Sunday, May 17, 2009

How to discern good spirits from evil ones

In church today, one of the lessons was about how to discern good spirits from evil ones. Very practical stuff, of course, but I was surprised that no one mentioned the "three grand keys" that were revealed by Joseph Smith, which give specific steps for detecting whether an other-worldly being is really an angel or a demon. It's such an important scriptural principle, in fact, that I will reproduce it here in its entirety. Those of you who are not Mormon or have never been Mormon will probably be skeptical that Mormons actually believe in this wonderful piece of literature, but I promise you it's real.

Doctrine and Covenants 129
1 There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
2 For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
3 Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
4 When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
5 If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
6 If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
7 Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
8 If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.
9 These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.

To me, this passage is evidence of only one thing. Well, actually two things. First, Joseph Smith apparently did a lot of drugs. Secondly: the devil, the father of lies, the author of sin and master of deceit... is the stupidest con man ever. According to this passage, the reason "a just man" won't offer to shake hands is because he is unable to deceive. And the devil, because he is trying to deceive you as to his ability to shake your hand, will offer his hand but you won't feel it.

Now, I don't claim to be a genius, or of any special intelligence whatsoever. But it occurs to me that this may not be the devil's most effective method of deceiving you. Specifically, why wouldn't he just pretend to be "a just man" and tell you he can't shake your hand? Or is the devil unaware of this little loophole in the order of heaven?

Joseph Smith really enjoyed making up stuff like this to keep people's attention. It works as long as no one thinks too hard about it. I'm reminded of Stan's exclamation in the South Park episode All About the Mormons: "Mormons actually know this story, and they still believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?" Yep, they do. But I think these three keys must be a little too grand for my limited earthly comprehension.


Allan said...

Or how about, when you put your hand out to this unknown spirit, you just ask it "What is wanted?" Ya know what I mean?

P.S. If this was any other church, I would say that this sounds like more "Angels and Demons" movie hype!

Saganist said...

Hm, that's a good point. It seems like even Joseph Smith himself eventually came up with even grander keys for discerning true messengers.

Michelle said...

LOL, ah memories. I remember poring over this particular passage as a kid because I had been watching too many scary movies. I wanted to make sure if I ran into a ghost, I'd remember what do to make sure it was a nice ghost! Thanks for making me smile :-)

C. L. Hanson said...

Here's my speculation about the origin of that passage:

Despite what people think in retrospect, JS hadn't entirely consolidated his position as the prophet, the only one authorized to receive visions from God for the whole church. So some other followers described their visions and revelations (possibly involving shaking hands with supernatural beings or not), and JS came up with this revelation to explain why the ones he liked were from God and the ones he didn't like were from demons.

Saganist said...

Michelle, you're welcome, anytime!

C.L., your idea sounds plausible to me. I don't know what the climate was at the time he came up with this revelation, but I do know that plenty of folks were trying to latch onto Joseph Smith's movement and take it in various directions.

This link from the LDS church's site says that a man in Kirtland told Joseph Smith that he had seen an angel, and that Joseph contradicted him. I don't know whether that is accurate, or whether it precipitated this revelation. As always, I'm sure there's more to the story.

Burk said...

Haha, I heard somebody say this exact thing on Sunday. I could barely keep from laughing. Why do we accept all this nonsense as fact?