“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, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris went into the woods near the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr. 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.
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: