Friday, March 14, 2014

How do you address the Mormon teaching about the Great Apostasy?

Actually, The conversation went like this:  (My lines are the bit in blue)

As you can see, it took place on Facebook, and by the end my student gave up on me and went to the Deacon!

But actually, Mormonism is a topic I am very interested in.  (Mormons are more properly referred to as Latter Day Saints, but they usually don't find the term Mormon offensive, and it is more efficient, so I will stick to that term).

For people who are unfamiliar with the subject, the "Great Apostasy" is the teaching that Christianity started out right, but somewhere in the Early Centuries it went off track, and started teaching 'false' things, like the Trinity, etc.  Centuries later, Joseph Smith was praying in upstate New York, and was wondering which of the Christian Traditions was the true one, and an Angel appeared to him and told him about some buried metal plates which had unknown scriptures on them.   When he dug up the plates, and translated them, he discovered an unknown history of the North American 1st nations, as well as of Jesus, and of course doctrinal implications.

So basically the Great Apostasy is the way that Mormons explain that Christianity went wrong, and even the scriptures passed down in Christianity may have errors in it.

The thing about the teaching is that if Mormonism is correct, than of course the teaching of the Great Apostasy is necessarily correct.  If Mormonism is wrong, well, arguments can still be made about the evolution of Christian doctrine, but it can't be conclusively proven one way or the other.  (Evidence available to us now, but not available to Joseph Smith, suggests that the Early Church taught much more consistently in line with modern Catholics than with modern Mormons.

So the question is-  is Mormonism true, or is it a man made religion?

I love having the Mormon elders to my house to discuss things, and recently had them coming on a weekly basis.  Eventually though they replaced one of the missionaries, as they are apt to do, and for some reason the new recruit was very defensive, and felt that I was too adversarial and that I wasn't interested in talking to them but only in Mormon bashing. It's too bad, because the missionaries who came to me before him did not seem to have that impression, and I try not to be that kind of person!

I tried to take the Mormons up on their challenge of reading the Book of Mormon while praying that God would reveal to me if it was true.  I really, sincerely did this.  Mormons have this idea that God will reveal truth to you by giving you an accompanying peace with a revelation.  A lot of Christians who beleive Jesus is God also hold this idea, but they come to opposite conclusions.  I admit I am suspicious of my emotions as a basis on which to determine truth, but I tried the experiment anyway.  And I avoided reading any other material on the subject, but just tried to see for myself if the Book or Mormon seemed to hold up.

The thing is that one of the major Mormon claims is that "all" (or one Elder adapted this to "Most") of the First Nation people are descendants from a few Israelite families who came over in a boat about 600 years before Jesus.  When I discovered this, I said to the elders "I'm not trying to set you up here, I really don't know the answer to the question...  but I bet you that geneticists have looked into this without any anti-Mormon bias, and that there is a prevailing theory as to the heritage of the First Nations. Can we look it up?"

Interestingly the missionaries at my house did not seem versed in Mormon apologetics, because they agreed, and had nothing clever to say about the fact that First Nations seem to be descendants from Asians who crossed a land bridge over the Bering Strait.

And this became a theme as I was reading.  There were references to concepts and materials that were unknown in North America before Columbus, and some that were even unknown to Israelites in 600 BC!  Horses, steel, satin....  even the fact that the people who came across were called "Jews" though that term does not appear to have come into usage until after the exile, and was a derogatory term for descendants of Judah.  I also thought that the fact that

All this I knew on my own, without doing research.

Since then, I have done research.  And on every verifiable claim made by Mormons, the evidence seems to point to Mormonism being a fabrication.  In fact, many of the ideologies which informed the Mormon faith were very consistent with popular thought in 19th century USA.  Speculation about the heritage of the first nations, and where the lost tribes of Israel got to, and how and when the world would end, how to interpret the book of Revelation, and false archaeological claims, anti-Catholic sentiments, racist sentiments, and the fabrication of religions as a type of con like people travelling and selling snake oils...  these ideas were all common place. If you were to try to imagine a religion being invented in 19th century USA, you'd probably come up with something like Mormonism.  On the other hand there is no other culture in history that would have brought those ideas together on it's own.  It looks very much like a product of it's times!

This is just speculation on my part, of course, but I would challenge the reader to look into it.

There's a lot of low hanging fruit about Mormonism and especially it's foundation years, the translation of the book of Mormon from an unheard of language into the precise form of English used in the King James Bible-  considered authoritative in 19th century USA, though people didn't speak like that at the time.  Or the book of Abraham. Or other things I won't even bother to mention.

The point is that when you check the verifiable information from the book of Mormon, it can be almost decisively proven false.  I wonder how long Mormonism will stand up against the age of the internet, where all of this information is available to them?

Other religions do not have nearly so many verifiable claims, having not 'faked', in my view, a historical document.  For Catholicism when I check a verifiable claim-  like say, the Stigmata of Padre Pio or the Miracle at Fatima or Our Lady of Guadalupe-  in my biased opinion the evidence comes up strongly in favour of believing in these things.  But for Mormons the evidence is very decisively not in their favour.

In short, I wouldn't really debate the Apostasy itself.  It's true if Mormonism is true.  It's not if Mormonism is not.

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