My wife and I are fourth-generation LDS, inactive for many years. We are both returned missionaries, and I relate to your bio material. I love your website and book, Beyond Mormonism.
I can understand why you rejected Mormonism. Do you not think that there are also many contradictions and impossibilities in the Old Testamnt, as well as in the typical understanding of Christian doctrinal history?
My Ph.D. is in linguistics/psychology (Stanford, Yale, Georgetown), and I've provided professional instruction in Hebrew and five dialects of Arabic. My undergraduate work was done mainly at BYU.
letter two in this exchange
Thanks for your nice comments about my web site as well as the typos you caught. I changed them.
I want to answer your religious question carefully. In fact, I think you are asking me not so much about the Bible and biblical difficulties as you are about my decision to stick with Christianity.
I know better than to debate you, I'd probably lose, your credentials are impressive. So, let me attempt a short apologetic for Christianity. More to the point, why I choose to have faith in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
First of all, I am a believer in God--I am a convinced theist. I struggled (before I was a Mormon) with that issue and at some point came to believe that there was intelligent, and personal order at the foundation of the universe. Subsequently, I have refined my thoughts to the point where it is easier for me to believe in a self-existent God who created the material universe, than it is to believe in dumb matter accidentally creating art, music, and love through any evolutionary process.
Having come to believe in a Creator God who is intellegent, I must conclude that he created with purpose. And that creating mankind with the potential to love as well as to sin, it is impossible for me to believe that he is distant from his creation.
Of course my opinions are shaped by my experience. As a youth, I listened to a man of God speak from an Episcopalian pulpit about God, man, and the universe. I had "deep thoughts." :)
I'm trying to avoid being trite, but I guess I took the Pascalian wager. I'm sure you are familiar with that. Blaise Pascal said that if God did not exist and a man chose to believe in him, noting was lost; but if God _did_ exist and man failed to believe in him, he suffered great loss. Presented with those two options Pascal said it would be foolish _not_ to believe in God. (I once read an article in _Sunstone_ that attempted to relate the Pascalian wager to Mormonism. I answered the letter in the pages of that magazine. I said that the Pascalian wager could only apply to the question of the existence of God: a question that cannot be proved either way. But Mormonism was easily proved fraudulent. I said one would not use the Pascalian wager to decide if the city of Paris existed, you would just go to France and look!)
At any rate, a believer with a predisposition to Christianity, allowed me not only to fall into Mormonism, but to escape from it without giving in to atheism or agnosticism. As I said in my book, I asked myself "What can I keep?"
By that time, I had experienced a great deal of communion with God. Even in the Mormon Church, I had come to feel the presence of the Spirit of God. This, of course, raises the important question: "Oh, then! You're basis for faith in Christianity is no more than the Mormon 'burngin in the bosom.'" No, that is not a fair comparison. Yes, there is a definite "experiential" aspect to Christian faith. As the Bible says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." But the difference is that Mormonism asks us to believe in a system which is founded on lies (the former Church historian, Leonard J. Arrington, concluded that it mattered not if Joseph Smith had _any_ of the visions he claimed to have had. Arrington said, "The Italians have a phrase, 'It's true even if it isn't literally true.'" Christianity, I would argue, stands up to philosophical investigation to a vastly higher degree than Mormonism. So much so as to argue there is no comparison between the level of intellectual satisfaction generated by the orthodox Christian faith and that of Mormonism. Mormonism was founded by a charlatan with an insatiable libido. It was passed on to Brigham Young who had all the faults of Joseph Smith, but was also a heartless murderer.
So, as I said, because I had had the advantage of tasting Christianity prior to Mormonism, it was much easier for me to hold on to it than it is for someone like you (or for that matter my own wife) who did not have that atvantage.
However, I--like you--had been duped by Mormonism, so I certainly put Christianity to the test in the 28 years since I exited Mormonism. Those testings certainly cannot be documented here. But they were deep and extensive and, ultimately, very rewarding.
I will go this far: I will say that I have come to believe that there are only three philosophical alternatives to Christian orthodoxy. I have written a book based on this premise, _Hard Case Witnessing: Winning "Impossibles for Christ_" (The first chapter is available online and the entire book will soon be online. Briefly, those alternatives are Secularism, Occultism (including all the Eastern Religions) and Cultism (including Judaism and Islam, as well as the normal "Christian" cults like Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.) I have diagramed this idea in a chart in that book.
My reason for rejecting secularism has already been mentioned. I rejected the Occult/Mystical because they are essentially irrational. And, of course, the Cults I reject because they failed to maintain the revelation pathway begun by God at Creation, a revelation that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit.
Kent, as I said, I don't expect to convert you to my way of thinking, but as a minister, I have a responsibility to "[be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."
If I can share anything else of interest, I would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to do so.