Thursday, April 17, 2014

Letter to CES and Responses

I had a reader submit a question about responding to the "Letter to a CES Director".  He wanted a response.  FAIR Mormon has done a great and thorough response which you can find here.  But I want to talk about things that matter, and not just the multitude of details which tend to lose sight of important issues.

The Church did engage in covering up perceived weaknesses of leaders in the past.  Typically these efforts were led by people and sometimes leaders who feared for the impact of certain issues on members' faith, or on public perception of issues.

No one should lose faith because past members or leaders lacked faith in the ability of members or non-members to fairly process the issues involved.  It is however easily demonstrable that current leadership does not feel that way.  The Joseph Smith's Papers project sits front and center as the most thorough and transparent publishing effort around an historical figure ever.  You don't do that if you are afraid of what will be discovered.

But there are a lot of issues, and I will only discuss a few.  First, most leaders were ignorant of indepth historical matters.  Thus you get a statement from Harold B. Lee that based on information from Joseph Fielding Smith that Joseph Smith never did ordain any black men.  With the documents we now know exist, such a position is simply not true.  But ask where Joseph Fielding Smith got his info?  Well, at some point the first Presidency in the early 1900's reaffirmed the Brigham Young ban on ordinations, which Brigham Young attributed to Joseph Smith.

So did JFS look at every document?  Probably not.  Even as the Church Historian, he had little time and no training to go through the Church's records.  It was enough that he knew that his father had endorsed the ban.  And in the 1960's, the Church did not have resources or inclination to challenge Brigham Young's ban which had been reaffirmed by nearly all Church presidents down to that time, unless they received a revelation.

If the Church leaders could only sit for a year or so and get a crash course on LDS history from original documents and eyewitness statements, and then get deeply versed historians to walk them through it, then we could claim that General Authorities are also well informed historians.  But that is not now nor has it ever been their roles.

But there is a second point, much more important to consider.  That is, not all evidence is of equal value.  So understand this point clearly.  Someone may want to say the evidence for the Book of Abraham or Book of Mormon geography, or First Vision documents is weak.  I personally am fine with it, but let's pretend you are critical of those topics.  Those are truly secondary.  Primary evidence is physical and spiritual about the Book of Mormon.

I have written extensively on the physical evidence and witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  As a whole it is excellent.  In detail, it is amazing.  Try as critics like Jeremy do to attack the reality of the Book of Mormon, their arguments inevitably lead to accounts from secondary or tertiary sources because the primary sources are consistent and supportive of each other.  There can be no doubt the Eight Witnesses saw and handled something.  In 1827, when Joseph brought the plates home for the first time, more than a dozen folks handled the plates, though they did not see them.  At least several of them would later become witnesses.  It requires one to believe JS had in a finished form the plates in 1827, at a time when he was newlywed and flat broke, because they could feel the engravings, handle the spine, etc.  Keep asking the question:  How could he do that?

I once heard Dan Peterson say the purpose of the plates was to be a thumb in the eye of the critics.  You must, if you choose to lose your faith, explain how Joseph Smith could have put the plates together without anyone being aware of it; having the skills to forge and punch and craft them into their shapes; to paint them in a way that the primitive paints of the early 19th century would be unnoticeable to close scrutiny; and to convince people who in many cases left the Church and were offered significant fortunes to tell the "truth" about the plates.  In all these things they fail.  The current attempt to discredit the witnesses by saying the plates were immaterial and only viewed spiritually requires one to twist what the witnesses actually said.

Secondly, there is the spiritual witness.  The Bible is replete with statements that God is received and perceived spiritually.  There is no way to come to a knowledge of truth by study alone.  When I discuss the problems with leadership, the Bible, the Book of Abraham or other issues, there is no intent to make people think these are not trustworthy.  I usually discuss such things due to the double standards imposed by critics.  My personal problem with the critics usually comes down to two issues:  Their hypocrisy in what they consider evidence, and their lack of effort in finding balanced evidence.  When you hear Richard Bushman discuss Joseph Smith, he discusses every aspect of him, good and bad.  The critics will only discuss the bad, and only occasionally throw a bone at acknowledging there was some good.

People may rightly say there are things which could cause one to think twice about the Church.  But such conversations miss the only point where God has said in the scriptures he will provide proof to the faithful:  A witness of the Book of Mormon.

My personal experience, which I have outlined elsewhere, goes beyond this.  But it started here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Atheists are so Godless

I sort of get tired of atheists and their demands for getting god out of everything.

First of all, they are bitter.  So they lack faith, not really my problem.  Cut the nasty attitude, show some humility, and you can get where believers are too.  But they don't really want to.  I am cool with that too.  Just leave me alone.  And don't call me names.

Second, they are illogical.  Not because they don't believe in god.  But because they think because they don't have a relationship with him, he doesn't exist.  Sort of like their fathers (ouch, did I say that?).  But seriously, if they would think it through, god, if he does exist and is all powerful, can choose how to interact with the world and beings he creates.  So when they don't see him or experience him, they want to conclude there is nothing wrong with their approach, so it only can mean he doesn't exist.

But here is the deal, for me anyway:  I have experienced him, and I documented it.  In the Bible god declares the proof he is god is found in telling the future.  We are not talking about "Taurus is an angry sign" kind of prophecy.  Cyrus is mentioned by name.  The return from exile.  The blessings of Abraham.  The restoration of Israel.  Pretty specific stuff.

And for me, he told me my grandfather had died.  And when it happened, I was immediately awakened by a phone call, so before I answered I woke up my wife and told her what I had just been told, thinking I was being called to be notified.  It was actually my home teaching companion.  So I then started to cry, because I knew it was true. Then mom called, told me grandpa had died, and I told her I knew, and how I knew.  She was stunned. 

Now, my wife and I could be liars.  That's the risk an atheist is going to have to take to be true to their faith.  But I am not a liar.  It happened.  I told this story to an atheist I met once, and he only said "Probably just a lucky guess on your part."  Really?  That is what it comes to?

It turns out I am not irrational about my supernatural beliefs and faith in a God that others have difficulty encountering.  I have met Him.  He is real.  When he decides it's time to meet you, be ready to drop your nets and follow.  He really doesn't appreciate when he gives you proof and you thanklessly throw it away. 

But my faith was reinforced by knowledge and experiences, and grew, and so now as miracles and inspiration happen in my life, it is just exactly that:  My life.  It is normal to me.  Because I know Him, and I see His work everywhere, and He shows off constantly.  It's freakin' awesome.

I know a man with children whom I know better than his kids do, because they have rejected him due to family issues.  It doesn't change whether he exists just because they want to pretend he doesn't any longer.  I think I understand why he is in my life, too.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Class Thursday October 24

So, the first week went OK, I think.  We are trying to record the sessions for eventual posting on Youtube or somewhere.

The second class is on the First Vision and historical issues around Joseph Smith and Mormonism prior to publication of the Book of Mormon.

The second class will be held at the Kearns Library
5350 South 4220 West
Kearns, Utah 8411
Time:  6:30pm
Date:  October 24, 2013

The third, fourth and fifth classes are on  November 7 & 14 & 21, 6:30pm at the Draper Library:
Week 3 Doctrines of Salvation
Week 4  Creation, Exaltation, Scholarship
Week 5 Mormon Archaeology Compared to Biblical Archaeology

1136 East Pioneer Rd
(124th South)
Draper, Utah 84020

Hopefully I can get to the video and move it onto the Internet shortly.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Class Tomorrow (EEEEK!)

Well, we will see how this goes.  I will take the leap and try to present to a small group some of the things I have encountered over the years.

If you said you would come, please do.  Moral support is appreciated.

South Jordan Library, Thursday, October 17 @ 6:30pm, 10673 S. Redwood Road.

I find the material on the Witnesses and integrity of the Book of Mormon so compelling.  I will be presenting a portion of Dan Vogel's theory of the creation of the Book of Mormon for contrast about the desperation of critics.  I think people will have a good time.  As a special treat, we will have actual (fake) leaves from Dan Vogel's version of the Book of Mormon so the public can see how truly untenable the critics positions are in light of the historic statements of eyewitnesses.

I hope it will be fun.  I know it will be enlightening, for me if no one else.
Thanks in advance,

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

For the Difficult Mormon Issues class I now have a location, at least for the first meeting:

South Jordan Library at 10647 S Redwood Rd. (1700 W) in South Jordan, UT

We will start at 6:30pm.  Topic will be the Book of Mormon attacks we commonly run into, but also a discussion about how to approach people who appear to be critical of the Mormon faith.  Bring your questions, please don't let me be there alone!  I have an outline for 10 classes which I will hand out, and we can discuss questions and suggestions for future sessions.

Proposed, incomplete, outline is as follows:

Lesson Outlines
Lesson 1:  Intro and Book of Mormon
Disclaimer:  The material and opinions expressed here are the opinions of the presenter, and are not official statements by either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) or FAIR Mormon.
Introduction  Austen Farrar said, of C.S. Lewis:
Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.  ( )
And CS Lewis wrote:
“To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”  (C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 27-28; cited by James S. Jardine, “Consecration and Learning,” in On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 77.)

My background [describe]

Overriding Premise:
Understanding that most issues people have who have been active in the Church are not related to anything covered by this class.  There is nearly always a pain behind the question which is being manifested by the question.  That is why love is the essential tool when dealing with those with questions.  You can spend many wasted hours solving a non-existent problem.  Once people resolve their pain, they will remember their feelings of testimony, and then they can work through their challenges, which in my experience get really small once they are feeling the Spirit in their lives again.

By its nature faith is not knowing.  Wide range of attacks on the Church.  Attacks at the Book of Mormon are the most significant because it is the Keystone of our religion.
Range of explanations for the Book of Mormon:  Delivered by demons; copied from the Bible and environment; copied from Spaulding;
Witnesses and statements that they only “spiritually” discerned holding the plates.
Family members handle the plates
Weight of the plates, nature of the plates
Changes to the text, and how much of the original manuscript do we have
Understanding the translation process
Why the Church uses incorrect depictions of the translation process?
Anton document
Reformed Egyptian
Praying about the plates, or other spiritual decisions (Remember Bill McKeever of MRM asking for people to pray about giving them money.  “If you have not considered this ministry as being a part of your missionary giving, we certainly hope that you would pray about it, and again we do thank you for that.”  At 1:34 into Viewpoint on Mormonism Podcast, 9-23-2013.  Compare this hypocrisy to their statements about the danger of subjective application of prayer to make decisions about religion and other choices in the article about praying about the Book of Mormon at . “Relying on subjective feelings can end up being disastrous and should be avoided by every sincere Christian believer.”)
How is the Book of Mormon the “Most Correct Book”?

Lesson 2:  Complete Book of Mormon and Present First Vision
Richard Anderson document
Different Accounts of the First Vision
Modern statements about the First Vision
Understanding the historical context and use of the First Vision by Joseph Smith

Lesson 3:  Mormon doctrines of Salvation
God was once a man; did God ever sin; 
Praying for answers;
Do we need a prophet;
Mormon Trinity vs. Traditional Trinity;
Pre-existence of humans

Lesson 4:  Mormon Doctrines of Creation, Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation and its support in history. 
Evangelical acknowledgements of LDS scholarly approach
Matter eternal, Genesis 1 and other Bible verses on creation.
Heiser, Smith and Dever on the historic proof of the Hebrew belief in a plurality of real Gods

Lesson 5:  Mormon Archaeology Compared to Biblical Archaeology
Old World historic locations cited in the Bof M
New World items found which are spoken of in the Book of Mormon
Languages of Central America with Semetic roots

Lesson 6:  Church Leaders Character and statements;  Determining doctrine, speculative statements by leaders;  Feeling the Spirit.
Joseph Smith not wanting to be put on a pedestal, and being very public about his personal failings.
Recognizing leaders inspiration vs. personal wise counsel
Statements by leaders on recognizing doctrine.

Lesson 7:  Book of Abraham, Kinderhook plates, Joseph Smith Translation

Lesson 8:  Changes to the Priesthood

Lesson 9:  Brigham Young’s Era issues: 
Blood Atonement, Mormon Reformation, Adam God,
Mountain Meadows Massacre

Lesson 10:  Polygamy, polyandry

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Training Classes

So this is a little embarrassing, but I was approach by a friend about teaching a series of classes on defending the Church.  My first response was no one would come, but I told him I would put a note on my blog to see if anyone in the Salt Lake area would find such a class a couple times per month interesting.  If there was interest I am sure I can get some of my friends who are subject matter experts to come in and teach different material as well.

My experience is that most people struggling with their faith have one of three issues:  1.  They have questions but don't bother to really study the matter out and seek God's help through prayer and exercising faith.  I believe God likes informed obedience based on faith, not blind obedience out of a lack of searching.

Second, many people stop doing the things which build their testimony.  They stop reading their scriptures, praying, serving others and sharing their testimony.  A testimony is felt and experienced, not discovered in a book.  If a person could for sure find God by reading the Bible alone there would be no atheists or people of different faiths.

Lastly, they are dealing with issues of sin.  Usually their own, but often a close friend or relative who is dragging them down, and they eventually either feel so guilty and confused, they talk themselves out of the Church.  I am not one of those who thinks everyone struggling or leaving the Church is a giant sin-sloth oozing through life.  But when I hear people talk about how they now have a "Biblical Faith", I can pretty quickly figure out which parts of the Bible they have decided to follow, and which to leave out. 

Understand, there is no question that some passages conflict with others.  Is baptism required for salvation (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16, etc.) or just faith or confession.  The other day I was told by an anti-Mormon friend of mine that he could never be a Mormon because we had added so much to the Gospel.  I asked him to provide a verse that said obedience and baptism were unnecessary, because I could give him a bunch that say they are and he can only infer they are unnecessary because they are not specifically cited as unnecessary in the supposed "grace only" passages.  Of course he couldn't because they don't exist.

Well, if you live in Utah and would like to attend a series of classes on coping with people's questions of faith, drop a note.  If we get 10 people we will do it.  No charge, of course.  And I will actually concentrate on answering the questions behind the question, since most folks don't usually articulate the problem, only the symptom.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shawn McCraney Calling Me Out? O-bama!

Veggie Tales as a weapon of moron abstraction.

At the close of Shawn McCraney's show tonight, he totally made an insulting call out to me and my friend Larry.  He made an oblique comment to Veggie Tales this Saturday at some bookstore and that Larry and I should be there, calling us veggie names.

Ironic, right.  He won't have me on the show, but he can't resist insulting me on his show.  And of course, in the spirit of fairness, he won't let me respond.

Reminds me of the very accurate statement about ex-mormons and the Church:  They can leave it, but they can't leave it alone.

By the way, Shawn's explanation about Mormons and their relationship to Christ, could not have been more stupid.  Mormons do worship Jesus.  Mormons believe that Jesus is in them, through the Spirit.

Easy quiz, try to keep up:  Did Jesus die?  Yes.  Correct.
What does it mean to die?  According to the Bible, the body without a spirit is dead.  Is that the same for Jesus?  Yes, he gave up the ghost, meaning his spirit left his body, and he was dead.

Was Jesus resurrected?  Yes.  What is resurrection?  The reuniting of the body and spirit, never to die again.

So, is Jesus inside us bodily?  If yes, how is that?
If no, is his spirit in us?  If it is Jesus' spirit, then it separated from his body again, without scriptural precedent (btw).  But what does it mean to separate a body from its spirit?  Death, according to the Bible.

So does Jesus die a whole bunch?  The Bible teaches that Jesus can never die again.

Once again we have the dire shortcomings of Shawn's theology of hatred of anything Mormon, even if it is Biblically true.  In this case, Jesus' spirit does not literally dwell in us.

Or, you can believe in Shawn.  I mean, he doesn't teach the Bible anyway, why change now.