Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/Scriptures Concerns & Questions

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Response to "Letter to a CES Director: Scriptures Concerns & Questions"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director, a work by author: Jeremy Runnells
Chart CES Letter scriptures.png

Response to section "Scriptures Concerns & Questions"

Summary: The author states that "To believe in the scriptures, I have to believe in a god who endorsed murder, genocide, infanticide, rape, slavery, selling daughters into sex slavery, polygamy, child abuse, stoning disobedient children, pillage, plunder, sexism, racism, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, killing people who work on the Sabbath, death penalty for those who mix cotton with polyester, and so on."

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Response to claim: "that Laban would send his servants after Nephi and his brothers is ridiculous considering that the same God who had no problem lighting stones and taming swarms of bees"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The Lord commands Nephi to murder (decapitate) Laban for the brass plates. Never mind that Laban was drunk and defenseless. The argument that Laban would send his servants after Nephi and his brothers is ridiculous considering that the same God who had no problem lighting stones and taming swarms of bees (Ether 2-3) for the Brother of Jared can also preserve Nephi.

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

The author trivializes the scriptures in order to score propaganda points.

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Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule—The author is presenting the argument in such a way that it makes his or her subject look ridiculous, usually by misrepresenting the argument or exaggerating it.

Jeffery R. Holland: "It is wrong to assume that Nephi in any way wished to take Laban’s life"

Jeffery R. Holland:

It is wrong to assume that Nephi in any way wished to take Laban’s life. He was a young man, and despite a 600 B.C. world full of tensions and retaliations, he had never “shed the blood of man.” (1 Ne. 4:10.) Nothing in his life seems to have conditioned him for this task. In fact the commandments he had been taught from childhood declared, “Thou shalt not kill”; and he recoiled, initially refusing to obey the prompting of the Spirit. . . .

Laban, lying before Nephi in a drunken stupor, has not been guiltless in his dealings with Lehi’s family. In what little we know of the man, Laban has at least: (1) been unfaithful in keeping the commandments of God; (2) falsely accused Laman of robbery; (3) coveted Lehi’s property as a greedy, “lustful” man; (4) stolen that property outright; and (5) sought twice to kill Nephi and/or his brothers. He was, by the Holy Spirit’s own declaration, a “wicked” man delivered unto Nephi by the very hand of the Lord. [1]


Question: Did Nephi commit "cold blooded murder" when he killed Laban?

Nephi did not commit the equivalent of a first-degree murder under the laws of his day

Nephi's action against Laban (found in 1 Nephi 4:5–18) certainly seems like a gruesome and extreme scenario. However, this is an example of the problem of cultural differences — modern readers raised in Western culture often fail to connect with Nephi's time and place.

Hugh Nibley recalled:

When in 1946 this writer composed a little treatise called Lehi in the Desert from limited materials then available in Utah, he had never knowingly set eyes on a real Arab. Within the last five years Aneze tribesmen and citizens of Mecca, including even guides to the Holy Places, have been his students, in Provo, of all places, while Utah has suddenly been enriched with a magnificent Arabic library, thanks to the inspired efforts of Professor Aziz Atiya of the University of Utah. As if it were not enough for the mountain to come to Mohammed, those sons of the desert who came to Provo found themselves taking a required class in the Book of Mormon from [me]. Naturally [I] was more than curious to see how these young men would react to the Book of Mormon treatment of desert themes, and invited and even required them to report frankly on their impressions. To date, with only one exception, no fault has been found with Nephi on technical grounds. The one exception deserves the attention of all would-be critics of the Book of Mormon.

It was in the first class ever held in "Book of Mormon for Near Eastern Students," and the semester had barely begun when of course we ran smack into the story of how Nephi found Laban dead drunk in a dark alley and cut off his head — a grisly tale that upsets Nephi himself in telling it. As we rehearsed the somber episode, I could detect visible signs of annoyance among the Arab students — whispered remarks, head-shakings, and frowns of dissent. Finally, toward the end of the hour, a smart young man from Jordan could hold out no longer. "Mr. Nibley," he said, plainly speaking for the others, "there is one thing wrong here. It doesn't sound right. Why did this Nephi wait so long to cut off Laban's head?" Since I had been expecting the routine protests of shock and disgust with which Western critics react to the Laban story, I was stunned by this surprise attack — stunned with a new insight into the Book of Mormon as a message from another age and another culture. [2]

John Welch has also argued that Nephi's action should be understood as protected manslaughter rather than criminal homicide. [3] The biblical law of murder, under which Nephi and Laban operated, demanded a higher level of premeditation and hostility than Nephi exhibited or modern law requires. Other factors within the Book of Mormon as well as in Moses' killing of the Egyptian in Exodus 2 support his conclusion that Nephi did not commit the equivalent of a first-degree murder under the laws of his day.


Question: Why didn't God simply preserve Nephi's life using divine power instead of requiring him to kill Laban?

The Lord actually did preserve Nephi and his brothers two times from being killed by Laban

The Lord actually did preserve Nephi and his brothers from being killed by Laban....twice.

God is not a magician who waves his wand and removes all obstacles. He expects us to do as much as we can. For example, God could have caused Laban to have had a heart attack, or cirrhosis of the liver, and died before Nephi got there, but that is simply not how God works.

If Joseph were making the story up, then why not just have Nephi just find Laban already dead in the street? Nephi's account actually seems to have been written to deliberately provide all the proper legal justification for the act, according to ancient Israelite law. This may not appease the ethical concerns, but, the point is, how did Joseph Smith know ancient Israel law so well? This is evidence that it was written by someone familiar with the legal code of that time and place.


Response to claim: "God kills all the firstborn children in Egypt except for those who put blood on their doors?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

God kills all the firstborn children in Egypt except for those who put blood on their doors? What kind of a god is this? Like the flood, what kind of a loving god would kill innocent children for the actions of others?

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

The author trivializes the scriptures in order to score propaganda points.

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Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Emotion—The author attempts to manipulate the reader's emotional response instead of presenting a valid argument.

Question: Why would a loving God would kill innocent children in the flood of Noah's day?

LDS scripture shows God exercising incredible restraint and only issuing the flood when there was no other option

Hugh Nibley wrote:

In giving us a much fuller account than the Bible of how the Flood came about, the [Enoch material in the Book of Moses] settles the moral issue with several telling parts: 1. God’s reluctance to send the Flood and his great sorrow at the event. 2. The peculiar brand of wickedness that made the Flood mandatory. 3. The frank challenge of the wicked to have God do his worst. 4. The happy and beneficial side of the event—it did have a happy outcome. [4]

The Joseph Smith Translation portrays God, and even nature itself, as mourning and weeping at the great sinfulness of mankind (Moses 7:28,37,40,45).

The depiction of the scene is so grim that Enoch himself begins to weep, but the Lord tells him, “Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look,” after which Enoch sees a vision of the earth repopulated from his righteous descendant, Noah and salvation coming through Christ (including little children) (Moses 7:44–45, see also Moroni 8:19 on salvation of children).

Enoch pleaded with the Lord, and the Lord delayed the Flood to give humanity another chance (Moses 7:50–52).

In the JST, God didn’t unleash nature; he held it back as long as he could.

Thus, rather than seeing God as capricious or a type of genocidal maniac, LDS scripture shows him exercising incredible restraint and only issuing the flood when there was no other option. Further, God makes ample provision for the salvation of all his children, and in LDS theology would not condemn children to hell, but instead exalts them (Mosiah 3:18-21, Mosiah 15:25, DC 29:46-47, DC 74:7).


Question: Why would a loving God kill the firstborn of Egypt? (Exodus 12:12)

This was God's last option, not His first. He took no delight in it.

This had nothing to do with God deriving some sort of pleasure from killing "innocent children for the actions of others." God didn't want to kill anyone. Over and over and over again Moses came to Pharaoh, asking him to let the children of Israel go. The Pharaoh refused the request every time. There were nine plagues the preceded the Passover; Pharaoh could have gotten the message, but he didn't. This was God's last option, not His first. He took no delight in it. The killing of the Passover lamb and the placement of its blood above the doorway was a symbolic representation of how Christ would save us through his sacrifice.


Joseph Fielding Smith: "This was also in the similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ"

Joseph Fielding Smith:

When the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord gave them the passover. They were to take a lamb without blemish; they were not to break any of its bones. They were to kill it, cook it, and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. This feast they were to remember annually thereafter until Christ should come. This was also in the similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If you stop to consider it, it was at the time of the passover that our Lord was taken and crucified in fulfillment of the promises that had been made that he would come to be our Redeemer.[5]


Response to claim: "Got a rebellious kid who doesn’t listen? Take him to the elders and to the end of the gates and stone him to death!"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Got a rebellious kid who doesn’t listen? Take him to the elders and to the end of the gates and stone him to death!
....
God commands death penalty for those who work on the Sabbath trying to support their families.

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

The author trivializes the Law of Moses in order to score propaganda points.

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Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule—The author is presenting the argument in such a way that it makes his or her subject look ridiculous, usually by misrepresenting the argument or exaggerating it.

Question: Why are Old Testament penalties for disobedience so harsh?

The Law of Moses was a very strict law that was designed to teach the Children of Israel obedience

The Law of Moses was a very strict law that was designed to teach the Children of Israel obedience. It was indeed quite harsh when compared to our modern standards, although one can still find equally harsh penalties in some parts of the world among certain cultures. When Jesus Christ came to earth, He fulfilled the Law of Moses. The author's point seems to be that a kind and loving God would not ever condone such things. However, God reminds us that his ways are not our ways in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The following were defined as crimes worthy of capital punishment under the Mosaic Law:

  1. Adultery (Leviticus 20:10-21)
  2. Bestiality (Exodus 22:19)
  3. Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-16,23)
  4. Cursing your parents (Exodus 21:17)
  5. Divination (Exodus 22:18)
  6. False prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:1-11)
  7. Fornication (Leviticus 21:9)
  8. Homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22)
  9. Human sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2)
  10. Incest (Leviticus 18:6-17)
  11. Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
  12. Murder (Exodus 21:12-14)
  13. Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-27)
  14. Rebelliousness (Deuteronomy 17:12)
  15. Sacrificing to false gods (Exodus 22:20)
  16. Striking your parents (Exodus 21:15)
  17. Violating the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2)


JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: "Filial insubordination is a grave offense because respect and obedience toward parents is regarded as the cornerstone of all order and authority"

From the The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy:

Verses 18–21 describe the procedure to be followed if a son is repeatedly insubordinate and his parents conclude that there is no hope of reforming him: they are to bring him before the town elders who will hear the case and, if they agree, order his execution. The law seeks to deter filial insubordination, but, by requiring that the case be judged by the elders, it also places limits on parental authority, as does the preceding law. Earlier, in the patriarchal period, it appears that the father’s authority over his children was absolute, like the patria potestas of early Roman law, even to the point of his being able to have them executed for wrongdoing; this is implied by Judah’s ability to order the execution of his daughter-in-law for adultery, with no trial (Gen. 38:24). The present law respects the parents’ right to discipline their son, but it prevents them from having him executed on their own authority. This may only be done by the community at large on the authority of the elders.

Ancient Near Eastern laws and documents also mention legal action by parents against misbehaving children. The grounds include such offenses against parents as disobedience, flight, repudiation, lawsuits against them, failure to respect and provide for them in their old age, and striking them. The punishments range from disinheritance to enslavement and mutilation.

Filial insubordination is a grave offense because respect and obedience toward parents is regarded as the cornerstone of all order and authority, especially in a tribal, patriarchal society like ancient Israel. If the death penalty specified by the present law is meant literally, it implies that biblical law regards insubordination and the danger it poses to the stability of society more severely than do other known ancient Near Eastern laws. The fact that Exodus 21:15 requires the death penalty for striking one’s parents, whereas the Laws of Hammurabi require only that the son’s hand be cut off, supports this inference. Nevertheless, some scholars, modern and ancient, believe that the death penalty stipulated in the present law is meant only rhetorically, in terrorem, to strengthen parental authority and deter the young from disobedience. As in the case of the apostate city (13:13–19), halakhic exegesis subjected the law to an exceedingly narrow reading, according to which it could hardly ever be carried out. Several rabbis held that it was never actually applied, but was stated in the Torah only for educational purposes. [6]


Response to claim: "I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

God doesn’t like to hear whining and ingratitude so he sends out a bunch of snakes to kill the people. When the people had enough of the snakes, they ask Moses to tell God to quit it. God decides Moses is persuasive and tells Moses to put a snake a pole and tell the people to look at the pole and they won’t die. So, the pole is built, the people look at it and they don’t die. The moral of the story? Don’t whine or God will send in the snakes. (Numbers 21:5-9: )
....
I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well.

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

The author trivializes the scriptures in order to score propaganda points.

Jump to Detail:

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Emotion—The author attempts to manipulate the reader's emotional response instead of presenting a valid argument.

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule—The author is presenting the argument in such a way that it makes his or her subject look ridiculous, usually by misrepresenting the argument or exaggerating it.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland: "it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much"

Elder Jeffery R. Holland,

Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. [7]


Question: Why would God send poisonous serpents to kill the Children of Israel?

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you."

In Numbers 21:5-9, God teaches the Children of Israel an important lesson not only about obedience, but about the future atonement of Jesus Christ.

5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Jesus Christ actually used this story to foreshadow his own crucifixion John 3:14-15:

14 ¶And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you." The snake on the pole is a representation of Christ and the atonement. Those that simply looked at it were saved from physical death. Those that look upon and accept Christ are saved from spiritual death. What is amazing is that there were people who simply wouldn't look at it, despite how easy it would have been to do so. They simply refused to believe.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a "part-time racist" and "psychopathic schizophrenic" god?

Latter-day Saints believe in a God who cares for His children

One critic of Mormonism mockingly describes the "God" that he claims that Latter-day Saints believe in:

God doesn’t like to hear whining and ingratitude so he sends out a bunch of snakes to kill the people. When the people had enough of the snakes, they ask Moses to tell God to quit it. God decides Moses is persuasive and tells Moses to put a snake a pole and tell the people to look at the pole and they won’t die. So, the pole is built, the people look at it and they don’t die. The moral of the story? Don’t whine or God will send in the snakes.

He concludes by stating, "I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well." [8]

Latter-day Saints do not believe in a "part-time racist," "psychopathic schizophrenic" god. Some Latter-day Saints do indeed believe that God has more than one wife, and some do not. There is no official Church position on this subject. Latter-day Saints are not "asked to believe" in a racist, polygamous or "psychopathic schizophrenic" god. Such hyperbole obscures and mocks the true nature of the God that we believe in. The sarcastic version of the story offered by the critic robs it of any coherent meaning.

The critic uses a variety of passages from the scriptures to portray God as capricious and uncaring. If the Children of Israel "whine," God will "send in the snakes." God is "psychopathic" and "schizophrenic." He completely misses the point of and the significance of the scriptural events described.


Notes

  1. Jeffery R. Holland, "I Have a Question," Ensign (September 1976).
  2. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), xii.
  3. John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 119–141. wiki
  4. Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, pp. 4–5.
  5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:22.
  6. JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy
  7. Jeffery R. Holland, "The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," April 2014 General Conference.
  8. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)