Archive for the ‘Confirmation Bias’ Category

by Fred W. Anson
Even though I haven’t seen or heard hide nor hair of it for a while now, at one point Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” was once all the rage among Mormons. They would proudly present it as demonstrable proof of an obvious miracle that validated and confirmed the veracity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with this story you can hear it directly from Mr. Weston in the video link that I’ve provided above. Or, for those who prefer the short version, here’s the synopsis from a Mormon friendly source:

The “17 points of the true church” is a story often heard in sacrament meeting talks. The story goes like this: Five friends attending college hear Albert Einstein speak. Einstein gives his belief in God. The five friends return to their dorm and begin to map out what the “true” church of God would have to include. Eventually the friends come up with 17 points of the true church. They all separate. World War II happens. Years later they all meet up (one had died in the war). The four had gone off to find the “true” church based on their research. All four had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1

However, the body of evidence suggests that it never happened at all.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Hearing Albert Einstein Speak at Cal Tech
It is a fact that Albert Einstein was at Cal Tech in the 1930’s. As the school’s website explains:

Einstein was a visiting professor at Caltech for three winter terms only—1931, 1932, and 1933. When Einstein decided to settle in the United States permanently, he accepted an appointment at Princeton University.2

However, according to his obituary, Floyd Elmer Weston was born May 21, 1921 which means that he would have been between 10-12 years old when he was a student there. Further, there’s also no record of Einstein speaking at Cal Tech after leaving the school for his commission at Princeton. Further, since Einstein’s health was failing after the war, a cross country trip from Princeton to Cal Tech (which most likely would have been via train) in the post war 1940’s to mid 1950’s (he died in 1955) for an undocumented speaking engagement is highly improbable.3

Further, there’s this email from 1998:

A convert in our ward fifteen or twenty years ago, Dick Lockett, read Weston’s story of the 17 Points and recognized that Weston claimed to have been a student at Cal Tech at the same time he was there. But several small points didn’t match his own recollection of a few events Weston mentioned. Key among them was Weston’s recounting of Einstein’s visit to Cal Tech. Einstein did come to Cal Tech but several years before Weston and he were students there. Dick began to probe the story further. He found that Weston was indeed a student at Cal Tech during the years he attended and thus could not have heard Einstein speak.4

No Collaborating Witnesses
Another problem with Weston’s story is the lack of collaborating witnesses. Continuing from the same source:

…in his story Weston only identified one of the people in the “study group” with first and last names. The rest are only identified by first names. Dick found the one identifiable member of the study group in the alumni records and made contact. They guy [had] never heard of Weston, was not LDS, and certainly was not part of any study group.5

And Holy Fetch notes:

Here is what we know to be true about this story. It was first told by Floyd Weston. He claims that he was one of the four college students. He attended Cal Tech and Albert Einstein did speak there (although some claim that Weston was a student several years after the Einstein visit). Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true. The life event was even mentioned in his obituary.

Floyd Weston’s account of the story is the only historical proof we have of this story. None of the other three people involved in the story have ever come forward to back up the story.6

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Did Weston Recant?
However, it’s possible that Holy Fetch is incorrect in its assertion that, “Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true.” as the aforementioned email notes:

Shortly after this, Weston was invited to speak at a fireside in our stake. When Dick heard this, he told the stake president what he had found. When Weston arrived, he was asked to meet with the SP who confronted him with Dick’s findings. Weston confessed that he had made up the story and was sent packing. This happened in San Jose South stake.

While I have some sympathies about how difficult it must be to untangle a web of deception (I’m sure he still gets phone calls begging him to come and tell the story one more time), I think it is irresponsible to deliver this talk as he did to a recent group of new mission presidents, at church firesides, and to continue to sell his tape.7

The Internal Confirmation Bias Speaks for Itself
But the most compelling argument against Weston’s “17 Points” is that it’s clearly a case of confirmation bias. Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows:

Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.8

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” Got it? So, once again for those who missed those 17-points here they are again:

  1. Christ organized the Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  2. The true church must bear the name of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:23)
  3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:19-20)
  4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  5. The true church must claim divine authority (Heb 5:4-10)
  6. The true church must have no paid ministry (1 Cor 9:16-18; Acts 20:33-34; John 10:11-13)
  7. The true church must baptize by immersion (Matt 3:13-16)
  8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  9. The true church must practice divine healing (Mark 3:14-15)
  10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus are separate and distinct individuals (John 17:11; 20:17)
  11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus have bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 23:36-39; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 1:1-3)
  12. The officers must be called by God (Heb 4:4; Ex 28:1; 40:13-16)
  13. The true church must claim revelation from God (Amos 3:7)
  14. The true church must be a missionary church (Matt 28:19-20)
  15. The true church must be a restored church (Acts 3:19-20)
  16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead (1Cor 15:16&29)
  17. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt 7:20)
035af376-31c8-50be-97d9-f10bd8a94785.image

The solar-powered, eco-friendly LdS Church meeting house in Farmington, Utah.

Now without going any further, doesn’t that list look like a Mormon just took the distinctives and dogmas of the Mormon Church and then generated a list based on them? For example, do you know of any church other than the LdS Church that practices baptism for the dead? Or that claims to have no paid ministry? Or that teaches God the Father has a body of flesh and bones? These are clear and unique Mormon distinctives. In addition, Floyd Weston blatantly misrepresents other churches, their doctrines, their culture and their theology in his address. In fact, his depiction of those churches is more reflective of the type of ignorance driven caricatures, prejudice, and bigotry that non-Mormons still hear from Mormons rather than what one actually finds in those churches. One could easily conclude that he never visited those churches at all.

Further, if you’ve look at the proof texts that Weston provides for each of these points, in many cases, the point is only supported by the biblical text if one engages in Mormon-style eisegesis – that is, inserting words and meanings into the text that the author never intended based on preconceptions. Stated plainly, I question the idea that a non-Mormon approaching the text cold would be inclined to come to the corresponding conclusion that’s found in that particular point. LdS Church indoctrination is clearly at play here.

For example, he cites (Heb 5:4-10) in support of “The true church must claim divine authority” which is the classic text that Mormons eisegete into the text to support their dogma of the restoration of Priesthood Authority. Ditto for point 16 (“The true church must practice baptism for the dead.”) which ignores the fact the language of 1 Cor 15:29 which refers to “they” (third person) rather than “we” (second person), or “I” (first person) – a clear indication that neither Paul or the Corinthian Christians were engaging in the practice. Further, in the full context of the chapter, it’s clear that “they” refers to those who deny the resurrection not those who don’t.

Suffice to say, the “fingerprints” of confirmation bias are all over Weston’s points. In fact, all a knowledgeable person need do is listen to his address to hear it first hand. Mr. Weston’s overtly biased presentation is both self-incriminating and self-discrediting. This fact wasn’t lost on former Mormon Richard Packham who, using the Weston template, developed his own “20 Points of the True Church”:

THE TWENTY POINTS OF THE TRUE CHURCH

Teachings of the True Church:
1. There will be no physical, visible coming of the Kingdom of God (John 18:36, Luke 17:21).
2. The celebration of the Lord’s supper includes bread, wine (Matt 26:26-29) and the washing of each other’s feet (John 13:4-15).
3. Marriage and divorce are frowned upon (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:2-12).
4. The Jewish Temple ritual will be observed (Acts 2:46).
5. The Church takes priority over family (Luke 14:26, 12:51-53, Matt 10:21).
6. Women must cover the head while praying (1 Cor 11:5-10).
7. Eunuchs will have special respect in the Church (Matt 19:12).
8. Only two commandments: Love God and love thy neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).

Members of the True Church can be recognized by the following:
9. They hold all things in common ownership (Acts 2:44-45).
10. They do not sin (1 John 3:6-9).
11. They can drink poison without harm (Mark 16:18).
12. They do not strike back if you strike them (Matt 5:39).
13. If you ask to borrow anything from them, you do not have to return it (Luke 6:30).
14. They never have to hire movers or earthmoving equipment, or use UPS; they can literally move anything by the power of God (Matt 17:20, 21:21, Mark 11:23).
15. They have no retirement plans, savings account, or food supplies stored away (Matt 6:25-34). And no possessions (Matt 19:16-21, Mark 16:21, Luke 18:22).
16. They never pray in public (Matt 6:5-8).
17. They are like sheep or children (Matt 19:14, 18:3-4, Mark 10:15, John 10:2-27, Heb 13:20).
18. They do not go to a doctor when ill, but heal each other with prayer (James 5:13-15, Mark 16:18).
19. Their children are not rebellious; they kill them if they are (Matt 15:3-9).
20. They do not die (John 8:51, 11:25-26).9

So who’s to say that Packham’s list is any less valid than Weston’s? After all, they both claim to have biblical support for their claims, right? And since Packham is an atheist he doesn’t have a denominational or sectarian axe to grind or agenda to push. So who wins?

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Further, Mormon researcher Bill McKeever has deconstructed and analyzed Weston’s 17-Points in detail. In doing so he has done a superb job of exposing not only the aforementioned confirmation bias but logical fallacy, after logical fallacy as well:

1. Christ Organized the Church.
This argument is purely subjective as most organizations claiming to be Christian feel Christ organized their church. This would include the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and others that deny sound biblical doctrine. People make the Church. Because Christ’s Church is made up of many individuals who have trusted in Christ totally for their salvation, it would be erroneous to view any particular building, organization, or denomination as the “true church.”

2. The true church must bear the name of Christ.
If Mormons wish to use this argument, they must answer as to why their own church was called merely “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” from 1834-1838. By their reasoning their own church must have been in apostasy for at least four years. Those who belonged to the early Christian church were known more by their geographic location rather than an “organizational” name. In I Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses “The church of the Thessalonians.” Are we to assume that Paul was addressing a false church?

3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets.
The true church has as its foundation Jesus Christ. He is the Chief cornerstone and/or foundation. I Corinthians 3:11 reads, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Deuteronomy 18:15 makes it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is “the Prophet” who guides His Church today. (See also John 5:46; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23.)

4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s church.
If the LDS Church follows Eph 4:11-14, why is the order of authority reversed? Paul says first in line come the apostles, next the prophets. Mormonism reverses this order. If Mormonism emulates the structure of the early church, where in the Bible is there any mention of multiple high priests, Relief Society presidents, Second Quorum of the Seventies, stake presidencies, ward bishoprics, etc.? Where are the Mormon’s pastors, and evangelists?

5. The true church must claim divine authority.
Again, this is purely subjective. Any organization can claim to be authoritative. Bible-believing Christians claim the authority of God’s Word, the Bible, not the words of mere men who contradict it.

6. The true church must have no paid ministry.
Mormons who believe their leaders are not paid are very misinformed. All the General Authorities in Salt Lake City receive remuneration for their services to the church and from the church. If they don’t believe it, they should call the LDS Church headquarters and ask. A paid ministry is not unbiblical. The entire Old Testament speaks of a paid ministry as well as I Corinthians chapter 9.

7. The true church must baptize by immersion.
If baptism (a work) was necessary in order for a person to be saved, this could be a debatable subject. However, Ephesians 2:8,9 clearly states that we are saved by grace through faith, not works such as baptism. Baptism is merely an outside sign of an inner work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. Believers should be baptized as a testimony of their faith in Christ; however, baptism does not save.

8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Many Christian churches do practice this. The Bible shows, however, that at times the Holy Ghost (Spirit) was received of men without mention of hands being laid on them. (See Acts 4:31; 10:44; 11:15.)

9. The true church must practice divine healing.
Again, many Christian churches do practice this and do get results.

10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct individuals.
The Christian church holds that Jesus Christ and God the Father are separate personages. Joseph Smith strayed from the truth when he said they were separate Gods. This conflicts with many passages such as Deut. 6:4 and Isaiah 43:10, just to name a few.

11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone.
Mormons believe this only to substantiate Joseph Smith’s so-called first vision. John 4:24 claims God is a spirit (lit. God is Spirit). Even Smith at one time taught God the Father was a personage of spirit (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth). He changed his mind later on.

12. The officers must be called of God.
Another subjective point. All cultists believe they are called of God.

13. The true church must claim revelation from God.
Again, a subjective point. All cultists claim revelation from God.

14. The true church must be a missionary church.
Any Christian church that wants to see souls saved is a missionary church whether that mission field is across the ocean or across the back fence. The Mormon church holds no exclusive rights to missionary activity.

15. The true church must be a restored church.
You can’t restore something that wasn’t lost. Jesus Himself said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). History proves this.

16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead.
The Christian church never condoned baptism for the dead. Paul excludes himself from such a practice when he uses a third person pronoun rather than first person (“Why do they baptize for the dead …”) (See Hebrews 9:27 and Alma 34:34,35 for that matter.)

17. By their fruits ye shall know them.
This expression is taken from Matthew 7:20, which ironically deals with judging false prophets, not churches. In examining the fruits of Joseph Smith, we find that he indeed was a false prophet. He introduced a foreign view of God, a false plan of salvation, and inaccurate predictions about future events. If we must use this verse to examine the fruits of Mormonism, we must have an answer as to why the Mormon Church must constantly reverse its position on matters that should never change (Alma 41:8). Why do their leaders contradict past leaders? Why did they change the Book of Mormon so many times when it was supposedly translated “by the gift and power of God the first time”? Why did they change their temple ceremony in 1990 when Smith claimed it came by direct revelation? And doesn’t it seem suspicious that many of the changes in the ceremony were things Christians (and Mormons) had been criticizing for years? Did God mess up or did Joseph Smith (or was it their current leaders)?10

And to further expand on Mr. McKeever’s critique of Point Six, LdS scripture actually demands a paid clergy in not one but two different places:

And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned;

Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop.

And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.
(Doctrine & Covenants 42:71-73)

Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.
(Doctrine & Covenants 75:24)

So the modern Mormon Church’s assertion that a paid clergy is a sign of an apostate and/or untrue church blatantly contradicts what it also claims is part of God’s revealed commandments to His only true, living, and restored church. I believe the word for this is “hypocrisy.”

One can only wonder why Floyd Weston conveniently ignored these rather glaring incongruities in his analysis. The only logical explanation that is that he was not only just counting the “hits” but ignoring the “misses.” So in the end, its clear that Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” appears to be nothing more than the type of confirmation bias driven, thought stopping, information and emotional controlling circular logic that Mormon culture produces in spades – and what’s remarkable about any of that?11

ta_us_sta_0087_xgaplus

A Comparable Evangelical Case Study
Further, when a public figure is caught fabricating inspiring falsehoods people tend to hold them accountable for it after they’re exposed. For example, let’s consider the case of Evangelical comedian Mike Warnke who got caught in a web of lies back in the 1990’s:

In 1991, Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke’s life and testimony. The previous year, Cornerstone had debunked Lauren Stratford‘s story that had been recounted in Satan’s Underground. Stratford claimed her deep involvement in Satanism led her to partake in a ritual in which her own child was sacrificed. After the exposé showed Stratford’s alleged child had never existed, Cornerstone journalists Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott investigated Warnke and his life.

The Cornerstone investigation spanned from interviews with over 100 of Warnke’s personal friends and acquaintances to his ministry’s tax receipts. The investigation revealed a number of inaccuracies and evidence of fraud and deceit in Warnke’s accounts. During the course of Cornerstone’s investigation, pictures of Warnke taken during the time he was alleged to be a Satanist priest were discovered. Rather than showing an emaciated drug-addict sporting long fingernails and waist-length hair, the pictures showed Warnke as a typical ‘square’ of the mid-1960s. The investigation also revealed Warnke’s claims that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual to be false; Manson was in federal prison at the time, having no known ties to Satanic churches.

The investigation further uncovered that before joining the Navy, Warnke had been involved with the college Christian ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke’s multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Most critically, however, the investigation showed how Warnke could not have done the many things he claimed to have taken part in throughout the nine months he claimed to be a Satanist – including his claims to be a drug-addicted dealer or a Satanic high priest.

Warnke sent a response to Cornerstone, published in July, insisting he told the truth, stating:

‘I stand by my testimony of being delivered and set free by the power of Jesus Christ after being a Satanic high priest exactly as published in my book, The Satan Seller…. some information was purposefully changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals and to prevent readers from using the book as a guide for occultism and Satanic purposes. But, as we stated in the front of the book, ‘The events are absolutely as described.”’

Despite these assertions, Warnke did not provide the name of a single Satanist but used invectives against ex-wife Carolyn. In the ensuing months, Warnke conceded parts of the allegations, telling Christianity Today that there had been only 13 members of his coven, not 1,500 as originally claimed, and that of those 13, the whereabouts of five were unknown to him, while the other eight had since died.12

The reaction from the Evangelical community to this deceit and attempt at manipulative damage control was quick and impacting:

Public response was varied but was nevertheless overwhelmingly against Warnke. Initially, Word Records stated that they would stand by their artist. However, further investigations by local Kentucky reporters at the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed that Warnke’s ministry had engaged in financial misdeeds and that “Mike, his ex-wife Rose, and her brother Neale [Hall] received a total of $809,680 in salary at a time when the ministry newsletter claimed donations were down and more funds were needed.” One week later, Word Records dropped Warnke from its label. Finally, on September 30, 1992, fewer than 100 days after the investigation was made public, Warnke Ministries closed its doors.13

moab_lds_church

This historic Moab LdS Church was constructed of adobe in 1884. It was built nine years after the establishment of Moab in 1880. Angus Stocks supervised the laying of the foundation and adobes. Within a few years of original construction an addition was made to the rear of the building. The church was used by the Moab Ward until 1925, when a new church was built and this church deeded to the Grand County School District.

The Mormon Response
Yet remarkably, despite all the evidence discrediting Weston’s 17-Points, the reaction been in Mormon Culture has been quite different to what we saw from Evangelicals in response to Warnke’s faith promoting yarn spinning and denials. Here’s a sampling of Mormon responses:

“I sat in a meeting where Brother Weston himself told that story. I have no reason to question Brother Weston’s veracity.”14

“Floyd Weston told me himself in 1983 that it really happend,[sic] five friends studied four joined (one died). Now about the 17 points that’s just interpretation of those scriptures. I once saw a 42 point one that was more detailed. But according to brother Weston and I have no reason to doubt him. Its true. According to Brother Weston’s son he never denied it to his family either. Please stop trying to make Brother Weston out to be a Paul H Dunn.”15

“I wanted to let you know that I just talked to one of Brother Weston’s relatives. He said that whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that.

I highly recommend that you redirect this discussion before it causes Satan to have more power & influence on Jesus Christ’s people.”16

One will, of course, notice that no verifiable evidence is presented to support these claims of Weston’s vindication – once again it’s all “just take my word for it” and “I know a guy who knows a guy” second and third hand feel good hearsay.

Even the Mormon Apologists at FAIRMormon seem to be unable or unwilling to openly acknowledge Weston’s deceit and denounce the 17-Points as a contrived, faith promoting lie. Yet at the same time time they still seem to be posturing for a rapid retreat and slowly backing away from it:

It makes little difference for the Church if Weston made up his story, since the truth or falsity of Weston’s personal history has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the restored gospel. Additionally, the “17 Points” may be used by certain individual members of the Church, but they have not been used in any official Church publications or adopted by the Church in any other way. The claims of the restored gospel stand independent of Weston’s list.17

Even more amusingly FAIRMormon attempts to woodshed critics of The 17-Points by incorrectly asserting that articles like this are some kind of indirect attack on the Mormon Church via ad-hominem attacks on Floyd Weston:

What this has to do with the validity of Weston’s “17 Points” is not entirely clear, but it seems that the critic is attempting to discredit Weston’s list (and, by implication, the Church) by discrediting Weston himself. This would be a form of the ad hominem fallacy… This confirms the perspective that the hostile reports targeted against Weston suffer from significant bias.18

Oh irony here! Critics are accused by FAIRMormon of engaging in argument “to the man” (the English translation of ad-hominem from the Latin) rather than “to the man’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason” when those critics are doing nothing more than challenging Weston’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason. Even more remarkably these charges come right on the tail of FAIRMormon acknowledging that Weston’s 17-Points are indeed rooted and grounded in confirmation bias:

The assumptions underlying the “17 points” are highly dependent upon a worldview widely assumed by Utah Mormons, but which rarely reflects the situation of those who are not members of the LDS Church: the idea that there is “one true church” and that people will accept the LDS faith once they are logically convinced that it “matches” the New Testament Church in salient ways. In reality, these concepts are totally foreign to the worldview of most non-Mormons and depend a great deal on the assumptions which one brings to such an analysis.

“17 Points” is thus a resource that may be interesting to Latter-day Saints in examining the scriptural basis for certain features of the modern Church, but it is one that has relatively little value or relevance to the missionary effort unless the non-member already shares many aspects of the LDS world-view.19

With “logic” and “consistency” like this who needs enemies – FAIRMormon seems to be doing just fine shooting itself in the foot, that is after that foot has been inserted into its mouth first. Say what you will about Evangelical Christianity but you won’t find its apologists defending a member of its tribe who’s been caught in a faith promoting lie. If you doubt me, just read the Warnke case above again and consider that at no time did you have Evangelicals claim that Mike Warnke was being “ad-hominemed” by critics in an agenda driven attempt to indirectly discredit Evangelicalism. In fact, Warnke’s harshest critics, not to mention the folks who exposed his deceit to begin with, were fellow Evangelicals.

Conclusion
At the end of it all, the body of evidence points to fact that the story of Floyd Weston’s “17-Points of the True Church” is a complete fabrication. So the fact that Mormons continue to defend it and use it as evidence in their discussions with outsiders raises some serious questions about the value of truth and integrity in Mormon Culture. As Richard Packham said well in response to one Mormon’s argument that, “whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that”: 20

“Does this mean, then, that, according to this Mormon, the truth is a tool of Satan?”

Kinda makes you wonder folks don’t it? Kinda makes you wonder…

OvidChurch01

A former LdS Church building, now privately owned. Peter Jensen was the first branch president in Ovid, Utah in 1873. He later became the first Bishop of this church.

NOTES
1 “Is the “17 Points of the True Church” a true story”, Holy Fetch website.
2 “Fast Facts About Cal Tech History”, Cal Tech website.
3 See “Chronology of Einstein’s life”, Albert Einstein in the World Wide Web website. Also see Princeton University’s article on Einstein here.
4 Anonymous archived email, Wed, 28 Oct 1998 23:46:03 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
5 Ibid.
6 Op Cit, Holy Fetch. Underlining added for emphasis.
7 Op Cit, Anonymous email. By the way, one can still buy an audio copy of Weston’s 17-Point at Deseret Book. Or if you prefer the printed tact version, ditto.
8 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.
9 Richard Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.
10 Bill McKeever, ‘Examining the “17 Points of the True Church”‘
11 Also see Fred Anson, “A Short Course In Confirmation Bias” for another infamous example of this.
12 Wikipedia article on Mike Warnke, “Investigation and debunking“.
13 Ibid, “Aftermath”.
14 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by ERayR, 4 Mar 2009.
15 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by Anijen, 3 Mar 2009.
16 Fri, 30 Oct 1998 09:35:44 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
17 “Criticism of Mormonism/Criticism of “17 Points of the True Church”‘, FAIRMormon website.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Op Cit, Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.

Church-at-Sunrise

Also Recommended: 
In November 2011 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson discussed, deconstructed, and evaluated The 17-Points of the True Church on their Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. You can listen to these podcasts via the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 

BACK TO TOP

church_sign-wideby Fred W. Anson
Since I’m known in most circles for my strong Reformed theological stance, a lot of people are surprised to discover that I’m also full blown, tongues speaking non-cessationist Charismatic.

There’s a reason for that: I’m embarrassed. Yes folks, I’m embarrassed by so much of the insanity that goes on among my Charismatic/Pentecostal Brethren these days that I find myself wanting to distance myself from a movement that I once was proudly part of. If anyone has any doubts about why, just pick the latest copy of Charisma Magazine skip the editorial content (which is generally written by sane, reasonable people), and read the ads (which in many cases seem to written by people who are neither).1 If that doesn’t convince you, just flip to the Trinity Broadcasting Network (aka “TBN”) on your television and try to last for more than about 15-minutes – them folks is all nuts from what I can tell!

Yes, the lack of biblical theological, sound doctrine, discernment, and good old common sense that some of today’s Pentecostals and Charismatics engage in is embarrassing folks, truly embarrassing – and I’m saying this as someone who’s part of the tribe! The term that we thinking Charismatics use for these lunatic fringe nutballs is “Charismaniacs” – and trust me, they have legitimately earned the title! In fact, a few have even go so far off the rails that they openly embrace – and even promote – Mormon error. Let’s look at a couple of these.

Paul Richardson and Lynn Ridenhour

Advertisement for a joint Paul Richardson, Lynn Ridenhour seminar. (click to zoom)

The Errors of Paul Richardson
In previous articles2 Beggar’s Bread readers were introduced to Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, an allegedly ordained Baptist Minister who has a testimony of Joseph Smith as prophet due to being introduced to the Book of Mormon by one of his Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS)/Community of Christ neighbors in Missouri. Dr. Ridenhour merited his own article because he’s the most notorious personality in this regard. In fact, it was through Lynn Ridenhour’s Facebook page that I discovered Dr. Paul Richardson, of whom he wrote:

MEET A DEAR FRIEND. Meet Dr. Paul Richardson, Pentecostal minister who loves and preaches out of the Book of Mormon. A few years back we hosted a Book of Mormon seminar in Independence. Two protestant preachers—a Baptist and a Pentecostal—preaching out of the Book of Mormon. I remember the night. The place was packed! We had an LDS Bishop there, missionaries were there. RLDS brothers and sisters were there. A Catholic priest came.

I consider Dr. Paul and his lovely wife, Faye, the dearest of friends. What a John the Baptist they are! Forerunners ahead of their time—spreading the good news of the restoration gospel and the message of the precious Book of Mormon throughout the southern states of this nation. Dr. Richardson publishes his monthly newspaper and mails it out to Pentecostals, mostly pastors all over southern United States. He also gives away free “Record of the Nephites,” as he calls the Book of Mormon.

Dr. Richardson is the chancellor of Spirit of Truth Institute, a Bible School. His school has ordained over 430 Pentecostal ministers. What a friend!3

Now it should probably be noted here that Dr. Ridenour actually transitioned from being a cessationist Baptist to continuationist Pentecostal during the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970’s. So if you attended that seminar what you really got, despite Lynn Ridenhour’s spin doctored rhetoric, was not one, but two Pentecostals who have fallen into Mormon error. And Dr. Ridenhour isn’t joking about any of the stuff he said about Paul Richardson, let’s consider some “gems” from his website:

El Greco, "The Pentecost"

“The Pentecost” by El Greco

OUR DISTINCTIVE STAND
We accept the Book of Mormon, which we also refer to as “The Record of the Nephites” or “The Nephite Record.” Why? Because …

  • It is a companion to and comparable to the traditional 66 books of our Holy Bible, as Sacred Writ
  • It is obviously inspired of God and from heaven.
  • It is in harmony with our Holy Bible, confirms and supports fundamental Christian teachings and is another powerful witness unto our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • It is a fascinating true account of ancient Israelites who migrated by ship to America about 600 B.C.
  • This authentic account was dug up, supernaturally translated by the power of the Holy Ghost, and first printed in 1830. Sadly, the Utah “Mormons” have made many little alterations in their version of it, but we still have copies that conform to the original manuscript.
  • It authoritatively corrects a number of old false teachings that have plagued the Church for generations.
  • It is theologically sound, full of spiritual light, and very edifying to the soul.
  • It is the first installment of much more extra-Biblical Revelation prophesied to come forth in this end time.4

And how does Paul Richardson support his claims that the Book of Mormon is an “authentic account”, “obviously inspired of God and from heaven”, and a “true account”? Archaeology? Science perhaps? Cross referencing the historic records? Evaluating the linguistics of the Book of Mormon relative to Native American linguistics maybe? Theological consensus perhaps?

Of course not! Rather, given the fact that it’s been soundly discredited archaeologically, scientifically, historically, linguistically, theologically, and just about every other way, he just does it the same way that all true believing Mormons do: He elevates his feelings and experience above all else. He simply ignores the fact that not only isn’t there a scrap of evidence to validate the Book of Mormon, there’s a mountain of evidence that discredits it. Here’s an example of the type of feellings driven, Mormon style, mental gymnastics that he engages in:

SOMEONE HAD TO WRITE THE BOOK OF MORMON
—It did not just drop down out of Heaven. There are only three possible origins: 1. God, 2. Man, or 3. the devil.

Joseph Smith, Jr. did not write the Book of Mormon. He only translated it. Then soon afterward his life became such a lie that the Book he translated was stigmatized causing the Christian church to rejected [sic] it.

What does the Book of Mormon do for me?
• Well, it inspires me to pray and to be loving and kind.
• It convicts me of any selfishness, fleshly disposition or worldly attitudes.
• It builds up my faith and gives me courage to trust the Lord.
• It puts me in a Heavenly frame of mind and kindles a strong desire in me to walk with God and to live holy for Him.

Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service. Reading the Book of Mormon does all the same things for me as reading the Holy Bible does.5

But the fact of the matter is that objective evidence simply can’t be ignored. And if that evidence contradicts your emotional decision it still has to be dealt with somehow. Given that, consider how arbitrary and inconsistent he is in accepting the divine calling of Joseph Smith as inspired translator of the Book of Mormon while simultaneously throwing him under the bus as a fallen prophet:

Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and a great Seer.

His gift was utterly supernatural!

He had an amazing gift from God to translate the ancient Nephite Record. His great contribution was incomparable, for which we are very grateful.

But not long after he translated the Book of Mormon, he clearly became deceived and misguided and no one should follow either his personal example or his false teachings, which clashed with both the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I prefer to follow the pure Word of God!6

Wiggin-Pentecost-smaller

“Pentecost” by Mark Wiggin

This is pretzel logic at it’s finest! This is like saying that Mohammed was a divinely inspired moralist when he received the Koran but lost the anointing when he started slaughtering infidels. Or that L. Ron Hubbard was an expert in human psychology when he wrote Dianetics but suddenly became a manipulative hack after it fell off the bestseller list. Neither narrative is true: The moral character of neither man changed before or after the these works were published, they remained the same. Likewise, the historical record demonstrates that Joseph Smith was a con-man and a shyster before, during, and after the creation of the Book of Mormon. In all cases, the only thing that really changed was the amount of power and influence that these men were able to consolidate to themselves as a result of the publication of their defining work. And once they had that power consolidation protecting them, their true nature manifested itself.

So apparently in Richardson’s mind the rationale goes something like this: “So what if Joseph Smith didn’t live a life that produced good fruit (per Matt 7:15-20)? So what if the rotten fruit he produced has resulted in a plethora of abusive Mind Control Cults that have followed him in engaging in the practice of polygamy? So what if he taught that the God of the Bible is just an exalted man who is just one of an infinite number of such gods throughout the cosmos (in violation of Deut 13:1-11)? So what if Joseph Smith destroyed fortunes and families through failed prophecies (in violation of Deut 18:18-22)? Brother, his book sure makes me feel like I’m in a really good church meeting when I read it, so it must be of God, right?”

Clearly Dr. Paul Richardson is failing to plumb line any of his beliefs against the absolute and objective standard of the Bible. I can say this emphatically because while the Book of Mormon is an interesting example of 19th Century American Protestant Restorationism, it simply isn’t fully “in harmony with our Holy Bible”. As Donna Morley noted in her analysis of similar claims by Lynn Ridenhour:

Here’s what Alma 13:13 actually says:

“And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.”
(Alma 13:13, RLDS, bolding added)

Further, here’s something else Alma says in chapter 13:

“Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish.”
(Alma 13:10, RLDS, bolding added)

In the above, Alma stated that the high priests escaped damnation only by working righteousness. The righteousness is credited as “their righteousness.” This isn’t the unconditional grace that’s taught in the Bible this is conditional grace where one must perform good works in order to merit grace rather than it being a unilateral gift of unmerited favor and mercy from God Himself!

True Christianity isn’t based upon our righteousness. The prophet Isaiah says that our righteousness is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB). Because we don’t have righteousness of our own, true followers of Christ are given His righteousness:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
(Romans 3:22, NASB)

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB)7

pentecost 2

“Pentecost 2” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

The Book of Mormon also contradicts with biblical theology on other key points as well. For example, it’s view of the Godhead is modalistic8 and it rejects salvation by grace alone through faith alone (that is unconditional grace) for Roman Catholic style conditional grace ( that is, salvation by grace plus works):

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
(2 Nephi 25:23 LDS bolding added for emphasis)

This is in direct contradiction with the Bible:

“For it is by faith you are saved through faith, not that of yourselves it is the gift of God”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB bolding added for emphasis)

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
(Romans 11:6, NASB)

So it’s clear that Dr. Paul Richardson is in very grave error. He isn’t following the “pure Word of God” at all. I would respectfully suggest that he reconsider his feelings regarding the Book of Mormon in light of what the pure Word of God actually says regarding using feelings as the ultimate means of discerning truth:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
(Proverbs 28:26, KJV)

Dr. Paul Richardson pitches the “Record of the Nephites” without explicitly stating that it’s the Book of Mormon.

The Errors of Cal Fullerton
While he’s not well known, probably the most interesting of the Charismatics who have been snared by the spirit of Mormonism is Cal Fullerton. Unlike Lynn Ridenhour and Paul Richardson, his justification for his stance isn’t quite as eye rollingly, face palmingly, ham fistedly inane, absurdist, and irrational. Rather, like non-Charismatic LdS Church advocates Richard J. Mouw and Roger E. Olson, he has been seduced into an odd form of theological liberalism and eyes wide shut ecumenicalism that’s rooted in feelings and experiences trumping both biblical orthodoxy and reality. One need go no further than the home page of his website to see this:

“Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Christian?” This question and others about Christianity in the Mormon Church are reverberating worldwide.

The answers given are usually polarizing. Those who say no are primarily evangelical Christians. Those who say yes are primarily Mormons . . . but not all of them.

Respected evangelical leaders such as Joel Osteen have said yes.

The president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw, who has been recognized as an important voice among reform-oriented evangelicals, confessed that evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs…

In order to do this completely and most effectively, there must be unity among us. Jesus prayed, “I have given them [my disciples] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:22-23 NIV).9

"Icon-Pentecost" by Phiddipus

“Icon-Pentecost” by Phiddipus

So there you have it, an Evangelical Scholar whose work in Mormon Studies has been discredited and denounced by recognized and respected Evangelical Mormon Studies Scholars (Richard J. Mouw)10 and an ear tickling heretic (Joel Osteen)!11 I mean if these guys say it’s true, then it must be – right? I mean, with “evangelical leaders” like this who needs wolves, we have them right in the flock!

But, wait it gets, even better: Though it’s rarely mentioned in public, Cal Fullerton also bases his stance regarding the LdS Church on a prophecy from an errant Charismatic prophetess. Here’s how he relayed this incident on a Mormon/Evangelical discussion board:

I heard the prophecy (not a dream or vision) by the prophetess long after the Word of God—printed & living—revealed to me God’s perspective on the LDS.

Incidentally, the prophetess fell short of saying the LDS is Christian and should be accepted into the Christian fold. Rather, she rebuked the church of Christ for pointing fingers at Mormons. At one point she yelled, “THROW DOWN YOUR STONES!” I liked it so much that I asked permission to use her prophecy in something I was writing. She denied permission, which is why, for the sake of integrity, I’m not mentioning her name now. (She is well known and highly respected among charismatics.)12

And there you have it – classic Charismaniac error. When push comes to shove, Biblical absolutes get shoved to the side and are subordinated to feelings and experiences. This theme can be found again, again, and again on Mr. Fullerton’s website. Again one need go no further than his home page:

Helen [Cal Fullerton’s wife] and I are not taking this stand because we have another opinion– opinions are already too easy to find–it’s because the Spirit of the living God has revealed it to us. Have you ever noticed that virtually all non-Mormons who say the Mormon Church isn’t Christian, don’t say that God told them so? The reason is He didn’t!13

So it came as no surprise to me when Mr. Fullerton offered the same, “Pray about it my friend” defense of the Mormon Church in the aforementioned online discussion that one would expect from a Mormon. Here was my response:

[Your challenge that I pray about the Mormon Church] deserves special, detailed attention. With this statement you have demonstrated WHY some Charismatics/Pentecostals and nearly all Latter-day Saints fall into error.

Cal, I don’t HAVE to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I have to pray about whether I should lie, cheat, steal, or commit adultery. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to told to pray about Biblical absolutes.

Rather, for a true Christian the Bible is his/her absolute authority – not feelings, not experiences, not relationships, and not . . . whatever. And in this case Joseph Smith failed to pass every Biblical test for a true prophet and he passed every test for a false one:

1) Deceiving God’s covenant people into following another God. (Deu 13:1-11)
2) Giving future predictions that failed to come to pass. (Deu 18:18-22)
3) A life that produces bad fruit. (Mat 7:15-20)
4) Denying that Jesus Christ was God eternal incarnated in human flesh. (1 John 4:1-3)

In addition we can add:
5) Use of Occult practices like scrying and Shamanism.
6) Incorporating Freemasonry into the LDS Temple ceremonies.
(Freemasonry is rooted in Kabbalah which is occultic)

As I’m sure you know occult practices are soundly condemned throughout both the Old and New Testament so I won’t bore you and the other readers with a list of proof texts on this. In regard to Joseph Smith’s involvement with these practices here’s a good write up by former Mormon, Janis Hutchinson that ends with this closing statement: “No individual, knowing the truth about the Mormon Church’s occult background, could possibly follow Joseph Smith as a prophet or embrace his teachings.”
http://www.janishutchinson.com/joeoccult.html

So no Cal, there’s no need to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I need to pray to determine if Branch Davidianism, Christian Spiritualism, Freemasonry, or Scientology are. Sure there are good, moral, admirable people in each of these religions but that doesn’t make them Christian any more than it makes their founders true prophets of the God of the Bible.

And, I must say it, suggesting that I – or any other Christian for that matter – disregard Biblical absolutes and pray about whether the false religion started and based on the teachings of the false prophet Joseph Smith simply demonstrates how flawed, errant, and unbiblical your theology has become.14

At this point, I’m not quite sure what to add in regard in regard the Errors of Cal Fullerton. One need only parse through his website to see error, after error, after error.

"Pentecost" (Unknown Artist)

“Pentecost” (Unknown Artist)

Good Theology? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Good Theology!
Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richards, and Cal Fullerton represent the Charismaniac extremism that John MacArthur and his supporters pointed to with glee in their “Strange Fire” book and conferences in indicting Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement as a fountainhead of error. They’re easy targets since, unlike many Charismatics, they seem to lack any real theological depth. For example, consider this “gem” from Cal Fullerton:

It has been said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is not a Christian organization because Mormonism denies one or more of the “essential” doctrines of the gospel. To determine if that statement is correct, we need to have a good grasp of what actually is essential. To correctly classify the LDS we need to be sure which doctrines of the Holy Bible are absolutely mandatory in order for someone to become a Christian and enter heaven. Roughly seventy percent of Mormon teachings agree with evangelical teachings. But that does not prove that the LDS is a Christian denomination. The tenets and members have to agree with the Bible’s essentials.

I have assembled these essentials into four.

Essential Number 1: Believe God Rewards…
Essential Number 2: Repent to Faith in Jesus…
Essential Number 3: Receive Jesus (the Holy Spirit) Into Your Heart (Be Born Again)…
Essential Number 4: Believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ…

According to the Bible, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the four essentials I’ve listed above, we must classify it as a Christian denomination instead of an unchristian cult. That is because God has plainly promised that if you do the essential requirements I have outlined, he will accept you into his eternal family.

Back when I thought the Mormon Church wasn’t Christian, I didn’t pay much attention to whether each of their doctrines had to do with a mandatory requirement for entering heaven. That was one of the reasons I made a tragic mistake of judgment.15

I can hear the sound of palms hitting faces throughout cyberspace as those grounded in historic, biblical theology read that “masterpiece”. I know of no credible theologian who would accept that list as fundamentally sound criteria for soteriology, let alone mainstream Christian orthodoxy! He apparently has no clue that the Essential Doctrines of the Christian faith have recognized throughout Christian Church History as the following:16

"Pentecost 4" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 4” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 – 1998) (click to zoom)

The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
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.

In the end Cal Fullerton only demonstrates his own ignorance and destroys his own case by doing a Mormon style “redefining the terms to fit the predetermined conclusion”. In fact, Mormonism doesn’t even get through the Judeo-Christian gate because of it’s rejection of monotheism in favor of henotheistic polytheism.

Likewise, as pointed out in a previous article, Lynn Ridenhour can’t even properly articulate the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity held by mainstream Christianity without speaking heretically. And he then one ups that heresy by concluding that Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead is correct.17 Finally, as noted previously, Paul Richardson seems quite happy with the modalistic version of the Trinity presented in the Book of Mormon, as well as its denial of salvation by grace alone. Folks, if you’re looking for theological depth from these three, look elsewhere! The aforementioned John MacArthur could well have been writing specifically about them when he said:

We ought to begin with the Word of God, allowing a proper interpretation of the text to govern our experiences. A true work of the Spirit thrives on sound doctrine. It promotes biblical truth; it does not dismiss it or see it as a threat. Once experience is allowed to be the litmus test for truth, subjectivism becomes dominant and neither doctrine nor practice is defined by the divine standard of Scripture.

Charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless, objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit. They envision the Spirit’s ministry as something wholly free-flowing, infinitely pliable— so subjective as to defy definition. Creeds, confessions of faith, and systematic theology are seen as narrow, confining, not elastic enough for the Spirit to work within. Acknowledging this tendency within charismatic circles, one author wrote, “A college student once warned me of the ‘dangerous doctrine of demons’— his description of systematic theology. ‘The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture,’ he explained. ‘Teaching doctrine is Satan’s attempt to use our minds to understand the Bible rather than relying on the Holy Spirit.” (William E. Brown, “Making Sense of Your Faith”, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989, p.55)

That is a shocking statement. In reality, the only thing good theology stifles is error, which is why sound doctrine is the single greatest antidote to charismatic deviations. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16: 13). Any work of His will elevate biblical truth and sound doctrine in the hearts and minds of His people.18

Pentecostal Charismaniacs: Mormons Gone Bad
But now it should be apparent that these men are more Mormon than Christian in their epistemology. This should come as no surprise since as noted in prior articles19 Mormonism was a byproduct of the same 19th Century American Restorationist Pentecostalism that birthed today’s modern Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. That epistemology, in a nutshell, can be described thusly: Feelings, faith, facts – in that order. As Lutheran Pastor, Don Matzat (who has past involvement with the Charismatic Movement) observed well:

There is nothing wrong with Christians desiring feelings, emotions, and experience. In fact, the lack of any experience is in itself an experience. The lack of feeling is a feeling. The lack of emotion is an emotion. Any cursory reading of the New Testament demonstrates that love, joy, peace, hope, contentment are to be the Christian’s experience, feeling, and emotion…

Rather than coming against a feel-good faith, we should clearly teach that true Christian feelings, emotions, and Holy Spirit experience are the product of sound theology. Rather than confronting imbalance in the church by promoting the alternative and pushing the pendulum to the other side, we should begin with a balanced perspective which means recognizing that feelings will follow a faith that clings to the objective promises of God in Scripture. The person who believes and confesses that his sins are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross should feel guilt-free and experience the joy of having a cleansed conscience. Feelings and emotions. while not the cause of our faith, are the expression of our faith. Martin Luther writes, “We can mark our lack of faith by our lack of joy; for our joy must necessarily be as great as our faith.” Again he writes, “You have as much laughter as you have faith.” (Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Vol. 2, p. 692.)…

Hopefully the present conflict between sound doctrine and feel-good experience will lead to a balanced perspective on both sides. Those who minimize sound doctrine and promote feelings and experience must recognize that they are plotting a course for deception and disaster. Those who focus on sound doctrine must begin teaching people to apply those great truths of Scripture to their daily living so that the experience of God’s people matches what the Word of God commands.20

And Charisma magazine more directly and forcefully articulated the same sentiment in a web article by Joseph Mattera entitled, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”. In fact, according to Mr. Mattera, this is the #1 characteristic of a Charismaniac:

1. You put prophecies and extra-biblical leadings on the same level as the written Word of God. Isaiah 8:20 says if we speak not according to the Scripture then we have no light. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The Scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth.

Unfortunately, some in the charismatic camp seem to be led more by personal prophecies and supernatural visions and dreams than by the Scriptures. I have known some people who would record personal prophecies by well-known “prophets” and—without praying about it or comparing it to Scripture or getting discerning counsel from more seasoned leaders in the kingdom—would just obey the prophecy as if it were as inspired as the Bible.21

Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecôte

“Pentecost” by Jean II Restout, (c.1732)

In other words, biblical epistemology is facts, faith, feelings – in that order. To see the contrast, just consider Paul Richardson’s “evidence” that the Book of Mormon must be true because, “Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service.”22 Now compare this to his lack of any acknowledgement that the Book of Mormon does in fact contradict both the Bible and Christian orthodoxy. When you take that and then factor in the reality that there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon – a glaring omission that somehow fails to be addressed on his website or in any of his articles – the work’s rejection as holy writ should be fait accompli. Instead, again, again, and again in his articles Mr. Richardson endorses the book as scripture equivalent to scripture based on subjective analysis that’s devoid of any objective evidence. As I said to Cal Fullerton regarding this same kind of lack of discernment and failure to plumb line such impressions against objective evidence:

I, a fellow Charismatic who believes in modern prophetic utterances and the other gifts of the Spirit say to you now as I did back on the [now defunct] Concerned Christians board [in 2010]: I don’t care WHO that prophetess was, I could care less what her reputation is among Charismatics or anyone else for matter, she gave a false prophecy – period.

When plumblined against the Bible it was a false prophecy. Period.

And most distressingly she validated a false prophet and a heretical non-Christian group in the name of (and allegedly in the voice of) God. She is, therefore, a false prophet and a deceiver. Period.23

This blatant disregard of objectivity (especially biblical objectivity) over personal subjectivity is very Mormon isn’t it? In fact, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel and a Charismatic with Pentecostal roots, could have been describing these men when he wrote:

It is of utmost importance that we allow the Bible to be the final authority for our faith and practice. Any time we begin to allow experiences to become the criteria for doctrine or belief, we have lost biblical authority, and the inevitable result is confusion. There are so many people today who witness of remarkable and exciting experiences. The Mormons, for example, “bear witness” to the experience of the truth of the Book of Mormon. They encourage people to pray in order to experience whether or not their Book of Mormon is true. One person says he has experienced that it is true, and another says he has experienced that it is false. Which one am I to believe? Each swears he has had a true experience from God; yet one has to be wrong. Whenever you open the door for experience to become the foundation or criterion for doctrinal truth, you are opening a Pandora’s box. The result is that the truth is lost in the conflicting experiences, and the inevitable consequence is total confusion. We know that God is not the Author of confusion.24

Further, didn’t Christ stress the importance of evidence throughout His sermons? And could Paul have been any clearer when he said that if our Christianity isn’t empirically true then “we are of all men the most pitiable”?

If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
(1 Corinthians 15:14-19, NKJV)

In summary and conclusion, this unbiblical, feeling affirming, evidence denying pattern can be seen plainly in the writings and public instruction of all three men – again, one need only spend some “quality time” on their websites to see this clearly. By embracing false scripture from a False Prophet – and even worse, encouraging others to do the same – these men have become false teachers themselves. And the Bible was quite clear what God’s people are to do when we encounter a false teacher, false prophet, false apostle, or false anything for that matter:

You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.
(Deuteronomy 13:3&4, NKJV) bolding added for emphasis

pentecost

A primitive fresco of Pentecost.

NOTES
1 Full disclosure and clarification: I worked as a Music Reviewer for “Worship Leader Magazine”, which is also owned by Strang Publications, the publisher of Charisma Magazine, from 1992-1993. During that time I found John Strang and his staff to be reasonable, personable, and theologically sound. I think that’s why you will find the editorial content of Charisma Magazine to be generally sound.

That’s why I’ve specifically recommended that you just view the advertisements in the magazine instead – they’re an unvetted, raw picture of the current state of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Church at the grassroots level and, frankly, it’s scary. Whenever someone asks (or challenges) me about my (admittedly blunt) assessment of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement I just point them to there. After seeing them, nothing else need be said. For example, let’s look at a couple of them from the December 2015 issue of Charisma magazine:

“Blood Moons are not about the end – they are about the beginning.

For over 3,000 years God has used the blood moon tetrads on His feast days of Passover and Tabernacles as a sign of special revival coming to His people. The last great blood moon revival came in 1967, when God poured out His Spirit to begin the charismatic renewal. Today there are over 600 million charismatic Christians who are the fruit of this revival, including most of the readers of this magazine.

The blood moon tetrad of 2014-2015 occurred in troubled time, as have most the previous 14 blood moon tetrads. Yet we can see the beginning of a new revival coming based on unity in Christ in answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Don’t miss it!

we invite you to study the Scriptures, the heavenly signs, and the history of the blood moon tetrads in our new book . . . ”
(Charisma, December 2015, p.9)

But, wait folks, if blood moons aren’t enough, there’s more! Consider this “gem”:

“Discouraged?
Need a miracle?
Lack the faith to believe?
Desire to be empowered to heal?

– Receive step by step Biblical Instruction to activate God’s healing power in your life.
-Be encouraged as you read the amazing testimonies that are in this book.

Afraid?
Feel defeated?

– Tap into the supernatural potential of your faith.
– Unleash the power of God.
– Experience the impossible.
– Overcome in these Last Days.
(Charisma, December 2015, p. 15)

Even more disturbing are the titles and subtitles of the latter books being advertised in the second advertisement: “Dare to Believe: The True Power of Faith to Walk in Divine Healing and Miracles” and “Greater Than Magic: The Supernatural Power of Faith”. Apparently, the Bible isn’t enough any more, now we need the equivalent of “How To” Charismatic cookbooks and computer manuals! Further, if one didn’t know in advance one might even assume from the title alone that these are books from pagans on how to cast spells or channel metaphysical powers and forces. Yet there they are, being advertised in the flagship periodical of American Pentecostals and Charismatics! And not only does no one seem to care, but judging by the reviews of these books on Amazon, my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters seem to be delighted by it! It is any wonder that prudent and conservative continuationists distance themselves from such things?

My dear Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters we can do better than this! Brothers and sisters we must do better than this in the Name of, and for the cause of, Christ alone!

2 See “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour” and “Weak Arguments #7: ‘The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.’” in particular.

3 Lynn Ridenhour, Facebook post October 20, 2014

4 Paul Richardson, “Our Distinctive Stand”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website (now archived). The reader may also be interested in reading Dr. Richardson’s biography (which for or some unknown reason he calls a “News Release”) by clicking here.

5 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had To Write The Book of Mormon”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website (now archived).

6 Paul Richardson, “The Charm of Joseph Smith”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website (now archived).

7 Donna Morley, “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, Appendix: Is the Book of Mormon Really “Baptist”?”

8 See Ronald V. Huggins, B.F.A., Th.D., “Joseph Smith’s Modalism: Sabellian Sequentialism or Swedenborgian Expansionism?”; Also see Bill McKeever, “Modalism in the Book of Mormon”.

9 Cal Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page. Bolding retained from original.

And in accordance with the usage guidelines of that website we post the following: “Copyright © 2008 Cal Fullerton. Permission is granted, and you are encouraged, to print the above article in hard copy form, as well as send it to your own email lists and post it on your own websites. We only ask that you include the name of the originating website (EvangelicalsandMormonsforJesus.com) and this copyright and permission notice.”

10 Please see the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions “Statement On Richard Mouw And Evangelical Countercult Ministries”; And for a good analysis and deconstruction of Richard J. Mouw’s claim that Evangelical Christians have lied about and misrepresented the Mormon Church see Fred W. Anson, “Scolasticus cum Peter Principle”; Also recommended: Mike Thomas, “That Apology and How Liberal Theolgians “Go Native”’, and; Fred W. Anson, “Apologizing For Richard J. Mouw”.

11 See Matt Walsh, “Joel Osteen and his Wife are Heretics, and that’s why America Loves Them”; Also see “Joel Osteen-Preaching a False-Positive, with a Smile”.

12 Cal Fullerton comment, September 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm on the article “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons” by Jared C. on the LDS and Evangelical Conversations website.

13 Op Cit, Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page.

And by the way, and for the record Mr. Fullerton, there are thousands of Christians who can subjectively claim that the Mormon Church is neither true or Christian because God told them so. I’m one of them:

I would like to bear my testimony . . .
I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have studied the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon and I have prayed consistently for over 30-years. I have taken the “Moroni 10 Challenge” and I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me everyday of my life.

… and my testimony is this:
I am utterly convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, as is Thomas S. Monson. Further, I am utterly convinced that the Book of Mormon is an uninspired, man created work of 19th Century fiction.

Here I stand before God and before men – I can do no other.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, amen.

And if my testimony isn’t enough, I can provide similar testimony from other Christians with little to no effort at all. Further Mr. Fullerton, please note that -unlike your testimony of the LdS Church – the body of objective evidence, including the bible itself, supports and verifies our subjective testimony. So in the end where has all this subjective testimony bearing of contrary positions gotten either of us? Answer: Absolutely nowhere.

What I have said to countless Mormons, I will now say to Misters Ridenhour, Richardson, and Fullerton: That Mormon testimony of yours plus a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee at Denny’s and that’s about it! And what’s true for you is just as true for my contra-Mormon testimony: Testimony bearing in and of itself proves nothing. Rather, let’s see the objective evidence that supports and verifies it – because in the end that’s all that really matters.

14 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

15 Cal Fullerton, “Essentials for Salvation”“Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” website. Bolding from original retained.

16 See Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website. While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject. Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider the short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

17 In his article, “God of the Philosophers: Brief Comments on the Godhead” (now archived) Lynn Ridenhour writes:

“The God of the Trinity wallows in modalism, stumbling to give its advice to new converts. Listen to Cyril of Jerusalem:

“…For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost; the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.” –Catechetical Lectures 16:24

Enough.

What kind of Being is God?

Let Joseph answer. The Prophet preached that “…if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form,” and that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22).

As I said in the beginning, this may be old hat to most, and not unlike the tour guide, some may be tempted to say “…O, we see it all the time…” and walk away, but for me—it’s like seeing the Niagara Falls for the very first time.”

In case you didn’t notice that a heretical definition of the Trinity followed by an endorsement of Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead.

18 John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship” (pp. 73-74) Kindle Edition.

I would ask the reader to note that while I find much to soundly applaud in this work, overall I was disappointed by John MacArthur’s extremist stances, exaggerations, misrepresentations and generally ungracious, polemic attitude in both this book and the conferences that preceded it. Perhaps Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the “Reformation Commentary on Scripture” as well as several other books said it best when he wrote:

“Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.”
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

I also agree with Reformed Theologian John Piper who wrote:

‘On each point, it is surely misguided to single out charismatics, says Piper. “Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, financial abuses, all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches.” Of charismatics and non-charismatics alike, “we all stand under the word of God and we all need repentance.”

But those charismatic abuses remain. So how are these excesses best policed? How are Christians today protected from the abuses of the charismatic church? Is it through attack-centered books and conferences?

“I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth. I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find, because what I believe, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth.”’
(John Piper, “Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos”, Desiring God website)

I’m trying hard in this article to tread a fine line between being too polemic and too tolerant regarding Charismatic practices that I consider imbalanced or outright unbiblical. I will leave it to the reader’s judgment to determine if I’ve succeeded or not.

19 See Fred W. Anson, “Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad”“Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad [The Sequel]”; Also see John Farkas, “Speaking in Tongues and The Mormon Church”.

20 Don Matzat, “Feelings, Emotions and Christian Truth”

21 Bishop Joseph Mattera, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”, Charisma magazine’s “Charisma News” website. Bolding from original retained.

22 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had to Write The Book of Mormon”.

23 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

24 Chuck Smith, “Charisma Versus Charismania”, Kindle Locations 1282-1289.

The Bible

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:1, KJV)

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loveguruHere’s another classic Luna Flesher Lindsey article for your enjoyment, edification, and enlightenment. If you like this article please consider getting a copy of Luna’s book “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control”

Mind Control 101: Myths of Brainwashing
by Luna Flesher Lindsey
I’ve studied a lot about mind control over the years. My interest piqued shortly after I left a rigorous and restrictive religion. I wanted to better understand how I had willingly allowed myself to be controlled, all the while believing and protesting loudly that I was free.

These methods are deceptive and unethical, tricking the mind rather than persuading through honesty and reason. Knowing this, I now have a very unique perspective on American politics. I can see these techniques used all the time, by politicians, media, and regular people.

This is not owing to a vast conspiracy. It doesn’t take an evil mastermind to notice certain approaches work better to persuade. These methods have always worked and will always continue to work, and so they perpetuate through society. Some who study memetics might even say they self-replicate.

This post is one in a series called “Mind Control 101″, which precedes its non-evil step-twin, “Logical Fallacies 101″.

Please do not use this as a How To! I address this topic not with the intent that you try to take over the world. In instead wish to make you better able to defend yourself when your mind comes under assault.

Let’s begin with the myths. The entire subject of brainwashing is “loaded”. Loading a word is itself, fittingly, a mind control technique that limits thought by giving you preconceived and highly incorrect notions. I’ll start “deprogramming” you by showing where your existing understanding of the topic is probably far from reality.

Mind catrol - ur doing it rong akshully

Remember this guy? Well, he’s STILL doing it wrong!

When I say these words, “Thought Control” or “Brainwashing”, you no doubt envision a wild-haired hypnotist swinging a silver watch, while a stern doctor injects your arm with a strange serum. In the background, hooded figures chant, and soon your eyes begin to glaze over. All the while you are helpless to resist because you are strapped to a chair.

This is all complete fantasy. The great secret is that while being brainwashed you feel in complete control of yourself. A much more accurate term is “coercive persuasion“, because you are persuaded to want the same thing the manipulator wants, to believe as he wants you to believe.

Those who have been thusly persuaded never know they have been brainwashed. Conversely if you think you’ve been brainwashed, you probably haven’t been.

So let’s dispel some myths, shall we?

Thought reform does not require physical restraint.
Scientists used to think this, back in the 1950s, when American POWs returned from Korea singing the praises of their captors. But coercive persuasion in our free society requires a little more skill. No force is required. All it takes is listening to someone who is talking. It also requires that you trust them, at least a little bit. If they do their job right, you will go willingly.

This picture is totally Photoshopped.

This picture is totally Photoshopped.

It does not involve hypnotic disks.
Hypnosis
is a broad word that means any varying state of consciousness other than the one you’re probably experiencing now. Various levels of hypnosis, trance, and meditation are sometimes used by cult groups, but this is never, ever a requirement.

No drugs, truth serums, elixirs, or magical incantations are used in brainwashing.
Other than a few 60′s cults that were using drugs anyway, I’ve never come across any thought reform involving chemicals. Nor does it have anything to do with Satan. No demonic possession, summoning of evil spirits, or worshiping pagan gods is required.

Brainwashed people are not glassy-eyed, drooling zombies.
Most actually appear quite normal. In fact, I would venture to say everyone ends up brainwashed to one degree or another, at some point in their lives. Our brains seem wired to accept manipulation and deception. It seems logical that humankind would have better survived those very dangerous first 100,000 years of pre-history by following a leader without question. Thought control merely capitalizes on those build-in survival skills we are all born with.

There is absolutely no way to know that you’ve been brainwashed.
That’s exactly the point. If you knew you were being controlled, you wouldn’t like it very much, and you wouldn’t stand for it. The manipulated fully believe they are making their own choices, that they are completely free to act in any way they choose.

A good deal of brainwashing involves setting up trigger thoughts, little tricks and traps that help you deflect any incoming facts, beliefs, thoughts, or feelings that would make you suddenly stop believing the lies you’ve been duped into. Part of this series is going to be identifying those traps, so you can avoid them in the first place.

(I could say “…and so you can escape if you’re already brainwashed.” But you see, if I were to accuse you of being controlled, you would immediately become defensive and protest, thinking, “There is no possible way!” That is exactly what I’m talking about.)

There is no “one size fits all” method of mind control.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can control some of the people all of the time, or all the people some of the time, but you can’t control all the people all the time. Manipulators throw out a line with some bait to see what bites. Sometimes it’s you, but usually you will laugh at their crazy ideas. Everyone is ripe for being manipulated at some point in their lives. Someone has something to say that will appeal specifically to you. You will always be able to see how other people are being brainwashed, but you won’t necessarily notice when it’s happening to you, because you will like it.

There are a lot of mind control tricks, but not all are required.
There isn’t a checklist that says, “Must meet all 50 requirements to be considered mind control”. To control, you only need to do what works.

Brainwashing is not total.
It is possible to be partly brainwashed. You can be brainwashed about certain topics but not others. You can be brainwashed to the point of doing or believing almost everything the leader wants, but not quite. Victims of mind control can eventually be freed.

This is what all Mind Control practitioners look like... NOT!

This is what all Mind Control practitioners look like… NOT!

Brainwashers are not creepy, bizarre, crazy, mean-spirited men who ooze evil and darkness from every pore.
Images of cackling, sneering, British-accept-wielding villains were created for the drama of movie fiction, not to reflect reality.

If you’re going to be good at manipulation, you’ve got to be likable. To persuade, you must be charismatic. To convince, you must be, well… convincing. I listened to old recordings of Jim Jones recorded just before the infamous Jonestown kool-aid mass-suicides and he sounded sincere, kind, loving, and wise.

Furthermore, controlling groups or ideologies work best when believers are taught to use brainwashing techniques themselves. That’s right. In almost every case, the controlled end up controlling.

No one is immune from mind control.
Not even me, not even after all I’ve learned about it. I can build up defenses, but even then I will be susceptible to it at some point.

Conclusion.
Now you know what mind control is not, which gives you an advantage over most people.

Yeah . . . this kinda isn't how it works either. Pretty cool graphic though, eh?

Yeah . . . ain’t workin’ is it?

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on September 21, 2011)

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Confirmation driven apologetics.

Confirmation Bias driven apologetics.

by Fred W. Anson
In 2009 a local newspaper in Provo, Utah ran a series of articles written by local people who were trying to persuade members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the “Mormon Church”) to leave their church. In response to these highly critical and spirited articles, a true believing member of the Mormon Church wrote this rebuttal which has been kicking around the Internet ever since:1

Editor:

I have been thinking of quitting the Mormon Church. Yes, if I can, I am going to get even with that church. As soon as I can find another church that teaches about the Gathering of the House of Israel; the return of the Ten Tribes and their mission; the return of the Jews to Palestine and why, and how they are going to build the temple; the building of temples and what to do with them; the mission of Elias, the prophet, as predicted by Malachi; the method for the salvation of the people that died at the time of Noah in the flood; the origin of the American Indian; the complete explanation of why Jesus of Nazareth had to have a mortal mother but not a mortal father; the explanation of the three degrees of glory (three heavens) as mentioned by Paul; the complete explanation of why Elias and Moses did not die but had to be translated (since they both lived before the resurrection was introduced by Christ); the restoration of the gospel by modern revelation as promised by Peter and Paul and Jesus himself; the belief in eternal marriage and the family, and the knowledge and the place to seal for eternity; that teaches abstinence from all harmful drugs and foods; and that sells the best fire insurance policy on earth, for the last days, for only a 10th of my income.

BRM_ConfirmationBias

(click to zoom)

Yes sir, as soon as I can find another church that teaches all that, or even half as much, I will say good-bye to this Mormon Church. The church that I am looking for must also be able to motivate 50,000+ youth, and adults, for the first, second or third time, to leave their homes for two years at their own expense and go to far-away places to teach and preach without salary. It must be able to call, on a frosty day, some 5 or 6 thousand professors, students, lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, businessmen, housewives and children to go and pick apples at 6 am. It must be able to call meetings and get the attention for two hours of more than 150,000 men. Yes, it must also teach and show why salvation is assured for children who die before eight years of age.

Mr. Editor, could you help me find a church that teaches all that and more than hundreds of other doctrines and principles, which I have no room to mention here, and which brings solace and comfort to the soul; peace, hope, and salvation to mankind, and above all, that answers the key questions that all the great philosophers have asked; questions and answers that explain the meaning of life, the purpose of death, suffering and pain; the absolute need for a Redeemer and the marvelous plan conceived by our Father and executed by Jesus Christ the Savior? Yes, as soon as I find another church that teaches that, and also that has the organization and the powers to make that teaching effective, I am going to quit the Mormon Church. For I should not tolerate that “they” should change a few words in the Book of Mormon-even if those changes simply improve the grammar and the syntax of the verses-for, after all, don’t you think the Divine Church should employ angels as bookmakers, and clerks, to do all the chores on earth? Don’t you think, Mr. Editor that the Divine Church should also have prophets that don’t get sick and don’t get old and die, and certainly, that don’t make a goof here and there. No, sir! A Divine Church should be so divine that only perfect people should belong to it, and only perfect people should run it. As a matter of fact, the Church should be so perfect that it should not even be here on earth!

An example of the double standard – another form of confirmation bias.
(click to zoom)

So, I repeat, if any one of the kind readers of this imperfect letter knows about another church that teaches and does as much for mankind as the Mormon Church, please let me know. And please do it soon, because my turn to go to the cannery is coming up. Also, “they” want my last son (the fifth one) to go away for two years and again, I have to pay for all that. And I also know that they expect me to go to the farm to prune trees, and I have heard that our ward is going to be divided again, and it is our side that must build the new chapel. And also, someone the other day had the gall of suggesting that my wife and I get ready to go on a second mission, and when you come back, they said, you can volunteer as a temple worker.

Boy, these Mormons don’t leave you alone for a minute. And what do I get for all that, I asked? “Well,” they said, “for one, you can look forward to a funeral service at no charge!”… Do you think you can help me to find another church?

Thomas D. Clark

This letter is usually presented by True Believing Mormons as proof of the superiority and veracity of the LdS Church. They tend to think that this letter represents one of the strongest, most convincing arguments for their church available. But outsiders see a problem with this perspective.

Stated plainly, this letter is about as fine a collection of logic fallacies as one could hope to find! I could write a very long article, deconstructing this letter point by point and identifying them. However, you wouldn’t want to read it, and frankly, I don’t want to write it.2 Rather, let’s just focus on the core fallacy used here by both the author of the letter and those who present it as compelling evidence for the Mormon Church: Confirmation Bias.

Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows: “Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.”3

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” To illustrate how this works in Mormonism I wrote an article using the analogy of a Military Tank to paint a picture of how confirmation bias surrounds, runs through, and permeates the culture of the Mormon Church. Stretching the analogy a bit, fanatical confirmation bias is the fuel that runs the Mormon Tank.

ByFacoMIcAA2roX.png large

To illustrate just how easy it is to create a confirmation bias driven equivalent to Thomas D. Clark’s arguments, here’s my version of his letter derived from my experiences, theology, ecclesiology, and preferred church culture.

Editor:

I have been thinking of quitting my church. Yes, if I can, I am going to get even with that church. As soon as I can find another church that teaches about the authority of scripture; the importance of the Reformation; the importance of confessing the creeds; spending money on people not things, that doesn’t teach that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the death of the Apostles; that teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone; that explains the human condition biblically; the complete explanation of why Jesus of Nazareth had to be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the elect; that has a fully formed theology of heaven; that still practices the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they appear in the Bible; that still believes in, acknowledges, and practices the 5-fold ministries that are taught in Ephesians 4:11; that is committed to strong marriages and families even over ministry, that teaches a Christianity that’s both head and heart not just one or the other; that helps captive addicts snared in bondage (like I was) get free; and that doesn’t demand at least a 10th of my income like authoritarian, legalistic churches do.

Yes sir, as soon as I can find another church that teaches all that, or even half as much, I will say good-bye to my church. The church that I am looking for must also be able to motivate youth, and adults, for the first, second or third time, to leave their homes for one or two years at their own expense and go to far-away places to teach and preach without salary – as so many in my church are doing and have done.

It must be able to call, on an inconvenient day, some 5 or 6 thousand professors, students, lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, businessmen, housewives and children to volunteer and go serve their neighbors – whether that neighbor be next door or half way around the globe. It must be able to get the entire church to pitch in for a project as so often happens. It must be able to call meetings that get the attention of the men in the church and motivate them in love to be the best husbands, fathers, and Christians that they can be.

confirmation-bias-2Mr. Editor, could you help me find a church that teaches all that and more than hundreds of other doctrines and principles, which I have no room to mention here, and which brings solace and comfort to the soul; peace, hope, and salvation to mankind, and above all, that answers the key questions that all the great philosophers have asked; questions and answers that explain the meaning of life, the purpose of death, suffering and pain; the absolute need for a Redeemer and the marvelous gift of eternal life that we have through the atonement of Jesus Christ my Savior? Yes, as soon as I find another church that teaches that, and also that has the organization and the powers to make that teaching effective, I am going to quit my church.

Further, I should not tolerate that “they” should insist on using the King James Bible alone when better modern translations that use the better, older manuscripts that weren’t available in the 17th Century are available.

And don’t you think, Mr. Editor that the Divine Church should also have imperfect, in process, clergy and laity that God works and speaks through despite their flaws? Yes sir, a Divine Church should be so divine that God’s grace and agape love flows through it in such a way that despite the fact that common, ordinary, broken, imperfect people fill and run it, the gates of hell will not and have not prevailed against it.

As a matter of fact, the Divine Church should be so imperfect that that the song, “Come Just As You Are” is the constant call to both those on the outside and inside of the Church. And in the Divine Church, while Christlike holiness is still the ideal and goal, all are worthy – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, right here, right now – aren’t they? The Divine Church is one where God in Christ is given all the glory through the weak made strong.  And through Christ’s glorious freedom church members can be 100% authentic 100% of the time – pretense is neither necessary or desirable in God’s true Church is it?

So, I repeat, if any one of the kind readers of this imperfect letter knows about another church that teaches and does as much for mankind as my Church, please let me know. So do you think you can help me to find another church?

Fred W. Anson

See how easy that was? All I did was copy Thomas D. Clark’s letter, take my own biases (the big one of course being to assume that my church is the only one that has these qualities), add a big scoop or two of how we do things in my church, and voilà: The perfect Church according to Fred W. Anson emerges. That was easy wasn’t it?

It was so easy in fact, that I would challenge you to go forth and do likewise: Post your own confirmation bias driven version of Thomas D. Clark’s great opus in the comments section. And when it’s all said and done what have you, I, and Thomas D. Clark proven? Answer: That we all know how to build “the perfect Church” in our own image from our own biases, preferences, self-inflicted blindness, and desires. In other words, we’ve proven nothing at all – except that we all can be closed minded, biased, and prone to use self validation as a means of smug self denial of reality, of course.

But enough of my yackin’ already! It’s time for you to get busy: Rev up that confirmation bias engine of yours and get started. I’m looking forward to seeing your version of Thomas D. Clark’s letter in the comments section soon!

Kierkegaard

NOTES:
1 I discovered this letter on the “My Life by Go Go Goff” blogsite. As a light homage to this source (and because I was feeling a little lazy when I wrote this article) I used some of his original prose in the introduction.

2 However, if you’re just dying to play “find the logical fallacy” on your own, here’s a good list of common logical fallacies (click here) that are used in public rhetoric. Just match the argument to the fallacy and have fun with it! By the way, pay special attention to “Circular reasoning” – for that one you’ll need a tally sheet Mr. Clark used it so often in his letter.

3 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.

2014-05-30-Confirmation-Bias

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I have always found Luna Flesher Lindsey‘s work on Mind Control to be particularly good. She has written many fine articles on the subject and recently compiled her work into a book entitled, “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control”.  This article has been lightly modified from the original version for this new context. Bon appetit! — Fred W. Anson

Mind catrol - ur doing it rong akshully

Mind catrol – ur doing it rong akshully

Mind Control 101: The Basics
by Luna Flesher Lindsey
Cult Conversion Walkthrough (Storytime!)
No one is immune from mind control. And contrariwise, mind control doesn’t always work. It takes the right combination of factors; specifically trust, common ideals, and receptivity.

Cults are a good place to study mind control because the changes they effect on people’s lives are extremely obvious.

Pretend for a moment you are having a difficult time in your life: a recent tragedy or major transition. Maybe you’ve just gone through divorce, lost a loved one, you’ve moved to a new town, or have recently been fired. You’re feeling alone, scared, depressed, ashamed, or desperate.

One day you encounter someone who is nice to you. Either it’s a friend or associate, or even a complete stranger. Maybe it is someone handing out pamphlets, or speaking to a crowd. Who ever it is, he has kind eyes, and you feel a little better when you’re around him. He also seems to share your values. Maybe he wants to help the poor, or he talks about the power of love, or God, or protecting animals. Imagine your greatest value, and he also shares that value with a level of passion you admire.

He invites you to a meeting or a party. Once there, you find a room full of people who say nice things to you, lifting your spirits. They are involved in a cause you wholeheartedly endorse. They take care of the sick or collect food for the poor, or educate kids about capitalism, or share the message of God to the world.

Being around these people makes you feel good. You feel as if you belong. You quickly forget your personal problems and begin spending more time with this group, working towards making the world a better place.

They have won your trust.

A completely staged, totally unrealistic depiction of a typical brainwasher. (Note the evil eyebrows.)

A completely staged, totally unrealistic depiction of a typical brainwasher. (Note the evil eyebrows.)

Slowly, you are introduced to new ideas you may not have accepted at first. Over time, more is required of you. More money, more time, more sacrifices. Your behavior is slowly restricted. Maybe you are required to dress a special way, eat or not eat certain foods, show up at a certain number of meetings, be so busy you don’t get proper sleep or nutrition. Now you are fairly receptive to what the leader may tell you. He will use this time to win more of your trust and make you more receptive. If you’ve had niggling doubts about your new friends or their beliefs, they are easily explained away.

Now the grip tightens. The leader teaches you doctrines to instill phobias about the outside world. You learn that your group has many enemies to fear. Those enemies are not to be listened to because you will be unable to resist when they try to lead you away from the love of the group. You are given thought-terminating cliche’s, phrases or words that help you easily dismiss criticism. You are elite, one of the chosen to help save the world from political error, or one of the blessed of God. Your very language is altered, as your words become “loaded”. This prevents you from properly thinking about certain concepts, and from properly communicating with people outside the group. You have become dependent upon the group for your emotional well-being, and you are possibly even physically or financially dependent. You are isolated, if not physically, then mentally, because there are many sources of information you are taught to distrust.

When you think about the group and its teachings, you are filled with a sense of euphoria. Thinking about outsiders or criticisms makes you feel anger or confusion. The thought of leaving the group or “switching sides” makes you feel guilty, ashamed, or afraid. If something is not going as promised, you blame yourself, not the group. There are no gray areas left in your world view — things are either good or evil, left or right, pure or tainted, full of life or death.

You now automatically reject any criticism, no matter how valid it is. You reject any fact that goes contrary to your beliefs, because your beliefs have become more important than reality. Certain words are now triggers that cause you to reject specific ideas before you even have a chance to hear them out.

You feel yourself to be perfectly rational, far more enlightened or intelligent than those with opposing views. Yet instead, your brain has been crippled from the mind viruses you voluntarily made part of you.

Jim Jones seemed like a really nice guy... till he lead 900 people to voluntarily drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.

Jim Jones seemed like a really nice guy… till he lead 900 people to voluntarily drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.

What Just Happened?
Here is the process:

1. Win Trust
Sometimes people just seem really trustworthy because they are kind, charismatic, or because everyone else also trusts and loves them.

2. Appeal to ideals, goals, beliefs. Win Trust
Sometimes people just seem really trustworthy because they are kind, charismatic, or because everyone else also trusts and loves them.

You probably feel very passionate about your beliefs, so it’s easy to involve you on this level. It’s also another way to win trust.

3. Create a state of emotions and receptivity
Once your defenses are down, there are many techniques for turning off your critical mind and putting you in an emotional state. There you are more willing to believe anything. Emotions may include fear, anger, idealistic euphoria, camaraderie, love, or any other strong emotion.

4. Slowly introduce new ideas and restrictions on thoughts and/or behavior
These are ideas or restrictions that dehumanize opponents, instill fears of the enemy, introduce thought-terminating cliche’s, create loaded words, give you feelings of elitism or of being special, and so on. This is the point at which you become tangled in the lie and become a perpetuator of that lie using the same techniques used against you.

It’s How We’re Wired
You don’t have to be a full member of a suicide cult to be manipulated. Mind control techniques are used every day: in the news, in commercials, in political speeches, on billboards, on the radio, in forwarded emails, and in conversations. Even abusive relationships practice the same manipulative methods.

We are always being asked to trust someone who wants to tell us who to fear, when to shut down our brains, who’s side to never respect, which facts are skewed and which are true. We are asked to immediately reject everything we disagree with and accept everything we agree with without question.

There used to be a lot more bowing and scraping. Those prone to backtalk were usually beheaded.

There used to be a lot more bowing and scraping. Those prone to backtalk were usually beheaded.

This process seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Our society now values free-thought, intellectual honesty, and persuasion through facts and reason, but this has not always been so. For most of history, mankind has blindly followed authority. Arguably, civilization might not have survived this far without these traits. Certainly, rebellious, contrarian individuals in those cultures didn’t survive long. Our minds seem prone to accept deceptive persuasive processes that bypass critical thinking. The tendency towards free thought was literally bred out of us.

It’s actually hard work to employ honest persuasion. We have to risk the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, which seems ever present in the harsh light of honesty. Our very brain chemicals make us unhappy when we critically question cherished beliefs.This process seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Our society now values free-thought, intellectual honesty, and persuasion through facts and reason, but this has not always been so. For most of history, mankind has blindly followed authority. Arguably, civilization might not have survived this far without these traits. Certainly, rebellious, contrarian individuals in those cultures didn’t survive long. Our minds seem prone to accept deceptive persuasive processes that bypass critical thinking. The tendency towards free thought was literally bred out of us.

Conversely, coercive persuasion is a much more comfortable process, but it always involves deception. Typically such persuaders believe the lies they tell. Followers of these distortions are just repeating the program, including mind control methods, they have been taught.

Who Can I Trust?
Ironically, you are actually more likely to be brainwashed by those you least expect to be capable. These will be people you fully trust, people with similar values and goals as you, someone who is on your side.

You cannot be brainwashed by someone you distrust, unless you are physically held hostage by them. This means if you hate liberals, you can’t be brainwashed by liberals. If you hate Republicans, you can’t be brainwashed by Republicans. If you’re God-fearing, you can never be brainwashed by atheists.

Think about that for a moment. The groups you might suspect most capable of mystically infecting your mind with deceit are actually the most incapable. Those you believe to be benevolent are those most capable of deceiving you, if they so choose.

There are members of every camp, every ideology, every school of thought who have used the powers of deceptive thought reform. Out there, somewhere, is a controlling group or belief system that is likely to appeal to you, that has the power to hook you and reel you in. It’s even possible, likely in fact, that it’s already happened to you to one degree or another.

When we’re born, we are about as helpless and dependent as we ever will be. We start out being programmed by our parents. In most ways, this is a good thing, because this is how we learn basic survival, how to behave in society, and how we gain culture and language. We learn useful values and principles. But we also come to blindly accept many untruths and thought patterns that keep us from critically thinking or asking questions when maybe we should.

I know it's true. I saw it on TV.

I know it’s true. I saw it on TV.

We also become susceptible when the world itself becomes terrifying. There are many things to fear: War, terrorism, disease, crime, violence, immorality, anarchy, socialism, racism, tyranny, oppression, and so on. Many will stand on podiums or behind TV screens and amplify those fears, and then promise to ease them if we but trust them. This isn’t much different from when a cult targets someone who has had a recent loss in their lives.

I have been brainwashed about some things. I still am, to some degree, even though I am aware of these techniques and do everything I can to spot them. But when someone is “on my side”, saying things I already tend to agree with, I’m just a little susceptible. And so are you.

Ultimately, you can only trust yourself. That is why questioning and critical thinking are so important. If you can become comfortable with cognitive dissonance and ok with being wrong, your mind becomes agile. If you learn good research techniques, you make yourself the ultimate authority. If you teach yourself rational habits and learn about the difference between good logic and fallacy, you can give yourself a built-in “baloney detector”. If you study mind control techniques, you shield yourself with awareness to disarm the lies. Trust yourself and become the guardian of your own mind.

And, hopefully, armed with this knowledge, you can be that much more immune to mind control. Because no one else can do it for you.

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on September 5, 2011)

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