Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon
Robert D. Anderson
R. W. Rasband
Signature Books (Salt Lake City), 1999.
Suggested retail price: $19.95 (US)
A good example of the limits of historical writingwhen dealing with religious subjects is the recentlypublished "Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith." Theauthor, Robert D. Anderson, is a self-describeddisaffected church member with an M.D. and somepsychoanalytic training. It has become increasinglyobvious over the years that Sigmund Freud was notreally a scientist at all, but a literary critic witha highly idiosyncratic system of thought. Anderson isa true Freudian believer. He ransacks the Book ofMormon for rather far-fetched parallels to Smith'shistory in an attempt to prove Smith wrote the bookand left traces of his "psychobiography" in it. Thismight be seen as an attempt to shore up Fawn Brodie'sincreasingly obsolete biography of the prophet, butAnderson goes even farther. He says Smith was notjust wrong and deluded but actively, malignantly evil. And his fate was sealed by the age of 4 by hisunnurturing mother.
This book well illustrates why so many dislike somuch this particular form of depth psychology. Hereis the grinding determinism, the reduction ofindividual personalities to arid "case studies", thesmugly arrogant naturalism that is blind to thespiritual possibilities of life. Anderson twists someof the most inspiring chapters in the Book of Mormonto illustrate his thesis, wrenching them wholly out ofcontext. He ignores the abundant evidence of Smith'sgenuine religious feeling. And near the end of hisbook, in a scarcely convincing show of humility, hethrows in a single paragraph about the failures ofFreudian theory: its disastrous diagnoses of suchillnesses as scizophrenia and obsessive-compulsivedisorder. These misdiagnoses caused untold unecessaryguilt, grief, and expense to families fooled by thepsychoanalytic method (these illnesses are bettertreated, at least in part, by medication.) After 200pages of intricate argument, Anderson grudginglyconcedes he might be entirely mistaken.
Dr. Anderson is a man in his '60's; a blurb on theback cover is from Brigham D. Madsen, a man in his'80's. It doesn't appear to have occured to SignatureBooks the psychoanalysis is not the freshest, mostcutting-edge approach to Mormon studies. I eagerlyawait Richard Bushman's new biography of Joseph Smith,which he is now writing. It will help put the memoryof Anderson's book behind me.
R.W. Rasband Heber City, UT firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1999 R. W. Rasband < email@example.com >