Without any specific memory of how I'd gotten there—which is pretty common for cyberspace journeys—I recently discovered a sort of reverse CES Letter on the site Conflict of Justice. It's subtitled "Why you should stay a Latter-day Saint" and sort of flips the broad epistolary format of the CES Letter on its head.
But that's not the only thing that gets flipped on its head. In his effort to present clear, unassailable evidences for the claims of Mormonism, the author seems to paint a portrait of himself as someone who acknowledges no middle-ground and little nuance. He portrays himself not as an erudite champion of truth but as someone who revels in his perceived persecution and who loves the church only slightly more than he hates socialism.
That being said, he's clearly done a ton of research and that is greatly to his credit. He's not someone who's afraid to stare down the hard subjects that many of us tried to ignore for so long because of the discomfort they cause. But despite heaps of work and heaps of good intentions, the arguments presented in his 49-page pro-Mormon manifesto are, by and large, not very compelling.
And because this is apparently just how I do things, I'm going to go through it in detail, and discuss heaps of quotations. There were a few things that I won't bother to quote (obviously, the whole thing is available for free on his website for the curious). Some things I agreed with and some things didn't feel substantive enough to address and some things didn't feel distinct enough from what I covered in other sections. But I'm definitely using a ton of direct-from-the-source here, so buckle in for a long ride.
We'll begin with the introduction, in which the author frames his work in a similar fashion to the CES Letter. But instead of a letter full of questions for a CES director, this is a letter full of answers for someone in the midst of a faith crisis. The author writes:
Often when I answer an ex-church member’s “sincere” question, they repeat the question as if I had said nothing, and I repeat my answer, and round and round we go. It’s like they need to believe the hateful rhetoric against the Church.
That's really interesting. When I left the church, I'd been attending sacrament meetings with my parents while living at home. I didn't really want a confrontation, so I wrote my dad a letter and left it in his office explaining why I didn't want to go to church anymore. He, of course, did come to talk to me about it, and he asked me some follow-up questions. And I remember his pained, frustrated insistence that "you're still not telling me why." I'd written him several pages of reasons why. Literally moments earlier, I'd given him one specific reason why. But he still repeated his questions as if I had said nothing, and round and round we went. It's like he needed to believe the beloved dogma of the Church.
I'm not saying the author is wrong about his experiences, of course. I'm just saying that the visceral necessity to believe one way or another is something that can absolutely happen on either side of an issue.
Yet anti-Mormon propaganda is the same nonsense that bigots have been saying since the days of Joseph Smith—the same tired talking points and lies.
Ironically, this is a tired talking point of Mormon apologetics.
It's interesting to me that we're shedding any sense of objectivity so early in this work. There's not a whole lot of allowance for nuance and gray areas when we're not only implying that criticism of the church is anti-Mormon, propaganda, lies, and nonsense from bigots—which also implies that criticism of the church is actually personal animosity toward its members. And while all those things are real, those things do not represent the breadth of material that challenges the truth claims of Mormonism. But it does seem like we're trying to immediately disabuse our readers of the notion that credible, honest, legitimate, objective criticism of Mormonism is something that even exists.
That doesn't seem healthy and it certainly shouldn't create the impression that the next forty-five pages are going to do much to acknowledge that bias.
How did a teenager with a third-grade education from the backwoods of the wild frontier come up with 530 pages of profound and consistent ancient scripture: The complex war chapters, the flashbacks, the interwoven narrations, the different writing styles, the widely varying cultures, the geography, the geopolitics, the hundreds of names, the poetry, the Hebraisms, and the consistent inter-references… all written on a single draft in 65 days?
Later on, the author is going to claim that this letter is a wholly original work. In an indirect swipe at the CES Letter, he will insist that he didn't copy this or base this on anything else. But this passage does sound like a succinct distillation of a 2017 General Conference Talk by Tad R. Callister. It's absolutely not copied. But should we really be expected to believe that none of this was influenced by or based on a public address—from only three years earlier—that a faithful member of this author's caliber would surely have watched and probably re-read in the Ensign later? We all want to think we're originals, but none of us is as original as we think.
Skeptics laugh at this story and call it ‘peep stones in a hat,’ but stop to consider this: Were those witnesses who described seer stones lying about what they saw? If they were lying, why make up such a hokey story and why didn’t Joseph Smith say anything about the hat himself?
I'm sorry, can we stop to consider why the witnesses here are both reliable and unreliable? The implication is clearly that the witnesses to the translation process would have made up a less silly story if they were being dishonest. But if the witnesses were telling the truth, why are we asking why Joseph Smith didn't mention the hat? Surely a faithful Mormon would treat Joseph Smith as the most reliable of all the witnesses involved, so are we trying to cast doubt on the existence of a hat—and thereby on the honesty of the witnesses we just said wouldn't have been lying—by saying Joseph never said he used one?
If they really witnessed this, how could Joseph Smith make up scripture with his head plunged in a hat? How did he know ancient Hebrew literary styles that hadn’t been discovered yet? How did he know so much about the Arabian Peninsula and Middle Eastern life?
I think there needs to be an important distinction drawn here—encountering a phenomenon that you're unable to explain should not mean you're required to fall back on the nearest available explanation. I think I can explain chiasmus by the fact that the writing style imitated the Bible and by the fact that sometimes we just find what we want to find by wanting it badly enough. I don't concede that Joseph knew anything about the Arabian Peninsula because the whole NHM thing seems like a pretty thin coincidence in my personal judgement of it.
I don't have a good explanation for how Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon with his face in a hat, though. I also don't know who fired the first shot at Lexington and Concord either. It was a long time ago, there were a lot of variables, and it's gonna be tough to find out short of building a time machine and seeing it firsthand. And that's okay. But that doesn't mean that, in the absence of a full explanation, we should decide that the first shot was fired by some kind of divine magic.
The Joseph-was-a-prophet explanation is convenient, and I understand why that explanation works for someone who already believes it, but I'm comfortable not knowing. If some historian digs up another theory, I'd happily take a look at it. But the fact that I can't walk you through a step-by-step non-divine explanation doesn't impose that the explanation must therefore be divine.
Archaeologists continue to find new physical evidences that support claims in the Book of Mormon.
I think the sentiment behind this statement is fair, but I'd prefer slightly different wording. It's not really that the claims of the Book of Mormon are supported by archaeological discoveries—it's more that criticisms of the Book of Mormon's historicity can be weakened by archaeological discoveries. Sure, now we know that maybe there was some kind of barley in the Americas in Book of Mormon times. That's not really evidence the Book of Mormon is true so much as it's one less thing that can be used as evidence that the Book of Mormon is false. It's like the umpire reviewing and overturning a call at the plate and giving you the run. That's nice and all, but when you were ten runs behind to begin with, none of that changed the fact that you're losing.
The apologetic claim that we keep discovering more things that aren't anachronistic has a flawed sense of inevitability to it. It seems to imply that since we actually did score that one run, that means we'll inexorably score over and over to make up the deficit and take the lead. That's not how baseball works, and I'd wager that's not how archaeology works, either.
Skeptics try to downplay the literary genius, theological profundity of the Book of Mormon, and make excuses for its physical evidences, but, until they can give a solid narrative for how an uneducated teenage boy from the Appalachian frontier could author a profound and complicated book of scripture with his head in a hat, they have no case.
That's not how that works. Since you can't come up with a theory that proves me wrong, you have no case? No, see, you also need to support your own theory with evidence. So far, it's been along the lines of it's-just-so-unbelievable-that-it-must-have-been-God and some-things-that-people-thought-disproved-it-have-been-shown-to-be-plausible. Therefore an angel must have appeared to Joseph and given him ancient golden plates that he was able to translate by the power of God by putting an unusual rock into a hat? If A equals B and B equals C and you can't prove that C doesn't equal G, then A equals G?
Imagine a prosecutor trying to get a conviction for a murder suspect. He lays out his case: the defense has said that the defendant had neither means, motive, or opportunity, but I've debunked the motive part. I don't have any eyewitness accounts of the murder, but since you can't prove that someone else did it, the jury must convict. You'd get laughed out of Dick Wolf's office pitching a script like that.
Also, is it too much to consider that maybe adherents try to exaggerate the literary genius and theological profundity of the Book of Mormon?
How did Joseph Smith know about the ancient diptych tablet? Lucky guess? I have not seen any skeptics or mainstream scholars give any other explanation for how “sticks” are supposed to be a symbol for the tribes of Israel unifying in the last days—why would the symbol be sticks?
Who says Joseph knew about any of this? We've just quoted a passage from 2 Nephi 3 that mentions neither sticks nor tablets. What I'm seeing is a verse that talks about how the Bible and the Book of Mormon will be used in tandem in the latter days. From a perspective of skepticism, this makes a lot of sense. Joseph Smith planned on using the Bible as well as his newly created scripture, so that's an easy self-fulfilling prophecy to write and it requires zero esoteric knowledge of any ancient anything.
I don't say that to mean it's evidence Joseph Smith made it all up. But I do want to show that, in order to get to the conclusion the author draws here, it's probably helpful to assume the Book of Mormon is true and then go hunting for Bible verses that have ancient cultural ties to things that aren't even directly mentioned in the Book of Mormon verses that supposedly contain knowledge Joseph Smith himself couldn't have had. But I prefer the simpler explanation, personally.
All that stuff about the diptych tablet is interesting, don't get me wrong. I just don't find it compelling in any way that's relevant to the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
Three decades before America’s Civil War broke out, Joseph Smith prophesied of a great impending bloody rebellion against the United States government (see D&C 84). He even provided correct details the Civil War, including the location fighting would begin and that slavery would be the main issue of contention. While many people guessed fighting between states may eventually occur, nobody predicted such details and with such surety as Joseph Smith did. Skeptics point to the Nullification Crisis that was going on at the time of Joseph Smith’s prophecy, but the Nullification Crisis was a mild, local affair and did not center on slavery.
Wow, okay, I've never heard South Carolina's nullification of the Tariff of Abominations described as "a mild, local affair" before. While it's true that South Carolina was the only state to nullify the tariff, the vote in the House of Representatives from southern states and slave states was overwhelmingly against it. Calling the South Carolina nullification crisis of 1832 a mild, local affair seems nearly on par with calling the Florida election recount of 2000 a mild, local affair. Sure, it only happened that way in one particular state, but you can bet a whole bunch of people in a whole bunch of states were watching it closely as it unfolded because it represented the future trajectory of the country. There's a good reason we learn about the nullification crisis among the preludes to the Civil War in our high school history classes.
South Carolina's nullification didn't center on slavery, though, that's true. But considering this happened after the Missouri Compromise, we can't pretend that there hadn't been conflict or discussion about where slavery would and would not be legal. The possibility of violence over the issue of slavery was not, like, an unthinkable idea that came totally out of left field.
I'm going to assume the reference to D&C 84 was supposed to be 87, because I don't see anything in section 84 that's predictive of a rebellion against the US government. But let's look at the bullet points of what Joseph prophesied in section 87:
- "wars...will shortly come to pass" (verse 1) Shortly. 28 years after the prophecy counts as "shortly"? I get that God's timeline isn't the same as ours, but he's providing revelation in the same language as ours. Joseph Smith had just turned 27 a few days before this revelation. Why is God using the word "shortly" to describe a period of time that is longer than his prophet's entire life up to that point?
- "beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina" (verse 1) Okay, yeah, that's a bulls-eye, although as the author admits, Joseph Smith was not the only person who guessed that war might be coming. And as South Carolina had been the problem child before (or currently, since this revelation came about a month after the Ordinance of Nullification), picking them as the first to rebel would have been a reasonable guess too.
- "war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place" (verse 2) Though the author of the TBM Letter will cite an article that indicates that the American Civil War contributed to World War I, I think that's a bit flimsy. History is all very interconnected, of course. Which means that if we consider the American Civil War a cause of World War I, we could also consider the American Revolution a cause of World War I, because the Civil War wouldn't have happened without it. If we trace the causal currents of history far enough back, maybe we could say that war was poured out upon all nations, beginning at the Battle of Hastings.
- "the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations" (verse 3) But, of course, my real issue with the prophecy that war will be poured out upon all nations is the way Joseph Smith said it would happen. The Confederacy will ask Great Britain for help, and Great Britain will then wrangle in other countries. If anything, this kind of implies that World War I should have started in 1861 instead of 1914 and that the primary theater of war should have been in America instead of Europe. But the historical fact is that Great Britain did not join the American Civil War. And, therefore, it didn't call upon other nations for help in that conflict. So this aspect of the prophecy is false.
- "slaves shall rise up against their masters" (verse 4) Unless this is supposed to be a poetic way of saying that slaves would join the army and fight for their freedom (and I don't think it is), I don't see how this is an accurate prophetic detail. There was no mass slave revolt during the Civil War.
- "the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves...and shall vex the Gentiles" (verse 5) Remember that time during the Civil War when the Native Americans marshalled themselves and declared war on the rebellion-wracked Gentile nation? Me neither, because it didn't happen.
- "earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also" (verse 6) I'm not aware of any historical documentation that indicates that a rise in fearsome natural phenomena made the world felt the "wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God" after the Civil War, are you?
- "until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations" (verse 6) Well, not only did this nation survive the Civil War, but the rest of the nations made it through okay too. Even if we're using the angle that the American Civil War led to the World Wars of the twentieth century, there are plenty of countries that made it through those dark times alive and kicking. Even some new nations have been formed. So it's been almost 200 years since this prophecy was made and we still haven't seen the end of all nations.
As time went on and tensions between states seemed to cool down, skeptics laughed at Joseph Smith’s prophecy: “little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy… no chance of its verification.” (see “The Golden Era San Francisco”, 1857) But instead of backtracking, the Church canonized the prophecy and Joseph Smith gave further details of the rebellion (see D&C 130), describing how it would eventually affect a great world war: “and then shall war be poured upon all nations.”
Yes, let's talk about D&C 130. The war pouring out on all nations thing is from section 87, not 130, but the quote above strongly implies that war being poured upon all nations was part of the follow-up prophecy in section 130. It's not. Here is the entirety of the second relevant prophecy from 1843 (D&C 130:12-13):
I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832.
There's a few important things to point out here: Joseph Smith was smart enough to figure out on his own that difficulties were coming. I suppose he's vague about whether he was praying about the subject of impending war or slavery or just South Carolina, but he suspected enough all by himself that he prayed about it and received a revelation which laid out some specifics.
Also, the language here is really wonky. I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that this thing is going to happen, and it "may probably" be because of slavery. Either one of those key words by itself would have indicated uncertainty or several possibilities, but when you put them together, they sound even stranger. A voice from God declared to me that there would be a war probably maybe perhaps sort of arising through the slave question—why is an omniscient god giving such toothless, diffident prophecies?
Obviously, this is kind of putting the conclusion before the hypothesis, but if you read that sentence from the perspective of seeing Joseph Smith as a con man, it sounds like he knows he messed up this prophecy once and so he's keeping his language looser to hedge his bet the second time around because his confidence is a bit shaken. If you put the opposite conclusion before the opposite hypothesis and read that sentence from a perspective of seeing Joseph Smith as a prophet, it should make you wonder why he wouldn't just say "it will arise through the slave question."
Joseph Smith’s explanation for each figure of each Facsimile matches correctly to the Egyptian meaning. He got every figure of every facsimile correct. Skeptics cover up for these similarities by comparing Joseph Smith’s explanation to the Egyptian names, but that is comparing apples to oranges: Joseph Smith was interested in how the symbolism related to Abraham, not their Egyptian names.
In the Facsimile 1 section of his own web page that the author links to here, he adds this:
What would be the correct translation for a five-pointed star? Well, it depends on the context. A five-pointed star on the American flag means something very different than a five-pointed Egyptian Duat star which represents the afterlife. When you see a cross at a cemetery do you assume it is a symbol of Christian worship or do you see it as a symbol of someone’s burial? Likewise, the symbols in the Facsimiles were presented in an Egyptian context, but the symbols also had different Abrahamic meanings.
Then that's not translation. If he's taking things represented in Egyptian language and telling us about their symbolism in a context other than Egyptian, then he's providing subjective explication, not literal translation. It's a very strange approach to take to insist that Joseph Smith's descriptions of the Book of Abraham facsimiles are accurate specifically because they shouldn't match the descriptions of Egyptologists. But I suppose it does make it easier to proclaim that they're all exactly right if they don't have to match the Egyptian meanings of the Egyptian writing.
In November 2000, prophet Gordon B. Hinckley repeatedly emphasized to young Millennials the importance of college. It wasn’t just typical financial advice; it was prophesy of an unprecedented competitive economic climate:
Since then, the cost of college has more than tripled and college diplomas have become necessary for almost every job. Millennials have found that corporations only pay what they have to, whereas previous generations enjoyed plentiful social benefits.
What you'll notice is that Hinckley didn't say that the cost of college was going to triple. He didn't say there would be any increase in the number of jobs that require college diplomas. He didn't predict that there would be a disparity in the social benefits enjoyed from one generation to the next. He just observed that we live in a competitive age and that "you need all the education you can get" and that the "world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth" and he attributed his statement to God. It's easy to backfill that to make it seem like he knew what was going to happen, but it lacks the clarity and directness that would rule out any non-prophetic interpretations.
This is, essentially, the same level of counsel that you can expect from a decent parent. It's absolutely good advice, but it didn't predict anything specific. The Mormon relationship with prophecy feels like its own kind of special logical fallacy—ante hoc, ergo propter hoc, perhaps?—before this, therefore because of this. Because this event was going to happen and because a prophet made a remark on this topic beforehand, the prophet was therefore speaking about this event.
As we continue through this list of supposed prophecies, let's see how many times we were given explicit, specific predictions of future events in the same vein as Jesus predicting a disciple would betray him, Nephi predicting the first names of Joseph Smith and the mother of Jesus, Samuel the Lamanite predicting the signs of Christ's birth and death, or the other Nephi predicting the murdered judge.
In 1998, prophet Gordon B. Hinckley counseled families to get out of debt: “Be modest in your expenditures. Discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible…. The economy is a fragile thing,” he warned. It seemed weird that he emphasized this more than anything else, but in the ensuing years many people were getting into bad mortgages and predatory lending practices from banks became common, until the entire financial system collapsed in 2008 and millions were foreclosed with ruined credit.
Again, this is good advice overall, but Hinckley didn't say any kind of housing bubble would burst. He didn't make any kind of prophecy, he just told us that the economy was fragile and that we should be careful. A vague warning about the nature of the economy ten years before the economy tanked doesn't imply that he had any specific knowledge that the economy would tank, other than perhaps the widely available knowledge that markets tend to exist in repetitive cycles of rising and falling. The man did live through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the postwar boom, and the recessions of the 70s and 80s, so there's no reason to assume he wasn't an old man speaking from a long history of personal experience and observation.
In 2001, Gordon B. Hinckley again urged members to prepare for a future financial disaster in “uncertain days that lie again.” “I cannot forget the great lesson of Pharaoh’s dream” of 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Well, exactly 7 years later the great recession hit.
This would be more compelling if it were more accurate.
The quote is "uncertain days that lie ahead" and it's not said with specific regard to anyone's financial future. Hinckley does reiterate his directives to get out of debt and to build financial self-reliance in this speech, absolutely. But he talks about a lot of other things and considering that this talk was given on October 7th, 2001 and dwells heavily on the subjects of terrorism and war, I don't think anyone watching that General Conference address heard him mention uncertain days ahead in that final paragraph and thought, "holy crap, the prophet is saying the financial system will collapse!"
Also, the fancy little numerology footwork here is pointless. For one thing, the Great Recession didn't start exactly seven years later. It started in the fourth quarter of 2007, which makes it about six years and two months. And for another, we didn't have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (or recession). So the reality that Hinckley was predicting had nothing in common, numerically, with Pharoah's dream. He was just using it as a reminder that we should be prudent in the times of prosperity so that we will have enough resources to weather the times of hardship.
Which is still good advice. But there's nothing prophetic about it.
But in the immediate years that followed, the campaigns to redefine marriage gained steam and the Proclamation enabled the Church to defend traditional marriage every step of the way. More than a decade later, the courts of the United States redefined marriage in a nontraditional way, and since then the Family Proclamation has become a fundamental tool and statement of our beliefs during a climate of radical confusion over family identity.
Ante hoc, ergo propter hoc again.
Where did Hinckley say, "they're going to let gay people marry each other in this country"? Because he produced a document that proclaimed, among other things, that marriage should be between a man and a woman and encouraged us to display it in our homes, we're supposed to take that as a prophecy that gay rights might change in ways Hinckley wouldn't approve of? Hinckley was an adult during the Civil Rights era—maybe he saw the writing on the wall and was worried that there would be another surge of support for another historically mistreated minority and he wanted to make his stand.
Challenges to traditional family go all the way back to the decadence of the roaring 1920’s. Before that, in 1915, Joseph F. Smith emphasized the need to strengthen families as a traditional unit. He instituted the “Family Home Evening” tradition of setting aside one night each week to strengthen family ties and harmony in the home. This has become vital for Latter-day Saints in today’s age where the family is all but meaningless. Yet in 1915 it seemed unnecessary.
Yeah? Is that why Joseph F. Smith said we needed Family Home Evening? Was it to combat the decadence of the coming decade? Or was it to follow the scriptural counsel to have parents teach their children and to have children honor their parents?
What really bothers me is that this paragraph seems to have a conscious thematic link to the previous one. Are we saying that Family Home Evening and strong family ties were implemented to prevent non-traditional marriages and non-traditional families? Are we saying that there wouldn't be so many gay people marrying each other and adopting babies if only their parents had paid more attention to them? Because that is 400% not okay.
I feel sorry that the author believes family is all but meaningless outside of the church but I have no idea where he's getting that impression—unless he believes families aren't as meaningful if they don't have two parents of opposite sexes.
In 1968, Thomas S. Monson prophesied that a temple would soon be built in communist-controlled East Germany. It was unthinkable that an ostensibly atheist Marxist country would allow any religion to exist, much less a temple, but ground broke for its construction in 1983.
Did he, though?
Since no citation is provided, this was the best direct quote I was able to find:
“If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God,” he promised, “every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”
Did he say a temple would be built within their borders? Did he actually use the word "soon" or any kind of similar phrasing? Did he make an absolute statement or did he make a conditional statement?
Although it does seem reasonable to assume from this quote that he was referring to, among other things, building a temple, it could be interpreted as an encouraging platitude as well. I suppose there could be a more direct promise that I couldn't find (although I would expect that if there were a more impressive quote, the church website would have used one). But barring that, I see no prophecy along the lines of "soon we're going to build a temple in East Germany." Personally, I'm more impressed that they managed to build a temple in East Germany in 1983 than I am that Monson supposedly predicted it.
My other complaint with it is that it's an institution prophesying about its own future activities. It's more impressive when Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, because he had no control over whether it happened. If the church really wanted to make sure this one particular "prophecy" was fulfilled, they could have focused their considerable resources toward negotiations with the East German government. When Samuel the Lamanite foretold three days of darkness to follow Jesus's death, he didn't have a way to try and shroud the continent in darkness himself to help his prophecy come true.
And since Monson didn't lay out a timeline, if the temple had been built in 2083, people might still call it the resolution of a prophecy. Monson's wording was vague as a horoscope, which makes it easy for the faithful to believe and easy for the skeptics to dismiss. What's the point of a nebulous, open-ended, non-committal, milquetoast, namby-pamby—okay, I'm officially having too much fun here—brand of prophecy?
In 2005, Gordon B. Hinckley and other church leaders emphasized opposition to gambling. This advice seemed mundane, as online gambling was little-known back then. But it has since tripled in business and become a terrible vice to many. Likewise, Gordon B. Hinckley’s repeatedly stressed his warning to avoid tattoos in 2000. It seemed out of place, but since then tattoos have become much more popular, and now almost everybody in popular culture has at least one.
Why does taking a position on an issue count as a prophecy? Gambling and tattoos had both been around for a very long time. Even online gambling was visibly on the rise—should we consider the people who lobbied for and voted for the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act six years earlier as prophets too?
And where, exactly, should tattoos sit on the list of the Lord's priorities? In this section of nine examples of modern prophecy (maybe ten, since this one is a two-parter), a rise in tattoo popularity is something that we think the prophet needed to address? I notice there's nothing in here prophesying, of, say, war or genocide or natural disasters. We'll talk about the Covid issue in a moment, but if most of the best examples of recent prophecies this author can come up with involve personal finances, gay marriage, and tattoos, I'm not convinced the president of the church is very good at being a watchman on the tower.
I mean, imagine trying to make the case that the New York Yankees are the greatest sports franchise of all time. Would you not cite their numerous World Series wins as evidence? Or would you talk about that one time Dave Winfield won the Gold Glove award in 1982? If prophecy exists in the modern church, why am I not seeing any big, undeniable wins? Why aren't we seeing things like Hinckley saying "terrorists will destroy the World Trade Center within a month" in August of 2001? Why are there no World Series trophies in Mormonism?
In 2019, President Russell M. Nelson announced that temple square would be closed for expansive seismic upgrades, despite there being recent no earthquakes in the Salt Lake area. A significant 5.8 earthquake struck the city a short time later as work was underway, the largest earthquake in recorded history for Salt Lake City.
Yeah, an earthquake the building wasn't fully prepared for, considering Moroni's trumpet fell off and "some the temple's smaller spire stones were displaced". And there were earthquakes in the Salt Lake area as recently as February 2019, which was coincidentally about two months before the announcement that the temple would be renovated. And it's not exactly like there's any secret that a fault line runs through Utah—when I was at BYU, there was a popular bit of folklore that the Provo temple had been built straddling that fault.
And, just like the previous examples, any prophecy involved was subtle and was played bizarrely close to the vest. Nelson didn't say "an earthquake is going to happen soon." He said they're closing the temple for "a significant seismic upgrade to help the building withstand a large-magnitude earthquake." Considering this 5.7-magnitude quake is in the moderate range and that "generally, earthquakes of magnitude 6 and above are the ones for concern", I don't think this was the kind of earthquake the church was worried about when they decided to upgrade their buildings.
Ante hoc, ergo propter hoc?
On October 2018, President Russell M. Nelson urged church members to prepare for 2020 by practicing health: “Wait till next year, and then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest.” On October 2019, President Russell M. Nelson repeatedly promised that the 2020 General conference for the First Vision bicentennial would be “different from any previous conference… prepare for a unique conference.” He said, “general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.” Then, when 2020 came around, the Covid19 pandemic quarantine forced the Church the hold conference in a small auditorium with only a few speakers in attendance.
Little did I know, when I promised you at the October 2019 general conference that this April conference would be “memorable” and “unforgettable,” that speaking to a visible congregation of fewer than 10 people would make this conference so memorable and unforgettable for me!
Vitamin and resting were among top advice heath workers gave during the outbreak.
I wouldn't be surprised if those things were among the advice health professionals gave. But the top advice, from where I'm sitting, was a steady stream of wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, get used to smaller gatherings, and self-quarantine for two weeks if you test positive.
Skeptics would probably say I’m cherry-picking evidence and digging for patterns. But just one improbable piece evidence is compelling proof of Joseph Smith’s bold claims.
That's like saying the fact that suspect A owned the murder weapon is compelling proof that he was the murderer. And it would be compelling evidence in the absence of strong contradictory evidence. To me, the above quoted statement is like saying that suspect A's ownership of the murder weapon is proof he's the murderer while pretending that we don't have suspect B on camera actually using the murder weapon to shoot the victim in the head. Any bullseye prophecies are compelling, but if they have to contend with compelling countervailing evidence against the prophet, they're not proof. They're not slam-dunks.
Skeptics never explain why we should consider these things coincidence. It’s like a wave of a magic wand for them. Until you can provide solid empirical evidence, you shouldn’t ignorantly dismiss what you can’t explain.
And it’s okay that there is no smoking-gun proof. It means we need to have faith and avoid superstition. We are not a church that deals in relics. We base our spiritual belief on a spiritual rather than physical premise.
Oh, sure, okay. I mean, that's what I used to believe too, so I totally get where he's coming from on this. But it sure is a convenient approach for a church that teaches so many things it can't prove.
Anti-Mormons always insist they knew everything about the Church when they were good active members. But I always find they misunderstood the faith process. The first step is to change this superstitious mindset. Start with a spiritual premise and gather evidence objectively, inductively, and in good faith; beginning with the premise of the existence of God. Admit when physical evidence is lacking, especially with historical issues. Do not jump to conclusions.
But that's jumping to conclusions. If you're starting with a spiritual premise you're not trying to find truth objectively, you're trying to find truth spiritually. Your premise will color your evidence gathering. That isn't just a hypothesis, it's designing an experiment in a way that is designed to confirm the hypothesis rather than to test it. That's not a good way to determine fact.
Also, the number of "anti-Mormons" who insist that they didn't know everything when they were active members because they believe the church hid things from them is very, very high.
Skeptics often disregard historical context and judge history by modern standards. For example, they scream: Joseph Smith married a 14 year old girl! But they ignore how social expectations were different in the early 1800’s, the dynastic nature of the arrangement, and evidence it was a temple sealing “for eternity only” which means it did not involve physical relations or any relationship until the afterlife. But just the allegation is enough to destroy a man. Most do not bother looking into what actually likely happened, and the purpose of the claim is to discredit Joseph Smith.
There are unseen truths in which we all must exercise belief in order to survive. Everyone needs a set of morals, yet morality cannot be placed under a microscope. Science cannot answer moral questions of abortion, discrimination, capital punishment, capital gains tax, etc. We can use scientific testing to inform our moral decisions, but ultimately it is up to the human conscience. How are we supposed to develop morality if we do not explore unseen moral truth?
I fully agree, but I have no idea how this is supposed to be an argument for believing in Mormonism.
Plato’s point was that anything physical is a mere allusion to truth. To dwell on the physical as atheists do is to remain inside the cave. To leave the cave is to rise above all physical evidence and to find truth through intellect rather than only through senses.
I'll admit to being impressed—I was not expecting a pro-Mormon treatise to invoke Plato's Cave and also make a lot of sense while doing it.
This means one must recognize how he spiritually changes during the experiment of faith. Some truths of the universe are demonstrated in an obvious manner, like gravity, but such things as the Holy Ghost are less obvious. With some things you must look for what makes you happy, empowered, and free. Faith is very simply demonstrated. It’s okay to start with small acts of faith to test unseen truth—small tests—things like the Word of Wisdom. See what results by behaving as if the spiritual principle in question were true. Have the humility to admit when a belief you were so sure about turns out to deliver bad results. Be open to possibilities you haven’t considered. By their fruits ye shall know them.
This is in a paragraph titled "Spiritual Evidence Is Not Emotional Feelings." At best, he's saying spiritual evidence isn't emotional feelings, it's your recognition of emotional feelings.
And my non-Mormon life fully jives with his method described here. Happy, empowered, and free are not terms that would accurately describe my life within the church. I feel a lot more close to those emotional concepts since leaving.
The saying goes: “you can leave the Church but you can’t leave it alone,” right?
If the Church really “just wasn’t for you” you would just forget about completely.
Man, if you want to accuse anti-Mormons of pulling out the same old tired arguments against the church, maybe it's a good idea to steer away from this argument against former members.
The Book of Mormon explains why “no unclean thing” can be in the kingdom of God: it is the nature of justice, and this is where our system of morality begins. We like to talk about mercy, but we must first understand the need for eventual perfection —there is right and wrong and we seek to be right.
Which makes perfect sense, but that doesn't undo the damage of teaching people about being unworthy or unclean or unprofitable servants. If God created us and our world and he sent us through the veil to forget what we're doing, why isn't he more permissible of sin? Shouldn't he understand perfectly how easy it is to sin in our condition? Shouldn't he be rewarding honest effort and devoted progress more than he focuses on categorizing us into holistic binary states of worthiness?
After the old moral framework of the gospel is deconstructed, what takes its place? Without God, survival and the social contract become the deciding factors of morality. He shifts toward a new, easier moral framework.
Completely accurate. As an ex-Mormon, the only criteria that I use to determine the right course of action when presented with moral choices are my own survival and the social contract of secular law.
That was sarcasm. Just so we're clear.
The problem with relying on the social contract is that it doesn’t repair sin. Sin is anything that contradicts the ideology, and it must be removed and destroyed. Repentance now means adapting to the standard set for your social class in order to equalize classes, for equalization is the final aim of perfection. Sin becomes a class-based trait rather than individual fault. Ever notice how news media is filled with shaming language over this group guilty of doing this, these people’s ancestors are evil for this reason, and that group victimized those people? They judge you by the group to which you belong, and you can never excel above the standard for your class. There are sins within your group which they believe you can never rise above. Did your ancestors own slaves? According to an ideology built on the social contract, you must pay a lifetime of restitution for it. Think about it—isn’t this cultish social control? Objectively look closely at how popular culture and mainstream media influences social behavior and beliefs. For all their blaming, denials, and careful framing, those who espouse an ideology built on social justice place us in a cruel box from which we cannot escape.
Honestly no clue where this is coming from. Who is paying a lifetime of restitution for their ancestors' slave ownership? I can sort of see what he's saying as far as the billionaire class—lately I've heard a lot to the effect of "remaining a billionaire is immoral when there are so many causes for the underprivileged which could benefit greatly from your excess money." And I suppose I buy into that. But this is because of those people's choices—they have massive wealth and choose not to use it to help the people who need it the most. I don't see how any of that is cultish social control, however, because it isn't something everyone believes, it isn't something everyone of any particular party believes, it isn't a belief that has exercised any discernible control over anyone, and billionaires still exist, untouched, despite the ire that may be aimed at them.
Maybe I just set up my own little strawman there, but that's the closest thing I can come up with that sounds even remotely similar to what's being described.
I find it interesting that many of the skeptics who dismiss religion go on to pursue a model of Socialism for our society that has been proven time and time again to be a damaging social structure. They replace the gospel with this horrible ideology because they are clinging to only truth they can see. Many tell themselves they are free, but I find spiritual empowerment or spiritual retrogression lead to changes that can be seen in a person—whether their eyes are full of life or are dead, and whether their life choices are liberating or degrading. They can keep telling themselves they are happy and free, but the way they live their life demonstrates the truth.
Now I see why we've made several casual references to Marx. The pros and cons of socialist policy is one thing, but I don't know that it's fair to demonize socialism as a horrible and damaging social structure while praising Mormonism as its wonderful and healing alternative. Mormon social structure is one-size-fits-all within a narrow interpretation of the word "all." This damages the social structure when people who don't fit that interpretation are expelled, sometimes physically but often emotionally, from families and communities.
- Faith Challenges...
- Read anti-Mormon Website...
- Self-Justification for Investigating Anti-Mormonism...
- Internalize Anti-Mormon Narratives...
- Blame the Church...
- Deep Investigation Against the Church...
- Deep Bitterness...
- Find New Ideology
Other than the huge differences, though, this is pretty spot-on.
Here are traits of the authoritarian Anti-Mormon:
Seeks direction on every little matter - The Church is about empowering people with correct principles so they can govern themselves.
Wow. That's a load. If that were true, we wouldn't have codified things as trivial as coffee as being sinful enough to keep someone from temple ordinances. We wouldn't have Nelson giving talks about using the specific, correct name of the church and about not describing the atonement with "shortcut phrases." We wouldn't have so many General Conference talks about obedience—"real obedience accepts God’s commandments unconditionally and in advance" and "the only way for a horse to know it is always doing the right thing is to be obedient"—and we wouldn't be so resistant to criticism of the leaders if it were really an empowering religion that just laid out the principles and allowed us to govern ourselves.
How can we truly govern ourselves when the institution determines our worthiness to participate in the things that make us eligible for eternal happiness?
Divisive - Authoritarian personalities divide everything by “ingroup” and “outgroup” and blame all problems on the outgroup. At its extreme, they will avoid doing business with “Mormons,” avoid hiring “Mormons,” avoid spending time with “Mormons”, and tear down “Mormons” every chance they get. Their persecution of the community they once loved is much like what Goebbels said of the German people: “full of devotion under the care of a strong hand.”
And using an open letter that begins with the stated intent to convince someone to stay in the church to obsessively paint a detailed and bleak picture of ex-Mormons to the point that we've compared them with Nazi Germany...that's not divisive, right?
Scapegoating the Church - While most people move on with their lives after losing faith, anti-Mormons morph into warriors fighting against the Church. Not only is the Church wrong, they consider it a dangerous threat that needs to be eliminated. This is why they consider Church membership as a matter of life and death, and why they attack members of the Church. They scapegoat the Church in the same way Nazis scapegoated religious minorities.
Just in case the Goebbels reference wasn't direct enough for anyone, we've actually used the word "Nazis."
Nazi rhetoricians likewise portrayed religious minorities as the incarnation of evil, because authoritarian personalities prop themselves up by tearing others down. CES Letter proudly declared, “Do what is right; let the consequences follow now holds a completely different meaning for me,” now that they have shifted to this Anti-Mormon frame. To the authoritarian, doing right means associating their whipping boy with every atrocity imaginable, blaming them for economic ruin and alienating them from mainstream acceptance
Every atrocity imaginable, yep. That's why I personally hold the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responsible for the early American slave trade, the genocide in Rwanda, and the continued elusiveness of the Zodiac Killer. While it's absolutely fair to say that some people whilst struggling to cope with the trauma they experienced in Mormonism have leveled inaccurate or fabricated charges against the institution, maybe we should also admit that we're overgeneralizing and exaggerating here.
If you want to talk about associating a whipping boy with every atrocity imaginable, maybe we should talk about how homosexuality and transgenderism are allegedly destroying the family unit, thereby leading to the corruption of our youth and the decline of civilization and whatnot.
And let's not forget that the Mormon church is the one that expects us all to raise our arms to the square to express support for an oligarchical group of elites that is literally and frequently referred to as "the General Authorities." This same group has full control over church policy, including determining what things can make us worthy or unworthy in the organization's eyes. In the list of things that can make us unworthy—and therefore unfit to partake in the most prestigious religious rituals—is a lack of support for the General Authorities. But it's anti-Mormons who are guilty of authoritarianism?
Portray church as selfish with money – Yet another one straight out of the Nazi playbook. They portray us as money-grubbing elitists who hoard our ill-gotten gains. From the City Creek Mall to the mystical $100 billion church investments, we can see how anti-Mormons and the media use Nazi-like tactics in their portrayal of church members. They frequently tie this into a class-based warfare where the Church becomes a caricature boogeyman oppressing the working class.
This is worse territory we're venturing into. Not only are we comparing critics of Mormonism with Nazis, but now we're aligning ourselves with the Jews, millions of whom just rolled over in their graves. And the anti-socialist stuff weaved in here is especially weird, considering that European fascism in Germany and Italy began specifically as a reaction against Marxism and then achieved power with the support of conservative elites who were more terrified of Marxism than of fascism. So which is it? Are we fascists or are we socialists? Because if you think Hitler ran Germany according to socialist policy, you probably also think Eagles of Death Metal are a death metal band.
Also, are we going to explain why it's okay for the church to have such insanely massive investments that aren't put to use supporting their membership or accomplishing humanitarian good around the world? Or are we just going to wag our fingers scornfully at the people who want an explanation and accuse them of Nazism?
Because there's a hugely important distinction here. The Nazi party wanted to kill Jews—the people. The critics of the church's financial holdings want an explanation from the church—the organization. I have yet to see someone claim that the Mormon guy who lives the next block over is personally a money-grubbing elitist because of one hundred billion dollars he doesn't even have access to. The outrage over Ensign Peak isn't about the members' greed. It's about the leadership's greed. The organization's greed.
It would be idiotic for me to accuse my Mormon family of greed, for example. They give away more than ten percent of their income to an organization they think is using that money to help people. Why would I learn that the church has been hoarding all that money and suddenly decide that my mother is Scrooge McDuck?
I do understand the reaction, though. It's probably natural for us to take an assault on a label we identify strongly with as an assault on us personally. I bristle when people dismiss Dream Theater as nothing but passionless show-offs and I'm hurt a little when people dismiss Futurama as just a cartoon. So of course it's even more painful when someone besieges a religious institution we've structured our entire lives and our personal identities around. Even if the criticism has some merit, it still feels like it's our walls that are trembling and not just the castle's.
Dehumanizing -They often use dehumanizing language, comparing us to inhuman monsters or assigning numbers to Joseph Smith’s plural wives rather than calling them by their names. They dehumanize members of the Church in the same way Nazis dehumanized their enemies.
But what's happening here is different, right? It's not dehumanizing to repeatedly compare us to the most reviled regime in modern history?
Does this person not know that most ex-Mormons have Mormon family members? Does he think these people immediately decide upon leaving the church that their spouses or children or parents or cousins are inhuman monsters?
Portray members as undercover - In the same way Nazis spoke of religious minorities as shifty infiltrators, authoritarian anti-Mormons accuse church members of lying about their beliefs to try to fit in. Not only does this sow bigoted distrust, it bolsters their strawman arguments about the Church which they have to make because they don’t have any real arguments.
Okay, well, there's an easy answer to this. We may frequently theorize about church members lying about their beliefs to fit in because a lot of us did that ourselves. We were there and we remember what it's like. Obviously, that should not be extrapolated into the assumption that all or most Mormons are lying about their beliefs. But it's a thing that happens.
And the realness of an argument doesn't depend on your level of agreement with it. Just because you've found a response to an argument and you believe you've refuted it doesn't mean that argument never had any basis. For example, the response to Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages as being marriages for eternity only is a real argument. I disagree with it and I think it's been refuted, but it's a real argument. I'm not saying Mormons don't have any ammunition for their beliefs. I just think the conclusions they draw from their very real arguments are wrong.
Considering the author is someone who has obviously delved into the complexities of Mormonism's truth claims, it seems incredibly dishonest for him to claim that critics don't have any real arguments. He knows what a lot of those arguments are because he's refuted them at length. Does he really expect anyone to believe that in the totality of his thorough apologetic oeuvre, he has never once come across a single argument against the church that has some legitimate rational potency to it?
Chapel buildings are regularly torched and members are targeted for blacklisting and other illegal hateful practices. The top musical in the United States is an Anti-Mormon satire. At General Conference, families with little kids have to walk through throngs of screaming Anti-Mormon protesters, hurling curse words and making vulgar gestures with sacred temple garments; it’s like a scene from Alabama public schools in the 1950’s, yet it is so common and accepted, nobody even notices.
No. It's not like that.
Arson is wrong (can we get a citation on "regularly torched" meetinghouses?!). Not hiring someone because of their religious beliefs is wrong. Screaming profanities at children is wrong. But murders and lynchings of black people in the United States were relatively common. Horrifyingly so. How many Mormons have been murdered by General Conference hecklers? I have also walked past those throngs of protestors at the Conference Center and at the Hill Cumorah Pageant, and there is absolutely no way that doing so took the same level of courage or involved the same magnitude of fear for personal safety that was required of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement.
Get. Some goddamn. Perspective.
I suppose this is just a result of the social contract and the twisted mass-media social-justice sense of morality, right? I mean, how messed up is our cultural morality that so many of us have bought into the idea that black people in the 1950s suffered more bigotry than Mormons in the 2010s? We really need to get our priorities straight, am I right?
Powerful organizations exploit what is going on, and perhaps the biggest victims is the ex-church members themselves who would move on with their lives if not for these hate groups recruiting them. It all goes back to the original painful experiences that led to the cognitive dissonance. We need to confront experiences in a healthy, positive, and honest way.
This is not a healthy, positive, or even particularly honest way, but thanks for assuming that I'm the puppet of a hate group instead of just a guy who doesn't believe in Mormonism anymore and doesn't want it to hurt people. Should I be paying membership dues to my hate group? Because I'm probably way behind on that.
Big newspapers rake Utah over of the coals for its homeless population, yet Utah has one of the smallest homeless rates in the Western United States. California’s homeless population is 45 times larger, and yet Utah’s big newspapers promote the mindset popular in areas of California with high homeless rates.
California's population is like twelve times the size of Utah's. You would expect the numeric total of homeless persons to be larger there. Obviously, California still has a significantly higher rate of homelessness even when you account for the difference in population size, so the point is still absolutely valid. But I get the sense that if this were a claim Jeremy Runnells had made in the CES Letter, it would be evidence of his intellectual dishonesty because he's intentionally inflating claims that support his argument. Kind of like this indictment of journalism in the very next sentence:
The media cylces [sic] through a slew of issues, manipulating statistics, spinning facts, and framing everything with a negative narrative against the gospel.
Wouldn't you say that propping up Utah's less severe homelessness problems by comparing the total homeless population of California instead of some kind of "per 100,000 persons" figure amounts to manipulating statistics and spinning facts?
How happy is the average American who accepts social justice and rejects faith? The average American today goes heavily into debt at a young age, wastes his best years partying, gets divorced—if he ever gets married at all—has one child at the most, slaves in a cubicle all day for his upper-class boss, consumes drugs and phone games to keep from falling apart, and goes through life without knowing what community, culture, and family ever is. That’s the secular lifestyle of today’s progressive society.
Okay, sounds like you have a nice basis for your dystopian conservative satire novel there. But is that really a "healthy, positive, and honest way" to discuss secular lifestyles? That may be an easy and helpful caricature—especially if it's presented to someone who has never lived a secular lifestyle—but that doesn't make it accurate and it doesn't make it representative. For example, literally none of that applies to me except that I haven't gotten married and I have had at most one child.
But that could be some powerful imagery to try and manipulate someone into avoiding a secular lifestyle.
Look, we all feel what’s going on in Western culture: quality of life is falling apart because it has lost the religious structure that guides life choices, and with quality of life goes culture. No cultural institution can replace church, and the oh-so “inclusive” and “progressive” big corporations that fill the void in people’s life are only interested in keeping the masses pacified as good little units of production and consumption, equal serfs on the farm, dependent on purchasing their products.
I disagree that Western culture is declining, but American culture is certainly going through a rough patch. And I also disagree that secularization is the reason for any decline.
But what's stunning to me is how perfectly that last part sounds like a stereotypical anti-Mormon's description of the Mormon church. It is, literally, a corporation, and it does seek to keep the masses pacified, even as it reminds them to pay their tithing, any excess of which will be funneled into giant investment accounts instead of being put toward providing these good little units of production better services and better support.
Woke skeptics say we retain a legacy of racism while they embrace a wonderful new age of equality. But this is based on revised history. The truth is our church ancestors were the pioneers of abolishing slavery and rewarding people by their merit rather than skin color, and we continue this beautiful legacy today.
After a very notable and very extended interruption to that legacy, Mormonism declared that skin color should no longer be a barrier to worthiness or celestial glory. Are we going to pretend like explicitly racist language wasn't used in General Conferences from the epoch of Brigham Young on down to the era of Mark E. Peterson?
“The hostile spirit and conduct manifested by Joseph Smith, and many of his associates towards Missouri, and others inimical to his purposes, are decidedly at variance with the true spirit of Christianity, and should not be encouraged by any people, much less by those professing to be the ministers of the gospel of peace… While we disapprobate malicious persecutions and prosecutions, we hold that all church members are alike amenable to the laws of the land, and that we further discountenance any chicanery to screen them from the just demands of the same.”
That is what anti-Mormons are defending today when they condemn Joseph Smith for shutting down that newspaper: libel, violence, threats, dehumanizing attacks, and support for genocide. The newspaper smartly did not specify slavery as their reason for hating the Church—aside from their ridicule of Joseph Smith’s abolitionist presidential platform and his plan to purchase freedom for all of the South’s slaves. You can detect pro-slavery sentiment beneath the surface, but the racist seed of Anti-Mormonism had by this time exploded into a host of other issues, and that’s what the Nauvoo Expositor offered. In fact, in this pro-genocide newspaper you find the genesis of today’s Anti-Mormon narratives, rotating from issues to issues which are so common on blogs and Reddit. It’s the same rhetoric. The same arguments; the same issues; the same 32 accusations; the same hate. It is extremely telling that this is the basis for today’s anti-Mormon rhetoric and this is what anti-Mormons defend in their justification of the cold-blooded murder of Joseph Smith.
I don't know if the author started off earnestly and then got carried away or if the plan was to slowly ease into the histrionics, but after the Nazi stuff and the Alabama schoolhouse stuff, this feels par for the course. We're now claiming that genocide was the real motive behind the printing of the Nauvoo Expositor?
It's not exactly radical anti-Mormon doctrine to say that Mormons are susceptible to the laws of secular government. Joseph Smith did, after all, write that we believe in "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." One thing the Nauvoo Expositor grants—unlike Joseph Smith's article of faith—is the nuance that the law isn't always right. The newspaper disavowed "malicious persecutions and prosecutions" and specifies "just demands of the same," which is an unnecessary thing to clarify if the government's demands are assumed to be inherently just.
Mormons weren't guiltless in their conduct in Missouri. It's easy to make the argument that they were provoked and acting in their own defense, and it was certainly a situation in which they had the right to defend themselves. But I don't know why the above quote from the Nauvoo Expositor is being treated as a one-sided round of applause for genocide. It's saying Joseph and his friends acted like dicks and that even though the government shouldn't engage in malicious persecution, Mormons are, just like any other citizen, subject to the laws of the government in whose jurisdiction they reside. That's not a radical line of reasoning and I don't see how we get from that to being pro-genocide. In fact, the final resolution in the author's Nauvoo Expositor source says the following:
That in all our controversies in defence of truth and righteousness, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of the strong holds of Satan; that our strifes are not against flesh, blood, nor bones; but against principalities and power against spiritual wickedness in high places and therefore we will not use carnal weapons save in our own defence.
That sounds to me like they're stating that the only weapons they want to use are spiritual weapons. That sounds to me like they're stating intent to take up arms only in self-defense. I assume the secret to committing genocide by self-defense is somehow tricking every single member of your least favorite ethnic group to attempt to kill you?
Obviously, the extermination order was awful. Obviously, murdering Joseph and Hyrum was awful. I have no desire to try and excuse those crimes. But I see nothing in the Nauvoo Expositor that is actually an endorsement, explicitly or implicitly, of genocide. Especially since I'm not sure the term "genocide" can really be applied to something that isn't an ethnic group or a national identity.
It's also worth noting that the Nauvoo Expositor isn't as racist as it's being presented here. A different section of the newspaper the author linked to states:
Smith has not been troubled with any inquiries of committees as to what measures he will recommend if elected; nevertheless he has come out boldly and volunteered his views of certain measures which he is in favor of having adopted. One is for the General Government to purchase the slaves of the south and set them free, that we can understand. Another is to pass a general uniform land law, that certainly requires the spirit of interpretation to show its meaning as no explanation accompanies it.
Right, so here's a perfect opportunity to be super-racist, and it comes off kind of lukewarm. Rather than railing against Smith for having the audacity to add an abolitionist plank to his presidential platform, the Expositor merely dismisses the idea as understandable and moves on to criticizing the inscrutable nature of his proposed land transaction policy. I'm struggling to see where this pro-slavery sentiment is bubbling with barely restrained malice just beneath the surface.
I find it interesting that now, as then, anti-Mormons slam the Church for consensual adult relationships. One minute anti-Mormons are preaching about tolerance, diverse sexuality, “love is love”, etc. and the next they say Joseph Smith had his murder coming for deciding to love differently.
Okay, but were Joseph Smith's different styles of love actually consensual? If it's a young girl who's being promised salvation for her family from the man she reveres as a prophet of God, is it really legitimate consent or is it consent extracted by manipulation? If it's a theocratic society in which the apostles of God can approve a woman being given to a men as additional wives—but never men given to women as additional husbands—is it really consent or is it just the reality of a chauvinistic power structure treating women as property?
Instead attacking us, skeptics and news media should turn their microscope to the Anti-Mormon community which was founded on racism.
That's a juicy accusation to lob. It's nonsense, of course. While it's fair to say that slavery and racism were part of early opposition to Mormonism in Missouri, why aren't we saying that the anti-Mormon community was founded on anti-anti-banking because of the fallout from the Kirtland Safety Society or on traditional Protestantism because of the resistance from the people back in Palmyra who we're told refused to accept a modern appearance of God?
Anti-Mormonism also is not a formal community. Anti-Mormons of today don't share any kind of ancestry or institutional memory with Anti-Mormons of 1830s Missouri. People are being raised as fifth-generation Mormons who grow up in the culture and dogma of a formal organization, but there aren't masses of fifth-generation anti-Mormons who went to anti-Mormon meetings every Sunday and grew up praying to the anti-Mormon anti-god with their families. There's no lineage to trace to imply that today's anti-Mormons are as racist as yesterday's anti-Mormons. But there is a steady trail of racist bread crumbs we can follow through the statements of the prophets and apostles to show that, across multiple generations, Mormon families were being taught racist doctrines and racist policies.
The Book of Mormon condemns racism and promotes equality in a way the bible does not:
“...he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
2 Nephi 26:33
What that scripture does, though, is passively condone slavery. Sure, it says that slaves are welcome in God's eyes, but it takes no stance on the institution of slavery. Including the phrase "bond and free" normalizes the idea that being in bondage is a thing. Mentioning bondage and not saying, "by the way, it's morally wrong to keep people in bondage" is a huge missed opportunity for the Book of Mormon to take a moral stance on the issue in a way that could have identified it as clearly progressive in the era of its publication.
So then why were the Lamanites cursed with a skin of blackness? Skin of blackness was only the sign of the curse, not the curse itself; the curse was being born into a family and culture that did not believe in or practice the true gospel, exactly like ex-church member families today.
Dark skin was only a sign of the curse, not the curse itself. Why did we need a sign of the curse, then? To provide an easy way for someone to identify a cursed person versus a non-cursed person. I don't see how that makes skin color anything other than an extension of the curse at best. An adverse side effect of a poison.
And if all really are alike unto God, then why is there any need to provide a visual differentiation between cursed and non-cursed? And why would God, who knows how hateful human beings can be—especially when it comes to characteristics that can easily be used to divide societies into us groups and them groups—use skin color as his method for differentiating between any two populations? And why, why, why would he have implemented this kind of physically identifiable curse in the Book of Mormon when he should have known that race would be a hugely divisive issue in many cultures of the era the Book of Mormon was being written for? If he'd chosen to curse the Lamanites with a hair of redness, for example, maybe there wouldn't have been so much fodder to fuel racism in the modern church. Maybe we would have just had an inexcusable distrust of gingers prior to 1978.
In any case, only a couple years later the prophet Jacob strongly admonished the Nephites for being racist, saying skin color has nothing to do with righteousness, and spiritual filthiness will be determined at final judgment day:
Exactly! A perfect example! God decides to identify a wicked and cursed generation by making their skin darker. This divides the people on appearance, and not long after he has to make sure his prophet admonishes the people for their racism. Did God seriously not expect this to happen? He's fond of describing people as righteous and wicked, and then he makes wicked people a specific color different from the color of the righteous people...and he's surprised that people then begin judging each other based on the pigmentation of their skin?
Dude! Think it through before you do something stupid!
We do not know why races were temporarily prevented from priesthood office in early days of the Church.
I don't like the inclusion of the word "temporarily" in this sentence. While it's true that black people were not permanently prevented from entering the priesthood (or the temple), we didn't know it was temporary at the time. The temporary period covered generations. I think calling this temporary downplays the length of the policy. It was impermanent, sure, but it was very lengthy.
Also it doesn't feel right to call it "the early days of the Church." The church was 148 years old when the policy ended. There are plenty of people still living who remember when the policy was changed. The racism regarding priesthood and temples still has an indelible presence in modern Mormonism and should not be dismissed as something from the early days.
The Civil War which fixed much of the structured societal inequality went on to affect change throughout the world, as Joseph Smith prophesied they would.
The Civil War resulted in the official abolition of slavery in the United States, but if it had really fixed "much" of the structured societal inequality in the country, our history and our present would have turned out to be quite different. And I hope that bit at the end about Joseph's prophecy isn't trying to claim that the United States was ahead of the curve when it came to ending slavery.
I think it is a mistake to condemn our ancestors when we weren’t there to witness the constraints they were under and what they produced for us was a world free of many of the problems they were given.
To a certain extent, I agree with this. I consider slavery and racism to be abhorrent because I was born in the tail end of the twentieth century in a society which has come to understand what was so wrong about those things. If I'd been born in Brigham Young's Utah, I might not have held those opinions. What Brigham Young said about black people is still absolutely repugnant, but if I were planted in a different culture, I might not have disagreed.
But, since we're breathing new life into Godwin's Law here, you could make a similar argument about Nazis. It's a mistake to condemn the Nazis when we weren't there to witness the constraints they were under. And if they hadn't tried to take over the world, who knows how much longer it would have taken the economies of Europe to recover from the Great Depression?
Only we don't use that argument with Nazis, for reasons that should be obvious. But we do use that argument with slaveowners and historical proponents of inequitable societies, for some reason that is not obvious at all.
Modern Socialist philosophies intersect racism with other forms of inequality, but we must always value meritocracy. Refusing to administer sacred ordinances to those who commit sinful actions, for example, is not the same as racism. Equality without merit is Lucifer’s plan, and achievement through personal righteousness is God’s plan. Divine revelation is superior to social justice, and those today who tear down statues, give unmerited rewards, and spread racial division in the name of equality are perpetuating racism. Those who demand “equality” for people regardless of behavior are not basing justice on divine mandate; and because justice is the foundation of the rest of the gospel, their entire entire testimony of God must fall apart.
This is sounding suspiciously like someone who is threatened by this year's developments in US race relations. Tearing down statues [I think the implication here is that these are statues of historical figures who are both revered and racist] and giving unmerited rewards [is he maybe referred to attempts to close the wealth gap?] are racist acts? What unmerited rewards are we talking about here? Food? Housing? Healthcare? The privilege of not feeling intense existential anxiety in the presence of a police officer?
This section is a bit vague, and maybe that's a good thing. If the specifics are what I think they were going to be, it sounds like he was working toward a point that if you behave badly or underachieve, you aren't deserving of certain things. And while I'd agree that maybe you don't deserve a Maserati if you have the ability to work but can't be bothered to even look for a job, that doesn't mean there aren't things everyone deserves simply for being human.
Did any one of the five thousand have to pass a behavioral litmus test to partake of Jesus's loaves and fishes? No, all they had to do was be there. I submit that it's also not Christlike at all to declare that any human being deserves to be deprived of food, housing, healthcare, life, or personal dignity just because someone else has decided that they've misbehaved or underachieved.
But since this section was vague, maybe those were not the things the author was saying should be allocated unequally in his fantasized meritocratic society.
Without faith, logical to attempts to form systems of justice never work out, because mankind is not capable of establishing justice without faith. Humanity always falls short because greed prevents us from getting along. There is no motivation to stop someone devoid of faith from doing everything he can to increase his personal wealth at the plundering of society. Non-believers insist they are not out to plunder people, and that is no doubt true. But when an atheist feels a moral commitment for his fellow man, what is that moral commitment when it comes down to it? Isn’t it a feeling of family for each other? Isn’t it a belief in human potential and responsibility to help each other progress? These feelings and beliefs are intangible. If you take this moral behavior to its Socratic extreme, this is the very reasoning behind why God the creator of the universe must be a person. The atheist’s basis for morality is therefore the logic for God taken short of its natural conclusion. There would be no reason for a sense of human family or societal progression if there were no God.
Wow. That is just...there was a huge leap there and I think I pulled both hamstrings trying to follow it.
God must exist because otherwise humans would have no sense of kinship with each other? That's a new theist argument for me. The sense of kinship I feel with humanity isn't, like, literal. I don't think we're literally all a family and that our existence would make no sense without specific unifying parental figures. But it shouldn't be too hard to see ourselves in other people. I have been dicked over by other people and I don't like how that feels, so I feel a sense of commitment not to dick people over. I don't feel that commitment to centipedes or spiders, but I do feel a bit of it with cats and dogs. The more I sense that a creature is capable of experiencing pain, the worse I feel if I become the cause of that creature's pain. To coin a term that has never been used before, I call it "empathy."
I've heard the argument before that morality doesn't exist without God. But here we have an argument that seems to be framed around the concept that empathy can't exist if the universe weren't created by a god, and I don't even know what to make of that.
There is no human family without a Father, and you are only limiting justice by limiting the moral logic that extends to a need for God.
Justice is limited when it comes from atheistic logic that acknowledges a human family without acknowledging the deity at the head of that human family? I'm gonna need some examples of when justice has been limited in this way, because that line of reasoning makes no earthly sense to me.
Divine justice, on the other hand, considers truth to be an eternal law of nature and looks to God to distribute rewards for our progress based on merit rather than equality.
That sounds really nice, but the Plan of Salvation is an atrocious model for merit-based judgment. The only thing equal about our starting points in this rewards program is that we all are born equally ignorant of the rules and equally ignorant that we're even in a rewards program. Beyond that, the year of our birth, the country of our birth, the character of our parents, the socioeconomic status of our birth, our access to proper religious instruction, our spiritual gifts, our genetics, and even the duration that we'll have on earth to complete the program can all vary wildly, which means that every single person's achievements on a scale of merit is apples to oranges to cantaloupes to kielbasas. And some of our achievements will be retroactive and by accomplished by proxy. This life is a test, but some people have to solve 94 differential equations in 10 minutes, some people have to answer 6 long division questions in 45 minutes, and some people are required to write a five paragraph essay about the end of the Ottoman Empire in 30 minutes while the test paper and writing implements are all kept under lock and key in a different classroom.
I'm not sure even a perfect being could sort through all of that in absolute fairness.
But the social contract alone could never be enough to provide the most basic civilized society because it does not recognize spiritual commitment. There is no motive for the tribe with meat to share to a tribe without meat if they don’t expect to receive something back in the future.
This is just bizarre. Sympathy, empathy, selfless love, and unreciprocated service can't exist in a world without religion? Is it really that hard to believe that there are people out there who would really try to do good things for other people without the expectation of something in return?
Once I helped my handicapped neighbor find his phone when he dropped it somewhere in his car in the dark and he didn't have the range of motion to search for it himself. I've also donated to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund this year, but I didn't do that so that my friendly neighborhood person of color would invite me to their parties or whatever.
These things are not morally unique. I am not superior to the rest of humankind. I once witnessed my ex give someone what was literally her last twenty dollars because she assumed the other person must have needed it more—other than a couple of family events, she hasn't attended any church in almost fifteen years because she's just not that interested in religion. I have an old coworker who volunteers specifically as a first aid medic at public protests—he considers himself some kind of pagan witch. I get it, people are basically crap, but we're all lying to ourselves if we're convinced that people still don't share their mammoth meat with each other on a regular basis without any expectation of reward. The author is taking the "natural man is an enemy to God" rhetoric to an absurdly unrealistic extreme.
Now, equality as a concept is a good thing, but the problem is that when it is achieved through redistribution it turns into an ideology that makes everyone the same. The fact is everyone is not equal, nor should everyone be equal. Some people are more virtuous than other people within their class, and some people have more resources because they have earned it, not because it was stolen. Real justice is not realized through equality. Real justice is a chasm between the virtuous and the unrighteous, and people who are miserable are usually to blame for their own misery. The gospel rewards merit while social justice punishes it.
This would be a much more compelling argument if we could dispense with the political theory. Mormonism is not the antithesis of socialism. Socialism is not the quintessence of anti-Mormonism. I don't know why we're even talking about this. It would seem equally weird to me if, rather than having an anti-socialist narrative woven throughout this piece, the author kept bringing anti-Mormonism back to an inexcusable endorsement of the music of Jethro Tull—you can't regularly feature woodwind instruments in rock music, that's not what the gospel teaches!
Okay, obviously that's not a fair comparison, but the more socialism comes up here, the more off-topic it sounds. We're trying to convince someone to leave the church by writing a lengthy letter about how Joseph Smith was right, socialism is bad, anti-Mormons are dishonest, socialism is bad, and also socialism is bad? I'm not following.
More importantly, though, this paragraph is a snapshot of the callousness and the pompousness of God's elect. We're not all equal. I'm better than you because I'm more virtuous. I have more money than you because I earned it. Equality is not justice. Real justice is making sure that wicked people are treated worse than I am. It's usually your own fault when you're miserable. So screw all those people who have just led hard lives, right? Screw all those people who are miserable because they've been denied simple resources, because they've been victimized or abused, or because they're literally medically depressed, right?
The gospel rewards merit on an arbitrary scale that is at times unknowable and at times irrelevant. Church attendance isn't inherently meritorious, but it's required for temple attendance and you can't achieve the highest degree of merit without temple ordinances. But you can also lie on your temple recommend interviews or commit serious sin before you need to get your recommend renewed and continue partaking in sacred ordinances. Racism is bad, but we revere a vocal racist as a prophet as long as his racism is in the past. Polygamy wasn't bad before, but now we excommunicate you as soon as we find out about it. Morality has not been consistent throughout the history of the LDS church, so how can merit have been consistent?
It basically means you have a responsibility to be civil and do good to those around you beyond your expectation of receiving reward or being compelled to behave well. This is justice beyond the social contract.
People who believe in the divine definition of justice are not the only people who feel a responsibility to do good without reward. I don't understand why we think this is such an alien concept to people.
That’s how mercy satisfies justice: it produces the reaction that the action demands. When someone murders, justice demands that mercy provide wages for the perpetrator as well as the victim. What is social justice’s alternative solution to murder? How does it provide mercy? It ignores the crime. Rather than believing justice can be given in the afterlife, recompense is something most people simply don’t get. Social justice tells us the murderer must have committed murder because of some social inequality—everything is a class issue. And social justice takes away all weapons so that it is impossible to commit murder—it takes away the ability to commit sin rather than paying any kind of wage. Social justice is thus a wageless justice; it does not provide real mercy and people do not receive what they merit.
I'm sorry...the church is true because...gun control is bad?
Is the argument here that social justice (unlike divine justice) simply removes opportunities for sin rather than punishing sinners? Explain to me how we've confiscated everyone's guns and not prosecuted people who have used guns to kill people.
There's a lot of discussion in this country right now about what justice means. This particular author's voice does not strike me as being particularly relevant or constructive. One of the problems is that justice is not applied equally. The role of secular government is not to provide any kind of metaphorical wages for the perpetrator of a crime. That's entirely the domain of religion...or non-secular governments, I suppose. The secular government is in the business of punishing the perpetrator. That's also part of the problem, too (punishment versus treatment or rehabilitation), but I think we've already had far too much political nonsense in this discussion as it is.
This is feeling more and more like some kind of radical screed I'm going to see on the news someday.
God explained to Cain that justice is a system of meritocracy: if you do well you will be rewarded and if you don’t you will get nothing.
Yes, that's exactly how a perfected being should behave. He's designed this massive machinery of existential torture and he's explained the rules to a tiny percentage of those involved and he's decided that those of us who can't figure it out and achieve regardless are just not good enough to deserve anything. That's the same logic behind why my mother didn't feed me if I didn't get As on my elementary school tests and the same reason my dad didn't let me sleep in the house when I did poorly at my piano lessons.
If the Mormon god's behavior were transposed into the mortal model of parenthood, everybody in his neighborhood would have Child Protective Services on speed-dial.
How difficult is it to see that even shitty people are people and that all people deserve some things? Yeah, you and I aren't going to be best buddies if you routinely make rapey jokes, but that doesn't deserve you mean to starve to death in a gutter somewhere. Yeah, I really wish that obnoxious coworker would just not talk to me when I'm trying to do my job, but that doesn't mean she deserves to get hit by a bus. And yeah, murderers have done some pretty bad things, but does it really merit being trapped in the lowest state of stagnation and misery for all eternity? People can change. For a church that regularly throws around the word "redemption"—and, with decreasing frequency, "eternal progression"—I'm not seeing a lot of faith in people's capacity to improve themselves.
I think there's an argument to be made that a pure meritocracy is inherently unmerciful. It certainly would be in heaven, but on the earth where things can't be so discretely stratified into good and bad, deserving and undeserving, exceptional and unsatisfactory, it's even more unmerciful to try to impose a pure meritocracy. Because that kind of mindset is how we end up with people preaching awful things like "people who are miserable are usually to blame for their own misery."
Growth comes when individuals are treated as more than mere units of production and consumption —when people are empowered to reach toward their divine potential.
Sidestepping the anti-socialist rhetoric, I submit that growth comes when individuals are treated as more than mere representations of accumulated moral value—when people are empowered to reach toward their human potential.
A man who believes the universe happened by chance will thus reject his role as a purposeful creator and turn to hedonism and short-sighted pleasures.
Nailed it. That's why I regularly throw massive parties with lots of experimental drugs and casual meaningless sex. I have no desire to create and no desire to shape the world I'm a part of. I hope this author doesn't have any ex-Mormon or atheist friends, because they're just now finding out how little he really thinks of them.
This does feel like it's written by someone who either has never lived as an atheist or who reverted back to Mormonism after a short venture into atheism that scared the bajeezus out of him. He's speaking very authoritatively and very confidently about things that he clearly doesn't understand very well. I don't think his failure to understand is any intellectual shortcoming on his part. I just think he's speaking to things he hasn't experienced—and it shows.
We communicate just as people communicate with each other, except spiritually, through prayer.
I commute to work just as other people commute to work, except nautically, using a submarine. See how totally similar those two things are?
We do not have prayer books in the Church to prescribe what people should say in their prayers, nor do we suggest what questions they should ponder. Yet many who leave the Church do: of the many skeptics I have come across, I have yet to find a single one who came up with their questions on their own and who searched, pondered, and prayed sincerely and fervently and received no answer.
Hi, nice to meet you.
So there's this really obscure scripture in Moroni 10 that suggests very strongly—in fact, you might even call it an exhortation—that we should pray to learn if the things Moroni wrote are true. I searched, pondered, and prayed sincerely and fervently and I received no answer. Dozens of times.
The above paragraph is about as ridiculous and about as insulting as if I were to claim that I'd never met a member of the church who honestly believed it was all true because they were all lying to themselves. I have the same amount of evidence for my claim, too.
Skeptics parrot the same talking points they read on a website or heard from a friend, speak the same lines, and ask the same questions, because skepticism is mimetic.
So if all skeptics parrot the same talking points they got from somewhere else, then where did the talking points come from? Is anti-Mormonism the product of spontaneous generation? Anti-Mormon materials were born out of nothing and then anti-Mormons everywhere just started regurgitating unprovenanced lies?
And are we really going to pretend like the church that showers little children with positive reinforcement when they bear their testimonies by literally repeating the words that their parent has whispered into their ear is above accusations of being mimetic? Belief is mimetic. Any kind of belief can be. Whether it's your religion, your politics, your fandoms, your opinions of certain British progressive rock flautists, or your fashion choices, anything can be mimetic. Do anti-Mormons parrot talking points? Yes. Do Mormons parrot their own talking points? Yes! Does that mean that there are no original ideas in either camp? Of course not!
But if we're dismissing an entire group as having no arguments beyond recycled clichés, I think there's a high likelihood that maybe we aren't as familiar with the matter as we like to pretend.
Ask God to answer the questions or confirm that the answers you are leaning toward are correct. Remember, spiritual questions have spiritual answers, which produce a warm feeling in the heart, an enlightened mind, a profound experience, etc. As an answer, look for anything that is positive and good, as that which is good comes from God.
The hardest part of prayer is listening. We listen and feel for the warm feeling and enlightenment, closing our eyes and concentrating. Through repeated practice we get better at discerning thoughts, impressions, and feelings that did not originate from ourselves. We must then judge whether this spiritual intervention is from God or an evil spirit.
Can we go back to the part about how we communicate with God the same way we do with anyone else, except we do so spiritually? Because this does not describe the way I communicate with anyone else.
Why is the medium of the answer different from the medium of the question if they're both described as spiritual? If spiritual answers come as warm feelings, enlightenment, and profound experiences, then shouldn't the questions use the same palette, rather than being spoken aloud? Why are our questions expressed in specific words and our answers expressed in nebulous, ill-defined generalities? Why is communicating with God hard? Why should listening be hard? The last conversation I had with my mortal dad did not involve expending any focused effort to listen. He just spoke to me, and I understood the words because he was speaking in my native language. I didn't have to learn to get better at sensing words that didn't come from me. I just heard them. With my ears. And I never had to try and judge whether my dad's comments came from him or from an imposter.
Sure sounds like there's a whole lot that can go wrong in this method of discerning truth. And when some people can have gifts of the spirit (Moroni 10 again!) that involve having great faith or beholding ministering angels, that really doesn't feel like a spiritual meritocracy. Some of us weren't given those spiritual gifts, so how can we amass the same number of spiritual merit badges when we're starting out so far behind some of our peers who can breeze through the required badges like it's no big deal?
Remove all biases from the experiment so that you can achieve a truly accurate result. You can only recognize influences of the Spirit of God when you get down to the core of who you are.
How does an experiment with the goal of recognizing the Spirit of God not have a built-in bias? What if the truth is that there is no god? Or that there is a god, but there are four of them and they're all Martians and there's no such thing as the Spirit and prayer isn't how we communicate with our benevolent alien deities? Are we going to arrive at those supposedly correct conclusions by designing an experiment which seeks to recognize a theory from among a very narrow subset of possible truths?
Taking the sacrament is a death and rebirth process, like a reptile shedding its skin, where we become new people, and there is no limit to how radical the change we undergo if we allow it. This weekly ordinance includes constant re-evaluations throughout the week, but the longer we go refusing to self-evaluate and seek change the more hardened we become in a weak and inferior state. The longer we refuse to bring to the sacrament table our hurtful experiences, doubts about the gospel, and unhealthy lifestyle pursuits, the messier the log jam becomes—and it inevitably will burst.
Sheesh, he could have saved himself all that typing by just saying "people who leave the church weren't practicing their faith properly." This paragraph is like a long-distance sniper rifle version of the No True Scotsman fallacy. Mormonism can't possibly be wrong, it's just that the ex-Mormons weren't Mormony enough back when they were Mormon, that's all.
This would be a great time to quote some people. I mean, when you're telling the story of ex-Mormons without using any firsthand accounts of ex-Mormons, you have full control over how the story is presented. The author has cited sources to support his archaeological research and his historical claims and his weird obsession with denouncing socialism, but has he cited any sources to support his tales of woe and debauchery and spiritual inferiority that seem to drive his conception of Mormon disaffection? This is no better than the people who want to shut down and completely discard your arguments because you're in a cult and you don't understand what you're saying, you poor dear.
That's not how you have a conversation about truth.
A faith crisis is thus the body demanding repentance happen. Well isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t repentance good? Sure. The problem is when things settle back to the way they were before, like a fault line in the earth’s crust after an earthquake building up for another seismic cataclysm. That’s when the ground gets torn to pieces. Periodic explosions of re-evaluation tear a person apart while constant evaluation and aspirational pursuit, slow and steady, is healthy.
Sure, faith crises are physiological, pseudo-medical events, that tracks. More importantly, though, are we under a delusion that people who have experienced faith crises have done so because they are incapable of self-evaluation or aspirational pursuits? Because in my case, at least, a faith crisis led directly to a healthier habit of constant self-evaluation. I mean, when you're rebuilding your moral framework from the ground up—which can be an aspirational pursuit—generally you want to make sure you're doing it right, so you're motivated to check your work as best you can while you go. But maybe that's just me. The rest of those ex-Mormons are just short-sighted hedonists who haven't given a second thought to reflection and evaluation.
A person who fashions his identity and ideology based on contradiction will always be a mere soldier following orders. If you judge the value of something based on a template of perfection, whoever handed you that template of perfection will always have control.
I know this isn't what he means here, but damn that works as a pretty trenchant indictment of the Plan of Salvation.
I’m sure skeptics would accuse me of behaving and acting as the Church has programmed me to. Yet nothing in this TBM letter has been copied or based on anything else—I can veritably claim that it is original and objective.
That's obviously false. Why even bother making this claim?
Sure, he didn't copy and paste anyone else's research to pass it off as his own—that is absolutely true. But earlier sections, such as the passages about archaeology, contain copious hyperlinks. Most of these are to articles on his own website, which also link to supporting documents. That's not a flaw—he's using lots of different sources to construct his arguments, but that does mean that his arguments represent his analysis of, among other things, the pre-existing body of thought. That doesn't mean he doesn't have any unique material or poignant analysis to offer, of course. But I think we're lying to ourselves if we're claiming that our proclamations aren't at least partially influenced by or based on other ideas.
The claim of objectivity is harder to refute. I can't gauge the author's objectivity since I can't get inside his head. But it's obviously difficult to remain objective about such closely-held beliefs and I think the frequently resurfacing obsession with socialism can be seen as evidence that the passions of the author occasionally efface his scholarly objectivity. I mean, the way he works socialism in so often makes the whole TBM Letter feel about as tonally cohesive as Jethro Tull's War Child.
We do not have prayer books, we do not chant vague slogans, and we do not meme off each other. More to the point, our ideology does not hold people to a template of perfection or deconstruction of conflicting values, as Socialism and other philosophies of men do. The gospel treats the individual as a potential god with an independent will and agency for his own actions. They parrot mimetic slogan; we bear personal testimonies.
Yikes, okay. I mean, sure we don't carry prayer books. But we do chant vague slogans. Just the ritualistic "amen" comes to mind, but I suppose the "Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, to God and the Lamb" is pretty vague and extremely chanty. And, of course, there's all the temple stuff.
And even though there aren't prayer books, there are specific requirements for ordinance prayers. If you misspeak in the sacrament prayer, you have to start over. There are specific scripts for baptismal prayers, ointment-sealing prayers, ordination prayers, and temple proxy ordinance prayers. And of course there are Mormon memes, even by the pre-internet definition of the word. Are joking about Mormon Standard Time, preceding Jesus Christ's name with the word "even," and blessing the food that it will "nourish and strengthen our bodies" not common Mormon behaviors that pass from person to person through imitation?
And what's this nonsense about not holding people to a template of perfection? Matthew chapter 5 and 3 Nephi chapter 12 explicitly tell us that we should be perfect.
Mormonism is full of conflicting values, too (just like socialism and Jethro Tull, apparently). I mean, racism is wrong, but God isn't, so we know God has his reasons for things that seem really really racist but we don't know what they were. We're proud not to have a paid clergy, except for the clergy who are paid, of course. We believe strongly in the family unit, but Christofferson says that we may have to interrupt some relationships with family members who have done some gay stuff. Depending on which General Authority you talk to, we believe in science, but we also literally believe some contra-scientific Biblical stories and Biblical timelines. We also, apparently, seem to think that ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons are both diabolically clever and pathetically impotent (since we're comparing things to Nazism, this feels pretty well in line with the "enemy is both strong and weak" aspect of fascism, but maybe that's none of my business). Elder Oaks even recently talked about how God's first two great commandments can sometimes conflict with each other, going so far as to say that we "we cannot let our love supersede the commandments and the plan and work of God"—which is how we can still feel like we're keeping the commandments when we're doing a shitty job of loving our LGBTQ+ fellow human beings.
Whether a faith crisis leads toward better faith or toward NPC-like behavior depends on whether you criticize yourself by comparing yourself to a template or whether you evaluate eternal goals for yourself. It’s one or the other, and comparing yourself to a template will turn you into an NPC. Evaluating eternal goals will liberate your soul as you utilize your faith crisis as the first step.
I think it's also disingenuous to claim that Mormons are doing things wrong by comparing themselves to a template. The template is Jesus Christ. How many times have we heard that Jesus is our example? Earlier this year, the prophet used the phrase "our Exemplar" to refer to Jesus. What manner of men ought we to be? Verily, I say unto you, even as Jesus is. It's right there in the scriptures. If we're not supposed to be striving to follow in Jesus's footsteps and matching the template he created, then what the hell were we supposed to be doing this whole time?
Be open to anything. The process of rebuilding a truer testimony is parallel to the process of losing it.
Please. If we were really being open to everything, we'd be okay with coming to the conclusion that Close to the Edge or Dark Side of the Moon or, hell, even Songs From the Wood might be the superior records.
This feels like lip service to open-mindedness. Yes, we should be open to anything. But if being Mormon for twenty years taught me anything, it was that if the prescribed process doesn't work the way it was supposed to, it's because you did something wrong. "Be open to anything," we urge kindly, blasting "Locomotive Breath" so loud you wouldn't be able to hear anyone else who might be playing Yes or Pink Floyd.
See how weird it is when you wander off into these non-adjacent pet issues? Mormonism has as much to do with socialism as it does to do with Jethro Tull.
Then, research extensively. Some tips as you research: Don’t judge people’s motivations, consider historical bias in your sources, consider your own historical bias, consider the possibility of fabricated sources, look for context, always look for the other side of the argument, use raw information sources rather than someone’s interpretation, and keep it as simple as possible.
Some of these are really good tips. But the "don't judge people's motivations" part doesn't feel very sincere, considering how much time we've spent building a narrative in which we can diabolize the motivations of Mormonism's critics so that their arguments can be dismissed. We just did this whole, like, armchair psychology thing that elaborately paints ex-Mormons as unoriginal, deceived, insidious, plagued by personal shortcomings, and reveling in rampant hedonism. Maybe we should also consider some religious biases when we're researching?
I disagree with "keep it as simple as possible," as well. The author should know better than just about anybody how complex these issues are—his website contains a truly impressive number of articles that boldly wade directly into many of the messiest and most troubling aspects of Mormonism. If keeping things simple were the best method, his website wouldn't need to exist. The world is a complicated, nuanced thing. So is history. So is morality. So is Mormonism, for that matter. How can research be both extensive and reductive?
Before you piece this all together, you need to confront your own cognitive bias. What are your emotions saying? Maybe you were taught in primary class to be tolerant and accepting, but now you see a bunch of mean and hateful church policies that exclude people. Why would the Church teach kids to be inclusive yet have policies that exclude entire groups of people? Intellectual research will only go so far—you need to consider what your heart is saying. Write down your specific emotional opinions on a separate sheet of paper and address each one independently and objectively. As you do so, write down what all possible alternatives to the church’s solutions are. What is the alternative to the Church’s restrictive definition of family? Consider those alternative plans objectively and fully. Maybe those solutions sound nice in this one little aspect but are they really better as an overall ideology? What are the end results, for individuals and overall society?
Yes, absolutely, confront your own cognitive bias—that also means confronting the possibilities that you may really really want the church to be true (or you may really really want the church not to be true) and that your hopes may be coloring the way you process new information. This also means confronting the possibility that your long belief in Mormonism may have also taught you to carefully parse new information in ways that prevent you from fully absorbing the negative aspects of it.
Also, even if you come to the conclusion that the traditional heteronormative nuclear family is better for individuals and for society, that still doesn't excuse the church's exclusive policies. Especially since the church's scriptures teach that God denieth none who come unto him. Sure, he doesn't say "both gay and straight" after he says "black and white" and "bond and free," but those clarifications are unnecessary anyway since they fall under the category of "all." How are we supposed to pretend we believe in that scripture when we exclude people who express an interest in coming unto Christ?
A lot of ex-church members seem to throw their hands up in the air and exclaim, “Oh well I’m agnostic!” But you can’t go through life without some moral structure and belief system. That is just lazily refusing to scrutinize the new ideology you have accepted, probably because you are scared of what you will find. Scrutinize every argument, every connection to a narrative, and every narrative back to your belief system, and scrutinize boldly and humbly.
I say "I'm agnostic" because people aren't usually looking for a more detailed answer. Saying "I'm an irreligious agnostic atheist secular humanist with occasional deist tendencies" seems like a really good way to convince someone to quickly leave the conversation in search of less awkward pastures.
Agnosticism doesn't impose lack of moral structure. For all his insistence that we need to think for ourselves and form our own narratives, it sounds to me like the author expects that morality can only be generated externally. We can't determine our own moral framework—it has to be imposed on us by an existing belief system. Which is, of course, utter nonsense.
An ideology can contain much, much more than just the question of the existence of any deities. And a statement of agnosticism is a statement that the existence of any gods can't be proven or disproven. What's the point of scrutinizing that aspect of an ideology if the whole point of that aspect is that it defies scrutiny? It's like the typical CSI Miami spoof in a comedy show—the cop keeps ordering the tech guy to enhance the image and the tech guy keeps trying to explain that all that does is make the image bigger without adding any more detail.
Instead, since I've come to a conclusion so far that I can't prove a god exists and I can't prove that no gods exist, I choose to focus on scrutinizing other aspects of my post-Mormon beliefs. Morality is a vast subject, and ten lifetimes wouldn't be enough to complete a full circuit of scrutiny and experimentation with all the moral choices life has to offer. Abandoning a pre-existing, formalized system of belief doesn't necessarily entail moral indolence.
But for anyone playing Mormon apologist bingo with this anti-Mormons-reuse-the-same-old-arguments guy, make sure you check off the "ex-Mormons are lazy" box.
In any case, it is hard to hate someone once you really listen to them and understand why they believe the way they do.
Extremely true. That's a very important point. If everyone understood this, the world would be a much, much better place.
The most hardened anti-Mormon at times takes a second look at the church and starts to feel like maybe the church isn’t so bad, when their conscience strikes and they reconsider some of the vitriol they had convinced themselves about Latter-day Saints. They take the first few steps toward rebuilding their testimony, but then the emotional block shows up. They freak out about it and snap back into anti-Mormon mode, afraid they are like a victim of abuse returning to their abuser. They find someone or something to convince them not to let it happen. They often have some anti-Mormon buddy or “therapist” talk them out of it. They cannot justify to themselves investigating the belief system they decided to reject, and they cannot admit that there might be some merit to it, all because they don’t have the confidence to investigate truth.
Is this based on any kind of significant data or are we just making things up? And why is there so much talk about the emotional block that keeps us from gaining a testimony without any mention of the emotional block that might keep us from embracing a world in which Mormonism is not true?
This author explaining what fuels the anti-Mormon psyche makes about as much sense as my TED talk on the Latina experience in present-day Texas. I've known several Latinas in my lifetime and I spent a few hours in a Texan airport once, so let me explain to everyone how this works.
You cannot claim to objectively know about something if your basis is Wikipedia, Antimo hate sites, and your own bitter experiences.
But you can claim to objectively know about something completely intangible if your basis is General Conference, unverifiable scripture, and your own subjective positive experiences?
5. Stop Blaming The Church
Weird that there's no explanation for this one. That's the entirety of item number five. Why must we stop blaming the church? The conspicuous lack of clarifying language after this statement seems to leave a silent implication that the church shouldn't be blamed for anything. What about when the church does something wrong?
Are we claiming the church as an institution is faultless? God can be faultless, I suppose, since he's perfect and all. But the earthly organization made up of his flawed human followers? That's some dangerous fundamentalist territory you're wandering into, there, bud. Unless I've misinterpreted.
At this point you should try to talk to God as if you are a new investigator. Pray. Just try it. If nothing results then you can finally know it was all delusion, right?
Wait, so you're saying I'm right? My belief in Mormonism was delusional? Vindicated!
Maybe you won’t accept the gospel and you will continue being an atheist. Either way, this process will help you feel profound peace. You will finally conquer your demons and feel no need to hate groups of people. Maybe there is at least a part of the gospel you can accept. Maybe you can use faith productively in some areas of your life. You won’t get to this point right away but eventually you won’t be afraid anymore to consider it.
Major points here for being willing to do what I don't think I've ever seen an apostle do—that is, acknowledge that it is possible to draw conclusions from an earnest search for truth that are both legitimate and completely different from Mormonism's desired conclusions. It's also nice to hear that being a committed atheist can mean you become less hateful.
The iron rod is not a safe space. The iron rod does not dictate every little thing for you to do or believe. It is not the Church’s job to train you like a soldier. If you feel that the Church kept things from you it was because you failed to do your own research and think for yourself.
And just like that, the good feeling is gone. Another one for Mormon apologist bingo.
How was someone supposed to do their own research in, say, 1950, to discover that there were four different versions of the First Vision? Or that the gold plates weren't in the room during the translation process? Or that one of Joseph Smith's translation techniques was putting his face in a hat to read from a rock that he found while digging a well through no angelic or divine means before he ever had the gold plates? The "you failed to do your own research argument" holds a bit of water for the Internet generations, but surely the expectation was not that committed church members in bygone eras were studiously driving to every bookstore and library in a three-state radius to buy any Mormonism-related volume that might contain some quotation from precious primary sources?
But even with the later generations, the church does its best to convince us that research is not the answer. That the internet is dangerous. That we can get the spiritual edification we need by listening to the prophets and reading the scriptures. If the church isn't trying to train us to follow like soldiers, they need to get much better at instructing us that it's actually okay to go to outside sources and read critical pieces on the internet and research our little tails off.
Being Mormon is a game of faith-based Minesweeper. The church puts little red flags on things it doesn't want you to see and tells you it might blow you up. You can click on it, sure, but...with your eternal happiness at stake is it really worth it? You already know what's true. What would further research accomplish?
Atheists who think everything happens by chance are ignoring simple reality. You do not need to be the most learned professor who ever lived to understand why we need to believe in God the Creator.
Theists don't have all the answers either. I don't understand how the universe can exist by chance, but I don't understand how it can exist by creation, either. If God created the universe, who created God? All theism does, in my view, is push the questions of creation one parking space over. And if we concede that the universe must have been created by a god, why should it be necessary for us to believe in that god?
A god who values belief in him—especially when he is so hesitant to actually make his presence known—to the point where it becomes a major basis for how his creations are rewarded or punished is kind of a jerk. Belief in God is not a moral choice. Participating in the marginalization of gay folks because you believe in God is a moral choice. Participating in the marginalization of gay folks and having no faith in God is also a moral choice. Serving your fellow human beings because you believe in God is a moral choice. Serving your fellow human beings and having no faith in God is also a moral choice. The question of whether God exists does not play a role in whether those actions are right or wrong. It can play a role in motivating a person to undertake those actions. But it is not required for that motivation to exist.
There's no reason why we should need to believe in God, even if he did create the universe.
It is sad that pretty much everyone who leaves the church gives up on God, and it’s because they stop communicating spiritually. It doesn’t have to be that way. Times of faith crisis are when we should be praying the most and growing spiritually independent in our personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, whichever direction it might take us.
Forgive the banal comparison, but you don't fault children for giving up on writing letters to Santa after they stop believing in him, do you? You wouldn't fault your phone for not playing music from your wireless speakers after you disconnect it from your WiFi. You wouldn't criticize someone for not voting when they've renounced their citizenship and moved to a different country. You wouldn't condemn Martin Barre for a lack of songwriting input after he left Jethro Tull. Why should there be any need for someone to continue to behave according to the parameters of a system from which they have chosen to separate themselves?
There's more than one kind of growth. Just because the crisis hasn't caused the person to grow in the way you would prefer doesn't mean they haven't grown in other ways. There are avenues for personal improvement that do not involve Mormonism.
It is not in hopes of some distant reward in heaven that we in the church love and help those around us.
That's a rickety claim to make for someone who thinks morality doesn't exist without God.
I have knocked down the fake stage-sets that most in western society accept around them; I see what is really going on, while most people move along with the herd and follow their programming. This independence enables me to achieve what others have not even imagined.
This sounds like someone who could watch The Truman Show and find it incredibly powerful without ever noticing any parallels with Mormonism. And that's not necessarily a criticism. That's exactly what happened to me the first time I saw that movie. We all have our blind spots. That was one of mine, but it's admittedly tough to know for sure what mine are now.
I want the fabled western dream that is a mirage to most Millennials: to be a parent in a happy functional family, and I recognize that modern atheistic humanism is no basis for a family. What is romantic about two people satiating their evolutionary urge to propagate the species? That’s love? What is profound about parents training their offspring to be civil producers and consumers in an economy? That’s parenting? What is achieved by the typical routine of waking up, grabbing a Starbucks, working a job, and then coming home to play video games?
Yeah, man, welcome to reality. If it feels cyclical and stagnant and meaningless, maybe that's because sometimes it is. Should that make it of any less value to you?
Speaking as someone who has been in romantic relationships and never helped propagate the species, why couldn't that be romantic? I think it's incredibly romantic for two people to dedicate themselves to each other. It's also romantic for two people to dedicate their eternal existence to each other, of course, but for me that's kind of watered down by the fact that I don't believe for a second that they have any eternities to offer. It's a lot more impressive and meaningful if I donate a hundred dollars to you than if I promise to donate my lottery winnings to you.
And I'd be really interested in meeting these theoretical people who frame their parenting style around the goal of raising a brood of good little producers and consumers. It's really beyond inconceivable to him that people can find meaning, morality, purpose, and happiness without the Mormon god, isn't it?
I am a pioneer, and my purpose is to create Zion. Though the opposition is impossibly thick, I will persist and I will win in the end. I will rejoice in my posterity and dwell in the village I have created, while those in the great and spacious building who choose to be dutiful slaves to popular culture oppose me every step of the way.
This is why I stay in the church.
Powerful final thoughts. Accurate closing line, too, as this is ultimately just an explanation for why the author stays in the church. It's not an explanation for why anyone else should.
While I certainly respect the willingness to confront things that many Mormons would shy away from, I don't see any compelling rethink apostasy within this TBM Letter. Though the author left the desert of Mormon avoidance and followed the river of intellectual curiosity into the verdant canopies of studious research, without the compass of reason to guide him, the whole endeavor became simply a Bungle in the Jungle.
Had to get one more Jethro Tull joke in there.