I found these videos on YouTube of a Catholic Apologetics class where they discuss Mormonism (surprised I beat Aquinas to this). I thought it was interesting to get their take on all of these topics. They take their shots at both LDS and Protestants and I acknowledge there are misinformed on a number of LDS beliefs.
Now I know LDS generally consider it bad form to talk about other churches. But I think if LDS missionaries are going to to try to gain converts from Catholic and Protestant churches, it’s reasonable for those churches to prepare their members with counter arguments.
Well a few problems with the first two:
1. We don’t believe the Bible is infallible. A 19 year-old missionary won’t necessarily know what the terms “infallibility” or “inerrancy” mean, but we don’t really believe in either.
2. What a 19 year old missionary thinks and what Church doctrine is are two separate things
3. Very dangerous argument to claim that Catholics believe because their religion has a factual basis in archeology, history, etc. It has no more basis than Mormonism does for its faith claims.
The mere historical fact that Jesus lived no more proves that he rose from the dead than the mere historical fact that Joseph Smith lived proves he saw God the Father.
4. Missionaries keep their own informal lists of guys that are a waste of time to talk to. This guy would qualify.
5. I’m kind of mystified as to what this guy’s aim is in talking to missionaries. To de-convert them from Mormonism? Or to defend his own faith to himself?
That said, he’s right that the authority issue is important and the LDS Church really hasn’t done a enough in showing why authority was lost. The book The Great Apostasy gives a good attempt and The Articles of Faith gives it a run as well. But they aren’t really enough any more.
I was disturbed to see that the instructor has the same annoying habit that I have: scratching his upper arm under his shirt as he teaches.
I only watched Part 1, but I agree with your assessment: his argument is flawed and he has every right—even duty—to prepare his members against conversion to Mormonism. What I disliked most was his straw-man portrayal of Mormons (“Ask them how the Bible came to be, and of course they won’t know…”), but again, I notice the same kind of statements being made by Mormons. Ultimately it’s a disservice to one’s class to paint the a weak image of the “enemy”; what will these good Catholics do when they meet a very bright Mormon missionary or neighbor?
2. What a 19 year old missionary thinks and what Church doctrine is are two separate things
Because “church doctrine” doesn’t really exist.
I agree with you Seth that the LDS church has a “substandard scripture” loophole on the Bible. But I think at the bottom of this tactic is a good question.
If the church was in apostasy, how did it have enough authority/inspiration to correctly collect the Bible into a canon that the LDS church accepts?
Well Tim, it’s frankly always puzzled me why the LDS Church, for all practical purposes, TREATS the Bible as if it were correct in every particular (with an exception for Song of Solomon), yet claims as a fundamental tenant that the Bible is flawed.
In theory, we teach the Bible to be flawed, but in practice, we treat it like it isn’t.
Seth, elaborating on the sentiment kullervo illustrates (that the LDS Church has no official doctrine) is it any wonder that we treat the Bible as perfect and say it is not? If we treated it as imperfect, we might be forced to identify exactly where/how it is imperfect, and that would tie us down—eventually to publishing a Bible that was corrected. We’ve avoided that even with JS’s version, so….
I always thought shape-shifters were pretty cool.
Yes, shape shifters are cool. And BrianJ is really cool.
That’s right: shape shifters are cool—just like BrianJ.
I get the feeling that a lot of Mormons would agree with the idea that the Bible is true in its present form, but not complete. That is, that there were other writings that could have been included in the Bible (like, for example, the writings of Zenos as quoted by Book of Mormon prophets) but were rejected or lost before the canonization of the Old and New Testaments respectively.
I certainly expect that a lot of Mormons feel that way.
I agree that Catholics have the right to teach them members counter-arguments. I’m not offended by that.
I only had time to watch the first video for now, but here are two of my thoughts on it:
1) It’s been a while since I read The Great Apostasy, but my understanding is that we don’t believe the apostasy happened suddenly when the last apostle died. Instead, we believe that it was a gradual process. I find it strange that he brought up examples of succession of apostleship as proof that there was no apostasy, because as a missionary I learned to use that as evidence of an apostasy. If someone asked me the question that this person suggests, I would have said, “Yes, when apostles died others were ordained in their stead. So when and why did apostles stop being ordained? Why aren’t their apostles now in the Catholic church? Why does the Catholic church now have a different form of government than the bible describes (the Pope, etc.) which was formed many hundred years after Christ?” My understanding is that as time went on and the Church became currupted, the succession of priesthood authority could not be sustained and eventually disappeared–as a gradual process, not a sudden event. Eventually the early Christian church was completely swallowed up in political movements.
2) As a missionary I was very aware of how the Bible came to be. This is crucial to our understaning of the Bible. People I taught often had the understaning that the Bible was perfect and we didn’t need any additional scripture. To counter that, it would often be necessary to explain that the Bible was compiled by men long after Christ lived on the earth, and translated by men many times until we have it in its current state. Was there some inspiration involved in that process? Yes, but there was no doubt some things left out, things that shouldn’t have been added put in, and translation errors made. If there was another group of people who received revelation from God on another continent, clearly it wasn’t going to be included in the Bible. I believe I learned this in the MTC, so I’d be surprised if the majority of missionaries don’t understand this concept.
1) Missionaries understand the Bible is not perfect and that it was compiled by men after (or at least during the process of) the apostasy.
2) He mentions witnesses, which is actually key to the LDS Restoration. The 3 and the 8 witnesses are, in my opinion, very important. It’s tough to explain (from a anti-Mormon perspective) why those people who have said they saw what they saw and never denied it, even after some of them left the church because of personal disagreements with Joseph Smith.
3) As far as I know there’s no historical evidence that Moses spoke with God or that Jesus rose from the dead.
4) I’ve never heard the enormous number of members of the LDS church portrayed as proof of its truth.
5) On my mission, I always hated it when people didn’t ask questions. I’d much rather answer (honest) questions than talk to a brick wall.
So far I haven’t heard anything that would have made me uncomfortable as a missionary. But I do find it interesting to watch the interaction with the audience. They are all feeding off of each other in a self-congratulatory way. This is exactly why I don’t like the rare moments that talk of other religions comes up in our meetings. It gives me a sick feeling when I hear this sort of self-congratulation, whether its from my side or theirs.
Oh, and I suppose Moses must have been eating some magic mushrooms when he spoke with God, according to one of the comments in the video.
1) The issue of whether Mormons are Christian has been much debated lately–so it’s hardly worth going into here. Suffice it to say that my position is that it depends on your definition of Christianity. If Christianity=trinity, then fine, Mormons aren’t Christian. Who cares? It’s a label that means what you want it to mean.
2) Jesus Christ was always in the name of the church. And he knows that. I came up with a principle when I watched Al Gore’s movie: Even if someone speaks the truth 95% of time, I won’t trust anything he says if he knowingly lies to me the other 5%. And yes, not correcting someone is just about lying in my book. He’s done it a few times in Parts 1-3 so I’ll call him on it now.
1) Satan isn’t our physical brother, he is our spiritual brother. Yes, Satan was never a man. That makes no difference.
2) Satan was kicked out of heaven because he rebelled against God. It’s not contradictory to believe that those that don’t rebel will receive all that the Father has.
3) The woman is confusing 2 separate visions that Joseph Smith had.
Overall, interesting to watch. Thanks for posting, Tim. I hope I didn’t bore everyone with my responses. Surely there’s something there for you to make a post out of, right?:)
Regarding the Great Apostasy–I don’t understand how it could have happened really.
Did the priesthood holders stop conferring it upon their children? Really? Because even people who aren’t living the commandments properly but who have the priesthood can still give it. The missionary who baptized me was certainly not living up to the commandments–not only of the mission field, but he probably wasn’t really temple worthy either. But my baptism was valid. And there are examples in the Book of Mormon of the priesthood being passed down to righteous children from unrighteous parents.
So, how in the world was it lost from the earth? Why did ALL fathers stop giving it to their sons?
I wrote a couple of posts on this last May:
In order for the Mormon church to make any sense, there has to have been a Restoration. In order for there to need to be a Restoration, there has to have been a Great Apostasy. This is fundamental enough that the new Preach My Gospel manual that the missionaries use starts out with the Great Apostasy from the beginning. The main problem, in my opinion, is that there’s no good evidence that such a Great Apostasy occurred, at least to the extent that it would have needed to occur for Mormon theology to make sense.
From the standpoint of Mormonism, the Apostasy meant that 1) there were no more living prophets and/or apostles to continuously reveal the truth, 2) true doctrine became subverted by human ideas and was thus lost (and without living prophets, it was not re-discoverable), and 3) the priesthood authority was gone from the earth.
Each one of those points is incredibly problematic. The first point seems hard to argue with, because nobody was claiming to receive revelation, prophet-style, on behalf of all Christendom. To many Mormons, thats eals the deal. However, the sad truth is that the Latter-Day church doesn’t seem to get ay revelation, either. After Joseph Smith, there’s basically been a long line of prophets who don’t prohesy. Now, most Mormons will dispute this, and their evidence will be geenrally statements that they personally ascribe prophetic-revelation-status to (though the maker of the statement did not), or they appeal to the “probability” that the prophet gets these big revelations all the time, but doesn’t share them with the Church and the world for whatever reason. Or, barring those, they will shift their definition of revelation to include a moregeneral type of inspiration.
In any case, there’s not much evidence that the rate of contemporary revelation right now was any different than during the Great Apostasy. Nevertheless, there’s a differnence- the next two points (true doctrine and priesthood authority) make clear the difference between the Church during the Great Apostasy and the Latter-Day Church.
James E. Talmage, in pretty much any book he wrote, was quick to trot out shady, questionable doctrines and practices of the medieval Catholic church as evidence of its apostasy. What it basically comes down to is that doctrines were changed away from the “plain and precious truths” that were taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. This is also problematic, for a couple of reasons.
First, despite what Mormons may learn in Primary and Sunday School, many doctrines and practices have also changed during the not-quite-two-hundred years of the latter-day church. I need only mention the big, contentious ones like polygamy, Blood Atonement, and the Adam-God theory. Sure, some of those doctrines have come and gone, but so did some of the questionable Catholic doctrines that Talmage loves to pick on. It’s not limited to the anti-Mormon fodder, either. Plenty of other doctrines and practices have changed or evolved over time and members don;t even bat an eye.
As an aside- a common Mormon metaphor for the Apostasy and Restoration is a broken glass. You can’t just put the pieces of a broken glass back together to make the cup good again; you have to actually make a new cup. The broken glass is the Christian church during the Apostasy and the new-blown glass is the Restored church. If the Apostasy was just a matter of inspired leadership and correct doctrine, then the metaphor is complete junk. Rediscovering old, correct doctrine, if such a thing exists, is merely a matter of going back to old texts and seeing what was taught before the change away from the truth. It is well within human capability, and it’s exactly what the Reformers were trying to do. If it was just a matter of inspiration/revelation and true doctrine, then the Reformation (and accompanying counter-reformation) should have done the trick. The Mormon Church even teaches that those men were inspired.
This is the point in the discussion where the Mormon falls back to the bunker of Priesthod authority, but I am afraid there is no cover to be found there either.
According to Mormon theology, the big evidence for the Apostasy and Restoration, the real clincher, was authority. God’s priesthood, the power and authority to act (and lead) in His name, was gone from the earth. It had to be fully restored in order for God to run things the right way, for the ordinances like baptism to have any effect, and for the Kingdom of God to be built on earth.
However, there’s no real indication that the Priesthood, assuming that it did indeed exist the way that Mormonism teaches that it once did, ever left the earth. In fact, I think it’s completely and utterly unreasonable to think that it did.
Mormonism believes in a lay priesthood- all worthy men can (and these days should and are) be ordained deacons, teachers, priests, and elders. This Priesthood existed in the time of the apostles, but it was lost, so only the apostles themselves could give the Priesthood back to us. Thus, first John the Baptist and then Peter James and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to give them this priesthood, so there would be an unbroken line of authority back to Jesus Christ (for the Melchizidek Priesthood) and to Aaron (for the Aaronic Priesthood).
But that means that this lay Priesthood existed in New Testament times, but it had disappeared by Joseph Smith’s time. The problem is that the Christian church didn’t disappear during that time. In order to have the Priesthood die out and fade away but the Church continue, you’d have to have an entire generation of Priesthood-holders simply not give the Priesthood to anyone else. Simultaneously, you’d have to have an entire generation of Church leadership come in and claim leadership positions without even holding the Priesthood (if you think about that in the framework of the modern Mormon Chruch, it doesn’t even make sense).
The Mormons claim that John, not Linus, was the second leader of the Church (since he got Revelation on Patmos after Peter’s death, and only the leader of the Church would get scriptural revelation like that), which means that the Catholic line of authority was broken from the beginning. The problem with that apologetic is that it confuses leadership with the Priesthood. Linus may not have been “the prophet,” but as a member of the Church, there’s no reason at allt ot hink he didn’t have the Priesthood. Past that, the Catholic church (and the Orthodox Church and even the Anglican Communion) can show an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way down to the current set of bishops. What reason then is there to believe that all those bishops don’t have the Priesthood?
Sure, they may not use it right, and they may have their heads full of false doctrine, but Mormon theology is pretty clear that priesthood authority doesn’t go away despite personal apostasy. A wicked missionary’s baptism is still valid, because he had the authority, and it was the Priesthood (i.e., God) doing the job, not him. Look at Alma the Elder in the Book of Mormon- he was one of a whole crop of evil clergymen who were ordained by the equally wicked King Noah and were doing al kinds of wring things and teaching all kinds of wrong doctrines. Nevertheless, the line of authority that gave Alma his Priesthood was still a valid one, so he could baptize all of those people at the Waters of Mormon. If he had the Priesthood, then why don’t the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox clergy have the Priesthood?
In short, although there may have been a falling away from the truth over time, there’s no real reason to believe that The Great Apostasy ever happened in such a way as to necessitate the Restoration as it is taught in Mormonism.
Hmm. That was way too long. Tim, you can delete that post entirely if you want. Here’s a new one:
I wrote a couple of blog posts on this topic last May:
How “great” was the Apostasy?: http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/how-great-was-the-apostasy/
Why wasn’t Joseph Smith Catholic?: http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/why-wasnt-joseph-smith-catholic/
I think you have some good points Kullervo and I believe in the apologetics arena, Catholics have a strong position.
However, I think your conception of Apostasy and your criticisms of the Mormon conception of the apostasy are flawed .
The biggest evidence and basis for the belief in Apostacy, for Mormons, is the Book of Mormon which expounds the idea in some detail.
Mormons came up with the doctrine and taught the doctrine without knowing anything about what happened on the ground during the first century after Christ, and not really needing to. I think there is clear and obvious evidence of real difference between the church in Acts and the Catholic Church today as well as clear and obvious evidence of great confusion and debate regarding dogma. If the revelation in the BOM is true, then the evolution of these differences between the ancient and modern Catholic church also includes a falling away from “pure and precious” truths, that were lost so early or suppressed so completely that the Protestants couldn’t recover them.
I think legalistic arguments about priesthood authority don’t do the trick to attack the doctrine of the apostasy. You seem to propose that its a foundational principle of the Mormon concept of priesthood that it will remain regardless of what a priest says or does. In fact, D&C 121 is completely contrary to that notion. The Alma example can easily be explained, i.e. Alma was rightly ordained and his apostasy would have been complete had he remained of the same mind as the other priests of Noah.
The better Question and the better response that the Catholics (as well as Orthodox and Anglicans) have on the doctrinal questions is that when you do research back you find that some early Church fathers held to distinctively Catholic doctrines, such as transubstantiation. (see Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr) If these doctrines were taught by men who knew the Apostles and they were ultimately martyred for their beliefs, why aren’t they taught by Mormons, or many Protestants?
I think its a fair question that is more troubling for Protestants than Mormons. Mormons can simply say that the doctrine was a belief back then, maybe even believed by the Apostles, but there is nothing that says that the Apostles were right on all issues, just as current mormon Apostles aren’t.
The overarching response from a Mormon to these criticisms and the counter-arguments above could be simply, Hey, Joseph Smith was revealed certain things by God, my own spiritual experience confirms the world-view he revealed, if there are discrepancies between the doctrine and history then I assume they will ultimately be resolved, and that resolution may even involve some change in Mormon Doctrine.
I personally disagree with the approach used by Preaching the Gospel which starts with the Apostasy. I would agree with Kullervo that Mormons don’t know enough about the history of Christianity to make the argument fly and the Orthodox and Catholics have a much better handle on how to deal with it.
I think one possible explanation of how the apostasy happened is that the church leadership ultimately became enmeshed in the government, abandoned or suppressed certain doctrines and used the priesthood as a way to control and maintain power.
Fathers did stop ordaining their sons because the Church was run by a professionals who took ultimate control over the priesthood. Corruption by power and money seem to be a very believable explanation for how it could happen.
This doesn’t prove that a Great Apostacy did happen however. Mormon’s don’t really have really strong arguments for a general Apostasy outside reference to revelations of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Catholics can simply say that the church, at times, was corrupted by money and power but ultimately was lead out of that corruption, just as Mormons explain away doctrinal discrepancies between early and present day church leaders. I think they are rational explanations coming from both Catholics and Mormons within the context of the belief that theirs is the only true and living Church.
No way–the Great Apostasy is supposed to have happened long before the Church was established in the Roman Government. Constantine was in like the third century or so, and Mormonism has the Apostasy happening pretty much immediately with the death of the apostles.
To counter that, it would often be necessary to explain that the Bible was compiled by men long after Christ lived on the earth, and translated by men many times until we have it in its current state.
That’s an interesting statement. How many times do you think the NIV was translated? (once from the original language) How about the KJV? (again, once from the original language) I like what you said about allowing untruths to go on unchallenged being dishonest. Please stop perpetuating this LDS lie. I’m not even going to touch the “compiled many years long after Christ” statement right now. Not a lot going for you there historically either.
I think there is clear and obvious evidence of real difference between the church in Acts and the Catholic Church today as well as clear and obvious evidence of great confusion and debate regarding dogma.
At least the Catholics can explain those differences with their priority on tradition. The LDS church is just as radically different from the 1st Century church. At least the Catholic church aligns doctrinally with the 1st Century church with their belief that Christ was the uncreated Creator of the universe and everything in existence. As many issues as I have with the Catholic church they stay in line with John 1 and don’t rob Christ of his Ultimate divinity the way the LDS church does. All practices aside, what a church teaches about who Jesus is is of primary importance.
Kullervo, you know that LDS are going to start stepping away from any specific hard evidence or timeline for the Apostasy when you start to question them on it. Shape shifting.
Kullervo- I think the Mormon church has been relatively consistent that the Apostasy began/happened very early. However, there is no clear date and time that said it was complete. One key element of Apostasy according to Mormons is that there was no revelation guiding the church. Revelatory leadership could have ended long before the priesthood died out completely. There are all kinds of ways you can see an apostasy in the historical record, I think the argument that you just can’t interpret it that way is extremely weak. You wind up simply with arguments from “common sense” that are equally speculative about what happened on the ground in the first century.
Tim- I think the “LDS lie” regarding the re translation of the Bible is more charitable than the truth, i.e. that many New Testament accounts were written long after the fact by those who were not eyewitnesses. Existing historical evidence of the actual events of the Gospels is extremely slim and often contradictory of what is said in the Gospels. The evangelical(and Mormon) notion that there is solid historical evidence for the events of the Gospels is simply propaganda. There is also clear evidence that things were added to certain texts over the centuries by scribes for one reason or the other. Not to mention that the Old testament account is almost completely unverifiable by DNA, scientific or historical evidence.
Also—–I think you still don’t get Mormon concept of Christ. Mormons believe that he is the uncreated creator of the Universe and that he is divine from the foundation of the world. It seems you are perpetuating the “protestant lie” that claims that Mormons think he is created. If you want to understand Mormonism you have to give up this caricature of Mormon belief and really try to understand the doctrine. Isn’t that part of the point of this blog?
I think its clear you disagree with Mormons about who God is, who we are and who Christ is. Protestants believe that people are created at birth, Mormons believe that they have always existed in some form. Protestants believe in a God who sends a book for us to follow and then remains silent and Mormons believe in a God who speaks to men today. Protestants believe in a God who sends the un-evangelized to hell for eternity, Mormons believe in a God who doesn’t punish people for eternity for having the wrong conception of Jesus.
Guess what. . .Surprise! Mormons, Protestants and Catholics interpret the scriptures to support their differing theological views. Mormons ARE in line with John 1, in their opinion. Mormons think Protestants are out of line with John 13-14, Protestants disagree. Catholics think they both are out of line with John 6 (transubstantiation). The Jews think all of us are full of crap when it comes to interpreting the Old Testament.
I can’t see how you are going to solve these conundrums by really good arguments.
As for Shape Shifting-
I think the ‘flip-flopping’ charge against Mormons will always be there because they are starting with a certain body of revelation and they have attempted to make sense of it and justify it with some arguments and speculation that haven’t stood up to the facts. I think Mormons have a lot of unsubstantiated views of some historical events because of these arguments. For example, despite the oft-repeated party line, the Church today certainly is not organized the sames as it was in Acts. (I don’t see any church today running that way).
However, its an article of Mormon faith that God has yet to reveal many important truths. They should readily admit that the Church is not going to be right on all things and that conceptions will become clearer.
I think the doctrine of personal revelation and ongoing revelation immunizes Mormons from most of the arguments,
especially when they are coming from those standing on equally weak historical, factual and scientific ground. (I personally think the Mormon concept of God stands up to scientific and logical scrutiny better than the Trinitarian, even if it was un-biblical)
Mormons can always say that If God says this is the case i.e. that there was an apostasy, we may get the details wrong but its hard to argue with what God says…..
The only thing you can do against this reply is to prove that God is not talking to them, which is as hard as proving to a devout Protestant that the Bible is not the word of God.
Here’s another post I wrote back in the day:
One particularly (in my opinion) credulous meme in the Mormon Church is that the time, place, and manner in which the Church was restored was the only way God could have done it. Now granted, Mormon God is not fully omnipotent in the definitional sense (even though the missionaries teach that he is), but seriously, it seems pretty clear to me that if God needed to do the Restoration, he could have done it anywhere he wanted. Europe handled the Reformation, and Protestantism is going strong today. Europe could have also handled the Restoration, assuming such a thing needed to happen at all.
In my last post, I talked about the problems with the doctrine of the Great Apostasy. I want to now deal with a couple more. Primarily, if some regeneration did need to happen, why didn’t God do it within his Church, like he appears to have done at very other time throughout Mormon scriptural history? Why wasn’t Joseph Smith a Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox!) priest who God raised up to be His Pope and restore all that was lost? Unless the Catholic Church wasn’t God’s church, but that could only be the case if True Christians were actually wiped out and replaced by impostors at some point. Gradual corruption never made God totally abandon his Church and start over again in the scriptures, so why would this be the one weird exception?
Because God couldn’t have done so? Poppycock. At best, God didn’t want to. Mysterious ways and all that, but to me that’s really a cop-out. The whole business is one more counterintuitive thing that has to be accepted on faith, or based on an extremely subtle “whispering of the spirit” that is absolutely indistinguishable from the rublmings in my stomach due to not having eaten breakfast yet.
And don’t even get me started on why God waited like 1800 years to restore the truth. That’s nonsense. The bit about how that’s when the time was right is also nonsense. Even if God had to do the whole Restoration thing the way he supposedly has done it according to Mormonism, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have persevered despite the persecution just like all kinds of other heretical movements throughout Christianity have done.
And seriously, this is God. He can preserve his people from their enemies, right! Didn’t he have an angel kill like 180,000 people in the Bible once to preserve the Israelites? Sigh.
You’re right I think. I mispoke, I apologize. As far as I know it was translated from the original language into English. What mixed me up was that (again, as far as I’m aware–I trust you will correct me if I’m wrong on any of this) they were not translating from the original manuscript written by the original authors. So it’s true that they were not translated many times, but they were transcribed many times, in my understaning. So you wouldn’t be able to go back to the texts the KJV was translated from and be sure those were the words that were originally written.
Nobody translates from the original manuscripts with documents that old. You can’t be sure that our translations of Virgil, Tacitus, Ovid, or any of the classics are “the words actually written” because the original documents have long since crumbled to dust. Yet nobody seriously calls them into question. Mormons only call the textual integrity of the Bible into question because their theology says it is questionable. The cart has been put squarely before the horse.
The onyl reason that Mormonism’s own scriptures aren’t subject to this same uncertainty is that they are either contemporary, or they were carved into metal plates.
On the other hand, there’s not a lot of evidence that those metal plates ever existed (the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses aren’t nearly as credible as Mormons imagine they are, and as I understand it the claim that none of the witnesses ever recanted is pure Mormon myth), and certainly no evidence but Joseph Smith’s word for it concerning what was actually written on the plates.
And the situation with the papyrus and the Book of Abraham should call into serious question the credibility of Joseph Smith’s claim to translating ability.
I agree with Kullervo, in the business of biblical translation, there is no such thing as an “original manuscript.”
As for God being created – Mormons do not believe He was created. In fact Mormons do not believe anything was “created” in the sense that Protestants and other Christians means the term (i.e. out of nothing). In Mormonism all matter was pre-existing. We also believe that the essence of a person – “intelligence” as it is termed in the Doctrine and Covenants – is “not created, neither can be.”
Make no mistake, the Mormon God is “uncreated” and eternal. Just as all of us are.
I’m not arguing that the original manuscripts exist. I agree that it’s similar to other texts in the sense that we don’t have the original words that were written. But if I were trying to answer such important questions as the Bible tries to answer (“What is the right way to live? How do I gain salvation?”) based on other texts I would be just as concerned about the accuracy of the text. Since I’m not, it’s not that important to me if there are some inaccuracies in those texts.
In addition, Mormons believe that there is more at work than just human errors that may have crept into the text. According to 1 Nephi 13, something more sinister took place. I’m in no position to defend of critique that from a historical point of view, but it should be pointed out that this is a significant difference between the Bible and other historical texts from an LDS point of view.
I think your arguments from counter intuition are not properly leveled against Mormonism in isolation, but in all bible believers as a whole.
The entire Bible is filled with counterintuitive events.
Why does God chose a obscure tribe to be his “chosen people”, I mean he is God, if he loves everybody why can’t he just publish himself in a universal way.
Why does He appear as a man who is crucified if he is all-powerful, even the early church fathers recognized this absurdity.
Isn’t there another way. Why did He have to kill everybody on earth other than Noah’s family. Why couldn’t he just make Noah a really convincing speaker and give very strong incentives for giving up wickedness.
Why does God require us to go through Jesus to settle our sins, why can’t we just go to him directly (as the Jews believe)?
Why does God have to make someone suffer for sin, why can’t he just forgive them (as the Muslims believe)?
Why did God have to inflict 7 plagues upon Egypt, why couldn’t he just put the Egyptians to sleep so the Isrealites could leave in the middle of the night, without all of the terror and bloodshed?
Sure the whole business can be (easily) shown to be somewhat ridiculous and is constantly shown that way buy those against religion.
My point being that if you can swallow the Bible which makes God out to be an incredibly counter-intuitive being, your intuition should allow you to swallow Mormonism.
Mormons can easily counter all of the arguments from intuition with the old chestnut, “strange and mysterious are the ways of the Lord” and they are as justified as everybody else.
From another angle, arguments from intuition are fundamentally flawed because our intuitions are incorrigibly tainted with our particular perspectives. Our intuitions are not worth crap when it comes to areas that are beyond our experience, such as quantum particle interactions.
As Kant would agree, intuitions may be great when it comes to things that are readily discernible through the particular filters we see everything, but they completely fail when we apply them to something that our perceptions cannot touch, such as God and quantum particles.
Well, I don’t believe in the Bible either, so…
Also, for what it’s worth, Tim posted “Now I know LDS generally consider it bad form to talk about other churches.”
While I agree that LDS do generally consider it bad form to talk about other denominations in specific, they will certainly denigrate “other churches” in broad, general terms.
32: sadly, that’s true. And it gives me a sick feeling.
(33: Whoops! My browser remembered how I was goofing around before! Sorry.)
I don’t care if they critique other faiths – as long as it’s fair. But the sort of criticism heard at these Catholic apologetics courses I have also heard in LDS classes. I generally disapprove of it, since it’s usually a tad unbalanced, overly critical, and not self-aware enough.
“Protestants believe in a God who sends a book for us to follow and then remains silent and Mormons believe in a God who speaks to men today.”
What is God saying to Mormons today? I don’t think that the prophets have had any new revelations for a really long time. If you are talking about personal revelation, then I think that Protestants also believe in having a relationship with the divine where they receive inspiration. But I’d like to know of a recent revelation that was given to a Mormon prophet.
“I think the doctrine of personal revelation and ongoing revelation immunizes Mormons from most of the arguments,”
And I think that’s a cop out. Mormons avoid hard questions by using revelation as a shield, when said revelation either hasn’t happened or doesn’t make any sense, and isn’t in line with what Jesus taught.
“Mormons can always say that If God says this is the case i.e. that there was an apostasy, we may get the details wrong but its hard to argue with what God says…..
The only thing you can do against this reply is to prove that God is not talking to them, which is as hard as proving to a devout Protestant that the Bible is not the word of God.”
My experience here has been that when you tell a devout LDS member about your own personal revelation that didn’t agree with LDS doctrine, they tell you that your revelation comes from Satan. So, Mormons will only let revelation go so far as to ratify the things that the church leaders are saying.
What is God saying to Mormons today? I don’t think that the prophets have had any new revelations for a really long time. If you are talking about personal revelation, then I think that Protestants also believe in having a relationship with the divine where they receive inspiration. But I’d like to know of a recent revelation that was given to a Mormon prophet.
Great point Katy. My 10 year old church has had as many revelations as the entire LDS church since Joseph died.
It too is a caricature to say that Protestants believe the only way God speaks is through the Bible. We believe he speaks and is actively involved in our lives, but that any revelation we get has to pass through the lens of scripture. I personally have heard the audible voice of God and I know several others who report the same. I’m not going to claim that the Bible is the only way God speaks.
Mike (and others), I think you should listen to these lectures. Just about all of your historical conjectures against the reliability of the Bible are cleared up. There’s no point in my chasing you from one destructive argument to the next if I can just answer them all at once.
Tim, that was really nice to read about your interaction with God. Thanks for sharing such a personal thing!
Seth R. said: I don’t care if they critique other faiths – as long as it’s fair. But the sort of criticism heard at these Catholic apologetics courses I have also heard in LDS classes. I generally disapprove of it, since it’s usually a tad unbalanced, overly critical, and not self-aware enough.
I agree on all counts. Most Mormons have no better understanding of what other Christians believe than other Christians have of what Mormons believe.
Things I’ve heard LDS people say in all sincerity:
1) Non-LDS Christians believe that God is a blob.
2) Non-LDS Christians believe that God has no emotions.
3) Modern Bible translators intentionally rewrite the Bible in order to include errors.
4) The Bibles the LDS church uses in non-English-speaking areas are translated from the King James Version.
5) Protestants believe that it doesn’t make any difference at all if you sin.
6) Non-LDS Christians don’t really believe that there are three persons in the Godhead.
7) Non-LDS Christians don’t believe in a God that cares about individual people and how they live their lives.
There are others, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.
Tim said: Mike (and others), I think you should listen to these lectures. Just about all of your historical conjectures against the reliability of the Bible are cleared up.
I’ll readily acknowledge that there’s an inconsistency in how members of the LDS church treat the reliability of the Bible.
On the one hand, it is common to hear that the Bible can’t fully be trusted because of errors that have crept in. (And church members often ignore that the same thing at least in theory could be true of the Book of Mormon, even though its introduction acknowledges the possibility of errors.)
On the other hand, the Bible is treated and referred to as if it were reliable. We quote from it regularly and devote much time and resources to studying it. In fact, any LDS high school grad who has gone through the church program has done far more studying of the Bible than your typical megachurch high school grad has.
And I have yet to hear anyone in the Church say, “Well, that part of the Bible we don’t believe in because it’s an error that has crept in.” (The big exception to this is that the Song of Songs isn’t treated as inspired.)
As for me, I believe the Bible is generally reliable, and I had no disagreement with the portions of those lectures I listened to. But I also believe there are other inspired writings from that time period that we no longer have, that parts of the Bible are missing, if you will. But even that isn’t necessarily inconsistent with traditional Christian belief.
Yeah, but the LDS high school grad has studied the Bible through a severely distorting lens of Mormon theology, because he “studied it” as it was taught to him in Sunday school and early morning seminary classes.
KatyJane and Tim-
In response to the challenge to Mormon claims to revelation by pointing out that there has not been new scripture since 1978. Mormons believe that the conference talks are similar to the Epistles in the New Testament and can be relied on and lived by in the same manner. So they can point to a mammoth amount of information that is inspired and similar to the information in the Epistles. Some talks may eventually be canonized, who knows. But I think the important point is that Mormons are not committed to a canon in the same way as Protestants. For protestants the Canon draws the line around what can be said about God, i.e. everything must be tested against that. Mormons reject that paradigm on a fundamental level. The canon is open and more things may be added.
True, there has not been anybody that has said “Thus saith the lord” for a while but historically, in the bible, these types of prophets are few and far between. Mormons can point to the actions of the church as being inspired as well as messages given in Conference.
To Tim: do you consider the revelations to you and your church to be the same as Scripture, if not, why not, what is the fundamental reason that we should not canonize current revelation? That is a Mormon response to the challenge. To a mormon, the compelling question is why can’t Protestants accept the LDS 9th article of faith?
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
I agree that their is a paradox that exists in the Church, when it comes to revelation and has existed since Joseph Smith’s time. Just as protestants reject as Satanic purported revelation that disagrees with their interpretation of the Bible, Mormons, out of course, reject purported revelations that disagrees with the current “Order of the Church”. I don’t have a good answer for this problem myself and I feel some of the same resentment that you appear to feel. I think that most Mormons are just like others and want to make their faith simple, clean and uncomplicated and ignore the fact that it isn’t that way.
I think its obvious that the church has become bureaucratic and has sought to streamline its history, myth and theology and that has been at the expense of spirituality and honesty. I don’t think this decision has necessarily invalidated the claims that Joseph received revelation.
A couple of things that I could add regarding the Mormon-Catholic-Protestant debate/dialog:
Naturally, devotees of these three faiths believe theirs is naturally better than the others. I think they each can make legitimate challenges to the others that are grounded in scripture, science, history, or intuition. I also think that there are believable arguments that appear to discredit all of them based on these same grounds. Some, but not all, of the arguments used by devotees and the irreligious alike unfairly draw from perpetual misinterpretations and ignorance of the doctrine and history of these faiths.
This said, I think the apologetics in all three faiths are advanced enough to counter almost all of the arguments against the faiths with explanations that the devoted can accept and feel comfortable with, generally because the core of the faith is not based on argument or reason that can be readily disputed. However, the apologetic arguments are not really convincing unless you shift your belief to the paradigm from which the arguments are made.
I personally think apologetics deals with the outer-trappings of a faith and overlooks the core, the reason for belief and the heart of the spiritual experience. I think it is a sort of comfort blanket that soothes us when we face the chaotic reality and uncertainty of the vast variety of human experience with the divine. It helps us think that we can ultimately understand and explain what is at other times admittedly ultimately unknowable and unexplainable.
I personally think my understanding of Mormonism explains the big picture of spirituality better than Protestantism or Catholicism, but my understanding is far from mainstream. But I can’ t reasonably think Mormons in general are any better or worse connected to God than other sincere followers of Christ. I would agree that many mormons, including leaders, are stupid, ignorant and supremely uninspired. But that, of course can be said of all people. I think it is really the pot calling the kettle black to expect any other religion, scripture, or church to be free of such foibles, no matter what their claims to inspiration and infalliablity.
But Jared, the problem with what you’re saying is that it gives Mormons an easy ‘out’. Don’t like what was said in Conference? You don’t have to abide by it–it wasn’t ‘thus saith the Lord’. I can find many many Conference talks that utterly contradict each other–about the role of grace vs. works, etc. So, if they’re all inspired, why is God inspiring people to say contradictory things?
Really, while one can say that inspired talks are revelation, or things like the Proclamation on the Family are revelation, in reality, you aren’t held to it unless it is canonized.
It’s troubling, and leads to most Mormons not really realizing that what they think is the gospel isn’t a shared belief among all.
“I think its obvious that the church has become bureaucratic and has sought to streamline its history, myth and theology and that has been at the expense of spirituality and honesty. I don’t think this decision has necessarily invalidated the claims that Joseph received revelation.”
The dishonesty in the church regarding its history disturbs me greatly. It may not invalidate the claims the Joseph Smith received revelation, but it makes it seem that the church will cherry pick its doctrines.
Since we’re on the topic of “apostasy”…
Who’s to say the current LDS Church couldn’t go, or hasn’t already gone “apostate?” Just something I’ve wondered about on occasion myself.
One of the problems is that the Mormon Church’s hierarchy is clear about what has been canonized, what is anything but clear is the question of what is considered divine revelation outside the canon.
Are General Conference talks divine revelation? What about the Proclamation on the Family or the Living Christ? What about policy changes? Heck, is it explicitly clear that the Official Declarations in the D&C are actually divine revelations?
Certainly Latter-Day Saints believe that all of these are inspired, but that turns out to be something that isn’t different at al from the level of inspiration claimed by non-Mormon religions.
By not speaking definitievely on the issue, the Church’s power structure is tacitly allowing myths and beliefs to be perpetuated among the Churchy’s membership in regards to what really is and isn;t divinely revealed. Official pronouncements as to what consitutes official doctrine don;t help much either, because that is actually the answer to a different question.
Mormons believe in a theoretically open canon, but from where I’m standing it looks like it has practically been a closed canon for quite some time. Certainly the perpetuated myth of being led by a living prophet who gets divine revelation isn;t based in reality, unless you buy into the fairly common Mormon assumption that all kinds of divine revelations are happening that the prophet just isn’t choosing to speak publicly about. But again, I think the Church’s silence on the matter is a move chosen to perpetuate the myth, and thereby to perpetuate the Church’s leadership as a power structure.
Kullervo said: Yeah, but the LDS high school grad has studied the Bible through a severely distorting lens of Mormon theology …
And Protestants study the Bible through the distorting lens of Protestant theology, and Catholics through a Catholic lens, and so on.
When I teach Sunday school, I try to get my students to look at the text without preconceptions. I’ve asked many times, especially when teaching the Bible and the Book of Mormon, if you didn’t know what the Church teaches, how would you interpret that passage? I’ve tried to get my students to take a fresh look at the scriptures, and I’ve never shied away from the difficult sections.
Unfortunately (from my perspective), there are teachers who see their role as one of indoctrination rather than getting students to think for themselves. I don’t agree that’s appropriate. In the long run, I believe, inquistiveness about the scriptures leads to a stronger faith.
kullervo: how much revelation do you expect? How much revelation did Paul receive in his lifetime? or Matthew? or Elijah? or Noah? How do LDS prophets compare in the “revelations-per-year” quota?
Well, they don’t get any, so…
But that’s not the point. The point is that the church is selling a picture of prophetic leadership that doesn’t match the truth.
I agree that their are easy “outs” if you don’t necessarily agree with what is said in conference. I take them all the time. I rarely see people being “held” to anything, even when it is canonized. “Canonized” doesn’t mean as much to Mormons as is does to Protestants.
Your argument doesn’t hold water from the LDS perspective. You seem to be arguing that the Mormons should admit that their current prophet is not really a prophet in the way Joseph Smith or Moses was and therefore we are presenting a false image.
The LDS Church sells itself and believes itself to be lead by revelation today. President Hinckley has publicly described the process he has used, i.e. listening to the spirit. The picture of prophetic leadership is that the Prophet makes decisions based on inspiration and he speaks for God when revelation is given. My interactions with Apostles and their view is consistent with this picture. The fact that they have added very little to the canon since Joseph doesn’t take anything away from this picture.
You may not think the Mormon church is inspired, but it believe itself to be inspired and I think is pretty consistent in how it portrays itself relative to the beliefs held by the upper leadership.
But “inspired” is the same thing every other Church claims.
“Canonized” doesn’t mean as much to Mormons as is does to Protestants.
Bullshit. I can;t count how many times I’ve heard the phrase “but that’s not official doctrine” sicne I’ve left.
Tim: I’ll try to listen to those lectures when I get the chance.
Eric in #41 and others that say the LDS Church hasn’t pointed out which scriptures it sees as incorrect in the Bible: That’s what the Joseph Smith Translation was for, wasn’t it? That’s a pretty good starting point for a list of the scriptures the LDS Church sees as being incorrect because of translation errors or for whatever other reasons. Granted, it was never completed from what I understand.
As far as revelation goes, it depends on your perspective. If revelation has to include new doctrine, then I don’t know of any since 1978, but if revelation can include direction to church leaders on policies or programs (ie. perpetual education fund, building smaller temples, etc.) or guidance on what counsel to emphasize at various times due to cultural influence (ie. proclamation on the family), then I’d say it happens frequently enough. And yes, Kullervo, I’m aware you don’t believe any of it.
Look, if revelation is just the same as inspiration, then Mormonism isn;t claiming anything more than what other churches are claiming; they’re just claiming that they get it exclusively. All the talk about living prophets and modern-day revelation is just misleading if all it means is inspired leadership.
If prophecy and revelation are something more than inspiration (and the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants would indicate that they are), then Mormonism isn’t living up to its claims.
Kullervo- your argument still doesn’t hold water. Mormonism claims that its leaders are lead by inspiration and that the Prophet holds all they keys to the priesthood and that he has the capacity to receive visions from God for the whole world.
Mormons believe prophets can act like John the Revelator as well as Paul Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul taught mainly through appeals to the scriptures and reason, John was a seer who saw a great vision. Paul did not give a lot of details about the visions he had, Peter didn’t really claim any visions. Just because there is not a “John” running the church doesn’t mean the Church isn’t living up to its claims. I think that Mormon general authorities would agree that leaders of other churches can be and are lead by inspiration, but both would agree that the leaders of other churches have the capacity to add to the canon.
The Church may not be living up to your conception of how it should be, but that never was in question
Here is one of many articles explaining what Mormons believe about revelation. If you do a search through conference talks you will get a better picture of what the church claims about itself and about revelation.
Here is the search page
Hey Jared, it’s not really relevant to this overall discussion but you might want to check out Act 10:9-22. Peter did indeed have visions that directed the church.
Tim- Thanks for the reference. I am pretty rusty on the New Testament.
Jared C, I don’t need to be lectured on Mormon doctrine.
Hey, when you twist it to make an argument against Mormonism you have it coming.
There are plenty of arguments against Mormonism to be made without oversimplifying the doctrine.
I’m not oversimplifying doctrine or twisting anything. I’m saying that the image of [rophets and prophecy that the Church is selling or passively allowing to be sold on its behalf does not seem to match the reality.