Jim Bennett Responds (again) to the CES Letter

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Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty and talented writer. Not only were the answers helpful, but it was a joy to read, given Jim’s wonderful style.
 
Many of us know Latter-day Saints who have recently struggled with their faith, especially when unprepared and facing down a huge list of criticisms and unfamiliar context. Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
 
Jim updated his response to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today:
 
https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf
You can click here to review the many responses to Runnell’s letter.  Jim’s reply above is only one of many that refute the letter’s claims.
The answers to LDS critics are voluminous.

LDS Church Finances and Deseret Trust Company

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Bro. Roger Hendrix is an active Latter-day Saint who was a mission president in the 90s before he started working as a board member at Deseret Trust Company.  His career was in construction and consulting in Southern California before he was a mission president.

This fellow, Roger Hendrix, went onto LDS critic John Dehlin’s podcast to discuss the Church’s finances.  They discussed a range of topics, including auditors of the Church, Deseret Management Company (Church’s holding company), Bonneville, Ensign Peak and other investment entities, management of tithing, the Church real estate entity, financial transparency, the Church’s net worth, and other related issues.

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John repeatedly asked about conflicts of interest, nepotism, possible fraud, directing money to General Authorities’ kids’ startup businesses, the City Creek project, and other common critics’ claims and innuendo.

Bro. Hendrix repeatedly swatted those and related conspiracy theories away.  Where Bro. Hendrix worked for 18 years — Deseret Trust Company — was a business that followed the law.  And all his time around others in Church management operated just as he did:  ethically, professionally, and legally.

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Roger explained that he got a stipend when part of the trust company, but not close to what he earned on other boards.  In fact, Roger stated on other boards he’s “made a lot of dough.”   His stipend at the trust company didn’t change in 18 years.   Sounds like it was around $10K/year.  His colleagues who worked with him gave up lots of “dough”, according to Roger to work in a Church environment.

President N. Eldon Tanner

Further, no General Authorities sit on these boards.  But back in the 1960s, N. Eldon Tanner started this trust company.  And other LDS leaders did sit on the board.  But not any longer.

No, the Church doesn’t steal money from ex-Mormons’ inheritance, though John Dehlin suggested otherwise.  Dehlin also suggested General Authorities’ families and companies directly and inappropriately benefited from the trust.  John made all these claims and pushed innuendo, all without evidence.  Out of thin air.

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Short answer to these claims:  no.  Such actions are unethical and illegal.  This trust company, like any other, is run according to state and national laws.

Roger described the bright, trained people that work for the Church.  He included that these same bright people have the Spirit, pray, and practice their faith.

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John repeatedly asked questions that revealed John’s ignorance of trusts, non-profits, and investments in general.

In my opinion, John is looking for a boogey man.  He believes in a sort of Bigfoot.  Something the Church is hiding, lying about.  Something he’ll never find. Cuz the Church doesn’t operate that way.  Never has.

More questions about Church finances, tithing, etc.

John Dehlin tried another gotcha interview with Michael Quinn.  Michael was excommunicated in the 90s, but despite not being a member today, still has faith in the Church.  He is an excellent researcher/historian and shares a lot about the Church’s finances.

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Michael details the history of stipends for LDS leaders and how the Church got onto solid financial footing.  He further shares details of the multiple entities the Church uses to invest and handle its assets and overall portfolio. The Church behaves ethically and in line with its mission throughout the globe.

In addition, Michael takes the side of transparency, saying that this would be faith promoting.  He quotes others who were connected to all Church finance details who suggest the Church has nothing to hide and would benefit from sharing financial information.

Michael even discusses the few financial abuses in our history:  Brigham and his son accumulated wealth, an accountant who embezzled in the 60s.

Yet, he explains that the values of our leaders have been exemplary in their attempts to manage the Church’s assets.  He finishes by saying faithful members should likely adjust their view by understanding Quinn’s data (book), but in his view, should remain faithful.

 

More Millennials Are Abandoning Religion For Witchcraft, Astrology

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Also attributed to GK Chesterton:

“A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything.”

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The following article is by Jazz Shaw:

You may have thought it was just a couple of oddballs and a blip on the radar when some modern-day witches decided to cast a hex on Brett Kavanaugh. (I guess they didn’t use enough eye of newt in that effort since he’s now on the SCOTUS bench.) But it turns out that that wasn’t some niche effort. A new report at Marketwatch reveals that an increasing number of younger people (we’re looking at you again, millennials) are rejecting organized, traditional religion in favor of the divinations of astrologers and witches casting spells.

More than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”

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“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said.

Yes, the “Catland” referenced in this article is the same one that hosted the Kavanaugh hexing and seems to be the northeastern epicenter of this movement. It’s been building for a while now, however, and it’s not limited to the Big Apple. Back in January, John covered a story describing the growing ranks of “young American women who have been drawn to witchcraft as a sign of feminism and community building.”

 

Sure, some of them may just be dabbling in these things as an exercise in finding a new way to express their feminist ideals and resistance to the President. But in many of the cases detailed in the report, we’re talking about people who take their witchcraft seriously. I regularly listen to a few podcasts on paranormal subjects, not politics, and the hosts tend to be almost uniformly liberal. (Some of them regularly veer off topic to bemoan how horrible the world is since the 2016 elections and, frankly, I just consider that a bonus in terms of entertainment.)

But when they talk about spells and other witch-related subjects, they’re not joking around. Some of them regularly burn sage in their homes and offices to cleanse the areas of negative influences. There’s a thriving market for books, crystals and other witch paraphernalia.

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Is there some larger message here? Perhaps. When you turn away from the faith your family followed for generations and all the values it brings with it, all other paths are probably at least a bit “darker” in tone. And the fact that this trend is so much more common among the young on the left might give a few clues as to how we arrived at the situation we’re in today.

As for me, I’m not opposed to a little witchcraft… at least as long as Frank is singing it. Turn on the volume and enjoy this classic.

Atheism: Equally Irrational

Insightful article at Newsweek.

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Many atheists think that their atheism is the product of rational thinking. They use arguments such as “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science” to explain that evidence and logic, rather than supernatural belief and dogma, underpin their thinking. But just because you believe in evidence-based, scientific research—which is subject to strict checks and procedures—doesn’t mean that your mind works in the same way.

When you ask atheists about why they became atheists (as I do for a living), they often point to eureka moments when they came to realize that religion simply doesn’t make sense.

Oddly perhaps, many religious people actually take a similar view of atheism. This comes out when theologians and other theists speculate that it must be rather sad to be an atheist, lacking (as they think atheists do) so much of the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious people have access to—stuck in a cold world of rationality only.

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The science of atheism

The problem that any rational thinker needs to tackle, though, is that the science increasingly shows that atheists are no more rational than theists. Indeed, atheists are just as susceptible as the next person to “group-think” and other non-rational forms of cognition. For example, religious and nonreligious people alike can end up following charismatic individuals without questioning them. And our minds often prefer righteousness over truth, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has explored.

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Even atheist beliefs themselves have much less to do with rational inquiry than atheists often think. We now know, for example, that nonreligious children of religious parents cast off their beliefs for reasons that have little to do with intellectual reasoning. The latest cognitive research shows that the decisive factor is learning from what parents do rather than from what they say. So if a parent says that they’re Christian, but they’ve fallen out of the habit of doing the things they say should matter—such as praying or going to church—their kids simply don’t buy the idea that religion makes sense.

This is perfectly rational in a sense, but children aren’t processing this on a cognitive level. Throughout our evolutionary history, humans have often lacked the time to scrutinize and weigh up the evidence—needing to make quick assessments. That means that children to some extent just absorb the crucial information, which in this case is that religious belief doesn’t appear to matter in the way that parents are saying it does.

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Even older children and adolescents who actually ponder the topic of religion may not be approaching it as independently as they think. Emerging research is demonstrating that atheist parents (and others) pass on their beliefs to their children in a similar way to religious parents—through sharing their culture as much as their arguments.

Some parents take the view that their children should choose their beliefs for themselves, but what they then do is pass on certain ways of thinking about religion, like the idea that religion is a matter of choice rather than divine truth. It’s not surprising that almost all of these children—95%—end up “choosing” to be atheist.

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Science versus beliefs

But are atheists more likely to embrace science than religious people? Many belief systems can be more or less closely integrated with scientific knowledge. Some belief systems are openly critical of science, and think it has far too much sway over our lives, while other belief systems are hugely concerned to learn about and respond to scientific knowledge.

But this difference doesn’t neatly map onto whether you are religious or not. Some Protestant traditions, for example, see rationality or scientific thinking as central to their religious lives. Meanwhile, a new generation of postmodern atheists highlight the limits of human knowledge, and see scientific knowledge as hugely limited, problematic even, especially when it comes to existential and ethical questions. These atheists might, for example, follow thinkers like Charles Baudelaire in the view that true knowledge is only found in artistic expression.

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And while many atheists do like to think of themselves as pro-science, science and technology itself can sometimes be the basis of religious thinking or beliefs, or something very much like it. For example, the rise of the transhumanist movement, which centers on the belief that humans can and should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology, is an example of how technological innovation is driving the emergence of new movements that have much in common with religiosity.

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Even for those atheists skeptical of transhumanism, the role of science isn’t only about rationality—it can provide the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfillments that religious beliefs do for others. The science of the biological world, for example, is much more than a topic of intellectual curiosity—for some atheists, it provides meaning and comfort in much the same way that belief in God can for theists. Psychologists show that belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety, just as religious beliefs intensify for theists in these situations.

Clearly, the idea that being atheist is down to rationality alone is starting to look distinctly irrational. But the good news for all concerned is that rationality is overrated. Human ingenuity rests on a lot more than rational thinking. As Haidt says of “the righteous mind”, we are actually “designed to ‘do’ morality”—even if we’re not doing it in the rational way we think we are. The ability to make quick decisions, follow our passions and act on intuition are also important human qualities and crucial for our success.

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It is helpful that we have invented something that, unlike our minds, is rational and evidence-based: science. When we need proper evidence, science can very often provide it—as long as the topic is testable. Importantly, the scientific evidence does not tend to support the view that atheism is about rational thought and theism is about existential fulfillments. The truth is that humans are not like science—none of us get by without irrational action, nor without sources of existential meaning and comfort. Fortunately, though, nobody has to.”

 

 

What is Second Sight?

 

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Yesterday I shared a post about the 11+ witnesses.  It didn’t take long and an LDS critic commented that the witnesses saw the visions via “second sight.”  And they only saw with their “spiritual eyes”.

This blogger at Conflict of Justice provides extensive quotes and background on this topic:  Did the Book of Mormon Witnesses See The Gold Plates Only in Their Minds?

The short answer is no.  The long answer will take lots of reading.  The witnesses are on record countless times, testifying of a physical experience.

I had heard of second sight before yesterday, but hadn’t taken the time to evaluate in detail what second sight was.  Previously, critics would argue that Joseph hypnotized the witnesses.  That it appears has fallen out of favor as a hypothesis.  Hypnosis fails as an explanation because the data show this is not possible or at least very, very, very, very, very, very unlikely to have happened.

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So, critics move to the next possibility:  second sight.  The only problem is that second sight — unlike hypnosis — has never been known to have happened.

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To better understand second sight I Googled and reviewed several sites’ definitions.  In every case, the word was referring to knowing something in advance.  The word had nothing to do with hallucination or hypnosis.  Instead, it was someone — not multiple at once — who could see the future.

Definitions of second sight:

Google:  the supposed ability to perceive future or distant events; clairvoyance.

I thought I’d look up clairvoyance to better understand what this second site synonym was.

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Google:    noun: clairvoyance        

  1. the supposed faculty of perceiving things or events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact.
  2. “she stared at the card as if she could contact its writer by clairvoyance”
  1. synonyms:
  • ESP, extrasensory perception, sixth sense, psychic powers, second sight;
  • telepathy
  • “I’m not sure how much confidence I have in Miss ZuZu’s clairvoyance”

 

Merriam-Webster, second sight:  the capacity to see remote or future objects or events: CLAIRVOYANCE, PRECOGNITION   

       Synonyms  clairvoyance, extrasensory perception, sixth sense;      

examples of second sight in a sentence:  the fairy world was believed to be visible to people blessed with second sight

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Joseph Smith showed 8 witnesses metal plates.  An angel showed metal plates and multiple objects on a table to 3 witnesses.  No fairies were around.  Joseph saw some future events and prophesied, but lived in the natural world.  Not the fairy world.  Second sight doesn’t occur.  Prophets have lived.

From Sixth Sense Reader a term denoting the opposite of its apparent significance, meaning in reality the seeing, in vision, of events before they occur. “Foresight” expresses the meaning of second sight, which perhaps was originally so called because normal vision was regarded as coming first, while supernormal vision is a secondary thing, confined to certain individuals (ibid).

This word, second sight, is so little used look what is in the next dictionary:

Urban Dictionary:   second sight

TOP DEFINITION     an underated action game that has an amazing plot, but is a little too short.            

Me:im having a lot of fun playing second sight! i can use awesome physcic powers on my enemies!   #really#good#game#that#is underated  by r2d2’s bad hair day July 27, 2006

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From Very Well Health:  Second Sight Changes in Vision:       

“Second sight” refers to a temporary change in vision during early cataract development. Before vision deteriorates, vision, especially close-up reading vision, improves significantly. Some patients report very clear near vision without the use of reading glasses. Near vision refers to vision for objects 2 feet or closer to the viewer.

These changes occur because the proteins and other compounds that make up the lens begin to change structure. This, in turn, changes the way light refracts through the lens, causing a temporary improvement in near vision.

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I copied/pasted from the Wikipedia below (after ESP image below).  Interestingly, this topic is nested under Paranormal.  In my view, for critics to cling to these (completely unsupported) superstitious explanations demonstrates they have greater superstition than Joseph ever did.

First paragraph is descriptive of what second sight is.  The second paragraph points out that second sight doesn’t occur.

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Second sight is a form of extrasensory perception, the supposed power to perceive things that are not present to the senses, whereby a person perceives information, in the form of a vision, about future events before they happen (precognition), or about things or events at remote locations (remote viewing).[1][2]

There is no scientific evidence that second sight exists. Reports of second sight are known only from anecdotal evidence given after the fact.

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Read that?  This — second sight — has never been documented; yet LDS critics present this to uninformed readers as the explanation for Joseph’s visions.  Very poor scholarship.

LDS critics usually posit that they follow evidence, and that has led them to their current positions.  Is that true in this case?  What of the 200+ accounts the witnesses left?  They clearly and repeatedly claimed to have seen a vision, but with their natural eyes.  They saw the plates just as they see a tree (pointing to a tree), etc.

Wikipedia discusses the history of second sight.  The entire Wikipedia article on the topic is only 7 paragraphs long.

Second sight may have originally been so called because normal vision was regarded as coming first, while supernormal vision is a secondary thing, confined to certain individuals.[4] An da shealladh or “the two sights,” meaning “the sight of the seer”, is the way Gaels refer to “second sight”, the involuntary ability of seeing the future or distant events. There are many Gaelic words for the various aspects of second sight, but an da shealladh is the one mostly recognized by non-Gaelic speakers, even though, strictly speaking, it does not really mean second sight, but rather “two sights”.[a]

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So, did Joseph involuntarily see future events?  The witnesses, too?  Did they see the plates in the field during the day, as they claimed?  Or were they at the Whitmer home and all together involuntarily see the objects, as if they were in the field?

So, was Joseph a seer?  But an involuntary one?  Joseph typically got answers to questions via revelation.  His revelations weren’t involuntary.  His revelations came after much study and pondering.

This explanation — second sight — has no basis in fact or history (only in mythology) and wasn’t what the Book of Mormon witnesses consistently held to.

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I searched YouTube for videos on the topic and found zero.  Nobody has produced one because it’s never occurred.  There are a bazillion videos on every topic imaginable, but none for second sight (except for movies and video game reviews).

 

For Kids, Parental Cohabitation and Marriage Are Not Interchangeable

Marriage is best.  The Institute for Family Studies wrote this article:

For Kids, Parental Cohabitation and Marriage Are Not Interchangeable

 

An article in this month’s issue of Parents magazine explores the new “norm” of unmarried childbearing—the increasing number of younger Americans who are choosing to have and raise children in cohabiting unions instead of marriage.

The article features a few happily unmarried couples raising children, most of whom echo a popular Millennial view of marriage as essentially unnecessary to parenting.

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“Traditional marriage is beautiful and wonderful, but it’s not important for me because a wedding is what you do when you start your life with someone,” said cohabiting mom Allison, who is raising two kids with her boyfriend of four years. “With two kids, a dog and a cat, we’re already living it.”

Jennifer, a single mom who recently ended a nine-year cohabiting relationship with the father of her three year-old-son, said prior to their split, she and her ex were “secure in our relationship, and no wedding, piece of jewelry, or common last name was going to make us feel any more so.”

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While some cohabiting adults seem happy enough to live together without marriage, what about their children? It is an important question considering that about one in four American children today are born to cohabiting parents. According to Child Trends, the number of cohabiting couples with children under 18 has nearly tripled since the late 1990s—increasing from 1.2 million in 1996 to 3.1 million in 2014. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the majority of recent non-marital births (58 percent) are to unmarried women living with their child’s father.

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On the surface, the trend away from divorced or unwed mothers raising kids on their own, toward more children living with both of their parents, seems like a positive one for children raised outside of marriage. However, when it comes to child well-being, cohabiting unions more closely resemble single motherhood than marriage. As eighteen noted family scholars stated in a 2011 report from the National Marriage Project, “cohabitation is not the functional equivalent of marriage,” and it is “the largely unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s lives today.”

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For children, the differences between cohabiting and married parents extend far beyond the lack of a marriage license. Compared to children of married parents, those with cohabiting parents are more likely to experience the breakup of their families, be exposed to “complex” family forms, live in poverty, suffer abuse, and have negative psychological and educational outcomes.

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Unstable Unions: One of the major sources of inequality between cohabiting and married parenthood is that cohabiting couples tend to split up at higher rates than married couples. According to the 2013 National Marriage Project report, Knot Yet, children of cohabiting parents in their twenties are three times more likely to experience the dissolution of their family than children born to married parents. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW), meanwhile, finds that “nearly half of parents who are cohabiting at the time of their child’s birth break up within five years, compared to only 20 percent of married parents.”

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Complex Families: Because of the fragile nature of cohabiting unions, children born to cohabiting parents are also more likely to transition in and out of new—and often confusing—family forms after their parents split up. According to the FFCW study, nearly 40 percent of unmarried mothers will cohabit with a new partner after their relationship with their child’s father ends, and 14 percent will have another child with a new partner.

As Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks explain in a recent article, the instability and complexity of cohabiting unions “have important consequences for children’s home environment and the quality of the parenting they receive. Both the departure of a father and the arrival of a mother’s new partner disrupt family routines and are stressful for most children, regardless of whether the father is married to their mother or merely cohabiting with her.”

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Child Poverty: Children raised in cohabiting unions are significantly more likely to experience poverty than those whose parents are married. In fact, cohabiting parents are second only to single mothers in terms of child poverty rates. According to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, children in married-couple households have a poverty rate of 11 percent, compared to a 47 percent poverty rate for children in cohabiting opposite-sex couple households, and a 48 percent child poverty rate in single-mother households.

One reason for the higher poverty rates among children in cohabiting unions has to do with pre-existing differences between cohabiting and married parents. According to a Child Trends analysis, cohabiting parents tend to have less education, lower incomes, and less secure employment than married parents. Also, because cohabiting unions are more likely to dissolve than marriages, children in cohabiting unions are at a greater risk of spending time in a single-parent family, which significantly increases their poverty risk.

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Child Abuse: While children living with their unmarried biological mother and her live-in boyfriend face a higher risk of suffering child abuse than kids in any other type of family, children who live with their own cohabiting parents are more likely to be abused than children of married parents.

Data from the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect shows that children living with biological cohabiting parents are over four times as likely to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused as those living with their own married parents.

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Negative Life Outcomes: On average, children living with cohabiting biological parents fare worse on several social, psychological, and educational outcomes than children born to married parents, even after controlling for factors like race, household income, and parental education.

According to the National Marriage Project, children in cohabiting families are more likely to use drugs, suffer from depression, and drop out of school than children from married-parent families. While some of the negative effects of cohabitation on children can be partly explained by their parents’ lack of resources, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, “cohabitation has an independent negative impact on children.”

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While cohabiting parenthood may look like marriage in that it provides children with both a mom and a dad, it is a more fragile and less safe family union than marriage that robs children of a wide range of social, psychological, and educational benefits. As Wilcox has written here, “No other institution reliably connects two parents, and their money, talent, and time, to their children in the way that marriage does.”

Despite the popularity and convenience of cohabitation, marriage is still the best setting to have and raise children. Now more than ever, we need to do a better job of communicating that truth to the next generation.

 

 

Aristotle and his impact on Christian theology

If you understand Aristotle’s views on God, metaphysics, philosophy, and the cosmos you’ll better understand Christianity.  Specifically, you’ll better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, why Christians had the false interpretation of the cosmos (geocentric) for 1500 years, and other errors that were incorporated into a Christian world view.

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After all, Greek thinking spread into the Roman world when the Romans conquered Greece.  Roman leaders had Greek slaves teach them and their kids mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and all other areas of knowledge.

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After Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity spread into a Greek world.  One that believed in things just the way Aristotle did centuries before.  Eventually, Roman leaders persecuted Christians who believed in ideas contrary to the accepted Greek views.

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Jews and Romans labeled Christians polytheists for belief in 2 Gods (Father & Son).  This persecution continued on and off until Christians embraces Greek philosophy, defining God and Jesus being one (2 persons, but one being) and of the same substance.

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Greek medicine has been largely rejected.  So has Greek astronomy.  A Greek view on God’s nature has persisted, however.

Aristotle had many brilliant ideas for his day.  He debated non-believers and laid out proofs for God’s existence.  Aristotle had a theory for nearly everything.  He was correct on many things, but mistaken on many others (including theological, medical, and astronomical concepts).

Many of these errors were adopted without reservation by the educated and a very significant institution:  the Roman Catholic Church.  Nobody at the time conceived the Greeks were wrong.  Indeed, these ideas were held up and propagated for centuries.  These false ideas — geocentricism, Greek medicine, and others — were not rejected till the Scientific Revolution.

A short  12-minute summary:

From Christian Wheaton College.  This is very dry.   Joseph Smith makes it much simpler.  He saw two resurrected beings.

More detail:

 

LDS scholar, Barry Bickmore, discusses the transformation of the Hebrew/Jewish organization into a more Hellenized version of Christianity: