I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?
At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!
I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.
First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.
10 questions regarding general observations
1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?
What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?
If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?
Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?
2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?
3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources?
4. Are any of those sources actually published by the LDS Church, or even affiliated with it? How many sources like that have you studied?
5. If your primary sources of information are critical or hostile to Mormons, don’t you think that not only damages your credibility but hinders your knowledge on the subject? Don’t you think LDS sources could have *anything* of value to add to what you know about us?
6. Are you aware of any accusations that have ever been made about LDS belief or practice that were distorted or inaccurate?
If not, again, might that not indicate a deficiency in your knowledge of Mormonism?
If so, has that led you to be more skeptical of other critical claims about Mormonism? (After all, I’ll gladly and immediately concede that many people, LDS and otherwise, have made erroneous assumptions about Catholics. Shouldn’t accuracy about each other be a high priority here?)
7. Your tone on the program seemed to indicate that “debunking” Mormonism was easy and that it is a simple open-and-shut case. Forgive me if I’m putting words in your mouth there, but if that’s more or less what you think, then how do you account for the LDS Church not simply collapsing by now?
Critics such as you have been around since our church started, and their accusations have been widely broadcast and celebrated (even on Broadway!). If the falsity of our beliefs is so obvious, why are there any Latter-day Saints at all, much less so many?
How do you account for so many of us being well informed about both our doctrine and the kinds of claims that critics like you make? (Many of us, myself included, probably know more difficult facts about our church than you do, and yet are convinced of its truth.)
8. Some of your criticisms about LDS doctrine and belief seemed primarily motivated by finding them strange or unappealing, such as comments I heard you make about the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon. However, can we agree that, ultimately, whether or not anyone finds something odd or distasteful is irrelevant?
Would you agree that the real concern in this discussion should be what’s true or not true, and not what’s so novel that it can be made to appear shocking to those who are unfamiliar with it?
You wouldn’t want your own faith judged on a presentation of its most idiosyncratic elements in an irreverent forum, instead of on its merits, right?
9. Some of the major claims you make about LDS doctrine and belief (such as the issue about God once being “as man is,” which I’ll discuss in more detail below) are very minor aspects of our religion, or even speculative. Isn’t the fact that you’ve had to dig into such obscure and trivial parts of our religion a tacit admission that the vast majority of Mormonism is innocuous, if not actually positive?
If the LDS Church is as easy to dismiss as you appear to suggest, then shouldn’t it be possible to do so by using the most common, ordinary, important parts of the religion? If that’s true, then why don’t you do so? Doesn’t the need to resort to the kinds of digging and speculation you use perhaps indicate that the LDS church may actually be true?
10. Certainly, in your studies or conversations, you’ve come across at least some of the evidences that Latter-day Saints offer in support of the Book of Mormon and, therefore, the veracity of the claims of their religion. Have you found any of these to have any merit at all?
If not, why not? Doesn’t it strike you as odd if you think this faith has absolutely no reasonable evidence at all?
If so, do you have authoritative responses to these evidences? Do you ever address these evidences in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?
(For a quick and illustrated summary of such evidences, please allow me to offer my own video on the subject.)
Responses to three specific issues I heard you raise on the radio
1. Knowledge gained by spiritual witness.
You sounded dismissive of the idea that faith–knowledge of spiritual truths–can be gained by a witness from the Holy Ghost. (I presume this topic was inspired by the promise in Moroni 10:3-5 about such a witness being given to those who study and pray about the Book of Mormon.) I recall that you labeled such an experience as “subjective.”
But isn’t this a true Biblical principle? Doesn’t Luke 24:32 teach that “our heart burn[s] within us” when we’re blessed with recognizing truth from God?
I’m sure you’re familiar with James 1:5 prompting Joseph Smith to seek knowledge of truth from God in the first place. Was he wrong to do so? Is anyone ever wrong to seek knowledge from God? Doesn’t He want us to do so, as Jesus taught in Matthew 7:7-8?
Aren’t there a host of Biblical instances of prophets–and the Savior Himself–teaching that the Holy Ghost testifies of the truth to our hearts?
You might question the validity of someone’s feeling that the Book of Mormon is true, but surely we agree that God can speak to us by such feelings, and that they therefore shouldn’t be dismissed outright, yes?
How do you account for the millions of people who have felt the power of the Holy Ghost testifying to them the truth of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel? Can such a wide variety of people, over centuries and around the world, be deceiving themselves in such a consistent way? If it’s wishful thinking, when else has wishful thinking led to lives of compassionate charity and devotion fueled by sacrifice and self-denial?
In fact, if the Book of Mormon isn’t true, and someone prays about it, wouldn’t God clearly answer, “No! Get away from those lies and back to the Bible alone!” Why *wouldn’t* God answer a prayer like that?
Conversely, if someone prayed to know the truth of the Bible and its teachings, wouldn’t it make sense to both of us that God would answer in the affirmative? In fact, I’ll share with you that I have had such a spiritual witness about the literal truth of the records and doctrines of the Bible. I know the Bible is true and I love it.
2. Becoming like God.
Boy, it sounded like this one got on your nerves! So much so that I feel, first, compelled to remind you that finding something odd or even offensive is no automatic indicator of its truth or not, so let’s look at this one.
Most of what you said on the subject seemed to come from this quote from 19th century Mormon church president Lorenzo Snow’s couplet:
As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.
You had something of a field day letting your imagination run with extrapolations of this teaching, but such extravagant suppositions beg the question: on precisely which official LDS sources do you base the many extensions of this teaching that you cited?
I ask because there really are none for the first half of the couplet, which is what most of your words were about. If there are any actual teachings from church leaders that expand upon that first line in anywhere near the fashion you did, please share your sources.
As for the second half, there are some existing explanations for it, but none that live up to the sensationalist exaggerations that critics often like to publish.
What Latter-day Saints believe is simply this: as literal spirit children of God, our Heavenly Father (as Jesus addressed Him in the Lord’s Prayer), we are here to grow. Throughout the eternities of the next life, we can continue growing until we grow up to become like our Father. We know that that’s His will for us.
That’s one reason why families are so important to Mormons. We see the earthly family as a symbolic microcosm of our greater Heavenly family.
Like any good parent, we know that God wants to raise us and see us make the most of ourselves, enjoying the same great blessings that make Him God. We know that such an inheritance brings with it the ability to somehow, someday create spirit children of our own, to continue that family unit.
Like most Christians, we agree that we are here to worship God and serve Him, and that our goal should be to do so eternally. We only add to that the truth that’s been restored that our Father has even more to bless us with out of His love for us.
But that’s really all we know of the doctrine. Any other indulgences in guesswork–in how many humans ever have or will become exalted like God our Father, or in how spirit children are made, or about anything along these lines–is merely that: guesswork. It would only be speculation, and certainly not doctrinal.
Actually, there is one more thing we know on this subject: part of revelation to Joseph Smith recorded in a scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 76:58-62 teaches about those who receive this amazing gift. According to those verses, especially 59 and 62, it’s clear that their eternal condition will include always being with and subject to the authority of Jesus Christ and God the Father. What a blessing!
But that actually brings me to the third and final item that I heard you mention.
3. Nature and position of Jesus Christ in LDS belief.
I’ll come right out and say it: on this one, you were just flat out wrong. Not even a little right. Not at all. I believe you said that Mormons only see Jesus as their older brother and, therefore, not as God. You also talked about how we see God the Father and Jesus Christ as physically separate, so we can’t see Jesus as God–I’m paraphrasing there; if I haven’t done you justice, please correct me.
But anything close to that is just completely false.
Can I ask you, where in the world did you get the idea that Mormons don’t believe that Jesus is God? Do you have any authoritative sources that say anything like that?
To offer just one means of correction here, consider this: Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. (Did you know that?) I don’t know of any other church that teaches that not only is Jesus Christ truly God, but that His godhood is so pervasive throughout the Bible.
Even before He was born in the manger, He was fully God. This also makes Him the God of the Book of Mormon.
Mormons sometimes refer to Jesus as “God the Son” to distinguish Him from God the Father, to whom Jesus directed us to pray. Mormons also believe that, even though they each have their own glorified but physical body, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are absolutely united in all things, as both the Bible and Book of Mormon teach. Therefore, they are both God. How could anyone understand Mormon belief any other way?
Trent, I’ll close with a word of witness to you and any who may read this. As I discussed earlier, I have felt the wholly unique and powerful feeling of the Holy Ghost testifying to me of the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and of the divine and infinite atonement of our Lord and Redeemer, the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ, and in the restoration of His gospel and church in these last days.
Thanks for reading and considering this, Trent (or whoever else reads it!). I also encourage you to study the Book of Mormon and seek out God’s own verdict on its truth, and be willing to accept that and live by it, for that is the way He has given to bless us. I hope to hear from you, Trent (and yes, again, whoever else reads this), and I wish you the very best in all good things.