Thursday, April 28, 2022

Real vs. Rumor part 2: the youth

The most perplexing aspect of the book is the way Brother Erekson does not follow his own advice about how to approach history. We'll look at several examples in coming posts, but in this part 2, we want to focus on the impact of Church history issues on the youth of the Church.

On page 156, Brother Erekson writes,

"Does anyone even run into that faith-challenging, anti-Mormon stuff?" an older woman asked.

"The only people who do are the ones hanging out in bars and places like that," said a man of her same generation.

I was surprised how prevalent this assumption is, so I began to gather evidence. During the summer of 2019, I spoke to hundreds of Latter-day Saint youth at conferences and firesides. Using an anonymous polling system that operated through their phones, they responded to this question: "Have you ever encountered something that challenged your testimony?" The "yes" results were usually in the 90 percent range and never less than 80 percent. The most surprised people in the room were the adults!

I have questions. 

First, the opening dialogue isn't plausible, but let's say they are accurate quotations nevertheless. Who talks like that? Who thinks like that? And what does hanging out in bars have to do with anti-Mormon literature? The conversation depicted here reflects extreme isolation and naivete, more of a parody than an authentic scenario.

Is relative exposure to "anti-Mormon stuff" a generational difference? While the Internet has made materials far more accessible, "anti-Mormon stuff" has been around since the inception of the Restoration. Maybe in pockets of Utah or Idaho there are Latter-day Saints who never "run into" these things, but that's definitely an exception.

Alternatively, the opening dialogue may reflect the "lazy learners" who don't ask questions and are impervious to outside literature or even conversations with people outside their bubble.

I don't know how old one has to be to qualify as "older" but when I was a 19-year-old missionary, I had long since heard the "anti-Mormon" arguments that I encountered during my mission. So had all of my companions. We discussed these things. And this was decades ago.

Another question: why would the adults be surprised at the poll? I don't see any indication that the adults themselves were polled, so it's not clear how Erekson knows the adults were the most surprised people. Are these parents who never talk with their kids? Church leaders who never engage with the youth they are responsible to lead?

Again, let's assume everything Erekson reports here is accurate. If so, that leads to the inescapable conclusion that there are adult Latter-day Saints who are poorly informed themselves, don't talk with their kids, and have fragile testimonies that have never been challenged. That doesn't bode well.

Then again, the question "Have you ever encountered something that challenged your testimony?" is so open-ended it doesn't help us much. People would answer yes if they felt a prayer went unanswered, if they thought about the evil in the world (war, crime, hunger, etc.), or if they read the CES Letter. 

For many Latter-day Saints, it is the teachings of certain LDS intellectuals that are faith challenging. Lately some of our own LDS intellectuals are trying to persuade us that Joseph Smith never really translated anything, that he didn't even use the plates, and that he and Oliver misled everyone about the Nephite interpreters and the New York Cumorah.

We have examples of these teachings right in Real vs. Rumor!

It would be interesting if Brother Erekson had polled the youth regarding their reaction to the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) narrative. Or the M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). In my experience, few people find SITH either credible or inspiring. The well-known declines in activity and conversion rates correlate to this SITH narrative, which became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. While correlation is not causation, it's difficult to believe that the SITH tactic employed by Mormonism Unvailed in 1834 would not have the intended impact when it is so fully embraced by LDS intellectuals that it is now in our curriculum.

M2C explicitly rejects the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. When LDS scholars teach the youth that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah, it hardly builds faith.

(click to enlarge)

Monday, April 25, 2022

Real vs Rumor part 1: Dispelling Latter-day myths

This will be a short series on the important book Real vs. Rumor by Keith A. Erekson. His website is here:

Erekson does an exceptional job discussing the issues presented by historical research. But in some specific instances, he doesn't follow his own advice, as we'll see. It's quite surprising to see these instances, so we'll discuss them in some depth.

Part 1 is an excerpt from an interview about the book.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, from the earliest days that I had the opportunity to interact with you, you have been promoting this idea that we should be telling accurate and better stories. Why is it so important that our history and the retelling of history be accurate?


Keith A. Erekson: Well, I think there are several levels where accuracy matters. At the most basic level, we want to get the story right and we want to be true to the people who lived it. It was their experience, so we don’t want to distort their experience or turn it into something that it wasn’t.

But I think for Latter-day Saints in particular, history is so much a part of our worship in our devotions. We sing hymns about the history of the Church, we study the history of the Church, texts from our history have become part of our scripture, and so we’re using these texts and using our history as ways to learn about God. And so, in that context, having an accurate understanding of history and God’s dealings with people helps us have an accurate understanding of God.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it is true that our scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, are actually history books.


Keith A. Erekson: They are. They’re full of stories. They’re full of what historians today call primary sources or texts. There are letters in the scriptures, there are sermons in the scriptures, all these kinds of records that have been carried down to us for our edification.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And tell us what happens when we promote stories that aren’t true or that aren’t entirely true.


Keith A. Erekson: A couple of things happen when we tell those kinds of stories, and some of the most damaging results are for the hearers. If we continually tell stories that are partially true or left out significant detail, or left out whole groups of people entirely — the challenge is when lots of things are left out, people fail to see themselves in history. They fail to see the connections, and they fail to see — for example, if we’re trying to learn how God blesses people, how God protects people, how God watches over people, but you never see anyone in the story that looks like you, then you start to wonder: “Well, does God protect me? I see God protects those other people in the story. But what about people like me?” 

I think it also can be harmful if people then later learn: “Oh, there are parts of the story that they left out. Well, why did they do that?” Sometimes it can lead to feeling betrayed, or even singled out: “Well, why would they leave out my kind of people if my people were in the story?” And by my kind of people, we can mean all kinds of things. This could be from the nation that you live. Many stories from Church history leave out women — half of the Church’s population, or more, and so we have to be better at telling the complete and accurate stories.

Oliver Cowdery and the translation

In 1834, Oliver Cowdery published his famous account of the trsanslation: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a...