Paul A. Douglas
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 that he might take the time to respond to several specific questions I had with regard to the truth claims of the Mormon Church.
I chose to write to President Uchtdorf because I saw him as one of just a very few general authorities that might have the intelligence, courage, and humility to attempt to answer my questions.
I was advised by many that he would never answer me, but rather would either ignore my letter, have a secretary or some other underling respond to me, and/or forward my missive it to my Stake President.
Sadly, and it would seem predictably, that is exactly what happened.
I received a curt one-page ‘form-letter’ response from his secretary who copied my Stake President.
I do not doubt considering the level of education or at least the longevity of the leadership elite of the LDS Church that they are all fully aware of the problems and inconsistencies that exist vis-à-vis the truth claims of the Church, as well as the veracity of the many accusations of corruption, dishonesty, and immorality levelled at its founder Joseph Smith.
I would also suspect that they are privy to numerous exculpatory documents securely locked away in the First Presidency’s vault that may never see the light of day.
I have heard it asked in surprising circles, “Do you think that they, that is, the general authorities really believe the Church’s is true, or are they victims of self-delusion, the affluent life the Church provides them, or is it all about ego, the ‘fortune in men’s eyes, that drives them?”
No doubt there is a continuum of belief and disbelief amongst the ‘Brethren,’ and this does not bother me.
The late Grant Palmer, author of, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins spoke about several meetings that he and several others had with a general authority, who told them that the top leaders of the Church all know full well that the Church is not true.
Did this fellow know what he was talking about? Was he telling the truth?
There is no way for such as I to know if this general authority was telling the truth. He could be have been deluded, a liar or just mentally unstable; he wouldn’t be the first.
But, having read Grant’s books on the Savior, and having communicated with him as well as knowing his service to the least among us, inmates in the Utah prison system; I don’t doubt that Grant Palmer was a truthful man.
In contrast, to the negative and cynical view this question begs, as I child, I met Hugh B. Brown, a man that my father knew well and revered, who he described to me as a man of God, a man without guile.
Elder Brown served as an Apostle and member of the First Presidency, but even he had moments of doubt, as evidenced by the following letter to friend who was 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 self-commiseration 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 just refreshing but stirringly human. If this good man said he believed it to be true I would not doubt that he truly did believe it to be so.
Nonetheless, all is not well in Zion. I suspect that there have never been so many people abandoning the LDS Church since 1837.
In a recent article by Jana Riess, entitled, “The Next Mormon Research,” Jana shows on a proportionate basis why members are leaving the Church.
Her work indicates that 6% of respondents left the Church after discovering Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a “magic stone” in his hat. Just 3% because of DNA evidence showing no Hebrew origins; but fully one-third reported that they left because they could not trust the Church’s leadership to tell the truth.
I believe the Church’s current raison d’être, fails on several fronts. One being that they seem to view openness and dialogue as a real and present danger and any form of dissent as something that must be quashed.
I first sought answers from others including senior local priesthood leaders before writing to President Uchtdorf.
The typical answer was no answer, rather, an uncomfortable change of subject. It seemed that should a TBM even entertain a question regarding the official Church narrative; they might be sucked into an abyss of disbelief resulting in an alarming disruption of their comfortable homeostasis.
The late Gordon Hinckley said, “Well, we have nothing to hide. Our history is an open book.” I have taken him at his word and have opened that book, but in all honesty, I am deeply troubled by what I find on its pages.
In my ‘Letter to an Apostle,‘ I pose what, from my perspective, are the most significant questions and problems relating to the historicity of Mormonism, the Joseph Smith story, and the Church’s foundational claims.
I have tried to be fair and balanced by presenting the most cogent answers and rationalizations that the Church’s army of apologists has published vis-à-vis my interrogatories and I have even replicated FairMormon’s lengthy rebuttals of this letter.
I 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 true search for knowledge.
But, absent any help from President Uchtdorf or local Church leaders I turned to the Church’s apologists, mainly FairMormon and the Maxwell Institute seeking their best answers to similar questions that had been raised by others.
My open letter obviously got the attention of FairMormon or someone at Church headquarters because they have reacted to it with by publishing a lengthy rebuttal. It can be viewed at:
I can’t say FairMormon’s responses were of no help, in fact, some of their explanations were reasonable and interesting. I found, however, that too often these anonymous defenders of the faith, lacking convincing answers, logical answers, rather than just saying, “we don’t know,” would offer some defense no matter how irrational or improbable.
It is obvious that FairMormon is preaching to the choir. Their purpose is to justify any and all statements and actions taken by Church leaders past and present. You will never hear them say, ‘that was a mistake;’ rather they boldly dispense superficially plausible apologetic ‘snake oil,’ that will be appreciably swallowed by member who are really craving just a quick fix for their pesky cognitive dissonance.
Therefore, rather than take the apologists’ avowals as ‘gospel,’ I have commented where I feel their responses lack truthfulness, credulity or just plain common sense.
My standard is simply – what would a reasonable man or woman find more compelling – the evidence, facts and first-hand statements I have uncovered in my research or the best arguments explanations, and repudiations, the Mormon Church, and her apologists proffer.
With this in mind, I have devised a rating system for the LDS apologist’s responses 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 simply as ‘From among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” It is the same principle taught in medical school, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras!”
One consequence of this methodology is the idea that the simplest or most obvious explanation of several competing ones, is the one that is most likely to be the true or at least the most correct – until proven otherwise.
My assessment of their apologetic responses are indicated in the graphic below is then:
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 many men held prisoner, chained and shackled such that they cannot look to their left or their right or behind themselves but only forward at the wall in front of them. Behind them is a blazing fire and between them and the fire is a walkway where men carry statues and other large objects.
All that the prisoners can see is the shadows of the objects that appeared on the cave wall in front of them which they then talk to each other about. Some of the older prisoners, ‘the elders,’ have developed explanations as to what these shadows represent; what their meaning is.
Then one day, a prisoner is released. Now free to wander around the cave, he sees the fire, and many of the objects moved in front of it. This former prisoner finally 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 the reality, many of 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.
My dear brothers and sisters, 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 just 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 that only he can see.
I am just 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. Will we find in that day, as we enter that new world filled with the dazzling brightness of truth, that we had spent our time in the cave wisely or engaged in an attractive fraud?
I hope that this site and the research supporting it might provide greater clarity regarding the shadows that animate our actions and beliefs. At least it will show that there are alternative interpretations to those presented by the ‘elders.’
On a more positive and optimistic note, the LDS Church has shown that, while rare, it can change. God knows they had no qualms about making a hundred thousand changes to the Book of Mormon alone.
Most of them corrections were to correct spelling, grammar and syntex, but some changes were to make it more politically correct, “White and delightsome,” to “Pure and delightsome.” Others to reflect clear doctrinal changes; “…beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.” to “…beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.” And, other changes in response to intense American political pressure. Witness the suspension of polygamy, and acceptance of Blacks into the priesthood.
So, fresh courage take, for when the pressure is on, the ‘Brethren’ receive revelation.
Just my opinion but, if in the future, the United States Government, moves to disallow tax deductibility for organizations discriminating against LGBTQ people as it was moving to do during the Jimmy Carter’s administration for organizations discriminating against African Americans; in that day, the heavens will open!
And while I have my head in my hat, let me say that I believe that women will finally be invited to play a meaningful leadership role in the Church, an accommodation will be made for same-sex unions in some manner, and practicing gay men and women will find a home in the Church.
As I write this in 2018 and the ill-conceived policy of banning the children of Gay parents from Church membership and ordinances is still in place. But things are starting to heat up. The general American population is becoming aware of exclusionary relationship the LDS Church has with the LGBTQ community as well as the horrific suicide rate among Utah youth, many of which were gay.
Later this year Dan Reynold’s documentary ‘Believer’ will be released by HBO which will bring with it a great deal of very bad press for the Mormon Church. I would not be surprised if the Brethren, even with Oaks in the inner circle, walk back its most harmful policies in some way following ‘Believer’s’ release if not pre-emptively in anticipation of it.
If nothing else, I would predict that within three years the Church will react to mounting criticism by removing the membership ban on the children of gay parents.
Why? Because the principal goal of any bureaucracy is viability – survival, and the LDS Church is certainly no exception.
Like most individuals born into their parent’s religion, many Mormons skate through life with never a thought in their heads about the dogma they been inculcated with. Most Mormons have safe, happy childhoods and as they mature to adulthood, through insular youth programs, callings, mission commitments and the like, their lives are given over to the undue influence exerted by the Church.
Not only are they too busy to sin, but they are also too busy to question what they, their parents and their peers assume to be true.
In Southern Alberta, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, on the beautiful Canadian prairies where I grew up, there is a world heritage center called Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
It is an archaeological site known around the world as a remarkable testimony to the life of the Plains indians and bears witness to a method of hunting practiced by the native peoples of the North American plains for nearly 6,000 years.
Due to their excellent understanding of regional topography and bison behavior, native people hunted bison by stampeding them over a precipice. They then carved up the carcasses and dragged the pieces to be butchered and processed in the butchering camp set up on the flats beyond the cliffs.
How did the natives manage to lure the buffalo over the edge?
Remember too they had to do so without the use of horses, which, contrary to the Book of Mormon narrative, didn’t exist in North American before European settlement. The folks at UNESCO described it best:
“To start the hunt, ‘buffalo runners,’ young men trained in animal behavior would entice the herd to follow them by imitating the bleating of a lost calf. As the buffalo moved closer to the drive lanes (long lines of stone cairns were built to help the hunters direct the buffalo to the cliff kill site), the hunters would circle behind and upwind of the herd and scare the animals by shouting and waving robes. The Buffalo engaged in a ‘follow the leader’ behavior to their peril.”
There are features of buffalo that make them especially vulnerable to this type of ruse. First, their eyes are set in their heads such that it is much easier for them to see to the side than the front, and second, when they stampede, their heads are down so low that they cannot see above their head. So much for safety in numbers! But it illustrates again, the law of conformity.
I think those doomed buffalo provide a cautionary tale for members of the LDS Church.
Many faithful Mormons have their heads down, raising their families, fulfilling their callings, attending myriad Church meetings as well as trying to make a living and doing the best they can. Understandably there is little time left over for pensive, contemplative thought. It is so much easier to just listen to the blue suits reading from their teleprompters at general conference, or listen to a Sunday school teacher, all but reading from the carefully crafted teacher’s manual. Hell, the Church even tells members what is and what is not acceptable faith promoting literature. It dictates what members should or should not read, view or listen to.
Joseph Goebbels would be impressed!
But I think that these unassuming, adherents to and believers in, the LDS Church deserve answers if and when they seek them even granted the fact that many will never seek them. But if they do, they don’t need platitudes or half-truths or lies, they don’t need to be told to just pray about it and wait for that ‘burning in the bosom.’ They need answers.
At the later stages of the missionary ‘lessons,’ prospects are asked to take the ‘test!’
They are asked to read Moroni 10: 3-7 with a sincere heart, having real intent, and faith in Christ, if the Book of Mormon is NOT true, and they are assured that they will receive a spiritual manifestation of its truthfulness.
However, as any freshman student of philosophy should be able to recognize, even one at BYU, there is fallacious logic contained in this passage in Moroni. It is far less a test than a manipulative device. Nonetheless, the phasing Joseph Smith crafted here shows just how very clever he was.
A promise of a particular result will occur if certain conditions are met. However, to rely on the promise contained in this verse as a test for the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness one must already have concluded somehow that its instruction is valid and its promise reliable.
If the message of this verse is correct, then the only possible explanation for failing to obtain the result promised is a failure to meet the conditions; one must lack a sincere heart, and/or real intent, and/or faith in Christ.
The seeker is thereby compelled into persuading himself or herself that some type of manifestation of the Devine occurred, just to maintain his or her character and self-image. Or worse yet, he or she is driven to a frame of mind where he or she will gladly embrace any unusual occurrence as though it were a sign from God. As you will see later, this technique worked very well with Martin Harris.
One of the poorest arguments that members of the church often make is that, if a person sincerely prays to Heavenly Father, he will not be deceived.
The Holy Bible never gives that assurance. In fact, 2 Cor. 11:14 says that Satan often transforms himself into an angel of light, and 1 Timothy 4:1 warns of seducing spirits,
It is possible for a person to sincerely pray and still end up being sincerely wrong!
I really had no intention of writing this. I just wanted, if not answers, then some thoughtful insight to the questions I was asking.
There is something cowardly in the Mormon nature. I think Albert Einstein observed it in those who follow and obey men of power and control, false prophets and corrupt leaders.
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”
They fear that if they were to communicate with someone questioning their core beliefs or the sanitized history of Joseph Smith that the Church has taught them, they may be exposed to something the ‘Brethren’ have not given them permission to read or even think about.
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. But if you persist you will eventually see both. From that point on, any time you again view the same image you will also instantly see the both images.
So read on at your own 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 made several assertions in the following letter relating to the questions for which I am seeking answers or at least a greater understanding. It is only right and proper that I provide at least a few of the sources of my deep-felt concerns.
I have tried to compile the most recent and compelling research related to my interrogatories. I have also endeavored to provide facts and verifiable data rather than opinions and testimonies.
As you will see, many of the facts I quote and the commentaries I reference come from Church friendly sources – LDS historical documents, letters from learned and sometimes not so learned church leaders, the Journal of Discourses, the History of the Church by Joseph Smith, Prophet’s diaries and letters, Church newspapers and magazines as well as the LDS scriptures themselves. The remainder has been gleaned from serious and often meticulous research conducted by many of the world’s top scholars in several scientific disciplines and professional historians.
Admittedly, when it comes to questions of a purely scientific nature, issues relating to archaeology, anthropology, paleontology, genetics, like any reasonable person, I have given more credence to the considered opinions of non-Mormon researchers because these researchers and thinkers are free to go where the truth may take them.
It is common knowledge that any opinion, commentary or theory that contradicts or opposes fundamental Mormon doctrine or policies are not only discouraged at BYU but are grounds for, and have often resulted in, dismissal. So much for the glory of God being intelligence.
Having taught at a large non-Mormon university, I am keenly aware of how stymying these limitations on academic freedom must be at BYU and other LDS owned schools.
Likewise, and more importantly, the work done by non-Mormon professors is subject to peer review. By comparison, it is very rare indeed that a BYU paper in the field of archeology or anthropology would be even be accepted by a prestigious scientific journal.
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, in many cases, no match for the well-oiled LDS PR machine. So, forgive me if I don’t pull any punches in presenting facts and evidence that raises doubts about the Church’s narrative or the truthfulness of its past and present leadership.
I don’t think it is unfair to say that 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 what about Gordon Hinckley or Paul Dunn?
In this regard, Boyd Packer left us with this gem:
As I have said already, I certainly 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 considered that the corollary to this puerile statement must also hold, “That not everything that’s false is NOT useful!”
I am told that Oaks was trained as a lawyer, not at BYU, but a highly-ranked law school. Surely, he must have taken a class in classical logic or philosophy. But that was a long time ago, and perhaps he has forgotten the ‘Law of the Excluded Middle,’ espoused by Bertrand Russell. The law simply 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,’ is equal in the negative too, ‘Everything that is true is not useful,’ then it must follow that, ‘Not everything that is false is not useful.’
But then again, perhaps he does believe that. There is certainly no lack of examples in the Mormon experience where things that were known to be untrue were nonetheless very useful.
Joseph Smith’s denials of his polygamous marriages, and the many lies he told the Saints and his wife in this regard. False statements? Certainly, but very useful – to him!’
The many paintings hanging in visitor centers and reproduced in Church books and manuals showing the strong-chinned young Joseph studiously examining the “Reformed Egyptian’ characters on the golden plates while his scribe sat across from him writing down his translation. A rather more inspiring image than Smith with his head in his hat!
The Church has long known these images were not true, but they remain because they are useful.
Which of the following two images might a prospect be more impressed by:
Indeed, there are many other examples of just that philosophy at play in the pages that follow.
So, I intend to call bullshit where I find it, whether it comes from Dallin Oaks, FAIR or Joseph Smith.
With that said, in the words of that great dame Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a bumpy night!”
Paul A. Douglas
Click Page 2 Below to Read A Letter to an Apostle: