Hello again, Trent! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed response. I love exchanges of thoughts that are both kind and productive, so thanks also for that. I’d like to continue our conversation.
I’m still curious about your education in my faith; you say that you’ve “read extensively the work of contemporary Mormon apologists,” for example, but what constitutes “extensive” here? It’s one thing to note that you “cite primarily” from LDS sources, but quite another to have studied those works holistically and fairly, rather than using them as research for quotes alone. (Also, why leave out the Bible when you define our “standard works?”)
I certainly didn’t mean to accuse you of having any attitude at all, much less one that finds this subject “irrational or easy to refute,” and I’m sorry if it sounded that way. You quite rightly say that I can’t fault you for the conclusions you’ve drawn about my faith as they’re grounded in your own faith’s perspective–fair enough, yes–but surely it’s reasonable for someone to hear your teachings and want to ask about what has gone into forming and supporting them.
Speaking of which, you say that you are “well aware of the arguments made for Mormonism, as well as Mormon rebuttals to arguments made against the faith, all of which I have found unconvincing.” Really, *all* of them? There’s not a one that carries any weight at all? That’s odd.
If you used some space in your book, though, to accurately correct misconceptions about the LDS church, then you have my sincere thanks. We agree then that there is much erroneous information out there in need of correction.
On Book of Mormon Issues
You’re also right that the phrase “and it came to pass” is a minor detail in our discussion; it’s just one that I happened to hear when I was listening. You’re off, however, about it being used “almost twenty times more often” in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible–it’s more like three times more. I’m not sure how that’s to “be expected if the former were just an improvised dictation.” Why so?
If it were an improvised dictation, we’d expect such verbal tics from Smith to be fairly evenly spread throughout the text, but such is not the case at all. In fact, the last book in the Book of Mormon–Moroni–never uses the phrase at all.
Also, the phrase was in common use in the later Mayan language–one could just as well say that this is “to be expected” if that culture might have been influenced by an earlier Book of Mormon culture.
While I agree that there is much distinct phrasing from the New Testament in the Book of Mormon–that’s just a fact–this does not automatically mean, as you put it, “plagiarizing.” Nor is that even the most likely explanation. The use of this phrasing is never the lazy, simple copying one associates with cheating, but rather is consistently methodical, profound, and subtle–in ways that are meant to highlight the themes shared by groups of such text. (This is substantiated by this.)
So how did such phrasing get in the Book of Mormon? There are possibilities from a faithful perspective: perhaps the inspired nature of the English translation repeated such language for the benefit of the audience, perhaps the language of Joseph Smith’s own time and place contributed to the nature of the divine translation in some way, or something else. But the textual evidence makes it irresponsible just to write it off as mere plagiarism.
The best scholarly examination of this issue so far is this video here, which is enlightening for any student of the Book of Mormon or the Bible. Highly recommended.
Your point about anachronisms in the Book of Mormon has much less power behind it, I’m afraid. The sheer number of such accusations against the text that have definitively been found to be wrong as research has grown over time should makes us more skeptical of any such problems that remain. Indeed, as time goes on and we get to know our world better, the Book of Mormon seems more at home in ancient Mesoamerica.
For a second time, though, you note that you “have read Mormon defenses against these charges but have found them unconvincing.” But merely stating this is hardly a case. Do you find authoritative fault in procedures or sources (in all of these findings?), or do you have more plausible explanations rooted in evidence for each of them, or what?
Regarding swords and rust, you say that “steel did not exist in the New World prior to Spanish colonization,” but that’s an argument from silence, not evidence. Still, to suggest that all swords in the Book of Mormon were the same, i.e. the obsidian glass or macuhitl swords, is needlessly reductionist. Who’s to say what the swords in Mosiah 8:11 were made of, that they might rust. Indeed, the passage you reference says that these findings were surprising, so such (metal? rusting?) swords were probably not common.
The problem with a lot of these claims about anachronisms is that they are based on things we don’t know, not things we do know. As if we know everything there is to know about world history! I’ve never understood why anyone would want to base their conclusions on a lack of evidence rather than on a close examination of the many things that do exist that bear on the topic.
On Revealed Knowledge Through the Spirit
Re: “This raises the question as to what the ‘main parts’ of the Mormon faith are.” Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” I hope this helps.
I agree that all of your statements about God in the paragraph that starts with that quote are accurate. Perhaps you imply that these things are false because they are so strange sounding, but the novelty of a claim has no bearing on whether or not it’s true, right?
Then you again suggest that there is an “absence of compelling historical evidence for the events described in the Book of Mormon.” Ha! Sure, if one decides to categorically reject any and all “compelling historical evidence” that supports the Book of Mormon simply because it supports the Book of Mormon, suddenly it looks like there’s no compelling historical evidence that supports the Book of Mormon!
Re: your exegesis of Luke 24: “But in Luke 24, Jesus actually appeared and disappeared in front of the disciples on the Emmaus road, thus confirming his message and identity beyond what those two men felt.” So you agree that the men felt something? Was that feeling from God? What was its purpose?
You seem to suggest that Jesus’s miraculous disappearance is what “confirmed” his message and identity, but the text says that they knew those things, spiritually, when “their eyes were opened,” before that happened. Luke 24:31-32: “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
Are you saying that praying for knowledge about religious truth, then, is merely ineffective, or that it’s morally wrong? Are you saying that you do not have a personal testimony of the truth of your faith? Is your faith merely an intellectual conclusion? Might not such a mindset lead to the error that smarter people have an advantage in holiness?
Your quote from Jeremiah is hardly a universal indictment of all feelings, right? Are you suggesting that all feelings are not to be trusted? Paul certainly tells Timothy that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth, but he does not say anything, as you claim, about a personal testimony through the Spirit being bad or impossible. Why add words to what Paul actually wrote?
You don’t really answer my question about God answering prayers about faith, you just deflect it by bringing up people’s faith in other religions (“How does Huston account for the millions of people across the centuries who felt the spirit of God move them to embrace Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism?”). Here’s the biggest problem with this approach:
Adherents of other religions don’t usually claim the authoritative, individual witness of the Spirit that Mormons have. (You imply a lack of such a witness about yourself, yes?) People’s faith in these other religions generally stem from other means of epistemology. Indeed, the promise in Moroni 10:3-5 seems to be unique in world religion; if you know of another text or faith that claims that any person who studies it and prays about it will receive a distinct and undeniable reply directly from God, please share.
You write: “Okay, but God doesn’t routinely correct people who dismiss the book of Mormon, nor does he usually tell people who read the Qu’ran or the Catechism of the Catholic Church ‘get away from those lies!’ Does that mean that Islam and Catholicism are true?” You’re conflating a person proactively asking God a question with Him proactively providing a revelation before a question is even asked. As per the Bible’s counsel, I have no problem with people praying about the Qu’ran or the Catechism. Do you?
Thank you for then agreeing with me that God can confirm truth by spiritual revelation (but does this contradict what you said before?). I concur with what you say there about 1 Thessalonians 5:21, but then you reiterate your mantra that “When Mormonism is tested for historical accuracy and sound theology, it falls short in both areas.” *sigh* Let’s talk about historical accuracy in more detail below, but I don’t know what you mean by “sound theology.” Is there any such thing as sound theology with which you disagree?
On Mormon Doctrine Regarding the Nature of God
You then discuss another issue with which you take umbrage: becoming like God. Why should we be, as you term it, “alarmed?” Again, the novelty of ideas isn’t important here, but rather whether they’re true or not.
In your post’s material on this subject, you don’t repeat the more extravagant exaggerations I heard you make on the radio (such as speculation about the parents of God the Father), for which I’m grateful, as they were baseless, yes?
Regarding your claim that “the Bible never says we are God’s literal children,” how do you substantiate this? Is this another case of dismissing all evidence and then claiming there’s no evidence? In my previous letter, I provided a list of Bible quotations relevant to this issue, which you didn’t address (here it is again). Is there some Biblical mandate for not taking any of these teachings at face value?
I certainly agree with you, though, about Jesus being His only begotten Son–Jesus’s nature is far different from our own. Do you bring that up because you think Mormons believe that our physical origin is somehow similar to Christ’s? It is not; in no way are any of us “begotten” like Jesus miraculously was.
You then argue from two claims specific to your belief, but not necessarily Biblically exclusive: “we will share in many of God’s communicable attributes, like his holiness, but we can never become God, since God is the uncreated and infinite act of being,” and “We are and always will be creatures who, if we die in a state of grace, will adore the infinite God for all eternity.” The first rests on a rejection of the Bible’s literal claims to the contrary (and the beliefs of the earliest Christians, with which I’m sure you’re familiar). The second is simply a statement of belief unconnected to any Biblical source.
Your suggesting that exaltation is false because the Bible teaches that there is only one God is specious. You’re splitting hairs. Any Latter-day Saint would agree, for example, with the warnings against idolatry from Isaiah that you cite. Of course there’s only one God–one being who created us, rules us, and whom we worship. This hardly proves that–at some time and in some way–His children can’t ever grow up to become like Him. In no way do we believe that our potential to become like our Father somehow replaces Him or diminishes our eternal allegiance and subjection to Him in any way.
You end this section with this: “what it has defined is heretical and must be rejected by orthodox Christians.” If by “heretical,” you here mean “something that disagrees with what I believe,” then sure, guilty as charged. Your conclusions rest on a circular reasoning fallacy: I’m wrong because I’m different from you and since you’re right, anything different must be wrong. You’re not evaluating the Book of Mormon and the claims of LDS belief on their own merits and evidence, but through the lens of them all being ipso facto wrong, therefore you only needing to justify the rejection.
You criticize God’s spiritual witness as being subjective. Can the approach evident in your writings be called objective?
Again, you make a mistake in explaining what Latter-day Saints believe: “Mormons believe Jesus is ‘God’ in the sense that we are all ‘gods.'” Not at all. Nothing in your subsequent quotes supports this. You may not accept LDS beliefs, but can you please accurately summarize them? Your whole agenda in this section seems to be to minimize how Mormons view Jesus Christ, beyond merely sensationalizing our beliefs, by trying to equate Him more with humans than with God the Father. I can’t emphasize enough just how inaccurate your claims are here.
For example, this is how you counter LDS belief about Jesus:
However, to distinguish our faith from this heretical belief, Christians say in the Creed that the Son was “begotten, not made” (the term made applies to creatures like us or the angels), “one in being with the Father” and not a distinct being he created.
But this is a straw man tactic. Nowhere, not even in the quotes you supply, do Mormons refer to Jesus as “created” or “made.” You implied that we used those words.
You’re right that the Bible often refers only to “God” as a single being, but this hardly negates the physically separate nature of the Father and the Son–they are a single God in the sense of John 17 (where Jesus teaches that we should become perfectly united with the Father and the Son as the two of them are also perfectly united with each other, which brings us back to exaltation, but I digress).
You again split hairs when you say that I “restrict” Jesus to being the God of the Old Testament. Ha! C’mon, Trent, you know I don’t think anything of the sort. Christ’s eternal Godhood and union with the Father is consistent in all scripture, including the Book of Mormon.
I like this quote of yours: “Saying they are one being because they cooperate perfectly is like saying a miraculously cooperating Penn and Teller are one magician!” That’s not a bad analogy at all. Wouldn’t they be considered, as a professional team, a single unit? Thanks for that illustration.
But you continue to bang the drum on this:
So, if the Father and Son are separate beings (plural), and God just is being itself (singular, infinite, and undivided) then the Father and Son can’t be God. They would instead be gods, with the Father having a higher ontological status than the Son. But this contradicts Christian theology, which teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons who exist as the one being of God. The Catechism says:
(I like how often you try to explain the Bible’s meaning by referring to things outside the Bible! If your interpretations are so self-evidently accurate, why do they need to be explained by anything else?) Your statement that “then the Father and Son can’t be God” is begging the question. Of course our knowledge of God can’t really be what we say it is because you say it means something else. Convenient!
Just as Book of Mormon deniers tend to argue from silence rather than evidence, there’s also a tendency to reject our claims because they’re not clearly found in the Bible. But doesn’t that reflect a fundamental of our faith? Since we believe in modern revelation in a restored church, why should any certain facet of our belief be found in any one collection of scripture? What matters is that our beliefs don’t contradict the Bible, unless one assumes interpretations that are not necessary.
A clear and (for Mormons) orthodox treatment of all these issues is given here; I highly recommend it to improve your and anyone’s understanding of Mormon doctrine.
On Your Five Questions for Me
1. You and I have differing interpretations of the “gates of hell” passage, of course. Our Protestant friends have yet a third interpretation. All three all grammatically sound. Good thing we have revelation and prophets today to clarify our limited human understanding!
You ask why Jesus spoke and acted like there would be no apostasy, but that’s more begging the question: of course He didn’t talk about it if you choose to interpret the passages in which He did in a different way. After all, can’t much of Matthew 24 be read as warning that general apostasy is among the events to precede the Second Coming? You may not read it that way, but couldn’t it be?
By the way, here’s an article about the early Christian apostasy that traces it chronologically, with massive documentation, and which was originally published in a Catholic (!) journal.
2. Your second question is addressed in the deification topic above: “Any Latter-day Saint would agree, for example, with the warnings against idolatry from Isaiah that you cite. Of course there’s only one God–one being who created us, rules us, and whom we worship,” for one.
3. You want to have it both ways in your third question. Where the Bible is silent on your traditions, your tradition is correct (“Now, it’s true Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, but where in Scripture did Jesus say we must pray only to the Father?”), but where the Bible is silent on my beliefs, my beliefs are still wrong. Which is it? Can a belief not explicitly taught in the Bible be true or not? If so, then does that negate the majority of your argument against Mormonism, namely, that it’s different from your tradition?
But I’ll answer you more directly: Jesus taught people to pray to the Father, and to pray “after the manner” of the Lord’s Prayer (two verses earlier warning not to use “vain repetitions”), but it seems that there are special times when praying to Jesus is appropriate in Christ’s direct presence; indeed, this also happens in the Book of Mormon.
I don’t see hw this question has anything to do with the truth claims of the Book of Mormon or the LDS church, though.
4. Question four is about archaeology as evidence. Is a person’s knowledge about artifacts really the be all and end all of belief?
How can we make such physical evidence the foundation of our faith when it’s subject to finding and interpretation, which are obviously limited? After all, the Biblical city of Gath, home of Goliath, is in an area that’s been known for thousands of years, but has only been confirmed by archaeologists this very year.
Such new discoveries are still being made throughout Mesoamerica; earlier this year, two new major cities were uncovered!
Passing final judgment based on our limited research alone seems premature.
But as time goes on and we do learn more about the ancient world of this hemisphere, the Book of Mormon is a more comfortable fit all the time!
Odd that you ask about evidence, yet in your post you ignored the link I provided to my illustrated video documenting a ton of evidence for the Book of Mormon. Would you watch it and respond to it now? Can you account for any or all of the facts in the video in light of the book being a fraud?
5. As for question 5, if I really have felt the Spirit as a witness from God that the restored gospel is true, then rejecting it would be a grave sin, right? You wouldn’t ask someone to sin.
You ask, “why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?” First of all, I have great respect for the religions of the world–Latter-day Saints see truth and inspiration in them–and I especially love Catholicism (why do you think I was listening to your radio station in the first place?). When Pope Benedict was elevated, I wrote him a fan letter, and the Vatican replied. That letter’s in my journal now.
But why would I encourage others to join my church if I wouldn’t join theirs? That’s a bit of a loaded question, isn’t it? How would you answer that?
For me, I encourage people to join my church because it’s true, and because there are blessings here not available anywhere else.
You close your post by urging people to “evaluate the evidence and not rely on emotions, which can lead us into error.” I agree with the first half–yes, people should study and scrutinize every relevant fact on any issue–but I still encourage all to couple that mindful study with a spiritual seeking in prayer, with the assurance that our loving Father in Heaven wants to reach out and bless us with a knowledge of all truth.
I do hope you’ll reply again, Trent. I enjoyed your first post, and I think this is an exchange with value for each of us, and anyone else who sees it. Thanks, and God bless you.