during the Age of Enlightenment, the century between the beginning of the Commonwealth in England (1689) to the end of the French Revolution (1789). It was a century of practical and philosophical writings attacking theology. It spanned three generations, but closely overlaps Voltaire’s life (1694 1778), and this witty French philosopher became its major spokesman.4 The Mormon story, beginning with the marriage of Joseph’s parents in 1796, started only a few years later.
Some fifteen to twenty philosophers formed an international group, centered in France, but international in composition, known as the “little flock.” Their active debates, in person and by widespread correspondence, had a common goal: to enthrone reason rather than authoritarianism or “superstition.” Some of its participants became household names: Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wrote on the noble savage; Edward Gibbon who authored the multi volume and magisterial Decline and Fall of Rome; encyclopedist Denis Diderot, and metaphysician Immanuel Kant. In America, Enlightenment thinkers included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine.
Voltaire issued the group’s battle cry in 1759, repeating it in letters, booklets, and in place of his signature: Ecrasez l’infame! [Crush the infamy!]5 of bigotry, intolerance and superstition, particularly as embodied in Catholicism. But behind this popular movement mounted against ecclesiastical injustice, those who read the basic writings of the philosophes knew they were not just attacking Catholic control, but Protestant belief as well. Their intent was to dismantle the whole Christian edifice—book, beliefs, and organization. Voltaire wrote, “I hate priests, I hate them, I shall hate them till doomsday. … I have two hundred volumes [on Christianity], and, what is worse, I have read them. It is like going the rounds of a lunatic asylum.”6 Instead he advanced Deism—a belief in a creator who did not interact with human beings. People worshipped this creator by honoring his creations, including humankind and the human ability to reason. But if Voltaire represented Deism, the even more heretical Scotsman David Hume represented atheism and anticipated a day free of “Stupidity, Christianity, and Ignorance.”7
These men had no weapons but reason and a close affinity with classical philosophy; Charles Darwin’s scientific observations would come a generation later. Their extensive literature relentlessly challenges unreasonable elements in the doctrine of original sin, the fall of Adam, the Flood, etc. They brought technical criticism of the Bible home to every educated man, enhanced skepticism, liberated many, and also increased insecurity for many.
The end of the eighteenth century saw “the Treason of the Clergy”—substantial numbers of the ministry who became agnostic, atheistic, and skeptical about their own life’s work. The growth of critical rationalism in the minds of educated Christians during this period was enormous. As early as 1720, Cardinal de Bernis said, “It was no longer considered well bred to believe the gospels.”8 It was a significant victory for rationalism, but a signal defeat, not so much for religious institutions, but ordinary people whose hopes of compensation in the next life to make up for misery in this one were shrinking. In England, beginning at Oxford, and then in the American colonies, the first response to this religious devastation was the Great Awakening of the 1740s. It sprang from the emotional message of John Wesley (1703 91), the founder of Methodism and evangelical fundamentalism.9 He returned the people to orthodox beliefs, with simplicity in worship, intensity of emotion, and clarity of doctrine. The Second Great Awakening, which began in 1799, lit a blaze of revivalist fervor that swept back and forth over western New York for thirty five years until the area was termed the Burned Over District.10 In this emotional maelstrom, Joseph Smith grew to manhood.
Voltaire’s writings had been in French; his English counterpart was Thomas Paine. Paine, born in England in 1737, had endured terrible poverty and government injustice. He ran away from home, served at sea, worked at varied jobs, educated himself, barely escaped debtors prison, and saw injustice everywhere, partly fostered by the Church of England. He had already written some pamphlets and met Benjamin Franklin before he immigrated to America in late 1774 to work at a Philadelphia printing shop. In December 1775 he showed a manuscript of a book to Benjamin Rush who named it Common Sense. A half million copies were published in January 1776, and its simple, plain, direct message catalyzed the people. Some of America’s leaders desired compromise with Britain, and not revolution. Paine argued that America’s purpose must be “complete independence, to break all ties with corrupt and tyrannical Britain.” George Washington stated that it was filled with “sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning.” “No learned treatise, no lawyer’s brief, no philosophical discourse, Common Sense was a blunt and direct argument written in a language that could be understood by any … simple farmer” with an effect that was instant. The pamphlet gathers “momentum with an attack on the English constitution in particular and on aristocratic institutions in general,” then talks “of the messianic mission of America … [with] the triumph of radical Republican principles. … O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! … and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”11 Its dramatic call for political independence prompted the formation of a five man committee (June 1776) in the Continental Congress to write the Declaration of Independence. Paine vigorously supported the American Revolutionary War and, later, France’s revolution. He opposed the beheading of Louis XV, got caught in the political infighting, was imprisoned, and barely escaped death. Immediately before entering prison, he gave a manuscript to a friend for safekeeping. It was the first part of his greatest work, The Age of Reason.12 James Monroe, U.S. ambassador to France, facilitated his release, then gave him asylum in his own home where Paine convalesced and finished the manuscript. President Thomas Jefferson invited him to return to the United States in 1802, which he did. Meanwhile both parts of the book had been published in 1794 with dramatic effect. The publisher of the book was convicted of blasphemy and Paine of seditious libel in England (he escaped to France); he was hanged in effigy; anyone who read the book was officially persecuted; and some were arrested for displaying a portrait of Paine. In the United States, Jefferson stood by him, but Rush and most of his friends abandoned him. A hundred years later Theodore Roosevelt called him a “filthy little atheist.”13
He was not an atheist but a Deist; and this campaign of slander and vilification resulted from his success in carrying the message of Deism to the people at the expense of Christianity and belief in the Bible. He respected Christ but condemned Christianity. He described his book as going “through the Bible, as a man would go through a wood with an axe on his shoulder and fell trees. Here they lie; and the priests, if they can may replant them. They may, perhaps, stick them in the ground, but they will never make them grow.”14
The Age of Reason was similar to Common Sense, but directed against religious belief, not governments. Paine argued effectively that the Gospels were not “written by the apostles and that they appeared centuries after the death of Christ.” The Immaculate Conception was a pure piece of fiction and the resurrection doubtful. Christianity was too “absurd for belief, too impossible to convince and too inconsistent to practice.”15 The book is noted for its witty irony and stunning clarity in translating the arguments of the philosophes, as well as the higher criticism and internal inconsistencies of the Bible, to a level that every man with an eighth grade education could understand. It is still effective.
As a result of Paine’s work, the Bible desperately needed support; a second witness for Christ was necessary for those who needed, in a psychological sense, a future life better than this one. The Age of Reason was a major precipitant of the Second Great Awakening. When Joseph Smith, Sr., attended the Methodist church with Lucy, his father and brother were so appalled that his father “came to the door one day and threw Tom Pain’s age of reason into the house and angrily bade him read that untill he believed it.”16
But where was the proof necessary to continue believing in supernatural Christianity? Prior to the Age of Enlightenment, the proof had partly come from the European trials for witchcraft. The existence of devils implied the existence of angels and God. Even after the Age of Enlightenment, John Wesley linked the two. “To give up belief in witchcraft, one might as well give up belief in the Bible,” he lamented in 1768, adding two years later, “The infidels have hooted witchcraft out of the world.”17 But without torture, there would be no confessions of witchcraft. Proof of a supernatural world now came in the dramatic effects of the Holy Spirit in the revival and conversion meetings, but these emotional reactions were not the longed for solid evidence needed psychologically to buttress belief in the Bible. In psychological terms, the Book of Mormon led converts back from the edge of existential despair by sanctioning Wesley’s emotional proofs, adding another budget of miraculous conversions, the “falling exercise,” and angelic visions. Its existence is adduced as proof that God exists. “How do you explain the Book of Mormon?” is a question still put to doubters. The Book of Mormon is termed both a “second” and a “new” witness for Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith rode the backlash to the Age of Enlightenment. Mormonism still continues, psychologically, to provide security while rapid change and scientific development demolish social myths. The Book of Mormon anti Christ episodes dealing with the challenge of the Age of Enlightenment—“Believest thou in God?”— assume the existence of God, engage in sectarian doctrinal squabbles, but concentrate on the secondary argument of proofs for and against the coming of Christ. I see influence from the Age of Enlightenment in the Book of Mormon’s more reasonable versions of the doctrines of original sin, the Fall, etc. The Book of Mormon’s view of original sin is: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time” (BM 65; 2 Ne. 2:25 26). The Fall is no longer the cause of humankind’s miserable condition, but an ambivalent necessity to enter the joy of life; it answers the philosophes who pointed out God’s unreasonableness and injustice for the forced choice in Eden.
The Book of Mormon could also provide definitive attacks on such specific doctrines as the necessity of infant baptism (BM 581 82; Moro. 8:11 21). It still can. What it was not prepared for was science. Darwin, a child of the Enlightenment, was born the year Paine died (1809), and published The Origin of Species fifty years later. It challenges the concept of a literal man and woman in a literal garden and talking with a literal God who prohibited them from eating a literal apple. The Fall necessitates the Atonement, a literal death balancing that literal sin.18 The Book of Mormon does not have an argument for Darwinism. Today, as Mormonism entrenches itself in fundamentalism against scientific advance, the church finds itself facing the arguments of the philosophes with increasing frequency.19 From my perspective, Mormonism today finds itself where general Christianity was 200 years ago.20
The Age of Enlightenment was much more than an attack on Christian religion. The philosophes examined politics, education, taste, science, and art—arguing against authoritarianism and for individual freedom. Their influence can be seen in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.21 These documents created the pluralism that allowed Joseph Smith’s church to flourish, yet he wanted to obliterate that pluralism by erasing the separation of church and state.
Under the anxiety of pluralism and individual freedom, Joseph Smith’s religion spoke to those who desired the apparent clarity and simplicity of authoritarianism, which promised certainty, power over nature and one’s enemies, explanations for misfortunes, the conquest of death, and meaning in life. In psychological terms, however, such individuals have regressed from both democratic individual responsibility and from pluralism. Mormonism combines the claimed divinity of the British monarchy and the authority of Roman Catholicism in which decisions are made by one for all.22 Sigmund Freud (1856 1939), a grandson of the Enlightenment and an atheist, acknowledged the comforts of religious illusion but still attacked them as wasteful and stunting. “Science is no illusion,” he stated. “But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”22
Joseph Smith and Narcissism
It is important to recognize that this discussion from this point on is speculative theory. In both science and general life, we want to encourage imagination, but it is either foolish or arrogant to treat ideas that have no outside confirmation as fact. Accepting either sexual abuse from “recovered memories” leading to multiple personality disorder or alien invasion as fact, without external evidence, are current examples of unsupported ideas that can cause great mischief. Accepting psychodynamic theory as fact can also cause damage. For example, forty years ago psychiatrists speculated that schizophrenia was caused by a “schizophrenogenic mother,” not genetics; and families in general and mothers in particular had to deal not only with a terrible illness in the family, but unnecessary guilt, and sometimes very expensive unproductive psychoanalytic treatment. Similarly, psychoanalytic explanations of major depression, obsessive compulsive rituals, and manic depressive illness are of questionable merit, probably delayed the widespread use of lithium and other chemical treatments, and contributed to unnecessary emotional turmoil and suicide. Let us therefore be cautious and willing to face ambiguity.
The characteristics of a narcissistic personality, described in the introduction and quoted from American Psychiatric Association guidelines throughout the text, do not define a factual illness in an absolute sense. Rather, they gather “symptoms” that are believed to have a common origin into a “syndrome.” As statistics and studies about the role of biologic illness accumulate, however, that description will almost certainly be altered.24 My elimination of bipolar affective disorder as a diagnosis for Joseph Smith is based on present knowledge and may have to be rewritten if a percentage of narcissistic personalities responds favorably to specific medications such as lithium. It would be unwise to close the door to any possibility, including the idea that a more subtle form of bipolar disorder may have provided Smith with energy.
The cause and source of the narcissistic personality are not known.25 We will not conclusively determine a source for Joseph Smith’s either, given our limited information about his formative years. His mother’s biography, our best source, at times seems defensive and self serving. And others who come from depriving and dysfunctional families do not become narcissists or prophets.
Psychoanalytic theoreticians do not have statistics. The individual cases psychiatrists encounter seek treatment because of pain or dissatisfaction. Some do not respond to intervention despite strong energy and lengthy time. We cannot be certain in every case that the treating physician has made a correct diagnosis or is not imagining improvement. Many “narcissistic personalities” are “successful” and are never seen in evaluation or treatment, although I suspect that we frequently see their spouses and children.
Despite these caveats, the psychodynamic setting provides an unusual laboratory. Many hours of quiet listening to free association occur nowhere else in life. Finally, some individual narcissists do seem to respond to prolonged intensive psychotherapy. Both patient and doctor, supported by comments from family and friends, see a clear difference over time, supporting the hypothesis that at least some narcissistic personalities are psychological in origin. I draw on the body of literature produced by observation, experiment, theory, and psychiatric experience in my attempt to understand the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.
Splitting is a major defense demonstrated in the Book of Mormon; psychologically it requires less mental energy than more mature defenses such as repression. Because it is a fundamental cause of personality weakness and because the weakness and the splitting reinforce each other, progress is difficult. Its most obvious manifestation is the division of the world into polar opposites, and the lack of integration of various parts of the patient’s psyche. The individual may oscillate between two opposite positions. This “all or nothing” splitting can be seen in the polarized opposites of the Nephites and Lamanites. I would argue that splitting best describes Joseph Smith’s ability to present one face in public (such as denying polygamy) while simultaneously converting associates and new plural wives to the principle in private.
Besides polarization, another manifestation of splitting is reversal. The individual may reverse attitudes toward a particular person, switching instantly from compliments to vilification. He or she may oscillate in moral positions, yet not be troubled by the contradiction. Individuals who reverse in the Book of Mormon are the instantaneous conversions of Alma Jr., Zeezrom, and the whole Lamanite population in 30 B.C.E. Joseph Smith also reversed, opposing Masonry as a young man, yet later becoming a Mason himself and drawing on Masonic ritual, in part, for Mormon temple ceremonies.
Most psychiatrists believe that small children exhibit splitting because of lack of neurological development but that psychotic, narcissistic, and borderline patients retain it as a defense against disturbing emotional states, frequently rage.26 In my professional judgment, its excessive use in the Book of Mormon establishes that Smith’s basic emotional age was pre Oedipal, that is, somewhere before the age of four. I also argue that he experienced Oedipal fears of castration as a result of his surgery (at some point between five and seven), and also had to deal with the demasculizing effects of a weak father. On a psychological level, he oscillated between the deprivation of an unstable childhood and the psychological trauma of his surgery. Consequently, he regressed, drawing on the magic and omnipotent defenses of very early childhood to resolve the later Oedipal fears and being locked in at a childhood stage characterized by magic, fantasy, splitting, omnipotence, devaluation, projection, and denial. In my view, this earlier emotional age was a fixation point that he had only tenuously left before. Later in life, I believe, he applied this omnipotent privilege and counterphobic defense to his sexual life, at which point he most closely fit the unofficial subclassification of “phallic narcissist,” whose prototype in the Book of Mormon was Ammon. These attempts, in my opinion, account for the Book of Mormon’s compensating and conquering fantasies of invincibility and conquest by the sword. They also suggest the rather gloomy prognosis that he would never escape from extreme fantasy compensation for his real life.
Recognizing splitting as a defense points a direction toward the general diagnosis. It is considered a “primitive” defense used in psychotic states and by borderline or narcissistic personalities. It is believed that personalities develop from genetic givens, very early emotional experiences, and also, partly, as patterns of thinking and manners (“character armor”) in attempts to modify these genetic and early experiences favorably. Thus a personality, in addition to being “given” also has an adaptive purpose, not only with society, but with itself. The purpose of the borderline personality is to block disintegration. These individuals lead turbulent, destructive, and sometimes suicidal lives, always attempting to ward off psychosis and reacting violently to breakups of important relationships. Their lives are “stable in their instability,” and they would not be capable of the regular functioning necessary to found a church. In contrast, the day to day purpose of the more stable narcissistic personality is to block shame, avoid humiliation, and maintain self esteem.27 Smith could not avoid the shame and humiliation of his 1826 trial and never mentioned it in any of his public writings. Yet I have argued that this trial appears in the Book of Mormon under three narrative guises: first, as a gigantic geophysical holocaust that destroyed almost everyone; second, as a literal court trial, after which, the jail, guards, lawyers, and whole town were destroyed by the Lamanites acting as instruments of God’s vengeance; and third, as a supernal ministry of angels in a literal prison that converted the whole Lamanite nation, restored the Nephite lands, and ended thirty two years of war. When Smith experienced the more personal humiliation of boasting about the supposed powers of his unborn child to hostile relatives and then having the child not only stillborn but badly malformed, he converted the experience into an angel attended scene of Jesus blessing many children who received spiritual gifts denied the adults, later reversed the humiliation into hypomania, and then followed it by thirty two years of intense war, suggesting his rage. Indeed, from a psychoanalytic perspective, Smith was trying to compensate for shame and humiliation, and his retaliation was intense.
The narcissistic personality may present himself28 attractively and competently, can function well socially, and may have good impulse control. In relationships, the narcissist has a marked degree of self reference and a strong need for “love” and admiration; these traits may appear normal or they may manifest themselves more disquietingly as an inflated view of their own importance and as a need for tribute from others. The Book of Mormon is filled with Smith’s heroic alter egos, valiant, dazzlingly faith filled, literally special to God. “I, Nephi” appears eighty six times, for instance. Smith dictated a prophecy of himself as part of the Book of Mormon text in which he appears as “one mighty … which shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that which is great in the eyes of God” (BM 67 68; 2 Ne. 3:5 21).
Despite narcissists’ superficial appearance of mental health, their emotional life is shallow; they live for the admiration of others or for their own ego massaging fantasies. Boredom is their nemesis; during too peaceful times, they create agitation. Because their self esteem is fragile, no accomplishment is adequate, and they must agitate for more admiration from others. In the Book of Mormon, the two centuries of peace after Jesus’ mission take only two and a half pages. The rest of the book is filled with agitated conflict. During Smith’s last fourteen years after the Book of Mormon was published, he moved from one self made crisis to another. Historian Richard Van Wagoner commented, “Perhaps the greatest ambiguity in Smith’s thorny persona was his proclivity to test conventions, to live on the edge of his impulses. … Smith’s career, in many respects, was the equivalent of a held breath.”29 In an 1843 statement that is wholly characteristic of the narcissistic personality’s need for perpetual energy to sustain the grandiose self, Smith commented revealingly: “Excitement has almost become the essence of my life. When that dies away, I feel almost lost.”30
Narcissists envy others. As a result, they tend to idealize those from whom they expect admiration and gifts—perhaps explaining why Smith developed such sudden and extreme attachments to individuals like John C. Bennett—yet may treat with contempt previous idols whom they have “used up,” perhaps accounting for the deep and permanent estrangements that developed with David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris. When a follower “repented” and again submitted to Smith’s authority, thereby reinforcing his narcissism, he could be very forgiving. But Smith’s demand for submission could be total, and only conditionally forgiving. Apostle Orson Hyde testified against the church and its vigilantism in Missouri in 1838, left the church, repented, and was reinstated to his apostleship in 1839. In 1842 Smith sent him to Palestine to dedicate that land for the return of the Jews. While away, Smith pressed Hyde’s wife, Marinda Nancy Johnson Pratt, into becoming his plural wife.31 “Is somebody who always has to walk on stilts not bound to be constantly envious of those who can walk on their own legs, even if they seem to him to be smaller[?],” queries psychologist Alice Miller. Narcissists’ envy includes others who “do not have to make a constant effort to earn admiration … [and] are free to be `average.’”32 In Book of Mormon terms, envy drives the consistently immature Nephites relentlessly toward materialism. They routinely forsake God, who punishes them harshly, forcing them to worship him in humble submission. Nephi Jr. avoids the conflicts of envy by becoming so omnipotent that his word brings famines and destruction.
Narcissists exploit others and may be parasitic at times. Nephi, the son of Lehi, gained access to Laban’s treasury by murder, disguise, and deceit. Ammon won over Lamoni by “guile.” Historically, Smith practiced deception in money digging and later. From my perspective, his later life evinces such extreme examples that an item of orthodox belief is that all Smith’s behavior was in obedience to God’s commandment, thus exonerating him from otherwise reprehensible behavior. I would include here his secret polygamy, the establishment of secret intimidating societies bound by secret “Masonic” like oaths, dictating to the members how to vote, the attempt to establish a secret theocratic government that superseded democracy, etc.33
Despite superficial warmth, on a deep emotional level, narcissists cannot trust or depend on anyone else. Beneath their controlling behavior lies oral rage that may appear in violent fantasies or in paranoid suspiciousness during interactions with others. Examples of oral rage in the Book of Mormon increase in frequency as the book progresses, including Moroni’s fury at Pahoran when his troops are deprived of supplies, descriptions of cannibalism, and the destruction of the Nephites by the Lamanites. Ether, which may represent Smith’s earliest experiences, develops a chronology in which all goodness disappears and total destruction ensues. (See chapter 6.) Smith, in Nauvoo, accused Emma of trying to poison him.
The present state of psychological theory concerning the formation of the narcissistic personality goes something like this: In response to very early frustrations too great for the child to handle, internal mental images of violence and destruction emerge that interfere with normal development and function, accompanied by unrealistic images of himself as perfect and wished for images of perfection in his caretakers, usually his parents. These become fused into an idealized picture of himself which is superimposed over the destructive images and have a quality of grandiosity. This superimposed idealized image, the “false self,” becomes the basis for the socially functioning personality of the narcissist and, because of its grandiosity, has been labeled, in the narcissist, the “grandiose self.” This personality compensates for the feelings of helpless rage experienced in childhood and presents to the world what sometimes appears to be successful functioning.34
However, the origins of, and responses to, frustration never fully disappear and demonstrate themselves in the fantasies of violence and conquest that the psychiatrist hears in therapy and uncovers in works of fantasy. Further, the personality of the narcissist may appear warm and charming but will demonstrate the characteristics of splitting, devaluing others, idealizing relationships until they falter, making grandiose claims of specialness and special abilities, feeling constant threats to his self esteem, needing perpetual admiration, and overreacting to shame and humiliation. These techniques of faulty personality interactions are necessary, it is believed, to help keep away the original feelings of helplessness and fury: “oral rage.” Full maturation and integration of personality require moving past splitting and facing the underlying fury and helplessness, which is difficult, if not impossible, for the narcissist to do; as a consequence, full maturation is not possible.
Is there a possible genetic predisposition to narcissism? Kernberg believes that it is an “open question”; but the strongest suggestions come from family statisticians who suggest that an obscure form of bipolar affective disorder (“manic depressive illness”) might be at play. At this point in time, these are only theoretical considerations. I have previously discussed the difficulties with this suggestion, for it changes an episodic illness into a steady state condition, and narcissists do not necessarily show mania or hypomania.35 As already noted, Jungian analyst C. Jess Groesbeck has communicated to me (August 1993) his belief that he has found evidence of bipolar affective disorder in five generations of the Smith family.
Viewed from the psychological side, it is frequently believed by those who do intense psychodynamic psychotherapy that, under optimal conditions, we begin life in a relatively blissful situation, with a vague feeling of omnipotence and perfect union with the universe, represented by the mother. While no one knows, perhaps some of this initial state is a residual memory of the womb where the infant is warm, comfortable, and never hungry. Even after birth, all needs are quickly gratified with no special effort on the infant’s part. According to Arnold Cooper, “The experience of satisfactory unity with the caretaking environment, usually the mother, builds in the young psyche a sense of omnipotence, a fantasy of total bliss and power.”36 At about six or seven months of age, the child realizes that the mother is a separate person, and separation anxiety develops. In normal development the child experiences hunger, discomfort, loneliness, fear, and anger in small episodes that are not overwhelming; the child reacts with disappointment and rage, but, again, in episodes short enough and sufficiently infrequent that he or she can handle them without being overwhelmed. The normal child delegates his own sense of omnipotence to a parent for whom he has loving feelings; as a result, he slowly develops a feeling of greater effectiveness and takes pride in his abilities to crawl, walk, and talk. If the parent is unreliable or inadequate, the jolts are traumatic, the child reacts with prolonged and intensive rage, and he ¬becomes a source of stress for his mother, thus worsening his chances for receiving comfort. This failure to get another to meet his needs makes the child feel inadequate. He returns to the previous feelings of omnipotence (which, needless to say, are fantasies) that compensate for this insufficient world. Rather than relinquishing his primitive memory of a world of power and perfection, he absorbs it into his view of himself.37
While the day to day superficial functioning of the narcissist is directed at maintaining self esteem and avoiding shame, his ultimate, underlying goal is to return to that initial stage of bliss he has now lost. In his thinking and feeling, he dares not fully rely on anyone else but himself. If this self were able to articulate its need for self sufficiency, it would be as Kernberg summarized: “I do not need to fear that I will be rejected for not living up to the ideal of myself which alone makes it possible for me to be loved by the ideal person I imagine would love me. That ideal person and my ideal image of that person and my real self are all one and better than the ideal person whom I wanted to love me, so that I do not need anybody else anymore.”38
@LOOSE = In contrast, a child at about age two who is developing normally transfers the characteristic of omnipotence from himself to his parents, who seem godlike, giant, omniscient, and omnipotent. Through the years he learns that his parents are imperfect humans, but this potentially terrifying knowledge becomes tolerable as the child learns his own abilities. “Typically, the child’s `I am perfect and you admire me,’ gradually changes into `you are perfect and I am part of you,’”39 perhaps seen most strongly between the ages of two and six. Eventually, this idealism will coalesce into the “ego ideal” (residual images of perfection) and, through the years, will mellow and attenuate into a reasonable conscience by the late teens. The ideal never fully disappears but remains in the average adult as an unobtainable goal—the search for perfection. Because healthy people know that ideal perfection is unobtainable, they use their ideals as guiding stars in their development and enjoy the process, not demanding perfection in themselves or others. In other words, the normal healthy person is clearly aware that the ego ideal for himself—his imagination of how he would be if he were perfect—is not who he is nor ever will be; he is accepting of this fact and comfortable with progressing in the direction of his ideal.
In contrast, the narcissistic personality must see himself as perfect or almost perfect to feel contentment. No matter how self sufficient he believes himself to be, however, he knows that he cannot return to this ideal paradise without also returning to the fused state with someone else that he once dimly experienced as an infant. “The main task of the narcissistic personality,” comments Burstein, “is to achieve the bliss and contentment characteristic of the primary narcissistic state, and this implies the reunion of the self which must be very grand with an object which must be nourishing and powerful. … Self esteem, the approval of others and the confirmation of one’s sense of worth by the ability to use others are … derivatives of the earliest narcissistic state.”40 In short, the narcissist needs no one but must have someone. This drive in Joseph Smith may explain why he attached himself to other grandiose figures, including Sidney Rigdon, a charismatic preacher, and John C. Bennett, a dynamic lobbyist and promoter, whose underlying corruption Smith overlooked. While narcissists seem “dependent” because of their need for admiration, their deep distrust prevents them from developing real attachments or interdependencies with anyone.
Because of their previous helplessness, their difficulty in truly trusting anyone, and their fear of shame and humiliation, their relationships with others tend to be controlling, usually by manipulation and coercion. The technique most commonly used is their attitude of superior abilities and confidence which draws less secure people to them.
Combining the Narcissistic
Personality with the Antisocial Personality
In mental health work, the primary diagnosis is the specific problem that brings the patient to treatment—for example, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, or psychosis. The psychiatrist also tries to define the underlying enduring personality pattern from a separate list which is divided into three categories: the odd or eccentric (paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal types), the anxious or fearful (avoidant, dependent, and obsessive compulsive), and the dramatic, emotional, or erratic (borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, and antisocial).
The last named diagnosis in the third category consists of a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. Clients in this category break the law, repeatedly lie, con and exploit others, act impulsively, ignore consequences, are aggressive, get into fights, show reckless disregard for their own safety or that of others, are generally irresponsible, and lack remorse when others are injured.
Many crimes in this country occur simply as “survival” behavior on the part of individuals who lack the resources to make better choices. The most frightening criminal, however, is someone who commits terrible crimes without remorse and gets enraged at being arrested or punished. Some of these individuals can be considered an extension of narcissism, with their arrogant assumption of right and control, complicated by faults or gaps in their “superego” or conscience. Characteristics of narcissism that might overlap with antisocial attributes include feelings of special entitlement, exploitation, lack of empathy, and arrogance. When these two personality types combine, the unofficial term is “malignant narcissism,” an intermediary group of patients between the two diagnoses.
Such patients may be physically aggressive, paranoid, sadistic, and/or triumphantly self mutilating or suicidal. But the combination of antisocial and narcissistic personality should be seen as a sliding scale, with some patients closer to one end than another. Less severe forms might manifest moral behavior in some areas and exploitive behavior in others. Some individuals may experience some forms of guilt, concern, and loyalty to others. They may be able to plan for the future. These lesser forms of malignant narcissism may be characterized by sexual promiscuity and/or financial exploitation of followers, yet be honest and consistent in other dealings. They may blame others for their problems and offer rationalizations for troubles.41
In the case of Joseph Smith, the theme of deceiving self and others is not a thread, but a steel cable. Seldom has such a characteristic been so well documented. It began with money digging and seer stone peeping (see chapter 3); after the Book of Mormon was published, it continued with his sexual conquests under the guise of religious practice.42 So consistent is his deceit that believers must see the dictation of the Book of Mormon as an exception to his dishonesty, and excuse Smith’s behavior at other times as “expedient” because of special circumstances, as obedience to God’s commandment, or, in the case of seer stone peeping, as “preparatory” to his later “divine” calling. In the Book of Mormon, all the religious leaders are above reproach. Those who failed were always the congregations of ordinary Nephites. Nephi rationalized his murder of Laban; Joseph Smith was prepared to blame imaginary enemies for “forging” mistakes into the lost 116 pages. When the very first Mormon deaths occurred from cholera during an ill fated military march a few years after the Book of Mormon was published, he blamed the sufferers, attributing the disease to their disobedience. He also blamed others for the collapse of his banking venture.
Placing Smith’s basic personality somewhere between the narcissistic and antisocial, yet tending toward the former, allows us to proceed with other modifiers to his style. One modification is the symptom of pseudologica fantastica.
The basic inner conflict in Joseph Smith’s life was not, I believe, a conflict between his telling the truth or not telling the truth, but rather between what he really was and what he most desperately wanted to be.43
Pseudologica fantastica is defined as pathological misrepresentation, which varies from ordinary lying and daydreams in that the person intermittently believes in his fantasies or holds them for intervals long enough that he acts on them. It is a symptom found in a variety of personalities; but when combined with either the narcissistic or antisocial personality, it bodes a poor therapeutic outcome, for without honesty, the basic foundation of trust cannot develop.
These patients tend to outrage the moral sensibilities of their victims and commonly provoke punishment. When confronted with damning evidence, the patient usually acknowledges the falsehoods readily. However, these patients have compulsive need to act out their fantasies repeatedly. It is often difficult to ascertain whether the truths are expressed with conscious or unconscious intent to deceive or as part of an actual delusional distortion of reality.44
A textbook example occurred in the summer of 1827 when Isaac Hale confronted Smith about his seer stone claims. (See chapter 3.) Reportedly, Smith readily acknowledged that he could not see anything in his magic stone and never had been able to. He promised he would give up money digging. According to Peter Ingersoll, Smith knew that his family would press him to continue his supernatural claims and seemed “much perplexed.” His forebodings were fulfilled; rather than following Hale’s advice, he allowed himself to be swayed by his family and soon returned to his stories of magic, the gold book, and the guardian angel.
Third Modification:The Impostor
This discussion of narcissistic and antisocial personalities using the symptom of pseudological fantastica allows us to move to the next modification—the impostor.
The pure narcissistic personality behaves as if he is special, unique, or has special qualities, but without making a factually dishonest claim. His acts are not illegal. It is his attitude that draws people to him. The impostor differs from him in at least one critical way by making a factually fraudulent claim—that he has earned a diploma which he has not, that he performed a heroic action on the battlefield, that he has made certain financial achievements, that he has suffered a particular illness, that he has a particular kind of authority, or that he has a close relationship with a distinguished person. Joseph Smith claimed to receive visits from angels (among other heavenly beings) and that he could translate ancient documents. Although believers accept these claims, I see him imposing a false, grandiose self on others, demanding their regard and consideration for qualities and/or achievements that he does not, in fact, possess. If, for a period, he believed his own fantasies, he simply added pseudological fantastica to the picture. “Such persons are often quite gifted and capable of authentic success in the real world,” observes Linn.45 Underneath the façade lies a severe identity problem, which we have already discussed as the incomplete personality of the narcissist.
Phyllis Greenacre, an American psychoanalyst who wrote widely and deeply on a wide range of human behavior, wrote the defining paper on “the imposter” in 1958, before the delineation of the narcissistic personality, yet prescient in its similarity.46 I find its depiction of symptoms that Smith may have possessed to be striking. Greenacre noted that, with impostors, a quality of showmanship is involved, interacting with the wishes of the andience, believers or followers. The desire of the believer, and willingness to accept the trickery, is an important part of this dynamic.
The impostor “flourishes” in his success, enjoying the limelight and experiencing an inner triumph at “putting something over,” while delighting in being admired and observed as a spectacle. Greenacre believed that the impostor has a “malformation of the superego” (the conscious and unconscious conscience), and a pressure to live out his fantasy that “has the force of a delusion … but is ordinarily associated with `formal’ awareness that the claims are false.” The impostor may be sharp and perceptive, have immediate keenness and quick responses in the area of his imposturing, but may appear foolish, brazen, or stupid in other areas; these paradoxes make them puzzling and fascinating. Did Smith believe that American archaeology would find evidences of the Nephites? Did he foresee that his translation of the Egyptian papyrus would be eventually compared with its scientific translation?
Greenacre believed that the impostor grows up in a family of parental conflict, with the mother demeaning and reproaching the father who often responds by detaching himself emotionally, or even by leaving. It must be admitted that, writing after the death of her husband and four adult sons, Lucy nowhere hints at such attitudes. Instead she speaks with the utmost affection for her husband, consistently describes him as industrious and hard working until his health was broken by the shock of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s arrests in Missouri, and, after bringing her family safely from New Hampshire to Palmyra (an example widely cited of her own competence), reports: “The joy I felt in … throwing myself and My children upon the care and affection of a tender Husband and Father doubly paid me for all I had suffered. … The children surrounded their Father clinging to his neck … covering his face with tears and kisses that were heartily reciprocated by him.”47 However, we might wonder how she had earlier felt about her husband’s business misjudgements, loss of their farm, periods of poverty, many moves, many children, his developing drinking, and preoccupation with money digging. Was Lucy, who supported and believed in money digging, and then encouraged her son’s claim about angels and gold plates, capable of realistically evaluating and reporting the emotional states in her family? In the courtroom her husband was described as “poorly dressed … lank and haggard … indicating a wandering vagabond”48 and also as reinforcing the flagrant deceptions of his son. The specific and general testimonies of the Palmyra townspeople (rejected as biased muckraking by devout Mormonism) present an unattractive family picture. After this trial occurred, Joseph’s father in law described Joseph’s behavior toward his father as “very saucy and insolent.”49 I wonder if Joseph had behaved in a similar way in his home of origin.
Greenacre believes that the impostor is singled out in the family and receives an inappropriate degree, or abnormal form, of intense attachment from the mother which may come in the form of extreme possessiveness, ambivalent concern, constant watchfulness, and marked anxiety and guilt or great pride. If such attitudes existed, they would have been intensified as a result of Joseph’s surgery.
Kernberg, writing on the narcissistic personality, agreed with Greenacre: “These patients often occupy a pivotal point in the family structure, such as being the only child, or the only `brilliant’ child, or the one who is supposed to fulfill the family aspirations; a good number of them have a history of having played the role of `genius’ in their family during childhood.”50 Smith’s paternal grandfather had “long ago predicted that there would be a prophet raised up in his family.”51 This Smith family statement receives some support from much later third hand statements by unfriendly non Mormons. In 1884 Clark Braden quoted Mrs. Horace Eaton (wife of a Presbyterian pastor in Palmyra for almost forty years and an acquaintance of the Smiths), who stated, “Even in Vermont, before moving to New York, while Joe was a child, Mrs. Smith’s mind was made up that he should be a prophet. The weak father agreed that Joe was the `genus’ of the family and would be a prophet.”52 Braden also stated that “The minister employed by the Home Missionary Society, to labor in Vermont 1809 10 11 12 13, says, in his autobiography, that in 1812 a religious impostor created an excitement in the neighborhood of the Smith’s. … [Joseph Smith’s mother] prophesied, at the time, that Joe, then seven years old, would be a prophet, and give to the world a new religion. Joe was raised with this idea before him. All the family used to speak of Joe as the `genus,’ as he termed it, of the family.”53
Such abnormal mental attachment to the mother forms a type of fusion between the two, interferes with the development of a separate self, and nudges the boy into a position of superiority to the father. This repositioning adds to possible troubling outcomes of the developing Oedipal conflict, for the child has “won” in the competition with his father: “There is set a potentially serious imbalance of the oedipal relationship, the child being able to assume an uncontested supersedence over its [his] father.”54
Here, both the Book of Mormon and Smith’s life story provide firm correspondences. Nephi superseded Lehi as a prophet, even while the family was wandering in the wilderness; as a teenager, Joseph acquired a facility with his seer stone that made him the central figure in the accounts of Vermont money digging activity. Smith later acted out his precedence over the legal husbands of numerous female followers in a very remarkable way.
The inevitable intensification of infantile narcissism favors a reliance on omnipotent fantasy in other aspects of self evaluation to the exclusion of reality testing. The child is thus impaired before he gets to the Oedipal conflict and impaired by having a view of himself as superior as he passes through that critical time. This period of extreme importance may contain “the exhilaration of seeming independence with the great pleasure in and capacity to win admiration for the recently developed skills of walking and talking, but without real responsibility.” The child is rewarded and praised for the appearance of accomplishment.
Indeed, the behavior of the impostor utilizes exactly these characteristics with a very great dependence on … gestures which are acted out with plausible and astounding mimicry. It is also conspicuous that impostors utilize words in a similar way, with punning variations and substitutions, especially in names through which nuances of change in identity may be implied.
This pattern is used throughout the Book of Mormon in its mimicry of the nineteenth century revivalist language, phrases, and fantasy of the Methodist camp meetings, as Baptist minister Lamb and historian Michael Walton have demonstrated.55 The pseudo biblical wording style of the Book of Mormon may be important in this regard. Jesus spoke and Paul wrote in the ordinary language of their day. The elevation of day to day language occurred as a result of translations and the King James Version around the time of Shakespeare. There is no reason for the literary style of the Book of Mormon except to mimic the Bible and make it appear “spiritual” in origin—to give it the appearance of something not really there. And, if Walter Prince was correct, then the “anti Masonic” upheaval after William Morgan’s death is found throughout the names in the Book of Mormon, in fourteen “anti” place names and the twenty five uses of the syllable, “Mor[gan],” in proper names.56 Symbolic “gestures” would become part of the sacred rituals of his secret temple ceremonies. To continue quoting Greenacre:
The impostor seems to be repeatedly seeking confirmation of his assumed identity to overcome his sense of helplessness or incompleteness. It is my impression that this is the secret of his appeal to others, and that often especially conscientious people are “taken in” and other impostors as well attracted because of the longing to return to that happy state of omnipotence which adults have had to relinquish.
… Sustained imposture [thus] serves two important functions in the lives of the pretenders. It is the living out of an oedipal conflict through revival of the earliest definite image of the father. In so far as the imposture is accomplished, it is the killing of the father through the complete displacement of him. It further serves to give a temporary feeling of completion of identity (sense of self) that can be more nearly achieved in this way than in the ordinary life of an individual so impaired from having been psychologically incorporated by his mother. As part of this imposturous impersonation[,] there is a seemingly paradoxical heightening of his feeling of integrity and reality. This is certainly re inforced and sustained by the sense of being believed in by others and, with the intoxication of being in the limelight (which reproduces the infantile situation with the general public taking the place of the mother), furnishes a most powerful incentive for endless repetition of this special type of gratification.57
I consider that the Smith family provided this setting for the teenage Joseph when, according to Lucy, they gathered around Joseph nightly listening “in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy 18 years of age.”58
Many of Greenacre’s points reappear in the later psychoanalytic literature on the narcissistic personality. To summarize both and apply them to Joseph Smith’s creation of the Book of Mormon, I would say: (1) Joseph’s warfare with the surgeon, presented again and again throughout the Book of Mormon represents, on a deeper level, his symbolic murder and replacement of his father (in his mother’s eyes) in the home. So the story that began the Book of Mormon—of Joseph/Nephi murdering the inebriated surgeon/Laban—also represents Joseph “destroying” his father, who had a weakness for drink, and who had bankrupted the family. Smith repeated the pattern in his description of the final Jaredite battle in which the people were “drunken with anger, even as a man which is drunken with wine” (BM 572; Ether 15:22). The replacement of the father by the son may be represented in the Book of Mormon when evil Amalickiah murdered the Lamanite king and married the queen, thus suggesting superiority. I also argue that Smith’s life after 1829 shows that he increasingly became who his followers wanted him to be; he presented himself as their prophet, and then took their belief back into himself as his most secure self image.
Greenacre deals insightfully with the symbiotic relationship between charismatic leader and supportive followers by pinpointing the leader’s “secret”: he is able to activate their deep and even unconscious “longing to return to that happy state of omnipotence which adults have had to relinquish.”59
It was emotionally impossible for the Saints to challenge the integrity of their prophet, in the matter of his early life or anything he chose to tell them. If deceived in anything, it might be they were deceived in everything. The whole power and discipline of their faith conditioned them to belief. Yet their own responsibility in the make of their prophet, in the proliferation of his legend, is not to be dismissed. Their hunger for miracle, their thirst for the marvelous, their lust for assurance that they were God’s chosen people, to be preserved on the great and terrible day, made them hardly less than Joseph, the authors of his history. His questionable responsibility is the faithful image of their own.60
[A]ll leaders—especially charismatic leaders—are at heart the creation of their followers.61
To summarize the psychological points made thus far: If the psychiatric hypothesis is true that human beings begin life in blissful fusion with the mother, all needs being rapidly and almost effortlessly satisfied, then the experiences of those days may be programmed into our autonomic nervous system. In our culture the legend of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden represents this period. Later fantasies may draw upon and symbolically reflect these primordial memories.
The narcissistic personality spends his life desperately trying to return to that “eternal world of omnipotent perfection,” without limitations and problems. He has been so hurt by his confrontation with reality—either out of extraordinary need or extraordinary frustration and deprivation—that he will never again truly trust anyone. Still, he desperately needs to fuse with someone because only then can he replicate the most necessary condition of that state. He therefore creates an artificial and omnipotent self, whose fantasies compensate for the failures of the real world. In a vicious circle, he consoles himself for his failures by retreating into his fantasies; but his fantasies, while providing comfort, assure continued failure by preventing him from finding more effective ways to seek success. This pattern continues as a technique through life. If the child narcissist’s family responds deferentially to this false self, it will be enhanced and give the impression of partially returning to that blissful state of omnipotence and unity. This false or grandiose self is enhanced when the mother turns from a weak husband to make her son her special companion. Already emotionally crippled, the son passes through the Oedipal period, knowing that he is the most important person for his mother and that his father can be disdained. But such processes are not unalloyed, and such overt attachments to the mother become increasingly awkward and must be disguised or suppressed. Joseph may have turned to his father during his surgery because he was “too old” to turn to his mother; he also may have wished to reassure his father.
Subject that child to a lengthy and painful illness, punctuated by three agonizing surgeries, and the prognosis is excellent that the boy will be fixated on compensatory fantasies of omnipotence, both for dealing with the pain and for dealing with the castrating effect of having a weak father. The mother’s attention reinforces the child’s fantasies of greatness. Compensation as a style—the child’s constant need to be strengthened against the underlying fears of incompleteness, emptiness, and fear—may create a phallic narcissist. Repeated conquests, including sexual victories, will reinforce the omnipotent fantasies that diminish the feelings of being small and helpless. Add training in deception, such as from a weak, drinking father who subscribes to a silly outdated belief in magic, and an impostor, who intermittently and increasingly believes his own fantasies as fact, becomes possible.
It is not easy to describe the psychological methods used by narcissistic personalities because they are so primitive. The major technique is “projective identification,” or, more accurately, “interactional projection.” Ordinary projection, in comparison, is always an intrapsychic phenomenon. It occurs and is completed within one person and consists of mentally ascribing to someone else qualities that the person does not want to see in himself or herself. Those individuals or groups to whom the feelings, thoughts, or behavior are placed or projected don’t know, don’t care, or quickly disagree and leave. Projective identification, however, is part of an ongoing relationship between the first person and second (or group) in which the second person or group accepts the emotional assignment from the first person.62 The process is not necessarily unhealthy. A small child whose diaper pin is jabbing him wants to project his distress immediately into his mother so that she will urgently seek out the cause. Throughout childhood, the child will do things to evoke and provoke feelings, such as frustration and anger, in the mother. The mother will experience the frustration, but then usually process it, and turn it into a modulated, educating, and growth producing response. In symbolic terms, the mother returns the child’s feelings to him in modified form. The child is comforted and learns. The process goes on daily. It is not growth producing when the mother responds to the screaming child by screaming back or spanking the child to “really give him something to cry about.” For growth to occur, the second person must experience the feeling that has been projected, hold it and evaluate it, then elevate it to a higher plane of emotional and mental functioning before returning it to the child in modified form.
This pattern is the major mode of emotional growth in the child and continues into adulthood in a much diminished form in most of us. However, with some personality types, including narcissists and their followers, it continues as a major method of relating, but with two important differences. The narcissist not only assigns feelings and roles to other(s) but also coerces and manipulates others into taking the assignment. A common technique is the implied threat: “If you don’t accept the position, feeling, or role in relationship to me, I will leave or send you away.” The second party—individual or group—accepts the role, abandons critical evaluation, and remains locked in a primitive form of fused function with the narcissist.
“Projective identification,” a variation of the defense of splitting, occurs when an individual symbolically places part of himself into a person he has to control to manage the projected part.63 The narcissist first denies some feeling or thought within himself (such as feelings of guilt, inferiority, or helplessness), then, by persuasion, coercion, intimidation, denigration, or frank deceit, evokes those feelings in others. The narcissist maintains some sense of contact with the feelings he has injected in the individual or group, continues to control it, and reidentifies with it. “Fusion” is a reasonably accurate term for this interaction. The other(s) accepts the interactional manipulation by acceptance and/or may offer a counter response. For example, fearful of overvaluing himself, he may assign to the narcissist whatever feelings of omnipotence he himself feels. To compensate for his feelings of inadequacy, he must remain attached to the charismatic leader who radiates value to him, as long as he does the leader’s bidding. He accepts blame for any failures of the leader and finds forgiveness only when the narcissist reaccepts and forgives him. The fantasies acted out by the impostor, then cycled through the colluding beliefs of his followers, return to the impostor as fact instead of fantasy and create pseudologia fantastica.64
As Greenacre notes, the followers “are not only victims but unconscious conspirators.” Both the leader—in this case, the religiously charismatic Joseph Smith—and his followers are seeking that blissful state of infant fusion with the mother or, in religious terms, contact with the “eternal world of omnipotent perfection.” If Greenacre and other scholars of narcissism are correct, the followers bask in the leader’s radiant charisma and then, in endless cycles, reflect it back to the charismatic leader.
Jerrold Post, who has studied the narcissistic personality in leadership roles, describes “mirror hungry” leaders and “ideal hungry” followers:
The “mirror hungry” leader requires a continuing flow of admiration from his audience in order to nourish his famished self. Central to his ability to elicit that admiration is his ability to convey a sense of grandeur, omnipotence, and strength. These individuals who have had feelings of grandiose omnipotence awakened within them are particularly attractive to individuals seeking idealized sources of strength. They convey a sense of conviction and certainty to those who are consumed by doubt and uncertainty. This mask of certainty is no mere pose. In truth, so profound is the inner doubt that a wall of dogmatic certainty is necessary to ward it off. For them, preserving grandiose feelings of strength and omniscience does not allow of weakness and doubt.
What are the characteristics of the ideal hungry followers? … Incomplete unto themselves, such individuals can only feel whole when in relationship with, when attached to, when merged with this idealized other. The charismatic leader comes to the psychological rescue of the ideal hungry followers. Taking on heroic proportions and representing what the followers wish to be, he protects them from confronting themselves and their fundamental inadequacy and alienation. … The leader’s success becomes the follower’s success, a succor to his self esteem. … [W]hen they come together in a group they behave as if they are acting on the basis of shared basic assumptions. … The identity of follower becomes a badge of honor, a statement of membership in a collective self. … In a figurative manner, we can speak of the development of a group mind or group ego.65
Early Mormons achieved the illusion of returning to the “eternal world of omnipotent perfection” through personal contact with Smith, through the omnipotent stories in the Book of Mormon, and through attachment to the priesthood and group activities. In reading the history of the church during the remainder of Smith’s life, it seemed to me that he could not claim enough miracles for his followers. In the theoretical framework of projective identification, the congregation failed to respond to the assignment by critical evaluation, then elevation to a higher plane of thinking. Instead, when Smith injected an omnipotent view of himself into their psyches, they remained dissatisfied and asked for more.
An example how Smith’s followers encouraged Smith’s grandioseness occurred within a year or two after the Book of Mormon was published. Thirteen year old Mary Elizabeth Rollins, an early convert and later one of Smith’s plural wives, recalled his speaking to a gathering of friends and neighbors in her home:
Joseph began talking. Suddenly he stopped and seemed almost transfixed, he was looking ahead and his face outshone the candle which was on a shelf just behind him. I thought I could almost see the cheek bones, he looked as though a searchlight was inside his face and shining through every pore. I could not take my eyes from his face. After a short time he looked at us very solemnly and said: “Brothers and Sisters do you know who has been in your midst this night?” One of the Smith family said, “An angel of the Lord.” Joseph did not answer.
Martin Harris was sitting at the Prophet’s feet on a box, he slid to his knees, clasped his arms around the Prophet’s knees and said: “I know, it was our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Joseph put his hand on Martin’s head and answered: “Martin, God revealed that to you. Brothers and sisters, the Saviour has been in your midst. I want you to remember it. He cast a veil over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him, you must be fed with milk and honey, not meat. I want you to remember this as if it were the last thing that escapes my lips. … He knelt and prayed. … I felt he was talking to the Lord.66
From a psychoanalytic perspective, Smith here instilled his grand image into his followers, and they reinjected it back into him in even greater form—basically communicating that no miracle can be too great for them to believe and accept. They respond without critical evaluation or maturity. While this reaction may be understandable in ideal hungry thirteen year old Mary Elizabeth, in Martin Harris it creates a scene filled with pathos.
At the Kirtland temple dedication in Ohio on 27 March 1836, many members of the congregation experienced ecstatic states. Those in attendance described the experience: “a shock on the house [temple] like the sound of a mightily rushing wind … hundreds of [men] speaking in tongues, prophesying or declaring visions, almost with one voice.” “[Many] beheld the angels of God; they heard the voice of the Lord …” “Angels appeared to some, while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present, and each heart was filled with `joy inexpressible and full of glory.’”
Others testified to divine manifestations during various portions of the dedicatory program. During [the] first prayer President Frederick G. Williams saw an angel enter a window, take a seat beside Joseph Smith, Sr., and remain throughout most of the service. Heber C. Kimball described the individual: “He was tall, had black eyes and white hair, and stooped shoulders, and his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles on his feet he had sandals. He was sent to accept of the dedication.” Lydia Knight remembered that Smith arose during the service and told the congregation “the personage was Jesus, as the dress described was that of our Savior, it being in some respects different to the clothing of the angels.”67
Hysterical psychosis, whether stimulated by hypnosis or group psychology, can in fact produce specific images, but it can also be blocked by critical evaluation. There was none, and the experiences of his followers encouraged Smith to expand the magnificence of his miracles. In this scene, as I interpret it, the mirror hungry leader has fused with ideal hungry followers.
Their barriers between reality and the wished for fantasy of fusion with the omnipotent world steadily faded. Yet the consequences for them were serious. According to Kets de Vries, the continued use of projective identification as a major defense into adulthood is usually considered mutually destructive:
[When the] “positive responses from the [leader’s] direct subordinates for even his most erratic actions [are continuous, they] may be responsible for a gradual deterioration of reality testing.” The irony is that the leader who succeeds in pushing his movement toward the realization of their fantasies may well be on the way to his own self destruction.68
What was Joseph Smith like to those who did not idealize him—to the ordinary non Mormon? Charlotte Haven, a young woman of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, arrived in the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois, in December 1842 to visit her brother and his wife. She stayed a year, and her letters to her family and friends were published forty eight years later. Her letters are pleasant, literate, and observant. She observed Smith up close on three occasions:
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 also very round[ ]shouldered. … I, who had expected to be overwhelmed by his eloquence, was never more disappointed than when he commenced his discourse by relating all the incidents of his journey. This he did in a loud voice, and his language and manner were the coarsest possible. His object seemed to be to amuse and excite laughter in his audience. 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.” He also exclaimed at the close of almost every sentence, “That’s the idea!” … [N]ot one sentence did that man utter calculated to create devotional feelings, to impress upon his people the great object of life.
Less than a month later she heard that Emma Smith wished her to visit, which she did in the company of a judge.
Sister 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 kindhearted, and always ready to give shelter and help to the needy.
Charlotte and her brother’s family had a number of visitors that summer, among them Joseph and Emma Smith.
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.
In the course of the afternoon he touched as usual on his peculiar doctrines, and [my] Brother asked him on what he founded his belief. He replied: “Upon the Bible.”
“All denominations do the same,” said Brother, very innocently.
At this Joseph became much excited; there was “no dubiety” about his religion, for he had more light directly from God, he said, and seemed to consider it an insult for any one to have the audacity to compare his doctrine with others. Finding him so dogmatical and so unable to reason, Brother let the Seer monopolize—as he always does—the conversation; or rather, glorify himself and his wonderful supernatural powers. However, the afternoon passed pleasantly.69
Joseph Smith was murdered a year later, after he destroyed a printing press that had published the Nauvoo Expositor which spoke negatively about him, polygamy, and a theocratic monarchy. His charismatic image would have faded quickly after his death, but his truly unique and permanent contribution was his literature. He created a permanent touchstone to the infinite—a written supernatural history filled with superheroes and miracles, capable of touching the heart of every person who has felt small, helpless, and alone. Allowing themselves to believe his autobiography as history because of its Christian veneer, members of his church are now known by the name of his book. Mormonism has become the only truly successful American religion, now international in scope and capable of wielding social and political power.
1. Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979); Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985); D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994); D. Michael Quinn, ed., The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992); George D. Smith, ed., Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992).
2. Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 1 5, 156. Hullinger sees Smith as much more consciously intentional in countering the Age of Enlightenment than I and, in fact, defines this goal as the Book of Mormon’s main purpose: Smith “intended to inspire faith and encourage faithfulness … and provide proof: of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Bible, of itself. … the Book of Mormon was intended to save people. … Smith wanted them to look to the Messiah, obey him, be faithful to him. … The stories and theology in the Book of Mormon constitute a defense of Jesus,” while Smith intended “to bring doctrinal peace to Christendom.” Hullinger thus sees Smith as working toward an honorable goal, even if his methods were questionable. In contrast, I believe that Smith had multiple goals in writing the Book of Mormon, some of them personal and self serving. I see him using the conflict over religious skepticism opportunistically as well as a natural part of telling his life story.
3. Lawrence Foster, “The Psychology of Religious Genius: Joseph Smith and the Origins of New Religious Movements,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Winter 1993): 1 22, has suggested a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder (manic depressive illness), following the suggestion of C. Jess Groesbeck, a devout Mormon Jungian analyst. In personal communication with me in 1993, Groesbeck stated that he believed he had found evidence of lesser forms of bipolar affective disorder in five generations of the Smith family. However, I find this diagnosis insufficient. Smith’s personality was not episodic, and its main characteristic was self centeredness, not excessive energy or profound depression. With the exception of Ammon’s exultant cry of joy over the murdered Lamanite converts, assured salvation by martyrdom (BM 295 299; Alma 26) and perhaps one or two other episodes, the Book of Mormon does not contain examples of hypomania. See chapter 4 for my discussion of this event as an example of the psychological defense of compensating reaction formation, stemming, I would argue, from Smith’s humiliation when the firstborn son about whom he had boasted was born malformed and dead. See also Robert D. Anderson, “Toward an Introduction to a Psychobiography of Joseph Smith,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 249 74, esp. 268 72.
4. See Will Durant, The Age of Voltaire. Vol 9 of The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965), 116 61, 361 96, 605 786; Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), Vol. 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism.
10. Arrington and Bitton, The Mormon Experience, 3 12; Jan Shipps, “The Prophet Puzzle: Suggestions Leading Toward a More Comprehensive Interpretation of Joseph Smith,” Journal of Mormon History 1 (1974): 3 20; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned Over District (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950), 3 13.
11. George Washington quote in Isaac Kramnick, “Introduction,” to Thomas Paine, Common Sense (New York: Penguin Classics, 1986 ), 29; “simple farmer,” ibid., 9; quotes from Common Sense in ibid., 38, 43.
17. Wesley, as qtd. in Rossell H. Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (New York: Crown Publishers, 1965), 170. See also Robert D. Anderson, “The History of Witchcraft: A Review with Some Psychiatric Comments,” American Journal of Psychiatry 126 (June 1970): 1727 35; H. R. Trevor Roper, The European Witch Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1969), 168ff; and Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons (New York: Basic Books, 1975). Cohn critically evaluates the evidence for witch cults and convincingly demonstrates that it is without merit and that the witch craze was a cultural delusion. Trevor Roper comes to the same conclusion using other arguments.
If I owe a person money and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself and pay it for me; but if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed; moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself; it is then no longer justice, it is indiscriminate revenge. This single reflection will show that the doctrine of redemption is founded on a mere pecuniary idea corresponding to that of a debt which another person might pay. . .
Let him believe this, and [the believer will] contemplate himself as an outlaw, as an outcast, as a beggar, as a mumper, as one thrown, as it were, on a dunghill an immense distance from his Creator, and who must make his approaches by creeping and cringing to intermediate beings, that he conceives either a contemptuous disregard for everything under the name of religion, or becomes indifferent, or turns what he calls devout.
In the latter case, he consumes his life in grief, or the affectation of it; his prayers are reproaches; his humility is ingratitude; he calls himself a worm, and the fertile earth a dunghill; and all the blessings of life by the thankless name of vanities; he despises the choicest gift of God to man, the GIFT OF REASON.
19. See the essays recounting the struggle between Mormon fundamentalism and science in Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg, eds., The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993).
20. Brigham Young carried scriptural literalism a step farther by insisting that “our Father and our God—the only God with which we have to do” left heaven and came to earth as Adam (his position as god over this earth being temporarily assumed by his own Heavenly Father and God) to father the human race with one of his plural wives, later returning to father Jesus by another plural wife who had been sent ahead to be born as Mary. See David John Buerger, “The Adam God Doctrine,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Spring 1982): 14 58; Boyd Kirkland, “The Development of the Mormon Doctrine of God,” and “Eternal Progression and the Second Death of the Theology of Brigham Young,” both in Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 35 52, 171 82; Gary James Bergera, “The Orson Pratt—Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Summer 1980): 7 49.
23. Sigmund Freud, “The Future of an Illusion,” (1927) in Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 23 vols. (hereafter Standard Edition) (London: Hogarth Press, 1951), 21:56; see also “Civilization and Its Discontents” (1930), 21:57 145.
24. H. S. Akiskal, “Characterologic Manifestations of Affective Disorders: Toward a New Conceptualization,” Integrative Psychiatry, May June 1984, 83 96. My discussion of narcissism throughout this section relies heavily on Otto Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (New York: Jason Aronson, 1975), 16 44.
25. The two leading psychoanalytic theoreticians on narcissism disagree about its origins. Kohut believed narcissism had its own biological developmental line, passing through various phases toward maturity, and can therefore be forced offtrack to aberrant behavior or fixated at a certain immature point. Kernberg, on the other hand, believes that there is no biologic line for narcissism and defines it as always a pathology that develops in response to a destructive environment in childhood. Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1971), passim, esp. 3; Kernberg, Borderline Conditions, passim, 279; Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, “Narcissism and Leadership: An Object Relations Perspective,” Human Relations 38 (1985): 583 601, esp. 587.
26. Psychosis is a mental disorder in which a person’s mental capacity, emotional response, and capacity to recognize reality are impaired enough to interfere with the ordinary demands of life. The borderline personality is considered to be more dysfunctional than the narcissistic personality and uses the defense of splitting extensively. They demonstrate a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self image, and emotions, along with impulsivity. They become frantic with real or imagined abandonment, and suicide attempts and brief episodes of psychosis may occur. The term borderline was first used to describe these patients “on the border” between more normal “neurotics” and the more severely disturbed psychotic patients. See Alfred M. Freedman, Harold I. Kaplan, and Benjamin J. Sadock, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 2d ed. (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975), under references to borderline personality (847 49) and glossary (2577, 2601).
27. W. W. Meissner, “Narcissistic Personalities and Borderline Conditions: A Differential Diagnosis,” in Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed. Andrew P. Morrison (New York: New York Universities Press, 1986), 403 37.
30. In a sermon delivered 14 May 1843, Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols., ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951), 5:389.
31. Marvin Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 96 98; Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 224 25.
34. Kernberg, Borderline Conditions, 231, believes that the narcissistic personality forms from “a fusion of ideal self, ideal object, and actual self images as a defense against an intolerable reality in the interpersonal realm.” He describes five admittedly subjective differences between the normal narcissism of childhood and pathological narcissism: (1) The normal child’s grandiose fantasies—angry effects to control mother and to keep himself as the center of her attention—have a far more realistic quality than those of the narcissistic personalities. (2) The normal child’s overreaction to criticism and failure, along with his excessive need for love, coexist with simultaneous expressions of love and gratitude, interest in, and capacity to trust and depend on his parents. (3) Normal infantile narcissism and the child’s demandingness relate to real needs, while the demands of the pathological narcissist are excessive and can never be fulfilled. (4) The normal child’s self centeredness has a warm quality, while the narcissist, when not exercising his social charm, is cold, aloof, contemptuous, dismissive, and devaluing of others. (5) The pre Oedipal fantasies of power, wealth, and beauty of the normal child do not imply an exclusive possession of all that is valuable, and he does not need admiration for being the sole owner of such treasures, while narcissistic personalities do. Ibid., 272 73.
35. Ibid., 276; see also Anderson, “A Psychobiography of Joseph Smith,” n3; Hagop S. Akiskal, “Dysthymic and Cyclothymic Depressions: Therapeutic Considerations,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 55, suppl. (Apr. 1994): 46 52, and “The Prevalent Clinical Spectrum of Bipolar Disorders: Beyond DSM IV,” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 16 (1996): supplement 1, 4s 14s.
42. Examples of this to his wife, friends, the general church membership, the state, and the nation are documented in Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1984), 52 198, and in George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1995), 93 197.
44. Louis Linn, “Clinical Manifestations of Psychiatric Disorders,” in Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, eds. Alfred M.
Freedman, Harold I. Kaplan, and Benjamin J. Sadock, 2d ed. (Baltimore: Williams and Williams Co., 1975), 790.
48. W. D. Purple, “Joseph Smith, The Originator of Mormonism,” Chenango Union, 3 May 1877, qtd. in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America (Independence, MO: Zion’s Publishing, 1951), 2:362 68, on 366.
52. Mrs. Horace Eaton, “The Origin of Mormonism” (1881), as quoted in Clark Braden, The Braden Kelley Debates: Public Discussion of the Issues Between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Christ (Disciples) held in Kirkland, Ohio beginning February 12 and closing March 8, 1884 (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co., 1884, and Kansas City: J. H. Smart and Co., 1884), 348.
55. M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887), 222 28; Michael T. Walton, “Joseph Smith and Science: The Methodist Connection. A Case Study in Mormonism as a Response to Nineteenth Century American Revivalism,” Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1984; see also Brigham H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 284 318. See discussion in chapter 3.
62. Projective identification is “the most intensely studied type of explicitly interactional defensive activity … and was first described by Melanie Klein [in] 1946.” Theo. L. Dorpat and Michael L. Miller, Clinical Interaction and the Analysis of Meaning (Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1992), 259. From the voluminous literature on this method of relating, I also selected Robert Langs, The Therapeutic Interaction (New York: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1976), 521 22, 575 78; Joseph Sandler, “Countertransference and Role Responsiveness,” International Review of Psycho Analysis 3 (1976): 43 47; Margaret S. Mahler, “On Child Psychosis and Schizophrenia,” Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (New York: International Universities Press, 1952), 7:292 300; Martin Wangh, “The `Evocation of a Proxy,’” Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (New York: International Universities Press, 1962), 17:451 69; Warren M. Brodey, “On the Dynamics of Narcissism: Externalization and Early Ego Development,” Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (New York: International Universities Press, 1965), 20:165 92.
64. One of my patients, a registered nurse, told me in the presence of her physician husband that she had been diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer five years earlier and given an estimated four years to live. She asked her husband to let her deal privately with her physicians and medical therapists. He honored her request. She had been seeing a psychiatrist colleague for some time to deal with her illness, and he had referred her husband to me because of his stress over his wife’s illness. Husband, children, friends, and Catholic congregation gave added attentiveness to this dying woman and planned a group trip before her health deteriorated too far. She remained remarkably healthy. When she reported that her physician had suggested minor surgery, the husband called her physicians. They had never heard of her. She admitted, “They all believed it, and then I began to believe I really did have cancer.” She deceived her psychotherapist as well.
68. Gary James Bergera, “Joseph Smith and the Hazards of Charismatic Leadership,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 6 (1986): 33 42, quoting Kets de Vries, “Crisis Leadership and the Paranoid Potential,” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic (July 1977): 358.