Missionaries knocked on my door, and I was not saved

Last night, two Mormon missionaries knocked on my door, and I talked to them for about half an hour.

How depressing.

Their take-home message: read their book. It’s really good. And if you listen with an open heart, God will tell you whether it is true or not. That’s how they became Mormons, and that’s how I can become one as well.

Unfortunately, at UCLA in April, I got the same message from a Muslim-born Pakistani: read my book. It’s really good. . . .

So how, I wonder, could I possibly decide between the Pakistani and my new Mormon acquaintances—and at the same time know that I had picked correctly?

Hmm.

Anyway, my retort to the two 20-something Mormon missionaries was not by way of recounting to them my encounter with a Muslim who had told me the same thing. Instead, I took a different tack. I asked them about something that I’m quite sure neither of them had been quizzed about before.

I brought up the Holocaust.

To discover God’s existence, what if I exposed myself with an open heart to a very different experience? Instead of reading the Book of Mormon, what if I went on a tour of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and, after exposing myself to these places, I came away quite convinced that God does not exist? Would that, I asked, be a valid method for arriving at an intuitive and visceral certainty concerning the question—something I could then base my life upon?

At first, both missionaries seemed genuinely stumped, then one said this:

Actually, I used to read diaries of the Holocaust. And I noticed that people could still go through the Holocaust and continue to believe in God.

In response, I said:

So what you’re saying to me is that no amount of reality testing can undermine your faith; in other words, there is nothing that can happen in the world that could falsify what you believe?

And both of them agreed that is correct.

By this point I was bewildered, and couldn’t help but ask them a simple follow-up question:

Do you ever doubt your faith?

To which they both replied, “No.”

Now, as an agnostic, I doubt things all the time. I don’t know what it would be like to experience a life, especially surrounding so opaque a topic as God’s existence, free of doubt. But they said that they never really doubt the truth of their religion, and I take them at their word. But I also wanted to see if I could get them to doubt their faith (at least a bit). I thus asked them to tell me the story of how the Book of Mormon came to exist in the first place (which I already knew). They dutifully told me about Joseph Smith, and how, in the 1820s, an angel had directed him to buried golden plates with Egyptian hieroglyphs on them. Joseph Smith translated these into English.

My response:

Then, of course, Joseph Smith surely must have been very careful to preserve these golden plates as evidence of the truth of his new religion, and to this day they must be kept in a very special place inside your chief temple in Salt Lake City, yes?

But the answer—surprise!—was no.

Alas, I was informed by the two innocents at my door that, in fact, the plates were taken back to heaven. The missionaries seemed genuinely embarrassed, even ashamed, to have to tell me this, but—seeing my incredulity and boldly meeting it—they put on a brave face and insisted that, yes, nevertheless they still believed, even absent so crucial a piece of minimal confirmatory evidence.

“But where,” I asked, “did Joseph Smith learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphics?”

“Joseph Smith,” they informed me, “only received a fifth grade education. He couldn’t read hieroglyphics. But he was humble, and God chose him for the task, performing a miracle through him.”

“But why,” I asked, “if God needed no help from Joseph Smith in translating the golden plates, did he not simply give Joseph Smith an English translation of them straight-off?”

“You mean,” asked one of them, “why didn’t the angel Moroni just leave a copy of the Book of Mormon on the ground in front of Joseph Smith, and be done with it?”

“Yes,” I said. “If you are going to believe in miracles, all bets are off. Anything is possible. And so, if you require a miracle to get the Book of Mormon into the world, then why not just flash it into existence out of nothing? Why take the long way around through Joseph Smith?”

That seemed absurd to them, nearly laughable! Of course, God would not do it that way! He picks (male) prophets  to speak through. That’s just the way God does things.

And so, alas, we went around: I, the skeptic; they, the earnest believers with an inner religious experience accompanied by appeals to authority that trump all reason. Their lithe (and unironic) responses were a reminder to me of just how nimble and impervious religion can be to critical thinking and requests for evidence, and how readily attuned it is to ad hoc  rationalization.

I think that Dostoevsky, via his Grand Inquisitor, was right. Human beings really are slavish animals. And when push comes to shove, faith in one’s private gnostic experience—not empirical doubt—is religion’s chief virtue, and the Joker in the deck to which, when one plays it, everyone else is expected to stop all additional reasoning and say:

I respect your faith, and what you surrender your freedom to. I don’t share your faith, but I admire how you have arrived at your truth—by listening to your heart. That’s, ultimately, how I have arrived at what I believe as well.

Critical thinking and evidence, in other words, be damned. It is Abraham, hearing God’s call, and resisting all appeals to reason and common sense, walking Isaac up Mount Moriah.

Ah, America! Ah, humanity!

The traditional site of the original Mount Moriah, of course, is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but here’s an image from another Mount Moriah (in South Dakota, from 1888, overlooking Deadwood):

Deadwood From Mt. Moriah, 1888

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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35 Responses to Missionaries knocked on my door, and I was not saved

  1. Your demand for proof in the existence of God will always come up empty as will your attempts to deny His existence.Because God is the ultimate paradox He can be neither proved or disproved yet nevertheless His existence may be true. In fact the most compelling reason to believe in the existence of God is that there is no evidence to the contrary. A cursory examination of the doctrine of election would help you to understand why some people so readily believe and others don’t.

    • santitafarella says:

      Donnieshortpants:

      Well, yes. By saying that some are elected and others aren’t, you’re saying that access to God is not verifiable by public means (as, for example, scientific knowledge is), but hides in the heart.

      That’s convenient, isn’t it?

      And what you’ve said about God can also be said of UFOs. Reread what you wrote with “UFOS” at each place you put the word “God” and you’ll find that the arguments you’ve made for God’s existence are the same ones that UFO believers make for the existence of UFOs and alien abductions.

      Here’s some more thoughts on these parallels:

      https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/blogging-ufos-yikes-i-see-lots-of-parallels-between-god-belief-and-ufo-belief/

      —Santi

      • The problem is that the idea of the Biblical God defies the rational secular mindset. Some it would seem are more readily able to transcend this rational mindset and make a “leap of faith” as it were. In Existentialism one attempts to find meaning in an existence absent of God. This also requires a “leap of faith”. So in some way I think you can conclude that faith in some form is the passion of most, if not all human beings. Even J.P.Sartre has said that “Life ceases to have any meaning the moment that the illusion of being eternal departs from us”. Observe the Human propensity to devise and engage in endless diversions and pastimes in order to abate the anxiety and despair involved with the inability to come to existential terms with the realization of their own mortality. Kierkegaard said that “Individuals live in a continual state of underlying anxiety until they are able to make some kind of leap of faith into the irrational”. So being as all belief systems are irrational and paradoxical in as much as they can neither be rationally proven or explained. Nor can they be unproven and therefore may well be true. The individual, in his anxiety, is propelled toward making a choice. When you examine all the choices out there, Christianity does not come off as being the most unreasonable. The idea of making no choice (believing nothing) leaves the individual stranded in their discomfort and anxiety. Two books I would recommend reading: Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard and How then Shall We Live by Francis Schaeffer.

      • santitafarella says:

        Donnie:

        I really don’t quarrel with your version of the consequences of atheism (existentially). That’s certainly one reasonable way to look at the situation. I’m just reluctant to engage in what I regard as deluded or wishful thinking solely because the consequences of not believing in God appear to be bad.

        You are arguing, in other words, from the consequent without really offering any positive good reasons for believing your proposition (that God exists).

        —Santi

  2. Seth R. says:

    donnie, a cursory examination of the doctrine of election would quickly demonstrate to a person that frankly, it doesn’t make one bit of difference whether you believe in God or not.

    After all, God has all predetermined it anyway. So what on earth is the point?

    • No, I guess in your context it doesn’t matter whether one believes in God or not. However, there must be some reason that some individuals, who are not all unintelligent, tend to believe more readily than others. I simply point out the doctrine of election as providing an answer. Granted one must be a believer to accept it as such. Beyond that I have yet to hear an explanation that has any more veracity.

  3. They are trained rather like salesmen to have answers for all questions.

    Good on you for your patience, I can’t be bothered ‘tho I’m always polite. While many religions can be characterised as “stupid”, I think Mormonism is one of the MOST stupid. Perhaps rivalled by Scientology.

    Also, I think anyone who NEVER doubts their religion isn’t actually thinking hard enough about it. There’s some (christian) writers who suggest that doubt is actually part of faith.

    Certainly I had doubts when I was a believer sometimes. Some atheists sometimes have doubts about their worldview. Doubt is healthy. Unreasoning acceptance possibly leads to things like Auschwitz (viz the Nazi dogma).

    Sorry, I’m rambling. Good post, as usual. 🙂

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia.

    • santitafarella says:

      Spritzo:

      I have no quarrel with religious people who believe something, but live on the cross of doubt with their eyes wide open.

      That, unfortunately, represents a minority of believers.

      I also think, of course, that there are atheists who are comfy and closed off as well.

      Bertrand Russell once said that most people would rather die than think, and many arrive at their deaths having succeeded at living their whole lives in just this way.

      And I was thinking about this Russell quote in the light of my two missionary acquaintances. People can believe in very strange things, and live in a very eccentric space, and somehow manage to never, in their whole lives, ever be disillusioned out of it. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It’s a requirement of a free society. People have to have the right to not orient their lives to truth, or objective facts, or science as broadly conceived, or as intellectuals understand what “sensible” is. It goes back to that Twilight Zone episode of dolls in a barrel: where are they? What shall they do with their lives? How important is it that they orient their lives toward the objective truth (instead of living in their imaginations)?

      —Santi

  4. andrewclunn says:

    Not to take the Mormon’s side on this, but if we assume a negative in all things unprovable, then what can we believe in?

  5. shematwater says:

    Just thought I would answer a question asked of these two missionaries.

    God did not simply “poof” the Book of Mormon into existance because that would not be best for us. Joseph Smith needed the experience of translating, and all the trials and blessings that came with it, in order to be able to effectively lead the church. He had to be tried to prove his worthiness to fill that position.
    We do not have the Gold Plates because our faith needs to be tried. A person who only believes what they can prove through mortal means believes in very little, yet faith is the power that all things are governed by.

    Have a happy day.

  6. Seth R. says:

    I should point out that the LDS Church having the actual plates wouldn’t make any difference – even if all the experts in the world examined them and concluded that Joseph Smith made a true translation.

    Why do I say this?

    Because it has nothing to do with the idea of worship. Let’s just pretend for a moment that Joseph really did see some sort of supernatural being, really did find a book of gold plates, and really did translate them correctly by miraculous looking aid.

    So what? What does this prove?

    Does this mean that you’re going to suddenly have a relationship with the God described in the Book of Mormon, that you’re going to start worshiping him?

    I would hope you’re not that easy to buy-off. I would hope that you have enough backbone that a mere miracle isn’t enough to make you obediently fall into line and worship the Mormon God. And I say this as a believing Mormon.

    The plates would do little to actually foster a true relationship of love and worship with God, unless they were accompanied by other feelings and needs internal to you and separate from the phenomena of the plates themselves. They would actually just be in the way.

    Furthermore, I would point out that merely proving the existence of God himself is not all that pertinent to the question of faith and worship. Merely proving a being exists does NOT automatically get you to the point of worship. A lot of atheists talk like they’re the same thing, but they’re completely different.

    • santitafarella says:

      Seth R:

      Yes, but throw us atheists and agnostics a bone here. You deny that evidence matters all that much, but at least you could concede that evidence at least matters a little bit (and then offer some).

      Outside of religion, people don’t tend to make a virtue of believing things absent at least some reasonable evidence.

      And rediscovering the plates, and finding contemporary Egyptologists confirming Joseph Smith’s translation of them, would be an enormous apologetic coup for Mormonism. Who are you trying to kid? It would be the first thing out of every missionary’s mouth after you opened the door.

      —Santi

      • Seth R. says:

        Maybe so. But I think that would be a mistake. And the point is that even then, they would merely be throwing it out to get people off our backs so that a further point can be made. If such an event were to occur, even the shallowest missionaries would still realize that it’s not enough by itself.

        I’ve always said that one of the functions of apologetics is helping people not feel stupid for holding beliefs that they hold for entirely different reasons.

      • shematwater says:

        Personally, and I know it has already been said and you have all the arguments against it, but the accuracy of the Book of Mormon describing ancient America is sufficiant evidence for me.

        It was said that at the time Joseph Smith published around forty things were called mistakes that proved it wrong (like horses, and the wheel). Yet, today, after nearly two-hundreds years of archeological evidence, there is only about ten left unconfirmed as perfectly accurate. So, Joseph either had access to Ancient American history that no one else has ever had, or he did a good job at guessing. Me, I like the third option, that he did have the visions and miracles he claims.

        Just saying. There is actual evidence that is sufficient.

      • santitafarella says:

        Seth R:

        Your response is fascinating to me. Whatever else apologetic moves are, they are at least attempts at offering reasons for believing something. If I make the claim that there is life on Mars, and yet I offer no evidence or good reasons—inductive, deductive, or analogical—for the claim, what is a person left to do on hearing my claim?

        Shrug?

        Pray about it?

        You seem to be implying (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that your hermetic cultural group, swirling in its bubble of rectitude and catching whoever happens—for utterly contingent and random reasons—to convert, is sufficient for your purposes.

        I guess McDonald’s thinks the same way about advertising: whatever gets a customer through the door is fine with us.

        But my question for you is this: why would you give yourself over to a group—any group—in which its defining characteristic is an inability to intelligibly communicate the rationale of the group to outsiders?

        Do you agree that the Mormon Church has no physical evidence for Joseph Smith’s founding claim (in the same way that Jews don’t have the Ten Commandments and Christians don’t know where the empty tomb is)?

        Why is it a virtue to believe something—and base your life on something—absent evidence?

        —Santi

      • shematwater says:

        SANTI

        I did point out some proof in a previous post. However, going to logic, I have heard nothing more logical than the doctrine of the LDS church. I have heard many arguments against it, as well as many for other religions and theological ideas. None of them make as much sense as the LDS doctrine does.
        Now, as to convincing those who require evidence, as Seth said, even if we had it it would do very little good. Few people will accept the truth of the church with evidence who would not except it without evidence. As the saying goes, you see what you believe.
        I have shown people the archeological evidence that supports the Book of Mormon’s accuracy, but they still cling to the idea that it isn’t. An example is swords. The natives of America didn’t have swords. But they did have the Macuahuitl, which was refered to by the Spanish as a sword. But few people who claim this “sword error” in the Book of Mormon are willing to admit that Joseph Smith was accurate in his translation.
        These are the reasons we don’t really care about actual evidence. The evidence is there to be found, but is denied by many, so what would be the point in more?

  7. andrewclunn says:

    I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of atheists. Assuming that the Christian God does exist, then why might I not attribute an extraordinary event to Satan? This is not an argument that escapes most non-believers.

  8. Seth R. says:

    Andrew, I completely agree with the gist of that.

    And not even necessarily Satan. What if aliens came down and performed miracles (like that one episode of Star Trek Next Gen)? So they have powers and stuff… is that any reason to worship them?

    My only point was that mere proof of existence is not enough to get you from point A to point B. In this case, point B being a loving worshipful relationship.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Sort of a:

      Vadar: “Luke, I am your father>”

      Luke: “Well, okay, but you’re still a jerk.”

      … kind of scenario.

      I mean we all do (with the exceptions of the true nihilists) believe in some sort of higher calling. Secular thinkers that claim to strive for the truth with no reservations are still chasing after some ideal. Perhaps the question of, “What god(s) would you worship?” is more important than, “Do those god(s) exist?”

      • santitafarella says:

        Andrew:

        I think you hit it on the head. Nietzsche and Mill both asserted that God’s existence was irrelevent because, even if he existed, he is not WORTHY of worship. For Nietzsche it was because of the herd morality that undermined life; for Mill it was because of the grotesque doctrine of hell. You don’t worship anti-life, anti-human monsters.

        —Santi

  9. Seth R. says:

    Which brings us to wonder whether either was truly attacking God, or merely a distorted popular VIEW of God.

    • santitafarella says:

      Seth:

      Then what is God really like, and how do you KNOW?

      And I would ask you whether you’ve read Nietzsche before. Or Mill.

      Have you?

      And if you say no, why not? The missionaries at my door this weekend implied that it was a moral failure on the part of humanity not to take the initiative to read the Book of Mormon and think and pray about its truth. But if this is the case, doesn’t it follow that there are a lot of books that, left unread in one’s lifetime, constitute a breach of epistemic duty to consider all sides before drawing a firm conclusion?

      Have you, for example, read Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion?

      —Santi

  10. Seth R. says:

    I don’t have much use for the “New Atheists” to be honest. They’re mostly showboaters, and every bit as black-and-white fundamentalist mentality as the Christian and Muslim fundamentalists they like to throw rocks at.

    I actually like what little I’ve read of Nietzsche very much. Currently I’ve got Twilight of the Idols loaded onto my iPod and I’m trying to work my way through it. I respect the work he did quite a bit actually. One of my favorite quotes from him:

    “Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators, the creator seeks — those who write new values on new tablets. Companions, the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest. … Fellow creators, Zarathustra seeks, fellow harvesters and fellow celebrants: what are herds and shepherds and corpses to him?”

    Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

    Which actually has always seemed to me to be a quote that really captured the essence of the Mormon God – as opposed to the traditional Christian God (though I’m quite aware Nietzsche in no way intended the quote that way).

    Mormonism posits a God who seeks peers and companions rather than slavish worshipers for the sole purpose of reflecting back his own image at himself. The apex of Mormon theology posits a union with God – men and women becoming Gods – via loving perfect unification with God the Father. This happens only via free agency, so Mormonism heavily draws on the “free will defense” to the problem of evil.

    But we do it a bit differently than Protestants. Unlike them – we reject the notion of creation ex nihilo. We do not believe that God “created” anything out of nothing. God “creates” in the same sense that a painter creates a painting. Not out of nothing – but out of something else.

    We believe that human sentience and consciousness is eternal. We don’t offer a lot of specifics on the subject, but we believe that we have always existed. Therefore, God is our Father more in the sense of free adoption rather than because we sprang out of him.

    This has big implications for the problem of evil. In my mind there is no coherent way for a Protestant to argue that God is not directly responsible for the evil in the universe when they believe that everything in the universe sprang from him ex nihilo. Mormonism doesn’t have this problem at all. Our only challenge is to explain why God does not intervene – at which point the free will defense actually becomes much more viable for us than it is for our Protestant, Catholic and Muslim neighbors.

    I could go on, but at this point, I would simply note that atheism has largely overlooked Mormon theology. It has not really understood it, nor wrestled with it. Most atheists assume that we are simply Christians who have kooky stuff like weird underwear and lots of wives (or backward ideas – like the whole Prop 8 thing in California). So to them, addressing Mormon theology is no more complicated than offering up the usual arguments used against Christians, with the added bonus of being able to mock the general kookiness of Mormons in general.

    But this thinking shows little grasp of what Mormonism means. The theological points I made above are very crucial to understanding the difference between us and the rest of Christianity. It shifts the entire debate. The same arguments that work on Christians are simply not as applicable to Mormons.

    Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennet seem to be mostly aimed at Christians and Muslims in their arguments. When they take notice of Mormons at all – it’s usually just to issue a careless one-liner about Joseph Smith being a “con man” or “pedophile” or something like that. Mormon theology is almost never taken seriously by world atheism in general – and frankly, I doubt Hitchens or Dawkins are really equipped to address it responsibly anyway.

    Eventually, I suppose I’m going to have to hold my nose and wade through “The God Delusion” or “god is Not Great” – for no other reason than so many other people hold them as a point of reference. But honestly, I’m not looking forward to it. From the debates I’ve listened to of Hitchens and Dawkins – they strike me as rather shallow and tiresome.

    But no, I’ve not read their books yet. I’m much more enthused about Nietzsche at the moment.

    • santitafarella says:

      Seth,

      Your response is by far the most interesting and thoughtful defense of Mormonism that I’ve ever heard. Since I (personally) salivate to Nietzsche, I find your answer especially provacative: might Mormonism, in some sense, be a religious version of Nietzschean overgoing?

      Hmm.

      I think that, ultimately, Mormonism may bring closer to its conscious surface its creative “constructedness” than a lot of other religions—and to this extent it may indeed be something that atheists and postmodernists may find stimulating to reflect on.

      Would you regard the intellecual Mormon as an ironist (in the Rorty sense)?

      My only caution is to know where an imaginative system starts and stops. When does a poem become a religion? When does an analogy for an inner state become a literalism?

      —Santi

  11. Seth R. says:

    To answer your question above:

    No, I am not saying that evidence doesn’t matter when signing up for Mormonism. It most certainly does.

    I was merely stating that a certain CATEGORY of evidence is not as important, or crucial as many atheists have generally assumed it is.

    God can be proved to exist to individuals. I have fellow Mormons who claim to have had supernatural and divine encounters that make them absolutely certain of God’s existence. For them, it is no longer a question.

    Now, you are not them. And as such, you will, no doubt be skeptical of the validity of their experiences – blame it on hallucination, the psyche, or indigestion maybe. But the truth is, there is no way for you to competently judge the personal force and validity of those experiences for those people without you actually BEING those people.

    So – this is evidence. Just not the kind of evidence that forces agreement in Internet debates – which is why I generally don’t bother invoking them online. My own personal spiritual experiences are ultimately not meant for convincing you – just me.

    But they certainly are “evidence.”

    Shem mentioned other evidences that he finds compelling. And so do I – but I also recognize that they aren’t really sufficient to convince people in a public debate setting.

    For instance, Mormon scholars have done a lot of work tracing the likely path of Lehi’s party through Arabia in the first bit of the Book of Mormon. And they found the locational, temporal, and other details of Nephi’s account consistent with ancient Arabian trade routes. They even found a place name “Nahom” in Arabia that is also in the Book of Mormon – right in about the place Nephi said it was – a place name Joseph Smith was unlikely to have been able to concoct on his own.

    That’s just an example I thought I’d throw out. I don’t really expect this to be compelling to you – but it is to me. And there are plenty others like it.

    If you want some more examples, Mormon sci-fi author Orson Scott Card wrote an article about why he finds the Book of Mormon compelling that you might find interesting:

    http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-bookofmormon.html

    Or not. But it is evidence. Maybe not definitive showstopping evidence – but not trivial either.

    Finally, there is the evidence of how well the Book of Mormon equips us morally and philosophically for approaching the world and living in it. In my case, it has done very well by me. So I feel confident in the book.

    This is basically the argument from utility. And atheists have countered this argument as well. But it remains “evidence.” It’s not stuff you can just ignore.

    Anyway, that’s a bit of why I believe I am acting from evidence. Just not the KIND of evidence I think we were talking about earlier.

    • santitafarella says:

      Seth:

      You wrote: “I have fellow Mormons who claim to have had supernatural and divine encounters that make them absolutely certain of God’s existence. For them, it is no longer a question.”

      What if we trope, in your sentence, the word “UFO believers” for Mormons, “UFOs” for God, and “alien abductions” for “supernatural encounters”?:

      “I have fellow UFO believers who claim to have had alien abductions that make them absolutely certain of UFOs existence. For them, it is no longer a question.”

      In other words, isn’t the argument you are making strikingly similar to that made by people hermetically sealed within a UFO cult?

      Secondly, I’ll look at your link (I have not as yet), but it is important (in my view) to make distinctions in the quality of evidence presented. If, for example, I offer an alcoholic as witness to a crime, it is—granted—a piece of evidence, but I’d much rather have a sober witness to present to a jury.

      Likewise, vested Mormon scholars tracing Lehi’s party through Saudi Arabia would be far more credible if other independent archeologists at good universities, looking at the evidence, drew the same conclusions. There are peer reviewed archeology journals for evaluating claims based on archeology. Right now, what you have is a claim supported by evidence akin in value to Protestants claiming that Noah’s ark is on Ararat. Unless others independently verify the claim (by evaluating the data or artifacts being appealed to) it really doesn’t have much epistemic value, does it?

      As for Mormonism working (making productive and good neighbors for a society), that is certainly true. But, of course, few religions are so divorced from day-to-day reality that they end up being malignant upon the secular order. Even people obsessively devoted to fantasy video gaming—or people devoted to Star Trek culture (wearing the uniforms, attending conventions in Vegas etc.)—somehow still manage to feed themselves and keep their secular lives going as well.

      And gay subculture, I would point out, is—by your standard—highly successful (gays tend to earn more money, for example, than the average American. And most people find gay people to be wonderful neighbors and coworkers). Living in Los Angeles County, I certainly do.

      Lastly, you do realize that this argument—“[Mormonism] has done very well by me. So I feel confident in the book”—may, in fact, be a correlation/causation fallacy that is misleading you about the value of the book qua the book, right? It might be that you would have done just as well, and been just as happy, in another religion (or in having no religion at all).

      —Santi

  12. Seth R. says:

    “isn’t the argument you are making strikingly similar to that made by people hermetically sealed within a UFO cult?”

    Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong by mere association.

    (Incidentally, Mormons overall are statistically likely to believe in extra-terrestrial life – in fact, our theology basically states that worlds without end are inhabited – so a Mormon is unlikely to simply blow off UFO stories as ridiculous or impossible anyway)

    “would be far more credible if other independent archeologists at good universities, looking at the evidence, drew the same conclusions.”

    It’s kind of a moot point at present, because as of yet, no one outside of our little corner really cares about Mormonism. The only people who care about Mormon claims are Mormons and their enemies. Other objective people have better things to do with their time (and no, the mere fact that they don’t notice us is not even remotely proof of the strength or weakness of our scholarly claims). As for peer review – Mormon scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. We have top scholars in our ranks. One of the top scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls is a Mormon – he’s published in respected academic journals and is regarded as an authority on the subject worldwide. We have top rate geneticists, historians, archeologists, physicists in our ranks – all of whom publish in respected journals on non-Mormon subjects.

    So really, you just aren’t going to get independent archeological verification or refutation of the Book of Mormon. Nature of the beast. Not because Mormonism is untrue – but merely because it is, for the most part, undiscovered. The only people talking about it are people you would consider “compromised.”

    So I guess we are left with nothing but the inherent quality of the arguments – appeals to authority are inapplicable here.

    Another thing needs to be clarified here. I’ve been borderline agnostic myself for long stretches and I’ve never been able to say that I’m as confident in the religion as some others of my faith are. There are many things within the LDS Church that I am simply not really convicted of, to be honest. So don’t think that I am coming here in a position of total advocacy for the LDS Church. I’ve always had a live-and-let-live approach to religion. I was even like that as a missionary in Japan. Happy to tout the pluses of my faith – but not really interested in “proving” it better than yours. I was a very non-pushy missionary and almost never pressured people to sign up.

    So realize that “works for me” is an ethos that does just fine for me. And I’m not really interested in trying to prove that Mormons are inherently morally superior to atheists, or other such fun and games.

    Now, I will tell you why I don’t think atheism works FOR ME. But I’m not going to generalize that to everyone. It’s not really something of interest to me at this point in my life.

  13. Seth R. says:

    As for correlation-causation…

    You have to look more closely at these associations to see if they hold up.

    For example, it could simply be that higher income life leads more people to self-declare as “gay” and may have nothing to do with homosexuality CAUSING the success. Perhaps the success causes the homosexuality. Or maybe not, not interested in arguing the particulars of the gay-debate.

    But there is a certain ethos of work in Mormonism that is definitely cultural and that culture is definitely religiously informed. We’re kind of like the old stereotype of overachieving Jews, I guess. I personally think there is a stronger correlation of success between religion and Mormon people than between homosexuality and homosexual people.

    But I wouldn’t consider riches to be evidence of truth in any case. In fact, our own scriptures lay out a cycle where the more rich and successful people get, the more likely they are to get arrogant and destroy themselves.

  14. Roger Salyer says:

    Santi

    Yes, I was speaking of the New Yorker article. I simply do not understand how a visit to Auschwitz undermines faith–in fact, has anything to do with faith at all–if one has it.

    If the existence of pain (in Creation) is relevant to the existence of a belief–in this case the belief in a Creator–then I must wonder at the believer.

    As I can’t believe that Wood would write something either ignorant or intentionally duplicitous, I must conclude that I don’t understand his essay. Hmmmm… actually I am inclined to think that there is an awful lot of semantic disagreement going on here.

    Are you sure you just don’t like God, vice the other alternatives (disbelief in God, misunderstanding of God, etc…)?

    Watch out for the dogpile on the sidewalk as you walk to your car this evening; despite its unpleasantness and lack of symmetry, it really is there, and will foul your car if you step in it.

  15. Edward Palamar or St. John the Baptist says:

    I’m currently watching “500 Nations”, on the second disc this week. The book of Mormon states that Jesus Christ appeared to the people in what is the United States proper right before He ascended to Heaven. Disc one of the series shows that there was a large community of Indians centered around the Mississippi for a long time. This, to me, explains why I haven’t yet to meet another resurrected saint yet, there are still too many good vibes remaining from Jesus’ visit to what we call America.

  16. DK says:

    I’ve found a better question to Mormons to be: “Speaking hypothetically, if the LDS Church were not true would you even want to know it?”

    Surprisingly, I’ve gotten only about half the people I’ve posed this question to to say, “yes”. The others are either quite frank in saying “no” or they are unable to play the hypothetical thought game. Those individuals will say something like, “But it IS true so it doesn’t matter.” You can just move on and not engage these folks any more.

    For those who answer “yes”, however, I’ll follow up with, “Then, imagining once again if it were not true, how would you know it?”

    The truth is that Mormons and other believers are asking themselves entirely different questions than someone on the outside investigating. Believers will ask, “Can I believe this?” The answer of course will always be “Yes” because, in truth, you can believe anything you want. This is how Mormon scholars will find a stone marker in the desert with 3 letters on it “NHM” and Mormons will gladly accept that as some sort of evidence that it somehow relates to their Book of Mormon’s “Nahom” It immediately washes away all the hundreds of facts that Smith got wrong.

    Investigators on the other hand ask will ask themselves, “Is it believable?”… an entirely different question. Is it therefore plausible that in light of the hundreds of facts that Smith got wrong in the Book of Mormon, that “NHM” could be Nuhom, Nehim, Nuhum, Naham, etc…? And therefore that it being the location of the Book of Mormon’s “Nahom” is only slightly less implausible that it was before the discovery?

    -Dennis

    • santitafarella says:

      Dennis,

      That’s an excellent question to ask a Mormon (or any true believer in something). I’ll try it next time as well. And the rest of your observations are excellent as well.

      But I also wonder what a strong atheist would say to that question. Might it be possible you would get a similar response? I’ve dialogued with more than a few atheists who seem to cling to atheist apologetics with a fervor akin to the religious.

      —Santi

    • Seth R. says:

      “hundreds of facts that Smith got wrong.”

      That would be more convincing if all these so-called “facts Joseph Smith got wrong” didn’t depend on a faulty approach to reading of the text in the first place.

      But go ahead and name a few if you’re bored this evening.

  17. Colin Hutton says:

    Santi:

    I too agree that Dennis’ questions are good ones, but can’t agree with you that they would work with atheists. I’m sure >90% would answer ‘yes’ to the first question, but could do no better in response to the 2nd than to point out, correctly, that the onus of proof lay with the questioner.

    -Colin

  18. Pingback: The Book of Mormon Musical is Coming to Los Angeles: West Coast Premiere at the Pantages Theatre, September 5 – November 25, 2012 | Prometheus Unbound

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