Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Fair to Be Skeptical

It's fair to be skeptical about anything your read on the Internet or anywhere else, my writings included. But today, I'd like to encourage a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to anti-Mormon sites. When you encounter sites with genuinely hostile, smarmy, mocking attitudes about another's faith, there's a chance that they won't be applying the most rigorous standards in the information they share. Fairness and accuracy may be out the window. So don't be too quick to get all shaken up.

There are some anti-sites that try to be fair and accurate. But I've encountered some very popular ones where the end of attacking Mormons seems to justify the means, in the minds of the site owners. A recent experience in peeking behind the curtains of anti-Mormon sites cames when an anti-Mormon approached me with a nasty and somewhat obscene email (three references to sexual activity), the point of which was to tell me how much he laughed about my stupidity as presented on a popular anti-Mormon Website.

From the crudeness and rudeness of his language, I made the unkind stereotypical assumption that he was an atheist -- I apologize to my atheist readers who really tend to be very civil and intelligent, for my prejudices made it hard for me to realize I was dealing with a "Christian" who is some kind of evangelist just reaching out to Mormons in love. He explained all that in our subsequent exchange (yes, he really loves Mormons and is serving the Lord - it was just that all the lies on my Web site made him so angry that he had a need to use crude language). So this angry, nasty soul out to mock me and my faith was no atheist after all - I should have known better.

Interestingly, the anti-Mormon Website that he and many others so enjoy actually devotes a whole Web page to me. Me? Turns out that's one of the few areas where I actually do have some expertise, so it didn't take me long to recognize the use of some improper techniques. Apart from the copyright violation of swiping a photo of me from my Website, they had a more serious violation of putting words in my mouth. They claim to be quoting me from a post here at Mormanity, where I discussed a recent article from National Geographic indicating that "Aha" is actually an authentic ancient name of a king from Egypt. Since "Aha" is a Book of Mormon name that critics have long mocked as being obviously plagiarized from an English interjection, its occurrence in ancient Egypt adds plausibility to the use of that name.

But the anti-Mormon page dedicated to criticizing me puts words in my mouth. In the section that purports to be a quote from my post, they add one important line at the end: "So there you have it. Aha proves the BoM." Ladies and gentleman, I can't imagine even thinking such a statement, much less writing it. For years I have been repeatedly clear that no evidence, no matter how impressive, actually "proves" the Book of Mormon or the Bible to be true. Evidence may challenge arguments against it, may strengthen the case for plausibility or authenticity of the text as an ancient document, may strengthen the case for considering the text, etc., but "prove"? No way. And I rarely use abbreviations for the Book of Mormon - perhaps "BOM" a time or two, probably when quoting others, but I don't think I've ever used "BoM". I just can't imagine ever saying, writing, or thinking something like that, yet there's a major anti-Mormon site putting those words in my mouth. Kind of bothers me. Anyway, be careful about what you read - again, that includes anything here as well.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

So I guess we need to be skeptical about blogs such as this. Thanks for clearing that up.

Dave said...

Nice thoughts, Jeff. I tracked down your fan site -- I guess that's just the price of being an online celebrity. These folks write a mix mockery, insult, and crudeness ... then wonder why no one takes their comments seriously?

Anonymous said...

We have crossed swords before -Jeff / Mormanity - over 'appropriate comments' on other threads that you host.

I have always attempted to write comments to be sincere, thoughtful and direct, supported by Biblical Truth wherever possible.

In return you have deleted some of my messages under the banners 'abuse, ranting, off-topic and unfriendly '. Until reading this newly released topic I had no knowledge why. BUT now I think I understand.

Please DO NOT class me in the same light as these guys that you are describing. I am sincere in my approach and if I do not agree with a particular discussion or topic, I will offer my opinion as eloquently, politely and Biblically as I can.

You will find no animosity, hostility or ignorant intolerance acceptable from my side. How else can we share and learn ?

I feel the emotions of sympathy and shame in this instance that the listed examples behave like this in the name of 'Christianity' !

A word of warning though - please don't be so hasty to be generalistic and tar everyone with the same brush. You may overlook some real buried treasure with genuine people who have a genuine theological case! True Christians wouldn't even seriously entertain nasty, obscene or rude correspondence. If we are forced to, simply turn the other cheek and demonstrate the Love of Christ in one's life !

Anonymous ^

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:15

I, for one, would love to believe that you are not the sort who is "nasty, obscene or rude." I don't like making such judgments hastily.

You must forgive us for skepticism, however, at those who claim to be concerned for our souls. As one Mormon online wit phrased it, "these people want to 'love us' straight into the emergency room."

As you put it: "You will find no animosity, hostility or ignorant intolerance acceptable from my side. How else can we share and learn ?"

Then let us share and learn together. But forgive us for some paranoia. Experience has not been kind.

Ryan said...

These folks... wonder why no one takes their comments seriously?

Unfortunately, I'm not convinced they (end-justifies-the-means types) need or even want their comments to be taken seriously. The strategy seems to be one of dilution and attrition:

1. Clutter the "airspace" with trash to make meaningful information hard to come by
2. Disrupt or hijack any meaningful conversations to dilute their effectiveness
3. x% of people will believe the trash because it is truthy and/or appears so widely believed
4. y% of people not be fooled by the trash but will give up on finding anything better
5. Job done when x+y = 100

The intellectual approach is so much more work, and you always risk the "patient" believing the wrong side of the argument. People can be so gullible at times, after all.

Mormanity said...

Anon @ 9:15 - thanks for the note. I would like to clarify that I have found a lot of value in discussions with critics of our faith. There are sincere "antis" who are tactful, respectful, courteous, and have some great points to make, points that challenge us to be less glib, less bombastic, more respectful of other faiths, more accurate in our understanding of our own faith and history, to be careful about faith-promoting rumors, to understand the painful limitations and errors of men (and more rarely, women), and to examine our own assumptions and shortcomings more honestly. Some of these critics show up on this blog sometimes and they make it a better and more balanced place.

Others are far less interested in discourse and more interested in mocking or other agendas. And some get very nasty - much worse than the example I cited. If you're the one I think you are, you're in a polite category. Please don't think I paint everyone with the same brush.

Mormanity said...

Anon @11:02, I think you're right after all. The "thoughtful" comments of Anon @ 9:15, while relatively polite, don't show quite as much love as he might claim. I believe he is the same poster who has peppered this blog with attempts to denounce Catholicism - always ministering in love. In my post, "Why I believe the Book of Mormon is true," for deleting his off-topic anti-Catholic comments with YouTube links that I don't appreciate, he has called me a deluded and "power hungry tyrant" who plays God, lacks honesty, and can't stand truth. But he's alsways respectful, you see. And contrary to my policies, he insists on denouncing the Catholic faith as evil while demanding that his comments not be called anti-Catholic. The fact that he or someone's anti-Catholic videos can string together some Bible verses to allegedly support his claims makes him think his personal interpretation of scripture is the pure word of God absolutely free from bias.

Stringing together scriptures does not instantly justify your position or make your arguments those of God. The scriptures teach that wicked men can even justify the grave crimes using scripture. The crucifixion of Christ, for example, was accomplished by masters of scripture who quoted scripture right and left in denouncing the Savior, the very Source of the scriptures the quoted. I'm sure the vilest enemies of Christ and the Christians would have gladly blogged about how much they loved others and were just trying to minister in love using nothing but Biblical truth as their guide.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff / Mormanity,

The links to the you-tube / google sites are not owned connected to or operated by me. I found them to be a clear significance in Biblical Sabbath teaching and end-time prophecies.

I did state quite clearly that I do not accept the papal system that has come out of pagan Rome. That is Biblical from Daniel and Revelation. It can not be ignored - however much you make me out to be the 'bad guy' or Mr. Intolerant / Non-loving ....
For those of you who are interested - here is what I actually wrote in context, seeing as Jeff is quoting out of context.
--------
" You point out that this is a mormon based blog - where exactly do you think that the LDS church or any other protestant denomination came from ? - We DO owe a great deal to the catholic faith, however now, we all have relative freedom and the Bible to stimulate our intellectual brains to read and study for ourselves and not to accept that which the papal system would control us with (see history for evidence)! Like it or not it does and continues to affect us all !

Jesus was radical all through His ministry, behaving not as the world back then wanted to see as the 'Messiah' depicted from prophecy. However He spoke in ABSOLUTE TRUTH, and was crucified for doing so.

Come out of hiding from behind the comfortable facade of your website and your blogs, stop playing 'god' and try to understand Christianity from other angles - you may learn something new as I have stated before! Will you continue to delete comments just because you don't agree as a mormon? Isn't the world out there greater and larger than what you 'think' ?

Your blog - your ownership - your salvation ! "
-------

That does not make me automatically anti-papal or anti-catholic, so I can't really fathom why you want to harp on about it again! Plus I never once claimed that the catholic faith was evil - please correct me and re-issue my comment?!

There are other instances where I have been equally as impressed with some of your articles on this site and I have commended you as such.

But in not allowing me to have the freedom to reply by deleting text that was not profane, rude, intolerant nor hateful is something that I really didn't understand. Yes of course I still had and have respect for you. (By the way god was with a little'g')

Love - Hmmmm - only a Christian one I 'm afraid !

But you see I was also jovial with my comments - as in 'your blog, your ownership, your salvation! '

Maybe it is something to do with a difference in humours - I don't know. I have a passion for my belief as you do too, but I feel that you don't want to offer the courtesy in return that I am trying to demonstrate. Well that's fine too as you own the blog. But people can also see your comments and they will make up their own minds if you want to be too personal against me! I am fine with that too. I will always be polite to you.

It must be the paranoia described by anonymous @ 9:15 .....

*************

In answer to your comment on scripture, Jesus also spoke harshly to the scribes and pharisees that could not see the wood for the trees :

Just because I used the words 'deluded and power-hungry and tyrant ' doesn't make me a rude name caller.

Please read Luke 11:37-54. Jesus brings to scribes and pharisees to task using words such as 'fools, hypocrites and killers'. A bit worse than the language that I used.

So the final conclusion is that if Jesus only spoke words of love, then it should be respectfully possible to also criticise and reproach in the example of His love.

Anonymous ^

Anonymous said...

Just because I used the words 'deluded and power-hungry and tyrant ' doesn't make me a rude name caller.

Right on! Calling Mormanity a deluded power-hungry tyrant makes you a very polite name caller.

Ryan said...

I've also noticed the way Jesus used some rather harsh words against the Pharisees. However, He (knowing looking upon the heart rather than the appearance) *knew* exactly what they truly were, and also *knew* exactly the right thing to do/say, given that information.

For us normal people, who love to guess on both counts and are usually wrong, He had very specific advice.

Someone very wise once pointed out to me that if you're trying to help someone else to realize that they're wrong and change, offending them is the absolute wrong way to go about it -- the walls go up and it's all over.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ryan,

Many thanks for your kind words of advice. And of course I agree wholeheartedly with your points. I can assure you there was no anger or malice from my side - only personal frustration (maybe I didn't originally come across too well - if so I apologise to all who took it that way).

Jeff / Mormanity and I crossed swords originally because he was consistently deleting e-mails that I was writing in response to questions being asked by a contact known as 'Catholic Defender'. You can see the thread for yourself if you take the link from Jeff's last message.

It is quite evident that the only defensive bias is from Jeff's side. I was and still am trying to be humble in nature (trying to adopt Christlike characteristics) in my approach, but when my opinions are sanctioned as worthless, abusive, unfriendly and anti-catholic (I had at least four messages deleted) - I didn't understand why free polite speech was not allowed here (being new to the site).

Then as you can see above to take my comments totally out of context to support his damning accusations of being anti-papal and anti-catholic and propogating my own interpretations on a few lines of scripture. Well Jeff really has no knowledge of how much I have studied the Bible or how long I have been reading it, or even who I am.

These themselves are dangerous presumptions, judgements and accusations to make in writing.

In order to attempt an introduction, I have volunteered an e-mail to Jeff personally, where I have asked some other pertinent questions to a sermon that Jeff has written. I have volunteered some rather modest personal information to Jeff, but still I am unknown to him as an individual.

There is respect - Jeff is eloquent and very much an 'achiever', but I still feel that he could take the speck out of his own eye before removing the plank out of mine (irony intended), whilst commenting so vehemently about others like me who are attempting to make his blog comments more objective and not so narrow in their appeal. Isn't that what ministry is about - or is it only for teaching those in an exclusve fashion / denomination.

If you really READ (not skip) my messages you will see that Jesus and His Divine Character IS very real to me! I am definitely not intending an ounce of deception or aggression perpetrated as a result in any of my comments. I pray to keep it that way each time I write.

Anonymous ^

Ryan said...

My impression on the matter is that you feel very strongly about your beliefs, and perhaps share my "gift" for anti-tact (I feel for you, man). I spent over an hour composing my response to you, and it probably still wasn't perfect...

As for the disputed thread, I was there when it happened. Most of the verses in Daniel and Revelation that come to mind speak pretty harshly against the dragon/beast/etc. They go *much* further than simply saying "the beast's followers are good people but have some erroneous beliefs," so saying that those scriptures describe Catholicism does come off rather anti-Catholic.

Similarly, there really isn't a polite, loving way to call someone a tyrant.

That said, neither point seemed driven by an agenda like some of the other posters that have passed through here, so I don't think Jeff's original rant was even directed at you.

Mormanity said...

For the record, it was the YouTube videos that got the comments deleted in the first place. To miss the fact that they were anti-Catholic is hard for me to swallow.

I delete YouTube links as a matter of course - but did begin screening these ones to see if there was merit, and found them offensive in their emotional manipulation to make people see the Catholic Church as evil, while quoting scripture in love, of course, with some loving eerie music added. To me, it was closer to anti-Catholic than objective biblical truth. I'm no defender of the papacy, for surely you can infer that I believe there was an Apostasy and truth and authority was lost, but there ahve been some great men and great Christians among them. I don't think there is any objective basis for equating the papacy with the mark of the beast, and EVEN IF THERE WERE, it's not topical, especially on the Book of Mormon-related post where it was inappropriately offered. Delete! Snip! The power-hungry tyrant dishonestly trashes truth again. Such power!!! All mine, mine, mine!! (Add sinister laugh track here.)

aj said...

Jeff,

I am an an ex-Mormon, so naturally, I disagree with much of what you say on your blog and website.

That being said, I never once considered you to be stupid or ignorant. Quite the opposite, actually.

You're obviously a very intelligent fellow who is well aware of various LDS topics.

To point out what you say about yourself on your blog: you "surprisingly tend to take a pro-LDS view."

This is what just blows my mind, man. For someone to be aware of all the problems in church history and doctrine to continue to believe in it just baffles me.

I'm sure you're able to glean some positive things from your membership in the church, but I was unable to do so once I realized that it just wasn't everything it claimed to be.

To be truly ignorant of church history (i.e. given only the sanitized, faith-promoting version in Primary and Sunday School classes) and a believer is, in my opinion, excusable. But to have all the facts and continue in the faith...that's what I don't understand.

Mormanity said...

First of all, AJ, I don't have all the facts. And many of the ones I have might not be facts after all. But I've encountered a lot of data, some of which may be factual, much of which is incomplete and difficult to interpret, and some of which is quite questionable.

Now I'll address your point, after some preliminary comments for those new to this area (it's probably old news to you, AJ, but it might be helpful to some). The truly difficult thing about religion, politics, history, sports, and human life in general is that there can be a diversity of views outside the paradigms of any individual. It is easy for many to reject any views that don't agree with their own as stupid. Even in the more objective world of science, the cold hard data can be interpreted in many diverse ways (e.g., different models of the universe, different theories about dark matter, different conclusions about diet and nutrition, etc.).

Uncertainty and differing opinions are inevitable, even when dealing with intelligent, thoughtful people doing their best to honestly evaluate and interpret the data before them.

In my view, real education requires us to understand and tolerate the fact that our views, no matter how rational they seem to us, may may not be self-evident to the rest of the world, and may even seem crazy to others. For example, it is possible for intelligent, Ph.D.-level scientists to conclude that there must be an intelligent Designer who participated in the creation of some aspects of the universe, while others with the same intelligence and education and sincere quest for truth conclude just the opposite.

It is possible for intelligent, sincere men of knowledge to be faithful Muslims and even to find great beauty, wisdom, and joy in their faith - which may just "blow the mind" of some Westerners. It is possible for bitter anti-Mormons to be intelligent, artistic, and very wise people (in spite of messing up in one particular area, IMO).

The difficulty is that much of life is more complicated than taking the sum of two numbers to get absolute truth in one easy step. Much of real life involves judgment and evaluation in the face of rich and complex data sets, where the data are not only incomplete, but are also often inaccurate and frequently contradictory, requiring difficult filtering and decision-making to identify which subset of the data to rely on. In this process, it is terribly easy to fail to understand how much our own preconceived notions and paradigms determine what data we look at, what sources we value or ignore, what problem statements we consider, and how we perform the interpretation and manipulation of the data. It is easy to think that we have applied the scientific method and come up with absolute truth, when in fact we have just reinforced our own prejudices by selective filtering and even distortion of the data.

And even then, there may be alternative approaches that go beyond anything we would have thought to be acceptable, which may equally valid or even vastly superior to our approach.

It may be difficult to understand how others see things differently, but it's healthy to understand that there may be some thoughtful logic and experience behind it.

Now to your point. In Church history, we are left with many conflicting accounts and explanations about various events. How do interpret the data on polygamy, for example? There are plenty of things about polygamy that make me uncomfortable - not just the idea of multiple mothers-in-law. Interpreting a set of alleged facts becomes a real challenge. Does polygamy per se prove that a man is not a prophet? Abraham was a prophet - do I have to reject him as well? Do alleged actions in say, 1840, that some claim were unkind, greedy, illegal, or dishonest prove that an event in 1820 or 1830 didn't happen? Do the gold plates in 1827 (which have evidence from many witnesses, for example, pointing to their existence) vanish if someone "proves" that Joseph became a tyrant in 1844?

Things that look like objective slam-dunk conclusions to you may be entwined in human spin, tainted sources, human selection of data, and even basic misunderstandings. Caution about the absolute veracity of what we conclude in interpreting historical "facts" is essential for any historian, and important for all of us in dealing with the complexities of Church history. Different views don't always mean low IQs.

On the other hand, I agree that many LDS people have a highly sanitized view of Church history. That's why, for example, I recommend reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman. It deals with many of the challenging, unsanitized aspects of Church history - and shows in the process that an intelligent man like Richard Bushman can resolve the challenges and move forward in faith.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff / Mormanity,

You still have not explained how you prefer to be related to in your blog.

You do make some very good rational points in your understanding of human nature, free will and our ability to choose.

However you do not discuss in your equating hypothesis the key possibility that satan who perpetrates all evil, can change, manipulate, twist, or 'spin' (as you put it) truth in order to make it seem logical or appealing in view.

When this is concept is entered into most data whatever the topic, the surface matter needs to be passed by in order to enter into the real truth - and that is what God intends us to do - dig deeper into the info.

Imagine that Edward Jenner never had faith (in whatever capacity) for his live subjects. He would never have found the smallpox vaccine. Imagine that Louis Pasteur hadn't persisted when conservative scientific opposition had been against his every investigation. We wouldn't have many of the vaccines available today.

Mankind is always skeptical of new and progressive discovery, doctrine or theology. To accept anything new as truth it needs to be carefully (and prayerfully) considered with much intelligent discernment, so that God can be allowed to reason with us by the presence of His Holy Spirit.

This is why I tend to agree with AJ in this instance that you seem to be sitting very comfortable with the 'facts' that you have, dismiss the 'anti' material that you do not need to even entertain, and be content in mixing your church's history with the BOM and your biblical acceptance for your firm stand pont.

One needs to be open to new information in order for God to speak to us. satan is extremely adept at nullifying our desires in this regard and this is where deception from small to great creeps in. How to identify the messages from God - in the still, quiet and small voice that is available to everyone!

You seem to be keen to either dismiss much of what I have to say personally or choose to completely ignore my comment. If this is the case, at least explain the reasons why to your readers. Please be direct and sincere without the general waffle.

------------

Dear Ryan,

Mormanity / Jeff's original rant couldn't have been directed at anyone else. He particularly refers (his message - 9:00 AM, August 09, 2007 ) to my original message at 9:15 am the previous day, and then proceeds to go on the defensive mixing many sources of messages to portray his views.

This is why I responded in the way that I did. I have made a few original comments on the thread ref the BOM and it's validity. A 'catholic friend' had asked some interesting questions in a particular thread response to me, so I responded with a message and some links in reply.

My point was and still is - the right to reply would have been most courteous regardless of Jeff's own belief or opinion. It wasn't a 'rude or obscene' reply, but Jeff deemed it to be inappropriate, unfriendly and anti-catholic. Accusations that I still refute, mainly because I can not change the words of the Bible and also because I know the intentions of my own heart. However I can not change the way that my messages are received. That is the responsibility of the intended recipient or the blog administrator .

If Jeff / Mormanity had looked at the You Tube videos carefully he wouldn't have missed that one of the beasts of Revelation depicted is actually identified as the American power (Washington / UN - who knows yet for sure?) . Final question - does that make me or the website authors (considering they live in America) also 'anti-American' using the same slide rule of judgement that has so far been used against me ?

Any answers that come back to me in the affirmative will be absolutely hysterical, and prove the true IQ of the sender.

Mormanity / Jeff - if you don't like You Tube content for whatever reason, the same material is also available on Google video.

Respecfully intended for all,

Anonymous ^

Russell said...

"This is why I tend to agree with AJ in this instance that you seem to be sitting very comfortable with the 'facts' that you have, dismiss the 'anti' material that you do not need to even entertain, and be content in mixing your church's history with the BOM and your biblical acceptance for your firm stand pont."

I'm not so sure about that. I've been examining Jeff's apologetics for over a decade now and while (as with all of us mere mortals) he might make an occasional misstep (sorry, Jeff), by and large, his work has been fairminded. When I even bring up half the stuff he mentions in his blog, I am bound to get odd looks from fellow members of the faith, most of them assuming that I've gone off the deep end simply because I'm familiar with Church history. No, Jeff seems quite willing to deal with 'anti' material--even if he doesn't agree with it. That is the nature of scholarship, of writing itself. Of course, he maintains his view, as does EVERY AUTHOR WHO HAS EVER WRITTEN ANYTHING WORTH READING.

Mormanity said...

Hey Anon, I'm sorry your still bitter about my deletion of the YouTube links or video links in general. It's a matter of policy here. One never knows what's in a video without taking the time to watch it, and I usually am not interested in doing that - especially when they are 10 minutes long or worse.

Also as a matter of policy, I reserve the right to delete comments that are way off topic. And complaining over and over in multiple posts about the injustice you have suffered at my hands is now officially off topic - here or anywhere else at Mormanity. Please, can you stop this?

No one is forcing you to dwell here, and for the 20th time, I've encouraged you to get your own blog so you can always be on topic, by definition, no matter what you say, and so you can post YouTube videos and complaints about popes and priests to your heart's delight. But please, I don't want that here. You've made your point about my terribly ruthless tyrannical and dishonest behavior. That should suffice, please.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen said...

Wow. Amazing how--ahem--"heated" this sort of discussion can get. To all bible-believers, Mormon or not, we are to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4.15).

Just my latest soapbox.