Answers to Gospel Questions (from JLO)

A week ago I posted ten reasons why I can’t be a Mormon anymore, and they provoked a rather strange response from one believing Mormon, as I’ve discussed.

I was thinking last night about how I would have responded as an apologist. So, in the spirit of fair play, I’ll give the apologist response (at least the one currently in vogue) to each of my reasons.

JLO: The Book of Abraham turns out to be a common Egyptian funeral text called the Breathing Permit of Horus.

Apologist response: For many of us, the Book of Abraham is the smoking gun of Mormonism. Simply put, it proves that Joseph Smith could not translate anything. The most common response (which I’m taking from a longer FAIR article) is that we only have a small part of the Joseph Smith papyri:

“It should first be undestood [sic] that we do not have all the papyri that Joseph Smith had when he translated the Book of Abraham. Some of the papyri were burned in the Chicago fire and it’s possible that other fragments were lost or destroyed elsewhere. Yale-trained Egyptologist, Dr. John Gee, believes that Joseph Smith originally had five papyrus scrolls (one of which was the hypocephalus).”

In other words, they tell us it’s impossible to say that Joseph mistranslated because we don’t know what his source was. This argument is so disingenuous that it makes me wonder at the honesty of its proponents. There is one huge problem with this argument: we have the facsimiles (helpfully reproduced in LDS scriptures) and Joseph Smith’s translation of them. We also have the real translations of the same pictographs. In short, they don’t match up. So, the apologists are left sputtering that the “missing” parts of the scrolls could have been the Abrahamic stuff: “Just because the preserved sections of the Joseph Smith Papyri are funerary in nature does not mean that they could not have had other texts, either on the verso or on missing sections of the rolls [what a horribly constructed sentence, by the way].” That’s just like saying, “Just because “Oliver Twist” doesn’t mention spaceships, it doesn’t mean that the missing parts of the manuscript aren’t about martian invaders.”

JLO: Anachronisms and clear plagiarisms in the Book of Mormon.

Apologist response: There must be a lot of anachronisms because there are a multitude of responses: animals, Holy Ghost, Jerusalem, metals, plants, and so on.

For me, the bigger issue is the literary anachronisms in the book. First we have quotations from Isaiah that postdate the Babylonian exile, making it impossible for Nephi to have read them on the brass plates. We have Enos quoting Paul and then expanding on a Pauline theme. In fact, this is the pattern all the way through the book. Joseph Smith hits on a (generally New Testament) Biblical theme and expands on it. That should not happen if the Book of Mormon predates the New Testament. The plants and animals and steel are just obvious anachronisms that demonstrate that Joseph Smith was unfamiliar with New World geography.

JLO: Joseph Smith’s history of claiming to be able to find buried treasure by looking at a rock in a hat, the same method he would later use to “translate” the Book of Mormon.

Apologist response: Mostly, this is met with a shrug. A good example is found here, where the author argues that back in those times, seer stones were considered “normal”: “In the 1820s what Joseph did was a consistent part of the culture. Actions that were accepted and understandable by people in the first part of the 19th century are no longer considered normal.” So, the argument goes, of course Joseph Smith was dabbling in the supernatural, like everyone else.

But the problem isn’t whether it was considered normal; rather, does anyone really believe that Joseph Smith could find buried treasure using a rock he found digging a well? If he couldn’t (and one supposes he couldn’t), then was he engaged in an honest endeavor? And finally, if his early uses of “seer stones” were dishonest, doesn’t that have any bearing on the legitimacy of his later use of the same stone to translate a sacred text? Again, we get a shrug. Here’s Dallin Oaks: “We should judge the actions of our predecessors on the basis of the laws and commandments and circumstances of their day, not ours.”

JLO: The wholesale stealing of Masonic rites for Joseph’s inspired temple ceremony.

Apologist response: The response is twofold: 1) Joseph found truth wherever he could, and 2) the two rituals are not very similar. Here’s a good summary of the LDS response.

First, I have no problem with Joseph borrowing from the Masons if that were his stated goal. On the contrary, he told his followers repeatedly that he had restored “true Masonry,” which had been corrupted over the generations since Solomon’s temple. Not even the Masons believe that story.

Second, it is simply a lie that the two ceremonies are only slightly similar: “It is also worth noting that many of the similarities highlighted by church critics are only superficial.” Yes, some of the Masonic rituals and symbols have been removed from the temple ceremony, such as the five points of fellowship and the symbols of ritual suicide, but much remains.

JLO: Joseph’s practice of sending men on missions and then “marrying” their wives as soon as they had left town; see, for example, the story of Marinda Johnson Hyde.

Apologist response: I have to hand it to Samuel Katich, who bravely tackled this issue in a FAIR article. Unfortunately, his article spawned the ridiculous assertion that these were marriages not in any literal sense but were “loose dynastic links between families.” And he makes the rather interesting double-edged argument that, although there is no evidence that any of these marriages was consummated, “if there was an intimate dimension in every one of these particular marriages, it is ultimately a matter of no consequence as he ‘could not commit adultery with wives who belonged to him.'”

Although it’s tempting to spend time rebutting this argument, I think I’ll let it stand. It speaks for itself.

JLO: Joseph’s practice of “marrying” teenage girls behind his wife’s back and promising eternal life to parents of teenagers for their consent.

Apologist response: These were not really marriages but again, attempts at a loose dynastic link between families. Here’s another FAIR article for your reading pleasure. Speaking of 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, the FAIR author tells us that “polygamous marriages often had other purposes than procreation—one such purpose was likely to tie faithful families together, and this seems to have been a purpose of Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of a faithful Apostle.”

One question begs to be answered. If these sealings were indeed nothing more than religious association, why did Joseph keep the marriages hidden from the public and, more importantly, from his own wife? The apologists’ responses to this and the previous problem show that they are grasping at straws in attempt to justify some pretty reprehensible behavior.

JLO: Widespread use of church funds to enrich church leaders, from the days of the Kirtland Safety Society to Brigham Young and beyond.

Apologist response: This one isn’t dealt with much, other than the perennial assertion that the Kirtland Bank was completely above board. Even if that were true, I’m talking about the systematic use of church funds by church leaders for nonreligious purposes. As I mentioned, when Brigham Young died in his luxurious mansion in Salt Lake, his estate was worth $1.5 million, an astronomical amount in 1877, of which over one million dollars was borrowed from church funds. The only time I’ve heard anyone respond to this is to say that we shouldn’t judge Brigham Young by today’s accounting standards.

JLO: The Mountain Meadows Massacre.

Apologist response: It was an isolated event and was not really anyone’s fault, least of all church leaders’. In a BYU article, BYU president Rex Lee (a descendant of John D. Lee, who was executed for the massacre) said, “Any attempt to recreate the human dynamics that were at work in southern Utah in the fall of 1857 can only leave us bewildered as to how rational human beings at any time, in any place, under any circumstances could have permitted such a tragedy to occur.”

Note how curiously disembodied it all seems. It isn’t that people did something horrible; no, they merely permitted a tragedy.

JLO: Racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Apologist response: Most critics I know have merely asserted that the church is not doctrinally racist, sexist, or homophobic, but that its leaders’ teachings reflected the attitudes of the times they lived in. From another FAIR article: “From our perspective—as ‘enlightened’ people of the early twenty-first century—virtually everyone in America up until the last few decades held grossly racist beliefs, prophets and other LDS leaders included.”

I’m sorry, but “everyone else was like that, too” is not an excuse for a church that believes itself in constant communication with God. I’m sure the folks with scarred genitals from BYU electroshock feel better knowing that their suffering was just a product of cultural ignorance.

JLO: Most of all, the church’s pattern of hiding all of these things. If you grew up Mormon, you were never told any of these things.

Apologist response: It’s not the church’s job to air its dirty laundry. And besides, all of the information is freely available to those who put in the effort. Those who don’t are just lazy.

This is probably the response that bothers me the most. Growing up, we were told to avoid “anti-Mormon” literature like the plague. Don’t stray from the manual, we were told. Mark Hofmann made a lot of money off the church because of its need for secrecy. When I worked for the church, certain authors were blacklisted from church publications, and certain topics were off-limits. Yet people like Daniel Peterson insist that the church does not hide the truth and does not discourage its members from doing their homework; in fact, he seems to have made a living by sneering at those of us who have studied church history and have found it horrifying.

In the end, that’s how I feel about Mormonism: horrified. I believed it first because I bought the line out of Salt Lake; when I could no longer believe the official history, I rationalized for many years that we still had something “true” and something of value.

I am not sure why it took me 40 years to figure out I was wrong.

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4 Responses to Answers to Gospel Questions (from JLO)

  1. mcjathan says:

    Runtu, will you please provide a link to your “ten reasons why I can’t be a Mormon” page? I want to read the page and the “strange response” that you refer to.

    BTW, I usually lurk (serious time constraints) instead of posting much. However, I always enjoy reading your posting on RFM and MDB.

  2. jr says:

    Hey Run,
    What is your source that Isaiah postdates the Babylonian exile? I’m not doubting you, I would just like to do more research on the matter.
    Thanks

  3. runtu says:

    jr,

    Not Isaiah, just deutero-Isaiah, which comprises Isaiah chapters 40-55, generally speaking. Those chapters postdate the exile, and they are quoted extensively in the Book of Mormon. Given that Lehi is supposed to have left Jerusalem before the exile, those chapters of Isaiah should not have been on the brass plates and thus would not have been available to the Nephites.

    Look it up. 🙂

  4. jr says:

    Gotcha, thanks!

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