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Sunday, July 26, 2009

FAIR Conference 2009!!

It is that special time of year again when pseudo-scholarly apologist hacks gather together in Sandy, Utah to participate in the Mormon Apologetics Conference sponsored by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. This year there is a killer line up of scholars and LDS apologists who will be speaking on subjects ranging from the translation of the Book of Mormon, plural marriage, the Book of Abraham, the Kirtland Safety Society and the Temple. Speakers include Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, Dr. John Gee, Matthew B. Brown, Greg Smith and Brant Gardner.

This year there are several presentations on the Book of Mormon, including:

1. Brant Gardner speaking on the translation method of the Book of Mormon.
2. Wade Miller discussing what current science says about the Book of Mormon.
3. Ugo Perego on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

This conference is a wonderful opportunity for those who have questions, are struggling with dealing with anti-Mormon accusations, want to learn more about LDS apologetics or just want to have fun and hang out with a bunch of nerds. Come and meet some swell folks, including yours truly who will be taking notes and posting them here, and browse the gargantuan FAIR bookstore.

It is not too late to register for the Conference and buy your tickets. For all the information you need, see the following link:

http://www.fairlds.org/conf09a.html

Note also for those who cannot attend that the conference is being live streamed from the internet. For more information, see the link posted above.

We hope to see you there!

Everything you thought you knew about Mormons is wrong...

In 2007, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The study revealed some surprising results...at least they might be considered surprising to those who have operated under popular assumptions regarding the LDS Church. Here are some of note in particular that seem to fly in the face of what is generally reported in the media or via rumor-mill about "The Mormons" *cue irrelevantly scary music*.

  • 100% of Mormons say they believe in God, which is higher than among any other group.
  • Mormons are significantly more likely than the population overall to have some college education. A majority of Mormons are women.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Mormons are married, compared with just more than half among the general population.
  • Converts are more likely than lifelong members to come from minority racial and ethnic groups.
  • More than nine-in-ten Mormons say the Bible is the word of God.
  • Fully 76% say they attend church at least once a week.
  • Three-quarters of Mormons (76%) say they read Scripture outside of religious services at least once a week, more than double the figure among the general population.
  • Like all other religious traditions, Mormonism is simultaneously losing and gaining adherents due to religious change, but the net effect of these changes is small: Whereas 1.8% of the U.S. population says they were raised Mormon, 1.7% of the population says they are currently Mormon.
  • Mormons have a relatively high retention rate of childhood members compared with other major religious traditions. Seven-in-ten of those raised Mormon (70%) still identify as Mormon, a figure roughly comparable to that seen among those raised Catholic (68% are still Catholic) but somewhat lower than among those raised Protestant (80% are still Protestant and 52% are still in the same Protestant family). Jehovah's Witnesses, by contrast, have a relatively low retention rate (only 37% are still Jehovah's Witnesses).
  • Mormons with more formal education are more religiously committed, whereas in the general population the opposite is true.
  • Utah Mormons are much less likely than Mormons from other states to share their faith with others at least once a week.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Popol Vuh: The Creation of the World

This post begins a series of "Popol Vuh for Really Busy People Who Just Want to Get to the Point". :) It is based on various notes I took and that were written for me by a native son of Guatemala while I was on my mission. The book I have is a typical "Cliff's Notes" Spanish version of the larger Popol Vuh which was taught in public secondary schools, but it is conveniently divided into summarized themes that are remarkably conducive to discussions of the Book of Mormon, the Holy Bible, and the tie-ins the Popol Vuh has with each.

For an excellent, annotated, in-depth English translation of the entire Popol Vuh text, you can't get any better than Dennis Tedlock's "Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings". Tedlock spent time living among Quiché and Mam peoples of Western and Northwestern Guatemala and was able to assimilate into their culture enough to understand exactly what this book represented to them. For Mayans, the Popol Vuh, literally "The Book of the Council" is just as sacred and important as the Holy Bible as far as a means of transmitting their religion, their culture, and their history. For people studying the Book of Mormon, it is riddled with striking parallels, evidences, and footprints of doctrines of Judeo-Christianity that, some LDS students of the text believe, transferred to extant Mayan peoples, in classic diffusionist manner, with the arrival of the Jaredites, Nephites, and Mulekites.

Let's begin with the out-of-print Spanish to English summarized translation of "Popol Vuh: versión transparente" by Franco Sandoval. In reading this, do not try too hard to make exacting, one-for-one comparisons between verses and doctrinal particulars of the Bible vs. the Popol Vuh vs. the Book of Mormon. Rather, note that the overall motif is more strikingly similar to Judeo-Christian creationism than it is different.

The Beginning

Here we recount the ancient histories of the Quiché nation. We will show what happened to this people when it began. This will be the narration of things obvious and things hidden.

We will reveal the work of the Maker and the Modeler1, the work of Grandfather and of Grandmother, whose names were Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané, also called great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

This we write under Christianity and with their manner of writing2; because the Popol Vuh, our book where life used to be seen, no longer exists, no longer can be seen. In it there was the story of how the heaven and the earth were formed, of how this was divided into four parts, of how a cord was extended to measure the heaven and the earth, to the four corners, in the manner established by the Maker and the Modeler, the mother and the father of life, of everything created: breath, thought, light of the children, happiness of the people, the earth the lakes, the sea.

The Creation of the World

All was calm, in suspense, all was silent. All was immobile, noiseless; the expanse of heaven was empty.

There were no men or animals; there were no birds, fish, crabs, forests, rocks, nor streams. Only the heaven and the sea existed.

There was nothing on foot, that made noise. There was only the peaceful, tranquil sea. There was silence and darkness, like a night that never ended.

The Maker and the Modeler, Tepeu3 and Gucumatz4, were on the water, dressed with blue-green feathers, in the midst of the dim light. They were great wise ones, they were the manifestation of the Heart of the Heavens and of the Earth.

Tepeu and Gucumatz consulted, meditated; unified their words and thoughts. They began the creation of the trees and the reeds. Out of the darkness of the night they also began the creation of man. They spoke of life and light and agreed that someone ought to produce their food, which gave them sustenance.

"Separate water from space, and let the earth come forth! Let there be light, that it might awaken in the sky and on the earth. There will be no glory or honor in that which we have created until there is the human creature, the creature endowed with reason."

This is what Tepeu and Gucumatz said. And their word made the earth come forth.

"Earth!", they said, and the earth surged forth like a cloud, like from a dust cloud. And the mountains came forth, as if they were crabs on the water.

There was great power, a magical power, that made the mountains and valleys burst forth.

Gucumatz was full of joy. "Our work, our creation will now be finished!", he said.

After the mountains and valleys, they formed the rivers, that they traveled in between the hills.

Later, they decided to create the guardians of the forests, the animals great and small: the deer, the bird, the lion, the tiger, the snake. They placed them to live in the wilderness and to each they gave its dwelling:

"You, deer, will live and sleep in the gullies and in the stream-beds; you will walk among the grass and the herbs; in the forest you will multiply; you will walk on four legs."

And that was what was said and done. There were also distributed homes for the birds great and small:

"Above the forests, in the heights of the reeds you will live and make your nests. Above the branches of the trees you will dart and preen."

Upon finishing the creation of the birds and the animals, it was said to them:

"Call out, that every on have his own noise, that everyone uses its own manner of speech." That was what they said to the birds, to the deer, to the lions, to the tigers, to the serpents.

Tepeu and Gucumatz commanded them to say their names and give them praise.

"Invoke the Heart of Heaven and the Earth, the Maker, the Modeler. Speak, invoke them," it was said to them.

But they couldn't talk and only cawed, clucked, screeched, each one of a different manner. When Tepeu and Gucumatz saw that it wasn't possible for them to talk, they said to themselves:

"It has not been possible that the animals say our name, that of their makers and modelers; this is not good. We will make other obedient beings and they will invoke us. Their meat shall be for food, for chewing. This will be their purpose."

The animals tried again but they could not make their screeches invoke the makers and modelers; only screaming and shouting was heard, confusion. Their lot remained definitive: to be food one for another.

Next: The Creation of Man

Notes:
1. I have preferred to use Tedlock's "Maker and Modeler" to Sandoval's "Creator and Shaper". Maker and Modeler are closer to the original intent of the original Quiché. They also convey the parallelism found in the Bible where God is referred to in the plural (see KJV Gen. 1: 26, Gen. 3: 22)

2. One should not hastily conclude that the rest of the Popol Vuh oral tradition is corrupt because of their mention of Christianity and using the Latin alphabet to transmit it. There is more evidence in the Popol Vuh itself and in the history of its transmittal to rebut this conclusion than there is evidence to conclude they were somehow coerced or felt obligated to change the narrative to suit the theology of the Christian missionaries. To this very day, Quiché Day Keepers worship Christian figures separately from Mayan figures, each method of worship having its own particular theology and system of rituals, as a "failsafe" of sorts in the event that one system is incomplete and the other is more complete.

3. Tepeu means "king" or "sovereign," from the Náhuatl Tepeuh, tepeuani. The Maya form is ah tepehual. Ah is also an Egyptian prefix for "king" or "pharaoh", such as in Ahkenaten, Ahman Ra, etc.

4. Gucumatz, a serpent covered with green feathers, from the Quiché word guc (kuk in Maya), "green feathers," particularly those of the quetzal, and cumatz, serpent; it is the Quiché version of Kukulcán, the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec king, conqueror, culture hero, and god of Yucatán during the period of the Maya New Empire. The profound Mexican influence in the religion of the Quiché is reflected in this Creator-couple who continue to be invoked throughout the book until the divinity took the bodily form of Tohil, who in Part III is specifically identified with Quetzalcoatl.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Are Mormons Christians? Notes the Debate (Part 1)

"After all, the Saints asked themselves, is not the name of our Church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Do we not worship Christ? Is not the Book of Mormon another testament of Jesus Christ?" - Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, page vii.


Recently, I had the privilege of aquatinting myself with Professor Stephen E. Robinson's excellent volume entitled Are Mormons Christians?. In this short work of only 133 pages, Professor Robinson lays out his arguments that affirms the above question. Now I am not unaware of the fact that this debate has been raging since the days of Joseph Smith, and I do not pretend to be able to answer this question definitively and finally once and for all. Since all human beings are agents unto themselves insofar as they have the ability to formulate their own opinions on these matters (though it should be remembered that just because one has an opinion that does not mean that said opinion is correct) the question as to whether or not Mormons are Christians is not likely to be resolved any time soon in the minds of critics of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-day Saints; particularly those of a fundamentalist Protestant influence.


However, I wish to offer some of my own musings on this subject in conjunction with the Book of Mormon. In other words, I wish to compliment and augment Professor Robinson's arguments that the Latter-day Saints are Christians with my own exegesis of the Book of Mormon. 


Much Ado About Nothing: An Introduction to the Problem


The Latter-day Saints, with their peculiar doctrines to contemporary Christians of modern Prophets, new scriptures, revelation and open heavens, have always been viewed, at best, as a quaint and tolerable little sect of no harm or consequence to bulk of Christendom. At worst, however, the Latter-day Saints are nothing more or less than a pernicious and evil cult, founded by a transparent fraud, designing to steal the righteous souls of Christians everywhere with their damnable heresies and pretentious claims to divine authority. Thus, as Douglas Cowan has explained, modern counter-cultists like "Dr." Walter Martin have striven long and hard to delegitimize the Latter-day Saints as non-Christians by a variety of tactics. After all, the likes of Martin reasoned, we can't have people claiming to be Christian who don't believe in the sole authority of the Bible or who claim that works play in role in salvation. Thus, because the Latter-day Saints don't adhere to Protestant doctrines such as sola scriptura or sola fides, to name only two doctrines, and because of their heretical beliefs such as theosis, plurality of gods and an open canon, they are not Christians. They might call themselves such, but don't be fooled! These dupes of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are no more Christians than Hindus are.


To the Latter-day Saints, the charge that they are not Christians goes beyond the absurd. It is simply ridiculous, they claim, that they are not Christians. While it is true that they differ substantially on a number of doctrines with other contemporary Christians, that does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is the center of their worship and devotion. Despite these protestations, the Latter-day Saints have had to bear the attacks of seemingly countless counter-cultist ministries, preachers and proponents. A steady and growing stream of books, pamphlets and even movies

 have been produced and distributed en masse by these crusading counter-cultists which all unequivocally declare one simple truth: Mormons are not Christians.



The Latter-day Saint response to this accusation has, for the most part, been to simply ignore these charges as nothing more than anti-Mormon rhetoric. Few Latter-day Saint authors have given the proposition that Mormons are not Christians little to no attention, since the claim is below contempt. Notwithstanding, some Latter-day Saints, both professional and lay member alike, have answered the accusations of the critics. Hugh Nibley, for example, delivered a series of lectures in the mid fifties designed to accomplish two things. First, Dr. Nibley sought to defend the Latter-day Saint view of prophets and prophecy in the face of contemporary Christian criticisms of such, which holds that prophecy and the need for prophets ended with the age of the Apostles. For the Protestants, the Bible is the sole authority, whilst the Catholics have the Holy See and the Catechisms to look to for guidance. Secondly, Dr. Nibley responded to the accusation that the Latter-day Saints are not Christians because they don't believe in a number of post-biblical doctrines such as the trinity. These lectures, delivered as a series of radio broadcasts with the immortal name Time Vindicates the Prophets, became the standard Latter-day Saint response to the charge that they are not Christian for several years.


Then, in 1992, Professor Robinson came on the scene and offered his rebuttal to this criticism. As one with some rather respectable credentials, Professor Robinson's work soon became something of the standard work next to Dr. Nibley's earlier arguments as the Latter-day Saint response to the accusation that the Latter-day Saints are not Christians. 


Opposition in All Things


Lehi informed his children that there must be an "opposition in all things." According to 2 Nephi 2:11:


For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.


In other words, according to Lehi, there must be contradiction and opposition in all things so that one can determine the difference between two factors, ideas, morals, etc. It is the standard idea that we know there is darkness around us because of the absence of light. The Prophet Joseph Smith likewise taught that only by “proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”



How does this relate to the question of wether or not Mormons are Christians? It shows to me that the Latter-day Saints should not “shirk or shun the fight”, so to speak, when confronted by these accusations. Both Lehi and Joseph Smith understood that the Latter-day Saints need to equip themselves to deal with issues by facing the opposition and proving those contraries, as to better flesh out the truth.


In This Series


In this new series of posts, which I will expand upon in the coming weeks, I wish to analyze the arguments of Dr. Robinson in the light of the teachings of the Book of Mormon. I understand that not all of his arguments are readily applicable or relevant to a Book of Mormon exegesis, but a number of them are.


It is hoped that by the end of these posts the reader will come to realize that the Latter-day Saints are Christians in every aspect of the word.


Notes:


1 Douglas Cowan, Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003).


2 Martin was the writer of the dreadful screed The Kingdom of the Cults, which is something of the Bible of counter-cultists. Martin also made a number of claims about his credentials that were later discovered to be fraudulent, such as the claim that he was had a legitimate doctorate. On such, see Robert L. and Rosmary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, vol. 3, (Mesa, Arizona: Brownsworth Publishing, 1993).


3 Sandra Tanner, that indefatigable anti-Mormon sleuth, opined that Mormon theology “is as close to Christianity as Hinduism” in the horrid anti-Mormon video released by the Southern Baptist Convention entitled The Mormon Puzzle. Professor Daniel C. Peterson (FARMS Review, 10/1) in reviewing these materials, commented wryly: “One would very much like to pose a few questions to Ms. Tanner: What, for example, is the role of the Vedas or of the Upanishads in Latter-day Saint devotions? How central is the concept of karma to Mormon theology? What have the leaders of the church had to say about reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls? Is there any passage in Mormon scripture that advocates a rigid and complex caste system? Has an atheistic form of Mormonism, analogous to the Hindu atheist movements, been a fruitful element in Latter-day Saint intellectual history? Which is closer to Hindu monistic teaching, the Mormon concept of the Godhead or classical post-Nicene trinitarianism? Can Ms. Tanner name any Latter-day Saint hymn devoted to Vishnu? Would she care to comment on the rising bhakti movement among the followers of Joseph Smith? On the chanting of saffron-robed Mormon missionaries at American airports? (Hare Joseph!) As of yet—and these questions have been in print and available for many months—I have had no answer from Ms. Tanner. Perhaps she is still working her way through Whitney’s Sanskrit Grammar or Stenzler’s Elementarbuch der Sanskritsprache, and prefers to delay her response until she has a more secure command of the primary sources. I can sympathize. My copies of Stenzler and Whitney have lain largely untouched for years. Sanskrit is a difficult and intimidating language. Ms. Tanner can take whatever time she needs. I can wait. I am waiting.”


4 The most recent attempt was in 2007 with the release of The Search for the Truth: Jesus Christ vs. Joseph Smith. This insipid and pedestrian anti-Mormon video was reviewed by volunteers with the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. See: http://en.fairmormon.org/Search_for_the_Truth_DVD


5 The distribution of these anti-Mormon materials unsolicited to Mormons and non-Mormons alike in bulk is, for example, a favorite tactic of the decidedly anti-Mormon Institute for Religious Research.


6 Dr. Nibley’s series has been republished multiple times. The most current offering is by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in 1987 as The World and the Prophets (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987).


7 According to the his brief biography in his book, Dr. Robinson received his PhD in Biblical Studies at Duke University. He has published with both LDS and non-LDS venues, such as FARMS, Revue de Qumran, Journal for the Study of Judaism and Society of Biblical Literature.


8 History of the Church, 6:428.


9 “True to the Faith”, number 254, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1985)



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Response to Comments

From time to time, someone will comment on a post about items that a) are too involved to answer in a couple of paragraphs and b) merit being expounded in a post of their own.

This answer is from a comment thread on "Lehi and the Throne Theophany in 1 Nephi". The source comment related to the foregoing is found here.

You have mentioned some of the very things about which I wish to write multiple posts. Keep watching the blog for these, particularly about the purported contents of destroyed codices and those that were preserved, such as the Title of the Lords of Totonicapan and the Popol Vuh. Those are two works with which I'm the most familiar. I have both read and had them explained to me by indigenous Guatemalans who were direct descendants of the people from which these records arose. I will also do more reading of the other sources you mention. I've heard of them, but haven't had the chance to read through them.

As for your other items:

1) No Temple of Solomon replica evidence found...

If you asked a Muslim in Jerusalem about the location of Solomon's temple, you'd get a very different answer than if you asked an orthodox Jew.

Most moderate Muslims would admit that there was, of course, a Temple of Solomon but wouldn't be inclined to say exactly where. Moderate Jews will point to the temple mount and say "over there".

Casting this similarly archaeologically-based argument into a fundamentalist, Muslim, anti-Jewish mold, as a general corollary to the present fundamentalist, Evangelical, anti-Mormon stance it represents, the Muslim critic would deny the existence of Solomon's Temple at all, blaming it on some type of Zionist conspiracy to rule the world on false pretenses.

In fact, very few, if any, archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land have escaped scrutiny, dispute, discrediting, followed by validation, more dispute, ad nauseum. None have unanimously agreed on whether anything found to-date is 100% authentic or traced to the correct time period. Christians fight with the Jews, Jews fight with the Muslims, and the Muslims fight with the Jews and Christians as to whether something found validates a religious claim and, indeed, outlines territory, possessions, or even God's truth.

In other words, absence of the preservation of a particular Nephite temple is not evidence of its non-preservation (it may yet be found, and indications are that Solomonic temple layouts already have been found in multiple pre-Columbian temple ruins). That is, unless that non-preservation is all one is inclined to see through one's favored theological lens. Further, in such a mindset, one could be informed of evidence as it comes to light, but still only be satisfied with a whole and complete proof (probably nothing less than a photo of Solomon or Nephi standing in front of its outer wall, holding a sign saying "My name is Solomon/Nephi. This is the temple. I built it.") rather than the fragmentary bits and pieces that, by the very nature of antiquity, multiple conquests, cultural and literal genocides, and the erasing effects of universal entropy, are more likely to be the norm.

More about the true role and discipline of archaeology as it relates to BoM and Biblical studies is found here.

2) No text or fragments we can trace to the BoM...

Simply. Not. True. There are vast amounts of Old World texts that have come to light since the Qumran scrolls which correlate in such striking ways to BoM narrative, culture, and literature that it indeed becomes impossible to explain the existence of the BoM as Joseph Smith's own contrivance. There were simply too many things undiscovered in Joseph's time that today reveal what he could not have known on his own were he its sole author and not its God-inspired translator.

See "The Lachish Letters: Archaeological Bullseye for the Book of Mormon" for another set in addition to that which we already provide on this site in numerous instances and which other apologists, amateur and expert alike, provide in their texts and blogs. As for in the Americas, just wait until you see what I have to say about the Popol Vuh, the Title, and the various oral and cultural traditions of Mesoamerican people that indicate they once had possession of religious ideas dating from 600 BC and onward (in the case of the Nephites) and even earlier (in the case of the Jaredites). We were only able to translate Mayan texts as late as the mid-1990s! The linguistic and literary fruits of that breakthrough are only beginning to be realized, yet we have already found so much in terms of place and people names that corresponds to Semitic and Egyptian names.

3) Was there only one set of plates? If so, how did millions read the scriptures?

These questions are based on a foundationless premise that we would actually know, somehow, that millions of people read scriptures in the Americas in the same manner as we (incorrectly) presume, expect, hope or romanticize common, everyday people did in the Middle East.

There were multiple copies of plates, as far as we can tell from the text itself, both in analysis and from the narrative. Assuming that the BoM writers duplicated and disseminated their written works to the general populace (a phenomenon for which there is absolutely zero narrative support in the BoM itself nor in anything Joseph Smith ever said), they would have had to do so more economically than on metal plates. They would have necessarily written their copies on animal skins or parchment of some kind.

While we have found whole and fragmentary Mayan codices that served such a purpose, for allegedly "millions of people" to have read BoM writings as they were developing through time, there indeed would have had to have been a massive codex publishing industry, not to mention a 20th century-style editorial process and a few computerized printing presses, to carry this out. Such a thing never existed in the ancient Middle East, so why would anyone expect it in the ancient Americas, especially from a culture that came from the ancient Middle East?

Works of scripture were perpetuated in the ancient Middle East by deliberate and controlled hand-copying of scrolls, which eventually amounted to accumulations of certain amounts of scrolls at various times in history, but never in amounts such that "millions of people" had everyday access to them. Indeed, it's common knowledge today that copies of the Torah were kept in a special vault and carefully handled so as to ensure they wouldn't have to be copied too frequently to perpetuate them.

Yet, today, even in the Middle East, after all that's been dug up there over the centuries since the Crusades and earlier, and continues to be dug up, we don't find nearly the amount of preserved scrolls we might expect under this assumption. Why is that? I can tell you why. Multiple conquests and the general entropy that exists as part of the human condition. Just as it takes extraordinarily coincidential circumstances of mud, temperature, pressure, and a long period of time undisturbed for a dinosaur fossil to have been preserved, we necessarily require much more diligence and deliberateness for comparatively fragile papyrus or animal skin texts to stay around for that long. Only writings inscribed on metal plates, carved in stone, painted on walls, or carefully preserved via clay tablet engravings, survived the ravaging elements of the ages. Such attempts at preservation do not lend themselves well to mass production of literature for the general populace to have had then and especially not for us to have an abundance of their remnants now.

Next, compare the environmental climates of the two worlds. One, completely arid and dry, the other, so hot, humid, and wet that I've literally seen dead sticks come back to life when planted in the ground. Having grown up in a library as the son of a librarian in a dry, desert town in Southern Utah, I can tell you that the climate of Mesoamerica, at all times, is a special collections archivist's nightmare. When I visited the museum of Mayan artifacts housed in the relatively drier climate of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I was astonished at how raggedy and spoiled even things only 100 years old had become as compared to how they must have appeared when new.

How could one then expect millions of people, living over two millenia ago, to have successfully preserved their copies of the scriptures to meet such astonishing requirements for credible evidence. It is a wild goose chase to expect to find it. It simply would not--could not--exist without the kinds of technology we have today to preserve perishables. And in perpetuity for over 2,000 years at that! So, we have to turn to other clues that pre-Columbian people left behind and that their descendants continue to perpetuate today.

4) If we did not have the BoM today, is there any independent evidence that we would even know of the "Nephites"? What does "Nephi" mean anyhow?

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Tis Enough; Mine Eyes Have Beheld": Responding to Criticisms of the Book of Mormon Witnesses




The Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. From left to right: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris.

A popular website[1] designed to equip Evangelical apologists with information on Mormonism has a brief but highly flawed article on the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. It asserts, in so many words, that the witnesses' testimony of seeing and handling the Book of Mormon plates are unreliable for various reasons.

Among the reasons given are 1) many of the witnesses were related to or friend with Joseph Smith 2) some of the witnesses claimed to see the plates only in vision with a subjective "eye of faith" 3) at least one of the witnesses claimed to have also been told by God to leave the Church, which presents a dilemma for Mormons because that same witness is said to have received that commandment from the same God who testified to him of the Book of Mormon and 4) the Witnesses were superstitious or gullible into believing things of a supernatural nature.

It is beyond the scope of this post to ascertain the validity of all the arguments for or against the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. A considerable corpus of literature has been created on this subject, and the intrepid reader is to read some of those offers to see the different arguments on the two sides of this debate.[2]

However, as a believing and active Latter-day Saint and after reading much of the aforementioned literature, it is my conviction that the witnesses to the Book of Mormon not only are reliable but that it is more parsimonious to believe in their testimony as it stands than in the theories of critics of the Book of Mormon.[3]

For this post, I will therefore only focus on the offerings given on the website in question and will not focus on other specific criticisms by the likes of Dan Vogel or Grant Palmer. 

1. The Book of Mormon Witnesses are unreliable or suspect because they are related to or in close association with Joseph Smith.

This is a classic example of the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad hominem circumstantial. The premise of this argument is that the circumstances of an individual makes the individual "disposed to take a particular decision" and thus makes the individual and his/her claims unreliable. Therefore, this argument rests on "an attack on the bias of the source."[4] 

However, such is a logical fallacy for the reason that the circumstances or bias of an individual does not negate the validity of their arguments or their testimony. Or, as wikipedia helpfully explains, "the reason this is fallacious in syllogistic logic is that pointing out that one's opponent is disposed to make a certain argument does not does make the argument, from a logical point of view, any less credible."[5]

To use a modern analogy, imagine a man named Stan Smith. Mr. Smith is married with 4 kids, all of them adults. One evening Mr. Smith is gunned down in front of his family and some friends by an armed robber. When the robber is caught, the family and friends are called to testify as eyewitnesses to the crime on behalf of the prosecution. The defense, however, points out that the witnesses are immediate family and friends to Mr. Smith and thus they are unreliable witnesses because of their relationship with Mr. Smith. The defense argues that the close relationship of the witnesses, to use the words on the website, "raise the question about their level of discernment and their credibility as witnesses."

See the problem with this line of reasoning? The relationship of the witnesses to Mr. Smith does not invalidate the fact that they witnessed the gunning down of Mr. Smith. The same applies for the Book of Mormon witnesses. The fact that the witnesses to the Book of Mormon were close associates or family with Joseph Smith does not invalidate their claim to having seen gold plates. If they really did see the plates, then their familial relationship with Joseph Smith becomes irrelevant.

However, Evangelical Christians, like the proprietor of the website, need to also be careful in using this argument since the same argument was employed by Celsus, and early anti-Christian Roman philosopher, to try and invalidate the witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Celsus opined that the close association between the Apostles who witnessed the Savior's miracles and resurrection invalidated them as witnesses. In short, their association "raise the question about their level of discernment and their credibility as witnesses."

Celsus, in referring to the Apostles, inquired as to "what witnesses saw this wondrous event [i.e. the resurrection]... for I have only heard your voice, and have but your word for it."[6] Celsus likewise asks "Who really saw [the resurrection]? A hysterical woman [referring to Mary], as you admit and perhaps one other person - both deluded by [the Savior's] sorcery, or else so wrenched with grief at his failure that they hallucinated him rising from the dead by some sort of wishful thinking."[7]

Thus, the same tactics used by this Evangelical critic are identical to the tactics used by Celsus. Both Celsus and the critic operating the website attack the validity of their respective witnesses on the bases of both their close association with Jesus and Joseph, respectively, and the subjective nature of their claims. Which brings us to number two.

2. Some of the witnesses said they saw the plates with the "eye of faith" and in a subjective spiritual setting, thus casting doubt on their credibility.

This is a popular point of ridicule on some of the witnesses. Some of the witnesses, it is alleged, at one point described their seeing of the gold plates in seemingly subjective language. John Whitmer explained that he was shown the plates based on a "supernatural power" while Martin Harris said he saw the plates with an "eye of faith". Thus, according to the critics, this shows that the experience of both the Three and the Eight Witnesses was not based in reality but was subjective or purely visionary.

However, there are some problems with this approach. For one thing, it ignores all of those instances in which the witnesses described their experience in real, concrete and physical language. John Whitmer, for example, explained in 1836 that he "had most assuredly seen the plates from whence the Book of Mormon was translated, and I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, jr., has translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God."[8] Other examples of this could be multiplied, as has been on the helpful FAIR wiki website on this matter.

Turning to Martin Harris' statement that he saw the plates with an "eye of faith", we receive some rather helpful information once again from the FAIR wiki. The article explains that Martin Harris could have been employing scriptural language in describing the visitation of Moroni with the plates. After multiple examples are shown, the following conclusion is offered:

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his "spiritual eyes" or with an "eye of faith" he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image. But rather they were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see. Critics who insist otherwise do not provide their readers with all of Martin's statements, distorting the historical record.[9]

The FAIR wiki also explains:

Critics impose their own interpretation on phrases that do not match what the witnesses reported in many separate interviews. When challenged on the very point which the critics wish to read into their statements—their literal reality—both Harris and the other witnesses were adamant that their experience was literal, real, and undeniable.[10]

From this and other sources we learn that the assertion on the website that the witnesses "all initially describe[d] their experience with the angel and the plates as subjective and visionary rather than objective and concrete" is not warranted from the historical sources.   

3. One of the Witnesses, David Whitmer, said that God told him to leave the Church. He also said that if you believe his testimony of the Book of Mormon then you will believe his testimony out of the Church.

According to Book of Mormon Witness David Whitmer:

If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to "separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, should it be done unto them."[11]

Critics of the Book of Mormon regularly point to this statement in an attempt to put the Latter-day Saints in an awkward position. After all, if one accepts David Whitmer's testimony of the Book of Mormon then one is going to also have to accept that God commanded David to leave the Church. As Brent Lee Metcalfe wrote, the Latter-day Saints "must confront Whitmer's challenge: believe that God confirmed the Book of Mormon translation and later instructed him to repudiate Mormonism or reject his testimony in toto. For Whitmer there was no distinction between the two experiences."[12] 

Besides the fact that this is a standard fallacy known as a false dilemma, those critics who point to this statement fail to inform their readers that Whitmer had already been excommunicated from the Church a month earlier. As the FAIR wiki explains:


Thus, when he reports being told by God to "separate himself from among" the members of the Church, Whitmer was already out of the Church, but still living in Far West among members of the Church. Whitmer's decision to leave Far West was arguably a wise one. Tensions were high, and there were threats of violence against apostates (including Whitmer, who had been very prominent) from people like Sampson Avard... Whitmer was not instructed to leave the Church or "repudiate Mormonism," he was instructed to leave Far West after he was already excommunicated. This was arguably a very prudent course, both for Whitmer's safety and the integrity of the Restoration witnesses. Believing Latter-day Saints have no trouble seeing both of Whitmer's revelatory experiences as inspired of God. While God would not force Whitmer to remain in the Church, He might well take steps to ensure that the Three Witnesses remained alive. In fact, Whitmer's fidelity to his testimony despite great disagreements with Joseph and the Church strengthen its force. Critics are dishonest if they imply Whitmer did not leave the Church until God "told him to."[13]

Thus, the critics do not have the Latter-day Saints in the airtight bind that they think they do.

4. The Witnesses were gullible and credulous when it came to supernatural matters.

This is a strange criticism to be coming from Evangelical Christians, as the exact same argument could be and has been used by secularists against the witnesses of the miracles of the Bible. Notwithstanding, this form of character assassination is not only gratuitously disparaging but also runs contrary to the character of the Witnesses. As Michael Ash explained:

Could the Three Witnesses have been so caught up in the excitement that they imagined they saw an angel, or lied about seeing an angel to heighten the stimulation? An affirmative answer may suffice for testifying in the “heat of the moment,” but this explanation is not satisfactory when we look at the testimony that they continued to proclaim throughout their lives—through persecution, financial ruin, excommunication, embarrassment, and bitter-feelings. A testimony born in the excitement of the moment would die quickly under such adverse conditions.[14]

Or, as the FAIR wiki explains:

The witnesses were men considered honest, responsible, and intelligent. Their contemporaries did not know quite what to make of three such men who testified of angels and gold plates, but they did not impugn the character or reliability of the men who bore that testimony.[15]

Professor Richard L. Anderson perhaps knows more about the lives and the character of the Witnesses more than any other man on earth. He has written numerous articles and a book on the witnesses of the Book of Mormon and his research spans decades. When I spoke with Professor Anderson in person in December of 2008 at a conference sponsored by Olivewood Bookstore in Provo, I asked him if the witnesses, especially Martin Harris, were gullible or overly credulous about superstitious matters. Professor Anderson promptly explained that the only contemporaries of these men who thought they were gullible or easily duped were anti-Mormons with a high prejudice against the Witnesses. Others, both Mormon and non-Mormons alike, who knew these men personally knew them to be good, honest, industrious men of intelligence, sound minds and understanding. 

Conclusion

It can never be proved, or disproved for that matter, that Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris saw the plates. However, the historical evidence, in my view, supports the traditional LDS understanding of the Witnesses and the validity of their testimonies. The objections raised against the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon by this Evangelical website are, in my opinion, misplaced, misguided and wholly insufficient to explain away the Witnesses. They suffer from a general lack of scholarly and logical rigor and don't stand up to close scrutiny. For various reasons, as best explained by Professor Daniel C. Peterson[16], I find the testimony of these men to be strong evidence for the truthfulness of the claims of Joseph Smith. Whatever happened to those men, it was powerful enough to make Martin Harris exclaim "tis enough; mine eyes have beheld!"[17] 


Notes:

[1]: This website is not to be confused with www.mormonwiki.com, which is a pro-LDS website.

[2]: The most pertinent works include; from an LDS apologetic perspective Richard L. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book: 1981); Richard L. Anderson, "Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005), 18-31; from a critical perspective Dan Vogel, "The Validity of the Witnesses' Testimonies", in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha (Salt Lake City, Signiture Books: 2005), 79-121 and Grant H. Palmer, "Witnesses to the Gold Plates", chapter 6 of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City, Signature Books: 2002).

[3]: Michael Ash has done an amiable job of summarizing the LDS arguments for the validity of the Witnesses' testimonies in his work Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith (Springville, Cedar Fort: 2008), 15-20. See also Michael Ash in Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2008), 193-200.

[4]: Wikipedia entry under "Ad Hominem". Available online here. Accessed 6 June, 2009.

[5]: Ibid.

[6]: Quoted in Aaron Christensen, "Celsus and Modern Anti-Mormonism". FAIR paper, 2002. p.g. 4

[7]: Ibid. Christensen helpfully observes that "by way of modern parallel, the testimony of the eleven witnesses to the reality of the gold plates are discarded" based on the same standard used by Celsus.

[8]: See "Book of Mormon Witnesses/Eight Witnesses/Shown to Me by a Spiritual Power" on the FAIR wiki. Link here.

[9]: See "'Eye of Faith'/'Spiritual Eye' Statements by Martin Harris" on the FAIR wiki. Link here.

[10]: See "Book of Mormon Witnesses/ Spiritual or Literal?" on the FAIR wiki. Link here.

[11]: David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887), 27-28. Ironically, anti-Mormons love to cite this work despite the fact that Whitmer emphatically and loquaciously affirmed his testimony in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon throughout its pages.

[12]: Brent Lee Metcalfe, "Apologetic and Critical Assumptions About Book of Mormon Historicity," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26/3 (Fall 1993): 176-177

[13]: See "Book of Mormon Witnesses/David Whitmer Told to Leave" on the FAIR wiki. Link here.

[14]: Michael Ash, "Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 1: Motives", FAIR Paper (FAIR, 2003), 2. Ash's series on the Witnesses, located on the FAIR website, offer another good overview of the LDS apologetic views on the issues surrounding the Witnesses.

[15]: See "Book of Mormon Witnesses/Character" on the FAIR wiki. Link here.

[16]: An mp3 version of Daniel C. Peterson's excellent "A Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced", is available for download from the FAIR website. 

[17]: Quoted in "History of Joseph Smith", Times and Seasons 3/21 (1 September, 1842): 898

Thursday, July 2, 2009

And it Came to Pass that the Phrase "And it Came to Pass" was Discovered to be a Hebraism

Christopher Miller on his lurid website "Mormonism Disproved" argues that the high occurrence of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon is evidence that "Joseph Smith was the single author of the Book of Mormon, that it was not translated, but created from his very creative imagination." And what exactly is the evidence that Mr. Miller provides for this claim? Why, nothing less than the fact that the phrase "and it came to pass" occurs at a much higher frequency in the Book of Mormon than in the current King James Bible. After all, according to our sleuth, "the extensive use of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon across all of the books" clearly points to single authorship.

The final nail in the coffin, according to Miller, is the fact that the word "exceedingly" also occurs more often in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible. But it doesn't stop there. The thoroughly unbiblical phrase "in other words" is also evidence to Miller that Joseph Smith was a fraud.

I must admit that I was rather amused at not only the sheer desperation of these charges, but also at the fact that Mr. Miller betrays absolutely no knowledge of the fact that the phrase "and it came to pass" is actually a good Hebraism. Rather than belabor the point, I will simply be lazy and quote Professor Donald W. Parry on this matter:

The expression and it came to pass is the translation of a Hebrew expression used frequently in scriptural histories and chronologies and far less frequently in poetry, prophe-cies, or direct speech. Although in its Hebrew form the expression is found in the Hebrew Bible some 1,200 times, it was translated in the King James Version as "and it came to pass" only about 727 times. The King James translators probably found the expression redundant and cumbersome, which would explain why they often translated it as "and it became," "and it was," or "and." On a number of occasions they simply ignored the expression altogether.

Given the Semitic background of the Book of Mormon and the fact that it contains histories and chronologies comparable to those of the Old Testament, it is not surprising that and it came to pass is a characteristic feature of the book. Novelist and humorist Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of and it came to pass from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet.

Similar to Old Testament usage, the phrase and it came to pass is rarely found in Book of Mormon psalms, lamentations, proverbs, blessings, curses, prayers, speeches, and dialogues where the first-person pronoun (Ior we) is used. The expression is obviously missing from the Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:16–35); the speeches of such personalities as King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles found in the Book of Mormon.[1]


But that is not all, Parry has noted elsewhere that "this expression is commonly mentioned in Hebrew grammars. See, for example, Joshua Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976), 107."[2]

In the December 1992 issue of the Ensign, Professor Parry observed the following:

Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of “and it came to pass” from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet. (Roughing It, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1901, p. 133.) There are, however, some very good reasons behind the usage of the phrase—reasons that further attest the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.

But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”

Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.

The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)[3]


Thus, far from being evidence of single authorship of the Book of Mormon, as the quixotic Mr. Miller implies, the continual occurrence of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon is evidence of the book's ancient authenticity. It is likewise evidence for a Semitic primacy of the language of the Book of Mormon. 

But what about Miller's accusations about the use of "exceedingly" and "in other words" in the Book of Mormon? To me, this is much ado about nothing. I ask; so what if Joseph Smith, in translating the Book of Mormon into modern English, used these words and phrases? Surely one cannot fault him for using modern lingual expressions in translating an ancient language into a modern one. Such is nothing but sheer desperation to get anything on Joseph Smith to make him look bad. 

However, the fun does not stop there. Miller mocks the lengthiness of the Book of Mormon and the repetitive nature of the text. However, had Miller bothered to consult any Hebrew grammar, he would understand that lengthiness and repetitiveness is a common feature in biblical Hebrew. As Brian D. Stubbs explains:

Book of Mormon language frequently contains lengthy structures of rather awkward English. Some may consider these to be instances of poor grammar, weakness in writing (Ether 12:23—26), or the literary ineptness of a fraudulent author; however, I see them as potentially significant support for a translation from a Near Eastern language in an ancient American setting. Many of these lengths of awkward English parallel Semitic (and Egyptian) patterns, particularly the circumstantial or hal-clause.[4]

Jeff Lindsay, in summarizing Stubbs' arguments, notes:

He [Brian Stubbs] responds to Edward Ashment's attack on the Book of Mormon which claims the long, awkward sentences found in so many Book of Mormon verses are much different than the short, concise sentences found in the Old Testament, supposedly showing that the Book of Mormon was not derived from Hebrew. Stubbs shows that the short sentences alleged to be characteristic of Biblical Hebrew may be characteristic of the King James translation of the Old Testament, but are not characteristic of the actual Hebrew. In fact, numerous sentence structures in the Book of Mormon show much more in common with genuine Hebraic sentences than with the English of the King James Bible or with the English of Joseph Smith's day.[5]


Elsewhere, Lindsay observes to "complain about the Book of Mormon being too Hebraic, if you will, but the wordiness of the text is most reasonably interpreted as indirect evidence of authenticity rather than evidence of fraud."[6]

One final note. Miller, in mocking Nephi's comments in 1 Nephi 10:4, asks rhetorically if "any Hebrew speaking person in that time did not know what a Messiah was" and "if any biblical author would find it necessary to explain that to his audience." Contra Miller, who boasts that "common sense" demands that the answer is no, the answer, in light of biblical evidence, is in fact a resounding YES.

Consider, if you will, the fact that the Hebrew word for Messiah, "mashiach" or literally "anointed one", is never explicitly used for a title of Jehovah in the Old Testament, but instead has been applied to Israelite royalty (1 Sam. 24:6; 26:11; 2 Sam. 19:21; 22:51; Ps. 18:50; 132:17), Aaronic High Priests (Lev. 4:5) and even the Persian king Cyrus (Isa. 45:1) and you begin to understand why Nephi had to clarify with his readers who exactly he was speaking of when he mentioned the "Messiah, or, in other words, A Savior of the World" (1 Ne. 10:4). He wanted his readers to be sure that he was speaking of the Savior Jesus Christ, not others who have been held the label "Messiah".[7] Miller, it seems, can have his "common sense" all he wants, but he should not for one moment presume that such is evidence for his claim.

Thus, if our intrepid Don Quixote insists that the presence of "and it came to pass" and the lengthiness of the Book of Mormon is evidence of fraud, he will first have to explain this contrary evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon.

Notes:

[1]: Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon", in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, John W. Welch, eds., Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002), 163-64.

[2]: Ibid, note 11.

[3]: Donald W. Parry, "I Have A Question: Why is the phrase "and it came to pass" so prevalent in the Book of Mormon?", Ensign, December 1992, 29.

[4]: Brian D. Stubbs, "A Lengthier Treatment on Length", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 82

[5]: Jeff Lindsay, "Numerous Hebraic Language Structures", available online here: http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml#hebraic

[6]: Jeff Lindsay, "Too Wordy to be True?", available online at: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/wordy.shtml

[7]: See the entry under "Messiah" in Dennis L. Largey, ed., The Book of Mormon Reference Companion (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2003), 536

Christian Courage at Temple Square

Note to the reader: This is an essay I wrote in reply to the July 2009 Ensign's call for articles. The theme was around Elder Robert D. Hales' conference talk entitled "Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship". Constructive criticisms, critiques and other comments are appreciated before I submit this essay to the Ensign.

Christian Courage at Temple Square 


by Stephen O. Smoot 


As a volunteer with the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR)1, I was particularly impressed by Elder Robert D. Halesʼ October 2008 General Conference talk2. In his talk, Elder Hales admonished the Saints to respond to criticisms and challenges from critics and other foes of the Church by exhibiting what he called “Christian courage”; namely, we should “not retaliate” against our critics, but instead “show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return.”3 Elder Hales went on to clarify that “especially important [are] our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”4 Thus, Elder Hales cautioned, “our primary concern must be othersʼ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate.”5 


In my experience as a volunteer with FAIR, I have had several opportunities both in person and on various online message boards and chat rooms to engage with critics of the Church and its teachings. These experiences have been interesting, exciting, uplifting, faith-promoting, frustrating, irritating, and disheartening simultaneously. While I have learned much from engaging with critics of the Church and my testimony in the Restored gospel has grown stronger with my experience with FAIR, I have at times come away from these interactions in a bad temper or exceedingly vexed. Usually it is after I have been vigorously Bible-bashing or contending with a heated ego and temper against someone who is as equally sure of their convictions as I am of mine. Thus, these words from Elder Hales have been very important to me as I have interacted with critics and skeptics. They remind me of how I must react to critics and skeptics the same way the Savior would - with love and understanding that even those critics who I debate with are children of our Heavenly Father who have their right to their free will and agency. 


However, one particular moment has always stood out above others to me as an example of how I was able to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and skepticism. Every six months at General Conference, I travel down to Temple Square with a couple of my fellow volunteers from FAIR to speak with and engage the anti-Mormon street preachers who try pester and provoke the Saints with unsavory epithets, distasteful slurs and repugnant accusations against the leadership and doctrines of the Church. During the April 2009 General Conference, I met a man at Temple Square, an Evangelical Christian with a large poster who was there to, according to his own account, “witness” to the Saints, with whom I began to speak with. 


This man informed me that he was a former member of the Church who discontinued believing in the Restored Gospel. When I asked him why, he stated that he came to believe that the doctrines of the Church were not compatible with the Bible. After listing some examples, such as the unique understanding of the Godhead that the Saints hold to compared to conventional Christianity, this man then began to ask me various questions designed to challenge my faith in the Restored Gospel: How can you believe in the Book of Mormon when there is no evidence for its authenticity? Are you aware that the LDS view of the nature of God is not at harmony with the Bible? How can you believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet even after he uttered false prophecies? The Bible makes itself clear that it is the sole source of authority. How, then, can you accept additional scriptures?  


It would have been easy for me to become defensive and combative with this gentleman as he asked these questions. It would have been easy for me to become dismissive and flippant in the face of these accusations. However, I remembered the council of Elder Hales as well as the words of the Savior to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:29 and restrained myself from become contentious. In response, I calmly pointed out to this gentleman that these accusations have been answered by groups such as FAIR or the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS): While there is evidence for the Book of Mormonʼs authenticity, it is primarily and most importantly a witness from the Spirit that we come to know of the Book of Mormonʼs truthfulness.6 The Latter-day Saint view of God does have backing from and is in harmony with the Bible.7 The allegations that the Prophet Joseph Smith uttered false prophecies rests on both a misunderstanding of the nature of prophecy and prophets alike.8 The Bible affirms the principle of an open canon and nowhere claims to be the sole source of authority from God.9 


I could tell that my non-confrontational approach to these accusations had made an impact on this gentleman, as he seemed to open up and began asking questions that were not so much aggressive but genuinely sincere and thoughtful. He asked me what I thought about Jesus Christ. I responded that my faith is in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He asked how I knew this. I responded that my testimony came from reading the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets therein. 


  I could tell that because our encounter did not turn into a vindictive and egotistical debate but instead became a sincere and friendly discussion, I was more easily able to share my testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with this man. Because of the fact that the spirit of contention was unable to penetrate the atmosphere, the Spirit of our Heavenly Father was able fill both our hearts and plant within them peace. We ended our conversation with good feelings towards each other and the spirit radiating within us. 


This demonstration has shown me that Elder Halesʼ principles taught in his General Conference speech are true, and that by abiding by these precepts when we encounter criticism and skepticism we can hopefully escape the spirit of the contention and do our best to stand firm in our faith and our testimonies as we bear witness of the truth. We will all ultimately face criticism. We will all be asked questions about our faith from both sincere and insincere people. It is therefore imperative that we as Latter-day Saints remember to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and affliction and to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).


Notes:

1 FAIR operates a website, www.fairlds.org, that is an online cache of apologetic information. Apologetics, 

from the Greek apologia (απολογία), is a systematic defense of a particular doctrine or idea. See, for 

example, the remarks of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, wherein the Saints are admonished "to make a 

defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (Revise Standard Version, 

emphasis added). 


2 Elder Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 72-75 


3 Ibid, 73. 


4 Ibid.


5  Ibid.


6 While a large corpus of literature has been written on this subject, see generally Donald W. Parry, Daniel 

C. Peterson and John W. Welch, eds., Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: 

Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2001), Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon 

Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research 

and Mormon Studies. 1997) and Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on 

Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 1982). See also the 

plethora of articles published in the FARMS Review and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, both 

produced by FARMS. 


7  See generally David L. Paulsen, “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God,” in 

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed., Noel B. 

Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2005), 239-295. See also 

the FAIR wiki website under the category “God” at http://en.fairmormon.org/ 

FAIRwiki:Table_of_contents#God (Accessed June 29th, 2009). 


8  See generally John A. Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets”. Available online at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

Bible/Nature_of_Prophets_and_Prophecy.html (Accessed June 29th, 2009).


9 See generally Michael R. Ash, “Is the Bible Complete?”, available at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

FAIR_Brochures/Is_the_Bible_Complete.pdf (Accessed June 29th, 2009). See also the FAIR wiki article 

“Open Canon vs. Closed Canon” at http://en.fairmormon.org/Open_canon_vs._closed_canon (Accessed 

June 29th, 2009).