6 Reasons to Prefer Christianity to Mormonism

I’ve just completed reading through the Book of Mormon, and this article kicks off a series of articles that will collectively describe both some of the things I like about Mormonism and also some of the issues I have with it. This article begins with six reasons, but this list is hardly comprehensive. It’s simply a starting point.

I. A Note on Non-LDS Mormonism

Over ninety-eight percent of Mormons are members of the LDS Church, and more than one and a half percent of Mormons are members of the RLDS Church. For these reasons, I will now briefly make two important notes about the RLDS Church. In later sections, I will then equivocate between the LDS Church and Mormonism:

  1. The RLDS Church is trinity-affirming and accepts a non-literal reading of the Book of Mormon and other Mormon revelations. As such, it might be easier to fold back in with traditional Christianity.
  2. The RLDS Church is affirmed by Joseph Smith III, which gives this branch a strong claim to scriptural authenticity under the same Mormon scriptures that LDS members claim affirm Joseph Smith II.

II. Ironmanning Christianity

For the sake of this article, I will be optimizing with respect to Pascal’s Wager, which can be done by selecting a subset of Christian denominations and doctrines to defend.

Specifically, I’m defending a roughly Sola Fide form of Christianity, which seems accepted by about half of protestants. Despite the poll data, I believe that most protestants, as well as many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers, would come to agree with my point here within minutes of discussing the edge case of the Penitent Thief.

In addition to affirming salvation by faith alone, the iron-manned form of Christianity used in this comparison will also affirm Eternal Security. We see that these two doctrines combine to make winning Pascal’s Wager rather straightforward under this kind of Iron Christianity.

III. Issues with LDS Mormonism

  1. Mormonism is a strict loser to Iron Christianity under Pascal’s Wager
    1. Note this 2009 message from Apostle Jeffrey Holland, a high member of Mormon leadership, called Safety for the Soul. It will be reference throughout the issues.
    2. In this message, Apostle Holland states that the elect can be deceived by the wicked one. This raises at least three issues:
      1. Mormons lack eternal security which causes them to lose the comparative wager. Mormons also require works in addition to faith, which causes them to double-lose the wager. Moreover, Mormon exaltation doesn’t present a gain higher than Iron Christianity would present.
      2. If the elect can be deceived, the Joseph Smith, Apostle Holland, and the entire LDS Church including LDS missionaries might all be deceived.
      3. The claim that the elect can be deceived is footnoted by Matt 24:24 and Joseph Smith’s commentary on Matt 1:22, yet neither of these footnotes support the claim.
  2. Mormon leaders are poor exegetes of their own scripture.
    1. Note that LDS today ban the consumption of alcohol which precludes following the commandment of Jesus to drink wine in remembrance of his blood, such commandment being reiterated in 3 Nephi 20.
    2. The Trinity is reiterated in the Book of Mormon, by verses such as 3 Nephi 11:27 and Mosiah 15:1-4
      1. To this day, the Trinity is accepted by the RLDS church.
      2. Joseph Smith’s views on the Trinity changed over his lifetime. In the Lectures on Faith, which had been taught in 1834 to the School of the Prophets, the Holy Spirit is the shared mind of Jesus and God the Father, and God is a personage of Spirit. LDS now believes that “The Father has a body of flesh and bones.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130.)
      3. Joseph Smith’s testimony of seeing God the Father is inconsistent with Old Testament writings that indicate that no one can see the Father and live.
    3. The Church is widely regarded as the body of believers, and Jesus makes it clear in the New Testament that it doesn’t matter where you worship, deflating the role of the temple. 3 Nephi 26 and other Mormon scripture are consistent with the Church being the body of believers, but the modern LDS improperly eisegetes, or reads in, that a single organizational polity, namely the LDS itself, holds priestly authority.
  3. Mormonism seperates God from the believer
    1. By rejecting the trinity, the believer is forced to pick a favorite between Jesus and God the Father, rather than having a single clear role model.
    2. By rejecting the trinity, the believer is not able to say “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and is not able become one with God in the same way. This has implications of all sorts, from justification to holiness and more.
    3. By demanding institutional approval, the LDS Church removes the ability of a believer to have a direct relationship with God or even to read scripture for themselves and hold their own beliefs. This proxy belief requirement is actually something that is technically impossible to execute. A person necessarily holds their own beliefs, and even if they confess the words of another they will hold a different understanding in some details of the same words.
  4. Mormonism lacks external validity.
    1. Historical and archealogical evidence is a huge problem here. Most of the Book of Mormon describes the Nephites and the Lamanites, among several other groups. This groups simply didn’t exist.
      1. Again, an RLDS figurative understanding of the war between good and bad people might be salvageable, but requiring a literal confession that such people did exist is against the most basic of scientific knowledge we have.
      2. The Old and New Testaments, in contrast, line up with historical evidence perfectly, and several scholars have proven themselves wrong over time by arguing against the historical claims of the Bible.
    2. Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham is clearly non-literal
      1. One could apply this as an issue of internal, rather than external, consistency within Mormonism. The broader issue is the ad-hoc and post-hoc identification of certain selections of Mormon revelation as figurative or literal, in contrast to the orderly distinction in ordinary Christianity based on genre or declared parable.
      2. So the Mormon evades direct, scholarly critique of the Book of Abraham by declaring it to be a spiritual translation, or effectively a revelation, instead of a literal translation, and yet the LDS Church refuses to apply the same logic to the Book of Mormon.
    3. Cosmology and philosophy are a unique problem for Mormonism.
      1. Typically these fields would be to the benefit of the Christian.
      2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument argues for God’s existence from the finite past.
      3. Unusual among self-identified Christian denominations, Mormonism rejects the finite past and argues for a non-transcendental God with a physical body.
      4. A seperate but related problem is the infinite regress of gods in Mormonism. In Mormonism, there is no concept of a monadic God as first mover, creator of all, and so on. Mormons regard physical matter as eternal (D&C 93).
      5. For more detail, consider Trent Horn’s opening statement in a recent Christian-Atheist debate.
        1. It’s in the first 20 minutes at this link. Trent Horn defends a Classical Theist view of the Christian God.
        2. Consider not only how few of his arguments defend Mormonism, but how many of them would indeed be arguments against the LDS view of God.
  5. Joseph Smith and other early Mormons engaged in magical practice
    1. Perhaps also later Mormons, I’m not sure.
    2. This in part amounts to internal inconsistency. The Book of Mormon condemns magic as a “power of the evil one,” which is consistent with the Old Testament’s commandment not to “suffer a witch to live,” and the condemnation of magic associated with Saul’s death.
    3. A seperate issue from internal inconsistency is the possibility of actual magic’s effects:
      1. Confusion of magic-induced visions with God-induced visions
      2. Intentional use of the Book of Mormon as an act of magic, a spell, an incantation, or similar.
    4. In the Old Testament, the only Prophet to interact with magic did so against the will of God. That is, Saul. It’s not at all clear to me that the ancient Israelite nor the modern Christian should “follow Saul.” He’s a real exception to the prophetic pattern, and not in a good way.
    5. Examples of magical practice among early Mormons include treasure digging, dowsing with or without a wand or rod, second sight, the use of seer stones, possible use of drugs (another paper here, another article here), and I would say the sexual practices border on sex magic, but that’s less clear.
      1. Joseph Smith used seer stones from a young age and the Church is fairly open about this. Their page doesn’t dive in to magic much, but simply states that the belief in the efficacy of seer stones “came from the Bible and from European cultural traditions brought to early America by immigrants.” In truth, these magical practices are only derived from paganism, not the Bible, and it is the LDS Church which seems to blend or confuse miracles and magic, which itself is a red flag.
      2. Church leaders call using the rod of nature the “Gift of Aaron” which betrays the inability to distinguish magic from miracle, and that is a major red flag.
  6. Joseph Smith fails the Criminal Motive Test
    1. In Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace discusses his research into Christianity from the perspective of an atheist cold case detective. He investigates the motivation for the New Testament authors in part along a classic criminal motive test for greed, power, or sex.
    2. Joseph Smith’s role gained him substantial power and an extranormal amount of sex. The money is debatable, but he did try running a bank out a temple, in marked contrast to the interaction of Jesus and money changers at a temple.

Bonus #7: “It is impossible for those who never joined Mormonism to become sons of perdition.” This quote comes from a non-LDS source, so I’m not sure it’s the actual LDS view, but if it is so then that’s a strong reason not to join.

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