OK guys, so in this episode, I really just wanted to ingrain in your minds this one thing: When you’re doing research and working towards understanding Mormonism (which is actually called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) be careful with where you go for information. And here are 4 tips to help you along the way.
Number 1: Recognize bias. Many websites or YouTube channels that are antagonistic toward our faith will say you can’t trust the information on the Church’s official website because it’s all biased. Now, of course, the Church is biased. It’s the Church. Just like the Catholic Church is biased towards the Catholic Church. Just like—every Church is biased towards their own beliefs. This is not a weird thing.
But, personally, I am of the opinion that if you really want to learn about Catholicism, you should talk to a Catholic. If you want to learn about Islam, talk to someone who is Islamic. If you want to learn about our faith, Latter-day Saint sources make sense, despite the obvious bias of all of these groups. Recognize it, take it into account, but remember that just because someone is biased does not mean they’re lying to you.
What I do find ironic, though, is when critics disregard official Church sources but then present you with a list of antagonistic sources run by ex-Latter-day Saints or competing Christian denominations and say that that’s where you’ll find the unbiased truth about our faith. Let’s be real, they’re also going to be biased, just in the opposite direction.
It’s extremely difficult to find totally unbiased information about the Church (or “Mormonism”), because most all of the people that care about doing the research are people with some kind of investment in the interpretation of that research, for better or worse.
Number 2: Verify information and check sources. Ok, so in a past episode, we addressed the claim that Joseph Smith invented some Book of Mormon place-names by using the names of real places around him. But when we went to verify the information in those claims, we found that many of the places that were supposed to be Joseph’s inspiration actually didn’t even exist in Joseph’s day. Verifying information will help you find out if something is true, false, or a dangerous mixture of both.
Take the time to check sources. Oftentimes people online have already interpreted the information for you and are presenting you with their conclusions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I do it all the time. But sometimes it can be helpful for you to go back to the raw data and interpret things for yourself. That’s one of the reasons I usually leave lots of links in the description, so you can go through and track down sources. Oftentimes, both proponents and opponents of the Church will look at the exact same data but come to totally different conclusions about that data. So it’s good to learn how to come to your own conclusions about things.
Number 3: Look at context. This goes hand-in-hand with checking your sources. For example, I was recently reading on Wikipedia and found this note commenting on a revelation directed to Martin Harris. The note says, “The revelation also commanded [Martin], ‘Release thyself from bondage. Leave thy house and home, except when thou shalt desire to see them.’ It was about this time that Harris and his wife separated.”
Now, the obvious intent here is to make it seem like Joseph Smith told Martin Harris to abandon his family. But when you read the verses that surround this citation you get a different meaning:
“Pay the printer’s debt. Release thyself from bondage. Leave thy house and home, except when thou shalt desire to see them. And speak freely to all: Yea, preach, exhort, declare the truth, even with a loud voice; with a sound of rejoicing, crying Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Lord God.”
The “bondage” was not his family, it was a financial issue. And the instruction to leave home was a call to be a missionary. But whoever wrote this part of the Wikipedia article was banking on you not looking at the context. Be aware that unfortunately, this kind of stuff happens all the time. So if something seems weird, check the context. It might be as easy as copying and pasting the quote into Google to see if the surrounding text shows up.
Number 4: Watch out for Doubt Bombs. A doubt bomb is when someone just unloads a massive amount of negative information on you, hoping that something will stick, or that the sheer quantity of arguments will be enough to knock down your house of faith, conveniently making room for them to construct something new, more in accordance with their worldview.
Doubt Bombers overwhelm you with a bunch of information, knowing that it’s unlikely that you’re going to slow down and methodically investigate each claim. Because investigating a pile of claims takes a lot more time than just throwing them out there. If you were to investigate them, then you’d find that their arguments are often not new, and not as big a deal as they seemed.
Now, to be clear, most people that disagree with our faith are not hostile or trying to deceive people. There are lots of people with really good, sincere, important questions. There are also a lot of people who have innocently fallen victim to misinformation and then perpetuate it. But hostile or not, we need to be kind, patient, and understand that good people can disagree on religion, and still be good people. But on your journey towards a better understanding of Mormonism, remember to also recognize bias, verify sources, look at context, watch out for manipulative tactics like the doubt-bombing technique, and have a great day.
- Source for the Wikipedia article I referenced: https://bit.ly/3jWZX6g
- Link to D&C 19 for more context: https://bit.ly/339SwCR