Spurred on by the recent events with Shawn McCraney and his followers and in anticipation of some events around the Mormon General Conference coming up, I was inspired to finally write something related to Mormon Studies. This topic specifically is something I’ve been pondering for about two years at this point. So today, as opposed to being an essay that argues for a specific point of view or looks at some esoteric item of the Bible, I’m hoping to set up a dialogue with some of our new readers who were brought in from the recent McCraneyism article.
We need help from folks who are a little more familiar with the topic of Mormonism than myself. Although I have lived in Utah for most of my life and I have studied the topic to an extent, I have to admit that I’m not a great apologist in this area. I lack a lot of first hand knowledge of someone who came out of the Mormon church and I also have not had a lot of in person interaction with active members of the Mormon institution. As I stated in my Church Check, most of what I know about the Mormons comes from Shawn McCraney’s old Heart of the Matter TV show. Heck, I’ve never even read the Book of Mormon (although I do own one and have skimmed it at times). This post is a request for help on this topic.
What Is the Silver Bullet?
If I were to put the goal of this project as a question I would say, “Is there a knock down, bullet proof, one-and-only argument that puts the nail in the coffin for Mormonism?” In other words if Mormonism is a monster from the old scary movies, what’s the silver bullet that has the special power to put it to rest once and for all?
The idea for this undertaking came to me after hearing a story of a ministry in New York City. The goal of this group was to evangelize to religious Jews. After what must have been a lot of research and discussion about the best way to reach the Jewish community with the message of Jesus, they decided to let the Bible be its own messenger and speak for itself.
The prophecy of the suffering servant contained in Isaiah 53 is very well known by Christians as some of the strongest evidence from the Old Testament about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah from Judaism itself. However as well known as it is to Christians – this passage seems to be almost suppressed by Rabbis today. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal stories of Jewish kids getting saved and taking Isaiah 53 in their own Hebrew scriptures to their parents to show them Jesus is in the Old Testament. The parents respond that the Christians changed the text to fit the Jesus story and the kids retort “but this is the Tanak YOU gave me!? How could the Christians change it?” Other stories say that when Jewish people are showed Isaiah 53 without any context, they claim it is a passage from the New Testament about Jesus but are then stunned when they discover it is actually from the Old Testament.
So this Ministry in NYC had the very clever idea to run an ad in a local Jewish newspaper and rather than putting forth an argument or a call to repent and believe, they simply put the unedited words of Isaiah 53 in the paper in an attempt to get Jewish people to simply read and consider who this prophecy could possibly be about. This ministry had so much faith that Isaiah 53 was the Jewish silver bullet that they needed no supporting details or commentary. To them the words of Isaiah were all that was needed and the case should be settled.
In the same way, I started wondering if there was maybe, possibly a similar passage, argument or historical fact that could settle the Mormon v. Christian debate for any rational, honest person. Another example: If an atheistic/skeptical person could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they had found the tomb of Jesus and that his remains were still in his tomb, this would be proof that there was no resurrection. In the words of Paul: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17). This is despite the fact that every new Easter there is some new TV special or News Week article declaring that the tomb of Jesus has been found, but no claims have ever held any water. If they did though, you’d have the Christian Silver Bullet in your gun there.
The best approach for developing this argument would be to boil the difference between Biblical faith and Mormonism down to one or two key issues. What are the main defining features that separates these two belief systems? As an analogy, in many conversations I’ve had with Catholic family members, all our differences always comes back to one key point of contention: Sola Scriptura. If you can drop the Sola Scriptura domino, the rest of Romanism comes tumbling down with it.
Where to Begin the Quest
It seems this knock-down proof if it exists at all is to be found in the pages of the Mormons’ sacred texts. Too often the Christian technique when conversing with LDS friends is to cite passages in the Bible about their being only one God or Polygmy being bad. Proof texting is not the best approach to these conversations for the simple fact that Mormon don’t believe the Bible’s face-value reading. The LDS Church’s 8th article of faith says “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” They believe that their doctrines were originally part of the Bible but through corruption of the textual tradition and selective editing by the church, these teachings have been lost and therefore the Bible cannot be fully trusted. This is the genius of the approach implemented by the Ministry that ran Isian 53 in the Jewish publication. They used an authority that believing Jews could not possibly deny to show the truth of Jesus. In the same way, a silver bullet argument would not have to first defend the validity and textual transmission of the passage that one wants to use. Rather it would be more fruitful to use Mormon Scripture and prophets, as a source whose validity that religious Mormons cannot possibly deny without being inconsistent with their faith.
I will devote the rest of the wordspace here to putting forward a first effort at developing the Mormon Silver Bullet by attempting to show that the most often cited LDS justification for their belief in the “one true church” cannot be true if Mormonism is true. This will likely be very rough and need some more development and more sources to document claims, so please bear in mind this is meant to be an ongoing project.
Mormons Believe the Holy Ghost
In a conversation I once had with a pair of Mormon missionaries, they asked me if I had ever read the Book of Mormon. I told them, “No” they asked why not and I responded “I know history and I know there is no chance of the book being true so I’ve never felt the need to read it.” They told me that I could just ask God if it was true and he would answer. They both told me about their experience of the inner witness of the Holy Ghost telling them that the church is true.
What these missionaries were referring to was a common practice in the church as initiated by a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants.:
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
Mormon scripture promises that if someone is wondering if the LDS church is true, all they have to do is pray and they will get some sort of inner sensation, described as a “burning in the bosom.” This inner subjective sensation seems to be the number one technique employed by LDS Missionaries in order to gain new converts. Likewise, from what I have noticed, this is also the reason that most Mormon churchgoers have for believing the Mormon Gospel.
This inner sensation that is supposed to confirm the truth of Mormonism is said to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Now here is the thing, according to Mormonism I do not think the Holy Ghost exists. Let me explain.
Mormons CANNOT Believe in the Holy Ghost
Mormons are grossly materialistic. God is a man with a “spiritual body” made of “refined matter.” God did not create the world (matter) out of nothing. Rather matter already existed, He just imposed a new order on a previously incoherent state. This odd view stands in contrast with the Biblical view. If you’ve been reading the series on demonology in the second entry, What Are Demons Made of, you see that the Bible defines “spirit” as mind. In other words your soul/spirit is not some mystical energy or ethereal light that leaves when you die. Your soul is your mind, you consciousness, your self. It is the thing that you mean when you say “I”. That is what a spirit is.
By this Biblical perspective, God, angels and demons are minds who do not have bodies, they are unembodied consciousness. They are made out of the same stuff that human thoughts are composed of. On this view, when the Bible says God made man in His image and after His likeness, it means He made us conscious beings capable of love, reason and being aware of our world. But to a Mormon when they read “in his image and after his likeness” it means the Moromon god made humankind to look like his own material body by giving us two legs, two eyes, and two hands because he has two eyes, legs and hands. But what about God then? (FYI: Mormons believe the Father, Son and Spirit are all separate gods who are on the same team).
Speaking on the members of the Godhead the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants has this to say in chapter 130 and verse 22, The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
The father has a body, the son has a body but the Spirit is a “personage of spirit” which is supposed to explain how he is able to be “inside” believers. Now I’ll give it to Joseph Smith that he at least realized how crazy it would look if he believed the Holy Spirit also had a body made of flesh and blood that took up space in the universe while dwelling in the hearts of faithful Mormons. But the trouble is Mormons do not believe the Holy Spirit can exist as a personage of spirit. They are monists (the universe is one kind of “stuff”/matter is all that exists) not dualists (the universe is two kinds of “stuff”/spirit and matter both coexist). So how is it that if the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a body of flesh and blood that He can still exist? In what state does this “personage of spirit” exis?. We need a more (pun not intended) fleshed out definition of the ontological status of the Spirit according to LDS doctrine.
Here’s the catch: If matter is all that exists and the spirit doesn’t have a body such that he is able to dwell in believers, then by definition he must some sort of physical presence. We should be able to find the Mormon holy ghost existing in Mormons by dissecting or weighing them. This is reminiscent of what’s called the 21 Grams experiment where in 1907 physician Duncan MacDougall put dying patients onto a scale and the moment they died he measured how much weight was lost from the scale. He concluded that the soul must weigh 21 grams because that was the average mass lost during the experiment. Now of course this experiment was ambitious but wrong headed. The loss in mass was due to the body losing gas (oxygen, bowl etc). The good doctor assumed that the soul had a physical extent but modern science has virtually proved tha if the soul exists, it MUST be something that is immaterial (not made of matter).
So in an interesting turn of events, I posit that if the Holy Ghost supposedly gives an inner witness of the truth of Mormon doctrine, and Mormon doctrine proves that the Holy Ghost cannot exist – then Mormonism has no justification. It is self-refuting.
Here we have it my first attempt at offering a knocking down silver bullet argument against Mormonism. Now one could disprove this first version of the argument by showing that Mormons are not as monistic as I claim. Maybe there is an argument which is simplier to explain and maybe a little more fundamental. I look forward to a lot of interaction on this new quest. Please comment on either another version of the Silver Bullet or this initial first stab.
Thank you so much for reading and be blessed brethren