Hi, Jim --

I appreciate your quick response.

[Jim wrote]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.

[Kent responded]I understand that. At the same time, much that is true is counter-intuitive. For example, there would appear to be intelligent, personal order at the foundation of a language -- such as French, for example -- but the truth is that French, though exhibiting enormously complex structure that appears of intelligent design, was not designed; it simply evolved from spoken Latin, and no one was in charge of the direction or interlinking of any of the complicatedly internested changes from Latin into the later highly complex structure (far beyond what one calls "grmmar") which we call French. All of that simply evolved by natural processes.

[Jim wrote]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.

[Kent responded]That would have been a satisfactory synthesis for me at my level of knowledge at one time in my life.

[Jim wrote]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.

[Kent responded]All that makes sense in theory. In fact, however, mankind has lived for hundreds of thousands of years, though genealogies of the Old Testament peg the time of Adam at about 4,000 BCE. And numerous human activities, tool and weapons making, painting and sculpture, clothing, boat building, burials, etc., existed in many parts of the world, not only tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years before 4,000 BCE, but in many parts of the world far from the area mentioned as the Garden of Eden.

[Jim wrote]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."  :)

[Kent responded]Since you mention Episcopalians, may I assume you have read Bishop John Shelby Spong's book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and his later book, A New Christianity For a New World?

[Jim wrote]I'm trying to avoid being trite, but I guess I took the Pascalian wager. I'm sure you are familiar with that.

[Kent responded]Yes. Very familiar since the late 50s. My first philosophy professor was a Harvard professor on sabbatical at the Univ. of New Mexico.

[Jim wrote]. . . 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.

[Kent responded]But only to those intellectually, educationally and emotionally capable of understanding the evidence. You have already encountered the problem of most Mormons not understanding the evidence against Mormonism. Pascal's wager is a default position. One might equally well argue that a Pascalian position on belief in invasion by space aliens would be to believe in them because not doing so could leave one at risk of harm from them. I think that is a valid approach only for those incapable of finding and understanding the evidence.
Moreover, the question remains: in which God should one believe? I think that the Old Testament God would be eliminated by reading works such as The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, or any of the major works of Robert Ingersoll, or A History of God, by Karen Armstrong, or the book Who Wrote the Bible?

[Jim wrote] By that time, I had experienced a great deal of communion with God.

[Kent responded]That feeling I understand. I have supervised instruction of over two dozen Middle-Eastern and African languages, and have come to know intimately many people from many cultures. (This evening, my wife and I ate dinner with a large group of East Indians here.) Many of these ethnic groups have what they perceive as communion with God, but some of these concepts of God are antagonistic or contradictory to the Christian concept.

[Jim wrote]Even in the Mormon Church, I had come to feel the presence of the Spirit of God.

[Kent responded] What happens is that we come to feel a feeling. Then we identify that feeling with however that feeling is labeled for us. If it's labeled as "God," that's how we perceive and identify it. That feeling is what drew tens of thousands of Americans into the Divine Light Mission (the guru Maharaj Ji of Houston Astrodome fame) during the early 70s. That feeling is what caused men in the Heaven's Gate group to have themselves castrated and await a spaceship behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

[Jim wrote]Yes, there is a definite "experiential" aspect to Christian faith.

[Kent responded]There is an experiential aspect to Christian faith, Baha'i faith, Eckankar faith, etc.

[Jim wrote]the difference is that Mormonism asks us to believe in a system which is founded on lies

[Kent responded]But the awareness of lies is your awareness ex post facto. Most systems are based on some lies. It's just that the older ones are harder to trace back and falsify. In truth, Matthew wasn't written by Matthew, Mark not by Mark, Luke not by Luke, etc. Many key beliefs such as the virgin birth, etc., evolved into being. A clear and simple presentatin of this is in the book, Who Wrote the New Testament?

[Jim wrote](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.

[Kent responded]Yes. I knew him personally, along with his key protege Mary Bradford, the first Editor of Dialog magazine.. Bro. Arrington tried to teach openly what cannot be taught openly. As per the old Spanish saying, "A quien dices el secreto, das tu libertad." (To whom you tell the secret, you give your freedom.)  As Campbell explained, "Religion is misunderstood mythology."

[Jim wrote]Arrington said, "The Italians have a phrase, 'It's true even if it isn't literally true.'"

[Kent responded]That's the old distinction between existential and pragmatic truth. Truman Madsen and I once discussed that as the "testimony of resigned inevitability."

[Jim wrote]Christianity, I would argue, stands up to philosophical investigation to a vastly higher degree than Mormonism.

[Kent responded]Quite true, but largely because the development of Mormonism is more recent, more historically tied, and therefore more easily falsifiable.

[Jim wrote]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.

[Kent responded]I understand what you're saying, and generally agree. But also, you should read The Jesus Mysteries, by Freke and Gandy, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die, by John Shelby Spong, for 24 years the Episcopal Bishop of Newark.

[Jim wrote]Mormonism was founded by a charlatan with an insatiable libido.

[Kent responded]There's a lot of truth in that, though I think it's more complex than that. And then, on the other hand, Christianity as you know it is the product of long evolution of partially faked documents. In the 60s, I was the leading student in my department at the Univ. of Madrid in Spain, and as such came to the attention of Ramón Menéndez Pidal, who at the time was head of the Royal Spanish Academy of Letters and the most prominent living historian in Europe. For an entire year, I used, by his personal invitation, his private library in his home, and he showed me original documents that clearly revealed how the Old Testament and New Testament came to be cobbled together as we have them. At the time it was offensive to me because I had such a strong LDS testimony, but I couldn't deny what he was showing me, including the evolution of the concept of the divinity of Jesus.

[Jim wrote]It was passed on to Brigham Young who had all the faults of Joseph Smith, but was also a heartless murderer.

[Kent responded]Again, it was far more complicated than that. Brigham had Napoleon's attitude: that if you want to make an omelette, you have to break eggs.

[Jim wrote]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.

[Kent responded]My mother was the Mormon. My father and his family were believing Baptists. I was raised with both points of view.

[Jim wrote]I have come to believe that there are only three philosophical alternatives to Christian orthodoxy.

[Kent responded]Well, that's a surprise. In fact, there are dozens of philosophical alterntives to Christin orthodxy. I am part Cherokee, my wife is Samoan, one of my sons-in-law is Sikh, an M.D. business associate is Eckankar, another business associate is Sufi, a programmer who worked full time for me for years is a Scientologist, etc. All of these are alternatives. Not all fit into your three. There are dozens of others.

[Jim wrote]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.)

[Kent responded]Now I am REALLY bewildered. For one thing, "cult" is to "dialect" as "religion" is to "language." (Or, cult is to religion a dialect is to language.) "Occult" is definitional denigration. "Secular" is also definitional. In short, all of these terms are subject to various definitions.

[Jim wrote]I have diagramed this idea in a chart in that book.

[Kent responded]I'll look at it and study it.

[Jim wrote]My reason for rejecting secularism has already been mentioned.

[Kent responded]Yes.

[Jim wrote]I rejected the Occult/Mystical because they are essentially irrational.

[Kent responded]"Irrational" is also too often definitional. From one point of view, it is irrational to believe that the Garden of Eden near Independence, Missouri, especially since Genesis places it near Ethiopia, the Tigris and Euphrates and Assyria. But from another, it is rational to believe that it was in Missouri if one reasons according to the other general teachings of Joseph Smith.
I do international communications consultation concerning the matter of what constitutes "irrational" or "rational" in cross-cultural communication. For years, I have provided consultation to Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams.

[Jim wrote]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 responded]Here's how it works. Cult is to weed as religion is to garden-plant. The difference between cult, sect, religion and true religious path is a matter of degree of recognition by the people whom one considers significant. Further, failure to maintain the revelation pathway would apply to various Christian denominations that don't agree with each other after praying for divine guidance.
Regarding "revelation begun by God at Creation," one encounters the problem of identifying creation. As I've pointed out, the creation time mentioned in the O.T. was a time hundreds of thousands of years subsequent to human activities in Olduvai, Java, parts of Europe, etc. To sort some of this out, you should read A History of God, by Karen Armstrong, one of the UK's finest religious scholars. Even Homo Sapiens lived tens of thousands of years PRIOR to the alleged time of Adam and Eve.

[Jim wrote]If I can share anything else of interest, I would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to do so.

[Kent responded]I really appreciate that. In the meantime, of the various books I've mentioned, the main one I'd become familiar with first, reading it thoroughly, is Why Christianity Must Change or Die. It is fact-based, rather than philosophical-reasoning based or emotional-experience based.
Thanks again for your kind and intelligent response to my e-mail.


  go to letter three in this exchange


We may well have to regard each other the way our mutual convinced Mormon friends view us--sadly misguieded. And, as I said in my first response, I have little hope of changing your mind, although I am convinced of my position. Nevertheless, that does not we can't be friends in spite of our differences.

Yes, I do know Shebly Spong's works. Of course I think he is wrong on almost evertything. In fact, I focused on him in a chapter of my book _Bleeding Hearts and Propaganda._ Chapter 4

I recently had a surpising experience reading Spong's last book, _A New Christianity for a New World._ In this book, as he sets about to deconstruct historic Christianity, he avows a faith in Jesus Christ that is both touching and, I believe, bibilically accurate. [I do not mean to imply that his Christian doctrine is accurate, but his description of the "experience" of Christ is strikingling biblical in light of Col 1:13] He speak of this "Christ experience" in a poignant way with deep sincerety and in a way which elicits real empathy from me. As I so often say to Mormons, "I cannot look into your heart. Who knows if you have come to a life-altering knowledge of God in Christ? But if you have, it is _in spite of,_ not because of the doctrines of Mormonism, which doctrines are commonly in clear contradistinction to orthodoxy." So, it is the unbiblical doctrines of Mormonism I challenge, while allowing God to do His job. I'm in sales, He's in mangement.

But please read the excerpts here from Spong

You will doubtless put me down as a hopeless Luddite when you see my views on Evolution--a tautological theory. I reference a few paragraphs from my book _Hard Case Witnessing:_

"People do change their minds about Evolution, as evidenced in the interesting change of thinking which occurred within Dr. Colin Patterson, Senior Palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History. In his keynote address at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981 he said:

'One of the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary view, or let's call it a non-evolutionary view, was that last year I had a sudden realization for over twenty years I had thought I was working on evolution in some way. One morning I woke up and something had happened in the night, and it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years and there was not one thing I knew about it. That's quite a shock to learn that one can be so misled so long. Either there was something wrong with me or there was something wrong with evolutionary theory. Naturally, I know there is nothing wrong with me, so for the last few weeks I've tried putting a simple question to various people and groups of people.

'Question is, "Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing, any one thing that is true?" I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar at the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, "I do know one thing--it ought not be taught in high school.'"

Again, Kent, I reiterate that my views, while open to challenge, are certainly not made without investigation of alternative views. And certainly I will come to understand at some point that I am wrong about lots of things. But my adoration for and communion with the Living Christ remains undeminished after many assaults. The Bible, someone has said, is an anvil which has worn out many hammers.