The First Steps
The First Steps
And they that have laughed shall see their folly. And calamity shall cover
the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched
for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire. (D&C 45:49–50)
Recently, as my wife and I traveled on the autoroute from the airport into
Paris, I noticed signs pointing to St. Denis (the final resting place for French
kings since the sixth century, as well as of Denis, the first bishop of Paris)
and then saw the abbey. This famous basilica is several miles north of Paris
and therefore also north of the highest hill in Paris, which was once the site
of a tiny village, then eventually an artist colony and now a tourist attraction
known as Montmartre—site of the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica—that
is, the hill either near or where the legendary bishop of Paris was martyred.
It seems that in AD 250, Pope Fabian (AD 236–250) sent Denis (aka Denys),1 with two companions, to restore the Christian community in Lutetia,
the Roman colony then located on the Ile de la Cité in the Seine in the
center of what is now Paris. Denis seems to have antagonized the Roman governor,
Sisinnius Fescenninus, who around AD 258 had him and his companions beheaded.
Denis may have been lynched on the way to the famous hill. He is supposed to
have then carried his own head to what is now 9 Rue Yvonne-le-Tac on Montmartre,
where he washed his bloody hands and is reportedly buried where the basilica
bearing his name now stands.2 When I noticed the famous basilica and Montmartre in the distance,
I was reminded of the thoughtful effort by the distinguished Protestant historian
Martin E. Marty to clarify what is at stake in the conversation over Joseph
Smith and the Book of Mormon.
The First Steps
Marty insists, and I believe correctly, that the faith of the Saints has always
been “characterized by its thoroughly historical mode and mold.”
3 He therefore holds that the challenges facing the Saints do not
primarily involve theological but historical matters.4 Why? Post-Enlightenment
skepticism about divine things has marginalized all forms of faith that make
prophetic truth claims or that rest on divine special revelations; it leaves
faith grounded on historical events problematic, unsettled, uncertain.5 Marty insisted that “Mormon thought
is experiencing a crisis comparable to but more profound than that which Roman
Catholicism recognized around the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).” 6 The crisis facing Latter-day Saints,
from Marty’s perspective, “has to do with the challenge of modern historical
consciousness and criticism.” 7 It is therefore the Book
of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims—the “generative
which genuinely significant controversy swirls.
To explain why this is the case, Marty draws on a version of the tale of Denis
who, after being lynched, carried his own head to his final resting place. “Let
me clear the air,” Marty writes, “with a stark, almost crude, but
still light-hearted and well-intended analogy.” 9 He then quotes the following:
“When Cardinal de Polignac told Madame du Deffand that the martyr Denis,
the first Bishop of Paris, had walked a hundred miles carrying his head in his
hand, Madame du Deffand correctly observed, ‘In such a promenade it is the first
step that is difficult.’ ”
10 According to Marty, “by analogy, if the beginnings of the
promenade of Mormon history, the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, can survive
the crisis, then the rest of the promenade follows and nothing that happens
in it can really detract from the miracle of the whole. If the first steps do
not survive, there can be only antiquarian, not fateful or faith-full, interest
in the rest of the story.”
11 Marty clearly links fate to the faith of the Saints with a narrow
slice of the Latter-day Saint past—those crucial and decisive generative
issues or first steps.
A Digression on Fate
Why refer to a fateful rather than merely faithful concern for these crucial
elements of the Mormon past? Here and now, when we confront the word fate,
we most likely think of something predetermined or unalterable, and hence
of death, destruction, and doom. But there is, I believe, an older and different
sense of fate that links faith—understood as obedient love and trust
in God—to historical events. This link helps us understand both faith
and concern for generative issues.
Why link fate and faith? Put another way:
why refer to a “fateful interest” in the past rather than the commonplace
“faithful history,” especially since from about the fourteenth century
the word fate has
tended to identify an inexorable destiny, a fatal end, and hence doom? There
are, I believe, good reasons for fastening on the word fate, though I am not claiming that Marty necessarily
had them in mind. First, as an adjective fateful
identifies something significant, important, or decisive, though not necessarily
disaster or doom. Marty seems to have been referring to something of genuine
concern, thus to something crucial or decisive, and not to doom.
In addition, our word fate has roots in the Latin verb fari (“to
speak” ) and also fatum, meaning “that which has been
spoken [that is, by the gods].”
12 One source has it that a fa once identified a speech that
summoned vassals to arms and consequently also to a legal proclamation.13 Thus in a feudal jurisdiction the
lord would issue a fa calling his vassals to their legal duty—that
is, to arms (and possibly to battle) for a given number of days each year. A
fas is thus also the divine proclamation or word, if we have made a covenant
with the Lord, through which we are summoned to his service. The word nefarious
once meant something like “not in accord with divine permission or law.”
And words like famous or infamous label certain modes of speech
about an individual, or an event or object.
But there is more. The proclamation or summons issued by the lord yields what
is called a ban, which once was a proclamation setting out the duty to
serve him. If one refused to serve or deserted, one was banished (that is, outlawed);
hence the Italian word bandito and the English word bandit. The
word ban, since it identified something owed to or alternatively something
owned by the lord, also identified public objects like the “banned mill,”
which was a mill provided by the lord for the vassals that was made available
for the welfare of all. And the word banal even now means commonplace
and trite—that is, something to which everyone has access. In this sense
divine mercy is banal, and the faithful follow a “banner.” They who
obey the summons issued by the lord are not cursed or doomed, but, in accord
with the stipulations of the covenant, they are blessed and rewarded for their
service and for obedience to their duty. There is also the word abandon,
which once meant giving up one’s duty to the lord, but now means to give something
up, to place oneself or something under another’s control and so forth.
“The Miracle of the Whole”
Dissident and cultural Mormons, as well as secular and sectarian anti-Mormon
zealots, seek to exploit incidents in the Mormon past in their polemic against
the Saints. But Marty brushes aside such matters as merely “borderline
religious issues” that are not of genuine significance for the faith of
the Saints. As Davis Bitton has recently pointed out, there is little in the
Mormon past, however it is understood, that has much of anything to do with
the crucial ground or content of the faith.15 As Marty puts it, nothing that happens
in the Mormon past “can really detract from the miracle of the whole”
if the first steps in the promenade survive. This should be obvious,
but critics like to point out that the Saints have human imperfections or make
mistakes, that some fail to obey the commandments or believe silly things, and
so forth. These are what Marty describes as merely “political embarrassments”
that present public relations problems. They are not of genuine intellectual
interest, at least to those who have some sense of how faith has somehow survived
the enormity of evil done through the ages by those presumably following Jesus
What is crucial for the faith of the Saints,
what must not be abandoned, are what Marty calls “first steps” —the “generative
events” or “issues.”
17 It is, of course, these that trouble our critics
the most, forming the essential agenda for what they say about the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history. This also explains the
constant insistence by both secular and sectarian critics that peace can come
only when the Saints abandon the founding proclamation of the faith and turn
away from the covenants they have made with God. Then and only then can we
be thought of as Christians in the eyes of conservative Protestant critics.
There has been no effort in the Review to picture the Saints as faultless heroes or
the Brethren as infallible, or to defend or recommend a sanitized history
of the Saints. Instead, what have been provided and promoted are more richly
detailed, carefully written, fully documented accounts of the crucial texts
and events in the Mormon past—those first steps in the promenade. Our
efforts have been focused primarily on the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s
prophetic truth claims—that is, on what Marty labels “the beginnings
of the promenade of Mormon history,” the crucial “first steps.”
We have not striven to prove the Book of Mormon. From the perspective of sound
historical method, only more or less plausible accounts and not final proofs
are possible. From the perspective of faith, though a deeper appreciation
and understanding is both necessary and possible, proof is not necessary.
Critics demand proof because they get the cart before the horse. They thereby
slam the door on faith understood as trust in God.
The growth of an obviously faithful and sophisticated literature on Joseph
Smith and the Book of Mormon, much of it published in this Review
or elsewhere under the FARMS imprint, has led to considerable dissonance among
dissidents, cultural Mormons, and anti-Mormon zealots. Critics respond to
this scholarly literature with vilification, animosity, and acrimony, with
slurs, name-calling, and unseemly personal attacks. The tone is shrill; the
mode is mockery.
Long before I entered the university, some smug, condescending remarks about
the faith and the faithful had made their way into Midgley family gatherings.
Though my father was anything but naive about the sins of the Saints, this
exasperated him. In private I heard him say, “Fools mock, but they shall
19 It distressed him that family members had gone missing from
the church, but it exasperated him when they displayed and justified their
treason with condescending mockery. Now, looking back, these early encounters
with dissidents turn out to have been a harbinger of the skirmishes I later
discovered were taking place along the Wasatch Front.
My father never attended a university. But he loved literature and was deeply
in thrall to poetry and Shakespeare. When I enrolled at the University of
Utah in 1948, he was curious about what went on there. We often discussed
my experiences in the classrooms and corridors of that institution. Through
me he could vicariously experience portions of a university. He was appalled
when I reported that there were some at that institution who ridiculed the
faith of the Saints; he was also delighted when I reported that there were
some thoughtful, faithful Latter-day Saints teaching at that school.20
In the late 1940s and early 50s it was not the Gentiles at the University of
Utah who were critical of the faith of the Saints; it was, instead, those eager
to signal that they were liberated from what they imagined was a stifling provincialism.
More specifically, they sought a liberation from what they pictured as the oppression
or superstition of the “dominant religion.” Back then it was no secret
that there were those who were busy substituting some trendy ideological fad
for their former faith, or who were otherwise eager to imitate some fashion
found in the popular culture. (Currently such a one might describe himself or
herself as a “DNA Mormon,” 21 whatever that might
be, or as a “seventh generation Mormon,” 22 as he or she launches
into a diatribe.) I eventually came to describe these as cultural Mormons.
23 I was, of course, borrowing the label from Kulturprotestantismus,
an expression that identified the effort in German-speaking Europe to bring
Christian faith into what turned out to be a harmful harmony with the science
and philosophy of the day—an effort that had its intellectual and emotional
roots squarely in the enlightenment critique of religion. Something like that
had permeated the American academy, and it was alive and well in Utah universities.
“They Were Ashamed . . . and They Fell Away” (1 Nephi 8:28)
Until recently, cultural Mormonism was
primarily centered along the Wasatch Front. When I first encountered it, those
who shared elements of this ideology all more or less knew each other. For
example, under the direction of Sterling M. McMurrin (1914–96), and
with the assistance of William Mulder (1915– ), the leading cultural
Mormons along the Wasatch Front met periodically from 1949 to 1955. They officially
called themselves the “Mormon Seminar,” but they knew themselves
as “Swearing Elders.” 24 As a student, I heard gossip about these self-styled
“Swearing Elders.” I got to know several of them, including McMurrin,
Heber C. Snell (1905–74), Waldemer P. Read (1897–1975), and Obert
C. Tanner (1904–93). McMurrin was by far the most influential, interesting,
articulate, genteel, and also the least sarcastic of these “liberals,”
which was the fuzzy label by which back then they tended to identify themselves.
By “liberal” they seem to have meant something like “liberated
from the ‘dominant religion.’ ”
McMurrin was clearly head and shoulders above his disaffected associates,
some of whom were quite nasty and also rather poorly informed. He was a talented
teacher. I was fond of him, learned much from him, and admired his gifts.
But the fact is that even from McMurrin, the best of the lot, there was little
genuine scholarship where the Church of Jesus Christ was concerned. Instead,
he opined about various isms and how we are confronted with science, enlightenment,
and the demands of reason, and he had a vast repertoire of sometimes amusing
anecdotes. His now notorious dogmatism was that “you don’t get books
from angels and translate them by miracles; it is just that simple.”
25 He simply brushed aside the Book of Mormon. He liked to boast
that he had “never read the entire Book of Mormon.” He explained
that he was not willing “to take the Book of Mormon seriously as an authentic
record, considering the claims of its coming from an angel and being translated
by a miracle.”
26 He placed the Book of Mormon and the account of its recovery
in the same category as Santa Claus. Though he had barely glanced at it, he
also boasted that he had “read enough of it to know that it has a confused
theology and is a mixture of good and bad religion.”
27 It should be noted that these are mere bald assertions and
not arguments. But his criticisms of the church were elegantly set forth.
This included his dogmatic rejection of its foundational historical truth
claims, the Book of Mormon, and most of its crucial teachings, though not
necessarily all of its moral constraints. He was genuinely urbane and amusing,
and consequently his opinions were unlike some of the other cultural Mormons
I encountered as a student at the University of Utah beginning in 1948. McMurrin
occasionally praised what he liked about the Latter-day Saint culture, as
he understood it. His gentle mockery was often set out in his repertoire of
stories about the foibles of the faithful. He especially relished telling
stories of some his encounters with the Brethren, including his version of
what may have been the beginnings of an effort to excommunicate him.28
Much to his credit, McMurrin was thoroughly intolerant of sectarian attacks
on the faith of the Saints. But, as Martin Marty reminds us, “the secular
academy which despises Mormonism also has to despise Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism,
all of which make theophanic and revelational claims similar to those of Mormonism.”
29 Part of the reason for rejecting sectarian anti-Mormonism, given
what McMurrin described as his own “essentially agnostic, naturalistic,
and humanistic” religious ideology,30 was his thoroughgoing
unwillingness to entertain the possibility that there has been anything approaching
a divine special revelation or that anyone has ever really encountered divine
beings. His opinions on religious issues thus fit rather snugly into the ethos
of the secular academy in the immediate aftermath of World War II. And this
explains his own fondness for secular humanism.
Modernity and Mockery
How did prophetic truth claims come to
be so thoroughly despised in the secular academy? A full account of how and
why this happened is obviously beyond the scope of this essay. But a partial
account is possible. In his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theologico-Political Treatise),
31 which was first published anonymously in 1670, Benedict Spinoza
(1632–1677) set out what he believed was the origin of superstition
(that is, religion). Much like the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius (99–55
BC) before him, Spinoza argued that religion
is both grounded in and generates fear. Thus, fear of the gods—and also
of death and divine judgment—is the primary source of misery. He insisted
that enlightenment would eventually eliminate superstition (aka religion)
and thereby overcome irrational fear. What can be known from the study of
nature, according to Spinoza, should have authority. Everything else should
be consigned to the rubbish bin. Only children or childlike adults—the
unenlightened or unintelligent—have a need to submit to the moral authority
of the scriptures. Spinoza thus pictured faith as a superstitious response
to “fortune’s fickle favours,” which often make of us “wretched
victims of alternating hopes and fears.” 32 Those familiar with the much later secularized accounts
of faith set out by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)
will, of course, have encountered similar explanations and commensurate negative
stereotyping of faith in God. The label modernity in part commonly identifies the network of beliefs
that ground hostility to faith in the reality of God.
Leo Strauss (1899–1973), a Jewish scholar of some distinction, began
his own career working for an influential organization dedicated to the scientific
study of Jewish things (Akademie für die Wissenschaft des Judentums)
that had been founded in 1917 by Herman Cohen (1842–1918)
and Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929). The first major scholarly effort undertaken
by Strauss was a close examination of Spinoza’s puissant turn against normative
Jewish faith. Spinoza contrasted what can presumably be known through unaided
human reason with what he believed were the sentiments set out in the scriptures
and subsequently presented by preachers, which were portrayed as merely emotional
and irrational responses to the inevitable exigencies of life.
Soon after he had published his famous book on Spinoza,
33 Strauss came to see that Moses Maimonides (1135–1204),
especially in his enigmatic Guide
of the Perplexed,
34 also could be read as having entertained heresies that he
set out cautiously or even esoterically. Unlike Maimonides, Spinoza, who had
little or no particular loyalty to the Jewish community, openly mocked what
he considered the illusion of the necessity of obedience to God’s will as
set forth in the scriptures and fostered in both the Jewish and Christian
communities. Spinoza had to confront two different and competing communities
of believers, both hostile to his pantheism, which his critics regarded as
merely a cautious or guarded atheism. He flatly rejected his Jewish faith,
but his disdain for Christians went even further. Take the following as an
example of this animosity:
I grant that they are never tired of professing their wonder at the profound
mysteries of Holy Writ; still I cannot discover that they teach anything but
speculations of Platonists and Aristotelians, to which (in order to save their
credit for Christianity) they have made Holy Writ conform; not content to
rave with the Greeks themselves, they want to make the prophets rave also.35
The impact of Spinoza’s assault on faith
grounded in the Bible is still felt in Jewish as well as in Christian circles.36 Though they are probably not aware
of the deeper sources of their ideology, something like Spinoza’s understanding
of the Bible can even now be found among some dissidents on the fringes of
the Latter-day Saint intellectual community.
Strauss studied the writings of Maimonides, which he then compared with those
of Spinoza. He thereby eventually discovered that mockery was an effective
tool in attacking faith grounded in the Bible. It was not only a powerful
polemical weapon, but it turned out to be the chief weapon of assimilated
or cultural Jews who followed in Spinoza’s footsteps in their battle against
Even though Strauss himself seems to have been among those who turned intellectually
against their faith, he recognized that nonbelievers often confront faith
in God not with solid arguments but with laughter and mockery. This becomes
clear when one uncovers both the structure of the alternatives set out by
Spinoza and also the grounds upon which atheist arguments are ultimately made
to rest or which they are designed to support. Thus it was
that Spinoza and his like owed such success as they had in their fight against
[Jewish] orthodoxy to laughter and mockery. By means of mockery they attempted
to laugh orthodoxy out of its position from which it could not be dislodged
by any proofs supplied by Scripture or by reason. One is tempted to say that
mockery does not succeed in the refutation of the orthodox tenets but is itself
the refutation. The genuine refutation of orthodoxy would require the proof
that the world and human life are perfectly intelligible without the assumption
of a mysterious God; it would require at least the success of the philosophic
system: man has to show himself theoretically and practically as the master
of the world and the master of his life; the merely given world must be replaced
by the world created by man theoretically and practically.37
Strauss made a career out of pointing out that none of this has happened,
though much mockery of faith in God persists both in high culture among intellectuals
and in the media and popular culture. Be that as it may, fear has not disappeared.
Nor has unhappiness or human misery. And ironically, modernity has itself
been called into question and is now on the defensive.
The English word mock comes from Latin, where it initially identified
a sign or gesture of contempt, since muccare meant something like wiping
the nose. To appreciate the metaphor, we should think of the related word mucus
and of words like snot or snotty—words that identify, among
other things, one who is spitefully unpleasant, one who is scornful or who sneers.
One certainly does not have to pour out venom to mock. Still, we often see scornful,
sneering, snooty snobs busy sniffing at (or looking down their noses at) what
they picture as the superstition and sentimentality of believers. To mock is
thus to deride or treat with contempt. And, like children on the playground,
we would rather be beaten than laughed at. Critics of faith in God know this
and continue to take advantage of it.
Mocking the “Sentimentalist” with Slogans and Stereotypes
In an unpublished essay entitled “The Mormon Intellectual,” written
thirty-five years ago, Fawn Brodie (1915–1981) described a confrontation
between a group of heroic “Mormon intellectuals” and a mass of those
she ridiculed as merely mindless “sentimentalists.” She asserted
that “to qualify as an intellectual a Mormon must reject the divinity
of the golden plates,” as well as the Book of Mormon, “and the authenticity
of the Book of Abraham. If he accepts either as a divinely inspired historical
document he is not an intellectual but a sentimentalist.” 38 The underlying
sentiment behind this stereotype has changed little in subsequent years. Notice
that it was not, from her perspective, a specific coherently spelled-out argument
or network of arguments with supporting evidence that yields the rejection
of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims, but it was,
instead, what she called an “important decision” that was crucial.
Thus, according to Brodie, when a Latter-day Saint “resolutely faces
up to the mundane origin of these holy books . . . , then it
matters very little whether he concludes that Joseph Smith was a paranoid,
a charlatan, or a profound religious mystic.” 39 What matters, instead,
is the decision to cease trusting God—that is, to cease being a sentimentalist.
It is this decision, and not learning, intelligence, analysis, argument, or
evidence, that turns one into an “intellectual” and thus liberates
one from the emotional bondage of the faith of the Saints.
And, according to Brodie, “this decision comes as a wonderfully simplifying
revolution in his intellectual life. The theological complications disappear
as if by magic.”
40 The “honest and open” intellectual will “find
it impossible to conceal a slight contempt for the unthinking acceptance of
Mormon dogma on the part of the faithful” and may therefore “make
himself instantly unpopular by trying to convert others to his point of view.”
Why? Brodie’s answer is instructive: “No man likes to be thought simple-minded
by a more bookish companion, and his family and friends are quick to show
their consternation and resentment.”
41 This would seem to explain the contempt that Brodie insisted
would be manifested toward the faith and the faithful by those who had made
the heroic decision to reject the faith of the Saints. But Brodie was aware
that the liberated “Mormon,” who has rejected the foundations of
the faith, often seeks or is in need of an outlet for his hostilities and
also for emotional support.
Dissidents also seem to face the problem of backsliding. A fortunate one
who lives “in Salt Lake City” will, Brodie believed, find a “large
colony” of like-minded dissidents with whom he can socialize and thus
reinforce his hostilities toward the community of Saints. “Here he can
find kindred souls who have also abandoned the faith if not the faithful.
Theirs is a special kind of brotherhood too. They share a collection of wry
Mormon stories, similar feelings of guilt, exasperation, and liberation. Here
they can unburden to each other the problems imposed by a still faithful wife,
or husband, or still devout children.” She also believed that the dissident
who “has no such friendly group at hand . . . is in trouble” since,
“even if he is tough-skinned as well as tough-minded, and blessed with
a sense of humor, he will find it difficult to live . . . in the midst of
42 Dissidents “need each other for emotional as well as
intellectual support.” Otherwise the dissident “may slip back unobtrusively
into the Church. If so, the intellectual in him invariably atrophies. Once
he begins to compromise . . . and to look at history again through
the parochial lens of Mormon dogma, he loses his capacity for criticism, for
innovation, for uncompromising analysis, and often even for fruitful research.”
Brodie understood that “dissenters
cannot reform [the church] from without,” and, if they are honest, “they
cannot reform it from within, for there are too many tests they cannot pass
in order to reach the seats of power.” She noted an effort by “a
new small group of Mormon intellectuals still relatively close to the Church”
who she thought were striving to effect reforms.
44 From her perspective, “the new journal Dialogue” could or at least might provide a “much-needed
outlet for legitimate dissent.” 45 But she also doubted that this magazine would accomplish
much. The Brethren are simply not inclined to adopt the perspective of a few
noisy dissidents on the fringes of the faith.
But, Brodie also mused, if the church leadership wants to “keep ‘the chosen
people’ intact,” it “must eliminate its constant testing for signs
of apostasy. It must find a way to embrace the doubters along with the faithful” —that
is, it must tolerate or perhaps even celebrate blatant attacks on the foundations
of the faith, including the rejection of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s
prophetic truth claims.46 However, those who
pray and pay may believe that they should have the say and not those who murmur
and mock. Put another way, those who sacrifice and serve may genuinely believe
that the community of Saints ought to be led by apostles and not apostates.
The Current Road Conditions
Of course, Brodie’s analysis in 1968 preceded Signature Books and Sunstone
conferences, as well as the current flush of unseemly blogs and message boards
on the Internet. What was once primarily focused on Salt Lake City, if Brodie
was correct, has toadstooled into an industry reaching the entire world. I
am, however, not eager to identify the self-serving, unsavory, even obscene,
and quite unfair so-called “recovery,” “lampoon” or “salamander”
message boards, blogs, and Web pages. I am inclined to comment on public gatherings
that feature what have become known as “alternative voices” —that
is, gatherings that allow and even feature dissidents and apostates railing
against the Saints and their history, beliefs, and leaders. All of these,
of course, thrive on mockery and not much else.
Many of the Saints who slip away, of course, are not angry or resentful.
For a host of reasons—perhaps because they yielded to the incessant
sybaritic siren call of worldly concerns and self-indulgent luxuries, or were
never really fully converted, or for various other understandable though not
necessarily laudable reasons—they have gone missing. However, after
finding themselves lost and alone in the inevitable storms of life, in the
darkness of this world where they may eventually sense being in bondage and
captivity, they may begin to yearn for some tiny flicker of light along the
shore signaling a safe harbor and a way to return to the light they once enjoyed
or perhaps never really fully glimpsed but only saw dimly reflected by others.
They cease being concerned about the self and search instead for an anchor
for their souls in the troubled seas in which they find themselves. For these
folks a genuine recovery is possible.
But others, who have fled the faith for often less than noble reasons, have
filled the resulting void with various secular surrogate religions. At times
they are driven by resentment and an overwhelming urge for revenge. They are
confident of their grasp of reality and may be bloated with pride. They insist
on expressing their own intense, raw emotions by directing aggression at others.
Since they no longer seek the Lord to establish his righteousness, they now
ardently serve an idol, which is a mere “likeness of this world”
(D&C 1:16). Their mode is mockery, their manner laughter and lampoon.
Brodie described rather well an actual
community centered along the Utah’s Wasatch Front. We now have a small, worldwide,
anti-Mormon cyber-community where former or marginal Saints emit much violent,
negative, highly emotional nonsense. They form a kind of surrogate “church.”
They are passionately religious in their utter devotion to themselves—thus
idolatry thrives among these folks. The Web has provided a means through which
these angry, irrational, marginal, and often emotionally disturbed people
can express, reinforce, and justify their hostility to the faith of the Saints.
Their emotional safety is found within their negative little cyber-community,
which provides a venue for reinforcing and invigorating their shared sense
of exasperation and liberation. They post lurid “exit stories” that
are often larded with self-righteous sentimentality and blatant falsehoods.
What they post frequently manifests outright hatred. This faddish new antichurch,
composed of people who refuse to move on, provides a means of assuaging lingering
misgivings and guilt. They post various outright lies, rumors, and bizarre
misinformation. They assist each other in undermining the faith of their extended
families and even of their own children or parents. They also target the faith
of their spouses, where they always engage in much deception.
Some members of this new surrogate “electronic antichurch” realize
that there is a literature that challenges virtually all of their rationalizations
for apostasy, and they are therefore constantly engaged in frenzied, deranged,
desperate dissonance management. They give little evidence of having understood
a thing. They also regularly blast away at the Brethren. They rabble in a
In much the same way that Brodie described those dissident and cultural Mormons
with whom she associated, this new batch of dissidents, even when they appear
to be only marginally literate, love to picture themselves as powerful intellectuals.
They imagine that they are at last thinking for themselves as they try to reassure
themselves of the absurdity of the faith of the Saints. The mere thought of
divine commandments or any genuine moral restraints often disgusts them. They
tend to demand unnecessary and impossible proofs before they will even consider
turning or returning to God. They thereby effectively shield themselves from
the recovery they might otherwise have from their disease.
By servicing the surging self-help industry, a few who have turned away from
the faith have negotiated notoriety and affluence. Some of the sentimental
“alternative spirituality,” New Age stuff they produce is being
marketed by entertainment celebrities. When obsessed with the self, the soul
disappears. Hence self-satisfaction, self-esteem, self-realization, and self-love
are being sold as a substitute for repentance and a merciful redemption from
sin. The goal is getting in touch with one’s inner or essential self, whatever
that may mean, or gratifying one’s base desires. Some self-credentialed gurus
(for handsome fees, of course), offer to serve as “spiritual” guides,
or as alternative lifestyle coaches, fully capable of pointing the way to
their kind of guilt-free “good life.”
Other than a few “celebrity” figures who turn themselves into quaint
caricatures, for the most part (quite unlike those Brodie described) these
folks are hoods hiding behind handles. They form an unruly community of rhetorical
beehive-burning bigots who in some ways resemble the hooded cross-burning
Ku Klux Klansmen of an earlier age. Their rhetoric is unseemly, absurd, violent,
relentless; their language crude, profane, obscene—they are simply incorrigible.
Their new “church” rests heavily and awkwardly on a series of moral
(or actually amoral) negations. Their identities revolve around these raw
negations and the emotions they emit.
A few of them, however, seem a bit troubled by the thought that, with their
new atheism—and so without even tiny remnants of their former faith—in
fifty years nothing they now say or do will mean a thing. Atheism leaves a
few of them rather listless. These somewhat more thoughtful ones, as they
begin to sense that without God they are merely an accidental, meaningless
excrescence on a tiny planet, describe an enervating ennui, lassitude, or
Latter-day Saints are, of course, struggling to endure in a hostile, gentile
world. The unrecovered who have fled their former faith are not, as they imagine,
now somehow free to think new thoughts never before thought. Instead, they
are heirs of a rebellion against God that started much earlier, whose origins
and consequences for the most part they only dimly comprehend. They pride
themselves on having figured it all out, but they do not realize that their
version of atheism is a rather modern human project and that it has a history—that
it entails, whether they know it or not, a kind of morality or amorality.
They pride themselves on tolerance, except for God and his people. They fasten
themselves to a crude scientism. They devote themselves to some fashionable
secular religion. They thus form a kind of antichurch, whose members are deeply
into the latest fads in pop culture and, of course, rumors and ridicule. They
worship novelty. They seek celebrities who will consecrate art and science
for them. They pride themselves on their new, clever, self-centered “sanity,”
while indulging in an unloving wholesale madness in which there is no place
in their hearts and minds for redemption from sin, or for faith, and exactly
no hope whatsoever beyond the grave.
The Saints have in their possession some explicit prophetic warnings about
those in the “attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards
those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” of the tree of
life (1 Nephi 8:27). Still, unfortunately a few of the Saints are dazzled
and beguiled by the “great and spacious building” —the glamour of the world and of
the worldly with their diverse fashions and fads and their sybaritic, lax,
indulgent, self-serving, and soul-destroying “morality.”
Should we not keep in mind the powerful impact on our faith of such scoffing,
as we observe the commotions made by various brands and strands of sectarian
and secular anti-Mormonism? Are not some of the faithful made to feel ashamed
and turn away and become lost? Much of this is, of course, merely the result
of an unfortunate yielding to worldliness or what now might be thought of as
the temptations of wanton, high-end, attractively packaged consumerism. But
some of it comes as the effect of what some preacher maintains is “orthodox,
biblical, trinitarian” Christianity, or of what reason or history has supposedly
demonstrated. And heaven help those who dare to challenge apostates, dissidents,
and cultural Mormons in the attitude of mocking.
Religious “Decisions” and Practical Matters
Fawn Brodie thought that unbelievers had
reached a safe harbor by making a decision not to believe. This decision—and
not deep thought or rational inquiry, and certainly not careful weighing of
the available evidence—made them “intellectuals.” The decision
not to believe was a passport—as if by “magic,” she wrote—out
of the dreadful Deseret and into a land of contempt for the faith and faithful.
This decision, she thought, is not forced on the erstwhile “believer”
by powerful arguments, nor does it flow from the command of the relevant evidence.
But the same is also true of the believer. The decision to either trust or
turn away from God is necessarily made in the absence of proofs one way or
the other and therefore is not based on the actual or possible evidence. The
decision to believe or not to believe tells us more about the hopes and fears,
the longings and desires of the one making it than it does about his or her
intellectual capacities, accomplishments, or command of the evidence. When
confronted by claims to divine special revelations, once the decision not
to believe has been made, some demand “proofs.” When the faithful
strive to provide these “proofs,” they play a game according to
rules set by unbelievers who will deign to believe only when faith is no longer
necessary—when it has been replaced by a secular certainty.
In the face of laughter and mockery, faith should not be an embarrassment
to the believer. Instead, for the faithful, faith should be a badge of honor.
“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us
the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, even though we know
that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for
we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6–7 NRSV).
It is the interplay between the work of the Holy Spirit and faith that troubles
unbelievers and leads to mockery. Those unable to believe, or who are ashamed
of their former faith, may see the content and ground of faith as an irrational
or subrational component of religion that may be brushed aside as the mischief
of priests and popes or as a deeply held delusion or illusion. They insist
that theories defending faith must be expunged from our hearts and minds.
Only then will we have escaped the prison of faith.
The theories defending faith are misunderstood if they are taken as the grounds
of faith. Whatever else they may be, they are not that. Instead, they are
no more the real grounds of faith than the theories attacking faith are the
real reasons for unbelief. Why? Both faith or unfaith (and indifference) are
practical/moral decisions about how we desire to live. These decisions tell
us more about our hearts then about the product of our inquiries. Such decisions
are made before we have much in the way of a command of the scriptures, history,
science, philosophy, or much of anything else. The persistence with which
we project ourselves and strive to relate to others—including the divine—and
thereby act on our longing and desire or how we understand ourselves may shift
dramatically over time.
A decision to trust God, if it is authentic, will ultimately depend on our
own immediate experiences with the divine and not on some prior profound understanding
of divine things. Our knowledge of God, as fragmentary and little understood
as it is, is more reliable than any explanation of divine things in some abstract
manner or account of how we come to know divine things. Faith does not depend
on a theology. Our unmediated experience of the work of the Holy Spirit—given
to us by God as a guarantee—is more directly manifest to us and thereby
more reliable than inferences or explanations, including explanations of how
one might come to know divine things. Theology, or what conservative Protestants
now insist on calling a worldview, cannot save us. Only God can save us. But
our direct awareness of divine things still remains a riddle. Here below we
walk by faith. We should not be ashamed of this fact.
Christian theologians, in fashioning what
is now known as “classical theism,” borrowed from pagan philosophers
various “proofs” for the reality of God. Certain of these proofs
rested on the assumption that, among other things, God is an explanation for,
and can be seen by analogy in, the order that appears in nature. Dogmatic
atheism, it should be noted, is often directed at such proofs and not directly
at our encounters with the divine. We might call this the Alma Principle.
A direct encounter with the divine trumps all doubts about divine things.
Jesus of Nazareth did not travel the dusty roads of Palestine offering proofs
that he was Being-itself, the Ground or Power of Being. So it is theology,
understood in part as our always clumsy efforts to fashion proofs and a worldview,
against which atheists direct their heavy artillery.
Though doubts about claims to knowledge of divine things have a long history
and something resembling atheism can be found in certain schools of philosophy
(for example, in the Epicurean poetry set forth by Lucretius), as far as I
have been able to discover, a militant, public, rather than private, atheism was first proclaimed
in 1770 by Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach in a book entitled Système de la nature, which contains
a hypothetical account of the apparent order found in nature. When one begins
with the assumption that God is somehow a necessary element in a purely hypothetical
explanation of order in nature, then Baron d’Holbach’s account might seem
to yield atheism. When direct unmediated experience of the divine has been
replaced by speculation or theories about the divine, then such accounts are
threatening for those who insist that God is an inference from the structure
Why did a militant, public
atheism arise so recently? Did not the ancients have doubts? Put another way,
why is that ideology such a novelty? Philosophers, of course, had doubts.
But by and large they were a shy and retiring lot and not bold and adventuresome
like modern atheists. They did not doubt that children or childlike adults—that
is, most people most of the time—needed belief in divine sanctions to
control their desires. Those ancient doubters did not doubt the need in a
civilized society for an opiate (a pharmakon)
to ground and regulate the passions and distempers common to human beings
of every sort. It is only very recently that this has all changed and an outright
war has been made on faith in God.
The arguments presumably proving God are
linked to the contents of classical theism. Since I flatly reject classical
theism, I watch from a distant hillside as two armies battle it out below.
I enjoy the battle, but the outcome does not seem relevant to my faith. If
I take sides, it is with the skeptics who are busy pounding away at classical
theism. I do not believe that the so-called proofs for God are the real reason
people decide to trust or not trust God, or to believe or not believe, though
they may have a certain apologetic or polemical function. Do any of the arguments
for God, or the refutation of those arguments, somehow entail faith or unfaith?
I doubt it. Why? There are various reasons. Atheism, at least in its public
guises, would seem to rest on an array of experiences demonstrating the failure
of every claim to divine special revelation. So it is not in the coherence
or soundness of the demonstrations of the reality of God, but, instead, in
our own personal stories, in a kind of history, where the real contest between
faith and unfaith takes place. Be that as it may, atheists should be able
to guide the faithful with perfectly lucid, coherent, and sound arguments
from the Deseret, which the believers mistake for a paradise, into a lush
garden where the divine has been excluded.
But, instead of being kindly guides, unbelievers sometimes behave like cadre
in basic training who order us to make a clean break with our faith and its
practices. With the equivalent of a pistol whip or a ruthless jab with a bayonet,
we must be conditioned or indoctrinated in a secular dogma in an effort to
kill any sign of the illusion within us. Faith, understood as trust in God,
must be replaced with faith in oneself, or faith in impersonal forces at work
in history, with science and the arts, and so forth. Atheists may wage war
on faith or they may passively recline on a bed of dogmatic atheism. Such
unreasoned unfaith is made to rest, in such cases, on a belief that these
issues have all been settled long ago, once and for all. Put another way,
dogmatic atheism is itself a kind of faith. The relevant issues are thought
to have been settled by science, but probably not the junk science that is
used to market food fads, investment schemes, alternative medicine, various
bizarre conspiracy theories, “scientifically designed” exercise
machines, “life coaching,” hair-loss remedies, and so forth. It
is not any particular theory, always necessarily tentative, but scientism—and
the authority of science—that counts.
Our new secular cadre reject the God who
issues a summons to do our often unwanted duty. They are troubled by the thought
of a God who makes moral demands, who blesses those who genuinely seek his
mercy, and who curses those who turn their back on their covenants with him.
The more passive forms of dogmatic atheism are thus relics of an older, deeply
passionate hostility to God. So we are back with Spinoza’s insistence that
such a deity is a mere human invention, the function of which is to assuage
fear but which also becomes an object of fear.
If we move from the theoretical side of militant atheism, which I find interesting,
to its practical side, which I find appalling, then we see that with God dead
and when we are properly enlightened, freed from base superstition, and liberated
from the dead hand of the past, everything we can get away with is permitted,
if it brings some measure of pleasure or power. Those who dogmatically reject
God, if they understand the implications of their stance, are Epicurean—they
imagine themselves free to pleasure themselves with no ultimate justice or other
adverse consequences. The current dogmatic atheism reveals just below the surface
an Epicurean practical side. It is this moral or practical component, I believe,
and not the theoretical side, that beguiles those who make a decision against
faith in God. However, those in thrall to an atheism seem to need more and more
proof that they made the right decision. They may suffer a kind of “buyer’s
remorse.” They may worry that they may have made the wrong decision. They
seem to need reassurance. Unbelievers seem to be as much troubled by doubts,
as are the faithful, about their decisions. Of course, either decision involves
risks since we live by faith and not by sight, unless the decision not to believe
is an unreasoned unbelief. Both stances are instances of faith (or unfaith)
Strange Bedfellows—A Fundamental Antipathy and a Common Enemy
Whatever else might be said about Joseph
Smith, for various reasons he, and his followers, aroused considerable enmity,
calumny, and mob brutality. It seems to have started with some playful mockery.
On 25 July 1829, Anne Royall, in her Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin, began emitting spoofs on the Book of Mormon that
carried the title “From the Golden Bible.” 47 The label “Gold Bible” became the standard
way of mocking what was then the still unpublished Book of Mormon.
48 Both it and Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims were thus
greeted with considerable mockery and laughter by those entrenched in Enlightenment
skepticism about divine things.49 And preachers, who were also being
pounded by Anne Royall’s skepticism heavily laced with sarcasm, were also
anxious to guard against challenges posed to their version of Christianity
by the publication of the Book of Mormon. On some crucial issues, whatever
the deeper differences, sectarian preachers shared common ground with secular
skeptics. Both were anxious to brush aside Joseph Smith as a mere “juggler.”
But there were also some deeper differences.
These rest in part on assessments by Protestant clergy of their own factional,
sectarian self-interest. The clergy then, as now, tended to be radical cessationists,
dogmatically denying the possibility of genuine messages from the heavens
in addition to those they found in the Bible, which they insist on reading
from the perspective of the ecumenical creeds and with the dogmas of classical
theism securely in place. In 1830, “a divine of the Presbyterian faith”
who was operating in Colesville, New York, seems to have agreed with the “Paul
Pry” style of mockery of the “Gold Bible.” 51 The Reverend John Sherer insisted that Joseph Smith
was a mere “juggler,” and he was certain that “no man in his
right mind can think the Book [of Mormon] or the doctrines it contains, worthy
of the least notice; yet there are a number who profess to believe it.” 52 He was also alarmed; some of his flock had been
“stolen” by Joseph Smith.53
At a deeper level, since secular critics also mock the Bible, sectarian and
secular critics of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are mortal enemies. In
the secular academy, believers have been marginalized. If they have not been
able to exclude entirely faith in God, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian,
from the forums in which a dogmatic atheism tends to dominate, such an ideology,
often set out in a confident scientism, is still fashionable in academic circles.
All those expressing faith have been placed on the defensive. On the surface
and in the polemical situation in which they find themselves, sectarian and
secular anti-Mormons, whatever their deeper antagonism, from the very beginning
have shared a proclivity to mock Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. In the
one instance, it is because there is simply no divine, and in the other it is
because what can be known of the divine is found only within the categories
of classical theism and in the speculation of theologians and not here and now
where angels are still coming and going and the heavens are not shut tight.
In this regard, not all that much has changed in 175 years—the fundamentalist-formalists
fulminate, while the secular fundamentalists still sneer.
In earlier issues of the Review,
we examined some of the literature that is currently being produced and marketed
by the fundamentalist/evangelical countercult movement and directed at the
faith of Latter-day Saints. We have grown weary of exposing the weaknesses
of countercult anti-Mormonism, much of which recycles old nonsense and some
of which is far too ludicrous and boring to warrant critical attention. However,
I admit to being fascinated by the existence and persistence of the countercult
industry on the margins of conservative Protestantism.
It has become a sizeable, sometimes well-financed, noisy, corrupt industry.
It is useful, I believe, for the Saints to be aware of its history and dynamics,
beginning in the 1960s when it emerged under the leadership of the late “Dr.”
Walter Martin.54 It is helpful for
the Saints to be aware of who and what we are facing, and why these individuals
and agencies persist in bearing false witness against us. Fortunately, in
Douglas Cowan’s examination of the fundamentalist/evangelical countercult,55 there is now available a scholarly examination
of the entire movement. We have therefore included in this issue of the Review
an additional and more detailed essay by Richard Holzapfel and David Whitchurch
on Bearing False Witness? 56
One feature of the countercult industry that must be stressed is the scope
and intensity of the bitter, and rather amusing, internecine battles that
take place between competing countercult individuals and agencies. Part of
what fuels these curious scuffles is competition for scarce resources (that
is, for income from those on the fringes of the fundamentalist/evangelical
movement). The contentious personalities of those drawn into the countercult
industry and, in some instances, the urge for revenge, the narcissism of small
differences, as well as the strong differences of opinion on what constitutes
historic, biblical, trinitarian, orthodox Christianity, are always close to
the surface, and each aspect seems to play a role in ugly turf fights. Countercultists
are thus often at each other’s throats over differences in their religious
ideologies, as well as over the control of agencies and resources. These facts
help explain the indifference of countercultists to what the Saints actually
believe, the low level of understanding Mormon things, and the bizarre caricatures
of the faith of the Saints, as well as the gross distortions of our history 57 commonly found in countercult
rhetoric and literature.
Some instances of the sectarian urge to
mock are shameless as well as scurrilous. A tabloid entitled The Evangel provides an example of this proclivity. It is published
by Utah Missions, Inc. (formerly UMI Ministries), which is now “a ministry
of Watchman Fellowship” —a
countercult agency, with several field offices, that controls and finances
several anti-Mormon fronts.58 Reverend Dennis A. Wright proclaimed
in a 2004 issue of The Evangel that “the LDS Church is fundamentally dishonest.” 59 He embellished this remark by claiming that “the
church lies constantly to its members and to non-members; sometimes it seems
as though Mormonism would lie even when the truth would be more helpful.”
He expressed consternation because “it claims that it’s Christian even
though it rejects every essential Christian teaching and attacks Christianity.” 60
When Reverend Wright made these singular allegations, he was director of
Utah Missions,61 having been handed the reigns
to that “ministry” in 1997 by the Home Mission Board (now called
the North American Missions Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
He had somehow come to replace the pugnacious Mike Reynolds, who in 1991 had
been called upon by agents of the SBC to assist the aging Reverend John L.
Smith, who had founded the operation in 1954 and had moved it to Marlow, Oklahoma,
in 1968. He turned his ministry over to the SBC in 1991.
When Dennis Wright took control at UMI,
he assured me (and other Latter-day Saints, including Daniel Peterson and
William Hamblin) that he would raise the rhetorical standards.
63 It became more literate, especially after Dennis Wright was
able to squeeze John L. Smith out in January 2000. It also became less amusing.
64 But the nonsense did not cease—in some ways it got worse.
Quite unlike the always befuddled John L. Smith, Dennis Wright knew what he
was doing. For example, after the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, Wright fed
the bigotry of Baptists by charging that the temple is decorated with Satanic
symbols.65 He knew
what he was doing when he allowed Richard Stout, a member of The Evangel
“research team” —as well as, among other things, an actor
in dinner theater and a home schooling activist—to blast away at the faith
of the Saints in issue after issue of The Evangel. In the same issue
in which Wright opined about the “fundamental dishonesty” of the Saints,66 Mr. Stout went on a turgid rampage. In what he offered
as a spoof that he attributed to one Jack M. Ormon,67 thereby signaling where his diatribe
was headed, he aimed ridicule at Hugh W. Niblick (Nibley), William J. Hambone
(Hamblin), Daniel C. Peterdout (Peterson), John L. Snorenson (Sorenson), and
me—I became “Ms. Louise C. Midgely.” Mr. Stout is, of course,
an amusing fellow. With this sneering, he seems to have shown something of his
version of dinner-theater comedy. His unseemly spoof was, presumably, included
in The Evangel with Wright’s approval.68 This sort of thing
is fortunately not typical of morally scrupulous Protestants nor of evangelical
scholars, but it tends to be the stock-in-trade of the countercult industry.
The Dawning of a Brighter Day?
Without going into detail, I can say that
early in my academic career I benefited from Protestant and then eventually
Roman Catholic scholarship. I will illustrate. Although Sterling McMurrin,
who introduced me to contemporary theology, brushed Karl Barth’s writings
aside as “sheer irrationalism,” when I actually started a careful
reading of the work of Barth (1886–1968), the famous Swiss-German theologian,69 rather than merely labeling him
as McMurrin had done, I came away very much impressed with both his scholarship
and his piety.
Much more recently, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI) has become one of my Roman Catholic favorites.70 His deft response to “liberal”
biblical criticism, which he argues has been eating away at the faith of Christians
and which abets the current culture of unbelief, matches well the criticisms
of revisionist accounts of the Book of Mormon—some of which I have written—that
have appeared in this Review and under the FARMS imprint. In addition, I have
benefited from reading the work of Edward Schillebeeckx (1914– ), famous
Dutch Roman Catholic historian of theology,71 and of many other
Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish scholars.
From the moment I discovered that there was such a literature, I have learned
much and borrowed heavily from it. Along with my colleagues, I also have a
high regard for the scholarship of a number of contemporary evangelicals.72 With others, I have from time
to time engaged in civil and productive conversations with some of these fellows.
I am therefore pleased that informal conversations have been taking place
between Latter-day Saints and those from various other Christian traditions,
including some recent exchanges with evangelicals.
I hope that those evangelicals involved in these conversations do not form
the opinion, merely because they have discovered that we are not the way we
have been pictured in countercult literature, that we wish to be known as conservative
Protestants or that we are about to adopt their notion of what constitutes biblical,
historical, orthodox, trinitarian Christianity. We are not seeking an evangelical
Stamp of Christian Approval. It would be a mistake on the part of evangelicals
to assume that the faith of the Saints is somehow in flux and is about to be
fundamentally modified by the pressure or influence they exert so that we will
come to fit their notions of Christian orthodoxy. We simply are not at all inclined
to capitulate to their notions of what constitutes Christianity. Some evangelicals
may perceive a desire on our part for respectability, which they couple with
a common misunderstanding that, because we do not spend our energies in crafting
a tight, closed “theological worldview,” we are prime targets for
their evangelistic efforts. If any hold some version of these opinions, they
have not been listening with sufficient care. Or they have let their desire
to evangelize the entire church, rather than a few individuals, fuel illusions
they hold concerning their influence among Latter-day Saint intellectuals and
thereby regarding shifts they imagine are taking or will soon take place among
the Brethren and within the Church of Jesus Christ. Some may wrongly imagine
that, through conversations they are having with a few Latter-day Saint scholars
who they believe wield power in the church or have influence with the Brethren,
they will somehow manage to evangelize the entire church.73
Interfaith “Dialogue” ?
Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who has a
reputation for civility as well as for an uncanny ability to facilitate productive
interchanges between those who in the past have tended to talk past each other,
has been instrumental in sponsoring some conversations between evangelical
and Latter-day Saint scholars. However, his efforts have not drawn plaudits
from countercultists. Why? As I will demonstrate, some insist that “dialogue”
must mean “debate” in which they attack and we are on the defensive.
Thus, instead of striving to come away from conversations with a better understanding
of the other party, countercultists demand an adversarial confrontation with
the Saints and their faith.
When Pastor Greg Johnson (of Standing Together Ministries) and Robert Millet,
an LDS scholar involved in conversations with evangelicals, had Ravi Zacharias
deliver one of his stump speeches to an audience of evangelicals and Latter-day
Saints in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on 14 November
2004, Professor Mouw provided the introduction. He stole the show by indicating
in his introduction that he is
now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the
beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly
to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of
the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness
against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression
in things we have said about you.
Mouw’s remarks drew the attention of the print media, which are always looking
for something seemingly sensational; they also generated a firestorm of protests
from the anti-Mormon element among countercultists and their clientele.75 The remarks by Ravi Zacharias about Jesus, the
substance of which, without the melodrama, is central to the faith of Latter-day
Saints, were mostly lost in the subsequent scuffle. In fact, Mouw’s remarks
should have been expected, since he had already written the following in 2002:
as an evangelical I must confess that I am ashamed of our record in relating
to the Mormon community. To be sure, there are deep differences between our
worldviews. I strongly disagree with what I understand to be traditional Mormon
teachings about God, about human nature, and about what it takes for a sinner
to get right with God—matters on which the Latter-day Saints differ
not only from standard Protestant teachings but from the Roman Catholic and
Orthodox teachings as well. But none of these disagreements give me or any
other evangelical the license to propagate distorted accounts of what Mormons
believe. By bearing false witness against our LDS neighbors, we evangelicals
have often sinned not just against Mormons but against the God who calls us
to be truth-tellers.76
Still Another Occasion for Countercult Acrimony
Our relationships with morally earnest evangelicals, including scholars,
must always be governed by mutual respect—by the unspoken rules of comity.
When this happens, conversations can be both civil and mutually enlightening.
Of course, both sides will, each in its own way, be attempting to evangelize
the other, but not in an adversarial manner. The Saints know that, while they
must defend the faith, they cannot argue anyone into the kingdom.
My own experience leads me to believe that relations with countercultists
are almost always adversarial—they inevitably end up in unpleasant confrontations.
When a genuine, mutually respectful conversation takes place, there is no
real or imagined audience having its residual biases reaffirmed, keeping score,
or awarding points. But this is about all that is going on when people are
driven by loathing or an urge for vengeance or fear of the challenge the other
party presents to their own understanding of divine things. Unfortunately,
some of the better informed evangelicals cannot quite decide whether they
desire respectful conversations with Latter-day Saints or whether they must
function in an adversarial and confrontational mode, attempting to batter
us into submission in an effort to overcome what they perceive as a grave
challenge to the health and growth of what they understand as authentic Christianity.
Countercultists, some of whom were not present to hear Professor Mouw’s apology
and who are also not well-informed on the current conversations taking place
between evangelical and Latter-day Saint scholars, went berserk when they
heard reports of his remarks.77 Anti-Mormons protested
in whatever venue they could find and in some cases directly to Professor
Mouw. They expressed indignation at the suggestion that they might ever have
been guilty of the offenses he had described and for which he apologized.
Some of them demanded that he identify the alleged culprits who had been guilty
of “bearing false witness.” Mouw obliged and pointed directly at
the countercult industry, identifying as examples the literature produced
by the old father of the countercult, Walter Martin, and one of its most strident
operatives, Dave Hunt.78
For my purposes, it is unnecessary (as well as tedious) to review the entire
assortment of responses to Mouw’s apology. I will, however, examine one complaint
to illustrate the penchant for belligerency towards the Saints and also for
evidence of an unwillingness to overcome the urge to “bear false witness”
against the faith of the Saints. It comes from Ronald V. Huggins,79 who was present in the Tabernacle
and was deeply troubled by Mouw’s remarks. Huggins was clearly aware of the
earlier statement by Professor Mouw and also of his propensity for honesty.
Huggins claims that the appearance of Ravi Zacharias in the Salt Lake Tabernacle
provided “a remarkable opportunity for interfaith dialogue between Mormons
80 While granting that “some Evangelicals have certainly
been unkind to Mormons and have been guilty of inaccurately portraying Mormon
beliefs,” Huggins asserts that this “does not characterize . . .
most evangelical churches and ministries.”
81 What he does not seem to realize is that his own diatribes
against the faith of Latter-day Saints fit rather nicely under the stricture
issued by Mouw.
Huggins opines that the Church of Jesus
Christ “does not appear ready for, nor does it seem to really desire,
authentic dialogue with Evangelicals.” Why? The reason he gives is that
the church—presumably orchestrated by the Brethren—has a “project
of marginalizing (rather than interacting with) careful and credible critics
like Jerald and Sandra Tanner, the Institute for Religious Research (IRR),
82 So it appears that Huggins thinks that unless the
Saints get down in the rhetorical gutter with the likes of Sandra Tanner or
Luke Wilson or some other virulent anti-Mormon, we are not interested in an
“authentic dialogue with Evangelicals.” And in an ironic way he
is right. He also imagines that the Saints “desire . . . mainline
respectability” but will not pay the price to get it. What is the price?
Caving in to Sandra Tanner?
Huggins also complains that the way the
church—that is, newspaper reporters—treated that evening in the
Salt Lake Tabernacle when evangelicals got to perform was “somewhat self-serving”
and manifested “apparent bad faith.” The reason is that attention
was focused by the media on Mouw’s apology and not on the speech given by
Zacharias. What Huggins seems to believe is that, because Mouw apologized
for the lies that have been told by countercultists about the Church of Jesus
Christ, the Saints ought to have manifested “greater ethical integrity.”
83 He also claims that many of the conservative Protestants
present at that meeting thought that those who put that meeting together—Pastor
Greg Johnson and his associates—have what he calls an “unhealthy,
lopsided relationship with Mormon apologists.” 84 And he is convinced that “Mormon apologists
[are] not ready for real dialogue.”
85 The reason is, from his perspective, that they
will not slug it out with anti-Mormons in the rhetorical gutter. And he claims
that those who deal with these unworthy “Mormon apologists” are
engaged in a program of he calls the “Pander/Slander” of countercultist
A civil, fruitful conversation between those of different faiths has to be
between equals, and it must occur in a respectful fashion in which both sides
listen and learn from the other. It cannot be a confrontation in which one
side pounds away at the other. Such “debates,” a favorite of some
of the most strident anti-Mormons, are efforts at appearing to score points;
they are pure theater and exhibitions of pride. Huggins bemoans the fact that
some evangelicals now “pander to them [the Latter-day Saints] without
challenging them.” What he appears to mean by an authentic evangelical
dialogue with Latter-day Saints is an ugly confrontation in which evangelicals
pound away and the Saints just take it on the chin. We are simply not interested
in an “interfaith dialogue” in which Huggins and his anti-Mormon
associates do the talking and we do the listening or where they attack and
we must defend our faith on their terms—and presumably be battered into
seeing the error of our ways before surrendering.
“Mormon apologists,” according to Huggins, take on a “cloak
of victim privilege.”
87 And he claims that evangelicals who are friendly with those he
describes as “victim-bull[ies]” are merely “buying credibility
with Mormon apologists.”
88 He also boasts that he has been saying for quite some time that
“it was incumbent on nobody to interact with the work of Mormon apologists
until they produce something of real scholarly significance that could stand
on its own outside Mormon circles.”
89 We have in this issue of the Review an essay by Larry Morris
examining in detail the “scholarship” of Ronald Huggins.90
Some Secular Anti-Mormon Mockery Exposed
This issue of the Review
is not focused exclusively on sectarian anti-Mormonism; we also have essays
dealing with secular attacks on the faith of the Saints. Nicholas Literski,
91 an expert on Freemasonry, has reviewed a remarkably inept
book by Clyde Forsberg.92 When we read his criticism of Forsberg’s Equal
Rites, we were astonished by what appeared to be Forsberg’s ignorance
of Freemasonry. We made a genuine effort to determine if these criticisms
were sound. What is even more amazing is that the Columbia University Press
published a book by an author whose command of both Freemasonry and Mormonism
is confused and deeply flawed—primitive at best. When I read Literski’s
review, I wondered how well Forsberg understands Mormon things. So I had a
close look at his master’s thesis, done at the University of Calgary, and
his doctoral dissertation, done at Queens University.93 It turned out that both of these works are simply
not well done. It seems that in his frenzy to attack the church (in his recent
book), Forsberg garbles both the Latter-day Saint and Masonic sides. But he
is always highly opinionated and confident.
Andrew and Dawson Hedges have looked at
Dan Vogel’s latest effort to pull the church from its foundations,94 and Ryan Parr has examined Simon Southerton’s attack
on the Book of Mormon.95
Two essays by Kent Jackson and Gregory Taggart expose the wanton
nonsense invented by Martha Beck to justify her life-style choice by fabricating
calumny—that is, patently absurd charges maliciously calculated to misrepresent
her father—and in a kind of New Age, faddish way, richly rewarded with
wealth and celebrity status as a life coach. She has turned against everything
her father stood for and is striving to destroy his reputation and to mock
the church he sought to defend.
Since the Saints may encounter the claims of those anxious to brush every manifestation
of faith aside in a world unencumbered by the current findings of science, we
have included an essay by Allen Buskirk dealing with the popular speculation
of Carl Sagan. He is one of the more media-savvy celebrity-science figures who
has an urge to explain away the divine.
A Concluding Postscript
The current title of this periodical, The FARMS Review, is intentional.
It allows for review essays, as well as book notices, book reviews, and bibliographical
essays or assessments of the literature on various topics, and for essays
not linked directly to a single book. We occasionally include older items
that never were printed, or we republish items that in our estimation have
not had sufficiently wide circulation, and we may occasionally publish interviews
with scholars on important topics. We do not intend to publish rejoinders
or letters to the editor. Those who wish to quarrel with something that we
publish have available to them various venues, with editors and publishers
sympathetic with their ideology, such as the Signature Books Web page, or
perhaps Sunstone and
Dialogue. We feel no
obligation to fill that niche.
In this issue of the Review,
Alan Keele has translated an essay by the late Ernst Benz, a prominent German
historian. Much of this essay originally appeared in an English translation
in a collection of essays edited by Truman Madsen.
98 It should be noted that, unlike some sectarian critics, Professor
Benz found nothing outrageous in the Latter-day Saint emphasis on deification.
We have reprinted an address by Dil Parkinson on the problems associated
with learning a foreign language, which, I believe, can teach us much about
what can be called participatory understanding and the need to go beyond the
current limits of our understanding.
99 Parkinson draws some insightful parallels between our efforts
to master a foreign language and our efforts to learn the gospel. Unfortunately
the Saints sometimes use the language of “testimony” —referring to their initial conviction that the gospel
has been restored and that the Book of Mormon is true—as an excuse for
making that initial, rudimentary experience of a conviction the terminus of
their understanding. As such, it tends to function as a rough equivalent of
the fundamentalist/evangelical initial born-again experience. What Parkinson
so eloquently points out is that the Saints should always be avidly seeking
further light and knowledge and never think that they have mastered the “foreign
language” of divine things.
Those who wish to find a stumbling block to obeying God’s will, or who cannot
stand the mocking of the residents of the Great and Spacious Building and who
turn their back on a fateful history, may find justifications in the foibles
of the Saints and their leaders, neither of whom have ever thought of themselves
as infallible or omniscient. They may also strive to rationalize their refusal
to take seriously divine special revelations as a way of justifying their decision
to avoid being a part of fateful history. When one’s behavior does not come
close to conforming to what one believes, then what is often called dissonance
management takes place. Unless there is genuine repentance, one merely changes
one’s beliefs and begins to attack God and his covenant people. The deeper the
belief, the more likely that apostates will not be able to leave the church
alone. They may end up wasting and wearing out their lives waging a war against
their former faith. It is easy to find excuses—to rationalize turning
against the faith and the Saints. But for me and my associates, keeping the
covenants we have made with God, obeying his will, and looking for our redemption
to Jesus as our Lord and Savior are warranted by our experiences with the Holy
Spirit, which is consonant with our deepest longings and desires and also made
plausible by the best scholarship currently available—some of which we
strive to publish in the pages of this Review.
Editor’s Picks, by Daniel C. Peterson
In accordance with tradition, we now offer a rating of some of the books
considered in the present issue of the Review. These evaluations emerge from personal examination
of the books, coupled with a reading of the relevant reviews or book notes,
and after conversations with those who assist in the production of the Review.
This is the rating scale we traditionally use:
**** Outstanding, a seminal work of the kind that
appears only rarely
*** Enthusiastically recommended
** Warmly recommended
Of the books considered in the present issue of the FARMS Review, we feel that we can recommend:
Richard L. Bushman, with Jed Woodworth, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone
John W. Welch, with Erick B. Carlson, eds., Opening the Heavens: Accounts
of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844
Douglas E. Cowan, Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian
Terryl L. Givens, The Latter-day Saint Experience in America
Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus: The Christ of the Latter-day Saints
Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives
on the Christian Apostasy
*** Andrew C. Skinner, The Garden Tomb
** Margaret Barker, An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels
** Gabriel Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders,
What about Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the
** Avraham Gileadi, Studies in the Book of Mormon
** Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology:
Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform
** John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation
into the Destiny of the Unevangelized
* Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright, David
O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
* Jana Riess and Christopher K. Bigelow, Mormonism
* Thomas P. Rausch, ed., Catholics and Evangelicals:
Do They Share a Common Future?
This current number of the Review
would not have been possible without the valuable assistance of numerous individuals.
To the authors and reviewers, we owe a great debt of gratitude. Kevin L. Barney,
Kevin M. Christensen, Stephen D. Ricks, and D. Charles Pyle lent their expertise
on various technical matters. Shirley S. Ricks coordinated the work at all
stages, and Louis C. Midgley and George L. Mitton worked diligently and thoughtfully
to improve the content and presentation of the essays and book notes. Alison
V. P. Coutts offered useful comments and suggestions on each of the contributions
and served as the main typesetter. Paula Hicken supervised the source checking
and proofreading done by Linda Sheffield, Amanda Smith, Sandra Thorne, and
Renee Wald. I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation for a job well done.
1. The first bishop of Paris is, unfortunately, sometimes
conflated with Dionysius the Areopagite (see Acts 17:34) and also with Pseudo-Dionysius.
2. In another version of this tale, Denis was killed
by the Romans and his body was thrown into the Seine. His followers fished
it out and buried it at the site of what is now the famous basilica.
3. Martin E. Marty, “Two Integrities: An Address
to the Crisis in Mormon Historiography,” initially published in the Journal
of Mormon History 10 (1983): 3–19, and then reprinted with a different
title and in a slightly different form in Marty’s Religion and Republic:
The American Circumstance (Boston: Beacon, 1987), 303–25, 377–78.
All quoted passages from this point are taken from the version of Marty’s
remarks included in an anthology edited by George D. Smith, entitled Faithful
History: Essays on Writing Mormon History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
1992), 169–88 at 170.
4. Smith, Faithful History, 170. The challenge
posed by modernity for both Roman Catholics and Protestants now tends to be
focused on abstruse philosophical issues—on questions concerning natural,
systematic, or dogmatic theology—and somewhat less on the authenticity
of various theophanies.
5. Smith, Faithful History, 169. In the
secular academy, if faith in God is not entirely displaced, the remnants of
Enlightenment skepticism about divine things tend to squash it into tiny cultural
enclaves. In academic circles the resulting vacuum is filled with a dogmatic
scientism—a passionately held secular fundamentalism.
6. Smith, Faithful History, 169.
7. Smith, Faithful History, 169.
8. Smith, Faithful History, 177.
9. Smith, Faithful History, 176.
10. Paul Elmen, The Restoration of Meaning
to Contemporary Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958), 189. Unfortunately,
Marty drew his striking analogy from a somewhat less than carefully written
devotional book. The famous retort concerning Denis by Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond,
Marquise du Deffand (1696–1789), to Jules Auguste Armand Marie Polignac,
a contemporary French diplomat and cardinal, seems to have been as follows:
La distance n’y fait rien, il n’y a que le premier pas qui coûte,
which I render as “the distance doesn’t matter; only the first step costs” —that
is, is difficult or troublesome. Versions of this and of others of Madame
du Deffand’s witty sayings made her a kind of femme de lettres. Mention
of her quip about Denis appears in her letter dated 7 July 1763 to Jean
Le Rond d’Alembert, a famous Enlightenment figure, who with others (including
Horace Walpole, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Fontenelle) participated from time
to time in Madame du Deffand’s famous Parisian salon. See Benedetta Craveri,
Madame du Deffand and Her World, trans. Teresa Waugh (Boston: Godine,
1994), 176. Voltaire’s poem “La Pucelle,” a risqué, licentious history
of Jeanne d’Arc, was one of his most popular books. He wrote to Madame du
Deffand on 27 January 1764 that she deserved “the homage of a pucelle.
One of your witticisms is quoted in the notes to this theological work.”
Craveri, Madame du Deffand, 239, and see also 468 n. 147.
11. Marty, “Two Integrities,”
12. The Latin fatum seems to have had the
following development: it was first a sentence of the Gods (theosphaton
in Greek), then a lot or portion (moira in Greek, which was personified
as a goddess in Homer), and then eventually one of the three goddesses referred
to by the plural fata (fates) who somehow govern the course of human
affairs. Each of these had Greek and Latin names seemingly designating their
special directing functions. The word “faerie [later fairy]” is
also related to the Latin fatum. Christianity seems to have subverted
the fata (the three sisters), replacing them in the popular imagination
with fay (a race of beings endowed with curious magical powers). (I
wish to thank Kevin Barney for much needed assistance and useful suggestions.
Of course, I take full credit for any mistakes.)
13. See, for example, the entries under ban
and fate in Joseph T. Shipley, Dictionary of Word Origins (New
York: Barnes and Noble, 1995), 39, 149–50.
14. Barney has also pointed out
that the Latin fari is related to the Greek phanai (to say)
and phonē (sound, voice). Our words famous and infamous
also seem to derive from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to speak,
say or tell.”
15. See Davis Bitton’s analysis in “I Don’t
Have a Testimony of the History of the Church,” FARMS Review 16/2
16. For a sober account of the long parade of
evil done by those struggling for ecclesiastical honors and dominion, or in
league with (or acting as) corrupt secular regimes, or contending over what
constitutes orthodox “Christianity,” see Justo L. González, The
Story of Christianity, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984).
17. Marty, “Two Integrities,” 178, 177.
18 The constant quarrel over whether
the faith of the Saints satisfies some creedal or theological regula
is mere shadowboxing. The real issue always turns out to be the Book of Mormon
and Joseph Smith’s prophetic truth claims. Those most riveted to some narrow
credo seem the most rankled since the crucial “first steps”
seem to have survived critical scrutiny.
19. Much later I discovered that
my father was quoting Ether 12:26.
20. For example, G. Homer Durham
was then chair of the Political Science Department and later, among other
things, president of Arizona State University and eventually the LDS Church
Historian and a General Authority.
21. See Lavina Anderson, “DNA
Mormon: D. Michael Quinn,” in Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters,
ed. John Sillito and Susan Staker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002),
329–63. The expression “DNA Mormon” is Quinn’s own characterization
of himself. When he was excommunicated, he told reporters that he was “a
DNA Mormon. It’s in me, whether they accept or remove me.” Quinn, quoted
in “Six Intellectuals Disciplined for Apostasy,” Sunstone,
November 1993, 65–73 at 68. His remarks were attributed to something
that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Anderson seems to have
chosen not to indicate the casual source of the language in her title. In
1998, Quinn sought to defend himself by returning to his rather odd genetic
metaphor. Though excommunicated for “apostasy and conduct unbecoming
a member,” he explained that, “nevertheless, as a seventh-generation
member of the church I remain a DNA Mormon.”
22. Lavina Anderson, for example,
claimed that Quinn “inherited his seventh-generation identity as
a Mormon” from his mother. “DNA Mormon,” 353. This kind of
language, often used by sectarian anti-Mormons like Sandra and Jerald Tanner,
clearly has the function of providing the critic with credentials as an inside
authority. In Quinn’s case it also seems to suggest that membership in the
church, as well as faith and devotion to God, are somehow biologically transmitted
and hence are not matters of conscious choice.
23. See my essay entitled “The Secular Relevance
of the Gospel,” Dialogue 4/4 (1969): 76–78, for the first
use of the label cultural Mormonism in this sense and for a characterization
of the ideology and its adherents.
24. For a sympathetic account of
the activities of these fellows, see Thomas A. Blakeley, “The Swearing
Elders: The Birth of the Mormon Intelligentsia,” Sunstone, January
1986, 8–13; and, for a reminiscence, see Richard D. Poll, “Swearing
Elders: Some Reflections,” Sunstone, January 1986, 14–17;
and, for a recent homily, see Will Bagley, “History Matters: ‘Swearing
Elders’ Left Legacy of Lively Debate among Mormon Intellectuals,” Salt
Lake Tribune, 1 December 2002.
25. “An Interview with Sterling
McMurrin,” Dialogue 17/1 (1984): 25. A version of this interview
with this same language was also published as “The History of Mormonism
and Church Authorities: An Interview with Sterling M. McMurrin,” Free
Inquiry 4/1 (1983–84): 32–34.
26. Sterling M. McMurrin and L. Jackson Newell,
Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin on Philosophy,
Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 114.
27. McMurrin and Newell, Matters
of Conscience, 114.
28. Matters of Conscience
is a useful collection of McMurrin’s playful repartee and amusing tales.
29. Marty, “Two Integrities,”
30. McMurrin and Newell, Matters
of Conscience, 368.
31. For a new translation of the
Theological-Political Treatise, see Spinoza, Complete Works,
trans. Samuel Shirley, ed. Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002),
32. Spinoza, Complete Works,
33. Leo Strauss, Die Religionskritik
Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft: Untersuchungen zu Spinozas
Theologisch-Politischem Traktat (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1930). For the
later authorized English translation of this book, see Strauss, Spinoza’s
Critique of Religion, trans. E. M. Sinclair (New York: Schocken Books,
34. Moses Maimonides, The Guide
of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago
35. The Chief Works of Benedict
de Spinoza: A Theologico-Political Treatise and a Political Treatise, trans.
R. H. M. Elwes (1883; repr. New York: Dover, 1951), 1:7.
36. See Roy A. Harrisville and Walter
Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical
Method from Spinoza to Käseman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), especially
37. Strauss, “Preface to the
English Translation,” Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, 28–29.
Strauss described Spinoza as “the greatest man of Jewish origin who had
openly denied the truth of Judaism and had ceased to belong to the Jewish
people without becoming a Christian” (p. 15). See also Strauss, “Preface
to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,” in his Liberalism: Ancient and
Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 239.
38. Fawn McKay Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
1. This unpublished item is a five-page, double-spaced essay written in 1968
at the request of Irma Saffold for the Western Review: A Journal of the
Humanities (a literary magazine published at Western New Mexico University
in Silver City, New Mexico). For reasons that are not clear, the essay was
never published. Saffold indicated to Brodie that a forthcoming issue of Western
Review would contain a symposium “on the Mormon intellectual, his
background, his role, his achievements, and his problems.” See the letter
from Saffold to Fawn Brodie, 11 January 1968. The original of both the
essay and the letter can be found in the Papers of Fawn Brodie, Box 65, Fd
2, in Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah,
Salt Lake City, Utah.
39. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
40. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
41. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
42. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
43. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
44. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
45. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
46. Brodie, “The Mormon Intellectual,”
47. See entries in Royall’s Paul
Pry’s Weekly Bulletin beginning on 25 July 1829 and continuing on
8 August and 29 August 1829. Dan Vogel thinks that Jeremiah O. Block
was the editor of Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin and hence attributes the
three essays attacking Joseph Smith to him. His evidence is that Abner Cole
once named Block as editor of the Rochester Bulletin and referred to
him as “a certain Mr. Block, of ‘Paul Pry’ memory.” Dan Vogel, ed.,
Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 3:224
n. 2. Vogel does not seem aware that a “Paul Pry” is a type—the
name for any belligerent, sarcastic, antireligious zealot—and not a
single person. The exact author of those three essays remains unknown. But
the editor of the paper in which they appeared is known, and it was not Block,
as Vogel claims. For details, see Louis Midgley, “Prying into Palmer,”
FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 366–67.
48. On 26 June 1829, in the
first published reference to the Book of Mormon and nine months prior to its
publication, an anonymous writer in the Wayne Sentinel derisively referred
to Joseph Smith’s “Gold Bible.” Later the title “Gold Bible”
or “Golden Bible,” according to the author of “Gold Bible,”
Palmyra Reflector, 13 January 1830, 20, was explained as follows:
“We inadvertently neglected in our remarks last week, respecting this
wonderful work, to accompany them with the explanations requisite
to, correct understanding of it. The appellation of ‘Gold Bible,’ is only
a cant cognomen that has been given it by the unbelievers—for
be it known that this Book, as well as the sacred volume which is held so
valuable by all good Christians, is not without its revilers and unbelievers—by
way of derision. The true title of the work, as appears from the copy-right,
is ‘the Book of Mormon.’ ”
49. For those unfamiliar with the bedrock of anti-Mormon
rhetoric, the following from Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin, 8 August
1829, provides an instructive example: “Now the rest of the deeds of
Israel . . . how he yet liveth in shame, and of Joseph and Wanton how they
still cleave unto Israel, and of Horace the publican ‘how he couldn’t git
no beef‘ on the fourth day of the week, and of Hiram the Jeromite,
how he gave unto Israel a writing promising to cleave unto him, and how he
too done the unclean thing against the body of a large oak near the precincts
of the tabernacle, and of Chad the money lender how he squanders the monies
of the children of Samuel the miser. Behold, all these things, yea
many more, are graven on the massy leaves of the Golden Book, and are now
in the custody of Joseph the prophet.” During Joseph Smith’s lifetime,
anti-Mormon literature did not move much beyond this sort of gibberish. Three
months after the Book of Mormon was published, the notorious Abner Cole (aka
Obediah Dogberry Jr.) published a bizarre caricature under the title “Book
of Pukei.” See Palmyra Reflector, 22 June and 7 July
1830. Why the name Pukei? Dan Vogel provides several possible explanations.
For example, he thinks that the word Pukei might have been taken from
puke, meaning a “poor puny, unhealthy-looking person.” Early
Mormon Documents, 3:231 n. 20. Pukei is more likely to have been
drawn by Cole from puke, meaning “to burst forth, vomit, spew.”
See the 1828 Webster’s under puke. Vogel overlooks this possibility.
50. Juggler is a highly pejorative term.
The word has roots in the Latin joculator, where its cognates include
jester, one who “jokes” or tricks. Hence a “juggler”
is a person who deceives by trickery or manipulation. The 1828 Webster’s defines
it as “one who praetices [sic] or exhibits tricks by sleight of
hand,” or “a cheat; a deceiver; a tricklish fellow.”
51. See John Sherer’s letter dated 18 November
1830 to the Reverend Absalom Peters of the American Home Missionary Society.
Sherer’s letter is quoted by H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing
Mormonism: Tradition and Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Smith Research
Associates, 1994), 187.
52. Sherer’s letter, in Marquardt and Walters, Inventing
53. Sherer’s letter, in Marquardt and Walters, Inventing
Mormonism, 187. The Reverend Sherer was also outraged when he discovered
that the Saints in Colesville viewed him and his associates, while Christian,
as “formalists, ‘having the form of Godliness, but denying the power.’ ”
54. See Louis Midgley, “A ‘Tangled Web': The Walter
Martin Miasma,” FARMS Review of Books 12/1 (2000): 371–434;
Louis Midgley, “Anti-Mormonism and the Newfangled Countercult Culture,”
FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 271–340 at 286–93, 330–31.
55. For prepublication comments on Douglas Cowan’s
Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult
(Westport, CT: Preager, 2003), see Louis Midgley, “On Caliban Mischief,”
FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): xii–xv; and, for brief comments, see
also Midgley, “Cowan on the Countercult,” FARMS Review 16/2
56. See Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and David M. Whitchurch,
“Assessing the Countercult,” in this number, pages 311–35.
57. For a striking example of a thoroughly reprehensible,
fundamentalist falsification of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ,
see Richard Abanes, One Nation under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church
(New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002, rev. paperback edition 2003).
58. For example, Watchman Fellowship supports
Coleen Ralson’s “Nauvoo Christian Visitor’s Center,” which is within
a stone’s throw of the Nauvoo Temple.
59. Dennis A Wright, “Why I
Am Not a Mormon (Part Two),” The Evangel, April 2004, 2.
60. Wright, “Why I Am Not a Mormon (Part
Two),” 2. But Wright wrote the following in 2002: “Let me be very
quick to admit that there are those involved in Christian apologetics who
are certified ‘nut cases.’ All of us are aware of their tribe and all we can
do is shake our heads at the sadness of their stupidity.” Dennis A. Wright,
“A Plethora of Possibilities,” The Evangel, September 2002,
61. James K. Walker, who for three years has been
both “president of Watchman Fellowship and Utah Missions,” recently
admitted that UMI Ministries “has been experiencing a serious shortfall
in financial support for a year now,” as an introduction to the announcement
that the Reverend Wright had “resigned” and as part of his explanation
for why the publication of the tabloid entitled The Evangel had been
postponed. Walker has taken over as “editor” while an effort is
being made to find someone to replace Wright, who had served as “writer,
researcher and speaker,” in addition to directing UMI Ministries and
editing its tabloid, from 1997 until his recent “resignation.” See
James K. Walker, “Dr. Dennis Wright Resigns as Editor of The Evangel,”
The Evangel, May/June 2005, 1. Walker advertises himself as a former
“4th generation” Saint, who in his youth was once ordained to the
Aaronic Priesthood. See “James Walker, Who Are You?” The Evangel,
May/June 2005, 2.
62. For some details, see Louis
Midgley, “Anti-Mormonism and the Newfangled Countercult Culture,”
FARMS Review 10/1 (1998): 271–340 at 332–33. The SBC divested
itself of Utah Missions in 1997.
63. For some of the details, see “Anti-Mormonism
and the Newfangled Countercult Culture,” 333 n. 171.
64. John L. Smith, in his semiliterate way, had
become a favorite of LDS countercult watchers, which admittedly was only a
tiny group mildly amused by some low-end entertainment. This is what I have
described as the “fun factor” in observing the dreadful countercult
65. Dennis Wright and his associates
at Watchman Fellowship seemed especially troubled by the Nauvoo Temple. Throughout
2002, efforts were made to mock and belittle that building and its place in
the faith of the Saints. Some of this snide stuff was found in the columns
written by Colleen Ralson, who operates the Nauvoo Christian Visitor’s Center.
She complained about “all the satanic, occult symbols” on the Nauvoo
Temple. Colleen Ralson, “We Survived!” The Evangel, Summer
2002, 9. This kind of language, of course, fed the bigotry of those who have
been told that Latter-day Saint temples are demonic and filled with occult
symbols, supposedly satanic pentagrams, and so forth—that is, the nonsense
published by those Wright identified as the certifiable “nut cases”
among countercultists. Wright published photographs of exterior decorations
on the Nauvoo Temple with the caption reading: “Detail showing the inverted
pentagram windows,” The Evangel, Summer 2002, 1. Wright also published
a long diatribe by Richard Seedorf entitled “Nauvoo Temple: A House of
Deceit” in the same issue (pp. 1, 5, 10). And Wright published a
photo of a window “still in window maker’s shop in Nauvoo. Is the pentagram,”
he asked, “an occult symbol? We report, you decide.” The Evangel,
Winter 2002, 7. Earlier, after he had toured the Nauvoo Temple, he reported
that “the most interesting thing [he] saw was the abundance of pentagrams.
How about that?” Wright, “I Visited the Temple,” The Evangel,
May 2002, 2.
66. Wright, “Why I Am Not a Mormon (Part
67. See Richard Stout, “How
Could Joseph Smith Have Known That? Part Twenty-Five,” The Evangel,
April 2004, 3, 10, which took the following juvenile form: “Solomon Spalding
Canonized Minor LDS Prophet, By Jack M. Ormon (Deseret Daily Dispatch—Evening
Edition, 1 April 2004).” See also Stout’s similar unseemly diatribe
entitled “Mormon Professor Claims Football Nephite Sport,” The
Evangel, April 2002, 4, 6. After a number of complaints, Dennis Wright
seems to have found it necessary to publish the following disclaimer: “We
here at Utah Missions and Watchman Fellowship do not wish to be thought of
as being among the ‘nut cases’ in Christian apologetics—nor do we
wish for others to so consider Mr. Stout.” Dennis A. Wright, “A
Plethora of Possibilities,” The Evangel, September 2002, 2, emphasis
68. When John L. Smith was expelled
from UMI Ministries, he started up his own tabloid, blasting away at Dennis
Wright’s hostile takeover. He seems to have drawn away financial support for
UMI Ministries, which had to turn to Watchman Fellowship for funding.
69. See Karl Barth’s six-million-word,
unfinished, thirteen-volume Church Dogmatics, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley
and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: Clark, 1957– ).
70. See, for example, Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the
Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” in Biblical Interpretation
in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church, ed. Richard John
Neuhaus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 1989), 1–23. Ratzinger read his
Erasmus Lecture on 27 January 1988 at St. Peter’s Church in New York City.
71. See, for example, Edward Schillebeeckx,
Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord, trans. John Bowden (New York:
Crossroad, 1983); and his Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, trans.
Hurbert Hoskins (New York: Crossroad, 1985).
72. Among a number of other writers,
I have in mind Roger Olson, Clark Pinnock, Stanley Grenz, and John Sanders.
For some details, see Midgley, “On Caliban Mischief,” xxiv–xxxii.
73. For a recent example of this
illusion, see Paul Owen, “Our Witness to the Mormons,” posted on
Pastor Greg Johnson’s Web page, www.standingtogether.org (accessed 5 August
74. Quoted from Richard Mouw, “Response to
Criticism of Richard Mouw (We Have Sinned against You),” at www.standingtogether.org/Responses_mouw.doc,
p. 4 (accessed 2 December 2004, but no longer available).
75. Though anti-Mormons might have imagined that
what Ravi Zacharias said on that occasion was a much deserved punishment for
the pagan Mormons present that evening, the talk he gave was one of his theatrical
stump speeches about Jesus, which Latter-day Saints did not find either especially
enlightening or at all objectionable.
76. Richard J. Mouw, foreword to
The New Mormon Challenge, ed. Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and
Paul Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 11.
77. James White, of Alpha and Omega
Ministries, has discovered that the blog is a superb instrument of aggression.
He loves confrontations; he revels in setting out his hostility toward those
who do not agree with his extreme version of Calvinism. So on 2 May 2005
he started a rant about the publication by Eerdmans Publishing—an evangelical
press—of Robert L. Millet’s A Different Jesus (which had the
endorsement of Richard Mouw). For the details, see www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=411
(accessed 8 August 2005). White has quarreled recently with Richard Mouw,
Douglas Cowan, Paul Owen, and a host of others. These amusing items can be
accessed by going to the organization’s Web page and then searching the archive
of White’s blog.
78. For details, see Midgley, “Cowan on the
Countercult,” 403. Pastor Greg Johnson had the item on his Web page in
which Mouw identified Walter Martin and Dave Hunt as examples of those who
“bear false witness” against the Saints. This has unfortunately
now been removed.
79. See, for example, Ronald V. Huggins, “An
Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.” This item is available
on a Web page operated by Luke Wilson in Grand Rapids, Michigan, under the
curious name Institute for Religious Research. It is not an academic institution,
but merely a sectarian propaganda mill parading under an academic title. Wilson
offers a general countercult Web page (see www.irr.org, accessed 8 August
2005) and an anti-Mormon adjunct site under the deceptive name “Mormons
in Transition” (see www.irr.org/mit, accessed 8 August 2005). The
essay by Huggins can be found at the following address: www.irr.org/mit/authentic-dialogue.html
(accessed 8 August 2005). Not surprisingly, “An Appeal for an Authentic
Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue” was also published by the Watchman Fellowship
in The Evangel, May/June 2005, 1, 3. Huggins is an executive board
member of Luke Wilson’s Institute for Religious Research, as well as an assistant
professor of theological and historical studies at the Salt Lake Theological
80. Huggins, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon
81. Huggins, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon
82 Huggins, “An Appeal for
Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.”
83. Huggins, “An Appeal for
Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.”
84. Huggins, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon
85. Huggins, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon
86. Huggins, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon
87. Huggins, “An Appeal for
Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.”
88. Huggins, “An Appeal for
Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.”
89. Huggins, “An Appeal for
Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue.” On 26 July 2003 at the Salt
Lake Theological Seminary, there was a day-long conference that featured the
presentation of an approach called “Bridges” that was developed
by Ken Mulholland and his associates, including Ron Huggins, on “how
Christians can relate to their Mormon neighbors with sensitivity and awareness.”
Pastor Greg Johnson actually began the presentations at this conference by
describing his conversations, both public and private, with Robert Millet.
He did not, however, remain to take heat from Ronald Huggins, Kurt Van Gorden,
Luke Wilson, Sandra Tanner, Bill McKeever, and others. However, I did stay
for the entire conference and found it very divisive.
90. Larry E. Morris, “ ’I Should Have
an Eye Single to the Glory of God': Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and
the Plates,” in this number, pages 11–82.
91. See Nicholas S. Literski, “Mormonism,
Masonry, and Mischief: Clyde Forsberg’s Equal Rites,” in this
number, pages 1–10.
92. Clyde R. Forsberg Jr., Equal
Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture (New
York: Columbia University Press, 2004).
93. See Clyde R. Forsberg Jr., “The Roots
of Early Mormonism: An Exegetical Inquiry” (master’s thesis, University
of Calgary, May 1990), which was in religious studies, and also his “In
Search of the Historical Nephi: The Book of Mormon, ‘Evangelicalism’
and Antebellum American Popular Culture c. 1830s” (PhD dissertation,
Queen’s University, April 1994). Forsberg claims that he got support for this
work from Brent Metcalfe, Dan Vogel, Bill Russell, and Newell Bringhurst (p. vi).
A portion of his dissertation was published as “Retelling the Greatest
Story Ever Told: Popular Literature as Scripture in Antebellum America,”
Dialogue 29/4 (1996): 69–86. The following is an example of the
confusion in Forsberg’s dissertation, which follows fourteen years of intensive
study. He asserts that “the underlying assumption of [Hugh] Nibley’s
work is that scientific or historical truth are one and the same” (p. 4).
What this means is that “at bottom, the assumption is that faith can
be proven scientifically” (p. 4). Then he argues that this notion
faces “the great stumbling block of the ‘scientific history’ of the last
century, that ‘noble dream’ which assumed that science was the friend of faith
and objectivity and the lamp of the righteous.” He has, to the degree
that any of this makes sense, gotten it exactly backwards. Latter-day Saint
scholars, especially those who have published in this Review, have
argued consistently against the illusion that history is a science or that
objectivity is possible or even desirable. Forsberg has also self-published
a novel entitled All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men: Love, Alienation
and “Reconciliation” in a Big, BIG Mormon Family (Xlibris, 2001).
94. See Andrew H. Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges,
“No, Dan, That’s Still Not History,” in this number, pages 205–22.
95. See Ryan Parr, “Missing the Boat to Ancient
American . . . Just Plain Missing the Boat,” in this number,
96 See Kent P. Jackson, “Leaving the Facts
and the Faith,” in this number, pages 107–21; and Gregory
Taggart, “How Martha Wrote an Anti-Mormon Book (Using Her Father’s Handbook
as Her Guide?),” pages 123–70. Jackson once published a highly
critical review of Hugh Nibley’s scholarship; see Kent P. Jackson, review
of Old Testament and Related Studies, by Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies
28/4 (1988): 114–19. I showed that Jackson was mistaken on every substantive
point; see Midgley, “Hugh Winder Nibley: Bibliography and Register,”
in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed.
John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS,
97. See Allen R. Buskirk, “Science, Pseudoscience,
and Religious Belief,” in this number, pages 273–309.
98. See Truman Madsen, ed., Reflections on
Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center,
1978), 201–19. On 30 March 1976, Professor Benz delivered a forum address
at BYU entitled “Mormonism and the Secularization of Religions in the
Modern World”; see BYU Studies 16/4 (1976): 627–39.
99. See Dilworth B. Parkinson, “ ’We
Have Received, and We Need No More,’ ” in this number, pages 255–71.