Lightning Out of Heaven: Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community

It is the quality of the community of the Latter-day Saints, not its rate of increase, that is the more vital fact—and the more enduring mystery—of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Givens explores some of the factors that he believes have contributed to the effect that Joseph’s message has wrought on the world and on his followers in particular. His remarks are in essence an extended commentary on the truth pronounced by Thomas Carlyle before Joseph’s own death. “The Great Man,” Carlyle wrote, “was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame. Givens wants to understand, then, is what did Joseph teach, and what did he embody, that did not simply attract a faithful core of followers but that galvanized and welded them into a powerfully cohesive group and that continues to endow a multimillion-member movement with those same bonds and cohesion and vitality today? As Carlyle’s quote intimates, there is a dimension to “the Great Man” and his influence that is to be understood historically. And there is a dimension that transcends history in its evocation of that which is universal. Both elements are present in Joseph Smith’s case.

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