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.

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