Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay

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Review of Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony,” Jeremy Runnells, April 2013, Updated February 23, 2014. 83 pages. http://cesletter.com/Letter-to-a-CES-Director.pdf.

Abstract: In his Letter to a CES Director, Jeremy Runnells explains how a year of obsessive investigation brought about the loss of his testimony. In an LDS FAQ, LDS blogger Jeff Lindsay deals with all of the same questions, and has done so at least twenty years and has not only an intact testimony, but boundless enthusiasm. What makes the difference? In the parable of the Sower, Jesus explained that the same seeds (words) can generate completely different harvests, ranging from nothing to a hundred-fold increase, all depending on the different soil and nurture. This essay looks at how different expectations and inquiries for translation, prophets, key scriptural passages on representative issues can lead to very different outcomes for investigators.

Jeremy T. Runnells is a “disaffected Mormon” who describes the grounds of his loss of faith in a website/pdf document published in 2013 called Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony. He had been an active LDS until 2012, when he read an account of a news article called “Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age,” which claimed that Mormons [Page 176]were leaving the church in droves.1 Disturbed, he reports in his 83-page letter that, “All this information is a result of over a year of intense research and an absolute rabid obsession with Joseph Smith and Church history.”2

Jeff Lindsay, on the other hand, describes himself as an active, believing Latter-day Saint and also an apologist who has been blogging since 1994. His website contains an extensive LDS FAQ (for Frequently Asked Questions)3 which deals with all of the issues that Runnells raises and more. But Lindsay does so both at greater length, over a much broader span of time, consulting a wider range of sources, providing far more documentation, and including far more original research than Runnells. Lindsay demonstrates not just ongoing faith, but boundless enthusiasm.

Why do they come to such different conclusions in dealing with the same questions? The fact is that Lindsay has for at least twenty years confronted the same information that Runnells treats as faith-shattering over a single year. That such different responses to the same information can even exist should demonstrate that neither the issues that Runnells raises nor the information he provides is the real cause of his disillusion. What is? This is my topic.4

[Page 177]Runnells presents his information as though making an equation:

Runnells (or anyone) + Questions + Facts = Inevitable Final Negative Conclusion

Comparison with the different conclusions provided by people like Jeff Lindsay, Mike Ash,5 hundreds of volunteers at FairMormon, Interpreter, FARMS and the current Maxwell Institute, and for that matter, yours truly, well acquainted with the same issues should make it obvious that something other than simple addition of facts is involved.

Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or Brittle interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = Tentative Conclusion

In this more realistic equation, we have a wide range of variables. The effect of these variables means that very different reactions to the same information are not only possible, but very likely. Even if we tried to keep the Questions and Facts as constants, different Preconceptions, Selectivity, Contextualization, Valuations, and Time given to the same issues, we still ought to expect different conclusions. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus explained that the same seeds (words) can generate completely different harvests, ranging from nothing to a hundred-fold increase, all depending on the different soil and nurture. When His disciples asked Him to explain the meaning of that parable, Jesus commented, “Know ye not this parable? How then shall ye know all parables?” (Mark 4:13).

[Page 178]The familiar fable of Henny Penny (also known as Chicken Little) makes a related point. In the fable, a chicken interprets the fall of an acorn as evidence that “the sky is falling!” Another interpretation of exactly the same event would be, “The sky is not falling, but just an acorn. No big deal. No crisis. Acorns fall from oak trees all the time. It’s natural and to be expected.” Another character in the more cautionary versions of the fable, Foxy Loxy, sees not a crisis, or a non-event, but an opportunity to exploit fear and ignorance for his own gain. Same data. Different interpretation. The information does not speak for itself, but must be interpreted within an informational context and a conceptual framework. By understanding the different ways in which the same information gets processed, the different interpretations and conclusions become understandable.

So one of the first things we ought to consider in approaching questions regarding the LDS (or any other) faith is the clarity of our own perceptions: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? … First cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly” (Matthew 7:3, 5)

How clear is our vision? When we run across something that we didn’t expect, do we shatter like glass and declare that “The sky is falling!” Or do we first stop to ask, “What should I expect?” It helps to realize that information that shatters one set of preconceptions might be handled quite easily by another set: “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17). As Hugh Nibley observes, “Things that appear unlikely, impossible, or paradoxical from one point of view often make perfectly good sense from another.”6
[Page 179]

Starting Position and What It Tells

So what does Runnells’s Letter to a CES Director disclose about his conceptual framework and his method? Start with the very first issue that Runnells raises in his letter, regarding the Book of Mormon translation and ”1769 King James edition errors. An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?”7 He returns to this point in his website response to FairMormon:

The presence of 17th century kjv italics and 1769 kjv errors—word for word—in the Book of Mormon is its own damning evidence. These errors totally undermine the claim that Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon and the claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth.8

According to Thomas Kuhn, ”Anomaly appears only against the background provided by the paradigm. The more precise and far-reaching that paradigm is, the more sensitive an indicator it provides of anomaly, and hence of an occasion for paradigm change.”9

For Runnells the appearance of any imperfection in the Book of Mormon translation seems scandalous to the point of being overwhelming. Betty Edwards explains how our preconceptions inevitably influence our subjective perception of significance:

Most of us tend to see parts of a form hierarchically. The parts that are important (that is, provide a lot of information), or the parts that we decide are larger, [Page 180]or the parts we think should be larger, we see as larger than they actually are. Conversely, parts that are unimportant, or that we decide are smaller, or that we think should be smaller, we see as being smaller than they actually are.10

If the question is the perfection of the Book of Mormon text, and if we can safely assume that the beholder is infallibly capable of detecting it, imperfection is the only decisive information—indeed, it is the only information that answers the question. Therefore imperfection has crucial importance relative to the question and is actually perceived in our minds as being large and scandalously important. Even the appearance of imperfection will loom large in our consciousness. No matter how much information might exist to support the notion of a real translation by Joseph Smith, it does not and cannot answer the question of perfection, and therefore, relative to that question, it appears less important. That is why no favorable information regarding the Book of Mormon appears in the Letter to a CES Director. Evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s inspiration does not answer the question of perfection, so in setting the table with what counts most to Runnells, none of that kind of information appears.

This also means that if we changed our question from the perfection of the Book of Mormon translation to the reality of the translation, then supposed imperfections would not be as crucially decisive, and would therefore have a smaller significance. The reality of Joseph Smith’s inspiration is a different question than the perfection of his inspiration and leads the inquirer to different information. That is why reading books by Hugh Nibley or John Sorenson or Richard L. [Page 181]Anderson or Richard Bushman, John Tvedtnes, John Welch, or Terryl Givens makes for a very different experience than does reading Runnells’s Letter. They ask different questions, work with different soil, nurture the seed in a different manner, and produce vastly different harvests.

Consider the difference between perfection and reality through one of the tales of Lancelot, Chrétien de Troyes’s The Knight and the Cart. The story involves Lancelot going on an elaborate adventure to rescue a captive Queen Guinevere. When, after overcoming many trials, dangers, and obstacles, he finally finds and frees her, she rejects him. Much later, after both the Queen and Lancelot endure more suffering and trauma due to that rejection, she finally refers to a moment, when, in order to obtain crucial information, he needed to travel via a prison cart, and thereby endure public shame. And he did so, after only a moment’s hesitation. The Queen’s only reaction was, “Why did you hesitate?” as though to her, only that imperfection mattered. And oddly enough, he agrees with her about the devastating significance of that single momentary lapse, based on the peculiar ideals he brings to the issue. A concern about the reality of Lancelot’s effort, or even just the success of his effort, rather than perfection relative to the unrealistic ideals of courtly love, would grant weight and significance to all of his actions during his adventure, including a recognition that he overcame his own hesitation in dealing with his pride versus the need to ride the cart. So questions regarding what is real, as opposed to what appears to be perfect and or ideal, raise different issues, and call for a different kind of processing, and consideration of a much wider set of information.

In approaching the Book of Mormon, we could do what Runnells does; look for imperfection, and then display indignation and shock. Or we could ask, how does the Book of Mormon translation and treatment of internal scriptural quotation compare with scriptural quotation within the Bible [Page 182]and compared to the evidence of biblical transmission and translation? Does the Book of Mormon contain information consistent with eyewitness accounts of the times and settings that it claims for itself? Does it accurately describe conditions in Jerusalem, 600 bc? Does it accurately describe cultural and physical conditions in the Arabian desert? Does it accurately describe a Bountiful area at a coastal location east of Nahom? How does the Book of Mormon describe its New World setting? Are there indications of others? What cultures does it describe and what physical settings? Does the description of Cumorah in the Book of Mormon fit the New York hill “of considerable size,” or, traditional identifications notwithstanding, should we look elsewhere? What forms of government, politics, religion, and trade does it describe? What are the patterns of warfare, including seasonality, tactics, and weapons? Do the 28 verses describing the Sidon contain enough information to narrow the range of candidate rivers for an external correlation? Can we assume homogeneity and accuracy in all cultural descriptions, that is, can we assume that what Enos says about Lamanite culture from the outside also applies to what we see later when the sons of Mosiah actually travel and live among the Lamanites? What are the best sources of information against which to test its claims? If during the course of my investigation, I run across something that I did not expect, what happens if I then pause to reflect and ask, “What should I expect?” But just as Guinevere only asks about an imperfection in the Lancelot quest, Runnells looks only for imperfection in Mormonism. The eye of the beholder crucially influences the harvest.

A narrow test for perfection brings an ever-present danger that even the appearance of imperfection seems decisive. We risk coming to a false conclusion based on a misperception. This is the theme of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. Because of the manipulations of Iago, the innocent Desdemona appears to be [Page 183]guilty of betraying Othello’s trust. Doubtless the mental pain, anguish, and feeling of betrayal that Othello suffers are real (at least within the world of the play). But while Othello is busy suffering angst and murdering his innocent wife, the last thing he needs is to be surrounded by understanding and sympathetic Iagos who only want to validate his pain, perhaps suggesting that if he suffocates her sooner and faster, he’ll suffer less in the long run. The tragedy of Othello is not that Iago is around to practice deception and manipulation, but that Othello’s faith in Desdemona’s fidelity is so fragile. He proclaims his love but makes far too little effort to come to her defense, shows no patience or tolerance or capacity for forgiveness or even simple faith, hope, and charity. He never thinks to say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” and never stops to consider that the problem might be in his own misperception, at least, not until it is too late for Desdemona and for himself. It is also clear that after he has killed his wife, the last thing that he wants to discover is her innocence.

All of this calls for a careful examination of our own assumptions and background expectations, doing a little bit of checking our own eyes for beams before attempting mote removal on another person. Remember that Runnells’s very first point depends on the un-argued and unexamined assumption that any human error in the Book of Mormon translation is “damning,” and by itself sufficient to “totally undermine” Joseph’s claim to be a translator. Notice too that the closest Runnells comes to actually defining translate is when he complains that according to unnamed “unofficial apologists” the word “translate doesn’t really mean translate.”11 This would be a good place to explain what the word means in the context of what Joseph Smith actually did.

[Page 184]We need to do a bit of eye checking here. What does it mean to translate? Runnells implies a circular definition in which translate should mean “translate,” which, if you actually stop to think about it, does not help much. Nor does it demonstrate any degree of introspection, self-reflection, or even inquiry. The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary12 offers this, which actually helps a great deal.

TRANSLATE, verb transitive [Latin translatus, from transfero; trans, over, and fero, to bear.]

1. To bear, carry or remove from one place to another. It is applied to the removal of a bishop from one see to another.

The bishop of Rochester, when the king would have translated him to a better bishoprick, refused.

2. To remove or convey to heaven, as a human being, without death.

By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death. Hebrews 11:15.

3. To transfer; to convey from one to another. 2 Samuel 3:10.

4. To cause to remove from one part of the body to another; as, to translate a disease.

5. To change.

Happy is your grace,

That can translate the stubbornness of fortune

Into so quiet and so sweet a style.

[Page 185]6. To interpret; to render into another language; to express the sense of one language in the words of another.

The Old Testament was translated into the Greek language more than two hundred years before Christ. The Scriptures are now translated into most of the languages of Europe and Asia.

7. To explain.

Here, a single word—translate—has several definitions. I notice that the word perfect does not appear anywhere in this definition of translate. Nor does even the sixth definition of translate say that expressing “the sense of one language in the words of another” requires that existing successful translations, with or without italicized explanatory words, should or must be completely ignored. To succeed in its purpose, a translation need not be completely original or unique or flawless.

Does Runnells provide any real-world examples or evidence of inspired translations, or transmitted scripture that demonstrates the validity of his opening complaint about what I see as a minor, cosmetic aspect of the Book of Mormon translation? Are any of his complaints about Joseph Smith accompanied by any demonstration of how actual prophets have behaved or should behave? Does he have evidence that translation from ancient languages to a modern high language is more successful when it completely ignores existing translations of the same or related material? Does the New Testament demonstrate utter perfection in quoting the Old Testament or does it contain Septuagint errors? Does the King James Translation utterly ignore the earlier Tyndale translation? Would there be any advantage in ignoring existing translations of the same material? Would a use of a well-known, existing translation impede readers in the task of coming to recognize [Page 186]and comprehend what they encounter? Do the practical issues in the translation and transmission of writing from one culture to another through any human-involved means suggest that perfect translation is even possible? Does the Bible display this theoretical perfection either in its internal quotations, different accounts of the same events, or in the manuscript history or in the different translations? And, if Joseph was perpetuating a fraud, does it make sense that he would plagiarize the one source his readers were sure to recognize and regard with some heightened value?

For all these questions, the answer is no. But Runnells neither asks nor answers them. Does this save trouble, or cause it?

On Prophets and Translations

Runnells complains about Joseph Smith as a prophet, but he never bothers to define what a prophet should be, and therefore, he does not inquire into what we should expect from one. Based on the arguments he offers his implicit definition is that prophets ought to be perfect, God’s sock-puppets, and never ought to do or say or permit anything that violate Runnell’s own unexamined expectations from what he learned by attending Sacrament Meetings. For my part, I did spend considerable time figuring out what I should expect, and in the process I discovered twenty-eight Biblical tests for discerning true and false prophets.13 I find that they set my expectations in a very different way. For example:

We are men of like passions with you. (Acts 14:15)

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

[Page 187]How does Joseph Smith himself set our expectations both for himself and for his translation?

I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.14

In discussing a passage in Malachi, Joseph Smith comments that ”I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purposes as it stands.” (D&C 128:18). In D&C 1 as part of a formal statement of “the authority of my servants” (v. 6) God declares that the revelations “were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known.” (D&C 1:24–25). Notice that this formal statement of the “authority of my servants” describes the Church as in process, not as a stasis.

These passages introduce a different expectation, one that actually gives evidence of Joseph’s robust, tolerant, and open-ended attitude about himself and his own translations and revelations, which he felt free to edit. If a prophet can accomplish what is “expedient,” a word that appears many times in the Doctrine and Covenants, he can serve God’s purposes, which according to Isaiah 55:8–11, are concerned with long-term processes. If a translation is good enough, sufficient, it does not have to be perfect. If a translation is imperfect, then there is nothing wrong with improving it later.

If we consider Joseph Smith’s productions against the real-world examples of purportedly scriptural texts, we have the advantage of building our expectations upon a solid foundation, rather than airy supposition. John Welch in Illuminating the [Page 188]Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount discusses several related translation issues.

Hugh Nibley has suggested several other reasons that made the use of King James style important, if not necessary. One reason was Joseph’s audience: “When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the [Hebrew] scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? … No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament.”

Another reason for the use of the style of the King James Version was the nature of the record: “The scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down.” Furthermore, “by frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into ’modern English’ every thirty or forty years.” To such points, other explanations may be added, but the foregoing seem sufficient. The King James idiom yields a good translation of both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple. In fact, a study of the Greek vocabulary used in Matthew 5–7 will show that in most cases, the traditional English translation is rather straightforward. The syntax of most of the sentences is relatively simple, the expressions are direct, and most of the words and phrases have obvious and adequate primary choices in English as their translation [Page 189](although their meaning and implications still remain profound). 15

If I approach Joseph’s translations with a view to finding evidence of real inspiration, rather than perfection, my attention will move in different directions. I might end up noticing and valuing this discussion by Welch in his next chapter.

In one important passage, manuscript evidence favors the Sermon at the Temple, and it deserves recognition. The kjv of Matthew 5:22 reads, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause [eikei] shall be in danger of the judgment” (italics added). The Sermon at the Temple drops the phrase without a cause (3 Nephi 12:22). So do many of the better early manuscripts.

This favorable evidence for the Sermon at the Temple has the support of reliable sources. While lacking unanimous consensus in the early manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount (which is not unusual), the [Page 190]absence of the phrase “without a cause” is evidenced by the following manuscripts: p64, p67, Sinaiticus (original hand), Vaticanus, some minuscules, the Latin Vulgate (Jerome mentions that it was not found in the oldest manuscripts known to him), the Ethiopic texts, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, Justin, Tertullian, Origen, and others. One may count as compelling all readings that are supported by “the best Greek MSS—by the 200 ce p64 (where it is extant) and by at least the two oldest uncials, as well as some minuscules, [especially if] it also has some Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and early patristic support.” A survey of the list of manuscripts supporting the Sermon at the Temple and the original absence of the phrase without a cause in Matthew 5:22 shows that this shorter reading meets these criteria.

Moreover, this textual difference in the Greek manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount is the only variant that has a significant impact on meaning. It is much more severe to say, “Whoever is angry is in danger of the judgment,” than to say, “Whoever is angry without a cause is in danger of the judgment.” The first discourages all anger against a brother; the second permits brotherly anger as long as it is justifiable. The former is more like the demanding sayings of Jesus regarding committing adultery in one’s heart (see Matthew 5:28) and loving one’s enemies (see Matthew 5:44), neither of which offers the disciple a convenient loophole of self-justification or rationalization. Indeed, as Wernberg-Møller points out, the word eikei in Matthew 5:22 may reflect a Semitic idiom that does not invite allowance for “’just’ anger in certain circumstances” at all, but “is original and echoes some Aramaic phrase, condemning anger as sinful in any case” and “as alluding to … the harboring of angry feelings for any length of time.” In light of Wernberg-Møller’s interpretation of the underlying idiom, the original sense of Matthew 5:22 is accurately reflected in the Sermon at the Temple whether eikei is included in the Greek saying or not.

In my estimation, this textual variant in favor of the Sermon at the Temple is very meaningful. The removal of without a cause has important moral, behavioral, psychological, and religious ramifications, as it is the [Page 191]main place where a significant textual change from the kjv was in fact needed and delivered.16

Welch discusses some King James errors repeated in 3 Nephi but does so without scandal because, quite frankly, none of them change the meaning significantly. And the larger context of 3 Nephi 8-29 demonstrates remarkable inspiration in disclosing the temple background of the Sermon on the Mount. Welch’s approach was impressive enough that a non-LDS press published his work as applied to the Sermon in Matthew.17 Welch does not ignore the errors, but he doesn’t grant them the decisive status or sole focus that Runnells does. Plus Welch makes several observations that support the Joseph Smith claims of having provided an inspired translation, which need not be a perfect translation, nor oblige the reader to bring infallible perception and comprehension to their reading.

Several LDS writers have closely examined Joseph Smith’s translations, including John Tvedtnes, Royal Skousen, John Welch, Ben McGuire, and Brant Gardner. They have highlighted important information worth careful consideration. Runnells does not so much as mention the existence of their findings. It is not ad hominem to observe that Runnells treats a few King James errors as “damning” and “totally undermining” Joseph’s claims regarding a translation. He has decided that such apparent imperfections as he presents are, by themselves, decisively important. He completely ignores all LDS scholarship that gives any evidence suggesting authentic translation.

Think about why. Where is there any manuscript evidence that demonstrates in practice, and not just in theory, that when God is involved to some degree in the transmission and translation of a sacred text, we can know this because all [Page 192]known manuscripts and transmissions are completely perfect, error free, never dependent on any previous translations, and are always mutually consistent without any variation or editing whatsoever? Does Runnells provide any hard evidence to back up the theory? For that matter, is there any such evidence that he could have offered if he tried? Anywhere? It also turns out that had he paused long enough to clearly state that his argument depends entirely on these unstated conditions that he would also open them to critical examination. And that would not do. Who wants to publish a web document declaring that “Joseph Smith and various unofficial apologists have failed to live up to my completely unrealistic expectations.”

The New Testament itself provides examples of how Jesus and his apostles and the occasional angel all quote the commonly used Septuagint, variants, errors, and all. As Nibley and Welch and others have pointed out, Joseph Smith’s modes and means of translation have ample biblical precedent.

As Thomas Kuhn says, ”In short, consciously or not, the decision to employ a particular piece of apparatus and to use it in a particular way carries an assumption that only certain sorts of circumstances will arise.”18 What if the circumstances you are testing for are completely unfounded? What if, as Jesus says, the problem is the beam in your own eye? What if the experiment is poorly designed, due to unrealistic expectations? What if the focus on flaws-as-decisive has the effect of distracting a person from far more fruitful investigations and evidence?

Texts and Contexts

Consider Runnell’s point 11, claiming that “The Book of Mormon taught and still teaches a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.”19 He cites the four Book of Mormon passages with [Page 193]changes in the 1837 edition, the adding of “Son of” which he claims were “major changes” done to accommodate an “evolved view of the Godhead” away from what Runnells claims is an original Trinitarianism. Here are two of his examples.

1 Nephi 11:18 (current versification)

And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of [the son of] God, after the manner of the flesh.

1 Nephi 11:21.

And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even [the Son of] the Eternal Father!

He cites another handful of verses claiming that they represent passages that still “hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.” For instance, Ether 3:14:

Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

A Book of Mormon passage that Runnells does not cite is 2 Nephi 25:5 which explains that “there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.”

This is actually a valid general principle that there may be differences in the comprehension of cultural outsiders and cultural insiders. Sometimes the words that mean one thing within one culture may mean something else to outsiders. For example, here are two true statements. I’ve lived near Pittsburgh for over nine years. I once attended a professional football game. Can you picture the game? Does your cultural background [Page 194]permit you to imagine Three Rivers Stadium and the Pittsburgh Steelers? If so, you imagine wrongly. Let me add a bit more context, another true statement. When I lived in Liverpool England, I once attended a professional football game. A bit more context, an awareness of the relevant cultural difference, and the same phrase, “professional football game” calls forth a completely different set of rules, ball, equipment, and style of play. If context can so drastically change the meaning of a phrase like “professional football game,” how about context for “I am the Father and the Son?”

Take the same Book of Mormon proof-texts that Runnells complains about in his essay, and try reading them in the wider contexts involved: the source context rooted in Jerusalem 600 bce, a broader sampling of Book of Mormon passages, and the translation context in Joseph Smith’s Palmyra, Harmony and Kirtland.

In The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, Margaret Barker explains that in “the Bible, there are those called the sons of El Elyon, sons of El or Elohim, all clearly heavenly beings, and there are those called sons of Yahweh or the Holy One who are human. This distinction is important for at least two reasons: Yahweh was one of the sons of El Elyon;20 and Jesus in the Gospels was described as a Son of El Elyon, God Most High … Jesus is not called the son of Yahweh nor the son of the Lord, but he is called Lord.”21

[Page 195]Notice that in the Book of Mormon, during Nephi’s vision, the angel says, “Blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God.” (1 Nephi 11:6). The Book of Mormon takes me into First Temple Judaism, back to 600 bce, Lehi’s day.22 This passage occurs in the same chapter as two of the verses that Runnells uses as proof texts for his arguments, and therefore, provides context that his proof-text reading neglects.

Runnells had complained about the verse with the change regarding the virgin as “the mother of [the son] of God.”23 The Book of Mormon clearly identifies Jesus as the son of God Most High. If we understand that the God of the Old Testament is Yahweh, son of El Elyon, then the added “son of” is just clarification, explanation for readers in 1837, not a theological change. Jesus has a Father in Heaven who testifies of him, and to whom he prays and reports. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus identifies himself as Yahweh, the lord of the Old Testament, declaring that “I am he that gave the law, and I am he that covenanted with my people Israel,” (3 Nephi 15:5). In Benjamin’s discourse those who covenant with Jesus/Yahweh become “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7. Compare 3 Nephi 9:17). So Jesus both has a father who bears witness of him (3 Nephi 11:7) and to whom he prays (3 Nephi 17:14) and is a father via covenant and creation, and therefore is both a father and a son, both God (Yahweh), and a Son of God (a son of El Elyon, God Most High). Because I am both a father and a son, I don’t find this a difficult concept. It is simply a matter of paying attention to context to understand when and how and why a particular title and role applies.

[Page 196]The Aramaic translations (or commentaries) of the Old Testament are called Targums and are notable for containing, in many instances, explanatory material not included in the Hebrew, but helpful for explaining the best way to understand key passages, at least by those who created that translation. And as the 1828 Webster’s definition pointed out, “explain” is a valid meaning of translate. (A translation that cannot be understood properly is not much of a translation.) So we have both conspicuous examples of explanation being part of a legitimate translation in the Targums, and a definition of translate contemporary with Joseph Smith that includes explanation. In these two particular verses from 1 Nephi, I think adding “the son of” to the phrase “the mother of God” does not actually change the meaning, if you know the context—if you know that Jesus/Yahweh is God in the Old Testament, and also Son of the Most High God. The change was apparently done to appease the discomfort that those LDS of Protestant cultural heritage have felt with seemingly Catholic concepts. If you know the correct cultural context, the change was not necessary. But 19th century readers did not have the same access to that pre-exilic cultural context. Adding “the son of” to “the Lamb of God, the Eternal Father” in 1 Nephi 11:21 is, I think, a mistake, but not a serious one because it doesn’t change the theology. Jesus as the Lamb/Servant of God, the Eternal Father is accurate because Jesus/Yahweh has roles as Eternal Father by way of a covenant relationship with humans, as the passages in Mosiah and 3 Nephi demonstrate. Jesus/Yahweh also has an Eternal Father, as his own prayers24 and teachings25 and the testifying voice26 demonstrate. This is a distinction that doesn’t really make a difference theologically, though it may do so referentially. But El Elyon’s Fatherhood is not removed or compromised by [Page 197]recognizing Yahweh’s and vice versa. It is just a matter of us bringing the best context to our reading.

Runnells quotes from a letter published in Dialogue in which Boyd Kirkland argued that Mormonism has “An Evolving God.” “The Book of Mormon and early revelations of Joseph Smith do indeed vividly portray a picture of the Father and Son as the same God … why is it that the Book of Mormon not only doesn’t clear up questions about the Godhead which have raged in Christianity for centuries, but on the contrary just adds to the confusion?”27

I had read Kirkland’s earlier essays on the topic in the 1980s and was impressed. Then in 1999, I read The Great Angel, which radically changed my understanding of the Jerusalem 600 bce context and my approach to the Book of Mormon.28 Plus, in 2001 I read Bruening and Paulson’s detailed essay, “The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths.” In surveying a range of earlier scholarship, including Kirkland’s, they observe that “most proponents of this developmental theory make the same claims and use the same proof texts.”29 Bruening and Paulson provide a far more detailed survey of the Book of Mormon than do these earlier writers, including Kirkland. They go beyond the usual proof-texts to provide a wider and far more telling context in support of Joseph Smith’s direct statement that “I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years. I have always [Page 198]declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”30

Runnells claims that “many verses still in the Book of Mormon … hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.” Please keep in mind that for Runnells’s complaints to make sense, we have to assume that he is talking about a conventional creedal metaphysical Trinity which postdates the New Testament. But it helps to remember that a social Trinity is still a Trinity, since the word merely means three. The issue is whether a close contextual reading of the Book of Mormon leads to a metaphysical Trinity, or to a social Trinity. I have found that contextualizing is a much better approach than reading passages of ancient scripture in isolation, and interpreting them against what usually turns out to be anachronistic assumptions.

Runnells starts with Alma 11:38-39 and the exchange between Amulek and Zeezrom: “Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” In responding to Zeezrom, Amulek goes on to provide much more useful context. For example, in verses 39-40, he equates the Son of God with the Eternal Father of Heaven and Earth, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the one who “shall come into the world to redeem his people,” to “take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name.” As a reader who knows about First Temple theology, and who considers many other important Book of Mormon passages that Runnells does not address, I know that Yahweh, God of the Old Testament, is a Son of El Elyon, God Most High, and that Yahweh/Jesus [Page 199]becomes the father of humans who covenant with him. Yahweh is the creator of the earth. In light of the different context I bring to the same passages that Runnells cites, I don’t have the same problems he does.

In verse 44, Amulek refers to “the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God.” Later in the scenes of the resurrected Lord at the Temple, the prayer for oneness in 3 Nephi 19:23, 29 provide useful insights on what is means to be “one.” So does John 16:22, where Jesus prays that the apostles may be “one even as we are one.” That is, the “oneness” that Jesus asks the apostles to have is modeled by the oneness that Jesus has with his father, El Elyon. The menorah is a key here, one vine with branches, seven lights connected to operate as one. This makes for a social Trinity, not a metaphysical Trinity.

In the next chapter, Alma joins in, referring in verse 31 to the story of the Fall, with Adam and Eve “becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil.” Notice the implied plurality of Gods, something that a social trinity permits and is consistent with Barker’s temple theology. In verse 33, Alma refers to God calling upon men in the name of His Son, and having mercy through “mine Only Begotten Son.” And chapter 13 includes, among other things, mentions of the Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit. So we have three divine beings who act in unity as “one Eternal God.”

Earlier, 1 Nephi 11:6 has an angel commending Nephi for his belief in “the Son of the Most High God.” Since Most High in Hebrew is El Elyon, and the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 identifies Yahweh as a son of El Elyon, we have more helpful context. In the Book of Mormon, therefore, Jesus is God of the Old Testament, who gave the law to Moses, part of a social Trinity that is “one God.” Jehovah has a Father, El Elyon, God Most High, that bears witness of Him and to whom He prays. Christ is a father to human via covenant [Page 200]and therefore, “because of the covenant ye have made ye shall be called the Children of Christ, his sons and daughters: for behold this day hath he spiritually begotten you.” (Mosiah 5:7). Two Book of Mormon passages refer to “the Name of the Most High God.” (3 Nephi 4:32, and 3 Nephi 11:17.) Interestingly Margaret Barker explains, “Older texts suggest that before the reform [of Josiah] the Name has been simply a synonym for the presence of Yahweh.”31 Further along she discusses later texts that suggest that “‘the Name’ was a separate being rather than just a name in our sense of the word, and that the Name was that aspect of God which could be perceived and known. The Name in its visible aspect is the Son.”32

Contextualizing properly costs some extra effort, but usually turns out to simplify issues in the long run. It’s like Nibley said, “Things that appear unlikely, impossible from one point of view often make perfectly good sense from another.”33 So the point of view we adopt is crucial. Of her own approach, Margaret Barker explains, “I favour the use of context materials rather than the currently fashionable approaches such as social scientific or rhetorical studies. I believe that a careful use of the historical critical method is most useful, as it enables us to stand where they stood, look where they looked and even to read what they wrote. What we find is not always expected or even welcome. There have been several times in my own research and writing when I have been forced to abandon they very position I was trying to establish, and with it a great deal of my personal baggage, but this has always led to something even more exciting.”34
[Page 201]

Information, Focus, Perception, and Neglect

More Kuhn:

Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. Even more important, during revolutions, scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before. 35

Led by the paradigms defined by the example of Biblical translation and transmission, LDS scholars have examined many aspects of the Book of Mormon that make no appearance whatsoever in Runnells’s letter. As I read through the Letter to the CES director, I notice that I have seen a great deal of evidence and argument that does not enter on the balance scale. Say, for example Mormon’s Codex, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, or Gardner’s Second Witness commentaries, or Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, or In the Footsteps of Lehi, or interesting parallels between Abraham Apocrypha and our Book of Abraham,36 or even mention of the significance of the raised leg on the figure on the lion couch,37 or the recently discovered papyrus that shows a similar lion couch scene and has Abraham’s name.38 While complaining about the Roberts’s Study and View of the Hebrews, he does not mention Welch’s 1984 paper called “Answering B. H. Roberts’s Questions and An ‘Unparallel.’” I read all three thirty years ago and did not have nearly the trouble that Runnells displays. He also describes the recent claims about The Late War Between the United States [Page 202]and Great Britain. This is a 1819 textbook written in King James Version style language for New York state school children, “one of them very likely being Joseph Smith.”39 I must mention Ben McGuire’s perceptive response to claims about The Late War40as well as a proper methodology for dealing with parallels, which he prepared in response to Rick Grunder, who happens to be one of Runnell’s sources.41

Does the obvious neglect of important sources and the impatience that Runnell’s displays matter? On the website response to FairMormon, Runnells says this: “I believe that members and investigators deserve all of the information on the table to be able to make a fully informed and balanced decision as to whether or not they want to commit their hearts, minds, time, talents, income, and lives to Mormonism.”42 “All of the information on the table” is rather a large order. What it actually means is we all deserve “God-Like Omniscience” as a basic human right, to be provided by institutional authorities before students and investigators make any serious decision or commitment. This demand for absolute certainty and omniscience as a gift to students before they make any faith [Page 203]decision would, by its nature, rule out the possibility of any faith decision being made. Faith decisions, by definition, are based on incomplete knowledge.

Think about it. Where exactly can we go to get that basic right of pre-digested, spoon-fed omniscience on demand fulfilled now? Does Runnells himself come even remotely close to measuring up to the standard of what he demands from even the CES or FairMormon? Does he come close to putting “all of the information on the table” in even one of the topics he treats?43 Is there a single page of his essay that could even remotely be described as “fully informed and balanced” with respect to any topic that he treats? He does not put any favorable information on the table concerning the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.

I have been making serious inquiries into controversial issues since 1974. Having had many more years to play in these fields, I know when Runnells is not telling me something important. And I understand how background assumptions shape his reactions to the information he does select to emphasize. Even so, I don’t think that he is being intentionally deceptive, or betraying my trust. And my experience has been that those less-than-omniscient Sunday School teachers and manual writers, or whomever, who did not tell him about those sources and details, probably did not know either. It’s just people being people as I have learned to expect them to behave, doing the best that they could, according to their lights and given their resources, rather than certifiably omniscient people violating a sacred trust by withholding information.
[Page 204]

Absolutes and Sliding Scales

Look at his complaints about the various First Vision Accounts and the priesthood restoration. On page 22 of his Letter, Runnells claims that “there is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.”44 The FairMormon website response points out an article in the Palmyra Reflector from 1831 that indicates discussion of Joseph’s vision as early as November 1830. They also point to the allusion in D&C 20, which dates to April 1830.45 Notice that in his response to FairMormon, Runnells shifts the argument regarding the First Vision from “absolutely no record” to “this actually confirms the point I’m making in that the first vision was unknown to the Saints and the world before 1832. In fact, most of the Saints were unaware of a first vision until it was published in 1842.” But of course, that was not the point he was making. “Absolutely no record” is the point he was making. His response swaps in a very different claim, one much easier to defend.

In his online response Runnells even brings in several accounts of visions reported by contemporaries of Joseph Smith, as though such accounts somehow negate his.46 Yet according to D&C 1, such things are to be expected. Where D&C 1:17 describes the call of Joseph Smith, the very next verse matter-of-factly asserts that the Lord “also gave commandments” to [Page 205]unspecified “others that they should proclaim these things to the world.” Far from claiming exclusive truth and revelation for the LDS, D&C 1:34 declares that “I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh.”

Runnells, like Grant Palmer before him,47 refers to Joseph Smith’s 1832 history to complain about the First Vision, and like Palmer, he ignores the first paragraph in making claims about a late appearance of the priesthood restoration stories. I have bolded a key passage:

A History of the life of Joseph Smith jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand firstly he receiving the testamony from on high seccondly the ministering of Aangels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel the Law and commandments as they were given unto him and the ordinenc[e]s, fo[u]rthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of god confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c 48

[Page 206]In his original Letter, Runnells says, “Although the priesthood is now taught to have been restored in 1829, Joseph and Oliver made no such claim until 1834.”49 He uncritically repeats Palmer’s claims about an 1834 date and leaves this crucially important information from 1832 off the table. When FairMormon points out the 1832 account, he labors to devalue the significance of this passage, and of other earlier sources that FairMormon mentions: “FAIR’s above answer actually confirms my point that the general Church membership was unfamiliar with the now official story of the Priesthood restoration until 1834. The best FAIR can do after scouring through everything for their rebuttal is this?”50

Notice again the shift from an original argument against the priesthood restoration based on “no such claim until 1834” to a much softer complaint about the general membership being “unfamiliar with the now official story.” Since the official story comes from the 1838 account, the fact that the general membership may not have been familiar with all details should only demonstrate the obvious. On the other hand, it may be that the people who were familiar with the now official story simply did not write it down. It should also be obvious that the Book of Mormon is very clear about the need for priesthood authority, and that provides important context for the other earlier priesthood restoration documents, as well as consistency with what became the official accounts. Runnells also overlooks the important essays in the 2005 volume, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, which includes “Seventy Contemporaneous Priesthood Restoration Documents.” Several of these accounts also predate Palmer’s claim about an 1834 invention.

[Page 207]We also have the unaddressed issue of precedent in the way God would or would not do things: “And as they came down from the mountain [of Transfiguration] Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 18:9). History tells us that very often, people who have profound religious experiences do not immediately report them or even write them down. At least, history tells those who investigate.

Archeological Expectations and the Direction of Subsequent Investigation

On page 8, Runnells makes a few complaints about the state of Book of Mormon evidence. I find the way that he establishes his own paradigm to be revealing. He complains about an utter lack of archeological evidence for Nephite civilization around the New York Cumorah. But is he looking in the right place? And is he looking for the right things? If he is looking for the wrong things in the wrong places, then his failure to find any evidence is inevitable rather than shocking.

He objects to “unofficial” apologists51 claims that the Book of Mormon Cumorah is located in Mesoamerica, and claims that they have done this in response to this lack of archeological evidence at the New York drumlin. In truth, it was close reading of the text that has turned informed Mormon scholars towards [Page 208]Mesoamerica. See, for instance, Sidney Sperry’s personal account of what changed his mind.52 David Palmer’s In Search of Cumorah is another example of the same notion but with further refinement of the process.53 Rather than uncritically accept what early LDS thought, a few people started reading more carefully. It is a matter of historical record that the first serious attempt to create an internal map, based solely on a comprehensive look at the Book of Mormon text appeared in 1937.54 This means that opinions before that date were not, and could not be based on the eyewitness descriptions provided in the text, but on uncritical supposition. The record shows clearly that when LDS scholars began to read the Book of Mormon closely they realized that the description of the hill did not actually fit the New York location. And if not, where did the description fit? Only when a fitting location can be found can we have any confidence that we are looking in the right place. And once you have the right location, what should a person expect to find?

Runnells sets out his own expectations of what he expects to find around the New York Cumorah.

Compare this to the Roman occupation of Britain and other countries. There are abundant evidences of their presence during the first 400 years ce such as villas, mosaic floors, public baths, armor, weapons, writings, art, pottery and so on. Even the major road systems used today in some of these occupied countries were built by the Romans. Additionally, there is ample evidence of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations as well [Page 209]as a civilization in current day Texas that dates back 15,000 years. Where are the Nephite or Lamanite buildings, roads, armors, swords, pottery, art, etc.?55

Asking “where are the Nephite and Lamanite buildings” is a very good question, if you actually ask it first of the Book of Mormon textual requirements and then fit that description to an appropriate physical and cultural context. And then go ahead with realistic expectations of both material culture and the limits of archeology at any given time. However, if I’m standing atop Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England, asking “where are the Nephite and Lamanite buildings?” everyone would admit that it is a remarkably poor question. Runnells asks of a location that does not fit the descriptions in the text,56 and he also expects that at that location Lehi’s little family group should affect New World architectural styles after the manner of a Roman invasion force that entered Britain.

Think for a moment exactly the circumstances under which Lehi’s family arrived in the New World in around 590 bce compared to Runnells’s model of the Roman conquest of Britain. The Romans came to stay in 43 ce, and made Britain a province until 410. The Romans sent several legions, kept a constant military presence, provided ongoing population and administrative influx, as well as trade across the English channel from other, nearby, Roman-controlled territories. How well does that model of a well-supported, well-supplied invasion involving many thousands of soldiers and government officials in continuous contact with Rome over 300 years apply to Lehi’s arrival in a single isolated ship?

Archeological surveys demonstrate that when Lehi arrived, it would have been to a location with pre-existing populations, [Page 210]at that time consisting of small villages and hamlets.57 In the Book of Mormon a ship arrives in a New World location with perhaps 15 adults and 25 children.58 So here we have a picture of a small group arriving into an unfamiliar, already populated area. (Matt Roper’s “Nephi’s Neighbors” is essential reading on this topic.59) The locals have their own language, knowledge of local crops and other resources, which would be essential information for the new arrivals who would be foolish not to adopt working local practices. Archeologically, therefore, we should assume the newcomers would look very much like the locals because they would adopt their material culture.60 Over a decade ago, Brant Gardner talked about the difference this makes in expectations and consequent perceptions:

Would I ever reconstruct Mesoamerican society in a way that appeared to represent Christianized Old World peoples? No. I wouldn’t. I don’t.

The rather interesting discovery made just a few years back was that I, and many other Mesoamericanists, had simply made some incorrect assumptions about the [Book of Mormon] text. The attempts of LDS archaeological apologetics was for years focused on [Page 211]finding the Christian or the Hebrew—or who knows what—in Mesoamerican archaeology.

The difference came when I started looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon instead of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. Oddly enough, there is a huge difference, and the nature and the quality of the correlations has changed with that single shift in perspective.…

When I started my examination, I had no expectation of what I would find. Some of the correlation I have found came not from attempting to find some specific thing, but in realizing that the text did not say what I had thought it said—and that it really didn’t make any sense until I saw it in the context of Mesoamerican culture.

When people ask me about the most important correlation I have found, I have a hard time narrowing it to just one. The most important correlation isn’t a singular finding; rather, it can be seen in the many facets of the discovery that the entire text of the Book of Mormon works better in a Mesoamerican context. Speeches suddenly have a context that makes them relevant instead of just preachy. The pressures leading to wars are understandable. The wars themselves have an explanation for their peculiar features. All of these things happen within a single interpretive framework that puts them in the right place at the right time.61

[Page 212]That Runnells can even imagine that his Roman Britain comparison makes any kind of sense tells me a great deal about why he is disappointed. From my perspective he is looking for the wrong things in the wrong place. He is not particularly self-reflective about the situation.

With regards to the New York hill, it is fairly easy for Runnells or anyone to cite LDS authorities who confidently proclaim that the New York hill is the same as the hill described in the Book of Mormon. It is far more difficult to find any of them who accompany their assertion with a close reading of the Book of Mormon passages that describe the hill and its environs. What the historical record shows is that once the association between the Book of Mormon hill and the New York hill was made (not by Joseph Smith), almost no one thought to question it. Those that started asking the questions did so because they got around to a close and careful reading the Book of Mormon descriptions and tried to account for what it provides. Runnells himself demonstrates exactly how the neglectful approach works:

This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught. Never mind that the Church has a visitor’s center there in New York and holds annual Hill Cumorah pageants.62

Notice that Runnells completely ignores what Mormon and Moroni provide as eyewitness descriptions. He makes an argument based on authority that totally ignores the two most significant eyewitness authorities. The New York hill is an important historical site for the LDS, so the fact of a visitor’s center there having significance is not as much an argument as an unexamined assertion that some irrefutable argument must be there somewhere. And he also assumes that those other [Page 213]prophets and authorities who made the identification must know what they are talking about, because, as we all know prophets should be basically the sock puppets of an Omniscient God who never allows them to do or say or think anything without His approval and consent.63 But don’t Mormon and Moroni, the editors of the Book of Mormon text, and eyewitnesses to the events at Cumorah, count as authorities worth considering? Does Runnells, or any of the authorities he cites (or more often infers without actually citing) in support of the New York hill as Cumorah, account for the whole of what Mormon and Moroni provide?

Concerning otherwise faithful disciples who assume that they understand, and therefore, do not even think to ask, Jesus makes an important point:

And now because of stiff-neckedness and unbelief, they understood not my word: therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them [being the Old World disciples].… And they understood me not, for they supposed … (3 Nephi 15:18, 22).

An important, recurring theme in Jesus’ preaching concerns those who have ears but do not hear, and eyes but do not see, referring to the famous comments in Isaiah 6.

In defense of his unstated, but argumentatively essential assumptions, Runnells does not recognize the single most relevant statement on the authority held by LDS leaders, from D&C 1:6, 24–28.

Behold, this is my mine authority, and the authority of my servants.…

[Page 214]These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

And inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known;

And inasmuch as they sought wisdom, they might be instructed;

And inasmuch as they sinned, they might be chastened that they might repent;

And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high and receive knowledge from time to time.

A large portion of the complaints that Runnells makes both in his Letter and his response to FairMormon works from an assumption that LDS leadership should display no weakness, have no common manner of language, never err in their statements, never need to seek wisdom since they should already have it all on the shelf, never sin and therefore never need to repent, and have all knowledge from the start so that no one, especially not Runnells, might ever need to change their thinking on any subject, no matter how trivial, especially not after having attended EFY, read some “approved” books, and served a mission.

Science Concerns and Questions

Runnells opens with this:

The problem Mormonism encounters is that so many of its claims are well within the realm of scientific study, and as such, can be proven or disproven. To cling to faith in these areas, where the overwhelming evidence is against it, is willful ignorance, not spiritual dedication.

[Page 215]1. 2 Nephi 2:22 and Alma 12:23–24 state there was no death of any kind (humans, all animals, birds, fish, dinosaurs, etc.) on this earth until the “Fall of Adam”, which according to D&C 77:6–7 occurred 7,000 years ago. It is scientifically established there has been life and death on this planet for billions of years. How does the Church reconcile this?64

I don’t think that the testability of Mormon claims is a problem. Indeed, Thomas Kuhn observes that “there are values to be used in judging whole theories: they must, first and foremost, permit puzzle-formulation and solutions.”65

The tricky bit concerns the limits of verification and falsification, proving or disproving. As Ian Barbour explains, “If a deduction is not confirmed experimentally, one can never be sure which one, from among the many assumptions on which the deduction was based, was in error. A network of hypothesis and observations is always tested together. Any particular hypothesis can be maintained by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.”66

I learned long ago to pay as much attention to the networks of assumptions involved as to the observations that are then fitted into that network. For instance, where Runnells claims that the two Book of Mormon passages that he cites refers to “no death of any kind … on this earth,” I notice that he is not quoting either passage, but paraphrasing toward his conclusion. I don’t agree with his interpretation of these verses. Few Mormons do. In my reading, the passages refer to the Garden of Eden, not the entire globe. I don’t believe that conditions in the Garden are the same as conditions outside the Garden. The Garden is a set-off place, a bounded location for two people, in which different [Page 216]conditions apply inside than outside. What is going on outside the Garden? What was going on before the Garden? We get some helpful hints from the Book of Abraham, and Nibley’s “Before Adam” talk from 1980, which was delivered at BYU, published by Deseret Book in 1986, sold in bookstores, and available online for well over a decade.67

The setting is a cosmos in which worlds without number have been created (Moses 1:33) and destroyed many times in an ongoing process. Moses is informed that he is only to be told of the earth upon which he stands, and also that when he sees many lands on that earth, that each land is called earth, all lands having many inhabitants (Moses 1:29). Adam is “many” (Moses 1:34). We get one creation account about an earth in which the man is created last, and then we get another creation account in which the man is created upon an existing earth, and placed into a garden. The Abraham account gives the important understanding that the creative periods have no time we ought worry about, except that they take “until” (Abraham 4:18), which means take all the time you need. Regarding the process involved: “And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth” (Abraham 4:21). As Nibley observes, this is “future potential tense,”68 initiating a process that proceeds “until” we have the great whales and other living creatures. In discussing the process, the result of which would be creatures who are obedient to a command to “bring forth … after their kind” (Abraham 4:24), we are told that to this process “they shall be very obedient.” (Abraham 4:31). By definition “very” permits variation. So our LDS scriptures describe worlds without number, a process of creation that takes “until,” creatures are formed who are to be the end result of processes that involve [Page 217]being “very” obedient to the command to reproduce after their kind. Elsewhere, we learn that variety gives beauty to the earth. I doubt that the geology or biology professors at BYU have the problems that Runnells has, obviously because of different observations and a different network of assumptions in the puzzle definition and testing. Nibley has also pointed out that the creation accounts are not historical treatments, but are dramatic treatments, symbolic stories performed in the temple.69

Runnells also cites D&C 77:6-7, but given that it is a commentary on Revelation, and that Revelation is a highly symbolic document, and that “thousand” applies largely to divisions within a period designated as “temporal existence,” and that LDS leaders such as W. W. Phelps, Brigham Young, and David O. McKay have been comfortable talking about much longer spans of time, I would not recommend building too much on it.70 In “Before Adam,” Nibley argues that:

Man is formed of the elements of the earth like any other creature, and he lives in a very lush period, a garden, which is however reduced to an oasis in an encroaching desert. (Abraham. 5:7–10.) To this limited terrain he is perfectly adapted. It is a paradise. How long does he live there? No one knows, for this was still ”after the Lord’s time,” not ours. (Abraham 5:13.) It was only when he was forced out of this timeless, changeless paradise that he began to count the hours and days, moving into a hard semi-arid world of thorns, thistles, and briars, where he had to toil and sweat in the heat [Page 218]just to stay alive and lost his old intimacy with the animals. (Genesis 3:17–19.)

The questions most commonly asked are: When did it happen? How long did it take? Our texts make it very clear that we are not to measure the time and periods involved by our chronometers and calendars. Until Adam underwent that fatal change of habitat, body chemistry, diet, and psyche that went with the Fall, nothing is to be measured in our years, ”for the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.” (Abraham 5:13.) Until then, time is measured from their point of view, not ours. As far as we are concerned it can be any time, and there would be no point to insisting on this again and again if all we had to do to convert their time to our time was multiply our years by 365,000. Theirs was a different time. The only numbers we are given designated the phases of periods of creation: ”and this was the second time” (Abraham 4:8), ”and it was the third time” (4:13), and so on. The periods are numbered but never measured. The Gods called them ”days,” but the text is at great pains to make clear that it was day and night from their point of view, when our time had not yet been appointed. ”And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. And … from the evening until morning they called night; … and this was the first, or the beginning, of that which they called day and night. (Abraham 4:5.) Doctrine and Covenants 130:4-5 explains that ”the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time [is] according to the planet on which they reside.” That implies different time schemes at least.71

[Page 219]I don’t think I need to be bound to Runnells’s readings regarding science issues. No matter how much it feeds into his network of assumptions, it doesn’t count for much in my own. He also offers complaints about a global flood, fossil evidence, and early hominids, none of which cause me any trouble because I don’t read the scriptures the same way he does.72 Given my network of assumptions I can handle the same observations easily, as normal and expected, not as anomalous and shocking.

Approaches to Parallels: The Late War and Others

Runnells cites the recent assertions regarding a book called The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain.

This was an 1819 textbook written in King James Version style language for New York state school children, one of them very likely being Joseph Smith. The first chapter alone is stunning as it reads incredibly like the Book of Mormon:

1. Now it came to pass, in the one thousand eight hundred and twelfth year of the christian era, and in the thirty and sixth year after the people of the provinces of Columbia had declared themselves a free and independent nation;

2. That in the sixth month of the same year, on the first day of the month, the chief Governor, whom the people had chosen to rule over the land of Columbia;

[Page 220]3. Even James, whose sir-name was Madison, delivered a written paper to the Great Sanhedrin (sic) of the people, who were assembled together.

4. And the name of the city where the people were gathered together was called after the name of the chief captain of the land of Columbia, whose fame extendeth to the uttermost parts of the earth; albeit, he had slept with his fathers …73

Since the point of The Late War is to imitate the style of the single most influential book in the English language, some stylistic parallels should be expected. However, there is also the matter of style versus content, surface versus substance, common place parallels versus unusual, random parallels versus convergence of connected ideas. Ben McGuire has treated these issues at length, and offers four important guidelines:74

  • Differences are as important as similarities.
  • Parallels need to be examined in progressively expanding contexts.
  • Parallels should be discussed in a detailed and specific fashion.
  • Rhetorical values, the intentions of an author, and the purposes of a text should all to be taken into consideration.

What can happen when such guidelines are ignored, as in Runnells’s case, is well illustrated by examples provided by Jeff Lindsay, in his parody essays depicting the 1829 Book [Page 221]of Mormon as plagiarizing Walt Whitman’s 1856 Leaves of Grass,75 and the Moon landing:76

Numerous parallels between the history of man’s voyages to the moon and the transoceanic voyages in the Book of Mormon suggest that accounts of lunar journeys may have been a primary source for Joseph Smith. Consider the following startling parallels:

  • Both accounts provide detailed stories of long and dangerous journeys.
  • Both accounts describe unusual compasses which were used for guidance on the journey.
  • Both involved unusual ships for the journey.
  • Like the astronauts of Apollo 11 and other spacecraft, the Jaredites traveled to a New World in a generally airtight vessel.
  • Special high-tech lighting elements were needed for the sealed Jaredite vessels, just like the electric light sources used by the astronauts.
  • In both cases, information is stored on metallic objects – brass or gold plates for the Nephites, and magnetic computer media (iron oxide disks?) for the moon voyagers.
  • Both involve the discovery of a new land.
  • Both involve a small group of souls departing from a proud and wicked society.
  • [Page 222]Members of both groups engaged in prayer and respectful reference to God during the journey.
  • Both groups expressed great gratitude upon reaching their destinations.
  • The initial voyagers in both cases saw their journey as having great significance to future generations.
  • Both groups brought objects from the old world to the new world they discovered.
  • One group was guided by the strong arm of the Lord, while the other group was led by Neil Armstrong. Surely this is more than mere coincidence!
  • Passages in both texts refer to astronomical terms such as the heavens, the stars, the earth, the moon, and the planets.
  • The astronauts found the surface of the moon to be desolate, free of vegetation, and the Book of Mormon talks about the discovery of a similar land called the Land of Desolation.
  • Some Book of Mormon names show striking similarity to names of objects on the moon. For example, the crater “Mairan” is quite similar to the Jaredite name “Moron” and may even be related to “Mormon.”
  • The moon crater “Godin” is very similar to the Book of Mormon names “Gideon” and “Gadianton.”
  • [Page 223]The moon crater “Rabbi Levi” may also account for the Jewish influences seen in the Book of Mormon.
  • The Pyrenees mountain range on the moon may explain the Book of Mormon name “Pahoran.”
  • The moon’s Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Rains, may account for the name “Irreantum” given to the “many waters” of the ocean by the Nephites.

Was Nephi really Neil Armstrong? Take out the “ph” from Nephi, and you’ve got the “Nei” of Neil. Was the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) the source of the name LEMuel? Take out the central “”rm” from ”Mormon” and you’ve got “Moon”; take out the “r” and “i” of Moroni and you’ve got “Moon” again. Yikes—it’s all beginning to make sense!

Both McGuire and Lindsay offer many insights on dangers of uncritical parallelomania, present thoughtful recommendations for better results, and refer to a great deal of information that Runnells does not consider regarding The Great War, View of the Hebrews, and various other proposed sources for ideas leading to the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Abraham as Smoking Gun

Runnells says that:

Of all of the issues, the Book of Abraham is the issue that has both fascinated and disturbed me the most. It is the issue that I’ve spent the most time researching on because it offers a real insight into Joseph’s modus operandi as well as Joseph’s claim of being a translator. [Page 224]It is the smoking gun that has completely obliterated my testimony of Joseph Smith and his claims.77

I find it interesting that his response for this most crucial and time-consuming issue consists of six pages, mostly involving large graphics lifted from an anti-LDS site.78 Most of the critical information is attributed to unnamed “Egyptologists”:

Egyptologists state that Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish and have absolutely nothing to do with what the papyri and facsimiles actually are and what they actually say. Nothing in each and every facsimile is correct to what Joseph Smith claimed they said.79

Leaving aside, for the moment, whether Joseph Smith’s Abraham is gibberish, and whether Joseph even tried to translate the Hor Book of Breathings, or what that text actually offers in its own right, or whether Joseph’s explanations have “absolutely nothing to do” with the facsimilies, we arrive back to the same kind of absolute claim that Runnells offered for the First Vision and the priesthood restoration.

Consider Michael Rhodes on the Facsimiles:

But is there any evidence that, even in distorted form, these illustrations were associated with Abraham anciently? There is indeed. I will discuss each facsimile in turn.

Facsimile 1. In an ancient Egyptian papyrus dating to roughly the first or second century ad, there is a lion-couch scene similar to the one shown in facsimile 1. Underneath the illustration, the text reads “Abraham, [Page 225]who upon .…” There is a break in the text here, so we do not know what word followed. The key point, however, is that an ancient Egyptian document, from approximately the same time period as the papyri Joseph Smith had in his possession, associated Abraham with a lion-couch scene.

Facsimile 2. Egyptologists call documents like facsimile 2 a hypocephalus, Greek for “under the head,” since the document was placed under the head of the deceased in the coffin. Over a hundred examples of them are located in museums around the world.

On an Egyptian papyrus of the early Christian period is the phrase “Abraham, the pupil of the eye of the Wedjat.” In the 162d chapter of the Book of the Dead, which tells how to make a hypocephalus, the Wedjat eye is described, and the hypocephalus itself is called an “eye.”

The Apocalypse of Abraham, a pseudepigraphical text dating from the early Christian era, describes a vision Abraham saw while making a sacrifice to God. In this vision, he is shown the plan of the universe, “what is in the heavens, on the earth, in the sea, in the abyss, and in the lower depths.” This language is very close to the phrase found in facsimile 2 (figures 9, 10, and 11), which reads, “O Mighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, of the hereafter, and of his great waters.” In this same text, Abraham sees “the fullness of the universe and its circles in all” and a “picture of creation” with two sides. The similarity with the hypocephalus, which for the Egyptians represents the whole of the world in a circular format, is striking. There is even a [Page 226]description of what are clearly the four figures labeled number 6 in the Joseph Smith hypocephalus. It also tells how Abraham is promised the priesthood, which will continue in his posterity—a promise associated with the temple. He is shown the “host of stars, and the orders they were commanded to carry out, and the elements of the earth obeying them.” This language shows a remarkable parallel to the wording in the book of Abraham.

Facsimile 3. In the Testament of Abraham, another pseudepigraphical text of the early Christian era, Abraham sees a vision of the Last Judgment that is unquestionably related to the judgment scene pictured in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead, thus clearly associating Abraham with this ancient Egyptian work. One of the Joseph Smith papyri is, in fact, a drawing of this judgment scene from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead, and facsimile 3 is a scene closely related to this.

The important point here is that we find ancient Near Eastern documents that are roughly contemporary with the hypocephalus and the other Egyptian papyri purchased by Joseph Smith that relate the scenes portrayed in facsimiles 1, 2, and 3 with Abraham, just as Joseph Smith said. Significantly, none of these documents had even been discovered at Joseph Smith’s time.80

[Page 227]Runnells provides none of this relevant information in his letter. Uninformed readers will not learn about the existence and work of people like Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, Blake Ostler, Will Schryver, John Tvedtnes, and Kevin Barney, to name just a few of the important LDS commentators. When I read, I bring my knowledge of their work with me, and as a consequence, I have a different experience than Runnells intends when he offers complaints like this:

  1. Joseph misidentifies the Egyptian god Osiris as Abraham.
  2. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Isis as the Pharaoh.
  3. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Maat as the Prince of the Pharaoh.
  4. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Anubis as a slave.
  5. Misidentifies the dead Hor as a waiter.
  6. Joseph misidentifies—twice—a female as a male.81

Jeff Lindsay has a section on his website on these complaints, citing a range of previously published material:

Let’s consider both charges. First, critics charge that Joseph’s interpretation of Facsimile 3 is wrong because the enthroned figure is Osiris, not Abraham. As we have already seen in the discussion of Facsimile 1, humans can represent Osiris. Indeed, McGregor and Shirts point out that Joseph has actually scored a surprising bulls eye here:82

Notice that Joseph Smith says figure 1 is “Abraham.… with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven.” Now interestingly, in Facsimile 3 we have [Page 228]Osiris enthroned as Osiris Khenty-Amentiu. This name means, and I quote, “First (or President) of the Westerners.”83 Osiris, as Lord of the Dead, is called Khenty-Amentiu. Khenty means “Before, earlier,” as the Egyptologist Alan Gardiner noted,84 or preceding, that is, the president, as Hugh Nibley has noted. Joseph Smith is right on the money here.

Second, anti-Mormons also mock Joseph for identifying in Facs. 3 the obviously female figures 2 and 4 as males. Critics such as James R. Smith ask how Joseph possibly could have missed it – suggesting that such terrible blunders show how uninspired Joseph was. McGregor and Shirts provide several pages of information and documentation showing what is very well known about ancient Egypt,85 concluding with this:

The ancient Egyptians dressed in costume during their rituals, coronations, and funerals and took on the roles of the deities whose robes they wore, whether male or female. It is that simple. And there is rather an abundant amount of evidence to demonstrate this these days.

An excellent source on the very Egyptian nature of Joseph’s interpretation of Facsimile 3 is found in Hugh [Page 229]Nibley’s old but valuable work, Abraham in Egypt.86 With abundant documentation, Nibley illustrates that Egyptians indeed mixed gender roles and linked humans and gods in ritual scenes like that of Facsimile 3. Joseph’s interpretation is patently absurd based on our standards and what any school child could see in Joseph’s day or ours: those identified as a prince and a king by Joseph are clearly women. And the person on the throne should be the king, not Abraham, and an obviously important central figure should be someone important, not just a household waiter. But as absurd as Joseph’s explanation sounds to us, it makes a great deal of sense in light of what we now know about the ancient Egyptians.87

Runnells links only to Wikipedia articles for Osiris, Isis, Maat, and Anubis. Lindsay provides a range of sources. As has become typical, the differences in time, effort and sources consulted are telling.

Free Service or Personal Search?

A bitter complaint in Letter to a CES Director is that “I never heard about this or that” and as a consequence, asks:

How am I supposed to feel about learning about these disturbing facts at 31-years-old? After making critical life decisions based on trust and faith that the Church was telling me the complete truth about its origins and history? After many books, seminary, EFY, Church [Page 230]history tour, mission, BYU, General Conferences, Scriptures, Ensigns, and regular Church attendance?88

Runnells wants his readers to comprehend and sympathize with his feelings of shock and betrayal. Let’s put aside the irony of his complaints about important information having been overlooked, and consider his question. How should he feel about it? The answer to this question is closely tied to how a person defines “the Church” and what we can then expect to be provided by that entity, body, or collection of bodies. I’ll return to what “the Church” is to me shortly.

Back in 1974, when I was on my mission in England, we were invited to show a film, “Meet the Mormons,” to a group of middle-schoolers in Colne, Lancashire. As the movie went on, we could see these kids, younger than we, passing around what were obviously anti-Mormon pamphlets. During the Q&A, I ran into some questions I was not prepared to answer. I had been active all my life, and had attended all sorts of meetings from primary, MIA, Sunday School, priesthood, sacrament, to conferences, road shows, institute. I had read the Book of Mormon four or five times, and part of the D&C and New Testament. I calculated that at times, I was involved in LDS sponsored activities for fifteen hours a week. And here some kids passing around their first anti-LDS pamphlets asked me some questions I could not answer. How should I feel?

I learned that I could not trust the institutional arms of the Church to provide me with all the information I might need. If I wanted to know, to be prepared, I had to take personal responsibility. In retrospect, my program involved three elements. Keep my eyes open. Give things time. And re-examine my own assumptions now and then. The alternative is to not pay attention. Insist on final answers now. And never [Page 231]re-examine my own assumptions. Either choice on these three points has consequences in life.

Sixteen or seventeen years later, while I was living in California, I met a disillusioned member who had his beliefs shattered by an encounter with books from Jerald and Sandra Tanner. He loaned me The Changing World of Mormonism, which I promptly read and which at that point in time, gave me no trouble. (When I more recently read Letter to a CES Director, I thought of it as Tanners Lite for the Twitter generation, and in that sense, all “old news” to me.) The young man who loaned me the book was incredulous at my reaction. “How can you know what you know, and believe what you believe?” he asked. I still think it was a very good question, worth serious consideration.

In the sixteen or so years up to that point, I had been busy learning on my own initiative. I started with the scriptures, not just reading to get through pages, or to memorize important proof texts, but pursuing my own questions. A year later, a member loaned me Hugh Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon. The experience of reading that remarkable book expanded my mind and enlarged my soul (as Alma 32 puts it) and left me hungering for more. When I got back home, I noticed in a low bookshelf in the family room, stacks of old Ensigns, and older Improvement Eras. As I browsed, I noticed the Nibley series on Enoch, and decided to read them. Then in the older Improvement Eras, I found most of the twenty-nine part series on “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price.” I read them with pleasure and excitement, and a good bit of embarrassment on realizing that they had been coming into my home for years, and I hadn’t so much as given them a glance. Whose fault was that?

The unavoidable answer to that question is why I personally cannot share the disillusion that Runnells displays. Besides reading through neglected resources at home, I also bought books, prowled the stacks in libraries, read the back issues of [Page 232]BYU Studies, Dialogue, The Improvement Era, and Sunstone. I used the things I learned from the best books and journals to further direct my learning. A friend told me about the newly organized Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, and I began acquiring as many reprints as I could afford and read everything in their journals and then their books. I found that I could see a lot further by standing on the shoulders of giants than by crouching shoulder to shoulder with pygmies. So by the time I encountered the Tanners, I was well prepared by my previous readings. I have consistently found that I learn far more about the arguments of the critics by reading the best apologetic writings, than I learn of the arguments of the defenders by reading critical writings. When I did finally read something that gave me trouble for a few days, the resolution turned into my first essay in LDS letters.89 I read the work of the best LDS scholars with pleasure, excitement, and faith, and every now and then found that I had something to offer.

So why does my faith expand, when Runnells’s faith shatters?

Brittle things are far more prone to shattering than flexible things. Consider how traumatized Runnells is when he mentions his encounters with non-correlated thinking,—that things might be different than he had understood—and this, from Joseph Smith:

But there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand.

[Page 233]I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.90

A quality that permits any mind to expand rather than shatter must be a certain amount of flexibility. Remember the earlier quotation from Ian Barbour: “If a deduction is not confirmed experimentally, one can never be sure which one, from among the many assumptions on which the deduction was based, was in error. A network of hypothesis and observations is always tested together. Any particular hypothesis can be maintained by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.”91

Look at again at Runnells, and check for any flexibility in his network of observations and hypotheses.

I was amazed to learn that, according to these unofficial apologists, translate doesn’t really mean translate, horses aren’t really horses (they’re tapirs), chariots aren’t really chariots (since tapirs can’t pull chariots without wheels), steel isn’t really steel, Hill Cumorah isn’t really in New York (it’s possibly in Mesoamerica), Lamanites aren’t really the principal ancestors of the Native American Indians, marriage isn’t really marriage (if they’re Joseph’s marriages? They’re just mostly non-sexual spiritual sealings), and prophets aren’t really prophets (only when they’re heretics teaching today’s false doctrine).

[Page 234]I’ve already pointed out the problem with his approach to the word “translate.” If you follow the link he provides in his complaint that to apologists, “horses aren’t really horses,” we come to a Maxwell Institute article92 that demonstrates a flexibility of thought and observation that Runnells does not pass along. The article describes some existing evidence for horse bones, which means, the Book of Mormon mention of horses just might be the horses he expects. It also describes the common practice of loan-shift, “well known to historians and anthropologists who study cross-cultural contact.” Runnells misrepresents both the hypotheses and the observations made in the essay, overlooking a clear description of real possibilities in favor of an inaccurate and brittle declaration of unacceptable and unreasonable identity. He filters the flexibility and the reason out of the essay when making his own summary. The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious brittleness.93

Compare Alma 32:18, and Alma’s contrast between people who want to “know” with absolute finality, and those who settle for open-ended “cause to believe.” Closed brittle thinking, contrasted with open-ended, tentative thinking. In describing how faith works, Alma describes how the planting and nurturing of a seed initiates a process in which change in the original seed is a sign of success. Swelling, sprouting, till, [Page 235]“your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.”94 Runnells appears to want an experience in which he plants a seed, comes back to wash off the mud and dirt to find that it remains the same as it ever was. No swelling, no unexpected sprouts, roots, leaves, branches, growth, and certainly no unexpected fruit. To him, nothing that looks or acts differently than the original seed can be good. Expansion, change, growth can only shatter him, like gentle grass bursting through asphalt.

Victims and Survivors

Runnells basically describes himself as a victim of the Church. I don’t see myself as a victim of the church, despite my own experience in finding myself unprepared to deal with unexpected and difficult questions. But I do remember that the young man who gave me The Changing World of Mormonism actually had a difficult time talking with me because doing so would draw him back into the trauma of his loss of faith. Now, I would recognize what he was experiencing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And now, one of the books I recommend to people I work with as part of my current church calling includes this kind of advice for dealing with trauma:95

  • Find initial support immediately
  • Re-establish safety
  • Practice good self care
  • Create boundaries between yourself and the trauma
  • Counter dissociation
  • Begin emotional processing and grieving
  • Use grieving and processing methods to help heal. (consider EMDR)
  • [Page 236]Develop personal empowerment
  • Develop healthy communication skills
  • Develop healthy conflict management skills
  • Reframe yourself as survivor rather than victim
  • Consider forgiveness
  • Find positive life purpose

Notice that part of healing from trauma involves reframing yourself as a survivor rather than a victim, and that doing so involves a sequence of positive actions. Victimhood simply involves the ongoing nurture of grievances and no movement in the direction of healing.

What a Church Has and What a Church Is

So what is the Church? What should I expect from it? A church has many things but the church is not the things that it has. Our Church has a headquarters, leaders, members, employees, buildings, educational materials, missionaries, beliefs, ordinances, properties, scholars, critics, and so forth. But the things that the church has are not what the church is.

Runnells’s expectations of the Church were that members have a rightful expectation that all knowledge must be provided to us, presumably by certifiably Omniscient Sunday School teachers, and all-knowing Primary teachers, and all-seeing Sacrament meeting speakers, all through official channels and approved books. The church did not meet his expectations, and consequently, he has resentments. Part of recovery involves dismantling the grievance story and letting go of resentments.

To me, the church is an assembly of people who have made covenants with God: people of all different ages, temperaments, cultures, experience, understanding, maturity, spiritual gifts, and personal resources. Because of the diversity, I do not expect that any administrative materials or programs can possibly address the widely divergent needs that different members have with a one-size-fits-all solution. That is just to help us get [Page 237]started, to provide a foundation to build on, or, as Alma puts, it, to provide seeds for us to nurture. So, one of the covenants we make with God (not with each other) is to “sustain” one another. This is another place where my wife and I found our minds and souls enlarged by turning to a dictionary.

Sustain96

1.  To keep up; keep going; maintain. Aid, assist, comfort.
2.  to supply as with food or provisions:
3.  to hold up; support
4.  to bear; endure
5.  to suffer; experience: to sustain a broken leg.
6.  to allow; admit; favor
7.  to agree with; confirm.

This means that I as a member of the gathering, as part of the church, when I raise my hand to sustain other members in their callings, I promise God that at the very least, I will put up with whatever difficulties arise. We all have choices to make in dealing with people who don’t live up to our expectations. One involves whether to adjust our own expectations. Another involves whether to resent people for being human, or to forgive them, as well as ourselves, for being human. Our choices turn out to affect the quality of our lives as well as our faith.[Page 238]

 

1. Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony,” 5; http://cesletter.com/Letter-to-a-CES-Director.pdf, citing Peter Henerson and Kristina Cooke, “Mormonism Besieged by the Modern Age,” Reuters, 30 January 2012; http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/01/30/uk-mormonchurch-idUKTRE80T1CP20120130.

2. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 5.2

3. See Jeff Lindsay, “LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers”; http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/index.html.

4. While I will discuss various complaints that Runnells makes, I do not attempt a point-by-point rebuttal. Such information is easily found, in my view, by those who seek it. See “Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director”; http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director. See also Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, 2nd ed. (Redding, CA: FairMormon, 2013).

5. See Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome.

6. Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986), 65.

7. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 6.

8. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”; http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/book-of-mormon.html.

9. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 65.

10. Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Awareness, rev. ed. (Los Angeles: P.P. Tarcher, 1989), 134.

11. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 80.

12. American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “translate”; http://webstersdictionary1828.com/.

13. Kevin Christensen, “Biblical Keys for Discerning True and False Prophets”; http://en.fairmormon.org/Biblical_Keys_for_Discerning_True_and_False_Prophets.

14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), 268.

15. John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), 187.

16. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, 201–202.

17. John W. Welch, The Sermon on the Mount in Light of the Temple (London: Ashgate, 2009).

18. Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 59.

19. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 17.

20. See 4QDeut for Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).

21. Barker, The Great Angel, 4–5. See also Brant A. Gardner, “Monotheism, Messiah, and Mormon’s Book”; http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2003-fair-conference/2003-monotheism-messiah-and-mormons-book. For a printed version of this paper, see Brant A. Gardner, “Excursus: The Nephite Understanding of God,” in Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 1:214–222.

22. Kevin Christensen, “The Temple, The Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi’s World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 449–522.

23. On the mother of God in general see Margaret Barker, The Mother of the Lord, Volume 1: The Lady in the Temple (London: T&T Clark, 2012).

24. 3 Nephi 19:20–23.

25. 3 Nephi 18:35.

26. 3 Nephi 11:7

27. Boyd Kirkland, “An Evolving God,” Dialogue 28/1 (Spring 1995): v, cited in Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 19.

28. See for example, Kevin Christensen, “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies,” FARMS Occasional Papers 2 (2001).

29. See Ari D. Bruening and David L. Paulsen, “The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths,” FARMS Review of Books 13/2 (2001): 109–69.

30. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370.

31. Barker, The Great Angel, 97.

32. Barker, The Great Angel, 102–103.

33. Nibley, “Before Adam,” 65.

34. See Margaret Barker, “Reflections on Biblical Studies in the Twentieth Century,” 8; http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/ReflectionsOnBiblicalStudies.pdf.

35. Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 111.

36. See John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid and John Gee, eds., Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001).

37. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 25, includes four pictures showing the Anubis figure in lion-couch scenes for comparison, none of which have the raised leg that suggests life.

38. John Gee, “Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,” Ensign, July 1992, 60.

39. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 15. Notice ghd rhetorically helpfully ambiguous language. That The Great War was written for New York school children does not necessarily mean that Joseph Smith, or anyone in Palmyra, ever saw a copy. It’s not in the Manchester Library, which may not matter since the Smith’s were not members, and the Book of Mormon was translated in Harmony, which had no library.

40. Benjamin L. McGuire, “The Late War Against the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 7 (2013): 323–355; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-late-war-against-the-book-of-mormon/.

41. Benjamin L. McGuire, “Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013): 1–59; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-one/; “Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part Two,” 61–104; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/finding-parallels-some-cautions-and-criticisms-part-two/.

42. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”; http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/.

43. Compare how Runnells sets the table regarding the Book of Abraham (basically a bowl of selectively picked cherries) with this comprehensive bibliography of relevant studies by Tim Barker, “Bibliography”; http://thebookofabraham.blogspot.com/p/bibliography.html.

44. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 22.

46. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”; http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/first-vision.html. Compare Richard Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37/1 (1997–98): 183–204. See also Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 31–42. And see James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43–62.

47. See Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), pp. 215-234. Compare Steven Harper, “Trustworthy History?” in The FARMS Review 15/2 (2003) pp. 288-193.

48. “Primary sources/Joseph Smith, Jr./First Vision accounts/1832”; http://en.fairmormon.org/Primary_sources/Joseph_Smith,_Jr./First_Vision_accounts/1832.

49. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 49.

50. Runnells, “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”; http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/priesthood-restoration.html.

51. His preference for “official” thought rather than “the best books” is telling (D&C 88:118). Also consider John Boyd’s work on the OODA loop, and the implications when “the most effective organizations have a highly decentralized chain of command that utilizes objective-driven orders, or directive control, rather than method-driven orders in order to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level. In 2003, this power to the edge concept took the form of a Department of Defense publication “Power to the Edge: Command … Control … in the Information Age” by Dr. David S. Alberts and Richard E. Hayes. Boyd argued that such a structure creates a flexible “organic whole” that is quicker to adapt to rapidly changing situations.” See “John Boyd (military strategist)”; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boyd_(military_strategist).

52. See Sidney B. Sperry, “Were There Two Cumorahs?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (Spring 1995): 260–268.

53. David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, UT: Horizon, 1981).

54. See John Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book. Revised (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992), 22–31.

55. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 8.

56. For a convenient survey of the specific Book of Mormon details, Edwin M. Woolley, “The Two Cumorahs”; http://www.bmaf.org/articles/two_cumorahs__wooley

57. Brant Gardner, “The Social History of the Early Nephites,” at http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2001-fair-conference/2001-a-social-history-of-the-early-nephites . Also see John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Deseret Book, Salt Lake City: 2013), 542. Also Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon vol. 1 First Nephi (Kofford Books, Salt Lake City: 2007), 352.

58. John Sorenson, “The Composition of Lehi’s Family” in Nephite Culture and Society: Selected Papers (New Sage Books, Salt Lake City: 1997), 22.

59. Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Precolumbian Populations” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 91-128.

61. Email from Brant A. Gardner, quoted in Kevin Christensen, “Truth and Method: Reflections on Dan Vogel’s Approach to the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 16/4 (2004): 309, 311–12. For the results of his approach, see his six-volume Second Witness commentaries.

62. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 8.

63. See for instance Matthew 16:22–23; D&C 3:5–15.

64. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 67.

65. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 185.

66. Barbour, Myth, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1974) , 99.

67. Hugh Nibley, “Before Adam,” Old Testament and Related Studies, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 1 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1986), 49-85.

68. Nibley, “Before Adam,” 70.

69. See Hugh Nibley, Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2008), 445–482.

70. David Bailey, “History of the LDS Church’s view on the age of the earth and evolution” http://www.sciencemeetsreligion.org/lds/lds-history-evolution.php

71. Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, 73.

72. For a range of approaches to the flood, see Duane E. Jeffery, “Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions,” Sunstone, October 2004, 27–45.

73. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 15.

74. McGuire, “Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part Two,” 81.

75. Jeff Lindsay, “Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass?”; http://www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml.

76. Jeff Lindsay, “Plagiarism in the Book of Mormon? Is it Derived from Modern Writings?”; http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_BMProb3.shtml.

77. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 30.

78. www.MormonInfoGraphics.com

79. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 27–28.

80. Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles,” Religious Educator 4/2 (2003): 115–123; http://rsc.byu.edu/sites/default/files/pubs/pdf/TRE4_2.pdf.

81. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 28.

82. McGregor and Shirts, 213–214.

83. Oman Sety and Hanny El Zeini, Abydos: Holy City of Ancient Egypt, Los Angeles: LL, 1981, 7

84. Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd. ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982, 130, 133, 156, 529, 585, 613.

85. McGregor and Shirts, 214. See also 213–217.

86. Hugh W. Nibley. Abraham in Egypt. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 14. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2000, 382-465.

87. See Jeff Lindsay, “LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers, Questions About the Book of Abraham, Part 2, Evidences for Plausibility”; http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Abraham2.shtml.

88. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director,” 80.

89. Kevin Christensen, “New Wine and New Bottles: Scriptural Scholarship as Sacrament,” Dialogue 24/3 (Fall 1991): 121–129.

90. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 331.

91. Barbour, Myth, Models, and Paradigms, 99.

93. As an exercise for the interested, map his story and my story to the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth. See http://dl.dropbox.com/u/22100469/Perry%20Scheme.pdf . I’ve grown to prefer the 9 Position Perry Scheme to the Iron Rodder/Liahona dichotomy that has been floating around in LDS circles since the 1960s. See Richard Poll, “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” Dialogue 2/4 (Winter 1967): 107–117.

94. Alma 32:34.

95. Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal (Far Hills, NJ: New Horizons Press, 2009). I’m the Addiction Recovery Representative for my stake.

96. World Book Dictionary, s.v. “sustain.”

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About Kevin Christensen

Kevin Christensen has been a technical writer since 1984, since 2004 working in Pittsburgh, PA.  He has a B.A. in English from San Jose State University.  He has published articles in DialogueSunstone, the FARMS Review of Books, the Journal of Book of Mormon StudiesInsights, the Meridian Magazine, the FARMS Occasional Papers (Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies), Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, and in collaboration with Margaret Barker, an essay in Joseph Smith Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries.  He lives with his wife Shauna in Bethel Park, PA.

171 thoughts on “Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay

  1. My understanding of one of Runnells criticisms was the question as to why errors in the KJV were carried over to the BoM exactly as written in the KJV. I never found a satisfactory answer to this question. A simple answer would be that Joseph Smith used the KJV for his “translation” or perhaps the person responsible for placing the translation on the seer stone was using the KJV. Do you believe that either of these answers could be possible?

    smith

    • It’s a complicated issue, because (just taking the explicit quotations – i.e where the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible and indicates it is quoting something), while the Book of Mormon largely follows the KJV and makes its own emendations, there are occasions where the BoM appears to betray a deeper awareness of the underlying language – things like minor details such as the use of ‘cut off’ in its quotations of Deuteronomy 18/Acts 3, or Alma 7:11 which appears to come from Isaiah 53:4, albeit in a translation that owes nothing to the KJV (despite Isaiah 53 being quoted near identically to the KJV in Mosiah 14).

      Some details complicate this:

      1) The Book of Mormon sometimes quotes the same biblical passage differently (compare Isaiah 49:26/1 Nephi 21:26/2 Nephi 6:18), sometimes very differently, suggesting it’s not just a question of source texts.

      2) Some of the KJV’s supposed ‘errors’ aren’t actually errors – sometimes it’s a textual issue, where there are manuscripts traditions that support the KJV, or even where it’s still a question, even if consensus has gone against the KJV.

      3) There’s a couple of differences – fairly minor – between the KJV and the BoM that appear to be a mistake on the BoM’s part due to scribal issues or whatever – like ‘remnant’/’raiment’ in 2 Nephi 24:19//Isaiah 14:19

      I’m hoping to submit my doctoral thesis at the end of this year looking at the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible, which does look at quotations amongst other things. That’s principally focused on why and how the BoM uses the Bible the way it does, rather than trying to explain it since I’ve tried to sidestep historical issues for the most part (otherwise it could take up the whole thing!)

      However, my personal feeling is that the close alignment with the KJV in the Book of Mormon isn’t the result of any human being. Taking it as a revelatory experience, my personal feeling is that it is the Lord who is responsible. Certainly without that close alignment, it’s be so much harder to see how the Book of Mormon and Bible interact. It’d certainly complicate my life (though I don’t think *that* is the reason)

    • I am wondering if it has anything to do with the idea that God was teaching Joseph Smith line by line, precept upon precept. I say that because the JST was started in what 1830, after the Book of Mormon was finished. I am guessing God didn’t want to confuse Joseph Smith and like the example in the article the KJV was a good enough translation. I don’t see a problem whatsoever

      • It’s just common sense to me. Joseph Smiths Book of Mormon revelations should significantly differentiate from the Bible; and not quote from (what we now understand today) the idiosyncratic passages of the KJV.

        • Paul

          I agree with you that it is just common sense that the “Book of Mormon [citations] should significantly differentiate from the … idiosyncratic passages of the KJV.” But, I also agree with the Lord when he said, ” For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isa 55:8)

          As I see it, there are 3 possibilities for these passages:

          1. The Bible citations found on the gold plates somehow contained the idiosyncratic passages of the KJV. Nephi, Mormon and Moroni saw our times. Did that include our KJV? Although possible, I consider this possibility to be at best remote.

          2. Joseph used the KJV as his principal source for these passages, rather than using the text on the plates. While this is a possibility, I am unaware of any non-circumstantial evidence which would give credence to this possibility, the circumstantial evidence being the similarity of the texts. I have not read any eye witness testimony stating that they saw Joseph consulting the KJV for these passages. On the contrary, there is plenty of testimony that would contradict this position.

          3. The Lord gave the KJV text to Joseph during the “translation” process knowing that the well-known language of the text would make it easier for converts to accept and understand the Book of Mormon. The KJV language would give it a certain familiarity which would help it ring true to its readers.

          And in all truth, I am good with any of these 3 options. Any one of them is possible, even though I would assign much greater probability to options 2 or 3. Since I can accept any of the three as possible, if evidence supporting one over the other two ever arises I will be good with it. The message is the same, with or without the idiosyncrasies.

    • Hi Kendell,
      A number of people (including myself) have suggested that Joseph used a KJV Bible when he came to significant quotations during translation. They include B. H. Roberts, Grant Vest, Sidney Sperry, Dan Ludlow, and Stan Larson. I suspect that the edition used was the 1828 Phinney Bible (then being sold in Grandin’s Bookstore).

      I’ll be very interested in reading David Richard’s doctoral thesis to see what conclusions he reaches.

      • Did any of the witnesses to the translation give an account which supports the use – in any way – of a KJV Bible during the process?

        From what I seem to recall, that possibility was physically precluded, but perhaps my memory is faulty.

        • No witnesses saw such a thing, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Some scholars who have made a close study of the text have reached such a conclusion inductively.

          • I think it goes beyond “no witnesses saw such a thing.” What they saw precludes the use of a Bible.

            Citing FAIR:

            Did Joseph simply copy the KJV text?
            There are several problems with this view.
            1) Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. Recalled Emma, in a later interview:

            I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat , with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
            Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
            A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
            Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
            A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.[2]

            Martin Harris also noted that Joseph would translate with his face buried in his hat in order to use the seer stone/urim and thummim. This would make referring to a Bible or notes virtually impossible:

            Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine….[3]

            2) It is not clear that Joseph even owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation. He and Oliver Cowdery later purchased a Bible, which suggests (given Joseph’s strained financial situation) that he did not already own one.[4]
            3) It is not clear that Joseph’s Biblical knowledge was at all broad during the Book of Mormon translation. It seems unlikely that he would have recognized, say, Isaiah, had he encountered it on the plates. Recalled Emma Smith:

            When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. .?. . When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, “Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?” When I answered, “Yes,” he replied, “Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived.” He had such a limited knowledge of history at the time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.[5]

            Emma also noted that

            Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.[6]

      • Thanks!

        Moderators are obviously operating on a different set of standards here. They removed my direct link to my upcoming rebuttal to Kevin’s article while claiming that “we do not link to outside sources”.

        This is false. You can clearly see outside linked sources being used in other comments in other articles. Mormon Interpreter is like FairMormon: zero balance and zero transparency.

        I have no problem directly linking to rebuttals to my letter in both my letter and my website. Why is Mormon Interpreter and FairMormon afraid to do the same?

        • Please get the accusations accurate. The statement was that we do not always link to outside sources. We have. We have removed them from other posts, so you needn’t feel special.

          As for why, we are careful about where we send our readers. That doesn’t mean that anyone in the Google age can’t find pretty much anything, so there is no expectation that no one will go looking.

          As for balance, we are interested in the balance of ideas. The comments are moderated. That doesn’t mean that there is no balance. It doesn’t mean that only posts we agree with are approved.

          However, if the question is balanced, we may certainly hope that your response to Christensen’s article can include some balance. As he noted, your letter didn’t come up to the standards of academic balance. Please feel free to make specific comments to issues he brings up on this list. If you choose to answer elsewhere, those who wish to may look for it. I plan to.

        • Jeremy, I’m sorry they didn’t want to link to your article. I personally think that if they think the article is important enough to respond to, then they should be willing to link to rebuttals. Perhaps you can give us enough information to allow us to find the rebuttal online?

          • I suspect that using Google and his name will be sufficient. Please also note that the rebuttal is not available. The link was to his website, not his rebuttal.

        • The opening lines of the essay, before the abstract, describing the texts that I am reviewing, points directly to your site and essays, as do many of the footnotes. I did so as a service to readers and based on standard academic practice. Fear has nothing to do with it.

        • Settle down and leave the arguments to the topic at hand. I’m not sure I get the why of your accusations in other places too. It’d be nice if you weren’t so divisive. It’d help your stated purpose of not destroying families. As it is the biggest factor that hurts families is divisiveness. Don’t shoot your stated objective in the foot. Don’t continue to fight against yourself.

    • In your response would you consider addressing the issues on preconception, selectivity, and contextualization that Christensen brings up since they are the thesis of his essay.

      For example, Christensen cites you for not defining what a prophet is and therefore making it difficult to clearly identify what expectations you have for one (Perhaps you have done so elsewhere, I am only familiar with your CES letter and it suggests a somewhat naive, prophets are infallible, “sock puppets for god” expectation that Joseph Smith rejected for himself).

      For me, it is the underlying expectations you seem to hold, how you developed them, and your responses to Christensen’s critique of them that I hope you will explore in a response.

      All the best!

  2. I agree that reactions to these challenging topics depend greatly on prior assumptions. I think an important component to add to this discussion, however, is the degree to which these assumptions are encouraged and rewarded by our culture. My experience is that the assumptions that the letter-writer had are the ones that Mormons are encouraged and expected to have by a myriad of subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues and performances that are part of our everyday practice. I believe that this cultural component is a very important issue to address.

    There are some signs that the Church may be attempting to disabuse members of these assumptions with their recent publications on lds.org (which, incidentally, have met with significant opposition from some more conservative members), but my impression is that these efforts don’t yet cross over into active measures. They seem to be primarily designed for members who are already aware of the issues and want to know the Church’s position on them, not for members who aren’t yet aware of them. Very little, if any, mention of the articles has been made in any official church channels or on other areas of lds.org. It seems to me that the Church at both local and institutional levels, wants to maintain the fervor that is the by-product of this culture for as long as possible rather than actively attempting to dispel it.

    • You are correct on several levels, Carl, and your comment on “significant opposition from some more conservative members” is key.

      I have encountered several very hard-line LDS members over the years, and I was dismayed by the ferocity of their hatred and vitriol for apostates, only to find them turning into apostates themselves somewhat later. Brittleness is the one characteristic they seem to have in common. They break rather than bend in the wind. We will always have such in our midst, even if they do not predominate.

      However, I don’t agree with you that the Brethren favor a culture of naivete (if that is what you are suggesting), although they may rightly favor providing milk before meat. You may be too young to recall the extraordinarily free rein given Hugh Nibley to run lengthy series in the Improvement Era and Ensign, with superabundant footnotes which no other contributors were allowed. You may also not know that Hugh was regularly invited by the Brethren to come up to SLC and brief them on esoteric matters.

      Also, the Brethren liked what FARMS did and said so publicly, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project is no fluke. The “good guys” (and gals) have not been sitting on their hands. Runnells simply has not been paying attention to that side of the story.

      • Thanks Robert. I have read much of Nibley’s work and his biography and am familiar with the incidents you refer to. However, I think if you compare today’s manuals and publications with the Church’s manuals and publications that Nibley and others around his time prepared, you will see a tremendous difference. The manuals in his era were much more erudite and sophisticated. They demanded much greater awareness and spiritual maturity from their readers. The Ensign and today’s manuals in many ways pale in comparison to Nibley’s. I would suggest reading “You’ll Get the Type of Church Members You Write For: 8 Suggestions for The Ensign” on the By Common Consent blog (the comment engine won’t allow me to link to it here) to see how much things have changed.

        The Joseph Smith Papers project is, in my opinion, an excellent initiative but it is not having a strong influence on the Church’s curriculum.

        Most Church leaders these days seem to favor simpler, more easily digestible interpretations and approaches. People who bring in too much history or detail into their lessons (especially details that serve to humanize rather than lionize our past leaders, or that serve to address these challenging topics from the CES letter) are often viewed with suspicion. The curriculum also seems to actively avoid the kind of nuance and sophisticated interpretation that you are advocating.

        Remember also that culture is a complex feedback loop. It doesn’t merely come from our leaders although they probably have the greatest ability to influence it. It also comes at all levels of the Church. My experience of the church in many different countries is that, for the most part, the culture rewards more naive interpretations and does not encourage people to study anything besides what they might read in the manuals or scriptures. Those who wish to study this stuff are generally free to do so, but are not at all encouraged to do it, and are often encouraged not to think too hard about this stuff. This is _especially_ true of the global church, where hardly any non-correlated materials are available.

        • Just one final thought. The percentage of Church members (especially international members) reading FARMS and other apologetic materials designed to encourage more sophisticated interpretations is vanishingly small. I don’t think this can be used as reasonable evidence that the naive assumptions I refer to are actively being combated by Church leadership.

          • I agree with the thrust of both your new comments, with the proviso that I don’t see any need for naivete “actively being combated by Church leadership.” I tend to agree with Kevin Christensen that this is the individual responsibility of the members, and a profusion of sources are available for them (I am in awe at that ready availability, and much of it now in European translations).

            In the case of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, for example, the basic curriculum (milk not meat) is being influenced by it somewhat, but the Project results are readily available to any interested member. Having been a very naive and uninformed member long ago, I have no great concerns about such members. All of us have to start somewhere, and they’ll find their way. Eventually. Let the Holy Spirit guide.

          • I don’t think that naivety is as harmless as you seem to think. I have seen a lot of persecution of honest inquiry from naive members who have been encouraged to develop unreasonable and even idolatrous expectations about their leaders, past and present. Idolatry happens whenever we mistake purely human constructs for the divine. And this includes when we idealize our leaders and overlook their humanness. We need to be more watchful about it, because that is the first commandment, to love God with all our hearts and have no other gods before him.

          • I have a problem with the equation of naivete and idolatry. I certainly see persecution happening between different opinions, and that particular sad door swings both ways. Perhaps I can see naivete leading to persecution because it is much easier to be adamant about one’s particular worldview if it doesn’t see that there are others, but what you are suggesting becomes idolatry is a rather common consequence of not only religion but other non-religious belief systems. Do we love God less because of the emphasis we place on George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? I choose those examples specifically because they come from the extra-religious realm of belief. The processes that exalt those personalities operate throughout history. When they naturally appear in religion there are much better explanations than to label them idolatry.

          • Paul Tillich discusses this topic in detail in Dynamics of Faith. He points out that often we have naive literalistic views of our religious symbols. Rather than seeing the description of the creation in Genesis as symbolic, for example, we see it as a detailed description of what God is really like and how it actually happened. If we recognize its symbolic character than it helps us to worship God, but when we take it too literally, we end up displacing God with a human construct of what we think God is. In this sense, literalism or incorrect conceptions about our foundational narratives really does constitute idolatry. Perhaps not in the traditional sense of making golden images and bowing down to them, but they ultimately serve a similar purpose. Tillich describes spiritual growth as a gradual adjustment of idolatrous aspects of our worship, instances where we accidentally mistake a symbol pointing us toward God for God, or where we thought our universe was of a certain magnitude but suddenly realize that what we thought was the entire universe is really only a small speck in a much larger realm.

            Tillich divides literalism into two phases: natural literalism and reactive literalism. Natural literalism is how we all begin, when we are unaware that our preconceptions about God don’t actually match the being we’re trying to worship. He says that “this stage has a full right of its own and should not be disturbed, either in individuals or in groups, up to the moment when [one]’s questioning mind breaks the natural acceptance of the mythological visions as literal. If, however, this moment has come, two ways are possible. The one is to replace the unbroken by the broken myth. It is the objectively demanded way, although it is impossible for many people who prefer the repression of their questions to the uncertainty which appears with the breaking of the myth. They are forced into the second stage of literalism, the conscious one, which is aware of the questions but represses them, half consciously, half unconsciously. The tool of repression is usually an acknowledged authority with sacred qualities like the Church or the Bible, to which one owes unconditional surrender. This stage is still justifiable, if the questioning power is very weak and can easily be answered. It is unjustifiable if a mature mind is broken in its personal center by political or psychological methods, split in its unity, and hurt in its integrity. The enemy of a critical theology is not natural literalism but conscious literalism with repression of and aggression toward autonomous thought.” (Dynamics of Faith 60)

            So if what you call naivety is natural literalism, where we merely don’t realize that our conceptions about God and prophets are wrong and are trying to do our best, that’s fine.

            But when we strive to repress and persecute others who are coming to these recognitions, or to actively discourage people from doing so through various means, then we are doing harm. I think in some instances we cross over this line.

          • Brant, I feel I should address your comment more directly. Your specific example of idealizing “secular” figures is a good one. I (and Tillich) would actually argue that nationalism is a form of religion and national leaders can be idolized in the same way that religious ones can.

            Sociologist Robert Bellah defines religion as “a system of symbols that, when enacted by human beings, establishes powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations that make sense in terms of an idea of a general order of existence.”

            I argue in my recent presentation “Religion as Social Technology” (google for it) that in many ways what we’re witnessing in society is not an abandonment of religion but a shift from traditional religions to secular substitutes that are serving religious functions.

            For Tillich, faith is an “ultimate concern.” The only people without faith are those with no ambition, the completely apathetic. Everyone else has some kind of faith. A faith is idolatrous if it is placed in an ultimate concern that is finite or not truly ultimate. When we mistake our symbols for the things they point to, we substitute an infinite concern for a finite construct that cannot ultimately satisfy.

          • This paragraph from Dynamics of Faith may be helpful in explaining how nationalism and other things can take on religious functions:

            “If the nation is someone’s ultimate concern, the name of the nation becomes a sacred name and the nation receives divine qualities which far surpass the reality of the being and functioning of the nation. The nation then stands for and symbolizes the true ultimate, but in an idolatrous way. Success as ultimate concern is not the natural desire of actualizing potentialities, but is readiness to sacrifice all other values of life for the sake of a position of power and social predominance. The anxiety about not being a success is an idolatrous form of the anxiety about divine condemnation. Success is grace; lack of success, ultimate judgment. In this way concepts designating ordinary realities become idolatrous symbols of ultimate concern.” (p. 50-51)

    • Devin, of course, it is ok to question. Kevin Christensen, in this essay, is not taking somebody to task for questioning. He is exploring why the same set of information strengthens some people’s testimony and shatters others’. I agree with him that it has to do with how people process new information. I like his three part strategy of (1) keeping eyes open, (2) having patience, and (3) being willing to periodically reassess one’s own assumptions. I like to think I have done that over the past 5 decades.

    • Of course its okay to question. Doing so properly is the best way to get more answers and better information and improved perspectives and understanding. On the other hand, doing so improperly tends to be self-defeating, since it does not provide the desired benefits.

      • As that is where your premise collapses upon its own weight, there is no prescribed “right or wrong” way to question anything. When Joseph Smith went into the woods to pray and see (insert version of first vision of your choice here) he didn’t have to limit his questions, he went right to the heart of the matter and got an answer. As have I, that this whole thing is 100% not true. Instead of writing an article as a scholar, promoting scholarship, it seems to me that you are trying to create an alternate version of it. Additionally, your line of reasoning, if applied to any other religion, would provide an antidote to keep smart people from leaving. Whether it was Islam, Catholicism or any other faith, you could find a way to placate their minds into saying, “Let’s give it more time, let’s reserve our conclusions.” On the flip side, the church that you hold to be true, DOES NOT want that for investigators. If they see the slightest crack in the armor of their church, they are to execute and exit immediately, to follow the truth. I hate to be bold in declaring this, but the same is true for any “so-called” faith. If any sort of deception, misdirection, dishonesty anything of that sort is to occur, the only admirable and possible action is to execute and exit. Our pioneer forefathers would be embarrassed at how paralyzed current mormons are to seek the truth, they left their countries, their homes and at times their families in its pursuit. How sad they would feel if they heard the long winded and accommodating tone many apologists take toward a subject those great people gave their lives to give to us.The truth. It wasn’t about mormonism, it wasn’t about religion, it wasn’t about a good lifestyle or a good network, They believed everything they heard was the truth, that’s what they wanted. It wasn’t what they ended up getting, but their heart and minds were fixed passionately on it. Now we have it and we hear attacks of those who have born the burden of seeking truth who have carried their own cross, they return to tell in pain staking detail they struggle that they have overcome and for what, to be disparaged, disengaged and discarded. So it is in this quest for truth. May we all remember what it is we are after and may we all have that passion for truth restored to us.

        • As I requested of another, might you support your ideas with some examples? Having been in the church for a long time, I have never experienced or even noticed the Church telling anyone that they don’t want them to ask questions or learn. Particularly in recent times, there is a very large effort to expand the availability of information from archives and to include a lot more information in church teaching manuals. All of that seems in direct contradiction to what you have suggested, so some specifics would be warranted.

          • Brant, thank you for asking. I will keep it short and to the point. I will list three examples of when people have been told to not ask questions.

            1.) Kate Kelly, who is potentially being ex-communicated, right now. For asking questions.

            2.) Myself, for asking when the new and everlasting covenant changed from being inseparably connected to polygamy/polygny, in my gospel doctrine class. I was taken aside by the HPGL and told not to ask such questions.

            3.) Dallin H.Oaks, has told the entire membership of the church to never question or criticize our leaders (lest we forget, he is talking about himself), even if the criticize is true.

            These are three powerful, poignant and up to the second examples of how this group despises those who question “in the wrong way”.

            If you would like, I can bring in examples from the early 1800’s until 8:13PM June 22nd 2014 of how this church has incessantly attacked those who didn’t see the same “truth” as them, even if the questioners were right, it.doesn’t.matter. because if the leaders don’t agree, you are out.

            Lastly, if you think the church is “being more open”, I would like to here your theories on why mormons have a huge granite vault, chock full of divining rods, seer stones and thousands of damning journals, books and publications that highlight Joseph Smiths church, the Church of Christ or Church of the Latter Days, whichever you prefer. If they are so open and transparent, why do I still talk to mormons who haven’t heard about the stone in the hat and more troubling, why are they taught about some other, not used method of translating. Honestly, if this were any other organization, you’d have no problem seeing this for what it is.

          • Mike:

            I asked because one of the things about asking questions is that one should be willing to ask until they have the right answers. For example, your first example asserts that Kate Kelly is being excommunicated for asking questions. I wonder how you know that. The church doesn’t tell us what its reasons are. It never publicizes such events. They become part of the media because those who in the process elect to tell their story to the media. There have been women who have asked that question for years. Nothing happened with them. Something is different, but the fact of asking questions isn’t.

            For your number 2, I wonder why you equate a High Priest Group Leader with the church. I have been chastized for not teaching the same manual-supplied stories in one Priesthood class that a different teacher taught in the other. I am confident that was an incorrect decision. That person was wrong, but I’ve never assumed the Church was behind the comment.

            For number 3, I suspect we would read that talk differently.

            Now to the final part. You seem to have some odd ideas about the granite vault. It is mostly for genealogy. As for the documents in them, they are being published. I’m really amazed that you are unaware that the contents of the archive have already been published on DVD in their entirety several years back. The current publication effort is going through the Joseph Smith papers, and holding nothing back. As for why many Mormons don’t know about the stone in the hat, perhaps it is because they haven’t been interested enough to look at the document the church posted on LDS.org about that subject. Given some of the mistaken assumptions you have about some of the things in your comment, you should understand why there might be other people who are also not up to date on the latest information.

          • People don’t know about the :rock in the hat method” because they aren’t interested???? That’s like GM saying, I don’t know why people don’t inspect their ignition switches daily, they mustn’t be all that interested in their safety. I mean what kind of defense is that. Honesty is telling the truth, even when it hurts you, by perpetuating this lie and substituting a method that you and I both know, never occurred, they are being deceptive.

            Also, nice try at the straw man and ad hominem attacks on my factual statements. Too bad myself and the truth that supports me isn’t made of straw.

            Maybe the reason you don’t know what is in the granite vaults, is because you just don’t care enough to find out. Trust me, it ain’t just genealogical records. And if it is, who in the world builds fort knox to secure a database that I could store on my cell phone????????? Let Google be your guide, the truth is out there.

          • Mike:
            Really? It appears that your understanding of both terms ad hominem and straw man have as thin a basis as your original assertion. You might look them up and apply them correctly next time.

            Next, while I agree that many don’t know about the stone in the hat, it is also true that you didn’t know about it until you read it somewhere on the Internet. If you apply that much effort to finding LDS sources of that same information, you could. I did. Although I first wrote about it several years ago, I have no illusion that I would be everyone’s source for the information. However, since it is in an article on LDS.org–rather prominently for those who might look for answers, your suggestion that the Church is hiding something seems to be based on something other than actual fact.

            If you choose to respond, let me make a suggestion. Let’s talk about facts and leave the vitriolic language out of the discussion. Wouldn’t you agree that it would be better to deal with facts? You do remember that wonderful commercial about the woman who found a French model to date–on the Internet? Google is a fantastic tool, but if you don’t apply some judgement you can end up believing some strange things that have no basis in fact.

          • Brant,

            I want to keep this brief, because time is of the essence and I value yours and mine.

            Fact, I properly attributed the terms ad hominem and straw man to the vitriolic language that you used towards my factual assertion that there is far more in the granite vaults than “genealogical records” You called the fact “odd” and it is but not for the reason you outlined.

            Second, you set up a straw man argument, when you said that members just don’t want to know, which is why they don’t and if they wanted to, there are sources on lds.org to help them find the info. This is a straw man along with a variety of other fallacys because it ignores that actual facts and props up an argument that is not supported by fact. Fact is they advertise the translation one way and make it very clear that it happened one way in 99% of correlated manuals. Up until a year ago, only one talk on lds.org vaguely mentioned the stone in the hat method, now there are two, so it went from 99.5% of articles mentioning the useless Urim and Thummim to 99.4%. The question is, is this an honest portrayal of the events the occurred, answer, not even close. Imagine if this is how we approached the temple recommend interview.Stake President: Do you keep the law of chastity? Interviewee:Yes. Stake President: We caught you breaking it 5 minutes ago, right here in this room. Interviewee: O that? Everyone knows about that, I thought you meant 99.5% of my life if I kept the law, look I didn’t break it at home, school, I published that I don’t break it on facebook, what more do you want from me? I’m an honest person…..

            We both know that wouldn’t fly. This church can’t hold itself to it’s own standards, why should anyone else adhere to them? If this is the standard for truth and knowledge, I want nothing to do with it, because the way the truth is presented here is like a used car salesmen selling a lemon because he has to pay his bills. Sure, he shouldn’t do it, but there are forces beyond his control that he must appease. And that is the sense that I get when talking to you Brant, at the end of the day if you and I were talking about the Watch Tower society, we’d have no problem discussing how crazy it is and how insane it must be to believe those things. There is a person, just like you in the Watch Tower society, there whole life is built up around it, there financial, societal, familial….everything, is built upon the premise that the Watch Tower society is true. As it is with most mormons, when all those dominoes are stacked up so high and the family respects the “intellectual” they have in their midst, it becomes absolutely impossible to see the situation for what it is. I could point out a million facts and it wouldn’t matter, you need to protect yourself, your family, your reputation, your career and everything you hold dear and there is nothing you won’t do intellectually to make sure those things stay in tact. The same for the Jehovah’s Witness, the same for the Scientology, the same for the Muslim, the same for the FLDS…on and on it goes, because in a world where the facts don’t matter and the rules don’t apply, it is impossible to even begin to have a conversation about truth and reality. Therefore, I will cease and allow you to carry on your protected life, may only good things come your way.

          • Well, Mike, I’m glad you don’t sound angry anymore. I appreciate that fact that you substantiated your claim about the granite vaults rather than missing the word “mostly” in my comment. That would have been sad if you had gone on a long diatribe that wasn’t relevant. I’m also glad that you took the time to look up certain words in question so you could appropriately apply them.

            Let’s shift to a more important question, which is how history is taught. Do you believe that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree? I hope not. However, many did for a very long time. Why did they believe it if it didn’t happen? Does that mean that the United States is evil because there are aspects of our history that aren’t taught with authenticism? (You might want to check with some Canadians on a few interesting discrepancies in US history as well). The fact of the matter is that there is a difference between the way institutions have taught history and what we currently expect of history. Pushing our current expectations of how things should have been on the past betrays a profound lack of understanding of the history of history.

            As for finding information, let’s say that for whatever reason I want to know if something in US history is right or wrong. I walk into a library and pull a book off the shelf. I happen to get one that historians wouldn’t recommend, but that was the easiest to find. Nevertheless, on the next aisle over is exactly what I was looking for, and which the first book claimed didn’t exist at all. Whose fault is it that I get the wrong information? The library’s? The government’s? Historians’?”

            Returning to your example of the seer stones, there was correct information on the Internet before the wash of incorrect information began. How did those who complain miss that? Why complain without actually looking for information? Are you suggesting that it is anyone’s responsibility to spoon feed me precisely what I think I ought to know? How would you ever know if what you had been told was correct if you didn’t take the time to check it out?

            That, by the way, is what Christensen has suggested. Rather than stop and decide you know it all, it is wise to actually continue to learn and especially to look deeper than the simplistic answers that so often get promulgated on the Internet.

          • Hey Brant,

            I’ll chime in here one last time, because it is fun, not that it will have any impact.

            First off, I appreciate you recognizing that i am not angry anymore, I have gone through the refiners fire and emerged from the midst of the heroes tale to return of the great fortune I have accumulated in my travels. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

            What gave me strength and courage to leave mormonism, was the knowledge that every religious person is asked to go through the process of leaving behind their traditions, misconceptions and bias, in an attempt to arrive at the truth, as per the mormon gospel. In that process all people are asked to be extremely critical and astute observers of any number of errors in doctrine, behaviors of leaders or any mistake of any sort, in order to execute their religion of birth and exit it. This is painful for everyone and someone who isn’t angry at a church that blatantly substitutes one fact for the other and then blames you for them telling you the other version, is a psycho. That is the hallmark of an abusive relationship. I have escaped it, myself along with a growing throng of individuals who value, truth, honesty, integrity, charity, good will and anything that provides a positive benefit to ourselves and our fellow man. I am happy to be where I am now, I am sad because unfortunately many other are going to spend their lives tossed, to and fro by every wind of doctrine because the house that they built their house upon was made of a sand foundation, I however, have reason to rejoice, my foundation is built upon the planet earth, entrenched in reality, observation and data.

            In my journey I have not only become an expert in mormonism, I have also become an expert of religions, their followers and their mentality. It is a beautiful thing, but so sad at the same time because you can’t go and share your findings with those who need them the most. At the same time, I know lot’s of people who love playing Dungeons and Dragons and I don’t feel sad for them for it anymore, because I’ve realized that they know it’s a game, but they love it.

            The same can be said for those I see here, you guys love this stuff, it’s like being a Trekkie and trying to make sense of all the weird stuff and inconsistencies that pop up in the series, you guys get a thrill out of it and that’s cool, enjoy it, but at the same time I’ll remind you that in life there exist people who want to play the game and those who don’t, those who don’t have very good reasons for not playing and they have more experience because they have not only played the game, they have also seen the other side. And I’ll tell you, the other side is incredible. Just remember, I don’t play the game, not because I don’t “get it”, I don’t play the game because I “got it” so well, that it lost it’s appeal, I realized I was playing tic tac toe, when I wanted to to invent a new game that was more advanced than chess.

            And that summarizes my point perfectly, if you some how think that a comparison to US history, is somehow similar to Church history, in any way. You are playing tic tac toe and I am not interested, not because I won’t “win”….but because I don’t want to have to break down the rules of the game that I know very well and that you have the desire to change every 5 seconds. Again, I hope my tone is appropriate, because I’m not mad, I’m just not interested in playing games and I thought that what I saw were intellectuals interested in conversing at an academic level. May peace be with you and may you and your fellow men enjoy your conversations. Good day.

          • Please understand that I take exception to your statement that you have become and expert in Mormonism and religion. I have seen evidence of neither. Google provides a lot of data, but insufficient to become an expert.

    • Devin

      Questioning and doubting are two separate things. In my opinion, the difference between the two is that when we question something we have no preconceived answer in our mind when we start the process. We are open to any and all possible outcomes. Faith is at the core of the process of questioning.

      Doubting, on the other hand, is when we begin the process with a preformed negative expectation. “Seek and ye shall find” applies not only to expressions of faith, but to doubt also. If we begin our search expecting to disprove something, we will almost assuredly do just that. Doubt and fear are inextricably connected. One of the archaic definitions of “to doubt” was “to fear”. One of the Lectures on Faith states: “where doubt is, there faith has no power.” I try, not always successfully, to live by the motto: “Question everything, doubt nothing.”

        • Paul

          I have been pondering what “doubting your doubts” could possibly mean. If, as I posited earlier, one doubts nothing, then one can have no doubts of which to doubt. If I am missing something, please help. I truly believe that all “real” questioning eventually leads to an answer, one way or the other. With that faith, there is no room for doubt. By “real” questioning I am excluding the possibility of doubt.

          Jesus taught that principle to the apostles, “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this [which is done] to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.” (Matt 21:21)

          Faith often requires patience, whereas doubt cries out for immediate answers. “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” and now, I might add. (John 10:24)

          Moroni echoed the words of Christ, “Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.” This working out also applies to gospel answers. It is a process rather than a moment. But, the moment I allow doubt to enter, faith necessarily leaves. As the lectures on faith teach us, “doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time.”

          • “Faith often requires patience, whereas doubt cries out for immediate answers.” – Loren

            But what about the Catholic whose doubt builds slowly, year over year, until he comes to the realization of a liberating truth? Is doubt so bad? Not inherently. But telling people to “doubt [their] doubts” is just the same as telling them “not to doubt”. And telling a Catholic *not to doubt* is a great way to keep the Catholic buried in a maze of falsehood. Do people in your church use this mind trick on their members?

          • Chris

            Interesting comments. I will answer in numbered sequence.

            1. “what about the Catholic whose doubt builds slowly.” Doubt never builds, it only destroys. It destroys resolve, hope, and faith. By “build” I assume that you mean “increase.” First, why pick on the Catholics? All sorts of religions have doubters. The only way that doubters can push down the desire for immediate resolution is if they are deeply mired in cognitive dissonance, or denial as it might be commonly called. But the doubt still calls out loudly. Those in denial of the doubt have to turn a deaf ear. It is the only way they can cope with it. The doubt, however, is still there nagging for resolution. But faith is patient rather than cognitively dissonant. As James said, “the trying of [our] faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3)

            2. “until he comes to the realization of a liberating truth.” All truth is liberating. Jesus even said so. But, doubt is not, and never will be, the pathway to truth. Jesus told us that the correct path is to have faith and not doubt in our hearts. (Mark 11:22-23)

            3. “telling people to “doubt [their] doubts” is just the same as telling them “not to doubt.” Chris, those two statements are no more the same than these two: “hate your hatred,” or “do not hate.” Hating anything only adds more hatred, even if it is our hatred that we hate. The same applies to doubt. “Doubting your doubts” is just semantic double talk. “I did nothing wrong” is not the same as “I did something right.” Likewise, doubting one’s doubts can never be equated with having faith.

            4. “telling a Catholic *not to doubt* is a great way to keep the Catholic buried in a maze of falsehood.” Why attack the Catholics? Did you have a bad experience at Catholic school? I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught in the Catholic church, but I would never label them as a “maze of falsehood.” I believe that all Catholics who faithfully practice their religion can be good, moral, happy people. In all seriousness, I sense a lot of emotion coming from you on the Catholic issue. I assume that you had a bad experience or two. I am sorry about that. And I do not mean that in a condescending way.

            5. “Do people in your church use this mind trick on their members?” I am not sure what “mind trick” your may be referencing. If you mean teaching people that doubt is destructive, counter-productive and diminishing, then, yes. At least I do. I cannot speak for all the people in my church.

            One final note. I am all for sincere questioning. But questioning will never be helped by doubting. Doubting is a negative, and in this case a double negative (doubting one’s doubts) only reinforces the negative.

          • Loren,

            This is a bit shocking to hear, as this is a fairly basic principle.

            Imagine a salesperson calls you on the phone and tells you that you just won a $40,000 car. He just needs $3000 to cover shipping. Are you going to doubt this, or just believe it and send him the cash?

            Imagine someone tells you that 2+2=5. Are you going to doubt this, or exercise faith in this teaching, and forever impede your math skills?

            And BTW, we don’t have to pick on Catholics — let’s imagine you were born into Scientology. Or a witch cult. Or worse. It doesn’t matter, the point is, your leaders tell you to do something horrible like burn houses and families. They rationalize it and assure you that it is the right thing to do because they have been authorized by the gods to carry out this order.

            In this completely hypothetical situation, are you going to exercise your doubt in their authority, or try to have faith in their authority to carry out their actions?

          • Chris

            You did a good job using “shock” as a way of avoiding my responses. But, I think I understand better from where you are coming. Everything is bimodal to you – either doubt (your preferred method) or blind faith. In each situation that you posited, neither blind faith nor doubt are the best methods.

            Sincere questioning is the answer. And in each case that you presented the answer can be found quite easily through research and questioning. Still, doubt has no place at all in any of this.

            I go back to my original thesis – question everything, doubt nothing. Why does this threaten you? Are you afraid that it might lead to faith?

          • Loren,

            It appears that we can both agree that we should not blindly believe everything, and that there is a place for questioning. This is a relief to me! Our disagreement may lie in the definitions.

            It sounds like when you use the word “doubt”, you’re talking about something scary, evil or demonic, whereas when I use the word “doubt”, I’m using the common dictionary meaning of “feeling uncertain”.

            When contradictory or unreliable information is presented, I believe that it is perfectly normal, safe, and useful to feel uncertain. This is how I use the word doubt. And from this state we are motivated to be curious, ask questions, do research, form hypotheses, and propose tests so that more truth can be known, all resulting in better decisions. The longer one can enjoy this state of uncertainty — like enjoying a good mystery novel – the more patiently, rationally and calmly one can apply the questions and research, leading to more accurate answers. Like a detective.

            However, if someone is afraid of this state of uncertainty (ie. doubt), then it becomes very uncomfortable for them, easily leading to impatience as you’ve described, which leads to hasty conclusions, and inaccurate answers.

            Such negativity and fear towards doubt is what seems to cause the problems, and this fear appears to motivate your opinion:

            “…Doubt and fear are inextricably connected…” – Loren

            “…doubt is destructive, counter-productive and diminishing…” – Loren

            “But, doubt is not, and never will be, the pathway to truth.” – Loren

            “Faith often requires patience, whereas doubt cries out for immediate answers.” – Loren

            Doubt leads to questions, curiosity and research which can prevent mistakes or hasty decisions — quite the opposite of immediate answers.

            I also don’t think doubt is better than faith, or that faith is better than doubt — they are different states that have different applications. Doubt can be useful when determining which way to go, and faith is useful once you’ve defined the goal.

            The biggest concern I have about our conversation here is that it appears that your thesis or religion (or both) are attempting to demonize doubt, or at the very least redefine it so that people (such as yourself) are afraid of it. If you can make people afraid of doubt, then the tool becomes underutilized.

          • Chris:
            I deleted a section of your comment that was unfavorable to another religion. Not that I disagreed, but we don’t need to bring that into question.

            Personally, I see you missing the point that I see in Kevin’s article (and from what I know of him from other articles). You assume that he is proposing that one not have questions and that one not doubt. That is not the way I read it at all. We all have doubts. What he is suggesting is that the proper approach to questions is education. What might seem confusing at one read through some material becomes clearer when one reads and studies more material and at greater depth. The proposal is then to seek learning (which does require questions) rather than to stop at the first question.

            Note that the value of doubt is in the response to it. Doubt should lead to study. In purely secular studies, there are any number of times that I have generated a hypothesis based on what I knew at the time. Further study required revisions to, and sometimes total abandonment of, that hypothesis. Perhaps a better phrasing than “doubt your doubts” might be “don’t let your doubts stop you from learning more.”

          • Chris

            Perhaps it is a definitional issue. I am using this definition from Oxford: “Disbelieve or lack faith in.”

            For me, doubting is beginning the process with disbelief already in one’s mind rather than starting from a neutral position. It is like hearing negative rumors about people prior to meeting them. Is it even possible to start from a neutral position in that situation? Not for me. That is why I say that doubt is destructive, and even poisoning to the process of sincere inquiry.

            I view doubt as the opposite of faith. While faith is inherently positive, doubt is inherently negative.

  3. Kevin:
    Do you agree that it’s possible for a person to be victimized by an organization? If so, and if it happened in a particular case, should the perpetrator be punished? Is it good for society to make perpetrators make victims whole? My problem with the above essay is that your conclusion is basically to place more blame on the victims of the Church’s past obfuscations and misleading explanations of its history than is warranted. This doesn’t not help those that are suddenly confronted with a less sugar-coated view of history than is portrayed by the Church and frankly there are problems with the history.

    • Peter:

      Are you suggesting that one must question one source of information but accept without careful consideration another? Christensen’s article calls for reasoned analysis of the evidence. Surely you believe that is a correct approach? As I hope you noticed when you read the article, Christensen wasn’t talking about elements of the historical record but rather approaches to understanding history. Your comment seems to skip that part and attempt to make this into a discussion about something else entirely.

      • Brant:

        I know what the author was trying to do here. One certainly needs Jeff Lindsay like enthusiasm in order to still believe. Just leave out the blame the victim language that so often invades apologist works.

        • Peter, part of the problem is with the designation of anyone as a victim. I agree that most people get their basic understanding of the church from other church members. As a lay church, the quality of our Sunday School education is pretty spotty. I also agree that Sunday School curriculum hasn’t helped that (though there are some very encouraging signs of change on that front).

          However, suggesting that not understanding certain aspects of history makes one a victim misunderstands and mislabels the process. If you look at the development of any institutional story, and certainly if you look at the way institutions tell their own story, the LDS Church has followed a rather typical and predictable path. I don’t consider myself a victim because US history has at times been “sanitized” or otherwise been less accurate than current tastes desire.

          In the case of becoming a victim, you cam only suggest that if somehow someone in the church has learned something different from what has been taught in Sunday School. The Internet is becoming a very widely available library. I fail to see why suggesting that when one looks to learn more they shouldn’t enrich their learning with both good sources and good methods. We can agree that teaching in the church should continue to improve, but I don’t expect the church to be my sole source of information about religion any more than I expect that secular education should be the only information I ever receive. At some point we are all responsible for what we learn.

          There is a lot that my teachers in High School and college didn’t tell me. One one of them, however, did tell me something that became critical to what I have learned over the years. I asked him where on the college campus to go to learn, assuming he would guide me to the right professors. He said “the library.” I have never felt a victim for following that advice.

          • “…if you look at the way institutions tell their own story, the LDS Church has followed a rather typical and predictable path.”

            I agree. A lot of people just expect better of God’s church and God’s prophets. I think slightly higher expectations are reasonable in both of those cases.

            It seems disingenuous to imply that the church leadership hasn’t hidden, and intentionally to some extent, uncomfortable aspects of its history. The way the Sunday School manuals treat the plural wives of the prophets is a great example of a place where the institution WAS providing information in a misleading way. To put not knowing completely on the members, as you appear to, seems a bit baffling. I’m not saying the institution must provide ALL information (you and Kevin both use the word “all” in this context; it’s an unfair exaggeration); I’m not sure anyone is saying that. (I don’t think the Runnells is saying that, though Kevin implies it in his second-to-last paragraph.) I am saying it shouldn’t mislead by omission, either. I think the recent essays show the current church leadership agrees that they should be providing more information than they had in the past.

          • It is interesting that you suggest that God’s church should be held to higher standards. Although that sounds good, I wonder how it could ever be supported in the realm of history. Surely we don’t suggest that Luke has nothing to say about Christ because he is clearly wrong about the geography of Nazareth. History isn’t revealed religion and I don’t see any evidence that God has ever made sure that history was recorded in such a way that future historians would agree that it was written to a higher standard, or even one that equaled whatever we hold to be that standard today. It certainly appears that in looking at the history of Judeo-Christian religion, that the history part has been in the hands of the human writers, not God.

            As for “hiding” history, again that is a value judgement, and one that is both a negative assessment and one that is necessarily done in retrospect. One cannot know something was hidden unless one has access to the information that was hidden. In this case, much of the “hidden” history was available through church sources, so it wasn’t hidden terribly well. Secondly, if you look at how institutional (and a church functions as an institution) history develops, there is little surprising in the trajectory of the way the church told its story. It was a rethinking of the story that began while Joseph was alive and appears to have begun with people close to him.

            Now that interests in historical information has shifted, the church is responding by changing readily available public information. Certainly it is a change to open the archives, and the move to publish the Joseph Smith papers might not have happened in the late 70’s, but it would have been considered in the late 60’s to early 70’s. There are human beings in the church–as there have always been. Trends in the way people want to see their history change. Secular histories change as well, which is why one might accuse US historians of “hiding” some aspects of history during certain phases of the way US history was written.

            One of the points that Kevin made in his article is that one should continue to learn. Rather than get too hung up on loaded terms like “hiding”, it would serve us well to actually understand the history rather than simply stop at simplistic terms that hint at something unsavory that really was never there.

            Finally, in the context of what Runnells has done, there is much “hiding” of history in his list. There is a lot of information that it doesn’t take into account, and it presents information in ways that inadequately represent much of the information he is talking about. With regards to his information, I would also strongly suggest continued reading and learning–particularly in what he has ignored.

  4. You begin this piece by talking about testimony, intact testimony and lost testimony. Yet the context suggests the word ‘conviction’ or ‘belief’. A testimony, as used in holy writ, is an experience, something one has witnessed. For example, “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
    For we saw him…” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-23).

    Your use of the word in commonplace in LDS parlance. The scriptures are consistent in using the word testimony to mean experience, something witnessed, even if we are not.

    McKay

  5. If I read this article correctly, one needs to presume truth first and then find support later regarding the thorny issues? So a better way to state the problem with Mr. Runnells reasoning is that he is using the scientific method to evaluate religious truth claims when he should be believing first and patient in waiting for spiritual confirmation?

    • I’m not sure about the appropriateness of claiming scientific methodology when dealing with questions of history or archaeology. There are certainly methodologies that are appropriate, but those of the hard sciences are not appropriate–whether the question being examined is secular or religious. One of the methods that is crucial is to handle as many details and facts as possible, and to consult with a wide range of sources. I believe that if you reread the article, you will find that Christensen is arguing for a broader and deeper reading of data and sources, not a more limited one–and certainly not a methodology that ignores data as you seem to intimate.

    • That is not the way that I frame things in my own mind, not as a fuzzy faith versus hard science issue. I think of the difference between inquiring “whether things are so” as a passage in Acts puts it, and “seeking to make a man an offender for a word” as Isaiah observes. One approach involves open-ended inquiry, and the other, selective testing for a specific outcome against a non-adaptive framework. Asking “Is this right? Could this be so?” does not require a presumption of truth one way or another, either of particular facts or frameworks. Rather, that signals the start of a serious inquiry into key questions. On the other hand, saying, “That cannot be right!” is a way of ending further inquiry. As Joseph Smith explained, “Creeds set up stakes and bounds,… saying “Hitherto thou shalt come and no further.”

      In this particular essay, I said nothing about spiritual inquiry or waiting on spiritual confirmation. (I have done so at length elsewhere, but not here. Having had a spiritual experience may give one person some reason to have patience with unresolved questions, but another person may find that unresolved questions leads them to dismiss their spiritual experience.) The questions I addressed in this essay were not spiritual, nor resolved spiritually but concerned ways of approaching and defining problems of understanding and expectations and the means at hand for seeking solutions.

      I don’t see Runnells as being defined or limited by a scientific approach in his essay. I see the main problems as rigidity of thought, and lack of reflection on his own controlling assumptions, an inability to adapt, a neglect of available resources. One of my footnotes points to the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, and suggests comparing my story with his against that model to see what model reveals.

  6. One of the things that Kevin mentioned which confirmed my own experience is that a major flaw or weakness in the approach of many of the recently disaffected and their writings is significant ignorance on the subjects which they treat.

    Keven said:

    “Is there a single page of his essay that could even remotely be described as “fully informed and balanced” with respect to any topic that he treats? He does not put any favorable information on the table concerning the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.

    I have been making serious inquiries into controversial issues since 1974. Having had many more years to play in these fields, I know when Runnells is not telling me something important”

    I would have to agree. The stated concerns and arguments belie a noticeable lack of experience in Mormon apologetics. If Jeremy had truly studied and understood the arguments, he would be tackling issues with exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of every notable apologetic argument and rebuttal on the subject matter at hand. Unfortunately the often hefty amount of research that has been produced by Mormon scholars (and which is often easily accessible online) is simply avoided or overlooked.

    You can’t study astrophysics or quantum mechanics or health science or many other subjects for a limited amount of time and then expect to have something meaningful to contribute to the field. I would suggest the same is true in the realm of Mormon apologetics.

    • Ryan: I can at least sympathize with the problem anyone faces who tries to engage LDS apologetics–even from the inside. It really does require that you deal with individuals rather than a collective. There isn’t a single apologetic argument on anything. Even writing for LDS apologists, it is a task to make sure that you deal with the range of ideas and not just a single argument that becomes a straw man for your position.

      • I agree. There are many subjects where apologists are not in perfect agreement–especially in the nuances of argument. It takes a lot of time and energy to comb through and evaluate the research.

        However, I suppose that on a good many issues there is a general consensus among notable apologists. And among their varying viewpoints and treatments of these subjects there are probably several well-developed arguments which should be addressed by anyone who desires to publicize their associated concerns or qualms with the church.

        I do sympathize with those who struggle with these issues though. The relationship between our intellect and our faith is always complex. And not everyone is privileged to the same natural gifts, opportunities, or experiences which may help navigate these deep waters.

  7. Brant:

    We are supposed to rely on the Brethren. They supposedly speak for God. They control what is taught and said. That is the entire point of correlation. The issues raised by Mr. Runnells did not come from some errant sunday school teacher. They came from the Church and its leaders over the years and from dissident historians like Mr. Arrington. So, yes we are ultimately responsible for our own learning and knowledge but the Church and the Brethren are responsible for what they correlate as well. This is why I don’t like the blame the victim approach if the Church made mistakes – especially where the Church actively hid documents and mislead its members. How can we be responsible for learning when we don’t have all the facts?

    • I agree with Peter although I’m inclined to be a little more merciful. I think in many instances those who are involved with correlation are not sufficiently informed about these issues themselves and that even the Brethren are probably fairly late to the party in terms of becoming aware of some of the weaknesses in the correlated materials. That said, for at least a few years now this has been increasingly obvious and they are clearly worried about how best to proceed. It doesn’t take much to recognize from the correlated materials that the powers that be are very reluctant to volunteer information about challenging topics, which tends to promote the kind of naivety we’ve been discussing. I don’t think that it’s ultimately the members’ responsibility to become aware of these issues on their own despite correlation’s best efforts to keep them from learning it.

      • I understand that the manuals are changing. It can’t come too soon. They have been pretty weak for a lot of reasons, and the weaknesses are not only in the aversion to certain topics. Since we are discussion the Old Testament now in Sunday School, it provides a prime example of an over simplistic approach to teaching that scripture. However, as someone who has sat through a lot of Sunday School lessons, sometimes the lessons don’t even come up to the manual as is. There is a lot that one might learn about Old Testament times, and neither the manuals or the teachers cover it. Is the Church really to blame for imprecise understandings of, say, the development of monotheism?

        Providing opportunities for an education in scripture and church history is only a tangent to the actual goal of a Sunday School to improve lives. Still, I’d love to have at least some bread in that bowl of tepid milk.

    • Peter: One of the points that Christensen makes in his article is that it helps to actually have all of the data. In this case, I think you would be well served by understanding a bit more of history, and from a more balanced set of sources. I have no idea why Leonard Arrington would be considered a dissident historian. Since you are talking about generalities it is very difficult to provide counter examples. As Christensen pointed out, however, for those who do the hard work to learn instead of accepting things that someone on the Internet has said, the picture is very different. I certainly won’t say that the principles of history we apply today were used throughout the time the church was writing about its history, but I know enough of historiography to know that it was pretty similar to other institutions of the time, and its histories followed some rather common practices.

      Judging any time period as deficient because it doesn’t meet what we think should be the “right” thing today devalues those who lived through those times, and ignores the probability that had we lived then, we would share those ideas.

      So, let’s look at what the Church is doing about history. Several years back it published DVDs of documents. That isn’t hiding much. It is now systematically and very professionally producing all Joseph Smith papers. That isn’t hiding anything. The process of writing Sunday School manuals is a slow one, but all of the manuals undergo revisions, and the most recent ones are beginning to address topics that before were left out. Given that one cannot change the past, it certainly suggests that a blanket condemnation of hiding things in the curriculum is inappropriate.

      As for the “facts” behind Runnells’ letter, I agree with Christensen that I don’t see any of the issues as problematic. That is based on the data I have looked at. My field of study has been the Book of Mormon, and the facts I have seen tell me that Runnells has missed both important data and drawn unwarranted conclusions from the data he has seen. I strongly suspect that I have more time spent on the topic than he. Why would you suspect that his opinion would be better than mine? You might reread Christensen’s article.

      How can you be responsible for learning? Step one is to understand that we never have all the facts, and that everyone has to make sense of the facts we understand. That makes step two learning as much as possible so that we have as many facts as we can upon which to draw our conclusions. For other hints, you might go through Christensen’s post again and pay attention to what he says about the way we ought to learn. It seems that he covers that very topic in his paper.

      • Brant, I don’t consider the JS papers part of the correlated materials. It’s a great project but it is completely off the radar of most members. The rewritten manuals that I have seen are considerably better, but they still don’t touch on many of these issues very heavily if at all. I think the gap is decreasing but I still think it’s too wide.

        • Years ago I went with a linguistics professor from BYU to the Church Office Building about some research I was going to do in Mexico. While we where there, he stopped in with a friend (I think from his mission). That person was in curriculum. They started discussion the lessons missionaries taught to investigators. All three of us had been in a Spanish speaking mission. They were both from Mexico or Central America. I had been in Spain. They agreed that the problem with the lessons was that they were way over the heads of the investigators, and even the language was too difficult for them. My experience in Spain was the exact opposite. The language was lower on the literary scale, and the topics often too simplistic. They had to dumb down the lessons. I had to elevate them. It wasn’t the lessons, it was the audience (they were teaching a lot of people who hadn’t had as much access to education as the Spaniards I had worked with).

          Correlation controls the message, but also the expense. It takes a lot to create a manual, and keeping a basic manual for the church keeps us somewhat synchronized (the expectation of that is evident when someone comes back from visiting another ward and mentions that they were on a different lesson–and it surprised them). There are advantages. However, they don’t speak well to the range of interests or abilities. The theory is that the teacher should, and perhaps that is where we spend more time on more complete materials.

          I agree that there is a long way to go in manuals for the church. We are improving slowly. I spent many years in the Upstate New York with manuals that would ideas like “have the Young Women go to all the members around their block.” That might have been an interesting idea in Salt Lake or Provo, but in Upstate New York it was a howler. That one is blessedly gone, but there are certainly more to go. However, that didn’t stop the people in New York from trying to have good activities for the Young Women just because the manual’s ideas weren’t sufficient.

      • Brant:

        The reason I say that Leonard Arrington was a dissident historian is that he had an open-ness policy that was shut down by certain persons in the Church (and I base that on conversations I have had with various persons that worked with him over the years as well as other published intellectuals). I know the Church is more open today than during the mid-eighties and early nineties. However, I have to wonder what is being edited out of the Joseph Smith papers. There are delays that seem troubling given that Mr. Vogel (Korihor as this site calls him) published more volumes on early church documents in less time and his delays were more marketing delays than anything.

        Anyway, my problem is still that the apologists on this site tend to assume the truth of the church and therefore all those who disagree must have some problem in their thinking. However, that cannot be avoided.

        • Peter: You really should do a little more homework. While Arrington presided over a time of openness that took too long (in my opinion) to come again, the term dissident is inappropriate. He didn’t dissent from anything. There were many who celebrated what he was doing and were very sad when it ended.

          Second, I think you have something confused about Dan Vogel and the label Korihor. I haven’t heard him called that. In fact, in discussions it has always been the same references one would make to anyone. He is called by his name. Dan’s volumes collecting historical documents are excellent. Again I haven’t heard anyone say anything to the contrary.

          Third, I can agree that those whom I know who have published articles in Interpreter believe in the church (though there are differences in opinions on various topics). However, that doesn’t mean that the work they do is not carefully constructed, footnoted, and well argued. It doesn’t mean that they believe that anyone who disagrees with them has a problem in their thinking. There is a difference between a disagreement based on evidence and the assumption that everyone else must be wrong because they don’t agree with you. When I have seen (or written) an article disagreeing with someone’s position, I never assume that they are wrong because we disagree. In fact, in one case I began my examination assuming that they might be correct. I came to a different conclusion.

          You seem to be intent on drawing with only black and white pencils. If you would read Christensen’s article you might find that deeper reading and time are suggested methods for gaining a better perspective. Surely you are not against reading more widely and deeply?

    • We are emphatically not supposed to rely on the Brethren for everything. That would be putting them in the role of God rather than servants. They provide guidance in regards to their stewardship, yes, but that is not “everything.” They control, to a degree, what is taught and said in certain settings, but do not and cannot control what is taught and said in every setting in which we find ourselves.

      I’m not trying to blame the victim but to help empower individuals by pointing out choices and resources that could help them.

      I choose to think of “The Church” as not a Monolithic Impersonal Them, but rather a Richly Varied Us. I find that choice empowers me and helps save me from any temptation to victimhood, or a life bounded by excessive resentments. Your mileage may vary.

  8. I think that some here are missing something. Yes, the older manuals look to have covered more/been more “scholarly” etc.

    That was a different time. The church is a huge, worldwide entity now, and we live in an age of rapidly declining knowledge of Christianity in general. We have a paradox: increasingly vast amounts of knowledge out there, and yet an increasing membership that knows very little–and some who know an awful lot. I personally think that the Church has emphasized the basics–the milk, as it were–because more and more, we are responsible for teaching the milk. It used to be everyone knew the fundamentals of the gospel, since most of our missionaries were preaching to Christians. Now, I think we are preaching mostly to nominal Christians, if anything. And yes, there is an increasing amount of pressures of the world.

    Do our youth need to hear and discuss the intricacies of Margaret Baker’s 1st Temple theories? Or do they need the strong milk of the basic gospel principles? My wife told me as I taught the ten year old primary kids for several years that she was learning a lot from my lessons. She’s been a member and active her entire life. I was just introducing the children to the basic stories. I think a lot of members don’t know much, and with the massive influx of investigators/new members; the church is struggling to build testimonies that last for an incredible amount of members.

    At the same time, places like FARMS and the Interpreter are providing a lot of value for those who look. I myself found Jeff Lindsay several years ago, and it was inspiring. It’s why I looked at a few of the CES letter claims and immediately laughed them off. A typical hack job, totally ignoring the apologetics; it’s nothing more than the Tanners, updated for today.

    I am not sure how to square the need to defend the Church against Satan’s increasingly sophisticated attacks and spokesman, while at the same time nourishing the (probably vast majority) of the membership who need the basics. It’s far more important to learn how to repent than it is to study the Dead Sea Scrolls, as fascinating as the Teacher of Righteousness was.

  9. First, let me say that I have really enjoyed Kevin’s essay. Thanks Kevin!!!

    It has long been clear to me that the difference between Kevin/Jeff on one side and a number of disaffected Mormons on the other side does not seem to be exposure to information or intelligence. That the difference is not explained by this IMO is a huge blow to the bulk of the narratives offered by folks who invite others to become disaffected like they became disaffected. While these invitations may meet with some or even a lot of success I think Kevin’s essay evidences that there is a large gap in the reasoning offered by such invitation givers. I think a more honest invitation would be, “Come learn about this information that I learned about. When you know it you will know stuff 95% of other church members don’t. If you have the following flaws/assets/???, you will become an apostate like me. If you lack these flaws/assets/???, you will become a member who knows about a lot of issues that cause some folks difficulty.” Instead the invitation is frequently, “Come learn these facts that 95% of church members do not know. Then if you are strong enough (you can stand on your own without the church) and smart enough (your faculties are sufficiently advanced that you can draw the inevitable conclusion demanded by the evidence), I will help you with this difficult transition out of the church. It will be hard, but being true to ourselves demands it.

    Personally, I have felt the lure of joining the brilliant folks and embracing the inevitable conclusions they have embraced. But I truly believe it is only my insecurity that makes this affiliation seem attractive. On the days when I solve a difficult engineering problem, I see no need to reject God and celebrate my brilliance. Instead I try to remember to thank Him.

    Reading the comments I have a lot of mixed thoughts. Some of the comments seem to advocate giving what disaffected LDS would call “true history” or what folks who are not disaffected, but are wicked smart like me might call “inoculation.” I can remember reading the priesthood manuals from 1952-1954 and thinking how I wish these would be taught today in the church. But I think I was wrong. And I think Kevin may have vocalized why I was wrong and what to think (do???) about it.

    I came across Jeff Lindsey years ago. I enjoyed what he wrote. Later when I was reading from places like Signature Books and Kofford Books and FARMS and … I thought I was too smart for Jeff Lindsey. I was wrong.

    I read Stages of Faith before I heard of it from Dialogue and Mormon Stories. It rang true for me, but it is only recently that I recognize that being a Stage 4 or Stage 5 (or even a Stage 6) Mormon is not inherently more praiseworthy than being a Stage 3 Mormon. I am not sure you can get this from the Mormon Stories podcasts, but I think it is true (and I think Fowler might even acknowledge it).
    Two days ago the missionary who completed his mission here a year ago asked me in a text about Ordain Women. I was in the car with my wife and son as I answered. After I explained what OW was to my wife and son she said that our former missionary should not worry about it and go do something nice for someone. I believe the church would be a better place with more folks like my wife and fewer folks like me. I am not sure the curriculum needs to change to accommodate folks with the type of “itching ears” I have.

    I doubt the church would be well served if its curriculum was changed and folks on the road to becoming my wife were feed less spiritually for the purpose of giving folks like potential future disaffected Mormons (and like me) the history lessons they lament (and I once lamented) are absent.

    I wish I knew what to do to create more members like my wife first, created more folks like Kevin and Jeff Lindsey who know lots of crap and are still faithful second, and then to serve the folks who when they encounter stuff like this they feel they must leave the church and post letters on the Internet to … (do whatever is intended to be done by letters from disaffected Mormons). Any thoughts?

    I will say all this again:
    Don’t change anything that would produce less folks like my wife who believe and think much of the stuff I read is a waste of time. Produce more.
    After accomplishing the above, do change things that produce more folks like Jeff Lindsey and Kevin Christiansen and fewer who feel betrayed by the church and leave (and then invite others to leave or ???)

    Charity, TOm

    • I really appreciated Kevin’s article. I ran across “Letter to a CES Director” and was bothered by the fact that I knew he wasn’t telling me everything–and by that, I mean he wasn’t providing any of the interesting positive/pro-belief/faith research that has been done on these subjects, which, as some have pointed out, doesn’t appear to be his goal, but it sure seems to be his focus as he has continued to publicize the letter with it’s own website and the publicizing of the letter coming from John Dehlin (one of the more prominent proponents) and others. I have studied many of these things for much longer than the year that he says he studied for and came to completely different conclusions, which I see to fit many of Kevin’s explanations of flexibility in learning. I love the use of Alma 32 to show growth and growing pains in faith. I have been writing something of my own on the subject and found his comments to be quite helpful in my own thought process.

  10. I find it sad when someone becomes disaffected because they “discover” some thing or event that over turns their house of faith. Similarly, I, at least, am in awe at those persons who through storm and assault keep their house of faith, sometimes for no better reason than they have chosen to be patient and submissive. A house of faith with a foundation of infallible apostles, inerrant leadership and infallible judgments is a house of faith that faces the risk that it will crumble in the face of mortality and moral agency. That all said, I am grateful for articles and efforts by dedicated persons providing reason, context, explanation to matters surrounding the Church and the Gospel and this article is one such effort. Thank you.

  11. One more comment. I’ve always been a studious guy, and I love reading things like Mormon’s Codex. I love the intellectual side of the faith.

    But on my mission, I learned a very powerful lesson–twice. Once, we went to a teaching appointment, and brought along some members. They happened to be two young nannies from Utah, sweet and naive and certainly not “intellectual” about the gospel. I found out later that our investigator was in the area book, with a “do not contact” note. Turns out, he was a Protestant minister who was always trying to shake the faith of LDS missionaries. A Bible basher, in other words.

    Funny thing, though–the man could feel and recognize the Spirit. Our two members knew very little of what he was saying. So they fell back on their testimonies. And the Spirit came. And the preacher fled the room–every single time. He literally could not stand to be in the presence of the Spirit. After I recognized the situation and we left, I tried to buoy up the girls by pointing out that the man could not stand the Spirit, despite his great knowledge. Those two girls were actually strengthened by that encounter with doubt and detractors. So was my companion and I.

    The other experience was when I was transferred into an area for one month before leaving. During that month, we taught and baptized a Jehovah’s Witness, who had done missionary work for them. She knew the Old Testament. I think I was transferred in simply because not many missionaries knew much beyond Genesis and the story of Moses.

    Very interesting pattern with her. She’d raise the standard Jehovah’s Witness objections, I would read and point out scriptures that provided support for our position. She’d not be convinced–until she had slept on it. Then, her problem went away. I quickly realized that my job wasn’t to convert her–it was to provide a rational explanation that the Spirit could use to then convert her. We didn’t tell her that Jesus was Jehovah until after her baptism (hey, it’s not in the interview questions….) but it didn’t matter. The Spirit went through the doors I was able to open, and did the real work.

    Those two incidents taught me a real lesson about the gospel: 1) there’s always an answer, 2) if we have a testimony, it doesn’t matter that there are questions we cannot answer, and 3) The Spirit is the most important thing.

    Back in Alma’s day, what was the doctrine taught about where we go after death? It appears it was binary: either heaven or hell. Was that the truth? After all, we have the three degrees of glory now. Yes, it was the truth, just simplified. And what do we have today that isn’t the full story? According to Joseph Smith, a great deal. So I know I don’t know everything, and I won’t know everything until long after I’ve passed on. Do I wish I knew? Sure! I’d love to see the Creation of the world and answer the whole Evolution thing. But we know when that particular revelation is coming: in the Millennium.

    The point of all of this is that we need to focus most of all on our testimony. If we have a strong testimony, and a dose of humility (by that I mean we shouldn’t expect to know everything) then when we have questions posed, it won’t “shake our faith.” Knowledge is always better, but if my wife ran across that new claim about Joseph Smith copying from that 1812 book–it wouldn’t faze her. At most, she would ask me about it, but she has a testimony, and claims of plagiarism like that are easily rebuffed. If you cultivate your testimony and recognize the Spirit, like my two nannies on that missionary visit; then an encounter with Satan’s snares can actually strengthen your testimony, not weaken it.

  12. Kevin:

    I appreciate your work even though I do not necessarily agree with it. However, can’t you admit that the Church mislead or wasn’t as open as it should have been in the past on its history? Elder Snow recently admitted as much in a question and answer session with the religious educator. Anyway, can’t you then admit that the Church owes an apology for this conduct? Can’t you admit that Mr. Runnells is justified with his emotional response to finding out about the confusing history? President Joseph Fielding Smith hid the 1832 First Vision account in his vault for more than 30 years, was this justified? Wouldn’t President Smith owe an apology to the membership if her were alive today?

    • Again, who is the “Church” that hasn’t been as open and forthcoming as the present style, resources, and people permit? Why should I resent anyone in the present for doing the best the could with the resources and understanding of the past? A sense of entitlement leads to both a sense of self justification and resentments. The people I work with in recovery groups always find that their lives improve when they let go any sense of entitlement, and stop persuing self-justification, and let go their resentments.

      D&C 64: “My discples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts: and for this evil, they were sorely chastened…”

      If Elder Snow has admitted the need for improvements, and if we have demonstion of improvements with things like the Joseph Smith papers project, and frequent publication and discussion of the 1832 History in BYU Studies, the Improvement Era in April 1970 by James Allen, several times in the Ensign, allowed Bachman’s book length study in 1980, discussion in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, The Papers of Joseph Smith, in Opening the Heavens, at FAIR Mormon, and many places elsewhere on the web, Matt Bowman’s remarkable A Pillar of Light, and Steven Harper’s recent Joseph Smith’s Fist Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts, why should I worry at all about Joseph Fielding Smith? I do have the information, and have known it personally since 1975 when I found the Improvement Era essay at my home, and when I don’t know his thoughts or reasons, why bother resenting him? How do I know that God didn’t direct his actions at that time? Why should I nurture a resentment and withhold forgiveness and expect an apology? How will that improve my life and understanding?

      Joseph Smith again: “it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and to hinder our progress, by filling us with self righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls: we fill that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and ccast their sins on our backs. My talk is intended for this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.” TPJS 241. It doesn’t say, except for Church Historians of another time.

      In Paradigms Crossed in the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/2, I noted this:
      “The scriptures do recognize four valid motives for managing access to information: (1) pedagogy—when the information cannot be understood without significant preparation or experience (3 Nephi 17:2-3; Hebrews 5:11-14), (2) confidentiality on personal matters (D&C 42:88, 92), (3) sacredness (3 Nephi 17:17; D&C 63:64), and (4) social danger183 —this restriction never applies to ideas, but only to spelling out methods.

      “Information management in these cases derives from genuine love on the part of the teacher and free consent on the part of the student. Full knowledge remains available to those who seek it.

      “Our scriptures caution all of us against limiting knowledge in order to cover sins, gratify pride and vain ambition, or to exercise control, dominion, or compulsion over people in any degree of unrighteousness (cf. D&C 121:37). Pure knowledge, we are told, greatly enlarges the soul, without hypocrisy and without guile (D&C 121:42). That is, if the knowledge is pure, we can expect to see an increase of love and empathy, as when Enos first prays for himself, then for his family, and then for his enemies. It follows then, that impure knowledge leads to hypocrisy, impatience, and intolerance, all of which signify a contracting of the soul (D&C 121:39). This does not mean, however, that pure knowledge, sharp criticism, and love are always strangers to each other.”

      Best,

      Kevin Christensen
      Bethel Park, PA

    • “Elder Snow recently admitted as much in a question and answer session with the religious educator.”

      For the record, here is what Elder Snow said in the interview.

      Bennett: How do you think this openness will impact educators of Church
      history? With a generation of young people that we are dealing with now that is so well informed electronically about things in the past, but not sensing that in their curriculum?
      Snow: That is where we need to improve. Fortunately Seminaries and
      Institutes and Curriculum have really stepped up and said in essence, “You know we really want to take this on, we would like to talk about these sensitive issues in our seminaries and institutes.” It’s one thing to tell a fourteen-year-old some of these sensitive things and they say, “OK, that’s great.” But sometimes when you are twenty-something, it comes across a little differently I think we can build faith and better prepare people if we will weave some of the unusual threads in history into the curriculum.
      Bennett: How will the Church History Department actually do that?
      Snow: We have an obligation to provide our members reliable information
      on some of these more difficult questions from our history. We are
      committed to do that.

      (“Start With Faith: A Conversation with Elder Steven E. Snow,” Religious Educator 14/3 (2013): 4–5.)

      I’ll let everyone else make of that what they will.

  13. Kevin

    I really like this verse from the Book of Mormon. I believe it hits what you talk about in this article:

    “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” (Alma 62:41)

    The lengthy war served to harden the heart of some and soften the heart of others. While the afflictions were probably evenly spread over the population, these afflictions served to turn some to God while turning others away. Interesting!

    • Jeremy Runnells is a good friend of mine, not a hard hearted, brittle man that broke when some storms came – Quite the opposite in fact, Jeremy is an amazing person, with a passion for learning. I don’t understand how personal attacks benefit this discussion.

      • What personal attacks are you referring to here? Are you saying I have made personal attacks, or are you just making an existential comment? If the former, some specific examples would prove helpful. If the latter, I agree with you. I don’t think personal attacks help these discussions.

        I’ve got a passion for learning myself. The footnoting ought to provide some evidence of that. And I can think of several people who consider me to be their good friend. Does that mean they should uncritically accept my arguments and assertions?

        Just asking.

        • Kevin, I am assuming everyone’s goal here is to discover truth, if not, then I’m not interested in this blog.

          Here is a quote from your article aimed at Jeremy that doesn’t help me discover truth, nor does it inspire a sense of academic credibility. It appears to be a personal attack filled with unfounded assumptions about Jeremy’s brain:

          “He filters the flexibility and the reason out of the essay when making his own summary. The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious brittleness.”

          I’m not interested in your opinion regarding Jeremy’s brain. My question to you is -*How can we know the truth?*

          • According to D&C 93:24, “Truth is a knowledge of things are, as they were, and as they are to come.” Jacob 4:13 says “Behold, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men, for the Spirit speaketh the truth, and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be, wherefore these things are manifested plainly for the salvation of our souls.” Alma 32:34-35 describes how nurture of the word causes “your understanding to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand. O then is this not real? I say unto yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light is good, because it is discernable, therefore ye must know that it is good.”

            The passage that you cite as personal attack comes has this context, which you did not cite:

            “If you follow the link he provides in his complaint that to apologists, “horses aren’t really horses,” we come to a Maxwell Institute article that demonstrates a flexibility of thought and observation that Runnells does not pass along. The article describes some existing evidence for horse bones, which means, the Book of Mormon mention of horses just might be the horses he expects. It also describes the common practice of loan-shift, “well known to historians and anthropologists who study cross-cultural contact.” Runnells misrepresents both the hypotheses and the observations made in the essay, overlooking a clear description of real possibilities in favor of an inaccurate and brittle declaration of unacceptable and unreasonable identity. He filters the flexibility and the reason out of the essay when making his own summary. The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious brittleness.”

            If I had a clearer way of describing what I see happening in this specific instance, I would have used it. The truth, the factual reality here, is that Runnells really does declare that “to apologists horses aren’t really horses” and links to an article that provides information that provides evidence that so the authors, Book of Mormon horses could very well be the horses that Runnells expects. The same article provides a discussion of loan shift, which is not an ad hoc argument frabricated only for the purpose of dealing with a potential problem, but a is a “well known” and “common” occurance in cross cultural and translation situations. This struck me as a particularly telling example that explains much about why someone like Runnells has problems incomparison to why someone like Jeff Lindsay has faith. It is, I think, a paradigmatic example, one that reveals an illuminating pattern. To me, it tells a great truth, providing knowledge of things as they really are.

            Can you come up with a better analysis of that particular phrase in Runnells essay, and the clear conflict with the information that he provided in the link he gives? Can you argue that the truth emerging from the context of that particular phrase does not cast any light on why somone like Jeff Lindsay sees real truth value in the Book of Mormon where Runnells does not?

            Instances like this tell me a great deal about why different people looking in the same direction appear to see and understand different things. It’s not about basic sincerity, or kindness, or loyalty, qualities that I am sure Runnells has in abundance, but about perception and perspective that can either erode or support faith.

      • Chris

        You are being a little too defensive here. I was not implying that Jeremy was hard-hearted or that he broke when the storm came. I do not even know the man, nor have I read anything that he has written, so I could hardly make that kind of judgement. I was simply using this verse to show that the a set of circumstances do not always lead to the same results in people. This also applies to academic and spiritual questions. In fact, I guess you helped make my point by jumping to a conclusion that I had not even considered when I wrote the comment. If anything, your comment was the personal attack. Let’s call a truce.

      • Chris,

        Students can be quite passionate about learning without being effective or entirely functional in their learning.

        In order to be more effective and functional in learning, students need to be open to examining the various ways they go about learning, and determine what works best and what may impede the learning.

        Such examinations aren’t “personal attacks,” but the very kind of beneficial discussion that seems lost on you.

        The same, in principle, applies to growth in faith.

        By his own admission, Jeremy’s faith broke, instead of bending and getting stronger, after facing the storms of what he viewed as devastating information. It isn’t a “personal attack” to examine why his faith broke when the faith of others (such as Kevin Christensen and myself, etc.) have survived and strengthened in the face of the same or even greater informational storms, and to go on to conclude that among other things it may have been due to inflexibility in his thinking.

        Unless Jeremy is hardened by pride in his heart, he would be open to, non-defensive about, and want such beneficial examinations of his learning and faith styles. And, since you are such a good friend to him, you would want that for him as well. Right?

        • Unless Jeremy is hardened by pride in his heart, he would be open to, non-defensive about, and want such beneficial examinations of his learning and faith styles. And, since you are such a good friend to him, you would want that for him as well. Right?

          “If you’re innocent, you don’t need a lawyer, right?”

          I don’t know how non-defensive I could expect someone to be when prejudged in this manner. Indeed, I would expect this kind of statement to make someone more, not less, defensive – which would be problematic if the intent in making such a statement was to sincerely reassure them and make them feel that they can be less defensive.

          • Log,

            Socrates is attributed as saying that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

            To me, this applies to learning and faith styles of various individuals as well as other aspect of each of our lives.

            It is in our interest to self-assess and have others examine (not to be confused with “prejudging” or “the innocent have no need of a lawyer”) the various ways in which we process information, and this with the intent of improving in our abilities to learn and utilize our learning.

            Now, one is certainly free to get as defensive as one wishes, though by getting defensive in response to such beneficial examinations serves only to impede improvement in learning and utilization of learning. Not good.

            What I find ironic is that some critics, operating under the banner of “seeking truth,” seem quite eager and liberal in their examination of the Church, but loath when the lens of analysis is turned back on them. Their so-called passion for learning and truth seems selectively directed, at all costs, away from where it may serve the most personal good.

  14. Kevin, very interesting article, though I felt a bit awkward reading it. But thank you. I think you are correct: we need to have flexibility in our assumptions, though that can be painful as we challenge the neat pictures we have created for how things should be. Patience is also critical. Whether it’s religion, science, politics, or the Chinese language, reality can be surprisingly complicated. To insist on final answers right away can lead to disappointment and unnecessary surrender.

    Regarding Facs. 3 and the “mistake” of identifying women as men, I need to update my LDSFAQ page on the BOA with some of the interesting info I recently posted on my Mormanity blog as well as the Nauvoo Times. Google Mormanity, Isis and Maat. On second thought, perhaps Googling ISIS will get the NSA on your back given the modern Gadiantons who have started using that acronym. Just Googling “Mormanity and Maat” ought to do it. So interesting how some of the slam dunk arguments against Joseph Smith start looking a little more in his favor than the critics let on once you dig a bit. Book of Abraham has many rich veins of evidence that something far more “interesting” than idiotic fabrication is going on with that text.

    Oh, Tom, great points. Being absorbed by books and arguments without the blessings of getting out and doing good can lead to the mental brittleness that makes life more fragile and less pleasant. Great reminder.

    • Thanks Jeff, for your thoughts here. Thanks also for pointing to your recent Mormanity study on the issue of Egyptian culture and the identifications and gender issues in Facsimile 3. I had read that insightful essay, and thought about referring to it, but my own time was limited. I couldn’t say everything I wanted to say in the time and space I had to work. But it is doubly interesting that some of the fresh insights that you provide there come Wikipedia, which was Runnells source in making his criticism.

  15. I am sorry, first of all, to admit that I have neither the time nor the inclincation to wade through this exhaustive dissertion, but for me it is unnecessary though it may be of great importance to others. Four relevant scriptural passages come to mind.

    The first is from the Pearl of Great Price, the Joseph Smith History, verses 5 and 6. “Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion… For notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion…a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued – priest contending against priest, and convert against convert’ so the all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.”

    The second scripture that seems relevant to me is from Isaiah (55:8,9). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith The Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Third is the oft quoted passage from Moroni (10:3-5). “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read tese things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them… that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

    And finally from Ecclesiastes (12:12-14). “…be admonished:of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conlusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

    We have in the lengthy expositions of both apologists and critics “a strife of words and a contest about opinions” and little else. The words from Isaiah should make each and every one of us humble, if nothing else. Words are words, phonetic shadows of concepts formed in human minds, and by themselves they prove nothing. Human beings, being what they are, will see what they wish – or expect to see and hear what they wish – or expect – to hear, and perhaps that is the great lesson to be learned from this article. The bottom line I want to express is this: proving whether one religion is true or another religion is false misses the point of religion altogether. The purpose of religion is not to expound truth we cannot comprehend or to make apparent things we cannot perceive, but to help us live better, happier, more productive lives, and therein lies the value of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is that influence that corrects us when we imagine that strifes of words prove anything or that a person can be edified or improved by finding fault.

    • Austin Farrar:
      “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced, but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief is possible.”

      I have written at length on the limits of both falsification and verification, the problems with notion of both proving and disproving. I no illusions about my ability to do either. (See my “Paradigms Crossed” or Ian Barbour’s Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study on Science and Religion). However, I have personally benefited from the efforts of defenders of faith, and aspire only to do for others something like that which has been done for me.

      Isaiah 55:10-11 continues the thought:
      For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither but watereth the earth,and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: [and I think of the parable of the sower, Alma 32 on the seed of faith, and John 6 on the bread of life]
      So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

      And D&C 88:118
      And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom: yeah, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom: seek by learning even by study and also by faith.

      Our own faults have a way of finding us. Hence, the gospel of repentence, which is not about condemnation, but an invitation to joy.

  16. The funny thing about this type of analysis is that it is full of character assassination and devoid of substantial rebuttal. You made multiple straw men out of Jeremy’s arguments and then you rebut points he never even made. People are not generally stupid enough to fall for this sort of thing, but then again I am not all that in touch with mormoninterpreter.com’s target demographic. Anyway, I surely don’t care all that much, I am just very happy to see more people drawing attention to the CESLetter.

    • Might you help us out by pointing out one or two of the straw men so a discussion might develop? As it is, you simply assume that it must be so because you have said it is. Examples would be helpful. Thanks.

  17. I think it is fair to point out that Kerry Shirts (who the article cites in its defense of the Book of Abraham) has since left the church and renounced his research in regards to the Book of Abraham. I think that is an important footnote to include in an article quoting the above mentioned research.

  18. Aka, Doubt “Inception”?:D 😀 I mean,honestly, if “doubting your doubts” is a real concept, should Joseph Smith have come out of the woods and remained the faith of his fathers ? Or should all investigators of mormonism halt their lessons and “doubt their doubts” to return to their previous faiths? It seems as if the answer is 99.9% of the time, if you have a doubt, you should act appropriately, the remaining time you should act however your leaders tell you….or maybe the truth is that doubting your doubts isn’t really a thing… just a hypothesis.

  19. “Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or Brittle interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = Tentative Conclusion”

    When I ask myself, “what would I expect to find in an church that lacks the truth?”, complicated jibberish (like this “formula”) is what comes to mind. Truth…is…not…this…difficult. I can’t believe this “equation” made to the final draft – it’s laughable – all it’s missing is an integral and a logarithm.

    The other thing I expect to find in a church that does not have the truth is an argument that looks like this: the simple word [x] does not actually mean [common, official, logical, expected definition], it actually means [previously never used, illogical definition].

    • JSA:
      Your final point about what word mean appears to be pointed at discussions about the Book of Mormon. I have made those kinds of arguments, and so I am very aware of the reasons behind them. From your statement, it is clear that you don’t understand the issue at all. It might be fun to place this argument in a framework that hopes to borrow credence from mathematics, but the form of the argument doesn’t help the substance.

      In the case of translation, it is always an issue when one attempts to understand what a word in the translation might have been in the original. See unicorns in the King James Bible. Surely you would not suggest that those translators never translated because they used the wrong word for an animal that was described in the text? If you are interested in truth, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to make sure you understand the facts before you decide what truth is?

  20. During the last few decades of studying the history and doctrines of the church I would have to say that some of the most thought provoking and faith promoting information I have come across has been motivated by books and publications that I have purchased from the Tanners.

    They have the ability to present controversial information that seems faith destroying on the surface, yet when deeply researched, “the rest of the story” that can be unearthed by personal study, becomes illuminating and testimony strengthening.

    For this reason, I love the Tanners for the great service they have provided. My gospel study has been greatly enhanced thanks to them. Despite the fact that I have arrived at the opposite conclusion that they have, with regard to the origins of the LDS Restoration Movement, I have appreciated their efforts and I believe the intent of their hearts has been pure.

    I have never questioned the sincerity of the Tanners or the integrity with which they have conducted their research. I loved the story Sandra shares about how Jerald questioned the Mark Hoffman forgeries that put the church in a negative light, despite the fact that it would have strengthened their own position. I think that is a fair demonstration of his integrity.

    I feel the same way about Jeremy Runnnells. I think he is sincere and full of integrity. By his own admission, he is not the original researcher on any of the stuff he has accumulated. He nevertheless has done a stellar job of aggregating and eloquently articulating many of the troubling issues that skeptics have proffered over the years.

    Like the Tanners, Runnells has strengthened my faith by forcing me to find answers to some questions that had never occurred to me.

    One example I would share has to do with the question of why did the BofM contain passages from the King James Version of the Bible with mistranslated passages that would later be corrected in the Inspired Version.

    I would suggest that even though the BofM brings to light some deficiencies in the KJV of the Bible and even though Joseph was commanded to revise and correct the existing translation in 1830,(section 35) the Lord had previously declared that the Book of Mormon proves that “..the holy scriptures [Bible] are true” (Section 20) That is a pretty good endorsement of the existing KJV of the Bible of that day.

    After section 20 declared that the holy scriptures were true, it pontificated on doctrines having to do with justification and justification and then referenced the revelations of John and the Holy Scriptures, as a credible source for the suppositions:

    “And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.”

    It then admonished those ordained to the priesthood to:

    “.. confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures..”

    As you can see, the Bible, as it currently existed, was to be used as the official manual for administering the saving ordinances.

    After section 20 testified that the holy scriptures were true, it used the holy scriptures as a credible source for teaching the doctrine of justification and sanctification, and used the holy scriptures as a guide for baptizing people into the church, it referred church authorities to the scriptures for dealing with transgressors:

    “Any member of the church of Christ transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault, shall be dealt with as the scriptures direct.”

    Within less than a year after this revelation was given, and over a year before the bible translation was supposedly finished, the law of the gospel was given on February 9 1831 . According to the law of the Gospel, the existing, un-revised, King James Version of the Bible became binding upon the saints, until the inspired revision should be completed and published to the world:

    “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.

    And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, WHICH ARE IN THE BIBLE and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.

    And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.
    And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.

    And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given.”

    As you can see, according to the law of the gospel contained in section 42, the Elders and Teachers were to teach out of the existing, un-revised Bible. It was fully acceptable and binding upon the church the way it was translated.

    We know that God has infinite foreknowledge and he obviously knew that Joseph would not successfully publish, canonize and send the inspired version of the Bible to the world during his ministry, has he had been commanded, yet God saw the need, according to his perfect wisdom, to give the saints the law of the Gospel and to make the existing Bible binding upon the Saints until the Inspired translation would be available.

    In section 45 Joseph would be commanded to not teach from the Inspired Version until it was successfully published and canonized.

    Hence, in my feeble mind, it makes perfect sense that God wanted the saints of the restored Church to accept the imperfect King James Version of the scriptures along with the Book of Mormon and revelations received by Joseph Smith as the official canons of scripture during that generation all the way up to our generation. His revelations made it clear that if the existing Bible was read in conjunction with the Book of Mormon and the Holy Spirit, it was adequate.

    It therefore would have been entirely inconsistent with Gods own word and will, for the Book of Mormon to have contradicted God’s plan for the Saints, by providing a differing translation other that the KJV passages in the BofM.

    Doing so would have created cognitive dissonance and the passages in the BofM would have to have been discarded in favor of the KJV since they were not endorsed as the approved text to use pending the forthcoming Inspired Version.

    A really disturbing problem, in my mind, would have been if the Lord had provided a differing translation of the Bible in the Book of Mormon that was not congruent with what was binding upon them. (In all fairness, it should be noted, that there are a few places in the BofM that provides a corrected passage that would later be included in the Inspired Version. Even though God was not willing to let JS teach from the inspired translation, God himself obviously did have some things he wanted to share. For some reason, the paper done by Jeremy failed to note that there were some passages from the upcoming Inspired Version. I am not accusing Jeremy of intentionally leaving this important fact out of his paper… I suspect he was not aware of this fact. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the Bible passages were left in the KJV format to provide for general consistency)

    Furthermore, the saints had been commanded multiple times in ancient and modern revelation to SEARCH the scriptures. Comparing similar keywords within passages is an essential aspect of being able to search the scriptures, regardless of whether one is doing manual searches or computerized searches.

    If a differing translation of Bible passages had been provided in the BofM, than the contemporary Bible they had been commanded to use, the ability to search would have been significantly compromised.

    It is truly remarkable to me that God provided consistency in the inspired content of the Book of Mormon by providing the version of the Bible that would be binding upon the Saints. (It should be noted that the Book of Mormon acknowledges that it has errors in it and that it represented the “lesser” part of the gospel and that “greater things” would be forthcoming when the gentiles repent.)

    I have found similar answers in the other questions raised in the paper that Jeremy has put together.

    Thank you Jeremy for your diligent research into the problems that skeptics have found with the Book of Mormon and providing a great question from which faith promoting research could be generated.. I believe God wants all of us to employ principles if critical thinking as we study the Gospel. As Paul says, we must prove all things and hold fast to that which is good. providing a great question from which faith promoting research could be generated.

    PS

    I can see how the doctrinal and historical information I have provided could be used by an unbeliever to support their unbelief. Much of how we process information is determined by WHAT WE WANT TO BELIEVE. Perhaps this is why the BofM informs us that a successful journey of faith begins with the simple DESIRE TO BELIEVE:

    26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
    27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than DESIRE TO BELIEVE, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
    28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
    29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
    30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
    31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.
    32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
    33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.

    • It therefore would have been entirely inconsistent with Gods own word and will, for the Book of Mormon to have contradicted God’s plan for the Saints, by providing a differing translation other that the KJV passages in the BofM.

      Doing so would have created cognitive dissonance and the passages in the BofM would have to have been discarded in favor of the KJV since they were not endorsed as the approved text to use pending the forthcoming Inspired Version.

      A really disturbing problem, in my mind, would have been if the Lord had provided a differing translation of the Bible in the Book of Mormon that was not congruent with what was binding upon them. (In all fairness, it should be noted, that there are a few places in the BofM that provides a corrected passage that would later be included in the Inspired Version….)

      It is interesting to see a claimant assert that God wanted something one way, and then to hear the claimant say it would be “a really disturbing problem” if it wasn’t that way, while the claimant simultaneously admits, “in all fairness”, it isn’t that way, yet apparently be not in the least “really disturbed” by the obvious self-contradiction.

      I think self-consistency is a prerequisite for taking claims seriously, with obvious self-contradictions in a statement of a claim being a sufficient cause to not take that claim seriously.

  21. Thanks for everyone’s comments.

    Perhaps some of the critics (or non-critics) can help me. Or if Jeremy is going to respond this is what I want to see in the response.

    I didn’t read Kevin’s essay as an ATTEMPT to attack Jeremy. The things ascribed as POSSIBLE causes for Jeremy’s reaction to evidence (evidence many of us have known for years) may be slightly negative things, but this is an attempt to explain a phenomena. These things from Kevin’s essay (very briefly : a lack of flexibility, a need to have answers now, and a willingness to look primarily outside of oneself for the cause of ones circumstances) are less negative than the things disaffected LDS have regularly lobbed my way.
    Critics of the church implicitly or explicitly say that it is ignorance of the issues that prevents folks with properly functioning faculties from leaving the church. The concern with this statement is not “ignorance” as ignorance is a state of learning and as opposed to “willful ignorance” or “negligent ignorance” has no real judgment attached to it (IMO). There are MANY believers who are ignorant of the difficulties. For me the issue is that I am not ignorant of the problems so I must have “improperly functioning faculties.”
    I personally do not believe that Kevin, Jeff, and I all have improperly functioning faculties; so I think there needs to be another explanation. Some critics stick by the lack of intellectual ability, but some graduate to another thing I consider derogatory.
    They have said that believers who are not ignorant only follow their “Testimony,” “Feelings,” … and refuse to apply their intellect to these issues. There are surely some believers who do this. If the Father and Son had appeared to me, all the critics arguments with none of the responses I know would not be enough AND I do not fault folks who would rather develop revolutionary heart procedures instead of chase down every church history rabbit hole they can find. But as one who has chosen to attempt to apply my intellect to these issues disconnected from my testimony (my “testimony” being something that came to me long after I thought the church’s position was stronger than the critics position), I consider the suggestion that I am radically incapable of accomplishing this task to also be derogatory. And of course the critics who go this direction imply that they are better at doing this (I have never heard a critic say that my testimony was weaker than most so I left the church when I discovered this or that historical issue).

    So to those who felt Jeremy was “attacked” by Kevin what would you say? What is the difference between Jeremy’s response to these issues and Jeff’s. Kevin’s explanation aligns much better with the data than anything I have seen coming from the disaffected.
    All the data before and after this presentation that I have gathered suggests that there is a lot of explanatory power to Kevin’s proposals.

    Hope the above is a good data driven query. This is what I think I do when I engage with the church or some engineering problem or …. Sometimes that is what I do when I interact with my wife (I recommend a different method for interpersonal relationships BTW).

    Charity, TOm

    P.S.
    I should mention that suggesting that the disaffected want to sin or never really had a testimony (and presumably faked it) is something done by believers that is offensive. Like ignorance of the issues and reliance on testimony rather than intellect, it surely happens SOMETIME. But, I am sorry to those who have been offended by this coming from believers.

    • Here’s one possibility – Jeff’s positions spring not from the evidence and analysis he gives, but from a conclusion reached on other grounds entirely, whereas Jeremy’s position does, in fact, spring from the evidence and analysis he proffers.

      It is why, to apologists, horses may not, in fact, be horses, whereas to antagonists, horses always means horses.

      Just a thought.

      • After analyzing both sides, it appears that Kevin’s arguments rely on moving the goalposts in order to protect deeply held assumptions. Kevin believes this is a positive attribute called “flexibility”.

        While Runnells on the other hand appears to be using a hypothesis driven approach that Kevin assumes is a negative form of “brittleness”.

        I thought about Kevin’s form of “flexibility”, and I believe I’ve seen it before. I’ll give a short real life example here that I’ve seen in another debate:

        “The reason the mast of a tall ship appears to sink behind the horizon as it sails away, is NOT because the ship is sloping downward on a curved surface, but because the ship becomes smaller as it recedes behind the waves near the horizon.”

        By using the above form of flexibility, it becomes possible to maintain faith in the flat earth theory, inspite of the evidence. What this form of flexibility does not provide is a testable hypothesis. Part of the fun I suppose is evading the tests that can falsify a hypothesis, but this method doesn’t bring one closer to the truth.

        In my experience, when a hypothesis is tested and it turns out to be false, it is better to form a new hypothesis, and test it. If the new hypothesis passes a number of tests that the old one could not, then it is wise to believe in the new hypothesis over the old. This approach should yield more fruit than simply increasing one’s cognitive flexibility to maintain the old hypothesis.

        • Notice that the use of the “flat-earth” hypothesis as a paradigmatic example to explain apologetics. Paradigmatic examples embody method, problem field, and standard of solution, defining a group-licensed way of seeing. This would be a good place to discuss The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Ian Barbours, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion, which I have done at length several times before. Try my Paradigms Crossed in RBBM 7/2 for starters.

          Once you start basing an argument on a paradigmatic example, and using that paradigm to reject another, you should not stop at using the assumptions and methods that paradigm to reject another. Rather, at that point, you should start discussing the means by which we can judge that one paradigm is superior than another by using criteria that are not paradigm dependent. The reason that we reject the flat earth hypothesis has to do with testability (astronaunts and satellites do no orbit a flat earth), accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise. Kuhn also explains that paradigm choice always involves choices about which paradigm is “better” (as measured by criteria that are not paradigm dependent, and therefore, self-referential), and deciding which problems are more significant to have solved. Runnells is all negative, selectively present his information as though the truth of the Book of Mormon does not solve any significant questions. That means, from my perspective, he falls very short in terms of comprehensiveness and coherence, as well as fruitfulness, which refers to the kinds of observations and tests that don’t even get considered in light of another paradigm.

          • “The reason that we reject the flat earth hypothesis has to do with testability (astronauts and satellites do no orbit a flat earth), accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise.” -Kevin

            Yes, this is why I used the flat earth example. Not only because it’s something we can all agree on, but also because there are people today using extremely flexible thinking to keep their faith in the flat earth theory alive.

            My concern is that this sort of flexible thinking doesn’t help when it comes to truth. If your article is trying to encourage this sort of thinking by holding Jeff Lindsay up on a pedestal while mocking Jeremy Runnells for changing his mind, then it’s not going to improve humanity’s ability to change their mind when a hypothesis fails.

            Here are two examples of the Book of Mormon hypothesis failing:

            1. PREDICTION: The American Indians are from Jerusalem, so we should be able to trace their lineage back to Jerusalem.

            SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: God Said the American Indians were Lamanite (D&C 54:8), Joseph Smith said the same (Wentworth Letter), Prophets and Apostles said so (too numerous), The BOM tells of a land prepared for Lehi “led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you”, it does not mention any existing civilization inhabiting the land upon their arrival, but says they were a “lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem”, The LDS leaders accepted this interpretation for over 150 years.

            TESTS:

            mtDNA test: FAILED
            Y DNA test: FAILED
            SNP DNA test: FAILED

            SOLUTION: Move the goalposts OR discard the theory.

            2. PREDICTION: The Book of Mormon should not have any anachronisms if it were a real history.

            SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: The Book of Mormon is claimed to be a true history. It was translated by the power of God for the benefit of 19th-21st century humans.

            TESTS:

            KJV Errors in BOM: (yes) FAILED
            NT quotes predating NT: (yes) FAILED
            Steel Swords in BOM: (yes) FAILED
            Horses in BOM: (yes) FAILED
            Chariots in BOM: (yes) FAILED
            Gold/Silver Monetary system: (yes) FAILED

            SOLUTION: Move the goalposts OR give up the theory.

            The above problems are consistent, congruent, and in harmony with a story created by human means. The goalposts can be moved but this comes at a cost — for every “bend” and “twist” there are thousands of other frauds we could also bend and twist with the same amount of effort and creativity, which would lead us to conclude that most frauds are also true. We must apply the same rigor to all books, theories and philosophies, not just the ones we assume are correct. That’s why we must not move the goalposts.

            So, if we don’t move the goalposts, then the “true” Book of Mormon hypothesis can be discarded, and a new hypothesis built that is more consistent with the facts. Perhaps the simplest hypothesis fits best: The book was written just as millions of other books were: by human intellect.

            This new hypothesis also carries with it a set of testable predictions. For example, if the same man claimed to translate another book, then the second book should fail historically just as the first. But does it?

            3. PREDICTION: If The Book of Abraham was translated correctly by the power of God from Egyptian Hieroglyphics, then once scholars can read Egyptian Hieroglyphics, it will vindicate the prophet.

            SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: PoGP, Original Facsimiles, Joseph’s Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar, Joseph’s journal, and other historical documents.

            TESTS:

            1856 Egyptologist Analysis: FAILED
            1912 Egyptologist Analysis: FAILED
            Modern Egyptologist Analysis: FAILED
            Further Independent Analyses: FAILED

            SOLUTION: Move the goalposts OR give up the theory.

            4. PREDICTION: If the Book of Abraham is a true history it should not contain anachronisms.

            SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: The Book of Abraham is also claimed to be a true history. It was translated by the power of God for the benefit of 19th-21st century humans.

            TESTS:

            Chaldea in BoA: (yes) FAILED
            Chaldean in BoA: (yes) FAILED
            Egyptus in BoA: (yes) FAILED

            SOLUTION: Move the goalposts OR give up the theory.

            The most consistent theory seems to be that these texts are not true history. This is also in harmony with what is generally accepted: (1) humans can’t translate unknown languages very well. (2) Humans create literature all the time. This is not a surprise, and it fits perfectly well with the known facts.

            Once it’s accepted that these texts do not represent true history, then it opens up a whole new world of other hypotheses and predictions that can be tested with equal rigor, and I have found these to open up a path to even more light and knowledge.

            The biggest mystery to me is why would someone be motivated to put in so much effort (20+ years) to defend a hypothesis that consistently fails validation? There are thousands of other theories and frauds to defend, why pick this one? What’s the goal?

          • This is in response to Chris’s post from June 25. I don’t know whether placing my response here will occur before or after.

            PREDICTION: The American Indians are from Jerusalem, so we should be able to trace their lineage back to Jerusalem.

            Test: Look for the words “American Indians” in the Book of Mormon. They do not appear at all. Further test. Make a comprehensive and careful reading of the Book of Mormon
            to see what it actually says and implies about the people involved. Save time by reading Matt Ropers “Nephi’s Neighbors.” Notice that very early in the Book of Mormon (Jacob), still first generation, redefines Lamanite to refer to political unfriendlies rather then lineage. Then consider the implications for reading the text in a real world setting in which millions of people were already present when Lehi arrived. See, for instance, Gardner’s “The Social History of the Early Nephites.” Consider what happens in comparing the DNA tests in Iceland to the evidence of existing geneologies.

            Test: How much weight should I give to LDS pop culture or tradition? What should I expect from prophets? How well does traditional thinking correlate with what the text provides?

            TESTS:

            Ask whether the goal posts are placed properly. If not, move them appropriately. Adjust my expectations when appropriate.

            PREDICTION: The Book of Mormon should not have any anachronisms if it were a real history.

            Test of the prediction: Does translation ever introduce anachronisms? What abut the anachronistic “candlestick under a bushell” in the KJV? Is this a legitimate prediction, a valid background expectation if other translations regularly produce anachronisms? What about anachronisms introduced by editors of an ancient text? Say for instance, laws in Deuteronomy that apply to forms of government that occurred only much later in Israelite history, such as restrictions on Kings based on objections to Solomon’s reign? How can we know that modern resources
            permit a perfect detection of anachronism? Do anachronisms in Deuteronomy disprove the historicity of texts like the gospels that contain quotes from Deuteronomy?

            Revised test that is far less vulnerable to false negatives introduced by translators, editors, and limits on current knowledge.

            The Book of Mormon should provide a good fit into the times and contexts that it claims for itself. We not only can, but should consider “Which problems are more significant to have solved” (T. Kuhn.)

            TESTS:

            KJV Errors in BOM: (yes) FAILED due to unrealistic expectations of translation.
            NT quotes predating NT: (yes) FAILED due to unrealistic expectations and assumptions that NT quotes in the Book of Mormon represent thoughts completely original and unique to the
            NT writers, and inappropriate for the purposes of the Book of Mormon translation.
            Steel Swords in BOM: (yes) FAILED except for the Old World setting, and the current state of evidence, and the possibilities inherent in the meanings of the word “steel.”
            Horses in BOM: (yes) FAILED if you ignore interesting evidence and other possible readings.
            Chariots in BOM: (yes) FAILED if you think a rare mention of a chariot is more significant that the presence of the right kinds of civilizations rising and falling at the right time and place.
            Gold/Silver Monetary system: (yes) FAILED, though there are all sorts of interesting things about this that do relate to Old World grains and systems.

            Accurate descriptions of Jerusalem 600 BCE: Yes. Passed. See Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem.
            Unexpected description of 1st Temple Theology in the Book of Mormon: Yes. Passed.
            Accurate eyewitness physical and cultural details of the journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful: Yes. Passed. See the work by the Astons. A Nahom at the right place and time depth relative to the Bountiful candidate?
            Accurate descriptions of ancient coronation ceremonies and ancient Israelite Festivals?” Yes. Passed. See Nibley and Welch, Ricks, and Tvedtnes.
            Accurate descriptions of New World settings, cultures? Yes. See Mormon’s Codex.
            Mentions of metals in the Book of Mormon happens to occur in areas that have ores in the real world correlation Sorenson has proposed. When the Nephites move to areas
            that don’t have ores, the mention of metals are absent in the text. Does that matter?
            Does the description of the Sidon in the Book of Mormon lead to any New World candidates? Yes. Larry Poulson shows that the only river in the Western hemisphere that the description in the text is the Grijalva. Yes. Passed.
            Does that location for the river case light on the details of stories told in the Book of Mormon? Yes. Passed.
            All sorts of things, from Hebrew poetic forms, survivor witness patterns, NDE patterns, correlations between King Benjamin and the contemporary San Bartolo Murals, geographic and cultural details, Stubb’s work in languages, Mormon’s Codex, and Second Witness, Book of Mormon Authorship, and Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, etc.

            SOLUTION: Move the goalposts OR give up the unrealistic theories behind that placement of the goalposts, and come up with a theory that accounts for aspects of the Book of Mormon and current research that this approach completely ignores.

            There is a similar approach to testing the Book of Abraham that similarly ignores all of the interesting things about that document and the research by informed believers.

            Chris commented:
            “The biggest mystery to me is why would someone be motivated to put in so much effort (20+ years) to defend a hypothesis
            that consistently fails validation? There are thousands of other theories and frauds to defend, why pick this one? What’s the goal?”

            Have you read my essay in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 on NDE Research and the BOok of Mormon? Or my essays showing that Alma 32 demonstrates the same values for
            testing paradigms that Thomas Kuhn identifies in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Or Welch’s work on the Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon and comparison with the Old World
            Narrative of Zosimus? Or Nibley’s work? Or Sorenson’s work? Larry Poulson’s work on details of the New World Settings? Gardner’s Second Witness commentaries? Mark Wright’s work? Welch on the Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount? The Aston’s on the Old World Bountiful? Thomasson on Survivor Witness in the Book of Mormon? The amazing and complex congruence of Barker’s First Temple Theology and the Book of Mormon. Even she is impressed. She collaborated with me on an essay published by Oxford University Press. And much much more. It seems to me that you have ignored, or perhaps are totally uniformed and unaware of the most significant work that has been done, mostly in the past 50 years.

            My experience with the Book of Mormon is that it continues to pass many remarkable tests in totally unanticipated, and all too often, unacknowledged ways. I find the better I
            understand the Old and New World contexts, and the translation context of the Book of Mormon, the more impressed I am. And the problems you see as overwhelming, I see as not nearly as important or as quite different. If I had more horse bones instead of the Sidon correlations with the right kinds of culture, rising and falling and moving at the right times, would I be better off? Should I expect it would be easier to find a horse bone, or a civilization? A river, or a chariot? Eye-witness details that match specific settings, or Nephi’s autograph?

          • Would your last two sentences work in the other direction, too? Something like this:

            “Church leaders and church materials are all positive, selectively present their information as though the falseness of the Book of Mormon does not solve any significant questions. That means, from my perspective, they fall very short in terms of comprehensiveness and coherence, as well as fruitfulness, which refers to the kinds of observations and tests that don’t even get considered in light of another paradigm.”

            I hope that doesn’t sound snarky; it isn’t meant to.

        • Chris, I am not sure you are rightly getting the notions of flexibility and brittleness. Perhaps I can provide a non-LDS-specific life example to illustrate their meaning.

          As a child I, like many children of most all religions, was taught the commandment: “though shalt not kill.” And, to my fundamentalist way of thinking at the time, I interpreted this commandment in absolutist and universal and rigid terms.

          As such, when I happened to observe for the first time my grandfather catching and beheading a chicken, it rocked my world, and I was overwhelmed with disbelief.

          However, my parents were able to take me aside and calm my concerns by reasonably explaining the appropriateness of killing certain animals for food.

          As a teen, though, I was given a low draft number for the Vietnam war, and not long thereafter I received notice to appear before the draft board.

          Naturally, this again rocked my world since it presented the distinct prospect of me having to kill other humans.

          Upon considerable reflection and mulling over, I came to the conclusion that principle like freedom and liberty justified the taking of human life.

          There are other examples that I could present, but these two should suffice in pointing out that because of my initial fundamentalist and rigid and brittle belief about not not killing, my faith was brought to the brink of breaking in the face of informational storms, but through careful reason and pragmatic analysis, my mind became more flexible and able to manage the subsequent informational storms–and this for good rather than ill.

          I hope this helps.

      • Log,

        Listing possibilities is a good starting point,

        However, the exercise only becomes meaningful when the listed possibilities are reasonably analyzed and tested against each other for accuracy, greatest explanatory power, and usefulness.

        Let’s begin to test your possibility by asking you whether a hippopotamus is a horse or not? (Hint: the term “hiippopotamus” is derived from ancient Greek, and means “water horse.”)

        • Wade –

          Your question is entirely besides the point – the point being that to someone who doesn’t know on a priori that God lives, Jesus is the Christ, and Joseph was a true prophet, apologetics of the equine variety looks like “epicycles”.

          • Log,

            You are incorrect to project your rigid and narrow mindset onto the entire population of non-LDS. There are many outside the Church capable of nuanced thinking, and could easily answer my question about hippopotamus in the affirmative–at least those able to read the etymology portion of online dictionaries .

            And, while the vast majority of non-LDS haven’t been in a position to seriously consider LDS Church teachings, were they to do so in the divine manner the Church has set forth, then even were they to ultimately decline membership, I trust that at the very least they would be able to put the question of “horses” in the Book of Mormon into proper perspective and rightly deem it meaningless in terms of the intents and purposes of the Church and the value that may be derived therefrom.

            After all, Runnel was a fervent believer as long as he adhered to the gospel as it was designed, and kept things in proper perspective. It was only after he became mired in relatively trivial and tangential and distracting issues like those listed in his letter, did he ultimately flunk the test of his faith.

            Nevertheless, it is in his and other people’s eternal interest to figure this out and realize that Kevin is correct. This isn’t about a persons honesty or religious affiliation or even a persons decency or intellectual acuity. Rather, it is about the degree of openness, flexibility, pragmatism, and humility of each of our minds.

            Epistemic growth in the Church is designed to follow the normal human pattern of development from pedagogy to andragogy, from fundamentalism to maturation, from dependent to independent to interdependent mindset, from inflexibility to flexibility, from childlike to adult thinking.

            And, loss of faith, or arrested spiritual progression, or teen-like rebellion, may be expected of those who fail to graduate from the former to the later

            Now, given your evident fundamentalist, nuanced-challenged way of thinking, I don’t expect you to see it any differently than you have, and to ironically assume that I am the one speaking beside the point. l)

          • May I remind everyone to be kind in their approaches? Disagreement is understandable, but respectful disagreement should be the goal.

          • Now, given your evident fundamentalist, nuanced-challenged way of thinking, I don’t expect you to see it any differently than you have, and to ironically assume that I am the one speaking beside the point. l)

            I shall not disappoint you. I happen to be in good company, too.

            What is the rule of interpretation? Just no interpretation at all. Understand it precisely as it reads. – Joseph Smith

  22. Very interesting, Thank you, Observation: credit Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. 21 Oct 2013 BYU forum, as I listened I pick-up on 3 steps/phases occurring in a moral/intellectual
    revolution resulting in disbelief:

    1. Impossible NOT to believe

    2. Possibile NOT to believe

    3. Impossibile to believe

    I have read The Book of Mormon, many times in English then 2 different Finnish translations. One was translated in the 1950’s the other is the current Transation in use and there will most likely be a third translation. Are they the same words,
    word order,etc. NO. Do they convey the same idea of the gospel of Our Lord?
    YES. Don’t let the doubts (especially of others) take you into phase 2.

    • Earl, there is nothing inherently wrong with “Phase 2: Disbelief” as your post suggests. In fact, if the LDS faith is true, then that means 99% of the human population *must disbelieve* their current philosophies in order to accept the LDS faith as true. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that belief or disbelief in itself are inherently “good” or “bad” as if one or the other should be avoided.

      The more important virtue is the ability to change our minds toward truth, and away from falsehood. When a Muslim finds out that his sacred feelings towards his religion were incorrect — It could mean disbelief and confusion for some time, but if this trial ended up pointing him in a more correct direction, then isn’t phase 2 *extremely* important?

  23. Hurray, for an extra-ordinarily well-written article. I don’t know Runnels nor do I ever expect to read his work, but I’ve seen similar complaints lodged by other anti-affiliates. Typically they seem to couch their language in layers of concern and respect for the individual member, but once these layers are peeled away, I find that almost invariably these anti-affiliates have an ax to grind and are doing everything in their power to destroy the faith and testimonies of good, decent Christians.
    I could never understand why they couldn’t leave the Church and just leave it alone, but something goads them onward to attempt to destroy something that I find beautiful, flowering and potent: faith and testimony.
    Interesting how they fulfill prophecy as they do so, as per when Joseph as an obscure farm-boy was told by the Angel, “Your name will be had for both good and evil throughout the earth.”
    Thanks for an excellent article, pulling together various and sundry references in a well-rounded rebuttal.

  24. The replies to this article clearly show at least 3 of Fowler’s stages of faith. I would submit that the disagreements largely follow exactly what Fowler said about the different stages.

    Reynold’s original article is clearly the product of somebody in Stage 4. This is a difficult and painful stage, at least it was for me. It is one of “deconstructing” one’s own beliefs and finding and searching out challenges to ones own faith.

    Christensen’s response is clearly the product to somebody in Stage 5 and the subject is in essence a discussion of the differences between Stage 4 and Stage 5 approaches. People in Stage 4 (according to Fowler and it was true for me) see Stage 5 arguments as simply Stage 3 arguments. When I started to see these arguments as substantially different from appealing to authority to resolve questions (Stage 3), I soon realized the pain and anguish and doubt (in my case about the existence of God) disappeared and I haven’t been the same since. Only later did I read Fowler and realize he was talking as much about my own journey in the LDS faith as he was about others in their own faiths. This is why Christensen sees flexibility and multiple options and the ability to apply patience and calm rational thought, without shattering one’s testimony in many papers that cover difficult subjects, written by people in Stage 5 (or perhaps Stage 6), while Reynolds over and over again, sees them as the product of Stage 3 thinking, interpreting them as such (and as Christensen points out ignoring the rich characterizations and points of the paper). This is very typical in Stage 4. Apparently, we can see the earlier stages, but not the later stages at least not clearly.

    A few years ago, I listened to a scholar discuss his analysis of the reasons people have given for their decisions to leave the Church. He noted that they follow a similar pattern in de-conversion to that in conversion. But, it was obvious to me that the responses were anti-parallel. The conversion process can be outlined by faith-hope-charity. The de-conversion process, as described by the scholar, sounded much more like another process–one described by Yoda in Star Wars: fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. What path are you following? faith-hope-charity or the stepwise opposite fear-anger-hate? I would ask that question of everybody, but it more often than not characterizes Stage 4 of Fowler. And I fully expect those in Stage 4 to interpret this as a Stage 3 argument calling on George Lucas as an authority.

    • Interesting comments and a refreshing perspective. Thank you. For various reasons, I personally prefer the the 9 Position model of the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth the Fowler 6 Stages of Faith model, but I do appreciate the utility Fowler’s model has for many.

  25. “neither the issues that Runnells raises nor the information he provides is the real cause of his disillusion.”
    I agree, it was definitely his approach to the issues and information. He was able to move past any confirmation bias while many others are not able to do that.

    “But just as Guinevere only asks about an imperfection in the Lancelot quest, Runnells looks only for imperfection in Mormonism.”
    I think that statement is unfounded. Runnells specifically prepared a summary of the issues (imperfections) that he has with Mormonism. I’m sure he could summarize the positives he sees with Mormonism as well. It just seems dishonest to portray Runnells as only looking for imperfection when you’re analyzing one document prepared by him that was specifically intended to only address “imperfections”.

    “Investigator [+ |-] Preconceptions/(Adaptive or Brittle interpretive framework) x (Questions generated + Available facts/Selectivity + Contextualization + Subjective weighting for significance/Breadth of relevant knowledge) * Time = Tentative Conclusion”
    Yes, something other than simple addition of facts is necessary for one to hold on to some LDS beliefs. For a positive result, it would seem that one would have to add preconceptions and not subtract them (such as starting with the church is true). Perhaps the reason Runnells came up with a negative result is because he subtracted his preconceptions.

    Based upon this formula, in order to continue to believe some of the LDS beliefs, it would also require selective reasoning among the available facts, adding subjective weight and spending a significant amount of time investigating and questioning,and of course having a good breadth of knowledge (perhaps a PhD?) to only reach a tentative conclusion.

    That is a significant shift from the simple read, ponder, and pray formula that I was always taught. Is prayer no longer part of the formula?

    “I’ve already pointed out the problem with his approach to the word “translate.” If you follow the link he provides in his complaint that to apologists, “horses aren’t really horses,” we come to a Maxwell Institute article92 that demonstrates a flexibility of thought and observation that Runnells does not pass along.”

    Yes, using a semantic-based argument for “translate” would take some flexibility in thought that would go against what the church has always claimed Joseph Smith was doing when translating.

    I interpret the “flexibility in thought” to mean using selective reasoning to confirm one’s preconceptions, or perhaps a better way to put it is confirmation bias.

    “I have consistently found that I learn far more about the arguments of the critics by reading the best apologetic writings, than I learn of the arguments of the defenders by reading critical writings.”
    Focusing on apologetic writings that may not always portray the argument from the critics completely and/or correctly seems one-sided (perhaps part of the selective reasoning required?).

    It is clear that Christensen relies heavily on other apologists’ arguments regarding the Book of Abraham; many of which are very selective and tend to side-step the majority of the “translation” issues. Again, a redefinition of translation is one of the ways around many of the issues, except that it again goes against what the church has always claimed Joseph Smith was doing when translating.

    “The same mental inflexibility colors every phrase in the paragraph, every page of the letter, and, consequently, Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about. The end result is obvious brittleness.”
    Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument he complains about? That is a significantly unfounded statement. Perhaps there is some psychological projection being exhibited here by Christensen.

    Instead of reading, pondering, and praying, we are now required to have “mental flexibility” in order to stay a believing member of the church?

    • Runnells does thank the Church for a few issues of moral guidance, and BYU as a location for meeting his wife from hence, his children.

      But the essay is all negative, and does not bother to acknowledge any substantial positives. I named a few obvious titles in my response, and could do a lot more. Of course, what makes things like Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem obvious to me is that I’ve read it. For someone who has not read it, the benefits of having done so do not exist.

      You say “I interpret the “flexibility in thought” to mean using selective reasoning to confirm one’s preconceptions, or perhaps a better way to put it is confirmation bias.”

      It seems to me that a better word to describe “selective reasoning to confirm one’s preconceptions” and the resulting “confirmation bias” would be inflexibility, which says to me that you’ve got it exactly wrong here. It looks to me like you are searching for a label that justifies dismissal, rather than clear understanding.

      When I got to England and walked into a bakery, I found that what they called biscuits, I thought of as cookies. For me, that was an enlightening, mind-expanding experience, teaching me that word are socially defined, not existentially emitted from objects and therefore the same to all viewers. I could have decided that the English were just collectively obtuse, using the wrong definition in order to justify their own misplaced preconceptions. But instead, I found my mind expand, and my soul enlarge.

      You say that “Focusing on apologetic writings that may not always portray the argument from the critics completely and/or correctly seems one-sided (perhaps part of the selective reasoning required?).”
      But you missed the point that I have not just read apologetic writings. I have read material from different sides, and am making a comparison based on my experience with the differences. Runnells doesn’t even bother to give names and sources in his text.

      Regarding Runnels tendency to misrepresent apologetics arguments,
      “That is a significantly unfounded statement. Perhaps there is some psychological projection being exhibited here by Christensen.”

      I based that statement directly on Runnells comment that “to apologists “horses are not horses” which in that case he linked to an essay that does not make that claim. If I had more time, I would have also discussed Matthew Brown suggestion in A Pillar of Light and in his FAIR presentation that the first paragraph of the 1832 account about Joseph receiving “testimony from on high” is a reference to the presence of the Father in the First Vision, and James Allen’s suggestion from the April 1970 Improvement Era that the account uses the same word, Lord, for the two beings. And I notice that the first appearance is an insert above the line. The (inserted Lord) opened the heavens to me and I saw the Lord. So had the inserted word been Father, we’d have no fuss.

      The point is, I believe that Runnells is being honest. I don’t think he is particularly perceptive or well informed.

      I’ve said nothing about study “instead of reading, pondering, praying”, and indeed, on the topic of prayer, you might read my web essay, “A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience,” but I do think mental flexibility is important. Joseph Smith explained that “creeds set up stakes and bounds to the work of the Almighty,” saying “hitherto come, and no further.” What makes creeds abominable, by Joseph’s clear explanations, is not their content (all of them have some truth, he says), but their inflexibility. If our thought never expands, if our souls never enlarge, if we never repent of our misconceptions, how could we possibly become more as God is?

      • The point is, I believe that Runnells is being honest. I don’t think he is particularly perceptive or well informed.

        That is a perfect two-sentence summary of the entire essay.

        Which leads me to the next obvious questions: does publishing an essay, which can be reduced to those two sentences, pass the Golden Rule?

        Does one expect that rather than answering Runnells issues, publicly belaboring one’s negative judgement of him – lack of perception, ignorance – leads to some positive outcome? If so, what is that positive outcome?

        Should I likewise besmirch those whom I might perceive to be ignorant and blind? If not, why not?

        • If one posts for the public’s view an article that is ignorant or not well informed, how is it besmirching the author of the article to post a response indicating the errors? The benefit of such an article correcting such errors seems self evident, at least for me. Why should inaccuracy be allowed to stand unrebutted? If you or someone else think the responder has made errors, then post your response and say what the errors are. It looks like you and some others have tried to do just that here. That is no more besmirching than what the present article does, at least to my mind.

      • But Kevin, you are missing the point, this concept of “mental flexibility” is not a concept found in Mormonism. It’s not taught by Mormonism and it isn’t approved by Mormonism. At some point, a line has to be draw. This is honest or this is not. This is true or this is not. This is good or this is not. It is as simple as that, no amount of self prescribed “mental flexibility” can compensate for the fact that you believe a completely different version of Mormonism than is taught and are at risk of being summoned yourself to a court of love if somehow your line of reasoning becomes popular enough.

        Lastly, say you are right about this concept of “mental flexibility”, couldn’t a Catholic/ Christian say the same exact about Joseph Smith? Example: That Joseph Smith is just too rigid on his understanding of the Bible, he needs to show some “mental flexibility” or Sure, Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus and is a Prophet, but I am showing “mental flexibility” by continuing to follow my religion using some conveluted equation that allows me to wait my entire life before drawing a “tentative conclusion”

        Secondly, you are calling the person who completely changed his worldview “mentally inflexible” meanwhile calling those who cling to their world view despite a literal mountain of evidence “open minded” literally black is white and white is black.

        Thirdly, if Joseph and Brigham’s actions are what make a man more like god and are who this god reveres, I would want nothing to do with any of them at all. Everyone on here is better than that. And if you disagree with me, then show some mental flexibility and go hang out with the men who really want to be like god in the church of the Apostolic United Brethren compound. Somehow, I feel like I won’t have many takers on my offer, my hypothesis as to why? A distinct lack of “mental flexibility” would be my first, last and only observation.

        • I should have gotten back on this sooner. Life is busy, and I can only jump in now and then. Mike says: “this concept of “mental flexibility” is not a concept found in Mormonism. It’s not taught by Mormonism and it isn’t approved by Mormonism.”

          Daniel Peterson’s new essay closes with a quote that includes this from Joseph Smith:
          “Thy mind, O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse; he must commune with God.”

          Alma 32 is centered on expansion of the mind, illustrated by a seed growing in the heart, which to the Hebrews was the center of thought. Peterson provides much more, as did Nibley in his essays, such as “Educating the Saints,” which quotes Brigham Young extensively. I disagree.

          Now it is true that there are people, LDS and otherwise, who seem attracted to the notion of a Big Book of What to Think, and some try to provide it. To me that just means that some members are at Position 2 of the Perry Scheme, rather than, say, Position 9. In “Sophic Box and Mantic Vista” in Interpreter 7, I argued that our LDS scriptures try to lead us on to Position 9. We come in all sizes, and all have own temperaments, cultures, biographies, and stages of development.

          The expansion that I saw in Runnells amounts to the shattering of a wine bottle, an inability to cope with new information. The change to another world view in that way is not expansion, but shattering. I’ve undergone many changes of thinking, paradigm shifts, but have retained my convictions of what is central. God Lives. Jesus is the Christ who made at-onement with us, and Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet of God. My mind can contain all of the observations he brings in his essay and I do not shatter. I notice that I know a great many things he does not. His change breaks the genetic ties to the seed that was planted. Mine retains those genetic ties. Indeed, I argue that despite the unexpected roots, shoots, branches, limbs, and leaves that were not visible on the original seed, their very presence depends on what was originally encoded there.

          I’ve published several things over the years that offered what I thought were new and helpful approaches to various issues. Alma’s conversion as an NDE, for instance. My work with Barker’s First Temple Theology. I’ve also been helped and enlighted by hundreds of LDS scholars who opened up my mind in different ways. Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man changed my thinking in wonderful ways. So did Nibley, and so has Alan Goff, Terryl Givens, Ben McGuire, Robert Smith, Daniel Peterson, and many many more.

          Flexibility does not call for a complete lack of discernment. Discernment, which is just another word for criticism, to separate, to distinguish, is listed as one of the spiritual gifts.

          Regarding the character of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, well, I know my own weakness better than I know theirs. Quinn and Neal Maxwell have both quoted Lorenzo Snow as saying that he personally saw Joseph do many things of which he did not approve, yet, that game him hope because he knew his own weakness, and saw that gave him hope that God had a place for him. I like that thought. And I have a quite a high regard and great respect for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

          I did take the trouble to find 28 Biblical Tests for Discerning True and False Prophets, and for me, they point very clearly, unambiguously in one direction that looks nothing at all like the Apostolic United Brethren compound.

      • Kevin, thanks for your civil and respectful response in clarifying some of your perspective. I honestly mean no disrespect to you with my criticisms of your essay.

        You stated, “But the essay is all negative, and does not bother to acknowledge any substantial positives.”
        The letter (I notice you are calling it an essay) is all negative because Runnells purpose was preparing a description of the major issues he has with Mormonism. I think it is unfair to Runnells to use a document with this specific intent in order to claim he is all negative about Mormonism. I think your essay is misrepresenting reality by not considering the context, purpose, and intent of Runnells’ letter.

        You stated, “It seems to me that a better word to describe “selective reasoning to confirm one’s preconceptions” and the resulting “confirmation bias” would be inflexibility, which says to me that you’ve got it exactly wrong here. It looks to me like you are searching for a label that justifies dismissal, rather than clear understanding.”
        I based my interpretation of the phrase “flexibility in thought” on the formula your essay puts forward that you/Lindsay use in analyzing church issues. Runnells’ formula you provided (although I don’t see where you have proven he used this formula) is simpler and does not have all the other variables.
        I do understand it is important to recognize that often we have imperfect and/or incomplete information because it can come from imperfect sources. Those areas that are not as clear, we should defer a final determination. That said, there are issues Runnells brings up that are quite straightforward and do not necessarily require a more complicated formula.
        Allow me to provide an example of selective reasoning that I think is used in your essay. It has to do with the section on the Book of Abraham. The arguments contained in your essay about the Book of Abraham are very selective to only include any type of perceived “parallel” between the facsimiles and Abraham or comparing quadrants of Earth to navigational directions, no matter how stretching and far-reaching. While at the same time ignoring the overall picture which is that Joseph Smith was consistently incorrect in his interpretation of the facsimiles.

        You stated, “But you missed the point that I have not just read apologetic writings. I have read material from different sides, and am making a comparison based on my experience with the differences. Runnells doesn’t even bother to give names and sources in his text.”
        I think it is clear that you have read some material from critics, I’m not arguing against that. What is unclear is whether you read the other side’s arguments completely or if you focus on more from the apologetic side. I’m just questioning the objective balance in analyzing and weighing both sides, that’s all.
        Why are you trying to elevate Runnells’ letter to something more than it was intended (you’re referring to it as an essay instead of a letter and you’re asking for sources)? Are you honestly unaware of the intent of the letter or intentionally misconstruing it? I actually think you’re giving his letter greater credibility with your criticism on this, not less.
        The real question is this: How much of the information that Runnells’ letter provides is really in dispute and how much of it is a dispute about the interpretation of the information?

        You stated, “I based that statement directly on Runnells comment that “to apologists “horses are not horses” which in that case he linked to an essay that does not make that claim. If I had more time, I would have also discussed Matthew Brown suggestion in A Pillar of Light and in his FAIR presentation that the first paragraph of the 1832 account about Joseph receiving “testimony from on high” is a reference to the presence of the Father in the First Vision, and James Allen’s suggestion from the April 1970 Improvement Era that the account uses the same word, Lord, for the two beings.”
        Except your essay uses a broad brush to paint Runnells as misrepresenting EVERY apologetic argument he complains about based upon your opinion of a few statements. You’ve only mentioned some issues he brought up with the Book of Mormon and the first vision accounts, which even if Runnells had misrepresented the apologetic argument in those instances, it would still be significantly far from claiming he misrepresents EVERY apologetic argument he complains about.
        Making such a misrepresentation is unfair to Runnells. Perhaps it is just a way of dismissing every disagreement Runnells has with FAIR. Again, this is why I would question the objective balance of your essay in considering the other side’s arguments completely.

        You stated, “The point is, I believe that Runnells is being honest. I don’t think he is particularly perceptive or well informed.”
        I too believe Runnells is being honest and I think he is sincere in his efforts. I’ve heard the claim too often that people like Runnells are just not perceptive enough or they are not well informed. To me, that just minimizes significant issues many people have with the history and claims of the church, and tends to drive away those that may be struggling with these issues. It “talks down” to the person, which I’ve never seen as a good approach. It makes it even worse when they are told the “correct” approach is to follow a difficult and complicated formula that does not seem to include prayer.

        You stated, “I’ve said nothing about study “instead of reading, pondering, praying”, and indeed, on the topic of prayer, you might read my web essay, “A Model of Mormon Spiritual Experience,” but I do think mental flexibility is important. Joseph Smith explained that “creeds set up stakes and bounds to the work of the Almighty,” saying “hitherto come, and no further.” What makes creeds abominable, by Joseph’s clear explanations, is not their content (all of them have some truth, he says), but their inflexibility. If our thought never expands, if our souls never enlarge, if we never repent of our misconceptions, how could we possibly become more as God is?”
        I understand that you believe prayer is an important element for spiritual experiences. I do as well. I’m just curious why in this essay, which was specifically about comparing different approaches to dealing with these issues, you chose to leave prayer out of your formula. It seems to send the message that you do not see it as an important part of the approach when dealing with the issues Runnells mentions in his letter.

        • I responded because I thought the Letter deserved a response. The Letter goes out with a notice that the Institute Director did not respond. CES Culture historically has not been oriented to apologetics, but to basics. The Letter is being distrubuted on the internet, and apparently “went viral.” John Dehin is publicizing it and interviewing Runnells at Mormon Stories. I personally felt a benefit when I read responses to the Tanner’s work, including Quinn’s and Barbour’s lesser known work, and several essays in the late lamented Review of Books on the Book of Mormon. FAIR Mormon has done a point for point response. I decided to explore the underlying causes, as I see them, as an alternative to trying to play “Whack-a-Mole” on the symptoms.

          I don’t think my formula leaves prayer out. Studying things out in our minds is part of the process of asking questions. Prayer is one way of asking questions, and answers or silences can be weighed as facts with a context to be considered over a period of time. But that is a personal experience. My personal answers are not as transferrable as my research.

          • This is the second time posting this, so I hope it makes it this time. While I appreciate your explanation of why you wrote this essay, I never asked for it. Your response here only addresses my criticism about leaving out prayer from your formula. I see your lack of response here as confirmation that my criticisms are valid.

            My criticisms are mainly about the misrepresentations of Runnells perhaps because you did not review both sides fairly. For me, I don’t agree with the negative weight Runnells places on each point, and have made my own determinations regarding the issues he brings up.

            I’m fully aware of the history of the CES letter, and I have read it and listened to the Mormon Stories’ interview with Runnells. I’ve also read FAIR’s response to the letter and Runnells’ response to FAIR. I know for a fact that Runnells does not misrepresent FAIR’s apologetic arguments (at least not for every argument as you claimed, not even close).

            FAIR also does not provide a point by point response as you claim. There are many points that FAIR chose not to even address, and many others where FAIR agrees with Runnells. Your response has made me more convinced that you have not read everything from Runnells’ side and have chosen to focus on FAIR’s response for obtaining Runnells’ points.

            I do understand your point about personal answers not being transferable and I agree. I think there are valuable truths to be learned through one’s personal experiences; the truths I value the most I have learned this way.

          • I’m responding here to Mark’s comment from July 2nd. Among other things he said, ” I see your lack of response here as confirmation that my criticisms are valid.”
            That is one interpretation. My own is that my time and interests are limited.
            Mark also says “Your response has made me more convinced that you have not read everything from Runnells’ side and have chosen to focus on FAIR’s response for obtaining Runnells’ points.”
            To me this is an example of how a person can be convinced and still wrong. However, such things come to us all which is why a space to repent is granted us. I did carefully read and re-read Runnell’s original letter and his response to FAIR.

            My response was deliberately selective, highlighting a few points that struck me as representative and illuminating, rather than comprehensive, not because what I don’t address baffles me, but because of limitations on my time and space and my intent. By mentioning, even in passing, the writings of Hugh Nibley Mike Rhodes, Blake Ostler, Will Schriver, and others on Book of Abraham issues, for instance, I let people know that there is much more to read and ponder and digest. Certainly much more than appears in the six pages Runnells provides in the Letter.

            I could also observe that many of the points I made in this essay have not received any comment whatsoever. That does not mean that no one read or appreciated the whole thing.

            Regarding the notion of objective balance… I think that even bringing this sort of thing up shows a lack of understanding of the basic problem regarding ‘objectivity.” You might listen to Peter Novick’s presentation at Sunstone in 1988, where he explained that objectivity is an “incoherent ideal” due to the simple, inescapable problem that “The criterion of selection and the way we arrange the bits we choose are not given out there in the historical record. Neutrality, value-freedom, and absence of preconceptions on the part of the historian would not result in a neutral account, it would result in no account at all because any historian, precisely to the extent that she was neutral, without values, free of preconceptions, would be paralyzed, would not have the foggiest notion of how to go about choosing from the vast, unbelievably messy chaos of stuff out there.”

            I’ve often argued that we ought not worry about “objectivity” as much as (following Kuhn and Alma 32): testability regarding key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise. In working practice, those values get you further towards a better understanding that would objectivity. I think it’s not about being objective, as though that were possible, but of being perceptive, given one’s perspective.

      • “I based that statement directly on Runnells comment that “to apologists “horses are not horses” which in that case he linked to an essay that does not make that claim.”

        Kevin, I’ve looked at the “Horse” article that Jeremy Runnells links to and it does indeed discuss the possibility that the Book of Mormon “Horses” may actually be “Tapirs”. I don’t understand what your criticism is. Are we looking at different links?

        Additionally, there is no evidence for this claim. It looks like a fabricated idea that came into existence specifically to maintain the assumption that The Book of Mormon is historical. Why keep this assumption if it is inconsistent with the facts? Why wouldn’t you just change your mind about it just like I would if I made an addition or subtraction mistake?

        • Chris,
          Runnells declares that “to apologists horses are not horses.” That is a straight forward declaration that excludes the discussion of some existing evidence for horses as we might expect. He objects to the suggestion that the word “horse” might be used to refer to what we call a tapir, but he, like you, does not mention the reason for the suggestion, the “common practice of loan shift” which is well known to historians and anthropologists and translators who study such things. When I got to England, I found that while the language had much in common, there were differences is usage. What I thought of as a trunk on a car, they called a boot. What I thought of as the hood, they called a bonnet. They had no trucks, but did have lorries which looked like what I thought of as trucks. What I called an elevator, they called a lift. What I called a french fry, they called chips. What I called chips, they called crisps. What I called a cookie, they called a biscuit, which is not what I called a biscuit. The notion of loan shift is not a wild surmise fabricated solely to save the Book of Mormon, but a widespread, well-known, common practice that shows up in cross cultural contacts and translations. The names of things don’t emanate from objects, remaining the same to all observers, but are social conventions. If this were not the case, we’d all speak the same language.

          Runnells’s statement leaves out both the mention of evidence for horse bones as we might expect, and the reasons for suggesting tapirs as another possibility. There are other possibilities as well. From Runnells we get a declaration of apologist’s declaring identity where the article only suggests possibility. He doesn’t explain the reasons behind the suggestion that loan shift may be involved. We need the reasons to understand why the suggestion is made. Without the reasons, the suggestion appears to be unreasonable. To me, that is not a fair and accurate representation of the content of the article to which he directly refers. And that kind of error and misrepresentation is paradigmatic of many other problems in his letter.

    • Mark,

      You seem to be wielding epistemological tools (like “confirmation bias” and “selective reasoning” and “projection”) without fully grasping their rightful uses.

      Most telling is your naive use of the phrase “hold onto LDS beliefs,” as if that is mindlessly an end in and of itself.

      While holding onto LDS beliefs may be the result of what we LDS may be doing, the end is actually growth unto Christ.

      In other words, the holding on, or the letting go, is purpose based.

      The same is true for confirmation bias and selective reasoning.

      Rational and intelligent people of all strips (including LDS) will selectively chose to confirm or deny their respective biases, not for confirmation or denying or selective sake, but for pragmatic and progressive purposes. They will hold onto biases that serve their progressive ends, and let go of those that impede their growth.

      Unfortunately, not a few disaffected members and critics fail to grasp this, and operate instead paying lip service to the vague notion of “seeking truth,” ignorantly assume that confirmation bias and holding onto certain LDS beliefs is necessarily a bad thing to be abandoned at all cost, without realizing just how steeped the dissafected are in their own biases and non-critically examined nor purpose based beliefs, thus making it richly ironic to hear them speak of projection.

      • Wade,

        I do understand the words and phrases I’m using and I do not appreciate your condescending tone. I understand what you’re saying about holding on to “biases that serve their progressive ends” and letting go of “those that impede their growth”.

        There is just really no difference in meaning with what you’re saying and I’m saying. You’ve just mentioned a particular purpose for some people to use confirmation bias and selective reasoning, as you say for “growth unto Christ”. The majority of the time if not all the time there is a purpose behind people using these, so your argument changes nothing and it also doesn’t mean that these methods are good.

        I’m actually curious why you think using confirmation bias and selective reasoning would be a good way to achieve “growth unto Christ”.

        Regarding your thoughts on critics or the disaffected, I actually do subscribe to many LDS beliefs and strive to live according to LDS teachings. I have become aware of the many issues with the claims and history of the church over the last several years and have found my own way to stay LDS despite these issues. I do see the LDS faith as a good path for me for spiritual growth.

        I would ask that you please leave out the semantic-based arguments and address my specific criticisms of the essay, such as the examples I provided where the essay misrepresents Runnells.

        • Mark,

          I am glad you asked about the value of confirmation bias and selective reasoning as they pertain to growth in the gospel.

          Please realize that the gospel, like any functional paradigm–secular or religious. is encapsulated, meaning that while it/they may be structured according to proven tests and analysis, it/they are nevertheless,systems that represent a given set of biases and are, in accordance with the respective tools of evalution, selective in their reasoning.

          In other words, some measure of bias and selectivity is unavoidable, and to an extent the respective paradigms couldn’t exist without them.

          Many of the foundation/structural precepts of the gospel and other functional paradigms tend to be accepted without question, and are repeatedly and selective confirmed in day to day living.

          Take, for example, the non-religious activity of getting out of bed in the morning. We may groggily stand up, but we tend not to question whether we will be sent spinning into space or pass etherially through the floor. Rather, we barely give it a thought, and by standing firm, our faith in and our bias selectively towards the laws of physics is confirmed, and we are able to then make subsequent steps towards taking on the day, rather than being rendered immobile out of fear and uncertainty.

          There are a myriad of similar examples that could be cited (the Lectures on Faith provide a few), but the point being is that some measure of confirmation bias and selective reasoning is useful and beneficial and good, if not also inescapable.

          Where confirmation bias and selective reasoning becomes problematic is when they are used in such a way, and to such an extent, as to produce dysfunctional and dis-beneficial and harmful results.

          The rightful question, then, shouldn’t be whether there are instances of confirmation bias or selective reasoning–to some extent this is a given; but whether the confirmation biases and selective reasoning result in progress, stagnation, or digression.

          Indeed, and bringing this back to reviewing Runnell’s letter, the entirety of the gospel should rightly be assessed on the same terms–i.e. whether it results in spiritual progress, stagnation, or digression (as per Alma 32).

          However, as evinced in his letter, Runnell failed to rightly assess the restored gospel on these terms, but chose instead to fixate on relatively impertinent distractions, which unavoidably and negatively impacted his own spiritual progression.

          In short, he assessed the gospel on faulty terms, and thereby failed, himself, when assessed on rightful terms.

          As Kevin noted, Runnell’s biases and selective reasoning were employed inflexibly (and I would add that they were employed impertinently), which resulting in his faith breaking (i.e. completely digressing).

          Rather than humbly and efficaciously looking inward for the cause of his spiritual disquietude, in error Runnell looked externally at the Church, and inadvertently became the cause of his own undoing.

          Not good.

          • Wade,

            I respectfully disagree. Confirmation bias and selective reasoning are consistently bad methods, and can vary to the degree/extent someone uses them. I think we should consider all the credible information available by removing our biases the best we can and not use selective reasoning; then we can make allowances for imperfect sources, incomplete context, etc. That is honest “flexibility”.

            Let’s just be honest about all the credible information and accept that some will not believe all the claims of the LDS church yet want to stay in the LDS church because it is a net positive (like me), while others will want to leave because they see it as a net negative (like Runnells).

            Selective reasoning is not necessary to grow closer to Christ, and in fact goes against Christ’s teachings.

            Living according to Christ’s teachings is the best way for “growth unto Christ”, through service, etc. No offense, but I find it ironic that you are promoting a method (selective reasoning) that is dishonest and therefore goes against Christ’s teachings. Misrepresenting Runnells, as Christensen’s essay does, is also dishonest.

            Your response here does nothing except justify everyone else’s biases and use of selective reasoning, something I doubt God would do. How can we even come to a knowledge of truth with your formula for biases and selective reasoning? You’ve basically justified Muslims for following the Quran, Jews for not accepting Christ, Catholics for going to Mass, atheists for not believing in God, etc.

  26. All,
    I will start by commenting to Log, but I hope to draw upon multiple lines of thought in this thread AND get opinions from others too.

    Log said:
    Here’s one possibility – Jeff’s positions spring not from the evidence and analysis he gives, but from a conclusion reached on other grounds entirely, whereas Jeremy’s position does, in fact, spring from the evidence and analysis he proffers.
    It is why, to apologists, horses may not, in fact, be horses, whereas to antagonists, horses always means horses.

    TOm:
    “Other grounds entirely.”
    What other grounds? This “hidden variable” is part of what I am asking about.
    Kevin suggests that there are specific methodological differences. If you posit a variable not discussed, please elaborate.
    I said specifically that some of the possible “hidden variables” are things that I tried to exclude from my purely intellectual weighing of the issues.

    I almost included this in my last post, but I didn’t want to offend. I still do not want to offend, but I want to explore this idea. Some things are true and are offensive. Anyway, I really am offering an idea here not an attack. (or I am trying).

    I find the “horses may not, in fact, be horses,” and a continued appeal to the complexity of Kevin’s equation to be one of two things. It might be apologetic bluster (using the term “apologetic” to mean arguing for a position – not to be confused with the use of the term “apologetic” within disaffected circles). If it is purely apologetic bluster, than the critic who offers it knows that it is designed to elicit a reaction not for the quality of thought it evidences but for the flair it brings to the table. I am uninterested in deciding if the church is true based on whose catch phrases resonate emotionally more (“Marriage Equality” is RADICALLY better than “Traditional Marriage.” “Pro-choice” and “Pro-life” are more tied in their resonance IMO. None of the catchy terms do much to explain the complexity of the issues).

    The other possibility is that this is unconscious evidence of the difference in response I am looking for. One of the things Kevin has suggested is that the horse article has much more in there than “horses may not, in fact, be horses.” The other thing Kevin argues is that he has been exposed to more data than the critics have. If all other thing are equal (and they never are), perhaps the below has some predictive value in the outcome of those exposed to the data that Jeremy offers.

    Most apologetics at Kevin’s level evidence a breath of data considered simultaneously to arrive a conclusion. The argument about horses is not that horses in the BOM evidences that the BOM must be an ancient document from the New World. It is that horses in the BOM is far from the “slam dunk” sometimes claimed. It must be placed onto a “mental stage” (my term) and weighed. It is just true that some folks have the ability to hold more things in “working memory” (not my term). Kevin’s equation is much more complex than the equation Kevin suggests Jeremy uses. It absolutely requires greater working memory to look at his equation and see how the multiple parts interplay off of each other. It may not be absence of capability but as someone above said it shouldn’t be necessary to utilize that capability in determining the truth of religion. (this is an assumption and one I agree with BTW, but the church does not teach that to know the truth we must be like Kevin (and weigh multiple historical and other pieces of data). The church teaches that we should ask God for the truth. This does not require the capability or the use of the capability to weight multiple threads of thought simultaneously. The reason critics and knowledgeable believers do – or attempt to do – this more complex weighing is because critics – and some LDS apologist – feel the way of knowing that relies upon spiritual witness is not reliable enough).

    So, if you really do not understand how Kevin’s equation works, you do not have the capability to place in working memory enough data to arrive at an intellectually rigorous conclusion about the church IMO. If you can understand his equation and you refuse to use this much mental capability because you believe 8yo’s should be able to determine the truth, you are correct about 8yo determining the truth, but wrong about how the truth is determined. The gospel should be intellectually viable when evaluated by the greatest intellect in existence, but for the gospel to bless all of God’s children it must be available to the weakest.

    So as an answer to my question I offer 1 of two things that I believe I see evidenced in this thread. The inability to put sufficient data in “working memory” so that intellectual case for the church can be weighed rigorously will leave folks in the believer camp or the critic camp because they choose a small subset of all the available data to evaluate on their “mental stage.” As critical arguments against the church displace the data that once pointed to the truth claims of the church (on one’s mental stage) disaffection results.
    Or a pre-conception about the level of thinking required to weigh the truth claims of the church in a realm removed from any spiritual witness exists. If the LDS apologist asks for too much data to be gathered and weighed, it is obvious the church must be untrue because an 8yo should be able to know.

    In contrast to the above, Kevin and Jeff have the capability and the willingness/expectation that ALL of their abilities are called into this most important question. Just because an 8yo cannot evaluate all the negative data against the positive data does not mean that if we choose to do this exercise at all, we must do it with ALL of our mental faculties not just some.

    Thoughts?
    Charity, TOm

  27. It seems to me that Kevin’s article does a fair job explaining why he pursued the endeavor and then follows with an answer or rebuttal to the questions raised in Runnel’s letter. What I find interesting are the numerous critics who are determined to insist that Kevin doesn’t have a “right” to present his findings simply because they don’t mesh with their mindset and (I suspect) potentially because his response damages their ability to detract from the Church’s message using the standard tools which they have relied upon for so long.
    It’s like these critics had a certain amount of success using a stick to break testimonies and then someone comes along with a tool which causes their stick to become ineffectual. These critics then seem perturbed that someone would have the audacity to spoil their efforts. It’s as if they want to insist that it wasn’t fair that someone used a better tool to break their stick. It’s apparent that they wanted to continue using that stick no matter what truth, proof or explanation is provided. We all know that it’s far easier to continue using the same old stick than manufacture a new one.
    I know this is over-simplifying the situation, but it just seems to be the over-arching problem behind many of those determined to force their way into the heads of those of us who refuse to accept their dogma. They, too, have an agenda and they want their agenda to succeed.
    What it all comes down to is individual testimonies. If God tells me that the Church is true, that Joseph was and is the Lord’s prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true, then I owe my allegiance, my honor and my integrity to stand by what God has told me. It wouldn’t really matter in the end whether horses are mentioned in the Book of Mormon or not, because that isn’t the point. The point being that I, personally, have to abide by what God has told me individually. To forsake that testimony would put me at odds with God and that I shall not choose to do.

  28. In the end, the best, and, really, only way to answer Jeremy’s questions is not to write voluminous essays which, in the final analysis, can be shortened to “Jeremy is honest but ignorant and blind”, but rather to actually answer his questions.

    Do I find the equine apologetic convincing? Where unknown animals or units of currency were mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the (apparently) original language was used (and not, say, “dollars, half-penny, pence, two bits,” “water-horses”, &c.); if the animal mentioned wasn’t a horse, it seems to me, based on that observed evidence and inferred pattern, that the original language name would have been used. There is no evidence, other than the use of the word “translation”, to suggest the process of translation of the Book of Mormon was analogous to what secular translators do. Indeed, the direct evidence we have suggests it was very different indeed (D&C 9, Royal Skousen’s work). So I expect “horse” indeed means “horse”. However, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

    Given certain assumptions, the presence of supposed “errors” in the KJV in the Book of Mormon might seem problematic, but…

    2 Nephi 12:16
    16 And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

    That “ships of the sea” is not in the KJV, but is attested in the Septuagint. How, pray tell, did the “ships of the sea” navigate their way to their home port in 2 Nephi 12:16, since they did not embark from the shores of the KJV? Please note, this does not necessarily prove the BoM authentic, but it, along with the statements of witnesses to the translation, serves to undermine certain assumptions about the role of the KJV in the production of the BoM.

    And I have my own answers to other of Jeremy’s issues; I have had to pass through similar fires to be a believing, active member today. I cannot fault Jeremy for not knowing what I know (after all, others know things I do not know; shall I find myself condemned for that?), and I find the kind of response Christensen has proffered him unfortunate.

    After all, the response of a Melchizedek priest to honest questions is “pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42), that being the point of the priesthood keys we so loudly proclaim we have (D&C 128:11, 14). “You’re honest, but ignorant and blind” just doesn’t seem to quite measure up.

    • Both the standards of measurement adopted and the actual observations made thereby contribute to an observers conclusions about what “measures up.” FAIRMormon deals with the questions, point for point. I’m approaching Runnells and like thinking from a different direction. If you consider the different responses to my paper here and elsewhere, it’s also quite clear that that people notice and value, select and emphasize, different things to justify their conclusions. Once you start paying attention to that kind of difference, and grasp the implications, you’ll be moving moving towards the understanding I’m trying to encourage with my essay. And beyond that, Kuhn, Barbour, and Alma 32 then provide guidance for deciding which approaches are ultimately better, in terms of being testible, and leading to valuable answers, expanded mind and increased understanding, fruitfulness, deliciousness, and future promise.

  29. “were they to do so in the divine manner the Church has set forth.. After all, Runnel was a fervent believer as long as he adhered to the gospel..”

    Wade, I think you have identified a profundity that really needed to be addressed on this topic. In my opinion, it is the most important one.

    Forgive me for making a slight but significant change in your declaration.

    “were they to do so in the divine manner the LORD has set forth”

    I make this distinction because the counsel given by the “church” and the counsel given by the “Lord” may vary a little on this issue.

    After studying this issue at length, I have concluded that the Lord has given us the protocol for discerning truth. He has provided very narrow parameters by which a person can discern truth and obtain a spiritual witness of the truth of the restored gospel. Although he addresses this topic countless times in the scriptures, I believe it can be summed up in the following passage:

    “Whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of the water and of the Spirit..”

    A great key to being born of the spirit, is in believing on God’s word in the Holy Scriptures.

    According to the admonition of God in the scriptures, that is the bottom-line in gaining the necessary gnosis of the Faith-based gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Additional warning is given with regard to putting one’s faith in the “arm of flesh” and relying on empirical evidence over the mystical word of God (Jer 17:5 )

    After reading Jeremy’s letter, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had spent as much time, energy, and passion, searching the scriptures as he had spent searching the issues brought up by critics.

    It is not my intent to be critical of Jeremy. I think he is simply going through the general process that we all must go through as we test God’s word against the views of man and science.

    In fact, I disagree with the following statement you made ( and I don’t think you meant it the way it sounds) because it implies that Jeremy’s study is finished and his views can and will never change:

    “..It was only after he became mired in relatively trivial and tangential and distracting issues like those listed in his letter, did he ultimately flunk the test of his faith.”

    I don’t think Jeremy has flunked the test of his faith.

    I think he is still taking the test. He is probably in the very early stages of the test.

    At this point he appears to have arrived at a rather strong and passionate conclusion, but that does not mean that he cannot change his views and still have an epiphany. The Apostle Paul was rather locked into a passionate paradigm when the Lord turned the lights on for him.

    Who knows, Jeremy may have his own experience on the road to Damascus five or ten years from now… or tomorrow morning.

    Who is to say that at some point in his life he will not be compelled to do a similar letter containing his study of the principles contained in the word of God.

    Can he not still change his spiritual paradigm?

    • Watcher, I appreciate your comments, and I agree that the primary issue of spiritual faith rests on whom one puts the greater measure of their trust (God or themselves) and subsequently whose method of assessment they employ (God’s–i.e. Moroni 10 and Alma 32, or their own–i.e. finite and fallible and at times inflexible human reasoning and emotions regarding a limited and perhaps impertinent and interpretative-vulnerable set of facts) and the basis upon which they make their assessment (God’s–i.e. progression, stagnation, or digression, as contrasted with man’s–i.e. use of the word “horse” in the English translation of an ancient text, etc.).

      However, I prefer my own phrasing because, in the first instance you raised, my words acknowledge the unavoidable presence of human involvement in interactions between heaven and earth, and they also respect and rightly give deference to the human staffed institution ordained by the LORD. Nor do I view myself as in a rightful position, as a fallible human and one not ordained to the upper echelons of the LORD’s kingdom, to say whether there is a variance between the LORD and his chosen human leaders but will leave that between the LORD and them.

      In the second instance, I did mean what I said, though I am of the belief that flunking a faith test doesn’t mean that the test can’t at some point be retaken. It can, and often is. Such is the essential nature of the gospel of progression (repentance, salvation, and exaltation).

      My hope is that brother Runnell and others similarly disposed will humbly return to leaning more on God’s understanding, and will rightly assess the Church/gospel according to divine means (Moroni 10 and Alma 32) and the intents and purpose of the Church (i.e progression unto Christ), and thereby become restored and strengthened in spiritual faith in the restored gospel as the LORD wills.

      So, yes, he can change his current spiritual paradigm.

  30. Mark,

    I am sure you didn’t intend it, but your last post was filled ironically with confirmation bias and selective reasoning, made most evident by your apparent need to accuse people of dishonesty who disagree with your point of view. Instead of providing a strong argument against what I said, you inadvertently substantiated it. Nicely done.

    And, admittedly, I am also confirming my own bias using selective reasoning, though I don’t view that as necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it chances progression on some people’s part.

    • Wade,

      What I didn’t intend is for you to misinterpret my response. Allow me to clarify.

      Your argument is that confirmation bias and selective reasoning is a good way for “growth unto Christ”. I’ve argued that it is not and that your argument only justifies everyone else’s decisions to go their own way as well, no matter where it leads them.

      Your use of the word “progression” applied generally means progressing towards one’s biases, whether that is towards Christ or not. If you intended “progression” to only apply to the LDS faith as “growth unto Christ”, then you have established a double standard.

      Using biases and selective reasoning is just not an honest approach to finding the truth. Are you saying it is an honest approach? (Hint: your response to this question should start with either “yes” or “no”)

      If anything, I have a bias towards the LDS church beliefs. I want them to be true.

      You have still not responded to the points I have made about this essay’s misrepresentation of Runnells. Instead, you’ve focused on what you see as the importance, meaning, and definition of biases and selective reasoning. I just refuse to go along with some twisted view of growing closer to Christ through biases and selective reasoning.

      • Mark,

        It isn’t me who is doing the misinterpreting, but you. There is much in what you imput to me that is incorrect. So, let me re-clarify once again.

        As previously indicated, confirmation bias and selective reasoning aren’t inherently good or bad, but become one or the other depending upon results–i.e. depending upon whether they produce progress or digression.

        Furthermore, they are not approaches, themselves, but unavoidable aspects of most any epistemic approach, including your own.

        And, they are neither inherently dishonest or honest or necessarily twisted, though they may be used in ways that are dishonest or honest or twisted depending upon intent.

        Again, as previously intimated, they are either beneficial or dis-beneficial depending upon the manner and extent to which they are used

        Did you get it that time?

        Wisdom demands that you adequately grasp what I have said before refusing it or deeming it twisted. To do otherwise would be to unwittingly exercise digressive confirmation bias and selectively avoid reasoning at all, thereby underscoring my point.

        • Wade,

          Your response here does not clarify your position; it only confirms my understanding of it.

          You’re using “progress” or “digression” and “beneficial” or “dis-beneficial” to describe the positive or negative result of using confirmation bias and selective reasoning, yet you get to define what these words specifically mean in this context. Please define these words in the context you have used them and explain why your definitions are applicable to everyone.

          To get an idea of what I’m asking, consider answering this question: Couldn’t a Muslim view their selective reasoning as “beneficial” to them as well if it leads to “progress” in their religion?

          Selective reasoning (depending on the extent) can lead one away from truth. It is a method used to reinforce one’s biases, a method that does not honestly consider all the evidence, only selected parts of evidence or what may only be perceived evidence that reinforce biases.

          Once again you’re choosing not to address the misinterpretation I’ve brought up in Christensen’s essay.

  31. Brother Christensen and all of the wonderful Mormon apologists,

    I want to thank you for all you do. It is so refreshing to come across material like this article. This is especially meaningful to me because some people very close to me have been greatly influenced by the work of Jeremy Runnells. Some have even left the Church entirely. It has been sad and sometimes frustrating. If only people like Runnells understood how much damage their flawed, public thinking and presentation have done. Maybe they do know. It’s just hard to understand their motives and if they really believe they’re making life better for others or for themselves. That certainly hasn’t been the case in regards to my loved ones.

    I recently attempted to articulate what I’ve learned and observed in the form of a personal essay. It is by no means scholarly, but I found it interesting to note how many principles and thought processes were similar to those expressed so eloquently here. [external link removed].

  32. I’m responding to Kevin’s reply to me, dated July 7.

    Kevin, I understand your time on here is limited, and I appreciate your reply.

    Yet, you have still not responded to the two instances where I’ve noted some misrepresentation in your essay. You still seem to be avoiding a discussion of this.

    I’ve read a great deal of Nibley, Rhodes, Schryver, Gee, Muhlestein, Bokovoy, Smoot, Hauglid, Barney, etc. on the Book of Abraham issues as well as many apologetic resources on other issues. I just don’t see how you have come to the conclusion that Runnells has not read from many apologetic sources.

    You said “My response was deliberately selective, highlighting a few points that struck me as representative and illuminating, rather than comprehensive”

    The problem with this is that you specifically came to the following conclusion in your essay: “Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about.”

    With this statement, you have painted Runnells with a very broad brush. Do you honestly think this statement in your essay is accurate?

    Another criticism that I’ve previously noted is where I think the essay fails to recognize the context of Runnells’ letter. The essay claims this: “That is why no favorable information regarding the Book of Mormon appears in the Letter to a CES Director.”

    Runnells’ letter is all unfavorable because it was intended to only address issues Runnells has. I think the essay misrepresents Runnells’ letter here. It also assumes Runnells did not read and consider at least some “favorable” apologetic arguments, such as this unsubstantiated statement from your essay: “He completely ignores all LDS scholarship that gives any evidence suggesting authentic translation.”

    How can this even be stated as a fact? The essay makes logical leaps to be able to use such comprehensively conclusive words as “ignores ALL LDS scholarship” and “misrepresents EVERY apologetic argument”. How can you use these and not be misrepresenting Runnells?

    Regarding your point about someone not responding to every point in your essay, you are just deflecting my criticism of your claim. Nobody has made a claim to have responded to EVERY point you have made in this essay. However, it was you who said that FAIR responded to EVERY point of Runnells.

    Lastly, I understand the points you’re trying to make by quoting Kuhn and even Novick. That still doesn’t change the testability of at least some of the issues Runnells mentions.

    For instance, there is enough scientific consensus (or normalcy) within the field of Egyptology to prove Joseph Smith’s translations of the Facsimiles are incorrect, regardless of different scientific “paradigms” that may exist within other fields or other areas within Egyptology.

    • Mark writes: “I just don’t see how you have come to the conclusion that Runnells has not read from many apologetic sources.”
      If he did read many apologetic sources, they left very little trace in his work. That is, he fails to cite the most important scholars and sources, and makes arguments that fail to consider the responses to those arguments as provided by the most important scholars and sources. If his essay had provided more evidence of serious encounter, I would have happily acknowledged that. Indeed, I have a forthcoming essay that acknowledges that John Charles Duffy made a serious attempt to comprehensively survey Book of Mormon scholarship. That is easy to acknowledge because I read through the content and the footnotes several of Duffy’s long essays, and recognized that I have also read nearly all of them same supporting material. Now that doesn’t mean that I agree with Duffy’s conclusions (I don’t), but that in his case, I saw clear evidence that he had at least his homework honestly and comprehensively, in constrast to another scholar I discuss in the same essay.

      Runnells, on the other hand, frequently and characteristically offers complaints without acknowledging the existence of well-known responses to issues he raises by the most important and conspicuous LDS authors. Frankly, I don’t see evidence that he has done his homework properly. For instance, I’d read about Joseph’s supposed misidentifications of gender in Facsimile 3 in both editions of Nibley’s Abraham in Egypt and elsewhere, including Nibley in the Ensign in 1975. For many years, Nibley provided the LDS defense regarding the Book of Abraham. Even if a person disagrees, I think it irresponsible to enter into a discussion of the topic and ignore his work. One of the reasons that I directly quoted Runnells on the topic of the identifications in Facsimile 3 is that I had been impressed by Nibley’s work on that point beginning almost 40 years ago. I don’t really see MormonThink or MormonInforGraphics as having rendered him obsolete or irrelevant. And now we have two additional generations of LDS scholars with Egyptological training offering their work. And how about Kevin Barney’s recent suggstions about a Jewish redactor? Why trust my case to the objectivity of the prosecution, particularly when that prosecution fails to acknowledge the presence of the most important defenders and defences?

      Mark is troubled by the following statement in of my essay: “Runnells tends to misrepresent every apologetic argument and supporting observation that he complains about.”
      Mark asks: “With this statement, you have painted Runnells with a very broad brush. Do you honestly think this statement in your essay is accurate?”

      Yes. I certainly did not find any of his arguments convincing, nor his contextualization of quotes fairly representative of the best thought in the LDS community, nor his scholarship on the key issues at all impressive. For example, I think it irresponsible to talk about the Roberts Study, and to ignore the single most detailed reponse to that Study, John Welch’s 1985 “Answering B. H. Roberts Questions and An Unparallel.” I think it irresponsible to treat Thomas Ferguson as the paradigmatic voice for discussing the Book of Mormon and New World Archeology. Do his credentials and efforts come even close to what Sorenson and others have done? If Runnells has acknowledged the weaknesses in the Roberts study and honestly acknowledged that Sorenson is far more capable, productive, and insightful than Ferguson then perhaps, I could give credit where credit was due. But he didn’t so I couldn’t give Runnells credit even if I wanted to do so. I could only work with the evidence in hand.

      Once the Letter to a CES Director went from being a private letter to being distributed widely on the internet, it changes its context and its audience and its purpose. I’m reponding to its current audience and purpose. What ever it was originally, it is now basically one-sided, poorly informed, propaganda. It is not meant to open a door, but to close one. LIke Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, saying “Nothing to see here folks, move along.”

      I would have liked to have some of the the best LDS scholarship recognized and addressed in a meaningful way. If the Letter had provided any evidence of real wrestling with the issues, I would have acknowledged it.

      FAIRMormon provided both an direct explicit response to several points, and an ongoing implicit response in the presence of the information and sources they make available in their website. If you want to make a case against “every” based on hair-splitting or reference to some assumptions, go ahead. (We can just pretend the sentence doesn’t have “tends to” and therefore, is not as absolute a claim as you seem to think.) Still, I observe that the overall picture in the Runnells Letter is of neglect of the most important work relevant to his questions, all readily, and often, freely available.

      From reading Nibley’s essays in the Improvement Era from 1968 on, I saw quotes from all three of the Egyptoligists that Runnells cites on page 30 of his letter. Breasted, Petrie, and Sayce. But Runnells doesn’t even dates of the statements to the 1912 attacks on the Book of Abraham, or mention that Nibley had discussed each of these men, along with others recruited for the same purpose, in his Improvement Era series, and later republished in the second edition of Abraham in Egypt. (See Joseph Smith and the Critics, pages 127-156.)

      Nibley pointed out several years ago that Joseph Smith didn’t translate the facsimiles. He told us what they mean which may not be the same thing. If I say “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” a literal word-for-word translation may be a very different thing from a correct interpretation. If I say, “He’s a chip off the old block,” I may be giving the correct interpretation even though calling that a translation would be a stretch. Joseph partially interpreted the Facsimiles’s symbolic significance in a context we no longer have because we don’t have all of the papyrus that Joseph Smith had. But we do have clues, and hints, and some very exciting material, and some very bright people contining to explore evidence and context, and suggest possibilities. I’ve read Abraham in Egypt (both editions) The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, Astroomy, Papryus, and Covenant, the entire 29 part series on Abraham, dozens of other essays, including Nibley’s 1980 “The Three Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham” which introduced me to Hamlet’s Mill, and what I found on page 73 of that book that tells me something about Kolob that still excites me, as well as One Eternal Round. Nibley directly told me about the opinions of the learned men with respect to Joseph’s interpretations, but also gave me some, I think, good reasons stick around and to keep my eyes open.

      • Kevin,

        Since you have read Runnells’ response to FAIR, then you are aware Runnells has read the apologetic positions from FAIR. Unless you think FAIR didn’t provide Runnells with the most important work relevant to the issues he raises in his letter, saying there is little evidence for Runnells doing his “homework” would be incorrect. Of course, you’re saying there is little evidence he did his “homework” in his letter, which you then apply universally to Runnells while ignoring the fact that Runnells has responded to FAIR’s criticism of his letter. That is still unfairly misrepresenting Runnells.

        Regardless of the phrase “tends to”, it is still an over-generalization. I noticed you did not respond to my criticism of the essay where it states that Runnells “ignores all LDS scholarship” regarding the Book of Mormon. Again, that also unfairly paints Runnells with a broad brush.

        While many others may have used it for their own purposes, the intent of the author was always to list the issues he has with the LDS church history/claims. So, by its very nature it was an “unfavorable” letter.

        Asking to provide credible sources for the letter is great and I have no issue with that (except for the fact that you keep elevating his letter to the status of a scholarly essay so that you can criticize it to a greater degree). My issue is that you are misrepresenting the intent of the letter so that you can criticize it for being “all negative” or “all unfavorable” without explaining the context of why it is “all negative” or “all unfavorable”. While the intent of many who are promoting the letter now might be different, your essay is about Runnells’ approach, not anyone else’s. So, in that context it is important to understand Runnells’ intent.

        Regardless of what you have read, I have read, or what Runnells’ has read or what Runnells’ uses as sources on the Book of Abraham, the fact remains that Joseph Smith incorrectly translated the Facsimiles.

        With all due respect to Nibley, he has pointed out his opinion often and “pointing out” that Joseph Smith didn’t really translate the papyri still goes against the church’s and Joseph Smith’s historical record about translating the papyri and makes it difficult for church members to reconcile such an opinion. Although, now it seems the church officially accepts the catalyst theory as a potential theory a believing member can subscribe to (see the new Book of Abraham essay).

        By the way, it is not a “supposed” misidentification of gender in Facsimile 3, it is clearly a misidentification of gender. Also, “an ongoing implicit response” you mention from FAIR makes no sense in the context of what you stated previously about a point-by-point response from FAIR. The two are entirely different, not just a split-hair different.

  33. I really enjoyed Kevin’s article. It fills a need and I agree with what he says. I am sending his article to many people I know who are surprised and shocked at the anger of loved ones close to them who leave the Church.

    My profession often involves looking at arguments on either side of an issue and trying to assess which arguments are more reasonable, cohesive and complete. I knew Kevin’s article would cause some people to howl, so I took time to read all of the above comments. It really made me tired and I don’t think I will do it again, but I am not even close to be persuaded by the comments of the attackers. Indeed, I think the comments pretty much prove Kevin’s theses.

    First, there seems to be a palpable anger present with the persons disaffected from the Church. They often attribute some sort of evil intent on the part of Church leaders. Most of the “anti” comments contribute more heat than light.

    Second, there is an extreme sensitivity to criticism. This is a double standard. The anti-Church folks assume complete license to attack the Church–its doctrines, its leaders, its scholars, its apologists, its gullible members–with abandon, but are incensed when any of their arguments are critiqued or challenged. It actually is so predictable as to be amusing.

    Third, they are offended that apologists defend the Church. Anyone who actually believes in the Church should be excluded from answering the attacks because they are “biased.” Yet, these people cannot realize that they operate from an even stronger, and less informed, bias.

    Fourth, in a related vein, there is a decided difference in the facts and the quality of the arguments between the two sides. The fact is that the attackers simply cannot match the tone, knowledge and the scholarship of the defenders of the Church.

    I have to agree with Kevin that, to anyone who has studied the issues to find out the truth rather than just to attack the Church, the anti-Church attacks simply are not very credible. They tend to bring up the same arguments again and again and again–arguments that have been answered time and time again. They merely repeat the same attacks and ignore the responses. This approach works for the ill informed, but rolls of the backs of those who have taken the time to research the other side of the issue.

    Finally, it is a truism that the anti-Church folks seem to demonstrate the old truism: they can leave the Church, but can’t leave it alone. So many of them go about trying to destroy the faith of the Saints.

    I ask: Why? What evil are the attackers trying to eradicate? I have been in the Church all my life, and I have never heard anything that is not designed to make not make me a better friend, son, husband, and father–to be more charitable and kind to others. The gospel as taught by this Church has encouraged me to be honest, to work hard, to contribute to society, to help the poor. The gospel gives me optimism, hope and faith. It helps me deal with adversity and trials. The gospel has brought incomparable joy and blessings to my life. The fact is that, through both empirical and spiritual means, the truth of it has been proven to me. I look forward to greater light and knowledge.

    What are the fruits of this doubt? What does it have to recommend it? It seems to me that it brings conflict, confusion, discouragement, anger, depression, darkness, despair and defeat. In my observation, it breaks up families. Truly, what is the merit to this approach?

    Thanks to Kevin and others who provide this great service. Your efforts are appreciated.

    • Good sir, the reason we can’t “leave it alone” is because we are telling the unfiltered truth and as a result of it are demonized. Our arguements stand the test of time and as more and more people are exposed to them, the strongest of people will recognize the truth and depart from falsity, which is found, not exclusively, in the Mormon church. I have never had such greater happiness than when I left the church, so great is my joy and rejoicing that I want to share it with others. The church would not leave me alone as I left it.

      • Sir, could you care to tell this “unfiltered truth”? If it’s the usual anti-Mormon attacks, I’m very sure they have been long addressed and answered. Also, please explain how they “stood the test of time”, and why you feel joy in doing so (as I myself do not feel joy in disobeying God’s commandments).

        Don’t be afraid to respond.

        • I don’t think most “anti-Mormons” are these vicious scoundrels out to “attack.” I think people are deeply troubled by the information they find and are not able to reconcile it. We can only trust that the people who made the records that constitute the history were accurate, or really understood what they were commenting on.

          We shouldn’t be so quick to judge people’s motives. Always best to give the benefit of the doubt, and kept the focus on the information instead of labeling it “faithful” or “anti.” Let’s analyze the data and see what we can learn from it.

  34. A couple of observations/comments about Mr. Rennells and his defenders.
    1) The opposite of love is indifference, not hate.
    2) Mr Rennells is asking for M-O-N-E-Y (on his website there is a donate link just like Mr Delhin)…I find it interesting that Mr. Rennells motivations are not questioned by his defenders. How transparent is he being with these “funds” he is receiving? Is he publishing what he is doing with them or just verbally reporting it? Is he taking a salary? I would like to know what he is doing with this “mini” kingdom he is building to himself and his “activism.” If he accuses others of deviant behavior, he really should be more open about what he is doing with this money. Is he helping the poor? Freeing children from the child sex trade? Buying porn? Cars? Education? Really, I’d like to know, when will he be publishing this?

    • Whoa, I’d hold on there with the accusations. I actually think the communication between contraries is a healthy and productive exercise if done in the right spirit. During the proverbial tug-of-war, we see some really interesting things come to the surface.

      You have people who stick with the church and are happy and productive and then you have people who have left the church and are happy and productive. I don’t think it’s leaving or sticking with an institution that is bringing the positivity, I think it is the finding of ways to reconcile your paradigm that is bringing the relief. How that plays out long term is yet to be seen in people’s lives.

      Some people find great relief leaving the church. It puts more free time in your schedule and more cash in your pocket. You can focus entirely on your family, etc. There’s something about the struggle though, putting up with irritating people occasionally, being blessed by the community and the characteristics you develop through the struggle. Becoming one isn’t easy, nobody ever said it was. “Building Zion” or “Becoming One” are the challenges we’ve been given. I’d say that most of the time we get it wrong, but when we get it right, it’s pretty awesome. I want to contribute to that vision and continue to find ways to remove obstacles from our path.

      We’re all on different journeys, I think most of us are making reasonable choices based on the evidence we have at the moment.

    • It’s more Johnny Stephenson’s response. I’ve responded to his part 1 with “Image Is Everything: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain” posted here on Oct 16th. And incidentally, it looks to me like you mistook the comment count for my “Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest” essay (168) for the page count, which is 63.

  35. James 3:1-12 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue— a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

    Harper Bibles (2011-11-15). NRSV Catholic Edition Bible (p. 1116). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

  36. I’m a little surprised that critics often point to the fact that many LDS members have left the church because of information from the internet and letter’s like the Runnell letter. They use this fact like it somehow it speaks to the veracity of the anti-mormon apologist’s claims. I find that strange, and in fact see the exact opposite. I think those critics that pose that idea need to explain in great detail what they think the Lord meant when he said (Matthew 7:14) “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

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