LDS Discussions Blog
Please Don't Look Under the Hood (January 23, 2019)
After last week's youth devotional from the Renlunds about Navigating Doubts, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge gave a similar devotional to BYU students on January 22nd with a very similar theme: Do not give into doubts, we know all of this stuff and it doesn't bother us, so why should it bother you?
Corbridge's talk was covered by the Deseret News under the "Church News" page titled: "What to do with your questions, according to 1 General Authority who's an expert on anti-Church materials."
First, it's funny that the Deseret News is now using "anti-Church" instead of "anti-Mormon" because of Nelson's 'inspiration' that God is offended by the term Mormon. We covered the story behind Nelson's 'inspiration/revelation'in another blog post about rebranding revelation, but it actually is important to this article and we'll highlight it as we go, but the church is working frantically to keep members from looking at church history, doctrines, and policies, and the concept of ongoing revelation is a big reason for that.
The biggest takeaway for me between this talk and the Renlund devotional to the church is that the church has no faith promoting answers so now they're attacking the questions before they're even asked.
We're going to respond to this article directly, so the article paragraphs will be in the color red while our replies will be below each one in black. This will be somewhat similar to our annotated essays, but much shorter and more off the cuff. And away we go...
Will you stand forever? Or will you go away?
These are questions Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge asked BYU students to ponder during his devotional address on Jan. 22.
As part of an assignment as a General Authority Seventy, Elder Corbridge needed to read through a great deal of material antagonistic to the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
“There may not be anything out there (of that nature) I haven’t read,” he said.
Reading this material always left him with a sense of gloom, which inspired him to write a response to these antagonistic claims.
First, this mirrors the Renlund talk in the 'appeal to authority' that Corbridge is making. He wants to make sure that these BYU students think that he has read *everything* negative about the church and has come out with an even stronger faith, so they don't need to bother looking at it. It shows a lack of confidence in the truth claims of the church when they can't come out and say "There may not be anything out there (of that nature) I haven't read, which is why I encourage you all to take that journey for yourselves to know that this church is true and stands up to all scrutiny."
But they don't say it -- they can't say it. The other important note about this section is the sentence "Reading this material always left him with a sense of gloom, which inspired him to write a response to these antagonistic claims."
That is cognitive dissonance. When we read information that contradicts our previously held beliefs, it makes us feel uncomfortable, sad, or even sick to our stomachs. The only way to get rid of that feeling of cognitive dissonance is to either find answers to the problems or to rationalize them away by suggesting they don't actually matter. For example, a smoker might see articles about how unhealthy smoking is, but rationalize it away by saying they don't know for sure and we're all going to die anyway so why worry about it? As we'll see in a bit, Corbridge spends this talk rationalizing it away by telling these BYU students not to worry about "secondary questions."
Now is a day where deception is everywhere, and the spectrum of deception is broad. It ranges from attacks on the Restoration, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, to those who claim to believe in the Restoration but are disillusioned with doctrine that conflicts with shifting attitudes of the day.
“Truth enables us to see clearly because it is the knowledge of things as they really are, as they were and as they are to come,” Elder Corbridge said. “Knowledge is crucial to avoid deception and discern between truth and error.”
One cannot be better than what he or she knows. Most people act based on their beliefs. Sometimes, though, their beliefs are wrong.
For instance, someone may believe in God and that pornography is wrong, yet still clicks on a site wrongly believing he or she will be happier, cannot help but click, isn’t hurting anyone else or it’s not that bad. But this person is wrong.
“When you act badly, you may think you are bad when in truth you are usually mistaken,” Elder Corbridge said. “The challenge is not as much closing the gap between our actions and our beliefs. The challenge, rather, is closing the gap between our beliefs and the truth.”
This part of the talk is again very similar to Renlund's devotional, in that the critics are blamed as deceitful or disillusioned. There is truth to Corbridge's statement that "One cannot be better than what he or she knows." The fact is most church members have no idea of the problems with the history, doctrines, or scriptures because the church refuses to include the troubling areas in their correlated materials.
And Corbridge is right when he says the challenge is "closing the gap between our beliefs and the truth." The church has taught a whitewashed history for 170 years and we now know so much more about problems with the scriptures such as the Book of Abraham, Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, or the BYU study that shows Joseph Smith plagiarized Adam Clarke's Biblical commentaries for the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. It goes well beyond that because the church taught that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with the golden plates and Urim and Thummim, when they have no admitted that he translated the Book of Mormon with a stone in a hat. When I first saw the South Park episode ten years ago about the origins of the Mormon church I was sure they were making it up, but sadly they were depicting the translation more honestly than the church.
The point is that these issues are real, and the church has carefully hid them from members. They claim that the information was always out there, which is partially true, but the question one must ask is why the church felt they needed to shield members from hearing about this information in church meetings, Sunday school, seminary, etc. We will cover the issues more in a bit, but they absolutely matter and we'll explain why in the next section.
Elder Corbridge explained there are primary and secondary questions when it comes to the Church. The primary questions must be answered first, as they are the most important. They include:
Is there a God who is our Father?
Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
Was Joseph Smith a prophet?
Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?
In contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, how the Book of Mormon was translated, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, different accounts of the First Vision and so on.
“If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t understand, things you agree with and things you don’t agree with without jumping ship altogether,” Elder Corbridge said.
There are two issues I have with the idea of just focusing on primary questions. First, the four primary questions that Corbridge gives are flawed. The only two primary questions that matter "when it comes to the church" are if Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if the LDS church is the "kingdom of God on the earth."
The first two primary questions are accepted by over two billion Christians and really have nothing to do with the truth claims of the church. This is what the Renlund devotional did as well -- the church loves to make belief in God only possible through the Mormon church. This is insulting and deceptive as evidenced by the two billion Christians (about 150x the number of people who identify as Mormon) who do not believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Furthermore, you can leave the LDS church and still believe in God as many people do, but church leaders constantly make it an all or nothing proposition because it puts more fear into members who might doubt the truth claims of this church.
So for the Mormon church, the *only* two questions that matter are about Joseph Smith being a prophet and the church being the kingdom of God on the earth. You can't believe those two questions without believing the first two, and Corbridge knows that.
The other problem I have is that Corbridge is setting this up to say that once you answer those four questions, everything else is irrelevant. “If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t understand, things you agree with and things you don’t agree with without jumping ship altogether."
This is simply not true unless you use the circular argument the church utilizes: It must be true because Joseph Smith was a prophet, and Joseph Smith was a prophet because it's true. Finding answers to the secondary questions is what gives us the ability to answer the primary questions with sincerity and not just because we have a hope or feeling that we want it to be true.
If I show you a car and ask you to buy it, you're going to want to look under the hood. If I then tell you that it looks great from the exterior, and that you shouldn't worry about everything that makes the car run, you would tell me I'm crazy and walk away. The same is true here -- the church is telling you through these devotionals that not only should you not look under the hood, but that doing so is wrong.
What greater admission can you get from this church that their truth claims do not hold up than multiple leaders telling the youth of the church not to research it? They know that they are standing on a crumbling foundation, so they want to make sure that you do not open the hood and take a look inside.
The secondary questions are what should give you the primary answers. If the secondary questions do not have answers, how can we possibly believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? The church always tells us we know from the holy ghost, except that billions of people ask with a sincere heart and are told otherwise by God - even in polygamous LDS splinter groups. You can view that video here, which was an eye opening video for me during my research into the church's truth claims. (You can jump directly to the young woman who just received confirmation to be a polygamous wife by clicking here)
The church wrote the Gospel Topics essays years ago, but they don't promote them. In fact, they are three clicks deep on the LDS.org website. If they had good answers that would promote their truth claims, they would shout them from the rooftops and discuss them in every General Conference talk, but they don't. Even when you read the Gospel Topics essays you can see how they're still trying to keep you from looking too close under the hood by giving you a handful of possible reasons why each issue isn't really a problem. Check out our annotated essays where we take the Gospel Topics essay and add our notes as to why the apologetic response simply doesn't work:
Those are all "secondary questions" to Corbridge, yet those are foundations of the church. To say that the Deutero-Isaiah verses in the Book of Mormon is a secondary question is outrageous because they show the Book of Mormon was written in the 19th century. Or to suggest that God incorrectly identified the Indians as Lamanites is a secondary issue is not just wrong, but is harmful. As we are learning more and more that being gay is genetics and not a choice, shouldn't we then question why the one church that claims to talk to God not only hasn't gotten it right, but is still going the wrong way?
The church banks on the saying that you can't reason out of something you didn't reason yourself into, but the church is continuing to exploit the idea of "think of how you used to feel" in order to keep members from looking under the hood. Corbridge is right that the secondary questions are unending, but that's only because the church's answers do not hold up to scrutiny. The church still teaches that polygamy is the everlasting covenant in the celestial kingdom, but they won't talk about it with members because they know how harmful the thought is to women.
No one expects the church or Joseph Smith to be perfect. No one expects answers to every single question they come across. But when the evidence continues to mount up against the truth claims of the church, we have every right to ask the prophets, seers, and revelators to ask for answers. Joseph Smith received revelations almost any time he was up against opposition in the church (we detail this on our summary page on #19), but no prophets since seem to be able to get revelation. That alone is a red flag that is simply swept aside.
We still have a bit to go in this article, so we'll skip ahead for now, but the secondary questions are what make the primary answers possible. You can say Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players ever, but that's because the secondary questions (playing statistics, number of titles won, how the team played without him, etc) prove that out. Furthermore, you can contend that the earth is flat if you ignore the secondary questions of science, knowledge, and learning that caused people to leave that theory behind as we received more information.
You could apply this logic to any bad idea and come out ahead including Scientology, being anti-vaccines, or that 9/11 was an inside job. Of course these are exaggerated claims, but if you believe the primary idea and ignore the secondary questions, you can literally make anything work.
There are three major methods of learning — scientific, analytical and academic — but the divine method of learning incorporates elements of the other methodologies and “ultimately trumps everything else by tapping into the powers of heaven,” Elder Corbridge said. All four methods are necessary to know truth.
With the scientific method, one forms a hypothesis in response to a question. Experimentation is then conducted to test the hypothesis. “The results are then analyzed, and conclusions are drawn that either confirm, disprove or modify the hypothesis in which event the process continues,” Elder Corbridge explained.
Alma issued an invitation to “experiment upon (his) words.” In regard to tithing, the Lord said, “prove me now herewith … if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
“Truth can be discovered by doing, which is faith,” Elder Corbridge said. “Experience plays a vital role in coming to know the truth.”
The analytical method involves gathering, organizing and weighing evidence relevant to a question. Based on the weight of the evidence, conclusions are drawn as to what the truth may be, he said.
For instance, the Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-8, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.”
“Evidence and reason also play a role in preparing us to know the truth.”
The academic method involves study of the written word.
The prophet Mormon said in Alma 31:5 that the word of God has a more powerful effect upon the mind than the sword or anything else.
Holding up a set of scriptures, Elder Corbridge told students gathered in the Marriott Center, “This is more powerful than fear, addiction, pornography or anything else.”
The divine method of learning incorporates the other three methods and taps into the powers of heaven. “Ultimately the things of God are made known by the Spirit of God which is usually a still, small voice,” Elder Corbridge said.
Here's the problem: the church wants to pretend that they believe in the scientific method, but the scientific method has proven that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. The same can be said from academic learning. Here are some areas where the church has been proven false due to learning from a scientific, academic, or analytical standpoint:
DNA studies prove that the Native Americans were from Asia, not Israel as Joseph Smith claimed in the Book of Mormon and claimed revelations from God
The Book of Abraham was translated incorrectly and what Joseph Smith claimed the papyrus said does not match what it actually says at all. Furthermore, we have the source material and academics have shown there was no long/lost scroll
Biblical scholarship has discovered that Isaiah had multiple authors, and that Joseph Smith used a part of Isaiah written after Lehi supposedly left for the Americas. That could therefore not be in the Book of Mormon.
We now know that Elias and Elijah are the same person, but different translations of the name (one Greek, one Hebrew). Joseph Smith did not know that when he claimed to see them both in the Kirtland temple.
Academic study at church-run BYU has discovered that Joseph Smith plagiarized Adam Clarke's Biblical commentaries when producing the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
Analytical study has found that many faith promoting stories the church teachers simply did not happen including the transfiguration of Brigham Young, which has been heavily taught to show Brigham Young was the proper successor to Joseph Smith.
Academic and analytical studies have found that the Book of Mormon relies heavily on the King James Version of the Bible, including New Testament phrasings that are found throughout. A study of the first 116 pages (read more on our summary page, #16) shows that Joseph Smith used material that the people during that time could not have possibly known such as the name of Jesus.
Scientific learning would tell us that coffee is not unhealthy to drink, yet was included in the Word of Wisdom along with hot soups (later taken out). In addition, the one big change that would have saved lives was boiling water, which somehow Joseph Smith did not get in his inspired revelation, which seems improbable given the other restrictions.
A closer look at the Doctrine and Covenants shows that Joseph Smith changed many revelations as his theology changed, including retrofittig the priesthood restoration story to include the much grander story with John the Baptist.
Academic research has shown that Joseph Smith violated his own commandment on polygamy by marrying and having sexual relations with already married women (polyandry). In addition, Joseph Smith had married over twenty women before Emma knew what was going on, which was in violation of the revelation he claimed to receive a decade after he began the practice.
We'll stop there, but we hope that we've made the point that the very methods of learning that Corbridge mentions here are the very methods that critics of the church and those who have left used to determine that it simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
While I appreciate Corbridge mentioning how Oliver Cowdery was instructed to "study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right," we must also note that Cowdery believed Joseph Smith 100% and when he tried to receive revelation for himself with his divining rod was unable to receive anything. If anything is further proves the point that there is no revelation from God in such a direct way, which is also why no prophets since Joseph Smith have claimed to receive it in that way.
And again, if we could truly receive these answers in a still, small voice, then why haven't the leaders of the church prayed about the Book of Abraham? Why did the church leaders get tricked by the Mark Hoffman forgeries? Why did the church not change the blood oaths in the temple until four years after the Masons did? Why did the church not remove the sexist elements of the temple ceremony until members continued to complain loudly about how it made them feel? Why did the church call the ban on blacks "doctrine" until long after the Civil Rights movement, only to turn back once they opened a temple that would require blacks to be admitted so that people would actually go?
I'm not trying to be sarcastic or snarky - these are questions that I would legitimately love to speak to a church leader about, because they are answers that contradict their claims of being the one true church. They are questions that I want answers to because the church now calls me "spiritually bankrupt" for pointing out these concerns, and if they are going to attack the critics then they should also be willing to answer the questions about their truth claims.
Again, if the church is confident in their truth, why are they working so hard to keep members from looking under the hood?
The best of all human conditions in this life is to have the gift and companionship of the Holy Ghost.
“Pay whatever price you must pay, bear whatever burden you must bear, make whatever sacrifice you must make in order to get and keep in your life the Spirit and power of the Holy Ghost,” Elder Corbridge said. “Everything depends on that.”
The gloom that came while reading so much material antagonistic to the Church did not come as the result of belief bias or the thought that everything he once believed could be wrong. Rather, “the gloom I experienced as I listened to the dark choir of voices raised against the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ … is the absence of the Spirit of God,” Elder Corbridge said.
Revelation from the Spirit of God supersedes belief bias because it is not premised only on evidence.
“I don’t know much, but I do know the voice of the Lord and His voice is not in that dark choir, not at all in that choir.”
In contrast to that gloom and stupor of thought, the Spirit of light, intelligence, peace and truth attends the events and doctrine of the Restoration, especially the scriptures revealed through Joseph Smith.
“Just read them and ask yourself and ask God if these are the words of deceit, delusion or truth.”
We have covered this for the most part already, so I don't want to rehash everything again. Corbridge here is talking about how he felt gloom reading this information because he already knew it wasn't true, which is not how learning works. So either the gloom was because he was experiencing cognitive dissonance, where information contradicts our previously held beliefs, or he had gloom because his defense mechanisms blocked out the information he did not want to see. Those defense mechanisms kept me from researching the church for years after I knew something was wrong, and it is a real condition where the mind effectively takes on a "fight or flight" mentality to avoid digesting information that might shatter our core beliefs.
The information we present on this website is not part of some "dark choir," but from church historical sources. The material comes from church leaders who have gotten so many issues wrong that the church now has either disavowed or ceased talking about like Adam being our God (Brigham Young), blacks being cursed by God, handicapped people being less valiant in the pre-existence (prophet Harold B Lee), polygamy and polyandry, blood atonement (Brigham Young), blood oaths in the temple, cursing America's government in the temple, and so much more.
If the church truly believes these issues are part of a "dark choir," then they need to realize the sources are from inside the church through historical documents, talks, and journals. If they truly believe that talking about these issues is giving into a dark choir, they need to understand that the church itself is the genesis of this dark choir. We are not making this information up and we are not doing so lightly - this is where the research leads us, and why the apologetic approach just does not work anymore.
I would also recommend that people read Joseph Smith's scriptures, and then read the sources they came from and ask if they are true. Read the Book of Abraham and then look at what the source actually says, and ask why Joseph Smith got it so wrong.
Read the Book of Mormon and ask why the first 116 pages are so vague while the rest of the book is so detailed. Or why the book is full of 19th century phrasings and anachronisms. And why would the Book of Mormon rely so heavily on the King James Bible when it was being translated directly from gold plates?
Then read the Doctrine and Covenants and ask why Joseph Smith changed key revelations to better suit his needs at the time. Look at how Joseph had a revelation on polygamy removed (D&C 101:4, "In as much as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.") and then replaced once he could no longer hide the practice from his wife and church.
There are some members of the Church who don’t know the answers to the primary questions, and they spend their time and attention slogging through the secondary questions.
“They mistakenly try to learn the truth by process of elimination, by attempting to eliminate every doubt,” Elder Corbridge said.
One cannot prove the Church is true by disproving every claim made against it. Ultimately, there must be affirmative proof. With the things of God, that affirmative proof comes by revelation through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
“The Church of Jesus Christ is grounded on the rock of revelation and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Elder Corbridge said. “(Although) we may not know the answer to every question, we must know the answers to the primary questions and if so, the gates of hell shall not prevail against us and we will stand forever.”
And here is where Corbridge blames the doubter for losing faith, and not the church's history of distorting and deceiving on their own history. Just like Renlund did last week, Corbridge puts the blame squarely on those who look under the hood and start to wonder why the engine has so many problems.
Corbridge is right that "you cannot prove the church is true by disproving every claim made against it," but you surely can prove the church is not true by focusing on the claims made by Joseph Smith and what we now know about those claims 180 years later.
While I personally believe there are a handful of true "smoking guns" against the church including the Book of Abraham, DNA and the Lamanites, and Deutero-Isaiah, I think that the overall pattern is what truly does the church's truth claims in. When you look at how Joseph Smith received revelation compared to how Russell Nelson claims to receive it today, you can see such a dramatic shift in the church's claim to authority that it almost seems inconsequential.
I take these talks personally because I do believe that I have put way more work into researching the church's truth claims than almost all believing members do. There is nothing lazy about the way I have approached these issues - I have read the apologetic responses from FAIR, Jim Bennett's reply from a former CES employee, Patrick Mason, and even the more antagonistic and heavily debunked ones from the likes of Dan Peterson and FARMS.
And I testify to anyone reading this that the problems are real and that they can not be wished away by feelings. If you really want to know the truth, you have to be able to open the hood and take a good look inside with an open mind. If you read our website and have issues with a claim we make, just email us (email@example.com) and we will respond. We won't tell you to ignore it and focus on the big picture - we will answer because the secondary questions are everything in discovering the truth.
Do no submit blindly to authority when they tell you that they've read it all and there's nothing to worry about. Renlund described people like me as "lazy scholars" because we point out the problems with the church just as their asking the youth of the church to be lazy learners and avoid any material that's not in their correlated manuals.
If there's one thing I beg of you all, it's that you do the research with just enough space for the idea that the church might not be true. It is not fun to go through a faith crisis and it is upsetting, but it is worth it in the pursuit of the truth. All I can do is promise that my journey has not been fun in learning the church is not true, but I would not change a thing about it because I want to know what is real and I want to take back control of my life to discern for myself through study what is true and what is not.
You can feel the panic in the church right now with these youth devotionals aimed at keeping members from looking deeper into church history, doctrines, and scriptural problems. They know the ground they walk on is getting shakier every year as more and more younger members access the information through social media and Google, and they know there are no good answers so the new strategy appears to be attacking the questions before they are even asked. I hope this post explains why that strategy not only won't work, but is harmful to those members who are simply on a journey to know the truth.
Thank you all for reading and I hope you check out the different pages we've linked to throughout this long blog post - the annotated essays are so detailed and go right up against the apologetic arguments from the church to really display why there are lots of answers, but none that are faith promoting for the church.