A little over four years ago, I posted this video about Book of Mormon evidence online. In the last year or so, it has really taken off, and now has over 77,000 views, with over 1300 comments. Many of those comments are from me–I read and respond to almost everything. Here are some things I’ve noticed from engaging those comments:
- Many people who comment clearly have not watched any of the video at all. They’re posting pre-conditioned talking points on the subject. Most of those people, even when explicitly invited to do so, still do not watch the video. Even when I reply to a comment with just a single, simple question, most people will never return to comment again.
- Even when I make it clear that my only criteria for posting is that people refrain from rudeness and that they address my questions, many people still won’t. If they repeatedly abuse my hospitality and I block them, others will complain about censorship. To be fair, though, on the other hand, I’ve also had to block several Mormons who won’t stop insulting critics or “spiking the ball” about how the critics are failing to make their points, even after I insist that they be nicer. It’s weird and frustrating.
- The saddest exchange I’ve had is with a young woman who didn’t care if the evidence was true or not. She had decided to openly rebel against God, whether He’s real or not, because religion doesn’t line up with her political preferences. I didn’t know how to respond to that–it really was shocking. I think this may well be representative of a lot of people these days. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
- Dozens of people have complimented the video overall, but have scolded me for not embracing the Heartland model of Book of Mormon geography. Every time, I tell them that I don’t really care about it, but I post a link to a summary of arguments on the topic and invite them to respond. Not one ever has.
- Dozens of others have explained the evidence for the Book of Mormon by claiming that Satan inspired it. Nothing else productive ever happens after that.
- Some of my favorite comments are ones posted from other countries and even in other languages. I’ve used Google Translate to reply to such comments more than once, and it’s a wonderful experience.
- This hobby has taught me that there are sections of the world where the cruelest, most superficial stereotypes about Mormons and our beliefs are alive and well. There is still a lot of work to do.
- Many people have written claiming to be innocent investigators who have honest questions. Such people are almost always undercover critics, and they reveal their hostility before long. It’s apparently a standard anti-Mormon trick.
- Often a commenter will be shown definitively that a claim they’ve made is wrong–not as a matter of belief, but merely as basic factual inaccuracy–and then they’ll repeat the claim again later on in another comment. That makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.
- But many others have said that they were impressed to study the book because of the video, and that’s immensely satisfying. Dozens have said that it has strengthened their faith. That makes it all worth it! :)
Based on many exchanges with feisty unbelievers, this seems about right.
It’s actually the same guy from yesterday’s “conversation” post. In the middle of the night after that discussion, he sent me the random new message you see below. As with yesterday’s record, I reproduce this here for you because, of the many debates I’ve ever had with anti-Mormons, this is probably the very best. It’s certainly the most comprehensive.
For one thing, he really did look at my evidence and addressed it. That’s pretty rare.
But mostly, this just shows how shallow the thinking is from the anti camp. You see most of the usual games here–lots of random trivia used as a scare tactic, strong claims made and repeated without evidence, changing the subject, outright contradiction whenever it’s convenient, projection, etc.
Note that even after the dust settled, he had never even tried to substantiate his own claims about the Book of Mormon–I analyzed his own argument more seriously than he did. Also, not only did he never explain the evidence for the Book of Mormon, he literally admitted that doing so would be impossible.
Warning: this post is VERY long. But worth it. Enjoy.
I’ve lost track of how many articles lately, and how very many comments on articles, claim to reveal to the world the secret, sinister beliefs of the LDS Church. Their attempts at scandalous revelations tend to revolve around the same few topics, and they’ve all been squarely addressed (I covered the whole “Mormons want to become gods who rule their own planets” trope last summer), so I don’t want to analyze them one by one here.
What most strikes me about these alleged controversies, though, is how deep into obscure arcana the critics have to dig in order to find objectionable stuff. If the worst dirt you can find on an organization is based on a handful of rumors, gossip, and secondhand quotes from 19th century figures, how bad can the organization really be?
Imagine a make and model of a car that someone wants to take down. So they write some snarky blurbs about it online that show the world the truth: the company logo on the rear end is kind of derivative. And the antenna is a bit hard to unscrew. And don’t even get me started on the horrors of the rubber coating under the front passenger floor mat.
“Trust me,” says our automotive Internet muckraker, “I know all about the dark, seedy underbelly of this scam.”
Something that critics of the LDS Church, both those on the inside and on the outside, like to say is that the Church doesn’t openly teach what it “really” believes. They accuse the Church of hiding the truth about its more challenging doctrines and history behind a facade of bland pablum.
I could easily argue the problems with this view: that church materials and General Conference talks are actually deeper than many suppose, and that the church does nothing to hide anything related to it and even facilitates such research far more than people give it credit for (Some critics like to “shock” Mormons by revealing that Joseph and Hyrum Smith defended themselves with pistols when attacked in Carthage Jail; the Mormon church is so scared of this fact and works so hard to cover it up that the pistols in question are on display in their official history museum, at Temple Square, free and open to the public).
Besides, if church-produced materials are so facile, I suppose I could quiz you on them and you’d know them all backwards and forwards. Wait, what? You mean you haven’t really squeezed every drop out of them yet?
Or consider this: the textbook used in church history classes is already an oversized monster and more than 600 pages long. You don’t think the Church is trying hard enough to teach people about its history? Good grief, just how much longer do you want that book to be?
But I think the biggest flaw with this criticism is that it simply isn’t the Church’s job to make sure that everybody everywhere knows everything about it. Continue reading
UPDATE 9.14.15: This post periodically blows up online. Today it got three times more hits than the whole blog gets on an average day. People keep bringing it up on social media, apparently.
I’ve looked over some of those comments, and the biggest thing they tend to say is that I’m being judgmental. I’d like to address this with three points:
- I didn’t judge her value as a person. In fact, I diplomatically phrased much of this essay to specifically avoid the false appearance of condemnation. Sadly, it seems that some will see moral judgment, even in its obvious absence, no matter what someone actually says. To castigate me for an imagined insult shows not just a lack of charity, it shows a lack of reading comprehension.
- I wasn’t criticizing her as a person; I was analyzing her essay. Written documents, publicly published, are all fair game for discussion. That’s how discourse works. There are no privileged texts, immune to analysis. To suggest such is to create a caste of secular scripture, and to demonize someone who dares to analyze such a text is to practice an intellectual inquisition.
- Where I speculate about the author’s possible (possible!) motives and background, it is always in light of what’s explicitly or implicitly in her text. Criticize my analysis, and do so with better evidence and reasoning, but there’s nothing here to warrant an attack. Certainly, I have yet to see a substantial criticism of this post that uses actual citations and clear reasoning–nothing more, in fact, than simple invective. Anyone who wants to engage in civil dialogue is always welcome to, though.
This article made me sad. Not because it mischaracterizes my church, which it does, and not because I think Maren Stephenson, the author, is an awful person, which I don’t, but because I think she totally misunderstands what she rejects and needlessly misses out on something wonderful because of it, even though she must have been so close to it.
The author writes about how her husband, and then she herself, became intellectually disillusioned with the LDS Church, and became happier after leaving it.
For someone who calls herself a “scholar” in her own article, she doesn’t seem to know the difference between doctrine and urban legends, and she seems ignorant of some obvious facts that contradict her new worldview. It isn’t the factual errors that are heartbreaking, though–it’s the personal drama that accompanies (and perhaps fuels) the skepticism, which seems to lead her to a badly warped view of the LDS Church:
One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is how fully it presents the emotional depth of mature life experiences. It profoundly describes, for example, both the crushing frustration and the soaring ecstasy of missionary work (Alma 31 and Alma 26, respectively), the anguish of parents who worry about straying children (2 Nephi 1, Alma 39), and the utter loneliness of those whose devotion to God has made them outcasts among their own people (Jacob 7:26, Ether 13:13-14, Moroni 1:1-3).
It seems unreasonable to me to think that undereducated, 23-year-old farm laborer Joseph Smith could have fathomed these extreme feelings, much less could have imagined them in rich detail.
Another example: there are three characters in the Book of Mormon who make it their professional business to publicly oppose the work of the Church, arguing that the beliefs of the Saints are wrong (Jacob 7, Alma 1, Alma 30). By far the most fully developed of these is Korihor, the Nietzsche wanna-be in Alma 30. The Book of Mormon presents his rhetoric in ample, sophisticated texture. The prophet Alma ultimately engages him and responds to each attack with withering, syllogistic precision. Their dialogue is worthy of Aristotle’s tales of Socrates. And we’re supposed to believe that this, also, was written by the unlettered and inexperienced Smith?
But most impressive to me of all this, these days, is just how presciently Korihor prefigures the current spate of elite Anti-Mormon commentators who seek to enlighten the unwashed masses about the insane, conniving cultists from Utah in this cultural “Mormon moment.” Continue reading
Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay. Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective. Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.
But not many of them. Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies. One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example. Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems. One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”
I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.
But wait, belief systems? They wrote that they want to ban belief systems? Yes. The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them. By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:
“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him. Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too. Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.”
As our society’s “Mormon moment” continues, with the award-winning Book of Mormon musical selling out shows and a second Latter-day Saint announcing a run for the presidency, I think we’ll see more attempts by some to “expose” what they see as embarrassing or bizarre aspects of the church. Perhaps chief among their targets will be our doctrine of exaltation. But the descriptions given of this belief will likely be grossly warped, as they usually are.
Case in point: not only was exaltation mocked as a weird, scary secret in an anti-Mormon CNN blog post a couple of weeks ago, but an article in The American Conservative this week garnered two consecutive comments that depicted exaltation in an erroneous light:
They believe that their destiny is to become a god on another planet.
Furthermore, they claim that we are all potential gods (if we are good little Mormons) with our own universes to rule one day.
Neither of these remarks is accurate. My goal here is to define what Mormons do and don’t believe about exaltation, as best as I can.
There’s one big question that I haven’t heard yet about an anti-Mormon author’s twisted article on a CNN blog about the LDS Church. She says that she disbelieved in the religion at least since the time she was nine years old, yet she was married in an LDS temple, which would require a long period of prior faithfulness: was she lying about not believing in the religion throughout her childhood, or did she lie to the Church so she could get married in the temple?
It’s been my experience that people who are inactive, or no longer members, in the LDS Church, hate being asked about when they did have faith, and how that changed. They’ll often give sketchy answers, if any at all, and quickly change the subject. Fair enough—private business is private business—but if you want to be taken seriously as a public opponent of something, don’t you owe the public an explanation that establishes credibility better than this?
This author seems to base her credibility on the fact that her she was raised in a Mormon family (as if being raised by Darwin would automatically qualify you as a scientist), and the fact that she can quote distorted versions of some doctrines and out-of-context materials from the temple endowment ceremony. So she can use Google. Big whoop.
You know how sometimes a reporter will try to play “gotcha” with a politician by asking him or her an incredibly simple question, like the number of amendments to the Constitution or the name of a foreign head of state? Continue reading