Top critical review
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Sincere, but a rushed analysis with errors
on March 25, 2010
Firstly, as a Mormon who has read this book, I want to apologize for the Mormon who gave the book one star without even reading it, and who assumed to know Mr. Anderson's intentions and attacked his character. Such was closed minded, embarrassing to read, and reminded me of the Proverb "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Proverbs 18:13)
The following review is copied and condensed from an email I wrote about this book (which I admit was quite cordial to Mormons) for an acquaintance who wanted to know my thoughts:
As you would be aware, every religion has someone who has left the ranks and written a book of sorts to explain why they left and why they went to their new faith. There have been Born Again Christian pastors who have converted to Mormonism, Catholic priests who have done likewise, as well as Jews and those of other denominations who have become LDS, many of whom have written of their conversion. There have also been such conversions from any faith to any other faith you can think of - Christian to Muslim, Muslim to Christian, Jewish to Buddist etc. It is not an uncommon occurrence, therefore, because such an occurrence happens in every direction, one's own personal experience cannot be used as evidence for where the truth is, regardless of whether they say that they have at last found God in their new faith. I do not question the author's conscience or motives for leaving the LDS Church - I believe that he sincerely had doubts about the Church and acted on them. But looking at the big picture, his experience in questioning his original faith and moving to another that he finds more fulfilling is far from unique, nor does it only happen in the direction away from the LDS Church. One needs to understand that people don't change faiths unless their mind has reasons to do so, reasons that make such a large decision valid to them. But often times people make decisions without being aware that they haven't received all the facts, and other times they may receive sufficient information but it comes at a time when they have invested too heavily in their previous beliefs to change.
In regards to this specific book, although you told me the author ran this book by his family and a couple others in the Church to ensure it was accurate, such in no way holds any credibility as to whether the book accurately portrays LDS doctrine. A) His family and friends are not quoted as authorities of the Church, and B) it assumes that his family and friends would be experts on LDS doctrine, although no evidence of such is presented. It may provide an idea as to what the regular Joe Mormon understands, but historically the regular Joe Mormon has too often been a poor presenter of Mormon doctrine in its accuracy. One can't go quoting their nephew's thoughts on LDS doctrine (as the author does more than once) and have their readers expect that it makes things authoritative.
Accuracy of the book:
Although much of what is in the book is true regarding LDS belief, there are some significant errors, and overall I found the book to be a very weak and rushed analysis of the Book of Mormon and the LDS faith. The author makes various claims but too often provides no evidence for his claims, or he simply expects a footnote that most readers will never check up on to be sufficient evidence. The author also demonstrates an unfamiliarity with the sources he references, to the contradicting of certain claims that he makes. On top of this, there was a gaping hole in understanding on an issue surrounding the Book of Mormon.
With a book that small, and seeking to conclude on as many topics as it does, it is inevitable that there will be a number of arguments that are glossed over with quick conclusions. However, one can't arrive at solid conclusions to detailed issues after just dedicating a page or two to them. People need to understand that it is impossible for a book this small to provide strong analysis and conclusions. Books this small on topics such as this are best suited to stay in the realm of only presenting basic facts, and should not try to analyze and conclude, because a book this small can never come close to conclusively and respectably analyzing all the topics it seeks to. I don't just say this because the book is analyzing my faith, but would say the same if a book of similar length was seeking to analyze and conclude upon any other faith, or any other topic with many detailed issues. I want to acknowledge however that the author appeared honest and did not come across as trying to deceive his readers because he appears genuine in his disbelief of the Mormon Church.
One thing the author and I absolutely agree on is that the claims of the Mormon Church beg questioning and inquiry. I am a very big believer in questioning and thinking about things critically, because such weeds out falsehoods. However, many of the arguments the author raises have been shown as non-issues a long time ago for those versed in the dialogue, or if not non-issues, then things that don't challenge the validity of the Mormon Church anymore than parallel issues would challenge the validity of the Bible and its prophets. But to those new to the discussion, which would include many who read this "Quick Christian Guide", the way the author presents the questions makes it appear as if these issues undermine the Book of Mormon and that belief in the Book of Mormon in the face of these issues is clearly misguided. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with introducing a new audience to legitimate questions for the purpose of ascertaining the truth. Such is needed. Nor am I saying that people can't arrive at any conclusion which is unfavorable to the LDS Church, because people are free to interpret any evidence as they wish. What I am saying that when the issues are raised in the manner employed by this book, that is a couple or a few pages of selected facts and then a conclusion, it is hardly a respectable inquiry.
1) Let's begin with a large misunderstanding. I will not hold this against the author as there are many LDS who also misunderstand it. The topic is the issue of archaeology and the Book of Mormon. A whole chapter was devoted to it, and I agree with the findings of the archaeologists regarding Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon - there is no real evidence for it, but a good deal of evidence against it. The problem is however, as the author was seemingly unaware, that the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon is not at all where Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon took place. Without going into the whole history as to how the Mesoamerican idea gained traction and became the dominant theory as to where the BoM took place, suffice it to say that it sprang from a couple of statements mistakenly attributed to Joseph Smith (which even proponents of the Mesoamerican theory are now starting to acknowledge). However, throughout the history of the Church, those versed in Joseph's history and teachings, as well as the teachings of the BoM itself, have known that after Lehi and his family left the Middle East, the BoM takes place in North America, in parts of what is now the Eastern, Southern and Midwestern States as well as possibly some of Canada. Joseph's letters, sermons, journals and even the journals of his contemporaries say this is where he said it happened, the Doctrine and Covenants says things that clearly show it was there, as well as BoM prophecies that the land the Nephites and Lamanites inhabited would in the latter days become a great and powerful nation amongst the nations of the earth (Keep in mind that when the BoM was first published, the U.S. was a fledgling nation still under possible threat of Europe and on the verge of civil war, the outcome of which was unknown). On top of this, the various objects and animals that the author relates that the BoM speaks of and which are missing in Mesoamerica have been found amongst the ancient civilizations that inhabited North America, as well as other empirical evidence backing it up, not least the fact that native tribes from these regions contain DNA that is linked to the Middle East (in fact the very tribes whom Joseph said were the descendants of the Lamanites). Now in saying all of this, the Church has always and still takes no official stance on where the BoM took place, except for one specific location - the Hill Cumorah where the plates were buried. And where were they buried? New York, USA.
Now, just assume for a moment that Joseph had said the BoM took place in Mesoamerica. Isn't it a little inconsistent of any Christian to say that modern science and archaeology question the validity of the BoM, when the current consensus of mainstream modern science and archaeology is that a) There is no evidence that ancient Egypt ever had any Hebrews in it. b) There is no evidence of a Moses being in ancient Egypt. c) That the prophet Daniel was a fictional character and his prophecies were specifically calculated by scholars and editors several centuries after he was supposed to exist for the purpose of bolstering Jewish national morale in the face of war. d) That King David and Solomon were also mythical characters. e) That the very first versions of the Gospels never taught that Christ was divine, nor that he ascended into heaven, nor anything of the like, but that the evidence suggests that the divine elements were added as embellishments as the decades went by. This list of what modern science says about the Bible could go on, and although there are scientists here and there who dispute it, usually because they hold these religious beliefs themselves, such is the consensus on the matter. If you do not believe me, I suggest you download Stanford University's "Historical Jesus", a free lecture series on iTunesU, as but one example of what modern scholarship and archaeology say of the Bible. Obviously Mormons believe the Bible, as do I, but I only bring this up as being inconsistent of a Christian saying that modern science challenges the BoM, regardless of where they think it happened, without acknowledging the many problems the Bible itself faces with the same archaeologists and scientists.
2) The argument that the Book of Mormon reflects issues of 19th Century New York as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote it. Firstly, the 19th Century minister who suggested this only turned his attention to the Mormons after they made converts out of one of his best congregations, including one of his finest preachers, things he was obviously not happy about, and so he fired back. Secondly, his critique is weak for a number of reasons. Any book that is over 500 pages in length and addresses all the various problems of humanity, many times over, is going to have things which overlap and detail any society's problems. Although a couple of specific issues were listed such as infant baptism and republican government, republican government existed a long time before New York and United States, and it is certainly not unusual to find the topic of infant baptism to be addressed in a religious book. One could just as easily make the argument that the BoM reflects problems and culture of the 21st Century, therefore somebody today must have wrote it, which is obviously not the case. Another reason why this is a weak argument is that orthodox Jews have said Christ's teachings in the New Testament are nothing unique but are just cultural reflections and common philosophy of the day, yet we don't question the eternal nature of Christ's teachings. However, the author tries to bolster this New York argument by compiling it into other arguments he makes, such as the lack of evidence in Mesoamerica, giving the impression that the New York argument could very well be true given all of these other things. However, using understanding that is incorrect does not bolster an argument that is fundamentally weak.
3) The idea that Joseph most likely made the Book of Mormon up in his imagination because his mother related how prior to its translation Joseph would tell great and "amusing" stories about ancient inhabitants of America (p. 37). This shows an unfamiliarity with the sources. Had the author been more familiar with this statement from Joseph's mother, he would have known that immediately before Joseph's mother speaks of the "amusing" stories, she explains where Joseph got the information for those amusing stories - the angel Moroni. Joseph maintained that when Moroni appeared to him the very first time, he showed Joseph many aspects of life of the ancient Americans whom Joseph would translate in the BoM. Moroni showed him in vision their government, religion, warfare, etc. The same was the case every year when Moroni would visit him. It was from these lessons from Moroni about the ancient inhabitants of America that Joseph regaled his family (and taught the BoM took place in North America), as testified by both Joseph and his mother. The author again does not provide the full picture here.
4) The so called magic practices that the young Joseph Smith engaged in. Two things to say about this - A) We have a wealth of historical information on Joseph Smith, which people may use to draw their own conclusions on about him. However, whilst doing so, it must be kept in mind that such voluminous historical information is not the case for those whom Christians (and Jews) hold to be prophets from the Bible. In most cases the Biblical text is all we have as far as historical information goes, and in some of those cases, such as with Enoch, just several verses is all the credible information Christians have about someone who walked with God and was caught up to heaven (Genesis 5:24). If we were to have as much information about all of these prophets as we do of Joseph Smith, people might be surprised to learn about the characters of those whom God has chosen to do his work and the things that they did in their lives (after all, take Paul, before the Lord appeared to him, and Moses, who killed a man before he was called as a prophet - Exodus 2:12).
B)These magic practices were common in early U.S. history, being practiced by various Christians for non-sinister reasons, just like young Joseph. However, these Christians who did likewise will apparently be "saved" due to their traditional Christianity.
5) The author says that to Mormons, salvation is ultimately conditional, suggesting that Mormons misunderstand the concept of grace. Such is false, as Mormons believe that salvation is a free gift through the grace of Christ. No matter how many good works we do, the bottom line is that salvation comes from Christ's grace alone, for such is the only thing that can save. Yes, we believe that after salvation occurs, there will be varying rewards in heaven bestowed according to how much we did the will of the Father, but underlying that is the fact that salvation from sin and death are from Christ's grace alone. From the very beginning, Joseph Smith said that such is the central doctrine of Mormonism, and that all other doctrine are but appendages to it.
6) The weak argument that because Joseph Smith wrote several accounts of his first vision with different information in each that he must have made it up. Although the author tries to dismiss the common LDS response, it truly is no different than the multiple Biblical accounts of different events that emphasis different aspects of the same events (in fact with known contradictions). The author doesn't mention, or perhaps is not aware, that even some non-Mormon ministers who have investigated the first vision believe that all accounts are the product of a sincere person describing the same event. They don't necessarily believe that God appeared to Joseph, but they do believe him to be sincere. The author also says that one account mentions he was 16, whereas the others that he was 14. The former account actually says his 16th year, meaning age 15, and so while this is definitely not age 14 as all the other accounts say, getting an age wrong by one year in a letter he wrote once hardly serves as proof that Joseph was a fraud. Moreover, there is historical evidence of Joseph (outside of his own writings) speaking of his vision to people when he was 14, showing that his letter saying that he was 15 when it happened was simply a minor oversight, the cause of which could have been a number of reasons.
7) Something that the book said that is true but which has an underlying misunderstanding in general is "Mormonism denies the traditional doctrine of the Trinity". As I said to you, we believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, collectively referred to as the Godhead. Why then are Mormons labelled "unbiblical" in this regard when our belief, the Godhead, is referenced in the Bible (Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20, Colossians 2:9), and the term "Trinity" is nowhere to be found in scripture? The answer is simple - the doctrine of the Trinity is an altered concept of the Godhead that evolved a couple of centuries after the New Testament was written. It was a hybrid of the original idea of the Godhead mixed with the influential Greek philosophy of the day, philosophy that spoke of an intangible, disembodied God that is everywhere and incomprehensible. Such a doctrine was debated, compromised then voted on, and the result was that God is three, but yet not three but one, that he is incomprehensible, that he is intangible and omnipresent, yet small enough to dwell in the human heart. This Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. became the official doctrine of the dominant Christian sect and later of most of Christianity itself. The Mormon Church is not the only church that understands this. There is an abundance of scholarship on it, as well as evidence on other Christian groups of the first couple of centuries A.D. who believed that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were three separate beings but united in purpose. Yet the sad truth is that many Christians will ignore or attempt explain such away to believe and support a "Trinity" that is never mentioned once in the Bible. It is simply the power of tradition - the Trinity has been the traditional belief for over a thousand years, and such is what gives it is credibility. But tradition and familiarity are often the enemy of the truth, and when such tradition regarding the doctrine of the Trinity is questioned, one discovers that its origins are the same as the origins of celebrating Christ's birth on December 25th - pagan influence on the early church. However, it is natural that people don't like to lose their investments, and after a thousand years of investing in the doctrine of the Trinity, it won't be going away anytime soon, regardless of its absence in the Bible and historically proven origins centuries after the New Testament was written.
Although a few verses of scripture are used to try to show that the Trinity is biblical, such as that "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30) and "He that hath seen the me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), such verses and others are consistent with a tremendous amount of phraseology in the Bible that is simply not meant to be taken literally. Moreover, the doctrine of the Trinity, what is supposed to be the description of the one true God, is entirely absent from Hebrew history, evidence again that it was a post-New Testament creation.
8) Hopefully what I have shared above is representative of what else I could say about the other aspects of Mormonism as addressed by this book.
"Jesus and Satan are brothers" - although just touched on it the book, such is the typical sound-byte that Born Again Christians are trained on when it comes to Mormons. As I said to you, such is nothing more and nothing less than sensationalism. You may as well say that "Mormons believe that Jesus is God's Son, and Mormons also believe that we are all God's children, therefore, logically, Mormons must believe that Jesus and Charles Manson are brothers!" Sensationalism. Remember, before he fell, Satan was an angel in heaven, with God as His Father, therefore he has the same God and Father as Christ does and we all do. Jesus and Satan are not brothers however in the sense that Christ is God's Only Begotten Son. Satan has no claim at all to such Sonship in LDS theology. As said, it is just the usual sensational sound-byte designed to evoke immediate negative reaction to LDS doctrine instead of thoughtful contemplation.
Probably the real issue of misunderstanding with Born Again Christians in their view of Mormons is that of Christ. "The Mormon Jesus is not the real Jesus" is the other common sound-byte that is drummed into Born Again Christians by their pastors, or as the author of your book expressed in more polite terms, "I personally do not believe a person can find eternal life by following the LDS approach to salvation". (page 47) If Born Again Christians can be made to believe that the Mormon Jesus is not the real Jesus, then in one stroke pastors have succeeded in not having to deal with the countless good, wholesome and beautiful things of the Church. They don't have to really explain the BoM, can ignore the Church's massive global humanitarian program, can ignore the fact that many Mormons live lives that follow Christ's example, etc. Once again, it is a catchall that causes people not to have to think, but to believe as their pastors wish them to believe. However, these are the facts - when Mormons look up at the night sky, the same night sky that other Christians look up at, we know that the God who made those stars and planets had a Son, and that this Son lived on earth about 2000 years ago as was known as Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified and died for all mankind, and rose again on the third day - that is the Jesus whom we believe in and know is the only source of salvation. He is the Jesus of the New Testament, and no matter how many good things a person does, their good works are in vain - it is only Christ's grace that saves. Such is the Mormon belief in Christ, regardless of the misunderstanding the author of the book had.
Most troubling aspect of book:
In reference to the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon is true, the author says "The Latter-day Saints also encourage prospective converts to pray about the Book of Mormon. I don't recommend that you go that far. There's no need to ask God to show you whether it is true. While you and I do pray for guidance in every area of life, we have seen that the ultimate test of truth is not a spiritual experience." (page 92) In short, the author doesn't recommend that his audience ask God whether the BoM is true because the author has already provided all the facts on the matter to his audience and therefore the case is closed. What does the Bible say about this? "Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." (Jeremiah 17:5) Anyone who recommends that we depart from our communication with the Lord on a matter because we can trust what they have said is quite simply leading people astray. We are not to trust in man, but are to trust in God alone. Besides, what is there to fear? If this author believes the BoM to be false, then he should encourage people to sincerely read and pray about it!
Also, if one believes that the ultimate test of truth for spiritual matters is something other than a spiritual experience, then I don't know how one can understand what it is truly like to have a functioning relationship with God. The Bible plainly teaches this. "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 16:13-17) Christ didn't say to Peter that he received his knowledge through facts presented to him, or through listening to a pastor, nor even through lining up Christ with the scripture of the day. Instead he says that Peter received it straight from the Father. And how does the Bible say the Father reveals the truth of spiritual matters to us? Through the Holy Spirit. "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15:26) Again, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." (John 16:13) Also, when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus expressed their testimony of Christ after he walked with them, it wasn't because they empirically could prove him, nor was it even Christ's use of the scriptures that was the ultimate thing that let them know he was Christ. What then did they say? "And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:31-32) The Holy Spirit is the ultimate test of spiritual truth.
Although it is true that different people will think they have had an experience with the Spirit and end up believing in different things, such as "God told me the Book of Mormon is true" or "God told me that it isn't", or "God told me Jesus is the right person to follow", or "God told me Mohammed is the right prophet to follow", such is why the experience of others, as I said in the beginning, can't be used as empirical evidence for where the truth is. However, regardless of the possibility of error, the Spirit is still the only way for the individual to know spiritual truth. Following the words of one's pastor who doesn't know all the facts because he is human, and trying to match things with the latest scholarship, though beneficial, will always result in one being "blown about with every wind of doctrine" if it is the ultimate test of truth that one uses.
As I said, the Mormon Church definitely begs inquiry. Many valuable things can be learnt from such. However, one must learn that ultimately the Church cannot be proven nor disproved through scholarly inquiry. There is indeed a human side to Joseph Smith, as there is to every LDS leader and every true prophet from history. But there are also things which after centuries of inquiry still cannot be explained, with far too many "coincidences" for Joseph Smith or anybody for that matter to have made it all up. Although every LDS doctrine is in the Bible, differing interpretations of the Bible won't allow many to accept that method. The fact is that the only way for somebody to know whether Joseph Smith was a prophet and whether the Book of Mormon is true is to have their mind free of the polluting premature conclusions from incomplete information as this book was filled with, and be truly sincere about it by inquiring of God, and as Christ has said in the Bible, the method that God will use for testifying to truth is the Holy Spirit.
In summary, regardless that your book shares true things about Mormonism, it is nevertheless a piece of very poor analysis, steering people away from analytical thought and sound judgment by fostering conclusion without examination of all evidence and discouraging prayer.
Now, in expressing to you that your pastor's book isn't as accurate as it attempts to be, I do not deny that he has a relationship with Christ, nor that he is well meaning. Nor do I deny that that you have a relationship with Christ. I was happy to hear how he helps you every day in your life, as he does with me. I just hope that through this email your mind can be opened to the fact that often times when one thinks a case is closed, there is usually a much bigger picture that is yet to be seen.