By T.A. McMahon
Not long after leaving my screenwriting career in Hollywood, I was hired to assist on a documentary produced by a Christian film company. The subject was Mormonism and the company’s initial screenings were not very successful. They hoped that my film experience and input would help improve the project. I was familiar with the theology of Mormonism through my previous work on a documentary addressing multiple cults; so after reviewing the docudrama a couple of times, my solution was to re-edit the film so that it focused primarily on the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-simply what Mormons believe. That hardly seems like a brilliant idea, or even a particularly interesting one. Perhaps-but then you may not be familiar with the teachings of Joseph Smith and LDS’s so-called Apostles and Prophets.
Historians have marveled at how quickly so many people flocked to Joseph Smith’s new theology. Within a decade he had thousands of followers. A principle reason for this rapid rise in popularity was Mormonism’s startling and distinct contrast with what the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and various other Christian denominations believe. To begin with, Smith taught that most of the beliefs of Christianity had become hopelessly corrupted, including the Bible, and that which had been supernaturally revealed to him would restore God’s truth. The main attraction, however, was theological novelty.
Today the LDS Church has taken a different tactic involving new name preferences (play down “Mormonism,” play up “Church of Jesus Christ”) and other strategies (e.g., create an image of being a part of mainstream Christianity through advertising campaigns). It’s working. After Islam, Mormonism is now the fastest growing religion in the world, although little has changed doctrinally from the Church’s novel beginnings.
Mormonism teaches that God has a physical body and lives on a planet near a star called Kolob. He is but one of an infinite number of Gods, each ruling over his own world located somewhere in the universe. Supposedly, each God has untold numbers of goddess wives who produce millions of spirit children. Amazingly, these spiritual offspring of God and his goddesses must then be birthed through physical beings (non-gods) on earth. This obtains for them the physical bodies necessary to become Gods and goddesses, who create and rule over their own worlds. Polygamy was a major part of Mormonism. It met the need for producing bodies for the spirit babies birthed by multiple mother goddesses. It is still practiced among Mormon sects today. The Latter-day Saints’ focus on the family has more to do with the Church’s biblically unorthodox theology than with domestic well-being.
According to LDS teaching, Jesus was one of those spirit babies (as was his spirit brother Lucifer, who became Satan). The conception of Jesus was unique but not virginal; God, who is physical, had intercourse with Mary. Furthermore, since producing children is critical to a Mormon male’s progression to godhood, Jesus had children through the women (the sisters Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, etc.) who accompanied him. Supposedly, he married them at the wedding feast of Cana.
Mormonism’s salvation accommodates nearly everyone in one “heaven” or another. The death of Jesus on the cross was redemptive only in that it provided physical resurrection (bodies) for all. Obeying the commandments and performing Church duties and rituals are necessary in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom. Those who fall short of such requirements may still enter in as Celestial servants, and, if not, they can abide in the Terrestrial Kingdom. Moral non-Mormons may spend eternity in the Telestial Kingdom. Hell is a purgatory-like place and is eternal only for those few who commit the “unpardonable sin,” such as apostasy. Nearly everyone has a chance to improve his eternal status after death.
Although we’ve heard the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” Mormonism seriously challenges this idea. The most sacred scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is The Book of Mormon, which reads like rather bizarre but poor fiction trying its best to be taken as revealed truth. If that opinion sounds a bit “intolerant,” bear with me.
The Book of Mormon claims to be a record of two migrations of ancient people to the Americas: the family of Jared around 2000 B.C. and, 1,500 years later, the family of Lehi. The first migration supposedly took place when the Tower of Babel was being constructed. A central character, curiously referred to only as the “brother of Jared,” is instructed by God to build eight watertight, rudderless “barges” to carry people and animals (including bees and fish) to the promised land. The brother of Jared realized that breathing and seeing might become a problem aboard the all-wooden, “tight like unto a dish” crafts and asked God for some design modifications. God told him to bore a hole that could be plugged in the top and bottom of the barges for air, and to place a shining stone in the end of each vessel for light. Chapter 2 of Ether states that the barges were tossed about and “buried in the depths of the sea” many times. This rather implausible sea journey (even for a supernaturally guided one) took nearly a year and delivered the people to the uninhabited Americas. There the Jaredites grew from 30 or so to multiple thousands and then perished because of their wickedness.
In the second migration to the promised land, Israelites left Jerusalem around 600 B.C. on a single vessel guided by a supernaturally provided “brass ball.” Soon after their arrival, Lehi’s sons, Laman and Lemuel, rebelled against God; they and their followers were cursed by God, which resulted in “a skin of blackness to come upon them.” They were called Lamanites, and Mormonism claims that these dark-skinned Hebrews are the original ancestors of the Native Americans of the Western Hemisphere. The followers of Nephi remained “white, exceedingly fair and delightsome” and throughout their history these groups were at enmity with each other.
Shortly after his resurrection, the Book of Mormon claims that Jesus came to America, where he taught the Nephites the gospel (of works salvation), ordained disciples and gave instructions concerning the sacraments of communion and baptism.
Around the fifth century A.D., the Lamanites finally destroyed all the Nephites so that only the dark-skinned people remained in the Americas. Following the final battle, the last surviving Nephite, Moroni, finished recording on plates the events of his people and hid them beneath a rock on the Hill Cumorah (located in upstate New York). Approximately 1,400 years later Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr., giving him the location of the “gold plates” and instructing him to translate them into English.
The process of translation involved Smith’s putting a “seer stone” into a hat and covering the opening with his face. The stone would then glow, Reformed Egyptian symbols would appear, and the English rendering would manifest below them. Smith dictated the translation and the image remained until it was transcribed correctly. Written in the introduction to The Book of Mormon are these words of Joseph Smith: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Is this “the most correct” book on earth? The veracity of that statement is critical to the faith of 11 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The 10th President of the Mormon Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, made plain what is at stake: “Mormonism…must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground….” Yet when the “ground” of his having been “a prophet of God” is examined reasonably, it begins to look more and more like swampland.
The errors found within the Book of Mormon have filled volumes. Even the LDS Church has made thousands of corrections since the book’s first edition in 1830. Some problems, however, can’t be resolved without expunging major parts of the book. For example, first and second Nephi were supposedly recorded in the fifth century B.C.; yet, astonishingly, these books quote passages from the New Testament, which was written in the first century A.D.! The book recorded by Alma dates between 92 and 53 B.C., yet uses the word “Christians.” Acts (covering the timespan A.D. 33-62) tells us that name was first used in Antioch to refer to the followers of Christ. Moreover, Nephi, supposedly a Hebrew prophet writing from America, used Greek terms such as “Christ” rather than “Messiah.” It’s also more than odd that these transplanted Hebrews knew far more about Jesus prior to his coming (and alleged later visitation to America) than their brethren in Israel did, while at the same time, details in the Book of Mormon regarding the Mosaic and Levitical laws are almost nonexistent. One glaring example: the necessity of keeping the Passover is neither endorsed nor even mentioned. All of this adds up to an obvious New Testament bias on the part of the writer of this Mormon sacred scripture.
There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that Joseph Smith had more than supernatural assistance in compiling the Book of Mormon. Speculative writings concerning the origins of the Indians were popularized in his day through such works as Ethan Smith’s The View of the Hebrews and the writings of Rev. Solomon Spaulding. These and other relevant works were certainly available to the Mormon prophet. However, his plagiarism of the Bible is the most convincing indication that Joseph Smith fraudulently produced the Latter-day Saints’ holy writ. Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible provides exact quotes and parallels found in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. They write, “…in the Book of Mormon we have Lehi, the father of Nephi, quoting from the New Testament book of Revelation almost seven centuries before it was written!” Thousands of other examples follow. Furthermore, some KJV quotes include italicized words not found in the Hebrew, Greek or Latin manuscripts from which they were translated, but were inserted by the A.D. 1611 translators simply to clarify the text. Did the inspiration process include translating Reformed Egyptian, written by Hebrew-speaking scribes, into the centuries-later King James English (including some Greek and Latin terms) complete with italicized words, or did Joseph Smith simply contrive the Book of Mormon together with ample help from a KJV Bible and other sources?
The Bible has been scrutinized, analyzed and criticized for thousands of years, yet nothing has been exposed which undermines the Book that declares itself to be God’s Word. Moreover, mountains of evidence from diverse fields of study support its claims of supernatural origin.
Nothing of the kind can be said for the Book of Mormon. Archaeologists have found nothing to support the land, cities, monuments, or peoples the book presents. History, anthropology and linguistics are likewise silent. But one field, molecular biology, has had much to say lately, and it’s not good news for defenders of the Mormon faith.
The introduction to the Book of Mormon underscores an important claim made by this alleged sacred text: “After thousands of years, all [i.e., the white Hebrew descendants of Lehi] were destroyed except the [dark-skinned] Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” When Joseph Smith was young, one of the popular mysteries of his day was the origin of the Native Americans. It made for interesting speculation but seemed far beyond the possibility of proof. Not so today. The science of DNA supplies such proof-which will stand up in a court of law. It is now possible to trace a person’s DNA back through centuries to accurately determine one’s ancestry.
There is a stunning new video now available on this subject titled DNA vs. The Book of Mormon, which is both groundbreaking and powerful in its simplicity. Among the featured scientists is Dr. David Glenn Smith, a molecular anthropologist and researcher from the University of California at Davis who has studied Native Americans for 30 years, and whose lab is this country’s leading test center for Indian genetics. Here is his view, as well as the consensus of scientists in his field: “If you look at genes in Native Americans…they came from their ancestral populations….You can look for those genes in Jewish populations but you don’t find them…they don’t coincide at all. The homeland of Native Americans is East Asia.”
The video includes anthropologist and Mormon scholar, Thomas Murphy, who summarizes the dilemma for the LDS Church: “…we don’t have a single source from ancient America outside the Book of Mormon validating a single place, a single person, a single event….We don’t have any of that, so the problem that DNA poses for the Book of Mormon, in a sense, exemplifies the difficulties that we already have. There’s never been any evidence that would show us that there had been an Israelite migration to the New World. Not in genetics or for that matter in any other source, historical, archaeological, or linguistic.”
If there was no Israelite migration, then there were no Nephite or Lamanite people; therefore, Joseph Smith was a fraud and the Book of Mormon-“Another Testament of Jesus Christ” – is patently false. Worse yet, it is soul-damning fiction. That’s the grievous plight of millions of Latter-day Saints faithful to Joseph Smith’s teaching.
If the opportunity arises for you to interact with Mormons, please don’t avoid them. Christ died for them. Although most Mormons cling to their false faith in the Book of Mormon based upon feelings (a “burning in the bosom” experience), their irrationality is being confronted more and more by irrefutable evidence from science. Increasing numbers are facing the fact that they were duped by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al. Show them the love of the biblical Jesus by being informed about their beliefs and, most importantly, share with them the truth which set you free (Jn 8:31-32). Pray for a mass exodus from the bondage of Mormonism.