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 the church’s founder Joseph Smith Jr.
As well, considering the church’s historic lack of candor or openness, I would not be too surprised if they are also privy to inculpatory documents and materials locked away in the First Presidency’s vault, that may 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 LDS church is true, or are they victims of self-delusion, avarice, the affluent lifestyle the church provides them; or is about ego and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Is it the ‘fortune in men’s eyes,‘ that drives them?”
The late Grant Palmer, author of, An Insider’s View of Mormon Originsspoke about several meetings he had with a general authority, who told him straight up that the apostles all learn within a year or two of being called that the Mormon church is a fraud.
Did Palmer’s insider know what he was talking about, was he telling the truth?
There is no way for me to know if this fellow’s statement was correct. He may well have been telling the truth or he may have been deluded, had an ax to grind; was lying or mad as a March hare. He certainly wouldn’t be the first GA for whom any or all of these adjectives might be apropos.
But, having read Grant’s books on Jesus, having communicated with him and being aware of his service to the least among us – inmates in the Utah prison system; I don’t doubt that Grant was telling the truth.
Notwithstanding the cynical view this story takes, I think it is wrong to assume evil motives on the part of the Brethren. While I may and do disagree with some of the statements they have made I am sure they are good and honest men. When i was a child, Hugh B. Brown, served in our little Canadian branch, my father knew and revered him, describing him to me as a man of God, a man without guile.
Although Elder Brown later served as an Apostle and member of the First Presidency, he too confessed to moments of doubt, as shown by his 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 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 only refreshing in today’s church, but stirringly human. If this good man said he believed the church to be true, I don’t doubt that he truly believed it. Do brother Brown’s personal beliefs convince one that the Mormon church is true? Of course not, but perhaps one should look at the statements that Palmer’s GA made with a jaundiced eye.
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 Joseph’s difficulties in 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 6% of respondents said they left the church after discovering Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a “magic stone” in his hat. Another 3% because of DNA evidence shows 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 that the church sees open, honest dialogue as a real and present danger. I don’t think it is unfair to say that they are always on the defensive when it comes to dissent. 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.”
President Gordon Hinckley once said, 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 must confess, 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 am simply asking questions and providing commentary, not forming conclusions.
I have tried to be fair and balanced, presenting the most intelligible rebuttals or remedies that FairMormon, the LDS church’s leading cadre of apologists have published vis-à-vis my interrogatories. It is my hope that this methodology might help others, who like myself, are experiencing honest doubts, to discover what is true and what is not.
I make no apologies for seeking the truth. The Second Epistle of Peter warns us that, ‘In their greed teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.“
The Lord Jesus himself warned, ‘take heed that no man deceives you.‘ We have a lot of deceivers today, ‘many false prophets will rise and deceive many.’
In Matthew 7:15-20 the Lord again tells us to ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’
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 self-serving motivations that Mormons seem to jump to when someone begins to question the LDS church:
1. Someone gave offense:No one hurt me, I love and respect my friends and family many of whom are committed members. Latter-day Saints are good and kind people most of whom are living honorable lives.
2. A desire to sin:I am 71 years old, so it’s a little late for that!
3. Never had a testimony in the first place:Wrong again, I would not have served in various callings, paid my tithing and attended the temple if I had not at one time believed?
4. Lazy, not reading the scriptures:I love the Bible, and I read it often; admittedly the Book of Mormon, not so much.
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 writers and researchers such as Richard Bushman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Fawn Brodie, B. H. Roberts, Dan Vogel or Grant Palmer anti-Mormon simply because they had the courage to question.
The fact is, anyone with anything approaching an open mind, need not read anything beyond the church’s scriptures themselves (the original as well as the revised versions), the history of the church, Ensign articles or the writings of Joseph Smith to come face-to-face with myriad problems, as well as significant doctrinal changes and inconsistencies.
There are so many wonderful things about Mormon culture. How can anyone brought up in the LDS church not be touched by the wonderful historic hymns, Come Come Ye Saints, We thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet,or The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning. And I honor the many good men and women within the church who taught me as a child ‘the truth’ as they saw it.
I truly wish for 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 hoping and wishing is not enough. No matter how appealing Joseph Smith’s ‘Plan of Salvation,’ it must be real, designed by Deity and not merely the musing of an ambitious, unlettered and brilliantly creative ploughboy prophet.
I have found that the more I have studied the church’s true histiocity and the more I have come to know the real Joseph Smith, the more conflicted I have felt that there is far more than a good possiblity that the LDS church is not true.
Jeremiah 23:16 says “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”
There is a wonderful allegory in Book Seven of Plato’s The Republicoften 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 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 will 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 well meaning but credulous fools, desiring so much to feel good about our present and our future, to feel safe, that we had 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 strengthen your testimony as you face the greatest problems with the current LDS narrative and come to more fully embrace the explanations and/or rationalizations proffered by the church and her apologists as being altogether reasonable and acceptable.
Or it might lead you to a place where you discover that your knowledge and the breath of understanding based on what you have been taught is far less than perfect, complete or true. That there is much more to the carefully constructed, sanitized and incomplete story that you have been presented with in Sunday school, priesthood meeting, relief society or by those rosey-cheeked young missionaries.
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
“… 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 or testimonies.
As I have already said, 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 and 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 of the facts, data and information 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 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.
It is no secret that at BYU and all other LDS owned post-secondary institutions, any criticism of the church, its policies or its leaders is ‘verboten.’ In fact even though those who teach there my be free American citizens, should they espouse, even privately, any view which the ‘Brethren‘ disapproval of, they run the risk of termination.
Ruthie Robertson, a professor of political science discovered this was the case when she placed a post on her personal Facebookpage supporting the LGBT community. BYU demanded she retract her comments and when she refused, she was summarily dismissed.
When a reporter asked the church to comment on the state of academic freedom at BYU, they released the following statement:
“Mormon Brethren Silencing Scholars?” “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
Salt Lake Tribune , May 26, 1983, p. B4
Having taught at a large public university which, like most, placed great value on freedom of expression, and a commitment to pursue truth without fear of where it may lead, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to work at a place like BYU where authoritarian efforts to curtail free and independent thinking has become 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 archaeology 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 had no intention of writing this. I sought answers from others including local priesthood leaders long before writing to President Uchtdorf.
The typical response to my questions from those individuals was usually no response; instead, there would be a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable change of subject.
It soon became clear to me that faithful Mormons feel that if they were even to entertain a question concerning 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 an acquaintance, who also happened to be a Mormon bishop, 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.”
Mormons are remarkably ignorant of the history of their own church as well as the behavior and character of its founder Joseph Smith Jr. Even bishops and stake presidents are knowingly unaware of much that I present here.
So, absent any help from ward or stake priesthood leaders or Uchtdorf himself, I published this open letter on the Internet in 2017 with the faint hope that someone in the church’s leadership might perhaps 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 published a lengthy rebuttal to it. Their confutation can be found at:
Since writing my letter to an apostle, through thousands of hours of careful research and the reading all of FairMormon’s implausible apologies, I doubt that anything coming from Uchtdorf or his brethren could broaden my understanding of what is true and what is not.
I shouldn’t say that all of FairMormon’s responses to my on-line letter were of no value. Some of their explanations were rather creative and interesting and a few of their apologies, while hardly likely or probable, were at least possible.
More often however, these anonymous defenders of the faith, lacking convincing answers, would nonetheless proffer a defense or rationalization no matter how illogical or implausible rather than just saying, “we don’t know.”
FairMormon is, of course, preaching to the choir; their raison d’etre 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;’ or ‘president Nelson is no expert in that area,’ rather they dispense superficially plausible apologetic ‘snake oil,’ that will be eagerly swallowed by members who just crave enough elixir to dull their pesky cognitive dissonance.
FairMormon recognizes that true believing or chapel Mormons 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 confirm their pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses; their conclusions had been set before they had given ear to any argument or 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 the Mountain Meadows slaughter of more than 120 innocent men, women and children by pious garment-wearing Mormons and their ‘priesthood’ leaders.
FairMormon’s efforts, follow their Mormon mindset that, in a pinch, feelings trump facts.
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 lack 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 most imaginative arguments and renouncements, the Mormon church, and her army of apologists have crafted?
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 raise 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 it can be easily shown lied repeatedly but many more recent, prophets as well.
Gordon B. Hinckley is viewed with great affection by many members and that is fine, but president Hinckley was certainly a practitioner of situational ethics.
In an interview with Time Magazine in August 1997, then Mormon president 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 unabashedly 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; to me he was a hateful little man full of inane pronouncements, but as we are discussing truth and honesty among the ‘brethren,’ let me provide one of hisgems:
“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 say in my letter to President Uchtdorf which follows, I have always found that, with few exceptions, Latter-day Saints, are honest, kind and decent people. Therefore, I don’t doubt that the nameless apologists volunteering their time and talents to FairMormon are, at least for the most part, doing the best they can with what they have been taught 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.”
Nor do I accept the Orwellian mantra hoisted on an already cowed people by Dallin Oaks that,“Not everything that’s true is useful.”
Useful to whom and for what purpose?
It would seem that Oaks has not considered that the corollary to this puerile statement must also hold, “That not everything that is false is NOT useful!”
I am told that president Oaks once 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 ‘Law 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 brother 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 – to them.
Joseph Smith’s denials of his illegal polygamous and polyandrious marriages, and the lies he told the Saints and his wife. False statements? Certainly, but very useful – to him and his agenda!’
The many paintings hanging in Mormon chapels, visitor centers and temples across the globe and the pictures still being 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 always 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 himself.
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
I invite you to read on…