Dealing with Anti-Mormon attacks

When I started blogging about LDS doctrine and issues a few years back I did not expect to get a lot of comments right away. After all, nobody knew about my blog yet. I was just another blog among millions. So I happily wrote all kinds of essays about things that had been on my mind for several years. Then I started promoting my blog and the number of comments picked up.

I enjoy reading the comments. Most of them are from my fellow LDS bloggers. We read each other’s material and provide feedback. It’s like a peer review system among bloggers. For the most part the comments are complimentary and encouraging. In other words, the writers of the comments either agree with my points of view or express understanding of what I have written.

A believing approach

Of course not everybody agrees with me. I am a very conservative, traditional Latter-day Saint, a typical Southern Californian with an easy-going, laid-back approach to life. I feel like I have always been blessed because of my faith and my participation in church. I tend to model my approach to life according to what I see and hear from church leaders, both local and general.

My faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has served me well. It brings me happiness and satisfaction with the answers it provides to life’s challenges and the mysteries of eternity. For me, the counsel to constantly feed our testimonies has been sound. It works. Perhaps I have been blessed with the gift of not doubting, but I feel secure in my knowledge of the gospel.

Those who do not believe

When a reader disagrees with me, I like to initiate a dialog to determine if they perhaps did not understand my points. Sometimes that proves to be the case. Our differences are then resolved and we go merrily on our way. And then there are those who flat out tell me that I am wrong. They claim that my faith is false and that I am not really happy because I have been deceived.

Some of those who tell me I’m wrong are disaffected Mormons while others are evangelists for their Christian faith. Being a returned missionary I felt confident in my ability to deal with them. Usually after a few exchanges of comments we could come to at least acknowledge each other’s point of view. But how do you respond to someone who adamantly wants to prove you wrong?

And those who attack

I have in my library several books dedicated to dealing with those who fight against the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I have listed them at the end of this essay. Just this week I finished reading a new one that has proven to be tremendously helpful to me. I know it has been out a while so I am not the first to mention it but I learned some things that I would like to share.

In case you didn’t know it, there are people out there who make it their practice to troll the blogs of faithful LDS members and leave disparaging comments. I suspect that they are becoming just a little bit dismayed by all the good we are doing. One of them wrote on his blog, “What’s up with Mormons and blogging? It’s as if their leaders told them to put out a good public image.”

Shaken Faith Syndrome

The book is called Shaken Faith Syndrome and it is published by FAIR. The author, Mike Ash, has been involved in LDS apologetics for many years. It is divided into two parts. The first 108 pages contain a series of essays addressing the whole idea of dealing with criticism and doubt. I especially liked chapter seven: Betrayal and Church “Cover-Up”. I have seen that firsthand here.

On an early essay here at Latter-day Commentary I wrote that I had visited a few LDS discussion boards and was amazed at the number of people writing that they didn’t know about some piece of history. They expressed shock when they discovered it and then outrage when they decided that the church had somehow failed them because they didn’t know about this historical fact.

No church cover-up

The example provided was that Joseph Smith entered into polygamous relationships in his life. It still amazes me the number of people who don’t know or believe this. As I wrote in my earlier essay, I learned this in seminary and thought everybody else growing up in the church did too. It’s not just converts who go through this. Lifelong members have had the same experience.

So is the church to blame because we don’t know about Joseph’s plural wives? I have never felt that there was a cover-up of any kind. If there was, then it was unintentional. Sure, some of the early histories were written to only provide a faith-promoting view. What’s wrong with that? The shock and sense of betrayal are not what I would consider a faithful or believing response.

Unrealistic prophetic expectations

In other words, if we are serious about our gospel scholarship, it is inevitable that we are going to discover some not-so-pleasant things about our history. This fits perfectly with the idea that the Lord reveals things to us line upon line, precept upon precept. For some, learning difficult things about our history becomes a major test in their life. I sympathize and yet see this as immature.

I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I simply mean that it is a normal process of growing up in the gospel to learn new truths and to change our beliefs accordingly. Prophets are not perfect. It is unrealistic to expect them to know everything, especially in those areas which they have not studied. Can a prophet express his opinion and it not be the way things actually are? Of course!

Amateur LDS apologetics

The rest of the book provides great responses to specific anti-Mormon claims. I wish I had this book when I was dealing with my own antagonistic visitor who wanted to contest my essay on the Book of Abraham. There is a real talent to apologetics and I applaud those who can do it well. I suspect that most new LDS bloggers like me could use a course to develop the skill.

Mike’s book is well written, thought-provoking and for me, a little bit eye-opening. No, reason alone cannot answer all life’s questions, but it would be better if LDS bloggers, and all members for that matter, were more prepared with reasonable answers to difficult questions from our readers who do not have the advantage of a secure witness borne of the spirit of gospel truths.

Summary and conclusion

My antagonistic visitor derided me and claimed that I always retreated into an unreasonable bubble of a testimony when I could not answer his challenges to his satisfaction. Not having experienced personal revelation himself, he could not relate to the idea that we can and should obtain knowledge of spiritual things through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost in prayer.

I normally don’t finish my essays with a testimony but in dealing with apostate attacks, there really is no other way. I know from personal revelatory experience that God can and does send his spirit to teach us things that we can learn in no other way. We can stand as witnesses to those things that are true even though we were not eyewitnesses at the time. The effect is the same.

For more information:

1. Shaken Faith Syndrome, Michael R. Ash, 2008, Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research
2. Take Heed That Ye Be Not Deceived, Richard I. Winwood, 1992, self-published but now available electronically on the FAIR website
3. Guess Who Wants to Have You for Lunch? Alan Denison & D.L. Barksdale, 1999, FAIR
4. One-Minute Answers to Anti-Mormon Questions, Stephen W. Gibson, 1995, Horizon Book Publishers, available online at LightPlanet
5. They Lie in Wait to Deceive, volumes 1-4, Robert L. & Rosemary Brown, 1981-86, Brownsworth Publishing Company, available at FAIR

19 thoughts on “Dealing with Anti-Mormon attacks”

  1. With the publication of the massive multi-volume Joseph Smith Papers, it would seem like accusations of “cover-up” should unravel as pure silliness. You are correct that study of history always reveals some uncomfortable moments. We Mormons are a human people, after all. Consequently, I always am perplexed by people who are surprised by the contents of LDS history.But, if we want to effectively defend the Church, then we must turn ourselves into scholars and do our homework. This means we need to know about polygamy, the Mountain Meadow Massacre, handcart tragedies, etc. My experience suggests Church and testimony is strengthened when truth is allowed to prevail.Here are two reasons why I enjoy your blog: 1) You do your homework; and 2) you treat your readers and comment writers with respect (whether or not they agree with you).

  2. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, S. Faux. While at BYU last week, Carol wanted to pick up a copy of the Joseph Smith Papers, but we decided that neither of us would have time to seriously study the book anytime in the near future. So we put the purchase off until later this year when we feel less pressed for time. I wonder if that condition really exists.It saddens me to read the stories of those who have left the church because of the shock and feelings of betrayal. I confess that I too felt some shock in my teenage years when I first learned some of the more difficult things in our history. But I have never felt that sense of betrayal or cover up, for which I am grateful.Someone once suggested that there are three levels of knowledge about the church among members. On level A, all is simple and light. On level B, the difficult and dark or human side of things come out. And finally, on level C, there is a resolution and combining of levels A and B, creating a more complete understanding and acceptance of the whole truth.I just realized that this approach to gospel and church history knowledge was described in Shaken Faith Syndrome by Mike Ash. I think we all know so many members of the church that are stuck on level A and don’t seem to want to go beyond it for fear of what they might discover. They do not yet realize that level C brings with it great peace and contentment as one realizes that there are really answers for even the most difficult of questions.Shaken Faith Syndrome helped me to understand better the real problem that doubt is for some people. I also came to realize more fully that I need to be better prepared with reasonable explanations for those issues that cause the most trouble for some of our members. Just because I no longer struggle with doubt doesn’t give me license to judge those who do with any degree of disdain or condescension.Your counsel is sound. We do indeed need to become scholars of our own religion and history. And that is not going to happen just by going to gospel doctrine class. The Lord will bless those who invest the time and effort to study things out with the right to receive added revelation once they take it to him in prayer. After all, he simply won’t give us knowledge just because we want it or ask for it. We must study!Thanks for your continued visits and comments. I have always appreciated your clear points of view on my sometimes murky essays. I choose my subjects because they are the ones that I am working on in my spiritual growth. This one has been a bit difficult for me lately. Such attacks will continue as long as we declare the truth that the Lord was revealed to us. So be it. I will learn to defend it better.

  3. (I inadvertently submitted the comment below with a couple of egregious typos. Sorry.) Well written, Tim.Fwiw, I believe the single most common characteristic shared by those who attack and those who fall apart whenever they learn something different than what they believed previously is an absolutist, black-and-white, knowledge-based perspective. Everything is either one extreme or another. Those in the Church who look at life that way often are shattered when they realize that life simply isn’t the way they thought it was, but rather than re-evaluate their black-and-white paradigm they simply adopt a new one (that the Church lied to them and is bad).It’s so sad when things that can be overcome quite easily with a different mindset are allowed to destroy one’s life. Notice, I didn’t say “destroy faith” – as these people generally don’t have faith in the unseeable; rather they want everything proven for them – so they can “know”. That simply isn’t God’s plan, and it never has been.

  4. “It would be better if LDS bloggers, and all members for that matter, were more prepared with reasonable answers to difficult questions from our readers who do not have the advantage of a secure witness borne of the spirit of gospel truths.”So true. To me, there is not much more disheartening than to read blog comments from well-intentioned members who completely derail in the face of slight opposition. While Elder Ballard has asked us to be more outspoken on the Internet in defense of the Church, I think one should self-evaluate before making the general membership look like a bunch of sheep. And don’t even get me started on the bad grammar/typos… That makes us look like uneducated know-nothings.I heard Nibley speak at BYU once. In a somber moment he reflected on a few colleagues who had “learned too much” and had eventually fallen away from the Church. The point he was trying to make (and I think Papa D touched on this) is that they never had a sure foundation to stand on in the first place. They forgot the reason why they started their quest for knowledge in the first place, that is, their testimony of Joseph Smith and the BofM.I’ll admit it, if I didn’t know what I know to be true, some of the fringe historical events of the Church might possible turn me away. As always, Tim, great post.

  5. Thanks, Brother Malone. Having only been in the Church for a little over a year, it seems that I have never stopped having challenges to my faith. Thankfully, I have been able to see through some of the misinformation on the part of critcs and antis and deceit. This just helps even more! I will always be grateful for the testimony I have of this work, and thanks to members like you who care, I don’t have to worry about questions or doubts all the time 🙂

  6. Tim,Why is shaken faith associated with a negative connotation of a “syndrome”? I’m curious if the author would apply the same logic to a member of the church of Scientology who decided his religion was incorrect? would you apply it to followers of David Koresh who doubted his claims? Would you apply it to a member of Heaven’s Gate who didn’t want to commit suicide?

  7. Tyson,I can’t speak for Mike Ash, but he has links on both his sites where you can email him your questions. He is at Mormon Fortress or at Shaken Faith Syndrome.I’m not so sure I would consider the word “Syndrome” to be negative. To me, it is neutral. A syndrome is simply a collection of features, signs or symptoms, that when occurring together, alert us to a probable diagnosis.In Mike’s book, he describes how shaken faith often occurs when a member reads something about his religion that was previously unknown and for which he was unprepared to answer.Are you a member or former member of the LDS Church that has lost your faith in any one of the principle beliefs we espouse such as the calling of Joseph Smith as a prophet? If so, what caused you to lose that faith? If it was something you read on the Internet, did you search for an answer? They are out there.Please let me know if there is any specific area of doctrine that I can help you understand better. I do not claim to have all the answers but have found enough good sources over the years to know that there are intelligent and reasonable responses to almost all challenges to our faith.

  8. Tony,Thanks for your comment Yes, I was once as you are. I don’t consider my faith to be shaken, I have simply chosen to subordinate my beliefs to the evidence. As with all religions I have investigated, we (LDS) like to be skeptical of others beliefs, and yet not equally with our own. When we apply an outsiders test of faith to our beliefs, we need to have the honesty to accept the conclusions. Here’s an easy example. Scholars have known for decades that John 8: 3-11 was added to the cannon of scriptures around 1100 CE. The evidence suggests that this event is not historically accurate, therefore my belief follows that conclusion.

  9. Hi again Tyson,I am glad to learn that you do not consider your faith to be shaken. I am intrigued by your use of an interesting phrase: “subordinate my beliefs to the evidence.” I like to think that I have reviewed most of the contrary evidence to be found out there today and yet I still choose to maintain my belief in the work of Joseph Smith.You wrote that you were once as I am. By this I assume you mean that you have received personal revelation from the Holy Ghost testifying to the truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Is this something that you feel is no longer defensible in light of evidence that contradicts your previous heartfelt testimony?I think I understand the example you have chosen to support your choice but I am curious to know: are you saying that you have thrown out your acceptance of the validity of this particular event, your belief in the book of John or of the New Testament, of the Bible or of all scriptures accepted by the church?Again, I appreciate your visits to my blog and welcome an open dialog.

  10. Tim (My apologies for the previous incorrect reference:),The John example would only invalidate the historicity of that story within John (it is not found elsewhere in the KJV). I doubt it would even affect a devout follower, since the theology is represented in abundance elsewhere. But this is not the only example of Bible inerrancy, and we as LDS’s have really not been involved in a real discussion of the historicity of the bible, which I think is another divisive point between Mormons and Evangelicals. I think we should look at the evidence and accept the Bible for what it is.With respect to metaphysics. I did once believe the party line, but I am less inclined to accept them as genuine today given what we know about the human psychology.

  11. Hi Tyson,Thanks for the clarification on how you view the example of the scripture being rearranged or added in John. I’m not sure of what your position on the Bible is but I gather it leans towards it not being a perfectly accurate book. I think that is exactly what the LDS Church believes as well. We accept the Bible as far as it is translated correctly.Your point about metaphysics is an area in which I have recently had an extended dialog with a Christian evangelist here on my blog. His point was that we LDS all too often retreat into the “bubble of our testimonies” when faced with difficult questions that we can not reasonably answer. He really got me thinking about the importance of finding reasonable answers.In particular, we discussed what he considered the non-objectivity of the spiritual experience. I contended that my answers to prayer were real to me and he responded that such claims were not objectively repeatable. Is that what you are referring to when you mention human psychology or are you suggesting that such experiences are hallucinations or self-induced hypnosis?I’m sincerely interested in your opinions and appreciate your previous responses. I am fascinated by the discovery that there are many people out there who at one time believed they had a spiritual experience and now feel that additional evidence has invalidated that knowledge.

  12. Tim, I have yet to see LDS scholarship or leadership that deals intelligently with generally accepted bible scholarship. To do so would contradict theological beliefs. For example, today I was reading 1 Cor 14:34-35, which is known and accepted among scholars (based on factual evidence) to be not original to the writings of Paul. (and rightfully so, given the misogynistic statements.) As chance may have it, I noticed that there happened to be a JST in 14:34 correcting “speak” to “rule”. Now the LDS correction defies logic and evidence, so to whom shall I believe?Regarding metaphysics. I do not doubt that you have experienced what you claim to have experienced. I have had transcendent and numinous experiences as well, however it’s a leap to go from that to theology.

  13. Hmmm…Tyson, do you have an online site where you have posted your writings? I would like to learn more about you. I was under the impression that you were once a member of the LDS faith. Do you feel that it is wrong for women to speak or teach in church? The leadership of the LDS church has made it clear that we value the contributions of all the members of our church, especially women.And in reference to metaphysical experiences: I suggest that they have everything to do with theology. We believe that the purpose of numinous experiences is precisely to receive direct communication from a member of the Godhead, bearing witness of the truth and of the other members of that same Godhead. What better method to understand God then to be taught directly by his spirit?

  14. Tim, Sorry for the delay in response, just been away from the bloggernacle for a bit. I don’t have an online presence other than my business and casual postings like this for some engaging thought. Yes I was TBM, but no longer, although I would argue it’s impossible to ever leave the “faith”. I do think that women should have all the rights as men, but it appears through reading the old and new testament, the teachings and practice in those times was clearly debasing for women. Modern leaders have made significant strides towards improving the environment, however I still hear of concerns. Regarding making the jump from metaphysics to theology, I’d like to hear your arguments on how this is done, and how you can address conflicting communications, or deciphering charlatans. I would tend to lean towards Sam Harris’ arguments, found here.

  15. Hi Tyson, thanks for the added comment. I’ve pondered what you have said and asked. I think we agree that the treatment of women has improved in the church, or at least the recognition of the valuable contributions of women has increased, led in part by strong encouragement from leaders like Elder Ballard and Elder Holland.And like you, I have both heard of and read many concerns expressed and written by intelligent women who have related continued instances of priesthood leaders who insensitively treat women with disrespect, either through stupidity or because of misogynistic tendencies. Hard to believe, I know, but there are still some out there.I enjoyed viewing the video clip from Sam Harris. Isn’t he also the one who said that Mormons are just like Christians except that they had added some really stupid ideas? Oh yes, that clip is right below the other one. Sam is an interesting fellow and has struck a chord in a lot of people who deal with uncertainty in their faith. He has made many valid points about the foolishness of some of the beliefs of religion.Frankly, I agree with him on many of his points, mainly because I feel that most religions are full of all kinds of ideas of man that are not inspired of God. I like the phrase, if I may us it here, “To me, it is a mass of confusion.” He has lumped us in with all the other religions without giving due consideration of our unique claims. That is unfortunate.Your question about deciphering charlatans or dealing with conflicting communications is a very important one that is fundamental to any rational basis of belief in an individual or an organized religion. I have had this conversation with several visitors here on my blog, all wondering how I can be so certain that my faith is not misplaced.As a TBM, I stick to the tried and true method of study it out, make a decision and then get down on your knees and pray about it. Was it you who referred to this process as the party line? It never ceases to amaze me how many people either don’t believe it or don’t understand how it works to confirm faith.One recent visitor called it the illogical and irrational bubble of Mormonism. Whenever he would present some compelling argument and what he considered irrefutable evidence that our claims were false, I would simply say, “Well, it make look illogical and in some ways it does appear to be unreasonable. Nevertheless, I know it is so.”He would say that I can’t know and that my claim of knowledge is not reasonable or objective. He said subjective experiences don’t count in the pursuit of truth. I countered that they have everything to do with my own faith because such experiences serve to confirm my faith. He didn’t get it. My metaphysical experiences confirm my theology.I am no different from millions of others who stay in the church because they have felt that they have received answers to prayers that we consider revelation from God. Of course, one must study the doctrine before being able to ask for a witness if it is true. I have done so numerous times on a multitude of subjects. I have never been disappointed.Of course, you and I are both aware of former bishops and other leaders in the church who have left and said that it is all brainwashing and deception. These are intelligent men, most of them, as one can ascertain by what they write and reason. Nevertheless, I am comfortable that my spiritual experiences in prayer prove the doctrine correct.I don’t know if I am answering your question or if I even understood it correctly. You asked how metaphysical or numinous experiences confirm theology. They only serve to do so if we ask specific questions after studying it out, making a decision and asking in prayer for a confirming witness. It’s really not a difficult process and it just works.The answer comes with a deep feeling of conviction, and a sense of certainty that cannot be denied. Sometimes when praying about a specific subject, ideas just flow into my mind that to me, are evidences that God is answering my prayer. Things become clear and light and a way to accomplish a task or explain a doctrine become clear and open.I could go on and on as this is one of my favorite subjects to discuss. I have many online friends who are born and raised in the church and yet have never experienced this process of receiving revelation. To me, it is amazing that something so fundamental and so basic to our faith can be so difficult, but I know for some people, it is next to impossible.I have gained a greater appreciation for those who struggle with uncertainty and doubt. Until I started blogging, I did not realize how far-reaching this problem really is. I wish I had an easy answer for those how have doubts and uncertainties but I don’t. I admire those like John Dehlin who continue activity in the church in spite of their disbeliefs.I’ll stop now. Thanks for asking the question. It is the core of my faith to know that I can receive answers to prayer and that I have received them many times over the years. This answers are spiritual manifestations of truth and give me a solid foundation to my life and provide hope to go forward each day in this world that just does not get it.Thanks again for the dialog.

  16. I’ve run across a few evangelicals that have been adamant about the LDS faith being completely wrong or a “cult” and when posed with the question of revelation of a personal nature through prayer some invariably state that we cannot possibly be receiving personal revelation from God. I, in turn, ask them how they came to a knowledge that Jesus Christ was their Savior. If it was purely by reason, then where is faith? The book of James is very clear that we ARE to ask when we lack wisdom.

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  18. You will find that many Christians are taught that Mormons are not followers of Christ. Recently, I was stunned by a friend from kindergarten who has known me for year.s She asked me if I was now a Christian because I had left the Mormon faith. This was all the more surprising because her mother, an ex-Mormon turned Catholic, should certainly have known that Mormons are Christian.

    After more than 30 years of associating with this person, I realized she had gotten into the clutches of some evangelistic church that preaches against Mormons. She absolutely insisted that we have a different Bible and that it and the Book of Mormon are constantly undergoing changes. I countered with the fact that the King James Bible has not undergone changes for a long time, and that’s our Bible. I also told her the Book of Mormon is just another record of people who knew Christ is God. The record could hardly be expected to replace the Bible, given the short time frame it covers. But no! Without ever reading the Book of Mormon (or the entire Bible), she knew more about it than I did.

    Next she countered with some nonsense about how Mormons repress women because men can become gods but women can’t. I told her God is no respecter of persons and that includes women. She agreed with this, but insisted Mormons were treating women like inferior beings. I assured her that this was not at all the case, that men are expected to be good fathers and women are not in the least held back from being in heaven. The scriptures say we are children of God, and this should leave no room for weird theories about women being left out of heaven’s complete blessings.

    Then she wanted to say something derogatory about the three kingdoms of glory. I told her that it basically boiled down to the fact that those who love and obey Christ will be with him in heaven and those who don’t won’t.

    Finally, she told me that my views were more in line with conservative Christian churches than with Mormonism. That’s the point, really. The Mormon church is about as conservative and as Christian as it gets … all the way back to Adam, as a matter of fact.

    I know that other churches have a number of arguments that try to classify us as non-Christian. Maybe some Mormons contribute to this belief by being uninformed and uneducated. But I told my friend that if anything, Mormons should be considered MEGA-Christians who uphold the word of God as true and reject the doctrines of men.

    After talking to me, she finally admitted I sounded like a Christian, but I think she still considers the Mormon church anything but. She’s probably not going to check with the Lord on the subject, either. I guess some people are just more reliant on the opinions of others than on personal revelation from the Holy Spirit.

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