Dumb arguments against Mormonism

Recent comments by Ron Den Boer strike a pattern found frequently in arguments against Mormonism by Evangelicals. The attack generally plays out like this:

Evangelical: Mormonism is preposterous.

Mormon: No, its not.

Evangelical:  Yes, it must be because important LDS leader said and believed [insert preposterous thing].

To me, this argument always seemed unsound and ignorant.  The argument rests on the premises that: (1) Mormonism requires belief in any particular preposterous thing said by any particular Mormon priesthood leader and (2) a belief in preposterous things means a believer cannot also have faith in the most important truth.

The first premise is false. The heart of Mormonism is the belief in revelation— i.e. the belief that a person’s heart and mind can translate what God says into human language.  But most who believe in revelation recognize that any belief in revelation is bound to produce plenty of preposterous talk.  God can speak to people, but people always have the freedom to reason or dream the memories of that voice into ostensibly laughable propositions and phatasmagoria. To expect otherwise would be unreasonable.

Put differently, the LDS believe that the fact that a person receives revelation on occasion, even important revelation, does not guarantee the right-speaking (or right-living) of that person.  And when people speak in the name of God, they do so within a particular cultural context, making much of what they say strange to those outside that context.  Weird talk is clearly no problem for the LDS, in part because the LDS do not read and interpret scripture to form philosophy, but to feel and ponder it like they do music. The strangeness of the material and the language is part of the charm, but any particular strangeness is not required. Just as a person does not need to even listen to Elvis to be a rock-and-roller (let alone believe everything he said), a Mormon does not have to take into account any particular statement of any Church leader or ancient prophet in order to be on the path of truth. (Hence the predictable inability to pin a Mormon down on orthodox doctrine.)

The second premise is also false.  To believe in the preposterous is part of being human.  And to expect a person to obsessively root out their wacky or false beliefs is to expect madness.

The argument does have the rhetorical power of making a believer dance around the weirdness of how some interpret revelation.  But this rhetorical power casts the wielder as a crusader for impossible intellectual purity rather than a sensible bearer of the truth. The implication is that all evil is to be resisted, especially the evils of thought. But rejection of the preposterous is not something Christ expects, is it? Doesn’t the Gospel relieve a person of the unending task of constantly separating the grain from the weeds within one’s own beliefs?

Advertisements

45 thoughts on “Dumb arguments against Mormonism

  1. It also presumes the Evangelical is even quoting the Mormon leader correctly or in context.

    I’ve seen the Tanners, for instance quote Brigham Young with convenient ellipses inserted that sometimes omit 5 pages worth of text.

    Or quoting Brigham Young on claiming the death penalty on interracial sex, when if you read the whole quote it actually appears that Young was talking about white slaveowners raping black slaves.

    Convenient omission, that…

  2. You write, “Doesn’t the Gospel relieve a person of the unending task of constantly separating the grain from the weeds within one’s own beliefs?”

    I would agree that an individual person is not required to have every belief right. But I think a Church certainly is responsible for separating doctrinal wheat from chaff, and letting its members know which is which.

    You write, “Weird talk is clearly no problem for the LDS, in part because the LDS do not read and interpret scripture to form philosophy, but to feel and ponder it like they do music.”

    That’s fine as far as it goes. But I’ve noticed that Mormons have a highly developed theology of what they’re not required to believe and why they’re not required to believe it.

    In other words, Mormons are surely not allowed to believe whatever they want. But you also can’t “box them in” to certain beliefs. And so, it appears to me that you have this sophisticated interplay between beliefs which must be held and beliefs which may not be imposed.

    It seems to me that it takes as much effort to develop that kind of a theology as to develop the kind that tells you what you must believe.

  3. I’m LDS and I read my scriptures to receive revelation from God, through the Holy Ghost, as well as to learn to understand the doctrines, life lessons, philosophies, laws, ordinances, and commandments being taught. You have made a very narrow minded statement concerning Mormon Bible study, but I’m not surprised.

  4. “Doesn’t the Gospel relieve a person of the unending task of constantly separating the grain from the weeds within one’s own beliefs?”
    Yes! One’s acceptance with God is based on one’s faith in (reliance on, adherence to) Jesus, not an absence of weeds in the garden of the mind.

  5. Agellius said: It seems to me that it takes as much effort to develop that kind of a theology as to develop the kind that tells you what you must believe.

    Perhaps, but the flexibility that the Mormon system allows may have more utility than the system of orthodoxy.

    I see the LDS system as being very similar to a system of positive laws. Because the laws are positive, one can believe in and uphold the law as a whole without accepting any particular law or legal theory. This allows the leadership to adjust the belief system according to the needs of the Church without creating too much dissent, invalidating the authority of the Church, or requiring theological debate. It also allows for greater theological freedom within the Church.

  6. Since “the devil (the great deceiver) can come to us as an angel of light”, we are taught not to trust in any feeling or thought or revelation that is not contained already in the Holy Scriptures.

    Feelings and emotions are great. And they MIGHT be from God. But we can never put our trust in them…apart from God’s Word (preached and taught and read)…and in His sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

  7. Chris,

    I didn’t meant to offend, I am sure many LDS derive their personal philosophies from the Bible. I meant philosophy in a more academic sense. I think you might agree that the vast majority of Mormons do not interpret scripture with an eye toward integrating Mormonism into a complete system of philosophy. That practice has historically been avoided as producing “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.”

  8. If you have a system built on personal revelation to prophets it seems reasonable to examine the personal revelation of the prophets. Allowances should be given for context of course.

    Otherwise Mormonism seems to have as much orthodoxy as any systematic theology, while still allowing diversity within the system. Mormonism is just so different from evangelical forms that many only see the allowances for diversity as an apologists dodge.

    I think I like the idea of Mormon orthodoxy as a form of positive law. You should do a post.

  9. Gundek said, “If you have a system built on personal revelation to prophets it seems reasonable to examine the personal revelation of the prophets.”

    I agree with that. A Mormon missionary once told me he had trouble accepting a new LDS president as a prophet until he prayed about it. It was good that he prayed but I don’t think they go far enough in seeking God’s guidance. They should also ask God questions like, “Do non-Mormon Christians have the gift of the Holy Ghost?” If they asked sincerely, with openness to any answer, some way or another God would give them a yes.

  10. They should also ask God questions like, “Do non-Mormon Christians have the gift of the Holy Ghost?” If they asked sincerely, with openness to any answer, some way or another God would give them a yes.

    Plenty of Mormons believe the answer to the question is yes, depending on how they view the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Lately the concept that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is only received by baptized members is generally taught as a sort of entitlement of membership. Where the Holy Ghost will act in others however he may—i.e. anybody can receive His gifts, a baptized member has a constant right to receive the guidance of the Spirit so long as they are worthy. (Worthiness is essentially seen as a way to amplify the power of the Spirit to serve the persons’ righteous desires.)

  11. Agellius,

    In other words, Mormons are surely not allowed to believe whatever they want. But you also can’t “box them in” to certain beliefs.

    I actually think this is incorrect. You can believe almost anything in the Mormon church, you just can’t talk about it too much or teach it in church in a contrary way. Harmonious participation is all that is really required.

    A sort of proof of this is the Mormon maxim that you shouldn’t criticize the leaders of the church, even when they are wrong. This entails that the leadership will be wrong a lot of the time, i.e. your beliefs are correct– but you have to maintain harmonious interactions by holding your tongue about the rightness of your beliefs when in church. Put differently, a member of the Church should not act out on what they think is right at the expense of harmony–even when they are not wrong to believe that the church is in error. Its not a great way to run a government (dissent is necessary for freedom), but most people run their family this way.

  12. Jared writes, “I actually think this is incorrect. You can believe almost anything in the Mormon church, you just can’t talk about it too much or teach it in church in a contrary way.”

    Well, of course. It’s the same in the Catholic Church. You only get in trouble for wrong beliefs when you go around trying to spread them.

    The question is, are there no beliefs which the Church teaches are objectively true, such that if you disbelieve them, you are at odds with the Church’s teaching. I have been told by various Mormons that there are such “core” beliefs. Do you disagree?

  13. Well, of course. It’s the same in the Catholic Church. You only get in trouble for wrong beliefs when you go around trying to spread them.

    And basically every other church.

  14. I have read the Bible from cover to cover three times and I have never once read any statement that said this. I have, however, read accounts of people feeling the spirit, being pricked in their heart, and coming to faith.

  15. Criticizing and speaking out are different things. One does not criticize the leaders, meaning they do openly defy them or accuse them of wrong doing. The reason for this is to avoid contention, not honest belief and disagreement.
    If one has a problem with the leaders they should address it in private when the likelihood of contention is lower and honest discussion can produce a good result

    A few week ago we had a High Counselor in our ward and in Sunday School he made a statement that I knew was false. But I did not openly correct him, as I respect his position and wanted to avoid arguments.

  16. I don’t disagree. The required beliefs are essentially contained in the temple and baptismal recommend interview questions and temple and baptismal covenants. If you believe and live by those principles you are welcome to participate fully, if you do not, you cannot participate fully, harmoniously or otherwise.

  17. The argument is that open criticism of leaders undermines the mission of the church they are trying to prosecute. It is expected that any leader will say wrong or preposterous things, according to Mormon doctrine there should be something more to begin to act contrary to those holding offices of the priesthood.

  18. Here is Dallin Oakes’ discussion of the principle: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/02/criticism?lang=eng

    Oakes is a current apostle of the LDS church. He states that all criticism should be constructive, and constructive criticism of church leaders should be done in private.

    Some apt quotes:

    “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.”

    And

    “The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences is to keep our personal differences private. In this we have worthy examples to follow. Every student of Church history knows that there have been differences of opinion among Church leaders since the Church was organized. Each of us has experienced such differences in our work in auxiliaries, quorums, wards, stakes, and missions of the Church. We know that such differences are discussed, but not in public. Counselors acquiesce in the decisions of their president. Teachers follow the direction of their presidency. Members are loyal to the counsel of their bishop. All of this is done quietly and loyally—even by members who would have done differently if they had been in the position of authority.

    Why aren’t these differences discussed in public? Public debate—the means of resolving differences in a democratic government—is not appropriate in our Church government. We are all subject to the authority of the called and sustained servants of the Lord. They and we are all governed by the direction of the Spirit of the Lord, and that Spirit only functions in an atmosphere of unity. That is why personal differences about Church doctrine or procedure need to be worked out privately. There is nothing inappropriate about private communications concerning such differences, provided they are carried on in a spirit of love.”

  19. One would think a leader could handle criticism, but it is good to know what an apostle thinks the first principal of the gospel is.

    Does that count as something preposterous no one actually believes?

  20. I think you are modeling the argument denounced in the original post.

    He said the “the gospel procedure for managing differences”. That is jargon that means something different than the Gospel, even in Mormon parlance. He is talking like a lawyer.

  21. “First principal of the gospel procedure” may be the preposterous sounding jargon to the non-LDS, but to be honest I am not sure how you dress up the use of spiritual authority for stifling debate to make it less objectionable.

    So yea, I probably picked the most obviously objectionable phrase to a Protestant, but is the theology and doctrine behind the phrase really any less objectionable?

  22. I think you object because he bastardizes the Protestant use of the term “Gospel” by making church procedure “gospel procedure”. That could be offensive. But that objection is purely stylistic and doesn’t detract from the point Oakes is making about sacrificing frankness for unity.

    The idea that each individual has the right to debate against church authority, or openly undermine it through criticism is a young notion shared by few Christians, almost all of whom are Protestants. It doesn’t work in athletic teams, corporations, or armies, the LDS Church is not really out on a limb on this. . . it’s just really old-fashioned.

  23. No, I object to just about every use of “touch not the Lord’s anointed” to stop critics. Equating criticism with evil talk is a sure fire way to promote spiritual abuse. I am not saying Oakes is not sincere or that he intends to abuse anyone, but a flawed theology promotes a flawed system of government..

  24. Equating criticism with evil talk is a sure fire way to promote spiritual abuse.

    Like I said. . . they’re old-fashioned.

    But, if you read his address, he emphasizes that constructive criticism given in love is generally acceptable across the board. If tempered by love and reason the principle is sound. I agree that it does leave a lot of power out their to be abused by leaders who might. But spiritual abuse is not sanctioned by the Church.

  25. In this case the preposterous simply illustrates the flaw more vividly because, Public debate—the means of resolving differences in Acts 15—is appropriate in Church government.

  26. shematwater,

    You have never read in the Bible that “the devil can come all dressed up as an angel of light”?

    St. Paul wrote it. 2nd Corinthians, I believe.

  27. Jared wrote, “Lately the concept that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is only received by baptized members is generally taught as a sort of entitlement of membership. Where the Holy Ghost will act in others however he may—i.e. anybody can receive His gifts, a baptized member has a constant right to receive the guidance of the Spirit so long as they are worthy.”

    Is the Mormon view of their exclusive rights to the Gift of the Holy Ghost loosening up a bit? In other words, are they putting less emphasis on their exclusive rights to it/him?

    Are you still attending an LDS ward? I thought you had left.

  28. Is the Mormon view of their exclusive rights to the Gift of the Holy Ghost loosening up a bit?

    No, but the distinction between the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the presence or influence of the Holy Ghost is readily acknowledged. I personally don’t think there is much more than a formal distinction.

    I don’t think I would qualify as “attending an LDS Ward”, I have gone twice with one of my active-LDS daughters, who now lives with me.

  29. Oh, that’s interesting—a daughter of yours attends regularly. Maybe that helps explain why you write posts that sort of defend them.
    Have a nice weekend.

  30. Gundeck

    Acts 15 was not a public debate. It was a meeting of the church elders to discuss an issue that had arisen. The general membership were not part of this meeting. Also, if you read the account you will notice that once Peter, who was the leader of the church at that time, stated what the policy was no one questioned him. That was the end of the discussion, and all deferred to their leader.

    Of course, we have the wonderful examples of Korah and Dathan in Exodus who opposed Moses in open debate and were destroyed by God. Also Miriam and Aaron criticized the way Moses was handling affairs and look what happened to them.

    Theoldadam

    I know the passage very well, as it is frequently used for just such arguments. However, nowhere in the entire chapter does it once mention the scriptures. It warns of the craftiness and power of Satan and his followers, and I agree with this completely. But it never once says that we can’t trust the feelings and inspiration we receive from the Spirit of God, nor does it confine us to current scripture as the only source of divine knowledge and understanding.

  31. Shematwater,

    I have read the account. Was Peter the leader of the Church or was it James? Who actually passed judgement (v 19, 22)?

    I don’t see how 1 – 5 of Acts 15, can be called anything but public, the debate stretched across the Levant from Antioch to Phoenicia, Samaria, and Jerusalem before the Jerusalem Council was called. I agree the apostles and the elders were gathered to render a decision on the debate, but you are going to far to say the “general membership” was excluded, especially when 15:22 shows the “whole church” was present.

    Yes Korah and Dathan and Miriam and Aaron, what does that even have to do with anything? Were Korah and Dathan and Miriam and Aaron right or motivated by self interests? Did Korah and Dathan and Miriam and Aaron have a legitimate objection to Moses?

    Try explaining how Paul treated Peter described in Galatians 2. Pay particular attention to the public rebuke of an apostle.

    How does that square with ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’

  32. Or quoting Brigham Young on claiming the death penalty on interracial sex, when if you read the whole quote it actually appears that Young was talking about white slaveowners raping black slaves.

    Seth,

    Thanks for giving me the chance to reconsider some previously held assumptions about Brigham Young. I went and read the Journal of Discourse talk in question. For anyone else who would like to do the same you can find it here.

    Unfortunately, you are are completely wrong. Brigham Young made no indication he was directing his remarks to slave owners. The quote is not taken out of context. In context it is just one more example of his garden variety 19th century racism that precedes and succeeds the actual quote.

    I also think the “anti-Mormons” are doing a favor by only using that one line from the talk. The entire talk is borderline delusional with Brigham lying multiple times, especially about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It’s pretty awful to see him continually blame the Indians and feign willingness to allow for trials of those suspected of participating in the massacre.

    Have a great day!

  33. “Maybe that helps explain why you write posts that sort of defend them.”

    I’d like to think that this post sort of defends you too Cal.

    😉

  34. But. . . Brigham Young’s comments were in the midst of taking a neutral political stance between abolitionists and pro-slavery folks, so its not unreasonable to say that he was talking about master-on-slave sexual assault in a typical racist way:

    immediately after the kill-the-white-that-sleeps-with-black quote:

    If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.

    A great line:

    “but to this day they have not touched the matter [of prosecution of the perpetrators], for fear the Mormons would be acquitted from the charge of having any hand in it, and our enemies would thus be deprived of a favorite topic to talk about, when urging hostility against us. “The Mountain Meadow massacre! Only think of the Mountain Meadow massacre!!” is their cry from one end of the land to the other.” 🙂

    Another:

    ” I will, comparatively speaking, take one plug of tobacco, a shirt and three cents’ worth of paint, and save more life and hinder more Indian depredations than [the government] can by expending millions of dollars vested in an army to fight and kill the Indians. Feed and clothe them a little and you will save life; fight them, and you pave the way for the destruction of the innocent. This will be found out after a while, but now it is not known except by comparatively a few.”

  35. Gundeck

    “the debate stretched across the Levant from Antioch to Phoenicia, Samaria, and Jerusalem before the Jerusalem Council was called”

    No, it was in Antioch and only Antioch before the matter was taken to Jerusalem.
    Verse 2 “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”
    The stops in Phenice and Samaria were simply on the way to Jerusalem, and there is no indication that there was any debate in these locations. Paul told the saints there of the progress of the work among the Gentiles, and that was it. The debate was also in Jerusalem because that is where the controversy had originated.
    So, we see that when a controversy arose in one town their solution for solving it was to take the matter to the leaders of the church. On their way back neither side tried to publicly debate the issue, but waited until the leaders could be consulted, which is how things should be done in the church.

    As to who was the leader of the church, it was Peter to whom Christ gave the keys of Kingdom, not James. I don’t know what you are implying by referencing verses 19 and 22, but all this proves is that James made a proposal to counsel and it was accepted, which is perfectly reasonable and appropriate.
    Now, whether the “whole church” was present does not mean anything. It is never indicated that they took any part in the discussion, and that is the issue.

    As to Galatians 2, it does not say this was done in public, but directly to Peter. Paul corrected Peter, and he felt he had the right and the need to do so. He didn’t criticize him to the members, but rather went to him directly and offered his honest rebuke. We have no indication that this was not done in private. He does not say that he withstood Peter on the street, or before the people. He says he did so to his face. This is actually very much in line with everything the current leaders have said.

  36. Shematwater,

    I think it is debatable that Paul could describe “in detail the conversion of the Gentiles” without bringing up the controversy of gentile salvation, but you are now arguing the exact opposite of your last comment where you claimed Peter spoke and no one questioned him. It seems pretty obvious that the debate continued after Peter spoke, because he was followed by at least Barnabas, Paul, and James.

    You are welcome to change the goalpost, but your initial objection was that the Jerusalem Council was not public, so we both know that it it matters a lot that the the whole church was present and participated in the choosing of men to send to Antioch. If the whole church was present and participated in the calling of men to be sent with the results of the Council there realy is no way to think the debate was not public.

    Do you really think it would be better that Paul privately rebuked Peter only to publicly criticize and expose him later in a public letter? I don’t get it.

    I don’t know what translation you are using, but in mine (and the KJV for that matter), Paul tells us that he was open in his rebuking of Peter and that his rebuke was “before them all”, coincidentally the exact advice he gave Timothy to “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” And never mind the obvious that Paul is writing about this, publicly criticizing Peter to the members of the Galatian church. All told this doesn’t sound private.

  37. Gundeck

    I haven’t changed my statement in any way. Peter spoke and the debate was over. After that the counsel heard the missionary report of Paul and Barnabas. They did not continue the discussion on circumcision. Once the report had been given James made a motion to send letters to the church regarding the words of Peter. That motion was carried, and then the church in Jerusalem was asked to select men who would carry out the decision of the counsel.
    This is what I have held from the beginning, and what I read in the account of Acts 15. I see no evidence for public debate, but rather everyone deferring to Peter on the matter.

    Going back to Galatians, Peter had already separated himself from the Gentiles, and the setting is one of a private dinner. Who is Paul referencing when he says “before them all?” He is talking about the Jews who were at this dinner that were eating with Peter. He also gives no details as to how it was done. All I am saying is that the account is not sufficient to prove anything one way or another. I honestly don’t see Paul standing up in the middle of dinner and lecturing Peter. I see him pulling Peter to the side and rebuking him in a private conversation, but done immediately at the dinner, and thus before all.

    As to Timothy, Paul does advise “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (chapter 5 verse 20). However, this is the authority of a Bishop, which Timothy was, to rebuke those who are under his care. He is not advising that a Bishop rebuke the leaders of the church, but the sinner in his own congregation. This is a leader rebuking a member, not a member rebuking a leader.
    Earlier in this same chapter Paul advises Timothy “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren” (verse 1) and then “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (verse 19). Clearly Paul held great respect for the leaders and admonished private action first.
    Honestly, this all bring to my mind the church courts and action of disfellowship that a Bishop can impose. That is a very public rebuke, but the accusation is made in private and requires witnesses.

  38. Shematwater,

    The thing is the details of any of these passages don’t really matter.

    If you want Paul’s rebuke of Peter, in front of a group of people, reported in an open letter to the Church to be private, go for it.

    If you want a church council attended by apostles, elders and the whole Church where the main topic reported was a debate about gentile salvation not to be public, it’s all you.

    If you want to think 1 Tim 5:1 is referring to Elders, and not older men, and this somehow gives immunity to Leaders from truthful criticism, I won’t stop you.

    All told I think this brilliantly demonstrates the irreconcilable hermeneutics used to justify an unaccountable Church leadership and the view of a leadership held responsible by the body of Christ.

  39. Shematwater,

    I am not trying to be dismissive, it’s just obvious we have irreconcilable views on the Bible and history.

    I understand why you cannot see a public debate (Acts 15) or rebuke (Gal 2). Priesthood authority, priesthood power, priesthood keys etc. are all vital dogmas in Mormonism. It isn’t surprising you find them in Acts 15 or expect the NT apostles to behave in according to your dogma. That’s why you can so easily find direct connections to your church courts and action of disfellowship that a Bishop can impose.

    We could continue by looking at a modern translation of 1 Tim 5:1 “Do not speak harshly to an older man” seeing this passage has nothing to do with rebuking someone who holds the office of elder. We could look at Polycarp’s writing showing an early Church writers understanding of Paul’s rebuke to be public. We could examine consular history of the church and the understanding of Council of Jerusalem.

    If we are being honest, none of that will make a difference because the divide is too wide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s