On June 18th, 2017, I wrote to President Dieter Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the sincere hope he might take the time to respond to several specific concerns I had about the truth claims of the Mormon Church.
President Uchtdorf was my choice because I viewed him as one of a few General Authorities that might have the intelligence, courage, and humility to answer my questions.
I had a colleague remark to me that Elder Uchtdorf would not personally address my concerns and in all likelihood would never even see my letter. Rather I should expect a form letter response from an underling or a missive from my Stake President.
Sadly, and it would seem predictably, that is just what happened. I did receive a rather terse ‘form-letter’ riposte from his secretary who also copied my Stake President.
Considering the age and the tenure the ‘Brethren,’ have enjoyed, they must all be painfully aware of the many problems, contradictions and inconsistencies that exist vis-à-vis the truth claims of the LDS Church, as well as the myriad accusations of corruption, dishonesty, profligacy, and immorality leveled at its founder Joseph Smith.
As well, considering the Church’s historic lack of openness, I would suspect they are privy to inculpatory documents and materials locked away in the First Presidency’s vault, never to see the light of day.
Occasionally I have heard an intrepid member muse, “Do you think they, that is, the General Authorities, believe the Church’s is true, or are they victims of self-delusion, avarice, the affluent lifestyle the Church provides them, or is all about their egos and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Is it the ‘fortune in men’s eyes, that drives them?”
No doubt there is a continuum of belief and disbelief amongst the ‘Brethren.’
The late Grant Palmer, author of, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins spoke about several meetings he had with a General Authority, who told him straight up that the top leaders of the Church all learn within a year or two of being called that the Church is a fraud.
Did this fellow know what he was talking about, was he telling the truth?
There is no way for me to know if this fellow was being truthful. He could be deluded, had an ax to grind, a liar or mad as a March hare. He wouldn’t be the first General Authority we could confidently apply each of those adjectives to.
But, having read Grant’s books on Jesus, having communicated with him and being aware of his service to the least among us – in his case, inmates in the Utah prison system; I don’t doubt that Grant Palmer was telling the truth.
In contrast, to the cynical view this question begs, as a child, I met Hugh B. Brown, a man my father knew well and revered, who he described as a man of God, a man without guile.
Although Elder Brown served as an Apostle and member of the First Presidency, he confessed to moments of doubt, as shown by the following letter to a friend going through a faith crisis:
“I was really glad to get your letter of October 25th, and I appreciate your confidence. The revelation of your mental and spiritual struggle does not come as a surprise, that the waters of your usual placid soul had become somewhat, roiled and disturbed.
Would you be surprised if I should tell you that I, too, have had periods of perplexity, uncertainty, and doubt; that I, too, have known the darkness, fogginess, and chill of the valley which lies between illuminated peaks of faith and confidence, and that only the memory of the hilltops along the road over which I have come coupled with the somewhat misty vision of others still ahead has given me the courage to plod on when I was tempted to “chuck it all,” to wrap myself in the comfortless blanket of doubt and selfcommiseration and just quit the field.
Well, I have had that experience. But this I can say positively, that each peak which I have climbed has seemed higher and more inspiring than the last, due at least in part, I think, to the dark background of the valley through which I came. Sharp contrasts are sometimes most revealing.
In view of the above admission, you will not expect an argument or a brief on faith in God and immortality. However, and I hope it may be so, a relating of some personal experiences and observations may give you a fellow-feeling and bring comfort, courage, hope, and faith may renew in you the spirit of adventure, of zest for the quest of truth.”
I find Elder Brown’s honesty not only refreshing but stirringly human. If this good man said he believed it to be true, I don’t doubt him.
Nonetheless, putting this question aside for the moment, all is not well in Zion.
I suspect that there have never been so many people abandoning the LDS Church since 1838.
In a recent article by Jana K. Riess, a writer on American religion entitled, “The Next Mormon Research,” she indicates proportionately why members are leaving the LDS Church.
Her work shows that 6% of her respondents said they left the Church after discovering Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a “magic stone” in his hat. Another 3% because of DNA evidence showing no Hebrew nexus with the aboriginal peoples of North America; but one-third, over 30%, reported that they left because they could not trust the leadership of the Church to tell the truth.
Clearly the Church’s current raison d’être, fails on several fronts.
One being they view openness, honesty and dialogue as real and present dangers and free discussion as dissent and something that must be suppressed. Their fear is reflected in such Orwellian avowals as,” Not everything that is true is useful,” and” It’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”
Gordon Hinckley once said, and with a straight face, “We have nothing to hide, our history is an open book.”
Well, I have taken him at his word and opened that book, and I am troubled by what I find on its pages.
In this letter, I pose what, from my perspective, are the most significant questions and fundamental problems relating to the historicity of Mormonism, the Church’s foundational claims and the Joseph Smith story.
I have have tried to be fair and balanced presenting the most intelligible rebuttals and remedies that FairMormon has published vis-à-vis my interrogatories. It is my hope that this methodology might help others, like myself, who are experiencing honest doubts to discover what is true and what is false.
I have never had, nor do I now have any agenda beyond a genuine search for knowledge, nor am I animated by any of the motivations that Mormons jump to when someone begins to question.
1. Someone gave offense: No one hurt me, I love and respect my friends and
family many of whom are committed members.
2. A desire to sin: I am 70 years old, so it’s a little late for that!
3. Never had a testimony in the first place: Wrong again, Why would I have
served in various callings, paid my tithing and attended the temple if I had
4. Lazy, not reading the scriptures: I love the Bible and read it often; admittedly
the Book of Mormon, not so much. A Letter to an Apostle
5. Seduced by anti-Mormon literature: Hardly, it is easy to identify those who hate
and those whose purpose is to destroy. I would not consider the work of
Richard Bushman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Fawn Brodie, B. H. Roberts, Dan
Vogel or Grant Palmer however anti-Mormon simply because they have the
courage to question.
I wish the Church to be true for what an amazing and beautiful future it portends. To be forever together with loved ones, to walk with the Savior and grow, learn and progress forever.
But wishing does not make it so. No matter how appealing this ‘Plan of Salvation’ is, above all be must be real and not just the musing of a brilliantly creative ploughboy prophet.
There is a wonderful allegory in Book Seven of Plato’s The Republic often referred to as ‘Plato’s Cave.’ It tells the story of men held prisoner, chained and shackled such that they cannot look to their left, their right or most importantly behind themselves, rather they can only see forward at the wall directly in front.
Behind them is a blazing fire and between them and the fire a corridor along which men walk carrying statues, tools and other large objects. All that the prisoners can see however, is the shadows of the objects that are projected on the cave wall in front of them.
Some older prisoners, ‘the elders,’ have developed explanations as to what these shadows represent; what their meaning is.
One day, a prisoner is released. Now free to wander the cave, he sees the fire, and objects carried in front of it. This former prisoner comes to understand the origins of the shadows, and to his amazement, he sees that the shadows were often misinterpreted. He hurries back to share with his fellow prisoners the true meaning of the shadows, what the truth is. But rather than welcome and embrace this new knowledge, his former friends ridiculed him, particularly the elders, who even seek to take his life.
Finally, the freed prisoner is let out of the cave into the world beyond, a world filled with radiant sunshine where he can now see the fullness of reality illuminated by the brilliance of the sun.
You and I are like those prisoners. We see as it says in Corinthians, through a glass darkly. We live in a world where, like the prisoners, our knowledge is imperfect; a world of conjecture and illusion.
Some elders presume to know what the shadows mean, but they too are prisoners, and their shackles are as firmly in place as is our own.
I don’t presume to be that prisoner freed from his chains who now longs to share the truth as only he can see it. I am a fellow prisoner, viewing the shapes and shadows on the wall, but seeking the truth by asking those questions that ‘the elders’ hope the prisoners dare not ask.
We will all leave the cave one day and will discover in that day, as we enter that new world filled with the dazzling brightness of truth that our lives have been spent wisely engaged in a correct and worthy cause, or that we have been credulous fools, desiring so much to feel good about our present and our future, to feel safe, that we had sadly become victims of an attractive fraud.
I hope that this letter and the research supporting it might provide greater clarity regarding the shadows that animate our actions and beliefs. I hope that at least it will show that there are alternative interpretations to those presented by the ‘elders.’
This study may well strengthen your testimony as you face the greatest problems with the current LDS narrative and come to more fully embrace the explanations and rationalizations proffered by the Church and her apologists as being altogether reasonable.
Or it might lead you to a place where you discover that perhaps your knowledge and the breath of your understanding based on what you have been taught is far less than perfect or complete. That there is more to the story.
In either case what a fascinating story it is.
But let me end this preface with a warning.
When you view the image below, at first blush you will see either a young attractive woman with her head turned away from you, or you will see an old witch.
If you persist, you will eventually come to see both. From that point on however, any time you again view this same image you will immediately see both iterations.
So, read on at your peril, because once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you will never get it back in again.
A Letter to an Apostle – Raison d’etre
“… convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical argument, or by the word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God for redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds.”
Apostle Orson Pratt,
As you say, Orson. I have asked many questions in my ‘A Letter to an Apostle’ that as Orson says. ‘by reason and logic’ are difficult to reconcile.
I am not asking out of ignorance. I have diligently sought out, explored, researched and thoroughly investigated each of the concerns and difficulties that are at issue for me. I have sought out the most recent, reliable and comprehensive material related to each of my interrogatories. I have also endeavored to provide only facts and verifiable data rather than opinions and testimonies.
Most of the facts I quote as well as the commentaries I reference come from Church-friendly sources, LDS historical documents, Church newspapers and magazines, the Journal of Discourses , Lectures on Faith, the History of the Church. I have also gone to the letters of learned and even some not so learned Church leaders, and, of course, the Scriptures themselves.
The rest has been garnered from serious and often meticulous research conducted by many of the world’s leading scholars in several scientific disciplines and, of course, professional historians. You will not find reference to ‘The God Makers,’ or the many mean-spirited articles posted on the Internet by those whose obvious purpose is to mock and despoil.
When it comes to questions of a purely scientific nature, matters relating to archaeology, anthropology, paleontology or genetics, I have given greater credence to the considered opinions of non-Mormon scientists and researchers because these scholars have fewer biases and predispositions that might impede their willingness to go where the truth leads them.
At BYU, any criticism of the Church or its leaders or even espousing a view as a private citizen that the ‘Brethren‘ disapprove of is absolutely forbidden and will result in the termination of the offending faculty member as Ruthie Robertson, a professor of political science discovered when she placed a post on her personal Facebook page supporting the LGBT community. BYU demanded she retract her statement and when she refused and was summarily dismissed.
When a reporter asked the Church to comment on the state of academic freedom at BYU, they released the following statement:
“All good LDS, including scholars, must accept the judgment of the Church’s General Authorities. If it is what the brethren want, then good LDS must say it is appropriate. This may be difficult for scholars, but obedience is an important concept “Mormon Brethren Silencing Scholars?”
Salt Lake Tribune , May 26, 1983, p. B4
Having taught at a large public university which placed a value on freedom of expression, and a commitment to pursue truth without fear of where it leads, I can imagine how difficult it must be to teach at a place like BYU where authoritarian efforts to curtail free and independent thinking is a way of life.
Also, it is important to recognize that non-Mormon academics publish and are thereby subject to peer review. In contrast, it is rare that a paper on archeology or anthropology coming out of a school like BYU would even be accepted for publication by a prestigious scientific journal, let alone face the often-withering examination of one’s fellow scholars.
I must tell you; I had no intention of writing this book. I sought answers from many others including local priesthood leaders long before writing to President Uchtdorf.
The typical response to my questions was usually no response; instead, there would be a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable change of subject.
It soon became clear to me that TBMs feel that if they were even to entertain a question connected to the Church’s official narrative; they would be somehow sucked into an abyss of disbelief resulting in an alarming disruption of their comfortable homeostasis.
I remember once asking a Bishop and a family member how he deals with the fact that there is no archaeological evident supporting the Book of Mormon? You would have thought I asked him how often he had sex with his wife. The conversation went from archaeology to the color he planned to paint his kitchen in the “twinkling of an eye.”
So, absent any help from ward or stake priesthood leaders or Uchtdorf himself, I published this open letter on the Internet in 2017 in the faint hope that someone in the Church’s leadership might perhaps then respond to my concerns.
While I have yet to receive any direct response to this letter from any of the ‘Brethren,’ it seems to have gotten their attention as FairMormon immediately publishing a lengthy rebuttal to it. Their confutation could be found at:
I can’t say FairMormon’s response to my on-line letter was of absolutely no value. Some of their explanations were interesting and a couple of their apologies sound and if not probable at least possible.
However, too often these anonymous defenders of the faith, lacking convincing answers, would proffer some defense or rationalization no matter how irrational or improbable, rather than just being honest and say, “we don’t know.”
FairMormon of course preaches to the choir; their Raison d’etre is to justify all statements and actions taken by Church leaders past and present. You will never hear them say, ‘that was a mistake;’ or ‘President Nelson is not an expert in that area,’ rather they will dispense superficially plausible apologetic ‘snake oil,’ that will be eagerly swallowed by members who just crave a quick fix to dull their pesky cognitive dissonance.
After all, TBMs are not looking for a deep dive into truth, rather just enough conjectural adhesive to keep their shelves from altogether collapsing.
FairMormon searches for, interprets and favors only that information and just those data which confirms their pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses; their conclusions have been set before they have even given ear to any evidence. This is called confirmation bias, and it is intellectually dishonest.
I have been around long enough and have studied history and human nature long enough to feel that well-meaning zealots seldom do anything to advance the cause of truth and often do much to harm it. Examples range from the Church’s sexually incursive and psychologically damaging youth interviews to the obscenity of Mountain Meadows.
FairMormon’s efforts, follow their Mormon mindset, feelings trump facts . They prefer to speak about possibilities than probabilities.
So, instead of taking these apologists’ avowals as ‘Gospel,’ I have commented where I feel their responses to what I have written are misleading or lacks credulity or plain old common sense. My standard is simple – what would a reasonable man or woman find more compelling and believable – the evidence, facts and first-hand statements I have uncovered and carefully cited in my research or the best arguments and renouncements, the Mormon Church, and her army of apologists can come up with.
To apply this standard, I have devised a rating system based on Occam’s Razor.
As you are no doubt aware, Occam’s Razor (also Ockham’s Razor) or sometimes the “Law of Parsimony,” is a philosophical problem-solving principle first attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher.
His ‘law’ can be interpreted as‘ From among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.’ It is the most likely to be true or at least the most correct – until proven otherwise. It is the same principle taught in medical school, “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras!”
‘Occam’s Razor’ then is the test, and I have distilled it into the following rating scale to test the apologist’s efforts.
The Mormon Church is an immensely wealthy, powerful and secretive corporation seeking to secure the time and acquire the treasure of sincere, honest people who are, more often than not, no match for the Church’s well-oiled PR machine. So, forgive me if I do not pull any punches in presenting facts and evidence that raises doubts about the Church’s narrative or the truthfulness of its past or present leadership.
I don’t believe it unfair to say truth has never been a core value for the Mormon leadership, and I am not just talking about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor who lied openly and repeatedly but many more recent, Prophets as well.
In an interview with Time Magazine in August 1997, Gordon B. Hinckley was asked,“ Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”
He abashedly responded, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.”
“I don’t know if we teach it?”
Could Gordon have missed what Joseph Smith said about it: “God himself was Once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, and He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.”
Or, what he himself had written a decade before this interview:
“The whole design of the gospel is to lead us, onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follett sermon and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become!”
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 179;
I have never been a fan of Boyd Packer; I found him a rather foolish, hateful man full of inane and fatuous pronouncements.
But as we are discussing truth and honesty let me provide one of his gems:
“I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting. It destroys. I could tell most of the secretaries in the church office building that they are ugly and fat. That would be the truth, but it would hurt and destroy them. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.”
Boyd K. Packer, Faithful History:
Essay on Writing Mormon History, p.103, fn.
But the likes of Boyd Packer are hardly representative of rank and file Latter-Day Saints.
As I said in my original letter to President Uchtdorf, I have always found that, with few exceptions, Mormons, and I am not speaking of the leadership, are honest, kind and decent people. Therefore, I don’t doubt that the nameless apologists volunteering their time and talents to FairMormon are doing the best they can with what they have to defend their beliefs and the institution that has inculcated them.
But surely religious fervor, or a strong, “testimony” should not be our standard when searching to know what is true, the only arrow in our quiver. Romans Chapter 10, Verse 2 tells us, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”
I do not accept the Orwellian mantra hoisted on an already subdued people by the likes of Dallin Oaks that,“ Not everything that’s true is useful.”
Useful to whom and for what purpose?
Has Oaks even considered that the corollary to this puerile statement must also hold, “That not everything that is false is NOT useful!”
I am told that Oaks was trained as a lawyer, not at BYU but at a highly ranked law school, the University of Chicago. Surely, he must have taken at least one class in classical logic or philosophy.
Perhaps not or maybe he has just forgotten the L‘ aw of the Excluded Middle,’ espoused by Bertrand Russell. The law states that if ‘A is B’ is false, then ‘A is not B’ must be true.
If we accept that Oaks statement in the affirmative that, ‘A – Not everything that is true’ is ‘B – Useful,’ then the negative corollary,‘ Not everything that is false is not useful,’ must also be true. But then again, perhaps Oaks does in fact believe that. There is no lack of examples in the Mormon experience where things that are known to be wholly untrue are nonetheless very useful.
Joseph Smith’s denials of his polygamous marriages, and the many lies he told the Saints and his wife. False statements? Certainly, but very useful – to him and his agenda!’
The many paintings hanging across the globe in Mormon chapels, visitor centers and temples and still reproduced in Church books and manuals, showing a young strong-chinned Joseph Smith studiously examining the ‘Reformed Egyptian‘ characters on the golden plates while his faithful scribe sits across from him writing down his ‘translation.’ A much more inspiring image than Smith bent over, with his hat in his lap and his head in his hat.
Which of the following two images might move an ‘investigator’ more?
The Church has long known these images were not true representations of reality, but they remain because they are useful.
So, I intend to call bullshit where I find it, whether it comes from Dallin Oaks, Russell Nelson, FairMormon or Joseph Smith.
With that said, in the words of that great dame Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a bumpy night!” Paul A. Douglas March 2018”
Paul A. Douglas
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