Jim Bennett, son of late US Senator from Utah, wrote a reply to the CES Letter in 2016.
Jim is an incredibly witty, entertaining, 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.
Drinking from a critic’s fire hose isn’t a good idea. It’s best to get help and to see a line-by-line response to critics’ claims. Jim provides helpful answers and insights for those sincerely seeking answers.
Jim updated his response here to this anti-Mormon PDF and released the update today.
To review other scholars’ responses click here. The answers to LDS critics are scholarly, fair, exonerating, and voluminous.
Great podcast! Faith is reasonable. And is a choice.
Abstract: In this article I argue that faith is not only rationally justifiable but also inescapable simply because our decisions regarding ultimate questions must necessarily be made under conditions of objective uncertainty. I review remarks by several prominent thinkers on the subject — both avowed atheists and several writers who have addressed the challenge implicit in issues related to faith and reason. I end my discussion by citing William James, who articulated clearly the choices we must make in addressing these “ultimate questions.”
Super talk by Noel B. Reynolds. You can read or listen to it here.
– INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT
– SENTIMENTALISM VS. SPIRIT
– DISCERNMENT IMPORTANT
– LIGHT OF CHRIST
– USEFULNESS OF REASON
– THE ROLE OF SIN
– CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD
– GUIDELINES TO KEEP FAITH
– INTELLECT AND FAITH
A wonderful quote:
“Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged.”
Do you always believe everything negative about Hillary? What about the bad news about Trump? Immediately believe such news?
You shouldn’t. Everyone is wrong and makes mistakes. Trump makes lots. So does Hillary. Some policies each proposes are bad. All aren’t good. We should use balance, reason, and prudence to discern what is good and what is bad — not parrot like an uninformed, zealous partisan.
We find people debating every social, religious, and political issue every day. On Facebook. On blogs. On TV. At work. Those in these debates can usually be placed on a continuum of reason vs. blind faith. On a continuum of information and data vs. data-free emotion.
Atheists may have blind faith in their positions with no basis in fact. Theist also may have blind faith with no basis in fact. Your co-worker may be entirely emotional and not study any issues. A neighbor may never be emotional and have every fact in the Universe memorized. Everyone relies on some amount of faith and then an individual amount of facts.
We don’t know everything, so we gotta have faith in many areas of life. But to rely solely on emotion or blind faith isn’t a good approach, in my view. Instead, to we should gather all available data to make the most-informed decision possible.
I’ve noticed that many LDS critics fall into this category — partisan, uniformed zealots — on many topics. They rush to judgment when an LDS official is accused of wrongdoing, for example (this has occurred recently online). Indeed, in my experience zealous LDS critics often assume the worst when the topic involves Joseph Smith or current leaders. More data or context isn’t needed. No way! They “know” the truth, and their mind’s made up.
This tendency — to assume the worst without evidence — is indicative of a problem. A lack of balance and sense of proportion. A willingness to be ignorant. Perhaps lacking understanding that they’re, in fact, ignorant. But being ignorant, nevertheless.
A commitment to a cause — be it Trump, Hillary, the LDS Church, etc — that is not based in reality. But in large amounts of emotion.
Critics of the Church (or any organization that is being unfairly maligned) often withhold exculpatory information. This means, information that would exonerate or free of wrongdoing is intentionally withheld. This is dishonest.
Remember the Duke Lacrosse case? The lacrosse players hired a stripper. Bad idea. But they didn’t rape her, as she later claimed. The District Attorney assigned to the case stretched out the case longer than he should of, and used it as a way to get reelected.
It turned out, the DA also withheld evidence that would have freed the boys and avoided ruining their reputations (and lives for a few years). That is, he buried exculpatory evidence. He was disbarred (lost his law license) for this action.
These kinds of practices are dishonest, unethical, and a form of misrepresentation. Fair-minded people need to weigh the evidence. They should see the often weak claims — especially in light of more data and context — as undermining of a critic’s position. Waiting and researching prevents quick, rash, overreactions.
Of course, Mormons can also be immensely defensive and not follow the facts. They shouldn’t. Latter-day Saints should follow the evidence and increase their testimony. After all, we embrace all truth!
Mormon leaders have not and never will be perfect. Neither have biblical leaders or leaders of any organization now or in history been perfect. But, as unfamiliar issues and controversies arise, let’s gather all the possible associated data before we throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.
If you’re too quick at either activity — to defend or to accuse — rather than gather the evidence fully, you might fall into the zealot camp. An overzealous and uninformed fan with lacks proportion, balance, and all the context.
So, if you’re an absolute, fully committed, all-in Trump, Hillary die hard, LDS critic, or uninformed partisan for the LDS faith you might want to evaluate your positions and look at more data before you jump to the defense of your candidate or annihilation of your opponent.
My experience is that the vast, vast majority of Latter-day Saints don’t rob, steal, or assault sexually (or otherwise). However, some do. And our past leaders were good men. And our religious practices took place in a real, historical context that takes time to appreciate. So, as we learn, let’s hear all sides, allow for due process, and not rush to judgment.
And when questions arise relative to items in LDS history, please take the time to do the research. You shouldn’t immediately trust LDS critics, nor should you exclusively trust what your Uncle Bob might say about our own history (even if he’s an active member). Study things on your own. Weigh the evidence. And strive for balance and prudent understanding.
The best route is to follow the advise given in this podcast: always consider the best in other faiths and groups. Don’t knock down their weakest point. Appreciate their strongest point!
The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard Sunday evenings from 7 to 8 PM (MST) on K-TALK, AM 1640, or you can listen live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com. Call in to 801-254-1640 with your questions and comments during the live show.
You might want to tune in weekly.
On Sunday, 3/11/18, they talked about the CES Letter and compared this to the anti-Mormons in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.
The new format of the CES Letter with a huge laundry list has affected some people, unfortunately.
This video shows how many people feel during their first brush with anti-Mormon material:
Growing up in the 1980s and graduating from high school in the early 90s, I rmeember hearing about Ed Decker’s production, “The God Makers.”
More than a few times I visited Christian bookstores and read their book chapters on Mormons, usually in the “CULT” section. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I didn’t know what they were talking about.
In the early 2000s, during a break in school — about 1/4 mile from the Mormon Handcart Park in Iowa City, IA — I decided to see what “The Godmakers” was all about.
Our hometeacher had many books on the topic, including “The Truth About the Godmakers”, published in 1986. He gave me a stack of books and I dove right in.
I probably read 10-12 books cover to cover. Some of the material was brand new. Other stuff I had heard from my parents. All of the issues were a lot to cover in a few weeks of summer break, but I’m glad I tacked the material then, and have revisited the critical arguments since.
I first heard of the CES Letter in the summer of 2015. I chat with all kinds of people around me. On a plane trip — among lots of other topics — the woman to my left told me her LDS faith had been rocked by the CES Letter. She said she had never heard of any of this stuff before. I told her nothing was new that she was telling me.
It’s true. Those who’ve reviewed the CES Letter, feel free to review “The Truth About the Godmakers.” The author, Gilbert W. Scharffs, responds to each each scene and claim Ed Decker presents in his awful, over-the-top movie.
Sadly, people left in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, in part as a result of the God Makers. Surely, lots of other issues were involved. It’s never 1 single issue. They left in the 60s and 70s, due in part to work by the Tanners and earlier critics.
They’ll, unfortunately, consider leaving today over material found in the CES Letter. Interestingly, however, it’s all the same material with very few exceptions.
Style is different, but the core arguments are almost identical. Ed Decker’s style was inflammatory and sensational. Jeremy presents as a helpless victim. Nobody told him all this stuff. On that topic — nobody told me! — consider listening to this podcast.
Geoff Biddulph is a convert to the Church of just over 15 years. Before joining he read a lot of anti-Mormon literature. However, it was the Spirit that converted him and helped him be open to being baptized. Since then, Geoff has read the book of Mormon more than 10 times and have read the entire Bible at least five times.
He has a large library of Church-related material from which he draws upon as he writes for the Millennial Star blog—where he has contributed for nearly a decade. He his wife Cindy were married in the Denver temple nearly 11 years ago and they now have five kids. He is joining us by phone today from Denver, CO. Geoff is here to talk about an article he wrote for the Millennial Star Blog entitled, “Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff”
Topics that “destroyed” Jeremy’s testimony have been debated among this associations members for decades. Nobody hid this material. Some study as they progress through the Gospel. Most people — Mormons, Catholic, or atheist — don’t study very much.
Jeff Lindsay has blogged in defence of the Church since 1994. Jeremy Runnells is a young man who recently left the Church. Jeremy panicked with (to him) alarming, new information.
Why do these two people come to very different conclusions when facing the same issues? Why is one person’s faith so brittle? Context and framing makes all the difference. Listen below:
I argue that many who leave today would not have left over the same material decades earlier. Now Christians of all stripes, including Mormons, have an alternative that they never would have considered till recently: agnosticism and atheism.
These are more acceptable than ever. More popular than ever. More peer pressure to join these groups than ever. Sam Harris, the handsome fellow above — one of the “new” atheists — attracts lots of folks to his flock.
Evangelical Christianity or other sects are usually not attractive to wobbly Latter-day Saints. I’ve seen data showing 9 out of 10 former Mormons don’t believe in God. Decades ago this did not ooccur.
As they weaken in faith, so many members see no credible option for belief. But what many don’t initially realize is they’ve started to follow another faith: the faith of atheism/agnosticism. Indeed, they put their faith in atheist podcasters and thinkers.
John Lennox discusses the faith of atheists:
Lennox schools prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins, on the topic of blind faith. Even Dawkins operates on the basis of faith, no different than believers.
Returning to the woman on the airplane in 2015. As I got to know her further, she recently had experienced divorce, had a special relationship with Heavenly Mother, by her own admission didn’t like heirarchies & patriarchial arrangements, and was repulsed by polygamy.
In my experience it’s virtually never about the big lists alone. Other things are inevitably occurring in the lives of those who leave. I’ve talked to many, many folks about their faith crises. Nobody leaves who was yesterday in full faith, working at the veil. It’s always a years-long process. Often involving other life issues.
Many, many people have spent much more time than Jeremy Runnells — the fellow who crowdsourced the CES Letter on the ex-Mormon reddit subgroup — in understanding these issues.
I learned about these issues decades ago and found virtually nothing new in his document. Ed Decker, the Tanners, and a long list of critics before them have thrown lots of charges on the wall hoping that some will stick. Some things we’ll never know. For many things, however, answers exist. Study, prayer, and humility are key.
FAIR Mormon has thousands of pages of answers that can be searched via an internal search engine. I’ll list four other resources that have responded to each and every criticism within the CES Letter:
#1: Jim Bennett. Jim is the son of the late U.S. Senator, Bob Bennett. Jim is entertaining, bright, articulate, and lots of fun to read. Jim wrote for the Deseret News for years. He’s now running to fill an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
#2: Brian Hales. Brian is arguably the single greatest expert on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Brian spent much time not only answering polygamy-related questions within the CES Letter, but was very efficient in responding to all other claims.
Further, Brian has built and maintained this incredible resource on Joseph Smith’s polygamy (see JSP link below). The critics may disagree with Brian, but they generally respect his research and scholarship.
Brian has shown in the linked site below, and Dan Vogel (one of the most prominent LDS critics alive) agrees, that there is no solid evidence of Joseph’s sexual polyandry. Polygamy? Yes. Polyandry? No.
#4: Brett McDonald. Brett created the “LDS Truth Claims” YouTube channel in the last year. He directly responds to every charge found in the CES Letter.
One of my favorite presentations by Brett:
I recently found this blog — Conflict of Justice — that has many good points about the Book of Abraham and seer stones. Since the Book of Abraham is a topic loved by the critics I thought I’d include this blog in the list.
If one is willing to leave the Church — an institution claiming to be the restored Church of Christ — he/she should consider all the data. Not only the cherrypicked information you’ll find in critical material, such as the CES Letter.
Review the in-depth responses above and within the above links.
It would have been a very poor choice to leave the Church in the 60s, due to materials put forward by the Tanners. It would have been a very poor choice to leave the Church in the 80s, due to materials put forward by Ed Decker.
It is, likewise, a very poor choice to leave the LDS Church today, given this (hardly new) material copied/pasted by Jeremy Runnells and aggregated into the CES Letter.
Our culture is much more accepting of atheism and is increasingly secular. Folks form agnostic groups and support each other in their doubts and new faith online. Though society welcomes these new trends, the facts of the restoration and the divinity of Christ remain the same.
I urge to review all the data. There are reasons to believe. Study and pray. No blind faith. Inform your faith. The Gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
William Lane Craig (bearded on left), a traditional Christian, is an incredible debater. The fellow in the middle can’t clearly articulate why slavery or abusing a child is evil on an atheistic world view or in a purely objective way. Staggering. But not suprising, given atheism denies objective moral values.
Is anything truly right or wrong? Atheists want to make value judgments: “God was wrong. The Nazis were wrong.” Yet, they also maintain cultural relativism about what is right and wrong.
Can’t have it both ways. If no God, one can’t assert what is right or wrong. Nazis weren’t wrong. They only did socially unacceptable — not wrong — things.
WLC makes his case again. His debate partner, Wolpert, had some embarrassing moments:
WLC discusses the flaws of Sam Harris’ (and other “new” atheists) view of morality, good, and evil:
Next YouTube with Q and A:
First question to questioner from Ravi: “Do you lock your door at night?”
In a perfect world we shouldn’t be afraid. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
If everyone believes morality is subjective, look out! Not everybody wants to be nice. Russia and China killed 60 million each in the 20th Century. Stalin, in his final moments, clenched his fist toward heaven. Worth 5 minutes.
Jonh Lennox explains if we’re no different from mold and there’s no final judgment, there’s no basis for morality.
Evolution, society, and other factors don’t provide a consistent, clear morality. Powerful rulers also typically fail magnificently to project and encourage morality.
Ravi answers a question about morality without God. “Strong” nihilists or atheists, according to the questioner, don’t kill. “Weak” nihilists may be bad, but not all atheists are evil and seek destruction.
Practically, there is no rational basis for good behavior on atheism — even if the “strong” atheist believes this way. And how do you reconcile what is occurring in the Middle East: one side insists it’s right and wants to destroy the other.
It’s not nearly as simple as this questioner initially proposed.
From Prager University:
Ultimate Purpose without God?
Atheist Bertrand Russell: “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation ofunyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
Jeffrey R. Holland affirming an informed, evidence-based approach to faith, not mere fideism that is all too common within LDS circles:
“Peter assumed that two-fold aspect of our conviction when he said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Reasons for the hope that is in us. Reasons for our belief. I am not a lawyer as virtually all the Welch family men are, but I don’t have to be one to understand in a court of law the power and primacy of evidence. In making our case for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe God intends us to find and use the evidence He has given—reasons, if you will—which affirm the truthfulness of His work.”
” . . . not to seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief when it is available is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position and deny us a unique, persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation and sectarian debate.”