Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dear Anonymous 1:06 AM

My friend,

I apologize for the delay in answering your comment.

Your concerns are shared by many, and I don't blame you for having them. Quite frankly, they rest upon one question: Was Joseph Smith truly called by God to be a prophet? The proof behind his calling is found in the Book of Mormon. Jesus testified, "by their fruits, ye shall know them." (Matt. 7:20).
The Book of Mormon is the fruit of the prophet Joseph Smith. If it is true, and I testify that it is, then he was a prophet. If it is false, then he was not. There are no other options.
In addition to this proof, there are proofs of the Book of Mormon; that is, there are twelve men who saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
But to fully answer your concerns, I feel it is necessary to give a summary of the message of the Book of Mormon and how it came forth.
I admit this response is lengthy, but I hope it helps you.

The Story within the Book of Mormon

The central message of the Book of Mormon is that "JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations. . . ." (Title Page of the Book of Mormon). And this message is delivered through the history of a family which became two great nations on the American continent:
Six hundred years before the coming of Christ, prophets such as Jeremiah testified that Babylon would soon destroy Jerusalem and carry her inhabitants into captivity. A man living in Jerusalem, Lehi, heard these prophets and prayed mightily on behalf of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. After praying, a pillar of fire appeared before Lehi, and the things he saw and heard made him tremble. He went home, and being overcome with the Spirit of God, was carried away in a vision. In his vision, he saw God sitting on His throne and read a book testifying that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Thus, Lehi was called to be a prophet of God.
In a later dream, Lehi was warned to leave Jerusalem with his family. Lehi obeyed.
Lehi's family, accompanied by a few others, made their way through the Arabian desert until they arrived on the sea shore. God then directed Lehi's son Nephi, who was also a prophet, to construct a ship. When the ship was finished, God guided them across the ocean until they arrived on the American continent.
After the death of Lehi, his family divided into two groups, the Nephites, led by Nephi, and the Lamanites, led by Lehi's oldest son Laman. The Nephites were righteous, kept the Law of Moses, and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, whom they knew would be called Jesus Christ. The Lamanites were not righteous and taught their children to hate the Nephites.
The story of the Book of Mormon follows the interactions between these two groups.
There were many prophets after Lehi and Nephi, and each wrote his prophesies on golden plates. They wrote on plates because they wanted their words to be preserved for future generations and knew that if they were to write on anything else, their words would perish.
And each prophet in the Book of Mormon wrote of Christ and taught that He is the Son of God and redeemer of the world. They also taught that Jesus would be born, live, be crucified, and be resurrected in the land of Palestine. However, they foresaw the day when Jesus would minister to the inhabitants of this continent.
In fact, the crowning event of the Book of Mormon is the personal appearance of the Risen Lord after His crucifixion and resurrection. When Jesus was crucified, the Earth mourned with great upheavals and destructions. On the American continent, the face of the land was changed. Some time after these destructions, a group of people had gathered around a temple and were discussing the changes which had occurred when they heard a Voice.
The first two times, they couldn't understand it, but the third time, they looked to the heavens and focused their attention on the voice. Then they understood, "Behold my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name---hear ye him." (3 Nephi 11:7).
Descending from heaven, they saw a Man, but did not know who He was until He said, "Behold, I am Jesus Christ of whom the prophets testified. . . ." (3 Nephi 11:10). He then invited each person to come to Him, to feel the prints of the nails in His hands and His feet.
Jesus spent several days with these people and visited them occasionally thereafter. While He was there, He established His Church and ordained Apostles to preside over the Church after He returned to His Father.
For two hundred years after the appearance of Jesus Christ, there was peace as all people lived the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Once people stopped living according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the people divided again into Nephites, who followed Jesus and His Apostles, and Lamanites who sought to destroy Christ's Church.
In approximately 322 A.D., God called a prophet, Mormon, to be the custodian over all the records which had been written by the prophets and Apostles who lived on the American continent. Additionally, God commanded Mormon to abridge these records into a single work.
Mormon was also the General over the Nephite armies. Tragically, however, the Nephites, except for a few, also denied the Christ. In approximately 385 A.D., all the Nephites who would not deny the Christ were destroyed. (Moroni 1:2-3). Mormon's son, Moroni survived the wars and inherited the book which his father had written.
Moroni wandered for several decades across the Americas until he hid the book, written on gold plates, in a hill in what is now upstate New York.
The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
For 1400 years, the book lay hidden in the hill until God called another prophet on the American continent: Joseph Smith.
In 1820, Joseph had been called to be a prophet. Three years later, Joseph was wondering about his standing with the Lord. He prayed to God and asked for the forgiveness of his sins when a light appeared in his room. In the midst of the light was an angel who identified himself as Moroni.
Moroni told Joseph that Joseph's name would be had for good and evil throughout the world and that God had a work for him to do. Moroni told Joseph about the book which was hidden in the hill. Moroni appeared four times to Joseph and shared with him the same message with little variation.
The hill where the plates where hidden was only a few miles from where Joseph and his family were living. The next day, Joseph went to the hill and uncovered the plates. However, Moroni appeared again and forbade Joseph from taking the plates and told Joseph to return to the place where the plates were buried each year for four years where Moroni would instruct Joseph in preparation for the translation of the book.
Proof upon which to Build Faith
The time arrived, and Joseph was allowed to take the plates home, with strict instructions to show them to no one.
To assist in the work of translation, a prominent local farmer, Martin Harris offered to assist Joseph. Martin wanted proof whether Joseph really had ancient records. In response, Joseph copied several characters from the plates and translated them by the means of a Urim and Thummim, which had been buried with the plates. (See Exodus 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Deut. 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:63).
Martin took the characters and the translation to a Professor at Columbia University, Charles Anthon. I now quote from the account of Martin Harris of what ensued:
“I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

“He then said to me, ‘Let me see that certificate.’ I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”
(I would also encourage you to read and compare this account to Isaiah 29:11-12).
Martin served as a scribe for a while. Later, Oliver Cowdery took his place. As Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he learned that three witnesses would be privileged to see the plates. (2 Nephi 27:12; Ether 5:4). Three men who had been involved in the translation, Martin Harris, Joseph's first scribe, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph's scribe for the majority of the translation, and David Whitmer, a young man whose family supported Joseph and his wife during the translation of the Book of Mormon, all desired to be the three to whom the plates would be shown.

After the translation was complete, an angel appeared to them while they were with Joseph Smith and showed them the plates. The following is the testimony of these three men:
THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates;and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men,and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son,and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris
And in addition to these three men, eight others were privileged to see the plates. But instead of an angel, Joseph Smith showed them the plates. The following is their testimony:

THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer
Hiram Page
Jacob Whitmer
Joseph Smith, Sen.
Peter Whitmer, Jun
Hyrum Smith
John Whitmer
Samuel H. Smith
And here, my friend, is your proof. There are twelve men who saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
As you also know, there may be issues about the credibility of any witness. To answer any questions you may have, I will address the credibility of Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer by telling you, briefly, what happened to each of them after they saw the plates.

Oliver Cowdery served for some years as Assistant President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. He was with Joseph during some of the most important and amazing visions and revelations Joseph received. However, Oliver was an educated man and began believing he could run the Church better than Joseph. In 1838, he asked that his fellowship be removed from the Church records. He went on to practice law in Missouri for ten years. During that time, he never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Before he died in 1850, Oliver rejoined the Church, was rebaptized, and died in full fellowship.
Martin Harris also left the Church due to a financial crisis and a failed bank which Joseph had tried to start. However, he later moved to Utah, was rebaptized, and died in full fellowship. Martin never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon either.
David Whitmer, however, never rejoined the Church and died in Richmond, Missouri. Concerning his testimony, I refer you to an editorial which he wrote in response to rumors that he had denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. The editorial in full is below.
(Published in the Richmond, Mo., "Conservator" of March 25,1881)
Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues and People, unto whom these presents shall come: It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell county, Missouri, that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:
That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof,which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered tothat testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views inregard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as thenmade and published.
He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion; what is written is written, and he that readeth, let him understand.…And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?
In the spirit of Christ, who hath said: "Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light and the way," I submit this statement to the world; God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life.
My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth. And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!
DAVID WHITMER, Sen.Richmond, Mo., March 19, 1881.
I know this is a lengthy letter, but I hope it assists your ability in determining the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
As always, I am your humble servant,

Craig Pankratz

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Craig,

Thanks for your response. I read every word.

I honestly want to believe that the proof is sufficient, but I am not there yet.

Did anyone outside of the church or Joseph Smith's circle of friends question the witnesses as to what they perceived? Is there anyway to truly show the witnesses were disinterested? And ultimately even if they did see gold tablets written in Egytpian and other languages, how are we to know that they came from an angel?

As I understand the facts, Joseph Smith alone finds the tablets, is very secretive about them but eventually shows them to people.

Therefore the authenticity of the tablets rests on Joseph Smith alone, not on the witnesses; and to me it seems that there is no one more interested in claiming the authenticity of the tablets than Joseph Smith. If the tablets come from an Angel then he is right, if they don't then he is wrong. (I suppose this is where your faith sustains any doubt).

The torn up certification paper is convenient but not conclusive. Again the authenticity issue is at the center of my dilemna.

I guess what I get hung up on is what I reiterated earlier: history does not support the Book of Mormon. Only the LDS supports the LDS, whereas historians from all all walks of life support the existence of Christ in the middle east.

Now I am not even saying that I believe what Christians or non-Christians claim about the life of Jesus Christ or that I am even a religious person (religious in the sense that I subscribe to any institutionalized religious system).

All I am saying is that it is easier for me to come to a conclusion about how I deal with the Christ who was in the mid-east then the Christ who allegedly was in the Americas based on history.

The Cortez theory did not persuade me. The witnessess, even if we were to consider them disinterested, seem to offer conclusions but not the key fact that supports the conclusion-- that the stones and tablets came from an Angel.

It is hard enough for me to buy into what people call Christianity, it is even harder to buy into the LDS-- it just seems that all of the stories and issues of Nephi, Moroni, tablets, stones, levels of heavens, Cortez, caffeine, polygamy etc. offer more questions than answers, and force believers to rest a majority of their belief on faith and not reason.

Craig Pankratz said...

I appreciate your honesty. But, frankly, I don't know of anyone who has come into contact with the Book of Mormon who is disinterested. They're either stanchly opposed to it or zealous supporters of it.

But you can know of its truth. To do so, you need to read it, ponder on its teachings, reason through it, and listen to your gut. There is abolutely nothing I could say that will convince you of anything.

If you really want to know whether Mormons are full of it or whether we're telling the truth, you have to read the Book of Mormon. Otherwise, you'll be in ignorance.

Anyway, I encourage you to continue reading what I write. At least you'll have a better perspective of what we believe.

As always, I am your servant,
Craig Pankratz

Anonymous said...

I understand that people have opinions about the Book of Mormon and the LDS; but people have opinions about other sacred texts and are neither supporters or deniers of such texts- they are historians.

If there are contemporary historians who validate the authenticity of the Book of Mormon then I will believe it. When I say authenticity I don't mean truth, I just mean that it is derived from golden tablets, seer stones, and angels. If there is a respected, academic, who is not a member of the church who can say that history supports all three of those things tablet, stone, and angel then I will believe.

The closest thing I guess to satisfying that was the story of the Columbia professor, he sort of confirmed the first issue, but did not confirm the third one. And so even if I take that story as true that the professor did certify the stones and rip up the paper after being told it was from an angel, that does not confirm the angel, all it confirms is that the professor did not want to endorse something that someone said was retrieved from an angel.

I can even believe that the tablets existed, and let's say that I do, but the jump to believing they were delivered by an angel is not making sense to me.

Let's say that I have read the Book of Mormon just as the missionaries who visited me had read it. Why if I had read it, just like those missionaries, would I have to believe in the Cortez theory?

It just seems all too convenient a theory.

Finally, when I lay the Book of Mormon down side by side with the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible I do not see the same "inspiration."

Book of Mormon- 1 author who translated something which cannot be found and cannot be proven.

Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible- multiple authors, written in multiple languages, not free of error, not clear, ambigious.

My point is that anything that man touches is not going to always make sense and be perfect. The Bible is not perfect the Book of Mormon cannot be perfect either.

So in the end does it just come down to your or my parents ability to raise us believing that if not perfect they are at least sufficient and that should be good enough.

To me all religion is sham, they are systems that men have created for social control. The notion of eternity and heaven makes the fear of death bearable- that is what religion is to me, a coping mechanism for our inevitable decay. The more rules and regulations and law that any given system creates just plays right into our fear of the after-life and our desire to want to enter it in the best state possible. If I blidly follow lots of rules, and don't have to think critically about the reason or lack of reason behind them I can just sail on into my big manchine in the sky.

I hope you can forgive that tangent- all I am really saying is that any religion that piles on "law" just like the law of Moses does not draw me in.

Anonymous said...

http://www.summit.org/resource/essay/subtopic.php?subcat=46&subcat_name=Mormonism

This is a link to a Christian website, I don't support any of the critique it is espousing on behalf of Christiand and against the LDS I just want to see your reaction to the first essay on the list that charts out differences.

Craig Pankratz said...

Dear Friend,

Honestly, I wish I could tell you what you want to hear. It is my greatest desire for others to feel what I feel and experience what I experience. But I know that I am weak and do not have the words to convince anyone whether or not I am right. All I can do is express what I know to be true and let others judge for themselves whether what I say is true.

But I do appreciate your thoughts and concerns.

Now, to answer some of your questions:

Let the Cortez theory go. It's not the basis of my faith, and if any Latter-day Saint's faith is built on it, it is a shoddy foundation indeed. The whole theory is based on Quetzalcoatl. Google it if you want.

And I'm sorry, but I can't produce an "objective," scientific confirmation of the Book of Mormon or religion in general.

Finally, the chart is a fair representation of what we believe.

Again, I wish I could do more to help you.

As always, I am your servant
Craig Pankratz

Anonymous said...

Craig,

Thanks for the last comment.

I wish I could let the Cortez theory slide, but it is hard to. I was told point blank by two missionaries that it was the truth. I was also told point blank by those same missionaries that there are LDS archeologists in Mexico attempting to confirm this as we speak. I was also told point blank that the reason people in the hispanic culture have an affinity for the symbols of the sun and moon was also proof of some LDS theory. I was also told that there are symbols in Mexico that represent a cross that goes back to only a time when the descendants of Nephi could have known about the cross because of Jesus. (I know I did not mention these other theories earlier, but that was because they all flowed from Cortez).

I was given reason after reason. It did not seem as though they were just taken out of thin air, they were automatic responses to my concerns.

To me that was not honest, to me that was not true, to me that was deception. In not as many words you confirmed that it wasn't true.

I felt like I was lied to.

A theory so "shoddy" cannot be believed in good faith. If the carriers of the faith approach me in bad faith then I must affirmatively reject their faith.

I didn't want scientific, objective proof that God, Jesus, Satan, heaven or hell exist, just something, anything that is unbiased that could nudge toward angel-given gold tablets.

Biblical archelogists don't undeniably prove everything form the Hebrew and Christian Bible they give lots of nudges, and one of the keys is that they are not all Christians or Jews.

That is what I am looking for with the LDS.

You have persuaded me however to redefine what I think the key issue really is for those skeptics outside the faith. The key issue for me is really this:

I can concede that tablets existed; (in fact I have even heard they did exist- albeit as a hoax by local farmers)but what I need is to either have someone from outside the church say yes, they existed, yes they were written in a strange language(s), and yes the translation which is the Book of Mormon was more or less accurate, AND that all of the above were so out-of-place, non-sensical things to have happen that it is reasonable to debate about the inferences that are made therefrom, i.e do I then have the faith to believe it was an angel, or do I not.

I can concede that they existed, were written in a strange language, but I now hesitate that the translation was accurate and divine.

When I compare the way that the book of Mormon was delivered as opposed to say the Gospel here is what I see.

The gospel writers were witnesses to the events that happened or were able to compile the events through proximate oral tradition. The initial texts were proximate in time, language, and place. Over time one can argue about how true the transaltion is to those intial texts. The texts do not completely gel, but the same voice seems to permeate them- not complete consistency but then again multiple eye witnesses to a car wreck, each standing on a different corner will see the wreck differently. There is nothing ultra-secretive about the way the texts by multiple authors were written. There is however debate about the councils of the early Church who selected and de-selected certain texts, but we are still provided with those texts and we are free to let our faith by formed and or influenced by them.

Compare that to the Book of Mormon. It was found by one man who was very secretive of it, and explained that privateness as being required of him by an angel. It was in a language that no one could understand, not even Joseph Smith. It could only be understood by one person through the aid of stones. It was written from one source onto another source by one translator/author. (Sure I can have someone be my scribe, but that in no way shows that they know what I am telling them to write is accurate).

Also the more I read through those essays on that site I listed above the more frustrated I got with both "sides."

So I hope you can see how, for someone outside of the faith, it takes more than just a jump or leap to join.

Likewise I hope you can see how for anyone outside of a faith tradition, it feels like all faiths and their "missionaries" are like used car salesmen in that they all want to sell you something that looks good even though they know it has problems; ultimately coming down to who is better at persuasion.

Anonymous said...

One last thing.

I always ask these questions in discussions like this.

What do you mean by that?
How do you know that is true?
What if you are wrong?

When it comes down to all of the stuff that I challenge about the LDS in regard to the first two questions, even if you can't prove to me that you know something is true, what I suspect your answer to the third question to be is what makes the biggest difference to me.

I suspect that the answer to the third question, what if you are wrong? might go something like this:

If I am wrong and there is no God, heaven, hell, or tablets then I have a group of people that love each other, supports each other, cares for each other; a strong sense of family values; a loving family; a good life; and a comfortable satisfying existence-- and that is sufficient, that is enough, that is beautiful.

So Craig, while I poke and probe, I ultimately stand back and honor in honest admiration. Your church is good, your morals are good, you are good- and that is good. If the worst thing that comes from Mormonism is strong family values, close relationships and the occasional caffeine-free lunch that is pretty damn good.

Craig Pankratz said...

Dear Friend,

I thank you for your kind words about my faith's and my values.

Before I say anything else, please read my essay "Another Witness". The link is on the right side of my page under the Mitt Romney heading.

And I feel that I need to explain what I meant by letting the Cortez theory go. I'm not saying it's wrong; I'm saying the missionaries were wrong to bring it up. It can neither be proved nor disproved.

The theory itself is not "shoddy"; rather, it is a shoddy foundation upon which to build a witness of the Book of Mormon.

The missionaries were wrong to resort to the Cortez theory. The Book of Mormon is proof enough in itself. (Read on, and you'll understand what I mean).

But be patient with our missionaries: They are young, inexperienced, and often make mistakes. We have a saying within our faith, "The Church must be true, otherwise the missionaries would have destroyed it a long time ago."

I can see that you are a deeply scientific thinker. So may I suggest that you use the scientific method to determine whether the Book of Mormon is true? You know the process.

Here's your hypothesis: The Book of Mormon is the Word of God (you may change this if you'd like).

Like any scientist, you must approach proving or disproving your hypothesis objectively. Devise experiments. As a logical thinker, you must recognize that you cannot conduct experiments on an item without studying the item itself. Therefore, you must read the Book of Mormon. In addition, you have to test what it teaches.

Then, study its affect on you.

As you read, you will begin to feel something swelling within you, something good. You'll feel happier, at peace. You'll say, "[This] beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my funderstanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me." (Alma 32:28).

Then you must continue to read it, nourishing those feelings you have received. Eventually, you will know that the Book of Mormon is true.

This, in process, is how I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I've read it and lived its teachings.

I know for myself, and I don't need to lean on anyone else!

Again, I wish you the best. I am your humble servant,
Craig Pankratz