I read something recently where someone railed against the idea of any church claiming to be “true,” because it could only lead to pride and persecution. I’m sure such has been the case at times, where some person or group has let their claims to truth give them license to alienate or oppress those on the outside of their vision, and this is awfully unfortunate. But that’s hardly evidence that such always leads to violence, or that the claim is always untrue. Actually, this is one religious claim that the most stridently secular among us should genuinely respect.
A few years ago, I posted a message on a bulletin board for atheists that, if they were so inclined, they could consider the Book of Mormon as something they’d been missing but should be interested in–a physical artifact whose very nature could substantiate the existence of God. That started a decent dialogue, but when some readers got the point that I was implying that religious claims were even capable of being literally, empirically accurate, they reacted with mockery. That claim sounded like a fresh bit of arrogance, I suppose, but, once again, they should have seized upon it.
First of all, every religion’s depiction of reality can’t be accurate, because so many of them are contradictory. So either none of them are, or one of them is. Some combination of aspects of various faiths could conceivably be true, but unless multiple religions are exactly the same, only one could be purely, fully true. The fact that any church makes such a claim–and there are few today which do–shouldn’t be an invitation to ridicule, but a recognition that even in religion, reason rules.
If the popular conception of religion is that it’s merely a cultural tradition, or a product of wishful thinking, etc., I’d think that those who don’t find it valid (and who hold those critical assumptions about the origin of belief) would welcome a claim that not only is such not so, but that the seemingly supernatural claims of religion can be investigated, tested, and either authenticated or disproved.
Finally! an atheist might shout. A chance to definitively debunk this nonsense. Which is exactly the opportunity the Book of Mormon offers the would-be skeptic. At the same time, it provides the hard-headed devotee of reason an approach to religion that is as far from mystical as possible: a long, dense, sober text that begs to be scrutinized, studied, compared, researched, and analyzed until a verdict can be reached. The text itself explains a method of experimenting on its truth claims that will yield consistent, reproducible results.
The intellectually honest atheist should respect the exclusive truth claims of the LDS church because they are logically consistent, and because this is one religion that is ready to put up or shut up.