LDS FAQ: Answers to Facetious (?) Questions About Mormons
This page deals with Mormon-related questions that tend to be a bit flippant, facetious or even annoying. Or maybe that describes my answers.
This is part of the LDSFAQ (Mormon Answers) suite by Jeff Lindsay, my attempt to deal questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My writings reflect my personal understanding and are not (yet) officially approved by the Church, by BYU, by Mitt Romney, or even by Harry Reid. Contrary to some rumors, I am not infallible, so if anything I write here proves to be incorrect and inadvertently causes you to, say, lose your soul, I apologize in advance for any inconvenience. On the other hand, I think the opposite effect is more likely.
Sometimes the questions I get from critics of Latter-day Saints are downright silly. Other times the question is good but I'm not quite serious. In either case, the result is fodder for the Facetious Corner. In addition to some light-hearted responses, there are several serious topics explored on this page, including the issue of mental health.
Warning: Shockingly, a few of the answers on this "facetious questions" page are dangerously flippant. To those who are comically impaired or just feeling grouchy, reading this page will only make things worse. Avoid mental and spiritual injury by reading something more wholesome, such as Mormonism: The Dark Power Behind Windows XP, published by Kingdom of the Kults and now available on the awesome CultMaster 2000 CD.
One of the best sources on the complex topic of Mormon polygamy is "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)"
by Greg Smith. He treats many aspects of this complex issue, including polyandry and young wives. If you want to deal directly with the most troubling allegations about this most difficult aspect of Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, then you need to read "Joseph Smith's Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor's New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?" by Brian C. Hales.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there. On the issue of polygamy, for example, see my Mormanity post, "Single Men: Let's Keep Polygamy Forbidden and Illegal."
Also consider my "Book of Mormon Evidences" page.
You can order a free copy of the Book of Mormon at Mormon.org.
"I have traveled to Utah several times and heard the Suburban referred to as the "Mormon Cadillac". I was told this was due to the fact that a Mormon woman had to have thirteen kids to become a Saint in the Mormon religion. Is there any truth to this? Any insight as to why this reference exists?" Just curious. [Question received April 23, 2001]
Thirteen kids to be a Saint? My Mom told me it was six. Looks like she owes the Church seven more.
Actually, to become a saint, one must simply choose to follow Christ and enter into a covenant with Him by accepting baptism. That makes one a saint in the sense that the word is used in the Bible and in the Church, which simply means that one is a member of Christ's church, striving (always imperfectly) to follow Him.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally accept the Biblical view that "children are a heritage of the Lord," as mentioned in Psalms 127:3. Verses 4 and 5 of that Psalm go on to compare children to arrows in the hand of a mighty man. "Happy is the man that hath his quiver [arrow holder] full of them" (v.5). A more modern translation might say, "Happy is the woman who hath her minivan full of them." As for suburbans, I think they are way too expensive - and they certainly can't hold 13 kids. Not legally, anyway.
In the Church, we learn that being a father or a mother is one of the most glorious responsibilities that we have, one in which the Lord allows us to be, in essence, co-creators with Him. Rearing His sons and daughters in this mortal world is a precious responsibility and potentially a source of much joy (along with sorrows!). The family should be a happy place, and taking on the responsibility of raising a family is something we should prepare for and gladly accept, rather than avoiding it in the quest for selfish fulfillment. With this view, it is not surprising that Latter-day Saints tend to have more kids than average. And I think they have stronger, happier families than average - but every parent knows that it isn't easy and the ideal is rarely achieved.
Maybe it's due to tax considerations. They don't want to lose their non-prophet status.
Ouch. OK, look, there is precious little that is "obvious" about religion. I think there are answers to many of the objections that people offer to belief in God, to Christianity and to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but nothing is "obviously true." Everything in religion requires some degree of faith, coupled with study, struggling with alternatives, prayerful searching for truth, etc. Many people think our religion has a lot of merit without wanting to join. That's fine! Some see powerful evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but can't accept other claims of the Church.
Life is complex, religion isn't easy, and no one has a monopoly on truth. But we do have openings and would be happy to accept the sincere conversion of ministers and their congregations, at their convenience. I hope that helps.
No, it's the sushi that makes us hypocrites. But who can resist? We're only mortal - at least for now.
This question about chocolate is based on a misunderstanding of the remarkable and even prophetic LDS health code given by revelation in 1833, known as the Word of Wisdom. In addition to giving health principles much like the modern research-based "food pyramid" and prohibiting the use of tobacco and strong drink, the Word of Wisdom also prohibits tea and coffee (the "hot drinks" mentioned in the text itself). Some people assume that the prohibition was because of caffeine, a compound also found in chocolate and some soft drinks, but we don't know that. There are plenty of potentially harmful chemicals in both drinks, but the Lord did not see fit to provide a list of toxic chemicals when He gave the revelation in 1833. I anxiously await further information. Until then, we are to be wise and cautious in what we take into our bodies, but I am not aware of any religious reason to completely avoid chocolate. The Church does not prohibit it, but feel free to avoid it if you want to. (Ditto for sushi - but I only eat the decaffeinated kind.)
As a helpful resource, here is a quote from President Spencer W. Kimball (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. by Edward Kimball, Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 202):
I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application. I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, "But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug." With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this at but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them [the hot drinks]. . . .
"I was just wondering why if the church tells you not to drink caffeine, why they own the Pepsi company. Please respond and tell me why you're not a hypocrite. "
I am a hypocrite - I'd be a liar to deny it (see my sushi confession above). But since when do we own Pepsi? The Church certainly does not, but it may be that some diverse stock holdings include a few Pepsi shares. But the Church does not officially tell us to not drink Pepsi or cola drinks. That's a private interpretation of some people, and may be good advice, but the Church is cautious on that point. Most active Latter-day Saints, including President Hinckley, do avoid caffeinated beverages, as far as I can tell, but those who sip Coke or Pepsi aren't branded as sinners.
This question is a classic. When it comes to rumors about the Church building a corporate empire, it seems like it's always Coca Cola that gets the attention. Why not corporations like Dairy Queen, Maytag, or Victoria's Secret? And what about Nike? After all, wasn't it President Spencer W. Kimball who first said, "Just do it?"
While it's possible that some diversified investments may include some shares of companies like Coca Cola, it's an easily verified fact that the Church does not control or own a significant part of the company. See, for example, the debunking of this myth at Snopes.com.
No. We'd be content if we could just take over New Jersey. Somebody needs to.
Sadly, a few people have made some extreme claims about LDS people conspiring to take over America and impose a totalitarian society. If only Mitt Romney would have won, we would have showed you that this wasn't close to the truth! Well, not extremely close, I hope. Maybe just a little close.
Some of our critics have suggested that our goal is to run a society that would be "just like" Utah was under Brigham Young. Apart from the ridiculous nature of such claims, let me note that Utah under Brigham Young was a place where non-LDS people were welcomed and treated with great respect. Religious freedom was vitally alive in Utah under Brigham Young and still is today.
Sure, why not? In fact, Pluto is up for grabs right now (mostly because it lost it's planet status). If a woman wants to rule a planet, it's O.K. with me, as long as she can get her own funding. I don't want it coming out of my taxes.
Seriously, it seems like everyone who has seen the outrageously deceptive movie, The God Makers, thinks LDS religion is all about "planets" and "extraterrestrials" and other New Age themes. What planet are these anti-Mormons from? You won't find that kind of talk in the primary sources of LDS doctrine. True LDS belief is focused not on planets and aliens but on Christ, heaven, and Christian principles for life on earth. For more information in response to the hysterical "Sci-Fi" scare tactics of some anti-Mormons, see my LDSFAQ page on Sci-Fi Questions.
If your question is based on an assumed inequality between men and women in the Church, then I'll refer you to the LDS Proclamation on the Family, which explains our view of the different roles of men and women, which roles are intended to be different but co-equal in marriage. As Peter put it (1 Peter 3:7), in heaven husband and wife will be "heirs together" of eternal life. OK, there are complex issues here worthy of debate (some will not be content with the LDS view that men and women have different roles, or with the notion that the Priesthood is open to men but not women).
Again, if you've seen anti-LDS literature which creates the impression that we're obsessed with sci-fi themes like "planets," let me assure you that such is not the case. The scriptures indicate that earth is not the only inhabited creation of God, but we have no information on other worlds and we don't waste much time speculating about them or talking about planets - current or future ones. So take a break from that anti-LDS Web stuff and visit someplace worthwhile. For starters, may I humbly recommend my home page, the Cracked Planet of Jeff Lindsay? Anyway, I've got to run to my Mormon Astronomy Club meeting. We're checking out Jupiter tonight. It's fun to watch the changing color schemes on that planet - could that be a woman's touch?
I've been collecting information on this issue for the past fifteen years, and am now prepared to share my findings. So far, nearly every person I've seen with an exposed midriff has had a belly button, and using deductive logic, one might conclude that Adam also had one. However, the average number of visible belly buttons per person (total belly buttons visible divided by the number of people seen) appears to increasing over time, according to my data - but only for females. So, given that the further back in time we go, the fewer belly buttons are visible, we can conclude that Eve's belly button must not have been visible. But since her midriff was quite visible while in the Garden of Eden, it must mean that she had NO belly button. Bottom line: if my calculations are correct, one could conclude that Adam probably had one, but Eve probably didn't. But all this has very little theological value. I suggest you consider a much more relevant question about Adam: what kind of six-pack did he have?
Abercrombie and Fitch, of course, were the two older brothers of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, older than Laman and Lemuel, the ones we often read about. Abercrombie (Hebrew for "less is more") and Fitch (Hebrew for "garment malfunction") were trendy moguls of fashion in Jerusalem and were the reason why the family had silver and gold. Unfortunately, they were not only rebellious, but utterly shocked their parents in the New World by introducing immodest styles for men such as their "Nothing But a Loincloth®" line that became an instant hit with many New World locals in the hot climate of Mesoamerica. (Scholars to this day fail to recognize that many ancient Mesoamerican carvings and figurines of mostly naked people were actually part of early advertising campaigns for Abercrombie and Fitch's fashion shop and the related businesses spawned by their breakthroughs in fashion.) Lehi was so disgusted that he burned their beautifully illustrated catalog, forcing Abercrombie and Fitch to start engraving their designs on metal plates which could not be so easily by fire. Yes, that's where the idea actually got started. Nephi tried to stop their repulsive business by stealing the plates and later realized he could use them for his own record, starting another enduring trend among his people. But Abercrombie and Fitch only escalated their business, drawing upon the shrewd business skills of their brother Laman who helped draw numerous locals and much of Lehi's family into the fold of their scantily-clad customers. Lehi disowned them and decreed that there should be no mention of those two sons in any family records. And as the current record indicates, tensions between Nephi's group and his more fashion-conscious siblings escalated, forcing Nephi to head north in hopes of living life in a more modest environment. But once a fashion trend starts, it's hard to stop, and soon the land was sprawling with "Lamanites" - Nephi's euphemism for those who dressed with appalling bad taste (staying true to Lehi's command to never mention Abercrombie and Fitch again).
That ancient business has been revived in our day. Some of us find it ironic that showing people without much clothing is how one sells clothing these days. In any case, it is my opinion that the marketing approach of that store verges on the pornographic and certainly appeals to prurient interests and the glorification of immorality to advance its bottom line. In fact, a recent catalog apparently even has full nudity, drawing serious complaints from the tiny minority of parents who pay attention to what their kids are being exposed to. While the Church has not made any statements on this business, the leaders of our Church stridently urge us to avoid immodesty, pornography, and unwholesome media. My personal advice is for parents to keep their kids out of that store, keep them off the catalog mailing list, and encourage them to avoid their products. It's very popular among teenagers, but their parents rarely know what kind of messages are being sent to the kids who shop there.
Ah, you've found the soft underbelly of Mormonism, the closest thing to solid evidence that maybe we are a cult after all. Yes, many North American Mormons, especially Utah Mormons, seem to have an unusually high dietary intake of jello. In fact, Utah is said to have the highest per capita consumption of jello of any state, and green jello appears to be the dominant variety. (But as for me and my house, we prefer strawberry jello with banana slices.) Is this the result of some kind of occult or New Age influence? Could it be mass dementia? Behind the mask of Mormonism, is there a face of jello?
The jello issue can really shake a person's faith - or at least jiggle it - and I've wrestled with it for quite some time myself. But after much study, I've concluded that easy-to-make jello recipes were innocently popularized several decades ago in homemaking activities for the women of the Church, successfully offering a safe, tasteful, and economical outlet for fleshly desires that helped jello became entrenched in Mormon culture. And thus, the jello mold was cast for future generations.
Now that the Church is becoming much more international, it's likely that jello culture will spread rapidly to many new parts of the world, including places where health standards are weak. (You know, places like West Jordan, Utah.) In such places, try to avoid getting amoebic dysentery from eating undercooked jello. Be sure to boil your jello for at least five minutes before eating it, or if you can't conveniently boil any jello you might be served (some hosts are easily offended!), try to discreetly mix in a few drops of concentrated Clorox bleach to kill any parasites. The bleach may remove most of the color in the jello and sometimes gives it an odd flavor, but that's a small price to pay to avoid debilitating parasite infestations in your digestive tract.
I fully agree! Yet millions of deceived people continue supporting professional wrestling year after year.
There is one aspect of Mormonism I have a lot of difficulty with is a doctrine or belief of what our ultimate role in the afterlife (heaven) is. I've heard and read something about men becoming gods themselves with a number of virgins at their side. I can't recall the specifics, but fail to see the purpose of such a belief because it's so unspiritual and carnal.
You may be importing some rumors from another religion into the LDS context - but we do believe that marriage can be eternal, and that family life can extend beyond the grave. I suggest being married in the next life is no more evil and unholy than being married in this life - and marriage, as we are taught in the Bible, is holy and is ordained by God. If the concept of eternal marriage seems unholy, you'll have to take your objections to the source, to that Being whose preferred title is not Bachelor but Father.
As for the other Biblical doctrine you mentioned, the idea that humans can become "gods," please see the discussion on my page about the divine potential of humans (theosis). In passages such as John 10:33-35, Psalms 82:6, 2 Peter 1:3-10, John 17, Romans 8, and Rev. 3:21, there are indications that those who follow Christ will become more like our Heavenly Father and will become "partakers of the divine nature," resulting in us becoming what the Bible calls "gods." That's not our innovation - it's an ancient Christian doctrine known as theosis widely taught by early Christians, but now rejected by most of our fellow mainstream Christians - one of many precious early doctrines lost from the original Church, but restored in the divine Restoration of the Gospel in these latter days, fulfilling Biblical prophecy.
I used to be surprised when strangers asked me about my underwear, but now I assume this is just out of healthy curiosity. It is healthy, right? Seriously, I know where you are coming from. Adult Latter-day Saints who have been to the temple make sacred covenants to follow Christ. There, they receive what is called a "garment" to wear as a personal, private reminder of those covenants. It's related to the Biblical concepts of priestly robes and vestments and "wearing the whole armor of God," with the garment itself representing the garments God gave Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. There are also other outer articles of clothing worn only in the temple.
The temple garment is modest underclothing. It's not exactly Calvin Klein, but it's not necessarily funny looking, maybe just a little more modest than usual. Promoting modesty is one of the intentions, I think, in addition to remembering covenants of integrity and virtue. You may have seen LDS garments in locker rooms without realizing it. (Tip: next time you see someone in a locker room wearing slightly unusual underwear, be sure to introduce yourself before asking embarrassing questions. It's the polite way. And be prepared to answer all sorts of questions about your underwear in return - though I'll never ask.)
As one more example of the underlying threads of prejudice beneath the frequently voyeuristic inquiries we LDS types get, here's a genuine, unedited e-mail I received in January of 1999, with my virtually sincere response (well, I was weak in the flesh when I wrote my response - it's more abrasive than most, but we all have our limits!):
This was a poor attempted to defended the Mormon faith. Any one who half heartily studies Mormonism and Joseph Smith life will find more to it then what you are trying to hide. It's not that I blame you for trying, but like all Mormons that I have dealt with, you are blind to the truth because of family, friends, and fear of being wrong. If you would like to discuss this, please feel free to e-mail back.
P.S. Do you have your "G's" on?
My humble response:
Greetings, Billy. The snow is pretty deep here, so yes, I do have my Galoshes on. You?
Ah, but I really do know what you're asking about - it's my underwear, isn't it? Might I offer a friendly little tip? In most 20th century Western cultures, it's considered indiscreet to inquire about people's underwear, regardless of the brand or style. Asking someone else if they are wearing underwear is widely frowned upon, unless you know the person well, or unless you work in the White House.
I'm not sure what page of mine prompted your remarks. Not knowing that, it's hard to know what it is you think I'm trying to hide. (And yes! I fully agree: there is much more to the Church than what is hidden. Think about it.) But I'm amazed that you have so quickly concluded that I fit your stereotypical mold that applies to ALL Mormons you have dealt with. Are we ALL blind to the truth because of family, friends, and fear? (Since you must know my friends and their fearful influence, please say hi to Art - haven't seen him for a while.) Actually, maybe we ALL really do have one trait in common: we bristle when strangers show such interest in our private apparel.
Really, let's try to be a bit more discreet and open-minded here. Stereotyping people and being so judgmental is not only evil and demonic, it's a waste of bandwidth. And one other thing: like ALL writings of ALL anti-Mormons, yours had some errors that clouded or detracted from its meaning. (Relax: this errur is common to us all.) In any case, I hope that "Sin." is meant as an abbreviation for "Sincerely." If not, I have a counterproposal:
Don't sin. Jeff.
P.S. Have you flossed today? Or checked for navel lint? Hope you don't mind my asking. Guess I'm just curious about you "Gentiles."
More recently, in Jan. 2007, I received a fairly typical email attempting to shake my faith with deep anti-Mormon logic, including this zinger: "Why do Mormons wear special underpants?" Here's my reply:
I wear "special underpants" because it's more modest, more comfortable, and, frankly, safer than wearing nothing underneath. And if people are going to wear underpants, shouldn't they be special? I feel sorry for people who only have ordinary underpants.
I also have some special socks and shoes and even a couple of special ties, but I didn't want to make him feel bad by bragging about that in case his whole wardrobe was just ordinary stuff.
Not yet. But it's a goal I'm working on. (Please, I don't want any help on this - it's something I want to achieve very slowly.)
I had the good fortune of having LDS parents, but at age 14 I chose to not accept that simply because I was born into an LDS family. I resolved that I would not make the sacrifices that the Church requests of people (tithing, two-year mission) if the Church were not true, and decided that I needed to learn for myself whether the Book of Mormon were true. I began to read the book very quickly and then prayed to know if it were true, according to the famous promise given in the last chapter of the book (Moroni 10:3-5):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things [i.e., the Book of Mormon], if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you 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.
After racing through the book, I got on my knees and prayed to know if it were true or not. I prayed, then waited. I had received answers to prayers before and had great faith in God, but no answer of any kind came. I was puzzled. I went back and read Moroni 10:3-5 and realized that I had failed to comply with the requirements for the promise, for I had not taken time to ponder what I had read, to consider its message carefully, and to think about the dealings of God with man. I realized my reading had been far too superficial. Thus I resolved to read it again, but more slowly, taking time to think and ponder as I read each page. That took me much longer, but now I felt like I was understanding much of the book. When I had completed reading, I looked forward in faith to receiving an answer from God about its truthfulness. I told the Lord that I had done according to the promise, that I had read carefully and had thought about Him and His dealings with man, and had pondered the message of the book and felt that it was inspired, but now wanted to know through the power of the Holy Ghost whether it was really true. As I so prayed, I had a marvelous and powerful personal experience in which I sincerely believe that the Holy Ghost enlightened my mind and touched my heart. The Spirit filled me with a sure knowledge that it was true and gave tremendous joy and peace in my heart and whole soul as well. The experience is difficult to describe, but it was much more real and lasting than mere emotion. For me it was only the beginning of my personal "testimony" that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. That testimony has been amplified in many ways since then, through both spiritual experiences and intellectual discovery (see my Book of Mormon Evidences page). I feel that I am a member of the Church not because my parents were, but because I have my own personal testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon and of the Restoration of the Gospel. That testimony grows stronger the more I strive to live the Gospel and the more I learn about the Church.
I'll admit that it is FUN to be a Latter-day Saint, and that the Church does have great programs for youth and others. I'll also grant that there are some members who have no serious religious beliefs - "cultural Mormons," as some call them, whose ties to the church are social or based on tradition. You'll find some of that in most churches. But many "real" Latter-day Saints strive to base their beliefs and their lives on the teachings of Christ, and seek to develop a personal relationship with Him. It's possible to do that and to still enjoy being "fellowcitizens with the saints" (Ephesians 2:19). Doing well with fellowship does not necessarily mean we do poorly in our personal worship. Anyway, I've got run now - it's bungee waterfall kayak quilting night at the church and I'm in charge of donuts.
If we are just pretending when we preach of Christ, rejoice in Christ, and worship Christ, it's a pretense that has been going on unabated since the Church was founded in 1830. Our core, foundational focus on Christ has been emphasized and preached and proclaimed loudly from the beginning, as one can learn with but a brief glance at the cover page or almost any chapter in the Book of Mormon, or a quick scan of our Articles of Faith as written by Joseph Smith, or a cursory study of other LDS canonical writings such as the New Testament (as the title indicates, it was one of those controversial books of new scripture that was widely rejected by mainstream theologians of the day who already had a Bible). The very name of the Church, which some of our critics are loathe to mention, ought to be a clue to our true nature: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every Sunday for the past 170 years, Latter-day Saints have partaken of the sacrament (the communion) in remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Every meeting includes prayers that are to the Father in the name of Christ. Baptism and all other ordinances are performed in the name of Christ. Latter-day Saints are Christians. That is not because of any recent change in doctrine or practice - that's what the Church has been about all along. As Joseph Smith explained,
"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121)
Next time you hear our critics saying that we worship a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible, look carefully at the book they've got in their hands. Is it some kind of a Bible by Mark Twain? Jean Paul Sartre? Immanuel Kant, perhaps? Maybe Michael Jackson or Britney Spears? I can't help but wonder if our critics are using a different Bible!
This whole argument was developed recently, after critics found they were unable to get very far with their lie that we don't worship Christ. That lie takes only a brief conversation with actual LDS people to refute, or only a brief reference to LDS scripture, to LDS writings, and to LDS services. Our religion is entirely focused on Christ, and even the best of propaganda has a hard time obscuring that fact. But the critics keep trying, now switching tactics by saying that the Jesus we worship is somehow another Jesus because we don't accept all the same doctrines as other Churches. We worship a different Jesus, they say, because our Jesus teaches that we must keep commandments (see Matt. 19 or John 14), allegedly in contrast to the Jesus of the Bible that taught faith without works. Or we worship a different Jesus, because our Jesus has a tangible resurrected body (see Luke 24), allegedly in contrast to the Jesus of the Bible. Or perhaps we worship a different Jesus, because our Jesus taught that baptism was essential (see John 3 and Matt. 3), allegedly in contrast to the Jesus of the Bible. Or they might even claim that worship a different Jesus, because our Jesus is not identical in substance to the Father (see John 20, Acts 7:55,56; John 14:28), allegedly in contrast to the Jesus of the Bible. In general, we are said to worship a different Jesus because we accept doctrine X (please see the Bible), while our critics accept doctrine Y. But this is silly. We worship the Jesus of the Bible, and accept Him as our personal Savior. To say that He is a completely different Being - a demon or a false God - because we have doctrinal differences with those who think that they alone worship the "real" Jesus is absurd.
Now think about this for a moment. Suppose the George Washington that a French scholar writes about seems to have a different personality and world view than the one that an American historian has come to know because of differing interpretations of events and documents. Can you imagine one scholar summarily and totally dismissing the views of the other by saying, "But he's not writing about the same man! His work is irrelevant for he's dealing with a different George Washington!" That statement might be reasonable if one were writing about George Washington, the First President of the United States and the other were writing about George M. Washington, the First President of the Auburn Society of Stamp Collectors. Otherwise, it's irresponsible hyperbole.
If our critics had a little more charity, they would accept that we sincerely look to Christ for salvation - not a demonic being who pretends to be Christ, but the Christ of the Bible, the Christ who was born of Mary in Bethlehem, the Son of God, who spoke and taught and healed in Jerusalem and Galilee, who was put to death by the hypocritical religious leaders of his day (leaders who used the scriptures as weapons, looking for any argument, any excuse to criticize and condemn the true Messiah and His Church), but who was then the Firstfruits of the Resurrection, who conquered death and sin and paid the price for all our sins that we might be saved if we will accept Him and follow Him.
I get this kind of comment all the time from those who have been carefully educated about our beliefs by hostile sources. They think they know more than I do about what I actually believe, and have no qualms in telling me what my beliefs actually are. They are usually quick to engage in sophisticated dialog like the following sadly typical e-mail, received March of 2001:
I would just like to tell you that your website is the biggest JOKE I have ever seen. I swear, you mormons are the most Manipulative people on earth. I can see how you all brain wash people into thinking you're actually Christian....well don't worry, I will pray for you that you actually see the true light...lol....hahaha...I'm sorry, you pretend to know so much about your religion, but in reality, you know very little, and the little you do know manipulates logical facts that in any other case would contradict everything you teach. Mormons are Christians, hahah, that is the funniest thing I have ever heard. Take a look at all the actual history of your religion, it's a made up fairy tale, and if you had any brains at all you would see that, and quit holding on to that Brainwashing Cult. Sorry if I ruined your day, sometimes the truth hurts...but, I'll pray for you...lol....take care...
Cut to the core with such logic, I am often too fearful to respond to such prayerful and compassionate fellow - uh - Christians(?). Rather, I retreat into my little brainwashed world and spend my limited e-mail time with people less likely to care about my salvation after spitting in my eye.
But I took the bait on this one and responded:
Thanks for helping see through the delusion propagated by the Church of Jesus Christ. Man, after all those years of being taught to seek salvation through Christ, to follow the example of Christ, to covenant to always remember Christ, to apply the infinite sacrifice of Christ in my life, to feast upon the word of Christ, to only pray in the name of Jesus Christ, to have perfect faith in Christ, and to seek eternally to be in the presence of Christ, I never realized that it was all just brainwashing and mental manipulation to make me think I actually believed in Christ. How stupid could I have been?! But since everything in the Church is cleverly crafted to be focused on Christ and to invite us to come unto Christ, I hope you'll understand that it's hard to see through such deceit.
It's amazing how often anti-Mormons beg people NOT to pray about the message of the restored Gospel and our other testament of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon. Here's one example from a typical Web page, brought to my attention recently by a sincere investigator who later joined the Church:
In these "latter days," there are few people who haven't been visited at least once by Mormon missionaries. At some point in your doorstep dialogue, these earnest young men will ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it, asking the Lord to "send the Holy Ghost to witness that it is true." Then, very solemnly, they'll "testify" to you that they know the Book of Mormon is true, that it's God's inspired word, and that it contains the "fullness of the everlasting gospel."
They'll assure you that if you read their text in a spirit of prayerful inquiry, you, too, will receive the testimony of the Holy Ghost. That testimony supposedly will convince you beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is exactly what they claim it to be.
Keep in mind that the missionaries want you to have a feeling about the Book of Mormon after reading it. They'll tell you that you'll receive the witness of the Holy Ghost in the form of a "burning in the bosom"--a warm, fuzzy feeling--after reading and praying about it. This feeling is the clincher for them. It's the real "proof" that the Book of Mormon is inspired Scripture, and everything else follows from that conclusion.
But think about it. How often have you felt strongly about something or someone, only to learn your feelings were misguided? Consider how often feelings change, even within the space of a single day, as they are affected by weather, lack of sleep, your surroundings, and a host of other factors. Feelings, although a part of our human makeup, can't be a yardstick in matters like this.
After all, some people might get a good feeling after reading Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto or the Yellow Pages. They could pray about such a feeling, and they could take the lingering of the feeling as some kind of divine approbation, but no such sensation will prove the inspiration of Hitler's, Marx's, or Ma Bell's writings. . . .
Tell the Mormon missionaries: "Look, it is foolish to pray about things you know are not God's will. It would be wrong of me to pray about whether adultery is right, when the Bible clearly says it is not. Similarly, it would be wrong of me to pray about the Book of Mormon when one can so easily show that it is not the word of God."
That Web page (http://www.catholic.com/library/Problems_with_the_Book_of_Mormon.asp) offers two sure-fire reasons to discard the Book of Mormon without any further study and certainly without any further prayer:
So what about the issue of prayer concerning the Book of Mormon? Do we trust our salvation to warm, fuzzy feelings while putting our mind into deep freeze? No! (See my page on testimony for a more complete discussion.) The Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5) doesn't simply say to pray about the Book, but to ponder it, to study it, and then with faith in Christ to seek divine understanding of it through the power of the Holy Ghost. It's sad to see fellow Christians demeaning the quest for revelation from God through the power of the Holy Ghost as a "warm fuzzy feeling" that can lead to great deception. How can anyone have a testimony of Christ as the Son of God unless the Father reveals it? (See Matthew 16:15-17; Rev. 19:10; 1 Cor. 2:10-11.) Such prayer and inquiry is part of what all Christians should do in their quest to understand the truth. Relying on human logic and reasoning alone is guaranteed to be fallible, for people get things completely wrong, like the multiple errors in the rather silly attack about honeybees in the Book of Mormon. Those who seek revelation from the Father, combining thought and study with faith in Christ and the influence of God's Spirit, will be able to know the divinity of Jesus Christ in spite of all the arguments against Him, and just might be able to withstand the many human arguments against the divinity of the Bible - and the Book of Mormon.
Do you remember what Christ said when he praised Peter for his testimony of the Savior? It's in Matthew 16: 15-17:
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Peter's knowledge of Christ as the Son of God was not based on a factual analysis of Old Testament scriptures; it was not based on archaeology or genetic science or the opinions of learned scholars of his day; he did not survey the rabbis to find of there was consensus among leading authority figures about the divine status of Christ; it was not based on impressive miracles or other tangible evidences. Flesh and blood had not revealed the divinity of Christ to Peter. Then where did Peter gain that testimony? Through REVELATION from God the Father.
The critics of Christ during His ministry demanded "flesh and blood" evidence, refusing to listen to he Spirit - and ultimately sought the very flesh and blood of Christ Himself. Today our critics ask their victims to rely only on flesh and blood and NOT to seek revelation from God the Father to know if the Book of Mormon is true. Whose voice are they echoing?
The Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ, filled with the Gospel of Christ. Praying about it is not like praying about whether to commit adultery. It claims to be from God, to teach of Christ, and offers powerful evidences for its divinity (many witness and much empirical evidence). It should be a subject of study and prayer - if it really contains the words of Christ, wouldn't you want to treasure them? The quest for truth is nothing like praying about whether or not to commit sin! But oh my, wouldn't the world be a better place if people contemplating sin would pray for guidance? Would that all adulterers would pray about what they are doing. Would that all people contemplating sin would stop and pray and give God a chance to reiterate His will and enlighten the darkened mind. There would be much less sin in the world! So, fellow sinners, take my advice: pray!
I recognize the Catholic.com page against the Book of Mormon is well-intentioned (though many thoughtful and tolerant Catholics I know would be disappointed in it!), but it does simply repeat the crafty arguments of critics who really know better. Do you wonder why those critics vehemently warn against praying about the message of Mormon missionaries? There is a being who teaches men not to pray, who will use every artifice of logic and intimidation to keep people from falling on their knees before the living God. That being who teaches people not to pray is not the Savior, not the Holy Ghost, not the Father. Satan will do almost anything to get people to not pray about the Gospel, about the words of Christ, about their sins or anything else. The Son of God, on the other hand, pleads with us to pray always, and tells us if any man lacks wisdom or understanding, to ask of God (James 1:5). The anti-Mormons as a group seem paralyzed with fear at the thought of someone praying about the Book of Mormon. What are they afraid of? And who gives them that fear?
Read the Book of Mormon, dig into it and use your mind. Consider the logic that humans offer, including arguments about honeybees and Bethlehem and coins and horses and plates too heavy to carry and on and on, if you will, but also consider what the text says and what spirit and power it has. Then, after thought and study, realize that human understanding is weak and fallible, so seek ultimate guidance from the Father. The anti-Mormons sometimes go so far in their efforts to stop prayer as to say that we open ourselves to demonic influence if we pray about the Book of Mormon. But Christ, who is faithful and true, tells us to "Ask and it shall be given," (Matt. 7:7) and assures us that since we, "being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matt. 7:11). Please, have faith in God, not in the unreliable analysis of anti-Mormon critics, who would have you trust them more than the Father. When they tell you there is no need to pray because the Book of Mormon mentions honeybees, tell them to buzz off.
Storing food = a militia mentality? Hmmm - maybe those Mormons are preparing for the world's biggest food fight.
The Church does encourage people to be prepared for disaster, but it definitely does not encourage stockpiling of weapons or anything else akin to the militia movement. The physical preparations that are suggested include storing food, water, clothing, and saving money. This program has benefited thousands - not just Mormons - during times of unemployment or natural disaster. When southern Florida was devastated by a hurricane a couple years ago, the Church and its members were able to organize and deliver needed supplies before other governmental or private relief agencies could. Being prepared is not a sign of paranoia, but of wisdom. I know our critics have claimed the opposite, and I did see an outrageous Associated Press article right after the Oklahoma City bombing suggesting that Mormon culture breeds a militia mentality. In response, I wrote a letter-to-the-editor for our local paper, which was published after being shortened. Please read my comments on Mormons and the Militia at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/militias.shtml".
(Thanks to Bernadette Cutelli of New Zealand for help with the first part of my answer.)
Simple. Having multiple wives also means having multiple mothers-in-law.
Seriously, polygamy is forbidden in the Book of Mormon, except for those times when the Lord commands it (see Jacob 2:30). For reasons I don't understand, the Lord commanded that practice for a period of time from the 1840s until 1890. Yes, it was a Biblical practice for a time, as evidenced by Abraham (see Gen. 25:1-6) and Jacob (see Gen. 29 and 30). The prophet and king David had multiple wives (2 Samuel 12:7-9), as did Solomon (including wives who worshipped strange gods, which was forbidden), Gideon (Judges 8:30), and Jehoiada the priest (2 Chronicles 24:2-3). Deuteronomy 21:15-17 shows polygamy accepted as a valid practice and gives rules governing the inheritance for children of polygamous wives.
Further, there is the biblical practice called the levirate, given as a divine commandment to Moses. In this practice, if a married man dies without children, his brother must take the deceased man's wife as a wife and raise up children to ensure that the deceased man has successors (Deuteronomy 25:5-7; see also Mark 12:19-23; Matthew 22:24-28; and Gen. 38:8). This duty appears to remain in force whether the living brother is already married or not.
In spite of its biblical foundations, polygamy certainly conflicts with modern European cultural views and was offensive and difficult for many Latter-day Saints, many of whom came from Puritan stock. At its peak, perhaps 15-25% of the Church was involved in plural marriage (with around 5% or so of the men practicing it). It's a tough thing to understand and very easy to misunderstand. For example, Mark Twain assumed it was all about lust for women, and thought the Utah men were scoundrels--until he visited Utah and saw what the rough, tough pioneer women looked like. Then he praised Mormon men as being true saints. Well, there's something to that. For some, polygamy operated in some cases almost like a welfare system to provide for widows and single women among the Saints, but that was almost certainly not why the practice was introduced. The real reasons have not been given, but polygamy is obviously a way to rapidly increase a population. Whether the reasons for the practice, polygamy also apparently helped provide marriage opportunities for women to faithful males when the women otherwise might have been unable to find a suitable mate. See "Single Men in a Polygamous Society: Male Marriage Patterns in Manti, Utah" by Kathryn M. Daynes, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 24. No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 89-111. (The link is to an 8 MB PDF file for entire edition, including Daynes' article.) This article points out that when one looks at the distribution of men and women of prime marrying age in Utah, there was often a surplus of women. And if one factors in the non-LDS segment of the population, which was overwhelmingly male, and the relative lower rate of men who received their endowments versus women, then there was a significant shortage of qualified men for temple marriage during the time when polygamy was in force. This shortage is examined using the population in the Manti area as a case study. For a related fascinating quote from Brigham Young on that topic, see my Mormanity post, "Single Men: Let's Keep Polygamy Forbidden and Illegal."
Importantly, the Book of Mormon teaches that polygamy is prohibited, unless the Lord commands it to "raise up seed unto me" (Jacob 2:27-30). Though practiced by a minority of LDS families during the time before its prohibition in 1890, the many descendants of those families have comprised the backbone of Church leadership for years, undoubtedly affected by the faith and sacrifice it required to live that difficult but revealed practice.
Of course, there have been some pretty severe charges against Joseph Smith because of polygamy. There are charges that he was a sexual deviant or adulterer, for example. However, the bottom line is that there is no credible evidence that he had sex with teenagers too young for legal marriage, or that he lived with the wives of other men practicing "sexual polyandry" (though yes, several of his wives did have living husbands when they were sealed to Joseph, but detailed analysis of the historical record leaves no evidence of adultery or sexual polyandry--these were complex situations that, in spite of how weird it all is to us today, did not result in objections from the men or the women involved, and do not justify the charges that are made today as people assume these were inappropriate sexual relationships). But at the same time, there is a lot about polygamy that I don't get and don't like, both in Joseph's day and in Old Testament times, so it's fair to struggle with this topic. However, a reasonable response to some of the most painful arguments and assumptions is found in new "wiki" entry in the FAIR Wiki by FAIRLDS.org, "Joseph Smith's Marriages to Young Women." Another detailed resource is "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)" by Greg Smith for the FAIRBlog. That link allows you to play an MP3 file to hear Greg Smith's hour-long talk on the topic. You can also read his words at FAIRLDS.org, complete with footnotes. He treats many aspects of this complex issue, including polyandry and young wives. Perhaps the best treatment on polyandry, where we may face the most troubling allegations about polygamy, which is the most difficult aspect of Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, is "Joseph Smith's Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor's New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?" by Brian C. Hales, presented at the 2012 FAIRLDS Conference. Yes, polygamy is weird by our modern standards and downright hard to figure out, but for those trying to live that law in Joseph's day, in spite of the complex situations involved, it represented a good-faith effort to live a challenging law without violating fundamental laws like "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Assumptions of sexuality behind every sealing are unwarranted, and interpretations of historical data that point to sexual polyandry are questionable. Yes, a challenging and odd practice, but not in the ways that critics allege.
For another detailed discussion treating charges of polyandry, please see an article by Alma G. Allred," Variations on a Theme" (that's a PDF file - there is also an HTML version), which reviews a recent book by Todd Compton. Another recommended resource is the FAIRLDS.org compilation, Mormonism 101, especially the chapter that deals with charges against Joseph Smith (polygamy, magic, etc.). A good place to start is Joseph Smith and Polygamy at FAIRMormon.org.
Surprisingly, LDS women were strong supporters of it and critics were shocked when Utah women, among the first in the nation to receive voting rights, voted into office pro-polygamy men. As a result, the Federal Government during the 1870s and 1880s took away voting rights from Mormon women (and men), seized Church property, and hunted down polygamist men to jail them, even though their plural marriages had been legal when they occurred. About 1,300 LDS men who had plural wives were jailed by federal officers pursuant to the Edmunds Act of 1882. Eric Eliason discusses this era briefly in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000, pp. 95-112, which reviews David L. Bigler's Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998):
In 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act abolished female suffrage in Utah and authorized the administration of loyalty oaths to prospective voters, jurors, and officeholders. The act stipulated compulsory attendance of witnesses at trials, overturned common law in compelling wives to testify against their husbands, and disbanded the church's fund for bringing foreign converts to Utah. The act's most devastating provision legally disincorporated the church and provided for the seizure of all its assets in excess of $50,000.
The Utah Commission gerrymandered territorial districts to ensure election victories in Salt Lake City and Ogden for the minority anti-Mormon Liberal party. In early 1890, the Supreme Court declared constitutional an Idaho law barring all Mormons from voting whether or not they believed in or practiced plural marriage. Congress neared almost certain passage of the Cullom-Strubble Bill, which was designed to disenfranchise the church's entire U.S. membership - the first and only attempt at total disenfranchisement of an entire religion in American history. Enacting the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, federal agents began confiscating property and blocking access to meetinghouses and temples.
The Utah Commission had made the LDS Church into an outlaw organization and Utah into a nearly totalitarian state under a marshal law that was hostile to the majority of the territory's inhabitants. This campaign only began to ebb when Wilford Woodruff announced a cessation of plural marriages in 1890
The jailing of many men caused hardship enough for Mormon women and children, but many women were also found "in contempt of court" and jailed for refusing to testify against their husbands. Later, in 1890, the Prophet (Wilford Woodruff) received a direct revelation that the time for the practice of polygamy had ended. It is unclear to me whether polygamy would still be going on today or not if the persecution had been less severe. Eric D. Snider, a reporter for the BYU Daily Universe, sent me the following message, quoted with permission, offering his analysis on this issue:
I was always uncomfortable with Wilford Woodruff's conveniently timely revelation that the time to stop polygamy had arrived, until I learned more about it. God didn't tell Pres. Woodruff that polygamy time was over COINCIDENTALLY just at the time that the church was about to be destroyed by the government; what God said was that because of all the persecutions, he would no longer require the saints to practice it. (See Doctrine and Covenants 124:49 - when a commandment is given, and the saints "go with all their might ...to perform that work, ... and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.") Basically, the saints were to keep practicing polygamy until their enemies killed them, or until God told them they could stop. Mercifully, God told them they could stop. But if there had not been all those persecutions, we have no reason to assume that God would have EVER put a stop to polygamy.
On the other hand, I see polygamy as a temporary, "expendable" practice and an exception to the rule, based on:
Please don't assume that a practice is wrong or immoral because it clashes with our cultural views. There are many things that were practiced in the Bible by inspired prophets that clash with my sensibilities and cultural values - polygamy is only one example. I obviously don't understand the reasons for the practice and am not comfortable with the idea, but I believe that it was directed by the Lord for His reasons. Wish I really knew why. When this mortal test is over, I look forward to seeing the answer key.
As to the harsh response of U.S. politicians who outlawed polygamy and persecuted the Church for the practice, remember that many of them saw nothing wrong with having plural mistresses. If Mormons were simply accused of having loose morals and of sleeping around, we'd probably be receiving federal grants and would be among the most popular of religions in some parts of the country. But rather than taking advantage of multiple women, LDS polygamists were marrying them legally and making a lifelong commitment to them. That's what made the self-righteous critics so indignant.
Today, polygamy is contrary to revealed marriage practices for the Church. Those who practice it are in direct opposition to what has been revealed and come out in open defiance of the Church, for which they are quickly excommunicated. Those few people who today practice polygamy are not members of the Church, and can be viewed as enemies of it.
For more information, see my treatment to the question, "Does polygamy make Mormons a non-christian cult?" on my page about the issue of "cults." Also see "The Consistency of the LDS Church's Position Regarding Legislating Marriage" by J. Max Wilson, an essay that shows that the Church's appeal to natural law in resisting the legal attack on polygamy in the 1800s is consistent with the legal theories behind its opposition of same-sex marriage and its efforts to preserve the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
And finally, to keep things in perspective, consider this quote by Jan Shipps, emeritus professor of religious studies at Purdue:
"The whole notion that polygamy is a danger to the family was incredibly important in the early 20th century. But people aren't as afraid of polygamy today as they once were, partly because serial polygamy -- by which I mean divorce and remarriage -- is the standard rather than the exception for half the people in this country."
I will admit that polygamy really bothers me. There are some pretty nasty allegations about how Joseph Smith did it. He did keep it secret for quite a while, resulting in some public denials. But some of the most troubling allegations about Joseph Smith can be addressed by considering several factors discussed in the links below, including the fact that being "sealed" to someone did not necessarily mean that intimate relations were involved. (If being "sealed" to Joseph always meant living as man and wife, we'd expect to find a lot more children from these relationships.) Some of the plural wives "sealed" to Joseph were young by today's standards, and there are a couple cases where it appears that he was sealed to someone already married. But in spite of these troubling issues around polygamy, the evidence does not point to Joseph Smith as someone out to exploit women, but rather as someone sincerely trying to follow what he felt was a religious requirement at the time. It was a complex issue, perhaps implemented poorly, and remains a difficult but temporary part of our legacy. I'm glad that it ended in 1890!
Gregory L. Smith, M.D., offers a helpful and highly informed perspective on the controversial 19th-century practice of polygamy among Latter-day Saints in his article, "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" at FAIRLDS.org. If you've struggled with the issue of polygamy (struggled with it philosophically, not in practicing it, I hope!), this article helps clarify why it was kept secret for so long, why it was not about personal gratification, and why many of the anti-Mormon charges based on it are weak or even absurd. As for the charge that it was just an excuse to allow Church leaders to gain physical gratification, I find that particularly absurd. There are plenty of ways to gain the "benefits" of immorality without the insane burden of marrying one's conquests. Polygamy in the early LDS Church was a good way to get yourself killed or jailed or in all sorts of other hot water and distress (hint: how many in-laws did Brigham Young have to deal with??), and in general just doesn't make sense as merely an excuse for men having fun. To look at the lives and writings of the men and women involved, it's much more plausible to see polygamy as a painful sacrifice, even something of an Abrahamic test for the virtuous Puritanical stock that dominated Church membership rather than a moral loophole for the personal pleasure of perverts.
Yes, there were problems and mistakes and even disasters for some, and I think we're nearly all relieved to be over a century away from that practice. But it was not the sensational, demonic practice that its critics made it out to be.
Other resources on the polygamy issue:
2003 Update: I recently received e-mail claiming that in Old Testament times, polygamy existed but was never condoned by God. I was then asked if I could show any scripture suggesting that God have commanded it or ever condoned it. My brief response:
A relatively clear example is 2 Samuel 12:7-9, which states that God gave some of David's wives to him [women who had been the wives of Saul before]. Modern LDS scripture further clarifies the issue, in my view.
My correspondent challenged this, as follows:
In answer to your suggestion that 2 Samuel 12:7-9, states that God gave Saul's wives to David, I would like to point out that if Israel had not sinned in rejecting God as their king in the first place, Saul and David neither one would have been in position to be kings. It says God gave Saul's house and Saul's wives to David for his keeping. Saul married multiple wives and had children.....when he died, it was necessary for them to be taken care of.....not left out in the street to beg. It fell to David to take care of them as the next one to take the throne. It would have been wrong to just send them packing to fend for themselves. God is a God of mercy and He was showing mercy on the wives of Saul by giving them into David's keeping and care.
If God absolutely disapproved of polygamy, there were plenty of ways to take care of widows other than having David marry them. But if you will feel that ensuring that women have a husband to care for them is a valid reason for God having a prophet instigate polygamy, would you then be willing to withdraw your original premise that there is no evidence that God ever condoned or commanded polygamy?
And if Abraham, a prophet of God the scriptures call the "friend of God" (2 Chron. 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23), offended God by taking plural wives, why did he maintain his status as a prophet? Why didn't Christ bother to point out that he was a fallen prophet or poor role model instead of speaking so highly of him? (See Matt. 8:11, 22:31-32; Mark 12:26; Like 16:23-30, 20:37; and John 8:39,56.) Can true prophets of God engage in polygamy and still be true prophets and praiseworthy "friends of God"? If so, could the same be true of Joseph Smith?
Further, in the law given by God to Moses in Exodus 21:10, there is a provision for a man who takes a second wife after receiving a first. This clearly condones the practice when it otherwise would have been a great place to forbid it.
2004 Update: Terry Givens offers some practical observations on polygamy in his outstanding book, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 144):
Depictions of polygamy [in works of fiction] were also, and as predictably, wildly distorted. But then, the actual practice of plural marriage was seldom the stuff of steamy fiction. Writers of pulp fiction were unanimous in their claim that, in one author's words, "what was planned by Young for man's paradise proved woman's hell." [Mrs. W.A. King, Duncan Davidson; A Story of Polygamy (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1928), 27.] But from Brigham Young's pronouncement that he would rather be the corpse in a funeral procession than have to accept the doctrine of polygamy [Journal of Discourses, 3:266] to the dozens of elders incarcerated in Territorial prison for their devotion to the practice to a generation of uniquely stressful marital relations for men and women alike, polygamy was far removed from the male paradise of fiction. Plural marriage was in practice a painful struggle against consciences shaped by Puritan values that most members, converts from Protestant faiths, shared. Domestic arrangements were inconvenient, fraught with jealousies, and, after the first wave of antipolygamy legislation, hampered by flight, concealment, and frequent relocations.
Also at odds with the fictional portrayal of the practice is the fact that in 1852, the same year that polygamy was publicly announced as a principle, Utah passed a divorce statute "that provided women much more control over their lives than was given by any other divorce statute of the nineteenth century, save only that of Indiana." [Louis Kern, An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopia--the Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981), 191.] In an 1861 address, Brigham Young stated that "when a woman becomes alienated in her feelings and affections from her husband, it is his duty to give her a bill and set her free." Even more surprisingly, he claimed that for a husband to continue cohabiting with such a wife was tantamount to fornication. [Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1986) 92-93.] Such opinions were clearly not meant merely for show. During his presidency, Young granted 1,645 divorces. [Ibid., 91. Also see Eugene E. Campbell and Bruve L. Campbell, "Divorce Among Mormon Polygamists: Extent and Explanations," Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (winter 1978): 4-23.]
Polygamy, then, proved to be a male Utopia only in the conceptions of some indignant--but apparently envious--novelistic fantasizers. Why the ferocious response by both the secular and the religious press? Such an egregious affront to Western standards of moral propriety may seem self-evidently offensive, but more than moral indignation is at work here. That such sensationalizing took place in the context of the most vehement moral outrage is neither surprising nor disingenuous. For it is precisely the transgressive nature of polygamy that excites both envy and rejection. The supposed virtue of exposing "the moral leprosy" of Utah gives at the same time opportunity to luxuriate in all the seamy details one is excoriating.
Many writers and journalists continue to luxuriate in seamy details involving past polygamy and the present polygamy of some excommunicated rebels, but it's not an accurate depiction of Mormon past or present.
Amazing! Almost every handshake between men takes on homoerotic overtones in Quinn's deluded vision of the past. By a combination of outrageous allegations, severing of quotations from their context, and blind ignorance of reality, Quinn creates a nineteenth-century Mormon world that winked at or encouraged homosexuality - in stark contrast to the facts. A devastating review of Quinn's book exposes the learned fraud that Quinn has produced (see George L. Mitton and Rhett S. James, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 140-261).
Quinn fans will be excited to learn of his next work, "Homoerotica in Purple: Same-sex Dynamics on the Barney Show." Quinn's pioneering work in homosociology re-examines the nation's fascination with the lovable, reptilian Barney character of children's TV, where homoerotic themes are evident in abundance. Ironically, homophobic right-wing Christian viewers somehow accept Barney as being "family oriented," almost as if they had never heard the words of the famous "coming-out chant" of the clearly gay Barney, where the very nature of the family is redefined along homosocial lines:
I love you. You love me.
We're a happy family.
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you
Won't you say you love me, too?
Quinn explores homosensuality in Barney's dance and song, his fascination with small boys, an exclusive anonymous interview with one of the gay actors who play Barney, and inside stories overheard at gay bars about backstage activities on the Barney show. Quinn also provides scientific evidence that, among conservative Christians, latent homosexuals or homosexuals in denial are most likely to be attracted to Barney, while genuine homophobes tend to become violent when repeatedly exposed to the show or its music. In a particularly forceful chapter, Quinn dissects Barney's antics on the infamous 1994 video, "Barney Live! In New York City," where numerous homoerotic themes are present, including cross-dressing and unusual emphasis on Barney's special "companion," B.J. Ironically, tens of thousands of Christian families own this video and have never questioned its themes or content.
Finally, Quinn clinches his argument by using image analysis and Pantone color tables to prove that Barney is not actually purple, but lavender. If Quinn convinces you that Mormons were secretly pro-homosexual, you'll be even more convinced that Barney is the media's loudest voice for the gay community.
This was actually a topic discussed in a blog post at Sofia's Primary Ideas, where it was noted that a popular song for LDS childrenn talks about their "wrongs" being washed away at baptism. So if little children have no sins, as Moroni teaches in the Book of Mormon, and we don't baptize before the age of 8, apparently because that's when children "officially" become accountable, should 7 year olds be singing about their sins or wrongs being washed away?
Look, I've seen plenty of sin among 7 year olds. Lying, fighting, stealing, shoving, cruelty to goldfish--you name it. Maybe I grew up in a rough neighborhood. The real issue, though, may be one of accountability. I'm not all that sure that we have to give a pass to misbehavior at age 7--some of those little devils seem pretty accountable to me, but the official standard of 8 years old is what we have. Presumably they aren't really fully accountable before that age, but accountable or not, what one seven-year-old did to our sofa was definitely a sin. (Sorry if I sound bitter.) More than just upholstery needed washing after that little incident. So I say keep those words in the song and don't let 7-year-olds or little devils of any age think that they can choose bad behavior and get a pass. Teach them to choose good and learn how to repent while young--they'll need that someday, perhaps sooner than you might think.
I believe you have two passages in mind:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
2 Cor. 11:14
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Paul warns against anyone accepting any other Gospel than what Christ and the Apostles preached, regardless of its apparent source, and I agree. Now consider this: what was early Christianity? What did Christ teach? What was His Church? Christ taught faith and repentance, followed by baptism by immersion for those who believe (Acts 2:37-38; John 3:3-5; Matt. 4:17; Mark 16:16; Romans 6; many others). Anything else - infant baptism, baptism by sprinkling, etc., is not the same Gospel. Christ instituted an unpaid ministry (Matt. 10:8; 1 Cor. 9:18; John 10:11-13; Acts 20:33-35; 2 Thess. 3:7-8) comprising apostles and prophets and other offices (Bishops, Seventies, etc.) which was lead by revelation from Him (Eph. 4:11-14). Any other form of organization must be questioned. Where do we find the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands as in the early Church? (Acts 8:17) Where do we find priesthood authority given by the laying on of hands, by revelation and by the laying on of hands, by those who have received it from God? (Heb. 5:4; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) For centuries these things were not to be found on the earth, but they have been restored now through the promised "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:19-21) which came after the prophesied time of apostasy (2 Thess. 2:1-3; Acts 20:29,30).
Does Paul say that we should not accept angels or their ministry? That's not at all what he warns against. He warns against being deceived. He warns that Satan can appear as an angel of light, which is a deception only because it sort of looks like the real - and holy - thing. Counterfeits don't work unless they imitate something real. Angels are real, and they look human and are bright, as we gather from several Biblical descriptions. Cornelius, for example, describes the angel who ministered to him as a man in bright clothing (Acts 10:30-32; see also Heb. 1:7). Two angels are described as men in white clothing in Acts 1:10-11. They announced the birth of Christ, they ministered to Christ (Luke 22:43), they rolled away the stone in front of his tomb and announced His Resurrection (Matt. 28); they were present after He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11),and they will yet come with Christ (Matt. 16:27). Angels have been sent by God to visit men long before Paul wrote anything, angels ministered to and delivered Paul himself (Acts 27:23), and angels ministered to others such as John (see the Book of Revelation) after Paul wrote Galatians and Corinthians. John even prophesied of angels ministering to men in the future (e.g., Rev. 14:6,7, where an angel proclaims the "everlasting Gospel" to the world - perhaps an allusion to the role of the Angel Moroni). Angels can be spirits (Ps. 104:4), including those of righteous men of God who lived before, such as Moses and Elias who appeared to Christ and some apostles in Matt. 17. Since the time of Christ, they may also be resurrected spirits, as may be the case for the former prophet who appeared as a glorious angel to John the Beloved (Rev. 22: 8,9), and was the case for the angel Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith to help bring forth The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, a record which confirms and verifies the Bible and convinces millions that Jesus is the Christ. Angels were a real part of the early Church. If there is no more ministering of angels in some quarters, perhaps its for the same reasons that we don't find apostles and prophets and modern revelation and other gifts of the Spirit. Where do we find the ministry of real angels today? In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
How can we tell a message from a false angel versus that from a real angel? The same as we can tell a false prophet from a real prophet: "by their fruits ye shall know them." The definitive fruit of Joseph Smith is the Book of Mormon, translated by the power of God from an ancient manuscript. That book begs to be examined and pondered carefully. It's power and Christ-centered message of truth have changed my life. I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that it is true and I have an intellectual knowledge as well that it could not have been fabricated and that it is clearly an ancient document, translated into a modern language (King James style English - and now many other languages as well).
Some modern Christians reject the idea that God would send an angel to testify of anything, forgetting the words of Christ ("I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things. . . ." in Rev. 22:16). Real angels from God have been sent in these days to testify, to instruct, and to return sacred authority and power and ordinances from God, bringing back the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, not some other Gospel of men. I hope you'll take some time to look into the Restored Gospel and hear its simple but beautiful message from authorized servants of God, the LDS missionaries. They have received Priesthood authority for their ministry in the true Biblical manner, by prophecy and by the laying on of hands from other authorized servants who in turn can trace their authority back to Christ, thanks to the ministry of angels - even Peter, James, and John - who Christ sent to Joseph Smith to restore the Priesthood power of God.
Easy - I think it's because of a great mom. She did two wonderful things for me:
I won't say that I'm any smarter than any other normal person of similar intelligence, but to the extent that I love to read and still have a partially functioning brain, I owe it all to my mother.
Did I mention that Latter-day Saints tend to put an emphasis on education? LDS scriptures teach that part of our reason for being here is to grow and learn, and that we should be diligent in how we use our time. Continuous improvement, development of new skills, and life-long education ought to be a part of every Latter-day Saint's life. What we learn and experience in this mortal existence will be of value to us in the world to come. Based on my education in science and engineering, how I look forward to learning about the science and engineering involved in the Creation! My secular learning has greatly enhanced my joy and wonder in beholding the miracles of God's creations. How can anyone think about the detailed workings of white blood cells, or contemplate the marvelous structure and flavor of a strawberry, without seeing the hand of God? Every aspect of life and the cosmos seems to boldly bear the stamp "Designed by God" - but that stamp is only seen by those who will open their eyes.
I know that God is real, that He loves us, and that He definitely answers prayers. It is largely through prayer that I know He exists and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I have experienced obvious and wonderful answers to many prayers (though many times the answer is an undesired "No" or a frustrating "Do your best" or an unnerving "So what did you expect?").
Prayer is the most important single component of LDS worship. Going to Church does not save a soul. Sitting through hours of meetings doesn't change our life or help us to know God if we are not worshipping Him personally and seeking Him through prayer. A Latter-day Saint who is not praying daily - and having meaningful prayer - is missing the point of our religion: to know God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. It is through prayer - personal communication with God - that we can learn His will, understand His nature better, and receive guidance in our lives.
As a devotee of the sciences, I am overwhelmed with the intellectual evidence of intelligent design, or rather, of stunningly brilliant design. On the more personal and spiritual level, some of the most dramatic evidences of His love and existence have been His "small" gifts - often in response to prayers seeking for help or understanding in small things. While I hesitate to give personal examples on the Web or to publicly discuss sacred experiences in my life, I will offer a tiny personal example which I shared with others a couple years ago on the Christians in Science mail list. This brief experience combines intellectual awe with personal evidence of His love. This was adapted from a journal entry of mine from August of 1995:
I'd like to share a recent experience with you that points to the kindness of God and perhaps His desire for us to appreciate the wonders of His artwork in nature. I just got back from a wonderful vacation in the western United States (mostly southern Utah), where the wonders of God's creation can overwhelm the observer. (The majesty of one location - Cedar Breaks National Monument - literally brought my wife to tears.) A geologist and relative of mine, Paul Crosby, had taken us on a brief tour around the St. George area, explaining some of the processes that had created such strange beauty. A few days later, my three-year old son and I were walking along a deserted trail (once a road) on Butler Hill, right next to the Wasatch Mountains by Salt Lake City. I was surprised at the huge variety of rocks I was finding - igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, in many colors and shapes. I paused and examined the setting and the beautiful mountains and wondered how such variety was possible on that former shore of Lake Bonneville.
As I looked over the valley and recalled the inspiring morning with a geologist a few days earlier, I wished that I could talk to a geologist again to better appreciate that part of God's creation. My son and I then returned to picking through the many rock piles, looking for treasures of beauty. Just moments later, a man and his dog strolled by on that isolated lane. He interrupted us, saying, "I noticed that you are looking at the rocks here." Before I could say anything, he began to explain why there was such a variety of rocks to be found. The road that once went up this hill had been closed off by dumping random truckloads of rocks from around the state of Utah - whatever rocks Salt Lake County happened to have it its trucks. As a result, there were varieties of lava rock from southern Utah, rocks from the Oquirrh mountain range, granites from Alta Canyon, metamorphic rocks from elsewhere in the Salt Lake area, and even some loads containing Indian artifacts. I was impressed and asked him how he was so well informed. "I'm a geologist for the State of Utah and have studied this area." Thrilled, I bombarded him with a number of other questions before he had to go, thus learning the identities of many of the rocks that had stirred my curiosity. It was a true treat for me - and a marvelous blessing.
The Lord may seem to ignore most of our foolish pleas and may choose to let us suffer pain and disappointment for our own good, somehow, but through it all His loving kindness shows in marvelous ways. That gentle but flagrant act of kindness - sending a geologist to visit me on an isolated stretch of long-closed road - shows me something about the loving Parent we worship. Not only is He kind, but He wants us to know about His works and appreciate them - even to the point of sending a geologist our way at just the right time.
God is real. His works and rocks are real. His Son, the Rock, is real. Seek Him in prayer!
Nearly 5 decades after Joseph's death, the journal of Oliver Huntington reports that he heard Joseph say something of this nature while Oliver was a child. There is little reason to take Oliver's statement at face value. There is no other evidence that Joseph believed such a thing. But even if Joseph did accept some of the common misconceptions of his day (even some scientists speculated about the moon being inhabited), that provides no reason to reject him as a prophet. Prophets don't automatically become experts on all aspects of science. Even Moses had some basic scientific problems in classifying animals that appear as "errors" in the Bible (listing a bat as a "bird" and a hare as a cud chewer in Deut 14:7,18), but to those who get bent out of shape over that, I say "Get a life!"
Daniel Judd covers this issue in "Depression, Youth Suicide, and Divorce: Fables and Facts About Latter-day Saints," in BYU's Religious Studies Center Newsletter (vol. 14 no. 1, Sept. 1999). The article is a summary of findings published in Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints (ISBN 1-57008-631-1). Findings include the following:
I am indebted to Mark D. Ellison for the information above.
2004 Update: I just learned of a scientific study published in 2002 about male suicide in Utah. The reference is Sterling C. Hilton, Gilbert W. Fellingham, and Joseph L. Lyon, "Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah," American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, No. 5, 2002, pp. 413-419. The abstract, available online, follows:
Previous studies have used population data to demonstrate an inverse association between suicide rates and religious commitment. This report examines Utah suicide rates for young men aged 15-34 years, stratified by their membership in and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the predominant religion in Utah. All state death records for males from 1991 to 1995 were obtained and linked to LDS church deceased membership records to obtain a measure of religious commitment that is not self-reported. Religious commitment for LDS church members was determined by age-appropriate priesthood office. Of the 27,738 male deaths reported, 15,555 (56%) linked to an LDS church record using a probabilistic linking program. Using active (high religious commitment) LDS as the reference group, the less-active (low religious commitment) LDS group had relative risks of suicide ranging from 3.28 (ages 15-19 years) to 7.64 (ages 25-29 years); nonmembers of the LDS church had relative risks ranging from 3.43 (ages 15-19 years) to 6.27 (ages 20-24 years). Although the mechanism of the association is unclear, higher levels of religiosity appear to be inversely associated with suicide.
In other words, young less-active Mormon males and non-Mormon males had a vastly higher suicide rate than active Mormons, ranging from over three times to over six times higher, depending on the age group. The fruits of activity in the Church, contrary to the claims of anti-Mormons, appear to include a greatly reduced tendency to commit suicide, at least for young males.
Daniel Judd also summarized 58 studies in the literature pertaining to Latter-day Saints and mental health (D. Judd, introduction to Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints, Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1999, p. xiii, cf.. 303-311, as cited by Barry Bickmore, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001, pp. 215-216), finding that
71 percent of the outcomes indicated a positive relationship between religiosity and mental health variables, 4 percent negative, and 24 percent neutral (1 percent was curvilinear). While much of the anecdotal writing concerning the mental health of the Latter-day Saints has been negative, . . . . the majority of the research (95 percent of the outcomes) clearly refutes these negative assertions. The research evidence clearly indicates that Latter-day Saints who live their religion report better mental health than those who are less committed to the faith.
The Center for Disease Control has an online article dealing with the regional variation in suicide entitled Regional Variations in Suicide Rates -- United States, 1990-1994 (also see their more recent statistics on suicide). Again, the West has a high rate, but Utah has a lower rate than the states surrounding it. The Utah rate in this article is listed at 15.0 per 100,000, compared to 20 for Wyoming, 18.4 for New Mexico, 18.0 for Arizona, 17.1 for Idaho, and a high-rollin' 24.1 for Nevada. I don't know why the West has such tribulations in its population, but Utah is not the epicenter of Western suicidal tremors.
Further, please don't blame LDS religion on whatever social problems are found in Utah. Our evangelical critics who make much of such charges might be surprised to find that a few statistics cut their way as well. For example, on Nov. 12, 1999, David Crary of the Associated Press published an article entitled "BIBLE BELT IS ALSO DIVORCE BELT." It reported that "Bible belt" states had a divorce rate 50% higher than the national average:
"Aside from the quickie-divorce mecca of Nevada, no region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than the Bible Belt. Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma round out the Top Five in frequency of divorce. In a country where nearly half of all marriages break up, the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average."The article noted that religious activity played some role, though it was unclear how. Compared to Catholic parts of the country where divorce is lower, "Bible Belt states, in contrast, are dominated by fundamentalist Protestant denominations that proclaim the sanctity of marriage but generally do not want to estrange churchgoers who do divorce." Well, it won't do to blame evangelical Protestantism on the social ills of the Bible belt, where many factors besides religion affect marriages. But since the most outspoken and nastiest anti-Mormons are typically evangelical Protestants (in contrast to the normally kind and Christian people that dominate evangelical ranks), I'd like to suggest they get their own house - and homes - in order before they start (falsely) criticizing Mormons for divorce and other social ills!
On a related note, I have a post on dealing with mental illness in the Church on one of my favorite blogs, Times and Season, an LDS blog. My post offers some advice to Church leaders about dealing with the complex issue of mental illness in some Latter-day Saints, something that we need to better understand and be more prepared to deal with in order to help most effectively.
2005 Update: There have been reports that Utah women have a higher rate of Prozac consumption than other states. If so, it does not necessarily mean that Utah women or Mormon women in Utah are more depressed, but could be due to other factors, such as more honest reporting in surveys, less self-medication (e.g., less use of illegally acquired medications), less use of drugs such as alcohol or marijuana to deal with stress, and so forth. In fact, there is recent evidence that Mormon women are LESS DEPRESSED than those of other faiths. Consider, for example, a study by Sherrie Mills Johnson (yes, she's LDS) that was presented at the semiannual meeting of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists and reported in USA Today on April 2, 2004. Here is an excerpt:
A Brigham Young University sociologist says data from national surveys show Mormon women are less likely to be depressed than American women in general and show no major differences in overall life satisfaction compared to women nationwide but do score lower on measures of self-esteem. . . .
Johnson's study used two national surveys of Mormon women. One focused on 1,519 returned missionaries and the other on 617 women who had not served missions. She compared those findings to a 1992-94 national study of 3,075 non-Mormon women in the National Survey of Families and Households. She said all three studies included similar measures of depression and self-esteem.
Johnson's conclusions upheld findings of some earlier studies that Mormons have no more depression than does the nation's population as a whole. Others have concluded, largely based on above-average anti-depressant consumption or on conflicting suicide statistics, that Mormons must have more depression.
Traditional women's roles involved with marriage and homemaking have long been cited as part of the reason for the purported depression, but national women were three to four times as dissatisfied with their work as Mormon women, Johnson said. . . .
Other studies have found less depression among people with above-average church attendance, and have suggested that it may derive from the support they get from others in their churches.
In terms of life satisfaction, including place of residence, work, friendship, health, family life and financial situation, there were no statistically significant differences in response, she said.
Almost twice as many Mormon women answered they were "very happy" compared to others, she said, with three times as many national women reporting they were "unhappy."
More of the Mormon women were married at the time of the survey than those nationally, and the latter group had experienced divorce at a rate four times higher than their Mormon counterparts, she said.
In measuring self-esteem, Mormon women scored roughly 10% below their national counterparts in rating their ability to "do things as well as other people."
She said the findings "could be a reflection of the higher standards that are espoused" by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Some researchers contend that measures used in self-esteem research are biased against orthodox respondents because their language is contrary to religious ideals like humility.
2008 Update: Another useful resources on the suicide issue is the FAIR Wiki page on the Utah suicide rate and the suicide rate among Mormons. Some further information from recent studies is available at "Academic Articles about Suicide Rate among Latter-day Saints (Mormons)" at Adherents.com.
Utah does have seem to have high levels of antis, including anti-depressants, anti-virus software, anti-ballistic missile controversies, and anti-Mormons. Are any of these problems areas somehow connected? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. However, the issues with antidepressants cannot be simply used to blame the Church for causing depression. First, read the answer to the previous question above for perspectives on the Utah statistics. Then let me refer to some basic issues raised by Steve Goldberg, the author of the fascinating blog, Mormon Midrashim, in his 2012 post, "P.S. Please Don't Stigmatize Medicine," from which I quote a brief excerpt:
While it's possible that aspects of Mormonism are causing or compounding depression, there are plenty of alternate explanations for why Utah (which is not actually all Mormon, but let's ignore that for a moment) might have a high medication rate. One possibility is that Utah actually does have high depression rates--but because of another factor such as weather or high levels of some recessive Scandinavian depression-related gene. But since medication rates are not the same as depression rates, it's also possible that Utahns are not actually more depressed than any one else, only better medicated. It's possible, for example, that because of Mormon influence, Utahns are more likely to go to doctors for medication than to self-medicate through substance abuse. Or else that Mormons are more likely to find voices that decrease the stigma of mental health treatment, either in official church publications or just through brothers and sisters who are informed about or experienced in dealing with medical depression.
Steve goes on to point out that critics who stigmatize the use of medication in dealing with mental health issues actually contribute to a serious problem. Millions of people in need of help with mental health issues aren't seeking treatment because of society's stigma against mental health problems and mental health treatment. Mormons, on the other hand, may be much more progressive in providing support and encouragement.
People struggling with depression are, in my opinion, are more likely to find help and referrals to professional services by discussing their challenges with a bishop or with circles of support in the Church. There are sad exceptions and sadly members who are ignorant or judgmental can sometimes make the church way too stressful of a place for those with serious mental health issues. But the policies, systems, training, services, and intentions of the Church are strongly in favor of providing help without stigma to those sufferiing from depression or other mental health issues, and referrals to professionals for medication or other help are likely to be given, in my opinion, when active members face health problems of any kind. Higher meds in Utah, therefore, aren't necessarily a sign of the Church making life worse for people. It might be an indicator that the Church is working actively and effectively to make life better for those with mental health challenges.
You raise a controversial issue that has been sorely distorted by critics of the Church. In reality, the mall project is part of an effort to prevent urban decay in downtown Salt Lake City, using non-tithing funds and properties in collaboration with a commercial developer, coupled with humanitarian activities to help people in the area. Here's some information from FAIRBlog.org's 2012 article, "City Creek Mall" by Cassandra Hedelius, which discusses the concerns the Church has had about urban decay in downtown Salt Lake, which affects the many visitors to Temple Square. The response of the Church to this challenge is discussed in the following excerpt:
The Church has responded in two ways. First, through its Inner City Project, the Church has assigned service missionaries to provide job training, transportation, and other help to inner-city Salt Lake City residents. The hope is that the city environment will benefit from residents who are less plagued by joblessness, health troubles, and feeling hopeless to rise economically. Second, the Church has invested in the City Creek Mall as an economic development project, in hopes that the construction and other jobs will provide opportunity for residents and that the new infrastructure will stave off urban decay.
Some criticize the church for its investment, judging that the funds could have been better spent elsewhere. (The total estimated cost of the project is $1.5 billion; it is not known how this was shared between the church and its development partner, The Taubman Company.) These criticisms ignore the merits of the Church's strategy--the City Creek Center addresses the roots of urban decay, and the Inner City Project addresses its symptoms. There are many places in the world with greater need--and the Church's humanitarian programs commit significant resources to them--but the Church shouldn't be condemned for helping its own neighbors in the city to which it has special historical ties.
Whatever funds the Church spend on City Creek did not come from member tithes; the funds came from returns on church properties and investments. The Church owns these assets from the happy historical accident of acquiring them many decades ago and prudent management since then.
Yes, I can understand why people would be concerned at the outer appearance of the story when spun as "Mormon Church Builds Mall." On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine an alternate universe in which the Church refused to spend any money to upgrade the local community of Salt Lake City, and in the midst of the ensuing urban decay, was denounced by the same critics for neglecting it's own neighborhood around LDS Headquarters.
The real issue here is not whether a mall is evil or good, but whether Starbucks there will offer enhanced alternatives for strict Mormons. Why does coffee come in a zillion flavors, and yet for hot chocolate we get one choice made from a cheap powder? Please, Zion needs more than nice, safe neighborhoods. It needs better hot chocolate beverages.
Ed Decker, the main anti-Mormon behind that work, is an excommunicated Mormon with an ax to grind. Surely he knows that his claims against the Church are lies. Mormons taking over the world? Satanic rituals? It's a movie designed to spook people while mocking in the crudest way the sacred beliefs of others. The National Conference of Christians and Jews has condemned "The God Makers" for its misleading depictions of our faith (see their comments on Russ Anderson's page of "God Maker's" reviews). In fact, even other professional anti-Mormons have openly criticized his work for its blatant dishonesty. For those needing a point-by-point rebuttal of Decker's book of the same title, see Gilbert Scharff, The Truth About "The God Makers" (Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1986) - now available online at FAIRLDS.org.
If that movie makes you think that we are New Age Sci-Fi cult freaks worshipping "extraterrestrial aliens," ask yourself if Heaven is on this earth or not? When Christ ascended to heaven, is it possible that He was returning to some "extraterrestrial" destination - i.e., a place not on earth? Yikes - you might be a Sci-Fi cult freak, too! To satisfy Mr. Decker and avoid being mocked for your beliefs, I urge you to only worship local gods easily located on the surface of this planet. Can't find one? Hey, Jennifer Lopez will do in a pinch. It seems to work for many Americans. (Now there's a cult to worry about....)
Here's the actual sincere question I received:
"My Dentist takes off three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I had thought it was because of him being Mormon. Is there a Sabbath of sorts in your religion??"
Dentists and bankers seem to have different religious practices than the rest of us. The normal LDS Sabbath day is Sunday. We avoid work on that day and try to make it a family time, a time of service, a time of learning and worship and doing good. Dentists and bankers extend the Sabbath back to Friday and spend the extra time communing with deity through golf (well, at least they pray after every swing).
I read an anti-Mormon Web page that said Mormons pray after each touchdown BYU makes. Is that true??
Of course not! We pray BEFORE the touchdown. As our scriptures say, faith precedes the miracle.
The minute grain of truth behind this silly attack is that BYU fans can take football way too seriously. I was at BYU in 1984 when they won the national championship. Those were dark days for academics - all people talked about was football, football, football. I thought I was escaping such foolishness when I moved to Wisconsin. But then came the Green Bay Packers and the Superbowl. Sadly, they won. For six weeks our local paper reported almost nothing but Packer trivia. China could have invaded and conquered Washington, D.C. and no one here would have noticed. (In fact, they may have done so after all!) Then I yearned for the relative sanity of BYU.
Well, I've got to run. The Braves are losing game 4 of the World Series - and unless I get busy, it looks like they haven't got a prayer.
No, I don't belong to any cult that hates Mormons. But there are a lot of Mormon hate cult members publishing anti-Mormon hate literature as books, pamphlets, Web pages, films, and radio shows. Don't let those cults brainwash you!
One of the interesting differences between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some other allegedly religious organizations and individuals is the way other faiths are dealt with. While we disagree on a number of doctrines, we do not have ministries aimed at tearing down Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc. The Church does not produce films aimed at slamming Catholics or Jews or Buddhists. We will never issue an official proclamation declaring that Methodists aren't Christians. We do not have talks in our meetings on topics like "10 Reasons Baptists are not Christian" or "Reaching Out to those Lost, Vile, Pagan Presbyterians in Love." We do not make movies like "Lutherans: Satan's Cronies." We respect other faiths, in spite of our differences, and focus on proclaiming our message, not attacking their members and leaders.
We are adamant that an apostasy has occurred, but do not seek to undermine the faith of others, but to add what is missing and proclaim that the fullness of the Gospel has been restored. (Thanks to Richard Hopkins for inspiring the first part of this answer.)
Depends on what you mean by "proved." If the movie "King Kong" proves to you that giant monkeys are a serious threat to the Empire State Building (Homeland Security, please take note), then I suppose Will Bagley's new book, Blood of the Prophets may indeed "prove" his allegations against Brigham Young. But if by "prove" you mean something more than mere accusations coupled with deceptive special effects (e.g., fabricating evidence), then I don't think Will Bagley's book rises to the challenge. For details, see Robert D. Crockett, "A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2003, pp. 199-254.
As Daniel C. Peterson wrote in his "Editor's Introduction" to FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2003, pp. ix-lxii:
Will Bagley's Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, for example, has received media attention and kudos out of all proportion to its merit as history and on the basis of little or no significant new evidence. In their highly critical review of Blood of the Prophets published in a recent number of Mormon Historical Studies, W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall--respectively a professor of history at Southern Virginia University and an experienced independent researcher based in Utah Valley--acknowledge that the book has some good qualities, but find those seriously outweighed by its defects. [W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall, Mormon Historical Studies 4/1 (2003): 149-157.]
Bagley's research is extensive and takes advantage of sources not known to Juanita Brooks. His handling of those sources, however, is problematic and at times is manipulated to fit his thesis, and both his prejudices and biases quickly become apparent. Bagley is intent upon implicating Brigham Young in the massacre. To do so, he repaints nineteenth-century Utah with blood. . . .
Bagley is a superb storyteller. Yet the manner in which he constructs his story is designed to reinforce the notion that nineteenth-century Utah was a corrupt cauldron of blood, vice, and hypocrisy. Bagley's prejudices and unexamined assumptions permeate the narrative. In countless places, Bagley labels Mormons and anyone with a kind word for them as ridiculous or worthy of dismissal. [Ibid., 150.]
"In some cases," they say, "Bagley substitutes unsubstantiated gossip for evidence." [Ibid., 154.] They excoriate him, moreover, for his "manipulation of information" and for announcing conclusions that "go well beyond his evidence." Worse, at a very crucial point in his argument, Bagley has misrepresented the contents of a vital document, an inexcusable act that Reeve and Parshall identify as "a direct violation of the American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct." [Ibid., 152.] On Bagley's truly spectacular distortion of a piece of evidence that is fundamental to his argument, see also Lawrence Coates's review of Blood of the Prophets, by Will Bagley, BYU Studies 41/1 (2003): 153-158. Two other valuable reviews of Bagley's book, by Paul H. Peterson and Thomas G. Alexander, accompany that of Coates in the same number of BYU Studies, at pp. 159-166 and 167-174, respectively.] "Perhaps the real message in Blood of the Prophets," they suggest,is that considering Bagley's extensive research, he could come up with no better evidence than Dimick Huntington's journal to link "Young to facilitating the murders." And to make even that unsustainable claim, he had to put a new word into Huntington's pen. [Reeve and Parshall, 156.]"Even though Bagley claims to be aware of 'the basic rules of the craft of history,'" Reeve and Parshall report, "he consistently violates them in Blood of the Prophets. As a result, Juanita Brooks' The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains the most definitive and balanced account to date." [Ibid., p. 149.]
We believe that all truth will be self-consistent. Truth is what we are after, and that means that we want to find answers to many questions. Some we don't have yet, of course, but we seek for truth - and that means seeking for answers. In fact, this tendency to seek for answers which you see as cultlike is, in fact, an indirect evidences that the Church really is a restoration of the original Biblical Church, for the early-day Saints, like latter-day Saints, were taught to be "ready always to give an answer to every man" concerning questions of faith (1 Peter 3:15).
Don't mistake active learning with "cult" behavior. Good grief, we don't come close to the Lord's expectations to know His word. The ancient Jews spent a lot of time studying and memorizing, and early Christians sought diligently to study the word and have an answer for every question. We should be doing that more!
(The original question specifically referred to the drowning of the soldiers in Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea when they tried to pursue the people of Moses. Was this killing really necessary?)
God does very few things the way I would, from the design of trees to the color of the sky, and especially the lifespan of certain individuals (let's leave politics out of this). When He chooses the lifespans (or allows others to choose them) of those in particular armies, cities, or population groups, it's rarely according to my will. But I'm getting used to it. I have to remind myself that I am not the Creator, do not know everything, do not understand His eternal purposes, and can't even change the oil in my own car. With that in mind, I don't think I have any right to second guess and nitpick His decisions.
(The specific inquiry came from England, where someone claimed to have heard on the BBC that the Church owned most of Las Vegas and made a lot of money from gambling. This person claimed that gambling money was the only way that so many temples could be built.)
Thanks for the note. Las Vegas owned by the Mormons? I'll give you ten-to-one odds that this rumor was invented by someone after a few too many drinks. The Church has a lot of members in Nevada and Las Vegas, and a Temple there, a number of Churches and probably a cannery and other welfare buildings, but the Church surely does not own most of Las Vegas or any of the gambling businesses. The Church stridently opposes gambling. I have been part of the efforts of the Church to oppose gambling and legislation that would legalize gambling. Note that gambling is not legal in Utah, for example. Tithing is the primary source of revenue for the Church, donated by members, and is the source of funds for temples and other buildings. The Church certainly does not raise money through gambling!
What is the reference for the alleged BBC story about the Church and Las Vegas? The BBC can say anything it wants, but the BBC is far from infallible. But I would be most surprised if they really said what your friend thinks they said.
The word "cult" strictly means a religious organization. You may be surprised to know that we actually try to be a religious organization, but the "organization" part is sometimes lacking, relying on an unpaid, volunteer ministry and all. But our critics and "cult warriors" use the word "cult" to evoke scary images, hoping to eliminate the need for actual debate and logic by the emotional exploitation of name calling and fear. Unfortunately for them, they are unable to construct a reasonable definition of cult that nails the Latter-day Saints without nailing a lot of other obvious Christians - including the early Christians and Jesus Christ Himself. For details, see LDSFAQ page about the charge of being a cult. Meanwhile, here's an example of how loose definitions of "cult" can cut both ways, taken from e-mail I received and answered on April 10, 2001:
Our Church has videos that I have watched on the why [sic] the Mormon Church is a cult. [Sounds like a fun-filled, loving kind of church.]
Here is a definition that you missed when speaking of a cult: 1) A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
It came from dictionary.com with a simple search of "cult." It is the first line.
From my perspective, Mormons seem to quote the verses of the Holy Bible (The 66 Books of the Old & New Testaments) only when it suits them. Your religion, and even you on the site at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_cult.shtml seem to pick and choose which verses you believe in. [You mean I was only able to fit a portion of the Bible on my Web page. Sorry about that. I'll try to quote every verse of the Bible next time.]
The fact is if Mormons were simply a sect of Christians like the Baptists, Methodists, etc., you would believe that the Holy Bible was the complete, inerrant and infallible Word of God. This would mean that you would have to believe in the whole Bible, not just parts.
That's a great definition of cult. We've got to watch out for such groups! In fact, I pray that you are not part of the dreaded Christian cult. From its earliest days right up to the modern, Christianity has been generally considered to be false (ask any ancient Roman, any Buddhist, any atheist or animist). Its deceived adherents, of course, engage in all sorts of unconventional practices, such as symbolic cannibalistic rites with bread and wine, refusing to work one day a week, payment of tithes or offerings to a church, getting on knees to chant prayers to an invisible God, teaching children that God created the earth in 7 days, and sometimes even suffering death rather than acknowledge officially sanctioned truths from the State. Such extremism is no surprise when we consider that Christianity traces its cultic roots to a highly charismatic, authoritarian leader named Jesus Christ, who encouraged his followers to be prepared to give up all that they had, even their lives, rather than yield to other ways of thinking and living. He died under Roman torture, refusing to give up His Messianic mission, an extremist to the end. Heaven help those who follow such a Leader!
I trust you are also not a member of another related cult (arguably outside the scope of authentic Christian cults) which places its trust not directly in God but in a man-made object alleged to contain ALL the words of God. Members of this cult worship a book called the Bible, believing that they can put all trust in their human translations of multiple competing versions of copies of ancient texts (no originals are left to check which copies are best!). They believe that this book, in spite of the undeniable textual problems and uncertainties, is the complete, inerrant and infallible Word of God, though this statement of faith is NOT found in their supposedly complete book, nor is the statement of faith that God cannot give any more scripture. It is a closed system immune to debate, relying on blind faith in their authoritarian system which results in a variety of extreme, unconventional positions and behaviors generally considered to be false by those outside their circle of faith.
FYI, I accept every verse of the Bible as it was written under inspiration of God.
In the pagan community during the 1980s, some of the founders of Wiccan religion (e.g., Barney Taylor of the Mental Science Institute) created teachings and rites by borrowing elements from Rosicrucianism, herbalogy, Latter-day Saint religion (esp. the temple), and the occult. Thus, there are some elements of LDS religion that have most inappropriately been adapted by pagans, just as pagans have adapted elements of Judaism and Christianity for centuries. But these common elements are not because the LDS temple has an occult origin. The occult folks borrowed from us, not the other way around!
Latter-day Saint temples are uplifting, Christ-centered places, houses of God and refuges from the impurity of the world. Just as the temple was important to ancient Jews and early Christians (see Acts 2:46, Acts 5:42, Matt. 21:12-14, Luke 24:53, Matt. 23:21), so it is important in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, it was prophesied that the temple of the Lord would be an important part of the Lord's work in the "last days" before the Second Coming of the Lord and afterwards in the great Millennium (see Isaiah 2:2-4, Revelation 7:15, Malachi 3:1-3, and Ezek. 37:26-27). Come to think of it, if you're looking for a church with the fullness of the Gospel, seems like you ought to look for one that includes temple worship. For more information on the issue of temples and their nature, see my page dealing with common allegations about LDS temples and Masonry.
If testifying of Christ and bringing people to faith in Christ is a demonic goal, then Matthew, Mark, Luke and John may also have been demonically inspired as well. No wonder their words are so consistent!
Sometimes critics actually do look into the impressive evidence for the ancient authenticity of the Book of Mormon, evidence which shows that Joseph could not have fabricated the Book of Mormon based on what he could have known in 1830. Some ignore the evidence or pick at it, but others, still bent on attacking with Saul-like determination, conclude that Joseph could not have fabricated it by natural means - so the devil must have done it. But this argument can only be advanced in stark ignorance of what the Book of Mormon actually teaches.
The Book of Mormon confirms the truth of the Bible. It is the most Christ-centered book you'll ever read. It urges people to have faith in Christ, to repent of their sins, to follow Christ, to be humble, morally clean, and prayerful. No one can read that book for more than a few pages without realizing that this book is intended to bring souls to Christ -the SAME Christ that is taught in the Bible. Getting people to follow the Savior is not one of Satan's goals.
Look, the Bible uses the symbolism of heavenly bodies to describe the work of God. Specifically, the symbols of the stars, the moon, and the sun are used in describing the next life (1 Cor. 15: 40-42 and other places). Is it a shock to find the same symbols on some LDS temples, given that the temple is about preparing us for the next life? Further, in Revelation 22:16, Christ refers to himself as "the bright and morning star," and for early Latter-day Saints, the morning star symbol referred to the coming of Christ and His millennial reign - a perfectly appropriate symbol for the temple. For documentation, please see the excellent article by Matthew Brown, "Inverted Stars On LDS Temples," originally published at FAIRLDS.org, 2002, now archived at Archive.org. This article also shows that stars, including inverted stars, were used by early Christians as valid Christian symbols. Inverted stars did not become associated with the occult until after the time of Joseph Smith, as Brown documents. The symbol of the star - whether it has five or six points - and the pentagram can be used for good or evil purposes. The fact that Satan worshippers have given evil meanings to the star, the broken cross, the goat, the moon, or whatever does not make the symbols inherently evil. (See also "Temples/Inverted Stars on LDS Temples" at FAIRMormon.org.)
Some examples of the inverted pentagram as a Christian symbol in mainstream Christian traditions can be found in several Church photographs at LDSFriend.com. They are listed in the comments on a page at TempleStudy.com on the pentagram, including photos for the Amiens cathedral in France and the Hannover Marktkirche in Germany. I found one myself while visiting a 17th-century church in Vitry-le-Francois in France.
Similarity in symbols does not mean similarity in meaning. The cross-like Ankh symbol was used in pagan rituals of Egypt, but that does not make the symbol of the cross something pagan (though we prefer not to use the cross to remember Christ, wishing to focus on his victory over death through the Resurrection). If I walk into a cathedral and see a cross, it would be silly for me to condemn the Catholics for promoting pagan Egyptian rites with that symbol. The same applies to those who see stars, moons, or suns on the Salt Lake Temple.
Another helpful resource discussing starts (and also the issue of the name Lucifer for Satan and his connection to stars) is found in the story of René A. Krywult's Conversion from Catholicism to the Latter-day Saints.
I've received many e-mail messages like this, demanding that I answer some objection - or a long list of objections - and saying that failure to respond means that I implicitly admit that they are right. For example, one person wrote: "Jeff, please answer these questions, for silence means consent. If you dodge these questions again, I will assume that you tacitly agree with my conclusion." Another claimed that he had e-mailed me several times without response, and he was therefore going to conclude that the Church was false since its members were unable to meet his challenges. Another said that if I did not respond, he would conclude that I was "spineless." While such immature and impolite messages deserve no response, I typically try to help them understand the real world a little better with a message like the following:
I strongly object to your allegation that silence on my part implies agreement with your charges. On the Internet, it is a courtesy to receive any response at all to unsolicited e-mail. I am swamped by e-mail and don't have time to answer every item received. Silence cannot be taken to mean anything at all.
Even if I took the time to respond to everything, there are plenty of reasons why you might think I'm being silent. In many cases, e-mail never gets to the targeted recipient (me) due to server problems or accidental deletion. Sometimes, it gets read and a response is sent but is not received. There are other messages that I wish to respond to, but require time to look up a reference or contemplate an appropriate response, and sometimes these messages get put on the back burner and languish for weeks or months, only to have the e-mail address of the original sender be changed in the meantime. There are many reasons why some people don't get immediate answers from me, and so far they have nothing to with their attacks on the Church being so convincing that I am forced to consent through silence.
With a little luck, you'll get this message - but there's a significant chance you never will, in spite of my best efforts to send it to you.
By the way, there are some messages that I deliberately choose not to respond to. The use of profanity, for example, incites an immediate deletion of the message. Offensive, immature messages often vanish as well. When I feel the writer has no real interest in understanding more, I don't feel motivated to respond unless it's quick and easy. Long articles pulled off some anti-Mormon site usually merit no response because the author isn't interested in two-way communication and because I don't have time for line-by-line rebuttals of lengthy drivel. In fact, unsolicited attachments over 40k in length are not welcome and may not even be downloaded in the first place. I have to be somewhat selective in my use of time and reserve the right to simply delete and ignore messages that are without merit or that are too long. Oops - this answer itself is getting too long. To save space, I'll delete the next
Here is a comment I received January 28, 2002:
Did you notice this quote in the recent New Yorker magazine article on Mormonism? I think it about says it all."Many Mormon intellectuals seem unconcerned with the question of whether Joseph Smith was a genuine prophet or a confidence man. 'The starting point is that I am a committed Mormon,' Ken Driggs, a Mormon historian and a lawyer in Atlanta, told me. 'I can't imagine anything else. Once you make that decision, nothing knocks you awry. I am aware of the conflicts; I know the Book of Mormon doesn't stand up to historical examination. But for me to decide that the problems are insurmountable would mean walking away from five generations of people before me. What really clicks, what really keeps us there, is the culture.'"
Says it all for who? The reality and truthfulness of the Gospel and of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is precisely what keeps people in the Church and keeps them willing to make the sacrifices that true Christianity demands. People like Mr. Driggs strike me as oddities. I think there is nothing in "LDS culture" to hold people in its ranks in areas where the Church is a complete and misunderstood minority, as it is in Atlanta. I can almost understand a "cultural non-believing Mormon" in Utah, where the Church can expand one's social circles substantially, but it still doesn't make sense. If Joseph Smith wasn't for real, why should the foolishness of an ancestor make my decision in my personal quest for truth? That's certainly not why I have chosen to be a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. That's not why I have two years of my life to serve on a mission. That's not why I make many other sacrifices - joyous sacrifices - for the cause of Christ. When I think of culture, I think of bacteria or perhaps yogurt, not reasons to be a Latter-day Saint.
Mr. Driggs' statement on the Book of Mormon suggests that he is seriously out of touch with the Church and LDS scholarship - if he really gave this quote. The Book of Mormon withstands the most intense scrutiny its critics have been able to muster (see my Book of Mormon Evidences page, for example). The few "cultural Mormons" that I know of are people who made up their minds early that God doesn't exist or whatever, without being open to the evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity. That's a pretty shallow approach. And to stay in when you don't believe it is just silly.
Is tradition what holds people in the Church? No way. The majority of Latter-day Saints live outside the United States and are new converts themselves or in the family of a first-generation Mormon. The fifth-generation Mormon is quite unusual. My current congregation - the Fox Cities Hmong Branch of Appleton, Wisconsin - is almost entirely composed of recent converts and their children. The Branch President has been a member for 11 years, but most are far more recent than that. And they have all faced significant persecution for leaving their former culture to become Christians. It wasn't our allegedly great social life that inspired them to do that.
Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Superbowl Sunday (especially in Wisconsin--Go Packers!), my birthday, and Tax Freedom Day, to name a few. (Tax Freedom Day is the day in the year marking the fraction of the year at which we stop working for the government and begin to earn money for ourselves. Based on current projections, within 20 years Congress will need to add a new month at the end of the calendar to accommodate this important event.)
Perhaps you ask because you wonder if we cherish the religious significance of Christmas and Easter? Absolutely! These are wonderful times to remember the birth and resurrection of our Savior - even though we know that the real birth of Christ was in the spring, not in December, and even though I personally worry about the many pagan and materialistic influences that permeate Christmas. (And don't get me going about the Easter Bunny and its obvious connections to certain powerful battery companies.)
Now there's an optimistic view of the future. I know it's not what you meant, but that view can be taken to extremes. After all, if it's all going to burn, we can not only abandon record keeping, but lawn care, car washes, and mopping. And why save money or the environment or anything else for the future? But who says the Second Coming will burn everything? And who says that God can't preserve sacred written records (as journals can be, IMHO) even if some places do get a little toasty? Records will be precious in the future, and even in the near future (like during your lifetime).
Frankly, the Second Coming could be a century or two away. By then, everyone will have fireproof vaults and non-charring paper. No need to worry.
The scriptures teach that many people will live through the Second Coming. People are even more sensitive to temperature than journals, so the odds of some journals making it are reasonably good. But use high-quality paper and black ink, which is longer-lasting than blue.
If you really want your records to last, engrave them on metal plates and bury them in a stone box. Hey, it worked for Mormon and Moroni! And it worked for the authors of other ancient records discovered since Joseph Smith's day, a day when the idea of writing on metal plates was too funny for words, as Hugh Nibley puts it, making the recent recognition of the authentic ancient practice of writing sacred records on metal one of the many subtle evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. But I digress. Bottom line: get out your journal and write. I need to do some now myself. Good night!
LDS theology teaches that God knows everything, including the future. To me the scriptures indicate that He has detailed, precise knowledge - it's not just educated forecasting based on how well he understands us, but intricate details like how many pieces of silver Christ would be sold for. Yet if God knows the future, then He knows what we are going to do, and if that is true, then aren't we predestined to do those things? Haven't we lost our freedom to choose? If so, the emphasis on free agency in LDS theology is meaningless. (In LDS theology, our free agency is a most precious gift that God gives us - but also a terrible gift, in my opinion, for we all sin and are responsible for those sins. Fortunately, the terror of our misuse of freedom can be removed by another great gift of God, the grace of Christ made possible by His Atonement. He can free us from sin and let us have true liberty.)
Regarding questions about human free agency in light of God's knowledge of the future, my answer is: "The presence of an observer does not take away our freedom of choice." For example, if I invent a time machine and go forward to tomorrow to see what flavor of ice cream you choose, have I removed your freedom of choice? I can jump ahead a day and see that you pick licorice-peppermint swirl, and then come back. When you walk into the ice cream shop the next day, I already know what you are going to pick, but have you lost your free agency because of this? I simply saw the results of you free choice. Of course, there are problems and paradoxes with time travel that we need not explore here, but I am not aware of any reason to question your free agency in light of time travel. (If I tell you that you are predestined to pick licorice-peppermint swirl, you can laugh at me and pick triple chocolate fudge, for you have freedom to choose - and my own actions may have invalidated the future that I saw.)
I'm not saying that God uses time travel, but the scriptures say that all things are "present" before His eyes (Doctrine and Covenants 38:2, Moses 1:6), and he truly knows things that are past, present, and future (1 Nephi 9:6, Mosiah 8:17). In fact, the place where God dwells is described as a place where all things, past, present, and future, can be seen (Doctrine and Covenants 130:7). But God's power to see what we do with our free agency does not remove our agency or accountability, just like the thief who is caught in the act by a hidden camera is still responsible for his crime (though I could imagine some US judges letting criminals go for having been videotaped without their consent).
Here is an excerpt from one recent form of this common question, followed by my response:
To my understanding, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints believes that God knows for certain all future things but man has free will (according to D&C 38:1,2 and a book that I think was written by James Talmage . . .) but Abraham 3:25 says, "And We will prove them herewith, to SEE IF they WILL DO ALL THINGS whatsoever the Lord their God SHALL COMMAND THEM."This scripture seems to show that Jesus didn't know if man was going to do all things that God commanded him to do and that it was possible he wouldn't.
Can you imagine if God just took us as spirits in the premortal existence and said, "If you were born, you'd be evil, so I'm sending you to hell now?" That would be monstrous. We are given free agency and sent here to see what we will choose. Without the process to let all of us act and see what we will choose, there is no justice in punishing or rewarding us for things we might have done. But there is more than just seeing what we choose - God's end product requires the process, not just the "yes or no" answer. The process of being born and going through mortality - however briefly - can help us become what He wants us to become: maturing sons and daughters who choose Him and become more like Him. The "seeing" is an unfolding of our identities that, at least for many of us, can't be achieved just by throwing selected spirits into heaven or hell, based on God's perfect foreknowledge.
From my understanding of the scriptures and physics, I suspect that time as we know it is putty in God's hands. All things, past and present and future, are present before him (D&C 38:2). If he can transcend time and see the past and future, then I suppose that He can truly know what is yet future to us in a way beyond merely great forecasting. But does such knowledge take away our agency?
What are you going to choose to do today? If I hide a camera in your house and observe your choices (don't worry - I don't work for Homeland Security and am not that kind of person!), does that take away your agency? No - the presence of an observer (divine or federal) does not remove your freedom to choose. Now if the observer is watching through a camera via some sort of a time machine, so the image is being sent not just to a different place, but a different time? The presence of that camera does nothing to change your responsibility for what you do, good or bad - you don't become a slave to God's arbitrary will (or the will of the present Administration) just because you were observed - whenever that occurred.
We are free to choose, even if God has ways of knowing or seeing our choices. Does he choose to observe all our choices ahead of time? I don't know. Can he? I think so - but in any case, I know that I am free to choose, and am grateful for my agency.
(Please note: my explanations and assumptions here are based on my views and opinions, and may be wildly incorrect.)
One important difference is the presence of WITNESSES. It's one thing to claim to see an angel. It's another thing to introduce the angel to other people. Douglas Yancey called my attention to a great quote from Joseph F. McConkie on this topic:
Many a pretender to the prophetic office has claimed to entertain angels or to have spoken with God, but who other than Joseph Smith introduced his angels to others? Joseph Smith introduced Moroni to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. He was never alone when priesthood or keys were restored.... He and Sydney Rigdon received the revelation on the degrees of glory together. Together they saw legions of angels, along with the Father and the Son (see D&C 76:21-23). Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when John the Baptist came to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, and when Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. Oliver was also with Joseph Smith when Christ came to accept the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and Moses, Elias, and Elijah restored their keys, powers, and authorities." (Sons and Daughters of God pp. 194-195)
None of the witnesses who also saw angels with Joseph Smith ever denied the reality of those divine experiences. Can one say too much about the reality of honest and respected witnesses who saw the gold plates and even saw angels of God? God does indeed call multiple witnesses to testify of those things that are most important. And of course, many decades after the Restoration, we are still left with the tangible yet miraculous witness of Christ in the form of the Book of Mormon, for which we can obtain our own witness through the Spirit that it is of God.
Biased? Me? ABSOLUTELY! I am not an agnostic blindly speculating on the pros and cons of the existence of God. I know God exists. The evidence and the facts have put me squarely on one very biased side of the debate. And I will boldly proclaim that He lives and is real, with no shame at all in taking such a biased stance. Further, I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is real and is our Savior. And I know that His Church is upon the earth, led by Him as He led it before, through revelation to authorized prophets and apostles who have authority from Him. And I know that the Book of Mormon is no work of fiction by some farmboy, but a genuine, authentic scriptural record from an ancient people, and I know that is a true testament of Christ. Knowledge of these truths makes me biased. But that's the price one pays for seeking and finding truth.
I hope you're biased about many things as well. For example, I hope you are biased about the dental benefits of flossing and brushing. And if you ever do a Web page on the topic, please don't try to be even-handed in your discussion, but come out and defend good dental hygiene. No need to repeat the garbage of the anti-hygiene crowd. No need to give credence to spurious works like Behind the Mask of Dental Hygiene or No Man Knows my Dentist. Don't provide links to the whiners in the "Ex-flossers for Justice" gang. Be bold in defending the truth about teeth! Teach it to the world. Be a dental hygiene apologist. When it comes to saving people's teeth, there's no justification for an unbiased approach. We need biased defenders of the truth, who use the abundant facts and logic and evidence to honestly and truthfully teach every person the reasons to take dental hygiene seriously.
This was actually the topic of a recent debate on a public bulletin board featuring Mormons and critics. I was surprised and even flattered that my little Web site was enough a concern to some anti-Mormons that they have taken up name calling to deal with me.
But are all my answers really so predictable, as some of my critics have publicly proclaimed? Well, if they mean that I'm not presently planning to roll over and leave the Church in response to their attacks, or that I'm going to try to find answers to the questions that are asked, then yes, slap that "predictable" label on my forehead. But what about the content of my responses, which I feel that the critics tend to ignore? I think some of the answers have been quite hard to predict.
Take, for example, the issue of parallelism in the Book of Mormon. One critic, David Wright, has alleged that the alleged internal evidence of authenticity found in 2 Nephi 12:16 is actually a clumsy blunder on Joseph Smith's part, claiming that Joseph may have added a phrase to a quotation from Isaiah to make it look like an impressive ancient variant. It's a complex issue, discussed on my page "2 Nephi 12 and the Septuagint: Evidence for Fraud or Authenticity in the Book of Mormon?" A major part of Wright's argument is that the added text in 2 Nephi 12:16 destroys the parallel structure in Isaiah 2, which has a series of couplets (paired bicola), in contrast to the triplet (tricolon) that appears in the Book of Mormon. So what is the predictable answer? I couldn't have told you until I dug into the issue. I found that Hebrew scholars recognize that tricola as well as bicola appear in Isaiah and other Hebrew poetry, and in fact, that a tricolon can appear in the midst of bicola in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other books of the Bible. Thus, the Book of Mormon variant in 2 Nephi 12:16 is actually entirely plausible.
Is it entirely predictable that apparent problems in the Book of Mormon become plausible once further research is done? Well, shucks, I guess it is. Lord knows it just keeps on happening. But could even the most prescient or clairvoyant critic predict what I found next? You see, in learning more about Hebrew parallelism to investigate David Wright's claim, I read non-LDS scholars who wrote about a recently discovered, sophisticated form of parallelism called the "paired tricolon," a poetical form found in Isaiah and Jeremiah. I then wondered if Nephi, who was deeply familiar with Isaiah and Jewish poetry of that era, might have used paired tricola as well. Though my analysis remains preliminary, I quickly found several apparently solid examples of what appear to be genuine paired tricola, a form that appears to be absent later in the Book of Mormon. I have called this to the attention of many critics, who have remained silent about the issue (though some have finally responded with a little name calling, which is the predictable and welcome upgrade from mere silence).
So, in my response to a general objection about tricola in an Isaiah passage in the Book of Mormon, I found that not only are tricola known to be used in the midst of bicola, but that paired tricola are also known as an authentic ancient Hebrew poetical form, and that these are found in the Book of Mormon as well - predictably, only by the writer who was closest to the Hebrew poetry of Isaiah. Is that response predictable? Is the finding of paired tricola in the Book of Mormon the kind of thing one would simply expect from a crackpot brainwashed Mormon apologist? If it's predictable that solid evidence supporting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon will be found as we learn more, then I would suggest - or even predict - that Book of Mormon critics will continue to fight a losing battle.
Some of my answers reflect well known LDS views and repeat answers that we've been giving for a long time - and I guess that makes the responses predictable - but it would be nice if the critics would acknowledge that responses have been made instead of commonly pretending that their objections remain unanswered by an ostrich-like Church. But other answers are based on investigation that took me to surprising places, such as my digging into the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon, the alleged problem of the wordiness of the Book of Mormon, the challenge about mercy and justice in the Book of Mormon, or my exploration of the issue of plagiarism, culminating in my quite unpredictable page, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?." Mark this prediction: the evidence will continue to take us to surprising new insights about the Book of Mormon, all of which will continues to support its authenticity and divinity, though some of our dated assumptions about the text may require updating.
Hmmm, exactly the kind of question an evil anti-Mormon villain would ask! Why are you always persecuting us this way?
Ok, yes, Latter-day Saints sometimes use the term "anti-Mormon" too loosely and too defensively. However, the term generally refers to people who do more than just disagree, but go out of their way to tear down the Church in a way that goes far beyond civil discourse. A malicious, "end-justifies-the-means" approach that consistently and deliberately misrepresents LDS views is a hallmark of the true "anti-Mormon." Sometimes they are motivated by profit, making good livings off of selling hateful literature. Others are more sincere in their efforts to tear the Church down at all costs. In general, anti-Mormons deliberately distort doctrines and events to make them sound as ghastly as possible. The goal is to inflame, not inform. Some critics really are just trying to share their views in a civil, honest matter, and should not be called anti-Mormons.
As for the persecution complex, some of us may make too big a deal of our past and of current misunderstandings. HOWEVER, it's important to understand that Mormons have been treated much differently than other religions in the United States. Dr. Terry L. Givens of the University of Richmond (he's also LDS) discusses the unusual history of persecution of Latter-day Saints in part of his book, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 41):
What is it about Mormonism that accounts for such an enduring and tenacious fixation on this marginalized and relatively minor denomination as one of the most significant threats to presidents, Christianity, and good airlines that America has ever known? The history of religious and ethnic prejudice in American culture is vast indeed, and perhaps this is but another monotonous example of the more pernicious aspects of the Jacksonian inheritance. But there are grounds for believing otherwise.
The history of anti-Mormonism has much to distinguish it, both in the intensity and variety of its manifestations and in the uniqueness of its object. In no other case in American history has a governor signed an order for the expulsion or extermination of a segment of his state's own citizenry (Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri in 1838), a state militia forced the evacuation of a city of thousands (Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1847), the United States sent an occupying army against its own citizens ("Buchanan's blunder," 1857-58) or dissolved a church as a legal corporation and disenfranchised thousands of its members (Edmunds-Tucker Act, 1887).
From its founding in 1830 to the turn of the century, Mormonism was the subject of persecutions, mobbings, state extermination orders, editorials, religious pamphleteering, congressional committee hearings, federal legislation, and several national political platforms. Many accounts of the "Mormon Problem" in American history have been written and the sources and shape of the Mormon conflict explored. Several of these interpretive histories seek to answer the question the Mormon experience recurrently invites: Why an influence and reaction out of all proportion to the religion's relatively small numbers?
Some have seen Mormonism as merely one of several new and unorthodox American religious and quasi-religious groups that sprang to life in the 1800s. Spiritualism, Christian Science, Mesmerism, Utopianism, to name a few, also gained large followings to their unconventional value systems and teachings. Some of them engendered hostility and opprobrium. None elicited pogroms, disincorporation, and disfranchisement.
There has been a difference in the way Mormons have been treated in the past. There has been genuine persecution, though we are grateful in these days that overt violence against us has generally ceased. We are grateful for this time of increased understanding and civility, and hope that it will last. But rhetoric against Latter-day Saints has hardly died down, and real anti-Mormons - often professional ones - work hard to stir up anger. I urge all of us to resist such religious bigotry. It is not inspired of God.
Remarkably, modern anti-Mormon tactics are quite similar to those of ancient anti-Christians such as the influential Roman named Celsus. I recommend the essay, "Celsus And Modern Anti-Mormonism" by Aaron Christensen, available at the FAIRLDS.org site. Some things never change - especially when they have the same source of inspiration.
The Gift of Guilt - my essay.
Famous Mormons - Anybody you know listed there?