It is a common myth that anti-Mormon attacks have completely overwhelmed the intellectual position of Latter-day Saints, leaving us with nothing but blind faith in our “warm feelings” about the Church. The portrayal of Mormons as idiots without any intellectual foundation in our religion is a common caricature based on deceptive marketing. With the flood of anti-Mormon arguments, books, pamphlets, movies, and Web sites, it is easy to think that Mormonism would be completely devastated if a tiny fraction of the things said against us were true.
For example, I once met a new convert, a college student, in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin, who showed me a couple of thick books loaded with accusations against the Church. She was upset and angry and planning to leave the Church. I tried to calm her down, and one by one, we discussed the arguments that were bothering her. Once one attack was diffused, she raised another, and another, and I think I helped her see that there was little merit to what she had raised so far, and that the bulk of the anti-Mormon material was truly deceptive. Then she just dug in her heels and said, “Well, it doesn’t matter. If only 10% of all the things in here are true, that’s enough to destroy the Church!” She left the Church, and if she had lived 2,000 years ago as an early Christian convert, I’m sure she would have left the Church then, too. After all, if only 10% of the things that the anti-Christians said were true, then that would be enough to destroy Christianity, right? (Oh, how I wish modern education would help people understand that critical thinking means more than just accepting the criticisms that others think up.)
Anti-Mormon literature is amazingly ignorant of what Latter-day Saints really believe and especially ignorant of LDS authors have written in response to anti-Mormon attacks. Many of the common attacks against the Church are regurgitated arguments from the nineteenth century, arguments which have been thoroughly and carefully treated by responsible LDS writers who do much more than just talk about some warm feeling in their hearts. But the anti-Mormon writers and speakers of today make it sound as if no Mormon has ever dared to respond to their awesome arguments, and that the Church can only retreat and hide when faced with an intellectual battle.
But many anti-Mormons are not simply ignorant of our response. Some have entered into debates and discussions with Latter-day Saint scholars and have had their intellectual fallacies soundly exposed, yet they continue saying the same things and acting as if there has never been a response. This form of intellectual dishonesty, based on the common anti-Mormon attitude of “the end justifies the means,” does great disservice to the cause of Christianity. Even if our position is wrong, the tactics of some of our professional anti-Mormon opponents reveal whom they really follow.
The intellectual weakness of the standard anti-Mormon position has been pointed out by a number of non-LDS writers. In one interesting example, two evangelical critics of the Church, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, presented a paper at the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting, April 25, 1997 that warned the evangelical community about the impressive efforts of LDS scholars and criticized the blind approach of typical anti-Mormon literature. Their article, “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” (later published in Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205), is one of the most intriguing non-LDS articles I’ve ever encountered from critics of the Church. (One of several copies of it on the Web can be found at ComeToZarahemla.org or Cephas Ministry.)
Mosser and Owen note that anti-LDS writers have ignored the significant work of respected LDS scholars who are providing “robust defenses” of the LDS faith. In preparing their paper, Mosser and Owen did something that few critics have done: they have actually read a wide variety of LDS scholarly writings. As a result, they came to the following five conclusions:
The first [conclusion] is that there are, contrary to popular evangelical perceptions, legitimate Mormon scholars. We use the term scholar in its formal sense of “intellectual, erudite; skilled in intellectual investigation; trained in ancient languages.” Broadly, Mormon scholarship can be divided into four categories: traditional, neo-orthodox, liberal and cultural. We are referring to the largest and most influential of the four categories–traditional Mormon scholars. It is a point of fact that the Latter-day Saints are not an anti-intellectual group like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mormons, in distinction to groups like JWs, produce work that has more than the mere appearance of scholarship. The second conclusion we have come to is that Mormon scholars and apologists (not all apologists are scholars) have, with varying degrees of success, answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms. Often these answers adequately diffuse particular (minor) criticisms. When the criticism has not been diffused the issue has usually been made much more complex.
A third conclusion we have come to is that currently there are, as far as we are aware, no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibility interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings. In a survey of twenty recent evangelical books criticizing Mormonism we found that none interact with this growing body of literature. Only a handful demonstrate any awareness of pertinent works. Many of the authors promote criticisms that have long been refuted; some are sensationalistic while others are simply ridiculous. A number of these books claim to be “the definitive” book on the matter. That they make no attempt to interact with contemporary LDS scholarship is a stain upon the authors’ integrity and causes one to wonder about their credibility.
Our fourth conclusion is that at the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons. We are losing the battle and do not know it. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not. Those who have the skills necessary for this task rarely demonstrate an interest in the issues. Often they do not even know that there is a need. In large part this is due entirely to ignorance of the relevant literature.
Finally, our fifth conclusion is that most involved in the counter-cult movement lack the skills and training necessary to answer Mormon scholarly apologetic. The need is great for trained evangelical biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians to examine and answer the growing body of literature produced by traditional LDS scholars and apologists.
(Further analysis based on the paper of Mosser and Owen has been provided by Justin Hart in “Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It,” in MeridianMagazine.com, an article in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. For an interesting example of the issues that Owen and Mosser have raised, see Paul Owen’s rebuttal of anti-Mormon John Weldon’s response to the original article of Mosser and Owen. Owen appears to be appalled at the “head-in-the-sand” approach of John Weldon, who has demonstrated the very problems that Mosser and Owen speak against in their paper and says that Weldon’s anti-Mormon “intellectual narrow-mindedness” is “astounding.”
Latter-day Saints who study the responses of LDS writers to anti-Mormon criticisms know that there are many excellent resources which completely refute or at least defuse many of the arguments hurled against us. These resources, found at places like FARMS, The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIRLDS.org), SHIELDS, and even my little Web site (including my Mormon Answers section), do not rely on blind faith and emotional feelings to deal with the critics, in my opinion. In fact, Mosser and Own are correct in observing that there are “robust defenses.” In fact, many of the defenses turn the tables on the critics and leave them in intellectually untenable positions. In fact, we could turn around and ask them a few tough questions of our own (though never with the nastiness and “any-lie-will-do” approach that we see from many critics)–something I have gently tried to do on my page, “My Turn–Questions for Anti-Mormons.”