Pr�cis on Religious Controversy by Ed Ashment

Pr�cis on Religious Controversy by Ed Ashment

A Pr�cis: My Position on Anti-Mormonism

Edward H. Ashment

19 June 2002

Christianity is dying.[1] While its enemies are doing all they can to hasten its demise, this is due mostly to the exposure of its internal inconsistencies through the millennia and to its epistemological ossification, rendering it unable to withstand germane scholarly investigations.[2] Of great concern in this regard is the fact that, in Western Civilization, the Church has arrogated itself to be the sole locus and promulgator of private and public morals and virtues, which, since they accordingly are connected in many people’s minds with Christianity per se, are being abandoned as well.[3]

Incredibly, instead of resolving their theological and mythological problems and working together to preserve the morals and virtues that for so many centuries they have assumed as their charge, Christianity’s various sects are fratricidal towards each other,[4] thus helping to ensure this great religion’s demise and possibly driving a sure nail in the coffin of Western Civilization.[5] As an example, sectarian silence in the face of Catholicism’s present priestly pedophilia crisis is deafening, for interdenominational enmity overrules a united confrontation against the implacable foes of Christianity.

In many ways, relentless sectarian attacks on Mormonism are representative of this Christian cannibalism. Blind to their own problems, various sects (and certain Mormon dissidents) take advantage of the facts that there are no historical foundations to support Mormonism’s unique theological claims�that there is in fact evidence to the contrary�to seek to destroy the church.[6] Aside from immaterial assertions about the constitution of the Godhead, pre- and post-mortal existence, additional scripture (including an historical Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham), Mormonism stands valiantly as a Christian church dedicated to those institutions, morals, and virtues that are the bulwark of our civilization. In this perilous time, when morals and virtues are under attack and are losing the battle to a state-enforced Marxian ‘morality’, it is sheer insanity for Christian sects to seek to eat one of their own. Yet, they do; and the avowed enemies of Christianity could not be more effective.

Over 25 years ago I began researching the historical foundations of some of Mormonism’s unsupportable claims, receiving the private encouragement of President N. Eldon Tanner; and portions of my writings have been published over the years. My hope was that the church would temper its claims while remaining true to its promulgation of the pillars of Western Civilization. The church instead began requiring ‘faith-promoting history’ from its scholars,[7] and it institutionalized (through substantial financial support) the apologetics factory, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which responds to analysis and criticism primarily with abuse and misrepresentation instead of serious attempts at refutation. That is how the proclamationist mindset operates.

In 1989[8] I used the term ‘proclamationism’ to denote the epistemological belief that truth can be obtained by revelation

of a higher reality (almost always coming from the leader of an authoritarian pyramid and urged on subordinates who are taught to accept it uncritically)��not by study and research� (Stevenson 1988, 78). Thus, proclamationism dominates totalitarian sys�tems, which find inimical the empirical attempt to arrive at Truth by investigating the evi�dence before arriving at conclusions. �Oil and water sooner will mix� than these two philosophical systems, for �to a committed [proclamationist], only his perspec�tive has the merit of truth� (Bloom 1987, 52). Accordingly, proclamationism requires deep commitment to a position in order to be able to ignore the weight of any opposing evi�dence; a proclamation�ist declares, �this is the argument upon which I base my facts� (Clabaugh 1974, 34). In contrast, empiricism requires that a mind be open enough to take into ac�count all of the evidence; an empiricist declares �these are the facts upon which I base my argument.�

Often proclamationists engage in pseudo-empirical exercises in order to denounce a rival proclamationist system, to attempt to evangelize empiricists, or to deal with empirical conclusions that may oppose their proclamationist Truth.�

It is in these latter categories that sectarian rivals of Mormonism have used my writings in their attempts to discredit the church and ultimately convince Mormons to convert away to their sects. The irony is that, as noted above, the rest of Christianity is liable to the same sort of difficulties as Mormonism. I am saddened by my inadvertent contribution to these exercises, because from my perspective such attempts result in disillusionment, acrimony, and destroyed families at worst; and at best only a delay until the foundation of cards on which the replacement sects are built collapse. My hopes lie in another direction.

Barring another Dark Age, Mormonism’s (and the rest of Christianity’s) theological claims will continue to retreat because of the lack of supporting evidence and in the face of evidence to the contrary. But its primary emphasis on the moral family is central to a free and responsible society,[9] and that aspect of Mormonism provides an excellent basis for maintaining a healthy Western Civilization. Once I hoped to contribute to the church’s tempering of its insistence on the historicity of unsupportable claims, but I have come to realize that proclamationism�a feature of utopianism�is a very powerful mindset, and religious and secular utopianists are not known for their empiricism or tolerance.

I will continue to research and write,[10] and I will continue to avoid being a knowing party to sectarian rivalry for reasons mentioned above. Accordingly, I have decided not to participate in colloquia, publications, or symposium sessions sponsored by rival sects or their research organizations.[11] There surely are many others who would welcome the chance to have a place in that sun.

[1] Judaism is faring no better, but is not the focus of this pr�cis.

[2] Judeo-Christian theological and historical assertions are in doubt, for the astronomical history of the cosmos, the geological history of the earth, and the anthropological and archaeological history of mankind and of the Middle East do not support the major claims of the Old Testament; and (mindful of the problem of the empty tomb) the fact that stories of Jesus’ resurrection�unique in history�so closely resemble the Osiris myth, clouds its historicity, thereby placing the historicity of the Central Event of the New Testament in doubt. Unfortunately, reconciliation between biblical claims and what has been learned through actual observation is achievable only by the application of creative hermeneutics. See Edward H. Ashment, A Response to David Ellis’ �Ancient Sources of Masonic Ritual� (response presented at the SunStone West Symposium, Oakland, California, March 1989).

[3] An unfortunate effect of this arrogance is that when the Church’s internal inconsistencies and theological problems are revealed, it dismissively claims that its critics simply wish to live dissipated lives and that the problems are not real. Consequently, very few of its problems have been resolved through the millennia and its theology becomes more and more a relic of inaccurate assumptions from antiquity.

A moral system does not require the coercive force of religion to flourish. See Miriam Lichtheim, Moral Values in Ancient Egypt, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, vol. 155 (Fribourg: University Press, 1997). For its transfer into religion, see Jan Assmann, Conversion, Piety, and Loyalism in Ancient Egypt, in Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religion, Studies in the History of Religions, vol. 83 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999), 31�44; and The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs (New York: Henry Holt and Company [Metropolitan Books], 2002).

[4] For a general discussion of this phenomenon, see Elliott White, The Fratricidal Global Village: The Theory of Hypertrophic Group Formation (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2001).

[5] Hammered on the anvil of history, Western civilization is the synthesis of classical philosophy; Christian morals, virtues, and ethics; and Teutonic independence. See David Gress, From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. [The Free Press], 1998). Gress observes poignantly that the ‘question whether the West as the posthumous version of Christendom without a public, binding faith could long survive as a secular civilization had been posed, but was, at the end of the twentieth century, not yet answered’ (558).

[6] See Edward H. Ashment, Fundamentalist Challenges of Religious Authority (response presented at the SunStone Symposium, Salt Lake city, Utah, August 1983).

[7] This probably was mostly a reaction to Leonard J. Arrington’s church history project, which the church scuttled unceremoniously.

[8] Ashment, A Response to David Ellis’ �Ancient Sources of Masonic Ritual,� 2.

[9] See in this regard, Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2001).

[10] However I am unsure where I will seek to publish, for I have had my share of bad experiences with editors.

Initially I was treated to the professional editing of Peggy Fletcher and Allen Roberts of SunStone, who actually sent galley proofs of my articles to me for final approval. Subsequent to them, SunStone was anything but professional.

My early experiences with Signature Books were nightmarish. I only received crowded typescript ‘proofs’ of massive rewrites of my manuscripts. The imposed turnaround times were severely brief, and errors were inevitable. My last experience with Signature Books was a huge contrast. Brent Metcalfe proved to be a professional editor of the highest caliber.

Dialogue published two of my essays. The first one was edited professionally.

I had no idea how the second one was edited until it appeared in print in 2002 (vol. 33, no. 4 [Winter 2000]: 121�126), for I did not receive any pre-publication proof, and Dialogue‘s editors obviously did not check their printer’s proof against my manuscript. Lamentably, the Dialogue version of my six-page note contains at least 50 proofreading errors and omissions. Many of them are serious: there are nine occurrences of missing signs; four occurrences of incorrect signs; the failure to apply the transliteration font to a name in a seminal argument of my essay (thus leading to confusion) and numerous other such failures in footnotes 14�16; confusing misplacement of footnote numbers 14 and 15 in the text; failure to implement textual changes; and omission of important data from footnote 2. Of course, it is devastating for so many errors to appear in a critical essay, for they will be inaccurately ascribed to the essay’s author�not its editors. For an accurate version of the essay, see:

[11] Recently I was interviewed for a video project on the Book of Abraham. The resulting product (The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim) was accurate, professional, and very well presented. My only misgiving was that the Institute for Religious Research is not simply a scholarly think tank, researching the history of religions. Rather, it represents an interest rival to Mormonism, and I am therefore compelled not to participate further in its endeavors.