Archive for September, 2014

RA-Cover-Final-Front-Only-300Reviewed by Richard Packham for the Association for Mormon Letters

Title: Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control
Author: Luna Lindsey
Publisher: CreateSpace
Genre: Non-fiction, psychology
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 343
Binding: Soft cover
ISBN10: 1489595937
ISBN13: 978-1500290863
Price: Paperback $24.99, Kindle $9.99

[This review is based on an advance review copy]

This is one of those books that will most likely never be read by the people who most need to read it.

Luna Lindsey is a former Mormon who writes science fiction. She grew up in the LDS church, divorced, raised a son, and left the church in her late twenties. That story is in itself not unusual. Nor is it unusual that a former Mormon would write a book about Mormonism – with the present-day ease of getting a book into print there are hundreds of exmormon exit stories. But this book is not an exit story. Instead, the author writes about the psychological problems when one tries to leave a culture and belief system that promises “free agency,” but effectively prevents adherents from actually using it. Thus, the title: “Recovering Agency.” The purpose of the book is to help people regain the freedom of choice which they unwittingly have lost.

Lindsey has gathered together from dozens of sources a compendium of the techniques used by most organizations (usually religious, but also political) which tend to take over control of more and more aspects of members’ lives. She describes the methods such organizations use to attract new converts, and how the convert gradually becomes more and more enmeshed in the work of furthering the organization’s goals, and gives up more and more of her individuality and freedom in doing so. She has gathered here thousands of quotes from psychiatrists and sociologists who are experts in the field of mind control, as well as reports by former members of such organizations: Unification Church (“Moonies”), Branch Davidians (the Waco cult), People’s Temple (the Jonestown suicides), the Spiritual Rights Foundation (a California Christian cult), the Heavens Gate cult (which committed group suicide to ride a comet to heaven) and, yes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Now just wait a goldarn minute!” you are thinking. “Those are cults! The Mormons aren’t a cult!”

Labels (like “cult”) are often not very useful, and all too often function as inefficient shortcuts to conclusions that may be false. That is one of the excellent things about this book. Lindsey does not label, but rather places side-by-side descriptions of similar techniques or practices from many organizations, shows how they affect members in unhealthy and negative ways, and how they are all similar. Including the LDS church. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…

“But those other groups were teaching false doctrine!” you may say. “We Mormons have the Truth, the Only True Church on the face of the earth!” One of the important points Lindsey (and the authorities that she cites) makes is that ALL of those “cults” claimed to be the only source of truth, and their adherents also firmly testified of the miraculous evidence that confirmed their belief.

Another important point made by Lindsey and the experts she cites is that the actual content of the doctrines of mind-control organizations are generally irrelevant to the emotional damage which many of their members suffer. It is rather the methods used to recruit and hold members, and the psychological control that they exert on members.

This book is not the first attempt to deal with the psychological problems of the devout Mormon. Blair Watson published his essay “The Psychological Effects of Mormonism” several years ago ( ). Marion Stricker wrote “The Pattern of the Double Bind in Mormonism,” appearing first online and later in an expanded book version. But Lindsey’s effort is broader. She relies much more extensively than Watson on similarities with other mind-controlling organizations, and a broader base of experts in psychology and sociology. She also writes more broadly than Stricker, who limited herself to the “double bind” problem. Lindsey spends three chapters on the double bind, but also deals with many more problems and techniques.

The chapter headings indicate the scope of treatment: Cognitive Dissonance, Commitment, Obedience to Authority, Mirror Neurons, Love Bombing, Sacred Science, Mystical Manipulation, Milieu Control, Loading the Language, Thought-terminating Cliches, Black and White Thinking, Indirect Directives, Emotion Over Intellect, Guilt and Shame, and many others.

In each topic, the author quotes statements from leaders of cult-like organizations, statements by LDS general authorities, comments from former cult members and from former Mormons, and analyses by experts in the study of mind control. The juxtaposition is powerful.

The author’s intended audience includes devout Mormons and Mormons who are feeling doubts or unhappiness in Mormonism. Her intent is to help especially those Saints who are hesitant about doubting, by showing them what may be the source of their discomfort. One of the aspects of mind-control is that one subject to it is not aware of it. Cult members universally deny that they are in a cult. Those who have fallen victim most thoroughly to the manipulation of group leaders continue to insist that they are really free to do as they wish, even as their every motion and choice in life is made in obedience to the leaders.

Another intended audience is the non-Mormon reader. For their benefit, the author tries to explain peculiar Mormon terminology and customs. She is not always consistent in this. Frequently she will use a term or mention a name which any Mormon or ex-Mormon would recognize, but would leave a non-Mormon puzzled. This is not a problem for a Mormon reader, of course.

Sometimes a reader might also be confused as to whether it is the author speaking for herself, or whether she is paraphrasing a Mormon voice. Generally, however, she leaves her most personal comments to the end of the chapter, when she offers suggestions to her Mormon readers about how to process that chapter’s information.

As I commented at the beginning of this review, those who really should read this book will likely refuse even to look at it. For starters, the cover is an image of the Salt Lake temple being split apart by lightning. That would be off-putting for any Mormon. And what devout Saint would not immediately deny the implication in the title and subtitle: “I HAVE my free agency! I am NOT a victim of mind control! Ridiculous!”

But if any Mormon, especially one in church leadership, is secure enough in his faith to read this book, there will be benefits, even though the reader retains his faith. He will recognize more clearly what is going on, he will be more aware of the subtle techniques influencing him, just as it benefits any consumer to be knowledgeable about the techniques used by advertisers to increase their sales. To that extent, a reader of this book will indeed recover more of his agency than he had before.

About the Reviewer:
Richard Packham was raised in a fifth-generation Mormon family in Zion, graduated from BYU, married in the temple, and had no doubts about the church until he began studying church history and doctrine intensively in his 20s. His leaving the church cost him his marriage and his three children. His professional career has been as a college teacher (primarily in foreign languages) and attorney. After his retirement, he became active in the Recovery From Mormonism groups, and in 2001 incorporated the Exmormon Foundation. He lives with his never-Mormon wife of forty years on their ranch outside of Roseburg, Oregon. 
Mr. Packham’s website is
(reviewer biography from the Exmormon Foundation website)

This review originally appeared on the Association of Mormon Letter’s (AML) Discussion Board on August 31, 2014. Beggar’s Bread wishes to express it’s appreciation to Mr. Packham and AML for allowing us to republish it.



An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“None of the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimonies.”

Why It’s Weak:
Based on the body of available evidence we don’t really know if the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimony or not.

Yes, it is true that the signatures on the extant manuscript page that we have for the testimony of the eight and three witnesses were done by Oliver Cowdery. However, that manuscript was “P”, the Printer’s Manuscript, not “O”, the Original Manuscript, which P was copied from.  O was water damaged and almost nearly completely destroyed after being placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House – Joseph Smith’s divinely mandated (see D&C 124:56-83) but never completed boarding house. As Book of Mormon manuscript expert Royal Skousen explains:

The printed versions of the Book of Mormon derive from two manuscripts. The first, called the original manuscript (O), was written by at least three scribes as Joseph Smith translated and dictated. The most important scribe was Oliver Cowdery. This manuscript was begun no later than April 1829 and finished in June 1829.

A copy of the original was then made by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. This copy is called the printer’s manuscript (P), since it was the one normally used to set the type for the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. It was begun in July 1829 and finished early in 1830.

Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, late June 1829 Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and others, Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palymra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)

Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palmyra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)

The printer’s manuscript is not an exact copy of the original manuscript. There are on the average three changes per original manuscript page. These changes appear to be natural scribal errors; there is little or no evidence of conscious editing. Most of the changes are minor, and about one in five produce a discernible difference in meaning. Because they were all relatively minor, most of the errors thus introduced into the text have remained in the printed editions of the Book of Mormon and have not been detected and corrected except by reference to the original manuscript. About twenty of these errors were corrected in the 1981 edition.

The compositor for the 1830 edition added punctuation, paragraphing, and other printing marks to about one-third of the pages of the printer’s manuscript. These same marks appear on one fragment of the original, indicating that it was used at least once in typesetting the 1830 edition.

In preparation for the second (1837) edition, hundreds of grammatical changes and a few textual emendations were made in P. After the publication of this edition, P was retained by Oliver Cowdery. After his death in 1850, his brother-in-law, David Whitmer, kept P until his death in 1888. In 1903 Whitmer’s grandson sold P to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns it today. It is wholly extant except for two lines at the bottom of the first leaf.

The original manuscript was not consulted for the editing of the 1837 edition. However, in producing the 1840 edition, Joseph Smith used O to restore some of its original readings. In October 1841, Joseph Smith placed O in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Over forty years later, Lewis Bidamon, Emma Smith’s second husband, opened the cornerstone and found that water seepage had destroyed most of O. The surviving pages were handed out to various individuals during the 1880s.

Today approximately 25 percent of the text of O survives: 1 Nephi 2 through 2 Nephi 1, with gaps; Alma 22 through Helaman 3, with gaps; and a few other fragments. All but one of the authentic pages and fragments of O are housed in the archives of the LDS Historical Department; one-half of a sheet (from 1 Nephi 14) is owned by the University of Utah.[1]

Again, and to summarize, P was copied from O by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes to prepare it for the typesetting process. Therefore, it’s only logical and reasonable that the dominant handwriting be his. Further, the portions of O that were destroyed were the first outside and last outside pages (water saturation works from the outside in on books – just like it does on a dry sponge) which included the page (or possibly pages) with the testimonies of the witnesses on it.

Therefore, it’s impossible to know for if the witnesses autographed their respective testimonies on O or not. Hard conclusions either way – no matter how dogmatically or emphatically stated – are nothing more than speculation.

Where Did This Weak Argument Come From?
This argument was practically non-existent until a photograph of the page from the P manuscript with the signatures in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting was published as a part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (see Exhibit A above). At that point some Mormon Critics who were unfamiliar with the history of the Book of Manuscripts drew wrong conclusions from the photograph based on the presumption that it was the only Book of Mormon manuscript ever created by Joseph Smith and his colleagues. They then went on to make uninformed, absolutist statements publicly which served only to spread ignorant inference as fact to a worldwide audience.

Further exacerbating the problem was Jeremy T. Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director” in which he used the following as an argument against the Book of Mormon:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery. Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting. Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.[2]

MormonInfographics Book of Mormon Witnesses

Exhibit B: MormonInfographics meme with the questionable “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” headline.

Mr. Runnells’ argument is, at it’s core and presented in it’s entirety, for the most part sound. But again, his point can easily be misunderstood by those who don’t have a full understanding of the manuscript history of the Book of Mormon thus leading to misstatement and wrong conclusions.

For example, after the “Letter to a CES Director” was published a graphic (see Exhibit B) appeared on the MormonInfographics website with the words, “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” as the headline – that is, as if their missing signatures on the original testimonies were an established and verified fact rather than speculation based on the absence of evidence.

The MormonInfographics meme quickly went viral on social media further disseminating this weak argument.  Further, weakening the argument was the fact that Mr. Runnells overstated his case since Oliver Cowdery’s signature as a Book of Mormon witness on the page is legitimate. This oversight was later corrected in the revised 2014 edition of his “Letter to a CES Director”.[3]

And, as they say, the rest is history – this argument continues to be used by critics despite it’s fragility.

The Stronger Arguments:
When it comes to the Book of Mormon witnesses it often seems like there’s no end to strong, compelling, cogent, persuasive arguments against them and their testimonies to choose from. MormonThink has pages of them (click here) as does the aforementioned “Letter to a CES Director” (click here). And if that’s not enough the “Letter to a CES Director” companion piece “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” (click here) has yet more.  That said, we offer a small sampling of those arguments for your consideration.

First Suggested Stronger Argument:
Use the fully formed and nuanced argument that Jeremy Runnells uses in “Letter to a CES Director” and “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” in it’s entirety rather than anything short or cryptic:

From “Letter to a CES Director”:

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations, and d) most of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.
(page 61, revised edition)

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to. The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred. These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.
(page 62, revised edition)

From “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”:

[LdS Apologist group] FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists.

We do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We just have a document, in Oliver’s own handwriting, of the names of the Witnesses. We have a claim that there was a document of actual signatures and a claim that this document was “placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House” and that it was “destroyed by water damage” years later.

We’re asked to put faith in a claim as opposed to being able to observe and analyze actual individual signatures written by actual individual witnesses. Without the original document, of course, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether the witnesses actually signed it. And, as explained below, subsequent accounts of two of the witnesses (Martin Harris and David Whitmer) conflict with key details of the account given in the Book of Mormon.
(link to source)

Second Suggested Stronger Argument:
Instead of using this argument argue that the body of evidence that strongly suggests that the witnesses never physically or tangibly saw or handled the golden plates. Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever explains:

Several LDS sources give the eleven men who bore their testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon the special title of eyewitness; however, it appears doubtful that any of them actually saw the plates apart from a supernatural and subjective experience. While they all claimed to have handled what they were told were ancient plates, they did so while the plates were covered up and not visible. That being case, how is their experience any different from others who also claimed to handle the plates? Such persons include Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy admitted she never saw the plates, but she claimed to have handled what she was told were plates of “pure gold.” As mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith’s wife Emma also claimed that she handled the plates when she moved them to “do her work” in the Smith home, though she insisted that she never uncovered them.

I maintain that if the eleven are called eyewitnesses, why not Lucy and Emma as well? After all, their experiences with what they thought were gold plates are really not much different than that of the eleven. Mormons might find this conclusion troubling since it tends to take away some of the mysterious sensation associated with the accepted folklore, but it is a consistent conclusion when it comes to comparing the experiences of those involved. If Mormons want to insist that a person can’t be considered an eyewitness to the authenticity of the gold plates unless they actually saw them, then there were no eyewitnesses to Joseph Smith’s gold plates.[4]

Third Suggested Stronger Argument:
Compare and contrast how credible testimony should be done versus how it was done in the case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses. Here’s an example of how to present this argument from MormonThink:[5]

If someone was going to have witnesses to some earth-shattering event, and they wanted people to believe them, they would have done it very differently than Joseph did. The whole witnesses’ portion of the BOM would have been much better served if the following things had been done:

  1. None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other.
    Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.
  2. The witnesses should not have already been eager believers.
    There should have been some skeptics.
  3. There should have been no financial motive.
    Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course he had incentive to ‘promote’ the book.
  4. Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph.
    If the prepared document wasn’t 100% accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.
  5. The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event.
    What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details then their individual testimonies could corroborate each other.
  6. The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public.
    They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?, etc.
  7. The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.
  8. The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight’, divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc.
    That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July, 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. (See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).
  9. All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often.
    There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph’s two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.
  10. And of course it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandon it later on.
    It doesn’t make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have really received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts?
    (link to source)
The "three witnesses" to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris

The “three witnesses” to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris

[1] Royal Skousen, “Book of Mormon Manuscripts”, article in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992 edition. For those who would like to go deeper on this subject the following video is recommended: Royal Skousen, “The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts”

[2] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (first edition), p.55

[3] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (revised edition), p.60

[4] Bill McKeever, “Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?”

[5] Author uncredited, “How should it have been done?”, Mormon Think website