Archive for the ‘Fred Anson’ Category

Yeah . . . that’s how the receiving end often feels to we Theists.

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 any of the first three parts of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

2) “There’s no evidence that Jesus ever existed – it’s all just a myth like the Book of Mormon.”
Well, my atheist friends, I must tell you that scholarly consensus and the historical record both discredit this assertion – and I’m talking about hostile, extra-biblical sources and scholars. Consider, for example, agnostic Bart Ehrmann: In a National Public Radio interview for his 2012 book, “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth” he summarized the issue like this:

I wanted to approach this question as an historian to see whether that’s right or not,” Ehrman tells weekends on “All Things Considered” host Guy Raz.

The answer is straightforward and widely accepted among scholars of all faiths, but Ehrman says there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist. These people are also known as mythicists.

“It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are,” Ehrman says. “Historically, they’ve been significant and in the Soviet Union, in fact, the mythicist view was the dominant view, and even today, in some parts of the West – in parts of Scandinavia — it is a dominant view that Jesus never existed,” he says…

In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, including the writings of the apostle Paul.

“Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did,” Ehrman says. “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed,” he says.

In [his book] Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.

“The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies – and so if you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a powerful messiah,” he says. “You wouldn’t make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and the killed by the enemies.”
(“Did Jesus Exist?’ A Historian Makes His Case”, All Things Considered, Radio Broadcast, April 1, 2012

Then there is the historical record outside of the Bible from hostile sources:1

Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)
[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.
(Tacitus, “Annals”, XV.44, Written c. 116–117 C.E., as translated in Robert E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus)”, pp. 42–43)

Josephus (37-c.100 C.E.)
“Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XX.9.1. Written c. 93-94 C.E.)

“Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.”
(Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities”, XVIII.63–64 (in Whiston’s translation: XVIII.3.3); this redacted version of The Testimonium Flavianum is from, Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, “Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide”, pp. 65–66, after deleting the apparent, later, Christian additions to the original text.)

Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.)
“It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world…

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.”
(Lucian, Passing of Peregrinus, §11, as translated in Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, eds., “Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 2nd impression, New Testament Tools and Studies, vol. 6”, Boston: Brill, 1998, 1994, p. 462)

Celsus (c. 176) as quoted by Origen:
“Next he makes the charge of the savior that it was by magic that he was able to do the miracles which he appeared to have done, and foreseeing that others also, having learned the same lessons and being haughty to act with the power of God, are about to do the same thing, such persons Jesus would drive away from his own society.

For he says, “He was brought up in secret and hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and having tried his hand at certain magical powers he returned from there, and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God”’
(Origen, “Against Celsus”, 1.6, 38, as translated in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p.460)

Pliny (c. 61–113 C.E.)
“They [the Christians] assured me that the sum total of their error consisted in the fact that that they regularly assembled on a certain day before daybreak. They recited a hymn antiphonally to Christus as to a god and bound themselves with an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and embezzlement of property entrusted to them. After this, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent one.”
(Pliny, “Epistles”, X.96, as cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 459)

Mara bar Serapion (c. 73 C.E.)
“For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered in sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king, because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
(Mara bar Serapion, “Letter to His Son”, (cited in Evans, Ibid, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” pp. 455–456). The phrase “death of their [the Jews] wise king” is believed to refer to Christ.) 

If you still have any lingering doubt on this matter, perhaps you’ll find the modern opinion of famous Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein on this question of some value. When answered the question, do you accept Jesus as a historical figure? This his reply: “Absolutely! No one can read the Gospels without feeling Jesus’ presence. His character lives in every word. No legend is full of such life… No one can deny the fact that Jesus existed, or that His words were enlightened. Even if some of His sayings were said before, no one expressed them in such Godly way like He did.” (Walter Isaacson, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”, p.386)

I think that it’s fair to say given the broad consensus among scholars as well as the compelling body of evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus Christ most certainly did exist as a real, historical figure. So to claim that His existence is as fatuous as comparing the Book of Mormon people to Plato and claiming that they’re equivalent.

Click the above link to see a brief explanation from Bart Ehrman as to why Jesus Christ was indeed a real, historical figure. 

1) “You’re just stupid and ignorant. Once you’re enlightened you’ll be an atheist too!”
Wow! I think that I’ve just had a flashback or have just stepped through a time warp: I’m hearing echoes of my Atheist self from bygone days. Yes, my Atheist friends, you read that right, I am a former Atheist. And I’m not alone. So, at the risk of being accused of a Gish Galloping bandwagon fallacy, you have to admit that I have some pretty prestigious (and in some cases notorious) company:2

  • Steve Beren – former member of the Socialist Workers Party (United States) who became a Christian conservative politician
  • Kirk Cameron – actor noted for his role in Growing Pains
  • Francis Collins – physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes; director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; former atheist
  • Ray Comfort – evangelist and author.
  • Bo Giertz – Swedish Confessional Lutheran Bishop, theologian, and writer
  • Simon Greenleaf – one of the main founders of Harvard Law School
  • Keir Hardie – raised atheist and became a Christian Socialist
  • Paul Jones – musician, of Manfred Mann; previously atheist; in 1967 he argued with Cliff Richard about religion on a TV show
  • Kang Kek Iew (also known as Comrade Duch) – Cambodian director of Phnom Penh’s infamous Tuol Sleng detention center
  • Akiane Kramarik (and family) – American poet and child prodigy raised as an atheist and converted to Christianity
  • Jonny Lang – blues and rock singer who professed to once “hating” Christianity, before later claiming to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ which led to his conversion
  • Chai Ling – Chinese student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; converted to evangelical Christianity in 2009
  • John Warwick Montgomery – renowned Christian apologist, Lutheran theologian, and barrister; as a philosophy major in college, he investigated the claims of Christianity “to preserve intellectual integrity” and converted
  • William J. Murray  – author and son of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair
  • Marvin Olasky – former Marxist turned Christian conservative; edits the Christian World magazine
  • George R. Price – geneticist who became an Evangelical Christian and wrote about the New Testament; later he moderated his evangelistic tendencies and switched from religious writing to working with the homeless
  • Mira Sorvino – Academy Award-winning actress who had been on Humanist lists
  • Lee Strobel – former avowed atheist and journalist for the Chicago Tribune; was converted by his own journalistic research intended to test the veracity of scriptural claims concerning Jesus; author of such apologetic books as The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ
  • Lacey Sturm – musician, former vocalist and lyricist for alternative metal band Flyleaf
  • Emir Kusturica – filmmaker, actor, and musician; although of Muslim ancestry, his father was atheist; took the name “Nemanja” on conversion in 2005
  • Seraphim Rose – Hieromonk and religious writer; in early adulthood he considered non-theist ideas of God and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that God is dead; became Russian Orthodox in 1962
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Nobel Prize-winning dissident author who converted to Russian Orthodoxy
  • Mortimer J. Adler – American philosopher, educator, and popular author; converted to Catholicism from agnosticism, after decades of interest in Thomism
  • G. E. M. Anscombe – analytic philosopher, Thomist, literary executor for Ludwig Wittgenstein, and author of Modern Moral Philosophy; converted to Catholicism as a result of her extensive reading
  • Benedict Ashley – raised humanist; former Communist; became a noted theologian associated with River Forest Thomism
  • Maurice Baring – English author who converted to Catholicism in his thirties
  • Mark Bauerlein – English professor at Emory University and the author of 2008 book The Dumbest Generation, which won at the Nautilus Book Awards
  • Léon Bloy – French author who led to several notable conversions and was himself a convert from agnosticism
  • Paul Bourget – French author who became agnostic and positivist at 15, but returned to Catholicism at 35
  • Alexis Carrel – French surgeon and biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912
  • Alfred Döblin, German novelist, essayist and doctor, a former convert from Judaism to atheism
  • Avery Dulles – Jesuit priest, theologian, and cardinal in the Catholic Church; was raised Presbyterian, but was an agnostic before his conversion to Catholic Christianity
  • Alice Thomas Ellis – born Anna Haycraft, raised in Auguste Comte‘s atheistic “church of humanity”, but became a conservative Catholic in adulthood known as Alice Thomas Ellis
  • Edward Feser – Christian philosopher and author, wrote The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism
  • André Frossard – French journalist and essayist
  • Maggie Gallagher – conservative activist and a founder of the National Organization for Marriage
  • Eugene D. Genovese – historian who went from Stalinist to Catholicism
  • Dawn Eden Goldstein – rock journalist of Jewish ethnicity; went from an agnostic to a Catholic, who was particularly concerned with the moral values of chastity
  • Bill Hayden – The 21st Governor-General of Australia. In 1996 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Baptized September 2018.
  • Mary Karr – author of The Liars’ Club; Guggenheim Fellow; once described herself as an “undiluted agnostic”, but converted to a self-acknowledged “Cafeteria Catholicism” who embraces Pro-Choice views, amongst others
  • Ignace Lepp – French psychiatrist whose parents were freethinkers and who joined the Communist party at age fifteen; broke with the party in 1937 and eventually became a Catholic priest
  • Leah Libresco – popular (former) atheist blogger; her search for a foundation for her sense of morality led her to Christianity; she continues her blog under a new name, Unequally Yoked. Her blog readership has increased significantly since her conversion.
  • Arnold Lunn – skier, mountaineer, and writer; as an agnostic he wrote Roman Converts, which took a critical view of Catholicism and the converts to it; later converted to Catholicism due to debating with converts, and became an apologist for the faith, although he retained a few criticisms of it
  • Gabriel Marcel – leading Christian existentialist; his upbringing was agnostic
  • Claude McKay – bisexual Jamaican poet who went from Communist-leaning atheist to an active Catholic Christian after a stroke
  • Vittorio Messori – Italian journalist and writer called the “most translated Catholic writer in the world” by Sandro Magister; before his conversion in 1964 he had a “perspective as a secularist and agnostic”
  • Czesław Miłosz – poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat; was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and in 1980 the Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Malcolm Muggeridge – British journalist and author who went from agnosticism to the Catholic Church
  • Bernard Nathanson – medical doctor who was a founding member of NARAL, later becoming a pro-life proponent
  • Fulton Oursler – writer who was raised Baptist, but spent decades as an agnostic before converting; The Greatest Story Ever Told is based on one of his works
  • Giovanni Papini – went from pragmatic atheism to Catholicism, also a Fascist
  • Joseph Pearce – anti-Catholic and agnostic British National Front member who became a devoted Catholic writer with a series on EWTN
  • Charles Péguy – French poet, essayist, and editor; went from agnostic humanist to a pro-Republic Catholic
  • Sally Read – Eric Gregory Award-winning poet who converted to Catholicism
  • E. F. Schumacher – economic thinker known for Small Is Beautiful; his A Guide for the Perplexed criticizes what he termed “materialistic scientism;” went from atheism to Buddhism to Catholicism
  • Peter Steele – lead singer of Type O Negative
  • Edith Stein – Phenomenologist philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun; declared a saint by Pope John Paul II
  • John Lawson Stoddard – divinity student who became an agnostic and “scientific humanist;” later he converted to Catholicism; his son Lothrop Stoddard remained agnostic and would be significant to scientific racism
  • R. J. Stove – raised atheist, converted to Catholicism
  • Allen Tate – American poet, essayist and social commentator; Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress
  • Victor Turner – A British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage.
  • Sigrid Undset – Norwegian Nobel laureate who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • Evelyn Waugh – British novelist who converted to Catholicism from agnosticism
  • John C. Wright – science fiction author who went from atheist to Catholic; Chapter 1 of the book “Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion”, edited by Rebecca Vitz Cherico, is by him
  • Joy Davidman – poet and wife of C. S. Lewis
  • Tamsin Greig – British actress raised as an atheist; converted at 30
  • Nicky Gumbel – Anglican priest known for the Alpha course; from atheism
  • Peter Hitchens – journalist who went from Trotskyism to Traditionalist conservatism; estranged brother of the late outspoken anti-theist and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens
  • C. E. M. Joad – English philosopher whose arguing against Christianity, from an agnostic perspective, earned him criticism from T. S. Eliot; turned toward religion later, writing The Recovery of Belief a year before he died and returning to Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis – Oxford professor and writer; well known for The Chronicles of Narnia series, and for his apologetic Mere Christianity
  • Alister McGrath – biochemist and Christian theologian’ founder of “scientific theology” and critic of Richard Dawkins in his book Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life
  • Enoch Powell – Conservative Party (UK) member who converted to Anglicanism
  • Michael Reiss – British bioethicist, educator, journalist, and Anglican priest; agnostic/secular upbringing
  • Dame Cicely Saunders – Templeton Prize and Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize-winning nurse known for palliative care; converted to Christianity as a young woman
  • Fay Weldon – British novelist and feminist
  • Peter Baltes – former heavy metal musician, member of Accept
  • Anders Borg  – Sweden’s Minister for Finance
  • Julie Burchill – British journalist and feminist
  • Nicole Cliffe – writer and journalist who co-founded The Toast
  • Jeffery Dahmer – serial killer and convict who was baptized by Churches of Christ minister Roy Ratcliff
  • Bruce Cockburn – Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer/songwriter (former agnostic)
  • Karl Dallas – British music journalist, author and political activist
  • Larry Darby – former Holocaust denier and former member of the American Atheists
  • Terry A. Davis – American computer programmer who created and designed an entire operating system, TempleOS, by himself. Davis grew up Catholic and was an atheist before experiencing a self-described “revelation”. He described the experience as seeming “a lot like mental illness … I felt guilty for being such a technology-advocate atheist … It would sound polite if you said I scared myself thinking about quantum computers.”
  • Andrew Klavan – Jewish-American writer who went from atheist to agnostic to Christian.
  • Nina Karin Monsen – Norwegian moral philosopher and author who grew up in a humanist family, but later converted to Christianity through philosophic thinking
  • Rosalind Picard – Director of the Affective computing Research Group at the MIT Media Lab; raised atheist, but converted to Christianity in her teens
  • Vladimir Putin – current President of the Russian Federation
  • Allan Sandage – prolific astronomer; converted to Christianity later in his life, stating, “I could not live a life full of cynicism. I chose to believe, and a peace of mind came over me.”
  • Rodney Stark – a formerly agnostic sociologist of religion.
  • A. N. Wilson – biographer and novelist who entered the theological St Stephen’s House, Oxford before proclaiming himself an atheist and writing against religion; announced his return to Christianity in 2009

So there it is. It’s quite a list, isn’t it? Further, given the background of many of the personalities on this list, how it is reasonable or credible to claim that true enlightenment – not to mention logic, reason, and evidence – always leads to Atheism? Are we to believe that all the personalities represented here were the type of irrational, fanatical, confirmation bias driven, evidence denying, culturally ensnared dullards that many Ex-Mormon Atheists are so quick to label all theists as? Or could it be that the body of evidence and human experience can and will reasonably lead somewhere else than Atheism?

Click above to watch former Atheist Ray Comfort’s answer to his former worldview and belief system.

Speaking only for myself, that initial rush of Atheist liberation after growing up in what I perceived as oppressive, irrational religious fanaticism (is this sounding familiar my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends?) eventually faded. And I soon the relativism and worship of one’s own perceptions and opinions, unfulfilling, and unsatisfying. Atheism, at least for me, was like ordering a pizza and eating the box that it came in rather than the pizza itself. The rational Christianity that I chose (or perhaps better said, “choose me”) after Atheism only keeps getting richer, deeper, more satisfying, more fulfilling, more nuanced, and, yes, more rational.

The gaping hole that I found in Atheism was the lack of recognition for transcendence, wonder, or mystery in life. I knew that there had to be more than just pure, raw, logic, reason, and evidence interspersed with moments of pleasure-seeking. This was especially apparent when I experienced true romantic love and knew that it was more than just some kind of evolutionary impulse to mate bond in order to create a stable society so that the species could survive – as the atheist voices that I heard claimed. It was far deeper and far more profound than that! It was, simply stated, transcendent, even spiritual.

Thus, and stated plainly, not everything can be entirely explained by empiricism, logic, and reason – which is why, I think, many hardcore Atheists are just as likely to buy into whacky non-theistic schemes and conspiracy theories – as the Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal article cited way back in Part One of this series documented so nicely. But perhaps Atheist cum Evangelical Christian and renowned physician-geneticist, Francis Collins said it best when he said of hardcore, militant Atheism:

I think strong atheism, of the kind that says, “I know there is no God,” suffers from two major logical flaws. And the awareness of those flaws might be reassuring to believers who are somehow afraid that these guys may actually have a point.

The first of those is the idea that anyone could use science at all as a conversation-stopper, as an argument-ender in terms of the question of God. If God has any meaning at all, God is at least in part outside of nature (unless you’re a pantheist). Science is limited in that its tools are only appropriate for the exploration of nature. Science can therefore certainly never discount the possibility of something outside of nature. To do so is a category error, basically using the wrong tools to ask the question.

Secondly, I think the logical error that atheists of the strong variety commit is what English writer G.K. Chesterton calls the most daring dogma of the universal negative. I often use a visual analogy to explain this. Suppose you were asked to draw a circle that contains all the information, all the knowledge that exists or ever will exist, inside or outside the universe – all knowledge. Well, that would be a pretty enormous circle. Now, suppose on that same scale, you were asked to draw what you know at the present time. Even the most assertive person will draw a rather tiny circle. Now, suppose that the knowledge that demonstrates that God exists is outside your little circle today. That seems pretty plausible, doesn’t it, considering the relative scale? How then – given that argument – would it be reasonable for any person to say, “I know there is no God”? That is clearly going outside of the evidence.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008)

Amen Brother Collins, amen!

Click on the link above to watch Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, describe his personal journey from atheism to Christianity when he was a young doctor and an aspiring academic.

NOTES
1 An important primary source for this section was Purdue Bible Scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk’s superb article, “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible”,  Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2015. For those interested in a more comprehensive treatise on this subject than was possible in a short article, I highly recommend considering this primary source – especially the endnotes which add much-needed depth and nuance to the cited historical sources and their provenance. Mr. Mykytiuk’s final answer to the question of Christ’s existence is wonderfully understated, but yet pointed, in regard to the evidence deniers: “As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.”

2 Wikipedia, “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism”

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

 

Dear Mr. Ex-Mormon Atheist, It may not be this, but it very often feels like this to those you’re processing your Post Mormon anger at in public.

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 any of the prior segments of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

5) “The Bible is just as credible as Mormon scripture is – as in not at all!”
And yet we have mountains of artifacts and manuscripts from the Biblical periods; the DNA evidence matches the historical record to a T; science generally supports rather than discredits the Bible, and; Archaeology validates rather than contradicts the biblical record. How is does that not, at the very minimum, make the Bible credible? Further, the theology of the Bible is in continuity with Old Testament theology rather than being a radical break from it as all Mormon scripture after the Book of Mormon is and it doesn’t contain the type of doctrinal errors and snafus that the Book of Mormon does. More than that, the Bible may be a challenging book to read due to its antiquity but at least it’s well-written, unlike the rambling repetitive prose of the Book of Mormon in particular and other Mormon scripture in general. And regarding science that so many Ex-Mormon Atheist point to as evidence for their claims, I would ask them to consider this from Francis Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute:

I don’t believe there is an inherent conflict [between belief in God and science], but I believe that humans, in our imperfect nature, sometimes imagine conflicts where there are none. We see something that threatens our own personal view, and we figure that there must be some reason why that alternative view has to be wrong, or even why it has to be evil.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008) 

Again, I could be wrong here but I often think that many Ex-Mormons simply project their bad experiences with Mormon scripture onto the Bible and assume that they’re the same when, stated plainly, they’re not. I’ve also noticed that many Ex-Mormons coming out of the Latter-day Saint bubble are simply unaware of the vast body of literature that’s been built over the last 2,000-years in support of the Bible. Christian apologists are nothing new and can even be found in the pages of the New Testament (see Paul’s Mars Hill discourse in Acts 17 as one of many examples). So, there’s a lot more that could be said about this, but it’s probably been said better elsewhere. For example, I would recommend Joel Kramer’s excellent documentary “The Bible vs. Joseph Smith” to those interested in pursuing the subject further.

Click above to watch a documentary that compares and contrasts Biblical truth claims against the claims of Joseph Smith. 

4) “The Christians that I engage with are just as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as True Believing Mormons. Therefore, Christianity is just the other side of the same fanatical coin.”
Sadly, there’s some truth to this. Trust me, all too often I get just as irritated and frustrated with this as you Ex-Mormon Atheists do on this point. That said, please note my use of the words, “some truth”.  My Atheist friends, I would hope that you have been exposed to enough Christians to realize that what’s true of some isn’t necessarily true for all. Not all Christians are hunkered down in the Christian Tank in true Mormon fashion holding onto their closed minds and open Bibles and refusing to consider anyone or anything outside of said Tank, are they?

I would point to the work of well Christian authors like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, John Lennox, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, and Francis Schaeffer as evidence of this. Let me outline just a few key works briefly:

  • C.S. Lewis was an atheist who was converted to Christianity as a result of the transcendence of life articulated in works of literature – including non-Christian authors, including pagan authors. His book The Abolition of Man argues against what he perceived as the corrosive nature of modernistic relativism and for universal ethical absolutes (which he called “the Tao”) using not only Christian sources but pagan sources as well. In his book Mere Christianity he gets even more specific, making the case that Christianity is the most rational and moral worldview. He makes this not from Christian sources but from logic, reason, and historical evidence that is outside of the Bible.
  • Gary Habermas was a historian and a skeptic who was forced to concede that not only was the resurrection of Christ reasonable but compelling. He came to this conclusion using sources that are not only critical of the resurrection but antagonistic to it – an approach that he calls the “minimal facts” method. His book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (which he co-authored with Mike Liacona, one of his students) is a good introduction to Mr. Habermas’ work.
  • Lee Strobel was an atheist journalist who, angered by his wife’s conversion to Christianity, set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ but in the end was forced to concede that it was not only possible but highly likely. As a result, he converted to Christianity. The book that outlines his journey as well as the evidence that he discovered, The Case for Christ, is good but, candidly the movie is even better.
  • J. Warner Wallace was, to use his own words, “an angry atheist” who took it upon himself to disabuse his Christian friends of their misguiding beliefs. Ultimately, using the skills that he had acquired as a trained Cold Case Detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, he was compelled to admit that the case for Christ was more cogent and credible than the case against Him. He has published his findings in the book “Cold Case Christianity“.

Now notice something here, my atheist friends, in all these cases they were outside of the Christian Tank and using the same epistemological tools that you do: logic, reason, and evidence. Further, not only that but in almost all cases not only were they hostile to the Christian worldview and belief system, they were also considering sources that were too. And yet when confronted with new evidence that contradicted their current preferred narrative, they changed their mind, didn’t they?

How is this fanaticism? How is this the same kind of subjective, thought-stopping, close-minded, anti-intellectual, feelings-centric approach to truth that you knew in Mormonism? Clearly, my atheist friends, these are not just “two sides of the same fanatical coin” are they? And clearly, not all Christians are as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as you say they are, are they?

Again, there are bad apples in all bushels so to broad brush and overgeneralize as you have in your argument is always going to get one into trouble, isn’t it? And if you doubt me, perhaps we should talk about the Ex-Mormons that we’ve seen who hold to and proselytize for atheism with the same blind passion and zeal that they did Mormonism back in the day. Shall I proceed, or would you like to just click through to just about any atheist Ex-Mormon discussion group and see it for yourself?1

Or put another way: Stone meet glasshouse.

Click above to watch an October 3, 2007 debate between Neo-Atheist Richard Dawkins and Christian Theist John Lennox.

3) “The God of Christianity is a moral monster. How can you worship such an egotistical hater and murderer?”
Unless I’m mistaken, your assertion is a variant of this famous quote from well-known Neo-Atheist, Richard Dawkins in his bestselling book, “The God Delusion”:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
(Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, p.31; Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 

There’s a lot there to unpack there, so for the sake of brevity (after all, entire books have been written in response to this statement from Mr. Dawkins), I will limit myself to just one portion – the “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser” claim.

One of the key principles for properly interpreting literature – any piece of literature, including the Bible – is that the text must be interpreted within its historical context.2 When one fails to do so one is engaging in the fallacy known at “Presentism” which is defined as follows:

In literary and historical analysis, presentism is the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Some modern historians seek to avoid presentism in their work because they consider it a form of cultural bias, and believe it creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter. The practice of presentism is regarded by some as a common fallacy in historical writing.
(Wikipedia, “Presentism (literary and historical analysis)”)

Yes, my atheist friends, I agree: To modern 21st Century ears and by today’s values, the language of the Biblical God can sound harsh, unreasonable, even immoral. However, Biblical Scholar Paul Copan explains, using the exaggerated war rhetoric in the Old Testament as a case study, by ancient standards, the biblical rhetoric was just par for the course:

Most Christians read Joshua’s conquest stories with the backdrop of Sunday school lessons via flannel graph or children’s illustrated Bible stories. The impression that’s left is a black-and-white rendition of a literal crush, kill, and destroy mission. A closer look at the biblical text reveals a lot more nuance—and a lot less bloodshed. In short, the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.

Like his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries, Joshua used the language of conventional warfare rhetoric. This language sounds like bragging and exaggeration to our ears. Notice first the sweeping language in Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Joshua used the rhetorical bravado language of his day, asserting that all the land was captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed (cf. 10:40–42; 11:16–23: “Joshua took the whole land . . . and gave . . . it for an inheritance to Israel”). Yet…Joshua himself acknowledged [later in the narrative] that this wasn’t literally so.
(Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God”, p.170. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition)

Mr. Copan then goes on to compare and contrast the war rhetoric of other countries from the same period to Joshua’s:

Ancient Near Eastern accounts readily used “utterly/completely destroy” and other obliteration language even when the event didn’t literally happen that way. Here’s a sampling:

• Egypt’s Tuthmosis III (later fifteenth century) boasted that “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.” In fact, Mitanni’s forces lived on to fight in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC.

• Hittite king Mursilli II (who ruled from 1322–1295 BC) recorded making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”

• The “Bulletin” of Ramses II tells of Egypt’s less-than-spectacular victories in Syria (around 1274 BC). Nevertheless, he announces that he slew “the entire force” of the Hittites, indeed “all the chiefs of all the countries,” disregarding the “millions of foreigners,” which he considered “chaff.”

• In the Merneptah Stele (ca. 1230 BC), Rameses II’s son Merneptah announced, “Israel is wasted, his seed is not,” another premature declaration.

• Moab’s king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdom of “Israel has utterly perished for always,” which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.

• The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701–681 BC) used similar hyperbole: “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”

You get the idea. Let’s now return to the Old Testament text to press this point further. It’s true that Joshua 9–12 utilizes the typical ancient Near Eastern literary devices for warfare. But at the book’s end, Joshua matter-of-factly assumes the continued existence of Canaanite peoples that could pose a threat to Israel. He warns Israel against idolatry and getting entangled in their ways: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (Josh. 23:12–13).
(Ibid, pp.171&172)

Finally, in his chapter summary from chapter 17, (“Indiscriminate Massacre and Ethnic Cleansing? The Killing of the Canaanites (III)”) Mr. Copan further explains that the historical reality doesn’t match the rhetoric any more than the rhetoric of other leaders of the region and era did:

• The language of the consecrated ban [against allowing any living thing to survive] (herem) includes stereotypical language: “all,” “young and old,” and “men and women.” The ban could be carried out even if women and children weren’t present.

• As far as we can see, biblical herem was carried out in particular military or combatant settings (with “cities” and military “kings”). It turns out that the sweeping language of the ban is directed at combatants.

• The ban language allows and hopes for exceptions (e.g., Rahab); it isn’t absolute.

• The destruction language of ancient Near Eastern warfare (and the Old Testament) is clearly exaggerated. Groups of Canaanite peoples who apparently were “totally destroyed” were still around when all was said and done (e.g., Judg. 1).

• The greater concern was to destroy Canaanite religion, not Canaanites per se, a point worthy of elaboration (see the next chapter).

• The preservation of Rahab and her family indicates that consecration to the ban wasn’t absolute and irreversible. God had given ample indications of his power and greatness, and the Canaanites could have submitted to the one true God who trumped Egypt’s and Canaan’s gods, sparing their own lives.

• The biblical text, according to some scholars, suggests that peace treaties could be made with Canaanite cities if they chose to, but none (except Gibeon) did so (Josh. 11:19). The offer of peace was implicitly made to Jericho.

• The biblical text contains many references to “driving out” the Canaanites. To clear away the land for habitation didn’t require killing; civilians fled when their military strongholds were destroyed and soldiers were no longer capable of protecting them.

• From the start, certain (more cooperative) Canaanites were subjected to forced labor, not annihilation (Judg. 1:27–36; 1 Kings 9:20–21; Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13; cf. Ps. 106:34–35). This was another indication that the ban wasn’t absolute.

• Joshua carried out what Moses commanded (Deut. 7 and 20), which means that Moses’s language is also an example of ancient Near Eastern exaggeration. He did not intend a literal, all-encompassing extermination of the Canaanites.

• The archaeological evidence nicely supports the biblical text; both of these point to minimal observable material destruction in Canaan as well as Israel’s gradual infiltration, assimilation, and eventual dominance there.

We have many good reasons to rethink our paradigm regarding the destruction of the Canaanites. On closer analysis, the biblical text suggests that much more is going on beneath the surface than obliterating all the Canaanites. Taking the destruction of anything that breathes at face value needs much reexamination.
(Ibid, Kindle edition, p.184)

So, yes, my atheist friends, if you engage in fallacious presentism then you can make this poor argument. However, if you limit yourself to proper historical and hermeneutical scholarship, this argument unravels.

Sadly, Mr. Dawkin’s Neo-Atheist work doesn’t appear to be interested in an honest, nuanced approach to the issues that he raises. Rather, he seems to prefer bombastic, over-heated polemics, hyperbole, and misrepresenting both those he disagrees with and his sources. I would hope that you can be better than that – more thoughtful intellectually honest, to be specific. As the saying goes, there really are two sides to every story.

In the last article in this series, we will cover the top two things that we’re tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon Atheists.

Click above to watch Bible Scholar and Christian Apologist Paul Copan address the question, “Is God a Moral Monster” at Apologetics Canada Conference 2012.

NOTES
1 I wrote about the dynamic of Atheist fanaticism in my article, “Why I Steer Christians Away from Non-Christian, Ex-Mormon Bulletin Boards”.

2 For reference, here are the Eight Rules of Interpretation from the book “Who Said Women Can’t Teach?” by Charles Bromley.

The Eight Rules of Interpretation Used by Legal Experts for Over 2,500 Years
1) Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.
2) Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?
3) Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.
4) Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.
5) Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.
6) Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which there is no precedent.
7) Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.
8) Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.

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

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.

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.

Margaret Barker lecturing at the University of Nottingham in 2014.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
For those unfamiliar with Margaret Barker here’s her official biography:

Margaret Barker has developed an approach to Biblical Studies now known as Temple Theology. Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998, and edited the Society’s second Monograph Series, published by Ashgate. She has so far written 17 books, which form a sequence, later volumes building on her earlier conclusions.

Since 1997, she has been part of the symposium Religion, Science and the Environment, convened by His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch. This work has led her to develop the practical implications of temple theology as the basis for a Christian environment theology.

In July 2008 Margaret Barker was awarded a DD by the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘in recognition of her work on the Jerusalem Temple and the origins of Christian Liturgy, which has made a significantly new contribution to our understanding of the New Testament and opened up important fields for research.’

Margaret Barker is a mother and grandmother, a Methodist Preacher and was involved for over 30 years with the work of a Women’s Refuge.

Margaret Barker DD has no connection with website Temple Illuminatus.”
(Margaret Barker website, retrieved 2017-08-19)

She is the darling of Mormon Apologists and Liberal Christian Theologians the world over as her work can be used to undermine confidence in and the authority of the Bible. What follows are the two finest debunkings of Margaret Barker that I have found to date. If you find any newer, or better ones let me know and I’ll do a follow-up to this compilation:

First, from a Latter-day Saint scholar who is somewhat “less” than enamored with Barker’s scholarship:

TT, “My Margaret Barker Experience”
I first heard about Margaret Barker seven years ago and have watched from the sidelines as LDS scholars have fallen all over themselves after her ideas. However, I have never read her work. My avoidance of her work changed when a friend of mine sent me one of her lectures for comment (this is a great way to maintain a long-distance friendship, btw). It was worse than I imagined. I listened to the 35-minute lecture probably 10 times and just got more frustrated every time. I am slightly embarrassed by this episode of LDS intellectual history. It represents a step backward in dealing with the contemporary critical evaluation of biblical texts and ANE [Ancient Near East] religion.

The lecture in question is called “What Did King Josiah Reform?” She delivered it at BYU some time ago. The main thesis of the paper is that Josiah’s Deuteronomic reforms were a major departure from earlier Israelite temple worship and that many people strongly opposed these changes. This seems perfectly fine and uncontroversial, and I have absolutely no problem with this argument. The problem is in her imaginative reconstruction of this earlier ritual and other religious themes that she thinks were reformed.

Barker reconstructs earlier Israelite religion as consisting of, among other things: Asherah worship (the temple Menorah was the Asherah), child sacrifice as atonement, the ability to experience a vision of God, the belief that God’s son is the God is Israel, a Melchizedek priesthood, angel worship, that the temple rooms corresponded to the days of creation, and a scattering of true believers who resisted Josiahan reforms and maintained “authentic” worship. It is easy to see why LDS readers are attracted to many of these ideas (though Asherah worship and child sacrifice don’t seem all that helpful). But this is exactly the reason that we need to critically investigate these claims. They are too easy.

There are essentially two problems with her argument. First, Barker’s historiographical method relies on texts and accounts that are far removed from the historical period she is reconstructing, which makes it extremely unlikely that these texts contain reliable historical data. Second, she is working on a number of hidden assumptions about the consistency of interpretation of pre-Israelite religion. She only has two views of this history. There is an “authentic” worship which can be recovered by her and the Josiahan reform. This assumption masks the rather obvious fact evident in the texts that she is studying that there were numerous interpretations of what the “authentic” version of ancient Israelite religion was. Both of these problems cause her to overlook what is actually interesting about the material that she is studying, namely, that diverse ancient religious parties appealed to an idealized view of pre-exilic religion in order to give their own views authority.

First, the thesis suffers from a series of truly unforgivable historiographical sins. The most obvious is that the majority of her sources for this reconstruction come from many centuries after the fact and from groups who have a vested interest in controlling a particular view of Israelite history. For instance, she uses Christian texts up through the fourth century CE frequently in her reconstruction, which unsurprisingly makes early Israelite religion look like and prefigure Christianity. Further, the texts she uses rarely actually attempt to represent ancient Israelite religion, it is simply her extrapolations. The Christian views are better explained by their own immediate historical context rather than appeals to a secret tradition from a millennium before.

Barker’s use of Jewish texts is equally problematic. She uses DSS and Enochic literature to reconstruct what was happening in the First Temple, even though these texts were written hundreds of years after the First Temple had been destroyed. She conflates Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and the Damascus covenant as if they represented a shared view of the temple. But most egregiously, she fails to note that the critiques of the temple in these texts have to do with Second Temple politics, including disputes over priestly families in control of the temple, not with the First Temple at all. Additionally, she attributes the loss of the Menorah and Ark of the Covenant to Josiah’s reforms rather than the Babylonian conquest. No ancient texts ever even insinuate this, but it is a major part of her argument. Finally, her appeal to the fictional Recabites (she offers a rather Christianized reading of this text) as evidence for concrete historical information is highly problematic and what she chooses to identify as the historical kernel of that account is arbitrary at best.

When she starts looking to Islamic texts and early 20th-century missionary accounts to Tibet, we are in serious trouble. The argument loses even more credibility. The principle historiographical problem with her reconstruction is precisely that it relies on so many different texts from different time periods without any acknowledgment that these accounts are historicized by their own environment. Rhetorically, it appears that she is mounting evidence for her case, but in reality, it is smoke and mirrors. There are no texts that include all of these descriptions of ancient Israelite religion. The reconstruction involves taking elements out of context from diverse religious groups in ancient Judaism and Christianity and cherry-picking how those pieces get put back together. For instance, she concludes that since one of the DSS is about Melchizedek, that “Melchizedek must have been a part of the earlier religion.” There is simply no reason to make this assumption.

The more likely explanation is that 2nd c. BCE separatists developed theologies out the holes and gaps in the biblical text in order to make appeals about new teachings and give them authoritative status. Many of her other ideas don’t even have one text to back them up since she relies on inference or silence to make her claims. In other cases, she starts with her conclusions and then attempts to interpret the texts on that basis. For instance, because 4th century CE rabbinical texts make one statement about the temple symbolism related to the creation, she asserts that all previous Jewish texts about creation must be talking about the temple.

This is the basis of the second major problem: her complete lack of any historical analysis. There is no sense that traditions change and develop over time and that different contexts will provide different interpretations of the past and the present. She doesn’t seem to have any critical evaluation of why these religious elements were changed, or why they were “preserved.” Instead, the narrative theme of the changes is that of apostasy from a pure, original, true worship. While this theme will sound familiar to LDS readers, it represents an unsophisticated view of historical developments. A more responsible historical approach would be to see the multiplicity of claims to authority and authenticity, and that there were more than two views of the temple which survive from ancient Israel. This problem I think is repeated frequently in her historical method, which can best be described as parallelomania combined with a vivid imagination. At best, she is simply uncritically repeating the historical imaginations of pious ancient Christians and Jews. At worst, she is producing her own pious imaginations and attempting to attribute them to early Christians and ancient Jews.

The missing link in her evaluation is that the information that she actually surveys really tells you how early Christians, Muslims, second temple Jews, and 20th-century missionaries appealed to First Temple Judaism and to ancient Israelite religion as a basis for legitimacy and authenticity. There is no reason to suspect that what they actually said about that has any historical basis whatsoever. In the same way, Barker and many LDS thinkers are engaged in the same kind of project, to appeal to pure “origins” of Israelite religion in order to produce authenticity about contemporary beliefs and practices. Such an approach is necessarily partial and selective. Instead of learning about ancient Israel, we learn about those who are attempting to recount its history. If Barker’s work has any value, it is in the exposure of this theme in various religious traditions up until today.
(TT, “My Margaret Barker Experience”, Faith Promoting Rumor website, November 9, 2007, it has been very lightly edited to both fit this venue and format and correct grammatical and spelling errors that were in the original. The bracketed words were added to clarify and define the author’s undefined acronym.)

Margaret Barker speaking at BYU on November 9, 2016.

This second debunking is from Christian Apologist Rob Bowman:

Rob Bowman’s Debunking of appeals to Margaret Barker by Mormon Apologists
Kevin Christensen is the main Mormon author who has brought into LDS apologetics this notion of the Deuteronomists being responsible for the extant text of the OT conflicting with LDS theology. Christensen specifically appeals to the way this idea was developed by Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar whose interpretations are decidedly non-Methodist. Christensen’s main writing on this theme was Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies, Occasional Papers 2 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001). See also his article “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 59-90, which specifically argues that the OT was explicitly Christian before the Deuteronomists got hold of it.

I’ve been working on a serious rebuttal to this line of argument for several years. I can see that I need to get something done on it soon as this argument keeps coming up. Let me summarize some of my findings here with the understanding that I’m still working on it.

First, let me summarize Barker’s theory and how Mormons are using it. The basic idea is that during the period of the First Temple (roughly the tenth through the seventh centuries BC), Judaism was essentially a polytheistic religion in which the gods included Elohim, his son Yahweh, other divine sons, and a goddess named Asherah. Mormon apologists have seized upon this theory as somehow correlating with their belief that Elohim is the Father, Jehovah is his firstborn son, and Jehovah and his spirit siblings were the offspring of the Father and a heavenly Mother.

According to Barker, around the time of the Exile (beginning not long before it) some Jews overthrew the earlier polytheism that had historically been taught in the Jerusalem temple and replaced it with a monotheism in which Elohim and Yahweh were one and the same and in which there was no room for goddesses or any other gods. These narrow-minded men, known as the Deuteronomists, reworked the Jewish Scriptures to support their new theology. Josiah’s reform is typically understood as the work of these Deuteronomists, on the basis that the book that the OT says was found in the temple during Josiah’s reign was Deuteronomy and that it was actually written at that time (a fairly standard view in liberal scholarship).

The theology of the first temple (the one destroyed by the Babylonians) was thus polytheistic, whereas the theology of the second temple (the one built after the Exile and destroyed centuries later by the Romans in AD 70) was monotheistic. Barker claims to find vestiges of the First Temple theology (the good, polytheistic one) in isolated verses in the Old Testament (which the Deuteronomists somehow missed), in extrabiblical Jewish literature (especially in the Enoch literature), and in the New Testament (which usually calls Jesus “Lord” and the Father “God”). Again, Mormon apologists see Barker’s position as validating the Mormon claim that important “plain and precious things” were removed from the Bible by conniving apostates.

Now with that foundation laid, please consider this bullet-point commentary on Barker’s theory and on the Mormon use of that theory to validate Mormon theology.

• The Canaanites and anyone else, including at times many Jews, who accepted this Near Eastern pantheon also practiced idol worship as part of that belief system. Polytheism and idolatry went hand in glove. You want to claim the ancient Canaanite religion as a precursor to Mormonism, you are stuck with the idolatry that goes with it.

• The Enoch literature dates from well after the Babylonian Exile, and of course, so does the New Testament. So Barker’s theory depends on claiming that literature that has traditionally been understood to date from the First Temple period actually represents Second Temple theology, while literature that dates from the Second Temple period actually represents First Temple theology. You can come up with all sorts of fascinating theories if you’re allowed to play with the source documents like this.

• The people of Canaan in the First Temple period who believed in the goddess worshiped her, whereas Mormons teach that people should not worship Heavenly Mother. Worse still, those ancient believers viewed the goddess as the consort of Yahweh, not Elohim. In other words, if we correlated Mormon theology with this reconstructed First Temple Israelite theology, Heavenly Mother would be married to her son Jehovah (Jesus).

• The Deuteronomists, if they existed, did not merely edit the Old Testament to make it more monotheistic. The stock secular and liberal critical view in Old Testament studies is that the entire sequence of books from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings is “Deuteronomic.” One cannot accept those books as Scripture but merely in need of some minor theological editing; the critical theory treats those books in their entirety as Deuteronomic. Thus, the Mormon who entertains Barker’s theory is actually flirting with the idea that roughly a quarter of the Old Testament (at least) was written to teach what was from a Mormon point of view false doctrine.

• There are roughly a thousand statements in the Old Testament equating Yahweh with Elohim in a variety of ways: using the compound name “Yahweh Elohim,” affirming “Yahweh is Elohim,” referring to Yahweh as “our/my/your/his/their Elohim” or “Yahweh the Elohim of Israel,” and so on. Not only are there many such statements in the OT, but they are spread throughout the OT. Statements referring to or identifying Yahweh as Elohim occur in all but five of the books of the OT (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Obadiah). Of these five short books, Esther uses neither name even once, Ecclesiastes uses only Elohim and never Yahweh, and the other three books use only Yahweh and never Elohim. These five books, then, never have the opportunity (lexically speaking) to identify Yahweh as Elohim or to distinguish Yahweh from Elohim.

The other 34 books, however, do have such an opportunity, and they all identify Yahweh as Elohim. Most of them do so repeatedly; the longer books typically do so dozens of times each. It would not be an overstatement by any means to assert that the primary message of the Old Testament, at least as it has come down to us, may be summarized by the three words “Yahweh is Elohim”! If this aspect of the Old Testament is deemed the work of apostates, you might as well just throw the whole thing out.

I know that Mormons would like to dismiss what I am saying here on the grounds that I am assuming the inerrancy of Scripture. They would be mistaken, not about my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, but about that belief having anything to do with the issue here. If Yahweh is not Elohim, the Old Testament is not merely errant but is hopelessly misleading on the most basic of theological issues from Genesis to Malachi.

• In effect, the Mormon use of Barker’s theory turns the Old Testament upside down. The Old Testament consistently presents the monotheists as the good guys and the idolatrous polytheists as the bad guys, as the ones who corrupted Israel and who brought divine judgment on Israel. The Mormon apologists claim that the polytheists were the good guys and the monotheists were the bad guys, the ones who corrupted the Jewish religion.

• About that: Which prophet was called by God to warn apostates in Jerusalem of divine judgment? Jeremiah, of course. But Jeremiah was a “Deuteronomist”! That is, Jeremiah identified Yahweh as Elohim well over a hundred times in his book, and not once distinguished them as separate deities. Here again, the Mormons have things exactly backward. The prophets who warned Jerusalem of apostasy were warning against accepting the Canaanite polytheism and exhorting the Jews to worship and serve Yahweh alone as Elohim.

• The New Testament (NT) clearly accepts the identification of Yahweh as Elohim, at least in using equivalent language in Greek. For example, both Luke-Acts and Revelation use the compound name “the Lord God” (Greek, kurios ho theos) as a designation of God (Luke 1:32, 68; Acts 3:22; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 18:8; 21:22; 22:5). This is a stock designation for God in the Septuagint, appearing over 900 times (translating both Yahweh Elohim and Adonai Yahweh). The NT also quotes OT texts in which the titles kurios (representing the Hebrew YHWH, Yahweh) and theos (representing the Hebrew Elohim) are used for the same referent (Matt. 4:7, 10; 22:37; Mark 12:29, 30; Luke 4:8, 12; 10:27; 20:37; Rom. 14:11; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 19:6; 22:6; see also Luke 1:16; Acts 2:39). These include the famous Shema, the OT affirmation of Jehovah as Elohim that became the Jewish “creed.” The NT writers seem oblivious to any alleged problem with the theology of the Jewish Bible. Yet if any “conflation” of Jehovah with Elohim took place in the Hebrew Bible, it was a done deal long before the NT writers came along.

• The primary objection that Mormons raise to this argument is the distinction made in the NT between the Father as “God” (theos) and Jesus as “Lord” (kurios). A superficial reading of the NT may seem to support the view that the Father is God (=Elohim) while the Son is Lord (=Jehovah). There are some serious problems with this line of reasoning. First, the NT in several places identifies Jesus as “God” (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). Second, at least some NT texts speak of the Father as “Lord” in contexts where this designation represents the OT name Jehovah (e.g., Luke 1:32; 2 Cor. 6:17-18). Third, it appears that the NT writers usually used “Lord” for Jesus and “God” for the Father to avoid confusing Jesus with the Father, not in order to designate them as separate deities.

• Finally, the Mormon use of Barker’s theory ignores the Book of Mormon. The name Jehovah appears only twice in the Book of Mormon. In both cases, Jehovah is simply another name for God (2 Ne. 22:2; Mor. 10:34). Like the NT, the Book of Mormon uses the compound name “the Lord God” as a designation of the deity (1 Ne. 1:14; 10:4; 13:30, 32; 14:25; 19:11; 20:16; 21:22; etc.) as well as such expressions as “the Lord our God” (1 Ne. 2:7; 7:21-22; 16:20, 22; 17:30, 45, 53, 55; 20:17; etc.). It also has such direct affirmations as “I, the Lord, am God” (1 Ne. 17:14; cf. 2 Ne. 6:15).

This is all so-called Deuteronomic language. Arguably the Book of Mormon is even more consistently “monotheistic” in its language than the OT. The plural form gods occurs only twice in the Book of Mormon, the first referring to the Fall as resulting in human beings becoming “as Gods, knowing good from evil” (Alma 12:31), and the second referring to “idol gods” (Morm. 4:14). In short, not even once does the Book of Mormon use the term “gods” in a positive sense. The Book of Mormon never suggests that “the Lord” (Jesus the Son) is a different deity from “God”; to the contrary, the Book of Mormon repeatedly refers to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God (2 Nephi 31:21; Mosiah 15:4-5; Alma 11:44; Mormon 7:7).

To sum up: (1) Margaret Barker’s theory is a flimsy reconstruction of the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity based on idiosyncratic speculations and dubious interpretations of isolated texts; (2) it makes mincemeat of the Old Testament; (3) it does not support the idea that the Jews ever held to a belief system comparable to Mormonism; (4) the Mormon use of Barker’s theory renders the Old Testament essentially valueless, viewing things quite backward (the good guys are really the bad guys, etc.); (5) the New Testament assumes the reliability of the Old Testament text and doctrine, and it affirms the monotheism of the so-called Deuteronomists; and (6) the Book of Mormon is also “Deuteronomic”!
(Rob Bowman, compiled from a series of posts in the Preaching From An Asbestos Suit (PFAAS) Facebook page starting with this post, I have very lighted edited Mr. Bowman’s original Facebook posts to fit this venue and context.) 

Margaret Barker (left) with Mormon Apologist Daniel C. Peterson (center), and Stephen Webb (right) of Oxford University speaking at an Interpreter Foundation event in Orem, Utah on August 8, 2015. Like Barker, Webb is another Theologically Liberal Christian Scholar whose heterodoxy Mormon Apologists like Peterson often appeal to.

by Fred W. Anson
Patristic Studies is a specialized area of study within Religious Studies focusing on the period from the end of the Apostolic New Testament era (c. AD 100) to either AD 451 (the date of the Council of Chalcedon or to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 depending on which Church Historian you talk to.1 It’s an area of study that few Protestants are aware of or have knowledge of. As Religious Studies Scholar Chris Welborn notes:

The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches typically have held this period in higher regard than have other churches. This is not surprising, since they share many points of theology and morality from this period. These churches also claim a line of divine authority from the New Testament period through the patristic period to this day.2

So given how other churches have used Patristic Studies to establish their direct lineage from primitive Christian, it should come as no shock when Mormon Apologists do the same. As Mr. Welborn observed in an article published in 2006:

Mormons have studied patristic writers increasingly since the middle of the twentieth century so as to use them to justify their church’s claim to be the true church. In doing this, they presuppose without qualification that Mormon theology and practice are true, and that the same Mormon theology and practice that are prevalent in the present day also were normative in the New Testament period. They then examine patristic writings to find similarities and dissimilarities to their theology and practice. The similarities, they say, were a remnant of authentic New Testament belief. The dissimilarities, however, they blanketly attribute to Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy, which they suppose entered and corrupted the church after the apostles died.3

This is fully aligned with Mormon Great Apostasy dogma which Mormon Missionaries explain to investigators of the faith like this:

Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.4

It’s also explained to these investigators that due to this universal apostasy a restoration of the Christian Church back to its original pristine, primitive state is required. Citing these Patristic sources, it’s asserted, is both proof of this apostasy and validation that the LdS Church alone holds the key to this required restoration.

The full image of the Origen icon from this article’s banner art.

Enter Origen
A particular favorite of Mormon Apologists seems to be Origen of Alexandria (c.184 – 253AD). The following excerpt is from Methodist, Church Historian, Justo Gonzalez’s popular and influential book, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”. In it, the knowledgeable student of Mormonism will see hints of the Latter-day Saint doctrines of pre-existent spirits (all humans were spiritual beings in heaven prior to coming to earth and inhabiting a physical body), ex-materia creation (the cosmos was formed out of pre-existing matter, not created ex-nihilio – out of nothing), and universal salvation (aka “universalism”):

Origen feels free to rise in great speculative flights. For instance, since the tradition of the apostles and of the church gives no details as to how the world was created, Origen believes that this is a fair field of inquiry. In the first chapters of Genesis there are two stories of creation, as Jewish scholars had noted even before the time of Origen. In one of these stories, we are told that humankind was created after the image and likeness of God, and that “male and female created He them.” In the second, we are told that God made Adam first, then the animals, and then formed the woman out of Adam’s rib. In the Greek version of the first narrative, the verb describing God’s action is “to create,” whereas in the second it is “to form” or “to shape.” What is the meaning of these differences? Modern scholars would speak of the joining of separate traditions. But Origen simply declares that there are two narratives because there were in fact two creations.

According to Origen, the first creation was purely spiritual. What God first created were spirits without bodies. This is why the text says “male and female”—that is, with no sexual differences. This is also why we are told that God “created,” and not that God “formed.”

God’s purpose was that the spirits thus created would be devoted to the contemplation of the divine. But some of them strayed from that contemplation and fell. It was then that God made the second creation. This second creation is material, and it serves as a shelter or temporary home for fallen spirits. Those spirits who fell farthest have become demons, while the rest are human souls. It was for these human souls—fallen preexistent spirits—that God made the bodies we now have, which God “shaped” out of the earth, making some male and some female.

This implies that all human souls existed as pure spirits—or “intellects,” as Origen calls them—before being born into the world, and that the reason why we are here is that we have sinned in that prior, purely spiritual existence. Although Origen claims that all this is based on the Bible, it is clear that it is derived from the Platonic tradition, where similar ideas had been taught for a long time.

In the present world, the Devil and his demons have us captive, and therefore Jesus Christ has come to break the power of Satan and to show us the path we are to follow in our return to our spiritual home. Furthermore, since the Devil is no more than a spirit like ours, and since God is love, in the end even Satan will be saved, and the entire creation will return to its original state, where everything was pure spirit. However, since these spirits will still be free, there is nothing to guarantee that there will not be a new fall, a new material world, and a new history, and that the cycle of fall, restoration, and fall will not go on forever.5

But before you’re baptized into the Mormon Church…
So, given all that, are you ready to be baptized into the Mormon Church? Sounds like a convincing case that Mormonism is teaching restored Christianity, doesn’t it? Well, Mr. Gonzalez certainly doesn’t think so. He immediately continues as follows:

In evaluating all of this, one has to begin by marveling at the width of Origen’s mental scope. For this reason, he has had fervent admirers at various times throughout the history of the church. One must also remember that Origen proposes all of this, not as truths to be generally accepted, nor as something that will supersede the doctrines of the church, but as his own tentative speculations, which ought not to be compared with the authoritative teaching of the church.

However, once this has been said, it is also important to note that on many points Origen is more Platonist than Christian. Thus, for instance, Origen rejects the doctrines of Marcion and of the Gnostics, that the world is the creation of an inferior being; but then he comes to the conclusion that the existence of the physical world—as well as of history—is the result of sin. At this point there is a marked difference with Irenaeus, for whom the existence of history was part of the eternal purpose of God. And when it comes to the preexistence of souls, and to the eternal cycle of fall and restoration, there is no doubt that Origen strays from what Christianity has usually taught.6

And Mr. Welborn concurs. As he correctly points out regarding the Mormon use of Patristic sources:

In using patristic sources, Mormons have scoured unorthodox as well as orthodox Christian writings. Many of these Mormon scholars are competent in their various fields, but their constant motive to validate Mormonism often distorts the conclusions of their study of this period…

Certain conclusions of Mormon scholars concerning the patristic period are accurate and helpful. Their sectarian motive of trying to justify the belief that the Mormon Church is the true church, however, has led them to examine the field in an incomplete, patchwork manner. Further, in order to support their theology, Mormons sometimes have interpreted patristic works in ways that force meanings onto the texts that the authors never intended and distort the authors’ intended meanings. In such circumstances, these Mormons are predisposed to drawing faulty conclusions.7

origen

An icon of a young Origen of Alexandria holding a communion chalice containing Christ’s body and blood.

A Heretic By Any Other Name …
What Mormon scholars also often fail to consider is that even if their cherry-picked sources taught the same doctrine that modern Mormonism does, that doesn’t make it normative for that time or orthodox today. Unlike Mormonism, which tends to skew strongly toward Ex-Cathedra,8 Protestants are Prima Scriptura.9 Therefore, any Patristic teachings that contradict, or exceed, the words of canonized scripture are not authoritative, period. This is especially important because as Reformed Theologian, James R. White has often pointed out, Patristic writings are just like today’s Christian Bookstore where the works of heretics like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn sit next to the works of Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon. In other words, just because it’s there, that doesn’t make it true or reflective of Biblical orthodoxy. As Justo L. Gonzalez observes:

The many converts who joined the early church came from a wide variety of backgrounds. This variety enriched the church and gave witness to the universality of its message. But it also resulted in widely differing interpretations of that message. Such different interpretations should not surprise us, for at the time Christianity was still ill-defined—to the point that it would probably be better to speak of “Christianities,” in the plural. There certainly were in it varying views and emphases, as any reader of the New Testament can still see when comparing, for instance, the Gospel of Mark with John, Romans, and Revelation. But, were all the existing views and interpretations equally valid or acceptable? Was there not the danger that, within the still undefined limits of Christianity, there would be interpretations that would threaten its integrity? The danger was increased by the syncretism of the time, which sought truth, not by adhering to a single system of doctrine, but by taking bits and pieces from various systems. The result was that, while many claimed the name of Christ, some interpreted that name in a manner that others felt obscured or even denied the very core of his message. In response to such threats, what would become known as orthodox Christianity began to define itself by reaffirming such elements of its Jewish heritage as the doctrines of creation, of the positive value of the created world, of the rule of God over all of history, of the resurrection of the body—a doctrine learned from the Pharisees—and a coming final reign of God. In order to reaffirm such doctrines, it developed a series of instruments—creeds, the canon of scripture, apostolic succession—that would set limits on orthodoxy and would long remain central themes in Christian life and teaching. Thus, even those whose views were eventually rejected by the church at large, and came to be known as heretics, left their mark on the church and the way it understood itself.10

Thus many of Origen’s views were controversial in their day – heterodox to be exact11 – and very correctly declared fully heretical later. As one commentator points out:

Some of Origen’s ideas were unorthodox and put him at odds with fellow believers. For instance, Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and that one’s status in the present world was proportional to one’s commitment to God during this pre-existence. His negative attitude toward the material world wasn’t much different than that of the Gnostics he so strongly opposed. He also considered the Trinity a ranking, not an equality, and believed that everyone, even demons, would one day be forgiven and purified by God. These claims were key to his being declared a heretic by various councils in the centuries after his death.12

He’s sure preaching somethin’… 
Of course, Origen was able to hold to heterodoxy because the type of top-down religious hierarchy that one sees in today’s Mormon Church simply didn’t exist. The Christian Churches of Origen’s day were decentralized, local, and autonomous. There was no First Presidency, Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Quorums of the Seventy, Stakes, or Wards guarding, maintaining, and enforcing orthodoxy. That very Roman Catholic invention came much, much, much later. So Origen (and other Patristic Fathers) could hold to – and even publicly preach – unorthodox views and oddball personal opinions without much, if any consequence.

Further, weakening the Mormon Apologist’s case is the fact that the Patristic Fathers were the very Church Leaders that Mormonism condemns as those who lead the pure and pristine Christian Church into apostasy after the death of the original Apostles and the end of their apostolic period. Consider this from Mormon Apostle, James Talmage:

We affirm that with the passing of the apostolic period the Church drifted into a condition of apostasy, whereby succession in the Holy Priesthood was broken; and that the Church as an earthly organization operating under Divine direction and having authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances ceased to exist among men.13

And an official, correlated LdS Church manual agrees with him:

One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians.14

… but it sure ain’t Christianity or Mormonism!
It is both illogical and irrational to cite from the very men that according to Mormon dogma were instruments of Satan in leading Christ’s Church into apostasy as proof that your church isn’t apostate, isn’t it? After all, as the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said so well, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Joseph Smith, Jr., as quoted in B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 1:XL)

So in the end, agenda-driven, confirmation bias fueled, Mormon Apologists can cite and argue from cherry-picked Patristic sources and writings all they like, it proves absolutely nothing. Further, since these Patristic sources didn’t preach modern Mormonism, by doing so they are actually undermining and discrediting it, aren’t they?

A modern icon of Origen of Alexandria teaching the Saints throughout the ages.

NOTES
1 Wikipedia, “Patristics”.
2 Chris Welborn, “Mormons and Patristic Study: How Mormons Use The Church Fathers to Defend Mormonism”;
3 Ibid.
4 LdS Church, “Preach My Gospel: A Guide To Missionary Service” (2003 edition), p. 35.
5 Justo L. Gonzalez, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, pp. 94-95. HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
6 Ibid.
7 Welborn, Op Cit.
8 A Latin term meaning “from the chair” and the basis of the Roman Catholic concept of Papal Infallibility, whereby the voice of the Pope seated on his Papal throne is the ultimate authority for defining orthodoxy for Christ’s Church on earth. The Wikipedia article is a good primer for those new to this concept: Wikipedia, “Papal infallibility”.
9Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is “first” or “above all” other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.” (see “Prima Scriptura”, Wikipedia)  
10 Justo L. Gonzalez, Op Cit, pp. 69-70.
11Heterodoxy in a religious sense means ‘any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position’. Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective ‘heterodox’ could be applied to a dissident.
Heterodoxy is also an ecclesiastical term of art, defined in various ways by different religions and churches. For example, in the Apostolic Churches (the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, and the Non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Churches), heterodoxy may describe beliefs that differ from strictly orthodox views, but that fall short either of formal or of material heresy.  (see Heterodoxy”, Wikipedia)
12 GotQuestions website, “Who was Origen of Alexandria?”.
13 James Talmage, “The Vitality of Mormonism”, pp. 109-110.
14
Official LdS Church manual, “Gospel Principles” (2009 edition), p. 92.

Joakim Skovgaard (1856-1933) “Christ in the Realm of the Dead”

compiled by Fred W. Anson
INTRODUCTION
1 Peter 3:18-19 is the foundational, biblical proof text for Mormon “spirit prison” and “proxy baptism for the dead” dogma. Here is how that passage reads:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
— 1 Peter 3:18-20 (NKJV)

MORMON PERSPECTIVE
Here’s how the passage is typically interpreted and applied by Mormon Leaders:

Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).

While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead. Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection (see 1 Peter 3:18–19). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) witnessed in vision that the Savior visited the spirit world and “from among the righteous [spirits], he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness. …

‘These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, [and] the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands’ (D&C 138:30, 33).

The doctrine that the living can provide baptism and other essential ordinances to the dead vicariously was revealed anew to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 124; 128; 132). He learned that the spirits awaiting resurrection are offered not only individual salvation but they can be bound in heaven as husband and wife and be sealed to their fathers and mothers of all generations past and have sealed to them their children of all generations future. The Lord instructed the Prophet that these sacred rites are appropriately performed only in a house built to His name, a temple (see D&C 124:29–36).
(D. Todd Christofferson (Mormon Apostle), “Why Do We Baptize for the Dead?”, New Era magazine, March 2009)

Again, that’s how you will see Mormons interpret and apply this passage in your discussions with them on the Internet and in person. However, and frankly, no one seems to know with absolute certainty what this passage means. While we have may all have opinions, I don’t think that many mainstream Christians would build an entire theological system on it – as the LdS Church has – or die for their interpretation of it. I know I wouldn’t.

Frankly, a tight, precise interpretation of this vague, enigmatic, and unusual passage is just not that important since no essential doctrine of the faith is impacted by it or derived from it. As the saying goes: The main things are the plain things – and this thing just ain’t plain!

That said, here is a compilation of a number of perspectives that Evangelicals may want to consider in responding to Mormons on the Internet and elsewhere when they bring up 1 Peter 3:18-20.

"The Harrowing of Hell" National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Benvenuto di Giovanni, “Harrowing of Hell” (1490) oil on canvas (National Gallery, Washington D.C.)

CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES
“I understand, then, the “proclamation” [to the spirits in prison] to be in the resurrection/ascension itself. It is precisely this which announced to the demons that their world had been ravaged and that Christ is Lord and that they are subject to Him. I think this gives due consideration to all the details of the text and allows the simplest understanding of the words. The “harrowing of hell” idea and the idea of “Christ preaching through Noah” are ideas that must be imported into this text; they do not come out of it.

One Final Contextual Note
So how does all this fit in context? Peter has been dealing with the sufferings of Christians at the hands of the world. He no doubt sees behind it all the activities of Satanic forces. But not to worry — Christ also suffered at their hands and as our example. Moreover, He has invaded their very own realm and has emerged triumphant over them. Even they are subject to Him. Peter wants to assure “you”10 that your enemy will not survive forever; he is a defeated foe.”
(Fred Zaspel, “Christ’s Message to the Spirits in Prison: An Analysis of 1 Peter 3:18-19”)

3:19 preached. Between Christ’s death and resurrection, His living spirit went to the demon spirits bound in the abyss and proclaimed that, in spite of His death, He had triumphed over them (see notes on Col. 2:14, 15). spirits in prison. This refers to fallen angels (demons), who were permanently bound because of heinous wickedness. The demons who are not so bound resist such a sentence (cf. Luke 8: 31). In the end, they will all be sent to the eternal lake of fire (Matt. 25: 41; Rev. 20: 10).”
(John MacArthur, “NKJV, The MacArthur Study Bible, eBook: Revised and Updated Edition” (Kindle Location 203794). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

3:19 Proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. Who or what were these “spirits,” and where were they “imprisoned”? There is an important connection with Peter’s words and the noncanonical book of Enoch, which elaborates on the story of Ge 6:1–4, claiming that fallen angels were imprisoned in a terrible place of darkness (1 Enoch 10:4–6; 21:10; see note on Ge 6:4). 4 It’s possible Peter had in mind nonhuman spirits or angels, much like the book of Enoch (compare 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). It is not clear, however, where the spirits were imprisoned. The author may have had in mind what we would consider “hell,” or he may have been indicating a place to await judgment, much like the book of Revelation suggests (see Rev 20:1– 2). Many of the church fathers, however, understood that Christ descended into hell, which eventually became the dominant view as stated in the Nicene Creed.
(“NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context” (Kindle Locations 107406-107416). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

Andrea Da Firenze, “Descent into Hell” (1366-67), Fresco (Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

3:19 he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. The three most common views on this passage are: (1) Between Jesus’ death and resurrection, he preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead (the view of many church fathers, citing 4:6). Greeks had myths about heroes such as Heracles or Orpheus descending temporarily to Hades. (2) Christ preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (the view of many Reformers). (3) Before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels (the view of most scholars today, citing v.22) Early Christians nearly always used “spirits” for angelic or demonic spirits rather than human ones, except when explicitly stating the latter. The Spirit raised Jesus; by the Spirit (and thus, in this context, presumably after his resurrection) Jesus “made proclamation”; in v.22, his exaltation declared his triumph over fallen angels. Most ancient Jewish readers believed that Ge 6:1– 3 refers to angels who fell in Noah’s day (v. 20); after the flood, they were said to be imprisoned (so also 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6), either below the earth or in the atmosphere (cf. v.22; note on Eph 2:2). Then, according to a well-known Jewish tradition, Enoch was sent to proclaim God’s judgment to them; here Christ is the one who proclaims their demise.
(“HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible”, Hardcover, Red Letter Edition: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 282228-282241). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

3:19 The familiar Apostles’ Creed affirmation that Jesus descended into hell is based chiefly on two references from 1 Peter, one of which (3:19) is more direct than the other (4:6), supported by implications to be taken from two other New Testament verses (Ac 2:27; Ro 10:7). The term is in harmony also with the language of Paul, where he spoke of Christ’s descending “to the lower, earthly regions” (Eph 4:9), and with John’s mention of “the First and the Last,” who holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:17–18). The lowest regions were recognized as the habitation of the disembodied spirits of the dead, but 1 Peter 4:6 may instead refer to fallen angels (cf. Jude 6).)
(Kaiser Jr., Walter C.; Garrett, Duane, “NIV, Archaeological Study Bible, eBook: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture”, (Kindle Locations 156585-156593). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

3:19–20a Three main interpretations of this passage have been suggested: (1) Some hold that in his preincarnate state Christ went and preached through Noah to the wicked generation of that time. (2) Others argue that between his death and resurrection Christ went to the prison where fallen angels are incarcerated and there preached to the angels who are said to have left their proper state and married human women during Noah’s time (cf. Ge 6:1–4; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). The “sons of God” in Ge 6:2,4 are said to have been angels, as they are in Job 1:6; 2:1 (see NIV text notes there). The message he preached to these evil angels was probably a declaration of victory. (3) Still others say that between death and resurrection Christ went to the place of the dead and preached to the spirits of Noah’s wicked contemporaries. What he proclaimed may have been the gospel, or it may have been a declaration of victory for Christ and doom for his hearers. The weakness of the first view is that it does not relate the event to Christ’s death and resurrection, as the context seems to do. The main problem with the second view is that it assumes sexual relations between angels and women, and such physical relations may not be possible for angels since they are spirits (see note on Ge 6:2). A major difficulty with the third view is that the term “spirits” is only used of human beings when qualifying terms are added. Otherwise the term seems restricted to supernatural beings.
Perhaps a more satisfactory view would be to translate v. 19: “And in that [resurrection] state, by means of (his) ascension [see v.22, where the same Greek verb form is used of Christ’s ascension] he made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” The latter phrase most likely refers to the disobedient spirits (“ angels, authorities and powers,” v.22). Thus Christ’s ascension “into heaven” (v.22) was itself a victory proclamation to them (cf. Eph 3:10 and note).
(“Zondervan. NIV Study Bible”, eBook (Kindle Location 303325-303345). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

Fresco of Christ’s descent into hell in an Eastern Orthodox Church. (painter and location unknown)

3:19,20 There are various interpretations of the meaning of these verses, primarily because of the ambiguity of the phrase spirits in prison. The Greek term translated spirits can refer to human spirits, angels, or demons. There are three main interpretations: (1) Some interpret these verses as describing Jesus as going to the place where fallen angels are incarcerated and declaring His final victory over evil in His work on the Cross. These commentators suggest that Peter is referring to the days of Noah because these fallen angels were typified by the gross immorality of those “spirits” who married human women at that time (see Gen. 6:1– 4; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6). Depending on the commentator, this proclamation is assigned to the time between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, or to a time after Christ’s ascension to heaven. (2) Others hold that spirits refers to human spirits. Thus Christ preached to human beings who had died in Noah’s day and were in the realm of the dead (hell or Hades). Although some have insisted that Christ’s preaching included an offer of salvation to these people, this is at best unlikely and at worst misleading, for Scripture never concedes a “second chance” for sinners after death. The content of Christ’s preaching was most likely a proclamation of His victory over sin. (3) Finally, another major interpretation understands this passage as describing Christ preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of his day. Since they rejected Noah’s message of salvation, they were presently in prison— that is, hell.
(Nelson, Thomas, “NKJV Study Bible, eBook: Full-Color Edition” (Kindle Locations 279460-279464). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

3:19–20 spirits in prison. The Greek term translated spirits can refer to human spirits, angels, or demons. There are three main interpretations: (1) Some interpret these verses as describing Jesus as going to the place where fallen angels are incarcerated and declaring His final victory over evil in His work on the cross; (2) others hold that spirits refers to human spirits; thus Christ preached to human beings who had died in Noah’s day and were in the realm of the dead (hell or hades); and (3) another major interpretation understands this passage as describing Christ preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of his day.
(Nelson, Thomas, “KJV, Foundation Study Bible”, eBook (p. 1338). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

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And preached to the spirits in prison. The meaning of this preaching and the spirits to whom he preached are much debated. It is commonly understood to be: (1) Christ’s announcement of his victory over evil to the fallen angels who await judgment for their role in leading the Noahic generation into sin; this proclamation occurred sometime between Christ’s death and ascension; or (2) Christ’s preaching of repentance through Noah to the unrighteous humans, now dead and confined in hell, who lived in the days of Noah. The latter is preferred because of the temporal indications in v. 20a and the wider argument of the book. These verses encourage Christians to stand for righteousness and try to influence their contemporaries for the gospel in spite of the suffering that may come to them. All who identify with them and their Savior will be saved from the coming judgment, just as in Noah’s day.

tn after they were disobedient long ago. This reflects a Greek participle, literally “having been disobedient formerly,” that refers to the “spirits” in v. 19. Many translations take this as adjectival describing the spirits (“ who had once been disobedient”; cf. NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, TEV), but the grammatical construction strongly favors an adverbial interpretation describing the time of the preaching, as reflected above.”
(Biblical Studies Press, “NET Bible First Edition (with notes)”, (Kindle Locations 202282-202291). Biblical Studies Press. Kindle Edition)

3:18–20 As Noah preached righteousness, suffered unjustly, and rescued those who were with him, so also does Christ. Christ descended to those in darkness and death that light might shine on them and He might deliver them from death. As Christ fearlessly faced His tormentors, death, and hell, so we through Him can confidently face mockers and tormentors— and, yes, bring His light to them.
(Nelson, Thomas, “NKJV, The Orthodox Study Bible, eBook: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World”, (Kindle Locations 103704-103707). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

Maestro dell’ Osservanza, “The Harrowing” (c. 1445) Painting (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts)

3:19 Verses 19, 20 constitute one of the most puzzling and intriguing texts in the NT. It has been made the pretext for such unbiblical doctrines as purgatory on the one hand and universal salvation on the other. However, among evangelical Christians, there are two commonly accepted interpretations.

According to the first, Christ went to Hades in spirit between His death and resurrection, and proclaimed the triumph of His mighty work on the cross. There is disagreement among proponents of this view as to whether the spirits in prison were believers, unbelievers, or both. But there is fairly general agreement that the Lord Jesus did not preach the gospel to them. That would involve the doctrine of a second chance which is nowhere taught in the Bible. Those who hold this view often link this passage with Ephesians 4:9 where the Lord is described as descending “into the lower parts of the earth.” They cite this as added proof that He went to Hades in the disembodied state and heralded His victory at Calvary. They also cite the words of the Apostles’ Creed—“ descended into hell.”

The second interpretation is that Peter is describing what happened in the days of Noah. It was the spirit of Christ who preached through Noah to the unbelieving generation before the flood. They were not disembodied spirits at that time, but living men and women who rejected the warnings of Noah and were destroyed by the flood. So now they are spirits in the prison of Hades.

This second view best fits the context and has the least difficulties connected with it. Let us examine the passage phrase by phrase.

By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison. The relative pronoun whom obviously refers back to Spirit at the end of verse 18. We understand this to mean the Holy Spirit. In 1:11 of this Letter the “Spirit of Christ,” that is, the Holy Spirit, is described as speaking through the prophets of the OT. And in Genesis 6:3, God speaks of His Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, as nearing the limit of endurance with the antediluvians.

He went and preached. As already mentioned, it was Christ who preached, but he preached through Noah. In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is described as a “preacher of righteousness.” It is the same root word used here of Christ’s preaching.

To the spirits now in prison. These were the people to whom Noah preached— living men and women who heard the warning of an impending flood and the promise of salvation in the ark. They rejected the message and were drowned in the deluge. They are now disembodied spirits in prison, awaiting the final judgment.

So the verse may be amplified as follows: by whom (the Holy Spirit) He (Christ) went and preached (through Noah) to the spirits now in prison (Hades).” But what right do we have to assume that the spirits in prison were the living men in Noah’s day? The answer is found in the following verse.

3:20 Here the spirits in prison are unmistakably identified. Who were they? Those who formerly were disobedient. When were they disobedient? When once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.  What was the final outcome? Only a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. It is well to pause here and remind ourselves of the general flow of thought in this Letter which was written against a general background of persecution. The Christians to whom Peter wrote were suffering because of their life and testimony. Perhaps they wondered why, if the Christian faith was right, they should be suffering rather than reigning. If Christianity was the true faith, why were there so few Christians? To answer the first question, Peter points to the Lord Jesus. Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake, even to the extent of being put to death. But God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him in heaven (see v. 22). The pathway to glory led through the valley of suffering.

Next Peter refers to Noah. For 120 years this faithful preacher warned that God was going to destroy the world with water. His thanks was scorn and rejection. But God vindicated him by saving him and his family through the flood. Then there is the problem, “If we are right, why are there so few of us?” Peter answers: “There was a time when only eight people in the world were right and all the rest were wrong!” Characteristically in the world’s history the majority has not been right. True believers are usually a small remnant, so one’s faith should not falter because of the small number of the saved. There were only eight believers in Noah’s day; there are millions today.

At the end of verse 20, we read that a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. It is not that they were saved by water; they were saved through the water. Water was not the savior, but the judgment through which God brought them safely.

To properly understand this statement and the verse that follows, we must see the typical meaning of the ark and of the flood. The ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The flood of water depicts the judgment of God. The ark was the only way of salvation. When the flood came, only those who were inside were saved; all those on the outside perished. So Christ is the only way of salvation; those who are in Christ are as saved as God Himself can make them. Those on the outside could not be more lost.

The water was not the means of salvation, for all who were in the water drowned. The ark was the place of refuge. The ark went through the water of judgment; it took the full brunt of the storm. Not a drop of water reached those inside the ark. So Christ bore the fury of God’s judgment against our sins. For those who are in Him there is no judgment (John 5:24). The ark had water beneath it, and water coming down on top of it, and water all around it. But it bore its believing occupants through the water to safety in a renewed creation. So those who trust the Savior are brought safely through a scene of death and desolation to resurrection ground and a new life.
(MacDonald, William. “Believer’s Bible Commentary” (p. 2258-2259). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

Christians are to live their lives according to the shape of Jesus’ own passion, resurrection, and ascension. It is not only that Christ’s sacrificial acts are worthy of imitation but also that these acts are atoning. “For Christ also suffered … in order to bring you to God” (3:18).

There follows a description of the passion and resurrection of Christ that has puzzled Christian commentators through the ages. The first part is clear enough. Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (3:19). The claim is not strikingly different from that in Rom. 1:3–4. Peter is not arguing that only Jesus’ spirit was made alive, but that he was made alive in the power of the Spirit.

Now comes the particularly puzzling description of what the living Jesus did after his resurrection: “he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (v. 19). The connection of these spirits with the flood (Genesis 6–9) suggests one of two possibilities. Perhaps these spirits are those of the disobedient people who perished in the flood. Or perhaps these spirits are the offspring of the “sons of God” and mortal women described in the puzzling passage Gen. 6:1–4. William Joseph Dalton argues persuasively that this passage fits with other first-century texts that speculate on the fate of these human/divine offspring. He further suggests that when the risen Christ preaches to these spirits, they are imprisoned in a kind of holding place located between earth and the upper heaven, where God the Father dwells. Jesus preaches to the spirits as part of his ascent.

The author now uses the reference to the ark and the flood to remind the readers of their own baptism. The flood prefigures baptism, but of course only in a kind of striking reversal. Noah and his family were actually saved from water; Christians are saved through water.
(Gale A. Yee (Author), Matthew J. M. Coomber (Editor), Margaret Aymer (Editor), Jr. Page, Hugh R. (Editor), et. al, “Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set”, Kindle positions 56143 -56152, Fortress Press. Kindle Edition)

Jacopo Tintoretto (Robusti), “The Descent into Hell”, (1568) oil on canvas