Archive for the ‘Testimony Bearing’ Category

Latin_America_Christmas_pinata_2013

A Christmas piñata in the historic Mormon Tabernacle during the annual Latin Christmas program in December 2013.

by Fred W. Anson
I cringe when I see it. It’s like watching a train wreck unfolding in slow motion. It’s never pretty but the result is always the same. It’s ugly and it’s painful. I’m talking about a Latter-day Saint publicly bearing testimony outside of the friendly confines of Mormon culture. Specifically, presenting their testimony as evidence for the veracity of Mormonism as if it were just as credible as dropping an apple as proof of gravity. They put it up like a bright and shiny new piñata and by the time outsiders are done whacking at it it’s nothing more than a broken mess on the floor.

How I pity the poor testimony bearing Mormon! After all within the comfortable confines of the Mormon Tank this simply doesn’t happen! Rather, in there, their testimony is greeted with smiles and tears from spouses, parents, and grandparents. I can see it now, grandma starts fumbling in her purse for a tissue whenever she hears a family member (especially a child) step up to the microphone and say:

“I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.”1

And, of course, this powerful emotional impact is just as our poor Latter-day Saint friend has been promised by their church:

A testimony is a spiritual witness and assurance given by the Holy Ghost. To bear testimony is to give a simple, direct declaration of belief—a feeling, an assurance, a conviction of gospel truth. Sharing your testimony often is one of the most powerful ways of inviting the Spirit and helping others feel the Spirit.2

Further, they have been promised that they should expect similar results when they bear their testimony outside of the Mormon Tank:

The power of the Holy Ghost. The witness that comes to sincere investigators before baptism comes through the power of the Holy Ghost. “The power [of the Holy Ghost] can come upon one before baptism, and is the convincing witness that the gospel is true. It gives one a testimony of Jesus Christ and of his work and the work of his servants upon the earth” (Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost,” 704). The Holy Ghost testifies of truth. All people can know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through the power of the Holy Ghost. “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).3

Further, their church teaches them that their testimony is unassailable – like a Royal Flush in a game of poker, or a flamer thrower in a knife fight:

People may sometimes intellectually question what you teach, but it is difficult to question a sincere, heartfelt testimony. When you testify, pray that those you are teaching will feel the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. When you testify, you help create an environment for investigators to feel the Holy Ghost confirming your witness of the truth.4

Finally, they have been assured by their church that if they can get outsiders to just follow the “Moroni 10 Formula” they will inevitably see the light and get the “right” answer. Here’s how the official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, “Preach My Gospel” instructs Mormon Missionaries to lead outsiders through this process:

Rely on the promise in Moroni 10:3–5. Every person who sincerely reads and prays about this book can know with certainty of its truthfulness by the power of the Holy Ghost. Do all you can to help investigators:

• Read the Book of Mormon and ponder its message concerning Jesus Christ.
• Pray to God with faith in Jesus Christ to receive a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration.
• Pray sincerely and have real intent, which means that they intend to act on the answer they receive from God.

You too should apply this promise regularly to strengthen and renew your own testimony of the Book of Mormon. This renewed testimony will help you maintain a firm confidence that anyone who applies this promise will receive the answer.5

So our poor, unsuspecting Mormon friends are ushered out of the Mormon Tank and into the real world with these tools and expectations. They’re filled with absolute certainty that’s fueled by religious zeal. After all, didn’t sixth LdS President Joseph F. Smith (1901–1918) commission Latter-day Saints plainly when he said:

“We have a mission in the world: each man, each woman, each child who has grown to understanding or to the years of accountability, ought . . . to be qualified to preach the truth, to bear testimony of the truth”
(Gospel Doctrine, 13th ed. [1968], 251–52; cited in “Preach My Gospel”, p.12)

Life Outside the Mormon Tank
But instead, and all too often, it’s … WHACK! Sadly what happens in the real world outside of the Mormon Tank is typically very different than the warm, cozy promises that they were given inside that tank. For example, millions of people have faithfully applied the “Moroni 10 Formula”, gotten very different results and are not only not afraid to talk about it but are eager to do so. I am one of those millions. I have faithfully applied this formula not once, not twice, but three times and each time I have gotten the same answer:

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 every day 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.

Of course the common Mormon response to this contra-testimony is, “You clearly didn’t do it right!” In other words, there’s only one right answer – the one that they got. Problem Mormon friends: I did. So did the millions of others who got a different answer than the “right one” that you did. Doubt me? Keep reading.

Moroni's Grammatically Correct Promise

WHACK! Here’s hard reality: This type of spiritual experience is hardly unique. Please consider this post from a Muslim women on a Catholic discussion board:

“For me, I believe that Muhammad was a prophet because of the Qur’an–because I read it, and in my own estimation after reading it, reflecting on it, and praying about it, I found in myself an unwavering belief that the Qur’an is without a doubt revealed by the Lord of the Worlds, by the Almighty God.”6

Sound familiar? Just substitute “Joseph Smith” where it says, “Muhammad” and “Book of Mormon” where it says “Qur’an” and you have the archetypical Mormon Testimony which simply mirrors the “stock” Muslim Testimony known as the Shahada:

“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the servant and Messenger of Allah.”
(the “Shahada”)

So, I’m sorry Mormon friends but the infamous “Mormon Testimony” – the one that so much Latter-day Saint corporate epistemology and cultural identity is based on – simply isn’t that unusual or unique. In fact, it’s common. There are millions of testimonies from those of other faiths that are very similar, and in some cases exactly like, those of Mormons. Please consider this sampling:7

“I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”
(Protestant)

“But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my . . . faith, as I . . . beg[ged] [God’s] blessings for myself and for those I love?”
(Islam)

“The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”
(Protestant)

WHACK!

“As I read these books in a . . . bookstore, . . . I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”
(Catholic)

“[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine] . . . he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”
(Hindu)

“I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart.”
(Catholic)

“I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which . . . answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything . . .and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for . . . his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”
(New Age)

“A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”
(Islam)

“We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”
(Protestant)

“Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God] . . . . One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.'”
(Islam)

“A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness . . . . . I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth] . . . .”
(Hindu)

Boy hitting pinata, explosion of candy

WHACK!

“I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”
(Protestant)

“That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church] . . . I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”
(Islam)

“For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family . . . . However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free . . . . I felt like a new person.”
(Catholic)

“Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”
(Buddhist)

“About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”
(Universal Unitarian)

“The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to . . . stop myself from falling backward.”
(Catholic)

“[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”
(Hindu)

“[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”
(Protestant)

“I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. . . . As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished. . . . The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”
(Atheist)

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

SPLAT! Down comes the The Mormon Piñata
When we examine, analyze, measure and observe the above data points what they tell us is this:

  1. Because the results are so wide and varied this method of discerning “God” is clearly unreliable.
  2. Likewise, and for the same reasons, this method of discerning “truth” is also unreliable.
  3. This method of epistemology appears to be confirmation bias driven. That’s because the conclusions appear to be predetermined by the person’s presuppositions. That is, the person investigating Hinduism is just as likely to be persuaded that Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti is speaking to them as the person investigating Mormonism is convinced that the God of Mormon is.
  4. In a similar vein, borne testimony tends to reinforce the presuppositions of the audience. Stated simply, those who already hold to the same presuppositions as the testimony bearer will enthusiastically support their testimony and those who don’t will either challenge or ignore it.
  5. Therefore, objectively speaking, and in conclusion, testimony bearing ultimately proves nothing.

This is exactly as Clinton Wilcox pointed out in his superb article, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”‘

In short, it’s [that is, giving a counter testimony against Mormonism is] a weak argument because it is subjective and inconclusive. It doesn’t give any actual reasons for why Mormonism is false and orthodox Christianity is true. It’s a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it…

Testimonies are not inherently bad things. Testimonies are used in a court of law as evidence. But testimonies are given regarding a certain event that somebody witnessed. You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church….

Finally, this testimony can be turned right back around on the Mormon (or on you). You can just reply with, “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a false church. I know that Joseph Smith was a false prophet,” etc. Then you’re left with the dilemma of whose testimony is correct, or even which is the more powerful testimony? This can be rhetorically effective, but it offers no grounding for the claim that your respective beliefs are true.8

And a Latter-day Saint peer reviewer of my article, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’ seemed to agree with Mr. Wilcox when he said:

The witness of the spirit while not great evidence for convincing others is a fine answer to: Why do you believe this? Also it is a good lead in to, ‘And you can receive the same witness.’

Mormons need to keep in mind however that a personal witness is not meant for convincing others, its personal and should be kept out of debate except in answer to the above question or proceeding the invitation. It should also be kept in mind that inviting someone to seek their own witness from God does not win the argument, as some Mormons seem to believe.9

Put the Piñata down!
In other words my Mormon friends, put the Mormon Piñata down! Or as Clinton Wilcox said so well in his article:

Give reasons, not testimony.

He then goes on to explain:

We do not have to pray to test truth claims. We have the Scriptures given to us so that if we come across a particular idea, we can test it against Scripture to see if it holds up (1 Thessalonians 5:21). All over Scripture we are told to use our faculties of reason. If Mormonism is false, it stands or falls on its teachings, not on whether or not I believe it to be true. And more generally, Christianity, itself, is a religion that is based on evidence, not “blind faith,” as atheists tend to allege. We are told to “love the Lord your God with…all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). God told the Israelites “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV, emphasis mine). And as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, has observed, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of any other slackers.”10 The Christian life is one marked by reason and reflection. It is not based on feelings or emotion, which are not accurate guides for determining truth. We read in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).11

And, I will end with this paraphrased version of the closing paragraph of Mr. Wilcox’s classic article. Please note, that it has been modified to fit our context here:

If you believe the Mormon church to be true, you need to point out which doctrines are true and explain why they are true. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a true prophet, point out reasons why you believe so…. The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a non-Mormon of the truth of Mormonism, you need to give arguments for it.12

But whatever you do my Mormon friend: Put that Mormon Piñata down and don’t pick it back up! If you don’t, it will be just like you’re queuing it up for your thinking, bat toting non-Mormon friends like a piñata on a zip line.

qzvrvctik6rsbmcjqnor“Wrecking Ball  Piñata” shot in Salt Lake City at the Utah State Fairgrounds.

NOTES
1 “Testimony Glove”, Friend magazine, October 2008
2 “Preach My Gospel” official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, p.198
3 Ibid, p.90
4 Ibid, p.199
5 Ibid, p.111
6 Sister Amy, “The Koran and the Book of Mormons”, Catholic Answers website, February 21, 2008
7 While this sample of testimonies was compiled from the Mormon Think website, an even fuller collection of indexed testimonies can be found on the Testimonies of Other Faiths website.
8 Clinton Wilcox, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”
9 Fred W. Anson, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’, footnote 4
10 C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)”, (p. 78, Kindle position 1071). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
11 Op cit, Wilcox.
12 Op cit, Wilcox. Please note that I have paraphrased from the original to fit the context of this article. The original was addressed to non-Mormon Christians and reads like this:
“If you believe the Mormon church to be false, you need to point out which doctrines are false and explain why they are false. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a false prophet, point out reasons why you believe so. Show some prophecies which have failed to take place (the Bible in Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if even one prediction fails, that person is not a prophet of the Lord). The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a Mormon of the truth of orthodox Christianity, you need to give arguments for it.”

Again, I apologize to Mr. Wilcox for abusing his fine prose like this but, frankly, since I couldn’t top it I used it instead!

The story behind the animated GIF above – this is just fun!

BACK TO TOP

An article on some common and recurring weak argument and debating tactics that Latter-day Saints use in their defense of Mormonism that result in weak arguments.
by Fred W. Anson

“Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel” by Henry Vidal in Tuileries Garden in Paris, France

“”The non-LDS world has a history of perpetuating criticism, caricature, othering, antagonism and shaming of Mormons. This leads to a reaction on the part of the Latter-day Saints: retrenchment, militancy, withdrawal from civic conversation, and a dynamic I call ‘undergrounding,’ something that happens a lot in our political history where we tell the outside world one story in order to protect our inside story.”
Joanna Brooks, “Violence, Mormonism, and the Sobering Lessons of History”,
Sunstone Magazine, Summer 2015, p.50

Introduction:
The last article in this series created quite a stir. It was “grass catcher” list of weak arguments and debate tactics that mainstream Christians regularly use that undermine their engagements with Latter-day Saints. And while the article was warmly, often even enthusiastically, received on both sides of the Evangelical-Mormon divide, a common response was, “OK, where’s the equivalent list for Mormons?” Well, the wait is over, here it is.

How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism:

  1. Attack your debating opponent instead of their evidence or arguments. Use ad-hominem arguments.
  2. Misrepresent or exaggerate your debating opponent’s arguments so they’re easier to overcome. Use straw man arguments.
  3. Misquote and abuse 3 Nephi 11:29.  That is, rail against your debating opponent with a bold “Contention is of the devil” denunciation while you’re contending for the Mormon faith. Oh and, since you’re already playing the “beam in your eye” hypocrite before an amused audience, make sure that you completely ignore the passages in scripture that blatantly advocate (such as Jude 1:3, I Thessalonians 2:2) and model (like most of the Book of Mormon for example) righteous contention. Compromised integrity and duplicity is always so persuasive isn’t it? (NOT!)
  4. Over generalize! If you’re the only Mormon who believes something say that all Mormons do. If an uncorrelated, progressive, or Neo-Orthodox Mormon (like Terryl or Fiona Givens for example) makes an unorthodox claim then point to it as the norm. Claim that a “one off” address by a modern Mormon Leader represents what Mormonism has always taught throughout it’s history. You know, do things like point to Brad Wilcox’s 2011 BYU devotional, “His Grace Is Sufficient” or President Uchtdorf’s, Spring General Conference 2015 address “The Gift of Grace” and claim that they accurately represent official current and historic LDS soteriology.[1]
  5. In a similar vein, stereotype! For example, identify a mainstream Christian who has behaved badly (Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, etc.) and treated God’s grace and mercy as a license to sin, and then claim that all mainstream Christians behave this way. After all, Mormons never do that (think John D. LeePaul H. Dunn, Porter Rockwell, Wild Bill Hickman, John C. Bennett, Sidney Rigdon) do they?
  6. Use your conclusion as evidence for your argument. Engage in circular logic – you know something like, “I know that the only true church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because I have an inner witness that it’s the only true church.” I mean, really, who can argue with logic like that?
  7. Present speculation and conjecture with no supporting evidence to back them as fact. Argue from silence. For example, argue that the lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon proves nothing. Even better, argue that the lack of such evidence actually proves that it’s true because God is using it to test our faith.[2]

    book-of-mormon-archaeology-myth

    (click to zoom)

  8. Bifurcate rather than nuance. Claim that there is only black or white, good or evil, on or off. Create false dichotomies.
  9. Argue that because you don’t know or understand something it must be false. Or better yet, to claim that something must be true! Use your ignorance as irrefutable proof that your debating opponent is wrong. When in doubt appeal to ignorance – I mean, sure, it makes you look like an uninformed fool, but what the hey!
  10. Don’t support your arguments with any evidence (let alone objective evidence). And if challenged, act indignant and offended that you should be required to produce any evidence at all! I mean, after all, isn’t the burden of proof on the person not arguing your position? You know, just like it’s the prosecuting attorney’s job to produce evidence for the defense in a criminal case – yeah, it’s like that.[3]
  11. Assert that something is true simply because you’ve said it is. After all, your word is good enough, right? I mean, come on, you’re Mormon, and therefore, you know everything about Mormonism by virtue of that fact – that should be enough, right? Appeal to yourself as authority – use yourself as indisputable, absolutely authoritative, irrefutable evidence! Why does anyone need to research anything when the best, most reliable source is right there in front of them telling them the way it is?
  12. Use testimony bearing or “the witness of the Spirit” as evidence. Argue from feelings, promptings, and impressions and other appeals to emotion.[4]
  13. Assert that your debate opponent “doesn’t get it” and “can’t get it” because they don’t have the Holy Ghost and, therefore, can’t hear His voice. And when you do make sure that you’re as condescending and arrogant as possible in using this variation on the ad-hominem fallacy so they can fully understand and feel the great depth of their state of blindness.
  14. Argue that because something is popular it must be true. Drive that bandwagon fallacy right over your debating opponent! For example, argue that Mormonism must be true or it wouldn’t be growing so fast worldwide. Uh, by the way, about that “growing so fast” claim . . .[5]
  15. Don’t acknowledge when your debating opponent makes a valid point. Never surrender, never give in! After all this war right?

    Subjective v. Objective Evidence. One can proved by means of search, like analysis, measurement, and observation and one can't. One is valid and unchanging regardless of one's feelings, and one isn't.

    Subjective v. Objective Evidence. One can proved by means of search, like analysis, measurement, and observation and one can’t. One is valid and unchanging regardless of one’s feelings, and one isn’t.

  16. Suddenly and without warning disappear from the debate. Let chirping Mormon crickets argue for you instead. If there were a name for this it might be called the “Cop Out” or “Argue with my Back!” Fallacy. And some Mormons seem to like it a lot – especially when they’re issued a “OK, show me where I’m wrong” challenge.[6]
  17. Cyber stalk or conspire against your debating opponents behind the scenes. After all this is war – so sabotage is just par for the course. Of course, it’s just a form of the type of walking in spiritual darkness that’s consistently condemned in scripture but what the hey, it’s so cool to be a modern Gadianton robber ain’t it? (By the way, this is sociopathological behavior – I just thought that you’d like to know)
  18. Don’t give your debating opponent’s evidence any serious consideration. Better yet, just ignore it and act like it doesn’t exist. For example, even though mainstream Christians repeatedly tell you that they believe in, “Salvation by grace alone through faith alone,” continue to argue that they believe in “Salvation by grace alone” and pound away on that straw man argument.
  19. Ditto for challenging questions. Ignore them. Socratic Method is so stupid!
  20. Don’t become familiar with your debating opponent’s culture and language. After all, if they have anything of value to say they can say and do like we do it in Mormon culture! After all we’re better than they are, aren’t we?
  21. Be condescending because, frankly, we really are better than they are – especially all those lousy, despicable “Anti’s” out there who hate and only want to destroy God’s only true and living Church.[7]

    (click to zoom)

    (click to zoom)

  22. Speaking of “Anti’s”, always label. After all labeling is a wonderful defense mechanism since once it’s done you can stereotype and thus deceive yourself into feeling like you have power over them.  And if you use negative labels you can condescend to those below you – even better! And have we recommended arrogant condescension yet? Oh, we did? Well you can never emphasize that one too much can you? It’s a good one – it puts those “Anti’s” right in their place!
  23. Use special pleading fallacies. Argue that rules, laws, evidences and realities that apply everywhere else don’t apply to Mormonism. I mean, come on, why should DNA evidence apply to the Book of Mormon people anyhow? Really people, really?
  24. Assert your Priesthood Authority whenever possible. I mean, it means absolutely nothing to anyone or carries any weight outside of Mormonism but why not? And I assert this in the name of the Royal Priesthood![8]
  25. Use lots and lots of insults and personal attacks! Oh, did we already mention this one? Oh yeah, that was kinda included in the very first one by implication wasn’t it? Well, since this is one the most common weak arguments used by Latter-day Saints, it probably bears repeating doesn’t it?
  26. Troll. Throw out provocative, incendiary arguments of little real substance but high emotional impact with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. (and thank you Wikipedia for that excellent definition)
  27. Appeal to authority from sources that Mormons would never preach from or use in their services since they attack and undermine the fundamental truth claims that undergird Judaism, Mormonism and/or mainstream Christianity. This includes, but isn’t limited to: John Shelby Spong, The Jesus SeminarRobert Price, Margaret Barker, James Tabor, Richard Dawkins, and Bart Ehrman. Yeah, it’s kind of like drinking your own poison or shooting yourself in the foot but it’s better to be hospitalized or lose a foot if it protects Joseph Smith and modern Mormon dogma ain’t it? Besides it’s fun to argue like an atheist!
  28. Cite from unofficial, uncorrelated Latter-day Saint sources as if they’re official voices of the Church. First and foremost do so with with your own personal opinion – state it as if it’s being delivered by the President of the LDS Church at General Conference himself. After that move onto Mormon Apologist websites like FAIRMormon or Lightplanet. Not official? Who cares – after all a rock can be a fork if it gets the job done, right? unofficial-mormon-apologist
  29. Cite from partisan Mormon Apologists but then object strenuously when your debating opponent cites from Mormon Critics. Sure it’s a hypocritical double standard but weak and inexperienced debaters may not catch or call you on it – so go for it. For example, cite from Sorenson’s “Mormon’s Codex” but then throw a hissy fit when someone cites from the Tanner’s “Mormonism Shadow or Reality?”.
  30. Which brings us to another Latter-day Saint rhetorical favorite: Use double standards. For example: First, demand that your debating opponent produce a single verse from the Bible that explicitly proves the Trinity rather than building a case from several verses throughout the Bible; Then claim that they’re making a ridiculous and unfair demand on you when they demand the same “single verse as the standard of proof” for Celestial Marriage.
  31. Use Latter-day Saint scripture (other than the Bible) as if it’s authoritative for your non-Mormon opponent as it is for you. Nothing will silence them as quickly as, “As the Book of Mormon tells us . . . ” will it? (hint: It won’t) Better yet give them quotes from General Conference – surely they’ll listen to and respect the authority of Living Prophets won’t they? (hint: They won’t)
  32. Ignore the rules of sound text interpretation and hermeneutics.[9]  For example, use lots and lots of eisegesis – inserting meaning that the author didn’t intend and content into the text that the author didn’t say. Sound text interpretation and hermeneutics are based on exegesis – drawing meaning and content directly from the text – but that’s another subject for another day (probably an entire article in fact).
  33. Be inconsistent. For example, bear your testimony as evidence that you have the witness of God that Mormonism is right and true. But when your debating opponent bears their testimony that they have the witness of God that Mormonism isn’t right or true, refuse to accept it claiming that it’s from a source other than God.[10]
  34. Be confirmation bias driven. For example, argue that Mormon must be truth because Mormons are good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned people genuinely tiring to always be their best and do the right thing.In other words, use the “inspect the fruit” argument while ignoring the fact that most people are good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned people who are genuinely trying to always be their best and do the right thing. The only way that one can be blind to the fact that Mormons are hardly unique in this is to put those confirmation bias blinders on!

    Confirmation driven apologetics.

    Confirmation Bias driven apologetics.

  35. Engage in Drama Queening. To continue from the previous example, get really indignant and offended when your debating opponent points out that one can be a good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned person and still be dead wrong. Better yet, threaten to withdraw from this place of persecution filled with haters! And if you do leave, make sure you cyber bomb social media about how you’ve been unjustly wounded, hounded, and wronged by these modern Korihors. Bleed over everything and everybody – let it flow like a river! Guilt manipulate baby, it works like a Jedi mind trick!
  36. Use Postmodern relativism as a defense. Say something like, “Well if what you believe works for you and what I believe works for me then who’s to say that the other person is wrong?” If that’s the case then all the Mormon Missionaries need to be called in from the field and the program shut down since what all those folks already believe is working for them, right? Who’s to say that they’re wrong, right?
  37. Instead of directly engaging your debating opponent’s arguments try to parry with a, “Well, what about when you and you guys? You do and say such and such!” Tu Quoque fallacy ’em to heck! I mean it’s really a non-argument because the moral character or past actions of the opponent are generally irrelevant to the logic of the argument. But what the hey, if they’re stupid enough to “bite” why not try it if it gets Joseph Smith and Mormonism off the hook? Then again, a trained logician will call you on and you’ll just look foolish . . . oh well!
  38. Use aliases and sock puppet accounts to hide your true identity so you can behave badly online. Yes, it’s yet more sociopathological behavior but, hey man, if you used your real identity you’ve have to behave better in public or your reputation would be ruined wouldn’t it? And we can’t have that!
  39. Lie for the Lord. After all if Muslims can do it and since past Mormon Leaders have done it, why not?
  40. Dismiss an statement as ridiculous or absurd without giving proof or reasoned arguments for why. In other words, engage in an “Appeal to the Stone” fallacy. For example, when a debating opponent produces evidence that Official Declarations 1 and 2 were born out of political, social, and financial expediency rather than anything divine (as evidenced by the fact that they refer to revelations but don’t actually give them) claim that the whole argument is, “Just ridiculous! Utterly absurd!” without offering any countering evidence for your rebuttal. Better yet, combine it with an, “And you’re just a cynical, hate filled ‘Anti’ for saying that!” ad-hominem to make it ridiculous and absurd.
    ME_262_HowToWinAnArgument
  41. Engage in Psychological Projection: Project your behavior onto your debating opponent rather than acknowledging and owning it. For example, if you’re engaging in arrogant condescension accuse your debating opponent of looking down at you and having a superior air about them. If you’re angry, upset, and out of control accuse them of being angry, upset, and out of control. This is a wonderful defense mechanism, use it often! Yeah, it’s a form of self deception that keeps you in denial, but… whatever!
  42. Say things like, “The ends justify the means” to rationalize your bad arguments and behavior. Sure, it’s not scriptural, but why be picky when the defense of your testimony is on the line?
  43. Move the goalposts. For example, insist that your debating opponent only use official Church sources like the official church website. When they do insist that they didn’t interpret the content properly. When they then cite Mormon Leaders who share exactly the same interpretation from the official church website, then pull out #13 and tell them that they can’t possibly truly understand Mormon Leaders or Latter-day Saint Doctrine because they’re not a member and, therefore, don’t have the Holy Ghost giving them the true enlightenment that you possess. And if they overcome that then pick up that goalpost yet again and, “Push ’em back! Push ’em back! Push ’em way back!” Eventually they’ll either call you on this fallacy or give up.
  44. Ignore or refuse to publicly challenge the bad behavior and/or bad arguments that you see fellow Mormons making. After all this is war and who wants to be a traitor to the cause right? Besides “Anti’s” deserve every bit of condescension and disrespect that we can muster don’t they? Hang the Golden Rule!
  45. Make sure that you use a lot of snark and sarcasm! Everyone loves being condescended to by obnoxious smart alecks with bad attitudes. By the way, I hope you’re loving reading this article as much as I am writing it. If not, you’re just a loser who just doesn’t “get it!”[11]

    “Use double standards” (click to zoom)

  46. Use the bad arguments and behavior of mainstream Christians to rationalize, compensate for, and justify any or all of the above.
  47. Assume that any constructive criticism from others on how to better engage outsiders (especially if it’s from “Anti’s”) is meant for everyone else.
  48. Assume that lists like this apply to every other Latter-day Saint but you.

Summary and Conclusion:
If that seemed like a sarcasm filled lesson in logic and rhetoric that’s probably because it was. Stated plainly, that’s what the majority of bad arguments that I’ve seen Latter-day Saints make in public discourse always seem to come down to: Flawed logic and rhetoric combined with incivility and paranoia driven defensiveness. From my experience, I would have to say that award winning Journalists Richard and Joan Ostling were correct when they observed:

Mormon scriptural scholarship functions almost entirely within an enclosed, intramural world… Mormon Bible scholars face serious problems.
— Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, “Mormon America (Revised and Updated Edition”, p.299

This seems odd to me since, generally speaking, Mormons are better educated and higher degreed than the general population.[12] Doesn’t all that good education require some training in logic, critical thinking, and civil rhetoric? If so, you would never know if from the sloppy, adolescent, rude rhetoric that many Latter-day Saints engage in public. Therefore, the first thing that Latter-day Saints could do to improve their public discourse would be to learn and stick to the rules of logic and rhetoric that most assuredly must have been a part of their secular education.

Another contributing factor seems to be the infamous “Mormon Persecution Complex” which has been endlessly discussed in Mormon Studies and elsewhere. As the aforementioned Ostlings said well:

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

Read through the list of bad arguments again asking yourself this question, “Would Mormons be more or less likely to engage in this behavior if they didn’t presume that the world in general and their debating opponent in particular was against them?” I dare say that at least half – perhaps as much as three quarters of the list – would disappear were the Mormon Persecution Complex mindset were set aside. Stated plainly, Many Mormons are far too quick to play the victim, or over react in inappropriately aggressive, and unduly defensive ways simply because they’re perceiving an attack or persecution by their debating opponent when there simply isn’t one.

defaultIn fact, due to this dynamic, and linking it with the logic and rhetoric issue previously discussed, all too often Mormons will play the “victim card” when all their debating opponent has done is expose the holes, gaps, problems, and fallacies in the argument that they’ve just presented. The wounded howls of these self-perceived Mormon victims can be found on just about every inter-faith discussion board (some Mormons lead with it as their opening argument) and the greatest tragedy is that it need not be.

So I challenge you my Latter-day Saint friends, whenever you’re tempted to play that victim card, first take a deep breath, revisit both your arguments and the arguments of your debating opponent, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Where and how can my argument be improved?
  2. What valid points has my debating opponent made?
  3. What countering evidence can I present, along with stronger logic and reason, to overcome their points?
  4. Viewing that evidence through their point of view rather than my own, what countering arguments can I expect from my debating opponent after I respond?
  5. How can I word this so that it’s clear that I’m responding rather than reacting to my debating opponent?

I think if you’ll do that rather than assuming that you’re being picked on or attacked and reacting defensively (as opposed to responding productively) you’ll end up making better, more convincing arguments in defense of Mormonism. This isn’t to deny that many outsiders, as the Joanna Brooks epigraph to this article stated, love to Mormon Bash – it’s a fact, many do. However, Mormon friends this isn’t true of all outsiders. And my dear Latter-day  Saint friend you instantly erode your credibility just as soon as you play that card. So here’s the easy solution to the problem: Don’t play the victim card – ever.

Finally, a question must be asked: Why wasn’t this article written by a Latter-day Saint? I know that Latter-day Saints are aware of the issues that I’ve raised above because privately they complain to me about them. In fact, when the last article in this series came out and woodshedded mainstream Christians for their weak arguments against Mormonism I was told, again privately, by several Latter-day Saints that many, if not most, of the items in the list were true of many Latter-day Saints too.

However, publicly most Mormons will draw their Mormon Persecution Complex around them like a quilt, close ranks, and rail at “those nasty Anti’s!” Even worse, they will applaud the efforts of Mormon Apologists who regularly engage in polemics, pejoratives, bullying, and many of the items noted in the list above.[13]

So instead the task falls to the guy who has not only never been Mormon but is known primarily as a critic of Mormonism. In fact, I couldn’t even get a Mormon to co-author this piece with me – I tried!  So here’s the deal Mormons: If you don’t like either the tone or content this article then publish a better one – I challenge you to.

Finally, let me give you a tip: The wrong way to respond to this article is to write protest articles about how unfair I was to Mormons, or how I singled them out for persecution, or how little I understand about what it’s really like to be a Mormon being endlessly picked on by outsiders, or that I’m just a stupid, biased, blind “Anti” and we all know how they are! If you do any of that you’ll just be proving many of the points made in this article.

Further, since I’ve just published fourteen (14) such articles publicly woodshedding the bad arguments of my fellow mainstream Christians I think that it’s fair to say that I’m more than willing to do with my “tribe” what Latter-day Saints refuse to do with theirs: Challenge it to be excellent and not “muff the ball”. So Latter-day Saints, I challenge you to go and do the same!

quote-you-are-people-with-a-present-and-with-a-future-don-t-muff-the-ball-be-excellent-gordon-b-hinckley-237507

NOTES
[1] The fact that these “one off” addresses are like loose spikes sticking up along the rails of historic Mormon orthodoxy can easily be seen by listening to the other addresses by other speakers before and after Mr. Uchtdorf’s at the very same General Conference or reading the articles immediately before and after Mr. Wilcox’s in Ensign magazine. They both contradict and undermine them.

And the problem is even more glaring when compared to other official LDS Church sources and the historic record. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

“The Mormon who believes that Uchtdorf is abandoning all former teaching is making an assumption that is just not verified in this talk.  While his language is certainly ambiguous, it’s hard to believe that this general authority is suggesting that the other leaders and decades of teaching are to be abandoned.”
— Bill McKeever, “Does Mormonism Really Offer a “Gift of Grace”? A Review of Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s Talk on Easter Sunday 2015″

The same applies to Brad Wilcox’s BYU address – which was so far askew from historic Latter-day Saint soteriology that it had to be redacted and abridged for publication in the LDS Church’s official publication, Ensign magazine. As Mormon Studies scholar Rob Bowman notes:

“It may seem strange to ask how the doctrine of a popular speech given by a BYU professor and member of the Sunday School General Board compares with other teachings of the LDS Church. However, as a statement by LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy reminds us, “BYU faculty members do not speak for the church.” The question, then, is not necessarily illegitimate. On the other hand, the publication of Wilcox’s speech in Ensign indicates that it is representative of Mormon doctrine—at least in the version published there. That qualification turns out to be at least potentially significant, since the Ensign article omits elements of the speech that appear to have been out of sync with the LDS Church’s general teaching over the years. The significance of such omissions must be considered with some caution, since omissions may have been simply the result of producing a shorter, more concise article for publication in the popular-level church-wide magazine. Nevertheless, the excisions of material appear to have been strategically performed to bring the article into line with the standard Mormon doctrinal paradigm concerning salvation and grace.”
— Rob Bowman, “Mormonism and the Sufficiency of Grace: Brad Wilcox’s Speech ‘His Grace Is Sufficient'”

[2] “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchen’s Razor)

[3] Simply put, it’s the responsibly of the person making an assertion to prove it. It’s not their debating opponent’s role or responsibility. This is just common sense folks! This is the laziest form of scholarship imaginable – if you can even call it “scholarship.”

[4] As Clinton Wilcox noted in “Weak Arguments #8: ‘I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet'”

“[Testimony bearing is] a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it…

You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church.”

And as a Latter-day Saint peer reviewer of this article noted well in his feedback on this point:

“The witness of the spirit while not great evidence for convincing others is a fine answer to: Why do you believe this? Also it is a good lead in to, ‘And you can receive the same witness.’

Mormons need to keep in mind however that a personal witness is not meant for convincing others, its personal and should be kept out of debate except in answer to the above question or proceeding the invitation. It should also be kept in mind that inviting someone to seek their own witness from God does not win the argument, as some Mormons seem to believe.”

[5] It should be noted that the rapid growth argument for Mormonism has been problematic since 1990 when growth flattened and activity rates began to decline. Reliable figures and analysis (derived from official Spring General Conference Reports) can be found here.

[6] To be clear here, temporarily excusing yourself from the conversation due to the rigors of life outside of the debate is one thing (that is unless you overuse this excuse to the point that you’re just using as it as nothing more than an escape hatch) but doing a permanent disappearing act whenever the going gets rough is something else. If you do temporarily excuse yourself due to life’s demands then make a point of returning and continuing the discussion when you can.

However, if you really want to set yourself apart as a civil and accomplished debater, when your debating opponent is presenting arguments and evidence that is so strong and compelling that it’s hard to overcome, then simply acknowledge it and tell them that they’ve given you a lot to consider. This isn’t “throwing in the towel” it’s simply being honest and humble – and people respect honest humility. A simple way to do this is to just say, “Point taken.”

Oh, and by the way, does it really need to be said that putting an Internet block or ban on your debating opponents – and thereby making it impossible for them to engage you or you them online – is the ultimate form of this bad argument? Yes, since this tactic is so commonly used (or put more accurately “abused”) by Mormon debaters on the Internet I think that it probably does!

[7] This tendency by many Mormons so concerned former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley that he publicly addressed it several times:

“We must not only be tolerant, but we must cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those who do not see things as we see them. We do not in any way have to compromise our theology . . . We can offer our own witness of the truth, quietly, sincerely, honestly, but never in a manner that will give offense to others.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2005).

“[There] should never be any cause for self-righteousness, for arrogance, for denigration of others for looking down upon others. All mankind is our neighbor. . . . Regardless of the color of our skin, or the shape of our eyes, of the language we speak, we all are sons and daughters of God and must reach out to one another with love and concern.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2005, Ensign May 2005, 102).

“As we recognize our place and our goal, we cannot become arrogant. We cannot become self-righteous. We cannot become smug or egotistical. We must reach out to all mankind. They are all sons and daughters of God our Eternal Father . . . . And as we go forward, may we bless humanity with an outreach to all, lifting those who are downtrodden and oppressed, feeding and clothing the hungry and the needy, extending love and neighborliness to those about us who may not be part of this Church.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, October 2001)

“As I have said before, we must not be clannish. We must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. We must not be self-righteous. We must be magnanimous, and open, and friendly. We can keep our faith. We can practice our religion. We can cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others. I take this occasion to plead for a spirit of tolerance and neighborliness, of friendship and love toward those of other faiths.”
(President Hinckley, Pioneer Day Commemoration, July 2001)

“But we shall go forward, returning good for evil, being helpful and kind and generous. I remind you of the teachings of our Lord concerning these matters. You are all acquainted with them. Let us be good people. Let us be friendly people. Let us be neighborly people.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2001)

“Let us as Latter-day Saints reach out to others not of our faith. Let us never act in a spirit of arrogance or with a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, may we show love and respect and helpfulness toward them. We are greatly misunderstood, and I fear that much of it is of our own making. We can be more tolerant, more neighborly, more friendly, more of an example than we have been in the past. Let us teach our children to treat others with friendship, respect, love, and admiration. That will yield a far better result than will an attitude of egotism and arrogance.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2000; Ensign, May 2000, p.87)

[8] For an explanation of that Royal Priesthood reference see “Weak Arguments #12: ‘There is no priesthood anymore.’” And, yeah, since authority can only be given not taken, Mormon Priesthood Authority claims kinda fall flat if the other person doesn’t recognize or acknowledge it doesn’t it? For example, admit it, you kinda yawned or snickered at that “Royal Priesthood” thing when you read it didn’t you my Mormon friend? See my point?

[9] The Eight Rules of Interpretation used by legal experts for more than 2500 years are as follows:

1) Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.

2) Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?

3) Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.

4) Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.

5) Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.

6) Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which their is no precedent.

7) Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.

8) Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.
(source = http://www.apologeticsindex.org/b11.html)

[10] As noted in footnote 4, using testimony bearing as an argument or evidence is just a bad argument. Period.

[11] And before the “You’re a hypocrite – just look at the tone and content of your article!” phone calls, and letters start pouring in, this article was written in a tongue in cheek style that’s intended to mirror the same condescension, disrespect, snark, and sarcasm that are so prevalent in the weak arguments and tactics that are being addressed. If you’re offended by it then please consider how such behavior feels to others when it’s directed at them.

[12]  “Mormons are significantly more likely than the population overall to have some college education. Six-in-ten Mormons (61%) have at least some college education, compared with half of the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18%) or receive postgraduate education (10%) is similar to the population as a whole (16% and 11%, respectively).”
— Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.”, Education and Income

[13]   For example, please consider this polemic and pejorative laden inflammatory prose from Mormon Apologist Russell McGregor of FAIRMormon (which the reader can also consider supporting evidence for many of the points above – #21, 22, 44, and 47 in particular):

“It is not the LDS Christians, but their critics, who need to be concerned about their Christian credentials. This may seem, at first glance, to be a rather odd thing to say; the anti-Mormon movement has defined the debate in such a way that their Christianity is not open to question. Many of them are (or profess to be) clergymen, while most of them are conservative Evangelical Protestants of one sort or another. And yet the question remains and continues to be asked: is anti-Mormonism truly a Christian activity? The answer, both in the general case and in the particulars, is a clear and resounding no…

So we return to the question with which we began this survey: are anti-Mormons Christian? The answer: of course not. They were never even in the hunt. Their clerical collars and pious platitudes are simply a smokescreen to hide the ugly reality that anti-Mormonism is one of the clear manifestations of the darkest side of human nature; the side that made possible the death camps and burning crosses, the massacre of the Hutus and the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans. Just as vicious and repressive dictatorships like to give themselves grandiose and liberal-sounding titles like “The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of Such-and-such”, so these nasty religious haters appropriate the label of “Christian” in order to claim for themselves a specious respectability that their deeds and attitudes do not merit.”
— Russell McGregor, “Are Anti-Mormons Christians?”; FAIRMormon website

(click to zoom)

(click to zoom)

BACK TO TOP

Two Mormon Missionaries pray in their shared room. Mormon missionaries are instructed to "never be alone" and to always be within sight or earshot of each other, according to the Mormon Missionary Handbook. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Two Mormon Missionaries pray over Latter-day Saint scripture in their shared room.

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

by Clinton Wilcox
The Argument: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”

Why It’s Weak:
In short, it’s a weak argument because it is subjective and inconclusive. It doesn’t give any actual reasons for why Mormonism is false and orthodox Christianity is true. It’s a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it.

1) Testimonies are subjective
The Mormon testimony usually goes something like this: “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church. I know that it is Christ’s church…that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he saw our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ…”[1]

Testimonies are not inherently bad things. Testimonies are used in a court of law as evidence. But testimonies are given regarding a certain event that somebody witnessed. You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church.

2) This testimony is inconclusive
A related point, that this testimony doesn’t give us any reason to believe in the truth value of Mormonism. Eyewitness testimony was important for the Disciples because they actually witnessed Christ’s resurrection. A Mormon testifying to you that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, or you testifying to the Mormon that he was a false prophet, is not very compelling since neither one of you were there, nor did either of you know Joseph Smith, personally. This means that your testimony regarding Joseph Smith is inadmissible. We have reasons to believe that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, but a testimony regarding Joseph Smith is not one of them.

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

3) Giving the testimony as an argument rests on a bad interpretation of Scipture
Mormons often rely on Moroni 10 as a grounding for giving their testimony. Moroni 10:4, specifically, reads: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” This is, of course, a passage that an orthodox Christian wouldn’t accept. So they also use as justification (James 1:5), which reads: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NASB)

But this is a bad interpretation of James 1:5. If we take the verse in the greater context of the surrounding passage, we’ll see that James was writing to the 12 tribes of Israel, so he was writing to Jewish believers (probably before 50 AD) in the context of encountering various trials. As Matt Slick wrote, “The context is about gaining wisdom through difficult trials and the testing of one’s faith – not about praying to see if a book is true.”[2]

4) The testimony can be turned right back around
Finally, this testimony can be turned right back around on the Mormon (or on you). You can just reply with, “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a false church. I know that Joseph Smith was a false prophet,” etc. Then you’re left with the dilemma of whose testimony is correct, or even which is the more powerful testimony? This can be rhetorically effective, but it offers no grounding for the claim that your respective beliefs are true.

The Stronger Arguments:
There are certain testimonial arguments that can raise the truth claims of Christianity. For example, the Disciples’ eyewitness testimony to the risen Christ, or a modern person’s witnessing of a legitimate miracle. Instead, we should be focusing on the reasons for our faith, not the fact that we have it.

I only have one “stronger argument,” because really, all of the stronger arguments against Mormonism are contained under the umbrella of this point:

Give reasons, not testimony.

We do not have to pray to test truth claims. We have the Scriptures given to us so that if we come across a particular idea, we can test it against Scripture to see if it holds up (1 Thessalonians 5:21). All over Scripture we are told to use our faculties of reason. If Mormonism is false, it stands or falls on its teachings, not on whether or not I believe it to be true. And more generally, Christianity, itself, is a religion that is based on evidence, not “blind faith,” as atheists tend to allege. We are told to “love the Lord your God with…all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). God told the Israelites “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV, emphasis mine). And as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, has observed, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of any other slackers.”[3] The Christian life is one marked by reason and reflection. It is not based on feelings or emotion, which are not accurate guides for determining truth. We read in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).

If you believe the Mormon church to be false, you need to point out which doctrines are false and explain why they are false. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a false prophet, point out reasons why you believe so. Show some prophecies which have failed to take place (the Bible in Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if even one prediction fails, that person is not a prophet of the Lord). The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a Mormon of the truth of orthodox Christianity, you need to give arguments for it.

Summary and Conclusion
All things taken into consideration, we are never exhorted in Scripture to “ask God” whether or not a various belief is true. God has given us minds to reason. If we encounter any view or belief, we don’t have to ask God whether or not it is true. We can compare it to Scripture to test whether or not it is true. Whether coming from the lips of a Mormon missionary or an orthodox Christian, this argument just doesn’t do the work of supporting any truth claim that we make.

quote-if-we-did-not-have-rational-souls-we-would-not-be-able-to-believe-saint-augustine-8606

NOTES
[1]  I have personally heard this testimony when I spent a few months in conversations with two Mormon missionaries. I found a transcript of the archetypical Mormon testimony at the Mormon411 website in the article entitled, “An Actual Mormon Testimony”.

[2] The information in this paragraph is paraphrased (and quoted) from the CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) webpage article, “James 1:5 and praying about the Book of Mormon” by Matt Slick

[3] C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)”, (p. 78, Kindle position 1071). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

BACK TO TOP