Honesty (and Truth)
Earlier, I listed, in an abbreviated fashion, some general categories of things relating to Church history which are problematic for me, and said that, for the most part, they boil down to issues of honesty and truth, i.e., the modern Church’s failure to accurately inform its members about Church history (honesty), and the history itself (truth). While this letter is not intended as an argument, nor a tramp through ‘anti-Mormon’ themes, I would like to explore, briefly, these two elements, which are the root of many of these issues.
Obviously, there is overlap in the subjects of “right and wrong” and “honesty and Truth.” However, I think they need to be discussed individually. Turning first to honesty, my problem is that I am not seeing in the Church the honesty (the fidelity to truth) that I would need to see in order to unreservedly respect it, let alone be convinced that it was the Lord’s chosen sole custodian of his restored gospel.
Truth and honesty are two sides of the same coin. If any principles have been pounded home to us in countless Sunday School classes, talks, stories, scriptures and studies while growing up as Mormons, they are (1) the absolutism of TRUTH (for example, we are taught to tell the truth; that the Book of Mormon as “the most true book in the world;” and that the mission of BYU is to seek the truth); and (2) The absolute obligation be HONEST (i.e., to be faithful to the truth; to convey truth, as opposed to falsehood; “Thou shalt not bear false witness…”). These interrelated concepts occur as a cornerstone of virtually every element of Mormon doctrine, not to mention Christianity. They are often extolled in conference talks.
We properly associate the idea of truth with verifiable fact, and honesty as the full disclosure of facts, along with any additional information bearing on the accuracy of the assertion. Telling it like it really is. Even our Godless legal system seeks to prevent partial disclosures or end-runs by demanding not simply the truth, but the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what we strive to do in our daily lives, correct?
I believe that a Christian religion has a duty to be forthright and honest to its members. Otherwise, it is by definition internally inconsistent with the teachings of its namesake, one of the most important of which is honesty. I also believe that if a religion purports to be the messenger of truth, there is nothing more important than giving adherents and prospective adherents the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth insofar as that religion’s origins, history, doctrines and practices are concerned. I have come across enough instances of the Mormon church covering up the truth, telling only half of the truth, or giving misleading information, that my internal sense of right and wrong is offended. In this I do not see the Lord’s handiwork.
By way of a quick example, recently we all listened to the president of the Church be interviewed by Larry King and give untrue answers in response to questions about polygamy.15 Another recent example was a large article in the Ensign dedicated to the Book of Abraham. Never was there the slightest mention of the significant issues that have arisen with respect to Joseph Smith’s claims about its origin.
Now, why should we care so much about truth in the context of religion? What should we care whether a religion’s representations about itself are true? I think the answer is that a testimony must be based on truth. To have a testimony of something false is a conceptual impossibility. If something is objectively not true, but you nonetheless ‘know’ that it is true, it means you are deluded. Have people been deluded in this manner before? Of course they have. Therefore, as important as a testimony is the foundation of that testimony. It must be sound, or the testimony is illusory.
I think if a person is considering making a commitment to an institution that holds itself out as the ultimate source of truth, it is crucial to examine the framework of that institution. And more importantly, not hesitate to reexamine the framework.
Can we reliably determine the soundness of a religion simply by praying for personal revelation? I don’t think so. Prayer must be accompanied by a reasonable effort to acquire and consider relevant information. If you are going to come to a spiritual knowledge that something is true, first, you need to know at least the basics of what that something is. Or is not. For example, if you are seeking spiritual confirmation about the truthfulness of a book, you need at least some idea of what the book is. Until you open and read it, for all you know it contains blank pages or Ogden Nash lymrics. Making the effort to read and ponder it is what leads to the next step of seeking divine affirmation. You need to know enough about it to conclude that it warrants praying about. You need to know that it is not a dictionary or a Nazi treatise.
I don’t think we should be ever be apprehensive about acquiring facts that bear on the truth or falsity of an important proposition. Truth is what it is. It may leave a good or bad taste in your mouth, but it is what it is, and it needs to be known. If you fear acquiring new information, there is a problem. The pursuit of knowledge, and thus truth, is a meritorious endeavor, key to our survival and advancement as a species. If others before us had not dared to engage in the daring search for truth, then Mormonism would never have sprung up or remained vital.
Although at this stage the Church might not agree, in my opinion, by definition, the pursuit of truth cannot have a predetermined destination.16 It ends only where and when you stop finding things that tell you that you haven’t yet found truth.17 I think it is a mistake to decide that because you feel like you have already found everything you need to know, you are now free to ignore newly discovered data.
Getting back to the question that kicked off this discussion, why should we care about truthfulness in the context of religion? Because religion (or at least Mormonism) holds itself out as the ultimate source for truth. And it asks you to stake your earthly life and eternal soul on its claim. Thus, what if you discovered that the institution that you had previously understood to be the ultimate source for truth had been, to borrow a line from Calamity Jane, ‘not exactly lyin’ but careless with the truth?’ This is compelling. It requires a serious investigation, and possibly a re-evaluation.
If there is one God, and if this God’s role in the life of earthlings is to be wrapped up in the institution of organized religion, and if there are going to be thousands of false religions and only one true one, what do you suppose the hallmarks of that one true religion would be? Might one non-negotiable hallmark be the piercing ring of truth? In all things, or at least in the big things? Would not another hallmark be the ability to easily withstand any light of scrutiny? Would not God’s own and only true church actually heartily welcome any opportunity to be held up to the light of day? On any issue? Would God permit such an institution to be stewarded by earthly leaders whose behavior reflected dishonesty, lust, greed or hunger for power? Might another hallmark be a quickness to acknowledge and redress such human error as might occur? After all, post facto attempts to hide scandal or sin make an organization look even worse. What might have been written off as the weakness of an individual is instead viewed as an institutional infirmity. We are taught that a nation dwindling in unbelief is something to be avoided even if it means divine intervention causing human death. Above all else, wouldn’t the basic precepts of God’s one and only true church be eternal and unchanging? Because I think the answers to the above questions are in the affirmative, I have encountered serious testimony problems.
Expecting Honesty from a Church
If an organization expects people to dedicate their lives to it, I feel there is reasonably owed to those members a duty of full and fair disclosure. If an institution fears full disclosure, a warning bell should sound. We should return again to the judicial admonition to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Furthermore, we should borrow something else from the law: the ongoing legal duty to provide truthful updates, over the passing of time, as additional relevant information comes to light.
These standards are human attempts to secure a certain base level of honesty from even the lowest of us.18 Is it not reasonable to expect that God’s only true religion would also adhere, at the very least, to these minimal standards of honesty? Would God’s one and only true religion on the earth stray from these standards? Regularly and systemically? I don’t think so. If anything, one would anticipate God’s one and only true religion to follow an even more rigid code of honesty. An impeccable, iron rod of a code. A shining code of honesty. One which would prompt its adherents to unconsciously smile with pride when reflecting on it.
Furthermore, if an organization is going to ask adherents to dedicate their lives (or even 2 years or 10% of their incomes), should not the organization be willing (eager?) to submit to a reasonable level of scrutiny, so that its claims of character and history can be verified? Would God’s true church on the earth scramble to hide its earthly history? Would it be ashamed of its history? Would it have need to be ashamed of its history? Would God’s church have need to rewrite, vault up or simply erase its history? Including the utterances of its prophets and apostles in their official capacities? I grew up with the idea that the Mormon church would welcome and easily withstand the closest scrutiny. I believe that if something is true, or at least honest, it should not and does not fear exposure to the light of day.
By the forgoing I do not mean to suggest that any organization of divine origin will by definition have a spotless history. Quite the contrary. Even if there were an entity with an unblemished history, mortals could not recognize it. We would disagree on what constituted perfection. Perhaps no course of human conduct in all of history (with the theoretical exception of the conduct of Jesus Christ while on the earth, from what little we know about him after all this time) can be said to have been free of error. Nor do I mean to suggest that only organizations with spotless histories would welcome scrutiny. However, it is often just as noble to honestly disclose mistakes as it is to have no mistakes to disclose. In no event, however, is it honorable to cover up errors and misrepresent the truth.
Finally, if a religion preaches the merits of honesty, or asks its members to live “honest” lives, would it not be good form for the religion itself to embody the concept of honesty at its most liberal? And if that religion were God’s own and only religion, wouldn’t the highest standards of institutional honesty reign? Would there even be any room for discussion about the merits of covering things up? Would that even be an option?
Here is where this is leading: I now find that there were many things I was taught by the Mormon church which simply are not true, and the Church leaders knew then and know now they were and are not true. Additionally, there are major problems with omissions of historical fact and doctrinal changes. By this I mean important facts which, although extremely relevant, are purposely left out of teachings and discussions in favor of only those facts which are not troubling to learn about. Failures to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is institutional, meaning one can’t write these things off with the standard excuse that “the church is perfect but the members are not.” I am referring to official representations, omissions and revisions at the highest levels. In fairness, from my reading it is apparent that some general authorities do not agree with these essentially dishonest practices, but they often have not succeeded in preventing them.
I disagree with this practice. I think it needlessly breeds distrust and resentment. Furthermore, I don’t believe that such a practice would be a hallmark of God’s own and only religion on the earth. There are numerous instances of institutional dishonesty in the church. And in such cases, the facts which the church tries to suppress are not at all consistent with what one would expect from the one true church of God (of course, nor is the act of suppression of that supposedly prized thing, “truth”). Cumulatively, I think these reflect an organization that is not likely to be God’s one and only true church.
In this letter, I will not go into any greater detail about the instances of suppression and dishonesty that are troubling to me. Suffice to say that my reading and studying have led me to the conclusion that the Church is nowhere near the standards of behavior that I have outlined above. The fuller collection of available facts about Joseph Smith indicate (to my poor mind) that he was not what he purported to be, nor what the Church now portrays him to have been. I find it unlikely that the Book of Mormon is a historical document, nor do I think that the doctrines taught by Joseph Smith constitute God’s one and only true religion. Emphatically included in this last category (and demonstrative of the first category) is polygamy, the true history of which is outrageous and bears virtually no resemblance to what I was taught about the history and origins of the practice. I won’t go into much more detail in this letter.
I found my concerns to be summarized remarkably well by Carl Sagan as quoted below. He was not talking about Mormonism, he was talking about the Puritan witch prosecutions of early America. He was listing the kinds of a cultural conditions which, when present, give rise to beliefs so out of step with reality that such errors such as “witch” burnings can occur. He urgently warns against these cultural conditions (essentially collective frames of mind). Of course, he is (was) not God (as far as I know), but you can decide for yourself whether you agree with him, and whether these factors appear prominently in Mormon society. In fact, you might find it hard to believe that he was not talking specifically about Mormon society, but about witch prosecutors. He warns:
If we are absolutely sure that our beliefs
are right, and those of others are wrong;
that we are motivated by good, and others
by evil; that the King of the Universe speaks
directly to us, and not to adherents of very
different faiths; that it is wicked to challenge
conventional doctrines or to ask searching
questions; that our main job is to believe
and obey — then the witch mania will recur
in its infinite variations down to the time of
the last man.
So, now, added to the traditional lack of interest I had in Church meetings is the considerable doubt I now have as to their eternal worth. I am increasingly mortified by the things I hear taught in church. For example, at a (somewhat) recent Priesthood meeting I attended, it was asserted by the teacher (reading from the manual) that the Lord would never allow the leaders of his church to deal falsely with its members. I had a great urge to list numerous examples of the Mormon Church’s leaders dealing falsely with the membership. But of course you aren’t supposed to issue any serious challenges to the points in the lesson manual. Actual dialog or testing of ideas would be most unwelcome in these meetings, and this drives me crazy!
Of late, Mormon Church meetings to me are becoming a trying game of the emperor’s new clothes. In response to the claim mentioned above, I found myself wondering things like whether I was the only one in the room who could vividly recall the Paul Dunn incident. His career as a Church leader was essentially built on lies. Lies for which he was never officially punished. However, the church member who discovered that Paul Dunn’s career was built on a tapestry of lies was punished by the Church. His crime? Revealing the truth! That great word but terrible thing, the truth! This episode led people astray on numerous different levels.
Are we all to simply pretend that uncomfortable events didn’t happen? Is there any role for evidence and historical fact in the making of claims about the Church? I don’t know what was worse: (1) Dunn’s behavior; (2) The fact that for decades this never showed up on the inspirational radar screen of any of the prophets or other church leaders who were sitting next to him on the podium in conference as he repeatedly used the Church’s apparatus to broadcast his falsehoods to the members around the world for his own personal gain and renown; (3) The values displayed by the manner in which his colleagues, the other leaders, responded to the situation (i.e., punishing the whistle-blower but not the wrong-doer); or (4) the claim now being made in the lesson manual that it would be impossible for the Church’s leaders to lead anyone astray!19
Enough digression. The point is, I think I liked being bored in Church better than having my intelligence and morals insulted, or sitting there, and by silence being complicit in the support of a something which is at best misleading, and at worst objectively untrue.20
The recipients of this letter may have no interest whatsoever in acquiring further information about the nature of the foundation upon which they have ended up building their spiritual houses. You may deem such information preemptively and categorically irrelevant. To some readers, perhaps any discomforting information on this subject is, like proposal from an opposing political party, ‘dead on arrival.’21 Other readers may already be well informed on many or all of these issues (and many others), and have formed conclusions different from my own. Or have drawn upon a well of faith and brushed them aside for now.
Having taken a moment to review this draft, I realize I was also going to discuss human nature and world history, but I think this is lengthy enough as is. Suffice it to say that my reading and observations in these areas have also been instrumental in my thinking as the years have passed. Congratulations! You have nearly survived this letter! Feel fortunate, because at one point it was at least 25 pages longer than it is now. It was full of negative energy baby.
I realize that my opinions on these religious issues are probably very different from yours, you being the reader in the select and esteemed population group receiving this. And perhaps my current thinking will turn out to be much further from the ultimate truth than yours. However, even if I turn out to be spot on, I’ll guess there is no compelling reason for you to disrupt the honorable patterns your life has assumed. There are many good reasons for people to attend church, whether or not the church in question turns out to be the Lord’s one and only true church.
Additionally, I hope you won’t feel a need for the dynamics of the relationship between you and I, or you and our family to be altered. Although you and I were brought up in the shadow of the church, given the current geographic distances between us, the Church actually doesn’t form a great deal of the day-to-day fabric that connects our little family here to you and our other extended family members and friends. My wife is only dimly aware that I have been working on this letter, and she certainly won’t be expecting any relationship dynamics to change. Furthermore, you have probably known for a long time that I was not really active in the Church. Now you just know a bit more of why.
As I said at the outset, the purpose of this letter is not to inversely proselyte. It is simply to fill a void that might otherwise be filled with inaccurate speculation . . . To assist you in not automatically thinking of me as nothing more than a Laman and Lemualish character who is just too morally lazy or confused to make a spirited effort to be ‘active’ in the church; who is stupidly sitting and staring at the only way to eternal salvation yet doing nothing about it, and who is by default leading his family into a life of pointless spiritual mediocrity.
Whether or not you think these characterizations are accurate, I want you to know that from my perspective, they are not. My wife, son and I have made a family that is a pearl of great price. We love each other and we love our friends and family members. In matters of moral substance, I am comfortable about our eternal prospects.22 In matters of form, I am also comfortable. We do our best to be honorable persons and to make the world a better place.
We regularly attend a little local church called the Clayton Community Church, which we have found to be an inspiring influence in our lives. It is good for my wife because the message is clear to her, and the environment is comfortable for her. It is good for my son, because he actually loves to attend, and is delighted when it is Sunday. It is good for me because I am not constantly forced to listen with gritted teeth to a parade of assertions that I know to be untrue or half-true. Nor do I find it insufferably boring. I find it engaging, unpredictable and truly uplifting. It is quite interesting to spend some time exploring Christianity minus the Joseph Smith superstructure.
The prayers we participate in at church actually mean something, and are not just reshuffled phrases memorized decades ago by everyone (‘thanks for the building, thanks for the weather,’ etc.). The music is often startlingly beautiful. No one cares whether you are wearing a suit and tie. No one asks for your phone number, tries to give you a job that will staple you to ‘activity’ or comes knocking at your door uninvited. Church meetings are in the local Jr. high school gym. You are invited to give, anonymously, the amount you feel is the right amount for you to give. And when you do give, it feels right. These are just a few of the reasons I like it.
I often used to bike past this church on Sunday mornings, on my way to ride through the beautiful hidden oak groves of Black Diamond Mines. As I would see the cars turning in to the lot, I would think to myself how glad I was to be doing what I was doing, instead of doing what those churchgoers were doing. Just this past Sunday, as we were driving to church, we passed some neighbors of ours out for a morning walk. As I pondered where we were going, and what they were about to miss, I felt a tug of sorrow for them. Doesn’t it sound strange to hear me talking like that? I am actually enjoying church for the first time in my life (with the exception of the meetings I was able to attend in Taiwan).
So what does all this mean in terms of belief in God, beliefs about other churches, etc.? I don’t have a clever answer. I don’t think I have enough information to be conclusive. And I am not going to base my conclusions about the existence or non-existence of allegedly historical events based on my ‘feelings.’ Even as to the Bible, where physical evidence or scientific knowledge contradicts key events, for me the jury is out. For example, with each PBS nature show I see, I am increasingly doubtful that a family collected and kept 2 of every kind of creature on a boat. I have questions about this and other stories.23
But whether or not every passage in the Bible is historically precise, or “true,” every day I see or learn of things that compel me to conclude that there certainly is a God. But on the other hand, almost as often I see or learn of other things that would lead one to wonder where God is and what he is thinking. The idea of a God who countenances the suffering of innocent creatures (the abuse of children, the holocaust, the inquisition, etc.) is something with which most or all of us struggle. There are many unsatisfying explanations, including the catch all “God works in mysterious ways.” Who knows? Some questions ever must remain unanswered for mortals.
Once, while in the employ of a law firm in San Jose, I was with the other attorneys at a weekend retreat in some picturesque little hamlet in a forested area of Marin County. We went on these retreats yearly and engaged as a group in a discussions and therapeutic activities. As a part of one activity, everyone was required to give the name of a person who they had not met but would like to meet. I don’t recall what the point of the exercise was, nor do I recall what my response to the question was. However, I remember clearly how one of my coworkers responded. He wrote “I would like to have met the historical Jesus Christ.” This guy was not particularly religious, but what a great answer! Alas.
I’ll close by repeating: I believe you should never be apprehensive about acquiring information. Especially if it appears to be important information. Look at the gas gauge. Nor do I think you should hesitate to analyze and act on information according to your internal sense of right and wrong. The pursuit of truth is a meritorious endeavor. If that pursuit is to be sincere, then by definition, it cannot have a predetermined destination. It ends only where and when you stop finding things which tell you that you haven’t yet found truth.
If you feel, or know, that you have already arrived at the end of your search, then congratulations, and peace be with you.
P.S. I should repeat an important paragraph from the first page of this letter. In all the excitement, you may have forgotten about it. Here it is again:
The purpose of this letter is not to persuade anyone of anything. It is explanatory re my thoughts and actions. Therefore, please don’t take this as an affront, challenge, invitation to argue, or feel that you have a spiritual obligation to respond by asserting your testimony. In fact, please don’t. Your silence will not be taken as a tacit agreement with my conclusions, nor am I seeking your endorsement. The objective of this letter is simply to leave you with something other than pure speculation and/or presumption of the worst on those rarest of occasions when you might wonder what is going on with me from a religious perspective.
Thanks for listening!
1. My conclusions are not a product of ‘anti-Mormon’ propaganda. I have seen a few things that I viewed as ‘anti-Mormon,’ but I have found them to be pathetic and utterly unpersuasive. However, I think people should distinguish between, on the one hand, hand slanderous, opinionated attacks against the Church (anti-Mormon literature), and, on the other hand, objective writings, based on solid research, which so happen to arrive at conclusions inconsistent with Church teachings. Much of what is condemned (and forbidden) as “anti-Mormon” is actually no more anti-Mormon than astronomy textbooks are “anti-astrological.” Additionally, much of what is viewed as anti-Mormon has its roots in the same urge that motivates the Church to proselyte its message. Namely, as Cedric Watts phrased it, an aim “before all, to make you see the truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”
2. Of course simply thinking, or even “knowing” that something is true does not make it true (assuming there is such a thing as objective truth, which I think there is). The Chinese soldiers of the Boxer Rebellion had a strong testimony that the amulets they wore made them immune to the bullets of the Western allied forces. They staked their lives on that testimony. You can guess the result.
3. As a Deacon Jerry rebelled by refusing to carry the sacrament tray with his arm bent, and it was all downhill from there. Once when I was visiting his family’s farm he literally nearly got us killed by his brother (this would have been in about 4th grade) when he shot the windows out of his brother’s car with a BB gun. He assured me his brother wouldn’t mind. As it turned out, he was wrong on this one.
4. That might sound fair enough, but an unspoken tenant of the Church is that Mormons have a superior ability to feel or ‘know’ things. Otherwise, someone else’s contrary feelings might be correct! And we ‘know’ no one else is correct! Obviously. What a Mormon knows about truth automatically trumps anything a non-Mormon thinks he or she knows about truth. Even though you recognize the sarcasm, you dare not disagree. Otherwise, your testimony is no better than a Presbyterian’s!
6. I am reminded of my fruitless attempts to get the BYU Bookstore to state in writing the moral standards used in selecting music to be sold. Apparently management realized if they opened that can of worms they would have to shut down the entire department, so they never responded to my repeated inquiries. It was easier to ignore me than it would have been to identify and adhere to standards. Heaven forbid someone at BYU (besides the students) be expected to do that. You may think this a bizarre crusade for me to have undertaken, but they started it. You see, the Bookstore had this bulletin board/drop box where questions and answers were posted. At the top they committed to answer, within one week, all questions about the store’s operations, policies, etc. But they never answered my simple question (I submitted it several times a year).
10. In the MTC we had received a few hours of instruction about Buddhism through a series of cartoons which illustrated the wackiness of their beliefs. And we had been instructed to make sure that Chinese investigators realized that God didn’t look like a Buddhist icon. Otherwise, their minds might default to incorrect imagery when conceptualizing deity. They might need help to realize that God was in fact a Caucasian.
11. Remember my MTC companion, Elder E? In the field, he was known for dusting off his shoes in front of the homes of people who wouldn’t invite him in, thus, in his mind, actually putting a divinely sanctioned curse them. I haven’t done research on this, but he was convinced that this was a grim but necessary part of missionary work.
13. Einstein sometimes brushed off data that did not sync with his preconceived notions, or his much hoped for outcomes. He always paid a price for doing so, because in the end, that data had to be reckoned with. In the end, it always signaled that truth was not yet known. But he wasn’t always ready to come to terms with that fact. It irked him that data could appear that was inconsistent with what he believed he already ‘knew’ to be true. But when he ignored it, he was merely postponing the inevitable. Either his discovery was delayed, or sometimes someone else, who would not ignore the data, would beat him to a discovery, or improve on one of his discoveries.
15. In the interview, President Hinckley said that polygamy began after the saints moved West. This is a falsehood. Joseph Smith had numerous secret ‘wives’ for years before he was killed, but was lying about it to his wife, to his followers, and to the general public. And what he was doing had little in common with what we think of as marriage (with the exception of the wedding night). Also in the interview, President Hinckley said that the Church stopped polygamy in 1890. Also false. Although Church leaders publicly proclaimed in 1890 that polygamy was no longer permitted in the Church, instead they sanctioned its continued secret practice for [more than] 10 years afterward (those indulging in the sanctioning included the prophet). So today, apparently to avoid embarrassment, new falsehoods are needed to conceal the old falsehoods. Finally, during his TV interview, President Hinckley said that polygamy was not doctrinal. Now this was quite a shocker. I have listened to several members try to explain this remark, but no two explanations are the same, although they do share the common characteristics of being convoluted, strained and weak, to say the least. This is a pretty tough one to get around. Polygamy is authorized (commanded!) in a book called, significantly, the Doctrine and Covenants . Not to mention the Old Testament, according to Mormon interpretation. Joseph Smith himself, and many Mormon prophets after him have described polygamy not only as doctrine, but indispensable Mormon doctrine. Aside from this recent unexplained remark, to my knowledge, as a concept and point of doctrine, the Church has never repudiated it. I was always taught that it was an important part of Mormon doctrine. In my view, President Hinckley’s representations, in the kindest light, were misleading. If any of this doesn’t sit right, why not write a note to the “I have a question” column in the Ensign?
16. This, in my opinion, is the great failing of FARMS, the Church’s anti-Mormon duelists (it is also the failing of the theorists in the employ of communist regimes). To them, the research is merely a means to justify arriving at a predetermined end. No alternative conclusion is acceptable, regardless of the facts. In which case, why bother with research in the first place? If the result cannot be affected, save the money and the effort for something else. It’s like the wasted effort of holding elections in a one party system.
17. As Robert Kaplan stated in his book The Ends of the Earth, “Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion. . . [M]ost of science is a mop-up operation: A paradigm is investigated until it is found to be so riddled with imperfections that it is discounted and another paradigm emerges, to undergo similar scrutiny.” Eventually, truth emerges. In my opinion, God’s true church would welcome and handily withstand such scrutiny. I am not impressed where a church shrinks from scrutiny, “buries” unfavorable historical documents, tries to re-write history and urges its members to not engage in such scrutiny. Such actions are characteristic of a communist government. They should not be characteristic of an entity that claims to prize truth.
18. Even David Lee Roth, to whom most Church members would probably not turn for moral guidance, stated in his autobiography “[W]here you leave out information, to me it is the same as lying.”
19. The Paul Dunn incident is one of several examples that flashed through my mind in response to that claim. Another was an old photo in the Church News showing President Kimball displaying supposedly rare historical documents which the Church had purchased, using tens of thousands of tithepayers’ dollars, and which were later discovered (by non-Mormons) to be forgeries by Mark Hofmann. Ironically, before the Church purchased the documents, the Church’s arch enemies, vilified anti-Mormons Gerald and Sandra Tanner issued written public assessment that the documents were not genuine. Church leaders disagreed until they were proven wrong by scientific analysis of the documents. And this is not a Bishop of the Cloverdale Ward we are talking about, but the Prophet! Additionally, there is no evidence that the Church ever had any plans to make the documents or the purchase public. The content of the documents was rather embarrassing from the Church’s standpoint (Joseph Smith getting instructions from a lizard). The Church went public about its purchase of the documents after the transaction, and only after Hofmann himself surreptitiously leaked the story to the press, with the apparent motive of embarrassing the Church. He was like that. However, until that happened, it looked as though the documents were going to quietly disappear. Another thing that flashed through my mind was the Book of Abraham. Anyone who has done any serious review of scholarly material available on the Book of Abraham knows that last year’s article about it in the Ensign was very misleading. Astonishingly misleading.
21. I don’t castigate this view. For example, no matter how true it is, I don’t necessarily want to know about all the times we came close to nuclear war with the USSR. That information frightens me and really has no bearing on how I live my life. Also, many people, if they were given the opportunity to know with absolute certainty the extent of their spouse’s fidelity, or lack thereof, over the years gone by, would choose not to know. As Nigel Tufnel once recounted, concerning a mysterious death: “the authorities said ‘best leave it unsolved.'”
Here is another, more disconcerting, possibility about why we sometimes would rather not confront truth (another quote from Carl Sagan):
One of the saddest lessons of history is
this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough,
we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.
We’re no longer interested in finding out the
truth . . . It’s simply too painful to acknowledge,
even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.
Jumping to the other side of the argument, however, John Keats wrote that a man of achievement is “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason . . . [He is] content with half knowledge.” But did Keats mean to suggest that a man of achievement would purposefully ignore opportunities to supplement his knowledge? Or have the intellectual wherewithal to have patience while seeking such opportunities?
22. After writing this passage, I came across something by Mark Twain which captures the thought. He was describing a class of Dominican Friars in Italy whom, although not meticulous in their observance of rituals, were rich in qualities of character. He observed: “Creeds mathematically precise, and hair splitting niceties of doctrine, are absolutely necessary for the salvation of some kinds of souls, but surely the charity, the purity, the unselfishness that are in the hearts of men like these would save their souls though they were bankrupt in the true religion…”
23. But many of the Bible’s assertions about history are in fact borne out by geographical and anthropological information, including consistency with archeological findings such as the dead sea scrolls. Not so with the Book of Mormon. In fact, virtually all of the Book of Mormon’s assertions about the history of the American continent are utterly inconsistent with modern geographical and anthropological knowledge (this is uniformly the case when you consult sources that are not in the hire of the Church. And I don’t mean sources that are antagonistic to the Church, just unbiased scientific sources).