Hey guys, so I’ve been doing these Faith and Beliefs videos for a couple of years now, and one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve tried to help answer questions about our faith is that a lot of the criticisms leveled against Latter-day Saints today are the same that existed nearly 200 years ago in Joseph Smith’s day. But in this episode, we’re going to go back about 2,000 years to a time when Christianity was a minority religion, and we’re going to see what one of the first anti-Christian writers, a pagan Greek philosopher named Celsus, had to say about this radical new cult. You may notice a few similarities.
Alright so first of all, for this video I’m unabashedly using this article from Aaron Christensen as a framework. I’ll leave a link in the YouTube description so you can read that in full. But before we look at these parallels, know that I’m not attempting to prove that our truth claims are true, and I’m also not going to be exploring in depth the arguments we’re going to look at. There are plenty of other videos for that. We’re just looking at patterns. For example,
To discourage people from learning more about Christianity, in addition to attacking the founder of the group, Celsus also attacks the character of those who were close to the founder or witnessed key events. About the resurrection, Celsus wrote, “Who really saw this? A hysterical woman, as you admit and perhaps one other person—both deluded by [Christ’s] sorcery, or else so wrenched with grief at his failure that they hallucinated him rising from the dead by some sort of wishful thinking. This mistaking fantasy for reality is not at all uncommon; indeed, it has happened to thousands.”
People in our era approach the witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates in a similar fashion: One skeptic wrote that Joseph Smith caused the witnesses “to hallucinate, perhaps through strong suggestion or something like hypnosis.” One website asserts that what the witnesses saw was “the result of an active imagination, wishful thinking, and magic-world view.”
Early critics of our faith also launched attacks on the character of the general membership. An 1831 newspaper described Latter-day Saints as “generally of the dregs of community, and the most unlettered people that can be found anywhere … The whole gang of these deluded mortals, except a few hypocrites, are profound believers in witchcraft, ghosts, goblins &c.”
Of early Christians, Celsus wrote, “Taking root in the lower classes, the religion continues to spread among the vulgar: nay, one can even say that it spreads because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents.” Christian leaders, “want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid…” Celsus also characterized Christians as either gullible or willfully ignorant, “only a blind faith explains the hold that Jesus has on their imagination.” It reminds me of how a certain popular Broadway musical characterizes Latter-day Saints.
But Celsus doesn’t stop there. He also attacks Christian scripture. He calls the books of Moses “absolute garbage,” and claims that some Christian scriptures and practices were plagiarized or stolen from other sources. “It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie, and that your fables have not been well enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction.”
One 19th century source notes that the Book of Mormon “is perhaps one of the weakest productions ever attempted to be palmed off as a divine revelation. It is mostly a blind mass of words, interwoven with scriptural language and quotations, without much of a leading plan or design.” And of course, as we’ve addressed in other videos, there’s no shortage of claims that Joseph stole ideas or plagiarized from other sources.
Celsus points out that Christians believe both the words of Moses and the words of Jesus, but says, “This man from Nazareth gives an opposing set of laws … who is to be disbelieved— Moses or Jesus?” Similarly, Latter-day Saints believe in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but many claim that the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible, so one or the other must be false.
Celsus attempted to estrange Christianity from the more popular Judaism by claiming Christians believed in a different God. “…when you Christians find things made difficult for you by the Jews, you come around and say that you worship the same God as they do! What is to be believed? For when your master, Jesus, lays down laws contrary to those laid down by Moses … you immediately undertake to find another God, one who is different from the Father.” Similarly, you don’t have to go far to find claims that Latter-day Saints believe in a “different Jesus” because their Jesus supposedly contradicts the biblical Jesus.
Celsus also suggests that you can’t trust Christians to teach you the truth about their faith, because “The writings of the disciples contain only those facts about Jesus that put a flattering face on the events of his life.” “Indeed, what I know to be the case and what your disciples tell are two very different stories.” Similar charges of bias and deception are levied against our faith.
The list goes on, but why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, I’d be lying if I didn’t note a bit of irony in the parallels, and I wonder if the Latter-day Saint faith might be a bit misunderstood, as early Christians were. But on a more serious note, I think Christ said it best in Matthew 7: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you. …” Christians (or anyone), do you appreciate how Celsus approaches Christianity? If you don’t, then let’s not use the same approach as we interact with those of other faiths. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt, and be patient yet cautious with the Celsuses.
I’m not saying we should never disagree or offer constructive criticism. I’m not saying every critic of our faith is a Celsus and I’m not saying that early Christians or Latter-day Saints have never done anything worth criticizing. But let’s not be so quick to pass judgment on groups we may not understand or whose beliefs might be different from our own. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to assume that everyone is making the best spiritual decisions they can for their lives, no matter which faith they belong to. Check out the resources in the description for more info on this topic, and have a great day!
- “Celsus and Modern Anti-Mormonism,” by Aaron Christensen: https://bit.ly/3uJP7Fs
- You can read Celsus’ book (or what is left of his words) for free on Archive.org (if it’s available to borrow digitally) after creating a free account. Here’s a link: https://bit.ly/3ddrleM
- “Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints,” by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks (online book): https://bit.ly/3d9nAaf