Archive for March, 2020

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, they distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

By the way, if you missed Part One of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here.

10)“It’s religious fanatics like you that fly airplanes into skyscrapers!”
Yes, it is true that some religious fanatics do commit violence, there is no denying this. However, what this argument fails to account for is that so do some atheist fanatics. There are bad apples in every bunch. But does that make all the apples bad? Isn’t this, in reality, nothing more than a cherry-picked, broad-brush, guilty by association faulty that either side can use? As Christian Professor and Apologist Alistair McGrath and his wife Joanna noted well of famous Atheist, Richard Dawkins’ use of this argument in his book, “The God Delusion”:

Dawkins treats this as the defining characteristic of religion, airbrushing out of his somewhat skimpy account of violence any suggestion that it might be the result of political fanaticism – or even atheism. He is adamant that he himself, as a good atheist, would never, ever fly airplanes into sky-scrapers, or commit any other outrageous act of violence or oppression. Good for him. Neither would I. Yet there are those in both our constituencies who would. Dawkins and I may both disavow violence, and urge all within our groups to do so. But the harsh reality is that religious and anti-religious violence has occurred and will continue to do so.
(Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine”, pp.59-60

Later in the same book the McGraths expand this out further:

As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, I know about religious violence only too well. There is no doubt that religion can generate violence. But it’s not alone in this. The history of the twentieth century has given us a frightening awareness of how political extremism can equally cause violence. In Latin America, millions of people seem to have ‘disappeared’ as a result of ruthless campaigns of violence by right-wing politicians and their militias. In Cambodia, Pol Pot eliminated his millions in the name of socialism.

The rise of the Soviet Union was of particular significance. Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution, and put in place measures designed to eradicate religious beliefs through the ‘protracted use of violence’. One of the greatest tragedies of this dark era in human history was that those who sought to eliminate religious belief through violence and oppression believed they were justified in doing so. They were accountable to no higher authority than the state.

In one of his more bizarre creedal statements as an atheist, Dawkins insists that there is ‘not the smallest evidence’ that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. It’s an astonishing, naïve and somewhat sad statement. Dawkins is clearly an ivory-tower atheist, disconnected from the real and brutal world of the twentieth century. The facts are otherwise. In their efforts to enforce their atheist idealogy, the Soviet authorities systematically destroyed and eliminated the majority of churches and priests during the period 1918–41. The statistics make for dreadful reading. This violence and repression was undertaken in pursuit of an atheist agenda – the elimination of religion.

This hardly fits in with another of Dawkins’ creedal statements: ‘ I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca – or Chartres, York Minster, or Notre Dame.’ Sadly, this noble sentiment is a statement about his personal credulity, not the reality of things. The history of the Soviet Union is replete with the burning and dynamiting of huge numbers of churches. His pleading that atheism is innocent of the violence and oppression that he associates with religion is simply untenable, and suggests a significant blind spot.
(Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?, Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine”, pp.78-79

And I think that what can be said of Dawkins’s use of this argument can be said of its use by atheists in general. As the saying goes, “There’s reality, and then there’s your reality. Apparently, never the twain shall meet!”

Click on the click above to watch Rod Liddle’s 2006 documentary in which he investigates and debates whether atheists can be considered as intolerant and fanatical as some established religious groups.

9) “If you consistently applied your standards you would be just as critical of Christianity as you are Mormonism.”
I absolutely agree – and thankfully I’m not alone. This is probably why you see so much loyal dissent, debate, and disagreement within Christianity. If you doubt me I would encourage you to pick up just about any issue of Christianity Today magazine and start reading. If there’s anything that Christians have demonstrated well over the millennia is what a bunch of cranky, cantankerous, contentious, navel-gazing, critical thinkers and self-critics they are. One need only consider William D. Hendricks’ book “Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church” or Ron Enroth’s book, “Churches That Abuse” to see this.

Candidly, whenever I hear this argument from Ex-Mormon Atheists I can’t help but wonder if they’re projecting Mormonism onto Christianity. After all, in Mormonism, critical thinking in regard to the religion isn’t just discouraged, it’s militantly suppressed. As the Ostler’s said so well in their classic work, “Mormon America”:

The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal “polyg” police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.
(Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise” (2007 Edition), p. 115)

So, I suspect, though I could be wrong, that whenever an Ex-Mormon Atheist sees a mainstream Christian playing the persecution card, as candidly some do, they assume that the entire religion is Mormonism all over again – and it ain’t.

8) “Live and let live – stop harassing my Mormon family and friends will ya? Stop trying to disabuse them of their chosen lifestyle! Move on with your life, get over it!”
Fair enough.
You first!

Of all the Double Standards that we’ll see in this series this one, to me, is the most glaring. I’ve always found it fascinating that Atheist Ex-Mormons get their knickers in a twist over others – especially Evangelicals – attempting to disabuse their Mormon family and friends of their faith, but think nothing of attempting to do the same themselves.

So, Kettle, meet Pot.

Further, I’m grateful for the Atheists who understand why Christians are only being consistent with their worldview and values when they evangelize. Take, for example, the famous magician and outspoken Atheist, Penn Jilette (of Penn & Teller) who probably said it best when he said:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.
(Penn Jilette, YouTube video, Nov 13, 2009)

My Ex-Mormon Atheist friends, we don’t begrudge you all for behaving in ways consistent with your worldview. Heck, we don’t even begrudge you all attempting to proselytize and persuade us of the superiority of the atheist worldview and/or disabuse us of what you see as our false beliefs, values, and misguided point of view. And we don’t criticize and condemn you for doing so with our Mormon family members and friends. So why do you begrudge, criticize, and condemn us for behaving in ways consistent with ours?

7) “Moses was a cult leader, Jesus was a cult leader, Mohammed was a cult leader, and Joseph Smith was a cult leader – so what’s the difference? A cult is a cult.”
If you’re using the dictionary definition of, “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)” (the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary definition of “cult”)? Sure, I agree. However, if we use that definition shouldn’t we add names like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Maher to the list too? After all, we see the same kind of dogmatic devotion to them in some Atheist circles that we see from Muslims, Christians, and Mormons in theirs, don’t we?

And if you’re using the sociological definition as determined by something like, say, the BITE Model, then yes, some Christian groups are indeed cults, but not all. For example, one can think of Westboro Baptist Church which clearly qualifies as such according to that criteria.

However, if you’re using the theological definition of, “Christian cults are new religious movements which have a Christian background but are considered to be theologically deviant by members of other Christian churches”? (see the Wikipedia article on the word “Cult“) No, I don’t agree. Unlike Mormonism, mainstream Christianity has boundaries, and if a group or a leader falls outside of those boundaries, as far as we’re concerned they’re a cult. Period. For example, we consider Shawn McCraney and his McCraneyism movement to be just as much a cult as the Mormon Church is according to this criterion.

So tell us, Mr. Ex-Mormon Atheist, exactly why are standard boundary definition and maintenance problems here? After all, if someone claims to believe in a deity then they’re no longer an Atheist, are they? And if someone denounces Joseph Smith as a true prophet, then they’re no longer Mormon, are they? Why are others allowed to maintain boundaries around their group or culture, but mainstream Christians aren’t? I find this puzzling.

Click the link above to see Whiteboard Animation explaining the BITE Model.

6) “No one listens to Mormon Critics! When I was a Mormon I hated and ignored people like you!”
And yet here you are! Are you seriously going to tell me that the work of Mormon Critics had no influence on your decision to leave? Would you prefer that the Tanners hadn’t have put pressure so much pressure on the LdS Church that it had no choice but to acknowledge and release previously suppressed manuscripts like the 1832 handwritten Joseph Smith, First Vision account? Would you prefer that Wesley Walters (a Presbyterian minister) hadn’t tracked down and published the Joseph Smith 1826 Bainbridge, New York Trial Record? Or that he hadn’t encouraged well known Mormon Historians like Michael Marquardt, Dan Vogel, Will Bagley, and others and helped get them established in the discipline? Or perhaps you would prefer that Christian Mormon Critics hadn’t pressured the LdS Church to give up polygamy in the 19th Century, or racial discrimination in the 20th?

Would you prefer that the Joseph Smith Papers Project – which was to a large part a reaction to the common refrain that the LdS Church wasn’t open and transparent with its archives – didn’t exist? Or perhaps the Mormon Think website, which would be impossible without the body of evidence from Mormon Critics that makes it possible? And can you honestly say that if you hadn’t been confronted by all this evidence and the arguments that flow out of it from the Mormon Critics that you used to hate you wouldn’t be free of Mormonism now?  Apparently, you didn’t do as good a job of ignoring as you seem to think you did, did you? And can you honestly say that you aren’t glad that Christian Mormon Critics like me persisted despite your “in yer face” hatred and attempts to ignore us back in the day?

So Mr. Atheist . . . you’re welcome. It was our pleasure. Really! We’re just glad to see that you’re out, aren’t you?

In the next installment of this series, we will cover the next set of things that Christians are tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon Atheists.

Click on the above link to see Mormon Apologist Mike Ash’s 2002 FAIRMormon presentation on how and why the body of work from Mormon Critics has improved the quality of Mormon Scholarship over the years.

Again, if you missed the prior article in this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One.

by Brian Horner
The Mormon attitude toward matters of faith is to eschew and even despise the use of their own minds. Mormons seem to carefully avoid the first commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind…” (Luke 10:27). There is no way I could ever enumerate the many instances when Mormons told me, in one way or another, that I was wrong for using my mind to actually think about the claims of the Mormon religion, or even my own Christian faith, for that matter.

I am fairly certain that this rank anti-intellectualism is due, at least in part, to the fact that the Mormon religion appears in world history for the first time in the United States in the early 1800s. This is a period when Christians were beginning to abandon the strong intellectual traditions of the faith, ceding the intellectual high-ground that we had occupied for some 1,700 years and turning instead to a purely emotion-based religion. Today there are many, in fact FAR too many, Christians who operate purely on the basis of their blind faith and the fear and even loathing of any form of attempting to arrive at or support Christian truth by using the minds that God gave them for that very purpose.

Anti-intellectualism is rampant in the orthodox church. But it is the essential sine qua non of Mormonism. That is most likely due to the fact that the definitive, distinguishing and essential claims of the Mormon religion, as found in the Book of Mormon (the BoM), for example, remain totally and completely divorced from all observable reality. The historical narrative of the BoM is not recognized anywhere outside the proverbial mental walls erected by the Mormon organization. Literally no one other than Mormons even pretends to take it seriously and Mormons accept it ONLY upon the basis of their own personal, subjective emotional reactions.

Based on these facts, Mormons appear to just assume without question that all matters of faith are should, by definition, be rightly separated from any form of intellectual confirmation or even consideration. As I mentioned above, this is not unique to Mormonism. There are far too many Christians who mindlessly tread down that dark trail of willful ignorance as well. This attitude reduces religious faith to something that is operationally indistinguishable from pure superstition.

Since this problem is so common in Christianity and so universal in Mormonism, I thought it might be wise to present what the opposite view looks like. Can matters of faith be studied objectively? Are you some kind of criminal for daring to question your own beliefs and then insist on valid answers? Must people of faith be totally indistinguishable from mindless, superstitious heathens?

No …well, at least Christians do not have to suffer such nonsense. Unknown to many Christians and virtually ALL Mormons the foundational, essential claims of the Christian faith can be and, for nearly 20 centuries have been, subjected to intense intellectual scrutiny. The consistent result remains obvious: there are solid historical, linguistic, documentary, archaeological and other forms of relevant evidence that strongly confirm countless claims found in the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross is the most critical and important claim of the Christian faith. Without that being an actual fact of history, Jesus becomes indistinguishable from any number of soothsayers, messiah-wannabes, false prophets, lunatics and con men. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave is the one unquestionable component of the gospel of Christ that, if true, sets Jesus totally apart from all other founders of every single religion on earth.

The question is, is there any solid evidence and valid reasons that will remove this blessed event from the category of myth, fairytale, and superstition and place it in the category of historical events, right alongside other historical events that no one bothers to even question anymore?

Maybe yes, maybe no. See for yourself. Below is an example of a competent Christian apologist, Dr. David Wood (a one-time classmate of mine) taking on an atheist friend in a formal debate. Dr. Wood offers some examples (nowhere near a comprehensive list) of the evidence and arguments for the historical truthfulness of the Bible’s claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today most people (Christians, Mormons, other faiths, atheists, etc.) are almost totally ignorant of the history and impact of the intellectual tradition of the Christian church on planet Earth. Christians have maintained the single strongest, broadest and best attested and confirmed worldview ever since the earliest days of the church. The list of Christian thinkers who established the intellectual foundations of Western Civilization is long both in names and in the length and number of historical periods that these Christians influenced. Spanning the spectrum of Western thought, from philosophy to the arts to the sciences; from J.S. Bach’s (a devout Christian) development of the equal-tempered tuning system that is the norm for all Western music to DNA research and astrophysics, the intellectual traditions of Western Civilization are derived from the fundamental elements of the Biblical worldview.

The overarching trajectory of the history of Western thought reveals an important pattern. Prior to the revelation of the Word of God and its eventual accessibility to the world, the ancient thinkers of the West (primarily the Greeks) considered the universe to be fundamentally chaotic. It was impossible to study the universe. Men generally attributed most or all phenomenon to the whims of mythical gods who held authority over one part of the creation or another. With the advent of the Biblical worldview that changed and the future was cast. The Bible represented the world as orderly – having been created by a rational God. Because of this understanding, the features and actions of the universe could be studied and measured and the influence of the universe’s particulars on each other could be observed and cataloged.

The Scientific Revolution was initiated by Christian men, such as Francis Bacon and Issac Newton who viewed themselves as privileged to be able to use the brain that God gave them to “think God’s thoughts after Him”. Using the “scientific method” that they developed on the premise of the observable order in so many phenomena around them, these Christian men concluded that intelligent beings created in the very image of God can learn how the universe actually works and they understood that their discoveries were adding glory to the Creator of the universe by observing his unspeakably awesome creation. The following short video explains.

Sadly, over time, the focus of science began to become so obsessed with the gift (the universe) that they generally forgot the giver – the Creator of the universe. Science eventually gave birth to a worldview that we know today as “scientism” – the philosophical view that ONLY science can determine what is actually known about any given phenomenon. All other epistemic methods are generally relegated to the categories of subjective and relativistic “beliefs” and cannot be used to determine actual knowledge.

What is so ironic is that those who propound and exalt scientism have forgotten that the foundation of their worldview is the Word of God which showed that the universe is indeed ordered and therefore accessible to rational inquiry. In other words, without the Biblical worldview, science would not have arisen. And if there was never any science, there could be no Scientism.

Be that as it may, I think Mormons should take a look at how today, an age in which the dominant worldview is scientism, Christians are able to answer even the toughest challenges to our faith. Here is one example. On the question of creation itself, what is the Christian answer? There are many ways to frame and communicate that answer. Here below is one of them. This is an example of loving God with all your mind as he commands.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, but they also distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

15) “Christianity keeps changing just like Mormonism does. You’re a hypocrite.”
Which, of course, is why the ancient creeds are just as respected, confessed, and venerated today as the day that they were issued, right? Sarcasm aside, no, the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith* have never changed. They are:

1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

As Christian Theologian, Matt Slick notes well,

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism. These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary. Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential.
(Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website)

This type of systematized theology and boundary definition is impossible in Mormonism due to its doctrine of continuing revelation and the lack of an objective, unchanging standard that is the ultimate authority over even leaders. Thus, what was an essential doctrine in Brigham Young’s day, polygamy, can simply be shoved aside in Wilford Woodruff’s day.

To be fair, yes, on non-Essentials of the Christian faith there can and will change, but so what? How essential to salvation are things like women’s skirt length or whether men wear neckties or T-Shirts to Sunday Worship services? For that matter, how essential to salvation is whether our services are held on Saturday or Sunday? Christians can and will disagree on these non-Essentials and it’s simply no big deal. And if they change tomorrow (and they probably will), who cares?

Click on the above link to hear Theologian Matt Slick explain the Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith and how they’re practically applied. 

14) “Ex-Mormons who become Christians have just switched cults. Christianity is just as crazy as Mormonism.”
Thus says the kettle to the pot. From a Sept. 19, 2008, Wall Street Journal article:

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god,” comedian and atheist Bill Maher said earlier this year on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

On the “Saturday Night Live” season debut last week, homeschooling families were portrayed as fundamentalists with bad haircuts who fear biology. Actor Matt Damon recently disparaged Sarah Palin by referring to a transparently fake email that claimed she believed that dinosaurs were Satan’s lizards. And according to prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, traditional religious belief is “dangerously irrational.” From Hollywood to the academy, nonbelievers are convinced that a decline in traditional religious belief would lead to a smarter, more scientifically literate and even more civilized populace.

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians…

… But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman — a quintuple bypass survivor — to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”
(Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19, 2008; p.W13)

Click on the above link to watch Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College argue that belief in God is more rational than atheism. 

13) “History shows that religion is the #1 cause of war and violence.”
Actually, no. In fact, history shows the exact opposite, as Rabbi Alan Lurie explains in the Huntington Post:

While clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.

Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators’ motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious.
(Rabbi Alan Lurie, “Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?” The Huffington Post, 04/10/2012) 

Click on the above link to hear Science Journalist Trace Dominguez examine the idea that religion is the main cause of war and violence.

12) “If the Bible is so reliable why has it been changed more than the Book of Mormon has? Ever heard of ‘copies of copies of copies’?”
Yes, we have. We also know how to read and we know how to listen – and we have both heard and read your unnamed source, Bart Ehrman, who came up with that Thought Stopping cliche’. So what’s particularly interesting to us is that the 2005 paperback edition of “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman contained an appendix (“Appendix A” to be exact) which consisted of a “Bonus Interview” between Ehrman and the editors of the book. This interview wasn’t included in the hardcover edition of the book or any of the subsequent paperback editions up to and including all current editions. The reason for this is only known only to the publisher and Mr. Ehrman, but one question and answer sequence in the interview is particularly interesting:

Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity). Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?

Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions—he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not—we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.

The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.

But I was looking at the question from a different angle. My question is not about traditional Christian beliefs, but about how to interpret passages of the Bible. And my point is that if you change what the words say, then you change what the passage means. Most textual variants (Prof. Metzger and I agree on this) have no bearing at all on what a passage means. But there are other textual variants (we agree on this as well) that are crucial to the meaning of a passage. And the theology of entire books of the New Testament are sometimes affected by the meaning of individual passages.

From my point of view, the stakes are rather high: Does Luke’s Gospel teach a doctrine of atonement (that Christ’s death atones for sins)? Does John’s Gospel teach that Christ is the “unique God” himself? Is the doctrine of the Trinity ever explicitly stated in the New Testament? These and other key theological issues are at stake, depending on which textual variants you think are original and which you think are creations of early scribes who were modifying the text.”
(Bart Ehrman, “Misquoting Jesus” (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), pp.252-253, Appendix A) 

Once again for emphasis: “…the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants…” In other words, the quantity of textual variants isn’t an issue if the quality of the variants are such that the meaning of the text doesn’t change. One or one million, it makes no difference. And, according to Professor Ehrman, that’s the case with the Biblical manuscripts, isn’t it?

Now, give that, let’s compare and contrast that to the Book of Mormon in which the following variants occur between just the first two editions of the book, shall we?

1 Nephi 11:18
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of God” (1830 edition)
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God” (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 11:21
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!(1830 edition)
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!(1837 edition) 

1 Nephi 11:32
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people, yea, the Everlasting God was judged of the world.” (1830 edition)
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 13:40
“the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.
“the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world;”

So in the course of just seven years, only two generations of carefully controlled and published manuscripts, as well as the same original author – Jesus Christ goes from being God to being something less than God. The quantity of variants is small but the quality of the variants is huge as Mormon Christology makes a huge shift by downgrading the deity of Christ.

So, yes, this something that we do in fact, see with the Book of Mormon. However, over centuries, multiple generations of manuscripts, and multiple transcribers – none of whom were the original author or who were controlling the distribution or publication of the text – this is something that we don’t see in the biblical manuscript base. Respectfully, my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends, you appear to be projecting the Book of Mormon onto the Bible when it’s simply not merited. That least that’s how it appears to many of us.

Link on the above link to watch a 2011 debate between Biblical Scholars Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on the reliability of the New Testament text. 

11) “If there IS a God then all you have to be is good to get into heaven, right? So why are you harassing Mormons? They’re good people!”
Well, for a start, the belief that “all you have to be is good into heaven” isn’t Christianity, it’s Moralism. In fact, it’s the basis of all non-Christian, pagan religions – including Mormonism – that one can work one’s way into salvation. And the belief that the goal of Christianity is to make good people better then you’re teaching therapeutic deism, not Christianity. As Christian Pastor, Philosopher, and Theologian, Timothy Keller has said so well,

If you believe that all good people can go to heaven, not just Christians, you are moralistic. If you also believe that all the contradictory rules and teachings of the various religions don’t matter, that everyone’s personal view of right and wrong is enough, then you are therapeutic. And if you think you can get to heaven without the enlightenment of Buddhism, or the sacraments of Catholicism or the justifying faith of Protestantism, then you are a deist. We don’t really need divine intervention. We’ll climb the ladder ourselves, thank you.
(Timothy Keller, “Pharisees With Low Standards”, TimothyKeller.com website, February 27, 2009).

So respectfully, my atheist friends, this argument is a strawman. Biblical Christianity teaches that no one can work their way into heaven by being good. In fact, the Bible is clear that no one is good, except God. Rather, Christ was crystal clear that the only way to heaven is through Him and His atoning work on the cross alone, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV) 

Further, the Bible is clear that no one can come to God if they’re holding to another God or Jesus or another gospel:

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
(2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NKJV)

The Biblical word for this is “idolatry” and, as Christians, we believe that the fate of those who hold to a False Jesus and/or False Gospel will be severe:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
(Revelation 21:8 NKJV)

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
(Revelation 22:14-15 NKJV)

So you see, in regard to Mormons and Mormonism, we’re simply being as consistent with our worldview as you atheists are whenever you all attempt to dissuade them of what you perceive as false teachings and beliefs. There’s really no difference. We don’t attack you all for being true to your worldview and beliefs in your interactions with Mormons, why do you attack us for being true to ours?

In part two, of this series, we’ll consider more of the things that we Christians are tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon atheists.

Click on the above link to hear Christian Apologist Frank Turek answer the question, “Do morally good people go to heaven?”

NOTES
* For a more complete overview of the Essentials of the Christian Faith with live links to fuller, more complete explanations of the issues and specific doctrines in question click here.