Battle Of The Magic Books

Don Camp replies (in blue) to my previous post. My responses are in black.

There are multiple reason for rejecting Mormonism. The primary reason is similar to discerning between a fake $20 bill and the real thing. The fake just doesn’t feel like the real thing. Of course, that test requires that one knows what a $20 bill feels like. Anyone who does not know is easily fooled.

In fact, if you don’t know what the real thing is like, it is impossible to identify a fake. You might notice an ink smudge and a difference in paper, but who is to say one is fake and the other is not?

This presupposes that your version of Christianity is ‘the real thing’. For a Jew, Judaism is the real thing and Christianity the Johnny-come-lately fake. All you’re saying here is that you ‘feel’ your version of Christianity is the real thing and you ‘feel’ Mormonism isn’t. This isn’t persuasive. I know, for reasons other than intuition, that Christianity isn’t the real thing. To use your analogy, it is the twenty dollar bill received in change when in the UK a twenty pound note is the ‘real thing’.

But since you have a knowledge of literature, Neil, why not apply those standards? Nice concession there, Don. The Bible is indeed literature and as such deserves to have the same standards applied to it as any other work of fiction.

Is the Bible and the narrative in the Bible coherent?? No. Its central character is ridiculously inconsistent. Described as an unchanging God, he changes from book to book and most noticeably between the Old and New Testaments. As someone commented on Debunking Christianity recently, it’s as if he ate a Snickers bar between the two. (He does get hungry again towards the end of the NT, when he reverts to being an omnipotent Putin.)

As the protagonist undergoes his major rewrite, the plot also suddenly deviates, becoming a completely different story. It starts by being about this poorly conceived character’s ‘everlasting covenant’ with his chosen people, but then two thirds of the way through, this everlasting covenant is scrapped and replaced with a new, largely incoherent deal involving a human sacrifice that the unchanging God has previously said he finds abhorrent.

Does it stick together and develop a single theme across the whole? No, it doesn’t ‘stick together’, not unless you ignore the gaping inconsistencies in character and plotting, and its overall implausibility.

Do you know what the theme of the Bible is, Neil? Yes, thank you, Don. Condescending of you to ask. Any apparent consistency is because the writers of the second part of the story had access to the first part. They plundered it for their own purposes, drastically altering it so that it suited their new theme. That is why much of the Jesus story appears to be foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The Jesus story – and it is a story – is built on events and episodes they found there.

Remember that the Mormons tell us that the Book of Mormon is an extension of the Bible and that the people of the Americas were related to the Jews and held to the basic truths of the Jews. (Remember also the Mormons believe that Jesus appeared to these people in the New World shortly after his resurrection.) So if you put the Torah and the Book of Mormon together, is the narrative coherent? Does it develop a single theme? The Old testament and the New Testament are a coherent whole, but I do not think the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are. As you can tell, I dispute that the Old and New Testament are a coherent whole. The Old Testament and the Book of Mormon aren’t either. That lack of coherency becomes even more obvious when we compare God in the Old Testament with God in the Book of Mormon. The person of Jesus is also inconsistent in the Book of Mormon with the Bible.

But they’re inconsistent within the Bible too, Don. Compare John’s Jesus with Mark’s. Compare Paul’s beatific Christ with Revelation’s grotesquely super-powered warlord.

Of course, the standard explanation by Latter Day Saints is that the Bible has not been adequately translated, though I know of no place where they can demonstrate that claim. There are significant translation problems with the Bible, which mainstream scholars consider at length. Mormon desperation to resolve these conflicts is the same as that demonstrated by Christian theologians.

Finally, there is a matter of provenance. We know in very good detail where the Bible came from.

We do? We know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually were? No, we don’t nor do we know where they wrote or what their sources were. We don’t have the autographs (originals) of any of the New Testament documents but we do know some of them are forgeries and others have been tampered with.

There are many copies, especially for the New Testament, and there are many commentaries of both the OT and NT from very early in the their history. Proving what? Only that they were copied, frequently inaccurately. The copies are all much later than the probable time of composition. The commentaries are similarly far removed from them; there are commentaries on the Book of Mormon much closer to its composition.

What is the provenance of the Book of Mormon? It apparently appeared magically out of nowhere pretty recently. No mention in any other literature of its existence. It did appear magically! Oh ye of little faith! God sent an angel, like he does numerous times in the Bible, and told Joseph Smith to translate the golden tablets. The NT books were similarly created, with God breathing his word into cult followers as they wrote. God, angels, Holy Spirit, magic – all of a muchness, don’t you think?

No copy is available to examine. Nor of the original copies of anything in the Bible.

That is not to speak of the total lack of any archaeological evidence for the Mormon claims of Jews in the Americas. Mormons dispute this, of course. There are similar problems with some locations mentioned in the Bible. More fatally, most of what the Bible promises has proven false. For example: Jesus’ imminent return, his guarantee of miracles, believers becoming new creations. (Paul spends much of his time ticking off these ‘new creations’ who remain resolutely unreformed.)

So, I would say the Book of Mormon fails on all levels.

I would too. As does the Bible for the reasons I’ve outlined, and despite your special pleading. You don’t apply the same rigour in your consideration of the Bible that you do to Latter Day Saint fiction. Why is this, Don?

39 thoughts on “Battle Of The Magic Books

  1. Neil: “For a Jew, Judaism is the real thing and Christianity the Johnny-come-lately fake.”

    Don: Use the rule of coherency again. The Jews believe that prophecy (disclosure of God’s plan) is ended. That leaves them with an incomplete story and a great many unfulfilled prophecies. There is no resolution to the conflicts in the narrative. Most today don’t think there is a resolution.

    Christians believe that the story is complete. We believe that Jesus is the piece that completes the story. The final conflict and denouement is in Revelation btw and the reason Revelation is so important.

    Neil: [The narrative] “starts by being about this poorly conceived character’s ‘everlasting covenant’ with his chosen people, but then two thirds of the way through, this everlasting covenant is scrapped and replaced with a new, largely incoherent deal involving a human sacrifice that the unchanging God has previously said he finds abhorrent. ”

    Don: No. It starts earlier than that. It starts with the conflict between God and Satan. And it ends with Satan defeated. The covenant (Genesis 12 et al. ) is also satisfied in the end as the conflicts are resolved.

    The human/God sacrifice is foreshadowed in the sacrificial system provided to the Hebrews. That is explained in the book of Hebrews.

    THE THEME OF THE BIBLE. I don’t think you answered my question. The theme of the Bible is fairly simple. It is the triumph of good over evil. God is the protagonist and is good. Satan is then antagonist and represents evil. Mankind is the battlefield.

    That theme makes sense of history, even the recent Ukraine-Russia conflict. They are proving that evil is self-destructive and that only goodness prevails.

    Neil: “Compare John’s Jesus with Mark’s. Compare Paul’s beatific Christ with Revelation’s grotesquely super-powered warlord.”

    Don: Your summary of Paul and Revelation is simplistic. Paul clearly tells of God’s ultimate judgmemt of the Lawless One and lawlessness. Revelation simply fleshes that out. While on the topic, the OT also clearly reveals God’s judgment of evil. (It is the part that most atheists find reprehensible according to modern humanistic ideas. But is nevertheless the working out of God’s justice from the first page to the last.)

    BTW Revelation is as much about God’s grace and salvation as his justice.

    I don’t find Jesus in mark at odds with Jesus in John. You’ll have to be more specific.

    Neil: “We know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually were? No, we don’t nor do we know where they wrote or what their sources were.”

    Don: Do we need to know? But the first readers did. That is demonstrated in the writings of the Apostolic fathers of the first and second century. Only by ignoring them do scholars in the 21st century find the issue confused.

    Neil: “The commentaries are similarly far removed from them; there are commentaries on the Book of Mormon much closer to its composition.”

    Don: Comments on the New Testament texts began in the late first century. We have some of those documents and many more from the second century. Comments on the OT texts began with the midrash and Talmud before the end of the pre-Christian period.

    The Book of Mormon supposedly was written many centuries before it was provided to Joseph Smith. It was simply translated by him. So where are the commentaries or even references to the Book of Mormon pre-Jospeh Smith? Where are any copies at all?

    Neil: “Nor of the original copies of anything in the Bible.”

    Don: But there are copies of NT documents, many of them beginning in the second century and many quotes from the NT earlier than the second century. BTW this complaint is like saying that we cannot be sure of the authenticity of Shakespeare’s plays because we do not have the origianl folios. That whole tempest in a teapot overlooks the tremendous art and wisdom contained in the plays. It shifts the focus from Shakespeare’s object in his themes to something that pleases academics and few others.

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  2. Neil … True believers always have an answer for everything, don’t they? Thing is, they keep referencing that several thousand year old book to validate their statements.

    I must say … Paul and his cohorts really did a bang-up job when they created Christianity, didn’t they?

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    • Thing is the 2000 year-old book sounds pretty up-to-date given what is happening in the world. It not only diagnoses the problems but predicts the consequences of ignoring them. And it sounds like a page out of today’s NYTimes.

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      • That is because human nature is predictable, not a mystery. We have limited programming in spite of thinking we know better.

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      • Depends entirely on the personality type mixed with environmental factors. You don’t have to be Christian to be bad, but it doesn’t help either. You can fully predict human cycles by watching baboons or chimpanzees. Maybe someday we’ll transcend those traits, but it should be obvious to you by now no amount of preaching is going to do anything but cause people to simply hide their behavior. Christianity has shown us nothing we can’t learn from a bird feeder.

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      • It is not so much what Christianity SHOWS us as the solution God provides. And it is not to hide our behavior. In fact, it is the opposite. It is to recognize our behavior and repent of it. The next step is to recognize that God has provided a means of transformation of our character that is accessible by trusting that it is done.

        I know many serious Christians who have wrestled with this. I did myself. Burt once one realizes that this is part of the package of redemption provided in Christ and embraces it by faith truly incredible things happen. One of those is a freedom from legalism. The other of course is the transformation of our character so that we are increasingly mere and more like Jesus..

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      • Sure. Just like mormonisms promise. You desire it long enough it’ll convince yourself.
        No knowledge of religion at all is actually more productive and less harmful to human worth. I was born a sinner, here on probation out of the good graces of a father who tolerates my existence that I don’t even deserve. What does any child say to that?

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    • Don’t they just. Not necessarily good answers or honest answers, but answers that suit their existing presuppositions.
      I do get tired of Don treating us like children in one of his literature classes.

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      • Actually the world would bore you immensely. Good and evil are simply ways of segregation’s reality into separate bits, when in fact they are the same event. You cannot have good without the bad, black without the white. Polarity is what gives you a frame of reference.

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      • Is what is, fatalistic? Merely observing what is and has been going on since forever and a day, is a bit more realistic than pretending a belief will save us. Then at least we can measure what we’ve got to work with.
        The trick is trusting the bad as well as the good to perform their duties as usual and being honest about it.
        The problem Don, is you have no faith in your faith, but meddling in the affairs of nature never produces the desired effect. Why would a true believer think he needs to alter the course of his gods plan? Oh, because it isn’t really as effective as the claims would suggest.
        It’s ok to fight it too, just be honest about why—it’s all out of fear, and the distrust in the divine.

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      • Jim: “Is what is, fatalistic?”

        Don: Yes, when better is possible.

        Jim: ” Why would a true believer think he needs to alter the course of his gods plan?”

        Don: A true believer wants to COOPPERATE with God’s plan because he recognizes that God’s plan is good.

        Jim: “It’s ok to fight it too, just be honest about why—it’s all out of fear, and the distrust in the divine.”

        Don: I take it this is a bit of a confession. But I appreciate your honesty. I don’t run into that a lot.

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      • ”: A true believer wants to COOPPERATE with God’s plan because he recognizes that God’s plan is good. “
        By stockpiling guns, or resisting social equality and scientific discovery?
        Btw, what is better? No one knows from day to day what good thing will bring trouble, or what trouble will bring good. IMO, meddling in the affairs of the universe ( or god, in your case) never achieves the desired results. Allowing things to run their course OTOH, is right most of the time. There is nothing at all in error with nature. The entire thing is running perfectly. Meddling though is loaded with unintended consequences.

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      • And no, not a confession at all. Remember, I used to be a Christian. None of them I knew actually trusted any of it. They need (and you) the faith of an atheist —total trust in letting go. Real faith

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      • Stockpiling guns, resisting social equity, and scientific discovery are NOT things most Christians do.

        I don’t know what your experience with Christians was, but it is so different from mine that I wonder if we live in the same world.

        I grew up in the American west, in cattle and timber country. My family was not Christian. But we were outdoors people and we had guns for hunting. I have owned a few. In a sense we all stockpiled guns, but not as I think you mean.

        Most of my neighbors were not Christians. In fact, I knew of only one who was. They were conservative, however. They liked society the way it was and were inclined to be prejudice toward Indians and the rare negro who wandered into our community. They were even more prejudiced toward the rare big-city weekend intruders who came over the mountains to hunt in the fall. They was OUR deer.

        We thought little about scientific discovery unless it provided some benefit to raising cattle. They remain skeptical even now.

        That was sixty years ago. But not too much has changed. Sadly. In any event, what you complain about is not Christian behavior but rural western cattle country behavior. Or Texas behavior. Or Southern behavior and thinking. IMHO

        Remember, none of these friends and neighbors in my hometown were Christians. But you would have as much trouble with them as you have with the Christians you know.

        I am going to guess that your experience with Christians was with Christians who either lived in that kind of micro-culture or among people who had transplanted that culture to the city when they migrated. And there are those. But really, Jim, that is the exception not the rule. Don’t measure all Christians by your experience.

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      • You are probably correct that the “average’ church-going believer is not stockpiling guns. But MANY of the individuals who scream about Second Amendment rights ALSO claim to be Christians. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that if it was allowed, some of them would have a rifle slung over their shoulder as they enter the church doors.

        Christianity may have its good points, but in today’s world, few of them are being demonstrated.

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      • I will agree that few of them are being demonstrated. And because of that we should be corrected. But living by the good points, as you say, is not popular. It never has been. It is why Jesus was crucified. And that, among other reasons, is why many few Christians fail to do so.

        Regarding guns and violent behavior, I have a very difficult time seeing Jesus with a gun. I see him overcoming evil with good. I see him doing that at his own peril. And that is what I believe Christians are called to do.

        That does not preclude a Christian serving in the military or in the police. Defending the weak is a principle that Jesus taught and that is what governments are ordained to do. But the mini-cultures of both of those institutions would make it very difficult to do so without adopting the unjust means often employed. .

        The same is true of the other two areas: inequality and science. Science is often turned to the use of evil. Can I engage in that? No.

        Equality is often defined in a politically correct way that I cannot endorse or participate in. But treating people as valuable and worthy of respect is something I can do as a Christian. I may recognize the flaw of a person’s behavior and still see him or her as a person who God loves and I must also. My goodness, if people saw me as I am, they would find me falling short of the kind of life God desires of me. I am so glad that God looked beyond my sin to see me as a person, and loved me as a person.

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  3. You are right, the fragrance of sanctimonious street preachers and judgmental evangelicals is is not sweet. But there is some truth in what they say.

    You ask, “what does being more like Jesus mean?” It means, among other things, telling it like it is: the world is going to hell – unless they repent. That is what Jesus said. That did not make Jesus popular. He did not say it in the tones of your sanctimonious street preachers – whom I dislike as much as you. He said it through tears.

    He also said there was a better way to live. For that matter, the entire Bible says there is a better way to live.

    Yes, he was “tempestuous, impatient, impossibly demanding.” He was because he loves you. He was also caring, welcoming, loving, and giving. When it comes to God, you cannot have one without the other. Jesus was not about enabling your sin and lawlessness or coddling you on your way to hell. He was about saving you from certain death and hell.

    I told Jim to look past the flaws of Christians (of which there are plenty) and to look to Jesus. He is the only true measure. Whether you like what you see or not, that matters little. He was telling it like it is.

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  4. We are right now in a war that may well become a world war. People are dying and more will die. Why? Because the powerful of the world has chosen to live not by God’s instructions but but their own passions and interests. This war should be enough to convince us that we are wrong about how to best live It should convince us that guns and bombs are not our security nor the means to reach our goals. I doubt that it will. But perhaps some. Jesus was right. Those who seek to keep their lives will lose them. Those who give themselves away will gain life.

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    • You’re right, Don. If only Putin and other world leaders would turn to Jesus, the invasion of Ukraine would be over. If many more of us lived according to Jesus’ precepts, there’d be no more wars; no Christians have ever been instrumental in causing wars or persecuting non-believers and those of other faiths. No Christian country ever harboring guns or bombs.
      You’re right, these are not the answer; but neither is belief in a God who does nothing.

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      • God changes us. Many of the Christians in Ukraine are demonstrating that. But it is complicated. On the one hand, we are not to hate but love. On the other hand, we are to protect those who are suffering. We are to do so without defending ourselves.

        The Quakers in America during the Civil War came as close to that in somewhat similar circumstances as any. They protected the escaping slaves – at risk of their own lives and without using weapons to do so. And they refused to participate in the war on either side. It was not an easy line to walk.

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  5. Since the thread that this comment references is getting rather long…

    Don, you wrote … But treating people as valuable and worthy of respect is something I can do as a Christian. In your opinion, is this ability analogous only to Christians? Must one have a religious affiliation before they are able to show others respect?

    When push comes to shove, there are ugly and nasty people on both sides of the fence. The fact that a person adds “Christian” to his self-description is not always a defining factor. In fact, there are MANY who make the claim (especially in politics) that demonstrate far more “evil” in their lives than some non-believers.

    IMO, if a person needs some sort of heavenly being to direct their lives, they must have a very low opinion of themselves as a human being.

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    • No, everyone has the capability to do good or evil. The descriptor “Christian” really does not carry much weight unless one lives as a Christian.

      When politics and Christianity become mixed, especially when one declares he or she is a “Christian,” it becomes real iffy. If you are a Christian in politics, let your actions speak. And the actions of many who call themselves Christians do speak. And not passively. In America, Jimmy Carter came as close to having his profession and actions matching as any.

      The truth is that we are all deeply flawed. So, that must figure into our opinion of ourselves if it is to be a realistic opinion. We all are capable of doing evil and we all do evil to some degree. We all are capable of doing good, but we all fail to do good consistently. Therefore, we all need transformation. Any reformation that we attempt on our own will not be sufficient. We need God to change us.

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      • We need God to change us. Funny about that.

        I don’t feel I’m evil and I certainly don’t believe I do evil things … yet throughout God’s story, there are a multitude of instances where “He” has performed acts that many (most?) humans would consider evil. Thus, one can’t help but wonder there the defining line is placed.

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  6. Isaiah 19: 5 The waters will fail from the sea, and the river will be wasted and become dry.

    The passage is part of a poem. Poems from almost every culture and age depend on figugrastive language, and among the various tropes is hyperbole. Hebrew poetry is particularly full of this kind of trope. The reader must do what the reader of all poetry must do, that is to draw out what literal meaning is contained in the trope.

    It happens that ” In 671 B.C., the Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon drove the Kushite king Taharka out of Memphis and destroyed the city; he then appointed his own rulers out of local governors and officials loyal to the Assyrians.” https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-egypt#section_8

    That sounds a lot like what Isaiah described in 19: 1-4.

    “Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, and comes to Egypt. The idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence; and the heart of Egypt will melt within it. 2 I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians, and they will fight everyone against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom. 3 The spirit of the Egyptians will fail within them. I will destroy their counsel. They will seek the idols, the charmers, those who have familiar spirits, and the wizards. 4 I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord. A fierce king will rule over them,” says the Lord, Yahweh of Armies.

    This happened after Isaiah wrote. So in fact the prophecy did come to pass. The drying up on the river was a hyperbole describing the economic disaster of this was with Assyria and the civil war that prevailed in Egypt that followed.

    Again, Neil, you really need to look at the larger picture.

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    • As a wise man once said, ‘prophecy requires highly selective cherry-picking and careful manipulation before being forced to apply to times and events to which it doesn’t refer.’

      Thank you for providing illustration of this process in action.

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