Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism

It’s precisely the beliefs of Latter-day Saints that critics dismiss as strange which produce the behaviors those same critics often applaud.

(by Hal Boyd 11-15-17)

“What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent,” according to Charles Dickens’s 19th-century journal Household Words, “what they say, is mostly nonsense.”

Since the days of Dickens, Mormons have been occasionally portrayed as virtuous despite their “strange” beliefs. Yet, those who study Mormonism closely often come to appreciate that distinct Latter-day Saint behavior is strongly tethered to distinct Latter-day Saint theology.

Writing in The Atlantic this week, Kurt Andersen praises members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons for their “sincere commitment to leading virtuous lives” while simultaneously snickering at their “extreme and strange” beliefs.

There is, of course, a long and rather ignoble tradition of simultaneously praising and mocking Mormons. In the throes of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt sent off a friendly missive to Winston Churchill and his wife. Roosevelt noted his “very high opinion of the Mormons” while also taking the opportunity to poke fun at Mormon polygamy, which had officially ended in 1890.

FDR’s ribbing was playful, but Missouri’s extermination order against Mormons in the mid-19th century was not. Nor was the federal confiscation of LDS Church property or the proposed immigration ban against Latter-day Saints in the late-19th century.

Religious minorities can be prone to taking offense too easily. And a persecution complex helps no one. But neither does trading in casual Mormon mockery. “You’d be surprised,” Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman once observed, “by how many people pride themselves on having no prejudices at all but preserve a little place in their heart for this kind of soft anti-Mormon prejudice.”

Even after Governor Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency brought immense media attention to the LDS Church, the Pew Research Center found that barely half of Americans understand that Mormonism is a “Christian faith.”

And while 7 or 8 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for an otherwise qualified black, Hispanic, or female presidential candidate, fully 18 percent of Americans still say “they would not vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who happens to be a Mormon.” The figure is “virtually the same as the 17 percent who held this attitude in 1967.” Mormons today would evidently fare better than, say, an atheist or Muslim candidate, but the remarkably persistent numbers since 1967 are telling.

Latent anti-Mormon bias may seem harmless enough—after all, Mormons are reluctant to call others out on it. (Instead of picketing The Book of Mormon musical, for example, the Mormon Church bought advertisements in Broadway playbills that say things like, “You’ve seen the show, now read the book.”)

The liberal television personality Lawrence O’Donnell even admitted, after an on-air rant about Mormon founder Joseph Smith, that he wasn’t worried about any negative consequences since “Mormons are the nicest people in the world. … They’ll never take a shot at me.”

There are, meanwhile, consequences for Mormons.
A federal judge told me recently of an Ivy League law professor who sent him a letter of recommendation for a Mormon student, observing that in general Mormons are solid workers but tend to lack “intellectual imagination.” The professor did not know that the judge on the receiving end was himself a Mormon. The same professor sent a similar letter sometime later on behalf of a different Latter-day Saint student. The letter again contained the same caution about the Latter-day Saint’s lack of “intellectual imagination.”
A separate Ivy League student—now a tenured professor at a prestigious university—similarly recalled the shock on one of his professor’s faces when the professor discovered that this student was a Mormon. The noted scholar remarked that he didn’t think Latter-day Saints took “ideas seriously.”
Criticism about another’s beliefs is hard to separate from judgments about a person’s worth or intellectual capacities. But, ironically, it is often the very beliefs that Andersen and others criticize that have produced the pro-social Mormon behaviors so often praised. As The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins observed in partial reaction to Andersen’s piece, “I’m not so sure those ‘ridiculous supernatural beliefs’ can be so easily separated from the values/principles/‘righteousness’ showcased in Mormon life.”

This isn’t to suggest that beliefs or truth claims are off-limits from scrutiny or rigorous debate. Rather, it means that the link between behavior and belief should prompt greater engagement with actual religious teachings, instead of straw man caricatures. It means trying to understand why a belief that seems implausible on its face is believed and lived by otherwise rational individuals. It means seeking to understand what it is about that given belief that tends to produce virtuous behavioral outcomes.

The late-Catholic theologian Stephen Webb observed that “mocking Mormonism is one of the last frontiers of verbal lawlessness to be untouched by the vigilante powers of political correctness.”

He asks: “What other group is ridiculed equally by Christians and secularists—and not just any kind of Christian or secularist but the most fervent and hard core?”

Andersen, for his part, seems to have genuinely meant to applaud Mormon politicians like Senator Jeff Flake, Evan McMullin, and Mitt Romney for being among the first Republicans to condemn Alabama politician Roy Moore after allegations surfaced this past week that the would-be septuagenarian U.S. senator lecherously pursued teenage girls while in his early 30s.

But lest Andersen be perceived as overly soft on the Saints, he made sure to take a passing shot at what he calls Mormonism’s “sci-fi” heaven with its promise of a “personal planetary fiefdom.”

Setting aside the questionable characterization of LDS doctrine (as a life-long Latter-day Saint I’ve never once been taught in a church meeting that heaven involves a “planetary fiefdom”) it may well be true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but mockery is almost certainly America’s most consistent form of initiation. The Catholics got The Sound of Music; the Jews got Fiddler on the Roof, and, well, the Mormons got South Park on stage.

Not unlike The Book of Mormon musical, Andersen’s musings aim to initiate rather than alienate, to praise rather than punish. But what Andersen fails to appreciate is that it’s precisely the pro-social beliefs of Mormons—the eternal nature of families, obligations to the poor and oppressed, accountability to God, the importance of clean living, and the value of self-reliance and personal agency—that result in specific shared behaviors and actions by the likes of Flake and Romney.

The British public intellectual Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion similarly seeks to appreciate the good of religion without accepting what he believes are unpalatable theological claims. But as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks eloquently observed in a conversation with de Botton: “Matters of the spirit live on the basis of obligation or ... [divine] command. Unless you hear a command [or] an obligation that comes from beyond you … you will not be able to generate sustainable [behavior].” For the religious, behavior is an extension of belief, of divine command—it’s a system of obligations rooted in metaphysical truth claims about the world and universe.

As much as South Park or Andersen desire to decouple behavior from belief, the reality is that, in the words of the columnist David Brooks, “Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice, and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.”

If Andersen honestly wants more politicians like Flake and Romney, it might help to be a bit less dismissive of religious belief, and a bit more curious in understanding why it seems to work.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BYU professor's lecture examines the timeline of Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon

(by Trent Toone 11-11-17)

With basic figures, it could read like a 4th grade math problem.

If Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated 10 words per minute, eight hours a day, how long would it take them to translate the 269,510 words in Book of Mormon?
BYU professor John W. "Jack" Welch has done the math and has the answer.
"Is doing this even possible? The answer is yes," Welch said. "By doing 10 words per minute, eight hours a day, they could get the Book of Mormon done in 56.2 full working day equivalents. ... If they worked faster (15 or 20 words per minute) or if they worked an hour or two fewer per day, they could also get it done."

Welch, a BYU law professor and author who served as the founding president of FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), examined the timing of the Book of Mormon translation as he gave the 2017 Book of Mormon lecture for the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies Wednesday at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni & Visitors Center.

"My purpose, I hope, is to get us all thinking more specifically than ever before about the amazing and illuminating timing of the translation of the Book of Mormon," Welch said. "We can be more specific about those days, even those hours and minutes. ... I too, hope to awaken a greater sense of gratitude in our hearts for this miraculous volume of scripture."

At the outset of his remarks, Welch said it was the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1981 to 2004, who first asked him how long it took Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. That question launched him into a 30-year involvement with the subject, Welch said.

In his presentation, Welch reviewed earlier scholarship on the timing of translation before discussing what he called "5 anchor dates" which set up the translation timeframe as April 7-June 30, 1829.

"History is admittedly an inexact science, dependent to a large extent on the accidental survival of information and personal memory," Welch said. "In stabilizing historical judgments, one always looks for certain anchor points that hold in place the structural girders of our historical understanding. ... I propose that these five anchor dates in particular can be tied down with near-historical-certainty. They are based on credible, contemporaneous, primary sources, found in independent documents.

They show that, with the possible exception of a page or two, the entire Book of Mormon came forth, day after day, and hour by hour, between April 7 and June 30."

Welch's five anchor dates (all during the year of 1829) include:
  • April 7, with Cowdery acting as scribe in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
  • May 15, as documented by testimonies given by Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother.
  • May 31, when the Title Page of the Book of Mormon was translated.
  • June 11, when Joseph Smith obtained the copyright from the Library of Congress.
  • June 30, the established date for completion of the translation. Cowdery began to copy the Printer's Manuscript in July so it could go to press, Welch said.
With that timeframe established, Welch counted the number of days between April 7 and June 30, which is 85. Subtract 11 full days for trips or times when Joseph was identifiably occupied, leaving 74. Subtract another 16 days of about half-time distractions or other interruptions (business, farming, chores, personal time, visitors, Sundays, church matters and other distractions), and it's down to 58. Another day is taken away for work to receive 13 revelations and you are left with 57, Welch said.
In order to test how fast Joseph and Oliver may have worked, Welch and his wife, Jeannie, tried an experiment. They picked two pages in Royal Skousen’s Yale edition of the Book of Mormon and he played the role of Joseph while his wife acted as scribe. They timed themselves with a stopwatch and estimated their translation rate at about 20 words per minute.

"But we couldn’t imagine sustaining that rate hour after hour," Welch said. "Hands got tired, and Joseph needed to catch his breath and clear his voice. We used ballpoint pens. We imagined Oliver dipping and using his quill pen."

Welch said they found the experience so "intellectually awakening" and "spiritually engaging" that they repeated the activity in his stake scripture class.

"The experience was equally electrifying for everyone in the class," he said. "Although not strictly scientific, this exercise produced a flood of experiential insights."

Welch said his research into the timing of the Book of Mormon increased his gratitude and faith. What he learned increased his appreciation, awe and reverence for the scriptures, as well as his love for the Lord.
"This book is worthy of the name miracle," Welch said. "It is a miraculous work and a miracle."

Before he spoke, Welch was honored with special recognition by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and BYU Studies for his work over the last 26 years as the BYU journal's editor-in-chief, along with the publication of BYU Studies Quarterly's 100th issue.