LDS Discussions Blog
Searching for Parallels to Explain Problems Away (March 24, 2020)
One thing we've noted throughout the pages on this site is how apologists always look for parallels in everything. Parallels are a great tool for apologists to point in order to say Joseph Smith or the church got it right. And the reality is that there will always be parallels in everything because there are always common themes or characters in different books, groups, or ideas. Unfortunately parallels don't make the subject you are defending any more or less true - it has to be weighed against the evidence for or against the claim as a whole.
We see this when the church points to parallels in the Book of Abraham to ancient times in their gospel topics essay, even though they ignore both the context of those issues as well as the hundreds of problems that show the Book of Abraham is a work of pseudepigrapha (fictional writings in the voice of a biblical figure) as even LDS historian Richard Bushman conceded.
We also see this use of parallel-o-mania with every other aspect of the church. Apologists will point to the Word of Wisdom as being inspired revelation because we know today that smoking is bad for you, but they ignore that the Word of Wisdom not only got a lot wrong. Not only does the Word of Wisdom neglect crucial information that would've not only saved the lives of early church members, but would have been true revelation and not an aggregation of thoughts going around during Joseph Smith's time.
Most recently, we saw this with the curse of dark skin in the Book of Mormon, where apologists point to parallels with the Bible referring to skin as clothes, and not literal skin. We wrote about this already, but that idea ignores not just the context of the text of the Book of Mormon, but the revelations that were claimed from God to Joseph Smith after the Book of Mormon was finished.
A great example of this is the Book of Mormon translation. As we now know, Joseph Smith put his stone (that he previously used when paid to hunt for hidden treasure that he never actually found) into a top hat to read the words to his scribe, not the gold plates as I was taught as a convert. Years after the translation, W.W. Phelps called Joseph's seer/peep stone the Urim and Thummim, drawing a parallel to a concept in the Bible. The parallel is completely wrong as we detailed when looking at the church's video on seer stones, but it's a great way to deflect the real problems away.
If you try to build the case around parallels while ignoring the obvious problems, it might make a believing member with questions feel more assured that nothing is wrong, but it's a truly deceptive and dishonest way to approach these problems from both an intellectual and historical manner. Of course there are parallels with the Book of Mormon and the Bible, but that's not proof of the Book of Mormon - it just shows us how Joseph Smith used the Bible to produce the Book of Mormon. It's the reason that Jesus effectively retells the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon, even though a majority of biblical scholars now believe that the Sermon on the Mount was never given by Jesus as told in Matthew, but that it was a scribe (remember the actual authors of the gospels are unknown to us) who took the "sayings" of Jesus and compiled them together to include in Matthew. In other words, how would Jesus give a sermon in the Book of Mormon that he didn't actually give in the Bible?
The reason I've been thinking about how apologists use parallels is because right now we are living in a situation that at least feels unprecedented in modern times. The COVID-19 virus has spread across the world and is creating untold chaos with our health systems, financial markets, and daily lives. It has certainly shaken my life - my job has been largely impacted by it for a while and will continue to be so, and the fear of getting coronavirus is small compared to the fear of transmitting it to others around me.
As with any other crisis, there is always a desire to try and make sense of it in a way that is compatible with our existing worldview. I was sent a list from a friend that has been going around social media trying to show that the church has been uniquely prepared for the coronavirus outbreak and the outbreak is actually proof of its truthfulness, and I just wanted to quickly look at these points to point out how easily we use parallels to mask over the problems that are cracking the foundations beneath.
To the list (and capitalization of words matches the original post):
1. Isn't it amazing that in this time, Heavenly Father called a DOCTOR to be a prophet to the world?
This would make sense if Russell Nelson could give any input into how to cure this disease. It would also make sense if Nelson had been among the first out there warning people to engage in social distancing or even canceling church. But the Mormon church did not suspend Sunday church until after almost every sport had suspended their seasons, concert tours were postponed, or after many states closed schools and large gatherings.
The idea that God called Russell Nelson to be a prophet because he was a doctor would imply that Nelson was going to use his background as a doctor to help the situation, but instead Nelson never warned anyone that this was coming, never warned members of the urgency of food storage last General Conference, and was again behind most governments and businesses in restricting activity. This is exactly what I mean when I say that apologists grasp at parallels to make this church seem true while ignoring the implications of these problems.
Keep in mind that missionaries were still going door to door as late as March 18th - long after many states and countries had begun shutting down. Clearly a doctor would've known to keep these missionaries at home long before the outbreak reached the United States, yet instead they were only told to stay inside as much as possible once people were posting videos on social media from their Ring of Nest doorbells of missionaries coming to their doors. It's absurd that they were going door to door, but even more so if you are trying to proclaim that God called a doctor to be prophet to protect us.
2. Isn't it amazing that if we are asked to stay at home, we don't have to freak out. The prophets have been telling us to have food storage prepared for emergencies.
If you look at some of the stats coming out, Utah is leading the country in grocery sales increases since the COVID-19 outbreak gripped the nation. And it wasn't even close... increases in grocery sales year over year:
As I pointed out in #1, if Russell Nelson was a prophet you would think this would have been a big theme of the last General Conference, and yet it wasn't. If we want to really look at the church's longstanding stance on food storage, I wonder how much money and food has been wasted over the last 200 years from members who stocked up on essentials for a second coming that never arrived? I know we have a big container of food storage that is long past use, which is now used as a makeshift step stool. When you stretch to find parallels, you ignore all of the problems that you're dancing around, and this is another example of that.
3. Isn't it amazing that if church was to be canceled, our prophet has been having us learn how to study/have church at home.
Come Follow Me was in the works before Russell Nelson became prophet, and while it does allow for learning at home, so did every other previous church manual for Sundays. This would be a real bullseye if the announcement to drop the third hour of church was accompanied by a warning of a global pandemic or impending emergency, but instead the coverage was about lowering the length of church with an emphasis of having the third hour transition to a more home centered lesson.
Either none of the church leaders saw this coming, or none of them thought it was worth telling us about. This is a problem considering how many resources Nelson wasted to scrub the church of the use of "Mormon," which was a lifelong mission that just happened to be his first big revelation as prophet. Interesting how the COVID-19 outbreak, which has altered the world in a massive way but could not have been foreseen, was never mentioned by any of the twelve men sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators.
4. Isn't it amazing that Heavenly Father put a prophet on the Earth to help people know what to do and prepare us?
I know this might sound overly snarky, but this one is just silly. Again, Nelson did not warn anyone about this nor did he make food storage or preparation a focus leading up to this pandemic. Nelson did not pull missionaries from the worst hit countries ahead of time, nor did he give them warnings that it might be arriving. Church leaders were just as surprised and caught off guard as any of us, and they have given no guidance that we are not already getting from experts who use science and data to help us flatten the curve and beat this virus.
We did a write up about the Word of Wisdom a while ago, but it bears repeating here: If God was truly talking to these prophets to help and prepare us, why did Joseph Smith only get ideas already familiar to him for the Word of Wisdom that have been since shown to be largely wrong? Why did God not tell Joseph to have members boil water, which would've saved countless lives and been a true revelation?
These kinds of statements are great to confirm our personal biases, but the reality is that the church did absolutely nothing to prepare us for the pandemic. And while apologists will again fall back on food storage as preparation, the truth is that this is the same church that told early members in patriarchal blessings they would see the second coming, told early members in Missouri they would be protected, and that the government would be not even a grease spot if they did not protect the church (Millennial Star 29:455).
The point is that this church is wrong often when it comes to making predictions, and we've outlined a few here that alone should raise some big red flags. The saying "a broken clock is right twice a day" applies here, because if you constantly call for the end of days, you'll be able to point to a crisis such as coronavirus as proof that the church got it right. The problem, however, is that put in context you can see that the church is wrong way more than they are right, which is a problem when you claim to be the one mouthpiece for God on this planet.
And given the church's immense financial status, many members are now less able to absorb the financial impacts of the coronavirus outbreak because they gave 10% of their gross income to the church, who has a $100 billion dollar investment fund that has never once been used to help those in need. I would love to know how demanding that members give 10% of their income (that could have been their own rainy day fund) has helped us prepare for the outbreak and its aftermath.
5. I hope you are all preparing yourselves for General Conference on April 4th and 6th. What our leaders tell us is FROM GOD. All we have to do is LISTEN and FOLLOW them and we will be fine (heart emoji).
Look I know that as members of any church or organization, we want to look up to the prophets and leaders for answers, but history tells us they have none.
There were members who followed Joseph Smith and his revelations but still died of cholera because God neglected to put boiling water in the Word of Wisdom. Not only did Joseph Smith not get a revelation that included such a basic concept that was unknown at the time, but his priesthood blessings were ineffective against cholera because priesthood blessings have been shown time and time again to be ineffective against illnesses.
The members who followed Joseph Smith lost their savings because Joseph created a fake anti-bank and it collapsed almost immediately. They believed the Kirtland Safety Society was from God, and Joseph Smith asked for and then mismanaged their money. This caused a great exodus from the church, because members saw that Joseph Smith used his authority to benefit himself, and was constantly wrong about what was going to actually happen when he was not in direct control.
The members who followed Mormon prophets believed blacks were cursed by God and that Native Americans were descendants of Lamanites. We now know the curse was just the racism of church and that Native Americans came from Asia. There is no evidence to suggest the Book of Mormon took place in any historical sense, and an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest it did not.
The members who followed Mormon prophets believed that God told Joseph Smith it was OK to marry and have sex with other member's wives and daughters, and that it is OK that women are still going to face eternal polygamy upon their death. This is such an abusive practice, and another area where following the prophet led to heartache and often a life of poverty and struggles.
The members who followed Russell Nelson believed the November 15 policy against LGBT members was a revelation from God, only to be whiplashed 3.5 years later with another revelation canceling out the first revelation. We are still dealing with the ramifications of this today, and the church is still trying to catch up with the reality that people are born gay and that it's not a choice as leaders have taught.
We could do this all day. Following the prophet has led people to make choices that are harmful to others and prophets are often wrong as we've outlined with the causes of dark skin, gay people or future events. If God was truly leading this church, how are the prophets wrong as much as the average person off the street? Just read through our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essays - this is not an isolated problem, but the church has been really good at using parallels to try and get out of jams, and that works as long as it keeps members from digging deeper into the research.
I get that we all have a need to make sense of the coronavirus and that we crave the comfort that comes from believing we are in better hands. As a member of record I still understand that, but when you do the research it becomes crystal clear that they have no more connection to divinity than anyone else, and that they close that gap with a combination of confidence and their own personal biases. It's why Russell Nelson's first big move was to remove the use of Mormon that he had been fighting for his whole life, yet he couldn't foresee something like the coronavirus outbreak or the need to reverse the November 15 revelation against LGBT members until 3.5 years later.
The church is not true - that is something we can prove with evidence and research. It has been proven false by biblical scholars, geneticists, linguistics, Egyptian scholars, archaeologists, and almost every other field of study. There are no amount of parallels that can account for these issues - biblical scholarship alone shows that the Book of Mormon is a work of Joseph Smith, and that is before we even get to the claims from the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith.
Russell Nelson is no more a prophet than any other prophet from a Mormon offshoot around today. He is no more a prophet than you or me, and it makes me beyond sad that instead of listening to experts who are using scientific reasoning to create solutions, we are relying on a man that claimed there was no evolution and dogs have always been dogs.
We all want to look for parallels to try and find a way to defend the indefensible, and this is no different. It's the reason apologists like Hugh Nibley were popular in his time, because he attacked some of the harder issues by just expanding the universe of reality through parallels. The problem is that Hugh Nibley has been proven wrong time and time again, and as we learn more from science and history it only makes his explanations all the more absurd.
Parallels are great for comfort, but they won't cure the coronavirus and they will certainly not make you safer. This church is not true and the leaders have shown that to us all time and time again. Most members who are facing the prospect of unemployment, fewer hours, or increased medical expenses could really use that 10% a year they donated to a church that is simply not true. It makes me so sad, because the church has so successfully demonized those who have researched these issues and realized the church is demonstrably false, and they do such a good job that most members are terrified to even go over the issues with those who have left.
Just as we are listening to the medical experts who are guiding us through the COVID-19 crisis, it's time we listen to the experts in these other fields who can show us without a doubt that this church is not true, and that it is OK to walk away from it and never look back. If you found out a financial adviser was guiding you on false data, you'd walk away. If you found out your personal doctor was using medication or therapies that were based on a false foundation, you'd walk away. This is no different, but you have to give yourself permission to see it before you will ever be able to look under the hood.
I know this is a difficult process and I how crushing it is to learn a religion you were raised with or converted to is not true. But if the church is true, then you should be able to read through our materials without any fear. As Apostle James Talmage said, "The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding." I don't think I could say it better myself, and no amount of apologetic parallels will change that.