Mormon Doubt Part 2: Two Recent Approaches to Reaching Out

The splash of the Hans Mattsson story has occluded what I think is a more significant story about continuing efforts to assist those Mormons who feel alienated from the LDS Church. The story of a former Church leader questioning his faith is remarkable. Many can identify with this struggle, but the fact that a leader can experience these issues lends some legitimacy to the process. They can also identify powerfully with Mattsson’s experience of a Church grappling with his unbelief. For many, including Mattsson, that engagement with the Church is emotionally devastating. The problem for the LDS Church is that such negative reactions can continue to cost the Church long after a member has decided to stay or leave. Lost enthusiasm and, in some cases, enduring, embittered opposition to the Church are not beneficial to the LDS community.

In 2010, seventies Marlin K. Jensen and Erich W. Kopischke and Church historian Richard Turley traveled to Sweden to meet with Hans Mattsson and a small number of other struggling Mormons (twenty-five is the reported number). Elder Jensen framed these Mormons’ conundrum as a stark choice between hearkening to God or Satan. However theologically sound the approach, it seems to have backfired, because some of the Swedes retorted that their bad feelings about certain items of Church history might suggest that the Church itself was on the wrong side of the issue. In other words, the strategy of creating a stark dilemma for the Swedes framed the relationship between the speakers and the audience as oppositional from the outset. The meeting again ended on this note, when Elder Kopischke reportedly presented the Swedes with the choice of reconciling with the Church or leaving it. A handful, roughly 20% of the attendees, decided to leave that very day.

The good news is that this occurred three years ago. Even better is the news that, as far as we know, no other meetings of this kind have taken place. Yet the outreach effort continues on a basis that I think is far superior to the Swedish gathering. Terryl and Fiona Givens and Richard Bushman have been speaking at various meetings in Europe and North America to Mormons who are struggling with their religion. I was able to attend the meeting in Provo, Utah on July 6, so I can offer my perspective of this meeting as one who witnessed it first hand and also offer my comparison of this effort with the Swedish meeting. The results of this comparison are good news for Mormons who struggle with their faith, in my opinion.

First, I will offer my opinion on what went wrong in Sweden. I admit that I have limited information about the Swedish event, and so my view needs to be evaluated with that understanding. I am not a Church leader. I have no special spiritual insight into the Swedish situation, and I am not playing Monday morning quarterback where it is not my place to do so. I am a historian, and so I offer my impressions from a historian’s perspective.

I believe that the Church’s discovery of a group of five to six hundred Swedes discussing their problems with the faith triggered a “last days” script in the minds of those Church representatives who sought to help the Swedes. This number of struggling Mormons is rather remarkable in a country with roughly 9,500 members. The emotion behind the Church’s response is also suggested by the name given to the operation: The Swedish Rescue. This name conjures up visions of catastrophe-response similar to the small armies of LDS volunteers who appear to help after a hurricane or flood. If we imagine deeply concerned General Authorities flying to Sweden to rescue the souls of its members from spiritual catastrophe, then I think we can understand how the Swedish meeting came to be. Twenty-five key members of the group of “doubters” were isolated and presented with a stark choice (stay or go) so that their negative impact on the larger group could be neutralized. That stark choice seems to reflect apocalyptic scenarios in the Biblical book of Revelation. Regardless of the success or failure of the Swedish meeting, the information that was leaked did little to help the Church in its efforts to help struggling members or appear sober before the wider world.

Since that time, Terryl and Fiona Givens and Richard Bushman, respected academics and scholars of Mormonism, have toured in Europe and North America to meet with struggling Mormons in quite different circumstances. I think it is fair to say that a sense of concern similar to the one behind the Swedish Rescue has motivated this effort, yet there are important differences that promise to bring greater success to the meetings featuring the Givenses and Bushman.

Now I will embark on a comparison of the Swedish meeting and these other gatherings. Since I raised the topic of names, this will be the first point of comparison. As mentioned above, the name “Swedish Rescue” has been applied to the efforts to help struggling Mormons in Sweden. This name conjures images of disaster and last-days trials, which may or may not be fitting to the Swedish circumstance, but may have helped to shape the nature of the Church’s response to the crisis. Terryl and Fiona Givens have dubbed their firesides, “The Crucible of Doubt.” This name validates the process of questioning and the people who engage in that process. Critics of the LDS Church may complain that it presents only one valid outcome for the process, namely, strengthened faith, but I see this script as vastly superior to one in which the world stands on the precipice and doubters must shape up or be cast into the fire. And, in my experience, the Givenses do depict doubt as a natural part of religious life, which can have a positive outcome. At the very least this is a salutary effort at reversing the stigma attached to doubt in the Mormon community.

Another important difference between the efforts of Bushman and the Givenses and the Swedish meeting is the absence of General Authorities from the former. Again, those inclined to find fault will attribute that absence to the inability of the Church leaders to come up with satisfactory answers. In this regard, I think there are a few things to keep in mind. First, LDS leaders are first and foremost witnesses of Christ, not apologists or historians. They are also required to manage the daily operations of a worldwide church organization. They do not have time to become experts on all things Mormon. If the outcome of the Swedish meeting made anything clear, it was the possible finality of the interaction between Church leader and member within this context. Lacking the same mission and responsibility, a Bushman or Givens can engage in a discussion about doubts without exercising the role of ecclesiastical judge. The presence of a judge can in any case chill a productive conversation.

I have not attended the “Crucible of Doubt” meetings, so I cannot speak authoritatively regarding all of these events, but the Provo meeting was explicitly aimed at Mormons who were looking for a way to reconcile with the LDS Church. The audience members were also told that the session would not be a debate. Richard Bushman, Fiona Givens, and finally Terryl Givens spoke for forty minutes apiece, sharing their views on topics like struggles with faith, dealing with historical problems, and the distinctive and attractive elements of the Mormon gospel. The speakers took questions, but at no point did either the questioners or the speakers become contentious or hostile to each other. Even a cursory comparison with the Swedish meeting reveals a comparatively higher level of tension between Church representatives and participants in the latter.

Perhaps the highlight of the Provo meeting was Fiona Givens’ talk. Her material showed rich engagement with Mormonism, but it did not have the same airy academic sensibility and polish of the other two presentations. Sister Givens instead put a very human face on what it means to be Mormon and to doubt, partly because she acknowledged her own past struggles. She was also refreshingly frank and unguarded, and I got the sense that her words ruffled feathers on both sides. For some Mormon feminists I think she may have been insufficiently committed to their own ideas of women’s equality in the Church. For her speaking companions she may have been a little too seemingly heterodox at times. For these reasons, I found her contributions to be the most satisfying of all. It is the genuineness, generosity, and warmth of Sister Givens that represents some of the best of what it means to be part of the Mormon community.

I am not sure how successful this new breed of outreach will be in the short term. Many of the people I encountered at the Provo meeting were hanging onto Mormonism by their fingernails, and I heard a handful of dissatisfied comments regarding the lack of “real answers.” For me the significance of the meeting is not in the presence or absence of answers, but in the ecclesiastical effort to engage people who struggle in a way that does not cast the struggling member in the theological role of sinner or near-goner. Bushman and the Givenses have chosen a positive theological framework for the wrestle with doubt and questions, and they seem to be trying to prod the strugglers into a more active mode in that struggle. Terryl Givens in particular discussed the struggler’s need to own his or her own Mormonism. “You are the Church,” he said at one point. His approach is arguably compatible with David Knowlton’s discussion of community versus Correlation, which was mentioned in my last post.

Without discussing the pros and cons of Correlation, I think it is fair to say that Mormonism has not been free of the influence of corporate consumer capitalism. How could it be? For better or worse, this is the world in which the LDS Church participates at this juncture in its history. According to the dominant cultural script, Mormonism becomes a product and members are its consumers. A dissatisfied customer complains to corporate headquarters with the expectation of a satisfactory response. Otherwise the customer may take her or his business elsewhere.

Furthermore, in the missionary discussions and videos of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the LDS Church pitched itself as the organization that had the answers to your questions. That message impacted both investigator and missionary alike.

Is it surprising, then, that members of the generation that presented or accepted the Church of Answers should be dissatisfied by the lack of adequate answers to its questions? In a relationship that too often gets lumped in with the interactions between consumers with any other corporation, should one not expect that the consumer’s tools of power have become the member’s way of responding to Church Headquarters?

If we look closely at the language and strategies of struggling Mormons, it is hard not to notice the consumer’s experience translated into the religious sphere. Struggling members openly speak about withholding tithing, paying tithing in fast offerings, taking a “cafeteria” approach to doctrine, and similar strategies that reveal a relationship with the LDS Church more akin to that of a dissatisfied customer than a member of a community of covenant. On its side, the Church has increasingly presented itself as the sole source of authorized ordinances, and thus the commodification of Mormonism continues.

Givens’ position in particular takes aim at this problem in that he tries to disabuse Mormons of the perception that the Church is an external entity with which the individual member has a primarily passive relationship. When it comes to answers, such an approach may mitigate the harm that is caused by the assumption that in some hidden sanctum of the Church Office Building there is a trove of satisfying, authoritative answers to the deeper conundrums of the faith. Re-contextualizing faith struggles in this way is helpful because the resolution of a faith crisis usually results from the member’s own shift in perspective, not from answers offered by the Church. The Church may facilitate the journey to that resolution, but the Church cannot bring about such a transformation for the member. I do not write this in order to invalidate the decisions of those who leave, but to suggest that ultimately the Church has to find a way to empower its members to make the best decisions for themselves instead of propagating the false expectation of being able to solve the problem, one way or the other. I think that Terryl Givens is onto something important.


Comments

Mormon Doubt Part 2: Two Recent Approaches to Reaching Out — 144 Comments

  1. Nice discussion, Trevor. It does seem important to examine “the assumption that in some hidden sanctum of the Church Office Building there is a trove of satisfying, authoritative answers to the deeper conundrums of the faith.” Follow-up questions might include: What kind of answer are you looking for or expecting? Perhaps there are other types of questions to be asking? What sort of life do you want to live? If historical facts alone don’t convert people to Mormonism (they don’t), it’s not clear why troubling historical facts alone should deconvert people. Inserting a broader set of questions into the discussion should be helpful to all concerned.

  2. The issues of disaffection are certainly not new throughout the annals of Mormonism. A good question to ask (IMHO), though, is whether there is something going on *now* that is different from past periods of Mormonism’s turbulent history. Now that we are living in the ‘information age’ spurred on especially with the advent of the Internet, I wonder if something is brewing which may eventually have the effect of necessitating a major re-invention of the LDS church in terms of expediency instead of slowly over a long period of time. For example, look how fast Soviet Russia ‘fell’. That was indeed an incredible event; one that I never thought I’d ever see in my life time.

    The era wherein Mark Twain could say, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled,” may be coming to an end.

    But for me personally, the church seemed to be less and less about the ‘Christianity’ of Jesus Christ while becoming more and more about something ‘plastic’ and corporate. This, in tandem with all of the whitewashing of history and even out-right lies in some cases by the general leadership of the church contributed to my disaffection (and among other things, as well).

    Hence, the real bottom line for me was to conclude with absolutely clear convictions free from any guilty feelings that I was doing something wrong in the eyes of God with regard to the fact that I was leaving the fold of the ‘one, true church’. In fact, ever since leaving and then delving into Christianity from non-LDS sources has made me feel so much more of an enlightened and genuinely spiritually minded Christian than I was or could ever have been had I remained active in the Mormon church. And for me, this is a significant statement considering how active and ‘converted’ I once was in the LDS church!

  3. @ Dave- I like your follow-up questions very much. In my opinion, a very thorough discussion of the nature of faith, belief, and the basis upon which one participates in a faith community needs to take place. I once heard a talk given by Religious Studies scholar Huston Smith in which he discussed Christianity as “The Way,” i.e. more as praxis than the acceptance of a body of dogma. To take that idea in a little different direction, one’s faith community provides a place where one can learn and practice ideas and values that provide one’s life a certain direction and meaning. This is not to say that the only way to have meaning is within a faith community, but it does suggest that a faith community is a lot more than the contemporary study of its history. It is a living community. And this leads me to Paul B.’s comment.

    @ Paul B.- I empathize with your position, and I do not use the word “empathize” lightly. My own road has seen a lot of chafing at the corporate side of the LDS Church. As is natural, I have a real nostalgia for aspects of the LDS Church before the mid-’80s-before the three-hour meeting block, before the end of fun local activities, before everything became so homogenized and “correlated.” I used the term “McMormonism” before I recall anyone else using it, but not because of any special insight. The popularity of this term rather says something about its applicability. After stewing with such negative thoughts for some time, I have tried to understand they whys in terms of the Church’s historical development as a 20th and 21st century religious organization. For myself, I see no utility in excusing or blaming where these things are concerned. It happened and the LDS Church is where it is.

    Furthermore, I also identify with your sense of a Church that seems disconnected from Christianity in some ways. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that others feel very differently about that and, to be fair, there is a substantial amount of evidence they can adduce to back up their position. That said, in my own wrestling, I have come to a place where things like the level of reverence for Joseph Smith in the Church strikes me as odd. Like you, I also find much that is rich in the larger Christian tradition. Personally, I am drawn to the spiritual insights of Orthodoxy.

    It sounds like you have decided to take your leave (and I am not challenging that decision), but I think it is possible to live the highest Christian ideals within the LDS fold. At times, however, the person doing so may, depending on their personal views, have to overlook some of those aspects of the current LDS Church that seem to conflict with their individual Christian approach. I am not contesting the Christianity of Mormonism as a religion so much as I am allowing for the possibility that perhaps the LDS Church, like any other Christian Church, is falling short in its own way, and that those who are bothered by the ways in which the LDS Church falls short will have to exercise charity toward their community in order to remain within it.

    The Provo meeting inspired hope in me in regards to such questions. For example, Professor Givens expressed some dissatisfaction with the degree to which people focus on Joseph Smith. Certainly he, of all people, was not denigrating or downplaying the role of Joseph Smith in the Restoration. It sounded to my ears (which are admittedly predisposed to hearing in a certain way) that he was gently expressing reservations about Smitholatry, if you will. Fiona Givens incorporated insights from Julian of Norwich in her talk, partly as a way to illustrate her interpretation of what it means to learn from the “best books.” At the same time, Fiona believes that Mormonism is distinctive and should not sacrifice that distinctiveness to fit in with other Christian traditions.

    The upshot seems to be that Mormonism should be more Christian in a Mormon way rather than Christian in a Protestant way. I think that is both legitimate and desirable, particularly since, from one perspective (and not necessarily a common LDS one), Mormonism is no less valid a reading of Christianity than any other reading of Christianity. As Elder Holland put it–and I paraphrase–no Mormon should feel bad about not being a fourth-century Nicene Christian. I think he is right.

  4. This isn’t an “information age” – it’s a “trivia age.” People really aren’t better informed today than they were in the 1960s. The difference today is that more people than ever have a SHALLOW and superficial knowledge of more topics than ever. People know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be responsible. And this dynamic plays out in spades in the question of Mormon history.

    “OMG, Joseph like totally married a 15 year old! What was he thinking? lol, roflmao! Awesome tweets dude.”

    People aren’t better informed today. They’re just stupid on a broader range of topics than ever. Mark Twain’s remarks apply to our modern time just as well as they applied to his own day. In fact, they apply more to our own time than his – because today people think that because they did a Google search and read a Wikipedia article, they are somehow now experts on whatever the subject of conversation is at the moment. The data overload has made too many in the first world ridiculously overconfident in their own abilities. They think knowing a lot of trivia is the same thing as understanding.

    This isn’t even remotely an age of enlightenment, it’s merely given the stupid the illusion that they are qualified to comment – when in past ages they often deferred to the professionals.

    As for the LDS Church’s approach to history. I liked the Times and Season blog response to this news story. It basically pointed out that when the Church started out – it was a localized regional family and members were surrounded by their history at family gatherings, in the home, and so forth. There wasn’t a lot of need to educate people in the juicy parts of the history because you heard it all at family reunions anyway.

    But when the Church became international and moved out of the Rockies, Correlation became necessary. You had to boil the Gospel down to the essential message to make it easy to teach in Mexico, Germany, Japan, or Romania. But this resulted in a lot of the old history not being talked about. I would agree we are at the point where something more is needed.

  5. @ Seth R. — With all due respect, Seth, I think you are trivializing the more salient aspects of the ‘information age’. It’s a lot more than just perfunctory Google searches leading to “shallow” conclusions. Do you in fact even know something of the history of how the Internet came about and what its initial (and still on-going) purpose was for? I have been using the Internet for research purposes long before Google and Web 2.0 came onto the scene. As a research tool, the Internet is very useful. But it is also apparent, as you suggest, that it has made some people think that they can be assured of anything they glean from the Internet from whatever source, is true and that it makes them feel as if they are expertly knowledgeable about any particular subject. Notwithstanding these types of actors, though, *you* may think that people aren’t better informed today, but I sure as heck know that *I* am. Enough said about this.

    Your take based on some blog article on what the church started out to be is exactly that, i.e., ‘your take’. And there may be some merit to it, but there are also other factors or ‘takes’ that are also germane. What’s really more important to me, though, are not just issues of ‘truth’ (historical or whatever), but also of ‘heart’. What I mean by this is that you are no doubt very entrenched in what you consider to be the truth about Mormonism, just as I am in my entrenchments; at least to some degree this would seem to be a reasonable conjecture. And as for the matters of the heart, in our own respective camps we are probably somewhat on the same page as well. In essence, you are pursuing your path and I am pursuing mine — in truth and with heart. I was once on a different path, which may have been very similar to the one you are on now, but regardless the one I am on now is ‘working’ (for the lack of a better term, perhaps) better than the one I was on in Mormonism. To be sure, I have been Mormonized to the extent that I still — mmm — don’t ‘cling’ to it any longer, but still ‘hang around’ out of interest, and that’s why I read blogs such as these and comment on them. But Mormonism, or ‘the church’ isn’t who I am any more. Having said all of this, I hope you can accept this as being reasonably tenable although it’s not what you choose.

    One of the greatest harms that ‘the church’ does (again, IMHO) is to promulgate, and seemingly encourage, the false and very insensitive and insulting notion that people who leave Mormonism are now in league with the Devil, or are broken, or want to sin, or were offended, etc. When the author of this blog entry states, “I do not write this in order to invalidate the decisions of those who leave, but to suggest that ultimately the Church has to find a way to empower its members to make the best decisions for themselves instead of propagating the false expectation of being able to solve the problem, one way or the other” is a notion that’s, at the very least, heading in the right direction.

    @ Trevor Luke — “The upshot seems to be that Mormonism should be more Christian in a Mormon way rather than Christian in a Protestant way.”

    The ‘upshot’ should be that Mormonism should be more Christian in the Way of Christ — period. Let go of, or at the very least, make attempts to mitigate all ‘isms’ with regard to following after Christ.

    I do like the idea that, “… no Mormon should feel bad about not being a fourth-century Nicene Christian,” but are you suggesting that this is the general message coming from LDS powers that be at all levels? This hasn’t been my experience! Gernerally, though, when you say that, “Mormonism is no less valid a reading of Christianity than any other reading of Christianity,” it’s certainly what the LDS church wants to portray, but when you throw in all of the ‘weirdness’ (again, for the lack of a better term), like Masonic based temple rights, etc. it has the effect of making the Christianity of the New Testament water a little muddy. Sure, Mormonism claims ‘new revelation’, but again, among other things, it’s so-called revelation (and often not even declared as such, but sometimes almost surreptitiously) that continually morphs to suit the zeitgeist and current memes — not just about policy, but also about so-called ‘eternal doctrine’. So that’s why I posed the question about whether there is something going on *now* that is different from past periods of Mormonism’s turbulent history.

    Anyway, I do appreciate, “I empathize with your position, and I do not use the word “empathize” lightly.”

  6. Paul, you’re talking about the elite users of the Internet. People who haven’t used it as a substitute for traditional study and academic grounding.

    They’re a vast minority.

    In my own life, the Internet has enhanced my own study. But in many other ways, it has done me an intellectual disservice. So that’s my experience of it. And the soundbiting of our culture is something pretty well-documented and not just by me.

    The main reason I bring this up is that I think the fantastical narrative among smug secularists of “this is an INFORMATION AGE buddy – people aren’t stupid enough to be in your religion anymore!” is a load of horse manure.

    And it’s also breathtakingly self-important and dismissive of the intellectual power of previous generations. The main thing that drove me to hold this new secularist mythology in contempt was nothing more or less than a study of people long dead, and an appreciation for how brilliant and informed many of them were. Thomas Aquinas, for instance was breathtakingly informed and had real depth of thought on most of the good scholarship available in his day. I’ve never encountered anyone alive today who comes even remotely close to that level of “being informed.”

    But to sit on Dawkins.net – you’d think half the participants there were smarter than he was. After all “he was a total tool” and an “idiot.”

  7. Bah, go ahead and delete that comment #6.

    It’s too combative and irritable in tone. Paul was being nice and reasonable, my answer should have tried better to imitate him.

  8. @ Seth RE: comment #6

    No offence taken. I’m cool with everything you wanted to say.

    For entertainment: With regard to comments that you have come across such as: “this is an INFORMATION AGE buddy – people aren’t stupid enough to be in your religion anymore!” I had a recent comment sent my way (from TBM ‘Lilli’) who said to me, “Christ’s disciples taught this higher ‘Celestial law’, that it is best to not remarry when a spouse dies, but if a person can’t contain themselves, it’s better to live a Terrestrial level and remarry, even though the person loses their Celestial standing, rather then commit adultery and fall to a Telestial level.”

    Compared to this, the rhetoric that Dawkins and his ilk spews may be easier to reconcile!

    But as for Thomas Aquinas, well, that’s certainly someone I would want to have a conversation with. In fact, he can do all the talking and I’ll just shut up and listen.

  9. @ Seth R – I don’t know that I agree with the T&S take on history and Correlation based on your description of it, but I would have to read the piece to evaluate it fairly. Where I might differ is in the relationship between forms of community and forms of information. Was it just the fact that the Church went global that led to all of the layers of community amnesia we see today? I don’t think so. My understanding is that greater access to information is allowing us to see aspects of Mormonism that were long forgotten. Take the influence of Freemasonry on Mormonism as an example. We probably both know of BYU professors whose understanding of that relationship was shaped by historical circumstances that consigned the very real and longstanding relationship between the two communities to a long oblivion. Reed Durham’s paper could not penetrate the veil of forgetfulness. Now, thanks to a handful of scholars of Freemasonry and Mormonism, the history of that relationship is beginning to be told. A similar veil covered polygamy. The reasons for this particular forgetting also cannot be attributed to Correlation and the globalization of Mormonism.

    @ Paul B. – Thank you for the thoughtful response. Your confidence in our ability to find Jesus’ actual way is a matter of faith, of course. I appreciate that, but in the current conversation I am not choosing sides regarding the question of who has found that “way.” When it comes to seeking interfaith understanding, I feel I have to step back and allow room for others to believe that they have found that way, while not imposing my vision on them. That is difficult to do, I would guess, when one has converted away from Mormonism to another form of Christianity. Identifying Mormonism as not Christian in a substantial and decisive way is often part of that conversion process. Therefore, I can’t expect you to think differently, but I also, as a historian, can’t agree with you.

    To explain a little further, I have a low level of confidence regarding the historical accuracy of the Bible regarding the life of Jesus. Furthermore, I think all we can do, in the end, is make up our minds about Jesus on what is, objectively speaking, far too little information. It is faith that draws one to certain conclusions, not history. Faith and interpretation. I grant everyone the respect of assuming that they are guided by their best lights in making these decisions. I trust that you have done the same.

    Finally, on the “weirdness” of Mormonism. I like weirdness. I think it makes things interesting. It may not always be my personal cup of tea, as it were, but I can’t assume that there is something necessarily wrong with the weirdness. I don’t assume that weirdness is incompatible with the best in Christianity, whether that weirdness be Masonic rituals or folk magic. Christians have been doing similar such things since antiquity, and I am not persuaded by those whose own amnesia causes them to insist that such weirdness is obviously Satanic or verboten in some way.

    I am not saying you have to agree or embrace things you are uncomfortable with. But I can’t agree that weirdness is obviously incompatible with Christianity. Weirdness is in fact at the heart of Christianity. It’s found all over the Bible.

  10. I am not totally opposed to ‘weird’, either. Sometimes, though, when I get a sense that a particular ‘weird’ is leading me away or detracts from the truth of a matter, then that’s when I take exception. Of course having said this, the processes for determining ‘the truth of a matter’ can be long and arduous, fraught with twists, turns, detours, etc. And of course, you are well aware of this. But ‘weird’ can be okay because as you say, it can (and does) make life more interesting. In fact, my wife is now an expert on weird — ever since she married me!

    For what it’s worth, as a departure from reading the variety of academic works about Christianity from either a critical or apologetic stance (like the agnostic Bart Ehrman who postures against the divinity of Jesus while still maintaining that He was an actual historical figure), I have been delving more into the modality of ‘Christian contemplation’. You and your readers may find the seminal, fourteenth century anonymous work, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing,’ (not to be confused with Apple computer’s ‘cloud’ that sometimes leaves me ‘not knowing’ where some of my stuff ends up!), and which includes the ‘Book of Privy Counsel’ both translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher, interesting and perhaps complementary to Mormon religious practices. Also, the book ‘Into The Silent Land’ by Martin Laird is a great companion to the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. But what I wanted to say is that while getting more into the practice of Christian contemplation/prayer (and there was a reason for this), I came across a great read entitled, “The Upside-down Kingdom’ by Donald B. Kraybill. It touches on your comment, “I have a low level of confidence regarding the historical accuracy of the Bible regarding the life of Jesus,” and so I mention this because it may be of interest to you. It’s not at all like Ehrman’s works.

  11. Paul,

    Thanks so much for the book recommendations. I am familiar with “The Cloud of Unknowing,” but I was not aware of the other works you mentioned. Based on what you have written here, I wish I knew you in person. I would love to talk with you more about your experience of contemplative Christianity. As someone who regularly reads Evelyn Underhill’s book on Mysticism and books on Athonite monks, I am sure I would enjoy it and learn a great deal from you.

  12. Trevor: If you ever come to south Orange County, CA for whatever reason (assuming you don’t already live around here!), then don’t hesitate in the least to contact me (I’m also assuming you have my email address on your blog registry). It would be great to meet up with you.

    In any event, I’d be interested in whatever thoughts you have to share with regard to the referenced books. I haven’t finished reading all of them thoroughly enough yet, but hopefully that will happen pretty soon (notwithstanding I have some other readings currently in progress).

    I’ll also look into what E. Underhill and the Athonite monks have to say.

    Okay for now.

  13. It’s more than just history and the so-called whitewashing of history by the LDS church that is at issue here. Equally, it’s also about science. Science enters the realm of judgment on the Mormon Scripture, The Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed was translated from an ancient Egyptian Papyri. The Papyri were part of a group of Egyptian burial artifacts that a French explorer, Antonio Sebolo, found when he entered an Egyptian catacomb on June 7, 1831. In 1835, Michael Chandler brought his traveling Egyptian mummy exhibit, along with the ancient Papyri, to the Mormon town of Kirtland, Ohio. Upon examination, Joseph Smith discerned that one of the Egyptian papyrus scrolls contained the writings of Old Testament patriarch Abraham. The Papyri, which were acquired by members of the LDS Church in the 1830s in Kirtland, Ohio, served as the basis for Joseph Smith’s “Book of Abraham,” published in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1842 and later canonized. Following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, his wife Emma retained the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri. These Papyri, which were thought to have been lost in the Chicago fire, were rediscovered by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1967 and recognized as The Papyri from which Joseph Smith created the Book of Abraham, so they were donated to the LDS church. Upon receiving the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Mormon Church elected to share the Papyri with the rest of the world. That was done in terms of publication of photographs of the Papyri by the LDS Church in the Improvement Era, January 1968.

    Science now enters the realm of judgment on the Mormon Scripture, The Book of Abraham, and that judgment is that the actual translations of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri have noting to do with Abraham or what Joseph Smith fabricated as the Book of Abraham. Now, for the first time, the surviving Papyri have been translated into English in their entirety. In analyzing and translating the ancient texts, Robert K. Ritner, foremost American scholar of Egyptology, has determined that they were prepared for deceased men and women in Thebes during the Greco-Roman period. They comprise “The Breathing Permit of Hor,” “The Book of the Dead of Ta-Sherit-Min,” “The Book of the Dead Chapter 125 of Nefer-ir-nebu,” “The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep,” and “The Hypocephalus of Sheshonq,” and have nothing to do with Abraham, Joseph, or a planet called Kolob, as Joseph Smith had claimed.

    Science also enters the realm of judgment on the Kinderhook Plates. Having failed the scientific test of translating the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri when put before him, Joseph Smith, was presented another opportunity to be a Prophet called of God and translate the Kinderhook plates, discovered in Kinderhook, Pike county, Illinois, April 23, 1843. The Mormon Church believed their first Prophet, Joseph Smith, in that he translated the Kinderhook Plates. From the LDS magazine Improvement Era, 1904 issue we find, “The plates were submitted to the Prophet, and speaking of them in his journal, under date of May 1, 1843, he says, recorded in the History of the Church by Joseph Smith, Vol. 5, pp. 372-79, “I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.”

    During the Civil War, the Kinderhook Plates were thought to be apparently lost. In the early 1960′s, M. Wilford Poulson, a faculty member at Brigham Young University, discovered one of the original plates in the Chicago Historical Society Museum; however, it was mislabeled as an original gold plate of the Book of Mormon. Eventually, using the Kinderhook Plates facsimiles found in the History of the Church, the plate was confirmed to be “Plate No. 5.”

    In 1980, permission was obtained to use scientific testing, the destructive methods necessary to accurately determine the plate’s age. The resulting electronic and chemical analyses resolved that the plate was not of ancient origin. Instead, it was produced in the 1800s in a manner exactly as the hoaxer had claimed. Also, further analysis verified that this could not have been a forgery of the Kinderhook Plates, but was in fact one of the actual plates discovered in Kinderhook in 1843.

    To recap, the plates have been verified to have been manufactured in the 1800s. They are not ancient. Their inscriptions are meaningless symbols conceived and invented by hoaxers: they are not letters, words, or linguistic signifiers of any kind.

    Discarding science on these two outcomes relevant to the ancient Egyptian Papyri and the Kinderhook Plates raise several troubling concerns. How could the prophet Joseph Smith claim to have translated The Papyri, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and these invented symbols on the Kinderhook Plates? How can the Egyptian Book of the Dead be canonized as Mormon Scripture and redefined as the Book of Abraham when it has nothing to do with Abraham? Moreover, how can it be true that the made-up symbols on the Kinderhook Plates themselves provide an account of a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as Joseph decreed?

  14. “Discarding science on these two outcomes relevant to the ancient Egyptian Papyri and the Kinderhook Plates raise several troubling concerns.”

    Just for fun, let me put this to you:

    “Troubling concerns” for whom? In fact, why should anyone be troubled? What I am suggesting is that perhaps the idea of ‘troubling’ needs to be qualified. My Catholic cousin wouldn’t be ‘troubled’ didley about this matter even if she was aware of what its significance is to Mormons. And I’m certainly not troubled over the fact that she’s not troubled. Well that’s a ‘duh,’ you would say. Yeah, okay, but you know what? A lot of TBMs don’t care didley either! They, along with expert LDS apologists can always come up with something to explain away these “troubling concerns.” They may say (as some perhaps already have) that the papyri were only used as a catalyst for revelation, or that we still don’t have all of the scrolls JS had in his possession. And with regard to the facsimiles now printed in the PofGP? Well, yeah that’s what these artifacts say *literally*, but again who, with absolute certainty, can counter the fact that JS needed and used these objects only as catalysts for revelation? The Lord knows that the world needs to have these ‘truths’ and this was *a* way He made it possible for JS to ‘reveal’ these to us. The Lord could have used any other means, for that matter, just as John the Baptist said God could raise up seed using common rocks if He wanted to! Man — puny man — with limited understanding and capabilities often needs a ‘medium,’ a ‘tool,’ or some sort of concrete instrument to assist him in doing the work of the Lord. What’s important, is not *how* we got the words of the Lord, but rather *what* the words are saying for our benefit. And the words in the PofGP are indeed marvelous ‘revelation’ (in fact, mostly unique in all of Christendom!) to be used as catalysts and metaphors in order for each of us to receive our own personal revelation as we ponder them.

    And the Kinderhook plates? JS was known to have a wry sense of humor. He was just humoring (‘stringing along’) those he knew were not believer’s in his calling as a prophet. He certainly didn’t think his jocular pronouncement would ever have any sort of major implications in the 21st century with regard to the truthfulness of the restored gospel not being true because of some ridiculous place fabricated by some half-baked, ridiculous men! “Lighten up, folks,” he would say to us today.

    Okay, this is why I don’t think issues like these are not really “troubling concerns,” which are going to make a lot of difference, or at least a significant enough of a difference that would ever cause the Mormon church ever to fail and/or fall. There will always be those (both investigators and current members) who will be open to these tentative explanations. And let’s not forget about, “My country right or wrong; like my mother drunk or sober.” She’s my mother, and I love her. I will always defend my mother! Likewise, it’s my church (my culture, my heritage, etc) and I love it (her). I and will always defend my church!

    See what I am getting at?

  15. John Dehlin of “mormonstories” reports that a good number of people who become disaffected and leave Mormonism also leave Christianity altogether. It suggests that an awakening to more honest, critical thinking about one topic may generalize to other, similar topics.

    Stephen Smoot of FAIR, even as he promotes his DVD (“A most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham”) admits that it would be totally rational to conclude from that evidence that the BOA is purely man-made. By inference, that seemingly would also apply to the BOM and to the Bible as well. What, then, from that “evidence for the divine” figures into the conclusion for divinity if not prior belief? What does that say about the quality of the evidence and the nature of the thinking?

    Still, to me, more strange than the Mormon belief that the BOM and the BOA is the divine word of God is their belief that the Bible is also, whether or not “translated correctly.” In general, I find Bible apologetics not just unpersuasive but dismal. Does Mormon scholarship add anything to general Bible apologetics or are Mormons pretty much dependent on the likes of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel or Wm.Lane Craig? (Or, maybe, C.S.Lewis and his insipid “lord, liar, lunatic” false trilemma?)

    Does Mormonism encourage or indulge true, honest, serious, critical study of the Bible unconnected to an implicit or explicit apologetic exercise? What do they conclude about evidence for the Bible being of “divine authenticity” as opposed to purely man-made? Do the Mormon church even think about it? In the old days, of course, Bruce R. McConkie was quite clear that “higher criticism” was nothing but a speculative, apostate enterprise that concludes on the basis of nothing but “pure imagination.” I’m assuming that within BYU, and tolerated quietly among some members and groups, that’s no longer strictly true(?).

    Concerning the Bible and the claims of Christianity (and Mormon scripture and Mormon claims), it seems that everybody has exactly the same body of evidence. Except, perhaps, what sounds like common, routine “spiritual” or “religious” experiences that are interpreted (why?) as either God or a Ghost. Pretty much the only people who conclude in the affirmative from that evidence are the people who already believe. What, if anything, is wrong with that picture?

    14 years ago in Virginia, an apparently knowledgeable Mormon bishop, unofficially and off the record, told me that church-wide activity for the Mormons was 45-55%. Martinich, whom I understand to be a devout Mormon who takes his studies seriously, reports that Mormon activity is now somewhere between 29-40%. In the mission field, about 20% retention after one year seems to be common, and that doesn’t appear to even relate to the internet and the specific concerns of this thread.

    Is there anything that suggests the Mormons are capable of turning the tide beyond what they’ve already done? Including their shift of missionary emphasis to the developing world where rather profound ignorance of the Bible is endemic?

  16. Hmmmmm? Paul, you say, “He [Smith] was just humoring (‘stringing along’) those he knew were not believer’s in his calling as a prophet.” Why is it then the Church took it seriously? Why did they include them in the History of the Church? Why is it then that the church publication says, “Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.”Ricks, Welby W., “The Kinderhook Plates,” The Improvement Era (September 1962). The following facts don’t seem like humoring (‘stringing along’) as the Church’s publications went out to the world. Why would they be (‘stringing along’) anyone who picked up and read official church publications?

    LDS Publication of The Improvement Era, September 1962

    Welby W. Ricks, president of the BYU Archaeological Society, wrote the following in 1962:
    “A recent discovery of one of the Kinderhook plates which was examined by Joseph Smith, Jun., reaffirms his prophetic calling and reveals the false statements made by one of the finders. …
    [The find] solved a seventy-four-year-old controversy and put the plates back into the category of ‘genuine’ which Joseph Smith, Jun., had said they were in the first place.
    …What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate. This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.”
    Ricks, Welby W., “The Kinderhook Plates,” The Improvement Era (September 1962).

    The LDS magazine Improvement Era, March 1904 issue

    “Certain bell-shaped plates are said to have been discovered in a mound, in the vicinity of Kinderhook, Pike county, Illinois, by Robert Wiley, in 1843, and taken to Joseph Smith. Now, I wish to ask: 1. Were these plates translated by Joseph Smith? 2. If so, what were their contents? 3. Where are they? 4. Are they considered of any value in confirming the Book of Mormon? 5. Is there anything about them in any of the Church works?
    “1 and 2. Near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois-between fifty and sixty miles south and east of Nauvoo-on April 23, 1843, a Mr. Robert Wiley, while excavating a large mound, took from said mound six brass plates of bell shape, fastened by a ring passing through the small end, and fastened with two clasps, and covered with ancient characters. Human bones together with charcoal and ashes were found in the mound, in connection with the plates which evidently had been buried with the person whose bones were discovered. The plates were submitted to the Prophet, and speaking of them in his journal, under date of May 1, 1843, he says: “I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.”

    “3. The plates were later placed in a museum in St. Louis, known as McDowell’s, which was afterwards destroyed by fire, and the plates were lost.

    “4. The event would go very far towards confirming the idea that in very ancient times, there was intercourse between the eastern and western hemispheres; and the statement of the prophet would mean that the remains were Egyptian. The fair implication, also, from the prophet’s words is that this descendant of the Pharaohs possessed a kingdom in the new world; and this circumstance may account for the evidence of a dash of Egyptian civilization in our American antiquities.

    “5. The whole account of the finding of the plates, together with the testimony of eight witnesses, besides Mr. Wiley, who were acquainted with the finding of the relics, as also the statement from the prophet’s history, is found in the Millennial Star, vol. 21: pp. 40-44.” (Improvement Era. Vol. VII. March 1904. No. 5.)

    Paul, and then we have, famed General Authority and Assistant Church Historian B.H. Roberts weighting in, as he believed the Kinderhook Plates to be genuine. In New Witnesses for God by B.H. Roberts, we find B. H. Roberts attacking the credibility of the man who claimed to have forged the plates.

    “Of this presentation of the matter it is only necessary to say that it is a little singular that Mr. Fugate alone out of the three said to be in collusion in perpetrating the fraud should disclose it, and that he should wait from 1843 to 1879-a period of thirty-six years-before doing so, when he and those said to be associated with him had such an excellent opportunity to expose the vain pretensions of the Prophet-if Fugate’s tale be true? For while the statement in the text of the Prophet’s Journal to the effect that the find was genuine, and that he had translated some of the characters and learned certain historical facts concerning the person with whose remains the plates were found, may not have been known at the time to the alleged conspiritors to deceive him, still the editor of the Times and Seasons-John Taylor, the close personal friend of the Prophet-took the find seriously, and expressed at once explicit confidence in an editorial in the Times and Seasons, of May 1st, 1843, that the Prophet could give a translation of the plates. And this attitude the Church, continued to maintain; for in The Prophet, (a Mormon weekly periodical, published in New York) of the 15th of February, 1845, there was published a fac-simile of the Kinderhook plates, together with the Times and Seasons editorial and all the above matter of the text. How easy to have covered Joseph Smith and his followers with ridicule by proclaiming the hoax as soon as they accepted the Kinderhook plates as genuine! Why was it not done? The fact that Fugate’s story was not told until thirty-six years after the event, and that he alone of all those who were connected with the event gives that version of it, is rather strong evidence that his story is the hoax, not the discovery of the plates, nor the engravings upon them.” (New Witnesses for God, p. 63)

    So, no Paul, I do not see what your are getting at?

  17. The idea of doubt and alternative interpretations of Mormonism was a big theme in the presentations at both Sunstone and FAIR this past week. My own portion of the Sunstone panel was on using this blog to pursue two of the “grand fundamental principles of Mormonism”: truth and friendship. I hope that doubt and its acceptance becomes a great part of the discourse at church.

    Great posts, Trevor.

  18. Dale, the debate over the Book of Abraham is too scholarly complex for any of us here to hope to summarize it accurately. And the LDS apologetic responses are not just “explaining away” Paul. They are solid responses based real study of the way ancient documents are formed and handled.

    My experience is that much of the criticism of the Book of Abraham relies on trying to oversimplify the debate on the book down to catchy “gotcha” data points, and soundbites. The critical side, so to speak, relies on keeping the debate simple.

    But in-depth study usually reveals that it simply isn’t that simple, that the scholarship on the Book of Abraham from the critical side has usually been inadequate and partial in nature (hat tip to Christopher Smith and a couple others for reversing this trend) and that the real in-depth treatments usually come from the Mormon side of the debate.

    For the simple reason that objective “outsider” scholars usually aren’t even remotely interested in studying the topic. So when questioned about it, they usually give dismissive throwaway answers that aren’t useful for proving much of anything – one way or the other.

    Anyway, missing scrolls, Egyptology, Kinderhook Plates, Joseph’s own later attempts at studying Egyptian, facsimiles, I’ve read articles on all this stuff – both pro and con sides.

    The best I was able to determine as a purely rational matter is that the entire matter is completely up in the air, with no side having a clear advantage in the debate over the other.

    So people usually end up picking the side they want to see win, and then claiming that side is the “rational” one.

  19. Author, Seth R. says:
    - the debate over the Book of Abraham is too scholarly complex for any of us here to hope to summarize it accurately. And the LDS apologetic responses are not just “explaining away” Paul. They are solid responses based real study of the way ancient documents are formed and handled.
    - My experience is that much of the criticism of the Book of Abraham relies on trying to oversimplify the debate on the book down to catchy “gotcha” data points, and soundbites. The critical side, so to speak, relies on keeping the debate simple.
    -But in-depth study usually reveals that it simply isn’t that simple, that the scholarship on the Book of Abraham from the critical side has usually been inadequate and partial in nature (hat tip to Christopher Smith and a couple others for reversing this trend) and that the real in-depth treatments usually come from the Mormon side of the debate.
    - For the simple reason that objective “outsider” scholars usually aren’t even remotely interested in studying the topic. So when questioned about it, they usually give dismissive throwaway answers that aren’t useful for proving much of anything – one way or the other.
    - Anyway, missing scrolls, Egyptology, Kinderhook Plates, Joseph’s own later attempts at studying Egyptian, facsimiles, I’ve read articles on all this stuff – both pro and con sides.
    - The best I was able to determine as a purely rational matter is that the entire matter is completely up in the air, with no side having a clear advantage in the debate over the other.
    - So people usually end up picking the side they want to see win, and then claiming that side is the “rational” one.

    Dale, *this* is “what I am getting at”!!! And I haven’t yet even broached the affirmations of confirmation with regard to “experiences just too sacred to tell, but I bear solemn testimony that I KNOW the church is true.”

    *This*, too, is “what I am getting at”.

    Hence, (in the key of D Major, please):

    This is the song that never ends,
    It just goes on and on, my friends,
    Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
    And they’ll just keep on singing it, only just because (pause for a big breath, here, and…)
    This is the song that never ends,
    It just goes on and on, my friends….

    Lots of fun, uh!

  20. Paul and Seth,

    At age 13, I left the church because of a bishop’s treatment of me from age 8 until 13. For personal reasons I will not go into details on the internet. When I married my wonderful wife, she wanted to raise our three children with a religious background. She felt the Mormon Church would be good for our family. I said I would give it a try again. I invested over 40 years in Bishoprics, High Councils, and most rewarding Sunday School and Primary teaching callings. I do respect your faith. It is wonderful that you have it. For me I have moved on. Being conned by a hoaxer with fake brass plates (Kinderhook Plates) does not take “Rocket Science” to grasp, unless you are Joseph Smith.

    I know the truth when it is placed before me, and immersion into the fantasy of an hermetically sealed bubble, all in the name of a religious institution, is something I refuse to do when facts prevail.

    I wish you well.

  21. You know Dale, why throw in the insult about me being stupid?

    Am I so dumb to you that I can’t see what “it doesn’t take rocket science to grasp?”

    And if you’re going to say that I’m too invested in the Church to see it clearly, can’t I just turn the same around on you and say you were simply blinded by your own personal grudges?

    Come now Dale, why even play this mind-reading game where we all insult each other to make ourselves feel better about the choices we’ve made? Are you really that insecure?

  22. By the way, FAIR has an excellent little section on the Kinderhook Plates that I encourage you to read directly. And by “read” I do not mean grabbing the cliffnotes version some ex-Mormon posted on some forum trashing the article. The actual article. You can gripe with your friends how blind and stupid it was after you’ve read it.

  23. It doesn’t have to go down like this because none of us can ever fully know about another person’s life, or what he or she has had to go through.

    Seth R.: Like I have told many TBMs, “Stay with it! If it’s working for you and your family then that’s what’s important. If Mormonism is keeping your family together, your kids free of drugs, wanton sexual escapades (and STDs), sober, etc, then there is nothing wrong with that. And if someone suggests, “Yeah, but you are still being duped,” then what I would suggest is to “agree with thine adversary while he is in the way with you.” Agree in the sense by saying, “Yeah, I hear you, but maybe I’m being ‘duped’ by my government as well, but I’m still happy to be living in America with them governing it. Right now things are working out well for me and my family. But if there should ever come a time when it isn’t anymore regardless of whether I’m being ‘duped’ or not, then I’ll make a reassessment.”

    For Dale: I hear and feel for you. There’s a lot of ‘ditto’ in what you have shared. Here’s a poem I wrote a while back when I was ‘having issues’ of my own sort.

    LET IT GO

    Let it go,
    Let it all go;
    There’s better to come — what you come to outgrow.

    Just know what’s important, though:
    What is, what isn’t to keep or let go;
    Then detach, relax cause there’s nothing you owe
    When the hot air starts to blow
    With a:
    “Hey, bro,”
    “It’s this way; you ought to know!”
    Or a:
    “Hey, bro,”
    “You need to keep the status quo!”
    Just blow some back with a nonchalant, “Oh.”
    Sufficient your own life will ebb and flow;
    Sufficient enough only to know
    You’re at the own helm, so…

    Let it go,
    Let it all go;
    There’s better to come — what you come to outgrow.

    - Paul Anthony B.

  24. Paul, that’s so jaded.

    Do you really think I’m just sticking around in this church because it’s benefiting my family and providing me with social perks?

    Seriously?

  25. Seth: Well, for one thing, it’s about being a peacemaker. It’s about respecting other people’s choices in life that differ from our own especially if those choices are of value to them and of no harm to anyone else. It’s about saying (to you), “I don’t have any problem with you being a Mormon, and I’m happy for you. I’m presuming it’s working for you regardless of whether it’s for benefitting your family, or accruing social perks, augmenting your spiritual growth, or for any other reason. And if you want to specifically tell me why you choose to be a Mormon, then I’d be happy to listen to your story. Maybe you’d be interested in listening to mine, as well. And hopefully while we are dialoguing with one another, we will manage to make allowances for some of the more sensitive issues, be them issues that cast a disparaging light upon Mormonism’s ‘truth claims’ or about my beliefs (or unbeliefs). And if you have certain ‘rules’ or limits as for how far you will only go while delving into certain areas or issues (like the temple endowment, or ‘speaking evil’ of your prophet, etc), then I will try my utmost to respect them, and be more circumspect.

    That’s all I’m saying, Seth.

    I am NOT being condescending, and I apologize if I came across like that.

  26. Paul B. I love your poem!!

    As for me, well I’m way past the part in life where I harbor ill will. My problem is that God cursed me with a scientific mind. My mistake . . . it was not a curse . . . it was a blessing, and I will be forever grateful to My Maker, and hope to thank Him personally for a truly wonderful trip though life. You see, I was born into poverty, the son of a coal miner, and thanks to my wonderful mother and my God, who gave me my scientific mind, I crawled out of that hole, even after my 13th birthday without the church in my life (mentioned in an earlier post). So it was my God and my mother who get credit. I have never looked back. Attaining a Ph.D., being honored as one of the top ten engineers for my service to my beloved country and ultimately being inducted into my Alma Mater’s hall of fame was a real trip. Yes, I do have pain in my life some days. I have moved on, but my wife has not. I go to church with her ── we hold hands for most of the service. The first time I saw her I fell in love. And to this day, she is the love of my life, not the church.

    Again, Paul, thank you for your insight. You must be a musician. You have a gift, and on my walk to day I will sing your song. I do have much work to let things go. Working on a marriage is challenging, but with your song and advice, I see the sun getting brighter.

    P.S. I’m not all stuffy scientist. I’m writing a series of young love, high adventure fantasy novels that deal with kids crawling out of a bleak existence to ultimately sit at the council table of the primeval gods, while along their journey, they are stalked by ancient evil . . . lots of fun!

  27. Sounds fun Dale. I probably ought to revive my own interest in fiction writing. Not saying it would ever sell, but I’d still like to write anyway.

    I’m not really a scientific mind myself. My wife fills that role. I tend to be more intuitive in approach to things. For me, I can’t compartmentalize my life and say – “this is my job” and “this is my family” and “this is my church.”

    They’re all really one and the same to me. A package deal, so to speak. I don’t really compartmentalize my love for my wife from my belonging in the LDS faith. No more than I would compartmentalize my love for her from my enjoyment of life, or eating, or my enjoyment of music. It makes no sense for me to do that.

  28. Dale: Thanks for the feedback, and I must say that it’s event you have made great use of your gift(s). Quite the CV. My hat is off to you, sir. And you even may be the next American version of J.K. Rowling!

    “I see the sun getting brighter” — If you want an even better song to brighten up your day, may I suggest, “Keep on the Sunny Side”; I’ve adopted it as sort of my theme song. You may also know it from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou”. Here’s one of my favorite renditions:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvIUYfr4CrM

    Or similar to following the ‘bouncing ball’

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNToRJI_oeg

    Seth R.: Everything is copacetic.

    And I’ll throw my hat in the ‘creative writing’ ring, as well!

  29. Paul, fantastic . . . please throw your hat in the creative writing arena. When you get published, you can clue me in on how to go about that “Up Hill Climb.” I don’t know if it will ever happen for me. I just enjoy writing and it helps me find solitude when I want to drift off into a world of fantasy.

    As far as my CV goes . . . well, that all seems like a distant moment in the past. My claim is that we all have CVs that touch people in some way . . . hopefully for the good. I do appreciate your thoughtfulness on the internet!

    You had shared a poem with me, so I thought, if I may, share one of mine with you. I mentioned that I grew up in a coal camp. Well, my favorite grandmother, Clara, my father’s mother sent five of her beloved boys off to World War II. I would spend hours helping her iron her long prairie dresses when I was a small boy. She shared stories of her sons, my uncles ─ of course they were all positive, and she never really talked about the evils of war, but only “Her Heroes,” that she was so proud of. Wow, what fond memories so long ago. My CV pales compared to my grandmother’s. She was of pioneer Mormon descent and spent her life in a desert with her sons and husband digging for coal. She was a very spiritual lady and did teach me much. In her honor I wrote this ballad:

    Clara’s Heroes
    F. Dale © 2013

    Clutching an envelope
    She stares at the sky
    A pain in her heart
    A tear in her eye
    Her Uncle Sam has five sons on loan
    Which of the five is not coming home?
    Her finger beneath the envelope seal
    Which of the five will the letter reveal?
    The son of a coal miner lies in the surf
    His master has called him to heavenly turf.
    Far away on the Beaches of Normandy
    His body is washed by sands from the sea.
    A Coal miner’s sons from a brave generation
    Went off to war for a grateful nation.

    Searching for answers
    She looks to the sky
    A pain in her heart
    A tear in her eye
    A granite monument in a park does stand
    Listing the names who fought for our land.
    A cannon stands guard both day and night
    While history records each soldier’s last fight.
    A coal miner’s widow stares at the sky
    She didn’t hear her soldier’s last cry.
    Touching the stone with the names of five sons
    A grey-haired lady hears the crack of war guns.
    A Coal miner’s sons from a brave generation
    Went off to war for a grateful nation.
    Walking alone in the misty dark
    Clara searches for brighter skies
    Still with a pain in her heart
    Still with tears in her eyes

    Note: Clara was my Grandmother. Clara’s sons grew up on the battle fields of the coal mines and new the dangers they faced each day. The call to war put them on a different battle front, but they bravely stepped forward, changing their miner’s hat for a soldier’s helmet.

  30. Thanks for the interesting post Trevor Luke.

    I think Given’s approach (that you describe in your final paragraph) to dealing with Mormon doubt will ultimately fail to keep most questioners in the Church. I haven’t read all the comments between Dale, Paul B., and Seth R. but I think their debate illustrates the same fundamental issue. As Paul B. says @15

    |“Troubling concerns” for whom? In fact, why should anyone be troubled?

    As you report, Givens suggests that the resolution of questions comes from re-contextualization, not learning new information. The answer to doubt seems to be to learn how to re-contextualize the troubling concerns so they aren’t troubling any more. At first glance that appears to be an effective way to solve these difficult problems, and a solution that works for smart people like the Givenses and the Bushmans. But I think this approach will ultimately fail for many questioners because it ignores a deeper issue.

    Even before a person looks at and evaluates the available information, the person has an objective and a lens that will affect how they use the information and how they interpret the information. For some people that objective is: how do I resolve these questions in a way that allows me to live happily with my faith? For others, the objective is: what is the truth in regards to these questions, even if it is painful or scary?

    As long as people have these different objectives, we will have these drawn out debates, as we have seen in the comments here, as to what the information means. And as long as people have these different objectives, Given’s approach will work for people in the first category, and will fail miserably for people in the second category. Given’s approach ignores the primary concern for many questioners, if the Church isn’t true, the questioner wants to know.

  31. @ Seth R. comment #19:

    Your reasoning regarding the Book of Abraham’s “scholarly” debate sounds a lot like a person who believes that there is an Evolution vs. Intelligent Design “controversy” as well.

  32. Given’s “re-contextualization” seems, to me, to simply be a way to blunt Occam’s Razor. Re-contextualize doubts by creating ever more complex excuses and rationalizations in order for faith to eke out a space to cling to.

    @ muucavwon, comment #33: I think you nailed it. Great insight.

    >Even before a person looks at and evaluates the available information, the person has an objective and a lens that will affect how they use the information and how they interpret the information. For some people that objective is: how do I resolve these questions in a way that allows me to live happily with my faith? For others, the objective is: what is the truth in regards to these questions, even if it is painful or scary?

    I see the latter as honestly trying to hit the target, they may miss but it’s more about the attempt. The former are shooting the arrow and then drawing the bullseye.

    Which method will make your Heavenly Father more proud?

  33. @ muucavwon: Yes, what you are suggesting about ‘objectives’ is a valid contribution to the issues with regard to ‘doubt’; I like it.

    While reading your comments, and TheNaturalMan’s, what came to mind were these ideas:

    - The dictum (often attributed to Abe Lincoln), “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” may be somewhat apropo, as well. I think some people who have come to certain realizations about their one-time-before hard and fast beliefs, may tend to think this way. Of course the notion of being ‘fooled’ can be especially offensive to those who are in your category #1. Hence, your suggestion presents as being a more effective (intellectually tactful) way to approach the matter.

    - The idea about re-contextualization is exactly what I have maintained in the past. In fact, I once used the term, “the historical contextualization of data’, which made for (I thought at the time) a heady, pedantic idea in an undergrad essay that would impress the prof, although I think I only got a ‘C+’ for that essay — LOL! But re-contextualization is very much tied to the notion that Mormonism has an amazing ability to continually ‘re-invent’ itself. Hence, ‘re-inventing’ and ‘re-contextualizing’ are pretty much in alignment, I would think.

    - The thought about “shooting the arrow and then drawing the bulls eye” is a great analogue, which reminds me of the two different approaches of science and religion. When science proposes a ‘truth’ or at least an approximation to a ‘truth’ (not just an hypothesis), but after more data is gathered, which confronts that pre-supposed ‘truth,’ then a paradigm shift eventually ensues (although usually with displays of obstinacy and other struggles at first). A good example of this is the transition from Euclidian geomentry to Einstein’s ‘General Theory of Relativity’, or from Newtonian science to that of Quantum. And there is the other comparative difference between science and religion in that science gathers and looks at data, then purposes an hypothesis, which is often modified (or abandoned) as new data comes forth. Along the way, as these updated data come to light, they are constantly subject to the scrutiny of peer review, and *every* scientist accepts this as the proper and necessary due process even though it shoots (or shuts!) down some of the original, main proponents at times, or can be costly to their reputations (or pocket books for future funding!). With religion, on the other hand, it first proposes the hypothesis, or just outright declares something as being an immutable ‘truth’ and then seeks to gather any and all data that will support the claim(s). And should anyone attempt to ‘peer review’ any of these data that result in casting a dubious or questioning light with regard to what is being claimed, then especially the ‘powers that be’ (the vested group whose livelihood and reputation is dependant upon said ‘truth’) react with a flurry and the fury of objections, obfuscations, etc, and sometimes vengeance by marginalizing, disenfranchising, and even excommunicating anyone who poses as a threat.

    - As for Occam’s Razor, I have often concluded something along the same line in that: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, etc, then it’s a duck.” In other words, for many examiners and unbiased seekers of truth there is a plethora of very tenable data that would be well within in the bounds of ‘significant’ to conclude with at least some aspects of reasonable doubt that the LDS church is not be what it has always claimed to be. For these examiners and seekers there is just too much questionable historical data, (the non sanitized versions) to think otherwise, rather than to reason (as do many LDS apologists), “Well, it’s possible that it still actually may not be a duck as we understand what a duck is. There are, after all, other animals that have webbed feet and bills. For example, both horses and tapirs have four legs and are odd-toed ungulates!”

    @ Dale: Thanks for sharing, by way of a poetic window, an aspect of your life. I liked “changing their miner’s hat for a soldier’s helmet,” which evokes the imagery of what it must have been like. If you still have access to a lot of good family material — “of pioneer Mormon descent and spent her life in a desert with her sons and husband digging for coal” — then that would make for some very interesting stories!

  34. @ muucavwon – Frankly, I think that the LDS Church, like many religious institutions, but perhaps to a greater degree, is in real trouble. I don’t relish the fact, but I have a difficult time seeing things differently. The crux of the matter, in my view, is this: the predominant philosophies that shape the quest for truth and legitimize its findings are death to religious claims. For the non-religious, this, of course, is wonderful, because the naturalist does not trust the supernaturalist. As one LDS apologist recently put it: planes fly, and men really did land on the moon. And how did that happen?

    The first answer that comes to mind speaks volumes about what really holds respect in our thought world. This is what the advocate of a religious viewpoint is up against. And since modernism has been well inculcated into so many people (even the religious), it may be just a matter of time before the entire world looks like western Europe in terms of religious belief.

    You are right when you note that very few people have the education or perspective of a Bushman or a Givens such that they could “re-contextualize” the claims of Mormonism in order to withstand the challenges of our time. Even among these folks, however, there is much work to do to shift paradigms away from the self-defeating patterns of traditional LDS apologetics. The Mormon intelligentsia have a big problem on their hands. Not only do they face the same problems that other religionists face; they also have the very material and historical claims of Joseph Smith to deal with.

    Now, I don’t believe that this challenge is insurmountable. The problem is that recent efforts suggest that people cling to outmoded and failed apologetic paradigms. This needs to change very quickly, because you can’t sustain a religion entirely through the unawareness of the masses.

  35. I don’t mind that Trevor, but I would certainly mind you implying that my mindset in approaching these issues was “how can I resolve this with my faith” rather than “what is the truth, no matter how scary.”

    Why is it that those who don’t accept faith claims always have to paint the still-faithful as being unobjective, or non-critical in their thought?

    Who is it really that is trying to force the facts to fit their worldview?

    Is it not rather those who decided they no longer believe in Mormonism (or whatever) who are the ones wresting the evidence?

    Just a hypothetical:

    What if someone studied and decided to leave his faith? What if that departure was painful and caused stress with his family and friends, what if he’s still sensitive about it?

    Now imagine that after he’s made his choice to leave faith, new evidence is presented to him throwing into question his conclusions that his former faith was invalid? Suppose the new evidences upsets him greatly because he is frightened he might have seriously screwed up by leaving the faith in the first place?

    Suppose the individual then goes to message-boards of like-minded individuals who – like him – also rejected faith? Suppose he starts trying to find counter-arguments to the new information he found to defend his status as an non-believer. Suppose he mentally marginalizes the arguments the faithful are presenting, tries to find angles to attack them from, tries to find character flaws in the people presenting the information, tries to concoct theories about people being paid to say what they are saying. Or suppose he starts viewing anyone who has faithful views as holding those views for suspect reasons (“they believe because they are working to reconcile it – even in spite of the likelihood that their conclusions are wrong”).

    Now Taylor, who is the one who is compromised? Who is the one who is wresting the data to defend his forgone conclusions?

    I don’t present this what-if to imply anything about anyone here directly.

    But I am saying that the non-believers are completely delusional if they think that their population is any more objective, any less compromised, or free of the need to emotionally defend a position. The ex-Mormon community is every last bit as terrified of their hard-fought conclusions being wrong as the Mormon community is.

    So please – let’s drop the “one group is statistically superior to the other” act. It’s entirely ridiculous.

  36. @Trevor Luke

    I think you have some good insight into the issues the LDS Church faces in light of the legitimacy modern society grants scientific thinking.

    I read Cat’s Cradle a few months ago and was fascinated with the idea that humanity can find great power and meaning in something that is completely false and unprovable. But when it comes to most current religions, it seems like they are stuck in the place where they want their truth claims (that often carry cultural or political impacts) respected in a scientifically minded culture, simply for the reason that the religions provide some benefits for humanity.

    When you say the challenge is surmountable, it sounds like you are saying that if the Church (and its advocates) stop claiming to have all the answers to the hard questions, and instead say “this is what the LDS Church has to offer–take it if you want it”. Such an approach may help to prevent some doubts becoming deal-breakers for Mormons, but I think you’re right that all religion will change significantly in the future.

    @Seth R.

    “Why is it that those who don’t accept faith claims always have to paint the still-faithful as being unobjective, or non-critical in their thought?”

    First of all, you make a blanket statement (always) that skeptics don’t necessarily use to describe all faithful believers. However, in many cases, skeptics do convey that idea because faith claims are almost always untestable and unverifiable. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a need for faith! So the criticism begins not with what the believer believes, but their justification for the belief beyond “I have faith that it is true”. The debate is about sufficient evidence and overcoming personal biases.

    To be objective means that you look at the problem from as many angles as possible, questioning what issues could cause you to come to an incorrect conclusion. To be critical means that you are skeptical of your own conclusions.

    “I am saying that the non-believers are completely delusional if they think that their population is any more objective, any less compromised, or free of the need to emotionally defend a position.”

    Okay Seth R. Let’s start from here. Let’s say one person believes X is true and another person believes X is false. X can be any belief–it could be that aliens exist, that the earth orbits the sun, that Elohim chose Joseph Smith to restore Christ’s Church, that Jehovah is the true name of God, or that people are born gay. Anything. The only thing that matters is that one person adamantly believes it is true and the other person adamantly believes it is false.

    So let’s assume both people are non-objective, non-critical, emotionally defensive, and compromised in their decision-making. But both people want to have their belief match up with the truth. What are some mechanisms, tests, or strategies that the two people can agree upon to filter out the incorrect belief and verify the correct belief?

    This is the question I think we should be asking, because you’re right–everybody has biases that will distort their own perspective.

  37. muucavwon, that’s fair enough.

    Yes, people will have to do their best to come up with objective tests to decide between group A and group B.

    The main problem is that – when you are talking about faith claims, they are a different sort of question than “is Obama’s health plan going to provide adequate medical coverage for Americans or not?”

    Faith claims are – by definition – unverifiable in some sense. Some aspects are verifiable. Like… we could ask if Jews tend to be healthier or something, and try and draw an inference from that. Or, we could ask if Buddhists tend to be more or less depressed than other groups. And a lot of debate about faith is over areas like that which can be verified to some extent (for instance, debates over Mormon depression rates, “lost boys” on the FLDS polygamous compounds, or historical data on how thick Joseph’s “Abraham” scrolls were).

    So it’s certainly not correct to say that the area of religious belief is totally outside the sphere of empirical inquiry.

    But some part of it is.

    Do angels really exist? Is there life after death? Is there a God at all?

    You can’t ultimately establish those questions by empirical means – neither for nor against.

    For instance, I had a debate with an atheist over the problem of evil – the theodicy. He was asserting that the best possible universe would be one were evil was impossible, and since God hadn’t provided it, it showed a crucial deficiency in the Christian notion of God.

    I on the other hand rejected his first premise. I said that the best possible universe was not one were evil was impossible. I claimed that without the possibility of evil, good had no meaning, and ultimately, love itself would be impossible.

    Which of us was right?

    Well, there certainly was no empirical way to test between the two of us. Whether you liked his arguments or mine, was – to large extent – entirely intuitive on the part of the reader. I mean, I could muster some empirical data about totalitarian societies and Orwellian thought-control hypotheticals, and he could muster death tolls, rape stories, and other horrors. But both were rather emotional appeals – almost entirely outside the empirical realm.

    Anyway, these are distinctions that need to be kept clear if religion is to be debated usefully.

  38. @ Seth R. Yes, I think you are completely on the mark. Some aspects of religion are empirically knowable and some things are not empirically knowable. For both categories there seems to be a lot of debate going on.

    Your description of a debate between a believer (you) and an atheist is an interesting case. The atheist holds certain premises for their arguments: if God exists and if God is loving, just, and kind, that God would not allow pain to be inflicted on innocent people. Because pain is infliceted on innocent people, and God is accepted to be loving, just, and kind, God does not exist.

    The believer holds certain premises for their arguments: if God exists, and God wants his children to experience good, He is subject to external laws that dictate one must experience evil to experience good. Because it is hard to conceive how one could recognize good compared to something they had never experienced (evil), God can exist and want his children to experience good.

    Okay, so both sides have made their arguments and how have these arguments helped either person to determine if they are right or wrong? Who’s belief changed? I guess that’s what frustrates me the most about these types of debates. Both people are talking past each other because they haven’t answered the question I posed to you:

    “What are some mechanisms, tests, or strategies that the two people can agree upon to filter out the incorrect belief and verify the correct belief?”

    You agree with me,

    “Yes, people will have to do their best to come up with objective tests to decide between group A and group B.”

    but you don’t give any suggestions of objective tests. Until we (humans who disagree on belief X) agree on what those objective tests are, discussion is useless.

    @all I’m sorry if this discussion has become a threadjack, but I feel this issues underlies a lot of miscommunication or non-communication that happens in comment threads like this. People get into a hefty discussion about BoA and Kinderhook in the middle of this thread, but the discussants haven’t even agreed upon useful strategies to interpret information. Without a common framework, the person who believes X is true keeps believing X is true, while the person who believes X is false keeps believing X is false. I think the starting point should be, “neither of us knows for sure that X is true or false, and we both have biases that would prevent us from seeing that we are wrong. What tools/framework could we use to overcome those biases?” At that point you can have meaningful discussion.

  39. I don’t claim to have the answers to that. But a good start would be for all of us to be very conservative in what we claim our data points are saying. Limited points makes for much more manageable discussion.

  40. I try to keep in mind that I used to think of myself as being an orthodox person, i.e., possessing a sufficient depth of scholarship to always know when I was in the realm of opinion. However, I am no longer sure of that irrespective of opinion and most certainly, scholarship. Or to put it another way: I’m smart enough to know I’m not very bright, otherwise I’d be stupid.

    To be sure, any degree of being labelled ‘stupid’ is a universal pejorative that’s pretty hard to deal with — to maintain a reasonable degree of forbearance. And so this can be a problem when two actors coming from opposite poles ‘who are not smart enough to know that each of them are not very bright’ try to convince one another that one is right, which leaves no alternative other than to declare the other is wrong. Hence, wouldn’t it be better if both thought, on the basis of their respective scholarship, that each knows so much, neither one of them knows anything! This isn’t saying that neither one knows anything at all about something, but rather neither one knows everything about anything.

    Imagine this!

    So, “What are some mechanisms, tests, or strategies that the two people can agree upon to filter out the incorrect belief and verify the correct belief?” First of all, start by trying to mitigate personal biases and anything that would be interpreted as dogmatic arrogance. From there, be accepting of the fact that there is no ‘scientific method’ to establish any truth claims about arcane, mystic notions such as God, the afterlife, or how many angels can stand on the head of pin, let alone one angel giving some kid a set of golden plates written in ‘reformed Egyptian’. Next, most things historical, which includes what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday, is very tenuous to ascertain with absolute certainty. In other words, besides the demonstrated fact based upon numerous studies that human memory has a great propensity for being ‘flawed’ (for the lack of a better term), it follows that there is far more of what we will NEVER know than what we CAN know about many events in history. This doesn’t mean we can’t know anything, while realizing it would be ‘stupid’ to assume we know everything (or most everything, or even sufficiently), but rather striving for empathetic, middle ground understanding of other persons’ stories is probably the most what we can ever hope to achieve in order to know something.

    What I might be suggesting, then, is that even though I am quite sure about what I have come to know with regards to the truth claims of the Mormon church, it’s possible for me to realize that the jury is still out. How can I think thus? Well, we are, after all, (at least I believe I am) what Teilhard de Chardin said in that, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I, as a spiritual being have had some very profound spiritual experiences, which may have, or it’s possible that they may have had some ties to the Mormon belief system. And this can be a quandary, but what has overridden these perplexing aspects or experiences, are a) my serious intellectual suspicions, along with b) many personal experiences within Mormonism, which were very detrimental to my spiritual, mental, and social well-being. For this ‘b’ aspect alone (foregoing my ‘intellectual suspicions’) I stand confident before God that He will not, or in fact cannot condemn me for distancing myself from said ‘church’. This is my personal conviction and the basis for some aspects of peace of heart and mind (soul).

    This is where I stand at the moment, and I can only hope that everything is unfolding as it should.

    Just my thoughts.

  41. @Seth R. “I don’t claim to have the answers to that.” In my view, without an answer to this question all discussion will fail to weed out untrue beliefs even when discussants are more conservative in what they assert the data means or keep the discussion to more limited points.

    @Paul B. I think you give some useful answers. 1) Even though we all feel pretty smart, it’s important to recognize we have blind spots and that we “don’t know everything about anything”. 2) We recognize we all have personal bias and try to mitigate it (though we still need to come up with some mitigation strategies). 3) We reject dogmatism–I would claim that in place of dogmatism, we define a clear set of criteria by which we accept a belief as true. 4) Accept there is no way to prove or disprove beliefs that have no empirical evidence. 5) Most historical data, while empirical, is messy, noisy, and inaccurate.

  42. “3) We reject dogmatism–I would claim that in place of dogmatism, we define a clear set of criteria by which we accept a belief as true.”

    Except that ‘belief’ and ‘true’ (truth, truisms) can be dichotomies. That the earth revolves around the sun and has now been confirmed to be an immutable truth, was at one time just an hypothesis (belief). So, at that time, that belief could have been declared as truth and of course it would have been, however it was still only a belief *at that time*. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that scientists currently can still only hypothesise about (believe), however, these current beliefs may never turn out to be truths, but rather something startlingly erroneous.

    So, herein lies the rub, i.e., at any particular moment we either believe — period, or we know — period. One or the other, or put another way, one can eventually give way to (replace) the other, notwithstanding that a belief may just so happen to be the truth. Hence:

    Ne’er the twain
    Can e’er be the same;
    Though time will tell
    Which survived while the other fell

    Dogmatism (IMHO) is only valid when one actor does in fact know with certainty the truth of a matter, while another actor does not, AND it pertains to something very vital. For example, this situation is ubiquitous in parent – child (teenager!) interactions (conflict!). Don’t I know!

    But with matters of religion, wherein most of the premisses are based upon divine epiphanies, revelations, visitations, ‘the still small voice’, nebulous and controversial history, etc, I don’t think there could ever be a universal consensus at this time. Should the ‘second coming’ actually happen, though, then perhaps “every knee will bend and every tongue confess,” but until then…mmm… (cue Asian Charlie Chan accent): He who wait for fried chicken to fly in mouth, wait looooong time!

  43. It seems to me that the philosophical debate centered on those who retain their faith and those who have lost it can get lost in the never ending circular realm of “Ethos”
    and the use of “What ifs” by those striving for a goal of the argumentative debate to persuade their audience that their ideas are valid, or more valid than someone else’s. I would venture to say this is true, not only for who have lost his faith, but also, I believe it is true for those who have not lost their faith. It’s sad but true. I hold no animosity toward those who have their LDS faith. I admire them. It [faith] is a very personal issue, and I believe should be respected by all, no matter where you stand.

    I see on both sides that in many cases in this debate I’ve noticed the “What if,” issue used as a basis of argument. I pose this as my own experience of the “What if,” issue and why I question its validity: Many years ago as a young boy, an eight grader, I made comment to my teacher when we were studying about the Titanic. I asked, “What if the Titanic had a radar? Would the people enjoying a luxury ride know that fate had just passed them by as the giant ocean liner cruised past the iceberg?” In answer, my teacher then asked me, “Dale, what if the sun died and you remained the only living creature on earth?” As I tried to digest what he had asked me, he, knowing that his first “What if question” was silly did not wait for my answer, but proceeded with a series of more plausible questions, “Dale, what if an asteroid the size of the moon hit the earth and killed every living creature on it?” What if they knew they were dead because of fate? I was dumbfound and did not know what he was getting at. He then asked his final question, “What if the asteroid did not hit the earth, would most people think that fate passed them by?” He then clarified, “Dale, “What ifs” are non answerable questions that do not deal with reality because they have an infinite number of “What if Answers.” For some reason that lesson has stuck with me.

    So what should we do? Well, maybe the approach of using not only Ethos, but using all of Aristotle’s Appeals, which are Ethos as well as Pathos and Logos. It cannot be denied that this has been applied to religious debates for centuries. A few interesting quotes from

    Are There Ethics in the Hebrew Bible?
    By Emeritus Professor Philip Davies
    University Of Sheffield, England
    September 2009

    “I repeatedly hear advocates of religion asserting
    that it is religion that gives humans ethics that bestow value
    on human life. I have rarely heard anything so ridiculous in my life.
    So let’s look at ethics in the (Hebrew) Bible.

    “Ethics is not one of religion’s gifts to humanity, and
    the Bible cannot serve a modern democracy as a moral guide
    unless of course we decide ourselves, on or own ethical principles,
    which bits of it we will follow and which ones we will not.
    Come to think of it, though, isn’t this really what most of
    its believers actually do? So why not come clean and stop
    pretending that our Western culture is built on biblical values:
    for, thank god, it isn’t!”

    I for one would have to question a lot of the Bible when it comes to ethics, here is an example: 1 Samuel 18:25 and 1 Samuel 18:27. Who in their right mind would have such a dowry for their daughters?

    And as a scientist, I believe that Logos is an important part of the discussion at hand, even though I got hammered when I brought this up earlier. I believe the quote was, “… too scholarly complex for any of us here to hope to summarize it accurately.” And I must agree; that that was my fault. My first boss, when I was a very young engineer working on National Security, was in his office as I approached him with a stack of papers at least six inches thick. He asked, “What have you found out, Dale?” I was so excited to show him my analysis of the new ideas on missile guidance that the Navy could use in a new missile that was under design that I raced to his desk and set them in front of him. He never looked at a single page, but politely said, “Dale, put all that stuff on a 3X5 Card that I can understand and dismissed me promptly. That was a lesson.

    Well, this is not a 3X5 Card, but here goes. . . . I shall hope it is in the framework of logical presentation of facts in the “Spirit of Logos.”

    The Kinderhook Plates, according to official Mormon LDS publications:

     Brass Plates were found with a skeleton,

     They were presented to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and he translated them, claiming the skeleton was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt

     The event of finding the Brass Kinderhook plates and Joseph Smith’s translation of them was proclaimed by the LDS Church that this affirms that Joseph Smith is a true prophet and that it was by Devine means by which he translated them and that this goes a long way to affirm also the divinity of the Book of Mormon.

     The LDS Church, after holding onto the entire Kinderhook Plates episode for over a century, admits that it was an undeniable hoax, as affirmed through scientific testing of one of the surviving Kinderhook Plats.

    LDS Publication of The Improvement Era. Vol. VII. March 1904. No. 5.: “Bell-shaped brass plates were discovered in the vicinity of Kinderhook, Pike county, Illinois, by Robert Wiley, in 1843, and taken to Joseph Smith.” . . . Joseph Smith translated the plates, “the Prophet and speaking of them in his journal, under date of May 1, 1843, he says: “I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.”

    The church makes a profound statement in their official Improvement Era, 1904 issue magazine, “The event would go very far towards confirming the idea that in very ancient times, there was intercourse between the eastern and western hemispheres; and the statement of the prophet would mean that the remains were Egyptian. The fair implication, also, from the prophet’s words is that this descendant of the Pharaohs possessed a kingdom in the new world; and this circumstance may account for the evidence of a dash of Egyptian civilization in our American antiquities.”

    LDS Publication of The Improvement Era, September 1962: …What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate. This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.” Ricks, Welby W., “The Kinderhook Plates,”

    LDS Publication of The August Ensign 1981: The article ‘Kinderhook Plates’ by Stanley B. Kimball makes it clear that the plates were a hoax and the plates were likely made in the 19th century. “As a result of these tests, we concluded that the plate owned by the Chicago Historical Society is not of ancient origin. We concluded that the plate was etched with acid; and as Paul Cheesman and other scholars have pointed out, ancient inhabitants would probably have engraved the plates rather than etched them with acid. Secondly, we concluded that the plate was made from a true brass alloy (copper and zinc) typical of the mid-nineteenth century; whereas the “brass” of ancient times was actually bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Furthermore, one would expect an ancient alloy to contain larger amounts of impurities and inclusions than did the alloy tested.”

    I believe Logos in an important part of the debate. The bottom line is that the LDS Church admitted publically that they had been fooled. The Church admitting this hoax is what impressed me. I feel there should be more of this.

    Will the debate at hand reach a summit of unanimous agreement? I think not. My hope is that those who are suffering, and there are many, will find peace. I would hope that the Church would participate in the finding of peace and the healing of broken families, as this is the “Christ Like Approach.”

  44. Dale, I’d like to see some citations for those alleged facts about the Kinderhook matter.

    From my understanding, Joseph attempted a translation out of academic interest in Egyptian, and not claiming any divine power in doing so. Then he dropped the project. The end.

  45. Seth,

    Here are two official Church Publication, and what I hope is that what they [The Church] has published for the world to read is forthright and indeed is the truth. For if not, what are we left with?

    History of the Church by Joseph Smith, Vol. 5, pp. 372-79, ── direct quote ── “Comment of the Prophet on the Kniderhook Plates, ‘I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.’”

    Official Church Magazine, Improvement Era, September 1962, ── direct quote ── “This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well.” Ricks, Welby W., “The Kinderhook Plates,””

    As said, I would hope the LDS Church is forthright in what they publish. I for one take the Church for their word in what they have published in these two references. I would hope they are telling the truth. If not, are we to ignore the Church’s stance on this issue that they held for almost a century and if this is the case, what about other issues? This is our point. For many of us who are struggling with their own faith, it is not the end. We just want answers. We want to know that what we read is true and forthright.

  46. Why does it have to be – they are telling the truth or they are lying?

    Couldn’t they simply be misguided?

    For instance, the first quote you provide is actually secondhand from someone quoting Joseph after the fact. It provides no nuance, no context, and doesn’t indicate whether Joseph changed his mind, what the tone was when he said that, whether what he actually said in person was more ambiguous or not. Nor does it say what happened to Joseph Smith afterward on this topic – namely, he dropped the project entirely without further comment.

    The second is just an author shooting off his own opinion.

    Dale – never attribute to malice what you can simply explain by misunderstanding or incompetence.

  47. I’ve been out of town and am just catching up to this post, but I wanted to push even further Trevor’s point that a crucial part of the effectiveness of the Bushman/Givens/Givens (BGG) meetings is that they are not church officers. No church official could say, “You are the church,” because they are of course standing there in front of you representing the church to you. And I think this is a crucial perspective.

    Many members in crisis may stay or leave primarily based on the degree to which they identify themselves as co-identical with the church rather than as dissatisfied customers or wronged clients. That in itself is no great insight. But I think the way we construct our relationship to the church is, for many of us, very plastic and responsive to recontextualization. The history, institutional discourse, etc., of the church, in their total specificity, could never satisfy most of us. But we own personal, familial, and even community failures in a way we will not own institutional failures. Since they do not speak for the institution, BGG can help members in crisis reexamine distressing issues as failings of their own community rather than of some institution facing opposite. That may seem like a small distinction, but I think it’s often definitive.

    So I agree completely that any official response just reinforces the perception a client/institution relationship. I think any rhetorical posture or discourse that opposes the doubter to the church tends to deepen faith crisis, and that’s implicit in even the most mild and affirming “official” responses to doubt. So “the rescue” will necessarily be a member-to-member effort.

    But to go a step further, the most effective “rescuers” will almost always be (as Trevor found) the Fiona Givenses, those who are as open about their disagreements with and doubts about the church as they are about their faith. I feel badly that members who either do not struggle with doubt/disaffection, or are not comfortable discussing it, are at a disadvantage in these conversations, but they are. But I think everyone who has any kind of complex relationship to the church has something to offer, and that’s most of us, not just those who’ve left and come back. I just loved this recent post by Ronan Head and the FAIR talk by Rosalynde Welch.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/07/29/my-faith-crises/

    http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2013-fair-conference/2013-disenchanted-mormonism

  48. Seth, nowhere in these two official church publications are your claims validated. . . ” secondhand from someone quoting Joseph after the fact. . . . an author shooting off his own opinion?” The History of the Church reference is a direct quote from Joseph Smith.

    And where did this “malice” thing come from? . . .That is a bit direct.

  49. Seth, are you claiming that when the History of the Church by Joseph Smith, Vol. 5, pp. 372-79 publishes a direct quote from Joseph Smith that it is “secondhand from someone quoting Joseph after the fact?”

  50. Carl Griffin said, “No church official could say, “You are the church,” because they are of course standing there in front of you representing the church to you. And I think this is a crucial perspective.” This, along with, “…the most effective “rescuers” will almost always be (as Trevor found) the Fiona Givenses, those who are as open about their disagreements with and doubts about the church as they are about their faith.”

    These comments are indicative of a form of ‘plausible deniability,’ which the LDS’s church top leadership hides behind, and who knows — maybe even finances (FAIR). But they, on an official basis, never step up to the plate to defend the church with regard to these ‘crisis’ issues. Never! In fact, during the last general conference, I think it was Monson who said something to the effect that in order to come to a knowledge of the truth all you need to do is just obey us, your church leaders, and then you will know! In other words, just ‘pay and obey’. But again, they, as an official body have NEVER offered any direct responses that COGENTLY addresses any of the issues in an in-depth manner. In fact ‘lying for the Lord’ is even justifiable.

    This is what many who have left the church couldn’t stomach. This, along with things like the church refusing to release the McClelland letters, nor the Oliver Cowdery journals, the Joseph Smith Papers project being subject to censure, etc. In fact, I’ve recently heard that now the church does not want a mission president to keep a journal, or if he does, it must be turned over to the church. This is hear-say, but would it really be a surprise to you if it was true. It certainly wouldn’t be to me.

    I’m attempting to write in a non-confrontational tone, so I trust it is taken this way.

    But I will re-state what I have suggested before in that despite all of the controversies, we will never completely know with absolute certainty if the LDS church is the ‘one and only’, or something else. However, the church’s nauseating ad eternum ‘milk before meat’, along with ‘lying for the Lord’ ‘put up and shut up’, ‘lock it up in the vault,’ and their propensity for incredible intolerance and fear of any type of critical examination or questioning is deplorable.

  51. Paul, or maybe it’s simply responsible adult organizational behavior.

    Modern American society places far too high a premium on worthless non-contributing prima donnas who break things, insult, alienate, and tear down our societal and human bonds – all under the guise of “being authentic.”

    Authenticity and candor is VASTLY overrated in our culture. And we will pay a terrible price one day for our selfishness.

  52. I also think the extent to which the LDS Church has shut off access to the historical archives is often overstated for rhetorical purposes in the Internet scrum.

    All responsible professional archives limit and restrict public access.

    The question is to what extent the LDS Church archives are any different from any other well-run archive.

    The problem is, that for a lot of church critics, exposure to LDS Church archival practices is often their first exposure to archives – period.

    Which gives them a distinct lack of perspective, and a tendency to blow out of proportion actions and policies which are actually fairly normal.

  53. Paul Anthony, thank you. Well said. What is at stake here are the lives of countless people who are at the center of a storm. I for one would like forthright answers without, as you said, ” nauseating ad eternum ‘milk before meat’, along with ‘lying for the Lord’ ‘put up and shut up’, ‘lock it up in the vault,’ and their propensity for incredible intolerance and fear of any type of critical examination or questioning . . . ”

    I guess we can only hope, as Andy Dufresne on The Shawshank Redemption said to Red, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”

  54. Dale, why is putting out what you consider the key message about yourself automatically “lying” in your book?

  55. Dale said, “All responsible professional archives limit and restrict public access”

    Yes, ‘limit and restrict,’ but not deny access to qualified, credentialed researchers. I challenge you to name one institution, which has any sort of ‘special collections’ that would deny access to such a researcher other than ‘closed,’ secretive ones that ***do not want*** to have anyone do any research for fear of discovering something that could bring information (truths) to light that is not “very useful” (as Boyd Packer stated). Come on Dale, you know this in you heart and mind. Ever since the ‘Camelot days’ of LDS church historians Leonard Arrington and Michael Quinn the door has been, NOT limited or restricted, but rather shut tight as a drum of hazardous material — hazardous to maintaining the status quo of “when the prophet has spoken, the debate (thinking) is over” — just ‘obey and pay’.

    “The problem is, that for a lot of church critics, exposure to LDS Church archival practices is often their first exposure to archives – period” We are not talking about half-baked, church critics, or ‘critics’ period. But as I mentioned, even the most qualified who are just interested in shedding more light for ‘truth’s sake’, are denied access. Again, you know this.

    And with regard to, “Which gives them a distinct lack of perspective, and a tendency to blow out of proportion actions and policies which are actually fairly normal,” uhuh, but of course, just continue to dispense the milk or the Pablum. There can’t possibly be any sort of bona fide researcher with enough integrity or expertise to come to any rational conclusions. Nope. “So ya see, son, there’s no one but us gate keepers that are suppose to know what’s in them there vaults. And that’s the way Jesus wants it. So don’t you worry none; just go about your regular business and forget about all of this ‘other stuff’. It’s not important to your salvation, anyway!”

    As for, “Authenticity and candor is VASTLY overrated in our culture. And we will pay a terrible price one day for our selfishness” Whoa! Dale, do really believe that? I don’t want to come across like I am affronting you, but do you really not consider authenticity and candor to be some of the more vital of all comportments? You would think that, “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” is still a valid dictum in the LDS church, and that said church would do everything to facilitate that ideal. But then again, “some truths are not very useful,” are they.

    Just accept the fact that you *want* (choose) to believe in the Mormon church, and that you *want* (choose) to be ‘guided along’ by your ecclesiastical leaders, that you have no problem raising your arm to the square, bowing your head and saying ‘Yes,” to anything put to you, even at the peril of your own life. And this is okay! You are not a dupe, or naïve, or anything like that. You are a felllow who wants to be a Mormon in an active, supporting sense for your own reasons. That’s all that anyone can really conclude. And anyone who would disparage you for making this choice *for your own life,* is out of line. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be so defensive of your chosen way that you cast aside all reasonable and rational thinking just because some other people have come to different conclusions about your church. It’s still ‘your church’ no matter what anyone says about it, but know when to say sometimes, “Yeah, I hear you, and I can understand why you would think that. But I just don’t have a good answer right now. We can continue to discuss the matter, but not for convincing anyone of anything, but rather to hopefully discover something we never thought of or knew about.”

    Just my thoughts.

  56. Paul, you’re having a hard time keeping respectful again.

    Do I strike you as someone “pushing pablum?” I’m aware of the problem of shallow information in LDS Sunday School.

    I just don’t think it’s any different from any other segment of average American society that’s all. I don’t deny there’s a problem, but I do deny that it’s a uniquely “Mormon” problem or a problem that you don’t find, pretty-much, everywhere else in society.

  57. Paul, Seth said,“All responsible professional archives limit and restrict public access” — 57. Seth R. on August 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm.

    I know I say a lot, but I can’t take credit for this one.

  58. @ Dale: Sorry. Yes, I realized that I had written, “Dale” a bit later after I posted, but it was Seth R. that I was commenting to/about. Thanks for that.

    @Seth R.: “I just don’t think it’s any different from any other segment of average American society that’s all.”

    - I wouldn’t say ‘all’ segments if that’s what you mean by saying “any other segments,” but true enough there are a lot of examples of this sort of thing, and not just in American society, I would suspect. So I would agree that it’s not “a uniquely “Mormon” problem or a problem that you don’t find, pretty-much, everywhere else in society.” Yeah, for sure.

    And about the “Paul, you’re having a hard time keeping respectful again” Oops! Okay, I hear you. Please be assured that all respect for you is fully in tact — “And anyone who would disparage you … is out of line.” I mean that, and would always stand in your defence on this point.

  59. Don’t get the wrong idea of my position.

    A while back in Gospel Doctrine class in my ward, we were discussing Paul’s famous (infamous?) line about milk before meat. The usual lines about how we need to avoid meat (at least implying it) ensued.

    I raised my hand and said:

    “Paul is not speaking approvingly here of drinking milk. He’s simply saying that it’s all the people he’s talking about are capable of digesting. But there is disapproval of this state of needing milk implied in his words. He seems to be saying that if you are still drinking milk – there is something deficient about you, and you need to get over it, and graduate to eating meat. Which he describes as better than just plain milk.”

    Kind of killed the mood in class. But no one really rebutted me either. After all – Paul said it right there.

  60. And from what I understand, there are instances of the LDS archivists restricting access in instances I would most definitely disagree with.

    So again, I’m not being head-in-the-sand about a cultural problem. I’ve been thinking about that problem ever since I read most of Hugh Nibley’s stuff in the late 1990s in undergrad. Nibley was absolutely merciless toward the foibles of popular Mormon culture. He would have been one of the first to decry the misuse of the scriptural passage about milk and meat.

    But I’m not convinced that it all rises to the level of outright sneakiness or dishonesty – either in the lay membership, or in the leadership.

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  62. This has been a good discussion. Like Luke, I am a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of the Givens/Bushman approach which seems to be essentially: “Look, it is time to grow up and realize that the study of history and scripture and so forth is not as straightforward as you thought as a child and it is time to grow up and gain a more mature faith.” It will work for some. I suspect that there is no one size fits all approach.

    My own journey is not going to work for others because my background is philosophy where looking for easy answers is a sure sign that one has not grasped what it at issue and why it is an issue to begin with. I believe that I could explain the evidence related to the Book of Abraham and its relation to the papyri or the Kinderhook plates in a way that is informed, intelligent and faith affirming. However, I don’t believe that I can do so in a way that resolves the issue for everyone or definitively (and it would be foolish to expect that of me or any other significant issue). However, I do not believe that we ought to let pass assertions to the effect that all intelligent people will see it the same way a person who loses faith if they become fully informed, or that folks who are fully informed and maintain faith and even a vibrant connection with the Church as the kingdom of God must be deceptive and dishonest.

    I admit that I am puzzled by folks like Paul B. who does not seem to realize that the very same issues that would make Mormonism questionable apply to the biblical texts and what Jesus may (or may not have) taught. These are issues for may mature faith, for any fully informed (or perhaps the best we can do is “mostly informed”) person.

    I am persuaded that the experience of the LDS Church in the light of history will not be seen in a vacuum as unique or isolated, but part of a much larger trend of a particular generation(s) away from organized religion and toward unbelief and rejecting institutional authority. It is a general trend in the US right now.

    However, it might be that the Givens/Bushman show is the best approach that can be worked at this point. Each person in the end must assess and weigh their own spiritual experiences (or lack thereof), their own sense of the evidence and what we find to be persuasive. The model of folks who have done just that and chosen to remain active and who find themselves believing in light of all of their knowledge and information and experiences is probably one of the most effective ways to show others how to negotiate these issues in a faithful way.

    I must also state that my experience is very different than Paul B’s regarding the place of Christ in Mormon scripture and practice. I attend other congregations from time to time and have even been asked to speak. The LDS scriptures and practice are about as Christocentric as it gets. The exalted nature of Christ is celebrated as much or more than any others.

  63. ” I believe that I could explain the evidence related to the Book of Abraham and its relation to the papyri or the Kinderhook plates in a way that is informed, intelligent and faith affirming. However, I don’t believe that I can do so in a way that resolves the issue for everyone or definitively (and it would be foolish to expect that of me or any other significant issue). However, I do not believe that we ought to let pass assertions to the effect that all intelligent people will see it the same way a person who loses faith if they become fully informed, or that folks who are fully informed and maintain faith and even a vibrant connection with the Church as the kingdom of God must be deceptive and dishonest.”

    Wonderful! Could I quote you on this? It expresses my own thoughts far more eloquently than I could.

  64. Blake, I am puzzled by your comment about “folks like Paul B.” Who are you talking about? . . . when you say these folks do not seem to realize the very same issues that would make Mormonism questionable apply to biblical texts . . . . Your quote, “I admit that I am puzzled by folks like Paul B. who does not seem to realize that the very same issues that would make Mormonism questionable apply to the biblical texts and what Jesus may (or may not have) taught. These are issues for may mature faith, for any fully informed (or perhaps the best we can do is “mostly informed”) person.”

    I submit that many who have left the Mormon Church have a profound religious faith. Could it be that losing faith in the Mormon Church is because of something real and tangible? Could it be something real and tangible like the discovery of the papyrus that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from? . . . Namely:

    It was many thousands of years ago. A man had died and was being buried. His name was “Osiris Hôr.” According to the religious beliefs at that time, he needed a “Breathing Permit” in order to exist in the after life for which he was headed. His funeral was done in proper order and the mummified body of Osiris Hôr was given a papyrus scroll, which included his Breathing Permit. He was placed to rest in a catacomb in Egypt. In 1831, a French explorer, Antonio Sebolo, entered the catacomb where Osiris Hôr was laid to rest and discovered the mummies and papyrus. That papyrus eventually ends up in Joseph Smith’s possession and he [Smith] translates it into LDS scripture, the Book of Abraham.

    Robert Ritner is not an ex-Mormon or anti-Mormon. He is a noted, respected Egyptologist that was simply asked to give his scholarly analysis of the Egyptian papyri. For the first time since the Papyri were made known to the world, a complete translation has been put forth. Ritner utterly rejects Smith’s assertion that Facsimile No. 1 depicted “Abraham” being sacrificed by a wicked Egyptian priest. Ritner says, “Smith’s hopeless translation also turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a waiter, and the black jackal Anubis into a Negro slave.”

    When a curious observer asked the Mormon Church the question, “Why doesn’t the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?” . . . The Church does not directly answer this question, but uses Apologists on the Churches official web site to cover as a non official answer. Even though the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 does not match the text of the Book of Abraham their answer has evolved into, “Just have faith.”

    So there you have it. Osiris Hôr’s breathing permit ends up being translated into LDS scripture by Joseph Smith and we just need faith to accept it.

    I’m curious . . . your comment, “the very same issues that would make Mormonism questionable apply to the biblical texts” . . . is there an analogy where scripture in the “biblical texts” are derived from funeral documents that have nothing to do with the scripture in which they end up?

  65. Oh geez.

    Are we really going to have a knock-down-drag-out over the Book of Abraham controversy?

    Nothing’s been rendered conclusive on either side of that debate. You’re just threadjacking Dale.

  66. Seth, your mean-spirited comments are totally disrespectful:

    “Come now Dale, why even play this mind-reading game where we all insult each other to make ourselves feel better about the choices we’ve made? Are you really that insecure?

    “Dale, why is putting out what you consider the key message about yourself automatically “lying” in your book?”

    “You’re just threadjacking Dale.”

    If you can’t look at things objectively without going into an attack mode, well . .

  67. What? Those comments sound fine to me.

    Surely I said something worse than that in this discussion?

  68. Honestly, compared to SOME of the comments I’ve been responding to in this thread, my own remarks seem almost cuddly by comparison.

  69. Dale: First, I vigorously dispute your characterization of the Book of Abraham and its relation to the papyri. That Jewish writings such as the Testament of Abraham and Apocalypse of Abraham equate Osiris Hor with Abraham and come from the same time period (and possibly even the same place), and since there are arresting parallels between both of these pseudepigraphic works that Joseph Smith did not know about, I believe that your assertions that there is no relation is false. Ritner did not look at how these documents function and how personalities of gods are exchanged for initiates and participants in the court scenes in facsimile #3 (nor would I expect him to). However, I believe that Joseph Smith’s identifications are defensible. Facsimiles 1 and 3 equate Abraham with Osiris and #3 the Horus hawk with the angel of the Lord just as the Testament of Abraham does. It appears to me that Joseph Smith was onto something very important about these papyri from the perspective of the revelations to Abraham and also the temple endowment (of which the Sen Sen Book of Breathings is a form).

    I am not going to school you in NT critical scholarship. If you are unaware of the challenges to historicity of the gospels and most of the epistles attributed to Paul, Peter and John, then it would take too much to bring you up to speed. I suspect that you are already aware of these issues and are just trying to be obstinate. I agree with Seth on that.

  70. I remember watching an extensive YouTube video “debunking” the Book of Abraham featuring extensive interviewing with Ritner.

    I wasn’t particularly impressed with him – mainly because he utterly failed to engage any of the modern scholarship that had been done on the subject from the Mormon side of things.

  71. Blake, You are certainly entitled to your beliefs and faith. I admire you for your convictions. A Nobel Man is one who stands by his convictions.

    The title of this session is, “Mormon Doubt Part 2: Two Recent Approaches to Reaching Out.” Mormon Doubt is something that is growing. Elder Marlin Jensen in Provo 2012 was asked a question, ”Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are “leaving in droves?” a woman asked.” His answer, “We are aware,” said Jensen, according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks. “And I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care,” he said. . . . “My own daughter,” he then added, “has come to me and said, ‘Dad, why didn’t you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?’” . . . “Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now.”

    Many of us have doubt because of the papyri. So back to the subject of the Papyri. For me and countless many others, we look at the Papyri through the lens of Noted Egyptologist and scientists, as they can translate the ancient language of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

    Dr. Ritner is a world renowned Egyptologist, who is respected by his peers. I certainly do not have to defend Dr. Ritner, as his scholarly works in Egyptologist speak for themselves and his integrity is known throughout the world. He is but one of many that have studied the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri.

    It is well known that Facsimile 3 was part of the same scroll as Facsimile 1 because, like the first vignette, it includes the deceased’s name: “Osiris Hôr”.

    Joseph Smith said that figure 5 of Facsimile 3 is, and I quote Joseph Smith, “Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.”

    All anyone has to do to inspect Facsimile 3 is open the Book of Abraham to page 41. The Egyptian hieroglyphics are there, exactly as Joseph Smith drew them on this Facsimile. Non Mormon Egyptologist have translated these hieroglyphics and ALL agree that figure 5 of Facsimile 3 is actually the deceased, Osiris Hôr, wearing the traditional cone of perfumed grease and lotus flower on his head. The figures , Egyptian hieroglyphics, above his hand identify him as “The Osiris Hôr, justified forever”— which is similar to our saying “the late John Doe”, or in this case, “the late Hôr.” Figure 5 has nothing to do with a character named “Shulem” as Joseph claimed.

  72. Dale: I am well aware of the Egyptian papyri having actually studied Egyptian for some time. I do not claim Ritner’s expertise in Egyptology, but I know a immensely more about the Jewish pseudepigrapha and the relationship between Abraham and Osiris in these documents than he does — because I have studied it and I cannot see any evidence that Ritner is even aware of the connection. This is not just about the translation of the of the text on the papryri (and Joseph did not provide any translation of any hieroglyphics and did not attempt to do so and thus your argument is quite beside the point on that issue), but about the relation of the papyri to Abraham and his visions. It just so happens that the Testament of Abraham modeled Abraham’s visions on chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead (a text and chapter closely related to the sen sen book of breathings that Joseph had in in possession). I am well-aware of both the text and translation.

    The Apocalypse of Abraham also uses Egyptian texts of the Book of the Dead at some points and gives a description of Abraham’s visions that are remarkably like those in the Book of Abraham. It is an initiation into heaven and is a type of endowment as well.

    FYI the deceased Osiris is any initiate who is negotiating the after-life as an initiate. It is a stand-in name in these kinds of texts. Thus, Osiris Hor is a place-holder for numerous initiates. Because it is like saying “the late John Doe” it can stand for numerous individuals, and it could refer in that sense to anyone including a person named Shulem or a Jake (thought I admit that the text does not have the name Shulem explicitly) — to know who it was actually referring to one had to know the owner of the text or the deceased for whom it was prepared. Further, that knowledge is very often extra-textual.

    However, Osiris on the throne is identified as Abraham by pseudepigraphic texts that I have noted. One has to look beyond the mere translation to get what the text is really about the same way one does not get the story of Eden if one thinks it is about two folks in a garden which never existed.

    I have looked at the same evidence you have (and apparently some you haven’t considered) and I draw different conclusions than you do. I see possibilities for the text that you do not see either because you don’t know of these possibilities or do not see them as possibilities. If the text of the Book of Abraham were found today without some other indication of its origin, I am very confident scholars would conclude: “written probably about 100 B.C. to 70 A.D. by a person familiar with the text of the Apocalypse of Abraham and the dependence of Abraham’s vision on chapter 125 of the Book of Dead in the Testament of Abraham. Both equate Osiris enthroned (Fac. #1 and #3) with Abraham and use the vignettes from the Book of the Dead to illustrate Abraham’s visions.”

  73. Thanks, Blake.

    You have knowledge in Egyptian culture. Was that your field of study? Although I have a Ph.D. in science and engineering, most assuredly it is not Egyptology. My insight relies on other Egyptologist’s view points. Again, thanks for your insight.

  74. The problem is that the Book of Abraham is not just a problem of Egyptology.

    As such, even the best Egyptologist in the world would be incompetent to authoritatively talk about the Book of Abraham controversy. Because just knowing ancient Egyptian isn’t enough to solve the issue.

    Ritner only knows the Egyptology angle.

    As such, he is not competent to give a final answer on the subject.

  75. Dale, you’re not listening.

    We both just got done telling you that Egypt isn’t the only culture that matters in studying the Book of Abraham.

    The document is a CANAANITE document that just happened to be written in Egyptian.

    As such, the opinion of expert Egyptologists is less important in the matter than you think it is.

  76. You can make cogent inferences or draw parallels about a lot of things from what is a totally (or seemingly so) different premise. For example, there is an inference that the Jesus story is actually a parallel of the ‘real’ story that stems from ancient, pagan lore. See the movie, ‘Zeitgeist” for a full exposé of one example of this. However, after you see the movie, and do some research on your own, you can readily make the determination that the facts and postulations presented in this movie are either patently false or the result of distorted historical facts in order to make things fit together to suit their own agenda. I am not suggesting that the inferences and parallels that you are suggest with regard to the BofA are founded on purposeful distortions and false information, but rather to make mention of the fact that what you are attempting to do in order to validate your belief in the veracity of the BofA, is a common practice.

    There is also the phenomenon of ‘pareidolia’ which is seeing faces of humans or animals in common objects like clouds, rocks, trees, etc. There may be an evolutionary reason for this, but regardless, many of us can relate to it. But of course we don’t actually believe that the face in the tree trunk is a real ‘wood gnome’, but it does invoke some sort of intrigue if the image is especially detailed. In fact JS and his family were very attuned to something like this sort of thing in the sense of magical thinking and certain aspects of folk lore that had direct bearings on the real world. Along with this there was the Rosicrucian and the international hermetic movement that formatively influenced Freemasonry, which JS utilized in the formation of his restoration movement, or as he once put it, “a revolution.” And yet even as time passed and these eighteenth century Masonic themes pertaining to Adamic mysteries, etc, were eventually exposed as a Rosicrucian hoax, they were, nevertheless, important elements in Free Masonry, which in turn had great influence in the creation of Mormon temple endowment ordinances.

    I have a book in my library, that I believe in now out of print, ‘In God’s Image and Likeness: Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Book of Moses’ by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, which is eleven hundred pages of everything and anything that can be construed as being valid in order to corroborate the Book of Moses. In one section, ‘Excursus,’ it examines things like: Lamech’s “Sword Song”; The Legend of the True Cross; William Blake’s “Jerusalem”–A vision of the Kingdom; Adam and Eve in Mozart’s “Magic Flute”; Islamic Perspectives Relating to the Atonement; The People of the Book; Fu Xi and Nü Gua; The Eleusinian Mysteries, and on and on. Now, for those who would very much want to substantiate the truthfulness of the Book of Moses, this tome might be considered a treasure trove of esoteric ‘proofs’ or ‘evidences’. But for those who have no such agenda, this work isn’t really anything more than a scrapbook of eclectic, and often abstruse information, which most certainly could never be considered as ‘direct evidences.’

    So you see, like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it’s all about the lens you choose to use to view and examine most, if not all things, ‘historical’.

  77. Objection Paul.

    I’m not going to let you get away with the assertion that I am the one who is looking to corroborate and support a paradigm, while you are not.

    Bogus.

    You don’t get to be the objective one here.

  78. Paul, I have Bradshaw’s book, too, and you are misconstruing its purpose. It is not meant as “a treasure trove of esoteric proofs,” but as different ways to approach the Book of Moses.

  79. One thing I’ve noticed in dialogue with atheism is how relentlessly reductionistic it is. It can’t talk about anything without making it all about proof.

  80. @Allan
    You most certainly have the right to assess Bradshaw’s book and come to whatever conclusions you want to, just as I, too, have that same right.

    In any event, Bradshaw said, “In selecting arguments and sources to be cited in this book, I have usually tried to err on the side of inclusion, … This approach has inevitably resulted in a work that resembles more an unevenly sifted and sometimes contradictory scrapbook of ideas and sources than a coherent and inerrant ‘guide for the perplexed.’ … Thus, it is with humble cognizance of such limitations that I proffer my mite of commentary, reflections, source translations, [etc] …. In the meantime, as in any such endeavor, the guiding principle in determining the value of the sources and opinions in this book necessarily must be *caveat lector*–let the reader beware!” (pp. 17 – 18)

    @Seth R.
    “I’m not going to let you get away with the assertion…”

    Seth, I would be most disappointed if you were to let me get away with anything, to say nothing about reductionist proofs, or anyting *ad absurdum,* for that matter.

    In this universe vast and aloof
    To humans seeking proof
    I can only suggest
    Mirth and jest
    To appease
    With ease
    A spoof

  81. You do have that same right, naturally, and your interpretation is greatly assisted by selective misreading. I’ve taken the liberty of providing the same quote, but without your ellipsis. “In selecting arguments and sources to be cited in this book, I have usually tried to err on the side of inclusion, thus making these texts more readily available to readers for study, discussion, and comparison of perspectives. This approach has inevitably resulted in a work that resembles more an unevenly sifted and sometimes contradictory scrapbook of ideas and sources than a coherent and inerrant ‘guide for the perplexed.’ In this respect, perhaps, the sole subjective valuation of the worth of the book I am qualified to make is that it tries to be something like the kind of thing I should have liked to have had myself at the beginning of my own study- if only it had been, in addition, written by someone with better credentials in the relevant fields of scholarship than I can claim. Thus, it is with humble cognizance of such limitations that I proffer my mite of commentary, reflections, source translations, cross-references, footnotes, endnotes, bibliographic annotations, references, and indexes- all of which have been lovingly assembled in the hope of assisting readers with their own explorations of the book of Moses. Happily, I can be confident that by future reflection and dialogue among fellow scripture lovers- augmented and confirmed by continuing revelation- will sooner or later identify those instances where limited knowledge and faulty judgment have led me to misinterpret sources or unwisely position the line of inclusion. In the meantime, as in any such endeavor, the guiding principle in determining the value of the sources and opinions in this book necessarily must be *caveat lector*–let the reader beware!” Even given your selective quotation, it is readily apparent that Bradshaw is not talking about proof. For example, have you read the Guide of the Perplexed?

  82. @Allen

    To my way of thinking, your 267 words say the same thing as my 105 (with or without the ellipses), although your assessment of them may differ. If you are of the opinion that I am “misREADING” them, that is a right to which you are entitled (as I previously stated), however, I sincerely hope you are not insinuating that I am engaged in any attempt for the purpose of ‘misLEADING’ anyone. That wouldn’t be apropos to the spirit of this exchange. In other words, we can agree to disagree, but I would ask that you please be sensitive to and aware of not suggesting or eliciting indictments of dishonesty and the like. Also, let me just say that I am not willing to engage in a contest of one-upmanship, or trying to come across as being some sort of ‘sage on the stage’, or dealing with anyone who thinks that he or she is such. I am most definitely not suggesting that you are of that ilk, but rather to let you know that I am principally here to read what other people have to say, with the understanding that they may be interested in reading what I have to, as well. The intention is just a cordial conversation.

    “Even given your selective quotation, it is readily apparent that Bradshaw is not talking about proof. For example, have you read the Guide of the Perplexed?”

    So, overlooking the perceived taint of innuendo with regard to your assertion, “your selective quotation”, I am sure that Bradshaw would never make declarations of having established ‘proofs’ for any of his postulations in the same way as ‘proofs’ are considered in the world of science and mathematics, but let’s ask the question: Why did he write this book? Following his quote of Charles Dickens, “What the Mormons do, seems excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense,” Bradshaw states, “Now at last, as the book of Moses–and the related Book of Abraham–are beginning to receive their due in the spotlight of scholarly scrutiny, they may well PROVE to be among the strongest witnesses of prophetic mission of Joseph Smith (emphasis mine).” Hence, the work is apologetic in scope and purpose that “may well prove” to certain people who read it, that Joseph Smith is what he claimed to be, which were a lot of things and not just a prophet, seer and revelator, e.g., ‘king of the whole earth’, ‘God to this generation’, and of whom, according to Brigham Young, no one gets into the Celestial Kingdom without the permission and approval of Joseph Smith Jr, etc.

    If you mean ‘Guide FOR the Perplexed’ by Moses Maimonides, I have ‘read through’ it, but seemingly oxymoronic statements like “The fourth kind of perfection is the true perfection of man: the possession of the highest , intellectual faculties: the possession of such notions which lead to TRUE metaphysical OPINIONS as regards God (emphasis mine),”, which I actually agree with in principle, might tend to question his academic acumen. Nevertheless, it’s a book that may be of interest to those who want to read about ‘Mutakallemim’ of which “It is to the following effect: — If the Universe had two Gods, it would necessarily occur that the atom — subject to a combination with one or two opposite qualities-either remained without either of them, and that is impossible, or, though being only one atom, included both qualities at the same time, and that is likewise impossible. E.g., whilst one of the two deities determined that one atom or more should be warm, the other deity might determine that the same should be cold: the consequence of the mutual neutralization of the two divine beings would thus be that the atoms would be neither warm nor cold — a contingency which is impossible, because all bodies must combine with one of two opposites; or they would be at the same time both warm and cold. Similarly, it might occur that whilst one of the deities desired that a body be in motion, the other might desire that it be at rest; the body would then be either without motion and rest, or would both move and rest at the same time,” and continues with (emphasis mine), “PROOFS of this kind are founded on the atomic theory contained in the first proposition of the Mutakallemim, on the proposition which refers to the creation of the accidents, and on the proposition that negatives are properties of actual existence and require for their production an agens….” However, I personally don’t have very much inclination to devote a lot of time to it.

  83. Then, as you have read the Guide of the Perplexed (the title can be translated either way), you know that Maimonides’ goal was to provide an authoritative, philosophical approach to revealed scripture, showing the true, esoteric content that only a few could grasp. It is exceptionally dogmatic, and given that Bradshaw explicitly states how his book isn’t meant to function as a modern-day guide, then to claim that he is, and ellide phrases that don’t jive, can you blame me for calling it a misreading?

    As for Maimonides’ academic acumen, being a seminal influence in the development of the Western intellectual world isn’t half-bad for a CV.

    Maimonides was also opposed to Kalam, which he makes clear in the book.

    If you know me, you know that I never go anywhere without a stage. Apparently, neither does Bradshaw, who cites Blake’s Jerusalem in order to lead people to the conclusion that Joseph Smith is king.

  84. “If you know me, you know that I never go anywhere without a stage. Apparently, neither does Bradshaw, who cites Blake’s Jerusalem in order to lead people to the conclusion that Joseph Smith is king.”

    Allen: If I understand you correctly (even if you jest), perhaps this is the major difference between you (Bradshaw, and many others) and me. I do realize how significant JS is to a lot of TBMs in that they will declare him ‘king,’ whereas for me, I will only declare Jesus as such. And it really doesn’t matter whether the title ‘king of kings’ is making reference to other ‘kings’ of any other type of ecclesiastic kingdom, like Mormonism and its ‘king’, minor kings within a singular ‘true’ ecclesiastic kingdom (in the here and now, or the eternities, for that matter), or earthy, political kingdoms. For me, there is only one religious (for the lack of a better term) kingdom and its king–Jesus Christ. And even standing on this position, I still haven’t really come to definite ideation of what He being ‘king’ really means. Having said this, though, I can relate to how you may feel about Joseph Smith Jr. as I too once sang out with some zeal and conviction, “Praise to the man!” and was enthusiastic about the establishment of that ultimate and exclusive ‘New Jerusalem’ gated community in Jackson county, Missouri. But I view things differently now. That’s all, and so, to each their own. And I am still of the opinion that as long as Mormonism ‘works’ (again, for the lack of a better term) for someone, then that’s fine by me, notwithstanding that some of the deleterious aspects of Mormonism might illicit reactions that lead me to making some negative or critical comments. But this is power for the course with almost anything, isn’t it (except, for the course when your wife asks you if she looks “fat in this dress” and she does!). For me, though, Mormonism’s dynamics and dialectics are now just an ‘interest’ (and perhaps an increasingly diminishing one) because for most of my life I was very much an involved, ‘card carrying’ member. However, Mormonism (‘the church’) no longer has anything whatsoever to do with my religiosity or religiousness, although some particulars of the canon are still pertinent.

    And with regard to Maimonides and him being somewhat significant: Sure, *in his day,* but regardless, I really don’t have too much of an interest in these types of philosophical/reglious arcane works anymore. Nevertheless, if this sort of stuff is of interest to you, and there is something that you feel may be of interest for any particular reason to someone else, then I’m always willing to listen and perhaps make comment.

    @Author: WalkerW
    Comment:
    “Going to Utah and participating in Sunstone and FAIR was more spiritual for me than church has been in a long time.”

    If you feel to, I would be interested in hearing more about your experiences with regard to this event, especially the “…was more spiritual for me….”

    What is the relationship between Sunstone and FAIR? I haven’t read a Sunstone publication in a very long time, but have there been some changes? I would have thought they have different agendas.

  85. “If the text of the Book of Abraham were found today without some other indication of its origin, I am very confident scholars would conclude: ‘written probably about 100 B.C. to 70 A.D. by a person familiar with the text of the Apocalypse of Abraham and the dependence of Abraham’s vision on chapter 125 of the Book of Dead in the Testament of Abraham. Both equate Osiris enthroned (Fac. #1 and #3) with Abraham and use the vignettes from the Book of the Dead to illustrate Abraham’s visions.’”

    Without some indication of the text’s origin, it’s unlikely that scholars would conclude anything. It’s incredibly important to know the provenance when studying a historical text, because it’s very easy for a creative thinker to fit any text into a context where it doesn’t really belong. Provenance is the only really reliable antidote to parallelomania.

  86. Yeah Chris, but what if they don’t have any indication of provenance?

    Don’t tell me that never happens in the field of ancient documents.

  87. Chris: It is pretty clear that you are out of your depth here. Pseudepigraphic documents from the Second Temple period and the first centuries of the Christian era rarely have a provenance of the type you think we must have. We find them in translation only in places remote from their origin and authorship. Most are available only in Slavonic and are found in monasteries literally centuries after they were written. Determining their origin, original language and purpose is often very difficult and debated. Except for fragments of the (Ethiopic) Book of Enoch and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (a fragment of the Testament of Naphtali) which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have almost none of the pseudepigrapha in the original languages. So my thought experiment is really main-stream for scholars who in fact determine province as best they can without having a textual provenance or original language of the text. Moreover, there are numerous tests for provenance that have been adopted and it is far from mere parallelomania.

    In fact, scholars had successfully determined the time, place and origin of the Book of Enoch and the Testaments (though debate still remains). All you have to do to get a flavor of this type of study is review the introductions to the texts on Charlesworth’s excellent collection of pseudepigraphic documents. I would add that critical biblical scholarship has been much the same thing to develop all of the primary hypotheses of origin of the various texts found in the biblical records. The Documentary Hypothesis, the theory of Q, the theory of priority of Mark and so forth are all the same kind of inquiry and scholarship.

  88. Blake,

    Finding a Slavonic manuscript in a monastery does give one an indication of its origin. Quite different from, for instance, finding an English-language manuscript in a trunk or on the Internet. Maybe I just took your phrase “some indication of its origin” too literally.

    Anyway, one can draw conclusions about a manuscript’s date and original language from the verbiage it uses, but it’s a somewhat “soft” science, it requires some information about provenance (such as your monastery story) as a starting point, and the experts often disagree widely about its findings. Q and the Documentary Hypothesis are excellent cases in point. With something like the New Testament gospels, there’s a lot to go on: four parallel narratives of considerable length, many manuscripts in many languages, and lots of quotation and commentary by ancient authors. Yet scholars still disagree widely on a range of basic issues concerning the composition and meaning of these documents. The idea that scholars could pick up an English text like the Book of Abraham, absent any information about provenance, and connect it to the first century and the Testament of Abraham, is not realistic. It betrays a basic misunderstanding of how these types of studies are conducted (and of how reliable their conclusions are).

  89. Chris: I do not think you really understand this area of scholarship well. You are right that there is often disagreement and it is difficult to come up with answers that are beyond doubt. What kind of scholarship ever gives us that kind of certainty? What kind of scholarship is not open to disagreement and arguments? The view you suggest here seems to be naïve in extremis. I think that your notion that unless we have some kind of certain answer then the scholarship is just unreliable exposes your basic misunderstanding of these studies.

    The fact that we have Egyptian texts from the first century BCE that Joseph Smith used in relation to the Book of Abraham is not in dispute. The fact that we have two pseudepgraphic texts from first century BCE or CE that rely on Egyptian texts is not in dispute. The fact that these texts based Abraham’s visions on Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead could be disputed, but it is really quite clear — and the scholarly consensus. The fact that there are very similar motifs and even language between the Book of Abraham and TestAbr. and ApAbr. regarding such unusual things as a vision of pre-mortal spirits, the divine council, human sacrifices, and the story of creation leading to the story of Eden is also clear to me. That the Book of Abraham relied on the papyri of the Book of Breathings in a very similar way to illustrate Abraham’s visions of these same things is not in dispute. Knowing that is enough to reach my conclusions in a probabilistic manner.

    I believe that if scholars found the Book of Abraham without knowing where the text came from, they would do the same thing as those who find pseudepigraphic texts in monasteries and among collection of traders and would have little problem reaching the conclusion that it very probably closely related to the Test.Abr and Apoc.Abr. in time and origin.

  90. Blake,

    I’m more familiar with this area of scholarship than you realize. I got my BA in biblical studies and my MA in Christian history; I studied Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; and I’ve engaged in some of this sort of study on my own. I went through a period where I was very interested in gnostic texts and spent a lot of time studying their composition and dating. (Among other things, I was studying the possibility of reading D&C 93′s “Record of John” as a first-century gnostic text. I don’t personally believe that’s the proper context for that text, but it fits reasonably well there and I like to exhaust all avenues of inquiry when I study a text even if I don’t think they’re likely to be fruitful.)

    Anyway, all of that is to say that I know more than you realize about this mode of inquiry, and I feel reasonably certain that the community of scholars would not make the leaps you describe—especially not with any confidence.

  91. Really, the only problem with the Book of Abraham as ancient in origin is that Joseph Smith had to go and poison the well by claiming angels and revelations and stuff. Which is scandalous to the secular mind.

    I find it interesting that no scholar of ancient documents has ever been presented with the Book of Abraham narrative without some anti-Mormon coming along and poisoning the well in the presentation:

    “Hey, Mr. Scholar sir – you know that crackpot Joseph Smith with his thirty wives and claims of visions? Well he says this here scroll is about Abraham and that God told him how to translate it. Pretty crazy huh! Now… what’s your unbiased professional opinion on this?”

    I think some clowns over at RfM or MADB pulled this kind of poison-the-well bit of theater with a bunch of modern Egyptology experts and only managed to find one or two willing to make an unprofessional rant about Joseph Smith and Mormon scholarship. The rest told them politely to stuff it (though they glossed over that inconvenient result in their message board post).

  92. “First century gnostic text.” What first century gnostic texts could you possibly be talking about? Virtually everything we have from the gnostics is from second century or later. I am aware that some scholars claim that there were pre-Christian gnostics, but what texts do we have that you would review? The earliest is probably the Apocryphon of John which dates before 185 CE but almost certainly after 120 CE.

    I stand by my assessment. It is of course the evidence that we have to deal with in the end.

  93. I have been following the conversation. Here’s a thought if I can express it properly: Let’s say that the basic premise would be that the BofA is sacred canon to believing Mormons, and along with this thinking for them it really doesn’t matter too much about the validity of the book, in other words, the BofA is not the basis for their belief that Mormonism is the one, true church. Sure there are debates about it, sure they know about some problems that have arisen with the rediscovery of the papyri and the relationship with hypocephali that Egyptologist can now read, etc., but they still have a ‘spiritual’ witness, or whatever, that the church is true. So, the BofA (and Moses) for a lot of run-of-the-mill believing members–meh…“It’s one of our ‘Standards Works, like the Bible, and that’s fine with me.”

    Okay, this I can understand. What I don’t quite understand, though, is that people who are not believing members, or have any other type of vested interest in the church, AND being that the BofA is supposed to be so unique in content (doctrine), in that if it is even remotely plausible this really is the writings of Abraham or about Abraham in a true sense, then you would think that the secular and religious world’s scholars would be all over this book, just like they are about the The Nag Hammadi Library writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. But clearly this isn’t the case. And so…. Hey, it has to indicate that something is amiss here with regard to the BofA. It’s not like before when there was no scroll; we now have the scroll to examine along side of the actual facsimiles in the PofGP. So again, what gives?

  94. Paul Anthony: Your argument holds no water at all. Do you mean like the Damascus Document or the Zadokite fragment found in 1897 that no one paid attention to until they realized after the DSS were found that it was actually one of the Dead Sea Scrolls even before we found them? The scholarly failure to pay attention has no bearing on the antiquity or genuineness of a document. Nor does the fact that we have discovered a priceless ancient document mean that scholars will “be all over it.”

  95. Paul, you put entirely too much childlike faith in academia and it’s ability to recognize and pursue truth.

    Read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channeled_Scablands

    Back in the 1920s, just about everyone in the geological community thought J. Harlan Betz was a crackpot.

    The history of scientific discovery is full of incidents like this. The new secularist propagandists tend to gloss over them however in their quest to replace an infallible God with an infallible science.

    “Surely if this was true, scientists and archeologist and etc. would have been all over this.”

    Not even close Paul.

  96. “What first century gnostic texts could you possibly be talking about? Virtually everything we have from the gnostics is from second century or later. I am aware that some scholars claim that there were pre-Christian gnostics, but what texts do we have that you would review? The earliest is probably the Apocryphon of John which dates before 185 CE but almost certainly after 120 CE.”

    I didn’t refer to “first century gnostic texts” in the plural. I said I was looking at the possibility of reading D&C 93 as a first-century gnostic text. It’s actually rather hotly debated whether any of the extant gnostic texts date to the first century. Some would say the Gospel of Thomas, some would say the Odes of Solomon. The term “gnostic” is also rather ill-defined, so some authors have argued that Paul was gnostic or at least had gnosticizing tendencies. “Gnosticizing” or “proto-gnostic” would be a better term for how I was looking at interpreting D&C 93. In fact, I think those are the specific terms I used in the paper I wrote on the subject.

    But to get back on subject, the “evidence” is precisely the problem. There simply isn’t any strong evidence for your view, which is why I say scholars would never make the leap you’re claiming they would make. Anyway, that’s about all I have to say on this.

  97. “Really, the only problem with the Book of Abraham as ancient in origin is that Joseph Smith had to go and poison the well by claiming angels and revelations and stuff. Which is scandalous to the secular mind.”

    Um, no.

  98. I’m fine with your take on this comment/question/thought of mine. I realize that there is a lot of antiquity stuff ‘out there,’ and I suppose this isn’t a significant enough ‘one of them’ to make any real splash. And like you said, the well has been poisoned (or tainted) with ‘religion’, and so no one in the secular world wants to be in the academic line to make any substantiations for the truthfulness of the Mormon church, that’s for sure.

    But I was the one to make the 100th comment!!

  99. Chris, you have a good point. Provenance changes it all. Hugo Odeberg found a fascinating, unknown Enoch text in Hebrew, and translated it into German for the benefit of the scholarly world. Gershom Scholem, however, showed that it was actually an anonymous Hebrew translation of an early 18th century missionising text written in German by a German Christian scholar.

    So, while much important material can be preserved in other languages, and in polemic works by opponents of whatever faith (as Lieberman showed in his valuable little book, Shekiin), extreme caution ought to be employed.

  100. @Paul: “If you feel to, I would be interested in hearing more about your experiences with regard to this event, especially the “…was more spiritual for me….”

    What is the relationship between Sunstone and FAIR? I haven’t read a Sunstone publication in a very long time, but have there been some changes? I would have thought they have different agendas.”

    I think you meant this to go on a different post. I’ll comment briefly. There was no relationship between Sunstone and FAIR. I just happened to go to both while I was in Utah.

  101. “Paul Anthony: Your argument holds no water at all. Do you mean like the Damascus Document or the Zadokite fragment found in 1897 that no one paid attention to until they realized after the DSS were found that it was actually one of the Dead Sea Scrolls even before we found them? The scholarly failure to pay attention has no bearing on the antiquity or genuineness of a document.”

    No one paid any attention? News to me. The Zadokite Fragments did recieve scholarly attention since Shechter published them in 1910.

  102. Allen: What text are you talking about? If you have 3 Enoch in mind, then it would be difficult to be more full of ****. But I think that you have 2 Enoch or the Slavonic Enoch in mind. If so, then you are even more off base (if that is possible).

    You are correct that the “Zadokite fragment” was published in 1910 — but no one paid attention to it. Look at the bibliography before 1952 when it was recognized as part of the DSS and before – when there is such a paucity that it speaks for itself.

  103. “Allen: What text are you talking about? If you have 3 Enoch in mind, then it would be difficult to be more full of ****. But I think that you have 2 Enoch or the Slavonic Enoch in mind. If so, then you are even more off base (if that is possible).”

    No, I’ve read 3 Enoch in Hebrew, and 2 Enoch in Slavonic (and served in the same mission as your son). I’m talking about a different text, one which Daniel Abrams explores in a presentation beginning around the 41 minute mark. http://cjs.ucsc.edu/news-events/kabbalah-on-the-margins/

    “You are correct that the “Zadokite fragment” was published in 1910 — but no one paid attention to it. Look at the bibliography before 1952 when it was recognized as part of the DSS and before – when there is such a paucity that it speaks for itself.”

    There is a decent amount of treatment before the discovery of the DSS, but provenance, once again, changed the focus.

  104. “What text are you talking about? If you have 3 Enoch in mind, then it would be difficult to be more full of ****.”

    Not necessary.

    Keep it respectful, guys.

  105. Chris, you don’t happen to have that Gnostic paper, do you? I find D&C very “gnostic,” but only in a certain typological sense.

  106. Allen: Which son? I have two sons who were in Russian speaking missions — though speaking modern Russian would be scant preparation for reading 5th century Slavonic. Do you read old Slavonic? Do you read the Hebrew represented in 3 Enoch?

    BTW I agree with you that provenance is an important indicator. If we have an accurate provenance that is some times decisive. In fact I suggest that non-Mormon scholars hear that a work came from Joseph Smith and that is all that they need to know without even looking at the document. (I think Seth got that part right). I am willing to look beyond that for works that originated with Joseph Smith for obvious reasons –and my experience is that such research is fruitful.

    However, the place of finding manuscripts is not all that there is to determining provenance and my thought experiment about the Book of Abraham parallels the studies regarding provenance for many pseudepigraphic works where knowing where a ms. was located and the language it is found in are often misleading as to time, place and origin of a work.

    Christopher: I don’t know anyone who is doing research now who thinks the Odes of Solomon were a 1st century gnostic work. As I am sure that you are aware, almost no one categorizes the Gospel of Thomas as a 1st century gnostic work — the only evidence that it is gnostic was the mere fact that it was found among the Nag Hammadi codices. This is one text for which scholars are generally agreed that location of finding the ms. tells us very little about its origins or nature.

    In addition, the notion of a “fulness” is well-attested in the quasi-pseudo-Paulines Ephesians and Colossians and does not really indicate gnostic influence — but I am sure that you are aware of that despite the claims made in your post cited by Walker.

  107. Allen: BTW I have enjoyed your blog Calba Savua’s Orchard. We seem to have many interest in common.

  108. Blake, “gnostic” is not a hard and fast category. It’s so ill-defined, in fact, that some scholars have suggested we do away with the term altogether. Depending on how the term is defined, it’s possible to see gnostic tendencies (the term I used in the linked blog post) in the New Testament. (I wouldn’t use your term “gnostic influences,” because in spite of Perkins’s and others’ arguments for pre-Christian gnosticism, I tend to think it’s more a matter of gnosticism and the New Testament texts springing from a Hellenistic-Jewish brew of proto-gnostic ideas than of the New Testament being influenced by a fully developed Jewish gnosticism.) I suspect you are using the term “gnostic” to refer to formal gnostic systems such as the Sethian or Valentinian traditions, whereas I am using it more loosely to refer a general theological zeitgeist that emphasized Platonism, emanationism, salvation through esoteric knowledge, the redeemer myth, return to the pleroma, metaphysical mediators, etc.

    It’s true that the idea of the pleroma appears in the New Testament and is not an exclusively gnostic idea. However, the strong emphasis it receives in Smith’s 1832-33 revelations and its pairing there with emanationism and salvation through knowledge/intelligence has a decidedly gnostic ring.

    Concerning the Odes, I believe Charlesworth placed its composition sometime around 100 A.D., and Jack T. Sanders argued that the current form of the Odes is a Christianized version of a Jewish text that hearkens back to the time of Christianity’s inception. Many other dates have, of course, been proposed. But that was my point: dating such texts is not a hard science.

    Anyway, I’m not sure why you’re being so combative about this. It feels to me as if at some point this conversation stopped being about ideas and started being about who’s more familiar with the literature on biblical scholarship. That’s not a conversation I’m particularly interested in having.

  109. Christopher: I did not mean to appear “combative” — I was seriously interested in what you had in mind. I agree that “gnostic” is a virtually useless label unless first closely defined.

    I agree with Charlesworth’s assessment of the Odes as about 85-90 CE and probably written by a Jewish convert to Christianity from the DSS or loosely affiliated Essenes sects. You are right that this is not “hard science,” as is the case regarding almost all issues involving humans.

    I don’t see “emenationism” in any of Joseph Smith’s works. But there could be some ideas that could be related to gnosticism through a parallelomania type of approach.

    In any event, thanks for the discussion.

  110. The Book of Abraham is written in the ancient language of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Are we to believe that when you literally read the Hieroglyphics, you must supposedly interpret them as not what they [hieroglyphics] say, but what they mean to say, namely, “the relation of the papyri to Abraham and his visions?” This theory begs the question, “Has any noted scholar written a treatise on this account, i.e., Abraham’s visions with regard to the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, that has gone through the peer review process and published in a major professional journal with ultimate acceptance by Theologians and Egyptologists in academia?” Renowned Non-Mormon Egyptologists from around the world, including Dr. Robert Ritner, have unanimously formulated their interpretations of the Papyri discovered in the New York Metropolitan Museum, based on literal interpretations of the Hieroglyphics, as being the “Breathing Permit of Osiris Hôr.” Ritner’s Journal of Near Eastern Studies article “THE BREATHING PERMIT OF HÔR” AMONG THE JOSEPH SMITH PAPYRI” to my knowledge has not been challenged as unsubstantiated. Having over 40 publications in journals that have world wide distribution, I am familiar with the journal publication process and scrutiny by academia.

  111. Blake,

    I’d be interested in hearing your interpretation of Smith’s teaching that Adam “emenated and came down from God.” I’ve toyed with non-emanationist readings of this, but emanationism does seem like the most straightforward way to take it.

    I agree that linking D&C 93 to early Christian gnosticism is a kind of parallelomania. (I’d say the same about linking the Book of Abraham to the Testament of Abraham.) However, as previously mentioned, I felt an obligation to explore all avenues of research—including possible “ancient” readings—as I studied this nineteenth-century text. And I think it was actually a fruitful exercise, because it attuned me to themes in Joseph’s early theology that I think warrant more serious attention than they’ve generally received to date.

  112. Christopher: “I’d be interested in hearing your interpretation of Smith’s teaching that Adam “emanated and came down from God.”

    This is a great question. I think that you are referring to the 27 February 1833 entry in the Kirtland Revelation Book (“he saw the time when Adam his Father was made and he saw that he was in eternity before a grain of dust in the ballance (sic) weighed he saw that he emenated and came down from God he saw what had passed and then was and is present”) and the poetic rendition in the 12 May 1833 Times & Seasons:

    He saw before him all things past
    From end to end, from first and last; . . .
    The place of Adam’s first abode,
    While in the presence of his God . . .
    With God he saw his race began,
    And from him emanated man . . .

    Do I have the sources that you have in mind? I take the term “emanated” to mean simply that humankind has its origin as a “race” in God as creator — as the poetic parallelism suggests. The “in” here should not be taken literally, but poetically to mean that God is the creator of humankind and in God because humankind (generically as a race) was known to God before creation.

    I would then take the revelation given 6 May 1833 (now D&C 93) to be a more precise reflection on these same phrases and ideas. In D&C 93 Truth is “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were and as they are to come” reflecting the 27 March 1833 statement “God saw what had passed and then was and is present.” The statements about creation are reflected in the recognition that “the worlds were made by him through him and of him.” The interesting gloss is “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made neither indeed can be.” I have taken this to mean that God’s knowledge included knowledge of “Man” or the human race (could be substituted for “adam”) — a statement of ideal pre-mortal existence.

    The important point is that the term “emanated” is not used and instead the notion that Man was with God in the beginning is explained in terms of God’s eternal and uncreated intelligence or knowledge of all truth past, present and future: “Ye were also in the beginning with the father (like Christ in terms of this revelation) that which is spirit even the spirit of truth and truth is knowledge of things as they were, and as they are and as they are to come.”

    I acknowledge that there are other ways to read these texts, but that is my best take on it. I do not see the neo-Platonic notion (or a Hindu notion as it were) of emanation in the sense that God is the source. Rather, God’s knowledge of things “to come” included the ideal existence of all humans. The statement that Adam “emanated” from God means no more than that God is the source of Adam as creator as I read it.

  113. To be honest, my time online spent debating with conservative Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, conservative Lutherans and the like has given me the tendency to tune out whenever the word “gnostic” gets thrown around.

    In those circles, the word “gnostic” usually meant “any religion that doesn’t hold to strict fideism, that I don’t like at the moment.”

  114. Interesting, Blake. I actually wasn’t aware of the Evening and Morning Star rendition, which does sound less emanationist. I wonder how involved Smith was in the composition of that poetic rendition. I suspect it was composed by Phelps.

    Anyway, I’m not wedded to an emanationist reading of this, and I agree that “emanated” could just be a fancy term for “created.” The lack of other explicit attestation in Smith’s corpus for such a teaching would tend to argue for a non-technical reading of the term. But I still find the use of the term quite interesting given the context of Smith’s thought at the time, which was in a rather mystical vein. In particular, the statement that the worlds and their inhabitants were made/begotten “by him, through him, and of him” would tend to imply creatio ex Christo (creation out of Christ), especially if this text is read as a careful composition. To quote Philo,

    “To bring anything into being needs all these conjointly, the ‘by which’, the ‘from which’, the ‘through which’, the ‘for which’, and the first of these is the cause, the second the material, the third the tool, and the fourth the end or object… We shall see that [the cause of the universe] is God, by whom it has come into being, its material the four elements, from which it was compounded, its instrument the Word of God, through which it was framed, and the final cause of the building is the goodness of the architect.”

    Read against the backdrop of this “grammar of metaphysics,” D&C 76′s assertion would have to be read as an indication that Christ was not only the instrument of creation, but also its cause and material. Admittedly, if the text is a hasty composition then Smith probably wouldn’t have thought about the meaning or implications of these words before dictating them. And he of course wouldn’t have been familiar with Philo or with classical metaphysics, so he might not have realized what he was saying even if he had thought about the words.

  115. Blake, it was Jacob.

    You are right that modern Russian is not the same as Slavonic, but it shares many features, and because I had decided before my mission that I wanted to learn it, I found some good resources in Orthodox bookstores. I also met some very informed people in our mission, who helped me gain a greater appreciation for the various layers of Slavic languages. The Russian Book of Mormon also contains a fair amount of Slavonicisms, its translator having attended a seminary inbhis youth. By the middle of my mission I was quite comfortable reading the various Russian classics. Of course the Slavonic pseudepigrapha are notoriously difficult, but I have more than a workable grasp, several lexicographical tools, and the insightful help of my Ukrainian wife.

    Glad you enjoyed my blog. Your Abraham paper has actually helped me in my own research into the Book of Abraham.

    I agree that finding manuscripts is not all there is to provenance, but I never claimed that. Trying to locate the intellectual -provenance, however, is a difficult excersize frought with pitfalls, as illustrated by the Odeberg instance. One could also mention the Jewish piyut “Untaneh Tokef,” which was read as reflecting the concerns of Medival German Pietism. Even the traditional sources (who aren’t shy when it comes to positing impossibly early composition dates) attributed it to the medieval figure of R. Amnon of Mainz. Read that way, the piyut was a very good reflection of medieval pietist concerns. Hardly surprising, given its popularity. There was little in it to suggest early origins and no reason to read it that way, until the findings of the Cairo Genizah upset all that. Manuscripts from a different region, predating R. Amnon (if he ever existed), required a rather different reading. My point is that dating things like the BoA (if we dismiss the 19th century setting entirely out of hand) is not at all straight-forward. That is essentially Chris’s point, too, I think.

  116. Thanks, Allen. That’s quite useful. In addition to the texts we have already cited, Givens points to the 1832 “Sample of the Pure Language,” wherein human beings are said to be “the greatest parts of Awman [i.e., God].” He also notes that Parley P. Pratt in 1838 interpreted these revelations in an emanationist sense: “the redeemed . . . return to the fountain, and become part of the great all, from which they emanated.” Pratt probably shouldn’t be used to interpret Smith, but Givens’s citation of the Sample is very relevant. Emanationism isn’t the only way to read the Sample, but in light of the aforementioned texts I think it may be the best reading.

  117. At the very least, Pratt shows that this was a plausible understanding. I personally find it the likeliest, too, and it fits certain ideas implicit in the concept of intelligences not being created or made. It also has affinity with kabbalistic and German theologico-philosophical constructs.

  118. (Among other things, I was studying the possibility of reading D&C 93′s “Record of John” as a first-century gnostic text. I don’t personally believe that’s the proper context for that text, but it fits reasonably well there and I like to exhaust all avenues of inquiry when I study a text even if I don’t think they’re likely to be fruitful.)

    Did you also consider the possibility of reading it as a tenth-century Petrarchan sonnet? Or a third-century post-colonial novel? What about a fifteenth-century Mesoamerican haiku? A twenty-eighth-century Karelian epic song?

  119. The idea that any section of the D&C is a first-century gnostic or proto-gnostic text is certainly absurd though.

    I could have just as easily asked if you also considered the possibility of reading it as a fourteenth-century Petrarchan sonnet, a twentieth-century post-colonial novel, a modern Japanese haiku or a nieteenth-century Karelian epic song.

  120. “I could have just as easily asked if you also considered the possibility of reading it as a fourteenth-century Petrarchan sonnet, a twentieth-century post-colonial novel, a modern Japanese haiku or a nieteenth-century Karelian epic song.”

    That would have been more valid a point, so why didn’t you?

  121. “The idea that any section of the D&C is a first-century gnostic or proto-gnostic text is certainly absurd though.”

    Chris took an open-minded approach in his paper. He still reached the conclusion that it is a 19th century work, but my respect for him grew after his fair-minded approach. What he did is a valid academic approach, working as it does from a positive proposition, rather than from a negative.

  122. Author: Allen says, “Chris took an open-minded approach in his paper. He still reached the conclusion that it is a 19th century work, but my respect for him grew after his fair-minded approach. What he did is a valid academic approach, working as it does from a positive proposition, rather than from a negative.”

    Is this like, as someone once stated, “shooting the arrow and then drawing the bulls eye”? What comes to mind are the two different approaches with regard to science and religion in that science gathers and looks at the data, then purposes an hypothesis, which is often modified (or abandoned) as new data comes forth. However, as more and new data comes forth (constantly subjected to the scrutiny of peer review, which every scientist accepts as the proper and necessary due process) these data can be the catalyst to dramatically alter the original hypothesis, which can even be costly to the original main proponents’ reputations (or pocket books for future funding!). With religion, however, first the hypothesis is proposed, or just outright declared as something to be an immutable ‘truth,’ and then its proponents seek to gather any and all data that will support the claim(s). And should anyone attempt to ‘peer review’ any of these data that result in casting a dubious or questioning light with regard to what is being claimed (by sacrosanct authority), then the gate keepers of this authority (the vested group whose livelihoods and reputations are dependant upon said ‘truth’) react with a flurry (and fury) of objections, obfuscations, etc, and even at times, with wrathful vengeance by marginalizing, disenfranchising, or excommunicating anyone who poses as a threat.

  123. Well of course it has a ton of 19th century style and trappings.

    It went through a 19th century man. Hardly a surprise.

  124. A rather silly accusation Paul since no one gets “hired” as an LDS General Authority until after they’ve already become financially independent doing something else. Then they get a pretty modest living stipend.

    Have you SEEN Thomas S. Monson’s house Paul?

    It’s smaller than mine.

  125. Kullervo,

    D&C 93 purports to give some text from the “Record of John.” (It’s unclear whether John the Baptist or John the Apostle is intended.) As I studied the text of this purported “record,” I noticed that its theology and terminology bore certain resemblances to ideas and terminology promoted by early Christians of a “gnostic” or Platonic bent. So I investigated these resemblances to determine whether they represented evidence of the text’s antiquity—that is, whether they were authentically ancient Christian ideas that Joseph Smith could not have known about—and how placing the text in such an ancient context might change our reading of it. I can see why this line of investigation might appear absurd to a committed atheist, but I’m puzzled as to what precisely is your objection to it.

  126. “Is this like, as someone once stated, “shooting the arrow and then drawing the bulls eye”?”

    No, more like when Gershom Scholem first approached the date of the Zohar, considering it an ancient work from Mishnaic Palestine, but eventually concluded that it was in large the work of a 13th c. Spanish author. Subsequent research has since softened Scholem’s conclusions, but he made greater advances with his approach than previous scholars, who had nearly all gone at it from the negative angle

    “What comes to mind are the two different approaches with regard to science and religion in that science gathers and looks at the data, then purposes an hypothesis, which is often modified (or abandoned) as new data comes forth. However, as more and new data comes forth (constantly subjected to the scrutiny of peer review, which every scientist accepts as the proper and necessary due process) these data can be the catalyst to dramatically alter the original hypothesis, which can even be costly to the original main proponents’ reputations (or pocket books for future funding!). With religion, however, first the hypothesis is proposed, or just outright declared as something to be an immutable ‘truth,’ and then its proponents seek to gather any and all data that will support the claim(s). And should anyone attempt to ‘peer review’ any of these data that result in casting a dubious or questioning light with regard to what is being claimed (by sacrosanct authority), then the gate keepers of this authority (the vested group whose livelihoods and reputations are dependant upon said ‘truth’) react with a flurry (and fury) of objections, obfuscations, etc, and even at times, with wrathful vengeance by marginalizing, disenfranchising, or excommunicating anyone who poses as a threat.”

    It is not as if science and academia lack gatekeepers of orthodoxy, nevermind that the philosophy of science that you propose is far from the only one, but what does that have to do with anything.

  127. Seth R. says: “Have you SEEN Thomas S. Monson’s house Paul?”

    Have you seen his boat and mountain cabin? Do you know how much he makes a year, not including all of the perks? Do you know what the salaries of the 15 are? In any event, Tom Monson has the financial means to buy any home that would be in the one million dollar plus bracket, but he and Francis chose not to so, unlike many of his colleagues who have. I don’t know why they didn’t, but I know that’s the case. I know Tom Monson and his wife (although more ‘knew’ now, as time has moved us along from the ‘good ol’ days’); he and Francis have been (were — deceased, now) friends of my parents for many, many years. Enough said.

    In any event, the point of my comment was about how ‘truth’ or conclusions are arrived at in the LDS religion (and perhaps most others, as well) in comparison with science and its methods. Seth R, you seem to have a real knack at putting up straw men, etc., when confronting certain ideas that I present. I would ask you (politely) to please stick to the issues with regard to the comments I make about a topic, if indeed you feel that you want or need to make a comment. Thank you, sir.

    Allan says, “It is not as if science and academia lack gatekeepers of orthodoxy, nevermind that the philosophy of science that you propose is far from the only one, but what does that have to do with anything?”

    True enough about the gatekeepers of science, and all of that — yes, but wouldn’t you somewhat agree with my statement with regard to the seemingly different (opposite-??) approaches or conventions of these two systems? What would you think has some merit and what would you think doesn’t? This may not have any direct bearing on your recent posts, but it’s something that came to mind while I was reading them.

  128. I’ve had bankruptcy clients who had those things Paul. So far you are utterly failing to impress here.

    You don’t know what the salaries of the 15 are either. Just like everyone else on the Internet with an opinion.

    And if you want me to stick to the issues, kindly stop shooting your mouth off trying to get in these little gratuitous digs at the LDS Church wherever you see a remote opening.

  129. Paul: Stop embarrassing yourself. I know many of the 12 personally. Your abject ignorance and bigotry — not to mention slander and false witness – say a lot more about you than anything you could say about men you do not know, about matters you know nothing about and with the kind of invective that disqualifies one as a Christian regardless of lip service to the contrary.

  130. In Parting:

    To Seth R, Blake, and perhaps some others: I know Tom (‘President’) Monson and his wife, Francis. And ‘back in the day’, I had dinner with them, even had a personal tour of 47 East South temple (if I recall the address correctly — the original ‘old’ church headquarters) by President Monson, and was present during quite a few other occasions wherein we were together in a small setting with others. I even have one particular fond memory of sitting with him, just him and me, in an airport departure lounge and having a very nice, heartfelt conversation. This is not a ‘brag tag’ and I don’t give a rat’s rump whether you believe me, or not. Remember, *you* seemed to want to focus on the GA aspect of my original comment rather than what it was really all about. So again, my point is about comments fostering some decent, civil feedback as for whether there is some agreement or not, and why. However, some of you here (SR and B, most definitely) can’t seem to manage doing that. You are not nice people, at least not acting as such toward me. You are most arrogant and self aggrandizing at my expense as if you are saying, “I’m so intelligent and erudite, but you are an idiot and a fool,” and act like junk yard dogs when it comes to anything I say, and consequently all too often perceive it as being malicious attacks against your religion. In essence, you are, to me, a vexation to my spirit, and it seems quite obvious that I am to you, but the difference is, you seem to take delight in it. 1 Corinthians 13:2 comes to mind.

    Very sad.

    I would also say, you are not good ambassadors of your religion. Hence, might I be so bold as to suggest, by bringing to your attention, one particular Mormon mantra, “You need to repent,” because you inflict harm, and are agents of contention and discord. Again, First Corinthians, Chapter 13. Or for Mormons, D&C Section 121: 39-46 might be apropos, especially the first eleven words in verse 45.

    So, as they say, “I’m outa here” to which I am sure you will think/say, “Good riddance.”

    Very sad, indeed.

    To the owner of this blog (if indeed there is just one owner). In parting, let me say that I have enjoyed reading many of the editorial postings.

    “About
    Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable is a group blog for friendly, high-quality academic conversation about Mormon religious worlds and their larger contexts, connections, and consequences. Participants have been carefully selected for their intelligence, diversity of perspectives, and friendly, constructive, respectful styles of discourse.
    The use of the term “conversation” is deliberate. Worlds Without End is intended to be academic, but not dry or impersonal. We strive to produce quality content that will be of interest to academics ***as well as hobbyists***, but we also work hard to balance this with humor, pictures, and a warm and lively communal atmosphere. Contributors to Worlds Without End don’t “bracket” their personalities here. We believe our personal beliefs, experiences, and voices are part of what make us interesting and give significance to the things we write. Writing in our own voices is an invitation for readers to connect and engage with us on a personal as well as an intellectual level. It is also, however, an act of vulnerability, so please be considerate in your interactions with us.
    Worlds Without End, ultimately, is more than a blog. It’s a vision of one possible future for the discipline. We strive to model the openness, insight, creativity, and verve that we believe represent the ideal way forward for Mormon Studies.”

    Nice words, and I certainly would never want to, or would have ever been invited to contribute an editorial article, nevertheless, being able to submit and engage with some comments…well, it sounded hopeful.

  131. Paul don’t play the sad martyr card.

    You were the one who opportunistically decided to throw in a little bit of mudslinging at the church into your argument.

    You didn’t have to do that. And if you didn’t want this sort of response, you shouldn’t have done that.

    No, I’m not nice.

    Neither are you.

  132. Blake, your comments of calling Paul Anthony B. ignorant, a bigot, a slanderer and a false witness, surely is not what Christ would say to one of his fellow human beings. Christ, I have always been taught is the one and only one to emulate, for he taught love, not belittling a fellow human being with the words you chose to throw at Paul.

  133. Dale and Paul: Jesus cared a lot more about honest feedback than you think. Go read what he had to say to the Pharisees and about not judging others. He was not afraid to call folks on the carpet when their conduct did not match their claims – hypocrites and whited sepulchers and liars. For Paul to assert that he knows how much President Monson makes a year with perks is ludicrous. Having lunch with Pres. Monson is hardly a basis for assertions of such insider knowledge and sheer bad-faith-judgment.

    But you can play the “oh, you’re so mean” card if you want to excuse conduct that is beneath contempt and what should not be allowed to pass. I for one have no intention of allowing Paul to make such slurs and slanders of a really great man and then play the victim card as if he were the one being misrepresented.

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