Mormon visits: Episode 3
My friends turned up today, we started with a really nice talk about how one of them used to love sailing a remote control boat when he was young, and how I had one of those water jet-pack experiences.
I asked them about a couple of things that had occurred to me while reading the Book of Mormon. One of them was that it says the plates (the brass ones, not the later golden ones given to Smith)….says the plates were a way of preserving the *language* and the words of the prophets. I put it to them that the words could easily be preserved by having the meaning translated into English by Joseph Smith, but obviously the language cannot also be preserved in the same way. They were adamant that this means the plates themselves should still exist without me even having to ask it.
The second point was also about the brass plates, a bit later the BoM says that the plates will never perish nor will the writing dim. This cemented the idea that we should still have the brass plates because it would be absolutely pointless to preserve them in such a way if nobody knows where they are. I pointed out that the preservation of the language would be fantastic for historians, because we have very ancient scripts about the book of Moses, we now understand Egyptian hieroglyphics, and what we should see a link from the BoM meaning exactly the same as the writing on the brass plates, which should be written in hieroglyphs, and in turn that text should reflect the ancient writings. I think that by the time they left they were 100% certain that when they asked where the brass plates are they will be told they are in a museum.
Their research from previous week
In our previous visit I had asked why Joseph Smiths first account of his revelation says he was 16 and his third account of the same event says he was 14. They said they were told that the only account written by Joseph Smith himself was the first one and the rest were written by scribes. Allegedly one of these scribes later added in the text “in my sixteenth year” to the original account. He told me that he went and looked at the facsimile of the original document and thought that the handwriting looked different (I have just looked, the handwriting is the same). I wasn’t interested in proving him right or wrong on this, I just pointed out how fantastic it was that we had a question, we got an answer, and then we looked at the evidence to decide if the answer was correct. I am trying to get them to see that checking the evidence is not arrogant or sinful but just common sense, and when what you believe is true then the evidence can only help to support your case.
I told them that since then I had read all three accounts of the first revelation. I pointed out that in the 1st account Smith says he “felt the spirit of god” and “saw the lord (Jesus)”. In the 2nd account he saw Jesus and “a second personage”, and finally in the third he says that he saw God and Jesus, and that God introduced Jesus as his son.
I got them to close their eyes and imagine experiencing this, we went through the whole story. I then asked them “When you got home and wrote about it, what would you write?” they replied “I would write that I saw God and Jesus”. They pointed out that the account was written down about 7 years later, but they both agreed that this would make it more likely that the less important details would be forgotten and the meeting of God and Jesus would be more prevalent in one’s head.
I told them that people who have psychotic delusions are likely to believe they have experienced something, and then over time their recalling of that incident adds more and more detail to it, making it progressively more extravagant. I said I am not accusing Smith of being psychotic, but it would be unfortunate if someone didn’t believe his account because it built up in detail and incredibility over the years in the same way a psychotic delusion would. They agreed that it only makes sense that Smith would have mentioned God and Jesus first, and then over time the additional information would have been the less significant things for which he then had more time to explain. He wouldn’t explain small details and then 6 years later mention the most important thing ever, meeting God. They also agreed that in the 2nd account describing the creator of everything merely as “a second personage” would be outright disrespectful.
The other thing from the previous week that they had promised to research was the details of what exactly the two translation devices looked like and how they worked. Smith was supposed to have used these to translate the gold plates into Ye Olde English. They told me that all they could find out was that it was two stones joined by a ribbon and some kind of chest plate. I told them I’d look into it further…I think it is something to do with Smith putting a hat on his face.
I had also asked them why Smith’s wife had been made to sit at the opposite end of a table from Smith when transcribing for him with a blanket between them acting as a curtain to hide the plates from her. I thought this was odd because people who weren’t his wife were allowed to see them but not his wife who knew him better than anyone? Today they had no answer other than that Smith only showed them to people he had been explicitly told to show them to, and he hadn’t been told to show them to his wife. We agreed that this simply deferred the nonsense up to a higher level up the chain of command.
They told me that his wife (Emma) had kept her own journals. I put it to them that if we can find her mentioning God and Jesus in Smith’s revelation it would help us to understand when that part of the story developed. If we find it is mentioned after Smith’s 3rd account of revelation it would be consistent with a developing fake story, and if we find it is mentioned before Smith’s 2nd (or even 1st) account then it would be consistent with an early origin for the story with the presence of God that had been told by Smith but not written down by him until his 3rd account. Albeit for an unknown (and still perculiar) reason.
Last week they asked me if I would be baptised if I became convinced their religion was true, I said of course I would. After all, if I had been convinced The Quran was true I’d have had my foreskin cut off; what’s a quick dip in some water compared to that? This week they wanted to set a date for June 29th, the idea is that it is proof to their god that I am willing to accept his guidance and that I will not put things off etc. I told them that I felt this was arrogant because it is like giving god a deadline to convince me….what if I was convinced two days later, or 2 weeks earlier? I told them I would read the whole book and not make a final decision until I had read the very last word of it. They agreed that this made much more sense.
They told me I needed to pray. I explained to them how I used to pray about 10 years ago and at the time believed I was being told to be a Muslim. That I had a feeling of love and happiness every time my brain thought true things, and that I was given signs in a language I didn’t know well enough yet (Arabic) to have concocted myself. I told them how at the point I was about to pick up the Quran and read it I was already 100% convinced that God had guided me to it and that it would contain instructions on how he wanted me to live my life. I then explained how I read the book and was utterly convinced it was man made. Therefore praying evidently is a completely inaccurate way to obtain truth. They were fascinated by this experience and kept asking me for more and more details. I think it was the first time they had heard of anyone with this much conviction putting in so much effort and getting an answer so completely different to the one they get. They agreed that feeling good during prayers can just as easily mean that you like the things you are thinking about when you pray.
So next week I hope they will have some answers about the brass plates. I am currently trying to convince them that they should not be prohibited from using the Internet for 2 years while they are over here on their mission, and that they should at least be able to use it as a tool to help them to find answers, even if it only means going on the LDS website.
As a side note, they seemed a bit different this week. During our previous meetings they were more open and willing to think for themselves. I am a little suspicious that as they have been returning to base with thought invoking questions they have perhaps been warned/armed/protected with advice from their elders so that they do not stray from the true path. Although I did get them to rationalise on a number of points this week, for the first time I experienced them outright refusing to think about things.
More BoM reading ahead of me. Really nice guys!