“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
–2 Timothy 3:16

By Paul Nurnberg
Finding Hidden Books
Recently, I listened to an Episode of Mike Licona’s Risen Jesus Podcast. He was discussing three methods of approaching ancient texts that he defined as follows:

  • Methodological Credulity – One comes to the text assuming that it is reliable, that it is reporting truth until one is shown otherwise. The default position is: this text is true.
  • Methodological Neutrality – One approaches the text with an attitude of neutrality, not assuming it to be true or false. The default position is: openness to the text being true or false.
  • Methodological Skepticism – One approaches the text with the attitude that one has to be convinced that it is true. The default position is: this text is false.[1]

Having been born into a Mormon family, by default I inherited a certain view of what constitutes Scripture. More specifically, I inherited a set of books that the LDS Church holds as its “standard works” or canon. Chief among these was the Book of Mormon. That was the book that had been, according to the narrative, preserved by God, prophesied by Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 29:4; Ezekiel 37:16), and had been brought forth in the last days to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, like those of old.

The story — that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel and led to find a set of golden plates in a hill near his home in upstate New York — always seemed audacious to me. When I was growing up, I accepted this narrative as true — that actual metal plates had been buried in a hill which contained the history of an ancient American civilization, which had its origins in a family who left Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah, and whose patriarch, Lehi, had been a contemporary of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah; and that these plates had been delivered to Joseph Smith after four years of testing his resilience, sincerity, and obedience, and that he translated the writings on the plates into English from a language called in the text “Reformed Egyptian.” I believed that the Book of Mormon published to the world in 1830 was, in fact, the Word of God — delivered by a prophet to prepare the way for Jesus’ return. Smith’s explanation for why the source text — the plates themselves — were no longer extant, seemed equally incredible to me.

I said that the story seemed farfetched to me. It did! Smith’s claims are recognizable as bold, even for one predisposed by upbringing to take an approach to them of methodological credulity. But I didn’t have any reasons when I was young to seriously doubt the narrative. Everywhere I turned there were adults I knew, loved, respected, and trusted who believed whole-heartedly in that story and the resultant text. I didn’t see compelling reasons to take a different approach than to believe what was presented. My mother believed it and her family had roots in the LDS Church that went back to the 1860s and included the leaving behind of home and family in Denmark to cross the American plains pulling a handcart — dedication to the cause. My father believed it, and he had left the Lutheran Church to join the LDS Church, subjecting himself to a lifetime of serious and sometimes heated discussions with his born-again-Christian brother. These played out over the phone and I recall often eavesdropping on my dad’s side of their conversations.

I’ve been a bibliophile from a young age. I come by it honestly. My parents built a large library of books in our home. My dad’s bookshelves had two shelves at the bottom that were behind closed doors that latched magnetically, and three shelves above that were open to view. One night while perusing his library, I found among the books that were behind closed doors, a book titled “The Book of Mormon on Trial” by J. Milton Rich. Curious, I flipped through this comic book style Mormon apologetic work. I don’t know how my dad came to have the book, but the titles of the other books that were stashed away with it in the bottom shelves taught me early the meaning of “putting something on the shelf.” I am not suggesting that the possession of books that present a defense of one’s beliefs automatically suggests that one’s faith is unreasonable or indefensible. Rather, I am describing what I learned from this experience — that faith entails reasoning through the arguments both for and against one’s beliefs.

Inside the Shrine of the Book in West Jerusalem. This museum houses the famous Isaiah scroll and other Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts dating back to 150BC.

Out of the Dust
Once when I was a teenager, during a particularly boring Sunday service, both I and my older sister ducked out to “go to the bathroom” and ended up sitting together on a sofa in the foyer. I was leafing through my quad (one thick volume that contained all of the LDS canon) and looking at the maps. The Bible had maps of the Mediterranean showing where the Apostle Paul had journeyed, but the Book of Mormon didn’t have maps. My sister told me about the conversation they’d had in Seminary about whether the Nephites inhabited all of North and South America or just a small portion. Her High School Seminary teacher always brought the goods!

My mom did family history research for others, spending long days at the Family History Library downtown Salt Lake City. During the dog days of summer, when boredom with suburban life would set in, and I’d pine for the regimen of school, and I’d often go with her. I’d walk the stacks, looking through books or drawers of microfilm, or I would find the picture books with coats of arms and practice drawing the one for Nürnberg, with its black eagle on a yellow background and red bands[2]. As a teenager, I geeked out on that historical connection to my family name. I was excited by history in general. Many of those summer days, I would go next door to the Church History Museum or walk up the hill by the Deseret Gym, past the spot where I later learned Mark Hofmann nearly blew himself into eternity, to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum.

The museums enthralled me. In the exhibits, I could see artifacts from the lives of the founders of the LDS Church and of the Mormon pioneers. Among the tangible relics, I saw the pocket watch that saved John Taylor’s life in the firefight at the Carthage Jail in Illinois, where Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. The exhibits there connected me with my heritage in a way that both grounded me to my people and to my story.

In March of 1997, as I was preparing to leave on a mission for the LDS Church. BYU was hosting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and I went to Provo to see it. As I stood in front of a long display case that held the traveling reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, I listened to the self-guided tour cassette on a Walkman describe this ancient text. I learned of the import the Dead Sea Scrolls held for Biblical Scholarship because they pushed the dating for the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible back by nearly a millennium. The Biblical record was indeed ancient.

Standing there on the campus of BYU, I had what I would describe as a first brush with methodological skepticism towards the Book of Mormon. I thought of the missing plates contrasted with the Great Isaiah Scroll. It was a jarring juxtaposition because the Book of Mormon uses Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 27 to suggest that Isaiah was prophesying the coming forth of the Book of Mormon “out of the dust.” But there I was, standing before an ancient text that actually had come forth out of the dust. It wasn’t sealed. Scholars actually could read it and compare it to the other known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. Differences though there may be, the process of Textual Criticism could be applied. The Book of Mormon plates were nowhere to be found, and according to the narrative, shouldn’t be expected to be discovered. Scholars could not read them.

Despite that first encounter with methodological skepticism, with my mission approaching, I knew that a spiritual witness of the book is what my church leaders prescribed. So I settled into an attitude of methodological neutrality and studied the book extensively. I didn’t then concern myself with scholarly, critical approaches to the Book of Mormon. Rather, I approached it like I hoped those I met on my mission would, I read it and prayed to know if it was true.

On a hot summer day in 1998, as a Mormon missionary knocking doors in Szeged, a beautiful university city in southeastern Hungary. One man spoke with us from his front window, seemingly uninterested. When we told him about Joseph Smith and the golden plates, he suddenly became enthusiastic and asked, “Do you want to read a real book pulled from the dust of the earth?”

My companion and I exchanged puzzled glances and the man disappeared into his house and returned a few moments later with a stack of paper. He handed it to me and said, “I got this from a friend. You can borrow it if you promise to bring it back tomorrow.”

Never one to miss the opportunity to bargain, I told him I would read his stack of papers if he would take a copy of the Book of Mormon and read it. He agreed. That night I sat on our balcony reading. The packet of photocopied material he had lent me was a translation of the “The War Scroll,” found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each page was bisected with Hebrew script on one side and the English translation on the other. I was mesmerized by the description of the eschatological war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The packet lacked a contextual description of the work, and I was so steeped in Mormon cosmology, that I tried to make sense of what I was reading as a description of a primordial War in Heaven. The dots weren’t connecting, but I stayed up late trying to make it fit. Reading that non-canonical work from the Second Temple period was a formative experience. It helped me to see that even the evidence for a small Jewish sect could be unearthed and provide valuable historical and cultural insights into their beliefs and practices—evidence of their existence.

Throughout my two-years in Hungary, I studied the LDS Standard Works (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the King James Bible). I used the LDS Institute manuals, designed as curriculum for Mormon college students, as study aids. While studying the Old and New Testaments, I was fascinated by the cultural insights the manuals provided that helped to illuminate the context of the Biblical narrative. Even the manual for the Doctrine and Covenants provided valuable 19th-century cultural context for each section in that book. As I studied through the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, however, I was troubled by the paltry size of those manuals. They contained only summaries of the narratives and teachings of each book supplemented by quotes from LDS General Authorities.

The Pearl of Great Price is only 61 pages long. It makes sense that the commentary for such a brief work would be less substantial than for the Bible. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, claims to be an epic covering roughly a millennium of history—more when you count the Jaredite narrative—and fills 531 pages. The cultural commentary for that book should have been weighty. But it wasn’t.

By the end of my mission, I would sit on my bed during morning personal study, and daydream about becoming an archaeologist and finding the evidence that would vindicate the Book of Mormon as ancient history. When I returned from my mission, I subscribed to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, then published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). With each issue, I was dismayed as the articles would walk back from premature claims made by previous generations of Mormon archaeologists about ancient Mesoamerican artifacts such as Izapa Stela 5. While I was glad for the forthright dedication to accuracy, I began to have serious doubts about the Book of Mormon as a historical narrative about real people who existed in the ancient past.

Photo Credit: British Library

The Codex Sinaiticus was handwritten well over 1600 years ago. This manuscript contains the entire Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Fast forward about a decade to 2007 and I was finishing up a business degree at a small Catholic college near my home in northern Kentucky. One of the requirements for graduation was to complete a religion class. I signed up for Intro to the New Testament. The class was taught by a priest who rekindled in me the fire I had felt years before when studying the New Testament. We used “Understanding the New Testament and Its Message: An Introduction” by Vincent P. Branick as our course text. Beyond providing a cultural framework for understanding the New Testament, Branick discusses the textual issues: oral tradition and two-source theory, the “Synoptic Problem,” as well as Text, Form, and Source Criticism. I was fascinated! Why? Because the New Testament can be studied as history and as a historical text. Unbelievers argue that Jesus’ miracles, resurrection, and other supernatural elements of the narrative are hagiography, but all but the most skeptical scholars agree that the New Testament is focused on the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

Taking that class was the nail in the coffin of my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. One simply cannot study the Book of Mormon in historical and cultural context the way one can the Bible.[3] Although I have been charged with “trusting in the arm of flesh” because I have sought to understand the Word of God as history, and have rejected works that do not display the same traits as the Bible, the very point of the Gospel is that God acted in history to accomplish His plan of salvation.

I know in whom I have trusted to lead me in my studies. I thank God for my mind that has ever sought Him, and the Holy Spirit for teaching me in the way that He knew would be convincing to me and prepare me for the gift of a new heart. I praise Jesus, my Savior, forevermore. I can never go back. As Peter testified, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). Historicity matters!

NOTES
[1] Risen Jesus Podcast S3E5 Methods of Approaching Ancient Text
[2] https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/index.php?title=N%C3%BCrnberg
[3] I am not convinced by Brandt Gardner’s arguments in Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen Brother Collins, amen!

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

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

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

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

 

Video  —  Posted: May 24, 2020 in Atheism, Bullying, Confirmation Bias, Ex-Mormons, Fred Anson, Modernism, Mormon Studies, Recovery from Mormonism, Sociology

An Ex-Mormon Turned Pastor Responds to A Letter From the Mormon Church To Be Truthful About What Church He Actually Belongs To

The Mormon Temple in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I grew up Mormon, and left the church while in college. Many years later I found Jesus (or Jesus found me) and today I pastor a small church my family helped start in SWFL [Southwest Florida]. Recently I received a letter from the Mormon Church instructing me to “be truthful by telling others that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“.

Well — I want to obviously be truthful. So below is both the letter I received from the Mormon church, and my full and detailed response.

Letter from Mormon Church

Dear Brother Culbertson,

As your new bishop, I want to start by wishing you a happy Christmas season and letting you know that I send the love of the ward to you and your family.

I am writing because it is my understanding that for some years now you have been a pastor at a church you helped found called Refuge Church. I’ve visited your website and can appreciate what you do to help bring people closer to Jesus Christ and your service to the community. On Refuge’s website you say that you “grew up mormon” and then “left all religion behind,” publicly suggesting that you no longer identify as a member of the Restored Church. Unless and until you have your name removed, if friends or neighbors ask you what church you belong to, please be truthful be telling them that you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am attaching a copy of your membership record. In the Restored Church of Jesus Christ what is bound on earth in heaven (See Matthew 16:19). Please understand that name removal cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member (in your case, the Aaronic priesthood), and revokes the temple blessings of the member. Once your name is removed you can be readmitted to the Church by baptism and confirmation but only after a preparation process including a thorough interview.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, name removal may be necessary if formal membership in the other church is not ended after counseling and encouragement. I know that members of the church have tried to reach out to you many times over the years and that your own brother is the bishop of another ward in our stake. I think at this point it is appropriate for me to invite you to send me a letter letting me know whether you want your name remove from Church records. If I do not hear from you within a few weeks I will assume you wish to remain on church records, in which case I’ll be following a different – and mandatory – procedure for these very circumstances. Please make your decision on name removal and let me know it unequivocally, in writing (a verbal request is invalid, per Church policy). Meanwhile, please let me know if there is anything that I or your ward can do for you.

My Letter in Response

This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and ‘discipline.’ Please remove my name permanently and completely from your membership rolls.

I walked away from the LDS church in the mid 1990’s due to considerable consideration and study.  I had been taught from birth that the LDS Church was the “one true restored church”.  I had been taught because we had a prophet, in Joseph Smith, and a prophet today, that we would be guided in “these later days”.

With the advent of the internet, I was able to read church documents and records dating back to Brigham Young and through the modern generation, documenting change after change to this “restored true and perfect church”.

These documents I read and researched were not propaganda books or documents pushed by “anti-Mormon” groups, they were archived church teachings and writings from the Prophets.  From Polygamy, to views on race in the priesthood, to changes to temple ceremonies and scriptural translations, the church was still evolving its beliefs, even though it had supposedly been perfectly restored by Joseph Smith.  This is what led to my initial walking away from the LDS church.

As time progressed, jaded now against all religion, thinking of it simply as a coping mechanism for death for naïve people, I didn’t give my personal faith much thought.  Then one day, around 2003, I begrudgingly visited a local church here in SWFL.  My wife and I (and new daughter) were new to town and thought maybe we could at least make some “nice” friends.

As the pastor spoke, I debated everything he said, using what I’d been taught in Mormonism.  I still knew all the come backs.  All the reasons the Christians were wrong.  I still felt that sense of arrogance.  Of how “cheap” the grace he taught about seemed.

Over the course of the next year though, I continued to go, listen … and MOST importantly, I finally opened the Bible and began to read it for myself.  As I read through books like the Gospel of John, I found a different Jesus than the one I’d been exposed to through Mormonism.  That Jesus was with God in beginning, and we were not. That there is ONE GOD, in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

I discovered that grace didn’t come “after all we could do”, but grace upon grace was available.  That there was nothing we could do to save ourselves.  That there is no ladder we needed to climb to God.  That John teaches about God’s descension to us, not our ascension to him.

I learned that Jesus destroyed the temple and rebuilt it.  He did not rebuild it as one of those beautiful buildings the LDS uses today and calls Temples, but that when we are born again (as Jesus refers to our being remade process in John 3), we become the residing place of God.  We become His temple.  We no longer needed a prophet.  We no longer needed temples.

I read through the Epistles, in particular Paul’s letter to the Romans and found a new kind of appreciation for the depth of my (and all of humanities) depravity and our inability to do ANYTHING about it.  Yet I found hope beyond hope, that for those in Christ there is no condemnation.  That Jesus set us free.  Free from striving, and working, and temple recommends, and dress codes.  Free from wearing masks.

I read Galatians, that made is so clear that what Joseph Smith did was a twisting and perversion of the gospel just like Paul warned about.  That anytime we add works on top of the finished work of Jesus Christ, it is not the Gospel.  That we are made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law, or gotten married in a temple, or received the Melchizedek priesthood.

I read the Old Testament (which is still hard to read), but I began to see that even those hard, difficult stories pointed us to Jesus.  That the Bible isn’t about me, and what I must do … but about God and what He has done.

I write to you today, and I bear you my testimony, that I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Mormon church is a perversion of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That the Book of Mormon is a fraud.  That Joseph Smith was never a prophet of God.

I believe that there is this ONE infinite, Holy, perfect, almighty, creator God in three persons that created ALL things for His glory.  I believe human beings, have all sinned against God, fall far short of his glory. I believe that the wage of that sin is death.

I believe God, being just and right and Holy, cannot stand for sin.  That we cannot enter His presence in our corrupted state.  Yet He desires to be with us; to reconcile with us.

I believe He sent Christ in the flesh to pay for our sin, to take the punishment we deserved.  He suffered.  He died.  I believe God raised him to life, and now being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, makes us alive together with Christ, saving us by grace through faith alone.

I believe in the admonition of Paul that says  …If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED.  (Rm 10:9)

That’s my testimony.  I can’t imagine the cost of the Gospel. I can’t fathom the cost of our sin.  The cost of God saving me, Brian Culbertson.  It’s so high. That’s why I also can’t fathom an All-Knowing, All-Powerful God, who would pay that cost … and then allow the truth to be removed from the earth for 1700+ years, only to then finally be “restored”.

As I studied the Bible and came to understand that it wasn’t a book about me, rather a book about the true hero (Jesus), I gave my life to Him in 2005 and became a child of God.

I remember as a kid singing that primary song “I am a child of God, and so my needs are great.  Help me to understand his words, before it grows to late.  Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with him someday.”  

The list of “all that I must do” was pretty long as I remember in the Mormon Church.  But I had missed that all I must do was REST.  Rest in the arms of a Savior; put my life, my hope, my eternity into the hands of the one who already did EVERYTHING.

Today, I am the full-time lead pastor at Refuge.Church in Fort Myers (www.refuge.church).  I do this for no pay.  I do it out of no obligation.  I do it only because I’ve FINALLY found the one true pearl of great price and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

My encouragement to you, and to others (Christian, Mormon, Atheist, etc) read your Bible.  Read it like a child reading it for the first time. Allow God to speak to you.  Remove your filters.  Stop using it as a tool to justify what you already believe. Instead, read it to see what it actually says.  Be honest with yourself.  Be honest with God.  Seek the truth.  Then Jesus says “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you FREE.”  (John 8:32)

I understand what you consider the ‘seriousness’ and the ‘consequences’ of my actions. I am aware that the Church Handbook says that my resignation “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation…and revokes temple blessings.”

My resignation should be processed immediately, without any ‘waiting periods.’ I am not going to be dissuaded or change my mind.  I would like a letter of confirmation so that I know that I am no longer listed as a member of your church.

Lastly, I pray that this letter begins a new search in your heart Daniel.  You will be in my continued prayers.  If you have a free Saturday night, feel free to drop by Refuge for a visit.  You’ll always be welcome and loved.

About the Author
Brian Culbertson is a Teaching Pastor of Refuge Church in Fort Meyers, Florida. His full autobiography from the church website can be found by clicking here

This article was originally published on the Refuge.Church website on January 27, 2019. It has been republished here with the kind permission of the author and Refuge.Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or put another way: Stone meet glasshouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Brian Horner
We Learn by Contrast
The Bible is not a Book; the Bible is a library. It contains 66 different books written by 40 authors spread out over four empires (Israelite, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman) over a period of somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 years. It was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) on three different continents (Africa, Southwest Asia, and Europe). The evidence of the multi-sourced nature of the Bible is indisputable. No serious scholar, believer or critic, doubts these basic facts.

By contrast the entire Book of Mormon (BoM), in fact, every single distinguishing aspect of the Mormon religion, is conclusively traceable in its origin to only ONE source, one man – Joseph Smith, writing in the 1820s in the Western New York frontier.

Mormons will argue that the Book of Mormon is like the Bible – a collection of books, written by different authors. But that claim is unsupportable. There is no evidence that any of the BoM’s alleged authors or even their whole civilizations ever even existed.

On this point, the contrast with the Bible is as clear as it is important. There is no dispute anywhere in proper scholarship (i.e. anything more substantive than rants by virtually anonymous, self-appointed, never-published, non-peer-reviewed internet “experts”) about the fact that the history of the human civilizations described in the Bible follow the basic trajectory of the historical trajectory of the Bible. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Roman empires really did exist right where and when the Bible describes them. Israel actually existed precisely where and when the Bible says it did. The existence of dozens upon dozens of individual characters on the Bible’s pages has been confirmed along with countless numbers of details about their lives. These facts are established as objective truth with or without the Bible. In other words, we have what historians call “multiple, independent attestation” backing up much of what the Bible says are actual people living in real locations and experiencing true events. If we did not have the Bible –if the Bible never even existed– we would still have multiple, independent accounts of many of its events, even up to and including the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Christian Church.

Now, By Contrast…
No one has ever positively identified where or exactly when anything recorded in the Book of Mormon supposedly happened. Mormons cannot even conclusively identify or even agree on which of the American continents (North or South) to look for any such evidence. There is precisely zero evidence that any person in the BoM’s New World narrative ever even existed. We have exactly no evidence of any of the BoM’s 100 named western hemisphere cities. There is no evidence of the BoM’s massive wars of extinction ever actually occurring. And while the Bible’s original languages are massively well attested and nowhere ever even disputed, the simple fact is, we have no evidence or any reason whatsoever to think that Joseph Smith’s “Reformed Egyptian” ever even existed. As with ALL things Mormon, there is but one, single sole source for the original claims for its existence: one man. Joseph Smith.

The single-source nature of the Book of Mormon and for the entire Mormon religion is entirely consistent with the explanation that Joseph Smith, alone or with conspirators, faked the whole thing.

If Smith lied about the Book of Mormon, we rightly expect that there would be no evidence for the simple existence of the BoMs various human civilizations. There is no such evidence.

If Smith lied, we rightly expect that there would be no evidence that any of the named “Jaredites”, “Nephites”, “Mulekites”, or, in the goofy words of Smith himself, “all manner of ‘ites'” named in the BoM. There is no such evidence.

If Smith lied we should find precisely zero evidence of any of the historically significant events described in the BoM, such as the extermination of the massive “Nephite” civilization. No one has ever found any such evidence.

If Smith lied, we should never find any evidence of Joseph Smith’s “Reformed Egyptian” language. There is no evidence of any kind to suggest such a text type ever existed.

If Smith lied, we should expect to see a pattern of similar lies throughout his life, beginning before his self-appointment as a supposed, “prophet”. There is plenty of evidence of this, from the testimony of his own mother to his wild imagination to the affidavits of his neighbors and the victims of his scams to his conviction for crimes generally lumped today under the legal heading of fraud.

If Smith lied, we should be able to find similar kinds of speculations about the history of Native America that preceded Smith and from which he could have “borrowed” to create the BoM. We do. Spaulding, Adair, Ethan Smith and many others had been writing similar stories beginning over 100 years before Smith was even born. And the King James translation of the Bible actually appears, quoted verbatim, and anachronistically in many places throughout the BoM.

In other words, the state of the evidence has always been and continues to be entirely consistent with the explanation that Joseph Smith was a lying fraud who faked his alleged, “revelations from God” or that he was delusional and actually believed his own psychotic episodes. The one explanation that none of the evidence supports is the notion that Smith was telling the truth.

Facts Not Feelings
It matters not a wit whether you believe it or how you may feel about it. Truth is based on facts and the fact is, the BoM and therefore the Mormon religion of which it is, in the words of Joseph Smith, the “keystone” has only one positively identified source in all of known human history. And the only solid evidence we do have shows that Mr. Smith copied parts of the King James Bible and the fictional works and speculations of other men (Spaulding, Adair, et al) and mixed them together with the figments of his own fevered and legendary imagination to produce one of the greatest hoaxes in human history.

With the failure of the one and only, single sole source for the Book of Mormon (and all of Mormonism, for that matter) the religion of Mormonism itself dies a merciless death – splattered asunder on the harsh rocks of observable reality, the very rocks upon which Mormonism hurls itself when it requests your investment in its credibility.

“The Bible and the Book of Mormon Testify That Jesus Christ Is the Savior of the World”
by Greg Olsen (1959– ). Only one of these two books is attested to by verifiable facts.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Kettle, meet Pot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Christian Theologian, Matt Slick notes well,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Barker lecturing at the University of Nottingham in 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Barker speaking at BYU on November 9, 2016.

This second debunking is from Christian Apologist Rob Bowman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Fred W. Anson
This was the very first article that I wrote in Mormon Studies. It’s pretty old (if you couldn’t tell by the term “Bulletin Board” in the title). As I recall, was only written a few years over a decade ago, but it seems like a different lifetime now. Much has changed in Mormonism, much has changed in Mormon Studies, and much has changed with me. 

Case in point, Jim Spencer, my wonderful first Mormon Studies mentor, liked this article so much that he published it on his “Maze Ministry” website. And like Jim, that website is now deceased. I miss them both. I’m not thrilled with parts of my presentation and some of the content. But, none-the-less, I think that it makes a good point and issues a much-needed warning that’s just as relevant today as it was back then. If Jim were still with us today, that he would agree.  I hope that you do too. 

I was raised Christian. My brother converted to Mormonism in the late 1960’s. He was converted by my Uncle who lives in the Bay Area. And, of course, growing up and living the Southwest United States I’ve had many, many Mormon friends. I like Mormons and have a lot of respect for them.

However, thanks to good books like James Spencer’s “Beyond Mormonism”, I have come to appreciate that Mormonism is not only a fraud but a very dangerous fraud. If you are still doubting the veracity of that statement and/or Mr. Spencer’s book I would refer you to any or all of the following books:

“Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith” by Martha Beck
(written by the daughter of well-known Mormon Apologist and BYU Professor, Hugh Nibley)

“No Man Knows My History” by Fawn M. Brodie
(written by the niece of ninth LdS President, David O. McKay) 

“Wife no. 19” by Ann Eliza Young
(written by the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young) 

“Mormonism Unveiled” by John D. Lee
(written by the adopted son of Brigham Young)

After attempting to reason with True Believing Mormons on Amazon.com I was frustrated and confused. It felt like I was talking to a “wall of glass” most of the time. This had been my experience with my Brother too. I didn’t feel like they were listening – or even open to listening to anything but LDS Church dogma.

Now I agree with Elizabeth Browning who once said, “Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s” so I knew that I needed to get expert advice from those who had gotten out of Mormonism. I was clearly missing something – insight, and wisdom. And I thought I knew where to get it!

FLAMED TO A CRISP ON EXMORMON.ORG
Being Internet literate my first thought was to turn to the ExMormon Internet boards. The most popular and well known ExMormon site is www.exmormon.org (often referred to as “RfM” as in “Recovery from Mormonism”).

In fact, I had used that site for a lot of my research into the history and theology of Mormonism. So I signed up for their forum and asked the following question: “Is reasoning with True Believing Mormons [in an attempt to bring them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ] a waste of time?” Now remember up to that point all my experiences on the site had been positive so you can imagine my surprise when I got flamed to a crisp in about 15-minutes with innumerable responses like:

“That’s like asking which idiot is the biggest!”
“You’re both nuts so what’s the point?”
“Crazy wanker! Why should I waste any time reasoning with YOU?”
“As if YOUR so-called-god is any better than their so-called-god?”

All this vitriol was because in my post I made the mistake of revealing that I am an Evangelical Christian. I didn’t know at the time that the ExMormon.org bulletin board has a reputation for quickly flaming any person of faith to carbon — be they Mormon, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or anything other than Atheist.

HEALING AND HANGING OUT AT POSTMORMON.ORG
So, still needing to get my question answered, I found www.PostMormon.org via a Google search. I explained what had happened on ExMormon.org and got my question answered straightaway (the answer is, “Maybe, it depends on the TBM that you’re trying to reason with.” by the way). They were very nice, respectful and accommodating. They answered my questions. They asked me questions. I learned a lot about both Mormon History and Culture. I felt great, they felt great.

So far so good.

I am a computer Engineer and while I’m watching status bars on computers go by I kill idle time by doing posts – like this one – on subjects that interest me. I put up a lot of posts (and I mean A LOT – about 20 per day) on http://www.postmormon.org and got a generally good reception. I was careful, per the board guidelines, to qualify all my opinions with “IMO” or “from my perspective” or equivalent. To my knowledge, I never once told anyone what they should believe. And if I did it was a lapse and not deliberate – I hate that stuff. However, I did speak from my life experience – the majority of which has been lived as a Christian – and I did try to provide food for thought (just like everyone else was doing)

DISCOVERING THE TRUE PURPOSE OF POSTMORMON.ORG
And, yes, I spoke in unflinching terms about what I see as the errors of Mormon Theology and the problems that I see in Mormon Culture. (However, what I said was far less incendiary than what was displayed by most of the Ex-Mormons on the board)

However, through it all, I refused to recant from my Evangelical Christian beliefs. Again, I was always clear on I was and what I believed. I honestly didn’t think that would be a problem on a board that’s called “PostMormon.org” as opposed, to say, “PostGod.org”, “PostFaith.org”, “AnythingButGod.org”, “PostMormonNowAtheist.org”, or “DontBringYourStinkinGodHere.org”

Never-the-less, at some point, the board founder must have decided that these posts from a Christian perspective were a problem. To give you some perspective the board founder attended a Baptist church after he left the LDS Church and in his words (from his exit story on PostMormon.org),

“I reached the conclusion that the New Testament is pretty much the same kind of white-wash-sell-job as the Book of Mormon. A few basic common sense concepts and a lot of whitewashing and holy sounding stuff. So I quit going to the church.”
(Jeff Ricks, “The Lord in the Bahamas”, PostMormon.org website)

He started “calling me out” by taking direct aim at Theism in general and Christianity in particular – directly calling it “Bullshit”. His arguments were well-formed and consistent. He was very impressive and persuasive in style, delivery, and substance.

Unfortunately, once he started, a gang of militant Atheists lined up behind him and all the faith-based belief systems, got a thorough “stompin’ ‘n’ trashin'”. To show you how bad it got some of the posters even advocated banning religious advocacy altogether. Others implied (or simply overtly stated) that non-Atheists were at the very least unenlightened and at the most mentally ill. Suddenly I felt like a Jew surrounded by Nazis on Crystal Nacht. It was, to say the least, unsettling.

I did my best to present a Christian voice in the midst of the fray but it was hard to keep my head above water – there were several anti-Theist threads running concurrently and there were simply too many angry, militant Atheists on the board. I had a few allies but still, I felt overwhelmed.

Then the board founder started a new thread called, “Really, what good is Jesus?” and this new thread unleashed an avalanche of unbridled hatred and scorn on Christ, Christianity, and Christians. That was when I decided that enough was enough. I silently slid out the door and quietly shut it behind me.

NO, I AM NOT ALONE
After I left, I discovered that my experience on these ExMormon boards is not unique. Here’s what others have had to say about PostMormon.org:

“I [an ExMormon] am now a mainstream Christian. Not someone [who] is very accepted on the postmormon board. So I would say unless you do not believe in God; you will not have a great experience there.”
(Lil Daisy, comment on Mormon Coffee website, June 24, 2007)

“. . . they [PostMormon.org] won’t welcome me because their communities are not about lifting up Christ. My faith is the sheer contrast. I believe in God who declares absolutes. They are angry at this conception. So it makes heart ministry to post-Mormons extremely difficult.”
(“PostMormon.org Has Come to Idaho Falls”, Heart Issues for LDS website, June 7, 2007)

If I could have one “wish” for both ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org it would be that they would exercise full disclosure on their true agenda – which appears to be to convert True Believing Mormons into True Believing Atheists.

I agree with Mormon Researcher, Sharon Lindbloom who blogged:

“I love the idea of available support for people struggling with the problems they encounter in questioning or leaving Mormonism, but PostMormon.org seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Truth is freely available to all; yet the ability to know the truth is not an illusion. By embracing this ideology PostMormon.org is merely replacing one deception with another.”
(Sharon Lindbloom, “Validating Post-Mormons”, Mormon Coffee website, April 11, 2007)

SO, UNLESS YOU’RE CALLED DON’T GO!
As for me, I have left and I have shaken the dust of http://www.PostMormon.org off my sandals (Matthew 10:11-15). I advise other Christians to not make the same mistake that I did — twice.

These non-Christian, ExMormon sites are simply not safe places for people of faith! So unless God calls you there, don’t go. There are much better, healthier, safer ways to learn Mormon History and Culture than these sites. In fact, the one that you’re on right now [this is a reference to Jim Spencer’s now-defunct MazeMinistry.org website] is one of the best.

Yeah, being a theist on these Atheist Ex-Mormon boards is kinda like being on the receiving end of that.

APPENDIX: THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
If you’re wondering why my introduction was vague on when that article was first written and published it’s because I honestly don’t know. My record-keeping back then wasn’t what it is now. That said, I’m guessing that it was sometime in either 2007 or 2008. So that, of course, raises the question, what has happened in the ensuing decade both with myself and the Ex-Mormon websites mentioned in the article. The short version on these websites is that theists are still, to this day getting fried to a crisp on ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org has been down since 2017 due to being hacked. Further, both sites seem to only be shells of their past glory days now as, as of this writing, most folks have moved to the various Ex-Mormon groups on Facebook or the r/exmormon forum on Reddit. Thankfully, today’s groups seem to be less openly hostile to theists even though they’re still generally hostile to theism.

That said, the longer version is that after the above article was published, the founder of the PostMormon.org board caught wind of it and cyberstalked me onto the Concerned Christians discussion board (now also defunct) which had become my “home” after my PostMormon.org experience. He informed the audience there that I was full of it, a liar, a deceiver and that I was nothing more than a bitter, angry ex-member who was out to harm PostMormon.org because I had been offended while I was still a member there. He even went so far as to put up a post on PostMormon.org about how I had “betrayed” them all with this article. I was then demonized by the other PostMormon.org members with the most common accusation that I had really just been lurking all along so I could someday pursue my real, secret agenda – to convert them all to mainstream Christianity.

Friends, does any of this sound familiar?

If you’re thinking that it sounds very similar to what the LdS Church says about Ex-Mormons – like all those folks on the PostMormon.org board – you would be right. In the ensuing years, I have noticed that many Ex-Mormons may have physically left the Mormon Church but culturally, mentally, and emotionally they’re still very Mormon. Some even brag about and nurture this mindset. Hence, some in Mormon Studies refer to Mormon Culture as a “spectrum” that includes Ex-Mormons.

To be sure, overcoming a lifetime that includes indoctrination and acculturalization that started when the Ex-Mormon was in diapers surely ain’t easy! After all, I still see remnants of my upbringing as a good Nazarene boy bubbling up from time-to-time – and as of this writing, I’m 59-years old Calvinist and Charismatic, in many ways, the polar opposite of the Nazarene Wesleyanism of my parents. Some things, apparently, last a lifetime. However, the fact that many – no, I’m going to say most, based on my own first-hand experience – Ex-Mormons come out of the LdS Church and unconsciously project Mormonism onto mainstream Christianity despite the vast differences between the two.

There’s no greater proof of this than the fact that many long term Ex-Mormons – some who have been out of the Mormon Church for decades and who have studied mainstream Christianity from non-Mormon sources – will still take umbrage over the fact that Mormonism isn’t Christian even though it doesn’t even meet the most basic and essential criteria for inclusion in Judeo-Christianity: Monotheism.

A common, but wrong, assumption by most Ex-Mormons is that because they know Mormonism, they know mainstream Christianity too. But I will tell you from first-hand experience helping numerous Ex-Mormons transition out of the LdS Church, they don’t. Stated plainly, the LdS Church doesn’t teach members Christianity. Rather, it abuses Christian scripture, terms, and forms to teach members a bastardized, twisted, neo-pagan religion that is to Christianity what Islam is to Judaism: Two completely different and distinct religions albeit with a modicum of similarities.

Further, because Mormon Culture prefers bifurcation to nuance (“Everything is either black or white – there is no grey!” v. “There are many shades of grey.”) mainstream Christianity tends to simply be labeled “just the other side of the same bad penny” in Ex-Mormon culture. And it doesn’t help the cause when you have far too many Christian fanatics bashing the culture that these people came from with the same mindless, passion, and zeal that we see coming from true-believing Mormons. Yes, friends, mindless fanaticism is everywhere – including atheism.  But, that said,  not everyone in every religious group is a mindless fanatic. This is something that the folks on the boards in question often seemed to fail to grasp even when they themselves demonstrate the same polemic, “take no prisoners”, fanatical zeal for Post-Mormon Atheism that we’ve come to expect from Mormon Apologists.

As they say, “Different flame, same moth.”

This became more yet more evident to me over the years after my PostMormon.org experience when I discovered that the key players, moderators, and administrators (including the founders of both ExMormon.org and PostMormon.org) were board members of the Ex-Mormon Foundation. When I was new to Mormon Studies, The Ex-Mormon Foundation was a wonderful group that was committed to helping former members of the Mormon Church find support and help in their transition out of the LdS Church via resources up to and including an annual conference in Salt Lake City each year. Yes, one would find the same kind of processing of anger and bitterness that one found on the boards at these conferences, and one would find the same militant atheism among some members but disabusing people of religious faith wasn’t core to its mission. I was even a member of the Ex-Mormon Foundation for several years and supported them financially even though I never attended the annual conference. I saw it as a force for good in the world.

Then, over time I noticed that the focus of the official, public speaking agenda at the annual conference slowly transitioning from being focused solely on education on and opposition to Mormonism to public opposition to theism in general and Evangelical Christianity in particular. By the time of the Foundation’s eventual demise, each conference would feature at least one speaker who was militantly anti-religion and some conferences even featured speakers who were explicitly anti-Christian. And, I believe, not coincidentally, at the height of this disturbing trend, the President of the Ex-Mormon Foundation was a well-known Administrator on PostMormon.org.

Coincidence?

And, ironically, while all this was happening we’re being told both that neither these groups or this formerly fine foundation are anti-religion or anti-theism. Well, as the saying goes, I can’t hear what you’re saying because what you’re doing is too loud.

Friends, this is a challenge to these Ex-Mormon groups and boards to simply exercise the same kind of honesty of themselves that they so rightly and appropriately demand of others. If you’re going to be anti-religion, then fine, be anti-religion – but don’t say one thing and then do another. Don’t claim that mainstream Christianity and other religions are viable and reasonable options on the Mormon Spectrum and then take every opportunity to disabuse mainstream Christian theists of their faith should they naively wander into your Anti-Religion bashing group. If your real agenda is to turn True Believing Mormons into True Believing Atheists, fine.  Then be true to what and who you are and state it plainly and boldly upfront. Just be forthright honest so that those of us who aren’t interested in joining your gang know not to walk down your street and get mugged.  But just knock off the pretense of neutrality, please! You’re not neutral, just say it. Own it.

In the end, I have learned a lot from my hard experiences with Ex-Mormon atheist Internet groups. So when I finally started my own Ex-Mormon transition groups I explicitly included the word “Christian” in the group names and stated plainly in the group description that the profession of non-Mormon, mainstream Christianity is a requirement for membership. The group rules in these groups also politely ask members who become atheists in the course of their transition out of Mormonism to remove themself from the group. After all, a Christian group is a Christian group, right? We don’t represent ourselves as something that we aren’t and we don’t claim to be neutral, because we aren’t.

Finally, and in the end, I would hope that we mainstream Christians and Ex-Mormon Atheists could find a way to engage in peaceful co-belligerence against Mormonism. After all, history has shown us what great things can happen when folks who normally are in opposition to each other can engage in cooperation against a common enemy. That was my hope when I wrote my article back in the day, and it remains my hope today.

“History has shown us what great things can happen when folks who normally are in opposition to each other can engage in cooperation against a common enemy.” The “Big Three” at the Yalta Conference in February 1945: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. The Yalta Conference was held after Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies.