Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mr. Holland's Opus: first level truths dismantled

It's been widely reported and now linked that on Feb 6, 2015, Mr. Jeff Holland, an apostle of the LDS church, spoke and became as emotional as a TV preacher.  His anger pointed at skeptics (and perhaps timed with the Dehlin excommunication) and their questions.

Here's a quote, from the video (at LDS.org) starting at around 51 minutes in.
" You’ve heard these questions, they are not new. They first arose in the neighborhood of Palmyra, when the 14-year old Joseph first reported his heavenly vision, and they continue in one form or another to the present day. We have recently addressed a dozen or so of these issues in a series of essays desiring to be both accurate and transparent – within the framework of faith. Not all gospel questions have answers yet, but they will. And they’ll come.
"In the mean time, I have a question! (Holland speaks loudly and emotionally) What conceivable historical, or doctrinal or procedural issue that may arise among any group could ever overshadow or negate ones consuming spiritual conviction regarding the father’s merciful plan of salvation; his only begotten son’s birth, mission, atonement and resurrection; the reality of the first vision, the restoration of the priesthood, the receipt of divine revelation both personally and institutionally, the soul-shaping spirit and moving power of the Book of Mormon, the awe and majesty of the temple endowment, one’s own personal experience with true miracles and on and on and on. It is a mystery to me, talk about a question, it is a mystery to me how those majestic eternal first level truths so central to the grandeur of the whole gospel message can be set aside or completely dismissed by some in favor of obsessing over second or third or fourth level pieces of that whole. To me, this is, in the words attributed to Edith Wharton, truly being trapped in the thick of thin things. "

I italicized a few parts that I want to dissect here. 

I'm glad Mr. Holland raised the LDS Topic Essays.  This is the first time I have heard an apostle discuss them.  The only other GA I know of that has raised them is church historian (Q-70) Steven Snow.  The questions members (and skeptics) have are sometimes new, relative to the era of Palmyra.  For example, race and the priesthood, DNA and the Book of Mormon, polygamy and more.  None of these existed in the era of Palmyra.  Perhaps polygamy is closest, but it wasn't acknowledged hardly at all during Joseph Smith's entire life.  Race and the priesthood became an issue much after his death, and DNA, well that's obvious.  

The essays the church put out did perhaps address some "second or third level pieces" (questions), but the answers dismantled Holland's opus of "majestic eternal first level truths". 

Here's an example, direct from the LDS essays themselves, with comparison to the list of first level truths given by Holland above.

First Vision
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught the First Vision of Joseph Smith is “the hinge pin on which this whole cause turns. If the First Vision was true, if it actually happened, then the Book of Mormon is true. Then we have the priesthood. Then we have the Church organization and all of the other keys and blessings of authority which we say we have. If the First Vision did not occur, then we are involved in a great sham. It is just that simple.” 
(Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 227.)

In other words by Hinckley:  “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud… upon that unique and wonderful experience stands the validity of this church.” (General Conference, Oct 2002)

First Vision essay claim 1 -- “The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail.”

Truth -- Consistency? The number of personages, the angels and events surrounding his first vision change (see the table below).  A more consistent thread through the versions is that he never actually names the personage(s) appearing. The claim that Joseph Smith testified specifically that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him is not founded in his own words.  He repeatedly said “personages”.

Sins Forgiven
Pillar of Fire
Beings named
Told "No True Church"
“the Lord”
Light only

*The "No true church" statement is shadowed in the 1832 account. "...the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments..."  http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-circa-summer-1832?p=1#!/paperSummary/history-circa-summer-1832&p=3
**The Topic article fails to mention that Joseph Smith wrote about his First Vision a second time in 1835, found at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/journal-1835-1836?p=38 . 

First Vision essay claim 2 -- “Historians expect that when an individual retells an experience in multiple settings to different audiences over many years, each account will emphasize various aspects of the experience and contain unique details.”

Truth -- Emphasizing different aspects is one thing. Contradicting statements between versions are another. Besides the changing number of beings and angels, besides the changing conditions of pillars or light, of being forgiven or not, there are a few contradictory points found in the various accounts.  For more details on these, see this blogpost and this blogpost

First Vision Essay Dismantle:
The credibility of the first vision is at risk.  All we have is Joseph Smith's words.  Hinckley based the foundation of the LDS Church on the words of Smith who was inconsistent, unreliable, history-revisionist and worse, exploitative.

What do I mean by exploitative?  The general progression of Smith's accounts is from lower claims of divinity to more and more grandeur claims of direct connection to God as time went on.  As his followers believed in his claims, he strengthened the divine nature and increased the embellishment in his accounts.  Why is this progression exploitative?  Because it gave him more power over more people.  Ultimately, the "Father and Son" claims happened after Smith had died, and that gave power to the prophets that succeeded him.

Divine Revelation
One of Holland's first level truths, divine revelation, has at its foundation the restoration given to them by Joseph Smith. Three elements of the restoration discussed in the essays are eternal covenants (polygamy), revelation of scripture, and priesthood authority.  I'll get to the priesthood in the next "dismantle" section.

On Polygamy:
Polygamy Essay claim 1 -- " plural marriage...was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s."

Truth -- Not until they discuss Jospeh Smith's polygamy many months later in another essay do they acknowledge that in fact, it happened in the 1830s, as well documented by Compton,  and http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/  Why did they lie and then contradict themselves in another essay?  Because they can't keep their own story straight.

Polygamy Essay claim 2 -- "On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years.”

Truth -- In Official Declaration 1 of the D&C, Woodruff  said (in 1890), "We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice." 

Truth -- In another essay, they do admit, "Some couples who entered into plural marriage between 1890 and 1904 separated after the Second Manifesto, but many others quietly cohabited into the 1930s and beyond."  But they do not ever address why President Woodruff would lie in public, as God's spokesman and truth-teller.  How can we be sure other prophets, namely Monson today, or his successor aren't also liars?

Polygamy Essay claim 3 -- "Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or monogamous union, or whether to marry at all."

Truth --  Joseph Smith at 37 "convinced" Helen Mar Kimball (at 14) to marry him after he'd already married several other women 
“… it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred," he manipulated little Helen.

Polygamy of Joseph Smith essay claim -- “Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.”

Truth 1 --  The commandment specifically states “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified … But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery” (D&C 132:61-63)  

Truth 2 -- The commandment also states: “I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.” (D&C 132: 4).  And that “if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed. …And if her husband be with another woman, and he was under a vow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery.” (D&C 132: 41-43).  Further, that to a man, virgins in plural marriage “are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth” (D&C 132:63)

What are the rules?  The exact instructions (quote above) in Section 132 are:
  • marry only virgins
  • the first wife (virgin) has to give consent
  • women are not to be with other men
  • multiple wives are given to a man to multiply and replenish the earth (by sex)

Why did the LDS church obviously lie about the "exact instructions" in their essay?  Because they know Joseph Smith disregarded the rules he apparently revealed and followed his lusts to whatever bed they led him.  Polygamy was not a revelation about eternal life.  It was a revelation on getting multiple "wives" in bed.

Polygamy Essay Dismantle:
There's much more I can show on the polygamy essays, but in essence, this essay trashes the LDS church credibility in reporting the actual truth. It shows that revelation and official declarations are lies.  And it shows that Joseph Smith abandoned his own revelation's rules so he could get more action.  "Divine" revelator or da-swine operator?

On the historicity and truth of scripture:
Book of Abraham essay claim 1 -- “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the book of Abraham as scripture.”

Truth -- Well, this is still true--they haven't abandoned the book of Abraham, actually. That will haunt them in the future.  One can note they almost never use the book in conference talks or much in manuals anymore.

B. of Abr. essay claim 2 -- “It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession.”

Truth -- Credible Egyptologists and mathematical measurements all confirm we have most of the papyri.  The residual leaves “simply no room on the papyrus for anything besides the Breathing text.”

B.of Abr. essay claim 3 -- “None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.”

Truth -- How does LDS inc explain the book then?  They can’t. Did  you catch that essay self-contradiction?  In one breath they say it is "futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri" and in the other breath they say "the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham."  They can't keep their own story straight.   In the end, they can only say, “The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate…The book’s status as scripture lies in the eternal truths it teaches and the powerful spirit it conveys.”  In other words, it’s all bullshit.

Book of Abraham Essay Dismantle: 
Trashes Joseph Smith Credibility.  If he couldn’t translate regular Egyptian, how could he translate “Reformed Egyptian” (in the Book of Mormon)?

Score so far? Holland's "first level truths" - 0, Skeptics - 2 or 3.  Divine revelation of new (and everlasting) saving covenants/ordinations is trashed, and revelation of new scripture (not truly translated) is trashed.  We have blow after blow for Howling Holland.

Restoration of priesthood
The Race and the Priesthood essay discusses the idea of how the priesthood was used for about 150 years.  That's most of the LDS history, so far.  If they misused their authority for the majority of their time, how should we score this first level truth?

Race and Priesthood essay claim 1 -- “During the first two decades…a few black men were ordained to the priesthood… There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”

Truth -- An attempt to buoy up Joseph Smith as not a racist.  However, the Book of Abraham, Moses and Book of Mormon, which he produced, teach very racist doctrines, with their white and delightsome doctrines, skin marks on whole Indian nations, and withholding of priesthood during the days of Abraham according to racial curses.

R and P essay claim 2 -- “[LDS] embraces the universal human family. [LDS] scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all.”

Truth -- “makes salvation available to all”?  Tell that to gays…  Explain to women why they still can’t hold the priesthood.  Tell us again why we must be adopted into the clan of Israel--a race, and the family of Abraham, a white man?

R and P essay claim 3 -- “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way … [LDS] unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Truth -- They just performed prophetic segregation by throwing past leaders under the back of the bus.  They also deny the teachings in their canonized LDS scripture.

Race and Priesthood Dismantle:
Trashes prophets from Young to Kimball.  If they could be wrong on Race for 130 years they’re certainly wrong on gay marriage and more.  Why trust these men for any authority claim?

Plan of salvation/Atonement:
I'm going to group this first level truth with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is supposed to have restored the plain and precious truths that were lost during the apostasy, and restore the gospel to its pure form.  Can we trust the Book of Mormon to really be from God, translated by Joseph Smith?  This is important.  If he made it up, then the plan of salvation it supposedly restores is made up.
Book of Mormon translation essay claim 1 -- “Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light…”

Truth -- If plates were unneeded why the need for all the years waiting, digging treasure out of Hill Cumorah and the witnesses?  If plates were not needed, why did Nephi have to murder a docile Laban to steal the brass plates?  If a hat is all that's needed, does this mean God wants you to wear a (temple) hat? (You must watch that video, or you've missed the best part of this blog.)

BoM translation essay claim 2 -- “Joseph … pressed his face into the hat … and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.”

Truth -- (Snug face= muffled!)  Joseph Smith didn’t interpret “Reformed Egyptian”. He just read English words that appeared.  God was the source of all words, including racism, anachronistic errors, the duetero/trito Isaiah additions, the KJV bible error inclusions…

BoM translation essay claim 3 -- “Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was ‘the most correct of any Book on earth & the keystone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book.’ “

Truth -- The most correct(ed) book that needed over 4000 edits and still contains racism, anachronistic errors and a story that is “chloroform in print”.  Apparently God is a horrible writer.

Book of Mormon Essay Dismantle:
Trashes God, as a racist and horrible historian. Joseph didn’t make the errors. God sent him the wrong words and the need for over 4000 edits.  The plan of salvation in the Book of Mormon is as suspect as the words, translation errors and lies about its origin.

The Atonement relies on sin entering the world through Adam, who is counted as the "First Man" in LDS scripture and counted as a literal person.  If by Adam all die, and by Christ all are made alive again, let's examine how the essays dismantle this chain between creation and atonement.

DNA Book of Mormon essay claim 1: “the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA…the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America… Book of Mormon peoples were ‘among the ancestors of the American Indians.’ “

Truth -- Affirmed that Americas were heavily populated (in about 10,000-30,000 years ago) before the alleged migration of the Book of Mormon clans.  

DNA BoM essay claim 2 -- “nothing is known about the DNA that Lehi, Sariah, Ishmael... it would be impossible to know exactly what to search for.”

Truth -- True. Nonexistent DNA is hard to match.  However, Mulek founded Zarahemla—the largest BoM city, and he was Jewish Royalty (son of king Zedekiah). That match is obvious.

DNA BoM essay claim 3 -- “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon... the Book of Mormon stands as a volume of sacred scripture with the power to bring them closer to Jesus Christ.”

Truth -- Secular data was used throughout the essay.  What is agreed: Migrations before first man Adam, no DNA found, no archaeology found.  Leaves doubt that Adam or Lamanites ever existed. Can truth or facts advanced from an allegory about so-called "Adam"?  If there was no real Adam, then was there really an atonement?

DNA Book of Mormon Essay Dismantle:
Trashes the need for Jesus Christ.  If the Lamanites mixed with people older than Adam, there was no Adam, no Fall, and apparently no Atonement.

Mr. Holland's Opus of First Level Truths are dismantled by his "dozen or so ... series of essays".  These claims and truth addressed above are not second, third or fourth level issues. They are the buttresses of his first level claims of divine revelation, salvation, atonement, authority and priesthood.

If he can't see that, then Mr. Holland is trapped as a thick-headed Opie, with a thin argument.  (Apologies to Ms. Wharton.) 

The essays are not a bridge to anywhere.  
They're not even stepping stones.  
They're stumbling blocks.


  1. All you've done is argue from logic without using the Spirit. The Holy Ghost is the only source of truth that matters. You can't get to ultimate truth from your logic.

    1. Hi Anonymous posting at 4:16PM. Congratulations on being able to use the Spirit so well; all while avoiding using logic. So what happens when you read the essays and feel upset and shocked. Then you search, ponder, and pray for answers. Look only to church approved materials. Fast and repent of anything you can think of, feel guilty for doubting. Pray to God for forgiveness that you just don't think the church is true and plan on living a virtuous life even if you don't have all the answers or go to church or pay tithing or wear garments anymore. What happens when you feel the comforting and recognizable feeling of the Spirit after that? Oh, I already received that answer. My bishop said because of some kind of mental illness I must have, I can't understand the feelings of the spirit and I am being led astray. I should probably just give up my self worth and dignity and continue to believe and pretend everything is fine. NOPE NO THANK YOU. Good luck with that.

    2. What spirit? The same spirit I get while I sit in my chair and masturbate to porn as when I used to be a member and believed in this horse shit?

    3. Logic? Heavens to Betsy! Can't have any of *that* around here, can we?

      I mean, sure, logic might lead to things like functioning computers, and scientific discoveries and engineering achievements that have made us the wealthiest, best-fed, and most comfortable culture in the history of the Earth, but HOW DARE anyone use it to decide that anything might be, you know, true?


    4. Chris, just because science can make technology doesn't mean it contains eternal truth. Truth is in the heart. It will endure when computers are mouldering and steel is rusting. Truth is planted in the eternal hearts of the children of God. Denying it will only make you die like the elements in those computers and metals.

    5. What it means is that it's proven itself an excellent tool for uncovering truth in general. You have to create a new category called "eternal truth", the only salient feature apparently being that it doesn't actually make sense, for that not to be the case here.

      People believe all kinds of nonsense. Why should anyone believe yours over the others? A Hindu swami believes in his heart that Krishna is the greatest god; why is his heart wrong and yours right?

  2. Excellent post. Holland's defense of the spirit is embarrassingly weak.

  3. What not acknowledge Joseph Smith's conviction in March of 1826 in Bainbridge, NY for disorderly conduct and fraud, for which he admitted to 4 years prior to discovering those gold tablets? Smith admitted to running fraudulent gold-digging expeditions and possessing dark or necromantic powers while on trial.

    1. That is an anti-mormon lie. Records were forged by haters and critics keep using them. Satan has his powers.

    2. Alexander, you have no idea what really happened with Joseph Smith and polygamy. The anti-mormons have lied and made these stories up. They get repeated so often, others spin them as the truth now. But you can't prove any of those lies.

  4. The essays are hardly the voice of the Lord. You've taken what men wrote and criticized God. You can't base your argument against the gospel on essays about the gospel. Go to the scriptures.

    1. Whether or not your scriptures are in fact from God is exactly the question. Mostly, this isn't about God. It's about Joseph Smith. All of Mormonism hinges on his integrity.

      Only, he doesn't sound all that reliable to me.

    2. Chris, history is full of mistakes. Relying on the record is just as bad as relying on faulty feelings. Knowing the difference from the spirit and faulty feelings is more reliable than distorted history that has bias ridden through it.

    3. "The spirit" is nothing more than a faulty feeling. And the documents of history are not distorted; it's what people make of them that's distorted. Here's a distortion: The Book of Abraham was translated from an ancient Egyptian papyrus. That's the bias. The truth is that we actually have the papyrus, and contrary to Joseph Smith's expectations we can now actually read it, and it does not say what he claimed it said.

      No bias. No distortion. That's just plain truth.

  5. The entire problem is that none of you have faith. The questions we have are because we have the test of faith. You can doubt all you want, but if you reject faith, you fail God's test. What good does "logic" do you in the eternal?

  6. The more Holland blusters and gets angry, it really makes him look weak and if he doesn't have a very strong position.

    I am concerned that someone of his education. Having attended a good school and read a few books, would take the position that questioning is wrong.

    Questioning is good.

    Shutting down critical think boarders on cult like behavior.

    I would have thought he would get that.

  7. The bit of Holland's speech you quoted at the beginning reminded me of a question that had occurred to me some time ago.

    With all this emphasis on the "restoration of the priesthood", how do Mormons deal with the fact that the Aaronic priesthood in fact never went away? Yes, there are still priests, kohanim, in Judaism, as well as Levites, leviim. And yes, they still possess all the powers of their heritage, although without the Temple they no longer generally exercise them. Still, kohanim are called upon at the end of a synagogue service to invoke the priestly blessing upon the congregation.

    This is possible because the priesthood is strictly hereditary, and belongs to the male-line descendants of Aaron. Only the High Priest (kohen gadol) received a special ordination, but he already had to possess the priesthood by virtue of being born into a priestly family to be eligible.

    So really, there was nothing missing that needed to be restored here. And in any event, there's no hint from the New Testament that the priesthood of Aaron was ever a property of the Christian church. Jesus himself was not from a priestly family.

    Do Mormons even consider this?

    1. The Jews had an apostasy, just like the Christians. The loss in authority was spiritual, even if the ancestry could be traced back. That doesn't mean there wasn't corruption among the chosen tribes of Israel.

    2. Do you have any independent evidence there was a Jewish apostasy? Or is that just something you have to claim so that your theology makes sense?

      I mean, any restorationist sect needs to claim there was a mass Christian apostasy, even though there's no actual evidence of that either, so I don't expect an answer that makes sense.

  8. Holland is the king of appeals to emotion ... er spirit ... anyway god wants you to wear a hat

  9. 'Relying on the spirit'. What a though-terminating cliche.
    I had a friend who was a jack mormon. Great guy. His brother had just come back from his mission, and married within 3 months of returning. His choice of bride was vacant of beauty and figure. He said, "I know she's not that pretty, but the minute I saw her the spirit manifested that I should spend the rest of my life with her." His brother, my friend, the jack mormon, replied, "If the spirit told me that I'd have kicked him in the balls."

  10. All the confusion about the church's truth claims will be cleared up in the after-life anyway so nothing to see there ..... just believe and keep remembering the good emotional experiences you had in the church .... its ok to even embellish those past experiences too ..... you know how the past keeps getting better as time goes on ....

  11. Kevin sounds like a teenager who hasn't developed critical thinking skills yet. It just so happens, Kevin, that the "anti-Mormon lies" are the TRUTH. You simply don't want to face that. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!