Cowboy riding a tapir, from DALL-E
In some fields scholars try to come up with novel takes on the same thing hundreds of their colleagues have studied. Non-genetic, physical anthropology only substantively moves forward now whenever a fluke well digger stumbles upon humanoid remains. Particle physics is kind of nipping at the edges until the next big collider comes online, after which there are thousands of people scrambling to analyze the exact same data. Macroeconomics has theorized and modeled all available macro-level data to death. Oh, and the poor Biblical scholars are trying to come up with novel takes on a relatively small amount of text that has been thoroughly analyzed for thousands of years by thousands of people. That’s not to say that these aren’t noble pursuits, just that it’s hard to see much novel and truly zeitgeist-shifting coming out of these fields in the next hundred years. This isn’t the scholars’ fault, it’s just the nature of the subject matter.
I think we’re at the same place with the old apologetics debates. The past 40 or so years have been foundation forming as new arguments and counter arguments have been proffered, but at some point, when the original material that all that is based off of is in stasis, you’ll eventually come up with every point that could possibly be made about a particular datum, and then it’s just a matter of whether you buy it or not.
Maybe a new document may come to light that puts a slight twist on something, but as a I’ve noted many times before the chance of that happening decreases significantly the farther out we get from the events in question. No, the future of apologetics in the apologetics/critics debates isn’t from novel arguments, but rather in the presentation thereof. The Letter to a CES Director wasn’t impactful because of anything new it said, but rather because the author seemed like the first person in that space that understood the basic principles of graphic design and communication, while traditional critics and apologists wanted you to force you to spend an hour schlogging through some arcane, dense text.
A word on “pastoral apologetics.” I suspect this is one of those things that means different things to different people, but whatever the case there will always be a place in a vibrant Latter-day Saint community for defenses of the existence of actual ancient plates. Commentary that moves away from the hard truth claims and into abstractions is wonderful, but inasmuch as it attempts to act as a substitute, and not as a complement, to traditional apologetics, it naturally raises the question of whether its proponents actually believe in the truth claims or are trying to use continental philosophy or religious studies as some sort of a pivot away from and ultimate replacement for the traditional faith. Inasmuch as it’s the former it won’t last very long and won’t be a major part of the Latter-day Saint discourse in the year 2080, but I don’t need to keep beating that dead tapir.
As technology changes media over the next 50 years the advantage will go to those who are more savvy about communicating their material (while not an apologetics organization per se, I’ve spent some time working for Mormonr, because I like their formatting and more pithy approach). This will be something of a moving target, as it is difficult to know now what kind of media spaces will be available and popular in 2080.
And the corollary would be the end of a certain kind of criticism – at least, when I was reading Dan Vogel’s book on Abraham recently, the approach felt pretty dated. It’s probably another thing that will never entirely go out of style, but it does seem like a lot of new and interesting work in Mormon Studies has drawn on scholarship from both within and without. Maybe it’s not the direction I would have chosen beforehand, but it’s definitely led to some interesting scholarship.
Browsing through Mormonr and FAIR recently, neither one had exactly the approach I was looking for – think FARMS, but not so focused on scripture and ancient studies. For my taste, Mormonr was a bit too much on the side of “Some people find such-and-such controversial, and there are valid reasons for that,” but I’m entirely prepared to admit that my taste in apologetics, and effective apologetics, are two entirely different things.
I do think there will always be a place for long-form apologetics/criticism. The KEP, for example, is very complex (as your posts noted), and it can’t exactly be boiled down to bullet points, so people who want to be up on all the details can’t just read a series of quips.
My personal observation of why people leave the church over such things as our history or the CES letter, is more the fact that someone they trust, who left the church, introduces them to this info. We dont give much time to the Catholic or Baptist friend telling us how jacked-up the church is but when it is our sibling, spouse, parent, or church leader…that is typically much more damaging. The big and spacious building housing those that are scorning and mocking the believers is filling up with our loved ones and past ward members.
And they are just getting started….
Trust me, there are more interesting “testimony shaking” things out there that have not been found/published yet by the exmos. They tend to not look for new stuff, but it is out there.
“I think we’re at the same place with the old apologetics debates”
Apologetics never became accepted in mainstream academia, and it is doubtful that it ever will. For more than 40 years, apologists and the church have been promoting the idea that Christians and Jews existed in the pre-Columbian Americas, and that idea has never caught on (there are a couple of outlier non-LDS academics who have expressed belief and converted to the church, sure, but they are rare). Yet, I’ve never read anything in the mainstream presses, both lay and academic, touting the existence of Christianity practiced between 2200 BC-400 AD in the Americas. Additionally, non-LDS academics generally don’t engage LDS apologetics. Why? One, they’re unaware of it. Two, they don’t see LDS apologetic ideas percolating up through their academic communities. Three, those who are aware regard these ideas as fringe and not worthy of engagement much in the same way that many mainstream academics don’t engage conspiracy theorist communities. They see it as not worth their time trying to go down endless rabbit holes and to get twisted around by performances of mental gymnastics, especially when these ideas, again, are not convincing their academic colleagues and when they know darn well that their select few believing Mormon colleagues would never be persuaded by their counterarguments. The people who engage apologetics from the skeptical side tend to overwhelmingly be ex-Mormons who do this on the side. They often are not academics nor do they have academic training in special fields of astronomy, physics, history, archaeology, anthropology, literary criticism and other fields that pertain to LDS apologetics.
The question is will apologetics continue to persuade the already believing to remain believing? I think the answer is yes. For the advent of 24 news media (especially Fox News), the internet and social media, and the presidency of Trump revealed that people want information that confirms their a set of preexisting biases. Much like hardcore Trump cultists cannot be convinced that Trump is a conman and pathological liar and seek out information that confirms what they already think and are emboldened in their beliefs by said information, hardcore LDS devotees will seek out apologetics to feel all the more confirmed in their beliefs. We must never underestimate the effects of groupthink and confirmation bias, for these collective psychological phenomena continue to hold strong in our age of mass information.
The critics/apologetics discussions generally happen in their own spaces. The people who think that the idea that religious truth claims aren’t directly tested in scientifically in peer-reviewed journals is some kind of an own against the truth claims clearly don’t have much experience in academia. For the most part academics simply not interested in whether Joseph Smith saw angels or Mohammad ascended to heaven on the Night Journey. Those beliefs are not falsifiable and don’t tap into the methodological toolkit that they have their training in, so discussion about their validity happens on a different plane and context with different rules.
Stephen C, I didn’t quite understand one of your sentences. You seem to be saying that religious truth claims are tested scientifically in peer-reviewed journals. If that is what you’re saying, I would be interested to see what examples you have. There are a vast range of religious truth claims, so I imagine you could construe some to be falsifiable and scientifically testable and verifiable. But religion is an extremely wide topic. My comment wasn’t about religious truth claims in their totality but those defended by the LDS church and its apologists, specifically the claim that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas.
The truth claim that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas is more falsifiable than the claim that Joseph Smith saw angels. It is also a central claim to Mormonism, for it has long been used as evidence that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet. However, there appear to be no studies that have been subjected to larger-scale peer review consisting of many non-Mormon peer-reviewers that show that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas. This is an idea that has for decades pushed and tested by believing Mormon academics, and yet it has gained virtually no traction outside Mormonism among non-Mormon academics.
Lastly, different religious traditions tend not to validate each other’s truth claims. Am I right? Meaning, I’ve never heard a Mormon apologist try to defend the occurrence of Muhammad’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (the Isra’) as literal truth. Likewise, I’ve never heard a believing Mormon bear testimony about how they know or strongly believe from the spirit that Muhammad journeyed from Mecca to Jerusalem in one night. In decades past, when LDS leaders stressed the idea of the LDS church as the one true church and all other religions anathema, the Isra’ clearly fell under the category of a truth claim that was to be considered heresy and falsehood, and as something that was to be outright rejected. However, now that religion in general is felt to be in decline in the West, the LDS leaders and apologists tend to see secularism as the greater threat and are less critical of other religion’s truth claims. Hence, the attitude to claims such as the Isra’ seem to be as something that maybe could have happened but not something to stake a testimony in. Still, however, the Isra’ and the First Vision can only be considered part of the same category from a secular irreligious point of view. From the perspective of a believing Muslim or Mormon, the Isra’ and the First Vision are in no way in the same category. One claim is central to belief and must be a central focal point. The other claim cannot be a central focal point at the same time. Because for a believing Muslim to claim that the Isra’ is real and that Joseph Smith saw God is contradictory. Claiming that someone saw God is utmost blasphemy in Islam. For a believing Mormon to say that they have a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God and that the Isra’ is real is similarly contradictory. For in Mormonism, it is taboo to claim that you have a testimony of other religion’s truth claims. Think I’m wrong? I challenge you in your next fast and testimony meeting to get up and bear testimony about how you prayed and felt the spirit testify to you of the truthfulness that Muhammad traveled on the back of a buraq in one night from Mecca to Jerusalem. Just see how many harsh glances you get from fellow ward/branch members. See if the bishop doesn’t ask you to sit down, cut your mic, or call you into his office.
“You seem to be saying that religious truth claims are tested scientifically in peer-reviewed journals.”
Apologies for the lack of clarity, this sentence was saying that they *aren’t* considered in peer reviewed literature:
“The people who think that the idea that religious truth claims aren’t directly tested in scientifically in peer-reviewed journals is some kind of an own against the truth claims clearly don’t have much experience in academia.”
I’m referring to the people
who think it’s an own, not the people (of which I am one) who don’t think peer reviewed research is directed towards truth claims.
*religious* truth claims
Your comments about physics remind the optimist in me of the attitude of the physics community in about 1900: all that remains is tying up a few loose ends. Of course those loose ends led to quantum mechanics and relativity, which led to new technologies like nuclear power and microchips. But the pessimist in me thinks you’re right and physics going forward will only produce insights about the universe at scales and energies that have no bearing on human lives, and no new revolutionary technologies are coming. We’ll see. Macroeconomics certainly has fresh ideas though, like “modern monetary theory.” They may or may not be good ideas (probably not in their pure form, like most of macro) but they’re fresh. The COVID-19 pandemic generated absolutely extraordinary macroeconomic data that ought to generate new insights for a decade or two at least.
I suspect apologetics will continue to have new things to say, if only because it needs to respond to a changing society. I’m no expert on the history of apologetics, but I’m guessing B.H. Roberts never had to respond to the claim that Nephi was racist. (To which I think the proper reply is “Of course he was–like every other human that ever lived. What can we learn from that?”) By 2080 I won’t be surprised if “We can’t possibly learn anything from racists!” has been joined by “We can’t possibly learn anything from people who killed animals for meat!” and the ending of the story of Nephi and the broken bow is as controversial as the ending of the story of Nephi and Laban.
All good points RLD. (Although I suspect with physics it’s not so much that there aren’t any loose ends. Indeed, we have a lot and they seem to be continually multiplying, but rather that we hit a wall where the bang for our R&D buck is declining because the cost of experimentally testing the big theories has grown so immense).
Also good point about the ground shifting underneath us. I’ve kind of suspected that at some point when we have lab-grown meat I’ll have to answer to my grandchildren for why I was okay with torturing chickens to get my chicken sandwich, and it’ll be some version of “I was a person of my day!” Maybe President Nelson’s rumored vegetarianism/clean eating and the latent vegetarian tendencies in D&C will become more of a talking point then.
Personally, I’m very impressed with the range and quality of the best LDS apologetics, especially on how the depth and breadth and diverse kinds of remarkable expertise has increased so substantially since I got interested back in the mid 1970s. Then, the really good stuff if assembled, would fill perhaps half a shelf. Now it takes walls and has more substance than any one person can easily track. One of the things I have learned from my own education and participation is to pay close attention to the metaphors a person uses to set the stage and support their own generalizations. Take the Cowboy riding a tapir. What depth of insight that provides into the nature of LDS scholarship? Or, perhaps, not, given that I have actually read An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, and Mormon’s Codex, and Gardner’s The Book of Mormon as History, much else by credentialed LDS scholars, as well as the various arguments made by Michael Coe, and Vogel and Metcalfe, and the Tanners, and things like Deconstructing Mormonism, and even a close reading of the CES Letter.
Consider a few specific recent novelties in LDS apologetics, as opposed to airy generalizations unsupported by specifics. One would be the LiDAR surveys in Mesoamerica, as highlighted in a National Geographic Special a few years ago.
Overnight, the LiDAR surveys utterly transformed our knowledge of the size and depth and nature of the Mesoamerican civilization. Though the research was not directed to LDS concerns, any reasonably well-informed LDS viewer should immediately see the importance and relevance they have. Notice that none of Coe’s various dismissals had any awareness of them. For all his expertise in his field, they happened after he retired. A few years further back, the discovery of the Bonampak murals in Mexico brought us some actual pre-classic Maya art, nearly contemporary with the account of King Benjamin’s discourse, and they happen to depict a coronation set on a wooden tower. Mark Wright pointed out some very interesting things about them.
Then there are the deep grooves of the Book of Abraham debates, much of which concerns the relation of the Hor Book of Breathings to the Book of Abraham translation and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Just a couple of years ago, In a 2020 FAIR presentation, Tim Barker noticed something that critics Tanner and Heward had mentioned in 1968 but for which they had not seen the crucial significance. Tanner and Heward made the important observation that Joseph Smith directed Rueben Hedlock to fill out gaps in the engraving for Facsimile 2 (the hypocephalus) with some characters from the Hor Book of Breathings and a figure from elsewhere. Unlike the previous 50 years of commentators, Tim Barker notices that while Heward and Tanner match up characters from the Hor Book of Breathings to marginal characters in the Egyptian papers, they did not match up to their influential thesis the fact that Joseph Smith’s comments in the annotated portions of the published, reconstructed facsimile 2 plainly show that Joseph Smith openly declares that had expressly NOT translated those characters (taken from the Hor Book of Breathings). That means that the source of the Book of Abraham must be something else, despite long standing assumptions to that effect by a great many critics.
One of the most important things I have learned in my own journey came from an art book, Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty Edwards explains how our preconceptions inevitably influence our subjective perception of significance:
“Most of us tend to see parts of a form hierarchically. The parts that are important (that is, provide a lot of information), or the parts that we decide are larger, or the parts we think should be larger, we see as larger than they actually are. Conversely, parts that are unimportant, or that we decide are smaller, or that we think should be smaller, we see as being smaller than they actually are.” (Edwards, 134).
The best LDS apologetics help me see crucial significance in things I had overlooked, and helps me put into proper perspective issues that had, at least for a time, bothered me. And very often, I find that changes my reading and understanding away from tradition authorities and CES views. Another key example for that was Hugh Nibley’s 1980 talk, “Before Adam.” It is important therefore, foundational, for any LDS involved in learning to have a upfront awareness of the formal statement of “mine authority, and the authority of my servants..” that “inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known; and inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed.” We should expect our understanding to change. The LDS are a covenant community, with the need for repentance making the need to grow and change essential. We are not, and should not be approached as an unchanging Big Book of What to Think.
So, what perspective should I get from a cowboy and a tapir? A book I got while laboring on my English degree had this:
“One of the ruling illusions of Western metaphysics is that reason can somehow grasp the world without close attention to language and arrive at a pure, self-authenticating truth or method. Derrida’s work draws attention to the ways in which language deflects the philosopher’s project. He does this by focusing on metaphors and other figurative devices in the texts of philosophy…
“His method consists of showing how the privileged term is held in place by the force of the dominant metaphor, and not, as it might seem, by any conclusive logic.”
The cowboy on a tapir, is, of course, a metaphor here. Is it the best, most telling, most revealing with respect to the topic out there or the with respect to the thinking directed out there?
My own dominant metaphor with LDS apologetics, begins with my personal experience in reading Nibley’s 1957 Priesthood manual while on my mission in England in 1975, especially chapter 27. I notice that one of the reasons that I was able to do so was that President McKay overruled the committee that had rejected every chapter of the book, on grounds that “It’s over their heads.” McKay recognized both the quality and significance of the book, and the immediate needs that it addressed, and said “If it’s over their heads, let them reach for it.” I liked what that experience of reaching did for me at the time, and I am grateful for the literally hundreds of scholars, LDS and otherwise, who have made the reaching rewarding.
We’re not a “one size fits all” community, with people with a range of backgrounds, at various stages of development, with varied interests and concerns, which means someone needs to meet people where they are. Joseph Smith commented that “God adapts himself to our capacity to understand,” which recognizes that we’d be in serious trouble if he did not. But that understanding is supposed to go somewhere, not to leave us unchanged, where we are.
Wonderful comment, Kevin. I’m not a scholar–I won’t be able add much, if anything, to what you’ve said. Even so, as I think about apologetics in the future it seems clear (to me) that there’ll be a need for more Latter-day Saint scholarship–not less. For one–we can’t stop the unveiling of evidence–a process that seems to be gaining momentum–and that’s going to require more attention on the part of Latter-day Saint experts than ever before. Plus–who else is qualified to do the work of Latter-day Saint apologetics but Latter-day Saint scholars? They are the real experts.
And so, the fact that 1) more apologetic work will need to be done in the future means that 2) we’ll need more experts who are willing to do the work. Simple? Yes–but not simplistic. The accumulative apologetic work of Latter-day Saint scholars will continue to grow in size, quality, and depth. So much so that (IMO) it will ultimately take us to the brink of proof for the foundational claims of the restoration. It is both a terrifying and wonderful prospect.
The main problem with apologetics is that it gets the cart before the horse. It arrives at a conclusion and then looks for evidence to support it. The better scholarly approach is to look at the evidence and let conclusions flow from evaluating that evidence. Critics fall into the same trap as apologists, just with a negative conclusion instead of a positive one. This tendency of both sides has prevented us, for instance, from understanding what the Book of Mormon actually is.
That assumes that a scientific epistemology is the only valid one. That might be your view, but LDS apologetics at least starts from spiritual premises and then sees how the rational/scientific interfaces with those and provides a space for faith. But yes, if you only believe that which has been demonstrated in a lab you’re not going to be inexorably led to LDS orthodoxy, and I don’t think there are many making the argument that one would.
Kevin, a couple of comments.
On LiDAR, no one is interpreting the incredible findings through LiDAR technology as confirming traditional LDS beliefs about pre-Columbian American history, except for, well, already believing LDS folks. Also, as far as I know, no apologists or believing LDS scholars have attempted to publish articles or books through non-LDS academic presses (or through presses that aren’t historically favorable to authors with LDS views) making the connection that LiDAR findings are proof of pre-Columbian Christianity. The LiDAR findings don’t show that, either. They simply show a much larger population of ancients in Mayan civilization than previously thought. But they don’t show that the religious practices of the ancients were drastically different than previously thought, at least not nearly to the extent that it could be derived that they practiced Christianity and Judaism or some clearly Judeo-Christian-derived religion.
“The LDS are a covenant community, with the need for repentance making the need to grow and change essential. We are not, and should not be approached as an unchanging Big Book of What to Think.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the apologist community is their heavy leaning into the relativist position towards knowledge. And this inclination sets them in tension with what the LDS leaders say. Consider what Gordon B. Hinckley said in a 1981 talk: “Certitude, which I define as complete and total assurance, is not the enemy of religion. It is of its very essence. Certitude is certainty. It is conviction. It is the power of faith that approaches knowledge – yes, that even becomes knowledge. It evokes enthusiasm, and there is no asset comparable to enthusiasm in overcoming opposition, prejudice, and indifference.” Apologist dalliances with relativism seem very much at odds with this attitude.
But alas, the motives behind LDS apologetic relativism aren’t a general embrace of relativism towards knowledge. Rather, it is a tactic employed to protect traditional LDS beliefs, which are absolutist in their nature, from criticism. The general idea is to accuse critics’ narratives of jumping to conclusions and assuming too much and placing the burden of proving that Christians absolutely didn’t exist in the pre-Columbian Americas on the critics, rather than the apologists bearing it themselves. Apologists are motivated by absolutism in a select body of truth claims that cannot be challenged otherwise it would compromise the very foundations upon which the church exists. Apologists are arriving at the idea that pre-Columbian Christianity existed via LDS tradition as founded by Joseph Smith. They aren’t arriving at these ideas independently through archaeological research in Mesoamerica or other areas of the Americas. I have never read anything that remotely considers the possibility that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas that was arrived at because of some artefact that was dug up or some old text that suggested as much. And yet, the idea that Jesus appeared to ancient pre-Columbian Americans who already believed in Jesus and continued to believe in him for several hundreds of years after his apparition is a core, uncompromisable truth claim of the LDS church. You have to think that to be a member in good standing and accepted by the leadership and membership alike. There are members who believe that the Book of Mormon is purely nineteenth-century fiction and if they reveal that to leaders, at best they are swept to the periphery and have their loyalty questioned, and at worst they are disciplined by the leadership for apostacy.
So no. I strongly disagree with this picture of a liberal Mormonism that you paint. The religion has core beliefs, it promotes and protects those vigorously, and it treats rather hostilely and tries to stamp out those who try to introduce heterodox beliefs that seem to compromise the central beliefs promoted by the leadership. So sorry, you can’t advocate for a non-historical BOM and be treated normally. Similarly you can’t promote the idea of the compatibility of reincarnation with traditional LDS beliefs (and there have been believing scholars who have tried) and be treated normally. Mormonism most certainly is built on absolutism and has a Book of What to Think, although the size of that book is up to debate.
Regarding Bert’s April 7 comment, that “The main problem with apologetics is that it gets the cart before the horse. It arrives at a conclusion and then looks for evidence to support it. The better scholarly approach is to look at the evidence and let conclusions flow from evaluating that evidence.” That is exactly the sort of metaphor that I quoted Madan Sarup on Derrida on how ” One of the ruling illusions of Western metaphysics is that reason can somehow grasp the world without close attention to language and arrive at a pure, self-authenticating truth or method.” and how “His method consists of showing how the privileged term is held in place by the force of the dominant metaphor, and not, as it might seem, by any conclusive logic.” Telling that kind of story apologetics permits critics to dismiss everything we do without serious engagement. The story does all the work. Back 1989, Sunstone invited Peter Novick to address the issue of objectivity, never got round to publishing what he said. But I have a transcript. After defining the professional ideal, he comments:
Though radically compressed, this is a fair statement of the mainstream position on historical objectivity. Now I have not the time, and you have not the patience, to go through the ups and downs of this program over the past hundred years. I will only report that to an ever-increasing number of historians in recent decades it has not just seemed unapproachable, but an incoherent ideal; not impossible, in the sense of unachievable (that would not make it a less worthy goal than many other goals that we reasonably pursue), but meaningless. This is not because of human frailty on the part of the historian (that, after all, we can struggle against), not because of irresistible outside pressures (these too we can resist with some success, if not complete success). No, the principal problem is different, and it is laughably simple. It is the problem of selecting from among the zillions and zillions of bits of historical data out there the handful that we can fit in even the largest book, and the associated problem of how we arrange those bits that we choose. The criterion of selection and the way we arrange the bits we choose are not given out there in the historical record. Neutrality, value-freedom, and absence of preconceptions on the part of the historian would not result in a neutral account, it would result in no account at all, because any historian, precisely to the extent that she was neutral, without values, free of preconceptions, would be paralyzed, would not have the foggiest notion of how to go about choosing from the vast, unbelievably messy chaos of stuff out there.” (Peter Novick, Sunstone 1989)
The best we can do it so 1), admit our ideology up front so that it’s implications can be critically considered (Alan Goff has been articulate on this) and 2) make sure in addressing controversies that our judgements are completely self referential, essentially, “Not us!” and self-reflectively considering comparing in a “Why us?” mode making use of criterion that are not completely paradigm dependent. That is why I turn to Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Ian Barbour’s Myth, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study of Science and Religion. They identify and discuss the most important values for paradigm choice, which, it happens are comparable to Alma 32.
And for Brad, on “But alas, the motives behind LDS apologetic relativism aren’t a general embrace of relativism towards knowledge. Rather, it is a tactic employed to protect traditional LDS beliefs, which are absolutist in their nature, from criticism.” Again, that is a story about LDS apologetics. I don’t see is as the best story, particularly when I compare it to much larger story I get from the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth. Perry studied Harvard Undergraduates for many years, noting patterns in how they transitioned and coped in coming into a University environment from provincial backgrounds and thinking. He came up with a 9 Position Pattern, in which a person can move into a full acceptance of relativism (Positions 5 to 9), or retreat into the dualism of Position 2. Here is Position 2:
Position 2 – Multiplicity Prelegitimate. (Resisting snake)
Now the person moves to accept that there is diversity, but they still think there are true authorities who are right, that the others are confused by complexities or are just frauds. They think they are with the true authorities and are right while all others are wrong. They accept that their good authorities present problems so they can learn to reach right answers independently.
Here is Perry’s Position 9: Commitments in Relativism further developed, has this:
The person now has a developed sense of irony and can more easily embrace other’s viewpoints. He can accept life as just that “life,” just the way it is! Now he holds the commitments he makes in a condition of Provisional [Page 175]Ultimacy, meaning that for him what he chooses to be truth IS his truth, and he acts as if it is ultimate truth, but there is still a “provision” for change. He has no illusions about having “arrived” permanently on top of some heap, he is ready and knows he will have to retrace his journey over and over, but he has hope that he will do it each time more wisely. He is aware that he is developing his Identity through Commitment. He can affirm the inseparable nature of the knower and the known—meaning he knows he as knower contributes to what he calls known. He helps weld a community by sharing realization of aloneness and gains strength and intimacy through this shared vulnerability. He has discarded obedience in favor of his own agency, and he continues to select, judge, and build.
In an Interpreter essay in 2013, I argued that Joseph Smith, by precept and example, tries to lead us to Position 9. The LDS being a community with lots of people will always have people at all positions. But just because there are always lots of people at Position 2, that does not mean generalizations you make about them do or should apply to everyone in the community, nor that that is the point and purpose of the Restoration. D&C 1:24-28 formally, officially, authoritatively states we are imperfect, incomplete, and non-exclusive with respect to virtue and revelation, and that further revelation is forthcoming, both within and outside of our community. 3 Jesus in 3 Nephi 11:32-41 bluntly warns that building on anything beyond faith, baptism, repentance (including of ignorance, which makes for a very long commitment), receipt of the Holy Ghost (ongoing inspiration, NOT considering everything to be contained in a Big Book of What to Think), and enduring to the end, consists of a faulty foundation. Building on sand, rather than rock.
The point of mentioning LiDAR was to show that new discoveries can completely and utterly change things. Not that everyone seeing those discoveries would inevitably come to the conclusions an informed LDS viewer might. Watching that National Geographic Special should take a person through just how mind expanding and enlightening such new breakthroughs can be. Coe, for instance, who, in his interview with John Dehlin, cited a lack of evidence for iron arrowheads and brass helmets as fatal to the claims of the Book of Mormon, when it happens that the Book of Mormon mentions neither. That tells me to recognize that for a person to recognize what constitute evidence for or against the Book of Mormon, a person ought to know what it says (Coe, who had actually read it on the 1940s, did not know it well), and to also realize that carefully reading the book in the cultural context that it claims for itself can change the reading. The data does not speak for itself, as Shakespeare’s Othello learned to late, but must be interpreted. As N. R. Hanson famously put it, “All data are theory-laden.” So which reading is best? And how do you go about measuring best? For the Book of Mormon, we have to consider Lehi’s Jerusalem, an Arabian Journey, the candidates for Bountiful, and the New World, not to mention Moroni 10:4-5, and various personal, non-transferrable experiences.
Kevin, I had to read your response a few times over, I also read William Perry’s 9 positions scheme. But as I have read over your words, it appears that you’re simply confirming what I wrote. As an apologist your tendency has been overwhelmingly to lean into relativistic positions to defend traditional Mormon truth claims, even going so far as to esteem William Perry whose regards as the ultimate enlightenment a sort of quasi-relativism as stated in his Position 9, and even going further to claim in a published article that Joseph Smith somehow preached something akin to Position 9, and was therefore a sort of proto-relativist. Really interested to know how you square Joseph Smith’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor printing press and proclaiming himself to be a king with Position 9 enlightenment. Not to mention Joseph Smith’s repeated promotion of the church as the one and only true church. Joseph Smith claimed to be a special religious authority throughout his adult life claiming revelation after revelation and that since these revelations were the words of God that they were irrefutable. He was no relativist. Very far from it. Overall, your relativism really doesn’t square with the type of thinking that is not only common among the members of the church, but routinely promoted over the pulpit by the church leaders themselves. I grew up thinking that relativism was evil and everyone around thought the same about relativism as well. That apologists often espouse relativism is truly bizarre.
Perry’s scheme simply doesn’t seem applicable to the issue we’re discussing. First, he worked only with a select subset of the population: Harvard students. Second, he was looking at how college students evolved in a four-year college learning experience. Third, his seems to presume that ideas that students might disagree with due to belief in authority were rational well-argued ideas. He didn’t look at how open-minded students were to the idea that the earth is flat or that Bigfoot existed.
Perry’s scheme is very interesting, but it is flawed. And in the post-truth age of Trump where a good segment of the US population just believes whatever they want on no evidence, its flaws are all the more apparent. For all of us can be all the different positions at the same time, just depending on the context and the issue at hand. Put me among a group of Flat Earthers, I’m proudly a Position 2 and fully reject everything they have to say, but not because I have studied the shape of the earth from scratch, but because I believe in the consensus of physics experts who say that the earth is spherical. And then there are other issues where I’m a Position 9. Perry also assumes that we can just generate knowledge and arguments without authorities. Most of what we say and think is reliant on what other experts on the subject have said. While it does matter that we can engage in critical thinking and find evidence to support arguments, what matters even more is how we pick our experts when we have to rely on experts. No one has the time or resources to find out for themselves through independent investigation the answers to several major questions on a variety of subjects. We have to rely a good deal on authorities and experts in order to arrive at knowledge. We should chose our experts that we believe based on their methodologies and ability at providing evidence to support arguments. And herein lies a huge problem with apologetics: it cites as its authorities on a variety of questions people who have made truth claims on the basis of revelation. Hey, maybe that’s true and the revelations are/were real. But revelation is considered a completely invalid source of knowledge in the academic world. Therefore Mormon apologetics has not been able to make its arguments about many key aspects of history and reality accepted in mainstream world of experts. And my prediction is that throughout my lifetime it never will.
You mention Michael Coe. Look, again, you prove my point. Coe viewed Mormon truth claims about Pre-Columbian American history the same way that physics departments view Flat Eartherism. These truth claims are so outlandish to him that he hasn’t spent too much time studying the Book of Mormon or considering apologist arguments. And hey, he made a mistake or two. But in the end, he doesn’t want to chase you guys down the rabbit hole, especially when your arguments only have sway among already believing Mormons and virtually zero impact upon non-Mormon experts in history, anthropology, physics, and other relevant disciplines. Coe has been interested more than most non-Mormon experts in Mesoamerican history, but at some point, he knows it’s a waste of time.
Mormon apologetics can’t and won’t convince non-Mormon academics. And you guys know that. Your game has long been to write to the already believing to try to keep them in the church and keep them from doubting. It hasn’t been to convince non-Mormon scholarly audiences that won’t give you the time of day.
“Coe viewed Mormon truth claims about Pre-Columbian American history the same way that physics departments view Flat Eartherism.”
I think that might be begging the question a bit. Coe may have felt that way about the claims of some Latter-day Saint scholars–but I don’t think he was able to articulate his disagreement with those claims with the same kind of accuracy that a physicist can vis-a-vis a flat earth. While there’s no question that Coe was an expert in his field he was not an expert in the Book of Mormon–and therefore was spectacularly wrong about claims that were based in the text. He simply did not know what the BoM was actually saying.
And so to lump the claims of the BoM into a “flat earth” category of sorts ought to imply (IMO) that those who are making that kind of judgment can articulate why it belongs there–or at least point to an informed consensus of experts who can articulate why. But the reality is–is that Latter-day Saint scholars (to date) are the only ones who have enough expertise on the subject to make that determination. They’re the real experts. And in light of that reality it would seem rather foolish (IMO) to categorically dismiss an entire discipline without at least learning enough about it to understand what it’s experts are really saying.
Jack, that Coe doesn’t articulate the validity of his arguments against the historicity of the BOM to your standards is a moot point. Of course he won’t convince you or other believing apologists. But will he convince non-LDS laypersons and academics? Overwhelmingly. Not even a contest. You say that mainstream physicists easily debunk Flat Eartherism. You only say that because you’re not a Flat Earther. For the Flat Earthers repeatedly accuse the mainstream physicists of ignoring some piece of evidence or some anomaly in mainstream explanations that they think they’ve found. If physicists engage Flat Earthers in debate, the Flat Earther will lead the physicist down complex rabbit holes of seeming anomalies and bad logic. The mainstream physicist doesn’t stand a chance of persuading the Flat Earther otherwise. The mainstream knows this, so they don’t bother. They rightly place the burden on the Flat Earthers to penetrate the mainstream. And until they can, engaging them is a waste of time. Many mainstream physicists also don’t want to provide a platform to clearly loony ideas lest they inadvertantly spread them.
On the questions of where Native Americans came from and their pre-Columbian religious traditions, I fail to see how Mormon apologists are experts, let alone the only experts. In fact that idea doesn’t make a bit of sense. Mormon apologists have long been weighing in on those questions and claiming that Native Americans partly came from migrations from the Arabian Peninsula that happened in 2200 BC and 600 BC and that they practiced Judaism and Christianity. The apologists haven’t seemed to be able to convince any non-Mormon experts (sure, there might be a few extreme outliers) that this is the fact. You seem to be saying that the Mormon apologists are the only experts on the Book of Mormon. OK. Sure. I don’t think anyone really questions that. But once they wade into issues regarding Mesomerican history, then they are most certainly not the only experts. Those apologists who are experts in Mesomerican history seem to espouse fringe ideas that have failed to gain traction among their peers.
Bottom line: Mormon apologetics has been around for decades and largely promotes the idea that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas. Such a finding would be revolutionary. Easily one of the most significant historical findings in the last few decades. Yet who have the apologists convinced of such a reality? Not really anyone outside a specific religious group. I would rate these efforts an abject failure. The burden is on them to penetrate the mainstream and continues to be. The burden is not on the mainstream to acknowledge them or engage them. And the apologists have failed miserably at penetrating the mainstream.
I’ll add one thing. You obviously think Coe doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ok, then shout that from the rooftops and try to get other non-LDS Mesoamericanists to listen to you. What I keep hearing however is a sour-grapes attitude about how the mainstream is either unaware or biased. If they’re unaware, then make them aware. If they’re biased, then that sounds a little bit like a conspiracy theory, akin to anti-global warming theories. The idea is that they mainstream consensus is just massively biased and refusing to see the truth and that there are possibly many people at the top that are actively supporting such obviously realities that global warming is fake or that the Book of Mormon isn’t valid evidence. Sorry, that sounds like a bit much. I simply think that a large group of experts on a topic are most likely right on an issue. It is a limb I’m willing to go out on. The expert consensus simply is more trustworthy.
Brad, throughout these comments you keep making the odd assumption that the goal of apologetics is to have religious teachings accepted by mainstream academics. I don’t think this is true, and I’ve seen little indication from apologists that this is their end goal. The aim of Christian apologetics has never been to convince medical researchers that dead bodies can spontaneously revive, or even that one specific corpse was divinely reanimated 2000 years ago. It seems much more accurate to say that Christian apologetics, and LDS apologetics more specifically, aim to show that a life of faith is compatible with reason.
There are a lot of routes toward that goal, so I don’t think your broad-brush description of LDS apologists is accurate. Some do take the route of epistemological meta-discussion, but that’s just one option (and – sorry, Kevin – one that has never done much for me). My personal (and from what I can tell, thoroughly unpopular) take is that there’s plenty of room to accommodate the Book of Mormon by taking into consideration how loosely older texts can reflect historical reality. The true mystery is revelation via angelic visitors and divine spectacles and other means. Even “inspired fiction” accounts of the Book of Mormon are in their own way apologetic, as they stake out how religious faith and rational thought are compatible.
While we’re at it, I think you’re exaggerating how much affirmation of historicity the Church requires. I think the answer is: not much. People say all kinds of things in testimony meetings! Definitely worth a listen. The thing is, we’re pretty good at detecting the difference between newer members resolving contradictions between their old and new beliefs, or sincere efforts to arrive at a stable position of faith – and cynical or arrogant attempts to generate attention or undermine the faith of others. If you want to tell me that you accept the Book of Mormon as revealed scripture but you’re not sure of its historical basis, I’m happy to listen. I have doubts if this works as more than a niche solution, but I could be wrong and if it’s your niche, great.
Jonathan, a few remarks.
1) Christian apologetics is very different from LDS apologetics. For one, Christian apologetics aren’t trying to defend the historicity of the Books of Mormon and Abraham. By contrast, much of LDS apologetics is devoted to that very task.
2) Apologists have gone to great lengths to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon. They’ve done extensive travels to the Near East and throughout the Americas to try to gather artefacts and evidence that would uphold a historical Book of Mormon. They search for non-Mormon researchers who validate part of their claims. Consider how apologists have long touted a quote from esteemed BIble scholar William F. Albright wherein he expresses amazement at how Pahoran and Paanchi were Egyptian names. They’ve most certainly tried to find validation of their claims in the mainstream. Many apologists are employed professors in university departments, largely BYU, and are required by their jobs to publish peer-reviewed articles and books and to interact with other scholars in their disciplines at conferences. I simply cannot see how over a period of decades how the leading LDS apologists haven’t endeavored to make their research appear as if it is at least on par with research coming from the mainstream. If there were more non-LDS scholars receptive to apologists’ research, I have no doubt that the apologists would jump at the chance to build alliances with them and push apologetic research into the mainstream. Consider how much apologists have seized on their relationships with Ann Taves and Margaret Barker. There has undoubtedly been a trend among leading LDS apologists to have historicity claims about the Book of Mormon penetrate mainstream thinking in their fields. But they have been subtle, pushing ideas such as horses could have existed in the Americas 600 BC-400 AD or that pre-Columbian sea crossings across the Pacific were plausible. They haven’t usually attempted to push the idea that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas. They start with the proverbial milk before the meat. But they’ve no doubt made an effort. I really don’t see how you can maintain that they haven’t.
3) I’ve personally asked several apologists if they would accept as legitimate those members who claim to believe the doctrine of the Book of Mormon but not its historicity. The only responses I’ve received have been a resounding rejection of the legitimacy of such a belief. Insistence on historicity of the Book of Mormon seems to be regular among apologists with whom I’ve spoken.
4) As to whether you can maintain valid belief in the church and not subscribe to historicity of the BOM, it seems to be more and more common among the membership. But this is a relatively new phenomenon. My experience in the church as a teen in the 90s and an adult in the 2000s was hostility to those who doubted historicity of the BOM. Church leaders, while not fully tying themselves to what apologists say, have undoubtedly relied on the apologists to inform their narratives. Consider what Elder Holland had to say in his 2009 “Safety for the Soul” talk:
“If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: “a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,”11 a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. “Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.””
1) “Christian apologetics aren’t trying to defend the historicity of the Books of Mormon and Abraham” isn’t a response. It’s just restating the obvious.
2) “I simply cannot see how over a period of decades how the leading LDS apologists haven’t endeavored to make their research appear as if it is at least on par with research coming from the mainstream.”
Speaking for myself, it works like this. I have the usual academic training and research agenda. As with any other scholar, the reasons why I pursued that particular training and focus on that particular agenda aren’t neatly divisible from the rest of who I am as a person. The academic work I’ve published has to stand on its own merits, but we’re all bringing a personal perspective to the game. That doesn’t mean I have a hidden agenda to prove Joseph Smith was a prophet, or whatever. It does mean that I might be inclined to dig a little deeper on some things, or push back against particular assumptions, in ways that someone else wouldn’t.
The knowledge I’ve gained from academic work sometimes has interesting insights of some broadly religious relevance – book history and the Book of Mormon, for example. 99% of the time, it ends up at most as a blog post. On the few occasions when I’ve turned that work into a publication, I do try to apply the same standards of argument and evidence. Again, the goal isn’t to prove Joseph Smith is a prophet, but to show (for example) that LDS understanding of historical apostasy isn’t a purely modern invention, but reflects real strands of thought in the Reformation era. And I think my argument is more convincing than the opposite.
3) If we define apologists here as people who publish with the Interpreter, it’s not surprising they weren’t receptive. They’ve invested a lot of work in demonstrating the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It’s like trying to pitch the editors of The Nation on a story about the advantages of a market economy.
I don’t reject the validity of belief in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction, I’m just skeptical that it’s workable or stable over even the medium term, and suspicious of it being used as a way to undermine belief in the Church altogether. (Also, I don’t think it’s accurate, but that’s irrelevant.) You don’t have to convince me or the people who write for the Interpreter. Stick to your beliefs. I would happily give up my skepticism if adherents of an inspired fiction theory would demonstrate their commitment to the Church through their faith and service.
4) How has the faith and commitment fared of people who were promoting belief in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction in the 90s and 2000s?
Brad, have you noticed that D&C 1:30 does NOT contain the phrase “one and only true church”? It says something quite different. If it says, “only true church” why take 29 words to say what could have been said clearly with or for your phrase, 5 words? I searched out all of the Biblical passages that use true and or living, true vine, true branches, true treasure, tree of life, living bread, living waters, new and living way through the veil, living stones, and so forth. And it turns out that the Bible passages with that imagery match the themes of D&C 1 as a whole, verse for verse point for point. What D&C 1 describes is not absolute, exclusive truth and virtue (verses 24-28 rule that out), but well-pleasingness relative to the themes embodied by the true and living imagery: a voice of warning to all, priesthood, revelation, ordinances, temple, covenants with Christ at the center. It turns out that priesthood, revelation such as the Book of Mormon, ordinances, covenants, and temples are things which as a matter of fact and practice distinguish the LDS from other Christian groups. But it does not claim absolute exclusiveness of truth, rather relative well-pleasingness specific to the themes embodied in the “true and living” imagery.
In a late discourse, Joseph Smith expressed this notably relativistic view of our judgements:
“He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will by judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information…” (History of the Church 4:595).
The Book of Abraham offers a notably relativistic view of God in relation to other intelligences.
The restoration begins with Joseph Smith’s observation that “the different teachers of religion understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” That notably Post-modern observation is consistent with the Jesus’s Parable of the Sower in which the same seeds (words) produce vastly different harvests depending on soil and nurture. “Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables?”
The Perry Scheme is not about dismissing Authority but about how a person processes information, whether a person sees the favored authorities as the only authorities worth considering. Again, I notice the importance of the metaphors you apply to your interpretation. Trumpists and Flat Earthers, both groups, I notice, which operate at Position 2, adopting their choice of Authority as a strategy to avoid complexity. Here is a bit more from the Perry Scheme which I think demonstrates its relevance:
If a person can move along through to Position 6: Commitment Foreseen, they come to this point:
“He starts to see how he must be embracing and transcending of: certainty/doubt, focus/breadth, idealism/realism, tolerance/contempt, stability/flexibility. He senses need for affirmation and incorporation of existential or logical polarities. He senses need to hold polarities in tension in the interest of Truth.”
This puts me in mind of 2 Nephi 2 on opposition in all things, the temple, and Joseph Smith’s comment that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest,” remembering that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).
“He begins to maintain meaning, coherence, and value while conscious of their partial, limited, and contradictable nature. He begins to understand symbol as symbols and acknowledges the time-place relativity of them. He begins to affirm and hold absolutes in symbols while still acknowledging them to be relativistic.”
This puts me in mind of Nephi’s comment that we cannot understand the Jewish prophets without knowing the cultural context (2 Nephi 25:1-5).
Kuhn points out that all paradigm debate involves deciding “Which problems are more significant to have solved?” You repeat this:
“Mormon apologetics has been around for decades and largely promotes the idea that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas.”
When I read things like Brant Gardner’s “The Social History of the Early Nephites” or Larry Poulson’s 2008 “Book of Mormon Geography” or even Jerry Grover’s The Geology of the Book of Mormon, or Brian Stubb’s work on on Hebrew, Egyptian and Phonecian inluence in Uto Aztecan, I notice that none are particularly invested in proving that Christianity and Judaism were practiced in the pre-Columbian Americas. Given the paucity of pre-Classic texts, and even the very few Pre-Columbian texts, I can see why that theme is not prominent. Given the information at hand, how would you propose to do that? On that issue, I see the puzzle definition, but not what Kuhn calls, “testability.” What does a pot or a plaza, or stone wall or bone or stone or cement house tell you in the absence of any substantial contemporary texts? How would a immigrant Nephite impose their faith on their survival within a much larger population when they arrived that would plainly tell us? (There are those two ancient Mesoamerican cylinder seals, with character equivalents to the Anthon manscript, but no one can read them.) What are the implications of some imagery, say, an illustration of a seed growing from a man’s heart (Mesoamericanist Allen Christenson talked about that), or a common Mayan glyph that translates to “and it came to pass?”
Kuhn says the most important values in paradigm debate are puzzle definition and testability, accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise. If I am looking at Warren Aston’s arguments for Khor Kharfot as a plausible Bountiful candidate, indeed even using Wander software with my Quest 2 to stand there in VR, I’m looking at anything that coerces belief, but rather, offers me what Alma 32 refers to as “cause to believe.” I learned long ago, that anyone can say “So what?” to any of that. But I have also learned there is something qualitatively different between Sterling McMurrin claiming that “You don’t get books from angels and translate them by revelation. It’s just that simple.” and Margaret Barker saying “What I offer can only be the reactions of an Old Testament scholar: are the revelations to Joseph Smith consistent with the situation in Jerusalem in about 600 bce?” McMurrin offers an ideological dismissal, not even bothering with any need to read the book, based on an insight he gained when he was “younger than I can remember.” Barker demonstrates what Kuhn describes as “puzzle definition and solution” as important in paradigm debate. The issue is not proof or disproof that can coerce every observer to the same conclusion, but rather, defining the circumstances and methods by which a person discovered some personal “cause to believe” in which a reasonable test brought fruit, discernable results, expanded the mind, enlightened understanding, and invited further investigation and nurture.
The key issue is whether we have some criteria for our decisions that are not completely self-referential not completely paradigm dependent. It’s a matter of weight and substance, rather than universally coercive proof to all observers.
Jonathan, I’m still not convinced that the leading apologists haven’t been trying to prove the existence of Christians and Jews in the pre-Columbian Americas.
Kevin, your position seems to be that Mormonism is a relativistic religion and that Joseph Smith was some sort of proto-relativist. And you cite relativists like Kuhn in support (I can’t imagine Kuhn let alone Perry speaking too kindly if Mormonism, let alone agreeing that it is a relativistic religion). I don’t disagree with what many relativists like Kuhn have to say, I just disagree that Mormonism is in any way, shape, or form a relativist religion. I also disagree with the idea that the average member wouldn’t come away with the idea that the church is the one and only true church. Consider what Dallin H. Oaks has to say on the matter of the one true church. If you two were in a room together, I don’t think you would get along very well.
“Our first responsibility and purpose is to testify of Jesus Christ to a world that suffers to know of His divine mission. As my response to that great responsibility, I will speak about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the only true and living Church. In doing so I know I speak against the powerful tide of what is called “political correctness.”
The fashionable opinion of this age is that all churches are true. In truth, the idea that all churches are the same is the doctrine of the anti-Christ, illustrated by the Book of Mormon account of Korihor (see Alma 30). That account was given to teach us a vital lesson in our day.”