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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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15: Smith & Moroni (deceased)
SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FLAVOUR of religious eccentricity this month. This is our first hero to have got a million followers. Whether that shifts him from sectarian loony to holy maverick is your call.

Though he was inspired by 19th-Century evangelical revivals across America, Joseph Smith was told by God not to join any existing church but wait for something better. Then a resurrected dead fellow called Moroni visited him in New York and told him...

"2,200 years ago my Jewish ancestors – the Lost Tribes – came from Jerusalem to America, where we became the Indians and got a visit from Jesus when he came back from the dead. Eventually, everyone backslid or died apart from me and my Dad, and we died too. But not before I wrote it all down, in bizarre hieroglyphic gobbledygook on gold plates. What's more they're the long-awaited Third Testament of the Bible, and what's more they're buried in a box on top of that hill over there."

The next day, Smith dug them up, and four years later he was allowed to take them out of the box. "How am I supposed to read this stuff?" he asked.

"I nearly forgot," replied Moroni. "You'll need these magic specs."

Then the so-called "Moronic visitations" stopped and Smith got down to the job of translation and getting the Mormon Church together.

Mr Smith also discovered in 1843 that, having been above ground for 26 years, it was time for the Book of Mormon to be revised. The traditional one-wife maximum it imposed was, according to Smith's more up-to-date information, too restrictive, and all limits were lifted.

This was just as well for the babe-magnet Smith, who apparently already had over a dozen wives here and there, and managed to squeeze in twice as many again over the next year, before he was killed by a monogamous lynch mob.

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