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Mormon Apocalypse Not

So the editor of a virulent anti-Mormon website, which I will not link to or reference here, has filed a legal complaint in England against Thomas S. Monson under the British fraud statute passed in 2006. According to the suit, Monson has deliberately perpetuated seven separate lies for the intent of bilking two British citizens out of ten percent of their income via tithing payments to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The plaintiff insists that this stunt will result in a “Mormon apocalypse” that will cause the entire church to implode from within, leaving nothing but theological rubble in its wake.

Yowsa.

The supposedly fraudulent premises that President Monson used to get his hands on tithing receipts are as follows:

    1. The Book of Abraham is a literal translation of Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith.
    2. The Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by Joseph Smith, is the most correct book on earth and is an ancient historical record.
    3. Native Americans are descended from an Israelite family which left Jerusalem in 600 B.C.
    4. Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed as martyrs in 1844 because they would not deny their testimony of the Book of Mormon.
    5. The Illinois newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor had to be destroyed because it printed lies about Joseph Smith.
    6. There was no death on this planet prior to 6,000 years ago.
    7. All humans alive today are descended from just two people who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.

The plaintiff seems to be chomping at the bit to get each of these statements to be considered by a court of law, which would presumably find them demonstrably false. The problem is that each has its problems, and many aren’t accurate representations of what Thomas Monson and the church over which he presides teaches.

Contention #1 is the “smoking gun” for anti-Mormons, because fragments of the papyri Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Abraham turned up in the 1960s, and they consist of excerpts from the Book of Breathings, and ancient Egyptian funerary scroll. The problem is that they represent a tiny fraction of the documents in Joseph’s possession, and they aren’t part of the so-called “long scroll” that contempory witnesses pegged as the source for the Book of Abraham. The Church does not teach that these scraps are the source of the Book of Abraham, which means the contention stems from a false premise.

Contention #2 requires the plaintiff to prove a negative, which is all but impossible. In Joseph Smith’s favor, there were 11 witnesses who saw the physical plates, and there is much internal and external evidence that suggests that The Book of Mormon is indeed a historical document, evidence that critics either dismiss or ignore. As for the book being the most “correct” on earth, critics often seize on grammatical errors therein to prove this a false statement, when, in fact, the case for the book’s “correctness” rests on the idea that, in Joseph Smith’s words, a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” At issue is the definition of “correctness,” and legalistic word parsing ignores the context and the clear intention of the statement.

Contention #3 again attempts to prove a negative based on faulty assumptions about DNA studies that have failed to produce evidence of Semitic genetic markers in Native American populations. Such studies are severely limited in what they can definitively conclude, and they do not constitute proof that Lehi didn’t exist. And if Lehi did exist and has any living descendants, modern genetic science suggests that all Native American could therefore claim him as a common ancestor.

Contention #4 again takes a legalistic approach to the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Those who murdered them in cold blood did so for a host of reasons, but surely their hatred for the men was fueled by their stubborn insistence that they were engaged in the work of the Lord, and the Book of Mormon was at the center of their ministry. Had Joseph and Hyrum abandoned the Book of Mormon prior to their incarceration, it is unlikely they would have lost their lives at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob. Believers who therefore chose to characterize them as martyrs are well within their rights to do so.  In any case, the definition of martyrdom is entirely subjective.

Contention #5 is utterly bizarre. Prominent, faithful Mormon historians, notably Truman Madsen and Richard Bushman, have characterized Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor as a very bad thing.  Ben B. Banks, an emeritus General Authority and my former mission president, gave a 2006 devotional at BYU Idaho in which he stated that “both friends and enemies of the Prophet now agree that the act, legal or not, was unwise and inflammatory and was the major immediate factor that culminated in the Prophet’s death.” If a high-ranking church leader can criticize this event with impunity,  surely it’s ludicrous to suppose that support for the Expositor’s destruction is a key tenet of Latter-Day Saint teaching.

Contention #6 is not Church doctrine. To quote Brigham Young: “whether [God] made [the Earth] in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject.”  Yes, there have been church leaders, notably Joseph Fielding Smith, who have believed this, but there have been many  others, notably David O. McKay, who have not. The Church does not teach this as doctrine and does not require members to believe it.

Contention #7 is an indictment of the vast majority of Judeo/Christian thinking for thousands of years. Good luck with that.
That, of course, illustrates the central problem with this suit.  You want a court to affirm that the Adam and Eve story isn’t scientifically verifiable? Then how about Christ’s resurrection? Mohammad’s ascension? Moses parting the Red Sea? Every fundamental doctrine of every major world religion would therefore be a basis for fraud based on lack of empirical evidence.

All of that, of course, is tangential to this lawsuit’s real problem, which was summarized by a friend of mine who posted a link to this complain of Facebook.

“So this is what Thomas S. Monson will have to answer to in London,” my friend wrote. “Knowing deceit. ”

In other words, it’s not enough to prove that the Book of Mormon is hooey and that there was no Adam and Eve, despite both of those being unprovable negatives. No, to win this case, this guy has to prove that Thomas S. Monson knows that the Book of Mormon is hooey, and yet he lies about it in order to “to make a gain for himself,” to quote from the complaint. He also, apparently, has to prove that the reason he champions the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor is because he’s trying to bilk people out of their tithing dollars.

I asked my friend to explain this to me. When, for instance, does the deception begin? High-ranking church leaders start as low-ranking church leaders who genuinely believe this stuff. At what point do they abandon their integrity to actively perpetuate a lie? Do they discover the church is a fraud when they’re called as bishops? Stake presidents? Area authorities? Or do you have to become an apostle in order to get in on the secret – that this is all a scheme to line the pockets of the guys at the top?

Sure the integrity these men have at the lower levels doesn’t just vanish as they age. If they were, indeed, called upon to deliberetaly perpetuate a hoax,  their consciences would eat them alive. And yet, none of them waver in their commitment to the lie. And they seem serene and content rather than fraught with guilt. And Thomas Monson is the serenist and contentist of the whole bunch.

If this is the best the anti-Mormons have in the way of sparking a Mormon apocalypse, then they must be pretty depressed. This case is going nowhere, and everyone knows it. What mystifies me is the fact that so many who hate the church are willing to believe the worst of those who continue to support it.

Sustaining the Fallible
Loving the Prick Kickers

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  1. It’s been a while since I’ve really talked to you, but as you often talk about religious tolerance, and identify as a Republican, I’m curious how you feel about the way in which pagans (which I now identify as) have been treated by the religious right? To be clear, I’m not referring to the “burning times” (I do not believe pagans, in their current form, have ever faced violent extermination, as I do not believe my religion is more than a century old at a stretch), but rather I’m referring to (to give some examples) 1) the legal battle to allow pagans to practice in prison and in the army (which GWB openly said we shouldn’t be allowed to do), 2) the battle to make the pentacle an accepted symbol for military tombstones, 3) this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7YYWLlat28