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Debating Zion

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Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I just really didn't have much to say.

Just a warning. The following post contains a large bit of complaining, some of which is clearly hypocritical.

I believe that the way in which the authenticity of the Restoration is debated among members, nonmembers, and anti-Mormons doesn't do a lot to move the debate forward. Following the time-honored tradition of internet arguing, many (most?) debates just tend to trot out the same overblown, tired, and occasionally outright stupid claims. I'm going to begin by listing my complaints against members and antis. Not everyone embraces these things, but it's pretty common, and I get kind of ticked off at myself when I employ tactics such as these when discussing the gospel.

First, the members.

1) THE PRESENTATION OF LAUNDRY LISTS OF "MIRACLES" AND "EVENTS TOO SPECIAL TO BE COINCIDENCE". My least favorite of these lists is the "Book of Mormon Challenge", which presents thirty attributes of the Book of Mormon in an effort to overwhelm and baffle challengers. Among the "spectacular coincidences" within the steps are that it has to be really long (531 pages), you have to be 23 years old (nobody ever wrote a dissertation at 23, you know), it has to contradict lots of existing ideas, and that many have to be convinced of its truth. There are some things in the list worth talking about, but each claim can be rejected pretty easily, if not truthfully. I believe in the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, but this attempt to overwhelm reasonable debate is laughable.

2) THE ACCUSATION OF FAITHLESSNESS: This isn't really a bloggernacle trait, but the assumption that one simply lacks faith AND that this lack is a failure in personal righteousness is a blanket reason why people don't accept the gospel. This claim ignores lots of reasonable things that might lead one to not accept the Church. Indeed, the same thing applies to the doctrines that we reject as members when we don't live in harmony with them.

3) A DEFENSIVENESS THAT EXCEEDETH ALL DEFENSIVENESS: Some Church members live in this fantasy world in which the Church never made a mistake and every Church leader is perfect. This leads some to defend things that don't need defending. The Church isn't perfect. It's just not. So, stupid things that Brigham Young said or unjust excommunications can still exist in a world where the Church represents the will of the Lord. Just whitewashing our history won't answer the concerns of people that are unsettled by our history or cultural practices, especially when we simultaneously tell them that the Church is perfect.

Now, the antis.

1) LAUNDRY LISTS OF INJUSTICES: An example of this occurred on our page under Pris' most recent post, when a gentleman listed the following as reasons that the Book of Mormon isn't legitimate:

"Whole sections plagiarized from the King James Version of the Bible, hundreds of revisions made by LDS church authorities, "white and delightsome," cureloms, curemoms, steel, horses, chariots, submarines, Indians as Hebrews, vanished civilizations, "and it came to pass" ad nauseum, Joseph trying to sell the copyright for cash, modern DNA evidence, whole civilizations vanishing into thin air, a vengeful Jesus, the 116 lost page story, golden plates that weigh hundreds of pounds tucked under his arm, witnesses vouching for the plates with their "spiritual" eyes (!), Joseph's frauds of the Book of Abraham and the Kinderhook plates...and on and on... of course you apologists all see this as evidence of its veracity. The guy was an 18th century cross between David Koresh and L. Ron Hubbard. "

I count twenty claims in the above paragraph and essentially no substantiation. Believe it or not, I respect the gentleman's conviction that we've all been suckered in. Anybody that's got a legitimate opinion and is willing to defend it in an intellectually honest way is alright by me. But, upon my chastisement and very brief defense of a few of the above issues, I received the following response:

"...he [Joseph] just threatened them with flaming swords and their own destruction (see D&C 132. Receiving revelation that called for his own wife's destruction if she wouldn't allow him to bed other women is one of the all-time great cons. Smith made Koresh look like a choirboy. From the Danites, to destroying printing presses, the requirement of consecration to the Prophet, the ordering of political assassinations, the marrying of one fourteen and one sixteen year old, the marrying of multiple women who were already married, the marrying of wives of men whom he had sent overseas to proselytize, his plagiarizing of Masonic temple rites, and his delusions of grandeur of being more successful than Jesus, put him well beyond Koresh. "

Ten additional causal claims, with one piece of evidence (the quotation from D&C 132). No refutation of the arguments in question.

Slinging argument after argument and moving your advocacy around and around until something sticks is not acceptable anywhere except in high school policy debate (I count one, no, two people laughing at that joke). I don't mean to stigmatize the person above, but I feel like this is the best example of this tendency that has appeared on our page.

2) THE ASSUMPTION THAT ONE FLAW IN THE CHURCH MEANS THE END OF IT ALL: I think that in large part, Mormons are responsible for this claim being sensible. But, even if a prophet says something stupid, the Church still might be true. Remember Moses smacking that rock? This is a clearly documented example of the unrighteous use of priesthood power by a prophet! Anybody saying that a few mistakes from Brigham Young means the end of the Church can't be a self respecting Christian or Jew that accepts the validity of the Old Testament. It is our responsibility to account for the mistakes that we've made. It's also the responsibility of critics that actually want to debate something to account for the legions of great people that Mormonism has produced. It's the responsibility of anti-Mormons to account for the huge influence for good that the Church has on individuals, communities, and the hearts of men. Judge us by our fruits, not by one apple that you hid in a cellar for six months and stomped on.

3) THE DISREGARD OF FAITH: Sensible Latter-Day Saints will never tell you that they can logically or intellectually convince you of the truth of our beliefs. We never claim that. We say that you can receive a spiritual witness and that your witness may come differently, but that it will come in time if you're sincere. Sometime, I'll post my own conversion story, but it bothers me that anti-Mormons are often staunch defenders of other faiths and yet provide little in the way of faith-based argumentation against Mormonism.

What do you all think? What can we do to improve the discourse, as members or nonmembers? Those of you that aren't LDS or aren't convinced of our message, please speak up as well. After all, it's you guys that we most want to be talking about the gospel.

8 Responses to “Debating Zion”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Regarding your point #2 (I think), when I grew up in MN, I had a lot of religious conversations with my friends (Evangelical and Catholic, for the most part.)

    I tried to preface these by saying, "If I can answer all your questions, does that mean my religion is true?" Usually, they'd answer "no." So, I'd follow up with, "If I can't answer all your questions, does that mean my religion is false?" It was a good way to level the playing ground when talking to each other.

    Ben S.

  2. Blogger Dave 

    D-Train, I think you are basing your stereotypes on the wrong people: a few commenters at the extremes rather than the large majority of bloggers and commenters who are in the middle. Plus, truly wacko commenters should simply be discarded as outliers.

  3. Anonymous will 

    The BoM defense to which you referred in #1 was written by Hugh Nibley a long time ago, but it still gets passed around like it's the latest and greatest apologia.

    I think that what you said applies to a lot of informal debates, not just about religion and not just on the internet. I've almost gotten to the point where I refuse to express disagreement with anyone unless we both have the time and the tools to hash it out formally.

  4. Blogger HP 

    The problem with any debate is to get people to agree on what the ground rules are to begin with. As a result, most debates are just people talking past each other. We having to be meaning the same things when we say what we say if we are going to communicate and I don't think that happens to often in Mormon/Other debate.

  5. Blogger Best Hair 

    I agree D-train that debate and dialouge between Mormons and non-Mormons are often trite and poorly developed. But I do see hope. In the past few years there I have seen in increase in Mormons studies amongst LDS and non-LDS scholars. While this new field of academics still has a long way to go untill it develops into something like other relegious studies, the quality of debate has increased dramatically. LDS scholars are recognizing discrepencies in our faith and non LDS scholars are recognizing the strengths of our position. Terrel Givens's new book "By the Hand of Mormon" is an excellent example. I feel things should get better.

  6. Blogger lchan 

    I think you're right on with this post. I don't think this only represents people on the fringe and anonymous commenters.

    I would add to the members:
    The prophet has told us the prophet will never lead us astray. No need for further discussion.

    For the antis, I'd add:
    I have heard so many times that I am not a Christian - even though I think I am, I'm really not. Huh? How does that work? I believe in Christ, I'm trying to follow Christ, but I'm secretly worshipping Satan. It's so secret, I don't even know.

  7. Blogger D-Train 

    Good points, all. I think that Dave has a point in that there are certain people that tend to ruin discussion for all of us. I do actually think that this is a bit less common in the bloggernacle than if you were talking about this stuff, say, after priesthood or something. Our group is somewhat self-selected to exclude lots of people that aren't interested in discussion. Those folks are there, but Dave's right that they don't have to be considered central.

    My objections are directed less at the specific matters that we talk about and more toward the basic "is this the true church or not?" question. Whenever that one comes up, it seems that the debate gets a lot more heated and a lot less good. History and sociology have done a good job of talking about aspects of the Church independent from its objective "truth" or lack of it and getting good discussion between LDS and non-LDS scholars. In theology, this trend seems a lot less pronounced, although progress is being made.

    Brett is right that things are getting better. One thing that I might suggest is a little more doctrinal discussion separated from the Restoration question. It seems like that might spark some discussion that's free of a bit of the normative baggage. You don't have to accept the Church to reject infant baptism or accept the literal separation of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

    I think we tend to justify our doctrines in terms of the restoration and not as much in terms of their individual truth (which, by the way, is a good thing, but can have the side effect of limiting discourse if not used properly).

    Or is it even possible to separate doctrines that way? If it is possible, is it desirable?

  8. Blogger Stephen 

    Gross lack of basic factual knowledge.

    Reminds me of the ol' "Christians worship on Sunday because of the influence of Sun Worshippers" theme that used to come up in 7th day debates.

    Fine argument, except that the Sun Worshippers worshipped on Saturday because the gate of lead is the first of the sky gates that leads back to the Sun and the gate of lead is ruled by Saturn.

    (I picked this example to avoid offending anyone in the direct debates).

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