Richard Bushman presents: The Revived Latter-Day Saint

January 15, 2009

Richard L. Bushman, Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University, and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling gave this introduction at a CES seminar at BYU in July 2008. I am posting it because, although I disagree with some of his suggestions (and some of his history as well), I appreciate that Bushman understands the problem.

There are some serious issues with LDS history and doctrine and the official correlated materials not only do not address them but often even obfuscate the truth. Members are learning about these things on the Internet and many feel betrayed— thinking they have based their belief on a white-washed myth that has been presented as reality. The LDS Church’s approach of sweeping uncomfortable facts under the rug is not only dishonest, it is not working.      

<Bushman>

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes? These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, , they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

A friend who is in this position described the mindset of the disillusioned member this way:

“Due to the process of learning, which they have gone through, these [two-minded] LDS often no longer accept the church as the only true one (with the only true priesthood authority and the only valid sacred ordinances), but they see it as a Christian church, in which good, inspired programs are found as well as failure and error. They no longer consider inspiration, spiritual and physical healing, personal and global revelation limited to the LDS church. In this context, these saints may attend other churches, too, where they might have spiritual experiences as well. They interpret their old spiritual experiences differently, understanding them as testimonies from God for them personally, as a result of their search and efforts, but these testimonies don’t necessarily have to be seen as a confirmation that the LDS church is the only true one.

“Since the social relationships between them and other ward (or stake) members suffer (avoidance, silence, even mobbing) because of their status as heretics, which is usually known via gossip, and since the extent of active involvement and range of possible callings are reduced because of their nonconformity in various areas, there is a risk that they end up leaving the church after all, because they are simply ignored by the majority of the other members.”

He then offers a recommendation:

“It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these ‘apostates’ but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don’t know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive.”

Those are the words of someone who has lost belief in many of the fundamentals and is working out a new relationship to the Church. Other shaken individuals recover their belief in the basic principles and events but are never quite the same as before. Their knowledge, although no longer toxic, gives them a new perspective. They tend to be more philosophic and less dogmatic about all the stories they once enjoyed. Here are some of the characteristics of people who have passed through this ordeal but managed to revive most of their old beliefs.

1. They often say they learned the Prophet was human. They don’t expect him to be a model of perfect deportment as they once thought. He may have taken a glass of wine from time to time, or scolded his associates, or even have made business errors. They see his virtues and believe in his revelations but don’t expect perfection.

2. They also don’t believe he was led by revelation in every detail. They see him as learning gradually to be a prophet and having to feel his way at times like most Church members. In between the revelations, he was left to himself to work out the methods of complying with the Lord’s commandments. Sometimes he had to experiment until he found the right way.

3. These newly revived Latter-day Saints also develop a more philosophical attitude toward history. They come to see (like professional historians) that facts can have many interpretations. Negative facts are not necessarily as damning as they appear at first sight. Put in another context along side other facts, they do not necessarily destroy Joseph Smith’s reputation.

4. Revived Latter-day Saints focus on the good things they derive from their faith–the community of believers, the comforts of the Holy Spirit, the orientation toward the large questions of life, contact with God, moral discipline, and many others. They don’t want to abandon these good things. Starting from that point of desired belief, they are willing to give Joseph Smith and the doctrine a favorable hearing. They may not be absolutely certain about every item, but they are inclined to see the good and the true in the Church.

At the heart of this turmoil is the question of trust. Disillusioned Latter-day Saints feel their trust has been betrayed. They don’t know whom to trust. They don’t dare trust the old feelings that once were so powerful, nor do they trust church leaders. They can only trust the new knowledge they have acquired. Those who come back to the Church are inclined to trust their old feelings. Their confidence in the good things they knew before is at least partially restored. But they sort out the goodness that seems still vital from the parts that now seem no longer tenable. Knowledge not only has given them a choice, it has compelled them to choose. They have to decide what they really believe. In the end, many are more stable and convinced than before. They feel better prepared to confront criticism openly, confident they can withstand it.

</Bushman>

There you go. I hope to post my comments on Dr. Bushman’s intro soon.

 

22 Comments

  1. Bill says:

    I liked this article a lot. At least Bushman acknowledges that there are some issues and doesn’t dismiss them. For many people (like my inlaws) just reading this article would be considered blasphemous.

    Great Blog also. Keep up the good work.

  2. admin says:

    Right. I admire Bushman’s willingness to admit that there are problems— this is far more than LDS Church leadership has done. I come to the different conclusions that he does regarding foundation events in LDS history but that’s OK. At least he acknowledges the issues and the turmoil many are experiencing.

    I actually had my wife read this piece when I found it online. She is a believer and had heard me talk about “finding things out.” I could said “See. I’m not crazy about this stuff. Bushman’s talking about it too.”

  3. Robert(1) says:

    There is a lot of church history that on the surface seems scary but with careful examination and time can be ruled out, as closed mindedness by the critics. I am LDS and have investigated all the negative stuff and I am sorry that so many LDS leaders tell people just stay away from it. A lot of what they say seem to cancel each other out for example the Kinderhook Plates and Book of Mormon…

    If Joseph Smith made up the story about Gold Plates then wouldn’t he know that he was being tricked? I mean if the Book Of Mormon is a fake then only a genius con-man would have managed to trick the whole world up in till this point. So, it wouldn’t be extremely difficult to con a con man right into thinking there were another set of gold plates other then the make believe ones in his imaginary head!

    Hence if he did in fact find Gold Plates wouldn’t an uneducated man be curious to see if they were real? Wouldn’t an uneducated farm man be delighted to think someone else found something as well….this makes much more sense than anything else I have read so far

    Why didn’t he try to purchase the plates on the spot like he did the scrolls in The Pearl of Great Price? Which were by the way, of ancient date and purchased by the church

    Where is the translation of the Kinderhook Plates?

    The prophet and others did look at the plates and others were more zealous about them then he was. This also makes sense considering they are not the prophet and have feelings and emotions like everyone else does

    The History of the Church that states the Prophet saying “I will translate” is mostly second hand accounts of the Prophet with “I” statements made by a second party not necessarily by the prophet himself.

    Joseph Smith by all accounts didn’t really pay them much mind to them if he did then the men who were trying to trick him would have told the world in the days proceeding the event that he was a false prophet, not 12 yrs later, after his death…..

    Book of Mormon example….

    Joseph Smith wrote the BOM as his first book and yet there is no evidence of anything before hand. So he took parts of the bible, Spaudling, View of the Hebrews and his envoirment and produced a 500 pg book of scripture by cross referencing all these sources and learning the many hebrew parralisms found in the bible = duplicated in the BOM and there are no previous signs of literary intelligence!!! I found that harder to believe than translating by the power of God.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, I ‘m just stating how I approach the problems and rationally think through them.

    It not being true is harder to believe than it being true

    Robert

  4. admin says:

    Robert, thanks for your comments-

    I’ll try to address each point if I can. Sorry. It’s gonna be long.

    1) You speculate a lot about what a con man would and wouldn’t do. And like Jeffrey R, Holland in his conference talk I think you are really grasping when you make those statements. You really have no way of knowing what Joseph Smith was thinking. A better judge in my view of Joseph as a prophet is what he did, said, and most importantly the actual “revelations” he produced.

    You imply that because no full translation of the Kinderhook plates exists that it somehow has a bearing on the Book of Mormon translation. I’ve heard this apologetic before and think that’s a serious strain of logic. I fail to see how you draw that conclusion. You imply that there is no conning a con man— or at least that it is unlikely. I submit that this statement is not true. Certainly con artists have been scammed and will continue to be. I would imagine that sometimes they are the very victims of their own nature—looking to score. Anyhow, there are a number of possible reason why Joseph could have been interested in the KH plates and the Gold plates story still not been accurate or ‘true’.

    Here are a few:

    - Joseph was a con man regarding the gold plates story yet still was interested in artifacts and treasure. His pre-BoM treasure using his seer stone is well documented digging. Likely the KH plates would have interested someone so steeped in the mound builder myths.

    - Because Joseph was a con man regarding the gold plates story he IS EVEN MORE interested in the KH plates seeing them as another possible money making scheme. He is aware of the myths regarding artifact and treasure searching culture he lives and perhaps even buys into them a little himself so he sees this as a ‘golden’ opportunity.

    - Joseph was a pious fraud (believed what he was doing, truthful or not, would be approved of by God) regarding the gold plates story yet still was interested in things that he thought were of ancient origin (artifacts and treasure).

    - In an unguarded Smith made a “translation of a portion” of the KH plates heard and recored by Clayton. Afterward, Smith realizes the implications of the KH plates and opts to not “translate further” because of the risks. He had been burned by the Greek Psalter ‘translation’ debacle earlier in 1842 and decides to hold back.

    http://mormonthink.com/greekweb.htm

    2) Sure, I realize that parts HoC are not directly from Joseph’s writing but from others, often William Clayton. But that’s truth with much of LDS history. If you accept HoC you accept that what we have often comes through other people. What I find funny is how LDS quote Clayton up and down when it suits there purpose but call foul when it come to the KH plates. Was Clayton a reliable source? Yes. And there was none that was more intimately associated with JS in Nauvoo in the last few years.

    Joseph F. Smith, sixth President of the LDS Church, spoke of Clayton as follows:

    “He was a friend and companion of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and it is to his pen to a very great extent that we are indebted for the history of the Church … during his acquaintance with him and the time he acted for him as his private secretary, in the days of Nauvoo (p. lx).”

    Clearly, Joseph did “translate a portion” of the KH plates and gave a quick summary— which William Clayton, his personal secretary, recoded. This was not a merely a typical journal entry. Clayton’s job was to record what Joseph did and said. and he is known to be a reliable source. Just because the people don’t like what he says about the KH plates here doesn’t make his comments on the KH plates any less reliable.

    Why did Joseph not complete the translation? Who knows? Maybe he was busy. It took him 6+ years to publish a translation of the BoA (got the papyrii in 1835, published in 1842). Oh, and speaking of the papyrii, you said “Which were by the way, of ancient date and purchased by the church.” Agreed they were ancient BUT they are not the documents Joseph claimed them to be.

    3) You argue that it is more believable that Joseph translated the BoM as he said (by the gift and power of God) and that it is what it claims to be than it is to believe that Joseph and (possibly some co-conspirators) assembled the BoM from sources of the day. Right?

    If I understand your comment, then I heartily disagree. I think the BoM itself clearly shows itself to be a 19th century document. The plot, subject, matter, language, juvenile writing style, KJV errors etc etc point to the book coming from the burned-over district early 1800s. Add to that the population issues, DNA, lack of archeology, anachronisms etc and I think the stack of evidence goes against the literal claims that Joseph made.

    Yes, Joseph Smith was not very educated by our standards today— but he was not the ignorant bumpkin that LDS make him out to be. Was he natural genius? I think it’s very likely. He certainly was very intelligent and was a quick study. William McClellin a follower— and for a time Smith’s high school teacher (1834)— commented on Smith’s remarkable mind even after he was excommunicated. Both Joseph Sr. and Hyrum worked as school teachers and the family was obviously read the Bible and other books. Also early on Joseph was known to spin quite a yarn— Lucy Mack spoke of it her recollections. He was a creative person for sure and was extremely charismatic which certainly power to his message. LDS General Authority and Church Historian B.H. Roberts even asked the very question of whether Smith was creative enough to put together the BoM narrative. “… was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceding chapters …? That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question (Studies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992, p. 243).”

    Remember too that Joseph likely would not have been working alone. Evidence shows strongly that Joseph knew and interacted with both Oliver Cowdery (a cousin, school teacher, printing apprentice) and Sidney Rigdon (religious scholar and primitivist, book collector and officionato) before the dates in LDS history. If the Spaulding theory is true (there are definitely some holes there now) then Smith’s “literary intelligence” is far less of an issue. If you know much about it the premise, it is that the BoM is mostly a direct repurposing of an already existing book (Manuscript Found), names and all. Where you would want to look for some literary intelligence would be Spaulding— although with the BoM, no offense intended, you wouldn’t need to find much.

    Concerning what LDS claim are apparent Hebrew literary “complexities” in the BoM text, I am far less impressed in them than I once was— after looking at them more closely and weighing them against the 19th century evidence. Chiasmus is not a sign ancient origin— you will find this patterning in Dr. Seuss and James Strang’s scripture neither of which I assume you accept as ancient. And considering the sources that critics claim JS used in creating the text it not surprising that there would be Hebrew structures. Spaulding witnesses testified that he purposely wrote his manuscript to read as a an OT text to add to it’s authenticity. Joseph Smith fan and researcher Truman Madsen commented too on how Joseph was so completely versed in the scriptures that he would often drift in and out of biblical language while speaking. So it wouldn’t be that surprising to find Hebrew forms in the BoM even if JS wrote it.

    Obviously we disagree and see the evidence as supporting our respective views. That’s cool. I appreciate having the discussion anyhow.

    But rest assured I have carefully examined these issues and have actually found that additional research has only served to uncover more serious issues with the claims of Mormonism— at least for me. I suppose in the end I approach “problems and rationally think through them” quite differently than you do. For me rather than “It not being true is harder to believe than it being true” I instead find it far harder to any longer ignore the strong evidence that Mormonism isn’t what it claims to be. It’s just like every other religion— man made and just as in the dark on what God (if He exists) would have them do. No offense intended— it’s just my .02.

  5. Excellent post, admin. I agree with your responses to Robert(1). Regarding the Kinderhook plates, I think another reason JS attempted to (pretended to) translate them was because he felt immense pressure from the members who expected it of him. Wouldn’t a con man fear being uncovered/revealed by declining to prove his abilities? All one need do is take the Zelph example to see Joseph was always ready and glad to come up with some Lamanite connection to anything, on the fly.

  6. J says:

    When people refer to Joseph as a cunning con man I don’t think he was thinking as a con man. I believe he actually thought he was translating them and they were ancient records (KP). Granted, he wasn’t perfect man but he did get them wrong. Pressure could have been apart of it.

    Current church historian Marlin Jensen in an interview with PBS mormon producers stated “I think if Joseph knew it was all a fraud he probably would have everything, regarding history, destroyed.”

    In my mind I think as time went on he actually literally believed everything he was doing or did was a revelation from God and felt no need to destroy anything. The history that gets painted in our heads since birth is NOT what happened back then. Whitewashed. Sugarcoated.

    Official church leaders, the 12, the first presidency should come out and address all these critical issues facing our church. I don’t know about you guys but I’m tired of hearing “theories” on the BOA, BOM geography, Joseph marrying other men’s wives. ETC… ETC…

    However, I don’t think the leaders will. They spend to much time teaching platitudes. Perhaps they are afraid “science” “evil worldy scholars” will prove them wrong one day. One would assume growing up reading the BOM introduction that 99% of Indians cam from the seed of Lehi. Now ‘science’ is saying 99% actually came from northeast Asia. White and delightsome changed to pure. Mainstreaming to gain members.

    We can drink energy drinks and still go to the temple. But coffee a no no. A glass of wine is a big no no. Red wine is actually good for you in moderation. Women can’t have two earrings in each ear but can have breast implants? No tattoos but you can be morbidly obese?

    Utah is number one in depression pill usage. Utah is number one in porn searchs according to Google. You can ‘medicate’ using porn in the privacy of your home or office. Big time appeal for stressed Priesthood holders and stressed dads. Some researchers even state Utah is number one in plastic surgery, above CALI!. Women need to be happy and prettier than their neighbors. Foreclosure rates in Utah are in top 20 of all 50 states. Is this true happiness? Does the Gospel REALLY make you happier?

    Something is not right here. Basing your testimony on half truths or whitewashed information is not right.

  7. Passerby says:

    ” …Something is not right here. Basing your testimony on half truths or whitewashed information is not right.”

    A brief survey of late-20th century religious horrors would indicated that such a testimony can be dangerous to life, to limb, and certainly to soul.

    Where lies double-talk lies double-trouble.

  8. John says:

    As a truth seeking individual, raised in the church, but functioning with my own testimony I examine and question everything. I personally find that this website and it’s webmaster function negatively and with a distinct bias against the church and it’s history, when a more objective approach would be more effective and appreciated. Still, the depth and breadth of my reading and research incite in me a contrasting perspective and knowledge than what it commonly found amongst Latter Day Saints. And this makes sense as we are all in different places in our personal understanding and awareness. Like Richard Lyman Bushman I see that there is need for the leadership of the church to address any and all historical inaccuracies, believing that this will only serve to make the church stronger. My grandfather was a very wise and wonderful man, and I recall him saying “if it wasn’t for the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the membership of the church (including it’s leadership I think) would have destroyed the church a long time ago.” People are human and in the human experience there will always be mistakes made. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and the other leaders of the Mormon Church, up through the 2nd Manifesto made mistakes and some of those mistakes were greater than others, but they also accomplished great things in the establishment of the church. I do not condone their wrong doing, but see them as men, and that there was only one perfect man that ever lived, Jesus Christ Himself. What I am concerned about is that with all the information available to us today, that we use this in a positive way. We can either choose to be constructive or destructive and with a mature voice we should be forthcoming with legitimate concern. However, when I read vehement negativity characterized by those seeking to influence toward smallness of mind and conduct I am convinced it comes largely from those who have lost the spirit due to debase and improper conduct. And while I do not judge others as a rule, I can clearly assess both the church, and those that speak against it. I want to do as Jesus said and cast the beam out of my own eye, then while seeking to improve myself I will hope to bring about positive change where and when needed in the world in which I live.

  9. John-
    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate other points of view— even those I strongly disagree with.

    Your view, essentially that all discussion of things Mormon should only be positive, is no surprise. It is the view held by virtually all active Mormons— and it is a view I once held as believing Mormon. It is the way nearly all LDS are taught by the brethren to think— ”Any criticism of the Church is wrong.” And I agree if the goal is to maintain belief than such criticism is not helpful.

    On the other hand, really finding the truth about whether the BoM is really a ancient document or if Joseph really received Section 132 from a divine source requires dealing with some less than flattering facts. How can anyone critically consider the claims of Mormonism without addressing the critical/negative issues? They can’t. To choose to only see things as positive is to draw your conclusions before even beginning the experiment. When you talk about ‘using information in a positive way, don’t you mean using information to support what YOU believe…facts be damned?

    Sure, I realize that you, and most believing LDS, base your belief on what you see as spiritual feelings and impressions. Personally I have found those to be unreliable when looking for real world truth and inferior to actual research where sources are available. Feelings are too subjective.

    So call it negative to address issues in LDS history and doctrine— the fact is someone needs to do it. Members have the right to know what actually happened and to choose to believe or not with as many of the facts as possible. You and Richard Bushman will be waiting for quite a long time if you wait for the Church to teach accurate history. It’s not in the Brethren’ s interests. As Boyd K. Packer said: “Some things that are true are not very useful.”

    I actually don’t expect the leadership to teach the darker side of LDS history. I would be content if they only stopped telling members inclined to research to avoid non-approved sources. Let the individual decide what they think is true.

    For the record I don’t think that fallible men cannot be called by God (if there is such a being) to be prophets. I don’t expect a perfect vessel. I do however think that repeated mistakes in the name of God call into question ones status as a prophet. If a man repeatedly says false things in the name of God I cannot believe he is a prophet. Hence I am more concerned with the fact that Joseph Smith taught that polygamy was from God than the fact that he personally married other men’s wives (although I still find it highly suspect). He, in my view, was not a reliable source for Gods will.

    So here’s my suggestion. Look beyond the LDS tendency to view my blog and criticism as ‘persecution’ and actually evaluate the merit of what I am saying. Use the “depth and breadth of (your) reading and research” to show me where I am wrong.

    In the meantime rest assured that I am not critical of the Church because, as you and the Church suggests, I have committed base sins, want to sin, have been offended or am overly prideful. I have studied and found a more accurate or Mormonism— and I no longer believe it is what it claims to be.

    I look for ward to your response.

  10. Colin says:

    This was an amazing read. I can tell you this, I have been out of the church for nearly 4 years, but all this rings true. I actually laughed a few times because it was spot on.

  11. Mike says:

    I thank the administrator for posting this article. I am a former mormon. I have read many books now in my years away from the Church both for and against it. I have read Rough Stone Rolling. Even though Rough Stone Rolling defends Joseph Smith and the Church, one can see that it goes way beyond any Church manual or sunday school lesson. I always had to ask myself, how does Bushman do it? How does he still stay in the Church? Knowing what he knows, it must be a daily struggle. All I get out of this article is that he is revealing how he does it. I am sure in Bushman`s life time he probably wanted to leave, but he eventually came back to the church. He is one of the “Revived Latter-day Saints.”

  12. J.D. says:

    The mid-90′s internet opened up a whole new world of church history for me as a fan of history and curious seeker of “truth”. I was shell-shocked by the brutal contrast of the sugar-coated Sunday School version versus historical criticism. I read extensively from the only materials available for many years (“anti’s” and “agnostics”, “academics”). That is why Bushman’s book for me was such a breath of fresh air, all around. It was nice to finally read an intellectually rigorous and honest assessment of early church history from a “believer’s” perspective – framing previously taboo topics.

    While Mike’s comment questioned how Bushman (or any honest seeker of truth) can stay in the church without a monumental struggle….there has been no mental divide for me personally. If you read the entire Bushman book, including his personal commentary, he explains his position and doesn’t seem to suffer from any crises of faith either.

    I know that I am a literal child of Heavenly Parents sent to earth to experience opposition, to choose good over evil, gain a mortal body, and generally learn to love others. I know that Jesus Christ is real and His Atonement impacts me personally. I know that the Book of Mormon is God’s word and increases my testimony of Jesus. I know that God has other historical and modern-day revelations given through prophets. I believe that the saving ordinances and priesthood power reside in His church which is set up to fill the entire earth in anticipation of Christ’s literal 2nd coming. I know from personal experience (application and non-application) that prayer, scripture study and service to others help make me a better and happier person.

    These spiritual truths and eternal principles stand independent for me. The bulk of the evidence (historically, empirically and spiritually confirmed) keeps me coming back to the well for more.

    There are still yet many unknowns and shoulder shrugs to which completely satisfactory answers are not readily apparent. Though the FAIRS and FARMS people have many rational considerations that help put things in context for me personally. I don’t believe that Joseph Smith (or any man/woman) is/was perfect or infallible. I don’t understand why Blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978. Why did Jesus forbid his disciples to preach to the Gentiles initially? I don’t understand why God allows such bad things to happen to people and civilizations. I don’t believe that baptisms for healing of the sick performed in the Temple by early saints would have been any more efficacious than a blessing performed by two faithful elders. Why does the church have so much cultural hegemony embedded into its musical worship? If Joseph Smith had been born in Africa, would we have different world-wide standards/expectations for church dress and priesthood uniform? Why a “Thee and Thou” God in English, while my French and German friends pray to the 1st person familiar “tu/du”? Why would an Egyptian papyri showing a typical book of breathings summary rite be needed to stimulate a revelation of the Pearl of Great Price? Just got done reading Nibley’s JS Papyri for some interesting parallels and insights – yes I know there are critiques of his work as well. Why is there good and evil? Why is there an unequal distribution of beauty, brains and wealth? (Dr. Rex Campbell would often posit this question in philosophy class at the U.)

    But my belief is not based on 100% proof of anything from a physically empirical perspective. I don’t believe in Jesus because they have identified where Jerusalem was located. Correspondingly, I don’t believe in Jesus because they have identified where Zarahemla was located – or whether or not horses predated the Spanish – or whether DNA evidence can confirm BM claims or decent of the human race from a primordial Adam/Eve.

    As members of Christ’s church, He let’s us imperfect beings participate in what I believe is the most perfect organization/affiliation possible on the face of the earth. How that organization (guided by God, but encumbered by the rest of us) marches forth to accomplish His purposes is incredible.

  13. J.D. says:

    Just read my post and realized I incorrectly stated that my French/German friends pray to the 1st personal familiar “tu/du”…when it correctly should have been 2nd person familiar.

  14. Richard Cannon says:

    I am not LDS, but respect the sincerity of earnest seekers of God’s truth. Believers following many religions pray for leading or discernment when studying their scriptures. However, LDS appear to give spiritual witness as a primary often overriding proof of the validity of their prophets even in the face of strong contradictory evidence. The early followers of Jesus did not base their testimony on blind faith. It was inspired faith based on the witness of a physical resurrection, tangible gifts of the Holy Spirit and fulfilment of prophesy regarding the Messiah. Doesn’t the emphasis by LDS on an emotional experience validating truth potentially result in a false sense of security and blind them to God’s truth?

  15. Cam says:

    Interesting read. Thanks for the insight from all comments too. Richard, I have a thought about your comment regarding inspired faith and that is time. Myth and legend develops over time. The stories of Jesus’ ministry have had over 2,000 years and hundreds of translations and editions to create what we read and therefore, in my mind beg to be taken with the same grain of salt as stories of a man who claimed to have a miraculous vision of God and received His Devine help in bringing forth what he and thousands of Mormons believe to be scripture. It seems to me he story of Joseph Smith is in its shaky era of turning from fragments of various individuals accounts of him into the era of Myth and Legend, as has happened with stories in the Bible and New Testament. I don’t mean myth and legend to come across as calling Jesus’ ministry, or Joseph Smith and the origins of Mormonism a fraud, but just that the further we get in time from the original events the more watered down and beefed up the story becomes until it becomes more about the message than what literally happened in the day. If people find such as harder to believe, fine for them. If people find it as a greater pillar to grasp their faith that is great too but there is no disputing that if you personally asked Jesus or Joseph Smith if every story (just the positive ones) about them happened exactly as literally as we take them we would likely get a face palm.

  16. @ Cam-
    No doubt myth and lore play big roles in most if not all religious narratives. That said there’s a big difference how much one would see in old religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism etc) and how much one would find in a new religion like Mormonism. We’re talking thousands of years vs 180.

    Joseph Smith’s First Vision accounts were clouded by contradicting information and changing accounts from the first written account which was 8-12 years after it supposedly happened. Over the next 10 year accounts attributed to SMith were written down 3 more times each time adding and taking away details apparently depending on personal and institutional needs. So the issues here are not things that have been added over thousands of years but rather are clear issues that can be seen in original and primary source documents from as very young faith. Unlike much of the original documents of Christianity the orignal source material for Mormonism can be verified. Things in Joseph Smith’s handwriting still exist. We have the manuscript for the Book of Mormon. We have journals and accounts from score of early Mormons who were frist hand witnesses to what happened.

    This is the reason that it’s important for people to call the Church on the carpet on it’s tendency to sacrifice accuracy in trying to promote belief. At one point they controlled the information and could attempt it. Now with the Internet to do so only makes the Church look bad.

  17. AJ says:

    John, your subtle accusation that those who seek and find “negativity” about the church are somehow involved in “debase and improper conduct” is a classic tactic of a cult to demonize anyone who does not go along with the permitted cult think. However, it is exactly Joseph Smith’s “debase and improper conduct” of deceiving his people by pretending to translate the Book of Mormon by using his peep stone in his hat, (not even using the ‘gold plates’); pretending to translate the Egyptian papyri for the Book of Abraham; pretending to be able to translate a portion of the fake Kinderhook plates; and repeatedly deceiving his own wife by secretly marrying other women, that tells me that he did NOT have the Holy Spirit with him to either translate anything or to receive authority from God to do anything. Agreed that none of us humans is perfect. But the church teaches that we must live a certain level of morality, such as being honest with our fellowmen, in order to warrant the companionship of the Holy Ghost. How could a man who was disobeying this basic principle possibly be a prophet of God?

  18. Gary says:

    I read “Rough Stone Rolling …” and then other books after that, but it was Bushman, as an active Mormon (he gave my youngest child her Patriarchal Blessing), who really got me thinking about the various issues. If X is not true about Joseph, then neither might Y or Z. And suddenly the entire foundation of belief in prophets and apostles and the “true and living church” are gone.

    I was once a simple faith kind of guy. But now that my simple faith is gone, it’s disconcerting and I don’t like it. It’s not as comforting now as when I believed everything I learned in Sunday School. .I’d still like to believe in Santa Claus because it made me feel good. But now I know differently.

    I’ve discussed these issues with my wife and she doesn’t like it because it makes her upset as well. But interestingly enough, she decided on her own to read Rough Stone last week. We’ll see how she handles it.

  19. Aaron says:

    I appreciate you posting this, I had read Rough Stone Rolling as a missionary. Which was not a good idea for someone who has thier faith challenged daily. I appreciate what Bushman pointed out and how we can see him as just a man, that learned as he went along. But we don’t teach that, and that’s where the lack of trust comes from. I was taught that he was a prophet of God, I saw pictures of him playing with Children and giving heartfelt blessings with hands on heads. I sang Hail to the Prophet(which is absurd to me now) and that’s why I took that information so hard, I found myself thinking that my father has a better moral compass than Joseph Smith did, My dad would not marry another mans wife without the other mans knowledge(which has been corroborated by fact!) So why didnt my father ascend to heaven and visit future prophets, giving them revalation… By thier fruits ye shall know them….

  20. The arguments against the church in this forum and repeated on similar websites remind of a bad lawyers trick. Put together as much associated documentation (weakly or strongly associated, doesn’t matter which, the more the better) to mask the true issue. It’s a poor man’s way of making an argument and usually not very convincing. The admin’s responses are so long, most audience members have stopped reading after a few sentences.

    I am curious who sets up these websites (anti-mormon sites). They’re all very similar in content. I’m also curious to see if my comments are actually posted as that will say alot about those who sponsor these sites.

    Thanks,
    WA

  21. Weak Argument, you certainly live up to your name. I will try to, in as few words as possible, address just how weak your comment is.

    Sure, what I say on my blog can be found on other critics sites but does that by itself make it untrue? No. By this same measure any LDS blog or sacrament meeting talk that quotes from LDS.org or General Authorities would have to be dismissed. Seriously why not judge my content on it’s merits and not on the preconceived notion you have that all information critical of Mormonism MUST BE FALSE.

    Does the fact that my response are long make what I am saying untrue? Nope, merely tedious and hard to get through. Certainly you’ll agree that there are great many books and speakers that run long but still get the information right. Again, you mistake the form for the content.

    Your post despite attempting to dismiss my blog as nothing more than cheap trickery offers zero in the way of evidence in support of your claims. Zip. But if I didn’t approve even these weakest of these critical comments I’d have little to post from active LDS at all. You’re welcome.

    And who am I? If you had read my Why I Publish the Blog section (link at top left) you’d see that I’m a BIC former Mormon finally in his 30s began to study the full history and doctrine of Mormonism and came to the conclusion that Mormonism in general and the LDS Church specifically is not what it claims to be. LDS Prophets have shown themselves to be no more a source of truth than other fallible man and LDS scriptures (actually you can add the Bible to that too) are clearly the work of men. So I publish this blog with info I’ve found (I’m way behind and have a lot to do still) that gives another view of Mormonism— much of which is contrary and critical of the belief system. People can do with the information what they will— dismiss, evaluate, challenge.

    I quote these all the time but I think LDS would do well to live by these words of 2 of their leaders. Hell, I try to live by them myself.

    “Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the market place of thought, and in that competition truth will emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression.”
    —Elder Hugh B. Brown

    “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
    —President J. Reuben Clark

    Come back and talk if you want to sometime. I’ve been busy so I don’t check or add content as much as I should but I’ll reply when I do.

    Peace.

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