32. Answering the worldviews of polytheistic biblical counterfeits -- MORMONISM
Some religions believe in the existence of more than one god. These gods may be in conflict with each other (such as in Zoroastrianism), or are responsible for different realms or areas of life. Adherents may worship all such gods, or they may worship only one of them. Here we will look at Mormonism, which is often presented as a “Christian” religion but which in fact is anything but that.
Most of us are familiar with the main branch of Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints started by Joseph Smith in Western New York in the 1820s and 30s. Before we look at how to engage in apologetics with Mormons, I’ll briefly outline the religion’s history and key beliefs.
It has been demonstrated from the historical records of Bain Bridge, New York, that prior to Joseph Smith assuming the role of prophet of this new religion, he was tried and convicted as Smith, the glass looker. He was a con-man, who claimed if he looked through a particular glass, he could find buried treasure. I do not say this to ridicule Mormons or even Mr. Smith, but to highlight that before Smith became the messenger of god he was a con-man, and the reason I highlight this is because almost always when you have a discussion with a Mormon and after you have put forward all the evidence or discussed their theology, it comes down to “I trust in Joseph Smith.” The problem here is that they are putting their trust in a convicted con-artist.
Smith was born in 1805 in Vermont. His family settled in New York when he was 11 years old. He did not join the Presbyterian church like his family. Smith was confused by the different denominations, so he went into the woods to pray. At the age of 14, he claims that two people appeared to him in the woods. One said, “this is my beloved son; hear him.” Smith was told to join no church, because they were all wrong and all of the creeds were an abomination. In 1823 he had another alleged vision which was repeated twice in one night. A person, named Moroni, appeared to him at his bedside and claimed to be the messenger of God’s presence. He said that there was a book written on golden plates giving an account of the former inhabitants of the continent of North America. The fullness of the everlasting Gospel, which was delivered to these inhabitants was deposited in a hill outside of the village, where Joseph Smith resided. The next day Joseph Smith went outside and claimed to have found them in a stone box. He was instructed by an angel not to take them with him, but to return to the same place on the same date for the next 4 years. In 1827, he was allowed to take the golden plates for careful keeping. He kept these secret; only 11 other men claim to have seen them. These plates were written in a language Smith called Reformed Egyptian (which does not exist anywhere else). He began translating the plates. A New York farmer by the name of Martin Harris, agreed to help publish this book that Joseph Smith was writing. However, he wanted assurance that the plates from which he was copying were genuine and were being properly translated. Smith did not give the plates themselves to Martin Harris, but he did give him what he said was a copy of the inscriptions. Martin Harris gave them to a professor named Charles Anthon in New York City who is said to have confirmed that the characters were Egyptian, Chaldean, Syriac, & Arabic, and that they were "true characters." According to Harris, Anthon wrote Harris a letter of authenticity declaring the fragment to contain true Egyptian characters. Anthon was also reported to have confirmed the translation of these characters as correct.* (Interestingly, the Book of Mormon itself states that it is written in a language known by no human and which could only be translated with angelic intervention. So I’m not sure why human confirmation was desirable or how it was possible.)
In 1829 a former schoolteacher, Oliver Cowdrey became Smith’s amanuensis, writing down Smith’s translations as he worked. Cowdrey was not allowed to see the plates; they had to put up a sheet with Smith on one side doing the translating, and Cowdrey on the other side writing down what Smith said. A month later the two of them went to the woods to pray. There John the Baptist descended as a heavenly messenger and conferred them with the priesthood of Aaron. They then began to prophesy and understand the Scriptures. Later Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek priesthood on them at the banks of the Susquehanna River. On March 26, 1830 the book of Mormon went on sale. On April 6 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized and incorporated with six members, the oldest being 31 years old, and within a month they had 40 members. They did missionary work among the Indians in Kirtland, Ohio, and it was at this point that it is said that Joseph Smith received the revelation of the Doctrines and Covenants. He revised the King James version of the Bible. Then he received a revelation that Jackson County, Missouri was “the land of promise and the place for the city of Zion.” For that reason many followers settled in the city of Independence, Missouri. However, mobs attacked them, which led them to move to the city of Far West, Missouri. The state militia intervened after a number of battles between settlers and the Mormons. Smith and a few other Mormon leaders were imprisoned. They escaped, and then moved to Illinois. In 1839 the city of Nauvoo, on the Mississippi River, was established. A small army, the “Nauvoo Legion” was organized, and when an anti-Mormon newspaper published material that was unfavorable to the Mormons, Joseph Smith ordered the press to be destroyed and its copies burned. A complaint was brought to the governor of the state, and this led to Smith’s arrest. He was then released but later rearrested with his brother. At that point, a mob attacked the jail in Carthage, Illinois and he was killed.
Key Mormon teachings:
- Article 8 - “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”Article 9 - “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”Article 11 - “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”“As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.” (From: “The Grand Destiny of Man,” 'Deseret Evening News,' July 20, 1901, 22)"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens” (From: “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” Chapter 2: God the Eternal Father (2011), 36–44)"He [God] is our Father - the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted being. It appears ridiculous to the world, under their darkened and erroneous traditions, that God has once been a finite being;" (Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, v. 7, p. 333)The Doctrine and Covenants indicates the inspired and revelatory nature of the work: "the Scriptures shall be given even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect" (D&C 34:5b)“and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation” (Genesis 50:32, Mormon translation)“1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying, That Satan whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning; 2. And he came before me, saying, Behold I, send me, I will be thy Son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore, give me thine honor.” (Genesis 3:1-2, Mormon translation)
How can we deal with the Mormons? Do we have to go verse by verse to highlight the many contradictions they have with the Bible? Or should we point out the fact they believe in many gods even though they only worship one (this is called Henotheism)? I suggest we follow the Biblical method and answer the fool according to his folly. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Mormon’s worldview to be true. What then? According to Mormons God was “once a man in mortal flesh as we are.” Unlike the Jesus of the Bible, who is eternal God who became man, their god started out as a man and then became a god. That means the Mormon worldview can’t account for objective morality because their god is neither eternal nor absolute and therefore fails the requirement for objectivity. The same thing can be said about the laws of logic; since their god isn’t eternal, he can’t account for invariant (unchanging) laws or truth. That means a Mormon can’t know anything for sure including whether or not their god exists, because to know something for sure you need among other things, objective morality, universal truth, invariant laws of logic, and universals, … all of which can’t have their foundation in a mortal god who was once a man.
Furthermore, because the Mormon worldview believes there are many gods in many universes, how do they know they have the right one? This would seem to create a new problem, that of a redundancy of gods, or that there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to the gods (which is a self refuting statement, because it states something absolute about something, which is not absolute).
As noted above, however, what it really all comes down to is, as a Mormon author put it: “One must decide whether to trust or be suspicious of the historical record created by Joseph Smith” (Steven Harper, Suspicion or trust). At this point we have to ask the Mormon, if they are really willing to put their eternal salvation in the hands of a con-man who has no objective evidence for his claim, no verifiable manuscript for his alleged book, and whose message differs with the whole church throughout history. I don’t think so.