Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is God a Trickster who Favors the Stupid and the Lazy?

The glory of God is intelligence

-D&C 93:36

I am thirty-something year-old man in the midst of a "crisis of faith," similar to what Hans Mattson, a former general authority,  described in a recent New York Times article.  I'll spare the details, but suffice it to say that for me, it started this spring and involved the discovery of troubling aspects of the founding of the LDS church.  (There are aspects of the modern church that bother me as well, but they are irrelevant to this discussion)  Most likely if you are reading this post then you are already very familiar with these issues. 

 For further background information, I am a lifelong member of the LDS church,  attended and graduated from BYU on scholarships, and served a full time mission.

I am a reasonably intelligent person.  If standardized testing is any indication (and it isn't always), I possess well above-average intelligence.  Additionally, I have had opportunity to exercise my intelligence through education.  I hold a doctorate degree and currently work as a successful professional. I tell you these things not to brag, but to set the stage for this discussion because I am the demographic the church is hemorrhaging:  young, educated males.    I do not consider myself to be an intellectual giant, and I will be the first to acknowledge that there are gaps in my knowledge base.  That being said, I feel like I have a reasonable capacity to analyze data and draw conclusions. 

Over the past six months I have learned more about church history than I had previously in my entire lifetime.  I have read books and sources both critical to, and supportive of the church.  I've seen the numerous criticisms against the church, and the apologist's responses.  I have analyzed the data, and I have come to a conclusion:  the church is not true, at least not as true as it claims to be.  Understand that I make that statement very much to my own chagrin.  I really really want the church to be true.  I want an eternal family.  I want to know that God is watching over me and understands my problems, and has even given me said problems in order to strengthen me.  In many ways, the world is a much happier place if the church is true (the obvious exception being if you are gay-but I digress).  The point is, coming to this conclusion was not inconsequential to me.  It was life-shattering.  My world crumbled, and continues to crumble.

I'd like to share with you an important part of how I arrived at that conclusion.  Interestingly, the apologists at FAIR, FARMS, and around the internet played a very important role in all this.  Not by simply confirming that the controversies are real and historically accurate, as they have done for many, but by providing answers and explanations to the various controversies.  I find it safe to say that the apologists have an answer to each and every point that critics make.  Not usually good answers.  Not usually satisfying answers.   But answers nonetheless.   Often the answers are far-fetched, and require "mental gymnastics" to the extreme.   But they address everything that critics throw at them, and this forces me to concede that the church could be true.

However, when the apologists' explanations are examined together as a sum total, a very disturbing picture is painted.  This picture leads to an additional uncomfortable conclusion:  If their explanations are correct, then God is a trickster who is looking to deliberately trip up those who think critically, while simultaneously rewarding those who follow blindly or are too lazy or dimwitted to conduct meaningful investigation.

This situation seems evident when there is direct evidence to contradict the teachings of the church.  On the other hand, it does not apply to criticisms which rely on a lack of evidence for the church's teachings.  An example of this is the criticism against the Book of Mormon on the grounds that there is no archaeological evidence to support the existence of the civilization described in the BoM.  While such lack of evidence raises a valid concern of the truthfulness of the BoM, lack of evidence is not evidence, and cannot be used as an argument for a trickster God (unless one argues that the evidence is missing because God took it away or hid it as a test of faith).

Lets examine a few instances where there is evidence to contradict church teachings, in such a way that a trickster God seems apparent:

The Book of Abraham

For well over a hundred years, the church has taught that the BoA was the product of Joseph Smith's translation of some Egyptian papyri.  This was taught and understood to be a literal translation- he looked at the scrolls, understood the writing thereon, and wrote it down in English.  Egyptologists now tell us that his interpretation has nothing to do with what was on the scrolls.  The church has now backpedaled and labeled it as an "inspired translation," whatever that means.  Incidentally, it is not clear how this new information came to light.  The prophet did not make a statement saying he had received revelation regarding this matter.  The PR department simply made an announcement and, presto, new doctrine that seemingly explains away one of the church's most glaring problems.

Apologists feel the need to supplement the "inspired translation" explanation with further explanations, and frequently state that there is some scroll material missing, so maybe what we find in the BoA came from the missing scroll portions.  How convenient.  But fine, I'll concede the point.  Lets focus on solely the facsimiles.

In the case of the facsimiles we have copies of the source material,  Joseph's interpretation thereof, and Egyptologists' interpretation.  Joseph's version does not match up with the Egyptologists.  How can this be?

"LOOK, HE GOT THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH RIGHT!" the apologists scream in a frenzy.  Ok, fine, Joseph Smith earns a 1% on his Egyptian test.  To any thinking person, the 99 things he got wrong is what stands out over the one or two things he happened to get right.  There is no way around it, Joseph was very very wrong in his interpretation of these figures.

What does this mean?   If the church is true, it means that God knowingly allowed his mouthpiece to present erroneous material as if it were scripture.  He would have to have known that scholars would later examine the material and declare it to be wrong, and therefore he would have to have known that this would be a huge stumbling block to intellectuals, both members and investigators alike.  Why would God do such a thing?  To test our faith?  I can understand God not wanting to "prove" every aspect of the gospel to his children, and that he wants us to exercise our faith.  As such, I'm fine with a lack of evidence for certain aspects of the gospel.  But to allow there to be such strong evidence against gospel truths is a whole different matter.  It makes no sense, and it disproportionately punishes those who think critically.

Brigham Young and others teaching falsehoods

Brigham was extremely racist and taught doctrine that was incorrect.  Not a little off base, not just slightly misguided. . .but dead, no doubt about it, WRONG.  Later-confirmed-by-subsequent-church-leaders wrong, and that's saying something.

The "bigger" false doctrines that  Brigham taught were Blood Atonement and Adam-God theory.  If you are unfamiliar with these, then Google can help you; I will not discuss them in any detail.  Suffice it to say that the church has strongly stated that we do not believe what Brigham taught on these subjects.  There are other troubling teachings as well, such as interracial marriage being punishable by death, and monogamy being an inferior form of marriage compared to polygamy.

Brigham Young is not alone among prophets who teach falsehoods.  Spencer W. Kimball taught that same-sex attraction was a choice.  We now concede that for most people, that tendency is inborn.    Spencer W. Kimball taught that masturbation leads to homosexuality.  No one since has made such an assertion, because it is ridiculously untrue.  Many prophets and apostles taught that black people were denied the priesthood because they were less valiant in the pre-mortal existence.    We now deny this.  Many prophets and apostles taught that the Lamanites were the principle ancestors of the American indians.  We have now backpedaled on this, due to scientific evidence that contradicts that assertion.

Once again, why would God allow His messengers to preach falsehoods while fully realizing the resulting confusion and doubt that would come later on because of it?  We claim our church is different from others because we have a direct mode of communication with God.  Is our connection so poor that the prophets misunderstand and are allowed to just spew random thoughts and doctrines while God stands by and does nothing to correct it?   Once again, having prophets who teach falsehoods is going to disproportionately shake the faith of critical thinkers over those who follow blindly or those who aren't bright enough to realize that what prophet A said completely contradicts what prophet B said.

Joseph's Polyandry

Polyandry, in my opinion, presents one of the biggest obstacles for critical thinkers.  Whenever polygamy is brought up, apologists and others love to point out that there is plenty of polygamy practiced by prophets in the Bible.  Fine.  There is spiritual precedent for the practice.  I don't like it, but I won't argue that it's wrong.  But what about polyandry?  To the best of my knowledge, Joseph Smith is the only one who has been allowed to engage in this practice.  I won't count Brigham Young, who "inherited" some of Joseph's polyandrous wives when he died, despite the fact that the first husbands were alive, well, and practicing mormonism.

There is absolutely no precedent for what Joseph did.  It feels slimy, particularly the way he sent some husbands away on missions and then married their wives, and the manipulative ways he proposed, telling young women that their salvation, or their families' salvation depended on them marrying him.   It feels like when David sent Uriah away to battle so he could have Bathsheba.  Except that the church teaches that it was ok for Joseph to do so.  Or, at least, the church won't come out and say it was wrong for him to do it.  Really, the church says almost nothing at all about it, which is part of the problem.

Obviously, if the church is true, God knows this issue will be a huge stumbling block for his children.  Why would he not give us some guidance or explanation?   Is Joseph Smith really so special that he alone gets special rights to "access" other mens' wives?  Even more confusing is the fact that we understand polygamy to be acceptable only to "raise up seed," yet we know of no offspring produced by Joseph's polygamous/polyandrous relations.  So what was the point?  Did God allow these contradictions and then give no explanation as a test of our faith?

Other issues

There are many other aspects of LDS doctrine and history that simply do not make sense from an intellectual standpoint.  Discussing them all in depth would make this post unnecessarily long.  However, I'll list a few additional intellectual stumbling blocks:

1. The presence of anachronisms in the BoM makes no sense if it is divine in origin.
2. The presence of KJV translation errors, word for word, in the BoM makes no sense if it is divine in origin
3. The existence of a book (View of the Hebrews) published 5 years prior to the BoM, which describes the same basic "plot" as the BoM makes a little too much sense
4. Joseph not needing to look at the plates to "translate" them makes no sense.  Why were they necessary then?   And why couldn't Nephi find a rock to put in a hat and use a similar method as Joseph, rather than killing Laban so he could get plates?


These are only a few of the issues I could mention, but I think they suffice for the sake of this discussion.  I personally can't fathom a God who would set up his church in such a way that one has to abandon all pretext of logic and common sense to be able to believe in it.   We believe in God as a supreme intelligence who has commanded us to use our own intelligence to learn and explore the world.  Obviously He does not want us to abandon spirituality, and he wants us to come to Him with questions and concerns.  But I don't believe in a Trickster who purposefully sets "intellectual traps" in order to test faith.  Any such system, as the title of this post states, rewards those who never question or who are incapable of questioning.  And I just don't believe that God is sowing the seeds of his gospel in hopes of reaping a crop made principally of mindless followers.


In anticipation of criticism, I want to make it clear what I am NOT saying.  I am not saying that one must be stupid in order to believe in Mormonism.  I know many believing members who are far brighter than I.  What I AM saying is that in order to fully believe in the the church's teachings, one must almost completely disconnect one's intellect from one's spiritual beliefs.  This is true of most religions, though perhaps more so with Mormonism because of the many firm "truth" claims we make, and the many subsequent findings that seem to contradict those"truths".  In response to some of these difficult questions about the church, I hear some members say things like "I don't know the answers, but I don't believe it is essential to my salvation so I won't let it bother me."   Fine, if that works for you, great.  However, as time goes on and information regarding the church's past becomes more accessible, fewer and fewer people are going to be able to set aside these issues which prick at our intellects, and the church will continue to hemorrhage young, educated members.


  1. Awesome write up...keep posting

  2. Knowledge is never a bad thing. Continue your quest for truth and never surrender to intellectual laziness.

    And most of all, do not despair, for no matter what truth you find in the future, it can't change your past, only color your remembrance of it. Your happy moments will still have happened no matter what the conclusion you come about the LDS church.

  3. I thought your post was very good, and accurately described my own thoughts on the matter, but the introductory section suffers from the Wadsworth Constant, and could be presented more tactfully.

    Feedback from a friend:

    To read or not to read? Length is the question.
    I got to the third paragraph and had to stop.
    "I possess well above-average intelligence" is where he lost me. If you have to tell me how smart you are, that doesn't make your opinion any stronger.

    1. Mentioning intelligence wasn't meant to impress or to try to make my opinion seem stronger. As I mentioned in that paragraph, I was simply highlighting that I fit in the demographic that the church is having the most trouble with- young, intelligent/educated people.

  4. >I really really want the church to be true.

    That is the essential flaw for many people, in all aspects of life. WANTING something to be true has nothing to do with it BEING true. When desires overshadow reality, things go wrong.

    >While such lack of evidence raises a valid
    >concern of the truthfulness of the BoM, lack of
    >evidence is not evidence

    You're looking at that backwards. When an extraordinary claim is made with no evidence to back it up, the burden falls to the claimant to prove the assertion. Non-Mormons aren't under any burden to disprove anything - the burden falls on the LDS folks to make their case and prove it. Which, as you pointed out, they can't.

    I'm glad to see that you are digging and looking at things with a more critical eye. If you continue, I think you will find that all of this applies equally well to the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.

    1. I agree with your assertions about claimants backing up their claims. However, in my post I was specifically referring to the fact that a lack of evidence for something does not particularly point towards a trickster God.

  5. I've studied LDS history and theology in depth and love to talk to Mormons and non-Mormons alike about it all and how it compares with my faith. If you'd like to talk, don't hesitate to e-mail me! I really wouldn't mind. I know many, many people that have dealt with this same thing and at the very least could direct you to some resources or answers.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. You seem to be struggling with many of the same things I'm struggling with and I'm not getting any good answers from the source, The LDS church. Instead I get told that I'm not praying hard enough or I'm not receptive to the spirit because I've committed a sin. With so much evidence pointing in the direction that Mormonism is a fabricated religion and is based on lies, I can no longer disconnect my intellect from my spiritual beliefs. I still believe in God and that Jesus Christ is His son, just not the Mormon version of it.

  7. "The prophet did not make a statement saying he had received revelation regarding this matter. The PR department simply made an announcement and, presto, new doctrine that seemingly explains away one of the church's most glaring problems."

    Primary, Seminary, Mission, BYU, Temple Marriage, EQP, yadda yadda... I threw out my belief in Jesus, et alia, in the mid-70s, based primarily on there being no evidence I could trust that any church was true, much less the one I was raised in. In the past four years the internet has brought to my attention that the church I attended no longer exists. And with the exception of the 1978 Black solution, it was all done via press releases. I get a real kick out of reading all the polished, intelligent prose that supports my decision of long ago. And whenever I am in need of a soporific, FAIR & FARMS are there for me, so in one regard they do provide me a worthwhile service.

  8. I have been trying to figure out why God would make His true church so full of contradictions and difficulties. Wouldn't a loving father make the pathway back to him make sense so that as many children as possible would be able to find the way? He wouldn't have to throw in ridiculous obstacles because humans cause their own faith-challenging issues on the journey (leaving late, men not asking for directions, children fighting in the backseat, being distracted by something shiny, etc). That's what I don't understand. Life presents plenty of chances to prove your faith, so why would God need all this weird stuff? He doesn't, of course.

  9. I would have found it easier to continue to have faith if the founding prophets sacrifices looked a bit more like sacrifices than indulgences and if he had been a bit more trustworthy. I also found it difficult to continue believing in one who, as I read so much of the history, discovered many instances of bravado and unchecked ego. Add to this all the other problems and its difficult to maintain faith.