Beginning video clip membership numbers from Nelson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ8bxQtEYTE

Ep 106 – Book of Abraham Logical pt 2

On this episode, we wrap up our logical deconstruction of the Book of Abraham. We focus our petrifying gaze on the lds.org essay titled, ‘Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,’ the LDS Church’s official statement on this challenging piece of Mormon scripture. Is it merely more apologetics, or is there something special with this essay compared with other apologetic arguments for the ‘historical plausibility’ of the Book of Abraham? No, it’s just delicately worded apologetics we discussed at length last week. What more can we learn from this essay? What would it look like for the Brighamite LDS Church to disavow an historically authentic interpretation of this book and other Mormon scripture? We use the RLDS as an analogue to muse on what the Church has to lose when it comes to moving into an unorthodox and progressive stance on scripture and doctrine.

Links:

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham
https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng

Book of Abraham and Kirtland Egyptian material
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/site/book-of-abraham-and-egyptian-material

Kirtland Egyptian language and grammar
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/grammar-and-alphabet-of-the-egyptian-language-circa-july-circa-november-1835/7

Original printing of Book of Abraham and Facsimile 1
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-abraham-and-facsimiles-1-march-16-may-1842/1

Book of Abraham MormonThink
http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-abraham-issues.htm#theegyptionpapyriwerenotall

Lucy Mack Smith Book of Abraham ‘translation’ method
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/intro/introduction-to-book-of-abraham-manuscripts

Roger Launius The Reorganized Church, the Decade of Decision, and the Abilene Paradox
https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/issues/V31N01.pdf

Community of Christ FY2017 Budget
http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/FY17-Budget-ENGLISH.pdf

Community of Christ D&C 163
https://www.cofchrist.org/doctrine-and-covenants-section-163

Current LDS Membership Statistics
http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=church_growth_articles

Current LDS Income Statistics
http://www.churchistrue.com/blog/lds-membership-statistics-report-2017/

LDS Self-reported Membership Statistics
https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/topic/church-growth

Show Links:

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Today’s show is part 2 of the logical deconstruction of the Book of Abraham. Last episode was a brief rundown of apologetic arguments used to claim ‘historical plausibility’ for the Book of Abraham, which is a nice way to dance around the issue that it can’t be proven to be historically probable or authentic so plausibility is the only level of authenticity we can ascribe to it. This is the final position of retreat for those claiming something contrary to all the evidence academia and science has provided. Anything is plausible, much in the same way that anything is possible, but possibility and plausibility are hypotheses used to ascertain the accuracy of models and the scientific probability. Theories are constructed as the best possible ways to explain all the evidence to the highest degree of probability and theories are fluid and subject to change upon the introduction of new verifiable information. No theory or historical model could be constructed which includes an authentic Book of Abraham being what Joseph Smith claimed it to be.

The only way for the Book of Abraham to be authentic the way Mormon apologists claim, Egyptology, all Egyptian archaeology, religious studies academia, Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian language, and the centuries of historical research post-enlightenment would somehow all have to be aligned in a massive conspiracy to prove Joseph Smith wasn’t a true prophet. What’s more probable, that all these fields of scientific and historical research are run by the adversary, meaning all the millions of people who’ve put trillions of man-hours in to constructing these models and theories are all wrong, or that Joseph Smith lied? Both are plausible, what’s more probable?

We need to understand that the majority of average chapel-attending Mormons have never been exposed to this information before. If they have questions about issues like these, we would hope they would google Book of Abraham and click on MormonThink or any of the other fair and balanced sites dealing with the issue, but more frequently they’ll see the link on LDS.org titled Translation and the Historicity of the Book of Abraham, give it a read, and come away relegating the Book of Abraham to that special place of ‘historical plausibility’ which is the only comfortable safe haven for such an absurd piece of Mormon scripture. So that’s where we’re going to spend today’s episode, reading through the Church’s official statement on the Book of Abraham. Three reasons for doing so are as follows:

  1. High believer traffic

  2. Presents the issues the Church thinks are most important

  3. At the end of it all, it’s propaganda and apologetics constructed in the most delicate way as to not offend

One, lds.org has a really high believing Mormon traffic. They also sponsor a lot of topics in google search engine optimization. When you search anything Mormon related, the majority of the time the top 3 posts are Mormon.org Lds.org and FairMormon.org, that’s no coincidence. That increased traffic means the curious googler will more frequently happen upon the lds.org essay about the Book of Abraham than they will mormonthink, exmormon, or any other outlet which treats the issue from the opposite end of the belief spectrum. Aiming our counter-apologetics at this essay will be more effective for more people.

Two, the essay presents the issue from an official church resource. That means it only includes information which it sees as most important to include on a historical topic that’s admittedly rather large. That should translate to the average chapel-attending Mormon concerning themselves most with what’s presented in the essay, meaning we’re only forming counter-apologetics for the most important apologetic arguments posed.

Three, at the end of it all, this essay is propaganda. It’s merely apologetics formed in a delicate way so as not to leave any major holes in logic that can’t be resolved without some heartfelt asking the Lord for answers. And when I say delicate, you’ll see what I mean by the way they tackle the issues in comparison to how unofficial apologists tackle them. This is a very friendly essay for those with questions about the Book of Abraham, yet it relies on the same final point that apologists rely on, history won’t prove the Book of Abraham to be authentic, you’ll only know it’s true by the confirmation God gives you in earnest seeking for truth.

Just to let you know, because this essay is a delicate wording of many of the same arguments apologists retreat to, we’ll be covering some of the same counter-apologetics we did in the last episode, but from a different angle. If some of the information seems redundant, that’s because there are so few arguments possible to prove the Book of Abraham is ‘historically plausible,’ and no matter how many times those apologetic arguments are made with clever rewording, the arguments can just as easily be debunked. Regardless of the repetitive nature of the information presented today, I think you’ll want to stick with us until the concluding remarks. I’ve cooked up something special in the conclusion for you guys with some numbers to back up my arguments. I think you’ll want to know what I’ve put together.

With all of this in mind let’s tackle the lds.org essay Translation and the Historicity of the Book of Abraham.

Translation and the historicity of the BoA lds.org

You’ll find the essay available in the gospel-topics essay section of LDS.org or in the show notes for this episode. When you first click on the page it only shows 2 paragraphs and then provides links to the Book of Abraham study guide, a talk about the premortal existence and second estate doctrine by Neal A. Maxwell which only references the Book of Abraham, as well as links to learning resources which link to Church affiliate websites like BYU Hawaii devotional speeches, the Joseph Smith Papers, and a couple Ensign articles. Those resources don’t deal directly with the historicity of the Book of Abraham the way the essay itself does, they’re more outlets to teach the doctrine derived from the Book of Abraham.

Once you click the ‘read more’ link, you get the full essay with 31 paragraphs about the Book of Abraham. I’ve done the work of parsing through this entire essay, extracting the relevant parts, and summarily debunking it so you don’t have to, that’s why you listen to this show, amiright? We’re going to read a number of excerpts and use outside resources to make the apologetic case for the Book of Abraham and proceed to rip down every line of argumentation for the Book of Abraham made in this essay. Some of the included information will probably surprise you and we won’t even need to debunk it because the information is honest and accurate.

The first paragraph reads as follows:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the book of Abraham as scripture. This book, a record of the biblical prophet and patriarch Abraham, recounts how Abraham sought the blessings of the priesthood, rejected the idolatry of his father, covenanted with Jehovah, married Sarai, moved to Canaan and Egypt, and received knowledge about the Creation. The book of Abraham largely follows the biblical narrative but adds important information regarding Abraham’s life and teachings.”

We’ve read through the contents of the Book of Abraham and the essay is kind enough to establish in the very first sentence that the church embraces the Book of Abraham as scripture, putting it on par with the Bible, Book of Mormon, and D&C.

After that, the essay provides a brief synopsis of the book and from where it originated, but also adds this important detail providing a loophole for Joseph Smith to jump through:

“Many people saw the papyri, but no eyewitness account of the translation survives, making it impossible to reconstruct the process.”

I searched for quite some time to see if this claim is false as it seems fairly bold at the onset. The factual accuracy of this claim rests on what validity is ascribed to accounts provided by Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Her memoir, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith is frequently cited for biographical information on Joseph’s early life where no corroborating evidence exists to construct his early years, and if her 1845-46 dictation is to be trusted we should probably trust her when she says this, published in the Friend’s Weekly Intelligencer 3 Oct 1846 on page 211, and I’m reading this from Joseph Smith Papers.org

“After JS’s death, JS’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith retained the mummies and papyri and showed them to visitors. According to the published 1846 account of a group of visiting Quakers, she described a process similar to that of Parrish, one that paralleled some accounts regarding how the Book of Mormon was dictated: “She said, that when Joseph was reading the papyrus, he closed his eyes, and held a hat over his face, and that the revelation came to him; and where the papyrus was torn, he could read the parts that were destroyed equally as well as those that were there; and that scribes sat by him writing, as he expounded. She showed us a large book where these things were printed, which of course sealed their truth to Mormon eyes and minds; but we had not time to read them.” (Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer, 3 October 1846, 211)”

So, that statement in the lds.org essay when it says no eyewitness account of the translation survives is only true if we don’t take Lucy’s words here as authoritative. But LDS historians usually regard everything else she said about Joseph’s life her other writings like Biographical Sketches to be authoritative, so why not grant this account legitimacy? There could be a bit of a semantic argument where this breaks down. An historian could claim that we have no record of Lucy being present during any of the translation sessions and therefore can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was ever present and saw the translation taking place but that’s making an argument from historical ignorance. She had the papyri in her possession after Jo’s death and was within close proximity of the papyri from the time they were acquired in 1835 until her death in 1856. The papyri had been in her own home before and after the Book of Abraham was published and she was the person collecting money from interested people who wanted to see the papyri mounted under glass. She may have been present during some of the translation, she may not have been. But, to claim this account isn’t eyewitness when it very much reads like it is, that’s ignoring historical evidence.

It’s also a bit two-faced in the way it’s ignoring the evidence. The Book of Mormon essay on lds.org honestly tackles the fact that Jo used a rock in the hat to translate the ancient record. However, when Lucy says he translated the papyri in the exact same way, that’s just too ridiculous to include as a data point in the historical model for Book of Abraham historicity? This is cherry-picking data to construct historical the Book of Abraham historical model and it’s dishonest, especially because that quote is on JosephSmithPapers.org, an official Church source documenting authoritative Mormon historical documents.

To approach this from a different angle though, the method Jo used to ‘translate’ the Book of Abraham is only worth consideration and argument if the translation was perfect. If the Book of Abraham matched perfectly to the Chandler papyri, it would be a great question of just how Jo could have done it. But, because the Book of Abraham is impossible to reconcile with the Chandler papyri, how Jo ‘translated’ it isn’t even worth addressing, regardless of whether he precious and Mr. Hat to do it like the Book of Mormon, or any other method. Whatever method was used, it was wrong and therefore bears very little examination, even though we just went to the work of debunking the claim.

Let’s deal with the translation itself for a minute, because consistent among every apologetic case for the Book of Abraham’s authenticity is a redefining of the word ‘translate,’ and the essay spends a lot of time on it. What does it mean to translate something from one language to another? Well, real translation can only be done by a person or program familiar enough with the original language and the desired translated language to express the information from the original into the desired language. Jo was originally the author and proprietor of the Book of Mormon which was changed to translator, which definitionally implies he knew the original Gold Plates language, reformed Egyptian, as well as 19th-century American English to translated it into the 580 pages of the 1830 Book of Mormon. He translated Egyptian once, why not with the Egyptian text on the papyri? The Gospel Topics essay and countless apologetic outlets carve out a monumental case of special pleading fallacy for the prophet’s ‘translation’ with arguments like this:

“The word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages. Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language. He readily acknowledged that he was one of the “weak things of the world,” called to speak words sent “from heaven.”1 Speaking of the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said, “You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”2 The same principle can be applied to the book of Abraham. The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian. By the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.”

This effort to redefine the word ‘translate’ is a textbook logical fallacy of special pleading. Why not just say Jo marklar’d the Book of Abraham from the Chandler Papyri? It’s just as logically consistent because words are fun to play with when we don’t share the same definition and do whatever we want to them.

‘Translation’ is a very liquid term when we talk about Mormon apologetics. From later in the essay we see the word take on an even broader definition than the previous paragraph when it states the following:

Joseph’s translations took a variety of forms. Some of his translations, like that of the Book of Mormon, utilized ancient documents in his possession. Other times, his translations were not based on any known physical records. Joseph’s translation of portions of the Bible, for example, included restoration of original text, harmonization of contradictions within the Bible itself, and inspired commentary.

So Jo marklar’d the Book of Mormon, Bible, Book of Abraham, Book of Moses, and the Doctrine and Covenants. The essay goes on to define the term in the way it sees fit for the purposes of keeping Jo in the tenuous position of Prophet of the Lord instead of con-man who lied about scripture. Let’s do what the Church does and use our own word to define whatever Jo was doing to bring these scriptures into existence.

This view assumes a broader definition of the words (Marklaror) translator and (marklation) translation.33 According to this view, Joseph’s (marklar) translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

“Meditation, reflection, and revelation”? I won’t take issue with what the essay just said about Jo’s methods of marklar because they just said it outright, the Book of Abraham didn’t come from the papyri, it all came from Jo’s mind. If you believe he’s inspired by God to be the prophet, sure, this is consistent, although it is arguable that he didn’t need the papyri if that were the case as he could have marklared the Book of Abraham into existence by just sitting alone in a room, whether or not the papyri were present. But, intellectually honest historians don’t have access to the divine. If a scientist says that something happens because of god, their methodology broke down at some point in their calculations. The same goes for historians. If an historian claims that something happened because of God, their methodology is flawed because the invocation of god introduces more questions than answers. Joseph translated the Book of Abraham by the gift and power of god is textbook begging the question fallacy, baking the conclusion into the premise. Redefining ‘translation’ simply isn’t logically consistent either. This entire line of argumentation assumes premises and moves the goalposts of the term ‘translate’. This is the official church statement on the Book of Abraham which only seems to be a warmed-over cobbling together of so many other lines of apologetics for the ‘historical plausibility’ of the Book of Abraham.

Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was “continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.”20 This “grammar,” as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.

Yes, Jo and friends attempted to create their own Egyptian grammar and alphabet system. As we learned last episode, this endeavor was quickly abandoned. I would assert that Jo, William Wines Phelps, Warren Parrish, and Oliver Cowdery got so far and realized they knew nothing of Egyptian and that Jo’s trusty rock-in-hat method wouldn’t be able to truly decipher them and the project was eventually realized to be a much larger task than initially perceived, thus their abandoning the project in lieu of many other endeavors which kept them occupied.

The essay goes on to discuss the relationship of the Egyptian grammar and alphabet constructed in the latter half of 1835 to the Book of Abraham which was published nearly 7 years later.

“The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood. Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today. Whatever the role of the grammar book, it appears that Joseph Smith began translating portions of the book of Abraham almost immediately after the purchase of the papyri.22 Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: “As no one could translate these writings,” he told his wife, “they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were.”

If Jo were to have simply published the Book of Abraham without attempting to construct the Egyptian alphabet and grammar, the claim that the Book of Abraham was taken from one of the papyrus scrolls which perished in the Great Chicago fire may hold some water. However, because we have the grammar and alphabet from Jo and his scribes, we can juxtapose his Egyptian hieroglyphics system to the text around Facsimile 1 and know for certain that the text of the first and second chapter of the Book of Abraham did unquestionably come from Facsimile 1. This argument simply doesn’t hold any water and is choosing to ignore the grammar and alphabet system because it renders Jo’s translation demonstrably false.

But, we can’t continue to let pesky facts get in the way of an authentic Book of Abraham, because the necessity of the papyri for the Book of Abraham is completely destroyed by this line in the lds.org essay.

“The relationship between those [papyri] fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.”

It’s only a matter of conjecture because apologists make it such. The relationship between the Egyptian papyri and Jo’s translation of the Book of Abraham was obviously very explicit in his mind evidenced by the grammar and alphabet system. You can see it for yourself on JosephSmithPapers.org where they have the entire thing uploaded in high-resolution. You can see the journals with the Egyptian hieroglyphics taken from the text around Facsimile 1 in the left column and the corresponding text of the first and second chapters of the Book of Abraham in the body. There is no way to squeak out from underneath this fact. The relationship between the papyri and the text of the Book of Abraham is only a matter of conjecture for those trying to protect Joseph Smith’s status as an infallible prophet of God when he marklared the Book of Abraham from the papyri by the gift and power of God. Either Joseph Smith or his god are fallible because the translation is wrong. That’s not a matter of conjecture if you conduct your research of history based on facts instead of faith.

The essay attempts to reconcile the ridiculous timeline of the Biblical Abraham with the Papyri.

Here’s how the lds.org essay deals with the anachronism presented with this issue:

Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic. Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples.28 Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose.29 Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.

Here are a few factoids to fill your ammo box. Not a single Hebrew writing from Abraham or even his time period exists. Abraham may have left personal writings, but he lived nearly 1500 years before the earliest torah manuscript fragment was created. This earliest torah fragment of which I speak is known as the Ketef Hinnom fragment, unearthed in 1979, which is one tiny degraded piece of parchment containing a blessing in modern Book of Numbers 6:24-26. The most generous dating for this fragment is around 600 B.C.E., about 1400 years after the biblical Abraham supposedly lived. It’s not a full Torah, full book from the Torah, a full chapter, or even the complete text of one verse from the Torah. That show you how hard it is to preserve papyri, leather, or parchment fragments from ancient history.

The first full text we have of the Pentateuch, that’s Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy, is known as the Nash Papyrus from about 150 B.C.E., unearthed during the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery in one of the Qumran caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls include another approximately 180 fragments from other torah texts, all dated between about 400 B.C.E. and 300 C.E. You may notice that all of those dates are a long time after 2000 B.C.E. The fact of the matter is, it’s really hard to preserve writing for 2000 years, let alone 4000 as would be the case with Joseph claiming the Chandler papyri were from Abraham. The only reason we know so much of Mesopotamian history and Ancient Egypt from before the Ptolemaic period is because they carved language and pictographs into stone, which sticks around a lot better than papyri, leather, or parchment manuscripts. Also worth noting, we don’t have any original manuscripts of any Hebrew torah writings from the original authors, only fragments of copies of copies of copies. If we’re to believe the Chandler papyri were written by Abraham himself, it would stand out as the oldest papyri fragment Ancient Eastern archaeologists have ever discovered by more than 1500 years. At very best, it strains credulity, but the most reasonable interpretation of the evidence would simply conclude that the Chandler papyri are what Egyptologists claim them to be and that Joseph Smith had absolutely no idea what was in his possession.

If the papyrus was a copy of Abraham’s original writing, we’d expect to find multiple copies of the Abraham papyri from the interim from Abraham to the Chandler papyri, but no such copies exist of any Abraham text known to the entire field of Egyptology and near east archaeology. Either the Chandler papyri was somehow the only surviving manuscript copy of the Book of Abraham, and all the thousands of copies necessary to preserve the Abraham’s original text from 2000 to 200 B.C.E. have also gone missing, or this is a pathetic case of special pleading to justify the Book of Abraham as being what it claims to be. To be clear, Joseph did claim that one hieroglyphic character was the personal signature of Abraham and it could be reasonable to assume that Jo didn’t understand how ancient scripture texts were copies of copies and the method by which those are transmitted for thousands of years, but that only goes to further prove that he had no idea what he was talking about when it came to the Book of Abraham and the Chandler papyri. He was merely making claims and likely thought they couldn’t be disproven. He may have truly and sincerely believed that his claims were true, but sincere belief in a claim doesn’t make it any more factual. Facts exist independent of whether or not people believe in them.

The essay goes on to draw genetic lines between Egyptian culture and geography and the Book of Abraham.

“A careful study of the book of Abraham provides a better measure of the book’s merits than any hypothesis that treats the text as a conventional translation. Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record…”

This ought to be good. A careful study essentially proves it’s an authentic record. Let’s see what evidence the essay provides to substantiate that extremely bold claim.

“The book of Abraham speaks disapprovingly of human sacrifice offered on an altar in Chaldea. Some victims were placed on the altar as sacrifices because they rejected the idols worshipped by their leaders.35 Recent scholarship has found instances of such punishment dating to Abraham’s time. People who challenged the standing religious order, either in Egypt or in the regions over which it had influence (such as Canaan), could and did suffer execution for their offenses.36 The conflict over the religion of Pharaoh, as described in Abraham 1:11–12, is an example of punishment now known to have been meted out during the Abrahamic era…

The book of Abraham contains other details that are consistent with modern discoveries about the ancient world. The book speaks of “the plain of Olishem,” a name not mentioned in the Bible. An ancient inscription, not discovered and translated until the 20th century, mentions a town called “Ulisum,” located in northwestern Syria.37Further, Abraham 3:22–23 is written in a poetic structure more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than early American writing style.”

We dealt with the human sacrifice issue extensively last episode. Suffice it to say, yes, human sacrifice existed in Egypt, and what Abraham nearly suffered is somewhat consistent with those sacrifices. This, however, does not prove its authenticity by any standard of historical measurement, it merely allows it to be historically plausible, which is a long step from garnering historical probability or authenticity. But what of the second claim: Olishem vs. Ulisum, is a tenuous connection at best and any other names Jo may have happened upon are only coincidental and superficial if we’re being rather generous. The geography in the Book of Abraham merely consists of a list of places Abraham supposedly travelled on his way to Egypt, it neglects to discern direction, distance, time spent travelling, nor the names of any people with whom Abraham may have associated in each location, merely stating that he gained followers during his travels. The geography listed in the Book of Abraham is largely fabricated and doesn’t comport with real Ancient Egyptian geography. There’s even a fair amount of dispute as to where Ur of the Chaldeas is, which is the location from where Abraham supposedly began his journey. But, because Jo was able to guess one location which sounds almost like another real location which wasn’t revealed until after his death, we can Texas sharpshoot the Book of Abraham into the realm of authentic historical documents, right? One or two partial hits and dozens of misses does not an authentic document make.

Next is the claim that the Book of Abraham came from part of the papyri which was lost in the Great Chicago fire.

“It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. Eyewitnesses spoke of “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus.32 Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.”

This is a red-herring and only relevant if the Egyptian grammar and alphabet from 1835 didn’t exist. But we already bludgeoned this red-herring, so let’s move on to the central point it’s trying to distract from. The claim is that the Book of Abraham was included in the papyri but was part of the collection lost in the Great Chicago fire of 1871. This is a case of special pleading using historical ignorance to the advantage of the apologist. The problem with this line of argumentation is that no other similar papyrus scroll has had a book of the bible attached to a common Book of the Dead or Book of Breathings as comprised the Chandler collection.

In order for this to be true, we’re supposed to believe that Joseph Smith happened to have the one papyrus collection in his possession which stands out from every other papyrus collection of the thousands of collections discovered that included a heretofore unknown book of the Bible written by father Abraham himself. To put that in modern terms, that would be like finding an original manuscript of the gospel of Mark appended to an obituary in your local paper today without any copy of the Bible ever existing before that to be the source for it. With all the logical gaps and pitfalls arising from the sheer absurdity of this claim, I can scarcely craft an analogy that fits. It’s an argument from historical ignorance with absolutely no evidence to back it up, with an 1800 year cultural and religious anachronism built on top of a confluence of special pleading fallacies all working in symphony. And even if we were to grant all those fallacies, it’s still a disingenuous assertion based on the text of the published Book of Abraham only. What I mean by that is that the Facsmilies were originally printed in the Times and Seasons in 1842 with the accompanying translations of the images and the text which followed in the Book of Abraham was based on the information in the facsimiles and their translations, all of which is evidenced by the grammar and alphabet system.

The claim that the Book of Abraham is somehow separate from the facsimiles, which Jo himself corrected when Reuben Hedlock made the printing plates for publishing, isn’t supported by the evidence, thus nullifying the entire argument made by the essay paragraph we just read as well as one of the primary arguments used by apologists to claim plausibility for the Book of Abraham. This is intellectually dishonest at best interpretation and downright lying based on willful ignorance to perpetuate a known false narrative at worst.

The next segment deals with the rediscovery of the papyri in 1966 and the ensuing debate which followed among Egyptologists.

“The discovery of the papyrus fragments renewed debate about Joseph Smith’s translation. The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith’s explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings. Joseph Smith had published the facsimiles as freestanding drawings, cut off from the hieroglyphs or hieratic characters that originally surrounded the vignettes. The discovery of the fragments meant that readers could now see the hieroglyphs and characters immediately surrounding the vignette that became facsimile 1.

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.27 Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.”

It comes by the fact that the papyri were made long after Abraham lived honestly, that is commendable standalone. However, previously in the essay it claimed that the Book of Abraham could have descended from copies of copies to be included in the lost scrolls, which we’ve established as a special pleading fallacy based on historical ignorance. It is, therefore, not commendable that the essay is honest in this passage when it already poisoned the well with the previous passage about the Book of Abraham coming from the missing papyri.

Let’s examine one line in there though: “None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham…” that statement stands alone extremely well. But, with everything else in the essay, it’s carved out this little place where the Book of Abraham can live, and it further sets those boundaries when it says, “though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.” That reeks of dishonesty. Well, there isn’t unanimous scientific consensus on the oblate-spheroid model of the earth, therefore a flat earth is possible. That’s not how it works. Just because there isn’t consensus among academia doesn’t mean that a radical interpretation of the evidence is any more probable. The proper vs. improper interpretation of the hieroglyphics surrounding the facsimiles lies within very strict margins of error. Those margins do not include room for the Book of Abraham text. This is deliberately misleading.

But everything we’ve discussed today doesn’t matter. Would you like to know why? Because we can’t evaluate a book of scripture through verifiable academic standards. The only metric that matters is how it scripture makes you feel, even after overstating the evidence and relying on myriad logical fallacies and diversions in an attempt to make an academic argument for its authenticity.

“On many particulars, the book of Abraham is consistent with historical knowledge about the ancient world.3 Some of this knowledge, … had not yet been discovered or was not well known in 1842. But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God. The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.”

That seems a rather bold and defensible conclusion. The Book of Abraham should be believed by the same metric as the Bible and Book of Mormon. That’s sound reasoning, but not in the way they mean it. I’m happy to relegate the Book of Abraham to the same realm of absurdity as most other books of scripture, albeit not from ancient origins as the Bible is, but closer in time to the Book of Mormon. They’re all equally absurd in their claims and the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham have the exact same degree of historical verifiability, none.

Let’s get meta for a minute here.

If the Book of Abraham is what Joseph Smith claimed it to be, would that prove him to be a true prophet of God? If he translated the Egyptian papyri by the gift and power of God, as claimed, and the translation were 100% accurate, would that make him a true prophet? Further, if the Book of Abraham were a perfect translation of the contents on the Egyptian papyri, and all the issues we’ve discussed in this 4-part series didn’t exist, wouldn’t that inevitably cause every Egyptologist to convert to Mormonism? It’s a profound situation, an unlearned man knowing no Egyptian and only a passing familiarity with reading and writing English making a perfect translation of ancient Egyptian papyri with 0 errors, it would be hard to find a naturalistic explanation for that other than him being enlightened by God…. I mean, maybe he plagiarized the translation from somebody else, that would explain it, but the narrative as it stands being true would cause some serious need for examination and likely lead many to conclude Joseph was a true prophet.

Let’s consider the inverse of that proposition. If Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri and it’s 100% inaccurate and any similarities to his translation and the real Egyptological translation are purely superficial and coincidental in nature, would that disprove him to be a prophet of God? If Jo translated something with God’s power, and the translation is completely wrong, does that make him a false prophet and by extension completely disprove Mormonism? These are only questions which a tiny percentage of the human population has to wrestle with, and even the majority of Mormons are unaware of the issues we’ve discussed with the Book of Abraham, but these are important issues and represent some problematic history for the truth claims of Mormonism and Joseph Smith’s entire story. We’ll get to the concluding thoughts after a quick word from our sponsor this week, 49dollarsites.com Stay tuned!

49dollarsites.com

There’s been a lot happening on the back end over here at Ground Gnomes studios. One of our many projects has been to completely rebuild the nakedmormonismpodcast.com website from the ground up.

So, this week, I’m giving everybody a simple call-to-action. I want everybody to go to nakedmomonismpodcast.com and just look at the site. Take 30 seconds to click around to a few links and see what it’s like. You’ll quickly notice how incredibly basic and cumbersome it is. When I built the site I just put a few things together with hopes that it would be functional and I haven’t done any major work to it since. The site is hard to navigate, it’s tough to find a specific episode in the backlog and it’s a white background with huge walls of text and like one or two images to try and spice it up. It’s really bad and not mobile-friendly whatsoever.

Our sponsor for this and next week’s shows is 49dollarsites.com. I’ve been working with their expert web development team to get the new website absolutely perfect. We’ve gone back and forth with multiple drafts of the site and they’ve been tweaking everything to fine-tune it to satiate my neurotic personality when it comes to things like this. It’s been a really amazing experience working with the 49dollarsites.com team and I’m excited for all of you to see what their team has in store for everybody.

The new site will launch on Wednesday June 13th and next episode I’m going to ask you to go to the site again and see what incredible improvements have been made. We’ll be talking about a ton of new features, new pages on the site, the revamping of the episode backlog, and everything else that makes the new website really user-friendly and much better-looking than it currently is. But, if you haven’t seen the old website before seeing the new site, you won’t understand just how much of a major overhaul 49dollarsites.com has done.

So that’s my very simple call-to-action this week. Pull up your phone or computer browser, type in nakedmormonismpodcast.com, click around and see what a website looks like when it’s built by somebody who has no idea what they’re doing. That way when you see the new site next week, you’ll see the magic that 49dollarsites.com can create for your small business. If you or your small business can’t wait until next week to have an awesome new website, when you sign up at 49dollarsites.com use promo code ‘Naked’ and get a free upgrade to the pro package. Once again, that’s 49dollarsites.com promo code ‘Naked’. I can’t wait to share everything we have in store for you next week.

With that, let’s get back to the show.

Community of Christ on BoA

So, what is the Church left to do when it comes to the Book of Abraham? The same thing it’s been doing for what seems like a few decades by this point, passively distance itself from this damning piece of Mormon scripture. It retains the teachings. The first and second estate doctrine is integral to the plan of salvation and Mormon eschatology, Kolob and the earth being organized from combined materials and our spirits being intelligences, God’s day being one thousand years to us and other useful bits of astrology, all are attributable to the Book of Abraham alone and the Church has published and expounded on these teachings for over a century and a half with accompanying graphs and images. The Church has enough juris prudence by this point concerning these deeper doctrines that it’s now possible to simply ignore the Book of Abraham, which is a smart move, and sort of what it’s been doing for a few decades now. I’ve met a lot of people who have left because of the Book of Abraham, but never met somebody who joined because of it. People may join because of the doctrine and teachings deriving from it, but the history surrounding The Book of Abraham has shattered a lot of testimonies and dried up probably millions in tithing funds. That trajectory will continue.

If clinging to the Book of Abraham and continuing to lose members and tithing because of it is viewed as a problem, it won’t be fixed by approaching it with the same non-solutions employed up to this point. It needs to be dealt with differently. I don’t have a solution to offer and I think the longer the Church continues to bleed members because of the Book of Abraham among myriad other social and doctrinal concerns is a trend which shouldn’t need altering. Full stop. Let it bleed. Let the Church continue to flounder in its antiquity and hemorrhage members and shady non-taxable tithing income.

That said, I’m always an advocate for viewing issues through an alternate lens or perspective when possible. So, let’s consider this from the Mormon leadership’s perspective. It’s no single person’s fault or even a single leadership body’s fault they find themselves in this untenable position with the entirety of Mormon scripture. Joseph Smith could be blamed, and rightfully so, but the sequence of events since 1842 have been completely out of the control of the Church and it’s only ever acted reactionary and isolationist, never proactively, much less humbly and accepting to criticism. They’re stuck in over a century and a half of hand-waving, twisting facts, and marking the hits while ignoring the misses all perpetuated by a faith tradition that claims to be operating by direction from God. God isn’t supposed to be the author of confusion, he’s supposed to be the source of enlightenment and burned bosoms. The Book of Abraham, however, is not only confusing, but damaging to claims of benevolence of the Mormon God.

We could look at the way other Mormon denominations have dealt with problematic scripture, which brings us to our concluding remarks. The Community of Christ evolved from the RLDS Church, that’s the church which was aggregated by Joseph Smith’s son, Joseph III. I want you to pay attention to some of the stats I’m about to throw around and let’s see if we can draw any conclusions from using the RLDS as an analogue.

The RLDS, now called the Community of Christ since 2001, has a living book of Doctrine and Covenants and the last time they added to it was D&C 165 in 2016. They truly cling to the doctrine that new revelation supersedes old and the living President and Quorum of Apostles know how to best direct Church affairs through these newly revealed teachings that are voted upon for canonization.

The RLDS Church went through a painful growing pain phase throughout the late 70s into the early 2000s. W. Grant McMurray, the first president of the RLDS church who wasn’t a literal descendant of Joseph Smith, catalyzed the final capstone of many major reformative processes, culminating in the three-year period known as the “Transformation 2000”. At the end of this a vote was held to change to RLDS to the Community of Christ, which was formalized in 2001. There’s a really fascinating article from Dialogue, a Journal on Mormon Thought chronicling the evolution of the RLDS church and its stance on scripture and doctrine since the Reorganization occurred in the 1860s. The article by Roger Launius was written in 1998, prior to the RLDS becoming the Community of Christ in 2001. He goes through the justifications used to make progressive decisions within the Church. There was an interplaying disagreement about whether to hold to the hardline more conservative approaches to doctrine and theology to remain distinct from the other Protestant Christian sects, or to progress into a denominational direction and view doctrine and theology with a more progressive and less-orthodox perspective. The latter won out, but the shift wasn’t met without resistance. I’ll spare you the infighting and cut to the chase.

Launius reports the numbers to make his case. This is a long extract but removing anything would understate the issue, so please bear with me.

“The theological confusion and thereby lack of identity that have been present for the last twenty years have been manifest in numerous ways for some time. By every quantitative measure one can reasonably use…the Reorganized Church is on course for extinction. For example, the church has entered a negative growth track in North America and projections for the future are dismal…, [I]n all of North America membership peaked at almost 173,000 in 1982; it has dropped 10 percent to about 156,000 since then. At no time in that period has the North American membership been higher than the year before. Membership in stakes, areas where the greatest concentrations of Saints lived and all of which were in North America, peaked at just over 60,000 in 1977 and has dropped 13 percent since then. An important measure of health in any church is the number of new members gained. In this regard note that there were over 4,500 baptisms in North America in each year from 1960 through 1964, while there were just over 1,500 baptisms in both 1994 and 1995. North American baptismal rates exhibited a steady decline from over 3 percent in 1960 to just under 1 percent in 1995. Since the church leadership report total membership most of the time, and refrain from breaking it down, total numbers for the church still look about the same as they have been for a generation, hovering at the quarter of a million mark worldwide because of larger numbers of baptisms in the Third World.”

“But total membership numbers are basically trailing statistical indicators, rather than leading ones. They depict all individuals whose names are still formally on the church's rolls. Very few people upset over the direction of the church have taken action to remove their names from RLDS roles. Indeed the chief strategist for the traditionalist dissent in the church, Richard Price, specifically recommended that members not formally withdraw from the church so they could remain in a position, among other reasons, to affect Reorganization policy.12 The Reorganization's leadership also emphasized that "Withdrawals from church membership are at the initiative of the member. Recorders and pastors should avoid letters or phone calls that have the effect of suggesting to inactive members that they should consider withdrawing."13 With both sides of the debate favoring retention of members on RLDS rolls, it is probable that the total official membership is significantly inflated above the number active in the church. If so, the strength of the RLDS church in North America has declined even more precipitously than the real numbers demonstrate.”

“The crisis of identity enveloping the Reorganized Church at the end of the twentieth century has ensured that the decade of the 1990s is a period of crisis. Church members have to reshape the intellectual underpinnings of the religion or fold their tents and go home. The time left to complete that task is short, for the very real warning signals of a church on the verge of collapse are present even today. They will become even more prominent in the next score of years as the stalwarts supporting the present institution depart the scene and are not replaced with a younger generation of RLDS members bent on sacrificing for the ideals, howsoever they might be interpreted, of the Restoration. Indeed, failure to forge a new dynamic identity will spell the doom of the Reorganization.”

And what, might you ask, was the justification behind this shift?

“Apostle Clifford A. Cole told a gathering of high priests in 1971 that "we are shifting from an emphasis on distinctives—that is, on the ways we are different from other [Christian] churches—to a concern for teaching the whole gospel of Jesus Christ and winning persons to committing themselves to Him."5

That article was written in 1998 before the RLDS became the Community of Christ in 2001. In 2007 a revelation was given included as CoC D&C 163 which says in part:

“7 a. Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.

b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.

c. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.

d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.”

Essentially, the Community of Christ has done everything in it’s power to actively distance itself from everything which distinguished itself as Mormon. They don’t hold to the Book of Mormon or Pearl of Great Price, including the Book of Abraham, as anything more than divinely inspired musing of a 19th-century charismatic Christian minster named Joseph Smith. They ordain women to the priesthood and don’t discriminate based on sexual identity or preference, ethnicity, or any other distinguishing characteristic. They don’t practice any Masonic temple rituals and their historic sites and temples are available for open attendance to the public. Even though they went through this challenging growing and progress phase, the membership has never recovered. There’s no telling where it would be had they not massively revamped everything and held fast to the orthodox rod. Their membership today sits around the same as it did in the late 90s, around 250,000, growth is completely flat. What’s more is there’s no telling how much of that number is continually active and tithe-paying as the number suffers from many of the same statistical constraints when attempting to estimate Brighamite LDS numbers, and we’ll discuss those momentarily.

So, let’s use the RLDS, now Community of Christ, as the best available analogue and see what a major 4-decade long revamp of Brighamite doctrine and theology may entail as a thought experiment. Let’s say the Brighamite Church comes out tomorrow and says they’re taking a progressive stance on scripture and doctrine and goes about this same trajectory as the RLDS experienced, what might that look like?

Right off the bat we’re constrained by the Church’s membership statistics. As of 2017 they self-reported just a hair over 16,000,000 members worldwide. Before analyzing what a precipitous drop in membership numbers would look like, let’s try to get the most accurate number we can, because it’s well-known that number is quite inflated, and here’s why.

As is the case stated in the article about RLDS membership numbers, Brighamite LDS numbers don’t go down when somebody goes inactive. It requires people to proactively send a letter to their local leader and explicitly state they want their names removed from the records. The VAST majority of inactive members never send in that letter. Their membership is accounted in the 16 million number, but they don’t regularly attend and don’t pay tithing and for all intents and purposes, their membership is only on paper. Also not accounted for is double affiliation. When a member joins the LDS church and then leaves to join another church, their name is counted as a member of the Church, even though they attend another church. For example, Tonga and Western Samoa have the world’s highest percentages of Mormon population, 42 and 28 percent respectively, but they also have the highest rates of double affiliation at 21 and 24 percent respectively. This same trend follows in central and South America and many African countries of members who get baptized and leave soon after, but their membership is still counted.

There’s also the “address unknown” file of members. When members move they, or a family member, has to transfer the records to the new ward the members will be moving to. Often times this doesn’t happen or takes a long time to become resolved. In America and Europe, the address unknown membership records are usually resolved within 6 to 9 months and rectified, but in central and south America and third world countries, those “address unknown” members often will never be resolved, the Church will never get updated records, and the members will still be counted in the 16 million even if they never attend again after moving somewhere new.

Retention rates for converts outside the U.S. are shockingly low. Sociologist Armand Mauss stated that “75 percent of foreign converts are not attending church within a year of conversion. In the United States, 50 percent of the converts fail to attend after a year.” Further, as 80 percent of LDS converts occur outside the U.S., only 30% of converts worldwide become active or participating members of the Church.

If we’re to believe the 2017 statistics reported by the Church, overall membership numbers are flawed, but stake and ward creation are a much better indicator of attendance. 2017 was the first year in nearly a century that saw a net 0 ward creation. New wards and stakes were created, but enough were closed or consolidated due to lack of attendance that the net gain was 0. Growth, for the first time since the 1930 went below 1% in the United States and the highest percentage of growth is in Africa at 8% where they announced new temples, but the retention rates of African members 1 year after baptism is abysmally low. All these indicators show the current Brighamite LDS Church is in really bad shape.

If we’re EXTREMELY generous with a really broad estimate, if each ward or branch has 250 members on average, which is a REALLY high estimate, with 30,506 wards and branches worldwide, that puts total active attending membership a little over 7.5 million people, less than half of the reported statistic. That is an incredibly generous estimate as most branches are comprised of 75-150 people and very few wards outside of Utah reach over the 300-person mark. Many other outlets have estimated somewhere between 30-35% of that 16 million number as being active, tithe-paying members, putting the active membership numbers at a woeful 4.5-5 million people, which is probably much more accurate than our earlier calculation of 7.5 million.

Convert baptisms have also flatlined since the late 90s, hovering around a quarter of a million each year with a few blips above and below that number. Even with the increase in missionary numbers, new converts have drastically underperformed. Resignations from Quitmormon alone in the past 3 years have nearly hit 20,000 people, about 1/5 of the total estimated resigned members for the past 6 years which sits at a comfortable 108,000 since 2012, but again, that’s only people who proactively take the time and effort to send in their resignation letter, that’s not at all indicative of people who go inactive and never pay the Church any mind.

What about tithing income. Since the books are closed to the public these numbers are all estimate based on a number of factors, so keep that in mind. The most prominent feature of the roughly $8 bn/year income in tithing is that it’s very heavily front loaded with members in the U.S. If we’re to believe the Church’s self-reported statistics on a percentage basis for membership numbers, roughly 35-40% of their membership is based in the U.S., but upwards of 80% of tithing income is from the U.S. We could surmise that the majority of tithing income doesn’t come from the average member who pays less than $10k/year in tithing, but from a small percentage of extremely wealthy Mormons like Mitt Romney who likely pays around $1.5 mn/year in tithing and untold amounts in other monetary and non-liquid donations. This is a really top-heavy tithing income structure and it’s very fragile.

Now that we have a snapshot of what Brighamite Mormon membership numbers look like, what would a major 3-decade long reformation like the RLDS trudged through look like estimated by the hard numbers only?

From 1951-65 the RLDS had a net increase of around 2.5%, which dropped to about 1.25% in the following decade and a half to 1980. From 1980-1995 it had an increasing loss growing from -1%-about -1.75% and the trend has roughly held true. They’ve been able to balance the bleeding of their North America numbers by increasing baptisms abroad, but that missionary work has diminishing returns on tithing income. In 1950, 85% of total RLDS membership was in North America. By 1995, that number was down to only 62% of worldwide membership being in North America. A similar trend has been affecting the Brighamite LDS Church.

A simple calculation of current Community of Christ membership vs tithing income would yield a result that each of the 250,000 members is responsible for $68/year of tithing to make up their current 17,000,000 budget. That same calculation would yield that each individual member of the 5 million active Brighamite LDS is responsible for $1,600/year to comprise the $8,000,000,000 in estimated tithing income. If we’re to estimate a very conservative 2% decrease per year of active, tithe-paying members in the Brighamite church every year, with each of them responsible for $1,600 of tithing income, that’s an estimated 100,000 members and $160,000,000 lost every year in tithing income alone that needs to be made up for through new converts. If new converts in wealthy western countries continues to tank at the current rate, the Church will begin to see a net loss instead of the plateau it’s currently riding on, which will only increase that lost tithing amount.

To be clear, the LDS Church has one hell of a bumper crop in place with their diversity of investments. If the recent revelation from Mormonleaks is to be believed, they control billions in hedge funds, real estate holdings, media and insurance companies, and all sorts of other investments that could be liquidated to bandage the bleeding, but those resources are finite and they will dry up. Maybe not in a decade or even 5 decades, but given enough time and the rectifying of tax loopholes churches currently enjoy, the Brighamite LDS Church and its likely hundreds of billions in assets and holdings will eventually decay.

What’s scary about this forecasting estimation exercise is there’s no way to know if going a more progressive route will help or hurt the bleeding in the long run. It can continue to remain orthodox and likely see a steady or even increased rate of attrition as the older more conservative generation continues to die off and isn’t replaced by younger generations. Or, it could go progressive the way the RLDS did from 1970-2000 and deal with the initial shock of a mass-exodus of orthodox believers who’ll likely die off anyway within the next few decades but shift to a more progressive church and appeal to the younger generation, thus building in sustainability. There’s simply no way to know what the best solution for them is.

One thing is certain. The longer they continue to ignore important social issues. The longer they cling to demonstrably false scripture like the Book of Abraham contrary to what all scientific evidence tells us. The longer they believe in racist doctrines and don’t excise them from canon and refuse to apologize for them, or even acknowledge wrong-doing on their part. The longer they withhold the priesthood from women and non-gender binary people. The longer they tear families apart and tell LGBTQ people they can’t live in a happy relationship while still fulfilling the law of chastity. The longer they practice closed-door one-on-one interviews with bishops. The more they refuse to listen to the concerns of the average chapel-attending Mormon who doesn’t want to raise a stink but has some problems with the Church. The more they remain disconnected from their parishioners; the more these issues will fester. The longer everything we’ve discussed since this podcast started in November of 2014 isn’t addressed, the more the Church will lose in membership and tithing revenue, and the more desperate it will become. Sure, it can sustain a loss of $160,000,000/year in tithing for decades, but that won’t always be the case.

Whether the Church wants to admit it or not, they’re where the RLDS church was at the end of the 1990s with one powerful crucial difference, the ubiquity of information available on the internet. Sure, you can ask the youth to go on a week-long social media fast during PRIDE week, but that only exhibits just how disconnected the leadership really is. The Church is on the brink of crisis and the leadership refuses to acknowledge that fact. If history is any indicator of the future, a major fracturing is coming and dozens of schism sects will emerge from the ashes of this monolith burning in the night sky. Millions of members will break off and devote their time, energy, and tithing funds to other causes upon finding familiar voices and experiences in online groups. A great reconciliation is nigh and all the lying about scripture, history, and current membership numbers and this great shadow in which the Church operates its hundreds of companies with absolutely zero financial oversight will come to a breaking point. Subjugated ethnicities will flee, millennials and all subsequent generations will continue to witness the vast chasm between the real world and the world in which the leadership operates. The leadership will soon realize that new temples have increasingly diminished returns as they squeeze blood from a turnip in demographics with no spare tithing to consecrate. Historical inaccuracies and white-washed truths will continue to pile up and eventually topple down on the ignorant masses as a new wave of secular interest in real Mormon history comes to fruition. Religion, and Mormonism specifically, is a cancer on humanity. It’s a parasite you can never kill and it will only divide, evolve, and conquer in new forms until the harsh treatment of skepticism starves it into impotency and relegates it to its rightful place in the annals of forgotten religions of antiquity. When this happens, it’ll never be too soon.

Through all this that the future may hold, we’ll be hitting your favorite podcatcher every week. So, stay tuned, Mormonism is getting really fun as of late.

B2CBreak

God awful movies Joseph Smith prophet of the restoration

I want to give everybody an update on our launch of the new and improved Glass Box Podcast. But before doing so, I’ll qualify what I’m about to say by reading a brief listener email from Luke.

“I enjoy the guests you have on. 

I think it would be good for you to separate your content into history episodes and guest interview episodes. I'm too tired to explain why I think that, but at least now the idea is in your head so you can think for yourself.”

This is important feedback and consistent with a number of similar messages I’ve received for years now. Naked Mormonism initially set out to tell a serialized history of Mormonism, but there are so many other issues related to Mormonism that pique my interest and I feel like deserve my attention and air time. For a long time, we did just that with regular episodes and special edition episodes, but that became too cumbersome. Naked Mormonism has now diversified so much that a serialized history is only half of every episode and the other half covers interviews and current events related to Mormonism, and sometimes not even Mormon related at all. Diversity is good to a certain extent, but not when it completely dilutes the initial vision to a point that the serial Mormon history podcast becomes something other than just that.

To bring in another point, I’ve been working for quite some time to reboot the Glass Box Podcast with my soon-to-be cohost Braden. We recorded a bunch of audio and made some of it available for patrons to preview before the launch. We had an initial idea for the podcast that it would be just reading through deep Mormon doctrine with our commentary. The feedback from people listening to those rough draft episodes was simply non-existent, which means we need to create something listenable for people to want to listen to, instead of just what we want to talk about.

A solution exists here as a great opportunity, but it requires that I sincerely ask all of you listeners for a bit of patience for this all to work out. We’re going to migrate all the segments I’ve debuted on Naked Mormonism over to Glass Box Podcast, including all the backlogged interviews I have from awesome people which don’t relate to Mormonism whatsoever. That means that the Mormon Leaks Minute, the Angels Trumpet, and any interviews, which aren’t specifically Mormon history, will all be airing on Glass Box Podcast once we launch. We’ve set a launch date for July 3rd airing semi-weekly after that. We want to start slow and we’ve put a lot of time into recording and scrapping segments and ideas that don’t quite make the cut and we hope you’ll all enjoy the final product.

That means that any interviews you hear on Naked Mormonism from now on will be just strictly about Mormon history, often tied in to our historical timeline, and moving forward the majority of air time will be devoted to serialized Mormon history as I set out to create from day 1 back in November of 2014.

And really, with how much Naked Mormonism has diversified, I’m already putting in two shows worth of work in coordinating other segments and guest interviews, so why not just take that next step forward and actually make another podcast in order to keep the mission of Naked Mormonism pure and intact as serialized and accessible Mormon history and have separate outlet available for other issues that are important but aren’t Mormon history. In my mind it seems like the best of both worlds and Braden and I are really excited to get this project online and to hear your feedback on the hours we’re putting in to make this happen.

I’ll keep bugging you guys about it until the launch on July 3rd. We hope that the new podcast format will create a new platform to allow for the diversity of topics which interest Braden and myself and distill Naked Mormonism into the serialized history it’s been all along.

Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 06/08/2018"