CES Letter


You read the CES Letter, and you don’t know what to think.  Your world fit together so well, and now you feel it’s crumbling apart.  You question everything, even your relationship with God.  You want to know about seerstones and Book of Abraham papyri and polygamy.  We will get to that.  First, I want to put some framework around those issues.


Spiritual vs Historical Truth


Historical truths/claims can be validated through traditional intellectual and scientific methods.  Example:

  • The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2015.

Some truths/claims are completely spiritual concepts that cannot be proven or disproven through traditional intellectual methods.  Examples:

  • God exists.
  • The Christ-centered-LDS life can help me connect with God and live more abundantly.

Sometimes historical concepts intersect with things that seem like spiritual concepts, yet they are still historical concepts that can be validated through intellectual methods.  Examples:

  • God created the earth in six days.
  • The Book of Mormon is an ancient American document.

Let’s be careful when we analyze the CES Letter issues that we are not conflating spiritual and historical concepts.  Keep in mind that even if a historical claim is challenged, an underlying spiritual truth/claim may still stand.

I’ve heard LDS defend the Book of Mormon saying, “You will never prove the Book of Mormon true or not true through an intellectual process.  It can only proven through a spiritual process.”  I agree and disagree.  If you’re equating “truth” to whether or not it’s an ancient American document, then I disagree.  We may disagree whether the current evidence prove or disprove it, but that’s a historical claim that can be evaluated intellectually.  If you define Book of Mormon “truth” the way I do, ie it is an inspired book of scripture, then I agree with the premise above.  It can only be validated through a personal, spiritual process.



Three ways to view LDS Historical Issues


Literal, Believing View

This group views LDS historical claims as literal and factually accurate.  Some feel no need to study any historical issues in depth.  They might believe the history is not meaningful to their spirituality and relationship with God.  When they do research into Mormon issues, they are usually satisfied with surface level answers that reinforce the traditional narrative.

Others have undergone a very deep and careful study of history on the issues and have come to an intellectual and scholarly view that it is true in the literal sense.  They have read all the old FARMS or current FairMormon literature, are up on all the issues and believe the logic is strong.  The more they study, the more they feel it validates the literal, LDS view.


Literal, Non-Believing View

Their search of Mormon history has led them to conclude that Mormonism is not what it purports to be.  Some will move into a different form of Christianity, ignoring the similarly problematic origins of Christianity.  Some will become atheistic, not trusting any religion.  For them, they continue to view religion as binary, either true or not, based on the accuracy of the historical claims.  These people never break out of a rigid view of Mormonism and religion of only having value in a literal and fundamental paradigm.  Some will continue their search and stick with Mormonism but feel frustration and possibly even feel like they are living a lie.


Metaphorical/Nuanced View

They discover the same problems with historical origins, but instead of dumping the church immediately, they struggle through the dissonance and continue with a deeper search for truth about religion and God.  They see that simplistic, binary models of evaluating LDS (or any religion’s) literal-historical claims aren’t sufficient.

They develop expanded views of religion, such as the sacramental/metaphorical paradigm.  They develop nuanced understanding of religious concepts that were very simply defined for them in the past.  Concepts like truth, faith, belief, revelation, prophet, authority, and priesthood.  They realize that most of the great philosophers and thinkers on religion are not concerned with the historical origins.  They decide to stay or leave based on how they view the truth and beauty of Mormonism and the fruits of the church in its current state not in the accuracy of its historical origins.  They understand the value of religion comes in the daily-weekly lived experience.


There are really smart, honest, and good-hearted people in all three groups above.  And of course there is crossover between these groups.  One could believe in a literal way on some things and a nuanced view on other issues.

If you’re not happy in Mormonism and want a reason to leave, you will find it in the CES Letter.  If you love Mormonism and want to stay in it but need some answers on the CES Letter issues to preserve your intellectual integrity, you will find those answers.

If you just want to know the truth regardless of where it takes you, then you have some work ahead of you.  You’re in for a long but rewarding journey to discover truth that will likely lead to a more complex understanding of religion.  Right now, it may seem like a binary decision.  It’s true or not.  Give me the facts.  Through this journey, the search for the answer to the question “Is the church true?” will become less relevant than questions like Adam Miller proposes “Is this the Body of Christ? Is Christ manifest here?”

This is what I think Terryl Givens means when he says “faith is a choice”.

Oversimplified Church History

Most of us understand there are different layers in teaching history.  We know George Washington probably told lies in his youth, and if it were proven his father never even owned a cherry tree, it wouldn’t shatter our world.  We understand these things are always more complex with closer analysis.  But with church history, we have an expectation that church teachings should be correlated to absolute truth.

The church has been guilty of teaching a very oversimplified version of its history.  With the help of scholars like Richard Bushman and changes in style by the church, such as publishing the recent Gospel Topics Essays, we’re moving past that.  Hopefully future generations of the church won’t struggle with this jarring process of facing online information that doesn’t match their oversimplified understanding.

In this article, where I say something is problematic or difficult, I mean that it challenges that traditional, oversimplified, unsustainable literal view of church history.  I believe there are nuanced and metaphorical paradigms that can make sense of everything in the CES Letter.


CES Letter Background

In 2013, Jeremy Runnells at the request of a CES Director wrote a letter documenting the issues he found with the LDS church.  He later published this in a pdf on his website, which is now known as the CES Letter.  This became very popular very fast and within a couple years he had over 100,000 downloads.  Jeremy Runnells and his CES Letter have sort of become icons in the Mormon world.  It’s very likely if you talk to a faithful Mormon they will call the CES Letter hateful, poorly written trash full of lies.  If you ask an Ex-Mormon, they will tell you it’s courageous, honest, and insightful.  Many even view the CES Letter as their own evangelizing tool.  If they can get their active LDS friend or family member to read it, they think it will destroy their faith in the church.  On April 17, 2016, Jeremy Runnells was brought in for a disciplinary court and facing excommunication decided to resign from the church.

FairMormon, the group that does apologetic research and publications defending the church came out with a lengthy, point by point rebuttal.  This is adequate for some Mormons but not all.  Some, mostly ex-Mormon but even some LDS, view FairMormon as manipulating the academic research with the main intention of overcomplicating issues to make it seem like non-scholars have no way to evaluate things intellectually.

It’s very difficult to know who to trust.  I try my best here to provide just about the most neutral perspective you will find.  I don’t use Jeremy’s numbering system here, but I try to cover all his points.


Book of Mormon

KJV copied from the Bible  The BOM contains short phrases and sometimes long quotations from the King James Bible.  Sometimes the KJV had errors which Joseph didn’t fix.  Sometimes it seems illogical for the KJV to be there at all.  I think this is a legitimate problem.  The most serious example is the Isaiah portion.  See a little more thorough treatment on Isaiah problems here, but the gist of the issue is that Nephi had a copy and is quoting some portions of Isaiah (which Isaiah didn’t even write) before it was even written.

DNA  We don’t find Israelite DNA when we do tests on Native American populations.  The only possible way that scientists could agree that DNA science has not essentially ruled out America as a historical setting for the Book of Mormon is with the following contingency: Lehite settlers landed in America and then immediately intermarried with local natives, and continued to intermarry in a way that their DNA completely vanished.

Anachronisms An anachronism is when a supporting detail in a story is out of place, historically or chronologically.  Critics accuse the BOM of containing anachronisms such as horses, elephants, domesticated animals, silk, and metalworking that don’t fit in an ancient America setting.  LDS apologists have presented a lot of research on this.  They create a possibility for viewing the BOM in a literal way, but for many people the explanations seem forced.  For example, Mesoamericans didn’t have wheeled technology and didn’t ride horses, so when the Book of Mormon references horse and chariot it means a tapir or deer and a litter (non-wheeled conveyance device) which were unrelated, ie the tapirs didn’t haul the litter, they were just randomly used together in a phrase.  This creates a plausible explanation, but for most people it’s not compelling.  And unfortunately, there are many of these examples.  Another anachronism that I think is more interesting, that the CES Letter didn’t really get into, is the out-of-place presence of very esoteric, specific Christian doctrine that seems to be the result of centuries long debate between Calvinists and Arminians.

Archaeology Again, Jeremy has the facts on his side here.  The lack of swords, bones, pottery, writings, etc, that would confirm Book of Mormon historicity is concerning.  Each year that passes, we find out more about these ancient civilizations and they seem to correlate less with Book of Mormon descriptions.

Geography names Here, I believe Jeremy reaches too far.  The map showing Book of Mormon place names in proximity to update New York is very convincing on the surface, but the apologists have done a good job explaining this.  In my opinion, LDS apologists overuse the parallelomania argument when they address critical arguments, but this is a time when it very accurately explains the issue.  Parallelomania is the concept that two references appear correlated (or copied or plagiarized) when actually they are random coincidence.  This occurs quite often naturally in texts and literature.

The Camora/Moroni point is a bit more compelling, but still falls in the realm of parallelomania for me.  However, this sword cuts both ways.  The discovery on an ancient map of a place called Nahom, which correlates well with the place Nephi describes in the Book of Mormon has long been touted as one of the strongest “bullseyes” in support of BOM historicity.  But this doesn’t exceed the standard of parallelomania any more than these critical arguments do.

View of the Hebrews  I have mixed response on this.  The CES Letter provides a lengthy explanation describing the connections.  This might make a reader think he weights this evidence more than he really does.  For me, VOTH is more of an “ah hah” than a condemnation.

Either critics have done a poor job communicating this point or apologists have done a poor job defending it.  Critics tend to identify the common points between VOTH and the Book of Mormon, and apologists say “look at all this stuff that’s DIFFERENT, it’s obviously not plagiarized.”  But the point, that I think is valid although more of a minor/supporting point, is that these ideas and concepts that the VOTH and BOM have in common illustrate the religious and historical thoughts of the period.  They were products of the same environment.  Do I think Joseph Smith plagiarized VOTH? No.  Do I think the concepts and storyline behind VOTH were circulated in 1820’s New England and they might have had influence on Joseph?  Yes.

Late War, Book of Napoleon  Jeremy again might have appeared to give too much weight to these arguments.  But that’s understandable, as they were new ideas that were coming out at the time he had his faith crisis, and they’re pretty compelling issues that haven’t been adequately addressed.

The idea here is that there were two books that came out before the BOM that both have a very Book of Mormony feel.  A lot of usage of “and it came to pass”, long sentences, passive voice, and the same Old English style of writing.  It turns out  there was a genre of writing in Joseph’s time called the “ancient style” where people intentionally mimicked biblical King James style writing to make the book sound like scripture.  Counter: a) The Book of Mormon’s use of chiasmus and Hebraisms are much more complex than its peers and b) Joseph’s lack of education makes his successful use of these even more confusing.

Seerstone with head in hat translation method The Church has been doing a very good job at softening the surprise factor on this one, with the release of the seerstone image in Aug 2015 and the Gospel Topics Essays and even adding this narrative into lesson manuals starting with Primary.  But there are aspects of this that are still very difficult.  1) That Joseph didn’t even need or use the gold plates. 2) That Joseph used the same technique to translate the BOM as he had used previously in money digging expeditions.  3) That the seerstone/hat, treasure seeking narrative has crossover with the Angel Moroni finding of the gold plates narrative.  None of this meets our expectation of how God should bring forth a work of scripture as important as the Book of Mormon.

Jeremy expresses his personal emotions about feeling lied to by the LDS church in this section.  I went through these same emotions myself.  But I also understand the FairMormon on this.  It’s a complex issue.  I give credit to the church for making this information available recently, and I think Jeremy would also.

Complexity and Spiritual Value  Jeremy and other critics list the negatives about the Book of Mormon, but don’t list the positives.  In addition to the black/white lack of nuance with which the CES Letter approaches the issues, the other main issue is that it lists all the bad things but none of the good things to try to arrive at a holistic view.  Grant Hardy’s book Understanding the Book of Mormon and other works like that show the Book of Mormon is extremely complex and consistent in its theology, geography, and internal narrative.  It has transformative power in the lives of millions of people.  The more I study the Book of Mormon, the less I believe it’s historical, but the greater I appreciate its spiritual value.

Book of Mormon Conclusions  FairMormon spends a lot of time defending anachronisms, lack of archaeological evidence and other Book of Mormon historicity issues.  It’s good to be familiar with their work.  That works for many LDS but not all.  In the LDS academic world, it’s becoming more and more acceptable to view the BOM, at least partially, as non-historical.  LDS scholar Blake Ostler defines scripture as “human creativity responding to divine inspiration”.  There are two non-traditional ways of viewing the BOM that fully admit the anachronisms.  1) The Expansion Model, which is the most popular right now among scholarly LDS: the BOM is a very loose translation based on an ancient record, but also includes significant expansion that came through the mind of Joseph and includes his 19th century ideas and perspectives.  2) Non-historical model: as a prophet, seer, and revelator Joseph had the right and the capability to create the BOM as a non-historical extended metaphor.  I explore these theories, and what Joseph meant by the word “translation” and exploring concepts like midrash and pseudepigrapha.


First Vision Concerns

Many LDS are surprised to learn the version of the First Vision account in our scriptures is not the only account Joseph gave.  There are four different accounts, each one with varying information.  Some of the differences seem pretty important.  ie In only the last one he talks about two personages, both Heavenly Father and Jesus.  In the other accounts is it just one.  In the earlier accounts, the focus is on Joseph praying with the intention of repenting of his sins not with the intention of discovering which church is true.  There doesn’t seem to be the declaration of authority and exclusivity to Joseph’s mission until the last one.

This is problematic, but this issue was never as troubling to me as it is to some others.  The FairMormon arguments make some sense.  I think there are reasons for the different accounts.

It does seem odd why the “two personages” part of the story wasn’t emphasized in earlier accounts.  And it’s puzzling why Joseph didn’t seem to testify or talk about the First Vision in the early years of church history.  One point to understand, is that a vision is visionary.  It’s not necessarily a physical visitation like we assume.

Richard Bushman and Greg Prince, two scholars I respect greatly, have a similar view on this.  Neither look at it as proving the church is exclusively “true”.  But both look at the multiple accounts as strong evidence corroborating the fact that something did happen in the grove, with the earliest 1832 account most likely being the most factually accurate.  And the 1838 account being a founding document to establish a religion–a formal presentation of what the early church thought it meant.


Book of Abraham

The CES Letter gives overall fair treatment to Book of Abraham issues.  Joseph purchased some mummies that came with ancient scrolls and stated these were the writings of Abraham and Joseph (son of Jacob/Israel). He translated the Book of Abraham and published it in 1838.  The scroll was lost but then turned up in a museum in 1966, and shown by Egyptian experts to be a common Egyptian funerary text and has nothing to do with Abraham.  The KEP (Kirtland Egyptian Project) appears to show where Joseph was in error, but it’s argued this was a side project that doesn’t necessarily show how the Book of Abraham text was revealed to Joseph.  I go into this in more detail on my Book of Abraham page.

Apologists have a couple theories to counter this.

  1. Missing scroll. They argue the scroll found in 1966 is missing a portion that might have the Book of Abraham on it.  This is not impossible, but I feel it is unlikely.  This is a fairly technical issue that is not impossible to understand for the lay person, but requires a more analysis and reading than I’ll do here.
  2. Catalyst argument. The church’s essay on the Book of Abraham suggests the church is willing to accept this.  The idea here is to acknowledge the scrolls Joseph Smith purchased had nothing to do with Abraham, but it was good for him to believe the scrolls were the writings of Abraham, because it helped him tap into his revelatory power, and produce the Book of Abraham.  This kind of nuanced view is similar to the view some LDS scholars take on the Book of Mormon, seeing it as inspired but not historical.

Facsimiles  Jeremy’s points are strong, but like some other areas he overreaches just a tad by getting so specific with his argument details.  This invites LDS Egyptologists to obfuscate and focus the discussion on esoteric, supporting details that don’t add or take away much from the discussion.  The bottom line is: the interpretations Joseph made for the facsimiles don’t match up to what Egyptologists say they are.

Additionally, I think it was a bad move for Jeremy to use this line “Joseph Smith is saying that this figure with an erect penis is Heavenly Father sitting on his throne”.  It’s a minor point, and at that it’s not even a slam dunk, and to include that kind of language that offend so many LDS moves things into emotional territory away from intellectual and factual.

Newtonian Physics and Thomas Dick plagiarism This section is interesting.  I think the correlations are not extremely strong for these two sources, but it’s possible they were used as source material.  Joseph Smith apparently borrowed from many sources.  It’s possible he borrowed from Emanuel Swedenborg, who wrote about the three degrees of heaven—celestial, terrestrial, telestial, and also eternal marriage.  He also might have borrowed from John Milton’s Paradise Lost: preexistence, Jesus created Earth, etc.  Fiona Givens said “Joseph loved to plagiarize,” playfully expressing the idea that Joseph felt it was his prophetic role to take truth existing in the world from various sources and bring it together in the restored gospel.  I personally find this a beautiful and profound concept.

KJV in Book of Abraham  Not a big deal, especially if we allow for a “loose” translation.

My addition on Book of Abraham content  Something Jeremy didn’t include, but something I think is kind of a big deal is some of the content in the Book of Abraham that is the justification for some of the racist cultural attitudes of the past.  Abraham 1 recirculates the Bible’s curse of Ham story, which was popularly interpreted in Joseph’s time by many Christians as justification for racism.



In my own critique of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I give the following as a summary of the difficult aspects of it.  I am careful to include only facts that both LDS and non-LDS scholars agree on.  The church published an essay on Nauvoo Polygamy which essentially admits each of these items, so they should be open territory for active LDS to discuss and not assume they are anti-Mormon concoctions.

  • Joseph married somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 women
  • At least some of Joseph’s polygamous marriages were sexually consummated, scholars will haggle on the exact number (which I feel is important to understand generally to help process the meaning of all this) is probably more than 10 and less than 20
  • He married other men’s wives, though these marriages are sometimes argued by LDS scholars as not involving sexual relations
  • Joseph married several teenage girls, with the youngest as 14 (also argued by LDS scholars that this relationship was not consummated)
  • He hid many of these from Emma, and she was very upset about it
  • The first marriage, Fanny Alger, seems a bit out of place with the others, occurring in Kirtland at least five years before the others
  • He told people that God sent an angel with a sword to threaten his life if he didn’t start doing polygamy and sometimes used that story to convince the girl to go along with marriage
  • That some of the women involved seemed to be deeply saddened by the marriage with Joseph and were upset spiritually and emotionally

If Jeremy stopped there, he probably wouldn’t get much static from LDS apologists, but the following are factual points that are being challenged and difficult to prove either way.

  • whether or not some of the marriages with the young teenagers were consummated
  • sexual relations with the women he married that were already married, ie polyandry
  • whether or not it was shocking for a 40 year old man to marry teenage bride in this time period
  • the details of whether Joseph’s polygamy was consistent with what was published in D&C 132 and how much of the doctrine was openly taught by Joseph

My opinion on this? From a 30,000 ft view, it just doesn’t matter much.  Regardless of who’s right on those four bullet points, the preceding 8 bullet points are enough for most reasonable people to look at this and think “that’s pretty messed up and probably not what God wanted for his church.”

It’s natural for us to judge Joseph Smith for this.  I think it’s useful for us to say “that’s not the kind of behavior we should condone”.  But I think it’s too difficult to make a final judgment on Joseph for this.  There are major questions about how Joseph introduced and practiced polygamy that show it wasn’t all about sex.  It’s clear there were some powerful doctrinal issues intertwined, eternal families and the concept of sealing the human family together as a way to prepare for exaltation.

Jeremy goes way too far, in my opinion, in this section, when he compares Joseph Smith to Warren Jeffs and calls Joseph a pedophile.  I think that was unnecessary, and is more reflective of a close minded, attacking spirit and not an inquisitive and exploratory attitude, which I think Jeremy originally intended the CES Letter to be.


Other Concerns

Brigham Young taught funky stuff like Adam-God, blood atonement It’s true Brigham Young taught a lot of weird stuff.  We don’t believe in prophet infallibility.  I think we know that and we say that, but we don’t really believe it.  We still have a false understanding in the LDS church that the prophet has a direct conduit to God and speaks directly for God.  We have hope and faith that the current prophet is leading the church the best he can according to the will of God, but we should not be surprised if past mistakes are corrected.

Priesthood ban Yeah, it was racist.  Yeah, it was a mistake.  Kudo’s to the church for reversing the ban and with the recent essay saying there was no doctrinal reason for it.  It’s a compelling reason to have doubts about the church.  But I think it can be overcome when we understand prophets are not perfect and can make mistakes. We are growing as a society and a church. Let’s be part of the solution and work together for more progress.

Mark Hoffman, Salamander letter  The brethren were tricked in the early 1980’s by Mark Hoffman by some forged documents representing weird stuff about Mormon history.  I don’t find it incredibly troubling they were tricked.  Yes they were duped, but again no one ever said they were perfect.  Also, nothing in the Salamander Letter is tremendously different than material published by D. Michael Quinn which LDS scholars generally accept as trustworthy.  The origins of the Angel Moroni and discovery of the gold plates definitely had some crossover to the magical world.  As I mention earlier, I do find this a troubling aspect of Mormon history.

Kinderhook Plates   In 1843 some men fabricated some ancient looking stone plates with Egyptian looking writing on them and offered them to Joseph Smith to trick him.  These are called the Kinderhook Plates.  By a couple different accounts, Joseph put them on display in his house, declared them as being a record from a Jaredite and started to translate them.  But the translation effort never got past the very infant stages and nothing was ever published.  I think this is a little troubling to a literal believer, especially as it gives more insight into the Book of Abraham translation, as it appears Joseph started the translation using the same process.

Testimony/spiritual witness concerns  Jeremy criticizes the LDS practice of encouraging a spiritual witness to truth.  He says many religions use this same pattern, and their members receive spiritual witness, but “every religion cannot be right together.”  He says he has felt what LDS call the Holy Ghost during the middle of rated R movies such as Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan, and also at ex-Mormon conferences.

Some people believe spiritual confirmations are self-induced “confirmation biases”.  I think that does occur, but I also believe in a spiritual element.  I wrote this in my description about my own personal faith journey.

One challenging aspect was what would I do with the knowledge I understood from a spiritual perspective.  I couldn’t deny that I had felt powerful spiritual experiences.  I began to reinterpret these spiritual experiences.  I had previously prayed to ask God if the Book of Mormon was true and felt he had burned it into my heart that it was true.  Now I don’t think it was true.  How could that be?  Maybe it meant it is true in a different way than I previously assumed.  Maybe simply the message from God was, “I love you. I’m here. Thank you for seeking me.”  I don’t believe in dumping or ignoring spiritual experience, but I learned it wasn’t easy to understand the exact meaning.

I would probably agree with Jeremy that he did feel the Holy Ghost in all those instances.  I think the Holy Ghost comes often and for many reasons, and it his role to confirm truth, but it may be difficult to interpret the meaning with precision. For both myself and others, I liberally acknowledge the Holy Ghost alive in lives of human beings. But also for me and myself, I’m skeptical when a human being translates those feelings from the Holy Ghost into axioms meant to be understood as absolute truth.

Priesthood Restoration  Angels came on two separate occasions to give Joseph and Oliver the priesthood.  Joseph never talked about these events for several years later.  Very problematic, along the lines of what I mention above on the First Vision accounts.

Magical Worldview Seerstone/hat is mentioned above.  Jeremy also introduces here the account of Oliver and his divining rod.  Oliver Cowdery owned a divining rod that he used to find water.  Joseph told him it was a spiritual gift and that he should use it to try to translate the Book of Mormon.  Apparently, Oliver failed and wasn’t able to come up with anything, and was rebuked by God in the Doctrine and Covenants for it.  This account is included in the Doctrine and Covenants sections 8 and 9, which was modified from the original Book of Commandments account which is a bit more explicit about the divining rod.

When I first learned this story, it blew my mind that I never knew the backstory of that famous seminary scripture “study it out…their bosom shall burn”.  I feel this is yet another historical piece of information that is very challenging to the literal believer.  The apologists will say, no big deal, this is just a way that God is revealing his truth to his servants.  I don’t think it logically fits into the narrative.    But I also find the finalized account in the D&C spiritually inspiring and it resonates with me as a model for comprehending spiritual truth.  We don’t believe God literally writes scripture with a pen and his own hand, so we obviously believe there is some sort of human transmission involved.  A nuanced view of scripture can accept it as spiritual truth even when it appears man made.  Either partially man made or even mostly man made.  I also think this account potentially gives a lot of insight in the BOM translation process, being much more “loose” than we might have thought.

Witnesses  The gist of this section is that the witnesses appear to be strong evidence for the Book of Mormon, but when you break things down in detail, the strength dissipates a little.

Against: Some of the witnesses seemed pretty sketchy, later hooking up with the Strangite church.  They didn’t sign their own names. Joseph signed for them.  Martin Harris said that the eight witnesses saw the plates with their spiritual eyes not physical eyes.

For: The eight witnesses’ testimony was that they both saw and felt the plates.  Martin was one of the three witnesses not one of the eight (the three did not have physical experiences).  There are no direct statements from any of the eight witnesses that deny their testimony.  It’s human nature that if an event like this was faked, that it would be exposed over time.  It’s just too hard to conceal a conspiracy.  Many critical scholars, such as Dan Vogel, precisely because the eight witness testimonies are so compelling, actually believe Joseph faked the creation of some plates to fool the eight witnesses.

Overall, I conclude the witnesses are a net win for the apologists.  I think the strength of the evidence is weakened a bit with some of the arguments Jeremy makes, but overall it’s a pretty compelling argument that none of the witnesses ever retracted or tried to expose Joseph.  The existence of the gold plates appears to be a line in the sand most faithful LDS scholars won’t cross.  BOM historicity seems to be fair game, but you don’t see very many faithful LDS scholars denying the existence of the gold plates.  For a very nuanced, alternative view of the gold plates, see my post here.

Temple and Freemasonry  It’s commonly understood that there are a lot of correlations in the temple endowment to masonic temple rituals.  In the 1980’s, there was a myth circulating which seems to be dying out, but may still be believed by some LDS.  That myth was that the masons were originally the ones that built Solomon’s temple, and they learned the ancient temple ceremony and passed it down within freemasonry down to present day.  So the correlation to freemasonry is actually an evidence for the temple ceremony.  This is false, and we find that mason ceremony content is traced back to about 1700 England, with some elements possibly being a few hundred years older.

The temple ceremony has changed a lot since it was first introduced by Joseph Smith.  Many elements that come straight from freemasonry and that seem a little off compared to standard LDS views have slowly been removed over time, with the last, significant change in 1990.

The current apologetic response, which I find very satisfactory, is that there is nothing critically important about the parts of the temple ceremony that has crossover with the masons.  The important part is the covenants and the doctrine.  The ritual aspect that is borrowed from the masons is simply for teaching effect.

One aspect on this topic that I think Jeremy missed that I find a challenge to some, but not for others (see the note on plagiarism above), is the doctrinal and scriptural influence that masonry seems to have had on Joseph Smith.  There are many correlations to George Oliver’s book Antiquities of Freemasonry, published in 1823.  Ideas in this book that Joseph might have borrowed are:

  • backstory to Abraham for Book of Abraham: raised among Chaldeans, parents were idolaters, visited Egypt, taught astronomy
  • theory that Melchizedek was Shem
  • doctrines such as deification (man can become a god), in depth discussion and importance of priesthood, preexistence

Science Concerns and Questions  Here Jeremy talks about evolution, Noah’s flood, Tower of Babel.  All these are theologically difficult questions for most of the world’s religions.  I think there are satisfying answers, viewing these scriptures from a metaphorical perspective of scripture.  Progressive Jews and Christians have been dealing with these issues for over 100 years.  Mormons are a little late to the table.

Scriptures Concerns and Questions  Here Jeremy brings up weird stuff in the Old Testament, the story of Nephi killing Laban, and polygamy in D&C Section 132.  Again, I believe these are all difficult questions not just for Mormons but for anyone who believes in God and scripture, but not impossible to overcome with a nuanced view.  In a way, I believe the LDS church’s organizational structure enables it to be more equipped to deal with this kind of thing than other churches.  Fundamental Christians are forced to believe every word of the Bible is God’s literal word.  Progressive Christians don’t have a strong, central leadership that can provide guidance globally, so they are left too much to individual interpretation.  As recent as 1981, the church made a change to the wording of the Book of Mormon to help it avoid sounding racist.  We don’t believe scripture is God-breathed and inerrant.  Some of it is more useful than others.  We have an effective organization structure where our leaders can help us best interpret and understand scripture.

Church’s whitewashing of history  The point Jeremy makes here is that the church has been dishonest about church history.  I understand the frustration on this issue.  I don’t think it proves the church wrong or right.  Richard Bushman recently said he believes the leaders of the church have been less knowledgeable about these historical details than one might assume.  I think the essays the church has come out with recently are a huge step in the right direction.  I’m generous with the brethren.  My overall view is that they learned along with a lot of us in the internet age, and they have done their best to move in the right direction, though change in the church is sometimes slow.  I also am very sympathetic to Jeremy and others that feel burned by the church and feel they have been lied to.  I felt that way myself for several years and those feelings are not easily resolved.

Church finances  The accusations the CES Letter make here are related to the amount of tithing the church receives compared to the humanitarian aid the church gives.  Criticism over the City Creek mall.  Criticism over the lack of transparency.  I think generally this is an overplayed criticism.  I have trust that the church is well managed.  I know people that work for the church in financial areas.  No one is getting rich off the church.  The City Creek investment funds were from the business arm of the church that generates return on interest for future capital projects.  I think the church does a lot in terms of service and aid.  Fast offerings are never counted in that humanitarian aid figure, and they are passed 100% through to those in need.  I’d like to see more transparency, but I don’t feel this is a huge problem.

I don’t think Jeremy is fair to the church in this area.  It’s easy to paint the church as a corporate behemoth demanding pittance from poor members.  But, in my opinion that’s a simplistic, superficial view.  People in every religion and through time have seen financial sacrifice as a measure of worship and feel blessed when they do.  The widow’s mite was one of the most powerful concepts Jesus taught.

Names of the church  Here Jeremy criticizes the church for receiving the name of the church through revelation, but then later changing the name with minor revisions a couple times. I feel this is no big deal at all, and also highlights a major issue I have with Jeremy’s approach. He assumes there is a level of precision and accuracy with prophetic revelation that I don’t think is necessary or realistic.

Anti-intellectualism  In September 1993, the church excommunicated six scholars who published historical and other material that the church deemed as inappropriate conduct for a member.  Many viewed this as symbolic of a time period when the church was tightening its borders.  But twenty years later, the environment in the church has completely changed.  The church is publishing essays on controversial church history subjects, opening up in a way it never has.  The church made it public they did not require all members to believe or vote against gay marriage.


Where to go from here?

Patrick Mason said the CES Letter does a very good job at deconstructing an unsustainable version of Mormonism.  But he believes there is a sustainable version that will endure.  He sees faith crisis and faith reconstruction into a deeper, more sustainable version as a natural process that mature adults pass through.  I went through faith crisis after coming across all these historical issues.  I stumbled around for several years, before I was able to piece together a view of Mormonism for myself that was intellectually satisfying and spiritually enriching.

Some will read this and be satisfied with the simple answers from the traditional, literal perspective.  Some will read this, lose their testimony of literal Mormonism and leave the church, like Jeremy.  Some will struggle with the information, study deeper, and modify their views.  Whether they stay in the church will depend largely on how they perceive the fruits of the church, ie whether involvement in the church brings them joy and helps them live a more enriched life.

For more study on the historical issues, I recommend:

Richard Bushman, D. Michael Quinn, FairMormon, Dan Vogel, Brian Hales, Brent Metcalfe, Dialogue.  Don’t be afraid to read both Mormon and “anti-Mormon” sources and sort things out yourself.  Look for facts and ignore conclusions.  Make the conclusions yourself after careful study.

Please also look into expanding into a more nuanced view of religion by studying:

Terryl Givens, Adam Miller, blogs at www.bycommonconsent.com, the Stay LDS forum, podcasts at www.mormondiscussionpodcast.org, the info I share on other pages on this site especially on religious paradigms, James Fowler, Marcus Borg, and the patterns of progressive Christianity or religion in general.

If you’ve given time to analyze the history, I hope you give equal weigh to evaluating the LDS religion as it exists as a force for good today, in helping people connect with God and providing a Body of Christ who serve and worship together.  Check out the section on my site labeled “LDS Truth and Beauty”, where I share my reasons for believing in the LDS church despite having non-traditional views on historical origins.

I know many people are looking for a simple answer to this.  Just tell me it’s true or not.  All this hemming and hawing reminds you of your six year old who won’t directly answer your question of whether or not he cleaned his room.  The unfortunate truth is that there is no simple, direct answer.  If you’re being shaken by the CES Letter, it’s OK.  You’re not crazy or sinful for doubting.  These are tough, tough issues.  It’s taken you out of your comfort zone, but life wasn’t meant to be comfortable always.

I implore you to spend more than an hour–more than a year–searching with your entire soul to discover the truth about God and religion.  Spend your lifetime if necessary.  You have a long, hard road ahead of you to discover truth about religion and God, but it’s a satisfying journey with depth and spiritual enrichment.

Terryl Givens said in his letter to a doubter :

I have no glib solace to offer. I will not bore you or insult your spiritual maturity with injunctions to pray harder, to fast more, to read your scriptures. I know you have been traveling that route across a parched desert. But do let me repeat here three simple ideas; Be patient; remember; and take solace in the fellowship of the desolate.

That path seemed desolate even for Mother Teresa.

I am told God lives in me and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. … Heaven from every side is closed.

Though the path seems desolate and dark at times, there are moments of beauty as expressed by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I will tell you that I am a child of this century, a child of disbelief and doubt…How much terrible torture this thirst for faith has cost me and costs me even now, which is all the stronger in my soul the more arguments I can find against it. And yet, God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm; at those instants I love and feel loved by others.

German philosopher Nietzsche said “if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will also stare into you.” This is scary stuff.  There’s a lot at stake.  Eternal families and heaven and God and salvation and purpose of life.  Stare into that abyss for as long as you need.  Don’t flinch when it stares back.  Don’t surrender when it enters you and fills you with fear and doubt.  Pushing back at that abyss with courage will bring the reward that God promises.

Deuteronomy 4:29

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.





Like it or hate it? Share and discuss.
  • http://www.proz.com/translator/56222 Steen Poul Johnsen

    I wonder what is your objective with this blog? Do you have some kind of hidden agenda or are you just doing it to help people know the truth about church history?

    • http://www.churchistrue.com/ churchistrue

      The only agenda I have with this article is to help LDS struggling with issues in the CES Letter. Some are satisfied with literal answers, and I offer support for FairMormon and counters to some of the logic people use against them. Some aren’t, and for those I offer more nuanced perspectives that can allow them to stay engaged with Mormonism and maintain their intellectual integrity while they sort out the larger issues of doubt and belief in God and religion.

  • Chris Tolworthy

    There is a third approach that nobody seems to take: logic. I mean real, hard logic, where we demand watertight proof. Let us start from the premise that every word of the CES letter is correct. What does that prove? Most people take it as proof that we should leave the LDS church. (Full disclosure: I left years ago, but for completely different reasons). But how is that logical? Does the CES letter have a plus column? No. Does it even attempt to quantify the harm done by the church? No. Does it examine alternative lifestyles? No. Even if every word is absolute truth (and I have no reason to doubt it) its case is entirely emotional: you should now leave the church because it FEELS bad.

    I do not trust emotional arguments. I do not trust cherry picking. I do not trust one sided arguments. So I do not trust the CES letter. Nor of course do I trust what Thomas S Monson says. Nor do I trust the “spiritual truth” argument. (I mean no offense! But I just prefer logic.) So let me present an argument FOR the LDS church.

    First, any logical argument must define terms. What exactly is the LDS church. We can go one of two ways: it is a “corporate sole” (see Damon Smith), or it is a group of people (see the use of “church” in scripture, e.g. the greek “ekklesia”). Either way it is fluid and flexible. The only consistent doctrine is obedience, everything else is in constant flux. That gives us our foundation: the church is a TRIBE.

    The value of the tribe is one that atheists seem unable to grasp. Which is a pity, as tribes are the basis of all progress, all morality, everything that sets us apart from the chimpanzees. See anything by Noah Harrari for details. They are also of course the basis for all war and slavery and large scale destruction. So we had better choose our tribes carefully. And once in a tribe, of course we have to live with its laws and norms, even those we do not personally agree with. E.g. I think Monson is a selfish idiot, but perhaps it is worth sacrificing to him just as the ancient |Romans sacrificed to their selfish idiot rulers, because they could see a greater good.

    What does the LDS tribe offer compared with the alternatives: other churches, nation states, corporations, families? We have to be careful how we measure because there are so many variables. For example, we could argue that the USA is a much better tribe. We could also argue that the USA merely benefits from stealing a large amount of fertile land and culture from elsewhere. Or we could argue that whatever is unique about the USA is also poisoning the planet, or that being LDS actually HELPS with being American. These are complex issues. But let me identify several LDS teachings that differ from mainstream America, and might have very high value.

    First, a physical God. However we might mock religion, when anthropologists study the tens of thousands of human cultures, they find that no atheistic culture has ever survived more than a couple of generations. Atheists just have trouble agreeing over anything. And if we are to have a God, one who is physical might fit better with science. (Of course we must the define physical, noting that what is solid at one scale is empty space at another!)

    Second, embracing immigration. The trouble with tribes is their tendency to want to kill other tribes. But trying to convert other tribes is a definite plus: in my opinion (as an amateur economist) this alone makes Mormonism (and other churches) far more advanced than most nation states and individuals. It warmed my heart when the LDS leaders recently embraced immigration, causing their hard core Republican followers to immediately switch sides on the issue.

    Third, a focus on early nineteenth century values. The Book of Mormon is a work of nineteenth century religious fiction, and that is what makes it so valuable. When we stand back and look at the history of the world, the rise of the modern world will eclipse all other events. Just look at any graph of progress: it all starts to skyrocket then, with the invention of the electric motor, the telegraph, railways, etc. And look at any nation in the history of the world, and I think we can argue that America is the early nineteenth century was the most vibrant. I would rather study those values than the values of ancient Israel or modern academia.

    I could go on, but these illustrate the point. If we are serious about creating heaven on earth then we must look beyond the individual crooks, abusers and buffoons who make up humanity (and church leadership) at every level. We need to see the bigger picture, and make logical choices.

    In the final analysis of course humans are not logical. We live by emotion. People join the LDS church because it feels good. And when correlation makes it mind numbingly boring they unconsciously yearn for something like the CES letter to give them a way out. Emotion gets us in, emotion gets us out. Both sides appeal to emotion. But there is a third option: logic. Logic might make us join, or it might make us leave, but the CES letter has no relevance to the question at all.

    In my opinion.

    • Malcolm McLean

      Chris, you say: “The value of the tribe is one that atheists seem unable to grasp.”
      Can you expand on that, and back it up? Because I totally disagree with that statement. Although I would agree that atheists and the religious may identify with different tribes, and each find value in all the different things that make their tribe a tribe.

      “Most people take [the CES letter] as proof that we should leave the LDS church.”
      I don’t see that at all. Even if (your hypothesis) the letter is 100% true, and “most people” refers to members, I don’t think that it is a true statement. Nor do I think that having most people believe that is the intent of the letter – it certainly was not at the start, and I don’t think that it has become the intent.

      “People join the LDS church because it feels good. And when correlation makes church mind numbingly boring, the CES letter gives our subconscious an emotional way out.”
      This seems to be trivialising the experiences of members who leave, or who doubt or start to question. Should we add it to “was never truly converted”, “just wants to sin”, “has been deceived by satan”, etc. as a quick & dirty way of dismissing concerns that some members have found devastating to their entire lives – home, family, work, community? – “was bored and was looking for an emotional way out”.

      • Chris Tolworthy

        Thanks for the reply.

        re: atheists judging the value of tribes: My evidence for this is purely anecdotal. The main argument does not rest on it, so I am happy to be proven wrong. This my reasoning: I have seen thousands of well argued cases that quantify the harm done by religion. And on the plus side, most atheists I know will happily admit that religion has a tribal value. But I have never heard them quantify the tribal part. Without quantifying it, how can we know that the costs outweigh the benefits?

        re: the CES letter as proof that we should leave. I agree that this may not be the intent of the letter. But it is assumed that the letter destroys the church’s intellectual foundations. Her is my evidence.

        Example 1: The original post begins: “You read the CES Letter, and you don’t know what to think. Your world fit together so well, and now you feel it’s crumbling apart. ” The essay then offers no logical argument against this, but appeals to emotion (the spirit) instead.

        Example 2: the FAIR response: their need to address the letter in detail suggests that it is a threat. Their inability to refute it suggests the threat is very serious.

        Example 3: General Conference warns of the dangers of information found on the Internet. As far as I can tell they are referring to information such as in the CES letter.

        Example 4: the reddit exmormon often refers to the CES letter as a danger to the church.

        I accept that that destroying the church is not the same as telling people to leave. But I think that message is implied: if the church is “crumbling” why would anybody want to stay?

        re: why people leave
        yes, I think “mind numbingly boring” is a legitimate reason to leave. It is why two of my children left. It is why I left. I am active on the New order Mormon Facebook group, and it is a very common reason among those who want to be religious. I would argue that it is the most serious threat facing the church, and it is why the decline in baptisms began in the late 1980s, before the ubiquity of the World Wide Web. In the long term I think correlation is more harmful to the church than the Internet.

        I agree that it is not the only reason for leaving. I disagree that this “dismisses” the seriousness of leaving. I think “mind numbing boredom” is a serious threat to survival both as an individual and a culture, because it wastes our most precious resources: our time, and our ability to think.

        • Malcolm McLean

          Thanks for taking the time to address each point. (btw, I believe that we have crossed paths in another place, and I always found you to be thoughtful, fair, and **logical**.)

          On point 2 I was perhaps not clear – my objection was based more on the idea that the CES letter was **proof** that we should leave than on the idea that it was a danger to the church – that I fully accept. I think that the world of LDS discourse has reason to be grateful to the CES director who prompted Runnels to compose the letter.

          And, yes, I think that I likely underestimate the boredom factor. In fact, when I think about it, boredom of a sort may have been my first indication that all was not well with my feelings about the church. For work reasons I had to miss church for several months (the first time in about 25 years that I had missed more than 1 or 2 Sundays), and was somewhat startled to notice that I just didn’t miss something that was supposed to be a huge source of pleasure and goodness.

          • Chris Tolworthy

            Thanks – and reading back over my screed, I think my jealousy probably comes through. Runnels has achieved what I have always tried and failed to do: he produced a document that, on its own, says everything he wants to and promotes itself (ie. he does not need a marketing push to keep it going). It certainly has great value in proving what should be obvious from the start, that humans make mistakes. It is a very valuable document.

            I think what REALLY bugs me is the general shallowness of religion, of which the CES letter is a good example. It is supposed to be “religion 101″ that ALL humans are fools and miserable sinners. Yet somehow we don’t apply that to the best known people: those at the top. The whole idea of a hierarchy is the opposite of religion IMO (it’s supposed to be about God, not man). Similarly the whole idea that God should be supernatural is absurd (originally God was an abstract concept meaning “the ultimate cause”), yet most religious people accept the “man in the sky” metaphor as literally real without batting an eye. It drives me crazy.

            In my view religion should be this super interesting and immensely powerful and satisfying approach to life, and the Bible is the most amazing history: a library of ideas and records both good and bad. But something inside humans pushes them to blind obedience instead. I put it down to the herd instinct, both our best friend and our worst enemy. I suppose it’s being autistic that lets me stand outside and shake my head in disbelief. I want things to be logical! I have no interest in socialising at all. And yet I can see that socialising is the most powerful force in all history: our ability to tell stories, to unite behind mythical supermen (gods and god-like rulers) are what let humans unite and thereby conquer the world.

            Religion both inspires and appals me.

  • TheMogabi

    “These people never break out of a rigid view of Mormonism and religion of only having value in a literal and fundamental paradigm.”

    Do you mean people like Gordon B. Hinckley who boldly declared that the church is either the greatest work in the world or a great fraud?

    • highpriestinaspeedo

      I think it’s great to have a nuanced POV and avoid literalism. The problem is that, in many cases, the church forces you to accept it on its terms. Sure, one could be one of the very lucky and privileged few who happen to live in a ward with liberal and tolerant folks who allow for dissenting viewpoints and free discussion. But in most cases, those situations are rare and likely temporary, due to the fact that the liberal leaders will likely be replaced someday with leaders who are more authoritarian. Thus, if you want to make the church work for you as a nuanced or non-literal believer, you either need to remain quiet or expend a lot of mental energy finding ways to nuance things in ways that won’t ruffle feathers among the ultra-orthodox. In my case, I tried for a year after my shelf collapsed, and after awhile I couldn’t do it anymore. My mental health was deteriorating, I was becoming isolated socially, and most weeks I was miserable. I told my wife I’d be game to try again in another ward, preferably far outside of Utah, but as long as we’re here, no way. My stake president is a tyrant and has called young, inexperienced bishops that he can keep under his thumb. Extreme viewpoints are freely expressed in all meetings, and any attempts I’ve made to nuance things are shut down almost completely. From my vantage point, the church where I live is becoming more and more fundamentalist. It isn’t just the liberals leaving anymore. The November policy and Bednar’s subsequent comments about homosexuals not existing in the church is pushing out many of the moderates.

  • dmmacfarlane


    • http://www.churchistrue.com/ churchistrue

      doh! thanks.

  • Derrek Child

    I have to disagree with this statement you made. “Priesthood ban Yeah, it was racist. Yeah, it was a mistake. Kudo’s to the church for reversing the ban and with the recent essay saying there was no doctrinal reason for it. It’s a compelling reason to have doubts about the church. But I think it can be overcome when we understand prophets are not perfect and can make mistakes.”

    It was doctrine, was taught as doctrine, and it influenced church policy. The first presidency acknowledge it as doctrine numerous times. One source, the Aug 17, 1949 first presidency statement, says it is doctrine, and is a commandment from the God.

    There are mistakes, and then there are outright lies. The church did not make a mistake, they told a lie. They said God said, and now they are saying God never said. Either God said and Brigham Young is right, or God never said and Brigham Young lied. It’s not a mistake, and I am sick of people down playing it like it was. A prophet said God said. If that is a mistake the entire religion is a mistake based on that criteria.

    • http://hubpages.com/@rodric29 Rodric Anthony Johnson

      God did not start the priesthood ban at all. It was the making of a man, Brigham Young based on his personal prejudices. Since he was a prophet people listened. We were learning as a church. It took 130 years for us to realize the everything a prophet says is not doctrine. We have councils for that reason. This is a restoration and we need time! The Nephites had a thousand years almost. We need time to get our Zion type communities in order.

      The religion is most definitely not a mistake and He did say that the church is His authorized church on this earth. We traditionally say true church, but authorized is the better word. What that means is that we can do ordinances, but we get doctrinal stuff mixed up sometimes. It happened in the early church, It happened in the Book of Mormon. It happened in our past. It is still happening at the local levels of the church.

      I can talk to God myself. I just need the prophet because he is entrusted with the keys of the priesthood until Christ comes. He holds the key to every mans priesthood authority by virtue of his office. I cannot baptize or perform ordinances of salvation without the prophets Christ-given keys. Everything else, prayers that we call priesthood blessing, can be done by any worthy person. It is church tradition to allow the priesthood holders to do all the blessing though. Tradition.

      The power of the name of Christ cannot be contain in the priesthood as we understand it. It permeates the elements and when a faithful person speaks the words of God, the elements obey. When a faithful priesthood holder does the same, he has the authority and faith to act for God and the blessing is a guarantee to be fulfilled. It is WILL be because it is God’s will as much as the will of the priesthood holder.

      The priesthood is a guarantee in conjunction with faith. Faith alone is hope that God will act in favor of the requester. God trust righteous priesthood holders and He acts when they speak, I know because I am a righteous priesthood holder and He acts for me. Because of my willingness to repent makes me righteous through the atoning blood of Christ.

      The ban was not of God. The church might not be able to outright say that right now for whatever reason, but I can. It was not of God. It was taught and false doctrines were perpetuated because of it, but God winked at it as the church stumbled along the way until we were ready to listen to His truths. We will find out more truths if we ask. We have been promised that if we ask in faith, we will receive it.

      God can speak for Himself. Let the church catch up with His Spirit. The church is always behind when it comes to these things. That does not change the FACT that the church is the only authorized entity on this planet to speak for God and act for Him.

      • Derrek Child

        The band was from God if you believe Brigham Young was a prophet. Simply put either Brigham Young was a prophet, or he was a false prophet. The priesthood band is just one piece of evidence that he was a false prophet, not just an imperfect leader. The point of my comment is that LDS prophets offer us nothing unique. They have no insight that a prophet, seer, revelator should have according to their own teachings. The spread theories as doctrine, and spread confusion as truth.

        • http://www.scripturalalchemy.com Gilgamesh

          The Priesthood Band hasn’t had a major hit in years. They are relegated to mostly doing cover performances at singles ward dances. I am not sure why you place such emphasis on them.

      • Michael Waters

        This brings into question then the very nature of a prophet. If we are not allowed to question a prophet, and we are supposed to take their words as coming from the mind and will of the lord. If that is the case, then what are we supposed to do ? Do we listen to the prophet or are we allowed to vcocally disagree and say the prophet is not speaking gods will? Becuase the last people that did that were kicked out of the church. In fact their is a long history of people who opposed church leadership on key issues that were kicked out for being apostate even years later when the church cam back and said it was never doctrine and just the opinion of prejudiced old men? So if we are to blindly agree with the prophet then how is this reconciled. Their really are only 2 options. #1 God speaks his mind and will direclty through the his prophet. if that is the case then the priesthood ban, and the reasons why are all doctrinal. or #2 God sometimes does but oftentimes the prophet is speaking as a man and his word is fallible? If this is the case then it brings to light an even BIGGER problem. If gods prophets who are purported and propped up as oracles to the mind and will of the lord are allowed to speak opinion then their must be a clear way to distuinguish. If thats the case then the church should not kick people out like Kate Kelly for asking for clarity. She wanted clarity on Women having the priesthood. The churches position is that god has spoken. Well how do we know that is the case and not just opinion or leadership speaking as a man
        ? Further complicating things is this . Brigham young frequently in response to the blak priesthood issue as well as MANY Other prophets said it was the mind and will of the lord. SO how can that be taken as opinion? If gods appointed oracle says it is gods mind and will, and he does it in the name of God and is noit striken down for lying then how can we trsaut anything that these prophets say as being gods will?

      • Derrek Child

        Help me understand something. The only reason you think the church has authority is because Joseph Smith said God gVe it to him. This is the same Joseph Smith who claimed by revelation that the kinder hook plates were from the jaredites, gave false meaning to Egyptian facsimiles, claimed peoe lived on the moon, claimed he knew where burried treasure was but evil spirits kept moving it, lied to his wife about his “other wives”, lied about funds to open a bank, and the list goes on and on. Why on earth do you believe him when he said Angels appeared to him and gave him power?

      • http://www.scripturalalchemy.com Gilgamesh

        While I respect your viewpoint. I think you may also want to consider that the ban may have been from God. It is possible that for whatever reasons beyond our sight it was needed to allow church history to unfold as it has. Had it not been in place perhaps things would have unfolded in different ways that might not have been positive. Perhaps many of the early members who helped build the church were also weak enough that a more inclusive policy might have led them away and the Lord allowed this policy to accommodate their weakness. Perhaps a different policy might have effected statehood or tangled the saints in the Civil War in ways that may have hurt our development as a people. Suggesting that God has a longer plan in mind does not validate racism or past weakness. The story of Joseph being betrayed and sold to Egypt only to later save his family is a good illustration of this concept. It is entirely plausible that Brigham did what he did or the Lord allowed him to do what he did because it was part of a larger plan. One we will only understand when we have more information.

        Either way, glad to have you in the church today with no restrictions.

  • Mormony Funstuff

    One of Jeremy’s main summations of the CES letter is that none of these points are compelling on their own. There isnt a smoking gun with Joseph Smith, but a pattern, an MO..there is a bullet ridden floor next to a body.

    Many members base their testimony on the simplicity of the LDS gospel, trust in the inspired leadership, and faith that it is the one true church. The problem is not that they don’t have a nuanced view or the ability to have faith beyond reason, the problem is that their testimony is based on absolutes and that does not align with the historical facts.

  • Zelph on the Shelf

    How can historical falsehoods still be spiritual truths? For example, if Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon to try and make money (a reasonable presumption, in light of him trying to sell the copyrights in Canada/promising his FIL he’d give up treasure digging and make money another way right before etc.), how could he be inspired of God? Not to mention why God would inspire someone to write a provably false book then claim it’s historically true. (Is God just messing with people/fine with them believing a lie because it’s for some weird greater good of spirituality? What kind of God is this?) Sorry, Randall! I can’t subscribe to these ideas, as you know. But I commend you for your efforts here – this definitely required a lot of thought and time, I can tell.

    • fecklessderek

      Your example is not a historical falsehood. There are very few if any historical falsehoods. There are presumed historical falsehoods and there are equally as plausible presumed good faith assumptions, that in the context of the human condition are not nearly as nefarious as the “black and white” folks would steer us to accept.

  • Vince Robert Strauss

    You seem to fail to mention that in the beginning of the CES letter, Jeremy mentions that to date, he has never received a response to his letter to the CES Director or from any LDS Church authorities. How can you skip over that important matter that has never been resolved??? I KNOW Jeremy, he has spent more time and research than anyone I know on the separate matters he discusses, his accuracy is there. ALSO, you failed to mention that Jeremy took extensive time to make a rebuttal to FAIR Mormon’s comments. Jeremy actually backs up everything he mentions with solid facts that stem from the LDS Church’s sources. FAIR did NOT mention any sources to back up their statements in an effort to tear down the CES Letter.
    You did a lot of work here as Zelph mentioned, but you failed to point out some important matters.

    • Michael Waters

      Not to mention this factoid. How many of Jeremys points in CES Letter do we have to agree with to shed serious doubt on Joseph Smith? 1, 2? 3? 12? It seems that the author already agrees on enough points of Jeremys as being accurate to throw it all out. The argument that most of what he says is true but some of it may not be as justification to still beleive in Joseph Smith wouldnt work in Court, in Science, or any real honest debate.

  • Vince Robert Strauss

    On calling out JS as a pedophile. Can you give me any sold reasoning or evidence why a man needs to marry a 14 year old girl, and then tell me why God would tell a Prophet to marry a 14 year old girl. It happened, deal with it ! (We all know JS promised her family celestial glory if he could have her()

  • Spencer Lee

    While I found the analysis in this post to be overall very level-headed and as objective as is possible for something like this, I strongly disagree with your conclusion. I think you engage in the same vice you accuse Jeremy in when you present the 3 different paths one might take. You make the assumption that all ex-Mormons are overly literal thinkers and don’t stop to consider that there are many who have left due to a combination of factors. This type of frustrating intellectual arrogance is something that I find in both ex-Mormon and Apologist authors. To me, it speaks to a Church culture that places so much emphasis on being ‘elect’. In truth, there are far more paths than the three you list. I know many people who have felt forced away from the Church due to the spiritually abusive culture created by the Church (E.g. telling people that if you receive spiritual revelation that runs counter to the Church, that revelation was of the devil.) Another thing I see are people who study the problematic history, but also consider the culture and influence of the Church and decide that for them it is negative. The problems that this post has are the same problems the Church faces. While you present many reasonable answers to most of the historical issues, you still treat ex-Mormons like children who will come around to the truth when they mature. You start with the assumption that there’s no possible way that the Church isn’t true, and therefore severely limit the discussion. In this post, you assume that all ex-Mormons are the same, and it seems to never occurred to you that ex-Mormons are as varied in their personalities and perspectives as are active members.

    Finally, it’s ironic that you quote Nietzsche considering how much he hated both the dualist mindset Mormonism espouses, and organized religion in general. In fact, he specifically attacks Christianity as being immoral. The title of one of his books is literally titled “The Anti-Christ.” He also wrote a book titled “The Gay Science” wherein the following quote is found, “The Christian resolve to find the world ugly and bad, has made the world ugly and bad.” Finally, it was also Nietzsche who wrote “The reverse side of Christian compassion for the suffering of one’s neighbor is a profound suspicion of all the joy of one’s neighbor, of his joy in all that he wants to do and can,” which I find very accurate here, given that you appear to believe that there’s no possible way anyone could ever find joy in life outside the bounds of religion.

    Basically my underlying issue with this is that for someone who appears to have great command of rhetorical skills, you as an author are seriously lacking in depth of thought. The use of a catchy Nietzsche quote without further thought as to the context of that quote, to my mind, illustrates this. The phrase you quote comes from a book entitled “Beyond Good and Evil,” which exists as an indictment of tradition Christian dogma and morality. A ten second Google search would have taught you that. Essentially, it seems that you never truly consider other worldviews in the way that you profess to, and you never engage in the nuanced thought you idolize.

    • fecklessderek

      ” you as an author are seriously lacking in depth of thought.” This is a pretty big leap. Certainly his bias is apparent by the name of the website. Objectivity is pretty difficult to find anywhere.

  • ozfan2013

    I read the above article and also the logic framework put forward by Chris Tolworthy in the comments.

    The problem for me is that to be a member of any group, I have to believe in the unifying theme or cause of the group. It has to stack up. It has to be solid. Group membership often requires sacrifice for the good of the group. To maintain motivation for those sacrifices, again, I have to believe in the cause.

    The problem for me with the Church is that there is no consistent unifying theme anymore for being a part of that group. In Joseph Smith’s day, they were all united in trying to build the City of Zion for the Saviour’s imminent return. In this modern day, we no longer emphasise the imminent return of Christ. Instead, the modern Church chose to create a narrative of core stories and doctrines that are meant to motivate us to be part of the Church. (E.g. First Vision, Book of Mormon, modern prophets, temple ordinances, missionary work). The trouble is that they now can’t put together a solid narrative on any of those stories or doctrines. And that’s what the CES Letter does. It shoots to pieces the narratives that were the unifying theme of church membership. Every story is now fuzzy or doubtful or just not as advertised. What is left in the Church for one to believe that is actually solid and beyond dispute? As far as I can tell, very little.

    Without a solid unifying (and believable) cause, the motivation to remain in the group becomes increasingly difficult. For more and more people, it is becoming impossible.

    • fecklessderek

      it changes nothing in our ward from a practical standpoint. People believe God influences them. People try and help other people very much of the effort on kids teens disabled and elderly (even if you don’t believe it’s being done the way you would do it) People believe living a somewhat ascetic and disciplined life is beneficial. People believing that those big truths give them a belief they will see their loved ones again when they die. People believe that since this is beneficial to them they should share it with others.

  • Carl Blake

    Found the link to the “Letter”, I do not think a book should qualify as a letter…now I appreciate the length of your response.

  • mkc

    Thanks so much for a different point of view, being a Scorpio, I have generally taken the very literal point of view, but holding to that standard is filled with much peril to the wandering soul and sometime what seems to be fruitless struggles, and many things that seem to be paradoxical and need to be “placed on the shelf”. Well I discovered that not only were those shelves beyond full, but were beginning to topple over. I needed to return some of them to the quest for a soul satisfying resolution. I had never considered a nuanced viewpoint as you describe, but it seems worthwhile to give it some real consideration. I have always been of the opinion that truth is truth, if it was ever true, it still is, if it proves not to be true now, it never was! I spent much of this life in the search to uncover His hiding place. Placing my self in many situations that brought great struggle and even leaving my life’s peaceful places at great cost to me and my family. The have chosen to “follow the brethren” in all things. But I needed to find the secret to stepping through the veil that covers God’s hiding place. I have had intermittent success, but also have encountered a great deal of dead silence in my quest only highlighted by a few faint rays of light from that place. There have been many times when I have just stopped and taken off my backpack to rest because of feeling I was unworthy or that my quest would never yield the treasure I sought. I have looked both outside the confines of the mainstream church and eliminated most of those who claim to have the legitimate keys to the mystery. I generally found that in most cases it requires either the complete suspension of disbelief, needed to enjoy a movie or the complete reliance on some man or men, who, after some examination are often no better equipped than myself to answer these questions or at least lead me in the right direction of finding eternal light. Yet I still find myself hoping to scale the mountain. But so far, I seem to find that I’ve not even approached the foothills of that mountain.

  • Michael Waters

    Unfortunately the church does not share your view. In their own words they want you to believe in the literality of their words and actions. The BOM is literally true, BOA is literally True, Prophets Seers and revelators speak the mind & Will of god. That is what they expect you to believe. Believing differently put you out of alignment with the church.

    • fecklessderek

      it has no practical effect of putting one out of alignment in my experience, in fact, many who share the authors views can attest to that. it seems overreaching for you to decide how somebody aligns with their religion? So long as somebody is not actively, publicly “testifying” and recruiting people to believe the church is a willful fraud will generally be able to be a member in full standing. Exceptions exist but the bar is quite low. Certainly a “desire” to believe is sufficient in virtually all cases.

      • ozfan2013

        Of course. But that doesn’t mean that the church “accepts” the divergent views. You cannot read the church publications, old and new, and reach the conclusion that any of the doctrines/narratives mentioned are optional or for your own interpretation. If you do disagree, you must consciously refrain from “publicly” mentioning your disagreement. Sure, you can be one of those “out-there” Gospel Doctrine commenters and get away with it (though the poor teacher will be trying to duck and weave and get back to the lesson plan). But overall, you kind of have to “drop” the issues, keep them to yourselves (or to a closed circle) and get on with the programs.

        So, what do you have at the end of the day? A group of people pretending to agree with each other in order to have a peaceful and functional group dynamic.

  • WMX

    Joseph Smith was a fraud. I am shocked that people actually believe the things he wrote.

  • Bill Johnson

    The fact is that none of the problems would have even been addressed by the Church if critics hadn’t brought them to light via the Internet. Certainly some of the issues were known years ago by at least some of the apostles, yet they continued to purposely mislead members and investigators. The Church sugarcoats its history so more people will join it. They don’t give all the facts. They still don’t. The essays are very weak and don’t come close to addressing the problems.

    Do you really think that the Church would even be discussing (superficially) things like Joseph married other men’s wives, the Book of Abraham does not match the papyri translations, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by putting a stone in a hat without even using the plates if the Internet wasn’t telling the members the disturbing truths of Mormon history?

    • fecklessderek

      Rough Stone Rolling was published and sold at the BYU bookstore and Deseret Book in 2005. It couldn’t have been more mainstream and accessible to anybody the slightest bit interested in scratching the surface on Joseph Smith and the “Restoration.”

      The approach the Church has taken in the past and currently, for better or for worse, is typical of a business administration approach. Just because it’s not the way you or I might of approached things doesn’t mean that it’s “wrong”

      • Bill Johnson

        Rough Stone Rolling being sold at a book store is hardly evidence of the church’s transparency. RSR is not a standard work nor written by a General Authority. Most members haven’t even heard of it. Why would any member of any church be expected to buy a book written at a book store to learn about disturbing events in their church?

        The members wouldn’t even know there were issues to look at. The Church should have taught this stuff openly from the beginning in church and not expect its members to buy a book that they don’t even talk about in church. And RSR is a good book but far from comprehensive.

        And 2005? What about the century and half before then?

        • fecklessderek

          I didn’t mean to imply the assumptions you appear to be making, nor do i even argue that it’s been handled correctly or it has been transparent – the point I am making is that people that have been interested in these things have been aware of them and that before blogs really even existed these discussions were being had. But I guess it’s not really relevant to me how much effect the internet had or whether or not it was primarily driven by ex mormons or just general awareness that might have happened without the internet. I agree though, again, it’s not how i would have like the Church to have approached things.

          The only difference perhaps between our views is that i believe that i don’t actually condemn them for their approach – i believe it was all generally done in good faith.

  • Kamis Dewey

    Wow, this shows what great lengths individuals will go through to justify their beliefs. This blog would be very unconvincing to anyone looking into Mormonism. Your God sounds a bit like a spiritual masochist, and your leaders sound controlling and deceptive. Not really a church I would want to be associated with.

    • Tim Pemberton

      You are absolutely right. I haven’t really had much contact at all with Mormonism, and you nailed exactly how I feel about all this. Especially the ban part. I mean how can a god in contact with a prophet not correct that terribly fallacious teaching? Either he really does agree with the ban or he is not real IMHO.

      • fecklessderek

        i can think of worse things that “god” is “guilty” of than the mormon priesthood ban. And yet a lot of people believe in God still. I am not willing to say i’m a better thinker than all of them.

    • http://www.churchistrue.com/ churchistrue

      You miss the point. The point is that it’s very narrow minded to look at something “messed up” in a religion and view it binary sense: either God directed it and God is messed up or it’s a false religion and has no value. Is it possible God could be directing things less directly than we assume, and that the mistakes are due to human weakness, but that the religion still has value, beauty, and truth?

      • Xerxes028

        This would be a valid point if we didn’t have church leaders stand up in General Conference and declare that it is binary. “It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true.”

        Again, are church leaders right or wrong? Are they receiving revelation or are they misguided?

        • fecklessderek

          It can be true and right and still be a mess or not even have exclusive truth. There is no perfect alternative and that’s what keeps it viable for many (although the most logically cohesive for many is just dawkins-type atheism there are still problems with that for others.)

          Both the author and i would agree (i would guess) that perhaps telling people or implying to people that’s it’s perfect or the one true church is a mistake, but it doesn’t have to be a dichotomy like you make.

          • Xerxes028

            I didn’t create the dichotomy, the Church did. The mere attempt to create nuance in the truth claims puts even you at odds with the leadership and the doctrine.

          • fecklessderek

            once you stop being a fundamentalist you aren’t bound by a quote from a conference talk. The current precedent within the church is that there is plenty of room for believing the church is neither perfect nor a fraud.

          • Xerxes028

            I agree. The church is quite orthopraxic; so long as you show up, pay your tithing, and refrain from hot drinks, the church doesn’t really care what you believe (to a certain point).

    • https://mineeyesmind.wordpress.com/ Eric Lopez

      Wow, we’ve got another deep thinker here!

  • Justin

    As you were so kind to post on my blog (http://www.secular-reality.com), I feel I can return the favor.

    Reading your “unofficial apologetics” on this, I can’t help but notice that you give lots of ground on the CES claims. “He has facts on his side.” “I think this is a legitimate problem.” etc.

    I applaud your honesty on these issues. I cannot, however, understand why these things don’t bother you. A well-known teaching of Prophet Joseph is, “…The Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” With “mistakes” like those admitted above, I’m not sure that archway is particularly sturdy.

  • Beth

    Faith, that is the question. There are always going to be questions, there are always going to be people who question, but to me it comes to faith. I KNOW the church is true because I have faith, and I know we, on earth are not perfect and we make mistakes, but God has the answers and I do believe this life is a test. Joseph Smith story is true, when we tell a story to someone else we do not always tell it exactly the same, we talk about our experiences in a context for the person listening. Unless, you were there you don’t know, and it all has to do with your relationship to God and Jesus. I might be wrong and actually I am okay with that, I know by doing what the church says I am doing good, there is no downside. All the teachings are about love, service and how can that be wrong. I am sure our church is not perfect, but I believe they are doing the best they can and they do have a great system of giving and humanitarian efforts, better than any other. I believe church leaders should not be paid and they are not paid. I do believe God inspires our leaders, but I also believe there are many people that are inspired that are not LDS. We all live the best life we can and being a Mormon is a GOOD life.

    • John Simon

      You say you know, but then you say you can’t know unless you were there?

      Also, the church is very weak when it comes to humanitarian aid. There’s a reason the church does not disclose what it does with its finances. Sketchy…

      Also, there are some damaging LDS teachings that have destroyed families and caused suicides like their teachings on homosexuality.

      • Beth

        Justin, I am so sorry you have such a hard time with this. I believe what I believe, and you have the right to believe what ever you want. I hope that you find some happiness in your life, I truly wish you that.

        • John Simon

          Who says I’m having a hard time? I just pointed out that you made contradictory statements and that there was some misinformation in your comment.

    • Ben

      “I believe church leaders should not be paid and they are not paid”

      Yes. Yes they are.

      Not the downtrodden local leaders who should actually get paid for all the work they do in the church but the general authorities who all have massive pensions and no need for any wage are given a ‘modest stipend’ which from leaked payslips is the furthest thing from modest I have ever seen.

  • fecklessderek

    Thanks for this article. I like it because it overlaps with my viewpoint (i’m honest about that and aware that’s what makes me like it)

    It is surprising to me that an unintended consequence of moral absolutism in mainstream LDS thinking is that many of the popular ex mormons of our day have retained a morally absolutist position. It’s very compatible i guess with twitter-type new atheism.

  • Albino Cocoa

    Evaluating spiritual epistemology is not only a productive conversation, but a crucial one in hashing out whether or not our positions are viable.

    There are, essentially two issues with your response:

    1. Your apparent disdain for so-called “logics.”

    The laws of logic are a fundamental and necessary precondition of intelligibility. You literally cannot have a conversation about anything without first accepting, even implicitly, the three laws

    A. The law of identity
    B. The law of non contradiction
    C. The law of excluded middle

    Please, if you are going to challenge “logics,” tell me which of these laws you have a problem with, and explain why.

    2. Your reliance on “spiritual insight/spiritual witness/revelation” as evidence for your religious claims.

    The very minimum standard, by definition, for what can be considered “evidence” is that it must diminish the plausibility of contrary explanations.

    Spiritual insight doesn’t meet this standard for two reasons:

    A. The many psychological factors that can influence Spirituality make it impossible to establish the fact that any given spiritual experience is caused by a diety.

    B. The fact that there are literally billions of people in the world that believe in thousands of different gods and other religious truth claims each with their own conformatory spiritual experiences makes it impossible to establish whether any of them are valid at all.

    Ergo, evidence that doesn’t diminish the plausibility of contrary claims is not evidence at all.

    So yeah, I’d say mormons and theists in general are guilty of some heavy handed confirmation bias.

    Couple quotes to leave you with:

    “Positive claims require positive evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

    The fact that there is no archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, or scientific evidence to back the extraordinary claims in the book of Mormon is fairly damning.

    If mormonism were true, it would be incredibly obvious. We’d have so much evidence for this particular brand of mythology.

    We don’t.

    Opinions and beleifs don’t change facts. But facts, if you’re rational, should change beleifs.

    As laid out above about ‘spiritual’ witnesses are fairly useless.

    Science is the best tool we have at discovering reality.

    I’m not afraid to be wrong. I’ll literally beleive ANYTHING if there is sufficient evidence to back it up. If I die and instead of oblivion Odin is waiting to welcome me into Valhalla, I will be forced to adjust my paradigm if I am to remain intellectually honest.

    I don’t have a bias to uphold.

  • admin@MormonUniversalist

    Great article. A quick correction coming from someone who’s spent a lot of time in Emanuel Swedenborg’s works. You say,

    “It’s possible he borrowed from Emanuel Swedenborg, who wrote about the three degrees of heaven—celestial, terrestrial, telestial, and also eternal marriage.”

    You might want to rephrase that. I know it’s a common thing to hear passed around these days, but’s its pretty uneducated. It’s likely Joseph was familiar with Swedenborg (he supposedly owned a copy one one of Swedenborg’s many books). It’s also very likely the saints where influenced by Swedenborg in how they interpreted D&C 76, since It’s also true that Swedenborg taught of three degrees, and a ‘spirit world’. But they are not called Celestial, terrestrial, telestial… and they don’t look anything like Joseph’s. Joseph’s three degrees in D&C 76 look a lot more like the Catholic view of heaven, hell and purgatory, than they do Swedenborg’s celestial, spiritual and natural heavens. (which depending on how you read it…. may have been contrasted by three degrees of hell). Read D&C 76’s description of the “terrestrial” and compare it to St Ambrose’s purgatory… they are far more similar than anything Swedenborg taught. Likewise D&C 76:84, calls the telestial kingdom, “hell”. That is nothing like Swedenborg’s realms (Hell was separate from Swedenborg’s Celestial, Spiritual and Natural realms). Only those who know next to nothing about Swedenborg pass around that myth. (which is a lot of people).

    Celestial Marriage and many other things may have been influenced by Swedenborg… but really it’s more likely Swedenborg’s notions made their way into the American cultural worldview… and from there made it into Mormonism. I’ve not seen a single piece of similar verbiage in Joseph’s writings that would lead me believe he read Swedenborg and then parroted some of his ideas.

  • DG31

    Really insightful article, thanks. I probably fall somewhere between the literal-believing/nuanced categories, but I think almost all of these issues can be resolved with this one line: We don’t believe in prophet infallibility. People have expected church leaders to be perfect for far too long. We have the Gift of the Holy Ghost for a reason. It’s time we stop living on borrowed light and realize the truth for ourselves.

  • Paige

    I read your review before I went and read CES letter. I have a lot of the same questions and struggles mentioned in the CES letter. I find you well intentioned but still I see you want to belong to a community and not a “burning testimony”. My husband who is a strong believer of the Gospel made this statement in observation of me, that I was afraid to find that I did not believe. As I read your comments I see you trying to make the same reasoned and thoughtful compromises I make about these topics to try and satisfy what your heart and mind both tell you doesn’t add up, because I too want to belong to the community of the church and am afraid if it isn’t true. We were taught everything else is wrong or false and taught to be critical of other things out there, so what happens when my mind and heart tell me what I have been doing for 45 years doesn’t add up. I have had a couple of friends through out my years leave the church and watch the friendships fade after the initial push to keep them close. One friend in particular set me off on a path of asking more questions. Then I made a horrible mistake and went to Time Out for Women. That was the worst “Mormon” experience of my life! It felt so wrong, selling books and tapes and videos. Made me think if all the merchandising that goes along with a Disney movie. The talks were awful, never had I doubted so much the “Church.” I had to really be thoughtful and separate all this from the Gospel and TOFW as being separate from the Church. Its all about Jesus I told myself. Other smaller things along the way raised red flags.. So many things that are culturally ‘The Church” get on my last nerve and it makes it hard for me to endure 3 hours of it on Sunday. I guess my question to you is are you afraid of not believing because you do not know what else would be the “right” path? I ask this honestly because that is where I am right now.

  • George Lucy

    I never thought I would see the day when the information that rings true discredits the Church rather than strengthens it. Everywhere you look there are questions, which leads to more questions, and the apologetic answers, for the most part, are not convincing.

  • Stan Spencer

    Thanks for the article. Although I don’t come to the same conclusion regarding the Book of Mormon, I appreciate your fairness and approach. It’s a good thing. I would like to suggest some minor corrections.

    1. “Oliver Cowdery owned a divining rod that he used to find water. Joseph told him it was a spiritual gift and that he should use it to try to translate the Book of Mormon. Apparently, Oliver failed and wasn’t able to come up with anything, and was rebuked by God in the Doctrine and Covenants for it.” I don’t think this is What D&C 8 and 9 say. See my paper “The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating…” I do believe OC used a rod to get yes/no answers earlier, but that would not have worked for translating the BoM, and the D&C does not tell him to use a rod for such. He probably tried with the seer stone. Nor would the rod have worked. The most direct witness evidence suggests JS saw the English of the BoM in visions (see my paper “Seers and Stones: The Translation of…”

    2. ” I think this is a little troubling to a literal believer, especially as it gives more insight into the Book of Abraham translation, as it appears Joseph started the translation using the same process.” Not quite. It would have been troubling if JS had “translated” the Kinderhook plates the same way he translated the BoA, but the evidence suggests he didn’t, which I believe is to his credit. The BoA was likely translated by the same process as the BoM, using a white seer stone (i.e. seeing stone-induced visions). At least, that’s what the witness evidence suggests. (see my aforementioned “Seers and Stones…” as well as Mark J. Johnson’s “Scriptures with Pictures: Methodology…”) The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar seems to have been a side project that tried to use the papyri and BoA text to try (in a Rosetta stone sort of way) to learn how to translate Egyptian in a conventional way, which JS never did. It appears (as you already know) that JS tried to translate the Kinderhook plates using the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (i.e., a non-spiritual exercise). See Don Bradley’s “President Joseph has Translated a Portion.” This shows that JS was a bit naive (which we might expect of an “unlearned” man), but not that he translated the Kinderhook plates and the BoA in the same way. His failure to translate the kinderhook plates is, in a way, faith-promoting.

    3. “There are major questions about how Joseph introduced and practiced polygamy that show it wasn’t all about sex. ” I think you could go further and say that, suprisingly, there is little evidence that JS’s polygamy was principally about sex. I am aware of no credible evidence that JS ever had sex with Helen Mar Kimball, to whom he was “sealed” to make a family connection when she was 14. To say he was a pedophile I think would require more evidence than a sealing, in this case. And without more evidence, it makes no more sense than to say he was a gerontophile, since he also married a 58 yr old. In the case of Joseph Smith writing a letter arranging a secret “tryst” with Sarah Ann Whitney, to whom he had recently been sealed, the letter was in fact written to her parents “& etc.” telling them to all come and visit, likely to seal them all together rather than for any amorous purpose. Quote strange behavior for a profligate. He did marry wives of other men. Whether those men knew, or considered themselves then mere caretaker of his wives, is, I think, unresolved. In any case troubling and not easy to explain away. Yes, he did have sex with at least some, perhaps most, of his plural wives, as would be expected. I have seen discussions concluding that without a history of polygamy, Mormonism would not likely have survived in it’s form as a distinct people. This provides a possible higher purpose for it, although not eliminating all problems.

    I think there are more options for explaining the Book of Mormon with its anachronisms and KJV text etc. than what you suggest. First, the likelihood that the English text of the BoM existed before JS came into the picture, which is what the witness statements (and Skousen’s work) suggest. That opens up a bunch of possible scenarios. Anyway, with this new period of glasnost, we’re just getting started into looking into these questions. Exciting times.

    • churchistrue

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m aware of your work. I’ve read most of your work. I’ve considered all of the sources you mention here, as well as the logic and arguments derived from them that you mention here. I think these are important viewpoints to consider. I try to hit the highlights of the traditional FairMormon type view and encourage the reader to pursue them further. My conclusions come after my study and how I weight the different evidence, but I don’t ignore any of this. One thing I would like to know more that I have never heard before. I’m reasonably familiar with Skousen-Carmack, but I’ve never heard this. “the likelihood that the English text of the BoM existed before JS came into the picture, which is what the witness statements” I’m very curious where I can read more. Are you just referring to the seerstone, viewing English text concept? Or are you implying something more?

  • Boolar

    Lol. This guy better be getting paid for this BS

    I’d be cool if the Church claimed it is the only true church and only had a few discrepancies but everything is questionable and once you start looking for the answers elsewhere, boom, it all makes sense why there’s so many discrepancies. I mean, from the priesthood, to the temples to the book of Mormon, racism, polygamy etc you name it. Its too much. Thanks for the blog churchistrue but the church definitely ain’t true, and you are reaching.

    I’m glad Jeremy Runnels did what he did with the this whole CES Letter thing. I keep printed copies and pdf’s for anyone that tries to act smart or “reactivate” me. They always come scriptures blazing and end up just bearing their testimonies and leaving me alone. It works wonders.