The Mormon Model

In my life, I tend to be a simplifier on the order of (I like to think) Occam’s razor.  Why have a complicated explanation when a simple one will do?  Sometimes, because of this, I miss the boat, but mostly it works pretty well for me.  I bring this up because I am currently reading,  The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave.  It is a series of essays about whether or not we can believe the empty tomb story in the gospels,  whether there are possible natural explanations for the resurrection story and so on.

Even though these essays are skeptical they still start from the assumption that something must have happened, even if the gospels don’t contain the whole truth.  Jesus’s body could have been stolen, buried twice (the second time in a mass grave), he could have not died on the cross, and many other hypotheses and speculations.  The background assumption of all of this is that something must have happened to make the early Christians believe as they did.  I have a slightly different theory.

Someone around the first century BCE pulled Christianity right out of his ass.  Might have been Jesus, maybe Peter and almost certainly independently by Paul.

Now, you can call it a visitation from god, a hallucination sincerely believed in, an honest delusion or conscious fraud, but either which way you want to see it, it all started inside someone’s head.  At one time in my life I believed that something amazing must have happened in first century Palestine to get all those people to believe.  Then I moved to Arizona.

I lived in Arizona from 1976 until 1983 and it was there I ran into a kind of creature I had never encountered before: Mormons.  Nicest people you would ever want to meet.  If you judge the validity of a religion by the behavior of its adherents, Mormonism looks pretty darn good.  High marriage rates, low divorce rates, very low alcoholism and drug usage rates.  Mormons are known for being squeaky clean, almost annoyingly so.

But when you look at their beliefs and the history of the church, things start to get a bit strange.  My other contact with them was through doing genealogy, which they are champions of because of their belief that people can be brought into the church after they have died.  Long after they have died.  And then there is Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni, the golden tablets and other oddities.

The story of the founding of the church is colorful, to say the least.

Joseph Smith, who in other circumstances might be described as a  bit of a grifter, is visited by the angel Moroni, who eventually leads Smith to some golden tablets, which tell the story of the risen Jesus, who came to America to visit the native Americans, who are really a lost tribe of Israel.  Smith keeps the tablets hidden, at one point in a barrell of beans.  Apparently Smith didn’t read or write so well, so he enlisted some help in “translating” the tablets.  Of course he didn’t have have the tablets in front of him, he had two special “seer” stones which he held in front of his eyes while he buried his face in a hat and “read” out the text line by line.  One version has it that Smith and his stenographer were separated by a curtain while this went on.

Unfortunately, after dictating 116 pages this way, Smith allowed his stenographer to take the papers home, where they were promptly lost. So, Smith started the process all over again, but not before having a “special vision” that redoing this “translation” process would not result in exactly the same text as the one that was lost.  You know, just in case the pages were later found.  When he was done “translating” the angel returned and collected up the tablets, which have never been seen again.   Eleven people attested to seeing the tablets, but it is unclear whether they actually saw them or had visions of them.

After finishing the book, Smith started preaching his new religion and did not receive an exactly rousing reception and was run out of town, the first time in New York state.  He started moving west, preaching and getting run out of town, getting himself and his brother killed in the process. Finally the new church reached Utah, where there was no one to run them out of town.  They set up shop and pretty much took over the state.  They were so dominant in Utah that when the state is admitted to the union, the Mormons are forced to renounce one of their main teachings (polygamy) in exchange for statehood.  This will not be the last time they are forced to renounce a tenant of their religion publicly due to secular pressure.

Keep in mind that all of this happened in the 1800s, in the United States, not in some obscure backwater of the world before newspapers had been invented.  Apparently many people were killed in this western trek and there is quite a bit of debate of who did the killing and why.  It was in a lot of papers, but none of that seems to matter.  I doubt many people who, after meeting the nice young men in their starched white shirts go look up news reports from the 1830s.  Any more than Christian converts did in the second century to see if there was a death certificate for Jesus.

None of this stopped people from joining the  Mormon church.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints is now the fourth largest church by membership in the US.  It is considered to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country, with its membership having tripled since 1982.  As it approaches its third century of existence, they certainly have more believers than Christianity did after two centuries.  I realize that is somewhat of an unfair comparison, but still.

Many apologists for Christianity say things like “it must be true otherwise no one would believe anything so outlandish.”  Really?  Resurrection was just too bizarre a belief for first century Jews to latch on to.  And so on.  If you really believe that, explain Mormonism to me and why it isn’t just as true.

Now you might say that based on what we know, that Joseph Smith might not be the most reliable person.  But then again he claimed to do no more than Muhammud did, and that prophet has 1.6 billion followers.

And as for the bible: the only biblical author we know for sure is Paul, who seems a bit of a nutjob, first persecuting people for what they believe and then telling them what to believe–flip sides of the same coin.  And Paul says that he saw the risen Jesus in a vision, one that consisted of light and a voice.  Not very convincing.   As for the rest of the New Testament, we have no idea who wrote it and why they lied about who they are.

I think most rational people, even those who believe in the supernatural, would see the Mormon story as, to say the least, a bit ridiculous.  But I don’t really see any evidence that any of the holy books were written with any greater care or authority.  Logically you either have to accept them all or reject them all.  I choose the latter.

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14 thoughts on “The Mormon Model

  1. (Was linked here by one of your comments at the Sensuous Curmodgeon.)

    Yes, it’s all very strange, isn’t it? It seems everyone has a different standard for evidence, especially when it comes to matters of faith. Which by definition is evidence-less.

    One small disagreement, though. I wouldn’t call the anonymous authors of the books of the new testament liars. It isn’t their fault later readers ascribed their works to someone more famous!

    Bart Ehrman describes this much better in one of his books (I believe in the tantalizingly-titled “Forged.”)

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    • Hi Mark, Thanks for the kinds words. I recently read “Forged” and from that I took away that it is not clear that the works were “misascribed” but just as possibly were put out there under those names to intentionally get more credibility than they deserve.
      For example, the other day on the radio I heard a Catholic priest describe Mark (the gospel writer, not you!) as “Peter’s secretary” and that “you can hear the voice of Peter throughout the gospel of Mark.” Which is exactly what someone (probably not THAT Mark!) wants people to believe.
      I agree with you that “lie” is maybe too strong a word in that context, but the fact of the matter is that, other than Paul, we really don’t know who wrote the new testament books and what they really knew and didn’t know.

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  2. Agellius says:

    I meant that I had posted a comment yesterday, and as of the time I posted my second comment, the first one was still in moderation. Whereas Mark’s comment was posted today and was already out of moderation. So it appeared that mine wasn’t going to make it. But it did, so I spoke too soon. Sorry.

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  3. Agellius says:

    It’s not logical to say that either all claims of supernatural revelation are true, or they’re all false. It’s a false dichotomy since there is another possibility: That some of them are true and some false.

    Jesus was different from both Smith and Muhammad in that the latter two wrote purported “scripture” and then went around claiming that this scripture was a true revelation from God, which made they themselves prophets; whereas Jesus never purported to write any scripture.

    An argument can be made that Smith made a living off his purported revelations: He became the powerful leader of a church, came into a position where he controlled a lot of property and money, became the leader of an armed militia, attained political power, and married a lot of women. He also had a reputation, as you say, as a grifter. Muhammad became the leader of a powerful army which conquered large amounts of territory.

    There’s no evidence that any of this kind of thing was true of Jesus.

    I could go on and on listing differences, but the point is that logically, accepting one does not require you to accept the others, nor does rejecting one require you to reject all three.

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    • You do in fact provide a difference that might move someone to accept one claim, but reject the other. Personally I don’t accept this claim. While it is true that perhaps Smith made his claim for worldly benefit, and Jesus did not, it is not clear WHAT claims Jesus made as his story only came to us from unknown sources. It is entirely possible they put together the Jesus story to gain the kind of benefits you presume for Smith. And it is certainly true that Christian leaders attained the kind of worldly benefits you mentioned for the others. It is possible that Jesus was on the same footing as Moroni. People claimed to have seen him, but all of those reports are second hand and designed to encourage “belief” in him.
      On that basis, I see no need to accept one claim and reject the others.
      Perhaps I should not have made my statement a complete imperative, but rather said that I cannot think of any piece of evidence, given what I know about these and other “revelations,” I see no reason to allow one and disallow another.
      To quote Paine himself from “The Age of Reason”:
      No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.
      It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

      And I agree with Paine that this is all we have in all the holy books. In that I find them equal, all the work of man.
      I will allow that someone can certainly be convinced by one revelation over another, but I sincerely doubt it is actually on the basis of evidence rather than faith or culture.

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  4. Agellius says:

    “It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.”

    In that case, why believe in evolution? (I don’t disbelieve evolution myself, so please don’t mistake my point.) Did you discover it for yourself, or was it taught to you? If it was taught to you, was it taught by the person or persons who discovered it themselves? Or by third parties who themselves had been taught it in school or from books?

    If it is only an account of something which your teacher says was taught to him, then although he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for I have not discovered it for myself, and I have only his word for it that some third party has discovered it.

    In other words, virtually everything we believe and think we know in life, we have learned from other people and have accepted on trust, trust that (a) they knew what they were talking about and (b) they were telling the truth. Virtually every historical event (for example, the evidence you adduced that Joseph Smith was a grifter and pulled various stunts in the process of founding the Mormon religion) has been related to us by persons who claim to have witnessed or experienced it — or more likely, by persons who have studied the historical records and told us what they contain. In other words, we receive the information not at firsthand but at 3rd or 4th, or in some cases even 7th or 8th hand; and yet how often do we question it?

    I believe in Jesus because I consider the New Testament books to be reliable historical documents; because his performing miracles and rising from the dead are the most likely interpretations of the available evidence; because of the kinds of things he said and did, which don’t sound like the actions of a crazy person or a liar; because the Apostles suffered and died for their beliefs rather than deny them; because of the Church which grew out of the New Testament events, and the influence it has had on Western culture and society; because the explanation of the reason and purpose for life given by the Church rings true and makes sense to me, and explains things which no other philosophy or religion is able to explain; because of the ways in which my life changed when I began living in accord with Christian principles and in obedience to Christian morals; because of the amazing transformations I have witnessed in the lives of others as the result of embracing the Christian faith; because of the success and happiness of my marriage and of my children, again as the result of living in accord with Christian principles and morals; because of the innumerable conversions of people I respect and admire, and the experiences they relate, which resonate with my own; and so forth.

    In other words, partly because of the credibility of the scriptural sources, partly because of intellectual and spiritual satisfaction, and partly because of my experiences and those of others living the Christian life. There are few things in life which I believe based on more evidence than this.

    I’m no scholar but in case you are interested, here are some articles on the subjects of:

    The historicity of the Gospels:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-evidence-for-jesus

    The textual reliability and authenticity of the New Testament books:

    http://www.str.org/articles/is-the-new-testament-text-reliable

    Why it’s not crucial to know who wrote the Gospels:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gospel-authorship-who-cares

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    • First, in relation to evolution, although I would probably agree with you that there are certainly parts of the evidence that I “take on faith” because I am not an expert in the field, much of the evidence I can in fact see for myself. I have been to the Grand Canyon, seen the bands of rock. It seems totally reasonable to me that they represent the passage of a vast amount of time where silt or lava (or whatever) lays down the layers. I can go to a history museum and see fossils of earlier forms of animals (our library currently has a mastodon skull!) and I can see for myself how this fits with the theory of evolution. It is true that other items I take on trust, such as the earth being 4.5 billion years old. Now, maybe I shouldn’t extend my trust that far, but it seems prudent.

      Now that we have opened the door to epistemology, you say you consider the new testament to be reliable historical documents. And you provide some links to those who have convinced you of this. I can say the opposite and I can provide links to those who say Jesus is mythical. But let’s not go there. I will concede that there was a first century preacher named Jesus, and that he did and said things that people believed, so much that they were willing to die for their beliefs.

      But, exactly the same things can be said for Joseph Smith, Muhammed and Buddha. People believe in them just as much. I see no evidence for why Jesus is more special than them. Many people have claimed miracles, even being raised from the dead. I see no more evidence for Jesus than any of those other claims.

      But an even larger point. Even if I grant you that Jesus was a real historical person, what is the proof that he was actually god incarnate? Tales of miracles written many years after his death? Not very convincing. The empty tomb? Also not very convincing.

      And how do we know that the idea that his death was an atonement for our sins? What proof do you offer me for that?

      Empirical proof for evolution I can find, but I see none for the atonement theory. And frankly it just doesn’t make any sense to me (and lots of other people way smarter than me). If god is going to sacrifice part of himself to forgive our sins, why not “sacrifice” a bit of his pride (or whatever) and say, “OK, no harm, no foul.”

      Atonement theory, Jesus as god, and so on are revelations. There is no empirical proof for them and many other things. Many people have claimed (with similar stories and “proof”) that their religious beliefs are true and this one false. My reading of the evidence says that all religious claims are on equal footing and that they are all either equally true (which seems impossible) or equally false (which seems much more probable.)

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  5. Agellius says:

    Paine:

    You write, “I can go to a history museum and see fossils of earlier forms of animals (our library currently has a mastodon skull!) and I can see for myself how this fits with the theory of evolution. It is true that other items I take on trust, such as the earth being 4.5 billion years old. Now, maybe I shouldn’t extend my trust that far, but it seems prudent.”

    Yes, you can do all these things, but most people who believe in evolution don’t. They just accept what they are taught because they see no particular reason to doubt it. They see people whom they respect accepting it, people who are smart, well-educated and trustworthy. They see the vast majority of the educational establishment and the news media accepting it. Therefore it strikes them as worthy of belief.

    All I’m saying is that acceptance of religious beliefs sometimes follows the same lines: People are taught it by people whom they deem trustworthy, in many cases people who are smart and well-educated, or people whom they respect for various reasons, including good moral character and trustworthiness. They hear of the experiences of people who have profited by believing the Christian faith, and see the contrast between people who live in accord with Christian teachings (whether actually Christian or not), and those who eschew it.

    In both cases large numbers of people believe things because they find them worthy of belief based on the testimony of people they trust, as well as the fact that they make sense and seem to fit with their lived realities.

    You write, “I will concede that there was a first century preacher named Jesus, and that he did and said things that people believed, so much that they were willing to die for their beliefs. But, exactly the same things can be said for Joseph Smith, Muhammed and Buddha. People believe in them just as much.”

    Yes, of course the “exact same things” can be said of Smith, Muhammad and Jesus, if you limit it to the things they have in common: They are all religious figures, all claimed some connection with the divine, people believe in them, they were all men, and so forth. For that matter, many of the “exact same things” can be said of Franklin Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler: Both were heads of state, both commanded powerful armies, both were highly popular in their respective countries, both were men, etc. Nevertheless, essential distinctions can and must be drawn between them.

    You write, “Even if I grant you that Jesus was a real historical person, what is the proof that he was actually god incarnate? Tales of miracles written many years after his death? Not very convincing. The empty tomb? Also not very convincing.”

    That’s fine. Not everyone looks at the same evidence and draws the same conclusions. But a lot of people do find it convincing, including people who are not exactly dumb.

    You write, “There is no empirical proof for them and many other things.”

    As I‘ve argued before, most of the things that people believe are not proven in the strict sense.

    You write, “My reading of the evidence says that all religious claims are on equal footing and that they are all either equally true (which seems impossible) or equally false (which seems much more probable.)”

    In my opinion, putting “all religious claims” on an equal footing hopelessly oversimplifies reality.

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    • For starters, let me say that in some ways we are saying similar things, but still might be talking past each other. Which is totally understandable as I am not trained in philosophy and don’t always say exactly what I think I mean.

      You are, of course exactly right in saying that people come to “believe” things (whether evolution or Christianity) by some level of trust in their teachers and others who explain these things to them. It is absolutely true that we cannot be expert in every aspect of knowledge and therefore must at some level come to depend on others for knowledge. And, of course there is nothing wrong with that.

      Also, I am not saying (or even implying, (although obviously satire is part of my methodology) that people are “stupid” for believing what they do. As you pointed out, most people don’t take the time or effort to go beyond what they have been taught, which is totally understandable. When I say that I “believe” in evolution, obviously my understanding is nowhere near a specialist in the field. And it may be that if I fully understood all of the working hypotheses in biology that I might not “believe” some of them. So, I agree that we are all at different levels of understanding and that level of understanding influences our quality of belief.

      Now, I definitely misspoke myself when I said that if you accept the evidence for one supernatural event, you must therefore accept the evidence for another. Claiming something supernatural doesn’t actually automatically make it so or not so. What I actually meant is that whatever standard you apply to one, you have to apply to all others of the same kind.

      For example, my personal standard is one of naturalism. I am (somewhat) agnostic towards claims of the supernatural, so I need quite a bit of evidence before I will consider the supernatural as an explanation. But it is also possible to have a standard that allows supernatural explanations. But if so, it would be unfair to a priori, say that only supernatural events you will allow are those undertaken by Yahweh (for example,)

      Well, actually you could say that, but they we are playing by different rules of evidence. For example, you sent me some links to writings by William Lane Craig as evidence. Well, here is what Dr. Craig has said about evidence: “The way in which I know that Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart and this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”

      Which you have to admit is something that anyone from any religious group could assert (by changing the appropriate words, of course.) He does not believe because of any external evidence, but rather by private revelation (which, is of course, where we started). It is between him and the spirit. From an empirical sense, I can no longer accept any thing he says as “evidence.” In the same way you sent a link that says it does not matter who wrote the gospels. From an evidential point it matters greatly. I will give you an example and also come back to the allowance of the supernatural.

      Now, the gospels say that an angel visited Mary and Joseph Smith said he was visited by an angel as well. Now, I would say that in both cases angelic visitation would be extremely (vanishingly so) unlikely and the most likely naturalistic explanation is that the stories were made up. We both agree there might be reasons for Smith to make up his tale. But there are also good reasons to think Mary’s visit was also made up. The gospel of Luke (or whoever wrote it) was written something like 100 years after the event, and no one else was there to witness it. The birth of a special person deserves special circumstances, so a little legendary accretion is justified, a little poetic license. Both instances accorded the same criteria.

      Now, let’s allow that there are really angels and they really visit people. On the face of it, and you can feel free to disagree with me, there is actually better evidence that Smith was visited by an angel. After all, his account is a first person eyewitness account. And real live people around him found his account credible. He surely told people his story and some 30 people joined his church. Eleven people attested to seeing the golden plates. Eyewitness account backed up with character witnesses. Would play well in most courtrooms. You could still argue that Smith is an unreliable witness, and if so, I would like to hear why, empirically, his testimony is more unreliable than “Luke’s.”

      We don’t even know who “Luke” was. We do know that he was not an eyewitness to anything he wrote, he even admits that. It is not even clear that he is writing in Palestine, as he is writing in well educated Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew. He could have been writing in Rome or Alexandria, we have no idea. We know that he copied (and possibly embellished) stories from Mark, so he is not an independent witness. We have no idea what his other sources might have been other than Mark — oral, written or even just made up. The original version of his work is lost, and the copies we do have of his work, from at least 100 years after he wrote it, show many variations. Who would like to take this to court?

      Paul claims he saw Jesus in a vision, not a real flesh and blood encounter, but something that sounds like it happened mostly between Paul’s ears. Why is his claim more believable than Smith’s? Strikes me that Paul was some kind of fanatic. First he persecuted Christians for what they believed and then turns around and tells them what to believe. Flip side of the same coin to me. Maybe he thought it would be more beneficial to get in front of the new bandwagon than carrying water for the old one. Either way it is about him telling people what Paul thinks is the right way to think and worship. And he is the most prolific new testament author.

      So, I have to ask, if supernatural phenomenon exist, have you looked at all of the evidence? Why are the stories of Muhammed and Smith less believable than the Bible? Again they are both eyewitness accounts, the gospels are not. Angels could visit anyone, I suppose. Many saints started out as sinners, so why not?

      Were the women of Salem witches? Plenty of evidence from many people said they were. That evidence WAS presented in court and accepted as true. Did Mary appear at Fatima and Lourdes? Thousands of people say so. Would you deny their claims? If so, why? How about ghosts? Demons? Leprechauns? People have claimed to see all of that and more.

      Yes, I will agree that many people have considered the evidence for Jesus, and yes many of them highly educated and brilliant. But how many have done so through a similar lens as Dr. Craig? And that lens is private revelation, pure and simple, not empirical evidence.

      If the lens were removed, I wonder what they would see then.

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  6. Agellius says:

    You make some good points, however I must say that jumping from argument to argument the way you do makes me a little dizzy. To answer them all to the extent they deserve would require at least a blog post each. So I’ll have to focus on just one or two.

    You write, “[M]y personal standard is one of naturalism. I am (somewhat) agnostic towards claims of the supernatural, so I need quite a bit of evidence before I will consider the supernatural as an explanation.”

    If your “personal standard” is naturalism, basically what you’re saying is that you start out a priori denying that anything supernatural occurs. Since the supernatural is what we’re inquiring into, you start out begging the question from the get-go.

    You write, “But it is also possible to have a standard that allows supernatural explanations. But if so, it would be unfair to a priori, say that only supernatural events you will allow are those undertaken by Yahweh (for example,). Well, actually you could say that, but they we are playing by different rules of evidence.”

    I agree. If you’re ruling out miraculous events performed by anyone but the Judeo-Christian God, then you’re begging the question from the start, just the same as someone who starts out presuming naturalism.

    But let’s not lose track of the topic here. My beef with your OP was with the idea that if you accept any religious claim, then you must accept them all. You have now retracted that statement (to your credit), saying instead that “whatever standard you apply to one, you have to apply to all others of the same kind.”

    I would go further than that, and say that any time you’re assessing a claim of a historical event you should use the same standard, and not use one standard for supernatural claims, and another for natural. If something happened, it happened. You don’t get to excuse yourself from admitting that something supernatural happened, merely on the ground that it conflicts with your preconceived notions, since the question of whether such things happen is the very point at issue.

    I contend that I am applying the same standards to Mormonism as I do to traditional Christianity, and in applying those standards I find the latter more credible. The fact that you apply the same standards to two different religions, does not mean that you must find them equally credible; and conversely, from the fact that you find one more credible than the other, it does not follow that you must have used different standards.

    Here’s how I go about comparing Mormonism and traditional Christianity: In the first place, both accept the veracity of the Four Gospels. Both agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Mary and Joseph, grew up in Nazareth, embarked on a three-year ministry of preaching, culminating in his being sentenced to death and crucified, and subsequently being raised from the dead. So the question of the credibility or veracity of the Gospels need not enter into the comparison.

    The main issue in comparing these two religions is whether (a) the religion left behind by Jesus was almost immediately corrupted to the point where it was considered lost from the earth, and restored by him some 1700 years later, as claimed by the Mormon church; or (b) the religion left behind by Jesus was preserved substantially intact (even if undergoing some doctrinal development) from the time he left the earth to the present, as claimed by traditional Christians or, more specifically, the Catholic Church.

    When making this comparison, it’s not necessary to assess the individual claims of Smith compared with the individual claims of the Gospel writers, judging them independently of each other, as if each claim were made in a vacuum and has no bearing on the others, since the claims made in the Gospels do in fact have a bearing on the claims made by Smith. Further, we are justified in assuming the truth of the claims made in the Gospels, since neither side disputes those claims; whereas the truth of the claims made by Smith are the very thing at issue, therefore we are justified in NOT assuming the truth of those claims, but rather, judging them in the light of the claims made in the Gospels.

    Thus, e.g., the claim made in the Gospel of Matthew that the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church, which is assumed true, may be used to cast doubt on Smith’s claim that the true Church was lost from the earth and needed to be restored.

    It should also be remembered that even when applying the same standard to all religions, it would be impossible to find them all true since they contradict each other, and two things that contradict each other cannot both be true. Therefore even if it were believed that Smith’s account of the appearance of the angel were more credible than Luke’s account, on a standalone basis, nevertheless if a doctrine of traditional Christianity were found more intellectually plausible than a conflicting doctrine of Mormonism — say, the doctrine of God’s being pure spirit as opposed to having a body of flesh and bone — one could still rationally choose to believe in Luke’s veracity rather than Smith’s.

    In short, there is more to the question of the truth of one religion or another, than the textual or evidentiary criticism of a single passage or source. There is also the whole context within which each religion arose, its philosophical, theological and historical assumptions, its internal consistency or lack thereof, its historical development and endurance and the fruits that it bears, and, of course, the experiences of individuals living the religion, including (if applicable) your own.

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