Saints without Halos
I did it. I couldn’t hold out any longer. Despite my best efforts to wait for Richard Bushman’s new book of essays to get cheaper on Amazon.com, I gave in and bought it. For you unenlightened, Richard Bushman is a professor of American History at Columbia (and also in my ward here in New York). His biography of the first half of Joseph Smith’s life is regarded by Mormons and un-Mormons alike as the best picture of the Prophet around.
A paragraph in this new book (“Believing History”) grabbed me good. In it Bushman writes as follows:
“Virtually everyone who has shown the “human side” of the Church and its leaders has believed the enterprise was strictly human. To defend the faith, Mormon historians have thought they must prove the Church to be inhumanly righteous. We need historians who will mourn the failings of the Saints out of honor for God instead of relishing the warts because they show the Church was earthbound after all.”
I’d love to point my finger and scoff at the naïve folks who can’t take even a small dose of historical reality, but I’m guilty of this too. Any slight criticism of the giant figures in LDS history causes me to cringe a little. I’m open to the “saints without halos” idea in theory, and I’ll almost always agree to out loud, but I do feel a little hurt when people bring up the “warts” of Mormon history. This is probably b/c it’s so often done with the aim to discredit. Personal feelings aside, it sounds like a needed , but difficult, challenge for LDS historians.
What do you guys think? Is Bushman’s ideal Mormon historian possible? For those of you who’ve read Bushman’s biography, do you think he fits the mold?