Archives for May 2014
This year’s conference speakers include:
Daniel Peterson on the Letter to a CES Director
Hannah Smith: “Religious Liberty: What Latter-day Saints Need to Know to Preserve Our First Freedom”
Kerry Muhlestein: “The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions: How everyone makes assumptions that determine how they view the Book of Abraham”
Russell W. Stevenson: Shouldering the Cross, or How to Condemn Racism and Still Call Brigham Young a Prophet
Ty Mansfield on sexual attraction and gender
Robert F. Smith: “The Preposterous Book of Mormon: A Singular Advantage”
Matthew Grow and Matthew Godfrey: “The Story Behind the Revelations: Using the Joseph Smith Papers to Better Understand the Doctrine and Covenants.”
Bob Rees: “Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book
Barry Bickmore: “Restoring the Ancient Church”
A panel discussion on family members who have left the Church.
and more. You can find the schedule on the FairMormon Website here:http://www.fairmormon.org/
You can go directly to our bookstore page to purchase your Conference tickets here:
Scroll to the bottom of the FairMormon 2014 Conference page for Hotel information at the Marriott, which is across the street. Book your hotel room now to secure your reservation. Your hotel room is separate from your conference registration.
Dr. Valerie Hudson joined the faculty of Texas A&M University at the Bush School in 2012 as the George Bush Chair. She is considered an expert on international security and foreign policy analysis, she received her PhD in political science at The Ohio State University. Prior to going to Texas A&M she taught at Brigham Young University. In 2009, Foreign Policy named her one of the top 100 Most Influential Global Thinkers. Dr. Hudson developed a nation-by-nation database on women (http://womanstats.org) that triggered both academic and policy interest including use by both the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and various agencies of the United Nations. Her research and teaching experience is also complemented by three major teaching awards and numerous research awards. She is a founding editorial board member of Foreign Policy Analysis, and also serves on the editorial boards of Politics and Gender and International Studies Review. More information can be found on her website, http://vmrhudson.org. She comes to us today under the nome de plume V.H. Cassler to discuss her article in the 7th Volume of the online journal SqaureTwo found at SquareTwo.org. Welcome VH! Some of the questions Valerie Hudson answers are: Valerie Hudson’s article is a sort of time capsule or cultural snapshot of the current discourse in the LDS world about the roles of women, women in the priesthood, ordain women, etc. Valerie is a self proclaimed feminist which is a designation that has become a very vague concept in some respects. There are different waves of feminism, there are different implications on what being a feminist implies. Valerie says she is a Mormon BECAUSE is a feminist. How can one define themself as a feminist and how does that dovetail with Mormonism. A brief introduction as to what that Journal is and what people can expect to find there. In her book- Women in Eternity, Women in Zion she explore the idea of separating doctrine from culturally accepted precepts. This theme is also addressed in your article in SquareTwo. The article is entitled Zion in Her Beauty Rises: Current Discourse on Women and the Priesthood by Ballard, Dew, and Oaks. To start out you address some of the previously held cultural approaches to the discourse on the role of women in Mormon Culture and doctrine. What are some of those past cultural positions that were held by some? There is a change in the discourse since the 21st century began on the issues of women in the church. General Authorities seem to be more assertive with the doctrines of gender equality. Valerie’s article focuses on recent statements from Elder M. Russell Ballard, Sheri Dew, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks. She gives a brief synopsis of each of these statements. There have been other statements on this issue, so why these three sources, why not just one? There is a temptation when it comes to issues such as gender and where there seems to be some changes in the way things are either viewed and/or operate, to make a chicken and egg kind of argument. That is to give the distinction that the change came because of the protest or pressure of men and women, vs. divine authority. What merit is there in even considering the source of the change? Does it matter? Can’t divine authority be given based on the petition of God’s children? Valerie Hudson concludes with a beautiful and intriguing statement, “I agree with [Sheri] Dew when she predicts that, “the kingdom of God will change overnight” for the better when we move to higher ground on these questions.” The questions here being those surrounding gender roles and doctrines in the LDS Church. Valerie elaborates further on how this is the case? Valerie Hudson, or V.H. Cassler, is the author of a the article Zion in Her Beauty Rises: Current Discourse on Women and the Priesthood by Ballard, Dew, and Oaks that can be found in Vol. 7 of the online Journal SqaureTwo found at SquareTwo.org
Review of Wade E. Miller, Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses & More (Laguna Niguel, California: KCT & Associates, 2010). 106 pages + viii, including two appendices and references cited, no index.
Abstract: Anachronisms, or out of place items, have long been a subject of controversy with the Book of Mormon. Several Latter-day Saints over the years have attempted to examine them. Dr. Wade E. Miller, as a paleontologist and geologist, offers a some new insights on this old question, especially regarding animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon, including a report on some preliminary research which might completely change the pre-Columbian picture for horses in America. Overall, this is an indispensable resource on Book of Mormon anachronisms.
The following series of articles is a fictional dialogue between Shane and Doug, two former missionary companions many years after their missions. Shane writes to his friend Doug who has posted comments about his on-going faith crisis on Facebook. The characters are fictionalized composites of members who have faced these same dilemmas but the issues are based on very real problems which have caused some to stumble. Likewise, the responding arguments are based on the author’s own personal engagement with these same concerns as well as his discussion of these issues with other members who have struggled. (By Michael R. Ash, author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, and Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith.)
I’m glad to hear that you received my previous letter and have thought about some of the things I mentioned. I can certainly appreciate how overwhelming this can be. You are getting different information from different sources and it’s difficult to know what information (or really which conclusions based on the information) is reliable. The turmoil you are engaging will eventually drive you to seek relief—most likely by choosing one side or the other. Since I’ve been there myself, I hope that I can show you how I found this relief and strengthened my testimony.
In my last letter I explained how I discovered that the Church was not involved in a “cover up” regarding the truth–––and especially the truth of early Mormon history. I mentioned that my studies have shown that many of these things have been discussed in previous official LDS publications as well as publications officially associated with the Church. In response to your query about where you can find such pro-LDS discussions, let me offer a few sources. A 1993 Ensign article by Russell M. Nelson (“A Treasured Testament”) mentions Joseph Smith’s use of a stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. The Kinderhook Plates were addressed in an Ensign article in 1981. Joseph’s revelation about plural marriage was discussed in the Sunday School manuals in 1979 (and that manual was used for many years) and again in 1986 (which, again, was utilized for many years). The changes and revisions made to the Book of Commandments and early editions of the Doctrine and Covenants have been addressed in Ensign articles published in 1984, 1985, 2009, and 2013. The various accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision were examined in the Ensign in 1985 and again in 1996. Joseph’s treasure digging days were discussed in 1984 in a series of articles in BYU’s own BYU Studies. Many of the tougher issues have also been discussed in the earlier FARMS Review (mentioned in my previous letter)—a group that is officially under BYU’s umbrella (currently known as the Maxwell Institute).
You ask, “Why aren’t these things discussed in Church? Why should someone have to be a scholar and read the FARMS Review to find discussions on these topics? Why can’t we discuss them in Sunday School?” Those are good questions, Doug, and questions I’ve contemplatedmyself. Think about it though. We’ve both taught Gospel Doctrine classes, and if your priesthood quorums are anything like mine, do you really think these topics are the best way to spend two thirds of our three-hour block? When I go to Church I want to be spiritually renewed. I want to hear things that will lift my soul, to help me contemplate areas in my life I need to change, to feel fed as I contemplate Christ’s sacrifice, atonement, and the goodness of God. I want help in overcoming my weaknesses. I want spiritual enlightenment of how I can be a better father and husband, and to feel the peace that comes when I know I’ve recommitted myself to the Savior.
As a universal Church, the correlation of materials and teachings is aimed at harmonizing lessons and instructions and to accommodate the tender new member with basic Gospel principals—those teachings that affect our relationships with God and fellow brothers and sisters. Thousands of virtually untrained volunteers, with varying degrees of gospel and historical knowledge and education (or lack thereof) attempt to bring the Spirit into the classroom so that class members can be spiritually edified. While some Gospel Doctrine teachers may be knowledgeable enough to share detailed historical information (Dad could have), the manuals generally give basic historical outlines that specifically relate to lessons focusing on one or more gospel principles and how to apply those principals in the lives of members. In short, Church is a place for worship, spiritual edification, and enlightenment, not for in-depth historical discussion.
That’s why I used to think that my Dad was really just pursuing fluff in his spare time. The historical, scientific, and scholarly things don’t really matter in the end. In the end, it’s about relationships. Relationships with your parents, children, and spouse; relationships with those who are in need, as well as your enemies.Most importantly, your relationship with Heavenly Father and His Son. None of the secular stuff will secure those relationships.
Having said this however, I know only too well from firsthand experience that my relationship with Heavenly Father took a hit when I began struggling with critical arguments. How ironic, right? The secular stuff cannot create those relationships, but they can hinder those relationships. Conversely, I’ve found that some secular information can strengthen those relationships by giving them an environment wherein the testimony can grow. In Matthew13 we find the parable of the sower. In that parable the seed (the Word) grew or died depending on the soil (which allowed the seed to take root or not) as well as well as if it was nurtured or killed off by thorns. So likewise with a testimony: the Word of God may or may not take root and may or not may not flourish depending on if it is nurtured or chocked off by thorns. Our relationship with the divine needs to be nurtured spiritually, and for some people intellectually. A lack of spiritual and/or intellectual nourishment can stunt or kill growth. The thorns, thistles, and weeds–––the challenges to our testimony–––can kill our spiritual growth. When these weeds appear there is a need to do some gardening and weed pulling. While some intellectual arguments can cause a testimony to wither and die, other intellectual arguments can pull those weeds and allow growth to take place.
Many years ago the Church didn’t need to discuss the difficult issues. The events happened and the Church moved on. In the context of the day, histories were written as evangelizations of movements–––political or religious. Strict accuracy was less important than retelling events in heroic fashion. This wasn’t limited to Mormons but was the typical style of most historical biographies. Subsequent histories drew upon earlier histories. The more critical details of the events weren’t so much buried under the rug as they were all but forgotten (mentioned only in scholarly literature).
For the average member, there was no need for Sunday lessons to address the fuller historical accounts–––which required greater historical understanding for context and background. This would have been a waste of valuable (and limited) time which was better utilized for perfecting the Saints. The Internet, however, has brought these issues to the forefront among new generations that aren’t always familiar with the past events or issues, and I can guarantee the Church is noticing the problem and is finding ways to address them. Policies and procedures change according to changing needs. Not every generation needs an Ark. In past times bishops didn’t need much in the way of policies on pornography–—sure there were always a few guys that read girlie magazines, but because of the pervasiveness of Internet porn new policies and procedures have been established. The Church is currently addressing many of the historical issues on the LDS.org website and we will likely see more open discussion in future Sunday School classes—not because it was purposely covered up in the past, but simply because in previous years there was no immediate need to address the issues. Now there is.
The more we (as in the World) learn, the more answers we’ll have on some things and the more questions will be raised for other things. The great thing about a living Church is we have not only the ability to receive new revelation as new questions arise, but also to receive inspiration for changing circumstances. Lastly, we Latter-day Saints don’t believe that all truth is contained within the walls of the Chapel. We acknowledge and welcome the discoveries of science and secular scholarship. While such secular findings may present temporary speed bumps or unseat erroneous traditions among the faithful (both within the Church as well as among the members of other denominations), we can welcome truth from all sources knowing with confidence that all truth ultimately comes from God.
From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith
by Michael R. Ash
Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the basic story of Joseph’s childhood leg operation, but they may not know how blessed he was to have the right doctor at the right time. The surgery performed on young Joseph was not widely known or even extensively suggested until the late 1800’s, and wasn’t standardized until after World War I.
According to the research of Dr. LeRoy Wirthlin, a Dr. Nathan Smith (no relation to Joseph) was the surgeon who performed Joseph’s operation. Dr. Smith was the only physician in the United States in 1813 who had the expertise to successfully deal with osteomyelitis, a disorder that causes long segments of the bony shaft to die and then become encased by new bone growing over the dead layer. If Joseph Smith had lived anywhere else or perhaps a few decades earlier or later, he would have lost his leg and possibly his life.
Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt. He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.
Julianne Dehlin Hatton is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.
Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.
An anonymous author* writing at the MorningStar Post blog “had an awful time putting [a] story together” on “the number of Latter Day Saints [sic] that are actually considered active,” and that Mormons are, per the title of the post, allegedly “leaving their religion in record numbers around the world.” (Link) What is the cause of this dire situation for the Church, and why was it so awful for the author to write on it? According to the article, which quotes an unnamed “high-ranking leader in Salt Lake City,” it is because “of unprecedented scrutiny of our doctrines and beliefs and stemming from the white washing of our own history, and the rise of social media sites where members and potential converts can learn of our hidden problems.”
This claim has been made before on many websites critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a common trope for critics to say that the Church is nearing extinction because of the supposedly damning real history of Mormonism it has been hiding from its unsuspecting members. Instead of revisiting these claims in general, I want to focus specifically on the content of the blog post published by the MorningStar Post. To put it bluntly, and very charitably, the article is highly problematic. The author’s use of anonymous sources is extremely questionable, and both factual errors and blatant plagiarism also plague the article. In short, the article makes totally dubious and unsubstantiated claims about both LDS Church hierarchy and Mormon history. [Read more…] about Putting Together an Awful Story
One of the challenges in defending one’s faith is coping with critics who use the “Big List” technique in their attack. This involves throwing out numerous arguments to create the impression of an overwhelming barrage that decimates the faith in question (see the related post, “If Only 10% of These Charges Are True…“). The Big List is loaded with barbed questions that weren’t written in search of a real answer. If there is a good defense to the arguments raised at first, never mind, there are many more to be launched in different directions.
As with many topics in fields like history, science, and religion, the issues raised in Big List attacks are often complex and may require exploring abundant details to answer questions properly. Even for those who are prepared to answer questions on a wide variety of topics, the time it takes to lay a foundation and properly answer a question can be taken by the instantly impatient critics as an admission of weakness and confirmation that they are right, and then it’s time to move on to the next attack and the next. If reasonable answers are promptly provided for some attacks, or if the alleged weakness on further examination actually proves to be evidence in favor of the faithful position, the response can be ignored as new attacks from the Big List are hurled out.
This doesn’t just happen in anti-Mormon attacks. Attacks on many other faiths use the same approach. Interesting, attacks on some aspects of modern science by religious fundamentalists or young earth Creationists also may rely on the Big List approach, much to the exasperation of scientists who know there are good answers to the attacks, but often may not be able to adequately deal with the barrage of questions from critics not really interested in the answers. Some scientists call the tactic the “Gish Gallop” after Duane Gish, a Creationist noted for hurling numerous brief arguments to overwhelm opponents in debates on evolution.
There’s a common tactic used by creationists, and I’ve encountered it over and over again. It’s a form of the Gish Gallop: present the wicked evolutionist with a long list of assertions, questions, and non sequiturs, and if they answer with “I don’t know” to any of them, declare victory. It’s easy. We say “I don’t know” a lot.
Jack Chick’s Big Daddy tract is a version of the creationist list, and contains a fair amount of fantasy as well. You know what they believe will happen: they’ll ask that one question that the scientist can’t answer, and then they’ll have an epiphany, a revelation, and realize that all their science is a lie, at which time they’ll resign from their university position and join a good bible-believin’ church.
It happens to me all the time, too. At one talk I gave, there was a woman at the door who had printed a 5-page, single-spaced list of questions, and she was telling everyone going in to ask me to answer them — I invited her to come in and listen to the talk and ask them herself, and she ran away. I’ve had a Canadian creationist do the same thing, and then I talked to him for several hours in the hallway after the talk. He seemed stunned and angry that I actually had answers for most of his questions. I have been confronted by people with questions (more like ignorant assertions) about biology, who once I’ve answered them and reveal that I’m a biologist, switch to asking me about geology and the Big Bang, to get me into a corner where I’d have to say, “I don’t know.”
This approach, often launched by some of the same religious folks who like to denounce The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is painfully familiar to me.
By the way, for the record, I believe in God and believe that He is the Creator, yet believe that science and religion will ultimately be compatible when properly understood. I have no problem with the earth being billions of years old and with evolutionary tools being part of God’s toolkit for preparing a planet like ours for the miraculous spectrum of life that we have here. While I disagree with the arguments used by many Creationists, as one who loves science, I definitely believe that the majesty of the cosmos and the many intricacies of life cannot be reasonably explained as mere accidents, but are evidences of a remarkably clever and artistic Creator. So while I do not share some of PZ Myers views, I can relate well to the frustration of being hit with Big List attacks from religious critics not really interested in understanding or dialog.
One of my first experiences in helping to teach the Gospel after graduating from school and taking my first job in Appleton, Wisconsin involved a young college student, a new LDS convert, who had been given volumes of anti-Mormon literature by her former pastor. She came in with a stack of books, relying especially upon a thick tome published by a popular anti-Mormon organization. She asked one pointed question after another, all of which turned out to have reasonable answers, in my opinion, that we were able to offer on the spot. We dealt with them one at a time, turning to answers from the scriptures, when appropriate, or making points based on logic or other sources of information.
After about 40 minutes of this, she grew impatient and said something like, “Look, maybe you’ve got answers for the questions I’ve raised, but there are hundreds more arguments in this book. How can the Church be true when there are so many arguments against it?”
I said that it’s easy to make arguments against anything. I reminded her of the days of early Christianity when there were numerous false witnesses against Christ, when there were paid witnesses who said that the tomb had been raided by Christians to fake the Resurrection, when all the elite religious leaders of the Jews spoke against Christ, and when the whole Roman world seemed to speak against Christ and the Christians. There were volumes and volumes of arguments against the Church back then, too. “If you were living them, how could you see past the massive arguments and recognize the divinity of the Son of God and the truth of Christianity?”
Unwilling to acknowledge the importance of a spiritual witness, she returned to her anti-Mormon books. I pointed out that while we had examined only a few of the arguments, the ones she had raised had reasonable answers, and some even demonstrated a lack of integrity on the part of the authors. Her answer surprised me: “I don’t care. Even if only 10% of that book is true, that’s enough to prove the Church is false.”
Ah, the fallacy of the Big List, a key tool in the Adversary’s arsenal. Impress them with shear volume, wear them out with endless attacks, and many will succumb, overwhelmed by the image and impression of strength.
A few years ago I received a letter from a former LDS member explaining why he and his wife were leaving the Church. In that letter, he acknowledged that there may be “excuses” to deal with each anti-Mormon argument when taken individually, but that taken together as a whole, the case against the Church is overwhelming. He then listed a barrage of arguments, mentioning DNA and the Book of Mormon, anachronisms, 4,000 changes in the Book of Mormon, racism, polygamy, the Temple and masonry, etc. — problems that each can be dealt with if one takes the time to understand the issues and examines the assumptions behind them. Even then, one must be willing to recognize that there always will be some gaps in our understanding and that no amount of evidence and study will remove the need for faith or replace the power of a witness from the Holy Ghost. But in many cases, there are answers, sometimes powerful answers that turn apparent weaknesses in the Book of Mormon, for example, into strong evidence for authenticity. Such insights do not come from a superficial glance at the text and related literature. Sadly, he became another victim of the fallacy of the Big List.
There are tough arguments, indeed. DNA and the Book of Mormon is an example of this. For a meaningful understanding of the issues, one must identify assumptions and evaluate information from a variety of perspectives. In so doing, one can come away with a better understanding of what the Book of Mormon is and what it is not. But the Adversary would have us just fold based upon a superficial examination: “Wow, there’s no obvious Jewish DNA in the Americas. End of story!”
To help those coping with Big List issues, I’ve begin compiling my own list of recommended reading for students of the LDS religion. I hope it will be helpful to some. I’m not saying that you have to read this list before you leave the Church (or join it), but if you’re willing to look at answers and evidences, it might be a great place to start.
The Gospel is true, and the Book of Mormon is a divine, authentic book of scripture, in spite of whatever mountains of books and brochures against it the enemy can mount. And Jesus is the Son of God, no matter how many false witnesses and PhD’s and celebrities take a stand against Him. It’s not about who can shout the loudest and longest, but Whose gentle voice we listen for amidst the senseless shouting of men.
*Cross posted from Mormanity.
Prior to graduating from BYU, Craig L. Foster served as a missionary in Belguim and France. Craig L. Foster earned a Bachelors degree in history and MLIS (or Masters of Library and Information Science) at BYU. He is also an accredited genealogist and works as a research consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. He has published books and articles on various aspects of Mormon History. Some of his writings on Mormon History discuss the history and theology of plural marriage within the context of Mormonism. Craig is also on the editorial board of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. Craig is the author of the article: Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past found in the Interpreter: Journal of Mormon Scripture
In this podcast Michael Ash gives examples of common Book of Mormon names such as Lehi, Nephi and Sariah that have origins from ancient sources. The name “Sam” certainly seems out of place in an ancient Israelite document. It has, in fact, been the target of criticism by various anti-Mormons through the years. It is also, however, a perfectly good Egyptian name, and is also the normal Arabic form of “Shem.”
The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.
Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.
The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.