Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Becoming Gods/Preface

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Response to claims made in "Preface: Can't We All Just Get Along?"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism, a work by author: Richard Abanes
Claim Evaluation
Becoming Gods
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Response to claims made in Becoming Gods, "Preface: Can't We All Just Get Along?"

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Response to claim: 13 - Mormons exist in "two distinct groups:" Chapel Mormons and Internet Mormons

The author(s) of Becoming Gods make(s) the following claim:

Mormons exist in "two distinct groups:" Chapel Mormons and Internet Mormons.

Author's sources:
  1. Jason Gallentine, "Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Mormons exist across a broad spectrum of beliefs and knowledge, and cannot be separated into two distinct group.


Question: Can Latter-day Saints be divided into two distinct groups called "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons"?

The entire premise that one has to be either a "Internet Mormon" or a "Chapel Mormon" is itself setting up a logical fallacy called a "false dilemma"

There is no allowance for anything in between the two extremes. When people complain about not being able to determine what Mormons (collectively) believe, the real issue they miss is that the Church does not tell its members what to believe. There is a lot of room for divergent views, and the Church thrives on the idea that its members are a vital part of the search for truth. Personal revelation plays a significant role in every Latter-day Saint's life. Ironically, many of the same critics who complain about not being able to "pin down" Church doctrine, also complain that the Church exercises too much control over member's lives. The questions in the temple recommend interview have very little to do with doctrine and very much to do with actions. Ultimately Church leaders are trying to determine if members are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ—not whether they believe that the flood of Noah was local or global, or whether they believe that science contradicts religion.

Anti-Mormon critics want to label various views as being somehow heretical and not reflective of most Latter-day Saints. This allows them to artificially define two "camps" within the Church, who are allegedly pitted against one another. This, in turn, feeds the critics' ongoing hope that the Church is destroying itself from within. Such a belief allows critics to more easily dismiss arguments that defend the gospel from their attacks. The truth is, there are Latter-day Saints along the entire spectrum between the definitions of "Internet Mormon" and "Chapel Mormon."

Two choices are presented, without allowing for answers which do not fall into one of the two extremes

This specific terminology was introduced by a critic of Mormonism, Jason Gallentine, who presented his theory at the 2004 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City.[1] It is clear from his comments—and from his lack of rigorous survey methodology — that he started with a polemical argument and conducted his research to fit his predetermined conclusions.

The multiple choice survey contained the following questions, with answer choices in the form of "Yes," "No," and "I don't know."

  • When science contradicts the prophets (regarding the age of the earth, for example), which/who is right?
  • When LDS apologists (F.A.R.M.S. and F.A.I.R., for example) contradict the prophets, who is right?
  • Do the terms "Lamanite" and "Native American" refer to two entirely separate cultural and linguistic groups, or are the terms interchangeable?
  • Was Noah's flood local or global?
  • When Lehi arrived in the Americas, were there lots of non-Jaredite Asiatic inhabitants already present?
  • When discussing the words of the prophets, is God displeased if we say "it was only his opinion?"
  • Did the Nephites make their last stand against the Lamanites on a hill in Central America or on a hill in New York?
  • Is binding Mormon doctrine to be found between the covers of the four Standard Works only, or can it be found elsewhere?
  • Which is most likely to lead us to the truth: To "filter" a prophet's words through both his likely cultural influences and his limited sphere of knowledge, or to take his words at face value?
  • Do a prophet's words apply to everyone he's addressing, or do his words sometimes not apply to some of the people he's addressing?
  • If a married couple uses birth control, is God displeased?
  • Did human beings evolve, or were Adam & Eve the first—and parentless—humans?

Most of these questions set up what is known as a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy". In other words, two choices are presented, without allowing for answers which do not fall into one of the two extremes. For this reason, many Latter-day Saints would answer most of the questions by pointing out that there is not enough information to answer the question as posed, or that it depends on what various terms mean and how they are understood.

Most of the issues that show a difference between "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons" are not fundamental to Mormon belief

Most of the issues that Mr. Gallentine thought showed a difference between "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons" are not fundamental to Mormon belief. For example, the following questions are topics of debate among believing Latter-day Saints, and are not matters upon which anyone ought to base their testimony of the restored gospel:

The issue of birth control is addressed directly in the Church General Handbook of Instructions, which states:

Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood…. Married couples should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel.[2]

The remaining five questions relate to how Latter-day Saints view prophets (both new and old), their statements and writings. These questions are geared toward emphasizing the critics' position that "Mormon doctrine" cannot be defined and is constantly changing, and that everything that a prophet utters ought to be considered scripture.

Latter-day Saint belief is more of a broad spectrum, not two isolated positions

Most Latter-day Saints do not sit exactly at the opposite points Gallentine proposes; they are somewhere in-between. This being the case, there isn't some kind of tension that exists between two groups which are clearly delineated — rather, they blend into each other. Only if you start with a need to separate Mormons into groups for polemical purposes does such a system make any kind of sense at all.

Another issue that must be considered is that these differences in perspective existed long before the Internet allowed Latter-day Saints to discuss various views, and will continue long afterwards. There are members of the LDS faith who could be classified as "Internet Mormons" (using Gallentine's schema) who never used the Internet — including those who died long before the Internet was invented. There are also very active LDS members on the Internet who are best classified as "Chapel Mormons." Gallentine himself acknowledges this on his web site, stating that "Internet Mormonism—at least in its embryonic form—has been around much longer than the Internet itself has. Again, the name 'Internet Mormonism' merely calls attention to the place at which one is most likely to encounter this brand of Mormon thought."

Most FairMormon volunteers would be classified by Mr. Gallentine's survey as "Internet Mormons", and yet they still attend church every Sunday, participate in regular callings, and have disagreements among themselves on the finer points of LDS belief. Many Latter-day Saints who would be classified as "Internet Mormons" are in positions of Church leadership, serving as Bishops and Stake Presidents. This alleged conflict has no significant impact on the Church or their participation in it.


Response to claim: 15 - The Journal of Discourses was viewed on par with the Standard Works by early Church members

The author(s) of Becoming Gods make(s) the following claim:

The Journal of Discourses was viewed on par with the Standard Works by early Church members.

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The term "standard works" used at the time did not have the same meaning as the term "standard works" does today. At that time, "standard works" included a variety of books, including a hymn book.


Question: Is the Journal of Discourses a "standard work" of the Church?

The Journal of Discourses is not a "standard work" according to the Church's current definition of "standard work."

The Journal of Discourses is a twenty-six volume set of sermons given by the early members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was published in England between the years 1853 and 1886. Its purpose was not unlike the modern Liahona magazine, in that it made the public sermons of Church leaders readily available to members who lived outside the United States.

It also served the purpose of creating an income for George D. Watt who served as an official transcriber of the public sermons of the First Presidency and the Twelve, and publisher of the Journal of Discourses. A letter from the First Presidency was included in the first volume recommending that the Saints support Watt by purchasing a copy. Watt was later replaced as the publisher by David W. Evans, who was followed by George W. Gibbs, secretary to the First Presidency. Critics are often fond of pointing out that George Q. Cannon described the Journal of Discourses as a "standard work":

The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saints will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of 'the light that shines from Zion's hill.'[3]

Critics use this paragraph to argue that the Journal of Discourses was once an official, binding publication upon members of the Church. This is a good example of the fallacy of equivocation—the argument relies on the fact that modern members of the Church do not use the term "standard work" in the same way that 19th century members did.

A "standard work," at that time, was a book often used or a typical reference work

Joseph Smith, for example, said a Church hymnbook would "be a standard work."[4] A "standard work," then, was a book often used or a typical reference work. It did not mean that the work was canonized scripture—which is how modern Church members use the term. The Journal of Discourses was—and is—extremely valuable. It was not, however, without error. It was not without the opinion of leading brethren. And, it was not a work which defined doctrine that was elsewhere undefined or undescribed in LDS scripture.

This use is clear in a variety of Church publications in the 1800s:

1849
Thomas D. Brown, [for sale] Millennial Star 11. 6 (March 15, 1849): 96. “This [pamphlet, Voice of Warning] is now a standard work, having been long tried and approved, and I would earnestly recommend all who wish to do good to lend it to the honest enquirer amongst the first of our books. How many now in the kingdom of God give thanks because they read the ‘Voice of Warning?’
1850
Editorial [Orson Pratt], “A Word of Counsel to the Churches,” Millennial Star 12.4 (February 15, 1850): 57-59. “We strongly recommend all the officers to supply themselves with the Book of Mormon, Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all other standard works, inasmuch as they have not already done it; and strive to acquaint themselves with the doctrines and laws of the church; and we can safely say, that no officer is capable of fulfilling his duties without the knowledge contained in these books (59).
1850
Editorial [Orson Pratt], Millennial Star 12 (August 15, 1850), 252:… except for ‘bills of Meetings, lists of the standard works of the Church which [the branches and conferences] may have on hand for sale, and conference minutes,’ any manuscript containing the ‘doctrines or sentiments of the Latter-day Saints’ that is intended for publication should first be sent to the British Mission presidency for approval [Crawley, 2. 157]
1853
“Australian Mission,” Elder Augustus Farnham, Sydney, Australia, July 25, 1853. Millennial Star 15. 47 (November 19, 1853): 766-767. President S. W. Richards…. We wish you to forward us more of O Pratt’s works complete and bound, 200 more Hymn Books, 100 Books of Mormon, 100 Doctrine and Covenants, more Voice of Warning, and Spencer’s Letters, 100 O. Pratt’s work on Celestial Marriage. You may depend upon us forwarding the money as speedily as possible. I have no doubt, that when these books come to hand, they will give an increased impetus to the work here, and it will require a constant and regular supply of the Standard Works to keep up with the movement. We hope you will be able to supply us with them. (767)
1855
Broadside by Parley P. Pratt, Millennial Star 17. 20 (May 16, 1855) announcing the “Mormon Book Depot, and General Agency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the Pacific Coast. PARLEY P. PRATT respectfully announces to the public, that he has established an Office and Book Depot in San Francisco, Cal., near the corner of Dupont and Sacramento Streets, where will be constantly on hand and for sale the Standard Works of said Church, among the most noted of which are the following, viz.--Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Voice of Warning, O. Pratt’s Works, Key to the Science of Theology, Pearl of Great Price, Spencer’s Letters, Hymn Books, And a variety of Periodicals, Debates, Defences, Tracts, &c., &c. San Francisco, March 2, 1855.” It also indicates that he is in correspondence with LDS in foreign countries, and can provide works in French, German, Danish, Spanish, Italian, Welsh. (319).

It should be noted also that the Journal of Discourses has never been published by the Church

Also, it should be noted that the Journal of Discourses has never been published by the Church. When published serially in magazine form it was done privately by George Watt. According the the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry "Journal of Discourses":

After 1852 Watt transcribed Church conference addresses for the Deseret News. But because the News was not generally available outside central Utah and because Watt received little pay for his work, he proposed to publish privately and sell sixteen-page semiweekly issues of the Journal of Discourses containing selected sermons of the General Authorities. The sale of these to the Saints at large would enable Watt to earn a living with his shorthand skill. He was supported in this proposal by Brigham Young, who authorized him to print his sermons.

Regarding the Journal of Discourses being considered a "standard work of the Church," it is important to note that in 1855, the "Standard Works" of the Church included the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Voice of Warning, O. Pratt’s Works, Key to the Science of Theology, Pearl of Great Price, Spencer’s Letters, Hymn Books, "And a variety of Periodicals, Debates, Defences, Tracts." Today's definition of "standard works" comprises only the four volumes of scripture: Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

The bind that critics find themselves in is that they want to have their cake and eat it too: they want to use sources written or derived from faithful Mormons and LDS Church leaders in order to maximize the shock value of what they present; but they also can't resist the "the Church hides and/or manipulates its history" claim.

In this case, the two approaches run at cross-purposes, and cancel each other out—the Church has not hidden the Journal of Discourses, but neither has it made its contents binding upon members. Even less has the Church made the (usually distorted or removed from context) claims of critics binding upon members—our doctrine is for us to declare and interpret, not the critics.

Thus, the critic must insist that the Church had (in the past) treated the Journal of Discourses as binding doctrine on the level of scripture and that this has been hidden from the modern member. Neither claim is true.

This is another good example of where fundamentalist critics (whether religious or secular) try to impose their mindset on the Church and its members. Critics cannot understand how the Church can have prophets that are not infallible—they assume either that these men must not be prophets, or that members must regard them and their every utterance as infallible. Neither conclusion is correct.


Response to claim: 16 - "Gospel Principles" is published by the Church, but contains a disclaimer that states that it is not an official publication of the Church

The author(s) of Becoming Gods make(s) the following claim:

"Gospel Principles" is published by the Church, but contains a disclaimer that states that it is not an official publication of the Church.

Author's sources:
  1. Gospel Principles

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

We cannot find the disclaimer mentioned by the author about Gospel Principles not being an official publication.

Response to claim: 17, 331n35 - Mormons "focus on a minor issue while dismissing the broader point that is being made by a critic of the church." Example: "celestial sex"

The author(s) of Becoming Gods make(s) the following claim:

Mormons "focus on a minor issue while dismissing the broader point that is being made by a critic of the church." Example: "celestial sex."

Author's sources:
  1. The author uses as an example in the endnotes the alleged LDS belief in "Celestial Sex."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This author seems fascinated with what he calls "celestial sex." He revisits the concept multiple times in this book, despite the fact that Latter-day Saints do not speculate on the manner in which "spirit children" are created.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "celestial sex," and that this is the manner in which "spirit children" are formed?

It is the critics of the Church that invented and use the offensive term "celestial sex"

This is not a term used by Latter-day Saints. It has, in fact, never been used by Latter-day Saints. The use of the term "celestial sex" by critics is intended to be demeaning and shocking to Latter-day Saints or interested readers. The use of such tactics may say much about the mainstream culture's preoccupation with sexual behavior. However, it says nothing about the actual beliefs of Church members.

Critics of the Church twist LDS beliefs into a form that makes them look ridiculous. Quotes made by early LDS leaders are often used to support the claim that Latter-day Saints believe in “Celestial sex.” It should be noted, however, that LDS leaders have never used the term "Celestial sex." This phrase was coined by critics of the Church, likely for its “shock value” in portraying the following concepts in LDS belief:

  1. The belief that God the Father has a physical body.
  2. The belief that there exists a Heavenly Mother who also possesses a physical body.
  3. The belief that our Heavenly Father and Mother together are capable of creating “spirit children.”

Critics take these ideas and combine them, leading to a declaration that Latter-day Saints therefore believe in “Celestial sex.” Various anti-Mormon works then use this idea to mock LDS beliefs or shock their readers—though this claim does not describe LDS beliefs, but the critics' caricature of them.

One of the earliest uses of the term "celestial sex" was in the anti-Mormon film The God Makers

For example, the 1982 anti-Mormon film The God Makers makes reference to “engaging in celestial sex with their goddess wives." One woman in the film, who is claimed to have once been a Latter-day Saint, expresses the idea that the primary goal of women in the Church is to "become a goddess in heaven" in order to "multiply an earth" and be "eternally pregnant." The claim that Latter-day Saints expect to have "endless Celestial sex" in order to populate their own planet is very popular among critics of the Church, though members themselves would not explain their beliefs in that way.

The critics' assumptions simply take what we know about our physical world and naively apply it to the afterlife. When one examines the critics’ point further, a key question ought to be raised: How does the union of two immortal beings in a physical manner produce spirit offspring? Latter-day Saint belief is that “spirit children” only receive a physical body upon being born on earth.

This question, of course, cannot be answered. It is pointless to speculate on the exact manner in which “spirit children” are produced, and to assume that this occurs through “Celestial sex” and being "eternally pregnant" is to apply a worldly mindset to a spiritual process. The bottom line: Latter-day Saints do not know the mechanism by which “spirit children” are produced, and no LDS doctrine claims that "celestial sex" and being "eternally pregnant" are the means.


Notes

  1. Jason Gallentine, Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons, 2004 Sunstone Symposium Session.
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Handbook of Instructions (Salt Lake City, 1989), 11–14; cited in Homer S. Ellsworth, "Birth Control," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:116–117.
  3. George Q. Cannon, introduction to 8th volume of Journal of Discourses.
  4. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 164. off-site