Mormon visits: Episode 2
Because I am back-posting these first two visits from memory they might be a bit short.
I call them my Mormon friends not to be facetious, but because I think we really did become friends very quickly during our first meeting. These guys are so nice, and we just chatter and giggle through our meetings.
From what I recall of our second meeting they asked if I would be willing to become a Mormon if I decided the Book of Mormon was true. I confirmed, in complete honesty, that I would. They asked if I would be baptised, and again I confirmed that if this book convinced me there was a God and the book told me what that God wanted then I would do it (unspoken caveats about sacrificing my children etc). They asked if I would join in a prayer with them at the beginning and I agreed. I have no objection to open prayer, for me it’s just a way of people expressing what they wish to achieve.
During this meeting we discussed how some people took some brass plates with pre-Jesus written history on to America from the middle east. The plates were a history of words of prophets etc. New prophets kept adding to the writings until one day Moroni, the last of these prophets, rewrote the book onto gold plates and buried them (due to hostility I think).
I don’t recall much of what we spoke about. I do recall I told them my previous experiences of praying + receiving signs/guidance from an external source and how I felt it had tried to lead me towards Islam, and that when I read the Quran I was absolutely convinced it was man made. They were very interested in this. It seemed it was the first time that they had met someone who had prayed so intently for guidance, felt that they had received guidance in the same way that they believe they feel their guidance, and yet told them something completely contradictory to what they believe is true.
Our conversation, as usual, was littered with lots of chatter about where they grew up, information about their families etc just to remind them that they are more than just proselytisers.
They read me the Joseph Smith account of when he was visited by God and Jesus and told he was a prophet, this is the version most expounded by their church and I think was written on the backs of their books. My 1830’s edition had not yet arrived and I declined their offer of a more modern edition because I wanted to read as close to the original source as possible. That reminded me that I had seen facsimiles of Joseph Smith’s handwriting on a website I had found – http://josephsmithpapers.org/
At first they seemed to recoil at the idea of seeing anything on the Internet, but when they saw the handwriting their opinions seemed to change. I started to talk about how wonderful it is to find historical documents.
I recall now that in our previous meeting I had told them the story I learned from In The Shadow Of The Sword about how history had been rewritten in order to form political alliances and only the later discovery of dateable documents revealed how that history had been altered and that Zoroaster had been born at a completely different time to when we had thought. This was an example of how myths form and grow into religions. I also told them the stories of the Cargo Cults.
But back to the facsimiles. I told them that the scan they were looking at was Smith’s own handwriting explaining his first ever written account of his moment of revelation. They had only just read it out from the back of their books, so when I opened the document and it was the same subject it sparked some interest in them.
I asked why their account said that Smith was 14, and this account said “In my sixteenth year” and they couldn’t answer. I then got them to check word for word what their revelation said compared with this one. I pointed out how odd it was that Smith had only mentioned seeing Jesus in his first account and not mentioned that he had also seen God. I wanted to encourage some critical thinking in them so I asked them if they could find out why that was.
They explained how Smith had translated the gold plates using some “translation devices” while someone else transcribed them. I asked what they were, how they combined with each other to work etc. Again they didn’t know and said they would find out for me. We joked about how my homework would be to read the BoM and I would assign them homework after each meeting.
They told me that Smith had a number of scribes, and that they were known as “the (three?) witnesses” because they had actually seen the gold plates. I asked where the plates were now and they told me they had been taken up to heaven, but they couldn’t think why. They told me that Smith’s wife, Emma, had been a scribe for a while so I asked if she was the third of the three witnesses, they told me she wasn’t.
I remember the confusion on their faces as they answered that question. It was probably the first time they had realised that someone had helped to transcribe the translation but not been privileged to see the plates themselves. I asked how that was possible to transcribe without seeing them. They told me that Joseph and Emma sat on opposite ends of a table with a rope across and a curtain shielding the plates from view. Again I saw confused expressions on their faces. “Erm, why?” I asked. They laughed with embarrassment and told me that they didn’t know.
I reasoned that not many people would believe someone who claimed to have met God and been assigned as a prophet, and so it made sense that God would not choose someone with a wife who would say “Don’t believe him, he lies a lot”. I also reasoned that out of all the people who knew him as a person it would be his wife who knew him the best and who would vouch for his honest character. Now if she simply hadn’t been part of the transcription process that’s fine, but why she be given that role and then not only not be permitted to see the plates but for Smith to have gone to extra effort to stop her from seeing them?
We concluded with a prayer. This time I asked if I could lead and they were happy to agree. I imitated their actions in calling upon a heavenly father in the name of Jesus. I expressed my genuine happiness for life and the health of my family, also my genuine appreciation that these guys had come around and had an interesting chat with me; and, although I don’t think there was anyone there to hear it, I genuinely said “If you do exist then please let me know it, I crave nothing more than the truth”.
They were elated, obviously because they think they have the truth and it will be revealed to me. We left with my homework being to read the BoM when my edition turned up, and for them to get back to me to explain why
- The age in Smith’s account was different.
- Why Smith didn’t mention seeing God in his first account.
- Why Smith’s wife Emma had been sectioned off with a curtain and prevented from being one of the witnesses who saw the plates.
We weren’t due to meet until the next Monday, but they popped in one of the days in the week just to say hello as they rode past to that day’s place of work. We mostly avoided religion and just talked about science…mainly gravity and fusion. Was nice to discover one of them is crazy about science.