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Book Review: Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy

“No matter how inspired, prophets are tied to their time and culture.” – David Bokovoy.

Bokovoy Authoring the Old Testament
Authoring the Old Testament

In conversation with a friend of mine on the internet, we were talking about the Bible and Book of Mormon, and how something called Historical Criticism was a challenge for some believers. Somewhere in this mix, David Bokovoy’s article regarding the Isaiah issue in the Book of Mormon was raised, and his blog from Rational Faiths was brought up. I had not thought very thoroughly through this issues. What was this Higher Criticism that people spoke of here and there an the annals of the internet? What did it have to do with Isaiah in the Book of Mormon? With these questions in mind and through Bokovoy’s blog, I decided to purchase his book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy from my local Deseret Book.

Bokovoy’s book is made up of ten chapters. The first five chapters basically set up what Historical Criticism is, and how it applies to the Hebrew Bible (or the Christian Old Testament). the next four chapters applies Historical Criticism to uniquely Mormon scripture, save the Doctrine and Covenants.

In the first five chapters, Bokovoy introduces Historical Criticism and explains how it makes it into the Hebrew Bible. He points to four main sources or schools of thought that are identified as The Priestly Source (P), The Yahwistic Source (J), The Elohist Source (E), and The Deuteronomic Source (D). All of these are documents that Bokovoy and other scholars have identified as sources for the Hebrew Bible. One can tell that these documents are different because of the contradicting narrative the Bible gives us [1].

Within the book, Bokovoy tells his audience that “Scriptural texts are neither produced in a cultural vacuum nor created ex nihilo” (pg 163). Evidence is provided for this in great detail regarding the Hebrew Bible. For instance, he points to the great amount of Mesopotamian influence that the Bible has. He also applies this to the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses. This, of course, does not mean that these are not inspired works. Even Nephi himself, Bokovoy points out, admits that he is imperfect and that “if I do err, . . . [it’s] because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh” (1 Nephi 19:6; pg 219-220 in Authoring the Old Testament). 

Through this wisdom, Bokovoy answered questions I had which I do not think he sought to answer: The role of prophets, and how continuing revelation exists within the Mormon world view. “No matter how inspired, prophets are tied to their time and culture,” Bokovoy asserts (pg 217). Mormonism is not a philosophy built upon dogmas. “I do not believe that there is a single revelation,” Bokovoy quotes Brigham Young, “among the many God has given to the Church that is perfectly in its fullness.” Indeed, revelation, scripture, and truth aren’t bestowed upon us in a cultural vacuum or via sola scriptura. God works through imperfect fallible human beings in order to share inspired words, scripture, revelation, etc…

In reading this book, I would also advise precaution for Latter-day Saints to not accept everything written herein without a healthy dose of criticism. Tread carefully and read carefully. Spend time thinking about what is being said, and what it means for scriptural works.

In short, I think David Bokovoy’s Authoring the Old Testament serves as a good introduction to Historical Criticism from a faithful Latter-day Saint Perspective. I would recommend it for Latter-day Saints who take the Old Testament seriously, and want to learn about it’s place in our time. I would certainly welcome this book among my bookshelf of the many great books that I have. And I eagerly await his next two volumes.


  1. See Bokovoy’s analysis regarding this in chapters one and two.

Book Review: The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History

I have been noticing a lot of talk about issues regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it’s relation to race and the priesthood. [1] The Salt Lake Tribune, for instance, has posted two related articles on the topic: “39 Years Later, Priesthood Ban is History, but Racism Within Mormon Ranks Isn’t, Black Members Say” and “Steps the Mormon Church Could Take to Enhance Race Relations Within the Faith.” LDS Living has also posted a blog in regards to this: “A Black Mormon Man’s Thoughts on Race, Priesthood, and the Church’s Essay.” And both Daniel Peterson and Tarik LaCour have posted useful responses to the Salt Lake Tribune’s article: “Race and Mormonism, Thirty-Nine Years after the Revelation on Priesthood” and “Response to Salt Lake Tribune Article Concerning LDS Race Relations.” I think all of these articles are pretty good. I think the Salt Lake Tribune articles are, however, a bit problematic in some respects (but overall worthy of consideration and well written).

In light of all this talk of race and Mormonism, I decided to write a review of The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History edited by Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst. The Mormon Church and Blacks

Before I write anymore on this topic, however, I want to note that the issue of Mormon relations regarding race has been one of the most sensitive topics for me to address. Since I was a young child, I had been a huge admirer of well known historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass. I have also written an eleven part series in my blog dedicated to “Black History Reading” and have also written elsewhere on black related issues.  Indeed, this has been a topic that I’ve been wrestling with for many years.

In light of this, I also want to note that this isn’t simply an issue that Mormon historians need to deal with. In the larger context of American civilization, blacks were treated as dirt, garbage, and no more worthy than slaves. So while this issue hurts my soul in regards to “Mormonism,” it also hurts my soul in the larger American context.

Anyways, getting back to the book. I first found this book while strolling through the Deseret Book Store located in Gilbert, Arizona. I noticed the copy in the historical section. Intrigued, I picked up the book to examine the cover. On the back, as with all books, there were reviews praising the book’s accomplishments. Distinguished historian W. Paul Reeve called the book “long overdue.” Darius Gray, another fantastic person, called the book “A great resource for the serious inquirer.” These two praises convinced me that I ought to buy the book and read it.

The book was relatively short (144 pages) and was split up into seven chapters. The first chapter deals mainly with Mormon scripture that talk about black skin. The next two to seven chapters showcase documents that represent general Mormon attitudes regarding race chronologically from the time of Joseph Smith to post 1978 priesthood revelation.

Overall, I thought the book was pretty revealing. And I think it’s useful for some to seriously wrestle with this issue. It’s tough (as I believe it should be) for Latter-day Saints to deal with the difficult heart wrenching history. Leaders, it would seem, haven’t always been stalwart advocates for racial equality (putting it mildly). And conspiracy theories involving communist plots were certainly present in some circles of Mormons.

In the chapter on Mormon unique scripture, it quoted every Mormon scripture that might have something to do with race. Past interpretations of Mormon scripture were also included in some of the notes. “LDS officials,” one note read, “considered the Book of Abraham to be the main “proof text” justifying priesthood denial . . . but they sometimes associated the Book of Mormon with their racial teachings.” (pg. 151) While I agree that it was completely necessarily to point out historical/traditional readings of the “skin of blackness” found within the Book of Mormon, I also wish the authors had included more recent interpretations of the text that point out better exegesis of the Book of Mormon text. [2] Overall, I felt this particular chapter was lacking.

Dealing with historical ramifications, the book discusses the views of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the priesthood ban, civil rights, the 1978 revelation, and how the church deals with these historical issues today. It rightly states that “It is no longer acceptable to teach that blacks were cursed by God or that they were “fence sitters” in a previous life. These prior assumptions have been replaced by a new position.” (pg 118-119).

Sometimes, I talk with some of my LDS friends who say something along the lines of, “The past teachings of the church weren’t necessarily racist.” These Mormons, it seems, aren’t familiar with the problematic teachings that came from LDS leaders, official or otherwise. For instance, Apostle Ezra Taft Benson thought that the civil rights movement had communistic undertones: “Before I left for Europe,” Benson spoke at general conference, “I warned how the communist were using the Civil Rights movement to promote revolution and eventual take-over of this country. When are we going to wake up?” Mormon leaders also faced fears of interracial marriage between “negros” and whites. Mark E Peterson, for example, said the following: “Now what is our policy in regard to intermarriage? As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer. We must not intermarry with the Negro.” (pg 70)

With all the negative, horrific stereotypes that existed among some of the Mormon hierarchy regarding blacks, there were also some more understanding voices. For instance, in stark contrast with Peterson and Benson states above, Apostle Hugh B. Brown said in general conference that “We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, t commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” (pg 76)

I think this book is good for those curious about race and Mormonism or, more specifically, “blacks” and the Mormon Church. It’s certainly a tough one for believing Latter-day Saints such as myself. But it offers a more nuanced view of Mormon history that I think serious readers ought to consider.

  1. For those of you unaware of the history behind this topic, see the Church’s essay “Race and the Priesthood” and Lester E Bush Jr’s “Mormonisms Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.”
  2. For example, see Ethan Sprouts “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon: A Textual Exegesis.

Book Review: A Reason For Faith

When I first heard about Laura H. Hales’ book A Reason for Faith: Navigating Church History and Doctrine, I was very pleased that she was compiling essays from some of Mormonism’s best scholars to defend the faith. The most note worthy contributors, in my opinion, are Richard Bushman, Brant Gardner, Don Bradley, W Paul Reeve, and Neylan McBaine. All of these authors have done a great amount of work in regards to Mormon scholarship. And all of their opinions are worth hearing.

A Reason For Faith
A Reason for Faith

The book covers a series of hot button topics regarding Church history and doctrine, such as polygamy, Book of Mormon historicity, science and religion, among others, all written by experts in their field. Brian Hales, for instance, contributed the essay “Joseph Smith’s Practice of Plural Marriage” and is also the author of the cutting edge Joseph Smith’s Polgamy, vol 1-3. Another example is W. Paul Reeve who wrote “Race, the Priesthood, and Temples.” Reeve is also the author of the wonderful volume Religion of a Different Color: The Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, which he references liberally in “Race, the Priesthood, and Temples.” Like Hales and Reeve, the authors of these essays have put in a large amount of study and writing that has given them a great deal of insight to LDS History.

My favorite essay, by far, has had to be Don Bradley’s and Mark Ashurst-Mcgee’s “Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates.” This essay does a find job answering the accusations many critics make regarding the Kinderhook Plates. Basically, they argue convincingly, that Joseph Smith attempted to translate the Kinderhood plates, not as a prophet, but as an amateur linguist.

My next favorite essay following that has been Ty Mansfield’s essay titles “Homosexuality and the Gospel.” Mansfield talks about the complexity of sexuality, and how it’s more for one to simply be “gay.” Gay, for some, means one thing, and for others, means something else.

In short, I think A Reason for Faith is an excellent example of how Mormon scholars answer criticisms. The essays found therein are fantastic, and give deeper meaning to Church History and Doctrine. I think Latter-day Saints would do well to read and study this book.

Book Review: Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Curious about Atheism, I sought to find a book that argues atheism’s position from a scholarly perspective. Before this, however, I had run into Oxford’s excellent series of Very Short Introductions. These books offer introductions to various topics. For my Mormon readers, Oxford has published books like Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bushman and also The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction by Terryl Givens. I highly recommend both of these works for those who would like to read a good over view of these topics.

Atheism A Very Short Introduction
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Similar to these books, Jullian Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction was a well argued work and one worthy of consideration. Baggini, in short, has sought to create a positive case for atheism. Does he succeed? In my estimation, I would say mostly yes. He has certainly given me a lot to think about. Questions such as, “Where does morality come from, and why is it good?” were answered in incredibly thought provoking ways.

Another good feature of Baggini’s book was the fact that he was not interested in simply stating that religion is stupid, therefore atheism. Some of his interpretation of scripture, however, are a bit problematic. Baggini also dislikes militant atheism. Unlike Richard Dawkins who thinks we should ridicule large groups of people while simultaneously treating them like idiots, Baggini recognizes that ” Intelligent atheists often have much more in common with undogmatic theists than one might suppose” (pg 25) and that there are “many intelligent people [who] are religious and it is not good enough for atheists to simply dismiss religious belief as foolish superstition” (pg 92).

Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction offers a challenging discussion that I believe theists should sometime consider. Baggini is both a bright and friendly atheist, and his book adds yet another fine piece to Oxford’s Very Short Introductions. 

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones

“I trust you will make this [Joseph’s Seer Stone] a matter of history.” – Zina Young Card.

“These stones will I give unto thee . . . [which]  shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write.” Ether 3:24

Zina Young Card, Daughter of Brigham Young
Zina Young Card

When I first heard about Michael H. Hubbard and Nicholas J Frederick’s Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones, I asked myself, What can one possibly learn about Joseph’s Seer Stones? Aren’t they merely cultural artifacts that Joseph used to as a means of inspiration in translating the Book of Mormon? In summation, I thought that this book would have very little to offer, and would either be very short or very repetitive.

Boy, was I wrong. As it turns out, there is much to be learned regarding the Seer Stone’s, and much more that needs to be talked about. The book goes into extraordinary detail regarding interesting topics such as how Joseph found his seer stones, what was the context of the life of seer stones, a theology of seer stones, among others.

What was most interesting, in my opinion, was the portion tracing the seer stones back to Joseph and to today and the part about theologizing the stones. The authors give a very good critique of the “Didactic Model” of seer stones, which basically entails that the stones were used as a crutch for Joseph Smith’s prophetic role, rather than God’s actual means of communication with Joseph Smith. After all, if God created the brother of Jared’s Seer Stones specifically for a divine purpose, He could have done the same for Joseph Smith. Pointing to the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s seer stones, the authors argue, “were not [merely] cultural artifacts, but rather sacred relics that identified him as a seer, revelation, and prophet” (Hubbard and Frederick, 133).

Another great feature that has nothing to do with the content of the book is the paper that was used in its printing. Throughout the book one will notice colorful illustrations of seer stones, prophets, apostles, and others who were involved in Joseph’s Seer Stones. These colorful illustrations and photographs helps readers connect with the text and understand better who’s who and what’s what.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who has questions about seer stones. The authors manage to create a beautiful working narrative that many simply do not know about or have considered. And it’s meticulous arguments add to the fruitful discussion.

A Conversation with Christian Apologist Andrew Rappaport

Rappaport Residence (Wikimedia Commons)

“Nope I did not waste the time [reading your response] since you clearly did not see your first sentence proved my point. No sens Eto waste time with a deceiver.” – Andrew Rappaport, Facebook conversation with Eric Lopez.

Evangelical Christian apologist Andrew Rappaport has a series of video courses regarding Mormonism which can be found here. Andrew’s videos display, among other things, his ignorance and idiotic findings about Mormonism. [1] Before I wrote a review of his videos, I wanted to reach out to him and explain that they were inaccurate. His response shows how intellectually dishonest he is, as he asserts that I’m going to hell and was deliberately lying to him.

Below I provide our conversation in full, without any major editing.

Me: Hello, I watched your videos about Mormons and within the first five minutes, you said that if someone says they’d rather be called a Latter-day Saint rather than a Mormon, that’s basically them saying that they are going to “try to deceive you.” Really? I choose to be called a Latter-day Saint over the word Mormon because it better represents who I am. And what kind of “introduction” is that? Imagine if a class you attended was an introduction to Christianity. And the teacher, rather than giving basic facts about Christian teachings and history, he instead gave a class on why Christianity is wrong and Islam (or something) was right? Would that be an ok introduction? You also said our website teaches that we teach the trinity. Actually, Mormons have consistently denied in believing in the trinitarian creeds. In 1988, for instance, Dr Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks wrote that “Latter-day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.” Jeffery R Holland, in 2007, spoke that “In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible. We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible.” In an authoritative article commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it reads (emphasis added): “Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a consequence, Latter-day Saints hold that God the Father is an embodied being, a belief consistent with the attributes ascribed to God by many early Christians. This Latter-day Saint belief differs from the post-New Testament creeds.” Mormons have consistently taught that we don’t believe in a Trinitarian God. I don’t know what part of the website you were reading, but I’ve been unable to track down any source that says we accept the trinity.

Andrew Rappaport: It is simple the LDS is founded on stating we do not have the truth now your church runs commercials stating you are Christians like us. Which is true

Me: Actually, Mormons have always believed and taught that we are Christian. This isn’t anything new.
And we have also always pointed out that we have differences. Have you read the works “How Wide the Divide” by Evangelical Scholar Craig Blomberg and Mormon scholar Stephen Robinson? It isn’t comprehensive, but it points out that Mormons and Evangelicals certainly do have differences, but those differences aren’t as big as we thought they were.

Andrew Rappaport: Just like us? Do not be deceiving now because that would prove me right
Me: Dude, I just said we have differences as well.
Andrew Rappaport: The church has a “we are Christian” campaign. The purpose is to state that LDS are like us real Christians. Now for the last time is that true or not. I understand you want to keep your deception and not lie at the same time but you cannot have it both ways. LDS is nothing like the Bible or the BOM. So are you Christian believing that Jesus is and always was God, that the Father is and always was God only in spirit and never in flesh OR do you pretend and deceive. The reality is that you are deceived and heading to hell and I do not want that for you but as long as you are unwilling to be honest with yourself then you will not repent.
Me: The LDS Church actually had an ad campaign titled “I’m a Mormon.” And we are Christian. Indeed, the protestant scholar John Turner recognized this in his book “The Mormon Jesus: A Biography.” He stated the following; “Given this trajectory [of modern LDS interactions with non-LDS faiths], it no longer makes sense to consider Mormonism a “new religion,” a “new world religion,” or even a “new religious tradition,” if that implies a supersession of or definitive break with Christianity. Instead, Mormonism is a vibrant new branch of Christianity, one in which temples, ordinances, and prophets have taken their place alongside a Jesus who is both utterly Christian and distinctively Mormon.” (Belkarp Harvard pg 294) And the Catholic theologian and philosopher Stephen Webb argues in his book “Mormon Christianity: What Other Can Learn From the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Oxford) extensively that Mormons are Christian. Are we Christian? I certainly believe so. Are we protestants? No. Of course not. But since you are so eager to say that Mormons say we are “just like you,” I challenge you to find a reputable Mormon scholar/authority who says we are just like other Protestant Christians. I haven’t seen one. I would be very surprised if I did. “So are you Christian believing that Jesus is and always was God” The assertion that Mormonism teaches that Christ was a created being (certainly, I must say, some Mormons DO believe this nonsense) is wrong on a number of levels. In the poorly researched book from reformed author Richard E Carroll “Mormonism and the Bible” (Mustang), he argues that “Mormons embrace the heresy of Arias. They see Christ as a created being.” This theology, as you may know, states that, while Christ pre-existed, he did not pre-exist eternally. Instead, he came into existence ex nihilo prior to the Genesis creation. There are a number of groups who have Arian Christology, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses (though with an added twist on identifying the pre-mortal Jesus as Michael). But in Latter-day Saint (Mormon) beliefs, is is a distinct teaching of LDS Christology that Jesus has eternally existed, His nature being that of an intelligence, with all the attributes inherent within intelligence (see Abraham 3, D&C 93). There is no creation ex nihilo of Jesus, as Arianism teaches. While probably a post Joseph Smith concept, the “Spirit birth” of Christ is wherein an intelligence is clothed upon with a spirit body, analogous to our spirit being clothed upon with a mortal physical body. Furthermore, Trinitatian scholars actually do believe that “Jesus” was created. In Trinitarian Christology, “Jesus” is a single person who with two natures and two wills, al la the Hypostatic Union, as defined in Chalcedon in AD 451. The human nature and will of Jesus did not actually pre-exist the Incarnation. Certainly, Trinitarian scholars have been forced to admit that one cannot speak of Jesus pre-existing unless pre-existence is normative of what it means to be “human.” Much work has been done in recent years in what is called, “Spirit Christology,” focusing on what precedes “Jesus”-the Word in John 1-as God. What follows are two quotes from leading studies on this issue, and how only holding that all humans, not just Jesus, pre-existing can one speak of the pre-existing Jesus. This comes from trinitarian scholar Bernard Byrne’s “Christ Pre-existence in Pauline Soteriology,” Theological studies, June 1997, 58/2: “By the same token, it is important to stress that in speaking of pre-existence, one is not speaking of a pre-existence of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus Christ did not personally pre-exist as Jesus. Hence one ought not to speak of a pre-existence of Jesus. Even to use the customary expression of the pre-existence of Christ can be misleading since the word “Christ” in its original meaning simply designates the Jewish Messiah, a figure never thought of as pre-existent in any personal sense. But in view of the Christian application of “Christ” to Jesus, virtually as a proper name and in a way going beyond his historical earthly existence, it is appropriate to discuss the issue in terms of the pre-existence of Christ, provided one intended thereby to designate simply the subject who came to historical human existence as Jesus, without any connotation that he pre-existed as a human being.” This second quotation comes from Trinitarian scholar Roger Haight’s “The Case for Spirit Christology,” Theological Studies, June 1992, 53/2 (Emphasis, mine) “And with the clarity that historical consciousness has conferred relative to Jesus’ being a human being in all things substantially like us, many things about the meaning of Incarnation too can be clarified. One is that one cannot really think of a pre-existence of Jesus . . . But one cannot think in terms of the pre-existence of Jesus; what is pre-existent to Jesus is God, and the God who became incarnate in Jesus. Doctrine underscores the obvious here that Jesus is really a creature like us, and a creature cannot pre-exist creation. One may speculate on how Jesus might have been present to God’s eternal intentions and so on, but a strict pre-existence of Jesus to his earthly existence is contradictory to his consubstantiality with us, unless we too were pre-existent.” “Mormonism,” of course, answers this problem. And we believe everyone had a personal pre-existence, not just Jesus. Furthermore, there is no doctrine creation ex nihilo in LDS theology to begin with. And can you stop saying that I’m trying to maintain a lie or deceive? I’m not stupid. People are allowed to believe different things and still be honest about those beliefs. This isn’t anything new or controversial. If I wanted to lie about you, I would do it somewhere you couldn’t really respond. But, instead, I’ve come straight to you. I’ve been straight up about what I believe and clear where I stand.
Andrew Rappaport: you can quote who ever you want you just prove me right you try to claim that you are like us when you are not. Joseph Smith was a known con man that is leading you to hell where he is now. repent .
if you were straight up you would state as the Joseph Smith did that we fell away and need him to restore the church. by the way that make Jesus a lair since He stated that they church would not fall away but my guess is that you have not studied the Bible.

Me: Good grief, Andrew. Did you even read what I wrote? I was pointing out a difference in Mormonism. I pointed out that “in Latter-day Saint beliefs, i[t] is a DISTINCT teaching of LDS Christology that Jesus has eternally existed . . . with all the attributes inherent with intelligence.” Notice the word “Distinct.” What do you think that means? Does that mean, “like everyone else?” As to your paragraph in regards to apostasy, it’s been a very consistent teachings that Mormons believe that Christians lost the priesthood and that it was restored through Joseph Smith by Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, Wonderful, the Son of God, the Messiah. This teaching can be found in Missionary manuals. It’s taught to everyone who takes the eight lessons from the LDS missionaries.

Andrew Rappaport: Nope I did not waste the time since you clearly did not see your first sentence proved my point. No sens Eto waste time with a deceiver.

Me: What sentence did I utter which proved your point?

Andrew Rappaport: Well I guess you did not read my much shorter response that pointed it out.

Me: I’ve read all your responses, Andrew. Could you point out which response in which you pointed out that I proved your point?


1. A much better introduction to Mormonism is Richard Bushman’s “Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University) or Stephen Webb’s “Mormon Christianity” (Oxford University).

Online Debating

Richard Mouw
Richard Mouw, who has been an inspiration to me in regards to healthy disagreement and charitable interactions. (Wikimedia Commons)

How do we get past the idea that debating online is something that we do to “win” arguments, or to “destroy” our opponents? An online friend of mine suggested that we should not think of online interfaith discussions as a sport. He suggested that one way to help combat this “sport” mentality is to institute a rule against screenshotting ideological opponents for sport. This rule seemed interesting to me. But, I wonder, what would that do for accountability? Some may jump on this rule and spew whatever venomous tarnish they would like in order to support their opinions laden with zingers and bigotry.

Before I continue, however, I must admit that I have been guilty of screenshotting conversations with ideological opponents in an effort to make them look stupid and/or uninformed. [1] Looking back, it’s embarrassing that I went through such a phase, and lost track of why we should be having these conversations. My focus was not on glorifying Christ and His work on earth. It was about destroying my opponent, and  attempting to gain points and zingers against their ideas. Indeed, this was a selfish act on my part and, not to mention, petty. So, therefore, I wish to repent and hope I can build bridges once again with my brothers and sisters and focus on why I do what I do. Do I talk about Mormonism online to win arguments, or do I do so to bring people to know Christ, and His magnificent Gospel? [2]

Discerning truth from error does not come from debaters tactics or rhetoric. It comes from rational arguments, faith, and proper discernment. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it invites us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). I am not convinced that pointing out typos or trivial errors in an essay or blog constitutes as totally discrediting someone as an intellectual, as long as said intellectual is willing to listen and respond reasonably to criticisms. Nor am I convinced that debates are all that useful for pointing people to the truth. Dr. Daniel C Peterson also shared a similar opinion: “I’m not convinced that public debates are a very effective way of getting at or pointing to truth,” writes Peterson. “Too much depends upon quick-wittedness, cleverness, and rhetoric. . . I heartily dislike American presidential “debates,” which are more about soundbites and “zingers” than about serious, substantive discussion of complex issues. I’m much more inclined (though, even here, lack of time, coupled with a long list of preexisting priorities, would argue against it) to written discussions, where there is no time clock, no premium placed upon one-liners and zingers and crowd-pleasing oratory, no playing to an audience, and no length limit.” [3]

Our conversations must be more fruitful, and filled with more charity for one another. Some of my online interactions with people have grown so polarizing that I once told a friend that I was not longer interested in having serious conversations with others, and would rather troll people. Really!? That’s what my conversations have turned into? In what universe should a faithful Latter-day Saint take Christ’s Infinite Atonement, and not take it seriously? In Micheal R. Ash’s fantastic response to the so-called CES Letter, he touched on a simple yet important truth: “Smart people don’t always agree with eachother.” [4] How do we recognize that others might be familiar with the same working information and historical facts and yet simultaneously have come to different conclusions without assuming the other person is merely “ignorant,””blind,” or “crazy”? This is a question that I think everyone needs to ask themselves while engaging in online interfaith actions. In the long run, people need to realize that we all come from different perspectives and different backgrounds. We need to simply realize and accept that some people have read the same things as you’ve read, and yet have different conclusions.

Another great question, How do we deal with people who are simply hostile towards the things you hold dear and sacred? I have asked my self this question throughout my years of online interaction. I have answered this question in many different way, from “Be kind, and defend what you believe,” to “Sarcastically, but cleverly, respond to their conversations.” I have come to the personal conclusion that both of these answers are wrong. In the Book of Matthew Christ instructs that we should “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” I have come to the conclusion that some people are so mean, irresponsible, and nasty that withholding what’s sacred has been, and is, the healthier option. In some cases, I can come up with fantastic, well thought out answers to complex issues, and some people will still find ways to twist it and make you seem like a maniac. In these extreme yet common cases, it’s simply not worth casting your pearls.

Getting back to my earlier comment on accountability. I think we shouldn’t let anybody say merely whatever they want and simply get away with calling groups of people blind and ignorant. These attitudes are not helpful, nor are they useful. We need to hold these people accountable for what they say, and have them further explain themselves. And if they cannot explain themselves, we ought to simply ignore such silly rants. It’s simply rude and uncharitable to assert that an entire group of people are idiotic, and don’t know a thing about, well, anything. Accountability is actually why I disagree with my friend in regards to excluding screenshots on the internet. Screenshots are good and can be used for the safety of an environment where people can express good ideas. Imagine if, say, in private one is especially rude and hostile while, at the same time, in public forums these same individuals are winsome and kind. I think as long as we take and share  screenshots for reasons that are ultimately constructive, then it’s perfectly fine. Did Joe Shmo say Mormons are stupid idiots who are going to hell on a public forum? Did Jack Smack say evangelicals are deluded idiots? Well, we have a screen shot of him saying so. So, therefore, it holds people accountable for rude, ridiculous, and slanderous writings. This, ultimately, creates a safe environment for honest individuals. It is not, however, a safe environment for trolls who wish to slander and demean.

In the end, we are all just people doing our best to be kind and loving to our brothers and sisters. As we write and comment, I invite people to think before they press that “comment” button, “Is this useful? Is this appropriate? Is the person I am talking to a kind and reasonable human being?,” and, most importantly, “Is this comment honest and fair?”It is not honest to grab what one Mormon or evangelical says to paint the hole heard. It isn’t charitable to demean an entire group of people based of off peculiar beliefs.  Asking these questions before and after typing a comment, I believe, will help build better dialogue.

Saint Francis of Assisi once wrote the following poem called “Peace Prayer,” which has brought me great comfort and peace as I read its words. It speaks to me in tremendous ways, and reminds me that I need to be an instrument in the Lords hands.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

Saint Francis of Assisi (Wikimedia Commons)

where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In summary, I believe that we, particularly I, need to be more charitable in conversations. We need to be more kind, loving, honest, and more Christlike. Because, ultimately, what we are trying to do is point people to Christ. We can do this, not by fire, not by wind, and not by an earthquake, but with the soft impressions and the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit.


1. While some of these conversation certainly did testify of my opponents ignorance, it simply was not right to blast it the way I did in some circles.

2. For those of you interested in learning what Mormons identify as the Gospel, follow the link here.

3. For further context regarding Daniel’s blog, see “Responding to Robert Bowman.”

4. Ash, Micheal R. Bamboozled by the “CES Letter.” Self Published, 2015. Pg 13.

Smart people don’t always agree with each other.

“There are smart atheists, Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and yes, Mormons.
Smart people don’t always agree—in fact, they often disagree. There are, for example, also smart Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and even Communists. You might think that the other guy or gal is an idiot. You may be convinced that they don’t have a clue about how the real world works or what is best for our country—and you may have good arguments to support your convictions—but the reasons you maintain your views and reject theirs are typically not because you are smarter than they are.

“Intelligent people can all agree that 2+2=4, that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and that a dropped rock will fall toward your toes.

“Intelligence and rationale are not enough alone, however, to determine that there is or isn’t a God, that the Bible was written by divinely inspired prophets, or that Joseph Smith communed with God and translated an ancient American record There is no silver bullet to kill all other arguments and no universally acceptable “proof” that will convince all people that one position trumps all others. Psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that we don’t always think purely rational thoughts or that all most of our decision making—even on important life-changing issues—is determined by sheer intelligence. And we can’t escape this problem because it’s simply part of our human nature. “