Friday, January 19, 2018

Meet the Pressident

The newly coronated First Presidency gave a little press conference on Tuesday to, I suppose, try to introduce themselves to the world.  Eight reporters were permitted to ask questions and Presidents Nelson, Oaks, and Eyring provided some panel-esque discussion in response.  It was much more of a train wreck than I was expecting.  I was expecting boring.  What I got was a whole mess of quotes that I wanted to analyze.

Because of time limitations and a desire to represent media from around the world, five local, one national, and two international media outlets have been pre-selected to ask questions.
—Eric Hawkins 
A member of the church's public relations arm conducted the meeting (to steal some very Mormon phrasing).  This part of his introduction seemed laughably disingenuous.  For one thing, if the true desire was to represent media from around the world, why were only two questions from reporters outside of the US?   It's also bothersome that a church that's so proud of its international membership ensured that 62.5% of the questions posed to its new leadership came from a state that makes up approximately 10% of its worldwide population. 

My initial reaction was to assume that skewing the press representation toward local media guaranteed a lot of softball questions, but that may have been an unfair judgment, because some of those Utah reporters were throwing sliders and knuckleballs.

But first, the new leaders had some weird, circle-jerk-esque opening statements.

Though our world is filled with serious challenges, I am optimistic about the future and feel confident about the fundamental goodness of humankind.
—Russell M. Nelson
And in his first public appearance as prophet, Nelson is immediately teaching false doctrine.  Because what he's doing here is blatantly disagreeing with a sermon canonized in the Book of Mormon.  You see, according to King Benjamin, "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man..." yadda, yadda, yadda.  (It's Mosiah 3:19, in case you weren't sure what I was getting at.)

Don't you know your scripture masteries, President Nelson?  Because there's no such thing as the fundamental goodness of human kind.  We're just plain awful.  Enemies of God.  Scum of the earth.  This is official church doctrine.

If you are not yet affiliated with this church, I invite you to come and see if we can add knowledge, perspective, and hope to your life in a way that will make it more abundant, meaningful, and joyful.
—Russell M. Nelson
Okay, so this is pretty bizarre writing for a prepared statement.  First of all, it's kind of presumptuous for him to have thrown the word "yet" in there.  Like, we're coming for you all.  Resistance is futile.

But I'd also like to know how one is supposed to make one's life more abundant.  I mean, even Mormons agree we only have one mortal life. do you increase its quantity?  Is he opening the door to doctrinal reincarnation or is it just bad writing?  You decide.

I declare my devotion to God, our Eternal Father, and to his son, Jesus Christ.  I know them, love them, and pledge to serve them and you with every remaining breath of my life.
—Russell M. Nelson
The thing that jumped out to me here is that the prophet just said that he knows God and Jesus.  He isn't saying he's testifying of their existence.  He knows them.  I feel like this is the closest an apostle has come to saying "I met with a member of the godhead face to face" in a very, very long time.

I love working with the Quorum of the Twelve and our other leaders—men AND women, local and general.
—Dallin H. Oaks
Something about his tone here just comes off as icky.  Kind of like he's magnanimously saying, "I know, I couldn't believe it at first either, but working with women is actually pretty okay!"  The fact that I think Oaks is a massively sexist, pompous douchenozzle undoubtedly informs the way I'm interpreting his inflection, but it does kind of make you wonder why he feels the need to mention different groups.  Like, wait, why would he not have enjoyed working with women leaders or local leaders?  What reason should we have had to assume that such a thing might be unpleasant?  The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Even those of us within the church have to work hard to see the church as it really is. It is even harder for those who are looking in from outside. It is also easier for us to describe what we are trying to become than it is for you to believe we really hold such lofty aims. The why we aim so high and work so hard is more easily described by us, but not, perhaps, easily believed.

—Henry B. Eyring
Eyring is not on his game here.  This quote is all over the fuckin' place.  This palavering nonsense reminds me of two hilarious fictional moments.  First, the majority leader caught off guard by a reporter asking him why he wants to be President in The West Wing:
The reason I would run, were I to run, is I have a great belief in this country as a country, and in this people as a people, that go into making this country a nation with the greatest natural resources and people, educated people.
Secondly, it's reminiscent of good old Bilbo Baggins taking a sly shot at an audience too thick to grasp his full meaning in The Fellowship of the Ring:
I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
Was Eyring painting himself hopelessly into a verbal corner or cleverly insulting his audience with his impenetrable and inscrutable wit?  You decide.

Moving on, the first question comes from an AP reporter who's curious about how the reorganized church leadership plans to handle LGBT issues.

So we've got the love and law balance here....  —Russell M. Nelson

Yeah, the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord!  —Dallin H. Oaks
This exchange sees Nelson struggle for words while making broad, general statements about how the Lord loves everyone.  Then Oaks steps in to try to nudge him in the right direction and they kind of bounce ideas off each other until they come up with an answer they feel is appropriate.  Super-duper-apostolic.

What's interesting is that they both make love and law sound like opposites.  The Law, which is imposed by God, is the countervailing force against the Love, which is supposed to emanate from God.  Why the fuck do both of these things come from God if one of them is the thing that gives so many people so much grief?

Oh, you're transgender?  Great, well, God has these laws you have to follow, like not being transgender, and since you're not following the Law, then the balance is all out of whack so I guess the Love part doesn't really count until you just...stop...being...transgendery.

Awesome answer, guys.

Also, way to not use any kind of relevant nomenclature while you're answering the question.  None of these guys says anything along the lines of "God loves X" or "We love X" or "The church loves X," where X can represent any number of sexual orientations or gender identities.  God just loves everyone, and he's so unconcerned with the groups of people who are killing themselves over his church's treatment of them that he can't be bothered to have his apostles explicitly state, "God loves his lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children."  It's like they're afraid to speak the words themselves.

The next question comes from a member of the Mexican press, who asks for advice concerning turmoil and natural disasters.

You know, we have a special love for the people of we do for the people everywhere....
—Russell M. Nelson
This is actually the real answer to the previous question.  The reason I say that is because this is the very first thing Nelson says in response to this reporter.  Someone asks about gay issues, and Nelson can't even say the word gay or directly tell gay people they're loved and valued.  Someone asks about Mexican issues, and Nelson replies that he loves the Mexican people.

This is very telling.

Also, if you have a special love for the people everywhere, doesn't that kind of mean that your love for any group of people is, by definition, not really that special?  A fun drinking game, now that I think about it, might be to suffer through this conference with a few friends.  One of you has to drink when one of the apostles uses the word "special," one has to drink when Nelson swallows really loudly, and the other one only has to drink when someone gives a direct answer to a reporter's question—no, wait, that won't work.

That's gonna be a fact of life—we have to live with danger around us.  Now how do you do that?  I think the most important thing is to prepare our people with faith in God and the knowledge that he has a plan for us and that plan will immunize us from a lot of the social apathy and challenges that could be avoided.
—Russell M. Nelson
I don't know how much more out of touch Nelson can have sound here.  The question is about how to deal with upheaval and distress and disaster, and Nelson basically says, "Well...the world's a dangerous place, but at least we know that God designed it to be dangerous and that faith will help us."  And I have no idea why he's talking about social apathy.  Who brought that up?  We're talking about fires and floods and earthquakes and hurricanes.  The reporter isn't inquiring about social apathy.
In terms of natural disasters and challenges, I think of the Philippines, where we have about seven hundred thousand members, and where my wife Kristen and I were privileged to live for two years...and I think the Philippines has every natural disaster known to man.
—Dallin H. Oaks
It strikes me as very callous and very unsympathetic that, when talking about natural disasters that kill and displace countless people in a particular country, Oaks can't resist the urge to brag about how big the church is there before getting to his point about...about whatever his point was about. I mean, sure, he wasn't going in to specifics about a particularly tragic event, but still, even from a purely PR standpoint, this was a very poor choice of words.  If you want people to question your priorities, this careless phrasing is a good way to make that happen.

Then, suddenly, a wild Peggy Fletcher Stack appears.  It was a delight to watch her ask the revered brethren what they might do for the causes of gender, ethnic, and racial equity.

I don't know how these men didn't anticipate at least some of these more troubling questions, but they seemed woefully unprepared.  While I admire their desire to mostly speak off-the-cuff, Nelson, as a doctor, should know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Observe:

We are white. And we are American. But look at our Quorums of the Seventy and look at our leaders locally. Wherever we go, the leadership of the church is from the local communities. And those are the real leaders. The Twelve and the Seventies are not a representative assembly of any kind. That means we don't have would you govern the church with a representative from all one hundred and eighty-eight countries? So somebody's gonna be left out, but it doesn't matter, because the Lord's in charge and we will live to see the day when there will be other flavors in the mix. But we respond because we've been called by the Lord and not one of us asked to be here.
—Russell M. Nelson

Okay, props for fessing up to the reality indisputable fact.  But first he refers us to the Seventy, which is still overwhelmingly composed of white American men.  So no dice there.

Then he brings up local leadership, which isn't always made up of locals anyway.  Sometimes, in areas without much priesthood "experience," local leadership is made up partly from transplanted missionaries.

His "real leaders" comment reeks of false modesty.  And regardless of whether the local leadership is more "real" than that of the general authorities, how does that address the concern that the worldwide leadership is skewed too far toward white American men?

Then he pivots to his assertion that the leadership is not supposed to be representative of the church population.  Which is fair.  I don't think there should be a quota system requiring 0.5% of the general authorities to be from Lesotho once Lesotho reaches 0.5% of the church membership.  But since leaders are called of God, that kind of raises the possibility that God is racist.  Because it's the office we're sustaining, not the imperfect man who occupies it, right?  So why doesn't God find very many imperfect-but-worthy men for his callings that just happen to have dark skin or just happen to come from somewhere other than the US?  If God truly is no respecter of persons, it stands to reason that his leadership would generally reflect the makeup of the church membership as a whole.  Unless there's this crazy, generations-long string of coincidences or he's just racist.

And "flavors."  That's the kind of flippant remark you can make with your buddies and nobody's gonna be like, "hey, that's racist."  But when you're in front of the press, on television, introducing yourself to the world as the new prophet of God?  What a stupid thing to say.  Issues of race, sexism, and the American Napoleon complex are NOT a laughing matter for a lot of people.  Way to treat the whole thing like an inside joke.

I think it's also valuable to remember something that I have found useful to cite when I talk to youth. I remind them that it's dangerous to label themselves as a particular nationality, geographic origin, ethnic circumstance or whatever it may be. Because the most important thing about us is that we are all children of God. If we keep that in mind, we are better suited to relate to one another and to avoid a kind of quota system as if God applied his blessings and extended his goodness and his love on the basis of quotas that I think he does not recognize so we shouldn't.
—Dallin H. Oaks
I don't have any concept of my ethnic heritage.  My ancestors have been Americans for so long that nobody in my family could tell you a damn thing about what it means to be Danish.  So I don't fully understand people who feel connected their own ethnic culture, because I don't really have one myself.  But I wouldn't dare walk up to a Mexican celebrating Dia de los Muertos and be like, "Stop celebrating because it's dangerous to label yourself as a Mexican."  That would be ridiculous, rude, presumptuous, and plenty of other bad things.  Does Oaks also rail against his countrymen celebrating Independence Day?  Is it dangerous for me to consider myself American?

It seems like Oaks thinks he can unite people under the false homogeneity of Mormonism.  Listen, asshole, you can be Mormon and have other facets to your identity.  You can be Mormon and a child of God and a Mexican if that's how you see yourself.  Nobody should let some angry old curmudgeon dictate what things their sense of personal identity should and should not entail.  Thinking you have a right to tell people how to define who they are is one of the most pompous things I can think of.

And yes, Oaks, a quota system would be silly.  But if it guarantees that God can't be quite so racist in choosing his servants, it would be much less silly than this parade of pasty 'Merican men.  And it's possible that the reason God doesn't recognize quotas is because they remind him of his failures.  See, as a perfected being who claims that his work and his glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, you'd think that his quota for the salvation of his children would be one hundred percent.  But, as I've mentioned before, what with the whole Lucifer business, right out of the gate God's maximum success rate was slashed by a third.  Quotas may give him painful flashbacks to that unpleasant memory.

And then, astutely recognizing that the answers to her question have mostly involved race and nationality, Peggy pipes up again, "But what about women?"  To which our new mouthpiece of the Lord quips:

I love 'em.  I have a special place in my heart about the women.
—Russell M. Nelson
He actually has to pause for laughter after that first sentence.  He's totally taking this seriously, guys.  Also the use of a definite article here is completely unnecessary and comes off as oddly belittling.  Instead of having a special place in his heart for women, he as one about the women?  That's weird, dude.  Slightly creepy.  And the phraseology kind of separates you from women like you've compartmentalized your world so that you don't actually interact with females much and sometimes you forget what they're like.

I keep getting praised about how wonderful my children are.  And I know who did that.
—Henry B. Eyring
Under normal circumstances, this might be a very sweet thing to say about his wife.  The problem is that this is a Mormon news conference, so these are hardly what could fairly be considered as normal circumstances.

It may come as a shock to you, Henry, Dallin, and Russell, but women can actually excel at things  that are entirely unrelated to child care.  Sure, some women are terrific mothers and they should absolutely be praised for their efforts.  But all of the nice things you've said about women while kind of ignoring the fact that they can't be apostles boils down to two things:  they raise children and they have a positive effect on adult men.  Sure, women can't hold the priesthood and they can't be prophets, apostles, seventies, mission presidents, temple presidents, stake presidents, patriarchs, high councilors, bishops, branch presidents, high priests, ward executive secretaries, elders, priests, teachers, or even deacons, but it must be a comfort to the gentler sex that, when pressed, those men in power can pretend to attribute their success to the women who did all their parenting for them.

If you add the number of years that Brother Oaks and I and Brother Eyring have been apostles, you're talking about ninety years.  So that can't help but be helpful to the young people of the church so that they don't have to look laterally for what will bring them joy in life, they can look to the leaders of the church who, under the influence of the Lord, can give them good guidance.
—Russell M. Nelson
Wait, why is it inherently bad to look laterally for something?  I mean, isn't that basically the spirit of teamwork?  People on the same level work together, pull strength from each other, and achieve as a group?  That's bad?

And Nelson has mildly misinterpreted the original question ("I think you were saying, in essence, how can the youth follow an old man?").  The reporter has asked Nelson to share a message to the youth relating to their struggles and to explain what the youth could learn from him.  Nelson uses this opportunity about how the First Presidency is better able to guide the youth because of their wealth of experience—even though they'll be led by the Lord, which really should mean that age doesn't matter.  The Lord can still put a younger, inexperienced prophet under his "influence" to accomplish his purposes.  Has President Nelson even read the scriptures?  Or heard of Joseph Smith?

So basically Nelson answers a question that wasn't asked by claiming his age gives him wisdom that he shouldn't need in the first place in order to be led by God.

I think, if anything, [Nelson's] sermons won't be as important to [the youth] as his example.
—Henry B. Eyring
Eyring seems to be ensorcelled by Nelson's irrepressibly upbeat personality.  To be fair, Eyring knows the guy far better than I do, but I was surprised to hear that particular kind of praise heaped upon the new prophet.  Nelson has never struck me as being as concertedly optimistic as Eyring seems to believe he is.  I wouldn't say Nelson is happy to focus on negativity, as Elder Holland is prone to do.  But Nelson has always emanated a sense of dryness and stuffiness and sternness.  Optimistic?  Where is Henry getting this from?

But it is entertaining to hear an apostle admit to the predictably low impact of a prophet's general conference address.

The final question is a doozy, referencing slowed growth and increased apostasy due to the church's lack of transparency or a member's study of troubling church history.  Our fearless leader responds:

Every member needs to know the difference between what's doctrine and what's human.  We have both elements that we have to work with.
—Russell M. Nelson
Yeah, that's fair.  So when a prophet preaches overtly racist ideology from the pulpit at general conference and institutes anti-black policies that endure for a century while subsequent prophets and apostles echo or expound upon his bigotry in the name of the Lord, we should all just be expected to parse those statements flawlessly, on the fly, and understand that it's not of God, even though it's presented in exactly the same way as things that actually are of God, and even though it will continue to be printed in official church publications and lesson manuals until those references are eventually scrubbed clean or sanded down to something sounding much more innocuous and even though we've been taught since primary to follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, don't go astray.

Just...know the difference, guys.  We won't give you any tools or guidelines for determining the difference, and if it's something being stated by the current prophetic administration we'll always insist that it's doctrine even if that happens to be overturned later, but there's no reason for confusion.  Just know the difference

Don't be offended by what may have been said or what may have transpired.  Make sure that you're square with your Heavenly Father who loves you and wants you to be happy, and the way to happiness is to keep his commandments.
—Russell M. Nelson
I'm wondering if Nelson honestly doesn't understand that people can stop believing in the church.  The reporter asked him what his message was to those who were leaving the church, but his answers still contain an expectation of belief.  Telling someone who's left the church that keeping the commandments will lead to happiness and that it's important to be square with the man upstairs is pointless.  Most of us don't actually believe in that stuff—and those of us who do tend to believe in different versions of that stuff.  We tend to follow no God's commandments or the commandments of a God worshiped by a non-Mormon religion.  What Nelson is suggesting here is basically like sitting down next to a musician composing a piece of music and saying, "Have you tried using watercolor instead of acrylic?  I think that will really make your song sound better."

Also, telling someone not to be offended by something you can't even admit happened (although it may have transpired or been said) doesn't solve anything.  If someone finds something troubling—oh, hey, my African-American ancestors were treated like second-class citizens by God's true church even after my government started trying to make it illegal for people to treat them like second-class citizens—you can't just wave that away.  If you think the solution is for people not to get offended by appalling, reprehensible words and actions in church history, you're not honestly confronting the problem.  Offensive shit happened.  Offensive shit still happens.  As someone who has had some experience offending people, I've often found that a sincere apology does a lot more good than some non-specific advice to just get over it.

It's a great comfort to me that I don't have to take the statement or actions of one particular leader as expressive of the doctrine and expectations of the church.  We don't believe in infallibility of our leaders. What we believe in is the organization the church has set in place with multiple prophets, seers, and revelators, and with a council system.
—Dallin H. Oaks
This is not the fucking United States Constitution, pal.   Don't pretend like there are checks and balances and separations of powers.  What exactly does the "council system" entail?  And what exactly is the point of having the leaders of the church address the membership twice a year if we shouldn't necessarily be taking their statements as expressive of the doctrine and expectations of the church?

And you have balls of some kind of iron-hypocrisy alloy to tell everybody we don't believe in the infallibility of our leaders.  Remember that time that you said that "it's wrong to criticize the leaders of the church even if the criticism is true"?  So you're saying that you're not infallible, but it's wrong to treat you like you're not?  

And in addition, I would remind those who worry about the things you've asked about very appropriately...when it comes to transparency, by the action of this council, we have published the Joseph Smith Papers.  ...  If we weren't interested in transparency, we wouldn't be publishing all the papers of the prophet Joseph Smith and the documents that came out of the founding of this restored church.
—Dallin H. Oaks
Okay, sure, at the very most, the Joseph Smith Papers project signals an increased interest in transparency within the last decade or so.  But Joseph Smith died 144 years ago.  The church, throughout its history, has not been interested in releasing tons of historical information about Joseph Smith's life, including some of his wilder sermons and his many brushes with the law.  Are the Joseph Smith Papers a good sign?  Absolutely.  Does it demonstrate once and for all that the church is honest and open about everything?

Well...let's see...I don't recall Oaks releasing the details of the church finances, so, I'd say no.  I'm still hearing general authorities discourage members from researching topics the church doesn't want them to research (Uchtdorf's "doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith," Andersen's "give brother Joseph a break," Callister's attack on Book of Mormon critics, et cetera).  As long as the church does its best to make sure nobody knows exactly what they're doing with all that tithing, transparency cannot be considered a very high priority.  Oaks's assertion here sounds kind of like triumphantly stating, "If I weren't trying to lose weight, I wouldn't have driven past that McDonald's last Tuesday."  One positive action can't be reasonably extrapolated into an established pattern of positive behavior.  You'll have to do better than that.

I began watching this press conference half-interestedly, assuming it would be little more than a photo op with some prepared statements and some non-threatening questions with canned answers.  Maybe one of the apostles would say something a little off the wall, and maybe not.  What I did not expect was that all of them would ad lib their answers with an embarrassing level of rhetorical frailty.  Let's all please give a special (take a shot!) round of applause for the reporters, most of whom opted not to lob low-speed pitches right through the strike zone—and for Peggy Fletcher Stack, who was doing her damnedest to throw a beanball.

It'll be, as always, interesting to see how the church evolves from here during Nelson's tenure.  And it will be tense to see how long it lasts before Dallin Oaks stops jumping in to retool the prophet's words in more eloquent and more appropriate language and starts warming the hot seat himself.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Purpose of Prophethood

By now, I'm sure it's old news that Thomas S. Monson, sixteenth president of the Brighamite branch of Mormonism, has passed away.  The next prophet is expected to be Russell M. Nelson.

I liked Monson's public persona.  He had kind of a grandfatherly charisma at his General Conference appearances, much like his predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley.  Nelson doesn't have that.  His aura is one of rigorousness and exactness.  One of his recent Conference addresses stressed the importance of semantics referencing the atonement, an assuredly trivial thing to devote such time to.  Unless the mantle of leadership involves a softened public image, Nelson's tenure may be quite different from Monson's.

But one thing that will stay the same is, of course, Nelson's ability to prophesy.  Monson, as many church critics gleefully point out, didn't make any substantive prophecies while he was the prophet.  Neither did Hinckley.  And likely, neither will Nelson.

But that got me wondering what the purpose of prophecy is.  Why is this such an important concept that it's the first title members sustain their church president to be?  What is essential to our salvation about our leader foretelling future events?  Prophets have predicted the second coming of Christ and the ensuing havoc at varying levels of non-specificity for generations.  What does this accomplish?  Why does God need this kind of thing to happen?

Of course, one of the simplest reasons is to demonstrate the power of God—or, more accurately, that the prophet has the power of God.  Predicting some unexpected event with clarity speaks to a level of foresight associated with godly knowledge.  This is why Hank Morgan was feared as a powerful wizard for predicting the eclipse in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.  And this is why it was so impressive, apparently, for Nephi to know about Christopher Columbus.  At least, with the power of prophecy, God's chosen mouthpieces can convince people that they actually speak for God.  Sometimes.

Another reason seems to be for God to basically say, "I told you so."  The doom of the Nephites was foretold many times over their thousand year history.  But despite all the foreknowledge, it seemed unavoidable.  What is the purpose of prophesying something so horrible?  Why would an omniscient God bother to warn us of something that we clearly cannot avoid?  I suppose it teaches a lesson to later generations who can see how disastrously correct the prophecy was, but it doesn't hold a lot of weight if the prophecy and its fulfillment are both revealed centuries after the fact.  A prophecy like that is only predictive if the audience can see it unfold in real time.

But when is the last time we've seen a prophet do anything like the things prophets did in the scriptures?  What purpose does a prophet who does not prophesy serve? 

I realize it's a bit of a Mormon cliché to resort to explicating the definitions of key terminology, but it's interesting to me that the Google definition of prophet includes a specific definition among Mormons:  Joseph Smith or one of his successors. The first definition mentions teaching the will of God but gives words like seer and fortune-teller—terms associated with foresight—as synonyms.  Other definitions mention the ability—or the claim of an ability—to make predictions.  So prophets are generally associated with divine predictive power...except maybe in modern Mormonism.

Why call someone who doesn't prophesy a prophet?  I suppose the only reason left is to induce the distinction provided by the title.  The title is merely a vestigial office, an outdated remnant of the faith's the bolder, gutsier, more dramatic roots (like polygamy, praying with archaic pronouns, and even the prophetic line of succession).  But the word prophet—and to a lesser extent, the words seer and revelator—summons up mental associations with powers beyond the realistic scope of Hinckley, Monson, and Nelson.

But as long as the focus in the church is on the title and reverence for the man who bears it instead of on the abilities and divine gifts being claimed, Nelson will have the same prestige and enjoy the same control over his followers, whether he makes any prophecies or not.

And I'm betting he will not.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

God's Compelling Witness: The Book of Mormon

I finally got around to reviewing Tad Callister's atrociously bad address from the October 2017 general conference of the church.  At the time, there was just too much insanity there to quote everything in my usual general conference summary.  But it's an important enough argument for the Book of Mormon that I wanted to deconstruct it properly.  Because Callister is full of shit.

Which reminds me...this talk really pisses me off.  So—just a fair warning—although I usually try to tone down my profanity on this blog, I'm not feeling in the mood to pull so many punches.

I can't make it through the first paragraph without starting the eye rolling and the head shaking:
This book is the one weight on the scales of truth that exceeds the combined weight of all the critics’ arguments. Why? Because if it is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and this is the restored Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of any historical or other arguments to the contrary.[1]
Okay, maybe I can understand the argument that if the Book of Mormon is true then Joseph Smith was a prophet.  However, if the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is a prophet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being Jesus's restored church is still not the only reasonable conclusion.  Perhaps it would be reasonable to conclude that the church as it existed in Joseph Smith's era was.  But since, in his capacity as prophet, Joseph didn't explicitly reveal how God would select his next prophet, there are a whole lot of other offshoots of Mormonism that might actually be the correct surviving sect that God authorized Joseph to restore.

My money's on the Community of Christ.  Not on any doctrinal basis, really.  Just because I like them and they seem pretty cool, so if there's a version of Mormonism that's true, I hope it's that one.

Moving on:
First, the critics must explain how Joseph Smith, a 23-year-old farm boy with limited education, created a book with hundreds of unique[2] names and places, as well as detailed stories and events.

I'm not seeing how any lack of education has anything to do with this.  You can make up names and places and stories without studying arithmetic or grammar.  And it's worth pointing out that the names aren't all that unique anyway.  I mean, the family tree at one point is Amos, son of Amos, son of Nephi, son of Nephi, son of Helaman, son of Helaman, son of Alma, son of Alma.  There are two Moronis and two Lehis.  There are many character names that are reused as place names—Moroni, Nephi, Gideon, Teancum.  And there are tons of names that are borrowed from Biblical sources—Jordan, Judea, Aaron, Gideon...and Nephi is from the Apocrypha.  And as far as the stories go, it's a matter of imagination rather than education.  Joseph's mother is quoted as saying that he had a knack for storytelling.

And, as a critic of the Book of Mormon, I actually don't have to explain how Joseph Smith did it.  Because I don't think he did it alone.  If he had help from, say, Sidney Rigdon, then education wouldn't have been an issue.
Accordingly, many critics propose that he was a creative genius who relied upon numerous books and other local resources to create the historical content of the Book of Mormon. But contrary to their assertion, there is not a solitary witness who claims to have seen Joseph with any of these alleged resources before the translation began.
I'm also not aware of any witness who claims to have seen Joseph with Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews or Solomon Spaulding's Manuscript, Found.  And that's okay.  It's obviously easier to convict someone if there's a smoking gun, but that's not the only way to do it.  There's also not a single solitary witness to confirm that Joseph Smith had that vision in the sacred grove, either, but apparently we're supposed to accept that as truth.  These things all happened almost two hundred years ago so eyewitness statements and hard proof are going to be difficult to come by for a lot of things.  But if we're looking at all the information we have and we're trying to draw the most logical conclusions, from where I'm sitting, it makes a lot more sense for Joseph Smith to have used some other sources to assist him in building the Book of Mormon than for him to have received the whole thing from God using a stone in his hat.  We can't prove that he had these other sources, but there is evidence to support a reasonable theory that he could have had access to them.
Even if this argument were true, it is woefully insufficient to explain the Book of Mormon’s existence. One must also answer the question: how did Joseph read all of these alleged resources, winnow out the irrelevant, keep the intricate facts straight as to who was in what place and when, and then dictate it by perfect[3] memory? For when Joseph Smith translated, he had no notes whatsoever. In fact, his wife Emma recalled: “He had neither manuscript nor book to read from. … If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.”
This isn't a terrible argument.  This is part of why I think Joseph Smith had help to pull this off.  This is also something I don't have any evidence for.

However, for one thing, Joseph didn't winnow out the irrelevant.  There's plenty of irrelevant stuff in the Book of Mormon, although I suppose that depends on your definition of irrelevant.  Personally, I think the vast majority of Old Testament quotations are irrelevant or at best superfluous.  A lot of the war commentary is irrelevant because it's just about how many people died and has nothing to do with doctrine.  The histories of the zillions of Jaredite kings is irrelevant because it consists of lists of names that have absolutely no affect on our knowledge of the gospel.  And maybe there is something in those other sources that Joseph didn't borrow that could have been more useful.

And I'm not convinced that Joseph did keep all the intricate facts straight.  Remember in Alma 56 when the letter from Helaman briefly switches from first person to third person narration?  Like maybe Joseph forgot whose perspective he was working from?  Admittedly, that's the only example I can think of right now, but there have been many tweaks and edits made to the Book of Mormon, so my modern version may not reflect a lot of mistakes that could have been made in the original dictation.  But the actual stories themselves are short and not particularly complex, either. It would be much more impressive had the entire 500-page manuscript been about Nephi and his family without all this Bible quoting and doctrine preaching.  Then there would be a lot more character detail and story structure to get jumbled if it was being dictated off the cuff.  But instead, the stories in the Book of Mormon basically amount to a loosely connected series of novellas or vignettes.  There are no recurring characters.  Joseph Smith didn't have to remember what Captain Moroni was doing last time we saw him when he brings the character back 300 pages later.  Captain Moroni essentially appears in two of these short stories back to back in plot lines that do not overlap.

So let's not misunderstand.  Joseph Smith didn't do what J. K. Rowling did.  And he didn't outperform modern masters of pen without the benefit of modern aides.  He just made stuff up and the one-dimensional characters and simplistic plot structures interspersed with stuff that isn't story-related at all should not be presented as evidence that he couldn't possibly have fabricated the Book of Mormon.

The quotation from Emma is troubling but not damning.  Just because Emma is convinced Joseph wasn't tricking her doesn't mean she's right about it. I'm sure if Joseph was being clever he had something a bit better than the old writing-the-test-answers-on-your-arm-under-your-long-sleeve ploy, but who knows for sure.
So how did Joseph perform this remarkable feat of dictating a 500-plus–page book without any notes[4]? To do so, he must not only have been a creative genius[5] but also have had a photographic memory[6] of prodigious proportions. But if that is true, why did his critics not call attention to this remarkable talent?
I think Joseph was very intelligent and charismatic.  I think he had a talent for imagination and deception. The Bible passages are a tricky subject.  I think maybe for those sections of the Book of Mormon, he may have previously memorized them before pretending to translate them.  Or maybe his scribes at the time conspired with him.  But it's not like he sat down and dictated a five hundred page book in one sitting.  And with the quality of the writing and the grammar in the book, it seems pretty reasonable that parts of it could have been spoken aloud without notes. 

And he's not a creative genius.  Because he'd been making up stories like this for a long time.  I could tell you the whole plot of the novel I'm working on now if I had to—and I could do it without any notes because I've been planning it out for a while.  It would come out clunky and inelegant (kind of like the Book of Mormon) but it would be a coherent story.  That doesn't make me a creative genius.
But there is more. These arguments account only for the book’s historical content. The real issues still remain: how did Joseph produce a book that radiates with the Spirit[7], and where did he get such profound doctrine[8], much of which clarifies[9] or contradicts the Christian beliefs of his time?

Oh my fucking God.  I like how historicity isn't a huge concern, but intangible things like profoundness and spirituality are the real issues.  Okay, Callister.  Let's see.  The Book of Mormon radiates violence, racism, tribalism, absolutism, and divine favoritism.  Maybe that's what the Spirit means to you, I don't know. 

I suppose the profoundness of the doctrine is extremely subjective, but honestly, the moments of doctrinal lucidity are kind of few and far between.  There's a lot of blandness and banality in the pages between "the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way" and "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."

And the supposed fact that Joseph clarifies some Christian beliefs doesn't mean he's right about anything.  I mean, I'm clarifying why the Book of Mormon should not be viewed as the word of God right now, but there are plenty of people who won't put any stock in what I'm saying.  This is just my opinion.  Characterizing something as a clarification depends wholly on personal perspective.  Clarifying something doesn't make it clear to everyone and the act of clarification is not inherently divine.  And let's be honest—the Book of Mormon completely fucks the Christian concepts of the identity of God.  Abinadi clarified nothing.  He just ranted in circles and hoped that people would assume it made sense if he did it with confidence.

And the same thing goes for contradiction.  Okay, so Joseph contradicted Christian beliefs.  Why should it logically follow that the book he claimed to have translated was legitimate?  I contradict the Christian beliefs of my time, too.  Sometimes in writing.  Does my doctrine come from God too?
For example, the Book of Mormon teaches, contrary to most Christian beliefs, that the Fall of Adam was a positive step forward. It reveals the covenants made at baptism, which are not addressed in the Bible.
Oh, good, you actually offer some examples.  Kudos for putting your money where your mouth is.  But you raise an interesting problem.  The Fall of Adam was a positive step forward.  Cool doctrine, I guess.  It basically means that the Garden of Eden was an experiment designed to fail.  Adam and Eve needed to partake of the forbidden fruit in order to multiply, replenish the earth, and give the waiting spirit children bodies for their mortal estates.  Which means that God gave Adam and Eve mutually exclusive commandments in Genesis—multiply and don't eat the fruit.  Except they can't do A without failing at B.  And as long as they succeed at B they can't do A.  Go back and read 1 Nephi 3:7 and tell me how full of shit Nephi is.  Callister's first example of a profound new doctrine that the Book of Mormon introduces informs us of an impossible situation God designed which, according to the Book of Mormon, is not something God ever does.

His next example is the baptismal covenants, referring to Mosiah 18, in which Alma baptizes a bunch of people at the Waters of Mormon.  But there are some weird little issues with this one too.  It doesn't actually match what the modern church does.  In Mosiah 18:10, God's side of the bargain is revealed to be that he will pour out his spirit more abundantly.  And then Alma baptizes Helam, and then in verse 14, Helam arises from the water filled with the Spirit.  In the next verse, Alma has moved on to his next customer.  So why is it that the LDS church treats baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost as separate things?  Why is there no mention of Alma laying his hands on Helam's head to give him that confirmation?  It sure sounds like Helam got baptized and confirmed at the same time.  And this would have been a perfect opportunity for the scriptures to reveal the doctrine of confirmation.

Also, if these covenants are so wonderful as they were revealed in Mosiah, why don't we use the same prayer for modern baptisms that Alma used?  We use the same sacrament prayers from the Book of Mormon—well, substituting the word "water" for "wine."  Why tout the awesomeness of the revealed doctrines if we aren't going to stick to them?
In addition, one might ask: where did Joseph get the powerful insight[10] that because of Christ’s Atonement, He can not only cleanse us but also perfect us?
Um, he made it up?  It's not the wildest idea out there.
Where did he get the stunning[11] sermon on faith in Alma 32?
Stunningly bad, you mean.
Or King Benjamin’s sermon on the Savior’s Atonement, perhaps the most remarkable[12] sermon on this subject in all scripture?
This time, I assume you meant remarkably awful.
Or the allegory of the olive tree with all its complexity and doctrinal richness[13]? When I read this allegory, I have to map it out to follow its intricacies.
Hahahahaha, "intricacies" is one way of putting it.  The reason you have to map it out is because it's hogcock.
Are we now supposed to believe that Joseph Smith just dictated these sermons off the top of his head with no notes whatsoever?
Sure.  I think if you read those chapters carefully, it's more reasonable to assume he dictated them than translated them using a seer stone.  These doctrines are not worthy of the kind of god Mormonism teaches us to believe in.  And, again, the jury is still out on whether or not Joseph had any assistance with the dictation, notes or otherwise.
If Joseph were not a prophet, then in order to account for these and many other remarkable doctrinal insights, the critics must make the argument that he was also a theological genius[14].
Uh, no.  Points for using the subjunctive, there, chief.  Your grammar may be on point, but your logic is all over the place.  See, you haven't really proven that any of these doctrinal "insights" are actually remarkable.  It's clear you believe they're remarkable, but I don't see much that empirically makes them extraordinary among the endless historical annals of religious teachings.  But even if I were to concede that these insights are remarkable (see, I can do grammar too), I still don't have to argue that Joseph Smith was a theological genius.  Gifted with an imagination, sure.  But if we hearken back to the unproven-but-not-batshit-crazy theory that Sidney Rigdon may have assisted with the creation of the Book of Mormon, suddenly we have a plausible idea that does not fit into your false dichotomy.  Maybe the Book of Mormon used Joseph's imagination and Rigdon's experience as a theologian.  Look at that, I've made a different argument than the one I supposedly have to make!

Of course, the hypothetical argument that I may or may not make is kind of moot anyway, because I don't think that the doctrinal insights of the Book of Mormon are remarkable enough to require the involvement of a theological genius.
But if that were the case, one might ask: why was Joseph the only one[15] in the 1,800 years following Christ’s ministry to produce such a breadth of unique[16] and clarifying doctrines? Because it was revelation, not brilliance, that was the source of this book.
Really?  Joseph Smith was the only guy to introduce a bunch of unique and clarifying doctrines after Christ's ministry?  No other religious sect produced scripture or revelation?  No other historical figure tried to clarify the doctrines of Christianity by causing a schism, starting a new religion, or—and this is just a wild guess here—nailing some theses—I'm gonna pick a random number here and say, like, 95 of them—to a church door?  Oh, look, there's some helpful information about religious history that we can learn about in case we'd care to step outside of our ignorance and learn about other systems of belief that maybe ours isn't as superior to as we thought! 
But even if we suppose that Joseph were a creative and theological genius with a photographic memory—these talents alone do not make him a skilled writer. To explain the Book of Mormon’s existence, the critics must also make the claim that Joseph was a naturally gifted writer at age 23[17]. Otherwise, how did he interweave scores of names, places, and events into a harmonious[18] whole without inconsistencies? How did he pen detailed[19] war strategies, compose eloquent[20] sermons, and coin phrases that are highlighted, memorized, quoted, and placed on refrigerator doors by millions of people, phrases such as, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17) or “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). These are messages with a heartbeat—messages that live and breathe and inspire. To suggest that Joseph Smith at age 23 possessed the skills necessary to write this monumental work in a single draft in approximately 65 working days is simply counter to the realities of life.
Jesus fucking Christ.  Stop already.

Okay, so I'm not supposing that Joseph was a creative genius or a theological genius or gifted with a photographic memory.  But, assuming that I were to suppose all of those things, let's examine this particularly absurd string of claims.

No, I mustn't necessarily make the claim that Joseph Smith was a naturally gifted writer.  I think he occasionally had a knack for coining a solid phrase—which I'm pretty sure I've mentioned more than once—and I think he became more eloquent as he aged, but most of the time, I think he was trying too hard. 

Oh wait, Callister's not even talking about the quality of the writing, he's referring to the quality of the storytelling.  Well, it's easy to explain how he may have avoided inconsistencies in the names and the places.  The stories themselves are smaller, mostly self-contained, and loosely linked by an overarching history.  So it's not like he's accidentally going to have Lemuel show up while he's dictating Christ's visit in 3 Nephi.  You'd have to be a prodigiously bad writer to make that kind of mistake.  And the geography of the Book of Mormon is described somewhat vaguely, which is part of why it's so hard to pin down where this all supposedly took place. Joseph Smith didn't have to remember that Gideon was 26.7 miles east-south-east of Zarahemla and that it was overlooked by a specific mountain peak and had a population of twenty thousand and was mostly rocky soil and therefore supported itself economically with mostly livestock and imported most of its vegetables and grains and demographically had a higher concentration of Zoramites than most Nephite cities did and so on and so on.  The geography is basically that some city is on the borders by the sea, Zarahemla is on the river Sidon, and there's some more stuff in the land northward past the narrow neck of land. 

Is it easy to keep all that stuff straight?  Normally, probably not.  It's not impossible.  But if he's been telling stories like this for years like his mother said then it shouldn't have been too difficult to avoid glaring inconsistencies if he was keeping away from specifics.

And his detailed war strategies are not particularly impressive.  The war strategies almost always involve surrounding the enemy.  When they don't, it's usually about deceiving the enemy, which, interestingly enough, is a much easier story to tell if you're experienced with trickery and inexperienced with war.  You'll find nothing so complex as Thermopylae or Gettysburg or Poitiers in here.

Anyone who's eloquent can compose an eloquent sermon.  Something can be eloquent but still full of rubbish.  But most of the Book of Mormon sermons are ineloquent with occasional moments of brilliance.  Most of the doctrine is either recycled or nonsense...with occasional moments of insight.  Nothing that indicates a non-human source there.

The argument about coining phrases that are on refrigerators is what really got my blood pressure up.  The reason that these phrases are on refrigerators has nothing to do with how true they are.  It's because these phrases have been treated as scriptures for generations.  Callister is basically saying, "After almost two hundred years of brainwashing have led people to believe these things are true, how could we entertain the idea that they didn't come from God?" The whole reason these scriptures are on refrigerators is because of people like Callister giving speeches like this to audiences like conference center attendees.  The logic is bizarrely circular.  It loops back on itself.  Maybe it's figure-eight logic.  Mobius strip logic.

And it's important that Callister mentions that this was produced in a single draft.  Because sometimes, it really reads like it was done in a single draft, on the fly (see God is a Bad EditorWitnessing a Convoluted ThoughtEveryone Loves a Run-on).

Since we're talking about creative geniuses, here, let me draw a comparison with my literary hero, Stephen Crane.  The novel for which he is best remembered, The Red Badge of Courage, was written while he was—wait for it—a mere 23 years old.  The novel is about one fifth the length of The Book of Mormon and it took him about five times as long to write it—although he, too, wrote it by hand without modern aides like typewriters or word processors.  However, The Red Badge of Courage was wholly original, not borrowing from any long-established literary monuments like the Bible.  Talk to an English professor or a literary critic sometime.  See if that guy can tell you how many times the themes contradict each other or how many times the book teaches that war is pretty awesome or how the quality of the storytelling and writing stacks up against the quality of the Book of Mormon.  That'll be an interesting conversation.

Stephen Crane died at the age of 28 but he managed to be extremely prolific during his short career.  I own his complete works in one volume and it's considerably thicker than the Book of Mormon.  It also contains much deeper insight into humanity and existence and represents a far richer artistic significance than anything the Book of Mormon has ever come close to attaining.  If Callister is saying that Joseph Smith must have produced the Book of Mormon through a divine miracle, and if Callister gets to claim what his critics "must" argue, then I'm going to declare that Callister must too argue that Stephen Crane's exceptional oeuvre is equally miraculous and equally divine.

Oh, and also, to suggest that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel so that he could dig up an ancient record in order to hide it under a cloth while he put a completely unrelated stone into his hat in order to divinely translate the writing on the plates hidden under the cloth is simply counter to the realities of life.
President Russell M. Nelson, an experienced and skilled writer, shared that he had over 40 rewrites of a recent general conference talk. Are we now to believe that Joseph Smith, on his own[21], dictated the entire Book of Mormon in a single draft with mainly[22] minor grammatical changes made thereafter?
The reason that Nelson may have said this is because, as an experienced writer, he's learned that the first draft is not usually ready for the audience.  He's smarter than Joseph.  Or at least a more experienced writer.  I think the evidence kind of speaks for itself.  Nelson's sermons are far more polished and better-written than the, you know, revealed word of God.  And, yeah, Nelson makes fewer grammatical errors too.  I wonder if Nelson has ever tried to edit an old conference talk of his to make his wording less racist, less Trinitarian, or less absolute about certain genealogical claims.  Because that happened with the Book of Mormon.  In addition to the grammatical fixes.
Joseph’s wife Emma confirmed the impossibility[23] of such an undertaking: “Joseph Smith [as a young man] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon.”
But he could tell a story.  And he could read.  And maybe he had some help.  Emma clearly believes that Joseph Smith dictating the Book of Mormon coherently on his own is impossible.  But even if she's right, there are other possibilities.
And finally, even if one accepts all of the foregoing arguments, dubious as they may be, the critics still face another looming obstacle. Joseph claimed that the Book of Mormon was written on golden plates. This claim received unrelenting criticism in his day—for “everyone” knew that ancient histories were written on papyrus or parchment, until years later, when metal plates with ancient writings were discovered. In addition, the critics claimed that the use of cement, as described in the Book of Mormon, was beyond the technical expertise of these early Americans—until cement structures were found in ancient America. How do the critics now account for these and similar unlikely discoveries? Joseph, you see, must also have been a very, very lucky guesser[24]. Somehow, in spite of all the odds against him, against all existing scientific and academic knowledge, he guessed right when all the others were wrong[25].
Okay, yeah, some things that were initially thought to be anachronisms in the Book of Mormon have since been demonstrated to be plausible.  Are we going to pretend like there aren't plenty of others?  If Joseph Smith guessed right about cement structures in ancient America we don't care that he guessed wrong about horses and steel and chariots and elephants and goats and barley and wheat and silk?

There are various apologetic responses to most of these that are fine individually, but they don't work together.  If you assume the Book of Mormon was referring to the bighorn sheep when it references goats and was alluding to tapirs when it mentions horses and you cross-reference those animals' habitats with areas of the Americas where there's evidence of ancient cement being utilized and you compare that with Book of Mormon geography...after a while, there's really no location for Book of Mormon events that can satisfy all of these apologetic possibilities. 

Which is why it seems more reasonable to argue that Joseph Smith was making stuff up and happened to get a few things right than to argue that Joseph Smith received revelation from God which included a lot of details that directly contradict human understanding.   Maybe one day we'll learn that there really was wheat in America before the Europeans arrived.  But to assume that because some anachronisms have been overturned means eventually they all will is silly.  Joseph Smith's batting average is still pretty low, here.  Let's not pretend he's triumphantly outwitted the entirety of modern academia.
When all is said and done, one might wonder how someone could believe that all these alleged factors and forces, as proposed by the critics, fortuitously combined in such a way that enabled Joseph to write the Book of Mormon and thus foster a satanic hoax. But how does this make sense? In direct opposition to such an assertion, this book has inspired millions to reject Satan[26] and to live more Christlike lives.
Hahaha, what the fuck!?  When did Satan suddenly get thrown into the mix?  I don't think there's a very large contingent of Book of Mormon critics who are arguing that this was a satanic hoax.  But sure, let's try to word this paragraph so that we're associating the concept of criticizing the Book of Mormon with an extreme claim so that we can look sane by comparison when we refute it.

How many millions of Satan worshippers have picked up the Book of Mormon, seen the error of their ways, and converted to the gospel of Christ?

Yeah, the Book of Mormon has inspired some people to live more Christlike lives.  So has To Kill a Mockingbird.  And in an unfortunate number of cases, the religion spawned of the Book of Mormon has inspired some people to live more Pharisaical, racist, homophobic, sexist, hateful lives.  If you believe in Satan, you could argue that some of those qualities are less Christlike and more Satanlike.

But even if the book has inspired people to be better, that doesn't mean the book is actually the word of God.
While someone might choose to believe the critics’ line of reasoning, it is, for me, an intellectual and spiritual dead end. To believe such, I would have to accept one unproven assumption after another.

Have you noticed the little numbers in brackets on Callister's quotes?  Those aren't his.  Those are mine.  After every phrase, statement, or concept that I think contains an unproven assumption, I added a little counter.  So far, we're at twenty-six.  In order to buy the bullshit that Callister is shoveling at us here, we'd have to accept a series of twenty-six unproven assumptions.

Perhaps your tally is slightly different.  I didn't count similar points made a second time.  I skipped ideas that I believe are factual even if they may not necessarily be one hundred percent proven.  But what Callister has done here is string together one unproven assumption after another to illustrate that the Book of Mormon is true and then he has the fucking intellectual dishonesty to decry that critics of the Book of Mormon require you to believe one unproven assumption after another to believe their claims.

Are we always right?  Of course not.  Do we make unproven assumptions?  Of course we do.  Is Tad Callister a giant hypocrite who, as an inspired representative of God, should have a much more logically sound argument for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon? 

Fuck yes.
In addition, I would have to disregard the testimony of every one of the 11 witnesses, even though each remained true to his testimony to the very end;
Okay, I'm gonna take the lazy way out on this one.  Some left the church, some followed James Strang, some swore similar statements about other religious texts of the era, some clarified that they didn't see the plates with their physical eyes, the witness names all appear to be written in the same hand, et cetera, et cetera.  There are a lot of wonky issues that threaten the credibility of the witnesses, although I'm not aware of any of them stating explicitly that the plates weren't real.  But the CES Letter has a pretty great section on this, so I'd point you in that direction for more research.
I would have to reject the divine doctrine that fills page after page of this sacred book with its supernal truths; I would have to ignore the fact that multitudes, including myself, have come closer to God by reading this book than any other;
Callister, you let me down.  I thought you were serious about your grammar, but there you go using "myself" incorrectly.  I thought you were better than this.

If I were still keeping tally, this statement would add a few more unproven assumptions to the list.  It's hard to accept any premise of this argument.  Prove the doctrine is divine.  Prove the book is sacred.  Prove that it contains truths.  Prove that anyone is closer to God in any sense.  Prove that all other books bring people less close to God.  How do you measure that kind of thing, anyway?  Callister is heavily favoring claims and arguments that cannot be proven or disproven because they're subjective, emotional, spiritual, or...I don't know...metaphysical.   You can't debate fact with someone who hides stubbornly in the realm of mysticism.
...and above all, I would have to deny the confirming whisperings of the Holy Spirit. This would be contrary to everything I know to be true.

Ladies and gentlemen, there it is!  Look at that—above all, the emotional response to the Book of Mormon trumps everything else.  Regardless of any logical arguments, casting aside any contradictory doctrines, any negative teachings within its pages, ignoring any historical, archaeological, genealogical, or scientific evidence, we must focus on the whisperings of the Spirit.  The Spirit constitutes everything this supercilious bastard knows to be true.  He is all but telling his audience to ignore everything else and just focus on whether they've gotten a spiritual confirmation.  A spiritual confirmation which, of course, someone from another religion can receive about another religious text.  A spiritual confirmation which, as we learned in the Doctrine and Covenants, can even be misinterpreted by the prophet as coming from God when it really comes from the Devil.  A spiritual confirmation which cannot be touched, quantified, verified, or duplicated.  A spiritual confirmation which is difficult to describe and can come differently to different people but is guaranteed to come, unless you don't get it, in which case you need to either repent or wait for the Lord to provide it on his own schedule.  A spiritual confirmation which is touted by an organization which claims to have the truth but warns its followers about searching for truth outside of its own prescribed parameters.  Base everything on that, eschewing any logic or reason or science that may offer contradictory evidence, because building your life, your beliefs, and your identity around a feeling that you get even if you can't verify it rationally is always a great idea.

Teaching this shit is fucking reprehensible.  Callister has to know he's manipulating people into sticking their heads in the sand so the church can keep the tithing flowing.
One of my good and bright friends left the Church for a time. He recently wrote to me of his return: “Initially, I wanted the Book of Mormon to be proven to me historically, geographically, linguistically, and culturally. But when I changed my focus to what it teaches about the gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving mission, I began to gain a testimony of its truthfulness...."

I'm sure this totally happened and there's no chance that Callister is making this up.  But let's take a look at some of what the Book of Mormon teaches:
What beautiful doctrines!  What wonderful teachings!  What magnificent truths!  What utter horseshit!
If one will take the time to humbly read and ponder the Book of Mormon, as did my friend, and give ear to the sweet fruits of the Spirit, then he or she will eventually receive the desired witness.
Oh, I read it.  I pondered the shit out of it.  What especially pisses me off about this claim is the word eventually.  Listen, motherfucker, Moroni 10:4 does not use the word eventually.  It doesn't indicate any divine loading time.  When no period of time is mentioned for a promise to be fulfilled, it's pretty safe to assume that the promise will be fulfilled quickly. 

If you ask your friend if you can borrow ten bucks and he says, "okay," that's probably because he's about to pull out his wallet and give you ten bucks.  If you ask your friend to borrow ten bucks and he says, "okay, I can give it to you on Friday after my paycheck comes in," that means you'll have to wait for him to fulfill the promise.  How often does your friend say, "okay," with no further explanation and just stand there staring at you like you're crazy for not knowing that you might have to wait until Friday for the agreed-upon loan?

What Callister is doing here is saying that, when a scriptural prophet indicated that if you pray about the Book of Mormon you'll receive a witness that it's true, what that scriptural prophet really meant was that you'll receive a witness eventually. Which is why God isn't reaching for his wallet right now to offer you some personal revelation with Alexander Hamilton's face on it. I may be mixing my metaphors a bit too much here, but I think I've made my point.  Callister is moving the goalposts.
The Book of Mormon is one of God’s priceless gifts to us. It is both sword and shield—it sends the word of God into battle to fight for the hearts of the just and serves as an arch defender of the truth. As Saints, we have not only the privilege to defend the Book of Mormon but also the opportunity to take the offense—to preach with power its divine doctrine and bear testimony of its crowning witness of Jesus Christ.
Because Callister has pissed me off so much, I'm going to choose to misinterpret this.  I'm going to assume he's using the other definition of the word arch—deliberately playful or tongue-in-cheek.  By that definition, a general authority of the church has essentially just admitted that Joseph Smith made the whole Book of Mormon thing up as a joke.  You heard it here first, folks.

What confuses and annoys me about this quote (for real this time) is that if the Book of Mormon is both sword and shield, why do we have to defend it and fight for it?  You don't step in front of a shield to keep it from being damaged.  The shield is supposed to be in front of you to keep you from being damaged.  Maybe the reason that we have the privilege to defend it and the opportunity to take the offense on its behalf is because the Book of Mormon can't fucking stand on its own merits.  It's such a terribly written, shoddily-conceived, morally ambiguous, self-contradictory insult to the concept of divine scripture that if we let it defend itself and represent itself on the field of "battle," it will get shredded into ribbons. 
I bear my solemn testimony that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. It is God’s compelling witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and the absolute truth of this Church. May it become the keystone of our testimonies, so it may be said of us, as it was of the converted Lamanites, they “never did fall away." In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
It's also God's compelling witness of the incomprehensible and indefinable nature of Jesus Christ's divinity.  Go back and read all the scriptures that talk about the relationship between God and Christ.  Good luck figuring out incontrovertibly whether they're the same person, or individuals, or literal father and son, or the same god. 

As far as the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith goes, it's not hard to write in a prophecy about yourself when you're forging a book of scripture.  The fact that the Book of Mormon pretends to foretell Joseph's prophetic calling is not impressive.  And the results don't speak for themselves, either—if you're using the awesome awesomeness of the Book of Mormon as evidence that it must have been translated by the power of God and therefore its translator was a prophet, please review my list above.  This book teaches some horrific things and some things that contradict other things in the book, and some things that don't fit in with what the modern church teaches.  That seems to me to be a pretty good indication that Joseph Smith was not a prophet.

And if it's the absolute truth of this church, why are there so many things in there that the church doesn't follow?  Why does Jacob condemn polygamy?  Why does Abinadi teach the Trinity?  Why do so many Book of Mormon prophets teach the racism that the church tries to pretend is no big deal?  Perhaps even more importantly, why does the "absolute truth of this Church" not contain some of the most important unique doctrines of the church?  Why does it not mention eternal marriage, baptism for the dead, or temple endowments?  Why does it not delineate the offices of the priesthood?  Why does it not discuss the age of accountability, the full Plan of Salvation including the three degrees of glory, or eternal progression?  If this is supposed to be the absolute truth of the church, the only thing absolute about it is that it's absolutely incomplete.

The Book of Mormon is the keystone of my testimony, by the way.  It's the keystone of my ex-Mormon testimony.  Because of all the things there are to disbelieve about the church, this is what I can keep coming back to.  This infernal tome is what started it all and the book is, at times, laughably awful.   And if the keystone of the religion is so flawed and so easily removed, the entire structure crumbles.

And that's why this entire fucking talk is contemptible, dishonest tapirshit.