This event happened on campus recently in the science building auditorium where ten years ago I took my first college class ever and gained a testimony of organic evolution. It was filmed, so I expected by this point that I could link to a YouTube video and have that be the post with just a touch of commentary from me, but no luck.
Ratio Christi is an apologetics group that seeks to prevent 70% of Christian college students from leaving their faith. I have been invited to its meetings but have a class during that time. On this occasion it was represented by Matthew Markham, the guy who sends me texts and emails, and Gil Sanders from Weber State University. The Latter-day Saints were represented by Kwaku El. As you may remember, Kwaku fell from grace in my eyes after his plague parties and CES Letter videos last year, but I decided not to let that ruin my enjoyment of his funny and intelligent contributions to the discussion which, incidentally, turned out to have little if anything to do with the end of faith. The participants discussed their theological differences on the nature of God and how to discern truth, and ran out of time to discuss their similarities.
The moderator announced from the beginning that this was to be respectful, an example of the dialogues that should be taking place to exchange ideas and determine truth. It was not a formal debate. It lived up to that promise, but that didn't stop small-minded audience members on the Slido app from submitting bad faith questions (no pun intended) such as:
"How does the LDS community explain the lack of archaeological evidence for it's [sic] historical claims?"
"Why does the LDS church use the king james translation when Joseph Smith made a translation with a plethora of 'corrections' made to the bible"
"Kwaku you said that your church has eternal truth. Yet your church changes its official teaching over time. How can that be? Because truth never changes."
"Why do [sic] the Mormon president tell Mormons to not check into the history of the LDS church?"
"Why are none of the LDS temple ordinances ever mentioned in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon?"
"If there were gods before the LORD, Why does God say this? Isaiah 46:9 (KJV 1900): For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,"
"Kwaku, why do you by definition follow a [sic] Another Gospel?"
"'You dont [sic] need to care about them, to care about what they wrote.' JS lived an immoral life. How could someone trust what he says based on his actions?"
"To be exalted, you must be temple worthy. This is determined by a bishop (maybe your plumber). Why not worship him? He holds the keys to your exaltation."
"It seems that Mormonism is rooted in emotionalism" [Astute observers may notice that this is not a question.]
"What do you think of Joseph Smith's practice of divination by using a seeing stone to receive revelations. When this practice is condemnd [sic] in Deuteronomy 18:10"
"If exaltation is so wonderful why did Jesus not teach it? Why is it not contained in the Bible, or the Book of Mormon?"
"You talk about being sealed in marriage in heaven but the Bible says otherwise. Luke(22:30) for they are neither mary [sic] nor are given in marriage." [Astute observers may notice that this is not a question.]
"How can you believe the teaching of Mormonism when it verbatim is exacly [sic] what Satan taught which lead [sic] to the fall of man."
"What do you think of the lamanite dark skin curse?"
"Kwaku: is the earth also flat?"
"If I convert to mormon, can I keep smoking weed?"
"What about Joseph Smith's practice of Free Masonry which is rooted in lucifarenism [sic]?"
A few other questions also showed skepticism toward Latter-day Saint truth claims, but were actually thoughtful and worthwhile questions. Strangely enough, I didn't see anyone attacking the evangelical faith, though several criticized Gil for talking about philosophy so much. One complained, "Why is the Mormon the only one quoting Scripture?" Gil's point, which he explained, was that he had started his faith journey as an agnostic, and his study of philosophy was what led him to believe in one Supreme Being in the first place. It was the prerequisite to him taking Scripture seriously at all. Philosophy "proved" a certain kind of God and then evangelical Christianity was the only religion that matched. Both evangelicals really downplayed the significance of emotions or spiritual experiences, which they regarded as unreliable and often meaningless. Kwaku, as one would expect, defended those things but acknowledged that they have to be weighed against logic and common sense. He pointed out that we're emotional beings by nature and our brains are unreliable too.
They ended up talking a lot about their different visions of heaven, including this controversial Latter-day Saint idea from the Bible that we can become gods. Matthew said that really all he wants is to praise and adore God for eternity. I can't relate to that. Certainly God deserves to be worshiped, but if that's the only reason He created us and the only thing He has for us to do forever, I think that makes Him an egotistical creep. Kwaku talked about how cool and reasonable it is to think that eternity is such a long time and we'll be able to keep progressing and God will at some point give us responsibility over something. Gil said he's down with the idea of continuous progression in heaven, but there will always be an unbridgeable chasm between us and God. Kwaku said yes, God will always be above us, and if it's less controversial to call ourselves "exalted beings" instead of "gods" because words carry all kinds of baggage and can mean anything, and the word God comes from Odin anyway, then so be it. So it seemed like he and Gil basically believed the same thing and that was shocking.
The discussion reminded me of a philosophy class I took once, in fact. It was like "Oh, that's a good point. Oh, that's a good rebuttal. Oh, that's a good rebuttal to the rebuttal." I'm sure nobody changed their religious views that night. I'm sure everyone just had their pre-existing biases reinforced. I'm no exception, because not only am I a Latter-day Saint but I figured out some time ago that if I ever stop being a Latter-day Saint, evangelical Christianity is one of the last religions on Earth I'll consider joining. (Catholicism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are at the top, if anyone cares.) So I can't objectively read a whole lot about the merits of their respective positions into the fact that the beauty of exaltation has never resonated with me more than it did that night. I passed through a phase years ago where I couldn't bring myself to care whether God was an exalted man with an exalted wife or "only" a shapeless force that filled the universe, and exaltation was so far beyond what I wanted or deserved that I didn't care about that either, so long as I could be assured that I would be happy in heaven regardless of the details. I have a testimony of those things now.
They wasted their time discussing whether Mormons, in their view, are Christian. Wikipedia says they are. Move along. The moderator asked the weed question as a joke. As anyone who knows him would expect, Kwaku said he knows a guy. Ha ha.
I shook everyone's hand afterward, even Kwaku's, and went outside before the Ratio Christi guys could return to the little tables they had set up with cards and pamphlets. My eyes were drawn to a little stack of cards with the angel Moroni silhouetted beside the words "The truth will make you free" and a link that, upon investigation, went to a nearly two-hour video called "An Earnest Plea to Latter-day Saints" about all the reasons why our church and the Book of Mormon are fraudulent while evangelical Christianity, by implication, has no historical or theological or scientific problems whatsoever, and the inerrancy and miracles of the Bible are of course fully supported by secular archaeology and textual criticism. This earnest plea and sincere concern for the welfare of my eternal soul moved me so much that I took all the cards.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.