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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Actual Message Of The Book Of Mormon

Previously: How To Calculate What You Owe In Tithing

It's no secret that untold thousands of formerly faithful latter-day Saints have been abandoning the faith over the past few years, prompted by the discovery that many of the Church's truth claims appear to have been less than historically accurate. Indicative of this trend is a well-written monograph, Letter To A CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony, which outlines many of the problems a growing number of members are currently wrestling with.

Then again, countless other Mormons -myself included- have been aware of these "problems" for decades, yet continue to accept the divine calling of Joseph Smith and embrace the Book of Mormon as quintessentially true
. We are unfazed by what others consider to be damning contradictory evidence.

This dichotomy of opinion recently motivated John Dehlin, proprietor of the popular Mormon Stories Podcast series, to put out a call to those who, although aware of these apparent contradictions, continue to embrace the gospel of the Restoration, and to offer up our reasons for remaining in the faith.  Among those who responded to this request was Brett Bartel, some of whose conclusions mirror my own feelings.

Brother Bartel has graciously allowed me to reproduce his letter below, which I present here as a special Guest Post. As you'll see (and as LDS scholar Daymon Smith has aptly demonstrated), the Book of Mormon provides some stunning insights that many of us have overlooked, and that have been de-emphasized in official Church materials. It will come as no surprise then, that the deeper meaning of the Book of Mormon is often not well understood or appreciated by the general membership of the church. 


What I present below is a slight abridgment of Brett Bartel's letter, the original of which can be accessed here. Because a few introductory statements included in the original were directed to John Dehlin personally, I have left them out in order to adapt the piece to a more general audience. Slight edits have been made for purposes of clarification and formatting, but otherwise what you see below is an accurate presentation of Brett Bartel's remarkable thesis.  Here is that letter:

Making The Case For Belief
Having a testimony is not to be equated with sticking your head in the ground and believing in fairy tales. I do not pretend to have the answers for anything. However, I believe there are legitimate reasons that support investigating the veracity of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. And that is what I will attempt to communicate.

First, some background: I have a Masters degree in Molecular Biology. I also have a law degree and I am currently in-house IP counsel for a generic pharmaceutical company. My educational upbringing is critical to understanding my point of view. I participated  in debate from 5th grade all the way up through high school, and I’m a lawyer now. So early on, I have been trained to see both sides of an issue. I believe this skill is essential to discovering truth. I’m also a scientist. I’m comfortable with hypotheses, proving them, and models; and adjusting my model depending on what best fits all data. As data increases, the models adjust.

There are many ways of viewing the Church and the gospel. Some paradigms are closer to the truth than others.

Those who grow up in the church are fed the paradigm that God restored His ancient church through Joseph Smith. That church will retain keys, authority, and will spread throughout the world, will never go astray, and will usher in the Second Coming.  All is well in Zion right? As the Presiding High Priest looks out over us and says, “Aren’t we all a great looking bunch.” (Hel. 13:27-28) We are wonderful aren’t we? However, looking at the corporate Church today, it’s hard to accept that it’s a divine institution. Its behavior doesn’t resemble what’s taught in scripture.

Didn’t we all grow up thinking our Church had angels, miracles, and teachers who spoke to God face to face? Weren’t we told that our Church had this relationship with all other true prophets since the dawn of time? Adam, Noah, Enoch, Peter, James, John, and the 3 Nephites are all on Team Mormon, right? That is what we fell in love with. We were part of the true, ancient organization since the dawn of time.

Now we find out that we are just a registered trademark of a private corporation? Do we see any divinity with the corporate Church? Or do we see media studies, surveys, polls, and overall general lack of knowledge regarding which direction we should head?

Are we Zion, or are we General Motors?

So, what if that is not the right paradigm? Is there a way Joseph Smith could still be a prophet, the Book of Mormon true, yet the Church be a total mess? What if the very things we think we know about the Book of Mormon aren’t what the Book of Mormon is trying to communicate at all? How best do we reconcile the last 180 years?

Here’s one way:

Denver Snuffer wrote a book about how to reconcile the last 180 years. That book, Passing The Heavenly Gift, offers a paradigm in which one who is aware of the Church’s historical issues can happily stay a member and not let the idiocies of the corporate Church or overbearing bishops and stake presidents get to them. I’d like to make it absolutely clear that I in no way speak for Denver, nor am I even attempting to summarize Passing The Heavenly Gift. This letter is not about that. It’s about how I see the Church, how I understand the gospel, and why I still believe in the Book of Mormon. I’m just suggesting that some may have lost an opportunity to reconcile their faith with a workable paradigm. And perhaps it’s because Passing The Heavenly Gift has allowed me to change my paradigm. Or better said, Passing The Heavenly Gift enables me to better articulate my own paradigm, because I have had these questions just hanging out there in an incoherent way for so long.

Reading It Upside Down
What if we’ve gone about understanding the Book of Mormon the wrong way? What if we are wasting our time looking into DNA,[1] artifacts, and names of cities? What if the entire purpose of the Book of Mormon, as understood by the Church, is inaccurate?

___________________________
[1] People really need to be patient; scientific models are always changing. According to recent discoveries "nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought."

I would submit that the most important function the Book of Mormon serves is bringing us to deity, helping the individual connect to heaven. You see it on the very first page. In 1st Nephi 1:8, Lehi is brought to the throne of God. We instantly learn that man can dwell in the presence of God. Nephi takes us through his journey and is a witness to God, as well are Jacob and Isaiah. Enos connects with God and receives his calling and election. King Benjamin and Abinidi are ministered to by angels. Both Almas see Christ. Helaman sees Christ. Mormon, Mahonri, and Moroni see Christ.

THE MESSAGE OF THE BOOK OF MORMON IS HOW TO SEE CHRIST.

Now.

In the flesh.

It is not a story book. It’s not a morning devotional book; it’s not there to motivate you to feel like a champion. It’s an instruction manual. Nephi gives us all the steps, then the rest of the book fleshes it out.

First it starts with the testimony of someone who knows, Lehi.

Then Nephi,
  • asked to know whether the things his father taught were true,
  • had a desire to believe,
  • received the confirmation of the Holy Ghost,
  • had his obedience tested,
  • received a ministry of angels,
  • pondered over the things he’d received, and
  • received The Second Comforter.
Nephi’s message to us is what he did to connect to heaven. And we ought to emulate that.

So the best way to test to see if the Book of Mormon is true or not, is to follow its teachings and see if you get the results. If the Book of Mormon connects you to heaven, then does it really matter if there were horses in America, or if there was a neighboring town near Palmyra called Zarahemla? (As an aside, why would it be all that terrible if he did name the cities after places he was familiar with? Suppose the way they were really said were: Hangzhou, Shijiazhuang, Makhachkala, Magnitogorsk, Dniprodzerzhynsk -all real cities). I would rather refer to them as Heber, Sandy, Murray, Midvale, and Draper. He may just be trying to communicate ideas, not literal translations. The literal translation of proper nouns will not save you, nor will it connect you to heaven, but he does have to call the places something.

When I say, “connects you to heaven,” I do mean talking to angels, Jesus, and the Father and Mother, not just some really intense experience with the Spirit that could be confused with a spike in dopamine or serotonin in the brain. (Yes, hallucinations are another possibility, but my understanding is that the knowledge one learns from the other side of the veil is the proof that it’s not a hallucination. You learn things your brain just couldn’t come up with on its own.)

The Book of Mormon is filled with so much more than we give it credit for. All the tokens we learn of in the temple are in the first 13 chapters of 1st Nephi. Most of the temple is also in 3rd Nephi. The Book of Enos is all about Enos receiving his Endowment. Temple imagery is everywhere.

One of the biggest proofs to me that the Book of Mormon is true, is the inclusion of all the Isaiah chapters.

Now, you’re thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me. That’s just plagiarism. And how is it that he copied the exact structure in the King James Version? That’s not what Isaiah actually wrote. But what if “translation” is more about communicating ideas than a literal word-to-word translation? What if, as Joseph is peering into the hat, he sees the idea that Nephi is trying to convey through the words of Isaiah and so he copies it, so as to communicate the idea?

It’s funny, as a lawyer, I hate it when lawyers play their games. Lawyers can pick apart words to death so as to construe a phrase completely different from what he author intended to communicate. Let’s not get bogged down in words. Words can be ambiguous. I think it best to focus on the idea being conveyed.

So Nephi receives this vision; sees Columbus, the Revolutionary war, and the restoration. He sees the latter-days and the end of the world. But then he says he is “forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard” (1st Nephi 14:38).

So he saw our time. But he’s prohibited from writing about it.

But he figures out a way to communicate a warning to us. He uses the words of Isaiah to communicate an idea to us.

We do this all the time, but we use them for our own purposes. It’s like when people quote Shakespeare and say, “To be or not to be.” Now, usually the person is not contemplating suicide like Hamlet, rather, "do I date this person?" Or "do I take this job?"  If I say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” that doesn’t mean I just left the state of Kansas.

So when Nephi is quoting Isaiah, he’s not giving Isaiah’s message. He knows we already have that in the Bible. He’s giving his own message, but he’s using Isaiah’s words.

Now look at the context. In 1st Nephi he describes his visions, which include the fact that he’s seen our day. Then he gives a whole bunch of Isaiah chapters, and then he gives his own commentary about the latter-days in summary.

(One thing that ought to be clarified: I will discuss many things that we have changed as a church; one of them is the definition of “Gentile.” In Joseph’s day, it was clear that when one referred to gentiles, that term included members of the LDS Church. Even Bruce R. McConkie stated that the LDS church is the gentile church.[2]  In addressing the dedication of the Kirtland temple, it is clear that the LDS church is the Gentile church. D&C 109:60 “Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles.” Go read the Book of Mormon again, and understand that references to gentiles are references that, at a minimum, include the LDS Church. See how differently you understand the Book of Mormon. I mean it only makes sense right? Mormons are the ones reading the Book of Mormon, the authors ought to be addressing us and not an entire population who will never read the book.)
 __________________________
[2] "Thus Joseph Smith, of the tribe of Ephraim, the chief and foremost tribe of Israel itself, was the Gentile by whose hand the Book of Mormon came forth, and the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have the gospel and who are of Israel by blood descent, are the Gentiles who carry salvation to the Lamanites and to the Jews.” (McConkie, Millennial
Messiah, p 233). “We are those Gentiles of whom Nephi speaks.” (McConkie, Millennial Messiah, p 238)



So Nephi uses Isaiah’s words to talk to us. He has some interesting things to say:
"Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness." (1st Nephi 20:1)
This is really interesting because “out of the waters of baptism” is in 1st Nephi, but not in Isaiah 48. So this is different, and it’s clear that he’s talking to those who are baptized—us.
"Nevertheless, they call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel, who is the Lord of Hosts; yea, the Lord of Hosts is his name." (Verse 2)
Hmmm. We tend to call Salt Lake a holy city don’t we? And he’s saying we’re not?!
"And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;" (verse 4)
Great, now he’s telling us that we’re stubborn. I don’t really like where he’s going.

We don’t have time now to go through all the Isaiah chapters, but let’s get to the juicy stuff.
"O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked  ways." (2 Nephi 12:5)
Wait, who’s he talking to again?
"Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.  And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not." (verses 7-9)
I mean, we’ve all got 401Ks, and nice cars, nice homes, and great careers, but he can’t be talking about us, right? It’s those other guys that are worldly, proud, and idolatrous.
"Moreover, the Lord saith: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet—" (2 Nephi 13:16)
I mean, I know there are a lot of boob jobs in Utah, but that can’t be what this is about.
"And my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths." (verse 12)
Personally, I think this is the most interesting. It’s our leaders who cause us to err. We sure hear a lot of “follow the prophet,” but I don’t actually recall that idea in the scriptures. Rather “…the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” (2 Nephi 9:41)

(The only support for “follow the prophet, he won’t lead us astray” is in the Official Declaration 1. But if you recall from Daymon Smith’s interview, President Woodruff was not saying that “the Lord wouldn’t allow the President to lead them astray” because it's a true principle, but it was a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, we’re not really giving up polygamy.)[3]
 ____________________________
[3]  And prophets do lead people astray. Aaron was a prophet, and he built the golden calf.

The Lord can’t be deceived, unlike a bishop who can be deceived in a temple recommend interview. And I don’t exactly recall “follow the prophet” as part of the pattern taught in the endowment either. (Pre-1990, there was only one other mortal man in the endowment other than Adam and Eve, and I think the point was to not listen to him, right? Instead we’re to seek messengers from Father.)

Consider Lehi’s vision:
"And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.… as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. (1 Nephi 8:5-7)
So, a man who appears holy, leads him to a wasteland. 
"And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me …And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree..." (verses 8-10)
So it’s not until Lehi prays to the Lord that he is delivered from the desolation where the man had led him. Back to Nephi and Isaiah:

After Nephi likens Isaiah unto us, he talks about us a little.
"And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor." (2 Nephi 26:20)
Have we not done this? Our own wisdom? (F.A.R.M.S., FAIR, BYU?)

Gain and grind upon the face of the poor:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Creek_Center
versus:
https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/welfare/2011-welfare-services-fact-sheet.pdf
Chapter 28 is really the best part:
"And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men." (verses 4-5)
Wow! Aren’t we taught we needn’t seek the face of God and search “deep doctrine,” and all we need to do is to sustain our leaders, because they have the keys?  You see, God has given his power unto men through keys.

Doesn’t Correlation kind of “deny the power of God?” I mean, if we all just relied on the Holy Ghost, what need would we have for a correlated curriculum? Couldn’t the Holy Ghost just direct?
 "Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted." (verse 11)
All, huh? Ouch! Sure he’s talking about us?
"Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up." (verses 12-13)
He’s not talking about City Creek and the recent development in Philly, right? Or the land in Florida, and…..
"They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men." (verse 14)
Wow! We’ve ALL gone astray, even you and me. And even the humble err because they follow men. This was so much easier to take when I thought it was talking about Billy Graham and Joel Osteen.
"O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!" (verse 15)
The rich can’t be all that bad!. I mean, it’s not like there are any poor general authorities, right?

I’m not going to go through the rest of this chapter, though it’s a worthwhile read. Remember, Nephi tells us to liken Isaiah to ourselves, which is about a rebellious Israel. What do you think Nephi is trying to say, other than, “Hey, you latter-day guys, you are just like these guys?”

So yeah, we suck.

Or as Hugh Nibley, once said, “Woe unto the generation that understands the Book of Mormon. (An Approach to the Book of Mormon)

A Peek Into The Future
I guess now I’m going to jump right into it. What if Joseph Smith was a prophet, translated the Book of Mormon; but, as Moroni said, we have dwindled in unbelief? (Moroni 9:20) "Unbelief" meaning that we do not believe what we need to believe in order to have miracles and the power of God made manifest in our lives.

I do not doubt that the Saints believe. I’m sure they do believe. They have unbelief because they believe the wrong things, or we lack belief in the right things we need to believe. Our unbelief is because of the traditions of our fathers. (Helaman 15:15)

Look at the Book of Mormon a little more closely. Can you not tell it is entirely written about us? Seriously, the Zoramites and the Rameumptom -that is totally fast and testimony meeting. Most latter-day Saints only concern themselves with God on Sunday, we think we are chosen and better than everyone else, we have to wear nice clothes to church, and we’re hard on the poor.

Look at what Moroni has to say about us:
"Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing." (Moroni 8:35)
See, Moroni has to be addressing Mormons. He’s specifically saying, I speak unto you. YOU, the guy reading this bloody thing! If Moroni were talking to the Catholics and actually saw them, he’d see they aren’t reading the Book of Mormon, so it would be silly to address them.
"And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted." (verses 36-37)
We sure have a nice conference center, some great temples, and all our churches are really nice. And we really do love our money: our cars, boats, vacations, granite counter tops, and 55’ flat screen TVs. Come on, I know who we are. 
"O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?" (verse 38)
I mean, who else even makes the claim that they are the “holy church of God”? Maybe the Catholics might, but, again, they ain't reading this book.

“Praise of the world.” Did we not all want Mitt Romney to win? Don’t we all love David Archuleta, Steve Young, the Marriotts and Osmonds, and Stephanie Meyer? And hey, Jabari Parker, how could you not go to BYU?  We want Mormons to get the praise of the world. We’ve been seeking it for 150 years. Damn those polygamists that gave us such a bad rap!
"Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?" (verse 39)
Didn’t we build City Creek so that we could move the homeless farther from the temple and preserve all the beauty that is downtown Salt Lake? Well, that was just Moroni’s opinion. His opinion doesn’t matter too much, he’s the last writer anyway.

Anyway, Jesus likes us. Look how he validates us in 3rd Nephi 16:
"And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father. Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them." (verses 6-7)
See, the Gentiles are brought the truth and the fullness is made known unto them. Anyone else but the Mormons fit this description?
"And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall  sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and  priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall  reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them." (verse 10)
Huh? What? The LDS Church rejects the fullness?!

It doesn’t say “if” it says, “At that day when…” So Christ tells us that the Gentiles/Mormons will reject the fullness. What an odd thing for Joseph to write. There is so much of this book that predicts a Latter-day dwindling in unbelief. And our own latter-day revelations reveal the same:
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon …" (D&C 84:54-57)
To my knowledge, this condemnation has not been lifted. We always point to how the Israelites messed up:
"Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
"Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;" (D&C 84:23-28)
We pretty much all know that the early Saints tried to establish Zion. We know they failed … cause it’s not here.  Did they harden their hearts? Could they endure His presence? Was Joseph taken out of their presence? (And wasn’t it members who were actually responsible for Joseph’s fate?) So what if we are also only left with the “lesser priesthood?”
"For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood." (D&C 124:28)
Wait, huh, what? The fullness was taken away?! When? Was it restored?

It seems like we may very well have less than we presume.

Back to the Book of Mormon and the parallels to the LDS Church. Look at the parallels with Abinadi and King Noah as recorded in Mosiah chapter 11. King Noah had the keys. He rightfully received authority from his father. But he:
  • "had many wives and concubines."
Not like Brigham Young, right?
  • "And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed,"
Tithing the poor on their gross income, that’s not an oppressive tax, it’s faith.
  • "And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom."
It’s not a salary our general authorities receive, and they’re not being paid. It’s a living "stipend." How else are they going to serve the Church and live? They don’t have jobs.
  • "And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;"
That’s not at all similar to City Creek.
  • "And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things."
The Conference Center is for everyone. And surely Noah’s fine wood was not made from the tree of his childhood youth.
  • "And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass."
See, it’s all work on the temple, so it’s okay.
  • "And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold;
Gold seats are sinful. Nothing wrong with cushy red seats, though.
  • "And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple"
The Church office building needs to be that big…lots of employees.
  • "And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom;"
The Book of Mormon can’t be bashing City Creek again, so it’s clearly not referring to it.

I mean seriously, could there be more parallels than this? I’m going to ignore the very obvious Abinidi parallel.

When Denver Snuffer was interviewed for Mormon Stories Podcast, I don’t think many understood what he meant when he said the writers of the Book of Mormon nailed us. They saw our day and they nailed us. This is not a book about everyone else. It’s about us.

How Did We Get To This?
One reason is we’ve ignored the Book of Mormon. (See again D&C 84:57)
"And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God …And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell." (Alma 12: 9-11)
Alma is saying we should open our heart to receiving the mysteries. But doesn’t the Church teach not to delve into the mysteries? Yet the scriptures seem to tell us we are commanded to seek out and learn the mysteries.
"Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you…" (D&C 11:7)
No, no, no, we need milk before meat, right?
"For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:13-14)
While we start with milk for sure, it seems that those who stay on milk are “unskillful in righteousness” and only those with strong meat can discern good and evil. Are we as a church receiving meat, or are we stuck on milk?

Haven’t we changed ordinances? Haven’t we changed our scriptures?

We’ve changed the sacrament. It used to be wine, which is a much better symbol for Christ’s blood than water (and not just because it’s red). The priest used to pray with up-lifted hands like in the temple, and the congregation used to kneel.[4]

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[4]While D&C 27:3 does command us not to purchase wine from our enemies, and other liquids will suffice, there is no revelation that “ended wine” from being used in the sacrament. We just ought not buy it from our enemies.

The endowment has been changed. The penalties have been removed and the false preacher was eliminated. (Interesting that we no longer are instructed how to distinguish between a false preacher and a true messenger.)

You may like that the penalties were removed. They were uncomfortable for most. But they were trying to teach an idea. Now that idea is lost to all those who go to the temple post 1990. Unless you read the internet, like me.  =)

We used to have prayer circles and altars at home and in stake centers. The scriptures have been changed. We’ve removed, as of 1921, the Lectures on Faith from the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lectures On Faith used to be The Doctrine in the Doctrine and Covenants. Now we literally have no doctrine.

Aren’t we taught that changing the ordinances and scriptures are signs of apostasy?

So my paradigm is definitely unique in that I believe the Book of Mormon is true, but I also don’t believe that we’ve had a Prophet, with a capital “P” since Joseph Smith. Some might look at our present state and say, "see, this Church can’t be the only true and living Church." I would say that because the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon so perfectly predicted what would happen, that that is evidence for its veracity.

My deepest concern in publishing this is that it could be used by some to justify leaving the church. However, this entire letter is premised on the Book of Mormon being true. So, one would be a damned fool to use this letter in support of disbelief.

Most of the problems with “The Church” can be laid at the feet of the leaders of the Church: their discrepancies and contradictions, their racism, sexism, pride, and self-righteousness. You eliminate all that, and the “Joseph Smith Restoration Movement” isn’t all that bad. When you accept that these people are not getting marching orders directly from God, then it’s easy to see why we are where we are.

See, I believe God’s mission for Joseph Smith was to restore lost knowledge about how to connect with heaven. It wasn’t God’s desire for us to have a New Testament church. But that’s what the converted Campbellites and Sidney Rigdon’s congregation wanted. God doesn’t need a church; He needs families. The first many generations were simply ordered in families. The PATRIARCHS led their families. No church. Don’t you see, even the structure of the church was made in the image of the family. You have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3) the FATHERS (a First Presidency), then you have the 12 SONS of Jacob (12 apostles), then you have the 70 GRANDSONS (Exodus 1:5) for the Seventy.

So Joseph made a Church for the Saints. It wasn’t precisely what the Lord had in mind, but He often succumbs to what we want. See Ezekiel 14. (Though, next time they mention follow the prophet at church, have a look at Ez. 14:7-8).[5]

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[5]"For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord."


We talk about how the Lord was going to offer all the Israelites the opportunity to dwell with Him, but they didn’t want to go up Mt. Sinai, they wanted Moses to go up instead. Then they would just follow the prophet. The Israelites rejected the higher law and were given a lesser law.

We are no different. The Lord gave the saints an opportunity through Joseph to establish Zion. But we failed. We rejected that opportunity. And we have a lesser version of what we could have had. And we have a prophet now, instead of walking with the Savior ourselves.

We talk down and ridicule the Israelites and Nephites for being foolish. Our own pride and vanity blinds us to the fact that we are doing the same thing. Except we have their histories to warn us. That makes us even dumber than they were.

I mean honestly, are we closer to establishing Zion than we were in 1844, or are we closer to Babylon? I don’t think Babylon is about drinking alcohol and wearing immodest clothes … no, not even once. It’s an absolute shame that we’ve reduced the distinction between living the gospel and following the world to such crap.

Study the succession crisis of 1844 and you’ll see that while Brigham Young may have been appointed to the office of the President of the Church through common consent, that did not make him a “prophet,” nor did he ever call himself a prophet.  Our prophets, seers, and revelators, are such because they are offices in the Church, not because they are actually prophets, seers, and revelators.

In fact, it wasn’t until after Heber J. Grant that we actually started calling the presidents of the Church “Living Prophets.”[6] Before that, they were not called living prophets, but Presidents of the Church. We have exalted them beyond what they deserve. I would have no problem sustaining a man who leads the Church through the common consent of the members, but can we please stop pretending he’s got God on speed dial?

Or if he does, can't he just say so? All the other prophets did.

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[6] See http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/04/traditions-of-men-part-1.html
http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/04/traditions-of-men-part-2.html
http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/04/traditions-of-men-part-3.html


This brings me to the difference between signs and symbols versus the real thing. When we receive our endowments we are not actually receiving those blessings. We are not being pronounced kings and priests; rather we are being anointed, or invited to receive them if we are faithful and worthy.

Nor do we actually receive the Holy Ghost at confirmation; rather we are invited to receive the Holy Ghost.

What if, when a man is called to be a prophet, seer, and revelator, he is only being invited to become such, but he can reject the invitation?

So what is to be done?
“Adam, awake and arise.” First, we have to wake the hell up. But aside from merely waking up and telling everyone every bad thing the Church has ever done, we also need to arise. I don’t think arising means criticizing, doubting, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Once we awake, we arise by gaining faith, repenting, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Ghost (2nd Nephi 31-32). While this may seem too simple and overplayed, each of those principles should be reevaluated. I would suggest that their actual meaning may be something quite different than what is generally taught at church.

The Lectures on Faith discuss what faith really means and how to develop it. There are examples in the Book of Mormon of people who have repented within a very short amount of time. It kind of goes against the 5 R's or whatever the Church teaches repentance is about.

Additionally, there are a few examples in the Book of Mormon of people who have been born again, or have experienced the baptism of fire. It would be helpful to study those accounts to see if one is truly reborn.

Once you have “received the Holy Ghost, [you] [can] speak with the tongue of angels.” Then, “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”
"For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do." (2 (Nephi 32:5-6)
This actually sounds a lot like the temple. First, angels come to you (telestial) to prepare you to receive Christ, and then Christ comes to you (terrestrial). And He tells you what to do to receive the Father (celestial).

The Israelites were always focusing on the physical rites and ordinances, and completely missed what it all meant spiritually. There were symbols in their ordinances and in the Law of Moses that showed the higher law. The ordinances that were performed in the temple on the Day of Atonement were extremely symbolic of Christ’s own sacrifice. But they completely missed that. They focused on the bloodshed by the animals and the scapegoat carrying away the sins of the people, etc. (Lev. 16) So when Pilate judged Christ, and the Sanhedrin elected to allow Barabbas to go, they didn’t recognize that they were actually reenacting in real life the ordinance that the High Priest performed symbolically on the Day of Atonement. Man did they blow it!

Our ordinances are symbols too. First, before we come to the telestial kingdom (earth) we covenant to God to obey Him. All who are born may receive the light of Christ. We are to receive the light of Christ, in our temple, in our bodies. The light of Christ is like a gentle hand, holding us, guiding us along the way.

Then if we covenant with the Lord through sacrifice, we can receive the Holy Ghost. We are to receive the Holy Ghost, in our temple, in our bodies. The Holy Ghost is like a firmer hand, holding us, guiding us along the way.

The temple teaches us that true messengers will first come to us undisclosed to see if we are being true and faithful. Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” And Abraham 3 teaches us that there are noble and elect ones that are here proving others.

So suppose an angel were to come to you, undisclosed, and wanted to see if you were being true and faithful and living the law of the gospel. How would he do it? Perhaps as a beggar? A beggar could petition you on the street to prove you, and see if you were compassionate. If you show compassion, then you have shown him that you are true and faithful and have received the token.

Once you have been proven, then the angel may return to you, this time identity known, and as Nephi says, angels through the Holy Ghost will “show unto you all things what ye should do.” Then you are ready to be born again. Then you can enter the Terrestrial Kingdom. If you are loyal to Christ and do not cheat on Him, you receive your calling and election. We are to receive our calling and election, in our temple, in our bodies, and Christ will spiritually take your hand and guide you.

Then once you have shown you will give everything to the Lord, you will receive the Second Comforter and you will see the marks on his wrists and hands, and the Lord will teach you. (See D&C 76). We are to receive the Second Comforter, in our temple, in our bodies.

The temple is all over the Book of Mormon. I don’t really have to go into more. 3rd Nephi has a ton. Prayer circles, washings, anointing. I simply don’t believe Joseph could have constructed all that to perfectly fit what we have today. The endowment was created at the end of Joseph’s life, and all the elements of the temple were already laid out in the Book of Mormon. There's really nothing secret about it to those who bother to look.

While I have yet to see an angel, or the Lord, I know about eight people who have. I have personally met and spoken with five of them. Two of them I would say are friends. I have corresponded online with four others. The common denominator? They’ve all read The Second Comforter. Below are their testimonies:

http://thesecondcomforter.com/ I actually work with Dan. He’s a patent attorney in San Antonio. He’s local counsel for us there.

http://upwardthought.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-witness.html I’ve met the author and we talk through Gchat regularly. I’d call both of these two friends.

http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/p/this-blog-is-fulfillment-of-wish-that-i.html I’ve personally met and spoken with the author here. His blog is pretty much dedicated to helping people connect with heaven.

http://myjourneytothefullness.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/10/ The author of this blog has also seen Christ.

http://www.ldsfreedomforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=27637 The author of this post has also seen Christ.

John Pontius actually wrote a book back in the early nineties about seeking the presence of Christ, Following the Light of Christ into His Presence. http://www.amazon.com/Following-Light-Christ-into-Presence/dp/1555176437 

Then of course you have Denver. But there are also others that I have not included. I understand if you don’t believe them. I wouldn’t blame someone for not taking a stranger-on-line’s word for it. But I have gotten to know some of them. I find them credible. So I believe them.

This is in fact what testimony is intended to do. It is for those with an actual knowledge to give hope to others to receive the same.

Our testimony meetings are rather vain and stupid. Not many people have an actual knowledge, so little is gained. This is what the role of an apostle is supposed to be. An actual witness who testifies to what they know. Then those who listen may have enough hope to see the same.

Our General Authorities call themselves “special witnesses.” I was told that when a Seventy is called they get an orientation. They are then told that “special witness” is a noun. It is akin to an office. So they can go around telling people that they are “special witnesses,” which is a position for people to bear testimony. But saying that you are a “special witness” is not an adjective describing the type of witness (one with actual knowledge). I find this position particularly troubling and quite intellectually dishonest. Especially when they know that everyone listening to their witness understands it in a different manner.

What about the frequently heard declaration that their experience is "too sacred to share?" Surely all the testimonies I linked to above must be lies because if they really had them, they wouldn’t have shared them.

I think this idea is a false tradition. It’s the excuse you give when you don’t want to tell people you haven’t had that experience. The scriptures are replete with people bearing testimony of their sacred experiences. The one thing I’ve found among those who I know, who have connected with heaven, they only testify that they’ve had the experience. Unless permitted, they do not share the subject matter of what the experience was about. Which makes sense. They are being instructed for what they need to know to progress. And we are all different. What an angel may tell you would likely be different than what an angel would tell me.

As the Second Lecture on Faith put it:
"We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings, and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based which excited the inquiry and diligent search of the ancient Saints to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God. We have also seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this inquiry in their minds in the first instance. It was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers, it having aroused their minds to inquire after the knowledge of God. That inquiry frequently terminated, indeed always terminated when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries and eternal certainty." (Lectures On Faith II:56)
See, it is the testimony of others who have an actual knowledge that excites the inquiry for everyone else. Most people do not know people who have an actual knowledge of the existence of God. I don’t blame them for not believing. But I’ve seen too many witnesses to not give it a shot myself.

This is why I believe. Right now, I don’t know. But I hope to know someday. Perhaps if I do everything I know how and it doesn’t happen in a decade or two, I wouldn’t doubt it if I become agnostic.

Not Having All The Answers
Yes, there are many other issues:
  • What is the point of having an innocent man/God suffer and die to redeem everyone else? Why is that necessary and how does it work?
  • Why is the killing of Isaac good? Seems awful to me.
  • What about all the killing in the Old Testament?
  • If every dispensation goes bad, nearly from the beginning, what is it all for? Why is it so hard?
I’ve found paradigms and answers that suit me for now. I personally think it provides me a rational explanation, or at least enough of one to continue my investigation further. And it is likely that as I go along, I will further refine my view, hopefully getting closer and closer to the truth.

So while I am familiar with the issues, I can still find belief, though it’s through a paradigm that is somewhat unorthodox. I cannot believe in the corporate LDS Church. Didn’t we all grow up thinking our church had angels, miracles, and teachers who spoke to God face to face? That is what we fell in love with, right? But do we see any of that with the corporate Church? Or do we instead see media studies, surveys, and polls?[7]

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[7]  https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0cHQPe2_G8fUnU1d2tWTFRURGs/edit

Jacob, King Benjamin, and Samuel didn’t need a survey or poll to tell them what the members were thinking; they got their stats from heaven.
"But behold, hearken ye unto me, and know that by the help of the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth I can tell you concerning your thoughts, how that ye are beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable unto me, yea, and abominable unto God." (Jacob 2:5)
Jacob didn’t need any polling or surveys.
"And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me." (Mosiah 2:3)
King Mosiah didn’t have speech writers. Wait...well, yes he did. But it was an angel. 
"And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me." (Helaman 13:7)
Honestly, I would seriously doubt so many people would be having a crisis of faith if they ever once heard at General Conference, “And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God.”

No, instead we get:
"The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine." (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church)
This is an example of the Church’s “continuing revelation.” And it is definitely revealing.

Why is it coming from the Church’s Newsroom? Why are all these new statements not coming from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?  This really looks more like a corporate structure with a strong public relations arm than a church led by a living prophet.

Do the modern General Authorities claim to be True Messengers from the Father?  Do we believe in a true messenger who is without prophecy, seeing, and revelations, who sits upon the top of a topless throne, whose keys are everywhere and whose authority ends nowhere but fills the world, who is surrounded by myriads of beings who have sworn allegiance and confidentiality to receiving second, secret ordinances, for acts of their own? Do we believe in this great True Messenger?

I do not. I cannot comprehend such a messenger.

Perhaps we believe in a great hell for those without authoritative ordinances into which the wicked are cast, and where they are continually burning, but are never consumed?

I do not believe in such a place.

I don’t think what we now have is what God would have liked to have given us. But this is what we chose. And don’t you see, that is the most logical explanation. The traditions that have been handed down to us, simply don’t work. Our traditions are being exposed one after another as being totally false. But I believe this because the scriptures said this would happen.

I really felt bad for Tom Phillips. He seemed like such a true believer. I mean, that man was ready and expecting to see Christ when he went in for his second anointing. I imagine all of the apostles are like that. I have tremendous sympathy. It could have been really easy for me to continue along in my traditions, be called to higher callings, and then what if I were called to be an apostle? And I find out that being an apostle is not much different than not being an apostle.

It’s just an office in the Church. You get called in, you’re sustained, and set apart.

However, being an actual apostle is different. It requires sacrifice, faith, a real endowment, and a witness from God.

I like the guys who lead the Church, generally. I have loved Elder Holland’s talks for years. Still do. Elder Bednar, and Elder Maxwell, and wasn’t President Hinckley great? This was a really hard realization to come to. Though I do find Elder Uchtdorf’s talk utterly hypocritical as he welcomes all into the big tent of Mormonism, then the Church excommunicates Denver Snuffer, Brent Larsen, and others simply for their beliefs, and now Rock Waterman is being threatened with discipline.

Of course, Elder Uchtdorf probably never read any of the Excommunication Appeals that were sent to him, so I probably can’t blame him personally. The Church seems to be operated by minions running around in the Church Office Building. It seems out of control. Though we were warned about secret combinations being everywhere, weren’t we?

And on that note, I realize that you must think that I’m utterly crazy. You’re probably right. But I can’t let this thing called Mormonism go. I’m sure you’ve met with tons who say, "I know the corporate Church isn’t true, but I can’t leave. The Spirit kind of wants me to stay."

Sometimes it’s simply peer pressure/family pressure keeping them in. But other times, the Spirit is really telling people, "Yes, there are faults, even lies, but you should stay." I would submit that the reason we should stay is because the important parts are true. The non-important parts aren’t true.

We have made the Church and its leaders into an idol. We rise when they enter. When we have questions, we ask, “Well, what have the brethren said about the matter?” We have become Brethrenites.
We are taught to “submit to priesthood authority,” but what exactly is that?
"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge…" (D&C 121:41-42)
THERE IS NO PRIESTHOOD “AUTHORITY” OTHER THAN PERSUASION. And if you don’t persuade someone, you better be ready to be long-suffering, because you’re going to have to be patient with them for awhile.

We have replaced our worship of the Lord with worship of The Church.

I’m no longer an idolater.[8]  Look, the Israelites apostatized, they had their idols too. But they were still the Lord’s people. He did come to them. While Jesus held no keys or authority in the Jewish religion in His day, He recognized those who did have keys. The Nephites rebelled, but the Lord still came to their temple in Bountiful.

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[8] Well, yes, I probably still am, just not in this regards anymore. Go Niners!!!

Look at all the people who’ve had commissions to teach repentance without any ecclesiastical authority or office: Lehi, Abinidi, Alma, Samuel, John the Baptist, Paul, and Christ. This actually seems to be the way God works a lot. He doesn’t seem to use ecclesiastical hierarchy. Yes, they received a commission from God, they had authority from HIM, but did not have OFFICE in the Church. Few of the Old Testament Prophets were the High Priest.

But we have been raised with these traditions that there’s always a Church and the Presiding High Priest is the Prophet.[9]  I don’t believe that tradition any more. I think the Mormon Church is still the vehicle in which the gospel is best disseminated throughout the world, though it’s capacity to do so is becoming weaker as we draw closer to Babylon.

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[9] 3 Nephi 5:12 seems to indicate that there was no church at all in the Book of Mormon from Lehi until Alma.

In my opinion, we ought to stick with it. The Lord will straighten it out in time. Though, I think it may be unpleasant at first.
"Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord.  And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord." (D&C 112:24-26)
Who are the people who claim to be His House and profess to know him? Anyone else making this claim? I have to say I’m rather content that I don’t live in Utah right now.

Everyone is on a different level of progression. That is why the Spirit says different things to one person than to another. The Spirit could very well tell a Methodist to stay in the Methodist church. That is right for that person then.  I don’t believe the Spirit is so much black and white. We are all somewhere in between and the Spirit adapts to what each of us needs.

When I was a sophomore at BYU, I was taking a microbiology class and learning about evolution. I seriously looked into it, the science, what the Brethren had said about the matter. And it was really undeniable to me that evolution was a fact. I made the comment to my roommate, who was also a microbiology major and in the same classes as me, that I thought it was interesting that all the theologians say the earth is 6000 years old and there’s no evolution, and all the atheists say there is no God. How ironic that they are both wrong, and they are both right! God does exist and evolution was the means by which he created man.

I enjoyed watching “The Practice” on TV, which was a lawyer show. On one episode, a judge made a decision that upset both sides, and the judge remarked that he then knew his decision was right, precisely because it upset both sides.

We tend to be a mix of right and wrong. No one has a monopoly on right, and rarely is someone completely wrong. One of the biggest problems our society faces is the right vs left with no compromise. In my opinion, conservatives are right to want freedom/captitalism and shouldn’t be compelled by the government, but the left is also correct; we ought to be more compassionate and more charitable, we have a societal duty to take care of one another and we need not be so self-interested and greedy.

The Democrats wouldn’t get a ton of support if they were all error and no truth. Likewise, no one would be Republican if there was no truth there. The problem is there is truth in both. Even Satan has to deal out some truth to lure people in. He corrupts the truth. But he has to use some. Few people are solely attracted to error and evil.

That is really the hardest part in finding truth. It’s everywhere and no one has a monopoly on it. And it’s mixed in with error. Finding truth is perhaps the hardest thing about life. But at the same time, when you see truth standing right before you, you can’t deny it.

I don’t have time to explain my view on all the known problems, but let me address some of the translational issues with Joseph (Abraham, seer stone, Kinderhook plates,[10] etc.)

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[10]  Joseph never translated anything from the Kinderhook plates that would be considered scripture. In fact, all he did with them was ask someone to fetch his Egyptian Alphabet. He had made the Alphabet while translating the Book of Abraham. When it was fetched, he looked for symbols on the Kinderhook plates that matched anything in his alphabet.One figure matched and it was a figure that indicated being a descendant of Ham, which is exactly what is recorded by Joseph's scribe in his journal. No seer stone, no urim and thummim, no revelation from heaven. All he did was match up a drawing to his attempted Alphabet. It's crazy that people get so worked up over the Kinderhook plates.

It’s one thing to be upset that the Church isn’t transparent about the issue. But remember, I don’t think they have all the answers anyway. What exactly is the concern? Do you worry about how Mormon compiled the record, or Matthew, or John or Moses? If you’re concerned about the means of Joseph’s translation, why aren’t you concerned about the others?

Suppose Mormon stuck his head in a hat as he “abridged the record,” but never actually read the records. Or suppose Moses stuck his head in a hat when he received the ten commandments. I would suggest that the seer stone and papyrus were simply means in which Joseph could be inspired to write scripture. It didn’t have to be those tangible things, the Lord could have used something else. And those weren’t translations in the original sense, but he was translating ideas that a previous prophet had already written.

You can get mad at Joseph Smith for not being frank about the fact that he wasn’t translating the way we understand, but what if he didn’t know at the time? What if the Lord was just using him to disseminate info to us through all sorts of means? He didn’t even use anything to correct the Bible. No one makes a big deal about that.

Getting worked up about all these little issues just baffles me. You were fine with angels and golden plates left in holes in up-state New York, but he sticks his head in a hat and everyone loses their minds? If you’re a cynic, shouldn’t you have been lost at golden plates buried in up-state New York?

See, as a lawyer, all I have to prove is that it’s possible something could have happened. Then the inquiry can still continue. Only when something is impossible is it justified to stop the investigation. (Or if it’s simply not worth it.)

But that’s the problem here. Mormonism offers the most extravagant claims. There is so much that is at stake and could be gained. It really justifies as thorough an investigation as is possible.

I read The Second Comforter four years ago. I’ve given that book out more than any other book. I’ve recommended Denver's other books too. I read Passing The Heavenly Gift, and because it addresses such controversial issues that most members don’t know about, I would never recommend that book to someone ignorant of Church history. But, if they are aware of Church history, it’s the first book I recommend. Passing The Heavenly Gift is the best book that will help you reconcile your faith.

It’s ironic. Now that Denver’s been excommunicated, I have to recommend Passing The Heavenly Gift first, so they can understand why the corporate Church did what they did to him. Then they can read The Second Comforter.

Daymon Smith has written a 5 volume set about the cultural background of the Book of Mormon. Nephi blames our state on the traditions of our fathers. Well, what if we don’t understand the Book of Mormon at all? We assume the Jaredites left the tower of Babel. The text doesn’t say that.  There’s a lot the text doesn’t say, but we simply assume. The Book of Mormon could have a tremendously different meaning than what we understand.

I hope that I have not communicated a dislike for the church. I love the church—the people in it. The church is a great organization to be a part of. There are so many opportunities to serve and help others. There are great friends to be made.  But the corporate Church and correlation? Well, they kind of suck, and I strongly dislike most everything about them.

I don’t like the pride we all have thinking we are better than others. I don’t love the bureaucracy. But you see, I don’t really care about “The Church.” My focus has changed. I’m far more interested in the gospel, and in seeking out Christ. Living the gospel and seeking Christ are more than enough reasons to stay active. There’s an important distinction between the Church and the gospel. (See Elder Poelman’s talk back in 1984.)[11] When you focus on living the gospel and being Christ-like, there is no need for continual guilt trips about home teaching, it just takes care of itself.

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[11] But make sure you watch the original version, not the version the Church replaced it with.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcM7koDc-jg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuUv4nca4Gc


Women and priesthood, gays and sealings, etc. --it’s all just a waste of time. Salvation and heavenly power comes from God alone, not from an earthy institution. Who cares if women lack an office which is only a symbol of the real thing when they could go out and get the real thing? If they get the real thing they can bless and heal their children regardless of whether or not their “ordinance” is accepted by the Church.

Consider the Levite priests. Only the Levites could officiate in the ordinances of the temple. Only they could kill the animals, sprinkle the blood, light the incense, and enter the Holy of Holies, all of which symbolized connecting to heaven. But they were not actually connecting to heaven. The symbols and ordinances only point and teach us how to do the real thing.

The modern parallel is that women really want to get in there and kill the animals and sprinkle the blood and light the incense as symbols. In reality, they can have heavenly blessings, but in meekness and humility as it wouldn’t be “recognized” by anyone. (Real power from heaven administered through men also tends not to be “recognized” by anyone.)

But women can still receive the second comforter and other real spiritual gifts. They can commune with God. They can be brought before the throne of the Father and the Mother. Why covet the symbol? Seek the real thing.

Doctrinally, I have no problem with women holding Church office. I just think we are focusing on the wrong thing. Women were the first to receive the second comforter after the Lord’s resurrection, right? He came to women before he appeared to his apostles. In fact, he came to two disciples on the road to Emmaus before he came to his apostles. Clearly, Church office/hierarchy is nothing to be concerned about.

I believe the Book of Mormon because it causes me to be a better person.  It is true if it connects me to heaven. Studying out its message is far more valuable than any historical or textual criticism. ALL of the authors were visited by Christ. The authors are trying to get you to make that connection too. They are not merely telling stories. There is so much more there.

The Book of Mormon is a sealed book because people can read it and not understand the true message that is in there. It takes receiving the Holy Ghost before one can truly have the sealed book opened to them.

“Okay, fine,” you might say, “the Book of Mormon doesn’t suck as much I thought it did, but what about Joseph Smith? What about the different accounts of the first vision and the polygamy?”

I don’t have time to go into all the polygamy, other than to say, for having 30-plus wives, it’s awfully odd that he never fathered another child with any of them. I’d submit that the relationships he had with them are not the husband-wife relationship one normally has. (Yes, I know there are documents saying he had sex with them; there are also arguments that contest that. Again, I don’t have time to go deeper here.)

What about the visions? Well, I’ve had it explained by one who’s had a vision that when you are taken out of time, and you enter into eternity, it’s initially quite confusing. Multiple things seem to happen simultaneously. It isn't linear. It’s actually hard to know what’s going on while you’re experiencing it. However, you retain a perfect memory of what happened, and then you are able to weed out ideas as they become relevant and important over time.

Consider Nephi. He pondered the things he saw for 30 years before he made enough sense of them to write them down (2nd Nephi 5:30). With that background, it is entirely possible (assuming that’s how visions work; I don’t know, I haven’t had any) that Joseph articulated certain aspects as they become relevant in that moment. All accounts are true. They all happened. He only saw an angel. And he saw the Father and the Son. It all happened simultaneously and it was all distinct. And each account was an attempt to communicate the idea that was important to communicate at that time—or something like that.

I wouldn’t blame you at all if you say, that’s just crazy. Yeah, it might be. But I’ve never had a vision. What if it is like that?

I think it’s dangerous when we assume that our construct, our paradigm, the cultural traditions we’ve been raised in, are used as the lens through which we see everything, especially if we use them to peer into the heavens. Because I think it’s fair to say that the heavens operate differently than our paradigm. Since they’ve been around longer, and are more resilient than our changing culture, it might be a good idea to try and understand a heavenly-based paradigm, rather than forcing it to conform to ours.

It’s also possible that heaven does exist and the idea of visions as I explained above is not what a vision is like. All I’m saying is that there is a paradigm that explains the different accounts. Since it’s not impossible, we can continue the investigation.

I think there is an argument that supports belief. I think it’s reasonable to keep investigating scripture and seeking God. There is nothing in the Letter To A CES Director that proves the Book of Mormon is false. It simply shows that the traditional Church narrative is untrue.

And to make clear, this letter of mine is not intended at all as a comprehensive response to the CES Letter, though I personally have ideas that overcome the letter’s objections.

I want to end on why I think it’s important to seek the face of Christ. I don’t think that it would just be cool to see Christ. I’m not looking for a sign. Many members believe or say, “While it would be nice to meet Christ, I don’t think I really need that. I don’t have to see Him to believe. And I’ll be fine if I don’t see him until after this life.”

I disagree. I believe it essential to exaltation to see Christ in mortality. That’s because Nephi described the Doctrine of Christ as faith, repentance, baptism, receive the Holy Ghost, be instructed by angels, then be instructed by Christ while in the flesh. While in our temples.  Christ has things to teach us while we are in our temples so that we may fulfill them while in our temples. And if we don’t, then we will receive less than we could have.

Again, my purpose in writing this is not to resolve anyone’s issues. It’s to persuade people to start over and look again for answers. I personally believe that if you connect to heaven, you will find them.

Brett Bartel
Marietta, Georgia


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Important Reminder From Blogmaster Rock:
As announced previously, henceforth all comments posting on my blog only as "Anonymous" will be deleted. (This will not apply to the anonymous commenter who just posted yesterday before I placed this reminder.)

I respect all reader's wishes to post anonymously, and you may continue to do so as long as at the beginning and/or end of your comment you use some type of unique identifier so that others can tell you from the hundreds of others posting as "Anonymous." With so many commenting under the name "Anonymous," the conversations have become increasingly difficult to follow.  It has also become obvious that some of those posting anonymously are often among the most uncivil; rather than engage in intelligent arguments, some of these people tend to get quarrelsome.  A civil argument advances the dialogue; petty and immature attacks on other's views do not.

Please note that if you are concerned about your privacy, the drop-down feature that reads "Name/URL" already keeps you completely anonymous. When you post using that method, I don't have the ability to track who you are (not that I would want to) and neither does anyone else. So it makes sense to use that feature if you wish to keep your true identity hidden. All you have to do is place whatever username you wish to go by in the "Name" box and ignore the URL part. Of course, if you want to further mislead others, you can put any link in the URL box you choose, such as Youtube.com, Amazon.com, or LDS.org

Those with Google, Yahoo, Wordpress, and other accounts can choose to post under those accounts, which helps to lead others to your own blog if you have one. But seriously, enough with all these people calling themselves "Anonymous." It's getting to be too much.

That having been said, please join the conversation below.