Friday, June 12, 2009

Studying Mormonism

Sam has been doing a series on Mormonism, making me realize how unfamiliar I am with this particular flavor of Christianity. We briefly discussed it growing up—hitting the high points. Joseph Smith, Plates of Gold, polygamy. We knew they sent out missionaries, had a choir, and lay claim to the Osmonds.

Since Mormonism was wrong, of course, we only discussed it from the aspect of how it was wrong. Much like we treated any other belief—atheism, Catholicism, Democrats, etc. And due to the extreme brevity of our study, I don’t know very much about it. I am a little embarrassed as to how little I know.

Because of my location (America) and my upbringing, I generally assume people have an understanding about the Bible. I understand where the book of Exodus fits in the Big Picture. Or Isaiah. Or Matthew and Romans. I presume others do as well. Sometimes I am surprised at atheists who proclaim, “I didn’t know that was in the Bible!” or “That’s a good quote—I am going to have to remember it.” I forget others were not as immersed in it as I was.

Yet I have absolutely no idea about the Book of Mormon. Where does Jacob fit? What is Alma about? Or Ether? I find myself both ignorant, and curious to learn more.

Utilizing my method, I went looking for Mormon apologetics. What do Mormons say Mormons believe—not what creedal Christians say Mormons believe. And consequently have spent much time on the FAIR Mormon Apologetic site reading the various articles.

Two over-arching ideas have stood out:

1. “It is possible…”

This is the very bedrock of ALL theistic apologetics, I fear. Having never studied Mormon techniques, I am struck by the similarity in method. Time and time and time again, the proposed solution to a problem is framed, “It is possible…” and then just about anything is inserted after that phrase.

Which leads me to the second striking feature:

2. Pot—meet kettle

For as much as creedal Christianity castigates and ridicules Mormonism, and Mormons defend themselves against these attacks—the similarities are eye-poppingly obvious to an on-looker.

One difficulty with Mormonism is the claim in the Book of Mormon regarding coins, and the use of steel, and numbers of deaths, and certain animals and materials and grains when archeology has not provided proof of these things existence. And so we see the one-two punch:

1. “It is possible….” [animals were called different things] [barley might have existed] [we translated this wrong]

2. “Just because we haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

What made me chuckle, though was the comparison Mormon Apologists do to the Exodus and Joshua’s Genocide. They point out how there is scant (i.e.—none or contradictory) evidence of these things happening, yet creedal Christians believe it—why can’t the same be true of the Mesoamericans?

I wryly chuckle at the concept of proving the Bible wrong as a means to prove the Book of Mormon correct. Perhaps the better answer is they are both wrong!

And I find it fascinating how Creedal Christians respond with, “Even though it may be possible—how likely is it? Shouldn’t we look at plausibility?”

Yep!—the same thing we non-believers have been saying to Creedal Christians! Sure it is possible Judas hung himself, the rope broke, he fell, received a nasty gash in the gut and then wandered into the path of a chariot—but is that plausible?

Mormon Apologists point out the AMAZING accuracy of the prophecies of Jesus written in the Book of Mormon long before Jesus lived. Creedal Christians point out, “Wait a minute. At the time of the writing, the author already knew about Jesus, and was merely ‘back-dating’ what they knew into a story.”

Right. The same thing we say about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Mormons point out how they have a “burning” confirmation of the truth. Creedal Christians guffaw at such a concept. But then reverently refer to the “inner witness of the Holy Spirit.”

Hello? Pot? Kettle?

I am enjoying my study from the aspect of a newbie. Sadly, I see the same tired methodology, resulting in fairly quick dissection.


  1. So interesting!

    The first literature I read when deconverting was from a person who began his process of leaving Christianity while a missionary to the Mormons (oh the irony). He realized exactly what you are writing -- he needed to apply the reasoning to his own Christianity as he was using against Mormonism. Great web site:

    Funny thing I have heard from some JW's, and I think Mormons apply it as well, is they call themselves Christians and express dismay that other Christians do not consider them to be Christians. Funny to me, because I didn't consider them true Christians when *I* was a True Christian! Now I like to consider them as Christian as any True Christian, and let them know that when they knock on my door. It's my little contribution to doctrinal anarchy.

  2. I wryly chuckle at the concept of proving the Bible wrong as a means to prove the Book of Mormon correct.

    You know that isn't the intent. It's just to show that Evangelical Christians set an unreasonable standard for Mormonism that Christians don't even meet.

    What are your thoughts about FAIR's evidences for the Book of Mormon? It isn't all defense against argument. I'm talking about Nahom, chiasmus, olive tree culture, Hebraisms, the 3 and 11 witnesses, etc.

  3. *err...8 witnesses. I accidentally added the 3 and the 8 in my mind.

  4. atimetorend,

    You are right--the Mormons do seem to constantly be defending the term “Christian.” To a non-believer, it is puzzling why they would want it! *grin*


    Thanks for stopping by. Even more importantly, thanks for giving me some areas to research. I always figure there is a reason an apologist defends a certain claim—because they find it important too. Hadn’t heard of Nahum or Olive tree culture until you mentioned it. I am very familiar with chiasms, due to my study of Mark, and had touched upon the claims of chiasms appearing in the Book of Mormon. I will see what FAIR has to say about that.

  5. Whoops! Meant to say "NahOm." The ol' Biblical training made my fingers type "NahUm"

  6. The thing that makes the Book of Mormon unique (compared with the Bible) is its origin. If it can be shown to be an ancient Hebrew record, it lends considerable credence to the claim that Joseph Smith obtained it in the way he says he did (via angel).

    It would take some mental gymnastics, and ignoring plenty of evidence, to believe he translated the ancient text through non-miraculous means.

    In this way evidence of the Book of Mormon's historicity becomes evidence (but not proof) of God's existence. It would corroborate the Bible, too. As prophesied, the Book of Mormon "shall establish the truth of" the Bible (1 Nephi 13:40).

    I recognize I'm talking to a skeptic, but the evidences I pointed you to are convincing enough for me, beyond a reasonable doubt. Could you give it the classification "possible?" Or even "probable?"

  7. "It would take some mental gymnastics, and ignoring plenty of evidence, to believe he translated the ancient text through non-miraculous means."

    Hi Thaddeus, that's interesting to me, because an evangelical today told me almost the exact same thing about the bible. I don't know enough about Mormonism to directly discuss the point you bring up, but I would say there seems to be commonality in the way people (all of us) hold beliefs, finding it difficult to think others could see things differently than we do.

  8. Thaddeus,

    All books have unique origins.

    At the moment, knowing what I do about the Bible being extremely unlikely divine, I would have to confess I find the Book of Mormon even less likely. And, there are items I have come across of pretty grave concern. The lack of archeological evidence (as I am sure you have heard over and over); the use of language, and the method of the book’s creation. Same ol’ rhetoric you are used to, I imagine.

    You may be happy to know I downloaded the Book of Mormon (free…he he he…can’t complain about the price) and am busy reading through it. Regarding whether it is “possible,” “probable” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” I would have to honestly say I give it less than a 1% possibility. .5%, maybe .75%.

    I am a strong atheist who has a fairly extensive knowledge about the Bible—this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

    I am curious about how precisely Joseph Smith translated the plates. There seems to be some lack of clarity whether he read from the plates, or just saw the letters while looking into a hat, and apparently needed a seer stone, etc.

    How do you think he translated the plates? Was he looking at the plates themselves? Were the words appearing in his mind? What do you believe were the mechanics of the operation?


  9. I was hoping you'd comment on the evidence for the historicity of the book that I already brought up. The arguments I made today are based on the assumption that these evidences hold water.

    What I meant by mental gymnastics is that assuming the premise that the book is an authentic Hebrew record, there is almost zero chance Joseph's 3rd grade back-woods education allowed him to produce it.

    The assertion that no archeology can back up the Book of Mormon is false. This is where Nahom fits in.

    Joseph translated through inspiration. It doesn't look a lot like the scholarly translation process because it isn't like it. I'd be happy to discuss the mechanics of it after we discuss the evidences I brought up on Friday.

  10. DagoodS wrote,For as much as creedal Christianity castigates and ridicules Mormonism, and Mormons defend themselves against these attacks—the similarities are eye-poppingly obvious to an on-looker.

    This is precisely what led me down my own path toward atheism. Because of my Mormon upbringing, I retained some interest in the faith, though I had long-ago abandoned it in favor of some Christian-ish theology. That all changed when I began to read critical articles and books from non-Mormon Christians, particularly at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry and the Institute for Religious Research. I read the Mormon response and laughed at their feeble and comical rationalizations. So when I broadened my investigation to examine traditional Christianity, what did I find? Precisely the same types of rationalizations! Talk about ironic. The methodoligical approach used by Christians to attack Mormonism was the very same one I employed to reject Christianity itself.