“If the CES Letter has added value to your life, please pay it forward.
Your support will allow us to continue to help the honest in heart seekers.”
Such loaded language from the CES letter website gets my hackles up, but I’ll suppress them long enough to respond to some friends’ queries of “Have you read the entire CES Letter?”. I am finally going to write my responses to the “Letter to a CES director.” I’m going to expect no one to agree with me. I’m going to treat no one’s feelings or thoughts gently. If you love the letter and think it’s perfect, don’t read my response. If you expect detailed responses to every item in the letter, go someplace else. If you are my friend and what you really want is validation of your pain caused at the hands of the LDS church and its members, give me a phone call. Chances are I will agree with you, and I will do my best to show my love. I will acknowledge up front that I think there are valid criticisms of the LDS church and its leaders and scriptures, both past and present. But for sake of my time and sanity I’m going to be appropriately brief. I’m going to cite or link to other sources. I’m going to define what I view as a rational and honest perspective, and I will not consider myself bound by your, or anyone else’s, view of Mormonism. I am Mormon. My perspective is Mormon. You can seek to understand it or not. You can claim it is irrational, or seek to understand the logic. You can say I’m splitting hairs or avoiding issues, or not. You can try to understand and enter into a different paradigm, or not. I am limited by many factors in my choice of how to respond to this letter. So with this disclaimer out of the way, I will begin. Read at your own discretion.
My initial reaction to the CES letter was that it views the world and Mormonism from a particular, black and white perspective that I don’t hold to. Whether such a perspective is held by some other Mormons or not doesn’t matter for my belief–whoever those others are. If I hold to such a belief, either by embracing it or by rebelling against it, I am not truly taking responsibility for my own moral life. Most of the “problems” highlighted in the letter appeared to be more problems with assumptions about God or prophets or human nature than anything else. So now as I reexamine the CES letter, I will take this approach:
- If God exists, He interacts with humans in a way that is completely mediated by humans and the laws of nature. I believe this is the Mormon God, whatever selected LDS authorities have said to the contrary. I also believe in a limited God, and not the omni-God of certain theologies. So I will refer to the evolved God that I believe is most likely from science and Mormon theology of theosis. How many of the problems of the CES letter vanish by simply accepting this type of God?
- Prophets are human. They have human failings, human biases, human tendencies to create meaning through stories, and human limitations with memory, perception, and understanding. How many of the problems vanish by simply accepting this view of prophets?
Now here comes the flood, one topic at a time.
The Book of Mormon
- Problems 1-3: the KJV in the Book of Mormon. These objections are easily addressed with a “functional equivalence” method of translation. Brant Gardner has addressed this ably and thoroughly in his book The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon. I expect further improvements on his work as scholars take advantage of the work by Colby Townsend in identifying the intertextuality of the Book of Mormon on the Bible (for example this paper), but I expect no substantive improvements on the functionally equivalent translation hypothesis.
- Problem 4: DNA analysis. Mr. Runnells and anyone else who thinks that DNA says anything about the Book of Mormon–even with a hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography, simply doesn’t understand DNA evidence. This talk by Ugo Perego, an expert in Native American genetics, addresses the topic in detail accessible to the non-expert. DNA is a non-issue that arises from sloppy attention to the Book of Mormon text and ignorance of, or misapplied understanding of, DNA analysis.
- Probelm 5: Anachronisms. Continued research in cultural history has reduced the numbers of both physical and cultural anachronisms claimed to be present in the Book of Mormon. In addition, functionally equivalent translation (what most people do when they translate) predicts the insertion of some anachronisms, as do natural changes in language. Absolute claims like the one made here are at best problematic, and at worst disingenuous or intentionally ignorant. There are so many flavors of responses to this. I have my favorite. You can find many of my past thoughts on the Book of Mormon in posts linked towards the bottom of this page. I’m not going to pretend that my perceptions of the Book of Mormon can be encapsulated in a few paragraphs.
- Problem 6: Hemispheric vs. Limited Geography. A limited geography model comes from careful reading of the Book of Mormon text. No other model is sustainable. Hemispheric models are the result of inattentive reading, and I do not feel bound by them, whatever Joseph Smith said at other times. Remember, human prophet. Mr. Runnells’s analysis of what “should be found” shows to me an ignorance of archaeology and an impatience to conclude what he wants to conclude. To cherry pick a counter-example to his Roman occupation of Britain, the Battle of Hastings occurred in 1066 at a known location. We even know how many people died in it. But not a single metal artifact has been uncovered from it, and only a handful of bones. These problems from faulty expectations fail to excite me. His reference to an LDS archaeologist is just another appeal to authority, which the entire letter decries. Not interested.
- Problem 7: Book of Mormon geography and names. Despite the apparently large list of similarities between Book of Mormon geography and names and Great Lakes geography and names, I see it as a case of imposing a pattern where there mostly isn’t one. Where the pattern may be real (names–the geography is forced, sloppy, and inconsistent with the hemispheric model touted previously), biblical connections can explain many of them, and the Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project takes a much more careful and thorough approach to the issue of names. The Onomasticon Project also provides some insight into names that didn’t exist in Joseph’s world–an issue not covered by the superficial comparisons made in the CES Letter. The Hill Cumorah problems vanish when Joseph and his contemporaries are viewed as humans with human understanding and inattentional biases. There are several possible responses, and none of them are provable. This just isn’t a problem worth considering.
- Problem 8: View of the Hebrews. Connections with this book are historically tenuous and topically superficial. I don’t believe that belief in a connection can be maintained with detailed study. The differences far exceed the similarities, and are far more substantial.
- Problem 9: The Late War. Parallels with this book are embarrassingly superficial. I have addressed my view of these claims in a previous blog post, and in an improved version yet to be published.
- Problem 10: The First Book of Napoleon. This is as bad as The Late War (maybe worse). See the blog post above. Why hasn’t he included the 1823 Koran and the 1830 Book of Nullification? These are tenuous attempts to justify a superficial, naturalistic explanation of the Book of Mormon. A substantial naturalistic explanation requires a lot more work, and is much better supported by viewing the Book of Mormon as a translation (work through my mostly finished stylometry series, and this review of Brant Gardner’s book).
- Problem 11: Conception of the Godhead. I believe in an evolving understanding of God, both within Joseph’s lifetime and over the centuries that humanity has been seeking God (follow my earlier series here at Rational Faiths). This simply isn’t an issue from my understanding of God. It also isn’t an issue to me if Joseph changes his translation. If I viewed the process as a word for word dictation from the mouth of God, or even from the pen of Mormon, unfiltered by the translator’s understanding, language, and experience, then this might be a problem–but it isn’t.
Book of Mormon Translation
- We have told and perpetuated an image of the translation that doesn’t match reality. I agree. Let’s fix it. My faith has never been based on how the Book of Mormon was translated, but on its content. Both the how and the content have problems, but those are separate issues. Also, the perpetuation of an incorrect story is a problem to be fixed when prophets are viewed as mostly ordinary humans, not an earth shattering, faith crushing deception. People tell stories. The earliest written accounts, second or third hand from 1832, about translation already have Joseph looking at stones in spectacles, so I understand how people for whom it wasn’t an important issue perpetuated a story that made sense to them, whether it matched reality or not. Is this an issue for me? Yes (I’ve written about it–a lot). But not the way it is for Mr. Runnells.
- How is it ok that the church is not being honest about this? There is no response to this kind of loaded question. He has decided the church is being dishonest in a way he disapproves of. To respond seriously is a deep philosophical, social, and scientific question regarding the nature of honesty, history, social forces, and speculation about the knowledge and power of various individuals. There is no answer. I’m not dodging the issue. We could have fruitful discussions about the realities and value of all of these topics and still come to different conclusions regarding the honesty of “the church”. But such a question is not really asking for an answer. It is rhetorical. It presupposes guilt. It is not “honest at heart seeking”.
- The best, non-accusatory response to translation problems that I have read is the first part of Brant Gardner’s book The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon. I’m not going to try to rehash his well constructed work in a poor summary, but it is my answer to these problems with the Book of Mormon.
Multiple First Vision Accounts
- This problem amounts to, “Do I believe Joseph is a credible reporter of his vision that may or may not have occurred?” Runnells concludes there are significant reasons to doubt Joseph’s veracity. I see, instead, very human tendencies to tell stories that create meaning, and very human tendencies to shape memory according to the meaning of our stories. Neither of these speaks to the reality of Joseph’s experience. They may speak to the certainty with which we know the content of Joseph’s experience, but they are far from evidence of deception. I find these multiple reports a fascinating window into Joseph’s thought and development, but that they speak little to the reality or unreality of the event. That President Hinckley and others feel that the reality of a particular version of the first vision story is central to the truth of Mormonism (and I’m not even sure he would agree that one particular version is central), does not bind me to the same belief. Other prophets clearly didn’t concern themselves much about Joseph’s vision, and I am not troubled by the idea that all our prophets could have faulty understanding about certain topics. So again, believing in human prophets makes this a non-issue.
Book of Abraham
(Edit: I have misrepresented the views of Brian Hauglid. My apologies. I plan to continue to follow his work and I still recommend him as a fascinating source for exploring the complexities of this book of scripture. As this particular topic seems to have distracted greatly from understanding the intent or scope of this essay, I add only that stylometric and theological reasons, among others I haven’t fully explored, give me reason to doubt this work as simply a product of Joseph Smith’s mind. I intentionally left out such a discussion because of the background required to explain my reasons. I stand by my fourth point, below, that I believe it is fine for others to be troubled by the Book of Abraham, but that it is not an immense logical difficulty for the faith of one who shares my worldview–a worldview whose construction you may explore and critique in many previous posts here on Rational Faiths, but not a worldview I claim as the only rational choice.)
- Problem 1: Scholars have translated the papyrus that it was on and it isn’t there, and it’s from the wrong time. Yes, the papyri are from later. So is every copy of the Bible that we have today. How is this a problem?
- Problem 2: The papyri have a funerary text, not the Book of Abraham. Wrong papyri. We don’t have the ones it was on.
- John Gee’s and Brian Hauglid’s (among others) work on the papyri and the Book of Abraham is not simply apologetic circumlocutions. The simplistic view presented by Mr. Runnells, whatever experts have made cursory forays into the translation of the papyri, just doesn’t cut it. It probably is an apocryphal text written by a 1st or 2nd century BCE jew, but Joseph’s revelation is not consistent with simply being a modern creation. A modern adaptation or translation, yes, but not simply a modern text. Numerous of the “errors” Runnells reports probably aren’t, and many others are explicable through application of Gardner’s understanding of translation. There might be a few that remain after a closer look, but it’s nothing like the seemingly extensive and damning list that Mr. Runnells and others have compiled.
- You are welcome to find the Book of Abraham problematic. I have more unanswered questions about it than about any other book of scripture, so I sympathize. However, I will not admit that this is a vast, logical difficulty. I believe it’s ok to admit that we don’t have the papyrus Joseph translated from. I believe it’s ok to acknowledge that facsimiles like those we have had a variety of meanings in different contexts, and that Joseph’s interpretations got more correct than the superficial criticisms posed by scholars who only treated them superficially. I believe it’s ok to acknowledge the 19th century influence on the text from a human revelator, with all his limitations of understanding, language, and prejudice. I don’t have to view the whole thing in the forced, black and white way it is presented in the CES letter.
Polygamy and Polyandry
- I’ve written my thoughts on it before. There was some ugly stuff. We’ve moved past it, mostly, in practice. Let’s move past it completely in practice and be frank about our history.
- I don’t agree that this shows past or present leaders to be evil or unworthy people. I have studied their lives and teachings too broadly to define them by their actions in one or a few small areas. I can even condemn those actions. But again, viewing prophets as human, and God as acting mediated through deeply flawed individuals, takes away much of the sting of learning this history.
- I feel sadness as I hear the stories of abused or manipulated women (and men), and I speak out as a Feminist to correct such ills in our day, but I mostly see in it ordinary, human, biologically fostered Patriarchy. Time to overcome the natural man, but that’s a Mormon problem and a human problem. There are few places free from it.
- Adam-God, Blood Atonement, Polygamy, Black Temple Ban, Mark Hoffman. All problems. All problems that are readily explained with a human understanding of prophets and of revelation. These are only problems for those who hold some degree of infallibility for our prophets, or for those who feel that Mormons must believe in prophetic infallibility. I don’t. I’m a Mormon. I learn from prophets. I respect prophets. I don’t currently idolize them. I know many Mormons who take them very seriously but don’t idolize them. Idolatry is human, but it should be done away. It should be done away in the Mormon church, too, but it will probably never happen in this life. This is a problem for me, but a human problem. One we have to face every day in the LDS church, so let’s face it. But these are not problems for my faith because my faith is not based in this prophetic infallibility.
- Kinderhook Plates. I think this is one of the strongest reasons to doubt Joseph as a revelator. I personally find it insignificant put in the perspective of his entire life’s work, but that’s a judgment call. I have recently had pointed out to me this thorough treatment of the Kinderhook Plates by Don Bradley, and I may find them even less of an issue once I absorb the information.
Testimony & Spiritual Witness
- I’ve written about My Testimony vs. Science, and published my father’s response to it. Take it as you will. I have many of the same concerns as Mr. Runnells, but don’t feel that they compel me to the same conclusions. Again, this list of problems is one I’ve dealt with over years, and I find Mr. Runnells’s conclusions and implications only one set among many possibilities, and not the most convincing.
- More problems with the telling of history and its uses in the modern church. Both sets of problems fit well within the ordinary when prophets and leaders are viewed as human with a touch of inspiration. I just can’t get worked up about this, although I find Greg Prince’s thoughts on it very interesting.
- Ask me if I think Priesthood should keep changing, and I’ll give a resounding YES! Just check out my Ordain Women Profile and my name on the Agitating Faithfully petition.
Witnesses to the Book of Mormon
- This seems like yet another set of problems with interpreting history. We read the same facts and see different things. I mostly don’t worry about it, since the facts can be fit to my story (and several others), and my testimony of the Book of Mormon is built on different reasons and experiences. I’ve written a lot about it.
- I’ve finally been convinced that the magic world view is a significant part of Mormon history. I just don’t think it’s as significant, or significant in the ways, some critics claim or imply. It’s much like looking for the 19th century in the Book of Mormon. You can find it in abundance, but it doesn’t come close to painting a complete picture. There is much more to Joseph’s history than the magical influences, despite a significant presence of that view in shaping his stories and actions. People live in a culture and don’t ever completely escape it–not even prophets.
- Mr. Runnells uses reports of the witnesses to infer things about their experiences, their honesty, and Joseph’s experiences and honesty. Even if I could be convinced his interpretation were logically sound (I’m not sure of that), logical extrapolation is still extrapolation. I find it poor grounds for either confirming or rejecting faith, and I try to only use it when there is no alternative.
- Once again, Mr. Runnells uses analogies to draw his conclusions. Sometimes it is a necessary approach. I find it informative, but once again fail to find serious reasons to be troubled by this long list of suppositions based on an interpreted list of limited historical facts.
Temples and Free Masonry
- There are connections between the two. There are more differences between the two. Humans create using already existing elements. So does God, according to Mormon theology.
- Religion evolves. Changes are only a problem for those who expect otherwise. I don’t. What I do hope is that changes will be for the better, and I believe they predominantly have been in the temple ceremonies.
- Joseph didn’t understand everything. He didn’t even understand everything he thought was revealed to him. Oh well.
- I’m not a scriptural literalist. I do believe that some elements of most scriptures were literal, but that it often doesn’t matter, and that it requires careful winnowing to draw historical or scientific conclusions from scripture.
- This is another list of problems that just aren’t problems from my world view. I dealt with scriptural literalism in the LDS church from the time I was 14 until I was about 30. Some stories aren’t literal whatever any LDS authority has said or believed about them. Prophets are human.
- God is interpreted through human experience and understanding and language in ALL of scripture. Humans get it wrong and say wrong things about God even when they think they are inspired, sometimes. That’s reality. Saying it isn’t or shouldn’t be speaks more to an individual’s acceptance of reality than to the nature of God.
LDS Church’s Dishonesty and Whitewashing of History
- I freely admit errors and falsehoods in our presentation of history, past and present. Again, human. If you want to argue some conspiracy of deception that goes beyond what people of good will may do in error, I will say you are looking at the lives of these people too narrowly and at the power of institutional forces too unrealistically. These are problems for me, but they speak to the nature of humanity and of organizations, not threats to my faith or understanding of Mormonism. Bonner Ritchie gives a useful framework for understanding this on this podcast.
- I wish the church were more transparent. I don’t know if I would agree with every expenditure. I probably wouldn’t. Here is my perspective on church finances. I find implications or claims of gross dishonesty or negligence of stewardship unlikely. There are too many honest people working for the LDS church for me to believe that truly gross abuses wouldn’t be uncovered in time. But if financial secrecy bothers you, I can’t fault you for that. It bothers me, too. I will validate you if it bothers you more–but not if you look for dishonesty, irresponsibility, or negligence by implication.
- If you don’t like how the church spends its money, that is a real problem you must face. I can’t resolve it for you. I see the LDS church and its leaders trying to solve a big, complicated optimization problem, and I’m not sure there is a best solution. If you think their choices don’t represent what God wants, I’ll partially agree with you (we only ever imperfectly represent God), and partially say you are expecting the church and its leaders to be something they are not–divine.
Names of the Church
- You are expecting a static gospel. That’s not what I believe in. No problem here, for me.
- “Some things that are true are not very useful + It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true + Spying and monitoring on members + Intellectuals are dangerous + When the prophet speaks the debate is over + Obedience is the First Law of Heaven = Policies and practices you’d expect to find in a totalitarian system such as North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984; not from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- If that were all there were to the LDS church and its culture, it would be the end of my Mormonism. These are problems. But for me they are the teachings and actions of humans, and they are a very small part of the LDS experience. They are predictable happenings in large organizations. They are predicted by our own scriptures, and condemned by them, as well. If you are one of the people for whom these facts are the dominant reality, I have said elsewhere that I consider harm to the individual to be good reason for protecting oneself or one’s family or friends from the organization. The rest of us should seek to correct and repair wrongs. But although I have heard all these teachings for years, and they have even caused me pain, the Mormonism I have lived and loved is as open to intellectual pursuits as any large organization I have encountered. In some ways less, and in others more. You should free yourself from this intellectual bondage, but rebelling and going to the opposite pole is only the first step.
I was fine with Mr. Runnells’s letter when it was his story. He has a right to it. It is a real, lived experience. He came by it honestly. Many others have had similar experiences. I feel for their pain. I have cried with some. People close to me have been lost to the church because we have been unable or unwilling to correct some of these real wrongs. But out of eighty pages of criticisms and problems, the vast majority are problems created by hanging onto a black and white worldview that doesn’t match either my understanding of God or of how he acts among men. There are not dozens of serious issues. There are very few, and all of them are questions of practical action. Or they are Mr. Runnell’s and others’ assumptions about God and prophets. What God do you believe in? How does he act among men? Believe in inerrantly mediated action from an omnipotent and controlling God whose goal is to make everyone behave perfectly, the kind of God so frequently implied in Mr. Runnells letter, and I will say you have described the Lucifer of the Book of Abraham. Quote LDS authorities who have espoused portions of belief in such a God, and I will say you’ve come by your belief honestly, but now it’s time to move on. Believe in the God of agency, justice, and mercy whose goal is to turn us into creators and peers, who works within the reality of human biology, psychology, and sociology, and the limits of nature, and nearly all of these serious problems become ordinary problems of living in a human world. To come where I am, you will have to give up the expectation that the LDS church is far beyond–or far below–other earthly organizations. You will have to experience the real pain that errors of prophets have caused. You may have to rebuild a connection to God as your previous beliefs are torn from you. But the CES letter is only half of an honest seeking of truth. It is still bound by the same paradigms that caused the distress in the first place. If this letter is the end of your journey with Mormonism, I understand to a degree. I won’t fault you for moving on. I’ll wish you the best as you seek a new spiritual home. If you are my friend, I hope we can still journey through life together. But I won’t adopt your problems with Mormonism. I’ll stick with my own.
Thanks for sharing your view on the CES Letter. Even though I currently consider myself a non-believer, I think a lot of your criticisms are right on.
I really like your articles points of view vis-à-vis the LDS Church. You don’t just sweep things under your mental rug and you’re not afraid to call a spade a spade even if it doesn’t paint the church in the best light.
That being said, I disagree with your overarching criticism that the CES Letter is wrong in its black and white portrayal of things. While I ultimately agree with you that many things in life, especially concerning religion and spirituality, are decidedly NOT black and white, the institutional LDS Church presents itself within that binary.
The CES Letter is not a list of criticisms against YOUR personal concepts of spirituality, the institutional LDS Church, or how you would like it to be. It is a list of criticisms against the Church within its own expressed paradigm of reality. I think Runnells presented many of his issues in the same black and white manner as the institution presents itself precisely to show that such black and white thinking is untenable.
Yes Andrew. It is exactly that black and white that I reject both from the LDS church and from it’s critics. My experience has been fortunate in that I haven’t experienced that black and white as authentic, LDS Mormonism, despite some prominent people claiming it and correlation tending to reinforce it. It is a view that I hope people will ultimately set aside during their journeys of faith.
I, personally have experienced that black and white paradigm within the church. For example, while at the MTC, I was taught that when GAs speak in General Conference, their words were to be treated as literal modern-day scripture. I was also taught to teach that to investigators and members. The entire paradigm of the 2 year mission is set up in an extremely black and white binary of “Us vs. the World (i.e. Satan).”
I think there would be a lot less ink spilled by critics about problems with the church if the institution itself did not make such clear, black and white truth claims. You said it yourself that many of the problems elucidated in the CES Letter would go away once you let go of the black and white paradigm. However, the onus to break up this rhetorical logjam is on the church, not its critics.
Jonathan, a refreshingly honest piece, I see the understanding you have of natural law, reason, and faith, shine through. You voice so many of my own sentiments and conclusions eloquently, I get you 100%. True, so many who embrace the church for a particular element, fail to acquire sufficient understanding through spiritual validation, hence, let go of what they first felt. I applaud your efforts, I pray your pearls are not cast in vain.
Jonathan, a refreshingly honest piece, I see the understanding you have of natural law, reason, and faith, shine through. You voice so many of my own sentiments and conclusions eloquently, I get you 100%. True, so many who embrace the church for a particular element, fail to acquire sufficient understanding through spiritual validation, hence, let go of what they first felt. I applaud your efforts, I pray your pearls are not cast in vain.
Thank you, John.
Then it’s just another earthly institution, and I’d prefer to find one that isn’t so deeply messed up.
So you don’t see to be anywhere at all except in the exact same place as the casual believer of absolutely any other church.
You really think you’re going to command a lot of respect from there?
You’ve hit on an important issue. For me it is an earthly institution, but not just that. But this is an issue worth everyone’s consideration at some point in their lives. For some, it’s time to make a decision and move on.
“I’m not a scriptural literalist.”
So it’s cool that the Tower of Babel (and by extension the Jaredites and the Book of Mormon) is mythical? You may not be a scriptural literalist, but in many ways the church hinges on literal interpretation of scripture.
There are all sorts of mormons. Typically they follow the prophets and base their lives and testimonies on them. They are not into seer stones and book of mormon fairy tales about submarines and Jeradites, or the contradictions in the church. They are just fine to let women be second class members with no real authority or say in what happens. I do care where the book of mormon came from and an accurate honest church history. I find the church to be lacking in most every respect. But I am still a cultural mormon and find its lack of transparency and blatnat sexism demeaning for the ‘true church’
Andrew, I think you said this perfectly. The black/white dichotomy is not of Jeremy’s making. That belongs to the institution of the LDS church, which claims to be the restoration of all things, the only true and living church on the face of the earth, and the only pathway to salvation. It sets an impossibly high bar for itself, and then fails to clear it in the most basic measures. Jeremy’s just playing a little jujitsu, and turning its absolutism back on itself.
Jonathon, I honestly admire your writing and your approach, and I have many family and friends that have carved out similar positions for themselves, allowing for nuances of interpretation, appealing to faith, and finding a way to still belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. But I think even you would admit that your framework (limited God, flawed prophets and church) diverges markedly from the institution itself. We could fact check and cross reference scriptures, doctrine and history of LDS prophets and authorities, and they would overwhelmingly support the literal, absolute interpretation of the gospel as the official and only tenable stance of the institution. I understand that doesn’t matter to you, as you’re comfortable in your set of personal beliefs. But surely you can see why that sounds like somebody sticking their head in the sand. It’s not a real investigation into truth, it’s apologetics. And while that may be your gospel, it’s not the LDS church’s position, and so the question is, what are you defending?
You are welcome to explore my take on evolved Gods and see how they fit in a Mormon context. They sit just fine with most of my believing friends.
Actually, that would be interesting to enter into a speculative theological discussion about limited gods with you and your friends. How do you think that discussion would go with Dallin Oaks or David Bednar?
There's a BIG misconception that you fail to recognize. Your view of Mormonism isn't the one promoted by the Church. You list a litany of things expounded upon within the CES letter that you personally don't take issue with. Good for you. You don't idolize the Prophets? Interesting… but, and I don't have any scientific analysis to back this up, I'd bet you are in the minority within Mormon culture. You are free to interpret the very real questions that Mr. Runnels has within your own belief structure and paradigm, but the questions he has and those that are asked in the CES letter are black and white specifically because the Church views or promotes the issues in question that way.
You have a skewed frame of reference, colored by your own personal experience and so does everyone else, which is probably why Mr. Runnels didn't just hit up some other member for some answers to his questions. He wanted an official answer, or at least as close to official as possible, because the church offers none. It is completely ambivalent to the myriad of lies and falsehoods that permeate and were taught as Gospel in the early years of the Church and even more recently. It's a very legitimate concern that there are multiple accounts of the "First Vision" none of which are even spoken of by Joseph Smith until YEARS after they supposedly happened. And that is just one example of a very black and white representation of an event that the Church promotes outside of any factual historical context. Why would the Church do that? It creates a question of doubt that is more than legitimate.
Additionally I think you misunderstand the purpose of the CES letter, as it currently exists. It is not an ending, but a beginning. It is meant as a resource and reference. It is well researched, cross-referenced and validated, outside of the rose colored apologetic view. Believe what you will. For you, as you say, of the many discussed in the letter, there are only a few serious issues, but for others all of those issues might be serious. It's not for you to decide. And I don't see how you can fault anyone for referencing the CES letter for a deeper view into an issue that has never been fully explained by the Church. What do you expect members to do when they don't get an answer from the Church when they have a question? They will look for answers elsewhere, and in that journey or search for answers, the CES letter is a great place to start.
There’s a BIG misconception that you fail to recognize. Your view of Mormonism isn’t the one promoted by the Church. You list a litany of things expounded upon within the CES letter that you personally don’t take issue with. Good for you. You don’t idolize the Prophets? Interesting… but, and I don’t have any scientific analysis to back this up, I’d bet you are in the minority within Mormon culture. You are free to interpret the very real questions that Mr. Runnels has within your own belief structure and paradigm, but the questions he has and those that are asked in the CES letter are black and white specifically because the Church views or promotes the issues in question that way.
You have a skewed frame of reference, colored by your own personal experience and so does everyone else, which is probably why Mr. Runnels didn’t just hit up some other member for some answers to his questions. He wanted an official answer, or at least as close to official as possible, because the church offers none. It is completely ambivalent to the myriad of lies and falsehoods that permeate and were taught as Gospel in the early years of the Church and even more recently. It’s a very legitimate concern that there are multiple accounts of the “First Vision” none of which are even spoken of by Joseph Smith until YEARS after they supposedly happened. And that is just one example of a very black and white representation of an event that the Church promotes outside of any factual historical context. Why would the Church do that? It creates a question of doubt that is more than legitimate.
Additionally I think you misunderstand the purpose of the CES letter, as it currently exists. It is not an ending, but a beginning. It is meant as a resource and reference. It is well researched, cross-referenced and validated, outside of the rose colored apologetic view. Believe what you will. For you, as you say, of the many discussed in the letter, there are only a few serious issues, but for others all of those issues might be serious. It’s not for you to decide. And I don’t see how you can fault anyone for referencing the CES letter for a deeper view into an issue that has never been fully explained by the Church. What do you expect members to do when they don’t get an answer from the Church when they have a question? They will look for answers elsewhere, and in that journey or search for answers, the CES letter is a great place to start.
What did you mean by: The church needs to move completely away from practicing polygamy? It sounded like you are saying it is still being practiced within the church. Could you explain?
It is practiced in sealings to men not being annulled when they remarry after death of a wife or some divorces. It is a hurtful thing to some who have to deal with this. That was the reference.
It is still being practiced in two ways.
1) It is being practiced explicitly in the temple. Men can be sealed to multiple women (so long as there is only one living wife at a time) while women can only be sealed to one man. This structure of the sealing ordinance strongly suggests the belief in the eternal nature of polygamy, which was a bedrock teaching of the church prior to the 2nd Manifesto.
2) The church still implicitly approves of polygamy via its continued inclusion of the seedier parts of D&C 132 in its canon.
Also, If you are sealed to your wife, then legally divorce her but keep the temple sealing intact; you can get seal to a second wife with your previous wife’s approval (for time and eternity). Source: A friend is in that situation.
I'm trying to figure out where you make a valid point anywhere in here. No offense, but there is no support from the church on your 'its not black and white' view point. The 'fullness of the gospel' isn't subjective, its a truth claim, and after being tested its been verified as false.
It seems like you aren't following the teaching of the church anymore you are following the teachings of apologists. You've simply created your own, convient, religion where you can wish away legitimate problems as unimportant. You are an exmormon too, just not in the traditional sense.
“there is no support from the church on your ‘its not black and white’ view point.”
Exactly. Which is more and more people with a nuanced world view are finding themselves on the fringes or out of the Church. Call it the “great winnowing” or just self-selection towards fundamentalism but clearly at it’s core Mormonism is pushing towards a black and white, on/off, true vs false world view .
If you get married in the temple and your spouse were to pass away you could get married again in the temple and be sealed to these two people for eternity. In this sense the LDS church still practices polyandry.
A short correction to the post. He may have in the past, but Brian Hauglid does not argue for the BofA being a translation of a work by a first or second century BCE Jew.
Thanks. I may have misunderstood or misremembered his interview. I do look forward to learning more from his perspective in the future. I will correct my error where I can.
I think Andrew and others make a valid point. The Church itself has by and large advocated the kind of black and white mentality that fosters the problems discussed in the Letter. I still think, however, that an examination of Mormonism (or whatever religion/culture) requires a more charitable reading than that provided in the letter. Language of “deceit,” “dishonesty,” or intentional abuse only discredits the author by suggesting that s/he is unable to represent the best of an opponent; even if s/he knocks the opponent down in the end.
I think those dismissing the OP on the basis that his ideas do not parallel those of the institution move too quickly. If the purpose of the Letter is “find answers to questions,” it seems reasonable to search for the best resources within Mormonism to answer said questions; not to choose those answers that obviously fail to engage the questions, even if the failing answers are the mainstream responses.
On the other hand, if the Letter’s purpose is to express dissatisfaction with the mainstream responses, which the language of “betrayal,” “loss,” and “sadness” seem to suggest, then that becomes a question disappointment with the institution, and may not necessarily relate to the questions in the Letter. I think the difference is subtle, but significant.
Your believing friends can have just as convenient a set of carefully curated truths that they have pulled from Mormonism as you yourself have.
Most of them are quite conservative. I would say they don’t recognize the disconnect between some of their sets of beliefs, but I hardly fault them for it. The church serves different purposes for different members, but if they will work with me to build Zion, I will revel in their company.
Some of your criticisms of the CES Letter are valid. There are some assumptions made in that letter. However, on the whole, it really can’t be dismissed. And sorry to be so blunt, but I think in some cases you are simply failing to call a spade a spade.
Case in point: The Book of Abraham is very clearly not a part of the scrolls. The facsimiles are enough. It’s clear cut. Every single reputable Egyptologist ever has given a damning assessment of translation of the facsimiles– except for one. John Gee, BYU Egyptologist. And his trainer in Egyptology from the University of Chicago, Robert Ritner, who has nothing to do with Mormonism whatsoever, has come out of the woodwork to publish a book on just how wrong his former pupil John Gee is. Satan in the hearts of learned men this is not.
Also, Gordon B. Hinckley seemed to subscribe to the very black and white thinking you are dismissing. Someone else mentioned that the LDS church you are advocating is not the LDS church that it advocates for itself.
Look, I actually think the church is a positive institution. It’s an impressive success story of the self reliance and self creation of a culture. Just because it’s not what it claims to be does not make it worthless in my eyes. I feel glad to have been born under the parentage of “goodly parents who love the Lord”. But let’s not cloud our heads with childish apologetics that try to obfuscate some pretty clearly damning issues.
You were no more blunt than I. 🙂
Good job actually reading through it, but it appears you are already one foot out the door. If you presented these concerns at a temple recommend interview, you would not be found worthy. (I wasn't!)
I’m very sorry for your experience. I’ve heard of too many others with similar experiences.
Joshua Wellborn Or if a man dumps his wife to look for a new one or has an affair while married he can be married & sealed to that other woman too (though he may have to wait a year). I know a man who was sealed to his 12th wife in the temple, & most of his other past wives were still living. Yes, polygamy is alive and well in the Church. Unlimited serial polygamy by divorce & remarriage.
Lilli Avellino Joseph Smith would be proud of him.
Thank you so much for this post. It is a breath of fresh air and gives me a model for how to coexist with these issues.
It’s an entirely personal decision and none of your business. There are so many considerations and factors that play into what can be a major upheaval and significant trauma. People decide for themselves when “it’s time” to “move on.” You don’t get to chide people for failing to abide by your timelines. It makes you look like a jerk and it is, frankly, exactly the sort of black and white thinking you criticize: YOU think there are some people who are welcome to stay and others who should go.
Better get on that and fix it. Right now. Clock’s a-tickin’. Since, you know, others get to tell you when it’s time to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, relationships and practices.
That is exactly what I found so mind boggling as I read this piece. (And I will put a red neck disclaimer up that this ain't going to be intellectual!) This became harder and harder to read as I went through it because the author was inventing a mormonism that I am unfamiliar with. Every concept was essentially answered by, "well in my unique and completely made up version of mormonism that I have decided fits my view of all things, it just doesn't matter because I don't see it that way in the concepts I've made up out of thin air about what mormonism really is, not what the leaders say it is." My reaction is, OOOOO K, but what is your take on it if you take it from the LDS Church point of view?
Great article, Jonathan. Your personality comes across as very Christian (the highest compliment I could ever pay to anyone), insightful with respect to the personalities of others, and, in this instance, courageous. Intellectually, I loved your defense of the Book of Mormon, and your ability to weigh the evidence for and against its authenticity and arrive at what I consider to be the correct conclusion–it is what it purports to be. However, I do think your kind and empathetic tendencies constrain you to leap to Joseph Smith's defense even in cases when he shouldn't be defended. Yes, you emphasize his human fallibility, but I think you still tend to underestimate his chronic impulse to fake revelations, visions and visitations in order to impress and maintain his high position among his followers. Nevertheless, your ability to understand that not all church teachings are equal, and that all things must be considered carefully on their own merits, is a trait I wish all would emulate. (Written by Kathy's husband Scott)
It also still holds to it in several of our practices and obsessions; ie, the way we teach, understand and live modesty comes from fear of soldiers running off with plural wives who are unhappy.
And while this version of the church talked about is beautiful, it’s not the LDS church; it becomes something very different. I’m all for seeing scripture and history in different ways, but there exist key important teachings that have to be very literal. Either Joseph saw Crhist and the Father, or he didn’t. If he didn’t there is room for an evolving understanding of them. If he did, that concept makes no sense. Either angels laid their hands on his head and gave him the authority of God, or they didn’t. If those thinks literally happen, a flawed man was called to be a prophet and founded a church God leads and directs. if they didn’t, a known con created an interesting philosophy he used to gather power, fame, and fortune that has grown into a mature, yet flawed organization like any other. The church can’t claim to be both, and it’s clear which one it claims, and which one history shows it to be. What you describe might be Mormon, but it’s not LDS.
Thanks to everyone who replied to my previous comment. For some reason the reply button doesn't work on my phone. I see what you mean. I think that practice is a little strange. I have a friend who married a woman whose husband died. He said since she is still sealed to her first husband that the children he has with her are also sealed to her first husband and that is hard for him.
LDS critics often tend to list off historical and doctrinal issues with Mormonism and act as if disbelief is a forgone conclusion. On the other hand however LDS defenders act as if any explanation for said issues is sufficient to put these to rest. I think both are wrong and fundamentally misunderstanding the mechanics and motivations behind both LDS belief and disaffection when they make such claims.
That said I fall into the ranks of LDS disaffected. I saw real problems for my belief in the issues JR brings up long before there was any CES letter. Not only do I find much of the apologetics offered to be unconvincing but also to little in comparison with what I see as a mountain of information against.
Probably more importantly though I think LDS apologetics miss the larger picture that is painted by so called problematic issues— the author perhaps being an exception. These things clearly add up to the LDS Church not being what it claims— God’s only true, living and authorized Church on the earth. Like a Georges Seurat painting each of these things is not merely a dot but a part of a larger picture that points to LDS foundational claims being questionable and LDS Prophets being unreliable sources of truth. I doubt the God of Mormonism couldn’t make His one true Church look more dubious if He tried.
Jonathan Cannon is right that the LDS Church is NOT beyond other earthly organizations despite essentially it teaching that it is. He has been able to reject that claim and nuance his belief in ways most LDS do not. Usually the approach is obey, pay tithing, serve and believe as if Mormonism is infallible but cut the Prophets slack when it become clear it isn’t. Cannon is right it’s not that black and white and with that acknowledgement comes the realization that if one stays LDS or not really doesn’t matter.
On the topic of when or how one lets go of Mormonism once leaving though I’d suggest people try it— or at least learn a little about what it takes to leave— before telling former Mormons how and when they should feel about their leaving. The complexities of leaving such an all encompassing belief system along with the added family issues should not be underestimated.
You’ve captured my thoughts correctly that staying or going is not inherently good or bad. I do think there are good and bad reasons to stay and good and bad reasons to leave, but that it is an extremely personal journey and easy to step on the toes of those making it (as at least one of my gaffs on this page has illustrated). I also don’t think I get to define what the good and bad reasons are. For me, with the limited knowledge, experience, and worldview that I have, the Book of Abraham would be a bad reason to give up on Joseph Smith. But that is nowhere close to the experience of many who have commented on my essay. It’s not my place to make that judgment, even though I dream of a vibrant and accepting Mormonism with place for me and you.
Biggest joke of a rebuttal ever. How come SOME things get “equivalency translated” and some things do not. Oh and the anachronisms are not important? Let’s see some data to back that up. Another favorite. Book of Abraham?! Are you kidding me!? We have the facsimilies and their “translations” exactly printed in our scriptures!! We have those papyri and they were translated incorrectly. What a joke. You just defend your status quo because you were indoctrinated into it. Period. You can’t think objectively on any level so you do all the mental gymnastics in the world to prove your status quo correct. How come you don’t defend dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard with these mental gymnastics??? Because you weren’t raised in Scientology. You were indoctirnated into Mormonism so you defend it to the death with ridiculous excuses. What a JOKE.
I very much agree with most of what you have written here. You can’t be surprised to be catching a lot of flack for it, but I want o just put my voice out there as somebody who agrees with you. I, like you, am decidedly not impressed with the CES letter, even though I have no problem admitting that there are legitimate issues with the church. I agree with you that while there are issues with the church, the conclusion that these issues must mean that the church is evil/a fraud/bad/untrue has more to do with the assumptions brought to the question (such as prophetic infallibility)—assumptions that are held most fervently by both the ultra-orthodox and the most strident critics—than with the question itself.
Incidentally, I disagree with your concept of the nature of God (though I am not dogmatic about it), but I don’t think a limited God is even necessary to your logic here since I fully agree with your point that whatever the nature of God, no human can explain or express a direct experience with God unless it is through his own humanity. So even if I accept the “omni- God,” anything we can say about God is necessarily limited. So as a practical matter, while God may be unlimited, we can only experience him in limited ways.
For me it really does come down to the Book of Mormon. And when I say that, I mean the content of the Book, not the stories we tell each other about it’s origin. Everyone’s experience is different, but for me, pondering the message and the content of the Book of Mormon leads me to two conclusions: (1) it is not wholly a perfect book, dictated directly from the mouth of God, and (2) it is not wholly a product of Joseph Smith’s mind (or Sidney Rigdon or any other 19th century person). And almost all the issues that I have ever had with the church, I find, are instances where the church has deviated, to one degree or another, from the doctrine and message of the Book of Mormon. (Because human prophets.) The more time I spend with the Book of Mormon, the less those issues bother me, and the more I am filled with the love of Christ. Like I said, everyone’s experience is different, but that’s my experience.
"Problem 2: The papyri have a funerary text, not the Book of Abraham. Wrong papyri. We don’t have the ones it was on."
Lol. Really? What about the facsimiles in your triple combination? Are those the wrong facsimiles too? And to clarify, we do have the papyri, the church even posted them online.
nom de plume,
Paul, you’re promoting the same false dichotomy that the church does. The first vision may have been just that… a vision. Not an objective event which anyone present would have seen, but a subjective spiritual vision which was interpreted through Joseph’s own unique cultural lense?
Have you ever known anyone whose seen spirits or had visions of angels? It’s easy to dismiss these experiences as lies or hallucinations.. but what if the individual is not lying? And what if they receive information in their vision that is in some ways disproved and in other ways substantiated by later scientific inquiry?
Now we must come up with more sophisticated explanations for subjective mystical experience. It may not be so black and white. There are many channeled texts and disputed psychic phenomena that fall in this category.
Question on the Book of Abraham section. You mention Brian Hauglid in your response and I’ve read and listened to him on a few occasions and I was under the impression that he doesn’t find the missing scroll theory to be credible. Yet, you seem to hold fast to that idea. I highly respect Brian’s opinion on this as I believe he has studied this topic more than practically anyone. Can you elaborate why you believe this missing scroll or long scroll hypothesis has any merit when it seems a leading expert on the subject doesn’t believe it is so?
Also, I don’t see how you can say that Joseph got any of the facsimiles correct at all. Not only did he alter them intentionally, but they literally have nothing to do with Abraham. Personally I find Joseph’s speculations about the facsimiles to be completely worthless and I believe they hold absolutely no spiritual benefit or provide any merit. Why not just admit that Joseph got this one wrong and chalk it up to prophetic fallibility like you do for so many other explanations.
I think you really downplay the problems with the BOM. The list of anachronisms for instance has not been reduced in the least, it has grown! The more we learn about the ancient Americas, the worse the case has grown for the BOM as an authentically ancient text. What in the world are you talking about, Tapirs?
If you’re saying the field of apologetics has grown, sure, that’s true, but that’s also like pointing out that the USA has more lawyers per capita than any other country in the world. Apologists are not scientists or scholars of any sort, they are lawyers. They are in the business of twisting the truth to defend preconceived biases. Truth be damned, defend the story at all costs! This is what they do.
There are a bazillion lawyer-like defenses for the BOM, taking on each issue one at a time, and not a one of them is even remotely worthy of publication to refereed sources. The few cases where something is publishable, it always makes the case for the BOM even worse. You mention Colby Townsend for instance in your very first bullet point. I too am interested to see the conclusions of his work, but it does not at all improve things for the BOM, it makes the case even weaker! Do you not understand what it is that he’s actually doing? He’s demonstrating statistically significant links between the KJV and the BOM. That too is the whole point being made by Runnels in his “letter.”
I don’t think you actually understand the point Runnels is making. There are many issues at play here. First of all, this is set in the context of the historical narrative. Not to be Captain Obvious here, but as I’m sure you understand, this narrative does not describe Joseph as having used a Bible. The exact opposite is said. Not only did he not use a Bible, but we’re told he didn’t even come up with the words on his own through any kind of mental process, but he just read the words off a glowing stone like an iphone with scrolling text. That’s how the story goes. And this ironically is presented as one of the strongest defenses of the BOM, with the argument that “uneducated farmboy Joseph couldn’t have come up with this on his own.” But then the presence of all the wrote KJV language throws a big monkey wrench in this.
One of the apologetic defenses for this is then, “oh, well, since this was from the old testament, Joseph must have just copied the text. Best to just use the same Bible language people are familiar with.” The historical narrative doesn’t support this in the least, apologists are just pulling their theory out of their butts, but ok. Do you not see the immediate problem with this? This rationale only flies if you’re starting with the assumption that the BOM is true. If it were established fact that the book was true, then such a theory to explain the KJV language could be plausible. And by plausible I mean reasonable. It’s still conjecture either way. However, when starting from an unbiased perspective, where one doesn’t know whether the book is true or not, it’s an entirely unreasonable argument and truly absurd to expect people to believe this story. Such is the same for any argument defending KJV in the BOM.
At what point do the historical characters become untrustworthy? Joseph said X, apologist says Y to defend Joseph. X != Y. Can’t fit a square peg in a round hole, get my drift?
Townsend’s research takes this even further and makes the case far worse because it’s no longer just about specific passages that got copy/pasted, but he’s also identifying themes and other literary elements within the BOM which mirror and appear influenced by the text of the KJV. Not just the Isaiah passages! How in the world does that make the case better for the BOM? It doesn’t. That makes the historical narrative even more wrong. Even if it were true, meaning in the divine/inspired sense, it calls into question the reliability of all the witnesses to the BOM translation. Even if Joseph was a true prophet, if their witness of the translation is completely and totally wrong, how can anything they say be trusted? All of that history then becomes worthless. Moreover, it decimates any merit to the argument that Joseph was incapable of producing the work on his own.
So, in the course of explaining this supposed miracle the apologists have proven that it wasn’t a miracle to begin with.
Don’t get me started on Deutero Isaiah.
Every single argument in defense of the BOM goes like this. Racism in the BOM, people being cursed with dark skin. The defenses for this are absurd. Horses aren’t horses, they are tapirs. And on and on. These defenses make the book more, not less, anachronistic. We are able to find evidence of tiny civilizations all over the world that lived tens of thousands of years ago, but we can’t find even one shred of evidence that ties to any event or people that existed in the BOM? Civilizations described as having MILLIONS of people. Huge, truly massive civilizations especially for back in those times. The same goes for the DNA. You clearly don’t understand the DNA arguments. Defending the lack of DNA requires, yet again, changing the narrative. And by changing I mean TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORY. It’s a different story now. We’re now told that the BOM people were absorbed into some larger indigenous population, despite the fact that for some really strange reason the book fails to mention anything like that. Not only does it never say anything like this, but the plain interpretation of the book says that they were the only people there. So now we’re expected to believe a new story that doesn’t even jive with the book. And this DNA case also continues to grow worse. The defense that you reference from Ugo is now outdated. DNA science is still a pretty new field that in its infancy. There is much more recent work that says even if a small migration had happened and those people had been absorbed into a much larger population, we would in fact still be able to detect it. Small migrations along these lines ARE being detected, and they argue against the migrations described in the BOM.
I think the point isn't what this guy or Jeremy believes, its what has been taught by LDS prophets as doctrine and truth for years and in reality is false. Especially illustrated by the seer stone we were fed on nice story about the translation process and now forced to come clean and bring to light to all the real story. I think in part from things like ces letter.
I have been studying these issues since before my baptism. I admit though that I continue to learn. As I have learned new facts and new ideas it has become harder and harder to see how it all might fit together. That said I have faith that it is true. But if true it must be so in a completely different way than most of us thought. As I read this post I kept thinking this person has only begun to see the issues. Apologists will criticize me saying such as so many of them believe deeply admist the troublesome issues but it is not that simple. I know many of them and I know of many who think like me and say so publicly. I know others who publicly say it all fits but who privately know it is a mess. In fact whether we are talking apologetic organizations, Church history department, or BYU professors I think most of the membership would be surpirsed by the number of informed members who acknowledge that their certainity is gone and like me they hang onto a hope in the ever changing narrative and their testimony is more often based on the good the church has been in their lives. This article misses the boat entirely and it fails to grasp the real issues with the Book of Abraham. In fact it uses Brian Hauglid to support it’s view and Brian himself on my podcast stated plainly that the BOA issue is simply a mess where nothing adds up. Epic Fail is this article and the only people it convinces is those already determined to beleive at all costs and anyone else will be angered and frustrated or at a minimum apathetic to it’s words.
I think an examination of my body of work may lead you to different conclusions about me and this essay, and fixation on issues with the Book of Abraham prevents an appreciation of the scope, intent, and audience for this essay, but that is not particularly important. As the piece is framed, even if there are problems still with understanding or contextualizing the Book of Abraham, the 80 pages of complaints against Mormonism is reduced to a handful. What you mean in your response is that you either reject or don’t understand my worldview, since I only explained it in two short sentences. That is truly a fail on my part, but not for lack of trying. I have invited others to examine my worldview and even help shape it over the course of the last two years blogging here at Rational Faiths and Exploring Sainthood.
Good point Bill, I’ve listened to your interview with Brian Hauglid and I mentioned this above as well that I think Brian’s position is misrepresented by Jonathan. The other thing I think Jonathan is missing in this post is that many of the apologetic hypotheses that he’s referencing are actually very weak and upon close scrutiny don’t hold up.
The reason this doesn’t work for me personally is I keep digging deeply. I know not everyone has the same personality that I do, and that’s fine, but holding onto weak arguments for historicity on the BoM or BoA is unnecessary and problematic in my opinion. It’s ok to say we ultimately don’t have all the evidence necessary to explain the origins of these books, I’m ok with that position, but I don’t like holding up weak apologetics as answering the critical questions about the origins of these books.
I think you and I might be soul mates. Or, you know, good neighbors at the very least. 🙂
Thanks for writing this.
Thank you, Jason. I love good neighbors, and sometimes love my other neighbors. 😉
You know, funny thing Bill, I’ve got a lot of extended family that are not very well educated in Church history, have always been very active – in short prime candidates for the sort of rigid fundamentalist, black and white outlook that Runnells assumes is the “only valid way” to be a Mormon (mainly because that’s the only version of Mormonism he’s mentally equipped to deal with).
And a few of them noticed the Church’s recent articles on the seerstone, polygamy and all that.
You want to know what their response was?
“Oh, that’s kind of cool.”
Seriously – that was their response. No mind blown. No faith crisis. No screaming in the street how the Church lied to me. Nothing.
“Oh, that’s kind of cool.”
They’d never seen the issue before. Never learned about it in Sunday School. They still post rants about gun rights, and how veterans with concealed carry permits are going to cure cance, and nasty memes about Obama and Nancy Pelosi. They don’t think deeply about the issues, and probably still have an extremely loyal and one-sided view of the LDS Church.
What did they think of these controversies that ruined Runnells’ life and his marriage?
Acceptance and move on.
Kind of anti-climactic isn’t it?
Maybe Runnells’ problem isn’t so much the issues, but the fact that he’s a self-righteous arrogant ass who thinks the world owes him something just for having remained barely conscious during Seminary as a teenager.
I don’t appreciate the personal attacks on Jeremy (and possibly by implication, Bill) in this comment. I hope you will apologize for those aspects of your comment. Thank you.
The BOA is a blatant fraud. One can make whatever claim one wants to make about missing scrolls etc…. however The facsimiles are the centerpiece of that translation. Those facsimiles are proveably wrong. On top of that the church has the notes etc… that Joseph Smith made during the translation and all the characters and notes he said can be directly correlated to parts of the scroll that we do have. he got EVERYTHING wrong, and the proclamation that Joseph Smith said it was written by Abrahams own hand is also proveably incorrect. When you consider that both the BOA and Kinderhook have orignal source material to be viewed and both are proveable frauds it does not look good for the BOM.
It might be interesting to update your view of males being sealed to multiple wives where females cannot be sealed to more than one husband. I believe that has been updated. It would be interesting to discuss it with a temple president or temple sealer.
Or could it be things they have added to there shelf, and that shelf isn’t quite ready to collaspe yet? The people I’ve seen act like you describe have just started the questioning process (as you said, they haven’t dug deep into these things). The ones who freak out have been looking for answers, have been told such info is “anti mormon lies” or have been dealing with other aspects of behavior, teachings, and positions of the church this new info is just too much.
I think breaking shelves have the potential to be very good for people. I hope they can learn from it that an endless warehouse is required to deal with the complexities of life. The simplest, most beautiful answers have a tendency to lead to the realization of increased complexity. That we drive many of these people from Mormonism just as this trauma occurs is a great sadness to me.
I’ll bite–let’s say for a minute such things exisit that can’t be proven exist, and that it’s the most practicle way for diety to communicate directly with us, by passing emotions or misunderstandings. It doesn’t change what he SAW. We know memory is terrible, yet his story goes from feeling his sins are forgiven to seeing two distict personages; that’s not additional visions it’s a changing telling of an exisisting one, and the acient scripture he recieved VIA A ROCK was changed with it. So did all pass prophets misunderstand the vision as well? Was what the rock revealed correct? OR does it make more sense he thought it sounded good and supported his claim?
As for authority being given through dreams or visions–really? If I have a hot steamy dream involving Emma Stone did I cheat on my wife? of course not–IT WAS A DREAM; not real. So I may dream a dream, or in other words see a vision, but it doesn’t happen, and that authority the church depends on is gone. So, changing vision and no authority–my original point still stands; it happened as the church and joseph claim, or it didn’t.
This article and the discussion that has risen from it brings to mind some things I have been thinking about lately as I have discussed various things with believing family members.
I don’t want this to sound like an accusation because it seems like you are trying to mesh what works for you with being Mormon in general, but in a sense it comes across as inventing your own religion unintentionally. Taking aspects of Mormonism and matching them up with other intellectual and spiritual ideas you have. Something that doesn’t seem uncommon as I have discussed things with various family and friends that “believe.” They reject certain things about being Mormon, accept others, and then mesh in trying to be a good person and come up with things that are taught differently or claimed otherwise (mostly only true church claims) by the LDS church. They get to their own place, and own belief in something and claim it to be LDS, but when you break it down it is very different from what is taught by the LDS church. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something I have noticed… and something I have done myself.
Personally (other than the truth claims that lack evidence, or are supported by bad evidence) I think my biggest hang up with fully throwing myself into the LDS church is Mormons. More accurately the Mormon cultural attitude of obedience and policing each other that seems prevalent in Utah county (maybe other areas too? I don’t know), and how on the surface it all seems in trying to show off how righteous one is on social media. A fault with myself, rather than the church itself.
Dusty, this is a really thoughtful response. Thank you.
I have created my own Mormonism quite intentionally. I find good reason to believe that every member creates his or her own Mormonism–intentionally or not. I find mine to be compatible with membership in the LDS church and with various strong, but admittedly sometimes minority, views held by many other members and upheld by statements of prophets, past and present. Some are also views that selected prophets have also contradicted, but several of my previous blog posts have expressed how I deal with being labelled a heretic by men I admire. It helps that their label of heretic can equally be applied to others of their fellow apostles.
As to cultural and social reasons for distancing oneself from Mormonism, I hope it is clear that I am sympathetic to such reasons. These are the biggest reasons my loved ones have left. That these close friends are neither stupid nor sinful people was a major motivator in reshaping my views of the world and of Mormonism–that and treatment for depression. It is, in fact, the ability of Mormon theology and culture to evolve and seek revelation–however much resistance there may be to it–along with the fundamental goodness I experience in so many of its members, that contribute to my hope that the LDS church is playing a significant role in the bringing forth of Zion.
Not exactly. I’ve dealt with a lot of angry ex-Mormons on the Internet. They tend to share traits in common.
Self-righteousness, entitlement, petty resentment, vindictive nature, and lack of charity. The most vocal pretty much all have these traits as central features.
Oh yeah, “The Church” most definitely teaches that life is entirely black and white, and all of its members need to conform to the same cookie mold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgyx20W9qY4
(Above is a link to one of the first “I’m a Mormon” spotlights I remember being created. It’s the one with the Motorcycle sculptor. Interesting that this guy would be one of the first spokespeople for this campaign for the black and white church, right?)
I have a desire to rant, but I am going to hold back (a little). I will start by saying that I do agree entirely with the fact this is a church run by imperfect human beings, and that – revolutionary idea here – it is in fact also populated by imperfect human beings. I do believe in Christ. I believe in a loving God. I believe in a God who respects our ability to choose. I believe in a God who considers our individual agency to be so holy that He would allow even his ordained Prophets to say or do things that are not correct. Guess who taught me all of those things? “The Church”.
I believe that a great many good men and women have given their true feelings based on their experiences and beliefs, and that sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong – no matter how good their intentions were. I absolutely believe that it is up to us to use our God-given faculties and our spiritual discernment to determine for ourselves what we will choose to believe. Where did I learn that? “The Church”.
I am not going to pretend I have all the answers, but it is an egregious sin of logic to take a church whose foundational beliefs focus so much on humankind’s agency, and then expect that God will force them to all be nice to each other and never do anything wrong. (Although I must admit, I see this in just as many faithful members as I do from their detractors. I guess it is nice that they have something in common! I would even go so far as to say that many “anti-mormon” types truly hold the LDS prophets to be far more infallible than the believing members do…)
What I’m trying to say (and likely not properly expressing) is that it is not so simple as “The church teaches XYZ!” What do you mean? Did a prophet say it? Was it in a manual? Was it in the Scriptures? Was it taught to you in Sunday School? Did you hear it from a friend? These are all wildly different scenarios, and not a single one is infallible. Very few can actually be controlled by a single group or entity, anyway, even if they wanted to.
If there is one thing that I have been taught by “The Church” it is to seek for myself my own answers. That is the example taught to me by Moroni, by Joseph Smith, by Alma, and Enos. That is what I learned from my parents, and my prophets, and my own experience. This is the truth I see recommended by Christ himself: to seek, and to find; to ask of God and to do His will.
Every person’s experience with the Church (and, coincidentally, the entire world) is entirely and absolutely subjective.
As a final note, many people have said that “The Church” has taught that life and faith are 100% black and white. I am sorry that you feel that way. I have seen statements made by teachers, friends and leaders that would reinforce that idea and it does make me sad that people feel that way. Some people do see the world in white and black, and sometimes we forget to talk of Forgiveness with the same conviction with which we approach condemnation. I submit that many leaders of the Church are just as upset with many of the problems we see, AND THEY TRY TO TELL US EVERY MONTH IF WE WOULD JUST PAY ATTENTION!
Additionally, what do you think they are trying to communicate when they officially share candid profiles of imperfect and sometimes irreverent rock stars? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwUv-IOF1gQ, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PF0h7oqUEQ)
What about an officially produced movie literally called “Meet the Mormons” featuring a female kick-boxer?
What are they trying to teach me with this talk on the lds.org front page about finding your own strength instead of relying on others? (http://www.byutv.org/watch/9142b9fc-4520-446e-8992-608dcc2b1ab3/byu-devotional-address-elder-neil-l-andersen-81815-education-week?cid=HP_TU_8-18-2015_dCN_fCNWS_xLIDyL2-4_)
I see a church trying to tell its members that it is good to have some flavor the “salt of the earth” and that we should be on the same team. Not every church video has communicated that idea, but I am glad that we are seeing this focus. There are a lot of things we get wrong as human beings, but I don’t blame God for that.
p.s. Just because I can’t leave it alone: Anachronisms? That’s what is supposed to prove that the Book of Mormon is false? Seriously? Like, no joke? Really? Just because we don’t have incontrovertible evidence to support an idea makes it immediately and laughably false?
Do you have any idea how much of history we do not know?
We make assumptions based on texts we can read (and some we can’t) as well as trinkets and temples we find. We build an approximation of how we think the world has come to be where it is today, and more often than not I believe we do not have a complete picture. It is a beautiful picture, but it is not complete. “We haven’t found evidence of this thing, so it can’t be true!” is the opposite of scientific, rational thinking, and it shows a very strong confirmation-bias. It is a much more solid stance to say “What we have found so far does not support this information”. I have no problem with you choosing not to believe because of lack of evidence, I could even call that prudent! But I cannot accept that it is ok to throw out an idea you don’t like just because you think it currently does not jive with our limited understanding of our earth’s history. That’s not even accounting for logical substitutes, such as that wily Joseph Smith having the audacity to use the word “honey bee” to refer to a &#% !@*# bee that makes honey! Or using recognizable grains that normal people would understand instead of referring to a genus and species of a plant most of his readers had never seen! I would never tell God what He should do, and I do not presume to know his exact character, but as a Communicator, if I were writing a book, I would skew towards terms my readers (even the lowest denominator) could actually understand.
Well, I guess it did turn into a rant after all… I’m almost sorry.
Thanks for your post, Jonathan! I appreciate you taking the time first and foremost to think and then to express those thoughts. I hope I have not brought too much undue contention to your page.
I brought the controversy. Just be kind to anyone who replies and I will be happy.
This is the Mormon ism I grew up with as well. I wonder if the more “black and white” one’s upbringing the more disillusionment there is.
I currently have a theory I’m working on–the only remaining theory I could possibly endorse that still includes God’s will in the foundation of Mormonism. It’s the Joseph Smith as Shaman/Magician theory.
If we look at the Jungian and Tarot archetypes of the trickster/magician types, Joseph Smith fits that remarkably well. They re-introduce the sacred space into the world, blending fact and fiction, using both deception and divine acquaintance. They essentially are alchemists. The Book of Mormon is a work of alchemy.
Think of this. The “golden plates”. What a brilliant metaphor. These things nobody ever really saw. Joseph transitions from being a treasure digger, to being a religious man, using the gold plates which are more valuable for their words than for the gold they’re printed on. You couldn’t invent a more complete metaphor.
All that Christian theology and sermonizing in the BoM? It’s preposterous to claim literally that ancient Jews/Natives thought and wrote about that. Anyone who has studied comparative world religion and the evolution of theological concepts knows that what is in the BoM is not ancient, it’s 19th century American Christianity. What the BoM does is “re-enshrine” the valuable preachings of the old and stale churches into a new myth. A new “holy” work. Emerson in his Harvard divinity school address contemporaneously surveyed the American religious landscape, and found it stale, with words not backed by feeling. The Book of Mormon is a “new myth”. Joseph Smith as mythmaker. He made the old sermons vibrant and meaningful again by putting them in the mouths of ancient Natives/Jews in this metaphorical “gold book”, his work of alchemy.
Mormonism is truly a work of alchemy: an American revitalization of Christianity, adapted with a new slew of ritual and culture (anyone upholding the orthodox claim that it’s the church Jesus established is delusional) and adaptability fit for the modern world. Joseph Smith alchemized his own and his family’s lives, moving from poor marginal farmers to being at the center of an explosive growth. The things Joseph Smith accomplished by his death before age 40 are amazing.
None of this necessarily means God was behind it. But there very possibly may be the divine will infusing Joseph Smith’s overarching mission. The orthodox LDS version of its own origins and history are very clearly problematic. But the reality may be more interesting.
I think you miss the point. Obviously Joseph could make mistakes, even if he was truly a prophet. Obviously the church would suffer from human imperfection if it is indeed “God’s church”. Your point about free agency leading to mistakes is totally correct. But again, it misses the point.
Critics (most) aren’t merely criticizing Joseph and the church for making mistakes. The main point (which you are missing I think) is that they are pointing out the major significance of these errors Joseph Smith made, which throw his claim to divine knowledge into serious question. Like the BoA and the Kinderhook plates. Joseph’s claim about what the BoM is was dubious in the first place. But then he gets two strikes against him? Why should we continue to take this man at face value? The list goes on an on.
Roger Taylor – I happen to echo his pattern of thinking as well. There are a growing number of people adopting these ideas and beliefs. Not to be offensive, but are you sleeping through the restoration?
The Book of Mormon is not a product of scholarship. It did not come about by any of the procedures that should accompany a regular translation. Whatever the particulars of the process, the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. That is its significance. It is proof of the divine calling of Joseph Smith. Whatever the imperfections of men, they are unimportant compared to the whole and do not invalidate the Book of Mormon as scripture. Those for whom handling the plates and conversing with Nephi and Moroni are the only acceptable proof will get that opportunity – at the Day of Judgment (2 Nephi 33:11; Ether 5:6; Moroni 10:34 – the last verse in the volume.) At that time, if they wish to convince Nephi and Moroni that they, Nephi and Moroni, do not exist, they will be free to do so. Good luck with that.
Here’s a question: How do we know that the Book of Abraham doesn’t say what God wants it to say? Who decides? And who decides who decides? I do not find its first person narrative to be ridiculous or nonsensical. It seems to me a perfectly plausible account of Abraham’s experience with God. How farfetched is the idea that during his remarkable life Abraham actually wrote something down?
For me, Joseph Smith has enough credibility, sufficient assets in the bank if you will, to recommend the Book of Abraham. Between Joseph Smith and the current state of scholarship, I’ll take Brother Joseph. With an eye to the afterlife, do I expect to find a humiliated Joseph Smith hell-bound for, among other things (a million other things, apparently) insulting Abraham? I do not. The great Patriarch up in arms, is he, sore over the shoddy Book of Abraham, his life misrepresented? I expect to find Joseph Smith honored by God as the prophet who ushered in the last dispensation. I see no other attempt by God to bring it to pass.
And what does scholarship do for the Savior? The virgin birth, walking on water, raising the dead, the Mount of Transfiguration, the Atonement, the Resurrection? Should we chuck all that as unsubstantiated foolishness as well? Oh wait, maybe we are to understand it all metaphorically or (whatever this could mean) “spiritually”. Did Christ metaphorically visit the Nephites?
So I’m with Brother Callister:
“I can live with some human imperfections, even among prophets of God – that is to be expected in mortal beings. I can live with some alleged scientific findings contrary to the Book of Mormon; time will correct those. And I can live with some seeming historical anomalies; they are minor in the total landscape of truth. But I cannot live without the doctrinal truths and ordinances restored by Joseph Smith. I cannot live without the priesthood of God to bless my family, and I cannot live without knowing my wife and children are sealed to me for eternity. That is the choice we face – a few unanswered questions on one hand versus a host of doctrinal certainties and the power of God on the other.” (Tad Callister, CES Devotional 1/12/2014)
As for Jeremy Runnells, is he saying anything different than Grant Palmer or John Dehlin? I grew up with a thick, mimeographed-looking copy of the Tanner’s, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? Hundreds of pages (half in CAPITALS) arguing that everything about Joseph Smith, from his first breath to the final bullet, was completely false, utter hooey. It seems Joseph worked harder to establish and maintain the scam of Mormonism than he ever would have had to as a prophet. Runnells is yet another smart guy who has thought himself right out of the faith. He will likely prove unable to leave the Church alone. He won’t be the last.
As for me, I expect the weak to confound the wise.
From my perspective of being a life long member of the LDS Church, I perceive that “members” in general are more concerned with “how things look or appear” than “how things really are”.
That the ” appearance” of being spiritual, giving, successful etc. Is of utmost importance. I (perhaps like many others) think that we’d be better people and perhaps even better members if we’d simply stop trying to prove our superiority (and our absolute “rightness”) over everyone else. Even our “Mormon God” must love ALL of his children throughout the world.
Unfortunately, (I think) Mormon Pride and Arrogance is alive and well: and growing.
Great discussion – my compliments.
This is so sad. Not you, Jonathan Cannon; I'm 42 years old, a lifelong, seventh-generation Mormon, and your understanding of the Gospel of Christ is right in line with mine. My family was eyes-wide-open my entire life with Joseph Smith and his multiple accounts (different audiences, different enphases, like any writer anywhere), polygamy, and God's use of imperfect people to get things done. But reading so many of these comments, it seems there are a lot of members in this world who grew up equating Church Culture and Mythmaking (essentially, Primary Songs) with the the Church itself. Who never let their God-given Gift of the Holy Ghost lead them into an adult relationship with their Father in Heaven. That is just so sad. But I am encouraged knowing there are members such as yourself out there–knowing in Whom they have trusted!
I took a similar approach to the CES Letter in my view http://www.churchistrue.com/blog/ces-letter/.
You use a lot of words to say nothing. If you are happy with a clearly non-divine divinity then good for you. I personally want my god to be forward thinking and kind of above the casual human idiocy and misogyny and racism and all around bigotry. If I'm more loving and rational than God what kind of god is he.
I left not because of the CES letter (never read it until after I left). Your first 2 bullet points are actually the source of my leaving.
-If God exists, He interacts with humans in a way that is completely mediated by humans and the laws of nature. I believe this is the Mormon God, whatever selected LDS authorities have said to the contrary. I also believe in a limited God, and not the omni-God of certain theologies. So I will refer to the evolved God that I believe is most likely from science and Mormon theology of theosis. How many of the problems of the CES letter vanish by simply accepting this type of God?
-Prophets are human. They have human failings, human biases, human tendencies to create meaning through stories, and human limitations with memory, perception, and understanding. How many of the problems vanish by simply accepting this view of prophets?
I embraced the idea that imperfections in the church were because “prophets are human” and God interacts with humans in ways that are “mediated” by humans. I allowed aspects of the church to be placed in that category as it felt right (after hours of prayer, study, and fasting). However, I eventually realized I had so much of the church in that “prophets are human” category that there really was no substance left. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and accept that the logic keeping you in the church is actually not good logic, that maybe there is something else out there.