Michael R Ash, born a Mormon, is a retail manager in Utah and a ‘factotum’ for the Mormon apologist organisation FAIR. In a recent article in the unofficial online Mormon magazine Meridian, he addressed the question, Why do Some People Assail the Church? The article can be found here.
It gives us an interesting insight into two factors concerning Mormon apologetics:
First, apologetics, as we would recognise apologetics, is a recent development for Mormons. In the past Mormons took a more declamatory approach and, although a kind of reasoned defence was used, it was rather simplistic and didn’t seriously address itself to the questions raised by critics. Mormons felt that the truth was self-evident; critics were just being obtuse and popular books like Legrand Richards’ A Marvelous Work and a Wonder were sufficiently engaging. Richards’ book would never do today and Mormons are now engaging with their critics in a way that was unheard of years ago.
Second, it helps us understand the mindset that can look at compelling criticisms of Mormon doctrine and still dismiss it as malicious, born of ignorance and misguided.
The question is put, “Are all critics or disbelievers modern-day anti-Mormons?” and I was, as you would imagine, very interested in the answer:
“Certainly not. Disagreeing with LDS doctrine does not make someone an anti-Mormon, but there are certain critics who would like to see the demise of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How can we differentiate between disagreeing nonbelievers and anti-Mormons? In some ways it’s difficult to set parameters to categorize such critics.”
It is my experience, from both inside and outside the Mormon Church, that parameters seem so difficult to set because anyone who asks the most reasonable question is almost invariably treated with suspicion and branded “anti-Mormon”, or someone who has been “got at by anti-Mormons”. This is the default position of every Mormon, a sort of “either you’re for us or against us” approach.
The writer goes on to observe:
“Anti-Mormons often disregard the facts, current research, and the sacred beliefs of Latter-day Saints. They frequently engage in techniques that are aimed at destroying the faith of tender-testimonied Latter-day Saints or investigators, and are not usually interested in dialogue or reaching the truth.”
I find this charge interesting since the rest of the article seems to demonstrate a singular lack of interest on the part of Mormons in fact, current research or dialogue. Take that famous quote from Spencer Kimball:
“Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people, and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but more often against the leaders.” – Teachings of Spencer W Kimball, Pub. Bookcraft, 1982.
Do You Really Want the Facts?
Here we have a clear denunciation of the very factors that help us address and judge the facts of which Michael Ash speaks with enthusiasm. Questions that seek to find the facts, doubt that helps us pursue those questions instead of settling for whatever you’re told, and criticism that helps others examine their own faith, either strengthening it, or changing it for the better.
Of course, Kimball casts those who seek facts and probe for data as unscrupulous or misguided people. This is typical of the Mormon approach to critics and is mirrored in the article itself:
“Why do these detractors want to see the Church fall? There are a variety of reasons. Some are bitter because they’ve been offended by members of the Church or because they have seen the human-side of LDS leaders. Others may attack the Church out of pride – pride in their supposed intelligence; they no longer need the “crutch” of religion. Others may recognize that they know more about early LDS history than is generally taught in Sunday School, Seminary, or Institute and thus come to believe that they also know more about spiritual things than the Prophets.
“Such people often assume that they have the inside “scoop” to the real LDS faith and that only the naïve’ or uninformed could believe the stories told in Church. When pride replaces humility, criticism of others – especially leaders – is often a consort…Others resort to attacking the Church to hide their own sins.”
It must be a great comfort for Mormons uniformly to be able to dismiss their critics as, “unscrupulous and misguided, bitter, proud, and sinful”. It certainly beats having to answer your critics with intelligent arguments, facts, archaeological data, and a reasoned defence. Also interesting is the insight we gain into the Mormon approach to plain facts. The writer observes:
“There are also some members who leave the Church simply because they no longer believe. Such people generally do not have a spiritual testimony and they are not able to reconcile what they see as difficult issues.”
A clear dichotomy is presented here between “spiritual testimony”, based entirely on subjective experience, and “difficult issues” that someone “sees” and with which someone might struggle because of objective evidence. Referring to “false Christs”, the writer asks:
“What types of “signs and wonders” might such a prophet have up his sleeve? Perhaps this might entail clever sounding arguments, or scientific or empirical data that might be used (in my view incorrectly) in a way that suggests that Christ is not real, or that the Restored Gospel is false.”
So we begin with the charge that, “Anti-Mormons often disregard the facts, current research, and the sacred beliefs of Latter-day Saints”, and end with a warning that “clever sounding arguments, or scientific or empirical data” is very likely the sign of the apostasy Mormons are warned against.
Now the question we must ask is, “Do you really want the facts?” Do you want to tackle the “difficult issues”, as modern Mormon apologists would lead us to believe, honestly and with a humility that says, “If I am wrong then I am wrong”? Or is the Mormon church true despite facts, empirical evidence, results of current research, and clever sounding arguments that might, indeed, be right?
Of course, there are things to which we adhere simply on the basis of faith alone. Of course, facts don’t prove all the big issues such as those things to do with the spiritual realm. However, I find Mormons all too readily put into this category of “spiritual testimony” anything and everything that doesn’t fit their picture of the world. Facts are facts only when they serve the Mormon cause, it seems. When they don’t, they become “clever sounding arguments” designed to engender apostasy. The list of people who have been censured or excommunicated for daring to face these facts and pronounce their findings is growing all the time. The real question is, does the Mormon Church “disregard the facts, current research, and the sacred beliefs” of those who have allowed those facts to lead them away from the Latter-day Saints into a greater light? If the “apostate” is following the facts and walking into the light, shouldn’t the Mormon apologist stop name-calling and at least give the reasoned arguments of critics a FAIR hearing?
This article first appeared in the Winter 2004/5 Reachout Quarterly