Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trust Your Media-anic

Some time ago, I was visiting my grandmother-she is in a nursing home-and, at the suggestion of my mother, I turned the t.v. to a news channel. I was interested in a story they were telling about the 'Gabriel Tablet'. This archaeological find may, according to some, shed light on the historical Jesus. Now, as a conservative, I break out in a rash whenever I hear about 'the quest for the historical Jesus' though, of course, there is nothing wrong per se with such an idea. I was delighted to see Ben Witherington (a fellow conservative evangelical) being interviewed on this program which, I should also mention, was not on Fox News (so it was presumably leftist).

So they talk about the Gabriel tablet for a short-too short-then go back to their lead story. Apparently Jessie Jackson had said something less than flattering about Barrack Obama. He subsequently made it crystal clear that he was very sorry about getting caught saying such things. They went on and on about this foolishness for some time, occasionally alluding to an extra-marital affair that Jonathon Edwards was said to have had four years ago.

So, they talked for about a minute on this archaeological find which allegedly gives new information about Jesus (albeit, unsympathetic to traditional Christian beliefs) and spent the much of the rest of the time with the usual garbage associated with political campaigning.

With this, we come to my main point. It has neither to do with liberal religious scholars or liberal politicians. Instead, I am pointing out how backwards the liberal media is. What is more important, the latest presidential race gossip or Jesus? To ask this question is to answer it. Yet we are subjected to the sophomoric, or rather junior high-ic, hooie we've all come to expect from the liberal media day after day.

So there I am, with the two women I love most (after my wife, of course) complaining about how bad the media can be sometimes. My mother told me, "for goodness sake, not everyone is a zealot [like you]". She may have a point there. But the point I was getting at, and am getting at now in this post, is that the media often is not the objective, informative, and relatively comprehensive information source they presumably want us to take them as. One certainly does not have to be religious fanatic to recognise this fact.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Experiences at LDS.NET

Wow, it is surprisingly difficult to keep updating a blog! I find myself doing other things and putting it off until-my goodness-so much time has passed since my last post. What have I been up to in the interim? One thing is posting on "lds.net" (not to be confused with "lds.org").

lds.net Its a real cool place to be a Mormon. There are also those of other persuasions there, however, such as myself. The main message I have been trying to convey in my time there has been the great problems that I percieve in the personal testimony concept.

Everything in Mormonism seems to boil down to the personal testimony. For those of you unfamiliar with the LDS sub-culture, "personal testimony" means something different-surprise! surprise!-for them than it does for Christians (or anybody else, for that matter). As they use the term, they have prayed about the Book of Mormon, and perhaps other LDS truth claims, and received a feeling that it is directly from God. "I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God," they say, because they have had a feeling that they take to be God saying, "Joseph Smith is a prophet of God."

I am amazed not that there are so many people who are Mormons. Instead, it is incredible to me that there are any Mormons. Every Mormon has, by very definition, had such a feeling, and, it is primarily or exclusively because of that feeling, that they are Mormons! Don't they realise that feelings come and go? Do you ever feel like not going to work in the morning? Of course, but your reason tells you that you ought to go to work anyhow, because you need the money to live. It is not God telling you, "don't go to work today." You are just tired. Feelings are at best a secondary epistemological apparatus. Yet these people have hung their entire life, and afterlife, on a mere feeling. That sounds very dangerous to me.

A second point that I have found myself stressing to the Saints at this sight is that the Bible absolutely does not teach Mormonism. Though I have not mentioned this at the site, I have come to see the entire Bible as one large polemic against LDS doctrine. At any rate, this second point is intimately connected to the first, for, it seems the Mormon misinterpretation of the Bible ultimately boils down to what the Mormon prophets say the Bible says. The most important Mormon prophet, of course, being Joseph Smith himself. And how do they know that these prophets are giving them the right meaning? Because they have prayed, and subsequently received a feeling, that these false prophets (according to Christian orthodoxy) are authoritative. At least, this seems to be the case.

One issue that I was about to address when I got booted off (more on this below) was that of the Book of Abraham. The Mormons believe in at least the following texts as inspired:
1. The Bible
2. The Book of Mormon
3. The Doctrine and Covenants
4. The Pearl of Great Price
Now, the Book of Abraham is a part of the Pearl of Great Price. The Mormons believe "...the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated [and transcribed?] correctly..." They further teach that the Book of Mormon was translated from gold plates that are now in heaven. The Doctrine and Covenants are more or less what God told Joseph. Finally, the Pearl of Great Price was translated by Joseph from Egyptian papyri. Not counting the Bible (which all true Christians recognise as being from God, as opposed to the other 3 which tend to be universally rejected by all true Christians), then, the only one of the above scriptures which may be tested, by comparison to the original manuscript, is the fourth.

And what do we find when we examine the Egyptian papyri? What Joseph says they said, under divine inspiration, they do not say. One would think that such a discovered truth as this would immediately end, once and for all, all Mormonism. After all, if Smith has been conclusively shown to claim infallible translation ability on certain works, and the only one we may examine is totally wrong, that would tend to throw in doubt his claims as the modern-day prophet to restore the gospel, and the whole foundation of Mormonism would crumble. Why has that not happened?

I have seen only two responses to this problem (if anybody knows of others, please let me know). The first reply is that Smith may have had, under divine interposition, access to some sort of esoteric meaning in the papyri that Egyptologists (who often are not Mormons) don't have access to. I think that merely to state such ad hoc moves of desperation is to refute them so let us move on to the second, and more believable (though still implausible) rebut offered us by LDS apologists.

This second claim is that perhaps the part of the papyri now extant, was a different part of the texts owned by Joseph Smith. It is quite true that Joseph did in fact have more papyri than we now have (i.e. of his own collection, much has been lost). While that is true, there are still some problems. In the Book of Abraham itself, we read in 1:14, of a figure at the beginning (do not quote me, but I believe that in older printings, the exact phrase was "the beginning of this record" wherein 'record' was taken to mean 'entire scroll' by some LDS apologists!). The figure at the beginning of the Book of Abraham is a picture common to many Book of Breathings which is sometimes also called the Egyptian Book of the Dead (or, I suppose, Necronomicon for all you 'Evil Dead' fans-though the Necronomicon in the movie was, I understand, a fictional invention of Lovecraft).

So what do we have? Joseph Smith had a papyrus, with the Book of Breathings picture at the beginning and some of that very same scroll has been translated by Mormon scholars as the Book of Breathings. The Book of Breathings has nothing to do with Abraham. Rather, it is a magical book which helps dead Egyptians in the underworld. Mummies were buried with it. These Mormon translators will sometimes say, "well, the part that is now extant is the Book of Breathings, but, maybe the Book of Abraham was later added on to it, Smith had it when he was translating, but that later add on was lost to history."

But it gets even worse! There is also extant what are called the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Mormon scholars, who accept the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, admit the existence of these papers. The papers were written by the scribes of Joseph Smith. In them, there is a page/s which is divided into two columns. On the left side is Egyptian which one finds in the Book of Breathings. On the right side are English expressions. It appears that Smith (it must be remembered that he 'translated' in the early days of Egyptology before there was necessarily an understanding of the Egyptian language by specialists in Egyptology) had this key made up to 'translate' the Book of Breathings. He had claimed that Reformed Egyptian (the original language, purportedly, of the Book of Mormon) could say many English words using only a single symbol. And we find this idea manifested with respect to the key in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. What the Mormon scholars want us to believe, is that a. Smith translated a portion of a scroll, part of which was the Book of Breathings, still extant, and part of which was the Book of Abraham, lost to history; b. this translation was done under divine guidance; c. he (and/or his scribes) later went back to compare the original Egyptian to the inspired translation (apparently they somehow confused the Book of Breathings itself, with the allegedly added Book of Abraham when they did this) and; d. finally, enemies of the one true Church today, as they call themselves, have misinterpreted the unispired reverse translationeering (to coin a new phrase) as a key to the inspired translation.

I am afraid that both possible explanations are rather implausible and we probably ought to reject them both without a moments hesitation. But then Mormonism collapses as I said before. It is important to realise before going on that what has happened is that the only testable, uniquely Mormon scripture, has been tested and found wanting. It was then removed from testability for, say the defenders, the real Book of Abraham has been lost to history. That is very convenient don't you think?

As I said before, I have been kicked off of this website until mid-September. So wake me up, when mid-September ends. Perhaps the old saying about the truth, is itself true. But this shunning did not happen all at once. First, I received a warning. Somebody had written into a discussion forum there, at lds.net, and I told them what I thought about them joining the Church (this was the question they asked of members of the site in general, as I recall). My own comments were construed as being derogatory against the Church and so, since then, I have been on my best behavior. I have toned down the abrasiveness of my criticisms. I have explicitly stated that my concerns are only my own opinion about what appears (and things are not always as the appear, of course) to me to be the case about Mormon doctrine. And yet, I find myself banned for derogatory comments against the Church (and insulting people too, I think). I tried to email the site to express my confusion and ask for clarification but, because I am banned from using the site, I apparently cannot even contact the moderator about this problem!

If the people at FAIR (a group of LDS apologists) have all the answers, and if the personal testimony of members is so unquestionably indubitable, one wonders why the lds.net site is so afraid of hearing an alternative perspective. The internet infidels allow me to express my views on their forums. Sometimes Mormons express their views in evangelical churches. What's so bad about me stating objective facts in a public forum? Could it be that God's one true church, ain't so true after all? Is that at least a possibility? If so, then the personal testimony idea may be considered sufficiently undermined.

And you know, now that I mention it, why do Mormons want to be considered a part of the Christian Church anyway? According to the Book of Mormon, all churches save for their own, follow the Devil, and all creeds, which all churches have always followed, according to Joseph Smith's first vision, are an abomination in the eyes of God. They are not likely to mention this when they come to your door, it seems, but then there are a lot of things they don't appear to want to tell you when they come to your door. Perhaps the truths of the one true church aren't.

In conclusion, I very much welcome an LDS person, other Mormon person, or lds.net itself to reply to what I have said here. In the marketplace of ideas, we all have a voice. Please, exercise your freedom of speech and critique this post. May the grace of Jesus Christ rest upon all who read this.