Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Dialogue: Vol 12 No 1
On the First Vision and Its Import in the Shaping of Early Mormonism
NOTES AND COMMENTS A NOTE ON JOSEPH SMITH'S FIRST VISION AND ITS IMPORT IN THE SHAPING OF EARL Y MORMONISM Marvin S. Hill Some years ago Sidney E. Mead, then professor of American church history at the University of Chicago, argued that the two live movements of the 18th century which shaped American Christianity were pietism and rationalism.1 By pietism he meant that religious fervor and enthusiasm which were passionately promoted by the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, whose advocates generally took the position that religion is essentially rooted in religious affections or, as they put it, the heart. The pietists maintained that the convictions which one thus feels are the best guide to ultimate religious truth. Pietists, Mead argued, cared much more for the heart than the head. Like John Wesley, it was more important to them that one's feelings toward Christ and the church were affirmative than that one should have an orthodox view of Christian doctrine. Rationalism, on the other hand, is a movement which became powerful in the 17th and 18th centuries which sought to bring man's thinking about the universe, man, civil government and religion into conformity with the scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton. The overriding tendency within the Enlightenment was to view the universe in all its aspects in largely naturalistic terms, to find its every activity governed by laws that man can comprehend through observation, reason and experiment. In Mead's view the Enlightenment constituted "a new religion" which placed emphasis on the study of God's handiwork as a better source of knowledge about the creator than the hearsay offered by biblical interpreters.2 It is my suspicion that both these movements had greater influence in shaping the genius of Mormonism—its essential spirit or thrust—than we have recognized. The starting point for Mormonism, as everybody knew until Fawn Brodie misinterpreted the matter, was the first vision. But historians have been so concerned with Brodie's question, whether Joseph Smith had such a vision, which I assume Marvin S. Hill is a professor of history at Brigham Young University. 90