Sunday, May 22, 2016

Comparing Joseph Smith and Emanuel Swedenborg

A while ago I was in a discussion with someone and they were trying to downplay the importance of Joseph Smith, and the movement he started, in history. To back up their claim they gave the example of Emanuel Swedenborg and stated that Swedenborg has had just as much impact as Joseph Smith.

At the time I thought this was an odd claim. This person then continued to argue that there were many other restorationist movements in the 1800's, and that the movement started by Joseph Smith just happened to be one of many. I was familiar with Swedenborg and the other restorationist movements, but what I found odd was his assertion that Mormonism had had very little impact in history, especially compared to the other restorationist movements.

I was unable to really conclude the discussion (it happened online somewhere), but it sort of always stuck with me. Sometime later I was in the main library at UNC looking for a book when I noticed something interesting. Below is a picture of the "Mormon" section of UNC's library. Everything from top to bottom, to the end of the stack is about Joseph Smith and movement that he started.
Here is one more picture of LDS topic books that didn't fit in the previous shot. This is just off to the right of the picture above.

Directly below that I noticed this, it is all the books that the library has on Swedenborg. But, I should point out that half of the top shelf is actually books about Brigham Young.

When I saw both sets of books dramatically juxtaposed in the library like that, I recalled my discussion where someone insisted that Swedenborg was just as influential as Joseph Smith. Comparing the two sets of books it is plain to see that Joseph Smith has had a much greater impact on the world than Emanuel Swedenborg by several orders of magnitude. Keep in mind that this is the library at UNC, which has a strong religious studies program, hence the large collection of books, but it has no particular tie to either Joseph Smith or Emanuel Swedenborg.

If we take a look at Google's Ngram viewer we see a similar trend, with Joseph Smith and Mormon being orders of magnitude more common than Emanuel Swedenborg.

I'm sure you can find a library somewhere where there are more books about Swedenborg than Joseph Smith, but it is also the case that the influence of the movement started by Joseph Smith will continue to grow until it has filled the whole earth.

So, to the random commenter out there, we were never able to finish our discussion, but in answer to your statements: No, Joseph Smith, and the movement he started, was not a common run of the mill restorationist movement, and Emanuel Swedenborg has not been, and will never be, just as influential as Joseph Smith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When you extrapolate those "orders of magnitude", aren't they all tending towards zero ?