Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blog Tour with Latayne Scott - The Mormon Mirage

Latayne Scott was a devoted Mormon and a student at Brigham Young University. The Mormon Mirage gives the account of how she came to leave the church and offers a engaging critique of Mormonism. This third edition is essentially a reprint of previous editions with the addition of some significant material addressing the issues and challenges facing Mormonism in the 21st century. A nice feature of the new edition is that many of the references to Mormon works are now accessible online. This makes it very easy to check her references on the spot. For example when she writes that "Brigham Young once stated that Joseph's consent was required for a person to be able to enter into the Celestial Kingdom of heaven, because Joseph was now reigning there, like God" (29) you can check the reference in Journal of Discourses vol. 2:289 for yourself. One of the more amusing things I thought was the background for the "Word of Wisdom" or health law. Scott wrote that Brigham Young said it stemmed from "Emma Smith's [Joseph's wife] complaining about the mess she had to clean up after Joseph's friends got together and spat tobacco all over the floor. Joseph too was disgruntled by the clouds of smoke from he men's pipe's, so he 'inquired of the Lord' as to the use of tobacco." (111) I thought "surely this is some kind of exaggeration." But I checked Journal of Discourses vol. 12:158 myself and there it was just as she said.

Scott notes that much of the material that has been written against Mormonism suffers on two accounts: 1) They underestimate "the intelligence, integrity, or character of the LDS people and 2) they don't check their facts. (20-21) One of the most significant factors in her own doubting of Mormonism came as a result of a simple observation concerning a facsimile in one of the Mormon Scriptures known as the Book of Abraham. She noticed in one of the woodcuts (known as "Facsimile 3") that Joseph Smith had identified two of the women as men. She states, "No 'anti-Mormon' writer had pointed this out; no hater of the LDS Church could have falsified or altered these prints; they were in my own personal copy of scripture. I found myself crushed and exultant, all at the same time." (22) You can see the facsimile here. Knowing the pitfalls of previous writings she works hard to avoid them and she succeeds admirably. The book abounds with footnotes with many of them coming from LDS writers.

Much of what she covers will not be new to those familiar with the problems of Mormonism but sometimes things are put together in such a way that the confusion of Mormonism is made painstakingly clear. Consider this: "Nothing in LDS theology is as it should be. Each man has two sets of parents; heavenly and earthly. God has many wives, and man should too. Mary the mother of Christ had two living husbands, without sinning. Their physical god begets spiritual bodied children and infuses them into mortal bodies so they can become gods too. Meanwhile, his copartner, the Holy Ghost, has no body at all and is still a god. Other beings are punished with the devil for their sins, and their sentence: no body, ever." (194)

Scott notes "Of ex-Mormons it is often said, 'They can leave Mormonism, but they can't leave it alone.'" (292) In this case I'm glad she couldn't. Scott observed two faults with anti-Mormon writings and to that I would add a third: they can be sterile. By that I mean a lot of anti-Mormon literature too often is reduced to winning arguments and providing documentation without the sensitivity that for the Mormon a successful anti-Mormon argument amounts to the realization that they have been, in part, believing a lie. The emotional impact of that cannot be calculated and I can't begin to imagine what it must be like. Throughout her book Scott's own experience informs and reminds the reader that people are involved and that coming out of Mormonism is hard and sometimes very painful. And on the heels of leaving Mormonism to accept another set of beliefs would not come easy. As she says, "Once you've found the tenets you most trusted and believed to be false, you are not anxious to embrace a substitute."

Scott's complaint is not against individuals of the Mormon Church but rather against the spokespeople, the leadership and the unofficial apologists of the church. (293-94) We would do well to follow her example as we share our faith with those who in Scott's words are "sincere and unknowingly devoted to a false representation of reality." ( 293)

My question for Scott is this (prefaced by a long comment, sorry): You note in your book the existence of new online apologetic resources by Mormons like the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information (FAIR). You candidly admit, "If such had existed, and had I accessed them when I was reading materials by the Tanners and others and trying to decide if Mormonism were true, I fear I would not have had the analytical skills to see through some of the untenable premises which they use as foundation." (263) As you say, "Make no mistake about it, some of their materials are very, very persuasive." (263) How much of an impact are these resources having on the average Mormon or Mormon missionary?

Thank you for an honest, well-written and sober look at Mormonism.

1 comment:

Latayne C Scott said...

Very perceptive question you posed, which I'll answer in two parts.

First of all, Mormon missionaries are in such a closed system in terms of what they are allowed to read (and in terms of their heavy scheduling which wouldn't allow for leisure reading or accessing "anti-Mormon" materials) that I think they see FARMS and FAIR as a way to access quick rebuttals they can use with Christians and with faltering Mormons.

I have only heard of a handful of LDS missionaries who leave their missions because they have lost faith in the LDS church. It is a social and cultural obligation with the admiring eyes of family and loved ones looking on, kind of a rite of passage. So they are grateful to whatever helps them to their job.

However, as I noted with the LDS Church in Japan (documented and told by an LDS man in my book), the Internet has had a devastating effect on the LDS Church there. Even though LDS apologists have rushed to provide rebuttal materials, they have apparently not allowed the LDS Church to return to its previous strength there.

If you access any of the ex-Mormon message boards (a list of them is at http://www.exmormon.org/exmoblogs.html )
you will find many former LDS missionaries saying that their doubts began on their missions and that the FARMS and FAIR "answers" did not satisfy them.

Thanks for the question -- and I'm happy to answer any more that you or your readers pose!

Latayne C Scott