Why I am not Mormon

Joseph Smith, Jr

I’m continuing my blog series that I call, “Why I am Not.” In this series I’m describing why I don’t belong to various faith expressions. I’ve talked about why I am not Muslim, why I’m not Jewish, why I’m not Buddhist, and why I’m not Jehovah’s Witness. 

Now, in each of these blogs I explained why I don’t belong to that particular camp based solely on the merits of that faith.  In other words, I just examined that faith’s own writings or history and explained how a reasonable person, who was thinking through the process, could not belong to that faith expression or philosophy. I didn’t compare their writings or belief to Christian writings or belief. That’s because someone who doesn’t accept the Christian faith wouldn’t have had the same starting point, and would have much more easily dismissed my arguments. Therefore, my starting point with each of these faiths is their own writings and history. I think that’s the only thing we need to look at to make an informed decision.      

In this blog I want to discuss why I am not Mormon, and I will use the same approach.      

You probably know that the Mormon Church is often called as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or more informally, the LDS Church. They have over 16 million members and are headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Let me begin by saying that I have a high respect for our Mormon friends. The vast majority of them are very kind, considerate, peaceful people, who contribute a lot to the fabric of our society. They give sacrificially to their church, live, for the most part, incredibly moral lives, and are very focused on sharing their faith with the world. In fact, did you know that the missionaries that come knocking on your door have raised their own financial support so that they can move to your city and spend their time evangelizing? They don’t get paid to do that – they have to pay to be missionaries. I find that very commendable, and the next time you encounter an LDS missionary you may want to take a moment and recognize the sacrifice that they’ve made to come talk to you.  

So, let’s get on to our question: why am I not Mormon?   Many see the Mormon, or Latter Day Saints, as another branch of the Christian faith. They claim to follow the teachings of the Bible and of course Jesus. In fact, they have the same New Testament, but claim that it’s not the complete revelation of Jesus. They hold that The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that at some point, probably after His crucifixion, Jesus appeared to people in North America. This information is given to us in the Book of Mormon. Mormon’s believe that we have to have the Book of Mormon along with the Bible.          

So, let me provide you with just a quick overview of the origins of the Book of Mormon – and this comes from the Mormon’s themselves. In 1820, a 14-year old boy named Joseph Smith read in the book of James that he was to ask for wisdom, and so he asked God in prayer about which church he should join.   God the Father and Jesus visited Joseph Smith and told him that the churches had become corrupt, and that they were calling him to be a prophet. Three years later, in September of 1823, Joseph Smith claimed that he was visited by the angel Moroni, who told him that there was an ancient record that needed to be translated so that the true gospel of Jesus Christ could be restored.      

Joseph continued having a number of visits with the angel, and in 1827, the angel returned and provided Joseph with instructions to locate a buried box with some golden plates at Cumorah Hill, near Manchester, New York. Also in the box were some stones resembling eye glasses that would help Smith to translate what was on the golden plates. Using the eye glasses and a special seer stone, Joseph Smith was said to have translated the golden plates to several scribes who wrote down, word for word, the translation. These scribes were identified as his wife, Emma, family friend, Martin Harris, and a schoolteacher, Oliver Cowdery.         

By the middle of 1829, the book of Mormon was finally translated. In April 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was born. Within the opening pages of the book of Mormon we find the testimony of two groups of witnesses – 11 in total – who affirm that they saw the golden plates.      

So, the questions we have before us are these: Is it possible that the revelation of Jesus continued after the close of the New Testament?  Maybe the New Testament isn’t the end of God’s revelation? Maybe modern evangelicals have it wrong, and that God is trying to share with us His true gospel through the Mormon Church? Is there any good reason to believe that the book of Mormon can be trusted?  Is there any way that we can tell what the truth is?  I think these are very important questions to ask, and we’re gonna explore them here.

But, first let me share a quote with you from the Mormon Church, that I am in full agreement with:    

“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a Prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.  There is no middle ground.”  President Joseph Fielding Smith

I believe that this statement from the LDS Church is insightful and true. I believe that the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, and the book of Mormon, should be our starting point.  

We’re told that a young boy sought wisdom from God, had a supernatural encounter, and we have a group of witnesses who testify that what had happened to him is true.  Some might say that this is not unlike what we have in the New Testament: a group of disciples have a supernatural encounter with a risen Jesus, and they go on to be witnesses, testifying to what they saw to others.  The problem is that the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, as I’ve just described to you, was provided without context. And, as always, context can be everything.  

The commonly-told story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon isn’t really as neat as how it was just unpackaged for you.  Joseph Smith grew up in a very poor home. His father, Joseph Smith, Sr, had unsuccessfully tried his hand in several professions, and was struggling to make ends meet as a farmer. It’s very important to note that both Senior and Junior ­had a keen interest in “treasure digging.” This was a superstitious belief that treasure had been buried in the United States by either Native Americans, Spanish conquerors, or pirates, and that this treasure could be found by the practice known as “scrying.” Scrying is a form of divination in which the scryer or “peeper” looks into a piece of crystal, stone, or glass, or maybe uses a divining rod in an attempt to see where the treasure is buried. 

Now, no scryer ever found any hidden treasure, but this didn’t stop people from hiring them to find something to make them rich. Both Smith Sr and Jr had a huge interest in the practice, and Joseph Smith Jr apparently began earning a reputation as someone who had this supernatural ability, though he wasn’t ever able to find any treasure for anyone.      

Scryers had a reputation for telling someone where the treasure was buried, and just before they found it, would tell them that they did something wrong and that a spirit had moved the treasure to another place. The scryer always got paid for his services, even if the treasure was never found. One method that scryers employed to find treasure would be to place their peep stone in their hat, press their face to the hat and claim to see where the treasure could be found. The practice of scrying was looked down upon by those who were less superstitious. In fact, in some places it was illegal. Of the practice, Benjamin Franklin wrote,       

“There are among us great numbers of honest artificers and laboring people, who fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business, almost ruining of themselves and families,  and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasure… at length a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cartloads of earth is thrown out, but alas, no cag or iron pot is found! No seaman’s chest crammed with Spanish pistoles, or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude, that thro mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach.”      

So, you can see, treasure digging by way of divination, wasn’t celebrated by everyone. It was a scheme. It mixed a very superstitious people with those who wanted to get rich quick, and who had no problem with occultic practices.  And so this is how the career of young Joseph Smith began. By the way, in 1836, he was arrested and charged for being an imposter, relating to his treasure digging activities. There seems to be some dispute as to whether or not he was actually found guilty, but what is not in dispute is that Smith would eventually have a long history within the court system.     

Now, let’s consider Joseph Smith’s first vision. According to the very well-known CES letter foundation website, there are four different accounts of how it happened. In the account that Smith wrote in 1832, 12 years after it reportedly occurred, he didn’t mention anything about being visited by two beings. He only saw a pillar of light and spoke with Jesus.     

In his 1836 account we have the mention of the second person.  This would appear to be a later development. And there’s a question about whether he had asked God which church to join. In his first account, he recorded that he had known that “there was no society or denomination that was built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

However, in his 1838 account, Joseph Smith wrote that the reason he was “going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.”

So, as you can see, Smith himself offers contradictory accounts of that first vision.  His second supernatural encounter resulted in Smith being led to the buried golden plates by the angel Maroni. In context, we have a young man who had been running a scheme to lead people to buried treasure, now suddenly claiming that he was led to buried treasure by a spirit.  Incidentally, no one knows where those plates are today, so we can’t examine them for ourselves.

And, when it came to translating the golden plates, the Mormon Church is now recognizing that it wasn’t exactly like what they had been teaching, which was, Joseph Smith pouring over the golden plates, being led by God for a translation. Rather, Smith did what he had been doing for a long time – he sat with his head in his hat looking at a rock while claiming to dictate what he saw. He didn’t even use the plates – they weren’t in the picture at all. He got the book of Mormon by employing the occultic practice of looking at a stone with his face in his hat.       

And, what of the witnesses who verified Joseph Smith’s claims? Well, we know for certain that these eleven men were all connected by their belief in treasure digging, magic, and divination. In other words, their worldviews did not leave them skeptical of these things. They were immersed in them.

More importantly, there are reports suggesting that the witnesses actually never saw the golden plates. Rather, these reports suggest that at least some of the witnesses claimed that they saw them in a vision.    

Now, let me pause here to make what I believe to be an important point. What if Christianity had begun like this? What if we had the same type of questionable activity surrounding the Apostles of Jesus? Let me illustrate it this way for you.  Let’s take three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, and John.  What if we had done a little digging and discover that prior to meeting Jesus, Peter had been involved with three other Messiah’s, and that he had gotten himself arrested with one them? What if we had learned that James had always aspired to be a synagogue ruler or maybe someday have a seat on the Sanhedrin; that he had always fancied himself a leader, and had always hoped to rise above his poverty? What if we encountered evidence that before hooking up with Jesus, John had actually claimed two other men had raised themselves up from the dead, but no one had believed him?       

You see, if those things had been true about the disciples, then how could anyone believe them? Even if their witness was true, their prior motives and past activities would cast a huge shadow of doubt over their testimony. Their reputations would have so tarnished their testimony that we’d have to be fools to take them at their word. And, then, we’d have to wonder: how God would even expect us to believe someone when everything about the situation tells us not to trust them? That’s why prosecutors refuse to offer one inmate any favors if he testified against another inmate – because it’s going to be hard enough to get a jury to believe a convicted criminal’s testimony, especially if he’s benefiting from it.        

If you’re a Christian and you need to see a doctor, and you have two to pick from. One has been charged in court once or twice and occasionally consults a crystal ball to diagnosis, while the other has a perfectly clean record and uses only MRIs and X-rays, which one would you choose? Which one would you trust?         

Faith is not going against reason, it’s working with it. That’s why when we look at the context surrounding Joseph Smith, his treasure digging schemes, his divination practices, his contradictory reporting of what had happened, the credibility of his witnesses, just to name a few, we have sufficient reason to tell us we don’t need to look any further, because this is just not how God works. We trust people when they demonstrate that they can be trusted.

The bible teaches, “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence… (Prov. 12:17 ESV). 

The reason why I am not Mormon is because it’s just not God’s way to present a very important truth wrapped up in something that warns of deceit.   Accepting the claims of Joseph Smith requires one to ignore the many red flags that in any other situation would cause us to walk away.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.




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