The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism – Response

Here is where the criticism of Christianity against Mormonism has some validity. Is it possible for the emphasis on following the prophet to throw our faith off balance?

I’ve been asked by a few people what I thought of this post by blogger Dustin Phelps, titled The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism. At first I read through the material and decided not to take the time to respond, but after being pressed again I revisited Dustin’s post. He makes the following observation:

“And so we find that arguments against Joseph Smith are really arguments against all the prophets…
So, for LDS members (particularly RMs and life-long members), Christianity itself hinges upon the question, ‘Was Joseph Smith really a prophet?’”

I believe this statement is true, but that it is also a sad commentary about modern Mormonism. Here is where the criticism of Christianity against Mormonism has some validity. Is it possible for the emphasis on following the prophet to throw our faith off balance? Our faith must be in Christ, not a prophet. There is a difference between following President Monson because he holds an office, on one hand, and following Christ, who’s voice you hear in the teachings of President Monson on the other. In the first case, you are following a man. In the second, you are following Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh unto the Father, but by Him (see John 14:6). Brigham Young said it well, “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (Brigham Young, 9:150)

Speaking about Crises of Faith in LDS Communities and many critics who love highlighting the Latter-day Saints who choose to leave the Church, Dustin continues,

“They want us to look at our friends and family who are leaving the church and feel alerted to the idea that there is something wrong with the Mormon Church.”

Note that the “They” this statement begins with assumes that somehow there is some organized conspiratorial effort in Atheism targeting Mormons, as if

“… the goal of Atheism is to destroy the agency of man. At least, to the extent possible. Ultimately, this is what anti-Mormonism intends to accomplish.”

I think it ludicrous to assume that the number of people who leave their religion and decide to give up a belief in God suddenly and magically become joined to some concerted organized group united toward evil. Don’t these people, after all, still have agency? Alas, I digress.

The point that we have “friends and family who are leaving the church” should concern us. We don’t need for atheists or non-Mormons to alert us “to the idea that there is something wrong”. It is not hard for us to see this ourselves. It didn’t used to be so common for an active member of the church to know people who were leaving the church, but now more and more, active members are aware of someone they know personally who struggle with a crisis of faith.

Not since a famous troublespot in Mormon history, the 1837 failure of a church bank in Kirtland, Ohio, have so many left the church, Jensen said. ‘Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now,’ he told the group in Logan.” (Elder Marlin Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Special Report interview, Jan 31, 2012)

The time has come to change how we address what used to be subjects that were sensitive or off-limits. Elder M Russell Ballard told CES Educators in an address in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on February 26, 2016, “Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.
Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the church. . . .”

Dustin continues:

“So, to be clear, it’s not that we have discovered new information about Joseph Smith that has suddenly changed a lot of people’s minds about the Restoration. The criticisms you hear today are the same criticisms that have been peddled for decades and longer.”

I would disagree. I think it’s the discovery of new information about Joseph Smith that has been withheld from the standard curriculum of the church that “has suddenly changed a lot of people’s minds about the Restoration”. To grow up being taught a story your whole life, only to discover later that the picture changes from an image of Joseph Smith translating from the plates with a drop cloth between him and Oliver Cowdry, to an image of Joseph Smith with his face in a hat, can trigger some cognitive dissonance in someone who’s testimony is founded in a narrative they’ve been taught since childhood.*

Healthy criticism, by itself, is not evil, but in fact necessary for growth. It is possible to entertain critical opinions which differ from traditional historical opinions and not lose your testimony. Once the varnish comes off the institution of the church, for many, faith dies. But that is not necessary. Nor is it inevitable. It is possible to see the frailties of men and still also see the hand of God.

Some of the greatest criticism leveled against our faith is based on truth, and we shouldn’t be afraid to correct our own misunderstanding when we encounter that. True religion ought to be a search for truth, even when it is uncomfortable.

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Perhaps what I take issue with most from Dustin’s post is the all or nothing approach, as if there were only two options, Mormonism or Atheism. As I began composing my thoughts I ran across another blogger (who posts anonymously) who has responded to Dustin’s post. Although I do not agree with all this blogger has to say, I think he sums things up well in the following statement:

“Those who do have a foundation in Christ, that leave the church either find another Christian denomination to worship with, or they do home-church. Either way, they remain steadfast in Christ.

Those who leave Mormonism and eventually find themselves identifying with atheism were either cultural Mormons who participated in the [church] for social and entertainment reasons, or they were cultural Mormons who had a belief system founded upon prophet worship and subjection to human priesthood authority.

It only makes sense that disenchanted members … who never had Christ as the center of their belief system, become atheists. Why would they bother looking for Christian options if they never truly believed in Christ and him crucified?

The really deceptive thing about the narrative being presented in the article is that it implies that there are only two paths from which a doubting Mormon has to choose.

According to the article, one path choice is to hang on to belief in modern day Mormonism with all of it’s problematic doctrine and history and related cognitive dissonance.

The other path choice is to be swallowed up in atheism.

That is pure sophistry.

The article subtly leads the reader into the false conclusion that there are only two realistic paths that a Mormon can choose when they enter into a crisis of faith. Towards the end of the article the author shares the thoughts that go through his mind during his darkest moments of his own doubts. During these moments of despair he opines to himself,

‘Ultimately, I must decide to take one path or the other.’

Really?

Your only two choices are between the [LDS] church or atheism?

I call bullshit.

There are lots of other paths one can take.”
(https://onewhoiswatching.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/the-alarming-truth-behind-anti-mormonism-by-dustin/)

Aside from the concerns I’ve expressed from Dustin’s post, he does bring up an important point I will conclude with:

“No, crises of faith aren’t a Mormon problem. They’re a Humankind problem, a civilization problem. Faith itself is weakening in Western society.”

Mormon would agree. He poses the question, “has the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men?” and then declares “…it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” (Moroni 7:35-37)

It seems most saints are more akin to Hugh Nibley’s description of his grandfather, a member of the First Presidency, who said that if he ever saw an angel he would “jump out the window.”

As one insightful blogger has observed:

“I think there is a tendency to avoid discussing any contemporary occurrence of the miraculous in our individuals lives within the Church because of the frequent association of such things with deceivers and the deceived. In contrast to that fear, Moroni affirms that angels appear only to those with “a firm mind.” (Moroni 7: 30.) How odd it is that we have this juxtaposition: On the one hand, in our day it is viewed as being evidence of a weak mind, or dubious character, and on the other Moroni asserts it is evidence of a “firm mind.” One or the other has to be incorrect.
I think such things are experienced less because we talk of them less. As we talk of them less, we increase our doubts about such things. Doubt and faith cannot coincide.

So was Christ weak-minded or of “a firm mind?” Was Saul of Tarsus deceived or a deceiver, or instead a godly man who received notice from heaven? What of Joseph, Alma, Moses, Peter, Mary, Elizabeth, Agabus, and John?

Today we prefer our miracles at a distance. When we do accept the occasional miracle, we want it to be separated by culture, time and reduced to written accounts from the deceased. We think it’s safer that way. Society trusts that when the miraculous has been reduced to history alone it can then safely be the stuff from which PhD’s and theologians extract the real meanings. After all, our scientific society only trusts education, certification and licensing; not revelation, visitation and ministering of angels. Well, even if that is not as it should be, it is at least as Nephi said it would be: “They deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men. Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work.” (2 Nephi 28: 5-6.)”

 

* [There is a challenge in communicating with the written word. A language barrier between written vs spoken word does not capture body language and voice inflection. I write with a certain intention of meaning in mind, but I cannot control the tone with which one chooses to read what is written. Though it may be read one way, my intent is not to condemn or be harsh toward the church.]

My 2016 Election Opinion

I apologize in advance for any offense this post may give to anyone who reads this, but I’m going to weigh in with my political opinion.

I’ve never been so much on the fence as I have been this election. In the past many times I have simply boycotted the process out of disgust. Other times, when I did decide to vote I voted 3rd party. When I have been asked how I’m voting this election I had to honestly say I’ve been undecided.

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At first, when I was sure I would be voting 3rd party again, I was confronted with the question that if I was forced to decided between the only 2 candidates who stand a chance at winning this election, which would I choose? The question alone left me internally conflicted, but I admit I leaned liberal. Later as the debates heated up I felt amazed at the sheer mockery and insult to the intelligence of the people we have in these two choices. All sense of decency and fairness has been abandoned in order to polarize. There is no recognition of virtue in the other opponent. If you trusted the partisan press you would believe the two major political parties of this nation have insanely chosen to offer us a stupid criminal or a dangerous egomaniac. I couldn’t see myself in good conscience voting for either one. I have oscillated between either not voting at all, voting 3rd party, or trying to reconcile choosing between the two major candidates.

“Who did you say you were voting for again, Dad?”

“The hands down best choice for our nation do not stand a chance at winning”, I responded.

At this point, as I now approach the polls, I offer the following insights from my study of the issues at hand. I believe our nation’s biggest concerns have less to do with who occupies the White House. The potential justices nominated by the next President to serve on the US Supreme Court may have greater effect on your life, liberty and property than will the President. As I go to vote I am considering the likely selection to be made by the only two candidates who stand any chance of being elected.

And by the way, throwing a vote away for some symbolic gesture, as recent polling suggests Utah is now willing to do, means abdicating the decision to others (if this election is close). This seems foolish, given the enormous importance of the role the next President will have in filling the US Supreme Court.

Some of the issues that will invade every aspect of our lives which the Supreme Court has or will be asked to decide include:

  • The constitutionality of Obamacare.
  • Regulation of property rights.
  • How broad or limited are Second Amendment rights (right of citezens to “keep and bear arms”)
  • The question of churches being subject to public accommodation laws, i.e. being required to allow men into women’s restrooms even if minor children are in the same bathroom. The Massachusetts Attorney General is threatening to litigate this very issue.
  • Everything from how you are investigated about an alleged crime, to how you are charged with an alleged crime and how you are to be prosecuted for the alleged crime is up to the Supreme Court. That court alone determines the extent of governmental power, and what steps are necessary to protect your rights against self-incrimination, due process, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and right to legal counsel.
  • Recently a divided Federal Appeals Court upheld a law requiring the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor to provide abortion and contraceptive care, contrary to Catholic Church teachings. The decision means the Little Sisters of the Poor face up to $2.5 million a year in fines.
  • The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Federal agencies are spying on citizens at an unprecedented level because of Internet, email, smart-phones and social media. The Supreme Court will be asked to determine what, if any, limits the Constitution provides to citizens under this Amendment.

The president will have a term of at most 8 years. Once confirmed, a Justice of the Supreme Court serves for life, unless impeached and removed from office. We should choose wisely.

After Love, Then What?

Moroni’s emphasis is on meekness which does not assume we are already in possession of something we should be prayerfully seeking with all the energy of our hearts.

I was reading the First Presidency Message for September preparing for my Home teaching lesson this month. Something about it made me read it several times before I could put my finger on what befogged me about it…

Uchtdorf’s message implies that feeling compassion and love for others and declaring our love for God is what entails charity, the pure love of Christ (referencing Moroni 7:46-47), and then asks what do we do after that?

I believe that the charity Moroni is speaking of is more than a declaration of our love for God. It’s more than our feelings of compassion and love for others. When Moroni implores for us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that we may be filled with this love” (v 48), he is telling us that this is a love that is bestowed upon true followers of Christ that they may become “sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” In other words, this is a gift bestowed by God, not a simple declaration from our mouth that we posses it.

Moroni teaches us that our obligation to God is to exercise faith (v 37-39), that we may obtain a hope in Christ (v 40-43), so that we may become possessors of charity, a pure love of Christ (v 44-48), a fruit sweet and who’s beauty and whiteness exceeds the whiteness of the driven snow (1 Ne 8:11; 11:8) which is the greatest of the gifts of God (1 Ne 15:36). Moroni’s emphasis is on meekness (v 39, 43-44) which does not assume we are already in possession of something we should be prayerfully seeking with all the energy of our hearts.

Perfection

What if what is meant by perfection is to have God declare in his own voice that our sins are forgiven?

I recently had the opportunity to review the draft of a book written by a friend. The book addressed the topic of perfection. I gave the following feedback:

I’ve read through most of your book and have enjoyed your insights and perspective.

You mentioned something in Chapter 4 that made me pause and reflect on the idea of perfection. It happens to be a subject that I have given a lot of thought to recently.
You wrote,
“Since there is no way we can become completely perfect in this life we can become perfect in obedience to God’s laws and commandments and to participate in all His ordinances. I’m sure this is what He meant when He commanded us to be perfect.” (pg 51)

I think this is a good way to assess the difficult conundrum of reconciling the impossible commandment to be perfect. Do you mind if I offer some of my own insights as I have pondered this same question?

What if what is meant by perfection is to have God declare in his own voice that our sins are forgiven? Is that something that is possible to achieve in this life? If no unclean thing can enter God’s presence, then it stands to reason He must invariably forgive sins (making a person clean and pure) before a person is permitted to see God.

Other questions related to this include, What if becoming pure and having our sins forgiven is what is meant by “salvation”? (see Lectures on Faith, Lecture 7 para 9) What if the greatest mystery is to know God (D&C 76:118, John 17:3)? What if being redeemed, like the brother of Jared was in Ether 3:13, is the very experience that the scriptures and prophets are trying to tell us we need to do in order to be redeemed (see also Mormon 9:13)? What if this is an event that is intended we are to experience in this life (Alma 34:32), or, in the language of scripture “in the flesh”? (D&C 76:117-118)

In other words, what my line of reasoning is alluding to is that perfection is part of what happens when we receive the Second Comforter (D&C 88:3-4), which is something the scriptures and prophets teach we should seek for “in the flesh”, or in other words, in this life (D&C 76:117-118). On the subject of becoming like God, Joseph Smith said, “I want you to know, that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me.” (TPJS, p 346)

I’m not aware of anywhere in scripture that says we cannot become perfect in this life. But there are scriptures that appear to allude to the possibility of becoming perfect in this life (here are some you reference at end of ch 4).

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13)

“Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected” (D&C 67:13)

“For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” (James 3:2)**

Again in chapter 9 of your book (pg 97), “How many of us in this world have obtained perfection? If we haven’t, then we are living in a state of sin because we have not attained perfection as God has commanded. To repent of this sin we must constantly strive to overcome our imperfections and be in a continuous state of complete repentance.”

I agree that if we have not obtained perfection yet, we are living in a state of sin. I wonder, however, if constantly striving to perfect our natural man through a continuous state of repentance is the process that the scriptures are telling us will get us there.

Joseph Smith taught that “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God.” (TPJS pg 148)

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It’s not repentance that is displeasing to God, but the idea of continually turning back to transgression that is offensive. If we set aside the negative connotations of pain, punishment and penalty (from French and Latin roots) that we associate with the word repentance, and instead turn to the Greek root, we get a definition that means a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook. Or as Hugh Nibley said, “Who is righteous? Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man. The difference is which way you are facing. The man on the top of the stairs facing down if much worse off than the man on the bottom step who is facing up. The direction we are facing, that is repentance; and that is what determines whether we are good or bad.” (Approaching Zion, pg. 301-302)

When we turn to face God, he will reveal to us what we need to do: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil. 3:12)

Joseph Smith confirms this, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (TPJS pg 151)

So, what I understand so far is that the way to perfection is to first turn and face God (repent), and then allow God to direct me by following the impressions of the spirit until they become clearer and more sure as I follow them. Is this what it means to live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God? (Matt 4:4)

King Benjamin teaches us that by not following these promptings, we are rebelling against God: “And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—
I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.” (Mosiah 2:36-37)

There is also the tricky matter about the natural man. This is a topic that is too much to elaborate on in a simple letter, but here is some insight I’ve gained in my study. We know the natural man is an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19). In our attempts at becoming perfect we often find ourselves trying to perfect the natural man. In our attempts to force the natural man to be better and better, we invariably falter, playing a game of one step forward and two steps back. But Paul tells us not to perfect the natural man, but to crucify him (Gal 5:24). We need to do him in. How do we do this?

Again, King Benjamin teaches us the way in Mosiah 4. I could not help but notice the parallels between the petition of the people’s prayer with the Evangelical/Born Again Christian approach to a religious experience. Consider the words of the prayer of the people of King Benjamin in verse 2, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

Is this not a confession of belief coupled with a request for forgiveness? Do Latter Day Saint’s belittle this approach?

We claim that much more is needed, including certain authoritative rites and ordinances. Ultimately, that may be part of God’s plan, and certainly Christ’s own example informs us that baptism was required even of Him “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt 3:13-15) But the ordinances are signposts that provide an outward proof of inward change. Here, in the account of King Benjamin, we have the focus entirely on the inward change. This is the “weighter” part of the process. Christ condemned those who observed the ordinances, but failed to exercise mercy and faith; the inward target of the outward observance (see e.g. Matt. 23:23). I think there is some considerable peril in being too proud of our ordinances. They have displaced the inward, weightier part of the gospel in past dispensations, and certainly can do so again.
The next verse records the effect of this inward change of heart in the people of King Benjamin. It is the universal evidence which comes from God to all those who find saving grace. “
The Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.

What better description is there of overcoming the natural man than to have the Spirit of the Lord work “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

Finally, no discussion of the topic of perfection can be complete without consulting the seventh lecture in Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith. Many fascinating insights are given in that short lecture.

Well, I’ve made this letter too long and must close. But I have appreciated reading your book. The gospel is exciting and I love the new discoveries that come by study and prayer.

God bless,

Jay Ball

**[This scripture appears to be in reference to having no accuser as Joseph Smith stated, “If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins.” (History of the Church, 4:445)]

How to Last Forever

Only two things in your life have the potential to endure forever.

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Only two things in your life have the potential to endure forever. Your words and your posterity. The famous structures made of marble and stone where Paul taught anciently in Rome can now be seen crumbling and in decay, but the words he taught there have remained with us through generations and we still profit from them today.

Here is my attempt at a simple parable. (If it gets preserved maybe it will have power to endure for generations (smile).

Once upon a time there were two men. The first was a man with great wisdom and power who retained his knowledge and did not share with his children. We have no knowledge or record of him because there was none left after he passed away to give account of his greatness and to this day he remains nameless and unknown. The second was a man with a only a portion of wisdom and power, which he shared freely with his children. They built upon what he shared and taught their own children. This wisdom has been shared and passed down through generations and now nations honor this man’s name.