Parallels between Early Mormonism and Early Christianity

“The idea that one can put the last 2000 years plus of Christian witness down to a or a series of different mental disorders amazes me. It just does not pass the test of common sense and is a faith position that I cannot hold to.”

—Raymac (Christian reader of this blog)

Christians just cannot fathom the idea that their beloved Faith was founded by a group of looney religious fanatics who saw and heard things which did not exist in reality, but I believe that collective human experience indicates that this is most likely what happened.

Case in point:  Mormonism.

It is interesting to me how so many Protestant Christians ask themselves how it is possible that any educated person could believe the “outrageous”, “ridiculous” supernatural claims of Mormonism, yet the same person will not bat an eye when he or she asks us to believe that a first century corpse walked out of its sealed tomb and later flew off into outer space.  These same Protestant Christians who are so dismissive of the supernatural claims of Mormonism cannot understand the rejection of their “overwhelming evidence” for the Resurrection of Jesus by non-Christians who view the Christian supernatural claim with the same incredulity that they view the Mormon supernatural claim.

“But its different!” Christians will counter.  “Mormons only have one person claiming to have seen a supernatural being (an angel), we have over five hundred!  Any nut case can claim to have seen something.  But when groups of people claim to have seen the same thing, then you must take them seriously.”

But here is the problem for Christians.  Mormons did not just have one person claiming to have seen the angel Moroni and his Golden Plates.  They had FOUR (the “three witnesses” plus Joseph Smith).  And these four men signed affidavits!  These four men are known to be real historical persons.  No one disputes this claim.  Can Christians claim to have four confirmed eyewitness statements from four known persons, who no one contests existed, who witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus from his tomb?  No!  Christians can claim until they are blue in the face that John and Matthew the apostles wrote the two gospels named for them but since the majority of New Testament scholars believe that the Gospels were not written by any eyewitness, Christians cannot claim that they have confirmed eyewitness statements to their alleged supernatural event.  Mormons can claim to have multiple, confirmed, eyewitness statements to their alleged supernatural event.

In these confirmed eyewitness Mormon statements these four men claim to have seen, in a group, at the same place and time, an angel named Moroni show them Golden Plates from God containing his new message to mankind.  They also claimed to hear the voice of God.

How is it possible that these four men saw the same supernatural being and heard the same supernatural voice???  How is this any different from the group appearance claims in the Early Creed quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15???  I say there is none!

Yes, it is possible that the four Mormon men colluded and concocted a lie.  But for what benefit?  Some of these men were ex-communicated from the Mormon Church yet they continued to claim to have seen the angel and to have heard the voice of God.  They never recanted!  What gain did they obtain from making up this story?

I suggest that the most probable cause of this group “sighting” is this:  Group suggestion creating a “false memory”.  A group of very superstitious, highly emotional people who very much WANTED to have an experience met together and…voila!…they “saw” and “heard” something:

“Look over there.   I see a light!”

“Yea!  I see it too!”

“I see it, but it’s not just a light!  It’s an ANGEL!  Don’t you guys see it’s wings?”

“Ok…yea.  Now I see it’s wings.”

“Listen!  Did you hear that noise!”

“It was the angel speaking!”

And that is how “group appearances” occur, folks:  by the power of suggestion.  I suggest that this is most likely how the original Mormon group sighting of Moroni occurred and how the original Christian group sighting of Jesus occurred.

From Wikipedia:  On Sunday, June 28, 1829,[6][7] Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris went into the woods near the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr.[8][9][10][11] and prayed to receive a vision of the golden plates. After some time, Harris left the other three men, believing his presence had prevented the vision from occurring. The remaining three again knelt and said they soon saw a light in the air overhead and an angel holding the golden plates. Smith retrieved Harris, and after praying at some length with him, Harris too said he saw the vision.[12]

The three men provided a single written statement titled “Testimony of Three Witnesses”, published at the end of the first edition of the Book of Mormon:

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

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22 thoughts on “Parallels between Early Mormonism and Early Christianity

  1. Well, I have a strong interest in these kind of discussions. My undergraduate major was cultural anthropology focused in comparative religion and philosophy. Here are just some random thoughts.

    Speaking as a Christian believer, it seems to me that all truth is God’s truth. I can find beautiful parallels, points of agreement and some truth in every religious paradigm. I don’t have to say as a Christian that all other religious claims are totally false.

    However, on the other hand, not all religious assertions can be equally true either if they contradict one another. Can we all agree here.?

    I mean the claims of the Mormon faith, David Koresh, MIthra, and historic Christianity can not be all equally true and valid. So, that leaves it to someone who has at least come to theism, to evaluate the evidence and results presented…

    My searching as a young person led to the conformation of Christian faith. Can I be sure beyond any doubt in an empirical sense. Of course not, IMO all positions including total non theism require some element of faith and choice.

    But, I do think non-theists have to assert that all expressions of religious faith are based in equally false premises, and the vast majority of humans who believe that there is something or someone greater than ourselves, a creator who exists, and actually cares at least in some measure about out planet and human life are completely wrong.

    To me, if there is a loving, personal God who made us in His own image and likeness, He is worth knowing and pursuing for His own sake. This has nothing to do with fear of “going to Hell.” And, what better ethic than love God with your whole heart, love your neighbor as yourself, and then do as you please within that frame. Nothing to my mind could be more freeing , loving and healing at the same time.

    It seems to me that this brings us to part of the dividing line. If the supernatural or miraculous is ruled out a priori, than what other recourse can be found for the origin of Christian faith other than delusion or intentional deception?The paradigm can’t help but shape the conclusion.

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    1. Here is the problem, Rebecca. Although I consider your belief system to be innocuous in and of itself, by giving your “nice” belief system social approval, society is giving social approval to the general concept of belief in invisible beings. So while your invisible being may tell you to do nice things, there are a lot of other people who believe that their invisible being tells them to do some really horrible things to other humans.

      I therefore believe that it is much better to dispel the belief in ALL invisible beings. The world as a whole is better off without belief in invisible beings.

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      1. Gary, I know you are so sincere in sharing.. I’m not being condescending in saying this at all. I really mean it. You are a good and intelligent man, a physician dedicated to healing others.

        But, you did not come to this shaped by atheism but formed from the Judaeo-Christian ethic, and your own choices within this.

        I think much of the conflict in the world that appears based solely in religion is as much tribal in origin. It is natural for us to look to the interests of ourselves, and by extension to our own family, and tribe. It is not normal for people to equally look to the interests of strangers let alone to love an enemy. Where is the evolutionary advantage in this? Humanly speaking it may make more sense for people to kill their enemies before they do harm , and in some cultures to find a scapegoat, and to practice retaliatory violence. Blood feuds can go on for generations.

        To me, atheism is like an empty room. There is no firm standard for values and morality, right or wrong, that can be presented other than subjective personal opinion, and experience. As I’ve shared before, who is to say in this paradigm that the end doesn’t justify the means, or that nihilism is also a viable option. I’ve seen the effects of this cultural relativism first hand when I studied at the university. No one could state why it was absolutely wrong to allow a disabled infant to be exposed to the elements to die if this was the accepted cultural norm.

        It becomes even more difficult to argue for the sacredness and purpose of human life if we are formed by nothing more than an evolutionary throw of the dice, no different than any other animal.

        I can say this with confidence, Gary. There is no one who takes seriously the teaching of Jesus to love our neighbor, and to even love our enemies who will be out perpetuating genocide.

        Folks who are out to debunk the Christian faith, also, IMO, have a serious responsiblity to consider all of this.

        There should be a concern that if a spiritual vacuum is created in a culture, worse” demons” so to speak than even Christian fundamentalism can rush in to take it’s place for people looking for transcendent meaning and purpose.

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        1. I believe that Secular Humanism is the culmination of our evolutionary development, preceded by years of appealing to invisible, imaginary gods for guidance in how to treat one another. But after thousands of years of trial and error, we humans have learned that looking out for only oneself, or for only one’s own tribe, or for only one’s own nation is usually doomed to eventual war and disaster. Only by taking a global view of life can we truly find peace and harmony in our world. That may sound like liberal cheesiness, but I believe that it is very true. That is what Secular Humanism strives to achieve. It may not be perfect, but I see it as a huge step forward compared to the past 2,000 years of religious tribalism.

          I fully acknowledge that secular humanism has roots in our religious past but I do not believe that this is due to the inherent truth of religion but as a fact that religion is our immediate past evolutionary predecessor.

          It is simply time to move on, Rebecca. Secular Humanism is the future.

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          1. Well, I’m certainly in favor of taking a global view, and I would agree with the importance in speaking out against toxic faith, and abusive religion. But, it’s difficult for me to envision that the world will be better through the eradication of all religious faith, and spirituality. Personally can’t understand this view. In fact, I think some of the worse atrocities in recent human history have occurred under totally atheistic regimes.

            I can only personally share that my Christian faith has led me to become a more caring and compassionate person. I’m all the more committed to social justice knowing that each person is of infinite worth created in the image of God. I feel that we are partners with God in the healing of creation. I have confidence that the universe arcs toward justice, and that no good effort on our part will ever be in vain.

            Appreciate the discussion, Gary.

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          2. I think some of the worse atrocities in recent human history have occurred under totally atheistic regimes,

            Does this mean you think Christians are totally innocent? And could you offer some examples?

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          3. I do not view liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. as my enemies, but my hope is one day to help them see that they do not need an invisible friend to be kind to other people.

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  2. Right on, “Brother” Gary! 🙂

    If believers could look beyond their (indoctrinated) faith, they would see the points you make about the genesis of Mormonism are entirely consistent with what they believe about their Jesus.

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    1. As I was reading the story about the “three Mormon witnesses” it was as if I was experiencing an epiphany. “Eureka! That’s probably how it happened with the disciples of Jesus! One of them (probably Simon Peter) had an hallucination, similar to Joseph Smith, and then the others bought into his delusion based on illusions while worked up into a state of emotional hysteria. If Peter had “seen” Jesus the other disciples would have wanted to “see” Jesus, just as the “three witnesses” very much wanted to see the angel that Joseph Smith claimed that he had seen.

      It’s all so simple!

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  3. Nan, I was thinking of regimes such as Stalinist Russia, Mao’s communist China, and the genocide under Pol Pot in Cambodia.

    However, I certainly think that great evil can be perpetuated by folks calling themselves Christians and by the institutional church particularly when power becomes wielded with the state. As an aside, anyone who cannot discern this and favors a theocracy rather than a firm separation of church and state is foolish, and does not perceive fallen human nature or understand history. The crusades come to mind as I’m typing this.

    . However, on a deeper level retaliatory violence shows a total failure to follow the ethic of Jesus who tells us to love our enemies, and “blessed are the peace makers.”

    To commit genocide, and then to claim to be following Jesus Christ, the prince of peace is an oxymoron. However, no such claim can be made for atheism. To me it is an “empty room.” Folks could go in any direction with this from secular humanism to nihilism with no contradiction at all.

    I honestly feel then even some of the more secular cultures in Western Europe who are more humanist are actually riding on the coat tails of the Judaeo-Christian ethic. This is what has really shaped Western values and our entire civilization.

    Guys, just want to say again, that I’ve known many non believers who are good and kind people. Since some are in my own family, I especially love them to pieces, and I know they love me.. We have no trouble getting along at all.

    However, who they are didn’t come from atheism.

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    1. Thanks for the clarification, Rebecca.

      There’s good people and bad people on both sides of the fence. That’s human nature … not the influence of any gods.

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    2. The cultures of China and Japan do not originate from Judeo-Christianity yet the people in these cultures can be very kind and altruistic. How is that possible in your worldview, Rebecca?

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      1. Gary, are you unfamiliar with the “Asian Holocaust”, the war crimes of Japan in WWII and Moa Zedong? Interesting bit of history.

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  4. Well, there are some good values and ethics presented in both Buddhism and Confucianism which have helped shaped Asian culture

    . But, at the same time, I have to also agree with what folks are sharing as well. Choice, physical environment, parental care, are all factors in who we are as well.

    Still, I would maintain that the common culture around us is very powerful and important.

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    1. Chimps and gorillas can be kind and altruistic. It’s in our DNA. It is a behavior that has helped us survive. We don’t need an invisible friend to tell us to be nice to each other.

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      1. Gary you’re a likable guy but your argument has a fatal flaw, allow me to explain.
        The reality we find ourselves in now, with an awareness of moral good and evil, cannot both be an explanation and an outcome for your argument. You’re begging the question I’m afraid. If you hold that Darwin’s explanation of the origin of species has the greatest veracity, given our reality, then it requires one to disregard the fact that the subtitle of the book discriminates in favor of the human race, as does the ideology (“The Origen of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life”).

        Also, chimps eat the young of rival chimp troops, is that also equally in “our” DNA? If so how can one hold any perpetrator culpable, if they were simply “dancing to their DNA”? You see, justice and equality, the very heart of your argument for humanism, cannot possibly be justified without a source of value for the individual, the whole, and freedom to act with consequence. Darwin doesn’t get you there without retroactively inserting ethics into the ideology. According to Darwinism, the weak must die and make way for the strong. Enter eugenics…

        If our sole purpose in life is propagating DNA, to aid in our survival, then atheism should be rejected because it is by far the worst demographic for “propagating DNA”; Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, Steven Hawking, Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Kraus combined have less children than Osama bin Laden! Atheism and Agnosticisms is a hindrance to your sole purpose in life if Darwin was correct. (See: https://youtu.be/uSl5Ah3f6Fg for a full synopsis.)

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        1. I am not an atheist. I am a humanist. A secular humanist. Treating others as you would like to be treated is not in our DNA, it is a learned behavior. Thousands of years of bloody conflict has taught us this important moral lesson.

          I do not identify as an atheist for the same reason that I do not identify as an a-unicornist. Although I doubt that gods and unicorns exist, I cannot say definitively that they do not. I accept the possible existence of anything, but I believe in the plausible existence of only those things which do not violate natural laws.

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  5. Gary, this is a related question. What is your view of human nature, so to speak? Has this changed since your deconversion?

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    1. Human nature is a combination of instincts inherited from our evolutionary ancestors and learned behaviors, no different than any other animal.

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  6. Thanks, Gary, if you get a chance check out the BioLogos foundation began by Dr. Francis Collins.. They have a site on the internet. I think this organization has done some interesting work in welding evolutionary theory with Christian anthropology. You may not agree with their paradigm, but I’m sure would find it interesting.

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