As a teen who did not have too much to do on a Saturday morning I occasionally drifted down to the shopping arcade in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, to amuse myself by trolling the Mormon missionaries who, as regular as clockwork, set up shop to reach out to the unwashed locals. Many might indeed view them as polite clean-cut young lads from the US out to convert you to their slightly different variation of Christianity, yet while they are indeed on the surface apparently Christian, under the covers they are distinctly different, and hold some truly bizarre beliefs. This prevailing thought is no surprise because most belief systems tend to present just the sugar coating so that they can hook you in.
So anyway, I remembered all this because I have come across a rather amusing little clip in which South Park brilliantly tells the story of the foundation of Mormonism by Joseph Smith in upstate New York.
… and here it is … (prepare to be entertained) …
As you might imagine, there are a few rather obvious issues, not just with a claim that involves golden plates and magical glasses never being seen by anybody except Smith, but also with the claimed revelation itself, so let’s briefly look at a few rather obvious facts.
It is not factually correct to assert that the native American population is descended either from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, or from refugees from the Tower of Babel, because we now have a good understanding and solid DNA evidence that confirms their actual origins. So where exactly did this idea that Smith promoted come from, did he simply dream it all up? No, not at all, an American clergyman, Ethan Smith published seven years earlier in 1823 A View Of The Hebrews within which he promoted this Lost Tribes theory. This was a popular idea at that time and was an early attempt to explain the origins of Native Americans.
The Book of Mormon contains the supposed history of a people called the Nephites and describes them in detail. It tells us that they had cattle, goats, and horses. They farmed wheat, barley, corn, had steel swords and chariots, used pieces of gold and silver for currency, and kept records using a variation of Egyptian.
The rather glaring fault with all this is that nothing has ever been discovered by history, archaeology, anthropology, zoology, linguistics, or any other branch of science to verify any of this, but instead what has been discovered directly contradicts it all. The claim is completely and rather obviously fictitious, and very much a direct product of the prevailing thinking at the time of its authorship
When faced with the claims made about and contained within the Book of Mormon, the choices we are faced with are as follows:
- It is an ancient accurate record, written on golden plates, preserved by an angel, and delivered to a young American who translated them using magical glasses. Our modern evidence-based scientific understanding regarding the native American population is completely wrong.
- It is religious historical fiction, a product of the 19th century American frontier, reflecting the religious ideas of that time, the theories about Indian origins of that period, and contains the author’s complete lack of accurate information about the real history of the Americas.
The obvious conclusion is the evidence-based one, the other has, despite what some Mormons might claim, exactly zero credible objective evidence.
Ah, but they have witnesses
Plastered all over the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon you will find “The Testimony of Three Witnesses,”. There it affirm that these individuals had not only seen the magic plates, but that God had also personally chatted to them about it and advised them to tell everybody.
OK, now for the actual facts. Apart from Smith, the only other people who claimed to have actually seen the golden plates were eleven close friends of his (many of them related to each other). No impartial unbiased third party not in on the con job being pulled was ever allowed to examine them. What is also not generally known is that most of these witnesses later abandoned Smith and quit his church, so clearly what they claimed to have seen was not in fact all that compelling. Smith later labelled those who walked away as “liars.”.
As for Smith himself, there is no evidence that he was either ethical or honest, but rather a bit of a rogue who was more than willing to cash in on peoples gullibility. His contemporaries consistently describe him as a con man whose chief source of income was hiring himself out to local farmers to help them find buried treasure by the use of folk magic and “seer stones.”; in 1826 he was put on trial for money-digging. Smith also later claimed in his 1838 account that he had suffered “great persecution” for telling people of his vision, but rather oddly none of his critics writing in the 1820s about his money digging activities appear to have be aware of his supposed religious claims.
Is Smith really the most obvious and best choice for a supernatural entity to make when choosing a human to be his representative? Is it not far more probable that a known fraudster was pulling yet another con.
If you are a Mormon and have become disenchanted with it all, then here is Richard Packman’s guide. It describes what your options are and the things you will need to consider, especially if you have other family members who are Mormon. As an ex-Mormon himself, he has a lot of very practical experience and guidance to share:
Many also find support and help by simply reading about others and their exodus from the church. The “Recovery From Mormonism” site has over six hundred such stories: