Of course, I rolled my eyes just a little at that. For starters, the last time I read an anti-Mormon book or website that was "simply church history and doctrine" was - well, never. Not only do all of them offer plenty of very one-sided and usually misleading commentary along with their historical/doctrinal excerpts, several also take the liberty of insulting the reader's intelligence by bolding, capitalizing, and/or underlining the bits that they want you to find most offensive (usually not bothering to specify "emphasis added").
But beyond that, even, there is the simple and unavoidable fact that objective history does not exist. Anyone who claims to be objective about it is either ignorant or trying to deceive those who are. So to claim that anti-Mormon literature is "simply church history" is absurd. It has an agenda to tear down the Church, and that agenda informs which parts it presents and how it presents them. The Church, of course, has an opposite agenda to build itself up, and is equally biased in its own way. But there are so many events which can be viewed either through a cynical or faith-promoting lens. To some they are dealbreakers, while others are hardly fazed. But there is no "smoking gun" that unequivocally proves or disproves the Church's validity.
But of course, this exemplifies the arrogance of many of the Church's critics, especially those who used to be members of it. Anyone who interprets the facts in a different context than them is considered to be stupid and/or delusional. Their perspective is the only perspective, the "objective" perspective, the one where the facts speak for themselves. Professor Bill Hamblin observed, "There are a number of reasons – limitations of human reason, human fallibility, opposing paradigms, ambiguities of evidence – why intelligent people of good will can disagree about complicated and controversial matters. But not on the 'Recovery [from Mormonism]' board. Here all intelligent, right-thinking, and honest people agree with absolute certitude that Mormonism is not simply false, but so manifestly absurd that anyone who believes in it is a liar or an idiot."
So no, anti-Mormonism is not "simply church history". Neither is a church history manual printed by the Church, which makes no secret of trying to point out God's hand in past events. Neither is a paper written by an actual historian, Mormon or not, which has some sort of thesis to demonstrate regardless of whether it takes a stand on the Church's truth claims per se.
As I research and begin to start writing on my next book, I think a little bit about such issues as they apply to the Roman Catholic Church, which of necessity will be featured heavily in a story that takes place in fourteenth-century Europe. My belief, or bias, is that the Roman Catholic Church is the apostate (not intended pejoratively) descendant of original Christianity, and subject to some degree of divine guidance but not at the same level as the LDS Church. I believe it has been run throughout history by some very good men and some very bad ones, and some in between (and here I'm referring to everyone in leadership positions, not just Popes).
I want the story to reflect that. I will try to to neither idolize nor demonize it. If and when I do have to portray something less than savory, I will try to be fair about it. Context is a big deal. For example, the infamous incident of the Catholic Church vs. Galileo was not the clear-cut case of religion squelching science that modern zealots (e.g. our education system) make it out to be. The Catholic Church has generally been very pro-science, including through the so-called Dark Ages. In more recent times, just to name the first things that come to mind, high-ranking Catholics founded the modern science of genetics and came up with the Big Bang theory (the real one, not the TV show), and as an institution it has come out in support of the validity of evolution and man-made climate change. (I added "the validity of" to avoid implying that the Catholic Church is a fan of climate change.)
I was talking last night with a very intelligent and respectful atheist friend who is up visiting. He said it's possible to believe in evolution and God, but you have to discount the entire first book of Genesis. And I said you just can't take it literally, and he said if religion isn't literal then it doesn't make sense to him, or something like that. I didn't articulate myself very well because I can only do that in writing. I think this really goes back to the advice of Canadian apologist Paul Copan that one shouldn't read the Bible "literally", but literarily (which according to spell check is not a real word.) Meaning that the Bible was written by different authors in different times and different places, and understanding their different mindsets is crucial to understanding their message.
Genesis, as I understand it, was never meant to be a scientifically accurate description of how everything came to be, but a broad overview with far more emphasis on why it came to be. I don't think it's "wrong". I just think it doesn't answer the questions that some people, far removed from ancient Hebrew culture, want to make it answer. And I think the whole how-vs.-why dichotomy is so basic that I tire of saying it, but I'll probably continue to do so because it still gets treated as a novel concept.
My friend criticized the argument from design. As should be obvious to anyone who is familiar with my writing, I agreed with him there. However, I do think it's perfectly valid to look at the beauty of nature and feel inspired that it must have a purpose and that there must be a God. The prophet Alma wrote that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." He placed this evidence alongside that of the prophets and the scriptures. In those latter cases. we are not expected to take anyone's word for it but to receive spiritual confirmation of their truth. I think the same applies to "the earth" etc.
So that feeling is perfectly valid to my way of thinking. What isn't valid, as my friend said and I agreed, is trying to support it scientifically. Science can't say whether there's a purpose to anything, and it does not leave permanent, inexplicable gaps for one to say "God did it". Irreducible complexity has been debunked in every case where it was proposed. To say that the human eyeball, for example, is too complex to have evolved through mutation and natural selection, is untrue and invalid.
My friend explained the reasons why he doesn't believe in God, and then criticized my religion in particular - I say "criticized" because technically that's what it was, but it didn't seem like it because he was so respectful as always. He has no interest in de-converting anyone but simply likes to make his point of view understood and to have thoughtful discussion about it. He brought up some interesting points that I couldn't answer off the top of my head. I'm still thinking about them.
I will say that my belief in God is unshakable, and this is because my own integrity will not allow me to disregard or dismiss my countless spiritual experiences just because of what some other person says. To him, of course, spiritual experiences are too subjective and unreliable and he doesn't think they're valid, but I'm not capable of sharing that view. It wouldn't be honest of me. I know he's being honest too. We're both being honest, but the world just looks a little differently to each of us. So anyway, the things he said didn't faze me. But that doesn't mean I just disregard or dismiss them either. I'm confident that there are answers - not set in stone, of course, since this is mostly philosophical stuff that can't be peer reviewed or anything, but answers that allow a plausible foundation for faith to continue. So I'll keep thinking about them and if I happen to come up with something profound I'll share it here so the whole world can see how wise I am.
Ironically, it was moving to Utah and encountering all the Mormons that led to his loss of faith. When he started learning about the Church, he thought it seemed really unbelievable. Then he looked inward and wondered what made his beliefs any more believable than ours. And then he became an atheist. But he is still very open-minded and humble about things. He thinks the difference between an atheist and agnostic is mere semantics, because he can't prove that there isn't a God.
Now Marie is finally on the map because I persuaded her to visit the site on her computer just once. The Calgary dot is hers. Talking with her is a great deal of fun but now that she reads my blog I have to be very careful about what I say about her. Granted, I've already embarrassed myself with her enough times that a few more wouldn't be a big deal.
Besides the bits of French I've picked up from her, I've figured out some of her other phrases from context:
"Hahaha." -> My sense of humor has low standards.
"Oh my." -> I am complacently amused.
"..." -> I can't believe how dumb you are.
She's quite rude to me sometimes, actually. But it's okay. If she was really annoyed at me she would just stop talking to me, so obviously she's just teasing. Right? Right? I am kind of annoying, though. I said that she and I are like Shrek and Donkey, respectively. She said "Hahaha I can see that."
I just remembered that today is Fathers' Day. I have a great father, particularly considering that I was kind of a demon child. Except for sometimes, like when I wrote this:
Here is a beautiful song that I rediscovered yesterday: