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I'm a Christian, married to a wonderful man, Steven, and mother to a wonderful little son. I have many interests and a few noteworthy journeys in life and I enjoy sharing them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

An Atheist's Response to the Book of Mormon

I still have a number of Mormon friends on Facebook, and some of them post a lot of articles related to their religion. It's always interesting to me to see what is currently persuasive or interesting to LDS members. It gives me a chance to see articles like this one, called "An atheist's response to the first 31 pages of the Book of Mormon."

And seeing such articles, I can respond to or critique them, usually after a face-palm, head shaking, or internal ranting.

This one is supposedly a letter from an atheist to a Mormon, from when she was on her mission and visited him and his wife. He was supposedly raised Lutheran, but from a Christian perspective, I think its obvious that he had limited understanding of Christianity and the Bible, or he wouldn't hold some of the views expressed in this letter. I also take leave to doubt that this is really a letter from an atheist, because it sounds very, very Mormon-ish.

My responses will be in (parenthesis and italics.)

To [Miss Mormon],

I hope the following helps to keep you motivated and inspired. I hope it is confirmation that Mormon beliefs are justifiable, and deserve to be respected alongside other Christian denominations:
(If Mormon beliefs are justifiable, why wouldn't he accept them? Why would he want to confirm her beliefs for her? You see why I am skeptical that this is really from an un-converted atheist.)

I just read the first 31 pages of the Book of Mormon, and was entranced by 1 Nephi chapters 8 and 10. I feel as thought I could almost stop there, and come away with something. That something is this:

The Book of Mormon should be read by all Christians.

As an Atheist, that's not the effect I thought the book would have on me. Nevertheless, I can imagine the amount of "push back" Mormons have to face, trying to convince a "Christian" to read it. What a shame. Because it is the most clearly written Christian Biblical Document. If Christians would be willing to read the text, compare it to what they already believe, most would not only agree with it, but would find that it strengthens their faith even further. (The only reason that Christians would agree with things in the Book of Mormon is because most of the theology was taken either directly from the Bible or from 19th century reformation preaching. However, it is only faith-strengthening if we accept the Book of Mormon as legitimate, historical, and truly penned by prophets of God. Otherwise, it is just a work of biblical-sounding 19th century fiction, which isn't particularly useful for strengthening faith. Further, experience to the contrary. I know a number of Christians who have read all or part of the Book of Mormon and do not find that it strengthens their faith, because they reject it as scripture.)1 Nephi 10 provides a greater and more straight forward message than Paul's letter to the Romans. And Romans is considered to be the definitive New Testament Epistle. The Reformation was based on Romans. But Nephi chapter 10 tops it. (I just don't see this. The prophecies contained in this chapter is found in the Bible; for instance, that the Jews would return to Israel, that a Messiah would come, that he would be preceded by John the baptist, etc etc. Other parts are contained clearly in Romans and other parts of the Bible, such as the statement that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all mankind is in a lost and fallen state without Jesus. This chapter is an extremely simplistic summary; it no way tops the beautiful and deeper doctrines laid out through the epistle of Romans.)

There are really only two hangups to widespread Christian acceptance of the Book of Mormon. The first, is the fact that, the Book of Mormon isn't already in the Bible. If the chapters of the book of Mormon were placed within the standard bible , and Christians just grew up knowing that 1 Nephi was found after Malachi and Jeremiah or Habakkuk...they would bite into it hook line and sinker. It would be accepted as biblical cannon. What could possibly make them object?
(Placement in the Bible would require that it be legitimate scripture written by authentic prophets who really lived. There are many reasons to reject the Book of Mormon on both of those criteria. For instance, Nephi and his family do things that are in direct disobedience to God's commandments to Israel, which calls into question his status as a prophet inspired of God. Another is the complete lack of evidence that these people really lived and really came to the Americas, and the existence of evidence to the contrary, for instance, the DNA of Native Americans.)

The second hangup ins that the origin of the book of Mormon is still relatively new. But they confuse the translation of Joseph Smith in the 1800's with the 600 BC time frame of 1 Nephi. If Christians could accept 1 Nephi as 600 BC writing they would accept what it says. Can you imagine the level of excitement they would have if the dead sea scrolls contained excerpts from 1 Nephi? (ignoring the continental logistical problem). If the ancient text was carbon dated to 600 BC with the quote, " six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jew--even a Messiah...a Savior of the world"... what christian would protest that? They would consider it the greatest confirmation of the actual existence of Christ!
(We can't accept 1 Nephi as truly historical for many reasons. All evidence points to the Book of Mormon being a work of 19th century fiction, and a relatively simplistic one at that, drawing heavily on the King James Bible, the theology of the time, and the questions and speculations found in the area at that time (e.g. the origin of Native Americans, the book Views of the Hebrews).)

And as for the "craziness" of the Mormon origin story, is it no worse than any biblical story? Christians believe that God carved and wrote the ten commandments on stone tablets. But gold plates are somehow impossible? (Gold plates are completely unhistorical and can't be proven. It's not a question of a miracle of God, it's a question of whether people really recorded things that way, and if they kept records in the amount that the Book of Mormon claimed, why don't we have examples of it?) Christians believe that God sent Daniel and St. John visions. But Nephi's father can't have visions? (Funny thing is, those visions were had by Joseph Smith Sr. before the Book of Mormon was written. What's more likely? That God happened to send J.S. Sr. those same visions for some unknown reason and then the Smith family for some reason didn't use that to proclaim God's provision and foresight, or that Joseph Smith borrowed those so-called visions and wrote them into the Book of Mormon, just like many other things he borrowed from the people and culture around him?) Saul a persecutor of Christians can play a surprise role in God's message, but Joseph Smith can't? (The question isn't whether he can, it's whether he did. And he didn't. All evidence is that he was a womanizing charlatan who wanted money, even after becoming a so-called prophet.) Christians see Christ as an all powerful Savior of the whole human race. But Jesus isn't allowed to VISIT the whole human race? (He's certainly allowed to, but he didn't. There's no reason to think he did, and no reason to need to believe that he did, especially if the record of it is so tangibly false.) I just don't see and of these "Mormon" things as being anymore preposterous than anything else that is already accepted by all Christians.
(This paragraph kind of feels like the token "skepticism" of an atheist, but really sounds like a Mormon argument.)

Finally, it is massively ironic that, Christians reject Mormons in the same way Jews rejected Christians. Christians see Christianity as strengthening and clarifying the Jewish faith, but fail to even consider the strengthening and clarifying that Mormonism could do to their christian faith. (I do not see Christianity as strengthening and clarifying the Jewish faith. I see it as fulfilling their scriptures. I see it as an Old Covenant and a New Covenant. There is nothing in the New Testament that contradicts the Old. There is nothing in the New Covenant that is not in harmony with the Old. Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophecies, he became everything that their rituals symbolized. The same cannot be said of Mormonism in comparison to Christianity. There are blatant contradictions, as opposed to fulfillment or clarification. Mormonism even contradicts and perverts the Jewish traditions that pointed to Jesus, like the temple or the priesthood. There is a profound difference there.)


When I see things like this, I want to go a little Jesus-in-the-temple-with-a-whip, to be perfectly honest. Assuming that this letter is even authentic, it's ignorant and misrepresents the problems that Christians actually have with the Book of Mormon and the Mormon religion.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Missionary Visit 10/10/14

I hadn't had the missionaries over for a few months. I was busy, it was overwhelming trying to take care of my son while visiting with the missionaries. My son's sleep schedule was still terrible.

Things have gotten a little easier though, I think. My son only woke me up twice between the time I went to sleep and 7:00am last night, which is getting towards being typical now that he's eating solid food. Getting multiple 3 hour stretches at night and a total of 8+ hours makes a huge difference in what you can handle. Not only that, my son is crawling and playing with toys with supervision but without needing direct interaction on a regular basis now, so I don't have to worry about him as much when there's people over.

With all that, when the missionaries showed up at my door yesterday, I decided to schedule a meeting with them. They came over this afternoon.

The last set had been under the impression that I was merely inactive; they knew I'd grown up in the church and stopped attending, and now attended a Christian church, but they'd never asked why I left or checked for my records. This set did check before coming over, so one of their first questions was about my relationship with the church.

"I grew up in it, and most of my family are members, but I left when I was 19," I explained simply and bluntly. "I'm not hostile to the church or anything, I just don't believe in it. I had my records removed about a year after I left, and my husband attend a Christian church now."

They handled that pretty well. They didn't run screaming, at any rate.

I made a point to make sure they knew that they were welcome, and to be as non-confrontational as possible even when I disagreed in order to not scare them off.

Anyways, the big point of their little lesson was on building faith, so they went to Alma 32. I have generally forgotten how inane the BoM is since I haven't read it through since leaving, but I really had a hard time with what they read because of the quality, more than anything.

Here's the verses we went through.

21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and withpatience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

Okay, I have no problem with the first verse. It echoes Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

But then it gets kind of weird to me. Why would I desire to believe his words if I had no reason to think they were true, to hope in them? (vs 27) 

And then apparently there's a seed swelling under my breasts. (vs 28) That is just a weird way to say it. Why in this world is it breasts, plural? Merriam-Webster shows the difference clearly. Breast, singular, can  mean,

": the front part of a person's body between the neck and the stomach
: the chest thought of as the place where emotions are felt"

But plural, well, we don't have more than one chest or more than one front part of our body between the neck and stomach. Breasts, plural, is talking about...well...duh.

I know, I know, it's a little nit-picky, but it's just weird.

Anyways...why is the seed going to start enlarging and making me feel it under my *snort* *clears throat* breasts? Why am I going to think it's good? What does that even mean? I mean, what are these swelling motions? Why are they good? Why does it tell me that the word--whatever word Alma's talking about (his? the BoM? scriptures in general?)--is good?

My best guess is that what is trying to be said is that, if we live what's being taught, we'll see the good of it on our lives. That's what the sisters seemed to be thinking it was saying. There were a lot of vague pronouns thrown around ("it" was said quite a lot), so sometimes it was hard to know what "it" was. The word? What word? What am I doing with the word?

And then we have this whole bit about a seed being good just because is grows. (vs 30-32) Well, why? Why can't bad seeds sprout and grow? I mean, aren't there such things as thorns, poisonous plants, etc? Wouldn't the most deceptive seed the devil could plant be one that does sprout and that seems to produce good fruit, but actually isn't good and the fruit, while it may appear pleasing the way it did to Eve, actually produces a path that leads towards damnation? The reasoning behind bad seeds not growing just seems so...well, non-existent.

What struck me with vs 42 is that it seems to be making the fruit of living according to the word (which I'm just going to assume is now talking about scripture) as something that comes from your own work. That is so different from Galatians 5, which talks about the fruit as being of the Spirit.

And in all this, I still don't know why in the world I'm supposed to do this vague experiment! I don't know for sure what is going to happen to show me that this "word" is true (other than something having to do with my breasts?), or that it's good, or that I should have faith in it!


We moved on from there to, of course, Moroni 10:4-5. As usual, that brought up the whole pray-and-get-answers-through-feelings thing, which they then both testified to. 

This is where I brought up my objection to all of this (since making fun of the text for using the word "breasts" in that particular context didn't seem very constructive). I explained to them that, while I 100% agreed with the power of prayer and the ability to learn truth and for God to reveal it to us, I am not in agreement that the knowledge of truth comes through feelings alone. I shared 1 John 4:1 and Jeremiah 17:9, and explained that I believe feelings can far too easily be deceptive by either coming from our own possibly sinful or incorrect feelings from our heart, or by a false spirit creating those feelings in us to deceive us. I explained that I believe that God gives us a number of other means of discerning truth, and emphasized the Bible as one of those standards of truth and that if something contradicts the Bible then I'm going to trust the Bible on it.

Thankfully, they understood where I was coming from. I didn't push them to agree with it, and didn't push their theology on it. The important thing for me was to lay that groundwork so that they know that I'm not just going to pray and, if and when I feel good about things, come back to the church. But, they also know that I'm willing to seek and find truth, particularly through one thing that they also believe in (to some extent).

The lesson more or less ended there. One of the sisters asked me what I expected out of meeting with them since I no longer believe, and when I hesitated, she said, "Are you just wanting to have discussions with us?"

"Yes," I affirmed. "You guys are totally welcome, and I'm interested in talking with you. And even if you're just in the neighborhood and need water or something, feel free to stop by." They're on a bike route, and seemed to appreciate that.

Because I'm not really an investigator, they said they'd probably come every other week or so when they have extra time, but didn't schedule anything. I got the impression that I'm essentially second-class, as far as their priorities with meetings go. Investigators get first dibs on their schedule, and I get to be a fill-in for empty slots. That's okay. The last set of missionaries pushed for every week, which was extra overwhelming on top of everything else, so once every 2-3 weeks feels much more doable.

I just hope it wasn't code for "we're actually not coming back."