How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book
According to Hugh Nibley a few general rules are observed by all successful writers in the “fascinating and lucrative field” of anti-Mormon literature.
I suggest the reading of the full text, as found in the Maxwell Institute website, How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book (A Handbook for Beginners). There is obviously a lot of irony in Hugh Nibley’s writing, but this irony should not distract us from the seriousness of the arguments used by Nibley.
Every anti-Mormon book is a sermon, and the most effective of sermons is the one, as Augustine long ago observed, that excites to action by running away with the emotions and leaving reason and judgment far behind. Here is how Ann Eliza sums up her Thousand and One Nights: “Yet all these incredible distortions of reckless fancy have become veritable facts. They have been crystallized into a monstrous system of wickedness, guarded by a band of loathsome ogres, who feast upon the spoils of their victims and . . . take delight in their misery. . . . The American people therefore must continue their holy crusade against this antichristian system.” (Nibley, page 554)
Not bad for a “fair” description of Mormonism…
So there are the rules (there is a lot more if you read the original text by Hugh Nibley)
RULE 1: Don’t be modest! Your first concern should be to make it clear that You are the man for the job, that amidst a “mass of lies and contradictions” you are uniquely fitted to pass judgment: “I emerged from my researches . . . with my objectivity unblurred,” writes Mr. Wallace. “If I enjoyed or suffered any deviations from neutral observer, they were slight.”
RULE 2: A benign criticism of your predecessors will go far towards confirming your own preeminence in the field. Refer gently but firmly to the bias, prejudice, and inadequate research, however unconscious or understandable, of other books on the subject.
RULE 3: Curtsies and bouquets to everyone can be delivered in a profuse and unctuous appendix or introduction and go a long way toward establishing the image of the writer as a really good fellow who admires and respects everybody and is therefore the last man in the world to distort or exaggerate. What could be more magnanimous and disarming than Mr. Wallace’s master stroke, a favorite device of anti-Mormon writers: “I want to acknowledge, also, my thanks to a number of high-ranking Mormon Church officials whose objective c
RULE 4: Proclaim the purity of your motives, especially your freedom from mercenary considerations. But again, don’t overdo it!
RULE 5: Proclaim your love for the Mormon people. Even Ann Eliza does this touchingly and often: “I feel that I must pay this tribute to the Mormon people. Naturally, they were a law-abiding, peace-loving, intensely religious people”; ”humble, spiritual-minded, God-fearing, law-abiding”; ”their faith was sublime in its exaltation,” etc.
RULE 6: Allow the Mormons a few normal human failings. That will make your story more plausible, establish you as a fair-minded and tolerant reporter, and so render your verdict all the more damning when you choose to lower the beam.
RULE 7: Furnish documents! “Nowadays,” writes H. R. Trevor-Roper, “to carry conviction, a historian must document, or appear to document, his formal narrative.” In former times documentation was largely the work of imaginative engravings: thus in Mrs. Young’s book we behold serried ranks of finely uniformed dragoons in flawless drill formation, their banners proudly flying, advancing on the huddled victims of the Mountain Meadows massacre; or we see the huge victory parade celebrating the murder of the widow Jones in Payson; Mr. Beadle shows us actual drawings of “Hickman killing Yates, by order of Brigham Young,--Hosea Stout holding the lantern,” of “Hickman delivering the murdered man Yates’ money to Brigham Young,” etc. These drawings are, however, no longer acceptable as evidence. In fact, viewed with a critical eye, they tend rather to discredit than corroborate the tales they illustrate. Therefore modern scholars like Wallace, while telling the identical stories, consciously or otherwise omit illustrations that show only too plainly how little the original tellers bothered themselves about the truth.
RULE 8: Avoid footnotes! This is not only the easiest but also the safest rule to follow. The student who compares Mrs. Brodie’s footnotes with the actual sources indicated by them will quickly appreciate the wisdom of Wallace in simply lumping his sources together in an appendix. Seeing them in that form, the reader assumes that the author has read with equal care all the books and articles named and made proper and proportionate use of each…
RULE 9: Be lavish in your appendix! Pour it on! Name everybody and everything: Mr. Wallace speaks his gratitude to people who are quite unaware of having been accessory to his performance and by no means pleased at finding themselves among his valued informants.
RULE 10: Be a name dropper! The average reviewer is the last person in the world to be seriously critical of sources (why should he seek for trouble?) and will be only too glad to go along with a writer who is good enough to include real names from time to time among the usual harvest of “it is said,” “it was reported,” “it was believed,” etc.
RULE 11: Control your sources! When, for example, Ann Eliza brings a particularly damning and patently false charge of murder against Brigham Young, Mr. Wallace dismisses it with a good-natured chuckle: “But it must be remembered that at this time Ann Eliza was an angry wife.
RULE 12: Wave your credentials! Remind the reader from time to time of your “years of intensive research.” If you need high authorities you can always promote your helpers to meet the demand. Note with what easy dominion Mr. Wallace not only bestows the doctorate on one Wilford Poulson, M.A., for his welcome gossip, but with it the title of “Foremost living authority on Mormonism,” heading the parade of the “host of scholars” (unnamed) who instructed Mr. Wallace “on various aspects of the Mormon past.”
RULE 13: Establish immediate intellectual ascendancy by opening your book, as is the fashion, with a tremendous blast of meticulous erudition to intimidate the reader and discourage any smart-aleck questions.
RULE 14: Have something new to sell. Every anti-Mormon writer is selling what has already been sold again and again, like Mr. Wallace, peddling old clothes in a shiny new pushcart. See to it that your pushcart looks shiny and new! To do this you must add some ingredient of your own.
RULE 15: Get an inside track! Aside from your personal qualifications and zeal, you must enjoy the position of a privileged observer. No one, but no one, according to Mrs. Stenhouse, has any business writing on Mormonism except a “woman who really was a Mormon and lived in Polygamy,” i.e., Mrs. Stenhouse. Mrs. A.E.W.D.Y.
RULE 16: Don’t answer questions! Remember the useful phrase “But as this comes from a Mormon source it must be discounted.” of men?
RULE 17: In place of evidence use Rhetoric! When one is making grave criminal charges, either directly or by broad implication as all anti-Mormon writers do, questions of evidence can be very bothersome unless one has the wisdom and foresight to avoid all such questions. Surprisingly enough, this can be done rather easily. As Housman has just reminded us, the writer who is telling the public what it wants to hear will never have to answer embarrassing questions about evidence. The ancients discovered that any public prefers rhetoric to evidence, and the modern historian will soon learn the truth of the time-tested and timeworn maxim of the Doctors of old, that rhetoric and not truth is the key to success in this world. The basic principles of the classical rhetorical method are two: (1) eikos, that is, the building up of a case not on facts but on probabilities, and (2) the use of loci communes, standard responses to standard situations (hence our word “commonplace”), the appeal to familiar stock phrases to avoid thought and the use of emotive words of tested reliability to avoid evidence.
RULE 18: Use lack of evidence as evidence! No knack is more useful than that of turning one’s lack of information into a definite asset in dealing with the Mormons. For example, the involvement of the Church in the Mountain Meadows massacre raises a number of quite unanswerable questions; note, then, how cleverly Mrs. Stenhouse admits that fact while turning it to a new incrimination against the Mormons: “No answer can be returned to these questions without disclosing secret scenes of sin and shameful iniquity at the mention of which even the souls of fiends might stand aghast.” Does that answer your question? Remember, the worst crimes are those for which there is no evidence even that a crime was committed: “There were crimes then perpetrated in secret which will never be known until the Day of Doom.”
RULE 19: Use the unfulfilled condition to make out a case against the Mormons where there is neither evidence nor absence of evidence, i.e., where nothing at all has happened. “The spirit of assassination still remains,” writes Ann Eliza, “and were it unchecked hundreds would be . . . sent into eternity without a moment’s warning, for no crime at all except daring to differ, if ever so slightly, from those in authority.”
RULE 20: Be generous with hints--they are very effective and you never have to prove anything. When Ann Eliza writes, “It is no wonder that suicides have been so common among the Mormon women,” who is going to stop the train to ask for an explanation: are suicides common? They must be because it is no wonder. Be virtuous about your hinting as you announce the things you refuse to talk about: “There are events of daily occurrence which decency and womanly modesty forbid my even hinting at.” Isn’t that a clever bit of hinting? Isn’t that nicer than trying to tell a story which cannot possibly be as bad as the story you don’t have to tell, running the risk of disappointing your reader and getting yourself involved in that nasty business of evidence?
RULE 21: Use quotation marks without sources--the most effective hinting device, and the most popular with anti-Mormon writers.
RULE 22: Discuss motives; read minds! This is a must in dealing with Mormon history. Here we have people claiming divine revelation and as a result doing all sorts of unusual things; since there is no such thing as divine revelation, how do we explain the unusual doings? Only by reading the minds of the actors.
RULE 23: Be cute! Lytton Strachey has amusingly described the quixotic General Gordon with “his fatalism, his brandy-bottle and his Bible.” The brandy bottle, Trevor-Roper informs us, is Strachey’s own invention: “The real object had been not a brandy-bottle but a prayerbook. Unfortunately, ‘brandy-bottle’ is funnier than ‘prayer book’; Strachey could not resist that final touch of absurdity.
RULE 24: Make atmosphere your objective. “Nowadays,” writes Trevor-Roper, “to carry conviction, a historian must document, or appear to document, his formal narrative, but his background, his generalizations, allusions, comparisons remain happily free from this inconvenience. This freedom is very useful: against an imaginary background even correctly stated facts can be wonderfully transformed.”
RULE 25: Attack not the thing but the Image! For your readers Mormonism is what you say it is: it is to establish that thesis that you have been at such pains with your personal buildup. Once entrenched as an official guide, you can take your readers where you please; it is not the thing you are showing them from then on, but your interpretation of the thing. It has been the practice of religious polemic in every age to attack not what the opposition practice and preach but our impression of what they practice and preach. “Blasphemy!” was the heading of the first published report on the Book of Mormon, and Alexander Campbell sincerely believed it was blasphemy. The early anti-Christian writers were just as sincere: Blasphemy had been from the beginning the stock charge against Jesus and the Apostles, just as it is the favorite word of anti-Mormon writers.
RULE 26: Enjoy the prerogatives of “unequal scholarship,” i.e., “the scrupulous straining at small historical gnats which diverts attention from the silent digestion of large and inconvenient camels.
RULE 27: Be literary! As a creative writer you should feel free to say whatever you please without having to answer to anybody. No one can call you to account for what is put down as pure fiction.
RULE 28: Develop a special vocabulary of loaded and emotive words. As a literary artist, you have this prerogative. Mrs. Brodie does wonders with such sure-fire psychic terms as plastic, intuitive, and magnetic, which sound important enough but can’t be pinned down.
RULE 29: Study the techniques of gossip. To the discerning reader of the Sisterhood of Mormon Bondage the word that comes most often to mind is bound to be “gossip.” For that very reason the student should follow Mr. Wallace’s example and scrupulously avoid ever using the word, which would be sure to let the cat out of the bag. Let us admit that our anti-Mormon classics are clearinghouses of gossip. What else are those swarming quotations without sources, or the constantly recurring “it is said,” “it was reported,” “I know one woman who . . . “?
RULE 30: Preserve a gap between your readers and the Mormons. At a passage where even the most obtuse reader might boggle at the sheer excess and enormity of your tale, do not hesitate to remind him that he is in no position to know about things happening in the far away Tibet of the Rockies. “No one outside of Utah and Mormonism can understand it in the least,” says Ann Eliza, “because nowhere else is there a possibility of such wretchedness to exist.”
RULE 31: Learn when to be silent. Nothing you say about the Mormons can be more damning than what you fail to say. The really competent anti-Mormon writer does not only exploit gaps--he creates them, by omitting relevant information.
RULE 32: Be bloody, bold, and resolute! What the public wants in an atrocity story is straight horror, not namby-pamby explanations: the propaganda artists of World War I proved that once for all. As the murder mystery demonstrates so often, the emotionally involved reader is a functionally blind reader who will not see the evidence that is staring him in the face.
RULE 33: Uphold the tradition! Correct and improve the legends! By the time Joseph Smith was twenty-five years old, everything bad that could be said about a man had been said about him, publicly, loudly, and often. This left his critics with no new heights to scale in the art of vituperation and small room for advancement in the invention of new atrocities.
RULE 34: Be patriotic. Anti-Mormon classics tend to be of a strong patriotic tone. Ann Eliza’s 1908 volume is a perfect demonstration of how patriotism can be exploited to make Mormon-baiting pay.
RULE 35: Join the ladies. Any anti-Mormon writer does well to follow Mr. Wallace’s example and take his stand with the ladies or behind their skirts. All the most effective anti-Mormon books have been written by women--Nancy Towle, Orvilla Belisle, Ettie V. Smith, Maria Ward, Fanny Stenhouse, Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning, Mrs. Dr. Horace Eaton, Emily Austin, Ellen Dickinson, Lily Dougal, Winifred Graham, Fawn M. Brodie--to name a few, because we can think of no others just now. Women have always worked with the clergy, who through the years have been the principal promoters of anti-Mormon literature.
RULE 36: Your target is Mormonism! Anti-Mormon books are not written to describe or discuss the human foibles of any group or individual but to discredit a doctrine. Every episode, however trivial, irrelevant, or fictitious must be made to serve as the text for a single sermon--the monstrousness of believing in revelation. The bad thing about the “heartless and mercenary” handcart fiasco is “that all this should be done ‘in the name of the Lord.’ . . . Take this home to yourself, and you will be able to appreciate as never before the horrors of Mormonism.” Therein resides the horror: “A better people--aside from their religion . . . it would be difficult to find. Their fault was in their faith. ”