Mormon visits: Episode 5

Read 4th visit

A log of exchanges between our 4th and 5th meetings.

Me: Hi guys. Was nice to see you both again! I had a thought about something you said. It was that your church is monogamous but there were reasons for ancient prophets for having multiple wives. Does this include Joseph Smith or was he monogamous?

Them: There was a time in modern church history where polygamy was practiced. Starting while Joseph Smith was alive and finishing in 1890 ish only specific members participated including the Prophet Joseph, and a couple other presidents of the church.

Me: I’m surprised by that and a bit confused. Why did Joseph Smith have multiple wives when on Monday we read in the book it was forbidden? How many wives did he have? How long before it was outlawed, and who could have outlawed it?

Them: Hey Peter! Sorry we didn’t get back to you last night. Plural marriage, I honestly do not fully understand it. I know that it was a commandment from God. He didn’t just decide that he should have more than one wife. Throughout history God has given commandments, and sometimes he gives permission to do things that are contrary to what has previously been said. For example, He commanded the Israelites to take control of the land of Canan when he had previously given the commandment thou shalt not kill. When this happens there is always a reason. When Nephi killed Laban, the Lord gave the reason, it is better that one man die, than a nation dwindle in unbelief. Though I do not fully understand the reason for plural marriage, I know that God knows what he is doing and there was a reason for it. Thank you for asking questions, keep reading and pray about the questions you have.

Me: I have to ask because the leader of a group having special dispensation to have more women than others is very common in cults / man made religions, and I don’t understand what benefit can come out of it that was worth risking it all look man made. How many others claimed god told them to do this, and were any of the women already married? Claiming god told you to have sex with someone else’s wife is one of the biggest man-made-cult alarm bells there is. Nobody claimed to have permission to do that too did they?

Me: I am now 1/3 of my way through. Funny coincidence. When you told me about the name change of Benjamin he appeared in the story earlier this week. I looked in the new edition and it gave the same name. Just finished reading due to tiredness, as soon as I had put the book down it occurred to me that I was still reading about Benjamin. I looked in the new version and that is where it had changed! I will re-read the chapter again tomorrow to see if I can see any hints as to why it changed. PS: who is supposed to have written this part of the book (Mosiah 21:28) can you find out for tomorrow?

The meeting

Well it went both more brilliantly than I could have hoped for, and then quickly worse that I had expected. To the best of my recollection this is what happened.

I welcomed them in using a mixture of French and accidental Spanish.  We sat down and exchanged pleasantries. I asked if they had read my phone texts and they confirmed.  It was unusual that they hadn’t replied to my one message for a number of days so I wondered if they had been put off. As we sat down my mind was put at rest, I mentioned that I had been reading the BoM about Benjamin in the 1830’s edition and then compared it to the 2005 edition and both had used the same name, and then when I finished reading it was coincidentally something about King Benjamin (it actually happened). After closing the book I realised what I had just been reading so I compared it with the 2005 edition and indeed that is where it had changed.

Opening prayer: Happy again to hear it had changed from “please guide Pete” to “please guide us to the truth”

My BoM with notes is currently downstairs so my page numbers here won’t be accurate. I told them I had re-read the chapter the next day to make sure I understood what was happening. I told them that on page 167 Mosiah had been made king and that on page 168 Benjamin had died 3 years later. Then page 200 describes about how King Benjamin has a device for translating. I joked that if it had been a script for a film (movie) it would have been a continuity error, a main character dies and then pops up later in the film with a line; only then to realise his mistake and say “erm, it’s not me, I’m someone else….called Mosiah” while shuffling off scene.  They had a giggle while I went to get my book. I’m surprised at how readily these guys would laugh at jokes about their religion.

I returned with my book and showed them the page numbers. I then told them that I had been to the LDS website to read about it, and they were very pleased with me for doing that. I told them that I had discovered that the error had been corrected in the 2nd edition of BoM released in 1837 while Joseph Smith was alive.

We agreed that the original name was obviously an error, and I told them that we shouldn’t spend time worrying about how the error got there but instead just concentrate on how the error was dealt with. I put it to them that if God had decided to correct the error during translation then nobody would ever have known. “Yes,” they said, “because we don’t have the plates to compare it to”. We agreed that we personally would have done that, but they said that for some reason God had decided it was better to leave the error in and then correct it, perhaps to teach Joseph Smith how to pray and receive answers.

I said to them that I had to put this bit of evidence on the side of “arguments against Mormonism” simply because I found it the most plausible of the two following scenarios.

  1. Mormonism is true. God allowed an error. This lightening-fast thinker then allowed 7 years to pass before the error was corrected, after one or more humans had realised it made the story inconsistent. God then told humans to correct the error that God had deliberately let through, so effectively God had changed his mind. God did all of this knowing that people would look at the book and think that the change made it look like human error and would cause people doubts, with no apparent benefit.
  2. Mormonism is false: A human wrote it. It’s a large script. Humans make errors. Humans fixed the error.

I told them that I had read an apologist explanation for this.  The person saying that Benjamin had the translation devices could have left Benjamin while he was still a living monarch, but because they were lost for a long time (as it says in the book) they hadn’t heard of Benjamin’s death, so the plates were an accurate record of what was spoken by a human in error.

They were happy with this, their concern subsided and they started to look very happy. “However,” I told them, “there’s just something about that I don’t understand”. I told them that if God had decided the accurate error should go in then it still means God changed his mind and gave someone inspiration/permission to change it later. The error being there wasn’t the problem, it was the way the error was dealt with.

Thought as I write: The correct name Mosiah is given in another account of this story (the apologist account claims) elsewhere in the book so that would be evidence in favour of different humans writing different accounts at different times. It would show that some people knew things that other people did not know.

I then told them that as I read the explanation on the LDS website they explained how the book was changed again for the 1847 edition, again changing the name Benjamin to Mosiah in another part of the book. I put it to them that if leaving the error and then correcting it was the right thing to do then it should follow that God would have known about the exact same error elsewhere in the book and inspired Joseph Smith to fix that one too.  So now I painted two scenarios to them.

  1. God allows an error. Then after enough time for humans to spot the error God decides it is time to inspire someone to fix the error, but keeps quiet about the other occurrence of the same error elsewhere. Then in the 1847 edition the same error in another part of the book is fixed through some kind of inspiration.
  2. The book is man made, nobody spotted the same error had been made until after the 1837 print.

The questions is raises are

  • If having the correct name was the best thing to do, why include the wrong name to start with?
  • If having the wrong name was the best thing to do, why change it later?
  • If having the wrong name included and then corrected at a later date was the correct thing to do, how can it be the best thing to do for the first occurrence of the error yet at the same not be the best thing to do, considering it was permitted to exist elsewhere?

They were very perplexed, and really very much in agreement. Especially when I reiterated what we had agreed earlier, if only the correction had been done during translation then nobody would have known anything about it and it wouldn’t cause anyone any problems.

I said that I found it very peculiar that a perfect all-knowing God would make it look like he didn’t know about the same mistake later in the book; also it seemed odd that the first one would be corrected after 7 years and the 2nd occurrence be corrected after 17 years, 3 years after Joseph Smith had died.

They told me that they don’t know why this is, but they do know that Mormonism is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet. I asked them “How do you know?” So they started to go back to how the Holy Spirit gives them witness. I pointed out that previously I had explained my own experiences with what they call the Holy Spirit and that it had told me something completely incompatible with what their experiences had told them. They then asked exactly what my experience was like, possibly so that they could check if it really was the Holy Spirit.  The short version of what I told them was that I had been praying for 3 to 4 hours a day for 2 to 3 months.

  • They asked how the exchange took place. I told them that I would ask questions and then wait, my thoughts would become more and more clear and then when the clearest answer came through I’d get an indescribable sensation.
  • They asked if I had asked clear questions like “Is this book true?” – I told them I had asked the question exactly as clearly as that. Is the book I am going to read true? Yes! Was Muhammad your messenger? Yes! Is the book altered in any way? No! Is it a human’s understanding of your words? No! Is it your writing word for word? Yes!
  • So then it was time to explain the Holy Ghost. This is kind of what I told them.

“I would feel as though something invisible was passing through my body, from above my head moving downwards. It wasn’t actually making contact with me as we would understand the idea of touching, but more like where it overlapped with my body it would in some way alter the atoms of my body. They felt like they had been transformed from a dark night into a pure sunshine, as if every individual atom was a tiny sun receiving infinite love, happiness, and every other good feeling, and that each atom was then radiating these feelings out out for everyone else to feel. It continued to spread down my body, it was so wonderful that it was all I could think of and I had no other thoughts at the time, as if my mind had been cleansed. As it passed to my heart I suddenly felt it shoot through my arteries and veins, flowing through my whole vascular system but not into the surrounding flesh. As it continued to move down it transformed the atoms in the flesh surrounding my veins.  It then continued down my back, like a tantalising shiver. Then as soon as it hit the base of my spine I felt an intensification shoot up my spine into my brain, as I enjoyed the ecstasy of this second hit I was aware of it spreading through my legs and feet. I then realised I felt weightless as if I could float up from the floor. At that point I felt as though every individual atom in the entire universe loved me. I wanted to give this feeling to everyone. I knew that if everyone in the world had this feeling then there would be love and peace everywhere, but I was also frustrated because I knew I couldn’t just take a bundle of it and give it to other people, I could only teach them how to find it for themselves.”

I gave them about 30 seconds, maybe a minute as they sat there with wide eyes and open mouths. I asked “How was that? Does it sound anything like the confirmation you receive when you pray for guidance and the Holy Spirit confirms you are right?”

The French guy refused to answer. He just said “I don’t like to go into details about my experience because I consider it personal, but I know that when it happens I know it is real”. So I turned to the American guy and said “(French guy) doesn’t want to tell me his experience so I have nothing to compare with, was mine anything like yours?”

He replied “Yes, mine is exactly the same except it is nowhere near as powerful as yours”.  I asked what they made of it.  The French guy said “Well how does this work? If we are all having the same feelings we can’t all be right”. I agreed and said to him that when Buddhists meditate they probably get something similar, maybe even stronger because they spend so much time practicing meditation. When people of other religions pray they too receive some kind of spiritual confirmation that the path they have chosen is correct. I told them that this month will see the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan, the month where the gates of hell are closed and the gates of heaven are opened wide. Many Muslims will spend hours reciting the Quran again and again, do you think they don’t feel some kind of spiritual confirmation that what they are doing is good, right, and true?

“But what can cause it?” the French guy asked. I told him that it happens in your head. Muslims see the Quran as perfect because over the past 1400 years it has shaped the language and culture of its followers’ societies; things they think are bad are bad in the Quran, things they think are good and pious are also good and pious in the Quran, so it just feels true to them. When they think about Allah, Muhammad, and the Quran they are contemplating everything they love about their lives and everything they hold dearly. It is bound to give them some kind of beautiful rewarding feeling.

Then I reminded them that my experience had included a revelation of some kind in the form of some Arabic that I didn’t know. In my Arabic classes I was learning “Ana (I am) Min (from) Britaaniah (Britain). Ana (I am) Britaanee (British)” but during one of my meditation/prayers I heard the words (in my own voice/thoughts) “Mufrad. Ana Min Mufrad, Ana Mufradee”. It wasn’t a word I was familiar with so I ran to my living room to grab my Arabic/English dictionary to look it up. I was excited and at the same time paradoxically scared it would be right and also scared it would be wrong. I found the word Mufrad, it meant “Singular”.

Throughout my months of prayer for answers I had come to the understanding that the universe had existed as a tiny point of unimaginably dense material, a tiny perfect ball, and that Allah had triggered an imperfection to the shape of this object by removing some his spiritual perfection from it, the imperfection caused the expansion we now call the big bang.  I am from the singularity, I am singular.  This was especially relevant because Islam refutes the idea of a trinity and claims that God is uniquely singular.  From this point onward I prayed even more, receiving even more clear answers to the same questions I had asked, and I knew at that point when I started to read the Quran I would know it was God’s words so I started to read.

The more I read the more disappointed I was, I kept reading things that looked suspiciously like erroneous historical human beliefs. At first I would ignore them, but as I read more and more I couldn’t put them out of my mind so I decided to look up scholars’ explanations of those verses. At first I accepted the answers, not because they were particularly convincing but more because I felt that I already knew what was true and I wanted the answer to be sufficient.

I said to them “If you believe there is this perfect God out there that created the universe and then you think you have found a way to be close to this God, you really hold high hopes that the way you suspect is true means that all your searching is finally over”. They agreed completely.  I told them how the more I read the more I had to be honest with myself, this all-knowing God would know that these verses look like erroneous human beliefs that were common at the time; it would know that they would cause people problems, and if it actually cared about people believing those words were true then it would either use the correct wording or simply not mention anything that looked like an erroneous belief.  Again they agreed, but wanted to know how I could explain the Arabic.

It was in one of my later Arabic classes that I realised what had happened. My class consisted of myself and lots of Pakistani Muslims. To an extent they all had a level of exposure to Arabic through social experiences and through learning specific phrases etc in the Quran. So at the start of each new exercise in our books the teacher would ask “Can anyone work out what the teacher’s instructions say at the top of the page?” Now I had decided right from the start that I would ignore this part of the class. I didn’t want to try to run before I could even crawl so learning the words intended for the fluent Arabic teacher were something I wanted to avoid. I also wanted to avoid accidentally learning an incorrect guess, in my previous Arabic classes one woman kept saying “Ahhh, in my language that’s …….” (In case you are wondering, the Urdu word for potato is Alu).

So it was the beginning of the class and they were trying to work out what the instructions for the exercise were. It was labourious but they eventually worked out it meant “Draw a line from each word to a single picture”.

“Hang on, ” I said, “could you repeat that in Arabic?”.  “Yes,” the teacher replied, “blah blah blah Mufrad blah blah blah”.  I looked for the word Mufrad on the top of the page and there it was. I turned back to last week’s lesson, Mufrad! I looked back at the previous week’s lesson, Mufrad! It was all over the place! Despite deliberately blocking out that part of the class each week the subconscious part of my brain had heard it and learned it. How good are brains at convincing us that something else happened?

It occurred to me by this point that we had been talking for ages and not once had either of them even given me sight of a Book of Mormon, let alone opened one or starting to discuss the writings within it.  They asked me “If there was a time when there was no religion why might people make them up?”

First I taught them about false positives. If you go for a wee in the Indian jungle in the night and you see something that looks like a tiger’s face you run back to the safety of the camp fire. In cases where there is no tiger it was a false-positive, but that’s okay because it didn’t cost much in time/effort etc and certainly didn’t prevent you from reproducing; these people tend to have brains physically wired to see visual patterns of things that aren’t there (shapes in clouds etc).  In the case where the tiger is there these false-positive prone people are more likely to see the pattern, run away, and live to have children. The person who erroneously misses the pattern of the tiger’s face (a false-negative) is far more likely to get killed. Being dead does impact on your ability to reproduce, so people with hard-wired false-positive pattern matching wiring in their brains are statistically more likely to have children and thus that is what humans are generally like.  We see patterns, but we also see patterns that aren’t there. We hear a noise and instead of thinking “how did that happen naturally?” we think “who or what made that noise?” We tend to attribute a hidden agency to things.

Again the personal testimony, and again I reminded them I had one too. By now they were both frowning a lot at their own arguments. “Ahh yeah (sucking teeth) that didn’t work for you did it?”.  They then told me that they know Mormonism to be true not only through the influence of the Holy Spirit but also because of their life experiences of things that have reassured them that Mormonism must be true.  I asked if either of them had heard of confirmation bias, and both replied that they had not.

I told them of an experiment I heard read about where there were two lights, each with a small lever beneath it. One of lights would come on, if the rat pressed the related lever it would be rewarded with food. It didn’t take long for the rats to learn to always push the level beneath the illuminated bulb.  Another experiment I read about (which I only remember vaguely) was something similar but done with chickens. French guy asked what a chicken was, I proudly said “Poulet” 🙂 Anyway, in the chicken experiment the levers and lights had no relation to each other at all. A random light would light up, and at the same time a random lever would connect to the food-reward mechanism.  The chickens would obviously get the correct lever randomly, but it was observed that they made false-positive pattern matches. If light X came on then a specific chicken was far more likely to activate a specific lever, and so on. The unexpected discovery was that the pattern matching didn’t only stop at the lights. If one of the chickens had just turned around or done something else before seeing the light and then activated the correct lever it would then incorporate the that unrelated action as part of the procedure to get its reward.  Whenever it didn’t work the chicken would ignore the failure, and every time it did work it would reinforce the link between a specific light, action, and a specific lever. Eventually there were some chickens who would do quite an elaborate routine whenever specific lights came on, say two turns clockwise followed by one turn anti-clockwise and then press lever 3. (This was explained in New Scientist if you want to try to find it).

I laughed and said “So you see, ignoring and forgetting the failures and only concentrating on the successes made them erroneously think they had some kind of truth, like a superstition. Not only had they come up with some kind of superstitious belief but they had also invented some kind of superstitious ritual to go with it”.  They both laughed at the silly chickens, and said that they found their lesson on confirmation bias interesting.

Up until now everything was just going brilliantly, and then I think I spoiled it.  I reminded them that I had sent them a text message asking about Joseph Smith and his polygamy. I asked them if he had ever married someone who was already married to another man. They knew with 100% certainty that Joseph Smith hadn’t done this because it was such an unquestionably wrong thing to do. They smiled confidently, there was just no way he would ever have done such a thing.

I showed them a 2 minute clip from a documentary “The end of the world cult” about Wayne Bent and his followers in Strong City, New Mexico. The part of the documentary shows Michael (Jesus’s spirit in Bent’s body) explaining how one day he got out of his chair and was forced to the ground by God and told that his consummation with was imminent with someone called Christiana. I pointed out that obviously this had been discussed among them before hand and this was some kind of culmination. It then cut to the woman he had named and she said that she had told her husband that she was going over to Michael’s house, and if he invited her in then she would consummate with him because she believed God had been telling her in her prayers that she must. The camera then panned to her husband. His emotional pain was obvious, he leaned his forehead against the wall in despair in the next room as he listened. Her husband was Wayne Bent’s son.

I pointed out that I had only asked about sex because people who start man-made religions/cults often have a God that is very concerned about who they have sex with. I said that in this case the guy had not only conned a community into thinking he was Jesus, but also his own son who would have known him better than anyone, who was an adult when his father made his claim to be the Messiah, and at the time of his father’s claim was working for the police force so would have probably seen his fair share of people making untrue claims.  They were astounded that anyone could convince their own son of something so incredible. The French guy said “Well we know our church is nothing like this because Joseph Smith would never do something like that”.

I asked if they knew about the website – they confirmed that they did and that it was run by the LDS. I told them that when I was looking at the information about Joseph Smiths wives I discovered that one of them was already married to another man named Henry Jacobs. They looked a bit doubtful, so I opened The Wives Of Joseph Smith webpage and showed them the column on the right. I told them “This column contains the name of the each wife’s husband. Who she was married to at the time Joseph Smith married her, and was still married to because they hadn’t had a divorce.”

Shit hit the fan.

I think that this was too personal for them. The American guy just became this calm emotionless person and said something I can’t quite remember, but it didn’t sound like words he would have formulated himself, it sounded very official. It was something like “At this point I think there is no benefit in continuing this process”. I recall thinking it was odd that he had called their visits a process.

I asked him “Where have you heard those words before?” and then just sat and looked at him for ages. He looked quite horrified, like he had just become his dad or something. Then he looked confused “What do you mean?” he asked. “That didn’t sound like the kind of sentence you would make up, it sounds like you’ve heard the phrase before, at church maybe?”  He laughed and said that this was not the case.

They looked at their watches and said that they had to leave, indicating that our journey had gone as far as it possibly could because I had obviously made my mind up already and there wasn’t much point in them coming back. I told them to remember that I had previously told them that even if up to the last page I thought the Book of Mormon was man made I’d continue to read it because I wouldn’t make a final decision until I had read every word, because there might be something on the last page that completely changes my mind. They said that they remembered.

I told them that if they don’t come back it will be a shame because I like them. I told them that if ever they are passing and want a drink they can come and say hello and if I need to I will promise to not discuss religion with them then I would honour that promise. I reassured them that I am only collecting evidence to help me to make up my mind, and I have only found evidence that the LDS website has led me to.

“Exactly!” they said. I took this to mean “If it was anything untoward about this then the LDS wouldn’t tell you about it”. I suggested this and they confirmed. I said “but that still doesn’t mean it makes sense to me”. The American guy was really frustrated “This is really frustrating for me. I just know it’s true” he said. I told him “Yes, you feel it is true in a very special way but you are frustrated because you can’t just take it out of your body and give it to me?”

“Yes!” he said. “How can I convince you it’s true if everything I have ever believed in….you’ve blown out of the water?”

They wanted to leave so we finished with a prayer that I led. I deliberately placed myself between them so that they would see me in the position of importance/authority (centre of the group) and prayed asking if there is a God to please let us all know what the truth is, to guide us to the truth and to not let our emotions get in the way; and if there is no truth you (God) are trying to give us then give us the wisdom to realise that we are only hearing our own thoughts and desires just like followers of every other religion do.

They started to make their way to the door. I repeated that I would love to see them again as friends if they have decided not to come back. Outside my house the French guy kept saying they had to go, but the American guy kept asking me questions. I will see what I can remember….

  • If there is no God then how could there even be evolution?
  • You are confusing “your god” with “some god”. If your religion is wrong that doesn’t mean that there is no God at all to create the universe and then start self-reproducing life.
  • You ask too many questions, I can’t help you because we spend too much time finding answers.
  • We discussed how he feels he is on a mission from God. We kind of agreed that a mission from God would only involve finding THE truth, not being intent on convincing others that you are already right. He agreed, except he knew he was already right.
  • Why do you reject every answer I give?
  • I don’t. When you told me the plates preserved the language only for the people of the past I realised I hadn’t thought of that. I considered it and found it plausible so it was no longer an issue for me. When you told me that the discrepancies in Smith’s accounts of his age during his first spiritual encounter were added later by a scribe I was really happy that not only did you find an answer but that you then went onto the Internet and checked the evidence before making up your mind. I don’t reject everything you say at all.
  • So if there was a good reason for Joseph Smith to marry those women who were already married then that would be okay?
  • I don’t find it good or bad. I just find it the same as man made religious cults. Who knows, maybe God wants men to have sex with other people’s wives, and cults are only successful because they copy what God wants?
  • Maybe he was told to marry them because they were adulterous or something?
  • I hadn’t thought of that. Although that wouldn’t explain why they didn’t get divorced first, it is at least something I hadn’t thought of that could be investigated. I read that she refused a proposal from Smith, got married, and then when Smith claimed prophethood he told her that he was ordered to marry her at sword point by an angel.  I only remembered it because her name was “Zina”, which ironically is the Arabic word for illegal sex. (Amazingly at this point we all laughed)

I implored them to never stop looking at the evidence. I told them that if God didn’t want them to see some specific evidence then that evidence would not exist. It’s not about finding proof for your belief, but instead making sure that you are being honest with yourself and knowing that you believe what you because you are convinced it is true rather than because you have refused to think about certain things.

He said that there are prophecies in the covenants that show Joseph Smith was a prophet. I said I didn’t know that and would be very happy to read them once I had finished reading the Book of Mormon. I said to him “You can’t just decide to stop looking at the evidence. That book in there (BoM) is evidence. If I stopped looking at the evidence it would mean I’d have to stop reading the book”.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

So I continued, “But I can’t be biased in what evidence I look at. I either have to look at as much as I can find or look at none of it and not make a decision either way.”

I told him that I am sure he felt insulted at my questions about Smith and he said he was. I explained “your religion is like an embodiment of everything you believe to be good and love. When someone says something negative about your religion you take it as a personal insult, it is as if I am insulting everything you think to be good about yourself, as if I don’t like you”. He agreed. I said “Well, if there is one thing you guys should know before you leave it is that I definitely do not dislike you. I really like both of you and it will be a real shame if I don’t see you again.”

As they left I asked them to think about what we had said today, and if possible research the answers to those questions even if it just means asking someone else at their church a question.  The American guy stopped and said “What exactly do you want that question to be, about the changes to the book?”

I said “If it was best to change Benjamin to Mosiah, why was it best to fix one error after 7 years and the other 17 years later after, Joseph Smith had already been dead for 3 years?” He said “Okay” so perhaps he will still make an effort, I then said to him “Just imagine, if God has just used the word Mosiah in the first place instead of Benjamin then none of the conversation we had today would have happened, we’d have just read the next chapter of the book”.

“Hmm, yeah” he said, then waved and walked away. My daughter said that as I shut the door he was walking away shaking his head. I will probably never see them again. I will give it a few days to give them time to think and have their doubts, then I will send them a text message saying that I apologise if I caused them offence.

Possibly the end….

Read 6th visit

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