I actually had a talk written out and I junked it this morning which may, in the event, turn out to have been unwise. But what I finally did was, the morning was spent in meetings I hadn’t anticipated, so I just barely got here, basically, and by the way I want to say I’m delighted to see the numbers of people that are here. This is really astonishing, this is a vast improvement over the very humble beginnings of the FAIR Conferences a few years ago, so I’m delighted to see this. I think it’s a very important and very useful thing.
But what I decided to do during the few free minutes I had after I got out of some meetings (my life as an academic is over now I’m a bureaucrat which means I no longer think), but I finally got some time alone and decided to scrap the other talk and to write down some notes and I titled it roughly “Random Reflections on the Passing Scene,” inspired by an occasional column that Thomas Sowell the columnist writes.
I guess when he runs out of ideas for a column he just does a bunch of random comments on things that have struck him, so I have a few things I want to say at least that came to me today.
Reflections on the Treatment of Church History
One thing, the first item, is that this has not been a good year for the Church in terms of publicity on its history. Particularly on the question of Mormonism and violence. You’re all aware of this; there’s been a lot of publicity given to certain books on Mountain Meadows and we’re not quite out of the woods on that one yet.
It’s not really that there’s any new evidence on the subject–there isn’t, apart from that very, very dubious John D. Lee piece of metal from Southern Utah. It’s that people are looking at the question again, particularly journalists, for various reasons.
Now in the secular press I never expect the Church to get very good publicity, by and large. I think that we are a very inviting target to journalists for the most part. Why? Because journalists for the most part tend to be sceptical, to the left in a number of ways, and I don’t expect religion to get a very good treatment in the secular press at all–not just Latter-day Saints.
It’s been said that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice. It’s not; we know that. There are some other acceptable prejudices out there and I would say for that matter that Evangelicals often get a bum deal in the press.
Religion as a historical phenomenon, religion when it’s ethnic and quaint, is cute and can be treated with respect and deference by the media. But religion as a seriously held belief by real Americans is profoundly disturbing to certain people, and they seem to me disproportionately represented in journalism and the media.
Beyond that journalists tend to be–and if there are any here I apologize in advance–journalists tend to be, in my experience, historically and religiously, less well-informed that they ought to be.
It reminds of the case of David Koresh at Waco, Texas, a few years ago. When he kept referring to the “seventh seal,” some of the journalists and (to their shame) some of the FBI agents on the scene thought it had to do with the animals that you see at Marine Land.
And one scholar who was there trying desperately to advise the FBI in dealing with this case at the compound in Waco, was talking with the FBI agent in charge who was demanding to know “where can I find a book to read about these seven seals?” And he said “Well, how about your motel room.” They just don’t have the background to know, appreciate, or understand the phenomenon that they’re talking about, writing about, and reporting on.
I said that journalists tend overwhelmingly to be to the political left. That’s a pretty non-debatable, unobjectionable, non-controversial finding, I think. There have been repeated surveys on that topic that make it pretty clear. I don’t know why that’s the case, but it tends to be so.
That would make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a particularly attractive target because it pushes a lot of the hot buttons of the left. It is a ‘corporate’ Church, it’s a big organization, it’s got money, it tends to be socially and politically conservative, the membership tends to be socially and politically conservative, and frankly, for a lot of journalists, hypocrisy or any kind of weakness on the right tends to interest them a lot more than blatant sinning on the left. I mean, let’s be frank about this–we all know certain senators, I don’t need to name them, but we all know that there are certain politicians who are pretty open about the way they behave.
Then there are others who preach a good line about family values and so on. It is much more gratifying for a journalist to catch a family values guys in hypocrisy than to tell the story about senator so and so and his seventeen mistresses. Right? And so, anything conservative tends to draw the attention of that sort of person who wants to do an exposÈ. If you make no pretence to moral principles on a topic, there’s not much to expose and so once again the Church, I think, and not only the LDS church, but Evangelicals, conservative Catholics… I mean, look at the zeal there is for exposing clergy misbehaviour.
Now the current Catholic scandal is a terrible one, but there are people in the media–the elite media and so on–who are taking delight in this because it reveals that people who pretend to be believing Christians really aren’t. They’re no better than the rest of us; in fact, they’re probably worse. And so, there again, a Church like ours will provide a natural target, an attractive target for people like that, it seems to me. I mean that’s just the way it is. I’m not complaining; I don’t want to be maudlin about this but we have to be frank and up front about it. We have to understand that that’s the situation.
The dominant orthodoxy in academics also tends to be somewhat left-leaning. We’ve heard stories about anti-Mormon prejudice at the University of Utah. A few years ago a Jewish professor at the University of Utah complained that that was so. I have friends who have taught there who have been told “When you retire, you will not be replaced by a Latter-day Saint. Anyone who can believe that sort of nonsense doesn’t belong on a university faculty.” Imagine that sort of thing being said to certain other religious groups; imagine it being said to Jews in New York, for example. It would be unthinkable.
But overwhelmingly, academia has certain fashionable, acceptable things that it can deal with and certain things that it can’t. Mormonism is one of those unfashionable things for a number of reasons. Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Wicca and things like that are certainly acceptable. Christian professions of faith are by and large not.
I had the opportunity a few years ago to ride back from the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature with a man who, it turned out, was the President at that point of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can imagine that was a really fun plane flight! But at one point, one of the things he said to me really struck me. He said “Now look, I was in a session at the AARSBL–the premier, the largest gathering of religion scholars (not necessarily religious scholars; there’s an important distinction), but the largest gathering of religion scholars in North America, and they said in that gathering various people who professed witchcraft got up and in effect ‘bore their testimonies’ about how important this was to them, how it has changed their lives, how they now understood and had meaning and purpose in their lives.
He said that was accepted; everyone deferred to it, treated it with respect. He said “Now what would have happened if I had stood up and said how Jesus coming into my life changed my life and gave me purpose?” Would that have been accepted at the AARSBL or would it have been seen as a kind of Christian imperialism? Something that was out of place, didn’t belong there, and should have been stifled to begin with?
I said, “Clearly, clearly it would not have been accepted.” And he said “Now why is that? Isn’t that a double standard?” Well I can’t possibly deny it, but it’s there and it’s a palpable fact, it seems to me.
So Mormonism, maybe to the disgust of our Evangelical critics, still is thrown into the same camp by people on the outside with that kind of unfashionable Evangelical religiosity. It’s something that would be better kept private, it’s not progressive, it’s not attractive, it’s narrow, it’s demeaning to minorities and women and everybody else, it’s judgemental, it’s all those bad horrible things that religion should not be, in their view.
Now the thing that has really made things different recently, it seems to me, the reason it seems to me that this recent issue of Mormonism and violence has gained such attraction is not for any of those factors that I’ve just outlined–they’ve always been there. Why is it suddenly fashionable to talk about Mormonism and violence? Why is this a topic that suddenly gained so much attention?
I think the clear difference is September 11th. Now the idea of religion and violence is very much in the news. We have seen groups like Taliban, al-Qaeda and people like that who commit–and zealously commit–planned violence in the name of religious belief, and so there are people out there, secularists in particular, who see religion as the cause of violence and this gives rise to a book like John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.
To the extent that that book, which is very well written, tells an interesting story it can be said to have an idea. The idea is that religion (not merely Mormonism, but religion in general) is a throwback; it’s an atavistic influence in society; it would be better were it to disappear. It creates suffering, it creates judgmentalism; it leads to violence.
And so Mormonism is a particularly good illustration of this, it seems to writers like that. I’m curious to see how the reviews will run on this. I’m interested to see how Evangelicals respond to the book. I’m very curious to see whether they will be drawn in by the anti-Mormon edge of the book or whether they’ll notice that the dagger is also aimed at them. I’m not sure; I think it will be an interesting test for Evangelical reviewers to see how they respond. I’m not confident of the outcome.
Let me tell you about an experience I had a few years ago. I was invited to do a Muslim/Mormon dialogue up at Idaho State in Pocatello. I had done one of these before at BYU, and it had gone quite well. The local Muslim Student’s Association had brought in a Muslim preacher, an Imam from Brooklyn; he was a really nice guy. We had a great time talking about areas of difference and commonality and we had a lot of fun. It went very well; it was very pleasant.
So a few months later when I got a call from Salt Lake inviting me to take part in this thing up at Idaho State, I thought sure–and also the invitation came from a General Authority. They had invited Elder Holland to go do it and he said no, and so I was the sacrificial animal who was being sent up for this thing.
The closer it got, the more awkward I felt about this upcoming “dialogue.” There were just some things about it that didn’t add up, and I began to feel that something was seriously wrong. When I got there I realized that it was. The room was absolutely jammed with Muslim anti-Mormon tracts. I hadn’t even known that such a thing existed. I can report to you, by the way, that they weren’t very good. They need to take a page from some of our Evangelical critics who can mount much better arguments than the ones they had. Nevertheless, it was a first step and you have to admire them for trying.
The really interesting thing about the evening was there were no Latter-day Saints there! There was a big event being planned, that had been planned for a year in Pocatello and all the Mormons were at that thing. They had me to dinner that night and said, “Well, sorry we won’t be there; none of us will be there. We’re all going to be over at this other big event and, so, have fun!”
Well so I went to this event and it was all, as far as I could tell, the audience was made up entirely of Evangelicals and Muslims, mostly Muslims but a lot of Evangelicals. I had this little sort of bloodless, harmless speech prepared on areas of commonality with Islam and where we can work together and so that sort of stuff. Well, the fellow that came in was a hired gun from Toronto–a professional Muslim debater. His topic was the deity of Christ, as in “He wasn’t.”
And he had transparencies from the King James Bible–overhead transparencies–all these sorts of things to show, and I was scrambling the whole evening. I hadn’t even thought of that avenue of attack, so I was improvising the whole night. I happen to think, modestly enough, that I did reasonably well. My wife, who is my harshest critic, thought I did reasonably well, so I’m pretty confident in that. Still, it was kind of a rapid dance and a lot of improvising that night. But the thing that really struck me about it was that the question and answer session afterwards was without virtually any exception hostile to me.
It really surprised me, because there I was defending what I take to be the cardinal doctrine of those Evangelicals who were sitting in the audience, but I was the enemy still. Even though I was defending an area of common belief between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals against the attack of an outsider, a Muslim, who rejected that belief.
And it was a lesson to me. It was a very unpleasant evening, I have to say. It was a lesson to me on how powerful the hostility is in certain quarters. It was a bit unnerving, I have to say, and so when I think about John Krakauer’s book and the reviews it’s going to get, I wonder “Will people notice that Krakauer is using Mormonism as a surrogate for all religious belief, not just the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He is saying that all religious people–Mormons simply an example of this–are prone, because of their beliefs, to judgmentalism and violence and oppression. So this will be, as I say, a test case.
This discussion is a really interesting one, when Latter-day Saints or others respond to the issues raised by John Krakauer or raised by people talking about the Taliban and al-Qaeda and religious violence. Sometimes we like to point out that, well you know, there has been non-religious violence in the 20th century–like lots and lots and lots of it. The 20th century is, bar none, the most bloody century in human history. Scores of millions of people have died largely at the hands of militant atheists or people who, if they’re not atheists, are not very far from atheists. Hitler’s religious beliefs were a little unclear, Stalin’s are very clear as are Lenin’s.
Incidentally, I should just tell you again ‡ propos of nothing, I heard a wonderful limerick the other day from my sons who claim that everyone knows this. Let me recite this to you and see if anyone else has heard this thing or am I just totally out of touch. It goes like this:
There was a great Marxist named Lenin
Who did a million men in
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
The great Marxist Stalin did ten in.
Has anyone heard that? No? Okay, good; I’m not feeling so bad.
Well anyway, you look at those ideologies and they have clearly been responsible for vast amounts of human suffering in the 20th century and we’re not through the woods yet. Not just a few, but on an industrial level, using industrial organization, massacring people by the millions in the name of largely atheistic ideologies. I do not for a moment say that atheism causes that; I’m just saying there are other things that cause mass murder besides religion.
Religion has, in fact–largely because a lot of it’s been done in pre-industrial period; no doubt some religious leaders would’ve like to have killed more than they did, but its record is, by and large, not nearly as bad as the irreligious dictators in the 20th century. Nevertheless, when that issue is raised people say “Well actually you know, Marxism, Leninism, Nazism, Fascism–these are all actually religious ideologies or quasi-religious.” So, see, we’re still guilty. Eventually we’re guilty even of the excesses of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky Pol Pot, and so on because it’s all religion.
I guess the idea is that what it should be replaced with is, oh I don’t know, something like “The Irony” favored by Richard Rorty or the sort of laid-back attitudes of a very jaded English department at an Ivy League University. That kind of secularism is the kind that we should all be striving toward. Where people are comfortable, smug, tenured and they have no really zealous ideas about anything. As one person wrote a while back in a remark that I really liked, he said “If there really is a God then I have no doubt that we can just sit down together and enjoy a fine wine and admire the sunset and so on, but there isn’t you know, and everything’s just fine.”
Well, it’s utterly unrealistic to suppose that the whole universe is going to be eventually dominated by Rorty and ironists or tenured English professors. In fact, would a world without religious faith be a better world than a world with it? I find that an extraordinarily dubious proposition.
It reminds me of a question Denis Praeger put to his fellow Jews a number of years ago. He was talking to some who were very concerned about the rise of Christian fundamentalism, that this might lead to backlash against Jews. He said “Look, imagine you’re walking in an inner city late at night, all by yourself and a group of adolescent young men is following you down the sidewalk late at night, and you’re all by yourself. It’s dark. You’re, you know…” He said, “Would it make you feel better or worse, more or less secure to know that they just come from a Bible study group?” Well I can’t imagine anyone having any doubt about that question.
For the majority of people who are not likely to slip into Ivy League English departments, leaving aside the question of truth or falsity religious faith does more good I suspect than it does harm. It’s not as spectacular in many cases. Houston Smith makes a good point. He says, “Every time something evil is done by a Christian leader or something like that, we read about it in the headlines. Meanwhile, that day religious faith has solved thousands, tens of thousands of personal questions for people. It has helped people get by the death of loved ones. It’s helped them make moral decisions. It’s contributed to the goodness of life in innumerable ways. But this will never make it into the headlines.”
What we’re seeing with this spate of books about Mormon violence, for example, one of the things that most floors me about it, is that you see in it a kind of blasÈ rejection, a waving aside, brushing aside of all of the history of Mormonism–the scholarship on Mormonism that’s been done over the past forty years, or so. A very, very blithe dismissal of the whole thing.
This is a rejection of decades of scholarship by people like B.H. Roberts (I just made a list of them), Leonard Arrington, Davis Bitton, Jim Allen, Tom Alexander, Stan Kimball, Richard Anderson, Milton Backman, Richard Bennett, Sterling Ellsworth, Dean May, Richard Bushman, T. Edgar Lyon, Gene Sessions; it goes on and on. Even some non-Latter-day Saint scholars: Jan Shipps, Mario DePillis, Larry Foster. What is being said by a lot of these books and by a lot of Evangelical writing on the subject of Mormon history (and I think of one particular example) which basically says until now we have not had an honest history of Mormonism; what we’ve had is a Church cover-up.
That is to say that the work of very professional, competent historians over the past several decades is simply “junk,” by and large–a judgment that I find perfectly astonishing in its arrogance and also in many cases in its ignorance, because you look in the footnotes of the books that are making such judgments and they haven’t read the literature. They’re not familiar with it. Maybe some of you have seen the bibliography that came out a while ago edited by Jim Allen, David Whittaker, Ron Walker… Big thick thing, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, thousands of listings of articles, books and other materials on Mormon history. Yet this is simply shunned to the side.
Will Bagley has gone so far now as to reject the forthcoming work on the Mountain Meadows Massacre by Ron Walker, Rick Turley and Glenn Leonard–in advance! He doesn’t need to see it or read it; he simply says it’s going to be full of lies. I’ve got him on tape saying things like this, because we all know in advance these people are mercenary religious hacks. They are paid lock, stock and barrel by the LDS church; they are not honest. See, I don’t really need to read it to form a judgment about it. This is, again, outrageous. It’s ad hominem in the worst possible sense of that logical fallacy.
I’m sensitive to this sort of this because this is a common attack on FARMS and on me. I’ve heard it many, many times: You’re really in it for the money! Oh don’t I wish!
I remember a few years ago I was on a radio program in Salt Lake City and somebody called in. We were talking about Mormonism and this fellow called in on this call-in radio program and said basically, “You’re in it for the money; you just do it because you get paid, you’re a hack!”; that sort of thing. And I said, “You know, I’m not even getting my gas reimbursed for coming up to Salt Lake for this radio program.” To which his response was “You’re a liar,” and he hung up the phone. Which is, you know, a pretty cogent response–I was just totally defeated by that!
Well, anyway, I don’t need to say more about that. I’m just saying it strikes me as incredibly arrogant to brush aside particularly Mormon historical writing on the grounds that it’s all dishonest, that it’s all part of a cover-up, that there’s nothing legitimate that’s been done. This, in many cases, represents historical work done by people with the finest training, impeccable professional credentials and the dismissals are being issued by people who don’t have any credentials at all.
Now what has struck me about this partly, is why has there been no howl of protest from the Mormon historical community about this. Here’s the interesting answer–I’m kind of disappointed; I’ve been waiting for the howl of protest. There hasn’t been one; I’m trying to kick them and prod them into howling, but it’s really hard work because they don’t. Because, in fact, they are not very polemical; they don’t care, they don’t read this stuff!
They don’t know in many cases what’s going on, what’s being said about them. They are not there responding to every criticism of the Church; they’re not even listening. They’re just doing what scholars particularly of the dry-as-dust variety do, which is to just hide out. I’m not attacking them; many of my best friends are Mormon historians! (They’ll kill me if they ever hear about this.They’ll never read it? Good!)
Frankly, they don’t pay much attention to the back and forth of polemics and so they are not there. They don’t see themselves as apologists for the LDS church. They see themselves simply as doing professional academic history. So they’re not going to listen to the attacks; they’re not going to respond to the attacks; they’re not going to pay attention to them. It’s just firebrands like me who try to provoke them into something, to see if I can get them mad enough to do something about it. But it’s very, very hard work to do.
I think that, in itself, is a kind of refutation of the idea that these are people who are “constantly out there defending the Church,” lying on behalf of the Church–they’re not even listening to this kind of criticism, which for most of them is very low-level background noise. They don’t even want it; they don’t even care.
The Grant Palmer book recently out, The Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, illustrates this, too. He claims to be representing what all Mormon historians really know but are not honest enough to say. You know–that it was all subjective, there were no plates, the witnesses were hallucinating, they were inclined to visions and second-sight and all that sort of thing, so it can’t be taken as literal physical stuff.
This is not what all historians know. I have that on good authority from a number of historians who, when I tell them this, actually do show just a sign of emotion about this issue.
Reflections on DNA and the Book of Mormon
We’ve also gotten a lot of negative publicity recently about AmerIndian DNA. I have to say that some of the people who have been involved in this have, in my view, played the media like a violin, and I have to kind of admire that. It’s one thing to hear this sort of thing from the secularists; I think that their case is scientifically flawed and exegetically flawed, but leave that for another time. It’s another thing to hear that coming from Evangelical Protestants. I get kind of a kick out of it: Living Hope Ministries, up in Brigham City, or Bill McKeever, down in El Cajon, or Jim Spencer, up in Boise or wherever he is, I would imagine that most of those people believe–certainly most of their followers and those who trust them believe–that the whole shebang began around 4,004 B.C. or something like that.
Now if you’re going to use DNA as a weapon against the Latter-day Saints, because it proves that Indian migrations came tens of thousands of years before the present era, intellectual honesty demands that you let the other shoe drop. And yet you won’t find much of it out there–intellectual honesty–it seems to me, in the kind of propaganda that I’m seeing on these issues. DNA is a double-edged sword, and I’m wondering if anyone realizes it out there.
Now a word about DNA as a ‘Galileo event.’ That phrase has been commonly bandied about. I rather like it; I think it’s probably true. The DNA issue related to Book of Mormon populations is a Galileo event in a very real sense, but you have to understand what the original Galileo event was.
What did Galileo say? What was it he was talking about? His astronomical views disagreed with certain views held by the Roman Catholic Church at a particular time; at his particular time. And what was it that they held to? They held to a kind of Aristotelian cum Ptolemaic view of the universe: Geocentric, you know, the pre-Copernican view of the universe.
Was this essential to Christianity? No. Was it even Christian? No. It was pre-Christian, it was external to the Church. It was an idea that people in the Church had accepted because they thought it was mandated by their scriptures. To the extent that Galileo accomplished anything, he didn’t invalidate the idea of the resurrection of Christ from the dead, he didn’t destroy the idea of divine providence or anything like that. He managed to show that a certain scientific idea accepted uncritically by the Christian community at the time actually didn’t belong to Christianity. It was not true and it was not intrinsic; it was extrinsic to Christianity, and you could get rid of it. Eventually people realized, and you’d still be a Christian because it had nothing to do with being Christian.
I think if studies of AmerIndian DNA do anything for us, they’re likely to render somewhat the same service. They may well show us that certain folk notions about Book of Mormon populations are not true. That’s fine. I’m perfectly willing to accept that; I think that’s great. These are views I’ve already held, and it’s nice to be vindicated by DNA. I’ve already held these views for years, anyway, before the DNA became an issue. So to the extent that DNA knocks out the views of people who disagree with me, I’m not sad at all!
All right, enough on that topic. Why does this whole thing matter? Why does the question of the truth or falsity of Mormonism (or of theism in general)–that’s really what I want to talk about here–matter?
I was struck by a story that I ran across a few months ago about W.H. Auden, the great Anglo-American poet who at one point was sitting in a theatre in the late 30s in New York somewhere and they were showing a newsreel. Some of you may remember the old newsreels that used to be shown in conjunction with movies. I don’t, but some of you may!
Anyway, it was showing the riots and the killing, the destruction of Jewish shops in Germany and so on and Auden was in a German section of New York–there was one then–and all around him German-Americans were cheering at the destruction of Jewish shops and obvious brutality toward Jews; this was before World War II began. He was appalled, but then he began thinking about something. He had rejected all religious belief long before, and he wondered why he was appalled, and he couldn’t really find an objective basis for his feeling disgust at this, and he began to wonder how could he possibly even really object? If the universe was just a random assemblage of atoms in motion and the void, what was wrong with it? And that began his path back into Christianity. I think that’s one reason why theism matters–because without it, I find it very difficult to make sense of a universe where things really do seem to be good or bad.
The other more important point is the pointlessness of life in a universe that is not theistic. This is a desperately important issue. It won’t do to say, as one acquaintance of mine said recently in something I was reading (this person’s name you’d instantly recognize, a very prominent ex-Mormon atheist), who said “Well, you know, we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all biodegradable.” I don’t know; I don’t take much comfort in that.
Let me make this very personal: My father died about a month ago. For the five years preceding his death he was in desperately bad health, not in fundamental ways, but he was blind. He went blind in a sudden, very unexpected stroke–possibly malpractice; who knows–but at that age there’s not much you can do about it. He couldn’t see; he couldn’t do any of the things that he’d long wanted to do. His last five years were pretty unpleasant, and he was frustrated. Gradually his mind began to go, but it didn’t go so badly that he didn’t know that it was going. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t work in his garden, he couldn’t watch television, he couldn’t do any of the things he wanted to do.
There was nothing I could offer him in comfort apart from the comfort of the gospel. There was nothing for him to look forward to; it was never going to get better. There would be no miraculous cure, all he could look forward to was continued decay and death and that’s it, period. Finally, when he did die, it was a deliverance, from my point of view and certainly from his.
But I think of other cases. There’s a young woman in my ward in her early thirties who has been suffering from multiple sclerosis. It will never get better for her; she has nothing to look forward to. What can I offer her? I can’t say, “Well, take comfort in the fact that you’re biodegradable.” You know, “just enjoy your good life, you have a wonderful life, it’s fulfilling.” I hear this from people. This life is fulfilling enough, we don’t need another one.
Those people are speaking, it seems to me, as the lucky elite children of fate. They have what most of humanity has never had. They have wonderful lives. They’re wealthy, they’re comfortable, they’re healthy (at least now) in their lives; they have nothing to worry about. Later on when they’re sick with a terminal illness, we’ll see, but for most of humanity this issue of whether there is a purpose, whether there is a life after death is not merely an intellectual exercise; it’s not merely a matter of curiosity. Without it their lives mean nothing.
You look at the populations of Africa, the populations of many areas of the world; Southeast Asia, bent over a rice paddy all day long, in Egypt the fellahin that I know and respect a great deal who work everyday of the week, all day everyday, from sunup until sunset. There is no fulfillment in this life really, not much; and when their children die, two-thirds of them before the age of five, there’s not much to be said to them unless it’s religious.
You can’t say, “Take comfort in the fine sunset;” they’re bent over their fields. You can’t say, “Enjoy the gift of fine music;” they don’t have any. They don’t have anything like this. This is a western elite, it seems to me, that says this and it may be true for them, maybe; it’s not true for the majority of mankind.
So I guess one little note I want to sound for people who are here at a conference on apologetics. There’s a real tendency, especially among testosterone-driven males, to take this as just “It’s a competition, you can score points;” you know “you can win on this;” gratify your ego by defeating somebody on that point or something. But that’s not what it’s really about; resist that temptation. These issues are vastly important, intrinsically. Not just because you’re on one team or another.
Why are apologetics needed? Because the issues are so important. I’ve heard it said “Well if these things are true, if Mormonism is true, why do they need apologists? Why do they need people to defend them?” It’s no discredit to any position that it needs people to argue on its behalf. Every position can be traduced, falsified, argued against, it doesn’t mean that it’s true or that it’s false but if you believe it’s true and you believe it’s really important, as I do, then it’s worth defending.
Am I in it for the money? Again, I really wish. Why am in it? Well, I’m fascinated by anti-Mormons; I admit that. I find them a curious breed in many cases. There are some that are just spell-binding to me, and I say (this is not entirely unserious) that it’s my own little self-education course in social psychology: To watch some of the things that go on. Some are very sincere, some it seems to me are not, and I enjoy watching them.
The real reason I’m in it? It’s not because I work for BYU. I’ve been told over and over again in my career at BYU, “Don’t do this! Don’t do apologetics, concentrate on Islamic stuff. Do Arabic.” Well I do, and I hope at this point I’ve done enough they can leave me alone. But I’ve never been ordered to do it. I’ve been told not to do it. I’ve been advised at various points in my career, “Stay away from it,” but I can’t, and it’s just something I feel the obligation to do and, I might say, its something (believe it or not) that my patriarchal blessing foretold. I never met the guy before that blessing and never talked with him afterwards. I was absolutely astonished by it. I’m not doing it because of that, I just find it’s amazing that it actually has worked out the way he said it would.
Evangelical anti-Mormonism is interesting, at least it once was for me. It’s become less interesting with the passing years because I find myself, in my view, reviewing the same book over and over and over and over again.
Secular or agnostic or atheistic anti-Mormonism is more intellectually interesting to me, and I suppose a more real challenge. There are more serious arguments on that side.
Why do I believe it’s true? There are a number of reasons: intellectual as well as spiritual. I won’t go into the spiritual ones. I believe that the evidence for intelligent design of the universe is pretty good. I believe the evidence–historical evidence–for the resurrection of Christ is pretty impressive. And I believe that the evidence for Mormonism is pretty good on a lot of fronts. Beyond that, I believe it’s the most important message that anybody can hear or that anyone can know and I bear you my testimony that it’s true, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.