Mormonism: A Religion Only Understood by Its Own?

I was speaking to somebody recently about ministry in Utah. This man, a professional clergy member who recently moved to Utah, told me proudly, “Our church will never host any class teaching about Mormonism. After all, it not only could be offensive, but what right would I have to teach on this subject? Only a former Mormon could really understand Mormonism.”

His analysis fits right into the teaching of former President Gordon B. Hinckley who, in the Ensign honoring the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birthday, said the following:

“Once while riding in a plane, I engaged in conversation with a young man who was seated beside me. We moved from one subject to another and then came to the matter of religion. He said that he had read considerably about the Latter-day Saints, that he had found much to admire in their practices, but that he had a definite prejudice concerning the story of the origin of the Church and particularly Joseph Smith. He was an active member of another organization, and when I asked where he had acquired his information, he indicated that it had come from publications of his church. I asked what company he worked for. He proudly replied that he was a sales representative for an international computer company. I then asked whether he would think it fair for his customers to learn of the qualities of its products from a representative of its leading competitor. He replied with a smile, ‘I think I get the point of what you’re trying to say’” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Joseph Smith, Jr.: Prophet of God, Mighty Servant,” Ensign, December 2005, p. 2).

rose-colored-glassesThere are three major problems with this mindset. First of all, while everyone has presuppositions—you can even call it bias—this should not automatically discount their views. In the scenario described by Hinckley, both he and the young man processed information through different worldview lenses. Even the media—when I majored in journalism at San Diego State, the professors drilled into me that “objectivity” was the goal—approaches issues with a unique set of rose-colored glasses.

Fortunately, there are venues for a person to receive information that will be most beneficial in making a decision. For instance, the magazine Consumer Reports tests products, analyzing them to determine which car, toaster, or cell phone is rated superior based on a battery of tests. Besides consulting this magazine when intending to make a purchase, the shrewd consumer will also consider the information found on multiple Internet websites. If a product has poor workmanship, shouldn’t this information be processed before wasting time and effort purchasing the wrong version of the product? To say that those writing in Consumer Reports or a variety of Internet sites are ineligible to make a comment just because they never owned those particular products, past or present, is nothing less than silly. Weighing a variety of opinions makes perfect sense.

Second, if it’s necessary for somebody to belong to a certain group (as Hinckley made it appear) or at least once belonged to the group at one time (as the pastor seemed to suggest), then must I be an abortion doctor or have had an abortion in the past to speak authoritatively on the issue of abortion? Could I honestly critique a Democratic proposal in Congress if I am not (and never was) a part of this political party? And can I honestly say cocaine and heroin are harmful drugs if I’ve never experienced them for myself? If the answer to these questions is “no,” then why is it necessary for a person to be (or have been) a Latter-day Saint to have the ability to critique its teachings?

Third, Hinckley seems to suggest that a competing computer company is only going to mislead about its competitor’s product. But turn this around. If Ford decides to advertise its Tundra, will it produce a commercial explaining how their vehicle is much worse than what Toyota is producing? Of course not! Given the chance, a company’s own vehicle will win every survey/test/comparison. Corporations such as Ford and Toyota have vested interests, just as Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness leaders do.

For example, you will never hear a Mormon leader giving a general conference message this way: “Wow, it’s amazing how Joseph Smith was able to manage 33 wives, including 11 of whom were married to other men!” These leaders never talk about Smith’s polygamous ways! In the same way, they won’t spend much time focusing on the many problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon or pontificate on how the Mormon view of God contradicts the teachings of the Bible.

Pepsi_ChallengeWhere can a person hear the other side? Maybe from the competition! I remember the “Pepsi Challenge” surveys at county fairs, allowing consumers to drink unidentified sample cups of Coke and Pepsi products. Many people were surprised that the cup they chose as the best was not the same as what they normally drank.  What is wrong with having the other side present its case? Test what is being said. Don’t begrudge the information merely because it came from a source you might not like. Those who show such bias and succumb to the genetic fallacy are bound to make wrong decisions, whether it involves a truck, a soda, or a religion.

Brigham Young said,

“Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. Just as soon receive the Gospel from Joseph Smith as from Peter, who lived in the days of Jesus. Receive it from one man as soon as another. If God has called an individual and sent him to preach the Gospel that is enough for me to know; it is no matter who it is, all I want is to know the truth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 16).

I also agree with President John Taylor, who said,

“If any person in the religious world, or the political world, or the scientific world, will present to me a principle that is true, I am prepared to receive it, no matter where it comes from” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, p. 215).

I hope my attitude is the same. Let’s eliminate any fallacious thinking on this issue. The next time someone says that you don’t have a right to analyze an opposing viewpoint because you don’t belong to that religion/political party/etc., ask them if they should have a right to make such a philosophical statement if they are not a philosopher!

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24 Responses to Mormonism: A Religion Only Understood by Its Own?

  1. Rick B says:

    The problem with the logic of, your not a member so you don’t understand is this, former members who were life long members are told they don’t understand. Explain that one lds member?

  2. johnsepistle says:

    Also worth noting: I have heard s0me Latter-day Saints say that ex-Mormons don’t understand LDS teachings. (Depending on the particular individual, of course, this may or may not be true.) So really, it seems that, within one perspective, the only way to really understand appreciatively the teachings of the group is to be a faithful member of the group, one immersed in the culture and the system of beliefs. There’s some truth to this, so long as we don’t carry it too far. But note that it would also imply that no Latter-day Saint could ever really understand the teachings of mainstream Christianity, nor the perspective of active Christian critics of the LDS Church. But I would say that most Latter-day Saints that I’ve met do think that they have some grasp on the flaws in mainstream Christian teaching, as well as a strong grasp on the motives and beliefs of critics of their church. That’s a fundamental inconsistency.

    Eric, I like your emphasis on critically testing what’s said by both advocates and detractors of any position – including the LDS position(s). We have to let both sides bring their case, and each party is responsible for seeking to fairly represent what the other side is saying – hence why MRM makes such a concerted effort to document its sources for this or that belief found within LDS circles.

    A short while ago, I posted an article that appeared in the Millennial Star in 1840, and I particularly like the spirit of the last paragraph: “Concerning this matter, we would say to the Elders and all Saints every where, whenever and wherever you have or may see any thing printed in any book, pamphlet, paper, tract, or card, concerning us, or the religion we profess; whether it be for or against, in any part of Europe, read it carefully, and examine it candidly by the Spirit of the Lord, for truth will never loose by investigation; compare it with the word of God, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which giveth light; and whatever you find to be true, believe and practice – whatever you find to be false, reject; and when you have thus examined, we particularly desire that you would loose no time in forwarding the same to us at our office, or to some one of the twelve; and what you know not now, be faithful, and you shall know hereafter; by thus doing, you will give us, also, the opportunity of Looking at both sides of the Question.”

    I wish this mindset were more widespread today.

  3. homeschoolmom says:

    I consider myself a student of Mormonism, and when I am studying, I do not rely on the competitor’s literature for the truth about what LDS believe, but at the church’s own teachings as found in their own sources, ie. Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Teachings of Presidents of the Church,, BYU TV, LDS newsroom, etc.

  4. Mike R says:

    This type of argument is only a red herring that some Mormons use to divert away from
    seriously considering what we have to say about their church/religion.
    It goes without saying that there some non-Mormons who have not did their homework and
    thus have at times made inaccurate statements about what Mormonism teaches , but it’s silly
    to use that against those who have spent a lot of money and time looking at what Mormon
    leadership have taught in the last 183 years . I have done this and so have others here like
    homeschoolmom . She explains it well .

  5. erusselljohnson says:

    Homeschoolmom, By golly we use LDS sources (BOM, D&C, manuals, etc) to explain just why there are difficulties between biblical Christianity and Momronism. You won’t see us using second-hand sources, “anti”Mormon material, etc to make our case, just primary sources, with emphasis on standard works, conference talks, and church manuals. We would never suggest a Christian just learn about his/her faith from the church’s pastor; I recommend every believer learn what the atheiests, Muslims, and the Mormons are saying. Let truth prevail by hearing out all sides. To say that you do not “rely on the competitor’s literature,” please know that’s not what we’re asking. Instead, consider the literature and then do your homework to check to see if what is being said is accurate. We could be wrong, just as much as your leaders could be wrong. Just as we look at Consumer’s Reports for better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a product, so look at the “competitor”–if they’re full of beans, then discard. But beware any group that asks for unwavering support and tells people not to look at so-called spiritual “pornography”!

  6. fifth monarchy man says:

    Hey everybody,

    I just found out that I could be spending a couple of months in the Logan Utah area this winter on a project for work. Is there anyone who could use a hand with outreach to the local people in that area?

    I’d appreciate it if you could provide some contact information.


  7. homeschoolmom says:

    erusselljohnson~ I think you misunderstood me. I am not Mormon. I do not believe their teachings line up with absolute truth. But I am a student of Mormonism, because I want to know what they believe so I can better minister to the Mormons in my community. Like you said, it’s best not to use second-hand sources when studying Mormonism, but to go straight to the church’s own sources. That’s what I was trying to say.

  8. falcon says:

    Oh one of my favorite topics; only Mormons can truly “understand” Mormonism. Former Mormons don’t understand it or else they wouldn’t have left.
    I’ve posted several times that I think when Mormons say “understand” they really mean “believe”. I think they equate the two terms. It’s sort of stupid to say that someone can’t acquire knowledge about Mormonism. That’s a basic fundamental level of learning. What do we know about the average Mormon? They aren’t even at the “knowledge” i.e. “to know” level. What does every former Mormon who posts here tell us? Well it’s that they didn’t “know” and then they list all of the things they didn’t know.
    The next level, “understanding”, isn’t beyond the scope of someone who doesn’t believe. What Mormons are hoping for is that they can get people to read the BoM and then they’ll get the “burning in the bosom” experience and switch-o change-o, jump on the LDS band wagon. Who was it that posted here most recently, a former Mormon, who testified to getting the BITB experience multiple times? He then figured out that the BITB was totally bogus as a test for truth.
    What Mormons mean by “understand” is definitely “believe”. It’s the type of “believe” that suspends credulity and just moves steadfast forward despite “knowing” that it’s all bogus.
    That’s not faith or understanding. It’s cult (there I go again) thinking.

  9. MaM says:

    I just love that they don’t think outside sources can possibly understand their religion aside from their own works… yet they all seem to be self-appointed experts on all the other world religions, including Christianity. Their entire premise during the initial missionary discussions is to accuse Christianity of being “divided” and “confused” (the denomination argument). I’ve had a group of Mormons in my home, one who didn’t know I was a Christian, going on and on about the “false doctrine of the Trinity” and how Christians have it all wrong. All based on what? That’s right… what their leaders at the local ward have told them. They can’t say they got it from a reliable source, because the only source all Christians believe is truth is the Bible… one of their standard works.

  10. Kate says:

    Mormons don’t know their own history and doctrines. Look up why Mormons leave the church. I know so much more now that I am out and have actually studied, researched and read all about Mormon leaders and the history and doctrines of the church. The reason so many are leaving is because these things have been hidden, whitewashed or flat out lied about. Too bad the internet happened along 🙂
    The Mormons are fantastic record keepers. Too bad they can’t put some of those records back into the LDS closet.

  11. Ironman1995 says:

    No one understands Mormonism unless they have the following , not in order of importance
    1. Current Temple recommend
    2. calling
    3 . two active spouses
    4. leadership positions held- Bishop , relief Soc Prez
    5. Kids who have served missions married in the temple

    THIS LIST NEVER ENDS only those who truly want , need to be on this list will understand the church and its teaching.
    36 years and having left I know knowing, I am off of the Mormon treadmill which has only one speed and it always is uphill.

    So jump on the treadmill , plug in and your list will grow , and your freedom and inner since of who you are will die with every step of that belt as it turns over and over.

    Glad I am off , oh I helped design the model lol , but what do I know since I was injured on it Lol

  12. falcon says:

    Rick and I, for some reason, are the favorites of the Mormon posters to accuse (us) of not knowing anything about Mormonism. We then invite them to teach us about what we don’t know. They never take us up on the offer.
    Will someone please tell me what’s so difficult to “understand” about LDS style Mormonism? That’s what I mean about them confusing “understanding” and “believing”. I don’t believe that Mormon men are going to become gods and that there are millions or billions of gods in the universe. So what’s to understand?
    See what Mormons buy into is the idea if you get the hippie hippie shakes while reading the BoM, then you’ve got the sign that all of Mormonism is true, right? That is of course with the exception of everything that has been changed or may be changed.

  13. Ironman1995 says:

    Looking back to when i joined at age 17 in 1975 , what did I really know about the history outside of what I was told to read ? Nothing .
    What was i taught and told to study on my mission from 1977-79 outside of what we where given ? nothing.
    During my years in Elders quorum what where we given outside of the manuels to help us ever know of the deep church history ? nothing

    Now being out of the church over 2 years what had I learned about the church I belonged to ? EVERYTHING

  14. Mike R says:

    It’s hard to take Mormon leaders Gordon B. Hinckley seriously . Same goes for those of his
    flock who think like he does , and their fuzzy reasoning has been exposed by Eric .
    I think what Falcon has said about confusing ” understand” with ” believe ” , is food for thought
    here because it seems that is indeed how Mormons reason .

    When we are told by Mormons that to understand Mormonism objectively we should look
    at what it’s leaders have declared , not outside sources . That is true enough , but why should’nt
    we seriously consider what former members have to say ? There’s also the problem with
    access to primary documentation in a sincere endeavor to evaluate the claims of Mormonism .
    Mormon hierarchy have been famous for a long long time with restricting full access to church
    historical archives , but pressure has forced them to modify their behavior in recent years thus
    making some material more available . So how does a person attempt to understand important
    aspects /claims of Mormonism without being able to see important evidence ? Mormon
    publications through the years have carefully left out some pertinent information .
    Mormons for years have claimed that their temple rituals are not secret and reports of some
    of what has gone in the temple has been publically denied . But how would a non Mormon
    investigate any rumors or claims about temple rituals when access to the temple is denied them?
    What about seeking documentation about how much financial aid top leadership receive ?
    Mormons castigate non Mormon preachers for being paid for their ministry , yet what about
    Mormon leadership and money ? Do we get word games concerning this or real documentation?
    Forget about outsiders , can even rank and file members know the truth about this issue ?

    Maybe Mormons are right that outsiders can’t really understand their religion , but autocratic
    religions like Mormonism would prefer it that way with their proselyting .

  15. MJP says:

    I would actually argue that there are two levels of understanding: one in which there is full belief and everything makes sense within the context of the faith; the other is one in which there is an accurate knowledge of the doctrines and history of the faith. This is also true in Christianity.

    I think only believers can truly “get” a religion in the former sense, but anyone can do the latter. When critics of the Mormon church do understand the latter, often more precisely and fully than the believers themselves, LDS refer back to the first sense and declare any other understanding invalid.

    I mentioned that this applies to Christianity, too, and I think Mormons have a double standard on this. They think they can gain a Cliff Notes version and state they get Christianity. Anyone who questions them are simply (word that cannot be said) and dismissed as liars and unreliable.

    I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: if Mormons would fully embrace what it is they believe, now and in the past, I would respect them far, far more. But they don’t– they change a doctrine to a policy, state it was an opinion, distort the meaning, deny a practice but still keep it as a practice, etc.

    Its all too plain to me that they obfuscate and confuse everything so as to make the faith more palatable to the adherents and potential converts. Its not about truth– its about keeping the program going.

    When one sees the Mormon program and understands it from afar, this is all to clear, whether we ‘get’ Mormonism or not.

  16. falcon says:

    Here’s my Mormon fave: “Christians think they can sin without any consequence.” That’s in response to the doctrine that Christ paid the price for our sins and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
    Actually they get that idea of sinning with impunity, I think, from the doctrine of eternal security mainly gotten from Calvinism. It is a “false understanding” on purpose of the “once saved, always saved” perspective, I think. That’s a way of mis-characterizing, purposely not understanding as a way of knocking Christianity.
    So what don’t Mormons understand about Christianity?

  17. falcon says:

    So what else don’t Mormons understand about Christianity? Maybe we should narrow that down to, “What don’t Mormons understand about the Bible?”
    Well we could start with the basic premise of Mormonism that the Biblical text is so corrupted that it isn’t trust worthy. Mormons repeat the line, “The Bible has been copied so many times that the original text has been lost.”, so often that they actually believe it. The other line is, “Corrupt monks left all of the Mormonism out of the Bible.” These premises form the foundation of the claim for a need for a restored gospel.
    Did these folks ever bother to check these things out. Believing these things doesn’t lead to “understanding”.
    How about this one? “The Council of Nicea, at the behest of the Emperor, made-up the Doctrine of the Trinity”. Is this really “understanding” the historic facts regarding the various councils?
    Can a Mormon have “understanding” if they simply accept what the Mormon leadership tells them? One thing we read about constantly is how former members left the LDS church after gaining “understanding”. It’s been said that “knowledge is power”. That’s very true however when leadership like that in the LDS church controls the message/knowledge and discourages members from seeking information not officially approved by the (leaders).
    the Bible tells us that it’s by grace we’ve been saved through faith and not by works that any of us can boast about. Do Mormons understand what this means? If someone believes that the message of the gospel has been lost and there was a need for a “restoration”, the result is another gospel that will not lead to salvation. It also leads to a religion that runs amok with “creative” doctrines that change with each passing generation.

  18. falcon says:

    OOPS! The falcon comitted bad sentence structure in his above post. I will once again blame it on the early hour and the fact that I haven’t eaten my Shredded Wheat yet!
    It should read………………..
    “That’s very true however when leadership like that in the LDS church controls the message/knowledge and discourages members from seeking information not officially approved by the (leaders) it doesn’t lead to understanding.”

  19. jaxi says:

    I’ve quoted my sister before on another post. I was as getting so frustrated with LDS telling me I didnt understanding Mormonism when I was leaving. I did seminary, went to BYU, took Honors religion courses, attended church, read my scriptures, taught Sunday school, read my ensign, watched conference, temple recommend… She then sarcastically said to me (she is not LDS anymore) “Of course you don’t understand. If you did you would believe it.” I think that sums up the mindset. No one understands it unless they believe it.

  20. falcon says:

    Thank you jaxi!
    I feel validated in my observation. Isn’t that strange reasoning, “Of course you don’t understand. If you did you would believe it.”?
    Think of what else that could be applied to. For example, “You’d be a Satanist if you understood it!”

    To repeat, it’s not about understanding in the weird wacky world of the (sorry lurkers) cults. It’s about believing it and accepting it as true regardless of the evidence to the contrary. There’s a strong link to the emotions here aka. the “burning in the bosom” response to Mormonism. Man this concept of “hearing from God” is so abused. And just think! I’m someone who believes in hearing from God.

    There’s a reason that the apostle Paul writes that we are to “………..take every thought captive”. When we enter the spiritual realm, things can get real confusing. It’s a spiritual battle as explained in the sixth chapter of Ephesians.
    We are constantly bombarded by thoughts and impressions and some folks are so ADD that they are responding to every stimulus that presents itself. And then there’s the poor OCD sufferers. This is why I trend to the “once saved always saved” side of the doctrinal continuum. Who can make it without God’s saving grace? Our gene pools are so messed up that unless God, through the Holy Spirit, over rides our inclinations, we haven’t a chance. I know, there’s free will and we aren’t robots. But what I’m talking about is God’s benevolence and grace influencing us in ways that we naturally don’t go in. That’s why immersing ourselves in God’s Word is so important. Sometimes we have bad code and we need to be first deprogrammed and then reprogrammed.
    It’s called “the spirit and flesh in conflict”. Wicked man that I am! I don’t understand myself. The good that I desire to do, I don’t do and the evil that I don’t want to do, I do. Who can save me from this body of sin and death? Thank God for Our Lord Jesus Christ who bearing the shame, shed His blood on the cross so that all who put their faith in trust in Him, will not perish but have eternal life.

    That almost sounds Biblical!

  21. Mike R says:

    Eric said, ” Corporations such as Ford and Toyota have vested interests just as Mormon and
    Jehovah’s witnesses do. For example you will never hear a Mormon leader giving a General Conference message this way , ‘ Wow it’s amazing how Joseph Smith was able to manage 33
    wives , including 11 of whom were married to other men ! ‘ ”

    That’s an important point to bring out . Autocratic religious organizations like the two Eric
    mentions ( Mormon and JW) have a track record of cleverly presenting or diverting attention
    away from some of the ” restored ” teachings of their modern day prophets . Potential converts
    are led down a path by skilled salespersons to see the necessity to submit to ” God’s sole
    channel of truth for these last days ” , ” the one true church of Jesus ” etc .

    Why should’nt Mormon leaders preach in Conference about Joseph Smith’s / Brigham Young’s
    polygamy ? Considering what was taught by Mormon leadership and testified to from some
    devout church members , even women, this ” restored ” essential ordinance of the gospel
    of Jesus Christ should be proudly mentioned a lot by current speakers in General Conference .
    But then again if this is done potential converts and rank and file members might look into it
    and discover the reason why it is’nt a topic that current leadership finds comfortable to
    discuss in public , unless they can control the interview .

    Thank goodness there are ministries like MRM who make available important information
    that inquiring persons deserve to know when looking into the claims of Mormonism .

  22. Enki says:

    I thought that there was an element of this in the Christian faith. Does anyone think that an Atheist understands theism in general, or the christian faith in general. I have heard Christians say that atheists misunderstand many things about theism and the christian faith. Or other faiths like Mormonism or Bahai, they don’t really understand christ, therefore they don’t believe in the real jesus.

  23. fifth monarchy man says:


    How are you? you said

    I thought that there was an element of this in the Christian faith.

    I say,

    I think you are confusing intellectual understanding with emotional understanding

    An outsider won’t “emotionally” understand why I would sacrifice my life or happiness for my family but they can “intellectually” understand the bonds that I have for them.

    By the same token a non-christian can’t “emotionally” understand how the overwhelming gratitude that I feel toward Christ that will drive me to live righteously even though I believe my works don’t have any saving merit. It does not make sense to them because they don’t see the value of the Gospel.

    However they can easily “intellectually” understand that my faith teaches that I am saved by grace not works.

    Do you see the difference?


  24. falcon says:

    I think there’s a big difference between “understanding” and “mis-understanding”.
    There are a lot of things within the framework of my religious beliefs that I don’t understand. I chalk it up to my inability to comprehend fully, for example, why God allows certain events or seems to work in “mysterious” ways.
    Further more I think an atheist can understand the doctrines of the Christian faith but choose not to endorse or except these doctrines. There’s an element in this called faith. It’s discussed at length in the Book of Hebrews in the Bible.
    Let me give you a couple of examples:
    Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
    Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

    I think, however, it is possible to understand the history, beliefs, practices and doctrines of a religion. So it is with Mormonism. I, though understanding Mormonism, don’t accept/believe it.
    I can’t account for all those Christians that you’ve heard say what you’ve reported hearing them say about atheists. I can’t remember hearing Christians say that about atheists. So we’ll just have to accept that you are reporting this accurately and that there’s been a large number of Christians you’ve heard say it.

    Here’s my other point and that has to do more with mis-characterizing something because of lack of understanding. I would say those who post here have a thorough understanding of Mormonism. We don’t bear false witness against the religion. We report the facts as they are known.

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