Should I Join The LDS Church? A Case For Why Thinking People Should Consider Mormonism

Should I Join The LDS Church? A Case For Why Thinking People Should Consider Mormonism

By David Metcalfe

January 9, 2018

Introduction

It’s weird how similar my thoughts are to Bertrand Russell. It’s a shame that he died in 1970, because I feel like we would have been best friends. He once said,

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”

Just like Russell, I too have been blessed (and possibly cursed) with these passions. I remember when I first truly realized the immense suffering of the world, and I sat and cried. I hated God for allowing such things, but after a while I realized that God was also a potential answer to alleviate the world’s suffering. I studied and studied: watching debates, reading books and articles, talking with whoever was willing, etc., and I have found that pursuit of knowledge to be very rewarding, although difficult at times. But throughout it all, I long for love, and I have not found anything in this world worthy of loving with all that I am. Perhaps, as all humans have throughout history, I too aspire towards something greater than myself, something divine.

From the age of 17 until now, I have gone from atheist to deist to agnostic Christian, and I am now considering Mormonism. I am not looking to convince anyone that God exists, that Jesus rose again, or that the latter-day prophets restored the gospel. However, I am encouraging you to thoughtfully and honestly consider such things as a potential fulfillment of humanity’s innate desire for morality, love, and connection to something greater than ourselves.

Why Should I Consider “God” In The First Place?

Religious thought has always been very important to me. I think, when thinking about such things, that agnostic atheism ought to be the default position. It is better to admit what you do not know than to pretend you know what you do not. Basically, don’t make up stuff without evidence, or you will just be some idiot who believes all kinds of crazy things.

However, atheism seems to be extremely limited in its ability to make sense of the world and how we ought to act towards ourselves and one another. For example, if the universe had a beginning, how did it come into being? If it was a natural cause, this natural thing would need to have already existed previously to nature existing. That which precedes the existence of nature cannot be nature. If, by nature, we mean things in the universe that are subject to physical space and time, then this cause would need to be outside the limits of space and time. It would need to be very powerful in order for the universe to explode into the vast expanse we now have. It would need to be very intelligent for order and complexity to exist in the state in which we observe things.

That is the Deistic concept of God: a prime mover who gave structure to the universe. Many of the great thinkers throughout history have been Deist. My favourites include Leonardo da Vinci, John Locke, Adam Smith, and majority of the Founding Fathers of America.

Should I Consider How To Interact With This “God”?

Theism, a relationship to this prime mover, starts to creep into my thought as I consider various aspects of humanity and morality. Richard Dawkins is a “thinker” who appeals to atheists who are mad at religion but have no understanding of history, morality, or proper philosophy. Even as an atheist, I couldn’t stand listening to Dawkins for any length of time. To this day, I much prefer listening to Hitchens and Dillahunty, since they actually understand concepts of humanity and morality, but simply lack the sense, in my opinion, to rid themselves of the dogma of materialism.

What we find throughout history is a continual story of humanity’s connection to the divine. The vast majority of it is misattribution. For example, the Aztecs didn’t know why the sun rises, so they said it was because a divine being does it, and in seeking relationship with this divine being, created the idea that the sun rising is dependant upon a sacrifice to the divine being. Every culture, whether it be the ancient Greeks, the Romans, or contemporary America, have some semblance of their connection to something greater than themselves. If God does not exist, and we are solely “DNA propagating machines”, why are we not content with simply existing and perpetuating our species? Humans have such a strong desire for the divine that we are quick to assume supernatural things, even when there is nothing supernatural about it. This desire seems to be innate within humanity, since it appears to be consistent across cultures in every place and time.

Is Jesus Christ the Fulfillment of This Desire For Divine Connection?

Although most cultures are incorrect in their specific attribution of divine interaction, there seems to be some overarching truth to this idea of not only wanting, but even needing this relationship to the divine. While we can easily dismiss certain divine attributions, there are others that warrant serious inquiry. The Jewish people of ancient Israel were just another typical group of people trying to ascertain their relationship to the divine. Like many other religious groups, they had prophesied the coming of certain events. Most notable of these events was that a Savior would come to deliver them from captivity and establish a Kingdom. It is well known among historians that the ancient Israelites were big on this concept as far back as three thousand years ago (Dead Sea Scrolls, 2014).

Approximately two thousand years ago, a group of people believed that the long-prophesied Savior had actually come to earth to establish his Kingdom. This person, Jesus of Nazareth, is noted by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus as being a Jewish man who was crucified under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, around 33 AD (Josephus, 93 AD). Jesus was believed to have risen from the dead after being crucified, and appeared to the disciples and nearly 500 other people. The disciples believed this so strongly that all of them, save for John, were martyred for it (Kiger, 2015). Many others also claimed to receive revelation of Jesus’ resurrection. Whether they actually had a revelation or not of the risen Jesus is disputed, but there is no doubt that many people at the time believed that was the case so adamantly that they were persecuted and even willing to die for it.

During Jesus’ time on earth, he is believed to have preached various concepts on morality. These, as well as an account of his life, were written down into what is known as the “Gospels”, about 50 years after his death. Jesus’ thoughts on life were a culmination of many of the great philosophers throughout history, and would go on to influence thought up to this day. The main idea was the concept and application of “transcendent morality”. Basically, we are to give up everything in our life for a greater purpose (Matthew 16:25). This greater purpose, he claimed, was to be like him, so that we could be in greater connection to God. This connection to God that had been sought throughout the entirety of human history was finally given a direction worth attaining toward.

There is tons of evidence to attest to the validity of the resurrection of Jesus, but it is still disputed among historians. Whether he actually rose from the dead or not is important, but it isn’t actually necessary for believing in him as a concept. Say, for example, that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, and it is just a myth created by people later on: what we have is a bunch of humans who are striving for divine connection, and a means by which to do it that promotes love and peace among people. Then we die as we would have anyways. However, if he actually did rise from the dead, that means his claim of atoning for the sins of the world is all of a sudden extremely credible. At that point, Jesus is not just a great philosopher, like that of Socrates or Plato, but is the essence of truth, and his moral teachings are not looking to create a system of truth, but rather defining an already existing truth.

Ambiguity, Apostasy, and The Need For Revelation

The writings of Peter, John, James, Jude, and most notably, Paul, in the New Testament, seek to explain the continued revelations and attest to the resurrection of Jesus, and the application of this transcendent morality as it pertains to the life of each individual. The idea is that by pursuing truth, we are actually pursuing God, which results in greater connection with Him, and culminates in the ultimate connection with Him in heaven after we die.

People established various groups by which to teach and learn the teachings of Jesus Christ, and help one another to be more like him. That’s what church actually is supposed to be, although you wouldn’t know it by going to most churches in contemporary America, where it’s basically a freaking concert for the purpose of hanging out with your friends and feeling better about yourself. Anyway, after the disciples died, Christians were unsure of the specifics of what it means to live out the teachings of Jesus. Church groups had arguments about proper doctrine, and they began to split up for all kinds of reasons.

The Catholic Church, aka the “universal church” was set up as the one true Church in the second century, in an attempt to restore some Christian congeniality. Theodosius I adhered to the Catholic Church when he set up the state church of the Roman Empire in 380. That is why, to this day, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world (Miller, 2008).

But the Catholic Church was severely flawed. The concepts written about in the Bible were ambiguous and very general. To actually apply it to life and society, human interpretations of these scriptures were necessary. For example, before Jesus died, he ate bread and wine, and said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). But when are we supposed to do this? How often? Is it necessary for salvation? What is the purpose of it? The ambiguous nature of the New Testament gave rise to all kinds of human interpretation, which severely distorted the scriptures over time, as human-made tradition became inseparable from the scriptures themselves.

The prophet Amos had predicted this way back in ancient Israel in about 750 BC. He wrote that,

“’The days are coming’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land- not a famine of food or thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11,12)

Basically, this time in human history pretty much sucked. There were essentially no advancements in thought or technology of any kind. The Church abused its power to do all kinds of horrible things, such as the Crusades, where they slaughtered thousands of innocent people, or the Inquisition, where their attempts to combat heresy resulted in the torture and deaths of people who did not accept their doctrines. They also stunted intellectual advancement, as was the case with Galileo (Peters, 1989).

Separation of church and state was a foreign concept before the age of enlightenment. Not only did the government have excessive power over the lives of individuals, but they were supposedly supported by divine mandate. Questioning the government or the church was a crime punishable by death. But thanks to The Renaissance, thought began to develop within each person. The massive changes that occurred throughout the 14th century onward is a testament to the amazing power of art, literature, science and philosophy to human flourishing. Martin Luther realized that the Catholic Church was abusing its power, and not following scriptures correctly, so he began a movement that would later result in Protestantism. The Catholic Church was forced to secede much of its power, and the values of free thought and individualism promoted within Protestantism spread rapidly throughout Europe and the New World (Oberman, 1982).

But with the loss of the Catholic Church to define doctrine and create unity, Christianity returned to the same issues that had happened in the early church. While it was good that each individual could interpret the Bible for themselves, it also created dramatic division within Christianity, and thousands of denominations came as a result. People abused Christianity to their whims, and used it to support whatever kinds of practices they wanted. Christianity was in dire need of further revelation to define doctrine and return to the intended goal of aspiring to be like Jesus.

Revolution, Revelation, and Restoration

One of my favorite books of all time on religion is “The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine. It was written in 1794, just after the American Revolution had been achieved, and a government based on the principles of freedom, equality, and justice was set up to ensure everyone had their God given right to life, liberty, and property. Thomas Paine predicted that, since America had seen such a revolution in government, that next up would be a revolution in religion. The one that he was looking to create was one in which we adhere to no particular set of doctrine, but rather value reason above all else in religious matters. He goes on to reason why he is a deist who believes in limited interaction with God, and why he thinks it to be unreasonable for himself to adhere to any religion in particular.

I personally agree with the sentiments of Thomas Paine very much. I love when he says that “the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.” It is through the faculty of reason that we are able to make sense of ourselves and the environment that we exist in. A revolution in religion did happen, but not the type that Thomas Paine was predicting.

Since people in America were free to think as they wanted for the first time, it created some peculiar circumstances. Some places became more secular, since religion was no longer imposed on them. Other places, like upstate New York, became a hotbed of religious enthusiasm. But the Christians were confused about doctrine and were not living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. In 1830, a young man named Joseph Smith published a series of works known as “The Book of Mormon”. He claimed that it was not his writing, but rather was given to him by an angel, and that he was a prophet of God. Majority of people hated him, and even arrested him for disorderly conduct. He was acquitted, and went on to travel around America obtaining converts who wanted to follow the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

He would go on to publish more works, such as the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and Articles of Faith. Smith got a little controversial, to say the least, for his practice of polygamy, desire for power, and various disputes with his adversaries. He was put in jail for allegedly starting a riot, and while in jail, a mob stormed the building and shot him multiple times (Bushman, 2005). He was remembered by his adherents as a hero, and his writings would go on to become official scripture in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The writings brought forth by Joseph Smith served to reduce the confusion that Christians suffered from. It established clear doctrine on a great number of issues, and solved many of the misinterpretations of scripture. One of the big problems with Christianity is that it did not have a well-defined culture. This lack of culture structure resulted in Christians essentially conforming to whatever culture they were in. We continue to see that today, of course, and it is why Christians so rarely follow the New Testament doctrine. How can you properly follow the doctrine in the New Testament when literally no one knows what it actually means? Clearly, God only gave partial revelation to the people of Israel at that time. People who are trying to follow the New Testament without the writings of the restored gospel are trying to follow a partial revelation.

Was Joseph Smith Actually A Prophet?

There’s no doubt that there were severe flaws in Christianity at the time, and fixing them was very beneficial, but the question is: who was this Joseph Smith guy?

There are three possible beliefs you can have about him:

1) He was a prophet from God who received tablets from an angel and restored the truth of the gospel

2) He was an intelligent theologian, philosopher, and social theorist who wanted to help Christianity

3) He was an insane, power hungry maniac who started a cult and deceived millions of people

Before choosing one of these options, I think it is worth doing sufficient study into the life and writings of Joseph Smith. For majority of my life, I was very adamant that it was the third option. The only reason I thought that is because Mormons seemed kind of weird, and I once Google searched Joseph Smith and saw an article that said he was a crazy person. I had a horribly unintelligent approach to considering Mormonism.

Whenever there is a question that I really want to know the answer to, I treat it like I am a judge presiding over a court case. The court system has been developed by some of the greatest minds in history over thousands of years. It is by far the best method we have for obtaining truth.

What many people do when researching a topic is look for things to confirm their bias. It’s like when a Christian reads Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell books and thinks they have proven that Jesus rose from the dead. It may have given you better reasons for what you already believe, but it is not a sincere pursuit of truth. There has to be no bias, and a fair representation of both sides in order to best obtain the truth of any matter.

Many critics of Joseph Smith go into it with incredible bias, and will use ad hominem or unrelated arguments against him and his writings. An appeal to unfamiliarity like, “He said we’re all from the planet Kolob”, offers no insight into the sincerity of him or his writings. Also, if there is an amazing lawyer representing one side, and a terrible lawyer representing the other side, there may be the illusion of fairness, but in actuality, it was tilted from the start. You need to find the best lawyers with the best arguments for either side in order to have the best quality of truth come from it.

I will not go into all of the evidences for each side in this article, because I am not here to argue one case or the other, but only to argue that this is something worth pursuing as a potential study. I will, however, share my personal view on the matter and how I am looking to develop it in my own pursuit of truth.

My Personal Pursuits Into Understanding Religion

Back in May 2017, I wanted to study different worldviews. I read through various books on the subjects, but I wanted to really experience the people who followed these religions. I visited Mosques, Synagogues, various Church denominations, the Atheist Society, and, of course, the Mormons. My studies and time spent with the Muslims, Jews, and atheists were interesting, but I easily destroyed their arguments for why their beliefs were true. It got awkward at times. And it wasn’t just that they were not good representatives. Their worldviews lacked a solid basis to properly understand reality and our relation to it. They also contradicted fundamental concepts of human value and morality that have been crucial to creating good ethics for societies to flourish and prevent evil.

However, it was the Christians and the Mormons that really stuck with me. Christianity might not be 100% true, but there is certainly a lot of truth in it. More so, the truth it has is very benevolent. The central ethic is: love God and others. Loving God fulfills our innate desire for connection with the divine, and loving others creates a good universal ethic for society to live by. However, while the New Testament tells us the concepts behind ethics, it fails to give us specifics on how to best live those out.

There are so many denominations, and in-fighting within each denomination. In addition, Christians do not seem to actually aspire towards the ethics espoused in the New Testament. As I went from church to church, I did not find people aspiring towards the transcendent morality that Jesus preached. There was no sacrifice in order to attain something greater. The best ethic I could find at any Christian church was: God will make your life better if you do what He says. And that’s why things like prosperity gospel so easily creep into Christian churches. Since Christianity does not have a well-defined culture, all kinds of various cultural things can get mixed in and dilute the central ethics.

What I found with Mormons, on the other hand, was not only a desire to live out this central ethic of loving God and others, but an actual consistent practice of it. They were kind, friendly, and genuinely cared about people. They lived in a constant state of trading away the vices of our existence: sex, money, hatred, etc., in exchange for a greater purpose to serve others. Mormons are dramatically less likely to have sex outside of marriage, have abortions, practice homosexuality, and abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to graduate college, have happy marriages, and even live longer, when compared to Christians (Bahr, 1992).

While at the Christian church, I would sit and hear about how God helps you with your emotional problems, the Mormons were way past that. The Mormons have three-hour church services, where people discuss concepts of morality, and how they might inspire one another to live out the teachings of Jesus and love one another in community.

Being me, I always enjoy challenging teachers with the Socratic method. While at the Christian churches, people would rage and call me a heathen, the Mormons enjoyed the questioning. They have a strong desire for knowledge, and believe that questioning things is actually a gift from God that can help us find truth. A group of people who live ethically, are kind and fun to hang out with, and have a desire to pursue truth…now that’s my kind of people!

A Few Reasons Why Mormonism Is An Improvement To Christianity

The Problem of Hell: While Christians believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus during their time on earth will burn in hell, Mormons believe that everyone will get a chance to receive the gospel, whether in this life or the next.

Morality: While Christians believe they are saved by faith alone, and therefore good deeds do not matter for salvation, Mormons believe that faith is in combination with good deeds, and thus makes good deeds a necessary aspect of belief. This is why Mormons typically are more moral than Christians.

Defined Doctrine: While Christianity has all kinds of theological beliefs, and no one really knows what’s true, Mormonism has specific ideas on each theological issue. For example, Christians do not know whether humans have free will, but Mormons know that free will is a gift from God that brings a responsibility of each person to act in accordance with what is right.

Defined Culture: While Christians do not know how to interact with culture, and try to go based off of generic ideas like “be in the world but not of it”, Mormons have a clear culture that is well defined and helps them to properly attain to their values in whatever cultural atmosphere they are in. I will discuss these cultural differences further in the next section.

Pursuit of Knowledge: While Christianity does not encourage one to become learned, Mormonism emphasizes the value of education, and believes that one of the greatest aspects of humanity is our ability to learn and grow through that knowledge. Not that Christians are by necessity anti-intellectual (although many are), it’s that there is no real mandate to learning more about the Bible and its teachings. However, in the Mormon scriptures called the “Doctrine and Covenants” it says in section 130,

“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”

My Current Opinion of Joseph Smith

When I look at the incredibly benevolent effects of Joseph Smith’s writings, and appreciate their literary and philosophical value, I cannot believe that he was insane or evil. Would evil writings cause people to be more like Jesus? Would evil writings encourage education, equality, and altruism? Although Joseph Smith was not a perfect person by any means, his writings have incredible value.

But are these writings so incredibly good that they must have been from an angel sent by God? Probably not. In order to believe that, you would need to accept some very strong assertions with very little evidence. Now, he did show the plates to about 11 other people, 3 of whom claim to also have received visions. However, a revelation to one carries no obligation for others to believe it. The witnesses may have had motivation to lie, and many of them left the church or were ex-communicated later in their lives.

While it’s certainly possible that Joseph Smith was an actual prophet of God, and warrants increased study, it does not appear to me at the moment that I have sufficient evidence to make such a claim. As the great philosopher David Hume said, “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” Without strong evidence, I cannot in good sense reason that Joseph Smith certainly had this revelation. That is why I believe the 2nd option is the most likely: that Joseph Smith was an intelligent and good-hearted man who wanted to reform Christianity, and knew that he would only be successful if people believed that he was divinely inspired.

Effects of Mormon Teaching On My Personal Life

Christianity is difficult to follow. There are a million different interpretations of every concept of morality, so we can never be sure if what we are doing is right. This lack of assurance has often resulted in a lack of conviction for me. In addition, the theoretical doctrine is confusing, like, what does prayer actually accomplish? Does everyone have a chance at salvation? Etc.

I remember meeting with some Mormons and explaining to them why prayer is illogical. Instead of making up some doctrine based on a couple ambiguous verses like Christians do, they simply showed me a passage in the Bible dictionary. It explained the concept that the fulfillment of God’s will is often dependent on our actions. For example, God does not want anyone to starve to death, but it is sometimes dependent on whether we go help them. Same with prayer. There are certain things that God wants to happen, but they are conditional on us praying for them. That was the first logical definition of prayer I had ever really heard. Christians would never agree on a definition of prayer, but Mormonism provided me with a certainty I could believe in.

The specific doctrines relating to sexual purity have helped me in significant ways. Christian girls often wear clothes that, whether intentionally or not, make themselves more sexually desirable. For Christian men, lust is often thought of as an acceptable pursuit, that will eventually be fulfilled in marriage. Mormons, however, are very devoted to sexual purity and honoring one another in the way they dress and act. “Fight the New Drug” is actually run by Mormons, although they claim it is secular in order to reach a mass audience. Also, much of the research in neuropsychology relating to the harmful effects of pornography have been done by Brigham Young University (a Mormon university).

Since Mormons aspire toward exchanging all kinds of worldly vices for something greater, they often do things to deny themselves in pursuit of something greater. For example, yesterday they all went without breakfast and lunch, and gave the money they would’ve spent on it to feed the homeless. Also, the men and women have positive and clearly defined relationships with one another. Dating is a very important and significant concept, so the distinction between friends and romantic prospects are well defined. This causes men to view women more as sisters than as potential sexual conquests, like what happens to a full extent in bar culture, or to a lesser extent, in Christian dating culture.

These things have made effects in my own life already. Within only two weeks of hanging out with Mormons and following the teachings, I have not looked at pornography a single time. More so, I haven’t even had the desire to look at pornography. I have also felt less lonely, had better self-esteem, and have an increased desire to live with discipline and purpose. I have enjoyed studying the writings of Joseph Smith, and applying the theories of Socrates, Paine, Rousseau, and others, to the concepts expressed in it.

Do Mormons Believe Crazy Things?

Well, first of all, we should not base truth solely on familiarity. If you were raised Christian, saying that “Jesus shed his blood for the sins of the world” sounds very normal. But if you said that to someone who had never heard of Christianity, they would think you are insane. Imagine when people first heard that everything in the universe is made up of microscopic atoms, or that the earth is orbiting around the sun.

So, how we define “crazy” is often subject to our individual bias. But I would say that I define “crazy” as believing something despite clear evidence to the contrary. For example, if someone thinks that Elvis Presley is still alive because they saw him in the mall one time, that is a crazy belief, because there is incredible evidence that he died, and very little that you actually saw him.

Having said that, yeah, I agree that many of the things talked about in Mormonism sound crazy, and don’t really have sufficient evidence to back them up. Are we all from the planet Kolob? Are we going to become Gods one day? Should we perform baptisms and marriages by proxy as a way to honor those who have passed away?

I can’t say I believe those things, and it’s possible that I never will. However, the Mormon church is not just about believing all of the right things. It is about being honest in your pursuit of knowledge so that you might better know God and love His creation. What I find amazing about the Mormons, is that I don’t feel like they are trying to convert me. I feel like they are honestly trying to pursue truth, and that we are working together in that process. However, as adherents to the religion, they are much more rhetorical in their pursuit than I am.

Conclusion

Although I do not currently identify as Mormon, since it would be disingenuous for me to make that claim without the adequate beliefs and practices that accompany it, I have found incredible value in their teachings. While the nominal Christianity in most American churches is boring, uninspiring, mostly void of pursuit of knowledge, lacking conviction, and confusing, Mormonism does not have these same difficulties, and actually offers many positive things in their place.

As Thomas Paine wrote in “The Age of Reason”,

“It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.”

What I find in myself is a belief that God exists, and that I desire some kind of connection to Him. I have also become enamored with moral philosophy, and have been very impressed with Christian theology’s ability to provide a coherent and foundational framework for the existence of transcendent morality. However, I have not found many Christians who actually practice this morality, and it forces me to consider: are Christians the problem, or is there something innately lacking in Christianity?

And if there is something innately lacking in Christianity, are the teachings of the Mormon church the answer to that? Certainly, from my experience, it appears as though Mormons are fulfilling the teachings of Jesus much better than Christians, and it forces me to consider the potential merits of it. I do not wish to make you believe any particular thing, but discounting Mormonism without proper study is ignorant, and only speaks to the anti-intellectualism of anyone who does so.

P.S. If you want to learn more about Mormonism, I would recommend you check out their website at https://www.lds.org/?lang=eng and go to the “Scriptures and Study” section.

To learn more about Mormon apologetics (why they believe what they believe) check out https://www.fairmormon.org/

Or, to watch a good debate between a Mormon and Christian, you can watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_QkvpIcdUc

References

Bahr, S. (1992). Social Characteristics. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan. Retrieved from http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/EoM/id/4391/show/4219

Bushman, R. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. First Vintage Books.

Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library. (2014). Israel Antiquities Authority. Retrieved from http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction

Josephus, F. (93 AD). The Antiquity of The Jews, Translated by William Whiston (1737). Retrieved from http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/

Kiger, P. (2015). How did the apostles die? National Geographic. Retrieved from http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/killing-jesus/articles/how-did-the-apostles-die/

Miller, V. (2008). Where is the Church? Globalization and catholicity. Theological Studies. 69(2). Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/004056390806900210

Oberman, H. (1982). Luther: Man between God and the Devil. Yale University Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=vuES0JdltfcC&pg=PA54&dq=&hl=en&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Paine, T. (1794). The Age of Reason.

Peters, E. (1989). Inquisition. University of California Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Should I Join The LDS Church? A Case For Why Thinking People Should Consider Mormonism

  1. I find Jesus’s intro to prayer for his disciples misplaced in the church today. Something so simple as the Lord’s prayer has turned into a 20 minute public challenge. I think it is honest to ask if prayer works as we are looking beyond the metaphysical reality of our existence.

    I think it is cool to think that God uses such a group like the Mormons to do His will when other churches can be so full of bickering. On Issue’s like how we should actually be acting as a denomination or sect of Christianity. It’s not productive and it’s almost like we don’t have the ability to solve our problems. I would say I plead guilty of such behaviour.

    I would question the validity of Mormonism on an intellectual note. I cannot find purity in thier pursuit of knowledge when its foundation is on divine inspiration alone. Even Galileo said when interpreting scripture “The task of wise interpreters is to find true meanings of scriptural passages that will agree with the evidence of sensory experience.” and with the sensory world to be read. I propose a fourth view of Joseph Smith.

    I think Joseph Smith was a wise interpreter of scripture and wrote to his ambition to what was accepted in his time. Devoid of the world around him only concerning his view of God and the people around him.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

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    1. That’s interesting!

      I think all religious scripture is ultimately based on divine inspiration. The vision of Joseph Smith can be likened to the same criteria as the vision of Paul, and the tablets can be likened to the same criteria as the 10 commandments given to Moses. I believe they are all divine occurrences that God used to give scripture to people.

      I think the “fourth” option would kind of fall in line with the second one. The main question we’d have to ask is “why?”. Why go through all of the persecution for something that isn’t true? Joseph Smith went to jail multiple times, was tortured, and even murdered for what he believed. Liars don’t make good martyrs!

      Oh and as for sensory experience being a method for obtaining truth, I would say, yes to some extent. But I’m a big fan of Immanuel Kant, so I might be biased. I think reason is ultimately our best tool for obtaining truth. Of course, empiricism has a role to play in that. I suppose that debate gets rather complicated through! And I wouldn’t say it’s important regarding Joseph Smith.

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  2. I find great liers make excellent martyrs. You’re absolutely right to ask the question of why go through all that persecution. The persecution that Joseph Smith faced however does not make what Joseph Smith believe valid. I think an epistomological argument would be great over a cup of tea and probably ill to argue about. I would not say I am a big fan of Kant so we would start an disagreement on that. I find to find knowledge to be found in the seclusion to oneself to be not trustworthy, just like I’m not sure why green ketchup never tasted like red ketchup with the only difference being the food colouring in the ingredients. Thank you for your fresh take on that.

    I agree with you that the word of God is from divine word of God. The process I believe is the use of broken people to communicate God’s message. From the different styles in the writing of scripture I would have a difficult time to argue that it was all written from the word of God without the use of his creation. The take of absolute knowledge given to Joseph Smith through tablets makes me wonder if it came from somewhere else than God. Maybe you could clarify that would be benificial for myself.

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  3. It’s odd to say that liars make good martyrs. I’ve never heard that before. One of the surest ways to know if someone is lying is if they have something to gain from it. People have a tendency to tell the truth whenever possible, since they know it is better to do so. We know that terrorist bombers really believe in what they are doing, because they give up their lives for it. They are very wrong for doing so, but they certainly believe they are correct. But they have nothing to verify for themselves whether they are wrong or right. Paul and Joseph Smith both had individual visions to know whether or not they were right.

    As for the writing of the Bible and Book of Mormon as being 100% divine vs. partially up to man’s interpretation based on the world around them, that is an interesting idea. I believe that only things given directly by God are 100% divine. These would include the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, and the Book of Mormon. Other scriptures, such as those in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Doctrine and Covenants, certainly have an aspect of human interpretation in them. One of the best ways to see that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon is that it is entirely different in style and complexity to his personal writings.

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  4. Thank you for the clarification on what is classified as 100% divine. I find it absolutely facinating that you claim that Joseph Smith is on par with Moses with the 10 comandments and the teachings of Jesus.

    As for literary genius, Joseph Smith had more resources when writing the book of Mormon, but I would love to know more how the book of Mormon is inspired word. I do not have, I guess, the proof or the divine revelation.

    I don’t exactly know how terrorist bomber’s enter the conversation when it comes to being a martyr. If we are to talk about the martyrs remembered by history and not ones in the modern day, I agree with you that liers make bad martyr’s. Liers make ones that are not remembered that in the cultural context that they are in, from my understanding. It is however great liers whom even decieve themselves that make a good martyr (to clarify what I meant). I would also say I go into subjectivity with my bias of using what I perceive as a Christian ethic of determining what is good and bad.

    Thank you for your responses, I appreciate it.

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  5. But if someone deceived themselves, they are no longer a liar. They are then a crazy person telling what they think is the truth. So the disciples of Jesus Christ may have deceived themselves and been martyred as a result, but the important thing to know is that they really believed it. Same would go for Joseph Smith, of course.

    I should clarify though, that Mormons don’t believe that any scripture is inerrant/infallible. So, it was kind of sketchy for me to say those certain scriptures are 100% inspired. Like yes, they are, but they are still not the literal word of God totally unfiltered. Needless to say, it gets complicated.

    As to the divine origins of the Book of Mormon, that’s also a complex topic. There are a variety of theories, and I’m still in the process of reading up on them. There was a book in 1825 called “Views of the Hebrews” which has some similar ideas to the Book of Mormon, so critics believe Joseph Smith had copied from that and the King James Bible. But it is a huge topic of study. Hopefully I will have a solid view on it by the end of the summer.

    But for an individual person to know if it’s true in their own life, they basically just put the teachings into practice and see what happens. Many people feel a sense of peace and joy from following it, and decide to join the church as a result. Most Mormons have no idea about the in depth apologetic aspects of the Book of Mormon.

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  6. With your definition of a liar, I could say that Donald Trump is not a liar, so when he misrepresents facts, he is just a crazy person just telling everyone what he thinks is true. That is sophistry. So I do not think I can agree with your definition of a liar. I personally do not think sophistry should be allowed in an academic arena, but here’s to the world we live in when we can talk about the ideas we believe.

    Scripture interpretation is a fascinating subject, and I do not know how it plays with the Book of Mormon, so I’m excited to know what you find in the summer. Isn’t the book of Mormon written in 1820’s English language (what was popular at the time) but yet translated from the prophet Mormon? From what I understand we cannot get another translation of the book of Mormon from the source material to know, at least, not like we can get from the Old and New Testaments.

    I do not know if the experience of peace and joy is adequate for me believing in the Book of Mormon. I think to live a moral religious life can do the same thing in my experience. From my own discussions with Mormons, I find that some just stick to the Bible mostly and acknowledge the shortcomings of the book of Mormon when it comes to its history and Joseph Smith. Which makes me even more interested in what you are saying. I would definitely agree with you that the apologetic aspects of the Book of Mormon are not well known so I am happy that you’re looking into a topic I have no knowledge about. I would love to eventually hear your thoughts on it.

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    1. It’s not my definition of a liar, it’s the definition of a liar. To lie means to knowingly say something false so as to deceive. That’s the dictionary definition, so if you still disagree, take it up with the English language.

      There are many interesting things with the how the plates were preserved and written. It’s quite a large topic of study, like I said. From my research, I’ve found the Bible to be much more corrupt than the Book of Mormon. We have essentially no original writings of the Bible, and they are simply translations many years later from mostly unknown sources. The Gospels are quite a mess when you start really studying the history from a secular perspective.

      It would be against LDS Church doctrine to say the Bible has authority over the Book of Mormon. In fact, quite the opposite. Scriptures improve with time, as God reveals more things to us.

      But honestly, the evidence can go on forever. Mormons have a common saying from a passage in the Book of Mormon that goes, “I do not know all things, but I know that God loves his children”. We see and live that love through service to others. Being able to give and receive that love in the Mormon church is the strongest testimony I have of why I believe in it.

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  7. I am sorry for our misunderstanding about what is to be a liar, and I guess the definition I have been raised with is quite old-fashioned. A lie is “a statement that deviates from or perverts the truth.” Just like a witness in a court case can say details in an event that never happened but to them it did, it deviates from the truth, and that is a lie, and it makes them a liar.

    Probably a fun rabbit hole is looking up the word lie in the 1828 websters dictionary. Heres the link http://webstersdictionary1828.com/
    If the definition of a liar makes my argument invalid, I will take that up with the limitations of the English language. You are right when I type liar into Google that is “to knowingly say something false so as to deceive” and I personally do not like it because it makes the reference point of reality, ourselves. This might be where we diverge philosophically as identified previously.

    The Gospels from a secular perspective show me how much that it was actually humans doing the writing of the Bible. Written in the original Hebrew and the original Greek, and simply not a translation of one language to another that is in the Book of Mormon. It is a mess indeed, but a beautiful mess, and one that does not deviate from the truth. Maybe please challenge this for me? Or at least some evidence you have found to be corrupt.

    Do we still have copies of the plates that were so carefully preserved and written?

    The Gospel’s were not written to our days standard of the recording of history where today we might have a transcript of events or photos. I guess my current study is the ancient understanding of scripture where we let scripture play a part in our identity formation to change our thoughts and actions. Not something that is practiced actively around me but it is quite cool.

    I would like to know evidence beyond what is just said or quoted in the Book of Mormon. I guess that is what would satisfy me when I look in on the Mormon church. I am surprised that what my friends and teachers would say to me is against LDS doctrine (maybe a conversion tactic?) or it is possible that I completely misunderstood and I’ll check into that again, so thank you!

    To quote you, “Being able to give and receive that love in the Mormon church is the strongest testimony I have of why I believe in it.” I think this is what gives the Mormon church credibility. I cannot argue your testimony, and it seems to me to be something that the LDS church is good at. I like how intentional it is if anything, it identifies the shortcomings of Christianity and challenges me to be a more moral person. I do not know if it can go farther than that. Thank you once again for your thoughts!

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    1. It’s interesting how the definition of a liar can have such broad implications for how we perceive truth!

      The Gospels are certainly on the right track from a secular historical view. However, they directly contradict each other on details many times. I won’t go through examples specifically, but Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona have done fantastic research in this area, so you can check them out if you haven’t already. Mike Licona actually almost got fired from Houston Baptist Seminary for his textual criticism! Also, if you read different translations of the Bible, you will notice some massive differences. No one really even knows what translation to use, and the original Greek is very confusing to draw doctrine from. The ambiguous writing of the New Testament is one of the reasons that so many different doctrines sprang up out of them.

      The advantage with the Book of Mormon is that it was preserved in reformed Egyptian, and then revealed in current English for people to easily understand. We do not have the original plates, of course, just like we don’t have the original Ten Commandments. However, since we have tons of originals of the Book of Mormon from that time, we know exactly what was written, and there’s no translations necessary.

      The “Fair Mormon” website has a lot of great evidence on there. One thing I would like to write, maybe by the end of the summer, is a minimal facts hypothesis on the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon. I will need a lot of time to study it, though. As for the people you talked to, yeah there could be a number of things going on there. Although not common, I have come across a few Mormons who try to bend Mormonism to be more like Christianity. But even though they are very similar in terms of the basics, there are dramatic differences and I think those need to be acknowledged. One of those differences is that Mormons believe the Bible is imperfect and insufficient for the plan of salvation.

      And yes, at the end of the day, I take a fairly pragmatic approach to philosophy and religion. Mormonism is a religion that seems to work for people. I don’t think everyone is ready for it, though. But it’s all about progression. Christians who are growing in their faith and doing good works are often progressing more than stagnant Mormons are. That’s why we all get a chance in the spirit world to complete our progression and accept the fullness of the gospel, if we choose to accept it.

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      1. That is very well said David. I hold the view that just a few people’s textual critizisisms do not neccisarily make the Bible incoherent. I think it’s the equivalent of the sliding of a chisel to shape what is accepted knowledge, inside and outside of Christianity. I will do my homework so thank you for the names! Blind faith seems to be a tool to make us single minded or trying to fit everything in one box. I do not know if you are doing that with Mormonism but I would hope you can try to stay objective in your findings.

        I also like to avoid that we cannot know anything about the Bible to be true because that implies we must have an infallible lens for interpreting it. The infallible lens you have suggested is the book of Mormon. This line of reasoning takes away the possible approaches of academic scrutiny, historical and linguistic lens (perhaps other’s) that we can have for interpreting the Bible. Without God they are fallible, but it still allows me to have a dialogue of anyone studying it (whether it be a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Mormon etc.).

        The view of the afterlife in Mormonism is a interesting topic. Logically it takes away any true punishment from any of my actions today, but yet by my good deeds make it so I may be able to reach the celestial heaven within the Mormon church. Or maybe go as far as saying I need to be fully indoctrinated “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to there works, according to the desire of their hearts” D&C 137:7-9 but thankfully all children who die go to the celestial heaven with or without there parents. https://www.lds.org/topics/kingdoms-of-glory?lang=eng

        I am still yet to know if Mormonism is for me or how many leaps of faith I would need to get there. You are correct to say that it is a choice.

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  8. Saying that the Bible is fallible doesn’t mean that our interpretation is infallible. I would say both are fallible. We have an imperfect book being interpreted by imperfect minds. However, there are certain things we can know to be true, and that is where we rely on faith based in what we know to be good, and what is in accordance with reason. For example, I know that loving others is a good thing. The Mormon church does that better than any group I have come across. That is where my faith stems from. Then creating belief is in accordance with evidence and reason. If I find out that the evidence does not support a divine inspiration for the Book of Mormon, I will no longer believe that the Book of Mormon is literally divinely inspired, but I will continue to believe that the religion resulting from it is better than any other I have seen.

    There are many rewards and punishments for doing good and bad actions, whether or not you have accepted the full gospel. There is something called the “Light of Christ” that exists within each person and grows as you do good things and shrinks as you do bad things. Someone like Mother Theresa, who didn’t have knowledge of the full gospel, had a huge Light of Christ due to her good deeds. Growing the Light of Christ in one’s life carries many temporal and spiritual blessings. Shrinking it carries difficulties and suffering. So there is certainly a fair reward and punishment system.

    Then in the afterlife, that is brought into fullness, where everyone is given exactly what they deserve for the things they have done and the desires of their heart. That is why there is a tier system. It’s not like in Christianity where it’s two extremes of excessive paradise or excessive torment. I think it is a very fair system, and starts to make more and more sense as you start to understand all the doctrine around it.

    And it’s certainly fine to not know whether it is for you right away. Brigham Young (the second prophet) investigated the church for two years before he discovered it was true. The best thing to do is meet with missionaries and attend institute classes, and always be honest about what you believe and apply critical thinking to everything you hear.

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    1. Thank you for the thoughts and the clarification. You’re right that no human is infallible. Blind acceptance of anything is not logical to me so I am glad that you say that you are still open to being skeptical to the Book of Mormon. I also think the novelty of Mormonism can play a roll in your current world view. It’s like coming out of the water in baptism.

      I assume you are familiar with cult practices and have ruled that out. I don’t know if meeting with missionaries or attending institute classes would be for me because I am quite happy where I am in life at the moment. I am also really liking where God has been placing me.

      The practices or dogma that you have said “light of Christ” or a tiered afterlife sounds like a father whom has varying degrees of favouritism based on the works we do. I do not know how unconditional love can exist with such constructs. I do not think a business transaction of works would be a quality of a God of love. I agree with you that we should think critically of everything we hear.

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  9. If you are happy where you are at, at the moment then there is no need for you to convert to Mormonism.

    The Christian concept of reward and punishment is a very scary and dehumanizing one. I would never worship a God who allows innocent people to go to hell just for not believing certain things. Christians try to justify it and their reasoning sounds eerily similar to Nazis that supported the Holocaust. Of course, the Christian concept of hell is much worse than the Holocaust because it includes more people and it is eternal.

    The nature of God in Mormonism is much more favorable to how I think a good God would be. God is not showing favoritism by rewarding good deeds, but rather using rewards to encourage them for the betterment of humanity. The system is equal opportunity, not equal reward. Everyone is able to go to heaven, and all will hear about the gospel either here or in the spirit world. It’s not like Christianity where if you don’t hear it you just go to hell.

    I would say that a God with unconditional love would not create a place of torment where good people go. I would be in constant torment in my life if I believed that my non-Christian friends and family who have passed away are in eternal torment. I am very pleased to know that God loves all of his children enough to provide a fair system for all of them. But of course, whether something is “fair” is kind of subjective. If you really believe that the extreme nature of heaven and hell based solely on believing certain things is the way salvation works, you are free to do so.

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    1. Your reasoning makes sense Dave and it terrifies me when I get told I’m going to hell.

      I believe The Shema and loving your neighbor as yourself as a great start to following God (Mark 12:30-31). Unlike just believing something, Love is also an active response, an act of worship if you let me have that extension. It makes me question peoples salvation when they are not actively seeking God, and they are committing human atrocities.

      I feel like the Mormon concept of heaven is a universalist fairytale; that all humans will be going to heaven no matter their choices. You used the example of the holocaust which I think is an example of why hell should exist. I cannot fathom the atrocities committed to go unpunished. Eternal separation from God because of the choice to not follow God. To me not following God is the rejection of the Truth. I don’t know where you found that God created hell, so that is a new one for me and that would be extremely scary to think. So I agree with you a God that Loves his creation unconditionally would not create hell.

      For me, I do not know if my mom, brothers, sisters, teachers or even my pastors are going to heaven. It is not my decision or even my right to even guess what their status is in eternity. I know that God is a righteous judge. I know it is not dependent on me. I just know that my salvation is important to me and that requires acting upon the grace that God has given me when I was saved.

      For your comment on people being condemned to hell for simply not hearing the gospel is simply not true because it is not a character of God. We have evidence of evil civilizations that practiced child sacrifice that I would say God will judge accordingly. Or evidence of nomad tribes that would not engage in war and made peace with the land. The only way to know God for these people was through the creation that God made.

      I would not consider myself a good person, I deserve to die, but it is by the grace of God that I get to do something now in life. It’s freedom. I would consider myself an existentialist or at least I adopt many values from existentialists when it comes to life.

      In the end, I guess what I am trying to say, I am very glad that you have found a framework that you see that works. I am also sorry that you never got to see Christianity differently than you did.

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  10. I agree with pretty much all of that!

    One clarification though, is that Mormonism is not universalist in the conventional sense. Majority of people make it into some kind of heaven, but a limited amount will actually make it to the celestial kingdom, which is “eternal life” as described in scripture. Basically, Mormons go to the celestial, Christians and good people go to the terrestrial, and ok people who continually reject the gospel go to the telestial. Spirit prison is a type of temporary hell for people to pay for their misdeeds. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin would be there right now.

    But even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, as evil as they were, will still have an opportunity to become better and even receive the gospel if they choose. Hell, or eternal destruction, is only reserved for absolutely evil people who go through spirit prison and still desire evil. There’s a good chance that many of the worst serial killers, rapists, etc. will end up there.

    That’s why I suggested you might like to go to an institute class or meet with missionaries. Not for you to convert necessarily, but to learn about the belief system in greater detail. Almost all of the stuff I know about Mormon theology is from my institute teachers. I learn a lot more through discussion and debate than through just reading things, I’ve found.

    But yes, very interesting discussion! I think we both have more learning to do, and I think we both know that religious views should always be somewhat malleable so as to avoid dogma and promote truth as we continue to learn new things.

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  11. Wonderful to follow a respectful and honest dialog about investigating Mormonism! Thank you both for your courtesy and your honest sharing of your thoughts. I hope to see more of that on the web.

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  12. Hi David. Mormonism and the JCI, that’s Judism-Christiaity-Islam, is all a big scam. Study some history of Christianity and monotheism. Also, a bit about cult formation, and the event that saved Christianity when it was made the state religion of the Roman Empire 380CE. For 2000 years the monotheists have been deluded into believing in resurrection and the coming of the Savior. Promises, promises, and it’s in their name the LDS. Give up on God and live your own life as best you can. There is only one, not two!

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    1. If you read the article, you’ll know I have already studied the historical development of Christianity and Mormonism, so imploring me to do so is unnecessary.
      More importantly, you should recognize that many very intelligent people believe in these religions, as well as others who believe in no religion at all. There is, and as always been, massive philosophical debates on concepts like the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Claiming you know they are all a big scam is horribly overconfident on your part.

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      1. overthink.. It really is just common sense. Everything dies. It is so obviously delusional to believe that humans have two lives rather than just the one. It is impossible to know what happens after death, other than decomposition, but it is magical thinking that humans get put back together again!

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      2. You’re right when you say “no one knows what happens after you die”. But then you go on to claim that you know what happens. Just because something can’t be seen with your eyes or under a microscope doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The human soul, the thing that makes humans valuable and able to feel things like love and beauty, cannot be seen, but it very well could exist.

        Suggesting that you know that only material things exist is, once again, intellectually arrogant. You don’t know, and neither do I. But some people have faith that the world didn’t come about by random chance, and that there is a God who created it and cares about his creation. A part of that caring may include providing an afterlife for us.

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      3. All I want to say is, delusion abounds. The monotheists are death cults that pray for the end of humanity and a physical resurrection with an eternal soul. It is just magical thinking.

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      4. All I want to say is, you are an idiot who knows nothing about religion or proper philosophy, and I would recommend you educate yourself properly and humble yourself several notches before you foolishly and arrogantly criticize a rich, deep, meaningful religious tradition that thinkers much greater than yourself have contributed fantastic thought towards.

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