A couple of years ago I was visited by a pair of Mormon (a.k.a. Latter-day Saint) missionaries. That was followed by about another six visits, culminating in my wife and I having dinner with the LDS Bishop, his family, and the missionaries. Since that time I have spotted a couple of Mormon missionary pairs strolling through the streets and even had a quick five minute chat with some of them. I naturally get asked if I want to have a visit from them where they can teach me a lesson. I always explain that I’ve had plenty of previous encounters with Mormons, read a lot of their Scriptures (the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) and a whole bunch of other literature on the LDS Church (primarily books dealing with the origins of the LDS Church), thus they don’t really have a chance of getting me baptized into their Church. Usually that’s the end of that. But recently I stumbled across a new missionary pair in my area. After explaining that there is no chance they will convert me (and so I don’t want to waste their time with their attempts to do so), they insisted on meeting me again and having a discussion.
We made an appointment for Thursday last week at 2 o’clock. Unfortunately, they rung me up at that time and said they couldn’t meet up with me (no reason given). Oddly enough, a couple days later they rung up my wife’s phone and asked if they could set up a meeting with us. This was somewhat annoying. I had told them it would just be meeting me because my wife is very busy with work and school (finishing her Masters of Nursing degree), thus she really doesn’t have time to waste right now. I had not given them her phone number so I assume it was still in the phone from the previous missionaries (and I assume the phones the missionaries use stay in the mission area to be used by subsequent missionaries). But why call my wife when I told them she was too busy? I suspect it was because they had talked to the Bishop and he suggested for them to ring her so she would be there when the missionaries came to our apartment. From meeting the Bishop a couple of years ago, I got the distinct impression that he thought my wife was a legit prospect for converting to Mormonism but that I wasn’t.
Anyway, my wife never bothered responding to their voicemail and so they sent me a message yesterday (Thursday) and asked if they could come around in an hour. They came around and we had a nice chat for two hours and fifteen minutes. They were nice and polite young guys (maybe about 19-20 years old I suspect). They wanted to talk about Prophets and whether God could have a prophet for us today to listen to and follow. So naturally I asked the question of: “How can one tell whether the LDS Prophet is providing revelation from God or just his own personal opinion?”
As a follow up to that question I brought up the Adam-God doctrine that Prophet Brigham Young taught, but which was/is rejected by Mormons (note that the Adam-God doctrine is not a part of the written scriptural canon of the Mormon Church, though Brigham Young did say it was a revelation from God which is the point of why I brought it up in our conversation). See this link for some quotes from Brigham Young on Adam-God, here is one:
How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me – namely that Adam is our father and God – I do not know, I do not inquire, I care nothing about it. Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was created expressly for him, and after it was made he and his companions came here. He brought one of his wives with him, and she was called Eve, because she was the first woman upon the earth. Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or who ever will come upon the earth.
Prophet Brigham Young, Deseret News, v. 22, no. 308, June 8, 1873
I didn’t get an adequate response to this issue. In fact, they just sidestepped my question by saying that the Prophets have said a lot of things and that they are not perfect. Doesn’t really instill faith in me that the LDS Prophet is an effective conduit for communication from God.
We also talked about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I brought up various issues and one of the missionaries had heard about some of the stuff I was talking about, though he was unaware of some of the finer details. For instance, he was aware that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (and other LDS Prophets/Presidents) had dozens of wives, but seemed unaware as to how young some of them were (e.g. Joseph Smith married one or two fourteen-year old girls), and he didn’t believe me when I said that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both married women who were already married (if I recall correctly they both had eleven polyandrous marriages).
They seemed somewhat surprised when I said I have read through the Book of Mormon, and even more surprised when I said that I thought it was kind of boring and not a good piece of literature. I actually quoted Mark Twain by saying that the Book of Mormon is “like chloroform in print.” Here is a snippet from Twain’s review of the Book of Mormon (full review here):
All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle–keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. …
The [Book of Mormon] seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel–half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern–which was about every sentence or two–he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet. …
The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable- -it is smouched [i.e. plagiarized] from the New Testament and no credit given.”
Roughing It, by Mark Twain, Chapter XVI
I brought up various issues during the two hour discussion, including one of my favorites, the Book of Abraham (see this link for an overview of this issue). I asked something along the lines of, “So which apologetic theory do you subscribe to in order to explain how the Book of Abraham was ‘translated’ from some Egyptian papyri that were in fact not a text written by Abraham as Joseph Smith claimed, but are rather run-of-the-mill Egyptian funeral documents?” Turns out the knowledgeable missionary subscribes to the “well we don’t have all the papyri so the Book of Abraham was translated from those missing papyri” apologetic. I mentioned the three vignettes that Joseph Smith included in the Book of Abraham along with his completely erroneous interpretation of them, but the missionaries didn’t have anything to say in response.
At one point we were talking about the lack of support for the story found in the Book of Mormon. They mentioned that a lot of people say similar things about the Old Testament too. I think they were caught off guard when I didn’t try to defend the historicity of the Bible and mentioned that the story of the flood in Genesis was a myth. In fact, I think I had to remind them a couple times that I have a ‘liberal’ view of the Bible.
Some of the arguments they used to try and convince me of the veracity and inspiration of the Book of Mormon I answered by referring to the Qur’an or some other religious text or group. For instance, they mentioned how no one could just make up a text like the Book of Mormon, especially considering that Joseph Smith didn’t have much formal education. I responded by saying that we should all convert to Islam because Muslims say that Muhammad was illiterate yet managed to produce the Qur’an, thus providing evidence that it had to have been given to him by God. Heck, the Qur’an is apparently such an incomparable piece of literature that it even challenges the reader to produce a single chapter comparable to itself (see 2.23-24, 10.38, 11.13, 17.88, and 52.33-34 in the Qur’an).
We talked about a whole host of other issues and they showed me a twenty minute DVD that was utterly useless. It was a depiction of Joseph Smith as a cute little kid, confused by all the different denominations of Christianity. It shows the ‘First Vision’ (which is when he saw God the Father and God the Son), as well as a brief clip of him translating the Book of Mormon by just reading the text off of the golden plates in full view of the scribe writing it down. Seemed a bit different to the translating-it-by-looking-through-a-seer-stone-with-his-head-in-a-hat-with-the-golden-plates-being-wrapped-up-and-of-sight-from-the-scribe-and-even-Joseph-Smith version that I have read about from historian Richard Lyman Bushman (who is a Mormon and has produced a very good biography on Joseph Smith).
Anyway, it was just after four o’clock and I had to go tutor some kids so I had to end our discussion. They seem to want to visit me again. If they do, I think we’ll discuss the supposed Melchizedek Priesthood of the LDS Church or the King Follett Discourse of Joseph Smith. Here is a snippet from it:
In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
These ideas are incomprehensible to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.
I will ask them if they can show me in the Bible where it says that God the Father used to be a man on another planet. Should make for some good discussion!
Oh yea, I just remembered. The missionaries tried to tell me that the Book of Mormon was prophesied in the Old Testament using Isaiah 29. Mention was also made of the two sticks in Ezekiel 37 as prophesying the Book of Mormon. Needless to say I had a good chuckle at that.