I love time travel movies, and especially those that use the Butterfly Effect. It is so named because of the theory that a butterfly in one part of the world could flap its wings and affect the weather in another part of the world. In the movies, the time traveler goes back in time, changes something small, then comes back to the present to find the world drastically changes. Ray Bradbury, the famed Science Fiction writer was the first to explore this in his short story “A Sound of Thunder” in which a person travels back to the age of dinosaurs, kills a moth, and then returns to his present to find the world changed because of that one moth killed 66 million years ago! The Back To The Future movies also explored the butterfly effect, as did the movie of the same name “The Butterfly Effect” (be warned, this is a dark movie, things don’t go as planned)
So lets have some fun today, and travel back in time to some period in church history. We’ll interact with somebody, say a church decision maker (Prophet?) give them a bit of wisdom endowed by 20/20 hindsight, and then postulate how the Church and world would be different once we returned to the present.
I’ll go first. I’m going to travel to 1830, and find Joseph Smith walking alone on a dirt road. This is before he took his 1st plural wife. I tell him I’m a messenger from God, which he will reject at first due to my dress, but I’ll fill him in on aspects of his younger life that will convince him I’m the real deal.
I will then explain to him that he must remain loyal to Emma, and never practice plural marriage. I’ll tell him that polygame practiced in the past was an abomination unto the Lord, and that if he every strays from Emma, I will return with a flaming sword and cut him asunder. I then leave him somewhat shaken, walk up the road and press the return button on my time travel belt.
I’m now back to 2021, and lets assume my little conversation with Joseph dissuaded him from ever introducing polygamy to the Mormon Church. What would the Church look like today?
Without polygamy, Joseph would never have been killed at Liberty Jail, because he never burned down the printing press that never published an expose on his spiritual wifery. He lived to a ripe old age of 68, after which the leadership of the church was passed down in a well understood succession to his oldest son. Brigham Young never became the leader, and the Saints never went to Utah, which is now named Wasatch.
Because of Joseph’s polarizing leadership, the church never grew to what it did under Brigham Young. Today it has 3 million members headquartered in Jackson County Missouri, with only a handful of splinter groups. There are no “fundamentalist” Mormon groups. The church does not grow much overseas, with only a small smattering of members around the world.
Without polygamy, the Temple Endowment and Sealing are much different, as Brigham Young played a big part of forming the current endowment, and he was never in a position to do this. “Celestial Marriage” is not used, only “eternal marriage”. A man can only be sealed to one woman ever. The Sealing is in a separate part of the temple that is like a chapel, and is open to family and friends regardless of their membership status.
The current President of the Church is a direct descendant of Joseph Smith. The Cowdrey and Whitmer families are prominent in church leadership, while the Kimball and Hinkley names are nowhere to be found.
The capitol of Wasatch is Lake City where Ogden is today. What is now Utah valley is mostly farm land. There was no Brigham Young to order people to migrate to Idaho, Wyoming and Southern Wasatch. All the cities is South East Idaho, all of Wasatch and even into Nevada have different names, with some towns not even there today. Wasatch’s population is about half what Utah’s is.
OK, what did I miss? What else would be different about the church today without polygamy in our past?
Also, who would you visit in your time travel machine, and what would be the butterfly effect on the modern church?
Not at all convinced that the Mormon movement would be much smaller if it had lacked polygamy. Also not convinced that it would not have still have strongly clashed with its neighbors and been violently expelled. After all, the troubles in Missouri were not fueled by speculations about polygamy and even in Nauvoo the issues were as much about trying to create a “church with the soul of a nation” and Joseph declaring himself king of the world and going against democratic norms as they were about deviant sexual practices.
I do agree that not preaching and practicing polygamy would have definitely changed portions of CoJCoLDS history, but I suspect it would have made the Mormon movement much stronger and more viable than it is today because it wouldn’t have had to waste so much time first hiding and then defending the practice and wouldn’t have felt compelled to develop the sexist and homophobic policies it did over subsequent generations as a compensatory coping strategy to try to make itself seem safe to mainstream Christians who were deeply suspicious of Mormonism original sexual adventurism.
What would be the most advantageous time and place to travel back to to impact the Church for good? It would be the studio of Thomas Edison in 1888 to stop him from developing motion pictures.
Before motion pictures, the members of the Church were largely untainted from the pernicious impact of the world. They were better able to focus on hard work, self-sufficiency, and spirituality. They were better able to focus on building the Gospel Kingdom.
The invention of motion pictures brought lasciviousness and impurity to the cities of the kingdom. It eventually pulled members out of their homes and churches to watch these abominations on Sundays. Popcorn and vicarious immorality replaced scripture study for far too many.
Sadly, motion pictures weren’t the end. Their development led to television, which had a far worse impact. This led to Kardashians and hot dog contests invading the home itself. It wasn’t enough to disrupt scripture study by taking members out of the home once or twice a week, now it happened nearly every day.
Can you imagine how much better the lives of church members would be today without these pernicious influences? The difference would be staggering.
John “Full Burka” Charity strikes again. You are a treasure! Movie suggestion: The Year of Living Dangerously.
I fail to see how the church would be less homophobic If polygamy had never existed. I am adamantly against polygamy, but it seems that if the church was practicing polygamy today, it would have to be more accepting of non traditional family relationships.
It would be interesting to know of alternate time lines in history of this cause and effect. If we could go through a worm hole like in Star Trek and choose, or at least see alternate histories.
Game on…..If President Henry Moyle would have not bought the immense track of land in Florida, and if the church would have not gone on a spree to build chapels and to have them filled, there would have not been the push for numbers throughout multiple LDS church programs. . The push for the financial arm of the church in billions in properties, growth of its own companies (that previuosly existed only to serve the comminity not for huge profits). The resulant ensign peak, and the many other billions of dollars we are yet unaware. Then Alvin Dryer and the mission president zealots would not have developed the baseball baptism program. Missions would be a program to serve people and not force quick baptisms to fill the newly constructed chapels.. Young men would not learn to lie for the Lord and develop MLM’s in mass upon returning from missions. The church leaders would not excessively use the quote that the “stone cut without hands is rollings forth” for the next 30 years, using numbers to convince the new generations that this is Gods church based on only numbers. That Q15 conference talks would focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ and love and forgiveness; not on mormon doctrine and church correlation and obidience. That there would be no Mormon stories since John Dehlin and the other thousands of young men like him served a mission without eccessastical abuse. We would still have roadshows or similar programs that are community based and more social and less
” spirtitual serious only” focused events.
Then again, history shows that all organizations and groups eventually fail, fall and crumble due to not adapting appropriatly for the current times. Due to poor leadership.!!
At present, people are waking up realizing the LDS church is not what it claims to be. The best the church can do right NOW is to learn to be christ like and be honest about its past. Until they do it, they will continue to loose the best a brightest and reain only the zealots who love.their power positions, and the remaining fear based victims of correlation.
People are more important than programs, it is sad that the church decision makers lost sight of that.
And if you actually ARE the Borat of W&T, John Charity, bravo & well-done!
@Trish. My thinking goes like this: After the Reed Smoot senate hearing, the LDS church knew it had a massive image problem because of the way it had skirted U.S. cultural norms and the massive distrust that had engendered. It tried to solve that problem by tacking from being a highly adventurous sect in terms of family relationships to being the most conservative of conservative sects when it came to the “traditional” nuclear family. All to convince the U.S. public at large that it was not a wild sex cult. And then subsequent generations of Mormons grew up with this very restrictive theology and an internalized need to proclaim absolute allegiance to a puritanical view of sex and patriarchy. So when the possiblity that homosexual relationship could be just as meaningful and spiritual as heterosexual relationships, it was absolutely afraid to embrace such ideas for fear of going back to the public distrust of the past.
Now we know……from the web…..
If that answers any questions.
John Charity Spring (a fictional British sea captain) is a delightful villain in a book about villains, a murderous, insane, cultivated, educated and hilariously ignorant sea devil who is quick to administer stern moral lectures (and quotations from Ovid and Vergil), flogging innocents a minute later – and then visiting church and having tea with his accordion-playing wife in heart-melting harmony.
Ah yes, alternate timelines. So many different possibilities. What are commonly factored out are things, good or bad, that could have happened but didn’t.
What I’ve learned from studying the history of many different time periods and places is that reality itself is sometimes stranger than fiction. In fact, many great fiction writers derive inspiration from some aspect of reality in their personal lives or some phenomenal story that actually happened. Mormonism is just that to me. In the years I have spent studying its history, it has never ceased to fascinate me. Its story, where it is today, is all unique, and is something I wouldn’t ever imagine happening had it not happened. So yes it would be different had polygamy never happened, but just how is a mystery.
Told you JCS was being written as a satirical caricature.
I’ll have to pick up a copy of “Flash for Freedom” and give it a read. Whoever you are, John Charity Spring, thank you for expanding my literary circle.
Without reading the comments before me, the big thing if there had been no polygamy is that all of us who are descendants of second, third, and so on wives don’t exist, so you are not reading my comment because I don’t exist and neither do thousands of y’all. The rest of you can carry on, but please check your genealogy to see if you exist.
The geek in me says it’s equally possible nothing would change, and that an alternate timeline would create a parallel universe that the time traveler only may or may not be stuck in. So many factors involved in temporal mechanics. I saw a chart that listed at least three or four lines of thinking when it comes to time travel. Much to my surprise, I think one physics professor stated that ignoring the actual mechanics of time travel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is probably the most accurate portrayal of time travel and its effects. Who knew?
I don’t want to derail it into a polygamy discussion. I know most everyone who frequents this blog despises it with a passion. I’m not terribly fond of it either, though it’s a deep part of my ancestry. I know many feel it’s dismissive of women. I get that. However, I can’t read some of the writings of or about early women regarding their testimonies of it without feeling a rejection of that is also dismissive. Go figure. I guess I’m taking more of a wait and see approach.
You know, after thinking about it for a few hours, my mind keeps coming back to the Willie-Martin handcart companies. I’d think I’d go back and tell them and the leaders who counseled them to wait until early spring. I think we’d still arguably have an abundance of pioneer stories to keep the pioneering Spirit moving forward.
I haven’t read them, but I’m aware of at least a couple of alternate history novels where the Church was able to form the nation of Deseret in an area slightly bigger than Utah or encompassing most of the Rocky Mountain area. It becomes the most advanced nation (at least scientifically and technologically, from a worldly standpoint), which I could very well see.
I wonder what would have happened if JS had lived longer. Toward the end of his life he was developing some interesting cosmology and thoughts about the afterlife. Think King Follett discourse.
“Popcorn and vicarious immorality replaced scripture study for far too many.”
That’s it. I’ve officially decided JCS is satire.
Speaking of speculative alternate histories, my wife’s uncle once tried to explain to me that the reason the Lord instituted polygamy among the Saints was so that we would be spared the horrors of the Civil War.
And there are just so, so many things wrong with that line of thinking, but insofar as it relates to the OP: In the event that you successfully averted polygamy but the Saints still ended up going west, we’d possibly have a second, much more horrific Mormon battalion story to tell (and a lot more confederate flags in UT).
Perhaps this is the Darkest Timeline for the Church, which means any tampering with it’s past will only improve things for us now.
Jack – let’s hope things improve for the freethinkers among us !
The one I’d like to play with is preventing Correlation. I don’t know if I’d have to go back to 1908 or to Harold B. Lee in the early 60’s. Maybe our authoritarian streak is too strong to be so easily derailed. But it would be great fun to imagine the results. The Relief Society is still fairly independent, still coming up with great ideas like the Church welfare program. Women have always been able to do the things we were historically able to do such as give blessings, serve as witnesses and ward clerks… We teach lessons that are needed by our ward members. We develop local programs that meet local needs and capabilities. It’s harder for me to identify the downsides, though I understand that there would be some. Would we be a more fragmented body than we are now?
I would travel back about 100 years and pay a nighttime visit to HJG dressed as Darth Vader from the planet Kolob. Armed with my Sony walkman and Van Halen mix tape, I would convince HJG that the Word of Wisdom was never meant to be a list of do’s and don’t s, or worthiness test, but rather, as a way to strongly encourage the Saints to eat a balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet. (isn’t that what it really is?) Tobacco and hard alcohol are still out, but beer, wine, coffee and tea are ok in moderation. Fast forward 100 years, Utah enjoys the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the country. Health care costs are low. There aren’t 12 dentist’s in every ward as cases of “mountain dew mouth” are unheard of. The craft beer industry is thriving along the Wasatch Front (Brigham’s Beard IPA is a favorite), BYU games are a bit more roudy, and wards Christmas dinners are tolerable. The coffee and tea line would have been removed from the hym “in our lovely desert” and replaced with “we eat food in season and promote ethical agriculture practices, including supporting small and local farmers globally!” (we’d have to sing it really fast). On the negative side, a whistle blower would expose that the 100 billion rainy day fund was to help fund the hostile take over of Starbucks by Deseret Coffee, which isn’t “officially” owned by the church, but still.
I’d somehow help Joseph to receive more revelation re: the equality of women and evolve the RS as a priesthood quorum as some scholars postulate that was the original intent. Women are ordained to Aaronic and Melchezidick priesthoods, serving side by side and equally in all leadership roles. Heavenly parents? And Heavenly partners? We know it! We set about with a radically equal and inclusive theology that smashes the 19c patriarchy.
Women in Wyoming and Utah are still the first to vote, Utah presents the first female senator (still). Eliza R Snow becomes one of the Presidents of the church, following Emmiline B Wells. We make unfathomable progress in the 3 missions of the church, because we use all, not half of our Human Resources.
The world sees our amazing pattern for productivity and peace and consequently the National women’s movement gets a much needed shot in the arm. We supported NOW, not the Eagle Forum during the women’s liberation movement, and the ERA has been ratified for almost half a century now. Families do not suffer from patriarchal imbalance, and much abuse (ecclesiastical, familial, personal) was prevented.
Kate Kelly, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Natasha Helfer, no longer threats, all sit on various General level boards, respected for their leadership and abilities.
If polygamy never was, the US effort in WWI would have been considerably less effective, and supposing we would have somehow still won the war, the WWII Allied Forces would definitely NOT have succeeded in either the European or Asian theaters without the contribution of a single well-known and accoladed polygamous LDS family.
In addition to the one polygamous family I’m thinking of, many LDS soldiers in the “Saints and Soldiers” series BYU produced a few years back, played pivotal roles in WWII and Korea. So who knows how many times over the statement “we would have lost but for …” rings true. Just think about the sheer numbers of polygamous descendants who became servicemen and women in WWI, WWII, Korea, etc..
Hey John Charity Spring You seen the church’s new movie yet ? “The Three Wittiness ” I am sure it is quite pernicious.
I am sure in the War Heaven Satan promised that we would never know the truth. Christ said in John ” The Truth shall make you free. ” In Church we hide the Truth.
Mortimer, I’m unfamiliar with the connection you mentioned between polygamy and US involvement in WWI and WWII. What family are you referring to and can you direct me to resources that might give me some details?
Seriously though, who wouldn’t choose popcorn and vicarious immorality over scripture study?? What are we, Amish? Also, why not go back to Shakespeare and get rid of the most famous shades-of-gray-morality playwright who has influenced modern entertainment perhaps more than any other?
For those who say they wouldn’t exist if not for polygamy (and I know there are many in the Church whose ancestors were part of it, though thankfully none in my own or my husband’s, and he’s even 5th gen), I tend to think that we would have still been born, just to different families in different circumstances, and maybe in a later time. I mean, who knows? It’s unknowable. We weren’t grouped in families in the pre-existence (despite what Saturday’s Warrior would have you believe), or at least that’s not Mormon theology. I like to think I’d still be me (more or less) but with a modified set of challenges and cultural boundaries if I had not been born at the time, place and to the family I was.
Butterfly effect as a thought experiment is different from the scientific theories. In a discussion like this, we tend to think of the inflection points: polygamy, Elijah Abel’s priesthood, the 1980s “family: it’s about time” push, correlation, the 1970s tithing push, 1921 and the codification of the WoW, post 1960s and aligning with the GOP. All of these are things I would love to change about the early Church, but if you pull on a thread, that thread creates new gaps for other things to flourish. I tend to think JS’s political ambitions were at least as big a threat as polygamy was. Maybe him dying young was not the worst outcome. I’m absolutely not a BY fan because of his autocracy, racism, and sexism. There are so many things I’d love to go back in time and change.
Before I answer Kirkstall’s q, can someone help me understand why I immediately got unanimous thumbs down for my comment about WWII?
In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George saves his brother Harry form an ice-skating death, and Harry later becomes a WWII hero, saving his whole platoon. When George awakes to his “never been born” life, Harry has died as a child, wasn’t there to save the platoon, and the war dragged on.
So, why is it so unbelievable to say that were it not for the children of polygamy who served in wars, the daily, monthly, and even cumulative outcome could have been drastically different? Over 100,000 LDS enlisted or were drafted in WWII, which was a sizable chunk of the then total LDS population of 800,000 (from Heber J Grant, Deseret News Apr 7, 1945, p.6). Are the thumbs down people saying that they don’t think the butterfly effect could have been triggered by even one of those troops, many of whom were descendants of polygamy? I’m not defending polygamy or claiming this was God’s purpose. (I’m in the “The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy” camp.) No Im just saying that if the butterfly effect erases polygamy, the mid-century wars would have been affected. It’s a simple domino chain.
Yes, I’ve heard that the Lord could have sent spirits to other families, but we don’t know that, nor do we know whether it would have been to the same continent, planet, parents or century. If you read family history, children of polygamy were greatly impacted by their family life, scars and all, and they in turn impacted the world around them.
Many descendants of polygamy have contributed much to history, from Philo Farnsworth (tv, baby incubator, electron microscope, radar, infr-red, gastroscope, 300 other patents, etc.) to High Nibley (scholar and co-planner of D-Day), most of the GAs’ military contributions ( Monson, Oaks, Eyring, Packer, Perry, Nelson, Ballard, Scott, Hales), to the Browning brothers (BAR and several military firearms).
In the case of the Browning brothers, the 5 sons from different mothers, grew up with their father’s spatial intelligence and as apprentices to his craft and unparalleled genius. Like the Orville, Wilbur and Ida Wright, the Browning siblings stand out as a family whose historic impact hinged upon their family bonds and collaboration. A significant amount of the firepower for WWII was Browning designed (some patents having been sold to be manufactured by Colt or Winchester) and General Eisenhower cited the BAR as an essential part of the victory, without which we would not have prevailed. And they did it as a team- two inventors, a machinist, a business guru and a linguist.
So what happens when all those people, their family relationships and lifetimes are erased? Others just fill in? I don’t think so. Life would have progressed, following the next path of least resistance, but it wouldn’t have carved the same creek bed.
No, I think it’s better to stop polygamy before it starts, or at least before it gets out of hand. Assuming one has the power of time travel, one can also pursue opportunities to pre-emptively neutralize Hitler, Mussolini, and all the other notorious despots.
It’s a bit of an aside, and I don’t want to derail, but my advice is just to try to ignore the down votes (and the up ones for that matter). If I truly cared about them (okay, truly cared A LOT about them), I’d have left here years ago. After years of coming here, I’ve concluded the votes say much more about the readers of W&T than they do the actual comment itself.
I have seen some of the most beautiful comments—ones I may not even have entirely agreed with—get a huge number of down votes. I have also seen comments I felt were deplorable and depraved get an abundance of up votes. It doesn’t always seem conducive with a blog and audience that often calls into question the virtue of the Church while espousing their own moral ideology. I’ll admit it’s one aspect of the blog I haven’t entirely figured out yet.
It’s no secret I’m more conservative and a more conservative member of the Church, but I posted one comment the other day, and out of some strange habit immediately hit the refresh button. I instantly had a down vote. The comment was long enough that it strained the credibility of even the fastest reader to have read it in its entirety. Again, I don’t really care about the vote itself, but it did make me chuckle a bit, and also made me a little sad. It did absolutely nothing to break the liberal and liberal member stereotype that they tend to attack people instead of ideas. Attempting to break that stereotype is one reason I’ve remained here so many years. This time it got more enforced. Admittedly, it could have just been a conservative, meta-human speed reader who didn’t happen to like my particular stance this time. As much as I may consistently dislike a commenter’s words, I will always read his or her comment in its entirety before voting.
Having said that, because of some of these reasons, I’m hesitant to use the voting function myself, and have only done so a handful of times. I know of one commenter, who I feel is frequently rude to others, use his up votes to more or less justify his rudeness. At first, I felt his ego was so fragile that I started to give him up votes just to help him feel good about himself. Once I realized his ego was more than sufficiently secure, I felt down votes were probably in his best interest (never agreed with him anyway). Finally, I realized I should just go back to voting for a comment on its own merits, but since I often question whether the majority of readers do the same, I largely refrain so as not to add to the confusion.
As far as your comment itself goes, and regardless of how one feels about polygamy, I’d also agree that changing the past opens up so many possibilities that the polygamy-WWII connection would likely become insignificant. I imagine AI predicting software would be extremely useful for a time traveler seeking to make a difference.
Mortimer, I gave you a down vote, and if I did so uncharitably or misunderstood you, I apologize. But your reasoning is one I hear in discussions on sensitive issues, and to me it’s a fallacy . I abhor the idea of polygamy, but it’s your reasoning that I down voted.
A story recently made the rounds on the internet discussing a teacher’s assignment for an elementary class where each student was to write “three bad things” and “three good things” that resulted from slavery. Understandably, this did not go over well, and made the news. I’ve heard people (including the gospel topic essays) list all the “positive things” that came out of polygamy. One of my ancestors is a second-wife through a polygamous marriage, but that does not make the practice of polygamy anymore justified than rape would be if that’s how I was conceived . (That is not even addressing the misleading caveats that are given for polygamy such as it was voluntary, women enjoyed the company of another woman, church leaders never ordered people to practice it etc.. None of those were true in my ancestor’s case, but that’s another discussion.)
It seems to me that when we list benefits from bad behavior, we are implying the action is/was justified in some way. “Look what might not have happened if we didn’t do this appalling thing.” If someone is currently wealthy as a result from actions like The Tulsa Massacre, is that a positive outcome? Again, I apologize if I have misunderstood you.
Living on the Wasatch wrote “Hey John Charity Spring You seen the church’s new movie yet ? “The Three Wittiness ”
Again, not to derail, but speaking more as a mildly OCD geek who is acutely aware of the background, production, and sources of movies, and less as an actual defender of the Church, “The Three Witnesses” (not sure whether “Wittiness” was a Freudian play on words or not) is not a movie produced by the Church. It’s from the Interpreter Foundation. I hope to see it today or tomorrow. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard it does avoid sugar coating a lot of things.
Thanks for the perspective and encouragement. Hi should let up/down votes slide. Much appreciated!
Thank I you for helping me see how my comment was received. I’m not trying to justify polygamy. I never said it was put in place for that reason. There are so many pop history books about the founding fathers right now that draw dubious connections and cite divine intervention to pluck Patriotic heartstrings, which probably makes the actual founders facepalm, wondering how we could have completely missed the point of enlightenment and self-determinism. I didn’t want to replicate that.
But, I’m just trying to factually state that if kingdoms can be lost for the want of a horseshoe nail and the butterfly effect is real, if identical babies don’t magically pop up with the same DNA, disposition and spirit living in parallel non-polygamous lives, then there are hundreds of thousands of polygamous-descendants who would be removed from the equation. And, like it or not, many of those people played a pivotal role in US military actions during the 20th c. I’m just playing the butterfly effect game.
My point was to put no judgement whatsoever on the facts of the matter, just to say that polygamy was a major ingredient in the unique “soup” (collection of people, proximity, timelines, environment, etc.) of that era. That’s a fact. Take it away and you have a different world. To not acknowledge their contributions (many of whom where children and victims of the institution) is a great disservice not only to their military service, but to the effort that they made to work through not only a world spinning in cycles of crisis, but the pain of these families- broken and cut into a an artificial stained glass composite. And somehow they still contributed.
Was it necessary? Was it set into place by God, a galactic clock-maker set gears spinning in order to manipulate outcomes half a century in the future? I have not projected and can’t say. I’m only saying that stepping in the butterfly effect- removing the people, kicks out key pillars of several major wars. I don’t know enough about the butterfly effect to postulate whether tweaking here or there or adding people elsewhere would have made it better or worse. Just saying, there rubicons in life, deciding moments and one-of-a-kind leaders/people people. If butterfly wings are so impactful, what happens when these elements are triggered?
Mortimer’s comment at 1:13pm leads me to question the presumption that only the participants of an event could have made it turn out the way it did? I mean, certainly, active participants have an effect on the outcome, but even if the (presumably) 1000s of descended-from-polygamy-men-(& women) didn’t exist in WW2, why assume that 1000s of others wouldn’t have contributed to an effort with the same outcome? I’m not suggesting fatalism, or pre-determination or whatever you call the idea that things have to work out a certain way, rather I’m suggesting that while the details of groups and events may be different, outcomes can still be remarkably similar. Look around you – lots of organizations (businesses, churches, civic groups, families, to name a few), despite the incredibly different and dynamic people within them, are remarkably similar in many ways, as are outcomes of events they put forth or participate in, for good or bad.
If numbers of descendants is the crux, things would likely have turned out better (in the given scenarios) without polygamy. In Utah Territory, and in Nauvoo, censuses demonstrate that there were more men than women. It would follow, then, that most wives of a single polygamist man would have married one of the excess men. Couples produce more children (on average) than polygamists do.
I’d wager that the men who were not forced to lifelong bachelorhood because of a few men who viewed women as property to be hoarded would have lived happier lives.
I’d wager that each wife who ended up not being a polygamist, but was in a mutually satisfying relationship, would have lived a happier life.
Even more so, those who married age appropriate husbands at an appropriate age.
I’d wager that the (more!) children raised by happier couples would have lived happier, more stable lives, as well. Their contributions to the world have an increased chance of being positive and constructive.
Mortimer wins! If no polygamy, then no Philo Farnsworth, no TV, popcorn sales plummet and vicarious immorality is relegated watching the neighbors through the upstairs window.
Allison and Sasso,
It could be we would have had greater #s w/o polygamy, but did polygamous families overcompensate for the angst and struggle of their circumstances? Did it give them a scrappiness or a type of grit that became a competitive advantage? Did it make them stronger? Or maybe Weaker? I don’t know.
Let’s try an experiment. Using your logic that people are interchangeable, the bright stars among us are not anchors and leaders sent “for such a time as this” (Ester), but merely average people who evolve into heroes through circumstance., let’s apply that principle. Mozart wasn’t special, someone else would have eventually become the prodigy of Salzburg has little Wolfy not been hogging all the attention. Da Vinci was clever, but had he laid down his notebooks, chisel and paints, some other young Florentine youth would have eventually picked them up and accomplished as much or more.
Say we remove the birth of jazz and its stars- Ellington, Coltrane, Armstrong, Parker, Gillespie, Coleman, etc. from existence. According to this theory, they didn’t mean anything, others would just fill in the vacuum left by their absence. Another type of music, a BETTER style not borne of the evil context of slavery, of the plight behind the blues, the revolution of ragtime, and history’s intense black spirituals, but of a happier community that produced a healthier sound that (w/o jazz) received the necessary oxygen to develop.
That feels icky to me. It seems culturally condescending, if not down right racist/prejudiced. (Not saying you are such, but taken to extremes, that line of thinking breaks down this way). And to me, saying the same thing about removing polygamists and their descendants without negative consequence feels culturally condescending too. They were people deserving of dignity and respect for their service and contributions, whether or not we agree or disagree with their lifestyle.
I know that in in Mormonism, there are GA quotes saying that any two righteous LDS people can make a marriage work. And by the way many LDS youth hastily jump into engagements and marriages (marrying perhaps the idea of eternal companionship rather than a soul mate or true love), maybe it’s part of LDS culture to not believe in individualism, or in the distinctness of souls and the unique impact of each intelligence. Maybe we see ourselves and others as mere worker bees, Spacely Sprockets, and resonate most with “we are Borg”.
Or maybe we are not. Maybe your light is irreplaceable, your true love is your one and only, and your unique fingerprints in this work are essential to its success, not just your muscle. Maybe if the brethren saw us as individual lights worth saving rather than replaceable rank and file, we’d see fewer excommunications and more remediation/conversations.
Alas. We are Borg.
This is a super interesting article on alternative Mormon timelines.
“By the year 2025, the greater Nauvoo/Zarahemla metropolitan area has become the largest urban center in both southern Illinois and eastern Iowa, rivaling Chicago and St. Louis as the pre-eminent metropolis of the Midwest; it is the cosmopolitan home of several sky-scrapers, a respected art museum with the largest collection of Dutch Post-Impressionist paintings outside of Amsterdam, and to popular NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB franchises. Carthage, where Joseph Smith was once briefly jailed and threatened with mob violence, is now one of Nauvoo’s quieter suburbs. The original Nauvoo Temple, still standing, is now part of a highly-gentrified neighborhood that is surrounded by a massive mall, second in size only to Minneapolis’s Mall of America. The city is also home to Joseph Smith University (JSU), a major private college with a Top 20 Dental school, Law school, and Astrophysics program; a Big 10 football team; and a women’s basketball team that regularly makes the Sweet 16. Naturally, Nauvoo also hosts LDS Church global headquarters, the General Conference center, and 3 additional Temples in the outlying suburbs.
The Great Salt Lake Basin, meanwhile, was eventually designated a National Park by the U.S. Department of the Interior under Teddy Roosevelt, with the remainder of the largely-uninhabited region we typically know as “Utah” being divvied up between Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado. There was brief discussion in the 1930s of making the area a resettlement zone for Romani refugees fleeing anti-Gypsy revanchism in fascist France and Italy, but such plans were scrapped in favor of the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska instead, after the Salt Lake basin was deemed too harsh and unsuitable for human settlement.
Global LDS membership as of 2025: 33,985,431. “
I guess, then, that it’s a good thing that the flds are carrying on with polygamy and child brides, right? Who knows how much the future world will benefit from their contributions.
No one is saying that each individual is interchangeable. Of course things would be different today with different conditions yesterday, but this is an exercise in exploring the butterfly effect. Some things would be better, some things would be worse, and some things would only be different.
Do the ends always justify the means?
Do you want your true love to be your 1/57th and only?
Would you embrace having your teen daughter marry a middle-age man who already has multiple wives, if we got better TVs out of it?
The problem with these thought exercises is that we as humans can generally only think through the short term consequences of small perturbations. (Most of mathematics in science and engineering is one form or another of perturbation theory and only valid for very short times or distances without frequent refreshing in the form of numerical integration.) Here we make a small perturbation (JS doesn’t do polygamy) and track it over a long timespan. In the immediate 1833ish time frame in frontier Missouri or Kirtland, we can easily say that Joseph and Emma would have had a better marriage if Joseph hadn’t said the whole thing about the angel and the flaming sword, etc, etc, etc, but over a 200 year timespan and on a global scale we have no idea what would happen. Our simulation software, so to speak, isn’t up to the challenge of crunching the numbers on a problem that big, and our theoretical tools to approach the problem analytically are hopelessly inadequate.
All that means we can believe what we want, just for kicks. I’d rather not have nineteenth century polygamy and possibly not have twentieth century television, than have both. But I bet TV and those other inventions and stuff would have happened whether or not there were the inventors we know from the history books to make them happen. Other people besides Philo T Farnsworth were working on the idea, and most important inventions are arrived at by multiple people working independently at close to the same time. Calculus: Newton and Leibniz. Flight: Wright, Curtis, and Santos-Dumont. The electric lightbulb: Edison and Westinghouse. General relativity: Einstein and Hilbert. Etc, etc, etc.
So no, I’m not at all worried that we wouldn’t have TV, for example, if the hypothetical absence of polygamy in Mormon history had prevented the very specific scion of a polygamist family that we know as Philo T Farnsworth from growing up in such and such an environment that meant he would grow up to invent television. Same goes for everything else in Mortimer’s list.
By and large I find value and good insights in your comments. I appreciate that you often present things from a less-than-common viewpoint.
More than once, my church (and secret W&T) friend and I have mentioned an idea you presented that we thought was really good.
I apologize if my disagreeing with this aspect of your ideas has felt at all personal.
@ Pontius Python
Those are good examples of discoveries or inventions with dual timing.
Besides just looking at how things did turn out, we may consider how daily life *may have* turned out with a different sequelae.
I’m in no way justifying polygamy. Polygamy= pain. Polygamy sucked. Polygamy was a mistake. I’m just saying it was a traumatic event that indelibly shaped us. This epic human story is filled with horrible suffering caused by not only natural phenomenon, but our own ignorance and cruelty. And Eve and then Adam still ate the apple, setting this whole machine of struggle into motion, philosophizing that the fall was somehow the better way.
So, even though this butterfly exercise was probably meant to focus on 19c church history, I say- let’s go back to the very earliest “church” event and stop Eve from biting that confounded apple. The fall never was, over time God’s original plan matured, and this planet never become a violent sub-telestial cesspool we call “normal”. I’d have stopped Eve.
Pontius Python (hilarious name BTW), cool, a vote against individualism. Good points. But, I’m not sure the leading scientists/inventors always run in a pack. While honest scientists admit that “if I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” (Newton), we have to give certain people credit for having the ability to stand on shoulders and see farther than others. Yeah, I agree that life produces many geniuses and necessity kindles invention, so I see your point that mankind would eventually innovate/discover. But beyond solving for “x”, there are elements of timing, style, vision, voice and flare in the tall poppies of invention and arts that history has never proven to be interchangeable or reproducible. For example, Tesla benefitted from living in the 19th/20th c, from contemporaneous science, and indeed fought over patents, but he also outshone his peers in several veins of unparalleled discovery and thought. Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku admit that we still haven’t unpacked or understood the extent of Tesla’s thoughts and designs. Why would that be, if he was always one of the pack, incrementally progressing by challenging and copying/pasting off peers in a rat race to the finish line? Similarly, Philo’s many designs demonstrated prodigy. The Brownings never really even competed for patents- they just mass produced them with Mozartian ease.
Speaking of Mozart, there has never been nor will there ever be another Mozart. Hayden might have been his closest classical peer. but there was something unique about Mozart’s signature gift. https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/may/03/peers-underscore-mozarts-greatness/
And this was an interesting article- how to tell if something is NOT Mozart. Find errors, as Mozart didn’t make them https://slate.com/human-interest/2014/01/was-mozart-really-a-better-composer-than-his-peers.html We can put a man on the moon and pat ourselves on the back for digital AI, but not even the world’s greatest computer can replicate or outshine Mozart. Da Vinci’s imagined machines are still coming to life in cutting-edge technologies, 500 years after his lifetime. I think there are people who change the fabric of history and time with their contributions, above and beyond the pack. Of these “game changers” we can say, “but for them . ..”. That compliment is (I’ll agree) dolled out too frequently, and should be reserved for truly rare cases. But it is deserved by a few.
What a kind comment. I’m touched! No need to apologize- if anyone apologizes I should, I’m stubborn and difficult : )
When polygamy is mentioned, everyone’s hackles are raised. As comedians would say about the wound “too soon, too soon.”
You make some good points. Is there another side to the coin on any of the things on your (perhaps rather sanitized) list? Did their effects ripple out in other ways than what you chose to highlight?
I’m not at all sure at what point in the history of the earth Eve and Adam took a bite of the apple. I do believe we can agree that the terrestrial human condition itself presents plenty of inherent risks and suffering.
I still think that on a personal, and an institutional level, it’s best to be kind, try to make the world around us a better place.
Some people may emerge decently well from damaging situations, others, not so much.
When he encountered needs, Christ healed.
Thank you. It is true, you bring out interesting angles on things. Polygamy is definitely a touch point – with good reason. Sometimes it is polygamy for its own sake, sometimes polygamy is a metaphor.
p.s. We must be on the same cosmic wavelength – our comments keep passing each other in cyberspace.
I don’t know why but the martyrdom of Joseph Smith had to occur for events to unfold in the expanded way they did (btw, it happened at Carthage Jail, not Liberty Jail).