Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mormons Make Terrific Skeptics

I remember early in my faith crisis I did some reading about the Book of Abraham. For those who aren't familiar, the Mormon cannon includes two books--the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses--that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from some ancient papyri. The papyri was purchased from a man named Michael Chandler in 1835. Joseph proceeded to translate the text, by the power and authority of God, which contained the writing of Abraham and Moses.

As it turns out, however, the papyri (which resurfaced in a Chicago museum in 1968), have nothing to do with either of these Old Testament prophets. You can't even really say that Joseph's translation was poor, because it wasn't really a translation at all.

I had heard whispers of this on my mission from a missionary whose father had left the church. I asked my mission president about it, and he told me not to worry, that scholars at BYU had studied this out and there was no reason to worry about it.

However, once I was home and had access to things like, oh, I don't know . . . the internet, it became abundantly clear that this was in fact a problem. I tried talking to my father about this particular issue. He has been a true believer ever since his mission days. I explained that since the time of Joseph's "translation," scholars had used the Rosetta Stone to learn Egyptian, and that the actual Egyptian does not match up with the what we find in the Books of Abraham and Moses.

My Dad, for a moment, suddenly became a pure skeptic.

"Well, how do you know you can trust these guys, I mean, you don't know where they came from or what their motives are."

"Dad, they're college professors."

"Well where did this 'Rosetta Stone' come from? I mean, how do you know that's not fake?"

"Uuuuuh . . . "

My father had lived the last forty-plus years without applying a single critical thought to his religion. Have food storage? Ok! Pay tithing? Sure thing! Accept this position or that? No problem! There was no room for doubt or questions in his mind. But when it comes to things that cast a shadow of doubt on his world of faith, suddenly there are questions to be asked, motives to be questioned.

My Dad and I argued for a bit. I was still trying to rescue my testimony at the time, and I was genuinely hoping for some answers to these questions. He grew tired eventually, however, and finally admitted, "Son, I'm getting to old to give a crap about this stuff. I have a testimony, and I'll believe until I die."

I haven't talked to my Dad about the Church since.


  1. You're a great writer; I enjoy your posts.

    I can relate to your father's choice to just be content with what he believes. My mom is that way...not about church--she's never been a member--but about certain other truths and realities. For her, life would suddenly become difficult and unpleasant if she were to face these particular realities. Maybe it's the same for your father (and many others in the church)...the emotional and psychological ramifications of waking up from a dream they've dedicated their entire existence to would be more than they could handle. I think it's very kind of you not to have pushed the issue with your dad.

  2. Thanks, I enjoy writing, and need to get some of this down before I forget it all. I'll be headed home in the next week or so, and I'll have access to all kinds of fun stuff, like missionary journals, and some BYU stuff I've held on to.

    The church teaches that its members are the only truly happy people on earth, and for some members like my Dad this teaching has been so engrained that it actually becomes true for them. He's not even really capable of rationally criticizing the church anymore, because he depends entirely on it for his own happiness.