Episode 17: Book of Mormon Introduction, Lamanites and Native Americans

John Dehlin book of mormon, faith, historicity, lamanites, LDS, mormon, Mormons 72 Comments

Recently, the LDS Church made a change to the introduction page of the Book of Mormon that has garnered much press. The change seems to be intended to dispel common perceptions among LDS folk (leaders and members) that Native Americans are reliably the descendants of the Lamanites discussed in the Book of Mormon.

Is this change a big deal, or much ado about nothing?

Today we hear from Ronan James Head, John Hamer and John Dehlin on this topic.

Comments

comments

Comments 72

  1. Pingback: Mormon Stories Podcast » Book of Mormon Introduction, Lamanites and Native Americans: No big deal

  2. Interesting discussion. Although there probably needs to be a separate discussion on DNA because it isn’t that clear cut that there is no Hebrew DNA in native Americans, as FARMS points out.

    I agree though that its the leaders at general authority level who are changing to
    the limited geography theory and that they are trying to protect the historicity of the BoM by changing Elder McConkies broad statement.

    (Previously a general authority would step off a plane in ANY Latin American city and say ..’how nice to be in Lamanite land’ and go all gooey.
    They probably also counted blacks in Brasil as mestizo with lamanite blood -but still banned them from the priesthood)

    My question is why and how did this one apostle get to add an intro to THE Book of Mormon. I mean he wasn’t first presidency or church president. And he was only a lawyer!

    PS Polynesians in New Zealand/Australia consider themselves broadly as distant cousins of lamanites. I suppose its the same for all mormons across the Pacific.

  3. Some further thoughts (I am always terrified that my late-night transatlantic ramblings over the telephone on these podcasts only serve for me to spout rubbish):

    1. I really, really don’t think the majority of Mormons will notice this, and the majority won’t care anyway. If anything, if it is seen as supporting the historical credibility of the BoM, it will be welcomed.

    2. There has been a long, gradual move away from the doctrine of literal blood heritage in the church. The blacks issue is one example, the notion of *symbolic* adoption into the house of Israel via the patriarchal blessing is another. I believe this is a doctrinal improvement.

    3. Speaking of which, the Mormon church has a great capacity to change. I view this as a strength. We peer through a dark glass and so much of what we place in the mouth of God is only human approximation. Change in the church has usually been a move toward rather than away from truth. (I agree that the church sometimes act as if we have *all* the cards; we should work on that.)

    4. Historical credibility: of course, the BoM story creates serious problems for the rational mind. Not only in its production (angels, gold plates, shining stones) but also because the New World has not provided the archaeological evidence Mormons would love to see. BUT…FARMS has worked very hard to make the BoM just credible enough to support the belief of those who already believe. Their work on the BoM as Old World artifact is very good. As I said, Moroni’s visit can be taken on faith, but educated Mormons are not typically so anti-science that they can happily brush-off testable scientific evidence such as DNA. The Limited Geography Model is seen as internally consistent and credible.

    5. I think I said something about Mormon detractors being dishonest over this issue. I mean it in this sense: the church could never win. If the church insisted on a hemispheric model in order to keep with its traditional understanding of “Lamanite,” historical/scientific/archaeological counter-evidence would be flung with glee. I agree that there is collateral damage in supporting the limited geography, but the centrality of historicity wins every time.

    6. And finally, I think the apologetic war over the BoM will never go anywhere useful. I wish we could set it aside and better engage with the text, either as the word of God, or as 19th century religious literature. (Take your pick.)

  4. Ronan: “And finally, I think the apologetic war over the BoM will never go anywhere useful. I wish we could set it aside and better engage with the text, either as the word of God, or as 19th century religious literature. (Take your pick.)”

    So let’s see if I’ve got this right Ronan. You believe that the kind of thing that I do, e.g., DNA articles and Expansion Theory,” and viritually everything that FARMS does as regrettable and that you wish it would cease? Or are you just saying that you wish we would simply engage the text without any attempt to engage context?

    I have to admit, either one seems hopeless to me. Hopeless and not really desirable. I am just wondering how you imagine engaging the text without some sense of its melieu to give us some sense for interpretation.

  5. Blake,
    I very much value your work and am grateful you do it. (And as a former Nibley Fellow, I remain a grateful supporter of FARMS.) I suppose I should have put it better: if anti-Mormon polemic and pro-Mormon apologetics is all we do, then the Book of Mormon will lie sadly underused beyond the small circles in which both sides operate. I posted on this at BCC once upon a time.

  6. Thanks for the great interview and comments by all. I asked my TBM wife what she thought about the change and her reaction was “so what”. She loves her church and the spiritual strength it gives to her and our children and therefore none of these issues matter to her. I don’t think her feelings about it are unique.

    I can’t quite make myself go with John Dehlin’s comments at the end of the podcast. Most Mormons feel their strength in the gospel is from the spirit and therefore are willing to ignore anything that logically doesn’t fit. The early practices of polygamy, dynasty sealing’s, Adam God teachings, priesthood bans, and the list goes on hasn’t stop the church thus far and admitting that Lamanites are not the principle ancestors of the Indians isn’t even a blip on the radar in comparison to those doctrinal changes.

    My point is this, the church as done and will continue to change its beliefs and doctrines as they become untenable. In some ways, that’s a healthy practice. It’s allowed the Catholic Church to survive and grow for a very long time. Despite my ramblings in other blogs here, I don’t want the LDS church to diminish either. I feel that most religions are helpful to community and our nation, and therefore the loss of any church hurts, not helps. I would like the church to be less deceitful about its past and more willing to acknowledge those of us who still want to be part but can’t stomach much of what the early leaders did or taught. Perhaps that’s a pipe dream, but it is my wish…

    One last point that I don’t personally agree with was the statement that this isn’t a baby step toward admitting the BoM may not be as literal as the church once taught. At my age and having grown up in upstate NY, this is definitely a significant change in what all of us “uneducated” members were told about the Indians. If we look forward one hundred years or so, I can see the “Forward” to the BoM changing again.

    It might say something like this in light of more archeology, anthropology and linguistic evidence:
    The Book of Mormon is a beautifully written symbolic story of Gods dealings with the children of men. It contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel and will lead believing men and women to Christ. Indeed it is a second witness of His teachings and mission and another testament to the world of His divine nature…

    IMHO, even a statement like this today wouldn’t dissuade many TBM’s from the faith. It may not do great things for the missionary program, but that’s suffering already from the avalanche of knowledge available through the internet to anyone who gets curious about our church. Just my opinion and worth what you’re paying for it…

    Thanks,

  7. John Dehlin,

    In the intro post above you say,

    The change seems to be intended to dispel common perceptions among LDS folk (leaders and members) that Native Americans are reliably the descendants of the Lamanites discussed in the Book of Mormon.

    I think you’re reading this wrong. The change from “principal” ancestors to “among the ancestors” still leaves plenty of room for the Indians to be descended (partly) from Lamanites.

  8. Thanks for the interesting episode, John.

    I think there is a bid change going on within the LDS church.
    And this change is not about historical stuff or details like that, but about the authority of the prophethood itself.

    You have already covered the webpage “Approaching Church Doctrine” which is part of the official website http://www.lds.org .
    The shift which is going on is from a prophet who is actually the mouthpiece of God, to a fallible man with his own personal opinion and failures, who only in collaboration with other church authorities can come up with something that might be close to God’s will.

    I had some interesting discussions with the missionaries at http://www.mormon.org about some controversial statements made by God’s mouthpieces, mainly taken from the Journal of Discourses.
    Statements like Blacks and Whites who intermarry die on the spot. This will ever be so. (JoD 10:110), that Jesus is God’s literal son, as God slept with Mother Mary (JoD 8:115), the Adam-God theory. The missionaries would always refer to the webpage about Church Doctrine and end the conversation.

    To me, this implies that the word of the prophets, especially of past prophets, is looked upon with greater distance and suspicion than it was in the past.

    The issue about the Lamanites can also be seen in this light:
    Past prophets have often made claims about the connection between the Lamanites and Native Americans. They also made numerous statements about the location of Hill Cumorah (in State New York) and other locations.

    The point is, these statements are completely discounted by current Mormons.
    “Oh, that was their personal opinion. That is not official church doctrine”
    In the same way, the introductory text, which was only added in the 1980s, can be regarded as a personal opinion of its authors.

    So the shift which is taking place is not about Book of Mormon history, it is about evaluating things said by past or current prophets.

    On the one hand, this should be embraced, because racist and sexist statements by early church leaders can thus be ignored. On the other hand, what use is a prophet who has not the slightest idea about who God is, but simply babbles his personal opinion and world view (compare statements about Quakers living on the moon!)

    Arthur.

  9. Ronan — I agree with your points #1, #2 and #3 — especially #3. The LDS church is and has always been a dynamic, changing, living institution. Although some members (who John Dehlin seems sometimes to be channelling) may be jarred by any change at all, most surely can step back and see that almost no practice in a multi-million member, 21st-century, international denomination can be identical to the corresponding practices in the small, isolated, frontier LDS church of the late 1840s and 1850s.

    I don’t agree with your points #4 and #5. I don’t think that the LDS church is in a no-win situation when it eyes the opposing shores of the traditional, literal understanding of scripture (e.g., Indians are Lamanites and the Hill Cumorah is the hill Joseph identified) on the one hand and a scientific/historical/archeological approach on the other. We might describe these opposing poles as a scriptural-fundamentalist world-view and a scientific-rationalist world-view. (In Mormon apologetics, uniquely, these world-views have often been unhelpfully labelled ‘faithful’ and ‘naturalistic’.)

    It’s true that historians, archaeologists and literary critics with a scientific-rationalist world-view have by and large determined that Bible stories like Noah and the flood and Adam and Eve are fables. When the Bible says that Moses lifted his arms and the sun stopped moving across the sky, readers with a scientific-rationalist world-view understand that this event is symbolic and never happened because it can’t happen.

    However, that does not stop very successful Christian denominations from embracing a scriptural-fundamentalist world-view which understands that everything that the Bible says happened literally did happen. These believers and these churches are, by and large, untroubled by “naturalistic” detractors. They understand that God can make the sun stop because God can do anything.

    Churches that embrace this strong belief are not withering and dying. Although in opposition, they and scientific-rationalists are largely able to ignore each other, since both groups know that their perspectives are alien and based on completely different foundations. (I have no argument with a believer whose faith informs him that stories of antediluvian Genesis took place in and around Adam-ondi-Ahman — in present-day Missouri — because that believer’s world-view, unlike my own, gives scripture and prophets priority.)

    The problem in LDS apologetics is that the LDS church has not embraced a scriptural-fundamentalist world-view. Instead it has opted to follow a kind of mixed path that strays from the strong bedrock foundation of traditional scriptural literalism while attempting to accommodate scientific rationalism.

    For example, in the episode, you suggested that LDS scholars believe (like moderate or liberal Protestants) that Noah’s flood was limited rather than universal. The change in the Book of Mormon introduction we were discussing here is also indicative of this path. As defined in the revised introduction, the Lamanite story is still literal history, but instead of retaining the traditional scriptural-fundamentalist position that Indians are Lamanites, a non-traditional interpretation of the scripture is embraced. The abandons the conservative position and adopts a kind of neo-conservatism.

    This neoconservative path might work if your point #4 were correct. The problem is that the work of FARMS on the Book of Mormon is not actually “just credible enough” to pass muster in the scientific-rational world-view. FARMS folks and their fans may have convinced themselves otherwise, but (if it is not already) it will ultimately be clear that the neoconservative theories about the Book of Mormon are as indefensible from a rational-scientific perspective as the traditional understanding was. Eventually the ground that LDS apologists are fighting on will have to be abandoned and the LDS church will have to come up with a new position — possibly one that absolutely contradicts the teachings it is now embracing.

    If the institution felt it had to abandon the historic fortress of its traditional world-view, rather than retreat to new ground that will ultimately prove indefensible, it would have done better to scuttle the current introduction altogether and craft an artfully ambiguous new introduction that allowed enough wiggle room to avoid affirming (or denying) any interpretation: traditional, neoconservative or liberal (symbolic).

  10. While I think Blake simply misread you a bit Ronan, I think your followup seems a bit unsatisfying. Certainly if Mormon scholarship was just the anti-Mormons and apologies sniping at each other it would be a travesty. However often in engaging with critics we come to read the text closer. I think Nibley’s point about our never taking our scriptures seriously if it weren’t for anti-Mormons is correct. And I think FARMS and others definitely deal with the text on its own terms. Could they do more? Certainly. I wish as much effort were put into non-apologetic topics as we find in FARMS Reviews. But there is the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and even a lot of comments in the Reviews seem relevant outside of the apologetic debate.

    Limited Geography is a great example since I think the prime motivation of it and its various models hasn’t been anti-Mormons even though it clearly has apologetic uses.

  11. Just to clarify, I guess what I’m saying is that “apologists” are too often mis-maligned on various Mormon blogs. I think pure apologetics is but a small aspect of what they do.

  12. The problem in LDS apologetics is that the LDS church has not embraced a scriptural-fundamentalist world-view. Instead it has opted to follow a kind of mixed path that strays from the strong bedrock foundation of traditional scriptural literalism while attempting to accommodate scientific rationalism.

    I don’t see this as a problem. I see it as the clear position within say non-literalist Protestantism. The idea that there is only literalist/fundamentalists and then allegorists/liberals seems wrong. One can, for instance, affirm the historicity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God while acknowledging the human production of the NT. I think FARMS, FAIR and others are doing this for the Book of Mormon.

    To say this is impossible seems, I think, to simply affirm atheism (or a de-natured weak deism) as the “truth” in history. But clearly that statement itself is debatable. If scripture can have but an allegorical truth it seems to relegate scripture to at best the “best book” collection one studies in English literature.

  13. in engaging with critics we come to read the text closer

    Clark, I agree with this. I am coming across has having a stronger opinion that I actually do.

  14. John,

    You make a very intriguing point and it is certainly interesting that many Mormons take this middle-ground between the rational and the traditional. That may have something to do with the positive LDS view towards education, plus the heritage of a kind of biblical liberalism that was once a bit more pronounced than it is today.

    I think the role of the Book of Mormon apologist is to make it just believable enough for the believer. It is true that a literalist view of scripture will always eventually run out of rational steam (and therefore faith will always be necessary), it is still possible to defend yourself against certain objections. So, for example, believers rarely have a problem imagining an Old Testament prophet stopping the sun. It’s a miracle, no more or less amazing than a dead man coming back from the dead. It’s hard to believe, sure, but hey, we weren’t there, so the believer can claim that you cannot disprove it!

    Same with Moroni. Same with the Jaredite barges and their magic lights. But when you make a claim that can be checked — “American Indians are principally descended from Israelites” — and that claim can be disproved (allegedly), then you have a problem. The limited geography model places the Book of Mormon beyond that problem: I doubt science or archaeology could ever disprove that there was once a small band of Israelites in the Americas. Thus the Mormon rational mind is settled, and the faith mind still has room to imagine Christ’s miraculous appearance to the Nephites, etc.

    I hope you can understand what I’m saying, as I’m having a hard time expressing what I mean!

  15. “I doubt science or archaeology could ever disprove that there was once a small band of Israelites in the Americas.”

    Perhaps. But science and archaeology CAN disprove what Mormon prophets have been teaching as gospel truth for a century and a half. The real problem is that the apologists and the prophets are at odds. What the apologists advance may be removed from the realm of testable hypothesis but what Mormon prophets have advanced (and Latter-day scripture as well) is not. I’ll listen to the podcast before commenting further. Glad to see MM is back on the air!

  16. This podcast was so disappointingly shallow. I’m agreeable to let the import of this change be weighed on an individual basis, however I expected that those engaged in a podcast on the subject would be more passionate for their respective views. Instead it was a bland love fest in comparison to past Mormonmatters episodes.

    I think it would have been a more vibrant discussion had Anne, Equality, or anyone who participated in the various Lamanite programs been involved. Or perhaps a participant in their 60’s who was much more enculturated in the doctrine and programs. At issue is how those members view the change, not those who are barely old enough to recall the fervor of SWK’s programs.

    If you’re going to allow Ronin to use the “angel and golden plates” argument uncontested then what point is there in having a podcast. That point is patently dishonest in an intellectual discussion even if one believes it.

    As Arthur points out:

    “So the shift which is taking place is not about Book of Mormon history, it is about evaluating things said by past or current prophets.

    On the one hand, this should be embraced, because racist and sexist statements by early church leaders can thus be ignored. On the other hand, what use is a prophet who has not the slightest idea about who God is, but simply babbles his personal opinion and world view.”

    Remarkably all three partipants missed or glossed over this implication of the change.

    mc

  17. in engaging with critics we come to read the text closer

    That sounds like a good argument to be more self correcting and more self critical as a people. Otherwise we are always perceived as on the defensive and engaged in apologetics instead of critical research.

  18. But science and archaeology CAN disprove what Mormon prophets have been teaching as gospel truth for a century and a half. The real problem is that the apologists and the prophets are at odds.

    If prophets are human and if there isn’t anything akin to sola scripture in Mormonism then I don’t see why this is a problem. Especially if what some prophets have assumed contradicts the text itself. (And note that in the 19th century and through much of the 20th the Book of Mormon was hardly made good use of – Mormonism still primarily quoted the Bible) One can even take Pres. Benson’s criticisms of Mormons not making use of the BoM enough as a critique of the Church in general.

    The real problem is that critics of Mormonism prefer that Mormons adopt a conservative Protestant view of prophets and scripture.

  19. Clark,

    I think it would be an interesting topic of discussion for a future Mormon Matters podcast to address the issue of the role of prophets in LDS doctrine and practice. Many have commented that while LDS doctrine claims fallible prophets and Catholic doctrine claims an infallible Pope, in practice Catholics treat the Pope as if he were fallible and Mormons treat their Prophet as if he were infallible.

    On the so-called assumptions made by previous Prophets, I think you would be hard-pressed to show where the statements of Joseph Smith and Spencer W. Kimball (to name just two) contradict the text of the scriptures. To say there is nothing akin to sola scriptura in Mormonism is, I think, a stretch. Again, while Mormon doctrine does not proclaim every letter of the canonized scriptures to be God-spoken, perfect, and unalterable, Mormons (following the words of their leaders) do proclaim the standard works as a measuring stick against which doctrinal assertions are to be judged. So, if the scriptures say one thing, the prophets agree, and it is only apologists saying something else, that’s a problem. And that’s exactly what has been going on with the Lamanite issue specifically and the hemispheric/limited geography model more generally.

    You may be right that the Book of Mormon was not made good use of in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the church, even among the members of the governing councils; however, the Prophets are supposed to be inspired and they are supposed to be guided by revelation from God Himself. That they continually end up being wrong in their “assumptions” about scripture, whether it be theological concepts or historical or ethnographic concepts, is a problem that can’t be dismissed so easily by simply saying “well, prophets are fallible, after all.”

  20. I think most Mormons justifiably give the benefit of doubt to the prophet which is not the same as accepting infallibility. If the prophet changes their mind or a future prophet revises things I just don’t see many Mormons upset by this.

    That you simultaneously acknowledge that most Mormon leaders didn’t really read or study the Book of Mormon closely yet then say that somehow their assumptions ought be inspired strikes me as odd to say the least. Exactly what criteria are we using when even things given little attention or care must somehow magically be made de facto infallible. Given the Mormon model that revelation often takes work and study I just can’t see how what you say is possible.

  21. Equality:

    “however, the Prophets are supposed to be inspired and they are supposed to be guided by revelation from God Himself”

    They are inspired, and they are guided. Its up to you to also be guided to see where the will of God is in their speech because they also talk about byu games and baseball…

    My question though is how on earth did McConkie get to add an introduction to THE BoM. That’s where the real issue lies.

  22. Bruce R. McConkie was given the assignment of cross referencing, adding notes, Topical Guide, and clarifications to all the standard works in the late 70’s. All of the chapter subtitles in the Bible, BoM, PoGP, etc. were added by him and his team with the help of computers, which was a first for the church. The Bible was completed first and then the triple combination came out a year or so later.

    My point is Elder McConkie produced a great deal of work with the scriptures in the early 80’s including the revised introduction to the BoM. What may be truly scary here is how many times he’s been shown to be wrong in Mormon Doctrine. Much of how members of the church interpret the scriptures is based on thousands of chapter headings written by him. Not to mention the Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary etc…

  23. To me, this change from “principal ancestors” to “among the ancestors” is a huge retreat from earlier positions.

    Here is your the Prophet, the head of this dispensation, a man who claims to be acquainted with Moroni, the translator of the Book of Mormon, who was instructed by Moroni for over 4 years. He would surely know better than modern day, revisionist, apologists who the Lamanites were.

    ‘The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 17).

    ‘He [Moroni] told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.’ (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Diary 1835-1836, pg. 76).

    For more on this read this: http://www.lds-mormon.com/lam-ind.shtml

  24. Doug,

    “What may be truly scary here is how many times he’s been shown to be wrong in Mormon Doctrine”

    Yes, certainly. There is also a lot of criticism in David O McKay’s bio Rise of modern Mormonism; and his church “career” was threatened there once. But I didn’t know about all those other entries in the late ’70s

    Maybe we should be revisiting everything these hardliners wrote and everything they added to ‘Mormon doctrine’. Hardliners like Joseph Fielding Smith, Lee and McConkie etc

  25. Hueffenhardt:

    “The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians”

    This is still true, both before this change to McConkie’s intro and after the change announced last week.

    For example there is still room to say that the tribes where pure lamanite until a ‘remnant’ of the Eskimos came south and over took them in 450AD, (example, not fact) adding the Asian gene into the blood line.

    Even today you look at many of the so called Indians and Aboriginals of Canada and wonder how they can be classed as such, based on their skin colour and eye colour. I mean George Cloney is more Indian than some of the Indian activist.

  26. “For example there is still room to say that the tribes where pure lamanite until a ‘remnant’ of the Eskimos came south and over took them in 450AD, (example, not fact) adding the Asian gene into the blood line.”

    Umm, no there isn’t. Unless you want to say that there is still room to say that space aliens came and intermingled with the Lamanites, thereby messing up the DNA. It’s equally plausible. You might want to try actually reading a book by an actual scientist on the matter before revealing such a stunning level of ignorance. Seriously.

  27. “My question though is how on earth did McConkie get to add an introduction to THE BoM. That’s where the real issue lies.”

    Elder McConkie, sustained as a “prophet, seer, and revelator” ought to have been able to get right something as central a doctrine of the restoration as the gathering of Israel in something as important as an Introduction to a book of canonized scripture. His words were, of course, carefully reviewed by his fellow apostles (who are also supposed to be “prophets, seers, and revelators”) and the First Presidency before publication. If he erred in doctrine, so did they. And it’s all well and good to say that prophets are fallible and express their own opinions on baseball and BYU but when the united Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency include a statement on a core doctrinal issue in the canonized scriptures, one ought to be able to rely on their ability to be guided by the God of heaven, if, indeed they are inspired by the same. If God allows his prophets to err repeatedly on matters of core doctrines, what is the point of having prophets at all? I mean, we can get the same level of inspiration from a Catholic Pope or evangelical preacher, right? It’s ironic to me that apologists will, well, apologize for the prophets’ errors in doctrine, saying that of course they are fallible and can’t be expected to get everything right even on such things as how many members of the Godhead there are, who the Lamanites are, the identity of God the Father, etc. But at the same time, if someone like Paul Toscano has ideas deemed unorthodox, he is excommunicated. If the Brethren don’t know themselves, and are always gaining further light and knowledge, why the intolerance for everyday members who may have different ideas?

  28. Equality,

    Don’t you think that all of this (and every other debate you have entered into on this blog for the past year or two) can very easily be summed up by the following two points:

    –Many people are believers, and thus prefer to give the benefit of the doubt when issues like this arise.

    –Equality is no longer a believer, and so he doesn’t prefer to do the same?

    Isn’t that all that really ever needs to be said between believers and non-believers?

    Is there any benefit to going around again and again w/ all of the various issues that could arise? Month after month. Year after year?

    Some folks believe. You don’t believe. Why can’t you let them believe if they want to do so?

    And I hope you know how much I love you, man.

    But that’s what this is all about. Some folks like to believe. They want to believe. They believe. And so they look for a way to continue believing.

    Others don’t.

    Why can’t non-believers just let believers believe?

  29. Recently when I first heard about this huge change by the church backpedalling on all the years they had the opposite position, I was blown away! I have gotten over my initial shock but feel this is just one more nail in the coffin of mormonism.

  30. Don’t you think that all of this (and every other debate you have
    entered into on this blog for the past year or two) can very easily be
    summed up by the following two points:

    –Many people are believers, and thus prefer to give the benefit of the
    doubt when issues like this arise.

    –Equality is no longer a believer, and so he doesn’t prefer to do the same?

    No, I don’t think so.

    Isn’t that all that really ever needs to be said between believers and non-believers?

    You don’t believe that, John, and neither do I.

    Is there any benefit to going around again and again w/ all of the
    various issues that could arise? Month after month. Year after year?

    This sounds very similar to my wife’s criticism of Sports Center. Yes, I think there is some benefit to discussing these things.

    Some folks believe. You don’t believe. Why can’t you let them believe
    if they want to do so?

    Some folks used to believe, and now they don’t. I used to believe, and now I don’t. Some folks used to not believe, and now they do, probably because they were engaged in dialogue with believers. Do the 60,000 Mormon missionaries just “let people not believe”? Pointing out the senselessness of certain untenable beliefs does nothing to prevent anyone from holding such beliefs.

    And I hope you know how much I love you, man.

    Of course. And the feeling is mutual, bro.

    But that’s what this is all about. Some folks like to believe. They
    want to believe. They believe. And so they look for a way to continue
    believing. Others don’t.

    Some folks want to believe but can’t. Some folks used to believe, but don’t anymore. Some folks look for ways to keep believing no matter what; others seek truth wherever it is found and whatever the consequences. Some folks don’t believe but pretend they do. The lines between “believer” and “nonbeliever” are not so clear as you suggest here.

    Why can’t non-believers just let believers believe?

    Why can’t conservatives just let liberals be liberals? Why can’t Redskins fans leave Cowboys fans alone? Why can’t that annoying young whippersnapper from the Mac commercials leave the Daily Show Windows guy alone? Why can’t Pepsi quit trying to convert Coke drinkers? Why did my best friend in middle school and I debate every single day for two years the relative merits of Atari and Intellivision? Is the discussion between believers and nonbelievers any less productive than the navel gazing among believers in the Bloggernacle echo chamber?

  31. 3 quick responses, Equality:

    1) You win, by humor alone. 🙂 I am SORELY lacking of wit these days. Seriously…great responses.

    2) I feel like religion is fundamentally different than something like sports. In my mind, belief is a choice — and one that takes a great deal of effort to maintain. Choosing to not believe is also something that can have profoundly negative consequences (as you may know). So when someone has made that choice to believe, I tend to want to respect it, and not try to argue w/ them about the merits (or even logic) of their choice. To what end? It feels like you are playing different games on the same field (football AND soccer — simultaneously). The only conceivable outcome I can envision is folks tripping or bumping into each other (to extend the metaphor).

    I believe that it’s very hard to be a believer these days — but that the world is far better off because of believers. Consequently, I wish that non-believers would simply speak to each other, or stick to discussing things like sports or other hobbies — because so much is at stake when you try to talk people out of their beliefs. I don’t think anyone benefits from such an engagement.

    3) If I felt like you were seriously open/interested in learning more, or becoming a believer again — I would totally see your point. But I don’t get that sense. It feels like DAMU folks argue their side, and seek to convince — but do not do so with any real intent to return to a “believing” paradigm. So if you want to convince someone to cheer for the Cowboys, more power to you. But to convince someone to stop believing? Who does that help?

    Most believers, I feel, are in the same boat. When they argue about Lamanite DNA — they are not saying, “I totally believe that Lamanites are of Hebrew origin” — but instead they are saying, “I want to believe that the church is true, and as long as I can find plausible deniability to any counter-claims…I will continue choosing to believe.” If people have chosen this paradigm — why seek to dissuade them from it? To argue science or logic is really to miss the real point/position, no?

    I, too, feel set in my beliefs/ways — but I no longer feel the desire to persuade others (at least not through debate). I just don’t see the positive point to it all. If folks want to be sincere believers, I believe that they should be supported.

  32. whoa. wow.

    “Consequently, I wish that non-believers would simply speak to each other, or stick to discussing things like sports or other hobbies — because so much is at stake when you try to talk people out of their beliefs. I don’t think anyone benefits from such an engagement.”

    john, i dont think you can possibly believe this. perhaps, this wish of yours is unique to your blogs or to the naccle. the consequences of non-believers only talking to non-believers and active mormons only talking to mormons is a damn destructive and devastating pattern. this is the basis for my conclusion that mormons do not believe families are forever, or even for the rest of the year, rather, mormons believe that active mormon families are forever and only active mormon families are welcome at the family reunion.

    the lack of dialogue between both sides, and the institutional retardation of dialogue beyond the ‘truth restored’ version of the gospel, is devastating for families, individuals and communities. the world has proven that people can coexist and even understand other peoples points of view. hell, there are religious studies and theology programs all over the planet. why in the hell are mormons so incapable of having their own beliefs studied and discussed and why are they forbidden from studying the beliefs of former mormons without having a conniption?

    if a mormon talked about judaism with a friend, would they be at risk of losing their religion and ceasing to do good in the world? Or, are they only safe discussing sports and the weather?

  33. ME,

    Hey!

    I’m totally for candid discussion between folks of all different sorts of faiths (obviously). But why would I ever try to convince a Muslim that Mohammed was a fake or a jerk? Or that the Koran is a joke? That’s my point. For a non-believer to engage in the true/not true discussion w/ a believer feels like a bad thing to me.

  34. [i]But why would I ever try to convince a Muslim that Mohammed was a fake or a jerk? Or that the Koran is a joke?[/i]

    Because you’re not a former Muslim, John. The church was a destructive force in my life, but I would never have seen it had I not engaged in true/untrue discussions with non-believers who had already been down the path that I have now traveled. Former Mormons play a critical role in helping people out of the church whose lives are improved thereby.

    Mormons are atheists about every other religion except their own. The same is true for believers in other religions. And an atheist just believes in one less god than the Mormons do. I agree with Mayan. You can’t possibly believe that non-believers should just talk amongst themselves. I am shocked.

  35. Before replying to your response to me, John, I want to apologize to Carlos for my initial comment this morning. It was flippant, not well considered, and insulting. I think my tone in that comment (#26) may be what set you off in your comment (#28). If you want to take me to task for that comment and say that it was not constructive, I would agree with you.

    My intent generally (and specifically in this conversation) is not to convince those who believe in Mormonism that Joseph Smith was a “fake” or a “jerk.” My opinion of Joseph Smith is more nuanced than that. I do think there is value in pointing out to people flaws in logic and reasoning and cracks in the foundation of certain beliefs, and to get people thinking about their faith in a new way. I know formerly “orthodox” Mormons who have been exposed to criticism of the faith and come through it still faithful and active but with a different understanding (i.e., less literal, dogmatic, etc.) I think that’s a good thing.

    I don’t think I’ve engaged in a “true/not true” discussion regarding Mormonism as a whole. I have targeted certain specific beliefs, analyzed them, criticized them, and made suggestions about the implications of adhering to or abandoning such beliefs. Let me illustrate, using the current topic of discussion. My point here is that to say that Elder McConkie was wrong about a fundamental gospel doctrine is to say that the FP and Q12 were also wrong. To admit that raises questions about the role of prophets and apostles and the expectations for church members regarding their duty to follow and obey, etc. It also raises questions about how involved God is in leading, guiding, and directing the church through His prophets. I did not argue that because the prophets have been shown to be wrong on this point of doctrine (or others), that there is no value in the LDS Church or in being a member of the same. Nor have I argued that it means there is no God or that it means Mormonism is all false. I am arguing that the current church’s hardline stance on literal historicity, and the current church’s dogmatic demands of absolute obedience to the leaders who have been shown to be fallible on matters both central and peripheral to the gospel, are untenable. As I’ve noted on my blog, I am thinking about leaving the church not so much because of my conclusions about the validity of the Mormonism’s foundational truth claims, but because I question whether the church is the best place for my children to internalize the values and attitudes I think would serve them best as they mature into adulthood. It’s the church’s culture and the values that are being instilled that have caused me to limit my participation, not the belief issues.

    “But to convince someone to stop believing? Who does that help?”

    That depends on what it is they believe and then stop believing, doesn’t it? And it depends on whether their belief was harmful to themselves or to others. To take an extreme example to make the point, if someone could have stopped Dan Lafferty from believing that God wanted him to kill his “apostate” sister-in-law and her baby, that would have been a good thing. That was a case of a believer not leaving a non-believer alone. If my words help stop a young man from believing in Elder Packer’s Little Factory talk, that might save another guilt- and shame-ridden believer from committing suicide. That would be a good thing. You say the world is a better place because of believers. I say it’s not so black and white. It all depends on the object and fervor of the belief that is held. Some believers help the world as a result of their beliefs; others do tremendous damage because of their beliefs (to themselves or others).

    Now, you might say that the beliefs I attack are not like the examples I have given–that the beliefs I criticize are not of the variety that hurt anyone. And you might be right about some of them. But what about the Mormon missionaries? As LQ points out, Mormons are actively trying to get people not to believe. They are trying to get Catholics not to believe in the Pope, Protestants not to believe in the creeds of Christendom, etc. Are you suggesting Mormons should limit their proselytizing to atheists and agnostics?

  36. I actually agree with our disaffected Mormon commentators John. It seems unreasonable to expect them to remain silent just as it is unreasonable to expect Mormons to not engage in proselytizing. I do admit that it bothers me somewhat when they attempt to critique our position “from within” while adopting positions that I just don’t see Mormons having to take. (Even if some do at times)

  37. But why would I ever try to convince a Muslim that Mohammed was a fake or a jerk? Or that the Koran is a joke?

    Then why did you read Grant Palmer’s book and interview him for around three hours? From the interview it seemed to me that a large part of what Palmer was doing was telling people that the JS story was not what it was.

  38. Hi John,

    Interesting discussion. You said, “In my mind, belief is a choice — and one that takes a great deal of effort to maintain.”

    That may be true for you. But it doesn’t feel true for me. At all. In any way, shape, or form.

    Acting as if I believe? Can do. Trying my best to do the things that are supposed to lead to belief? No problem. But actually willing myself to believe, in the foundation of my soul, that the LDS church is everything it claims to be? Not happening–no matter how much easier, more comfortable or more peaceful that belief would make my life.

    The whole “belief is a choice” notion bothers me because it gives believers one more reason to judge and feel superior to (or sorry for) non-believers: “You know, it’s sad, but poor Brother Peg doesn’t believe in the restored gospel because he just doesn’t want it bad enough. Maybe someday he’ll make that choice. And then he can rejoin the chosen people.”

    Maybe belief is a choice for many people. That certainly seems to be the case. But maybe it’s also valuable to recognized that there are many people who feel that their beliefs choose them, rather than the other way around.

  39. For me, belief is a choice with respect to things for which I do not see enough contrary evidence to render the belief untenable. For example, I can choose to believe that there is a life after death because, while there is no conclusive evidence in favor of the proposition, neither is there sufficient evidence to render the notion completely absurd. I can believe in life on other planets in the universe (though not in the solar system) for a similar reason. It is, I think, equally plausible to either believe in extraterrestrial life or to not believe in it, based on the available evidence. Where, however, evidence is abundant in favor or in opposition to a particular assertion, I can not simply choose to believe in spite of such evidence. For example, if someone makes the extraordinary claim that a band of Romans secretly sailed from Italy during the reign of Caesar, landing in Canada, where they built a 1000-year-long civilization modeled on Rome’s, I would not be able to choose to believe it simply because it would make me feel good to believe it, or because my parents or spouse believed it, etc. I would need some evidence to support the idea, especially if there were a substantial body of evidence to counter the notion. So, for some ideas belief remains a choice. For others, not so much. But that’s just my opinion, and believers are free to disagree.

  40. i cant help but think of dallin oaks comment “that it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true, because it diminishes their effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. One can work to correct them by some other means, but don’t go about saying that they misbehaved when they were a youngster or whatever.” the other part of this message is that it is wrong to hear criticism of the leaders, or to tolerate criticism by others.

    this conversation is perfect for the topic of the podcast. the changes to the introduction to the book of mormon did not come about because of arguments originated at the correlation department. this is not a response to new curriculum for seminary and institute students. this is a result of research done by southerton and others and the follow-up commentary at farms and the internets.

    we are witnessing a significant change in doctrine and the unique scriptures based on discussions and research by non-believers and former mormons.

    and more, we are seeing mcconkie getting slapped, along with all the folks that went along with his claim, or dare i say, they believed him. those same people may have believed mcconkie when he said that a good lds parent would prefer that their child return home dead than return home without their virtue/virginity. again, like equality points out, that is an extreme example.

    the issue is not whether moroni gave some plates to a kid. and its not whether one person can know moroni lived and be good and another can think moroni was a fantasy which makes that person bad. the issue is the isolation that believers create for themselves and others by making this and other topics off-limits. families would all be better off if they could learn to discuss the church, including current counsel by leaders, without the unnecessary accusation that being on the other side of oaks or mcconkie is somehow diminishing god or his capacity.

  41. Eq: “I am arguing that the current church’s hardline stance on literal historicity, and the current church’s dogmatic demands of absolute obedience to the leaders who have been shown to be fallible on matters both central and peripheral to the gospel, are untenable.”

    ME: “The issue is the isolation that believers create for themselves and others by making this and other topics off-limits. families would all be better off if they could learn to discuss the church, including current counsel by leaders, without the unnecessary accusation that being on the other side of oaks or mcconkie is somehow diminishing god or his capacity.”

    These two comments address exactly what I felt was lacking in the podcast – a real discussion of the implications of something so seemingly errant coming from a man/organization claiming revelation from God. That discussion doesn’t preclude belief in God, prophets, or revelation, but it should at least explore the boundaries of how/when/what a believer should believe versus when he/she shouldn’t.

    I would recommend a future podcast discussing ETB’s Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Or discuss how a believer discerns what to believe in Mormon doctrine/culture versus what to discard.

    mc

  42. “witnessing a significant change in doctrine” – don’t get your hopes up, this isn’t that big.

    Equality: #26 “You might want to try actually reading a book by an actual scientist on the matter before revealing such a stunning level of ignorance. Seriously.”

    I fully accept that I’m ignorant in science matters since I come from the business world and haven’t done biology since year 10 in High School.

    I just go on what is written in Wiki and FARMS, specifically Butlers article:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=312&previous=L3B1YmxpY2F0aW9ucy9kbmEucGhw

    which may be clear to the scientists but still leaves room for this “Carlos Theory” (patented 🙂 ) whereby some Eskimo escaped south and contaminated local blood? Eskimo’s being Asians. Or am I being racists here?

    Wiki claims that genetic fingerprinting is used to generate ‘HYPOTHESES’ on the pattern on human diaspora!

    I sustain that a hypotheses is far from fact.

    Fact is that the BoM is the same, before and after this one word change. The message isn’t in the intro, that’s just a missionary tool.

  43. Mayan Elephant #41

    I think you are misreading that quote from Oaks.

    Elder Oaks was talking about bringing up past mistake to criticize current leaders such as when you remember and mention a Stake President’s romp in high school or when he was caught smooching with his then girlfriend as a 18 year old to say that the current Stake President wasn’t always 100% or that.

    He wasn’t talking about what is happening here where we criticize past procedures, that done all the time in church.

  44. Carlos: I sustain that a hypotheses is far from fact.

    In science a fact is a hypothesis we have a fair degree of confidence in. To a scientist all we have are hypotheses.

    Scientifically speaking only a Limited Geography makes sense (which Mormon scholars were advocating due to the nature of the text itself long before critics started harping on the issue.

    LiP: These two comments address exactly what I felt was lacking in the podcast – a real discussion of the implications of something so seemingly errant coming from a man/organization claiming revelation from God.

    Joseph Smith was very emphatic that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such. It is critics who want nice easy arguments who demand that because a person receives revelation X, Y, and Z that clearly they must also have revelation on A, B, C and D. This claim can’t be reconciled to Mormon doctrine nor Mormon history and is a strawman. Certainly critics can find the occasional naive Mormon who believes it. But the ultimate aim, I strongly feel, is simply that it makes their job easier to attack the Church in this way rather than what the Church actually asserts.

  45. Mayan Elephant: we are witnessing a significant change in doctrine and the unique scriptures based on discussions and research by non-believers and former mormons.

    John Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon came out and was wildly popular back in 1985! Nearly 25 years ago! Long, long before critics got into the act in a significant way. Sorenson was distributing the research long before his book was published. By the mid-90’s Sorenson’s views were mainstream among most educated Mormons. (Certainly they were the only dominant view at BYU in the early 90’s – the debate then changed to what LGT model one ought adopt)

    The critics (beyond older superficial attacks) really only got into the game the last decade when arguably their attacks were already irrelevant. They knew this so rather than attacking the informed Mormon position they appealed to what the naive lay member thought. (Ignoring the fact that one could take any doctrinal point in the Church and find a significant number of Mormons with incorrect ideas on it – heck even on basic narrative notions of the Book of Mormon stories) Ask the average Mormon questions to distinguish Sidney Rigdon from Martin Harris and see how many right answers you get, for instance.

  46. Clark – “Joseph Smith was very emphatic that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such.”

    As if that helps any. That’s not what Ezra Taft Benson taught in his Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Which is correct?

    How in the world is a rank and file member of the church supposed to sort through the conflicting teachings of the leaders to arrive at a logical conclusion as to what to believe?

    mc

  47. “Joseph Smith was very emphatic that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such.”

    True. But the problem is the constant moving of things from the “prophet” column to the “man” column on the prophetic ledger sheet. Statements made in a prophetic context that later turn out to be wrong are simply recharacterized by the apologists as nonprophetic man-speak. Statements made in the canonized scriptures, at General Conference, in official proclamations, in church periodicals and so forth on doctrinally significant topics cannot, I think, be so easily brushed aside with the old “speaking as a man” mantra. If you want to say that a stray comment along the march of Zion’s Camp is the prophet speaking as a man, I might go along with you. But 150+ years of prophetic utterances explicating canonized scriptures? If they aren’t speaking as prophets in that context, when, pray tell, are they?

  48. “so rather than attacking the informed Mormon position they appealed to what the naive lay member thought. ”

    The problem here is that the “informed Mormon position” so often does not comport with the position taken in church magazines, lesson materials, and talks by the prophets, seers, and revelators at General Conference. No one is more dismissive of the Mormon prophets than the Mormon apologists it seems.

    The “naive lay members” arrive at their positions on doctrinal issues by following the prophets’ advice and restricting their inquiry to church-approved sources. The “naive lay members” are closer to the positions staked out by the Brethren than the apologists. Which raises a couple questions: (1) who leads the church–the apostles or the apologists, and (2) why would the apologists have greater light and knowledge on doctrinal matters than the men called by God to lead the church as prophets, seers, and revelators.

    Note that I am not criticizing belief qua belief; I am merely posing the question of who it is the average member ought to listen to when the apologists and apostles are saying different things (which happens with some regularity in the church).

  49. LiP: That’s not what Ezra Taft Benson taught in his Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Which is correct?

    It would seem to be entailed by his comment, “Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.”

    Equality: But the problem is the constant moving of things from the “prophet” column to the “man” column on the prophetic ledger sheet

    Why is that a problem? Prophets get the benefit of doubt. But they are fallible. I don’t see why this is a problem in the least. I’d note that this same principle applies to personal revelation as well. Something most Mormons should ideally be familiar with.

    Equality: The problem here is that the “informed Mormon position” so often does not comport with the position taken in church magazines, lesson materials, and talks by the prophets, seers, and revelators at General Conference.

    So critics claim. Certainly occasionally there are bad manuals. (The current institute manuals that are being rewritten are particularly bad IMO) If you want to say teaching in the Church isn’t as good as it should be I’d agree 100%. The problem is that critics move from “there exist manuals with errors” to “the errors in manuals should be taken as the Church’s official position.” Which is simply bad logic. Heck, look at High School science texts and how bad those are. Yet no one would say those are how we ought judge scientific orthodoxy.

    So if you say we are failing in doing as good of a job teaching as we should I’ll agree wholeheartedly. But when you move beyond that…

  50. BTW – regarding Pres. Benson’s talk. I think his statement, “the prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know,” applies directly to the question at hand. i.e. he explicitly says that prophecy isn’t tied to all the knowledge critics claim.

    I honestly can’t think of anything in Pres. Benson’s talk I disagree with in the least. I think it a very good summation of LDS views of prophets.

  51. Why is that a problem? Prophets get the benefit of doubt. But they are fallible. I don’t see why this is a problem in the least. I’d note that this same principle applies to personal revelation as well. Something most Mormons should ideally be familiar with.

    Clark, I don’t think your arguments are going anywhere. You need to have a better account of revelation than this. There are a ton of problems here. If you give the prophet the benefit of the doubt and accept that they teach false things from time to time what right does any Mormon have to say that the Pope is not inspired of God? Or the local guru? Or the local imam? They teach some true things and get things wrong from time to time, just give them the benefit of the doubt, they are trying hard too. It think this is deadly to Mormon theology, because you are reduced to arguing that what makes a prophet a prophet is not true revelation but authority only.

    The same principle does not apply to personal revelation. If that were true then on a regular basis you would have to sit down on a regular basis and pray about the Book of Mormon, the church, the whole kit and kaboodle. Also, what happens to those times when revelation doesn’t show up and doubts appear? Is that time to chuck past personal revelation out the window? If one has doubts about the Book of Mormon can that person not rely on past personal revelation to attest to the fact that it is still a true book? If no revelation is ever settled then why would anyone go on a mission or follow the prophet or do anything else for that matter? There has to be some stability, which I think there is, I just don’t think your arguments get you there.

  52. LiP: That’s not what Ezra Taft Benson taught in his Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Which is correct?

    Clarke: “It would seem to be entailed by his comment, “Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.”

    In which case you should not have quoted JS saying “that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” when ETB has clearly expanded it. Or are both invalid since both are dead?

    The Mormon church lacks a disciplined canonical committee. Excepting the PR doctrinal blurb after “The Mormons” was aired which largely seemed aimed at non-Mormon media and not the members, there is no definitive process for establishing doctrine within the church. That’s how BRM can publish a book full of errors as Mormon Doctrine or the intro to the BoM and how GBH can rewrite the doctrine of Godhood on Larry King Live.

    Anti-Mormons don’t make it anywhere near as difficult to believe as the church authorities themselves. If they wouldn’t go around willy nilly changing things to fit their personal belief it would be a whole lot easier to believe they were inspired and there was a lot of prayerful consideration over even minor changes in doctrine.

  53. #51:

    I don’t think the problem is that there are bad manuals or that the members are not being taught well. I think the manuals are carefully screened by the Brethren and that the members are being taught to believe exactly what the Brethren want them to be taught to believe. My point is that the Brethren and the average church member are in agreement on matters of doctrine. It’s the apologists and Bloggernaclers who are the outliers–the so-called “informed Mormons.” I might even go so far as to say that “critics” and “informed Mormons” might have more in common than “informed Mormons” and the “naive lay members.” Of course, this is a point that has been raised many times before, so, according to John, is probably not worth discussing.

  54. David Clark:

    Clark, I don’t think your arguments are going anywhere. You need to have a better account of revelation than this. There are a ton of problems here. If you give the prophet the benefit of the doubt and accept that they teach false things from time to time what right does any Mormon have to say that the Pope is not inspired of God?

    I think the Pope is often inspired by God. So that’s an odd track to take. I think God can inspire most people. And of course Brigham Young made his famous statement about inspiration in various religious leaders like Muhommad or Confucius. Mormonism encompasses all truth. We have the authority and many truths other religions don’t. But no Mormon leader has ever claimed we have a monopoly on truth.

    Now as to how to deal with competing truth claims it seems to me that Mormonism has a rather obvious and oft stated answer. Go to God and get a personal revelation. However if you’ve a testimony of the gospel and of Pres. Hinkley as a prophet of God then I think Hinkley gets the benefit of doubt when you don’t have a revelation.

    To me you are conflating issues of what determines truth, issues of when I know something, and issues of what I ought believe in the absence of knowledge.

    David Clark:

    If no revelation is ever settled then why would anyone go on a mission or follow the prophet or do anything else for that matter?

    Because we usually act on incomplete or imperfect knowledge. The issue is typically not if we have some irrefutable and indubitable knowledge. That seems to me to be a strawman. There is very little of my knowledge that is indubitable. Only the most hardened Cartesian would demand such things and of course even Descartes limited what he claimed indubitably quite a bit.

    LiP:

    In which case you should not have quoted JS saying “that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” when ETB has clearly expanded it. Or are both invalid since both are dead?

    I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say here. Could you rephrase your claim and argument? Nothing Pres. Benson or Joseph Smith said entails a prophet being invalid simply because they are dead.

    LiP:

    The Mormon church lacks a disciplined canonical committee.

    The bigger issue is that being canonical has a vastly different meaning in Mormonism than it does in Protestantism. The problem is that critics keep using the Protestant view to critique Mormonism as if they were making a critique from within. But that’s plain silly. To take one example consider the Song of Solomon which is undeniably canonized but which Joseph Smith felt was completely uninspired. Brigham Young famously said that the Bible contains the words of God, the words of men and the words of the devil. While in part he was making a hermeneutic point I think it applies to how we approach canon. There simply is nothing like sola scripture nor inerrancy in Mormon theology.

    LiP:

    …there is no definitive process for establishing doctrine within the church.

    Yes. Which pisses off critics to no end since it means they can’t make simple and easy arguments. Mormonism was from the beginning a religion that was a work in progress founded on continuing revelation. It is far more analogous to science and scientific progress than most traditional Christianity which seems focused on fixed and established doctrines one must believe. (Less so in the more liberal varieties but certainly the case with conservative Protestantism)

    Anyway, you see this as a negative. I see it as a positive.

    David Clark:

    Clark, I don’t think your arguments are going anywhere. You need to have a better account of revelation than this. There are a ton of problems here. If you give the prophet the benefit of the doubt and accept that they teach false things from time to time what right does any Mormon have to say that the Pope is not inspired of God?

    I think the Pope is often inspired by God. So that’s an odd track to take. I think God can inspire most people. And of course Brigham Young made his famous statement about inspiration in various religious leaders like Muhommad or Confucius. Mormonism encompasses all truth. We have the authority and many truths other religions don’t. But no Mormon leader has ever claimed we have a monopoly on truth.

    Now as to how to deal with competing truth claims it seems to me that Mormonism has a rather obvious and oft stated answer. Go to God and get a personal revelation. However if you’ve a testimony of the gospel and of Pres. Hinkley as a prophet of God then I think Hinkley gets the benefit of doubt when you don’t have a revelation.

    To me you are conflating issues of what determines truth, issues of when I know something, and issues of what I ought believe in the absence of knowledge.

    David Clark:

    If no revelation is ever settled then why would anyone go on a mission or follow the prophet or do anything else for that matter?

    Because we usually act on incomplete or imperfect knowledge. The issue is typically not if we have some irrefutable and indubitable knowledge. That seems to me to be a strawman. There is very little of my knowledge that is indubitable. Only the most hardened Cartesian would demand such things and of course even Descartes limited what he claimed indubitably quite a bit.

    LiP:

    In which case you should not have quoted JS saying “that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” when ETB has clearly expanded it. Or are both invalid since both are dead?

    I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say here. Could you rephrase your claim and argument? Nothing Pres. Benson or Joseph Smith said entails a prophet being invalid simply because they are dead.

    LiP:

    The Mormon church lacks a disciplined canonical committee.

    The bigger issue is that being canonical has a vastly different meaning in Mormonism than it does in Protestantism. The problem is that critics keep using the Protestant view to critique Mormonism as if they were making a critique from within. But that’s plain silly. To take one example consider the Song of Solomon which is undeniably canonized but which Joseph Smith felt was completely uninspired. Brigham Young famously said that the Bible contains the words of God, the words of men and the words of the devil. While in part he was making a hermeneutic point I think it applies to how we approach canon. There simply is nothing like sola scripture nor inerrancy in Mormon theology.

    LiP:

    If they wouldn’t go around willy nilly changing things to fit their personal belief it would be a whole lot easier to believe they were inspired and there was a lot of prayerful consideration over even minor changes in doctrine.

    If you demand a conservative Protestant view of revelation as a series of indubitable, complete and unchangeable propositions then yes, you will always find Mormonism hard to believe. (I’d suggest that any person who adopts such a belief ought find the Bible hard to believe as well. But that’s a different topic)

    So those who as a presupposition adopt the Protestant view of revelation either need to change their presuppositions or will leave the Church once the inconsistencies of their position become manifest. Fortunately one can simply discount such a view of revelation and stick with the one that prophets like Pres. Benson, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or others taught. Mormonism is much more consistent in such a scheme.

    Equality :

    I think the manuals are carefully screened by the Brethren and that the members are being taught to believe exactly what the Brethren want them to be taught to believe.

    Feel free to believe that. I’ve known too many people writing manuals who discussed the process to believe that. I know for instance you are familiar with Bill Hamblin’s famous anecdote about a joke that made it through the committees.

    It is rather funny to me how critics demand that our leaders be involved in detail on so much and think through every possible implication of what is said, intending them all. Once again I’m sure this makes life much easier for the critic.

    Equality :

    My point is that the Brethren and the average church member are in agreement on matters of doctrine. It’s the apologists and Bloggernaclers who are the outliers–the so-called “informed Mormons.”

    Well, I’m not even sure how to start here. What do we mean by doctrine in such a context? I’m fairly sure, for instance, that most of the brethren accept a view roughly akin to John Sorensons (even if they might not accept the details of his model) But what factual elements of history or narrative constitute doctrine?

    I think that pretty much the brethren and so-called “informed Mormons” (outside of more liberal intellectuals) tend to agree on probably most of the doctrine. There may be a few places they disagree. (For instance I suspect I disagree with Elder Packer over the nature of evolution, but I doubt I disagree with him on much else and I know there are plenty of GAs who think the same as me on evolution) But then that gets to the central question. Critics like the idea of this unanimity on every doctrinal point that establishes nice uncontroversial propositions for then to attack. And they’ll always try to dismiss Mormons who disagree as irrelevant since it undermines their approach. Therefore the position on say evolution is what Bruce R. McConkie wrote. (Although you could submit any doctrinal point in question – say some figure from the 1970s who was writing against a LGT view of the Book of Mormon) It’s a nice convenient way to having to avoid dealing with the arguments of FARMS, FAIR or others.

  55. Weird. My post was screwed up with some paragraphs repeating. Here it is as I typed it into my editor. If you could replace the above with this John I’d appreciate it.

    David Clark:

    Clark, I don’t think your arguments are going anywhere. You need to have a better account of revelation than this. There are a ton of problems here. If you give the prophet the benefit of the doubt and accept that they teach false things from time to time what right does any Mormon have to say that the Pope is not inspired of God?

    I think Popes are often inspired by God. So that’s an odd track to take. I think God can inspire most people. And of course Brigham Young made his famous statement about inspiration in various religious leaders like Muhommad or Confucius. Mormonism encompasses all truth. We have the authority and many truths other religions don’t. But no Mormon leader has ever claimed we have a monopoly on truth.

    Now as to how to deal with competing truth claims it seems to me that Mormonism has a rather obvious and oft stated answer. Go to God and get a personal revelation. However if you’ve a testimony of the gospel and of Pres. Hinkley as a prophet of God then I think Hinkley gets the benefit of doubt when you don’t have a revelation.

    To me you are conflating issues of what determines truth, issues of when I know something, and issues of what I ought believe in the absence of knowledge.

    David Clark:

    If no revelation is ever settled then why would anyone go on a mission or follow the prophet or do anything else for that matter?

    Because we usually act on incomplete or imperfect knowledge. The issue is typically not if we have some irrefutable and indubitable knowledge. That seems to me to be a strawman. There is very little of my knowledge that is indubitable. Only the most hardened Cartesian would demand such things and of course even Descartes limited what he claimed indubitably quite a bit.

    LiP:

    In which case you should not have quoted JS saying “that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such” when ETB has clearly expanded it. Or are both invalid since both are dead?

    I’ve no idea what you’re trying to say here. Could you rephrase your claim and argument? Nothing Pres. Benson or Joseph Smith said entails a prophet being invalid simply because they are dead.

    LiP:

    The Mormon church lacks a disciplined canonical committee.

    The bigger issue is that being canonical has a vastly different meaning in Mormonism than it does in Protestantism. The problem is that critics keep using the Protestant view to critique Mormonism as if they were making a critique from within. But that’s plain silly. To take one example consider the Song of Solomon which is undeniably canonized but which Joseph Smith felt was completely uninspired. Brigham Young famously said that the Bible contains the words of God, the words of men and the words of the devil. While in part he was making a hermeneutic point I think it applies to how we approach canon. There simply is nothing like sola scripture nor inerrancy in Mormon theology.

    LiP:

    …there is no definitive process for establishing doctrine within the church.

    Yes. Which pisses off critics to no end since it means they can’t make simple and easy arguments. Mormonism was from the beginning a religion that was a work in progress founded on continuing revelation. It is far more analogous to science and scientific progress than most traditional Christianity which seems focused on fixed and established doctrines one must believe. (Less so in the more liberal varieties but certainly the case with conservative Protestantism)
    Anyway, you see this as a negative. I see it as a positive.

    LiP:

    The Mormon church lacks a disciplined canonical committee.

    The bigger issue is that being canonical has a vastly different meaning in Mormonism than it does in Protestantism. The problem is that critics keep using the Protestant view to critique Mormonism as if they were making a critique from within. But that’s plain silly. To take one example consider the Song of Solomon which is undeniably canonized but which Joseph Smith felt was completely uninspired. Brigham Young famously said that the Bible contains the words of God, the words of men and the words of the devil. While in part he was making a hermeneutic point I think it applies to how we approach canon. There simply is nothing like sola scripture nor inerrancy in Mormon theology.

    LiP:

    If they wouldn’t go around willy nilly changing things to fit their personal belief it would be a whole lot easier to believe they were inspired and there was a lot of prayerful consideration over even minor changes in doctrine.

    If you demand a conservative Protestant view of revelation as a series of indubitable, complete and unchangeable propositions then yes, you will always find Mormonism hard to believe. (I’d suggest that any person who adopts such a belief ought find the Bible hard to believe as well. But that’s a different topic)

    So those who as a presupposition adopt the Protestant view of revelation either need to change their presuppositions or will leave the Church once the inconsistencies of their position become manifest. Fortunately one can simply discount such a view of revelation and stick with the one that prophets like Pres. Benson, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or others taught. Mormonism is much more consistent in such a scheme.

    Equality :

    I think the manuals are carefully screened by the Brethren and that the members are being taught to believe exactly what the Brethren want them to be taught to believe.

    Feel free to believe that. I’ve known too many people writing manuals who discussed the process to believe that. I know for instance you are familiar with Bill Hamblin’s famous anecdote about a joke that made it through the committees.

    It is rather funny to me how critics demand that our leaders be involved in detail on so much and think through every possible implication of what is said, intending them all. Once again I’m sure this makes life much easier for the critic.

    Equality :

    My point is that the Brethren and the average church member are in agreement on matters of doctrine. It’s the apologists and Bloggernaclers who are the outliers–the so-called “informed Mormons.”

    Well, I’m not even sure how to start here. What do we mean by doctrine in such a context? I’m fairly sure, for instance, that most of the brethren accept a view roughly akin to John Sorensons (even if they might not accept the details of his model) But what factual elements of history or narrative constitute doctrine?

    I think that pretty much the brethren and so-called “informed Mormons” (outside of more liberal intellectuals) tend to agree on probably most of the doctrine. There may be a few places they disagree. (For instance I suspect I disagree with Elder Packer over the nature of evolution, but I doubt I disagree with him on much else and I know there are plenty of GAs who think the same as me on evolution) But then that gets to the central question. Critics like the idea of this unanimity on every doctrinal point that establishes nice uncontroversial propositions for then to attack. And they’ll always try to dismiss Mormons who disagree as irrelevant since it undermines their approach. Therefore the position on say evolution is what Bruce R. McConkie wrote. (Although you could submit any doctrinal point in question – say some figure from the 1970s who was writing against a LGT view of the Book of Mormon) It’s a nice convenient way to having to avoid dealing with the arguments of FARMS, FAIR or others.

  56. “Is this change a big deal, or much ado about nothing?”

    Being so far from the Salt Lake Valley, I doubt that this “news item” will be discussed at all in my area’s church circles … despite having many congregations containing majorities who would identify a having “Lamanite” heritage. Talks in church are often sprinkled with language describing the blessings of “Lamanite” heritage ….

    Perhaps, for some (of the few who even hear about the “news item”), their sense of “Lamanite” identity will shakened. All in all, I don’t think it will have much of an impact.

  57. Clark: “They knew this so rather than attacking the informed Mormon position they appealed to what the naive lay member thought. (Ignoring the fact that one could take any doctrinal point in the Church and find a significant number of Mormons with incorrect ideas on it – heck even on basic narrative notions of the Book of Mormon stories) Ask the average Mormon questions to distinguish Sidney Rigdon from Martin Harris and see how many right answers you get, for instance.”

    nice. real nice. its swell as well.

    nothing like using ‘naive’ perjoratively to describe the average mormon. i assume you are not an average mormon, you are smarter than that, no? Clark man, i am not sure this victim mentality is that helpful either. the critics, their attacks, attacking the informed. sheesh man. sounds like that book of alma with so much attacking going on.

    some of this thread has moved far from the original topic, including the suggestion that mormons can be divided up based on their naivite. however, i think the suggestion that revelation/doctrine/counsel from a prophet can be moved from the godly neighborhood to the manly neighborhood is perfect for the topic.

    the constant apologetic responses to just about everything are – ‘spoken as a man not as a prophet’, and ‘that aint new, everyone knew that.’

    there is a change in the most important book on earth, according to the prophets, and we get both apologies – mcconkie wrote that as a man, not as a prophet, and, the lgt isnt new, everyone knew that.

    sounds to me like this example that hamer, dehlin and head are discussing could serve as the perfect case study of mormon doctrine, mormon culture, blood-thirsty attacking anti-mormon hellions, and the new web 2.0 mormon apologists.

    btw: i think i saw a naughty word up there. it started with a p, which means it was not the word ‘crap.’

  58. By naive I mean simply uninformed (or incorrect) on objectively established doctrinal, narrative or historical questions. If you go into your typical Sunday School class and ask a set of fairly simple questions most people will get them wrong. It’s been that way in every ward I’ve been in.

    Let me also add that I often include myself in that category. There are tons of discussions I don’t know enough about to enter in without doing a lot of reading first.

    I don’t see this as pejorative, mind you, since unlike the critics I don’t see such questions as being terribly key to the gospel nor living it. Which is the point of the Church – not being able to answer trivia questions or necessarily engage others.

  59. To add if you take the average person off the street and ask them very simple and obvious science questions they’ll get them wrong also. Something like 20% of people don’t even get right questions about which orbits which: the sun or the earth. Start asking them basics about how a ball falls, simple biology or the like and it’s even worse. (Something like 30% of Sophomore physics students don’t draw the curve of a falling ball correctly)

    My point is that when critics address “typical” people rather than what can be objectively argued it is irrelevant. We don’t do that with any other discipline. Why religion?

  60. Clark,

    I am on your side in wanting to defend the general authorities but you really need to either re-think or re-explain your position in a better way. To be honest it is coming across as basically: 1) revelation is always up in the air, 2) most Mormons are complete idiots, 3) public impressions of what general authorities say are not correct; you seem to have some source the rest of us lack on gauging what the general authorities say and assure the rest of us that they are in agreement with you and Mormon apologists, and 4) to get the real story on Mormon doctrine one needs to talk to a group of people (the apologists) who do not speak in any way for the church as a whole, yet somehow magically hold all the right opinions.

    Again, I would like to agree with your position, it simply doesn’t sell well and is not convicing logically. I am sure there is a better way of going about this; no don’t ask me I don’t know.

  61. David, as you know I’m a thoroughgoing fallibilist. So I think in a certain sense everything is up in the air. That’s why I made the comments about Descartes I did. I don’t think religion is unique in this. With regards to “idiocy” I think most people are idiots. But then I think I am quite regularly an idiot. So I don’t see that as pejorative – merely a statement of the human condition. Most public are simply not well informed on most matters. I don’t see that as somehow a surprising thing to say. It seems self evident but fairly easy to verify if you wish. (Feel free to do what I did and conduct a test of people in your Sunday School) As for getting “the real story” I don’t think anyone has all the right answers. (See 1 and 2 – fallibilism rejects the very idea of some mythic group with correct answers)

  62. Sorry Ann,

    I’ve been in several bishoprics in the past but currently I’m a Stake auditor for finances. It’s a good job for me with my present feelings about the literalness of the restoration and all that other “stuff”.

    I do know of you from your essays over at the cultural hall and I really like your take on things. Thanks for being part of the community and helping many of us feel their still may be a place in Mormonism for us. I’ve written lots of comments lately in defense of Lyndon Lamborn in an Arizona newspaper comment section. (East Valley Tribune) I’m not sure, but if my true identity was known I think I would suffer the same fate as Mr. Lamborn based on the content of my comments.

    Hope you’re not too disappointed…

  63. Doug G., not at all. It’s just that MY Doug G. is, well, mine, and I know his wife pokes around here some. If you HAD been my Doug G., I would have been really, really surprised.

  64. So basically every time the Bible has been changed or translated differently it makes the whole Bible false? Anyone who has a background in linguistics will tell you this is quite normal.

    I found it interesting how some people choose to support science only when it fits their agenda. If I believe in one of the foremost experts in science, Hawking, then God does not exist and all of these discussions are for not.

  65. We all want to have evidence to back up our belief. I think we need to ask ourselves what part of our views are based on science and what part is based on faith. I would say that 90% or more is based on faith. Evidence, even DNA evidence can be misleading.

    Being a true believer in Christ has more to do with faith than with DNA. We do not belong to the Church of DNA. Our beliefs like any other church is based principally on faith.

  66. Pingback: John Hamer in Mormon Podcasts « Saints Herald

  67. Something I found strange the other day when I tried to use the gospel library app. The last time I used it was a few years ago because it belongs to my child. So after opening the app I navigated to the scriptures and then I noticed the app updating the scriptures. My comment is; so if we are now developing a reliance on mobile Scriptures, how do we know the scriptures aren’t being changed to adjust to scientific evidence or other matters that the church struggles with.

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