One wonders where to start in responding to Justin Frank’s piece in Time. One wishes one did not have to respond at all, and one actually decided not to respond, but one continues to be so rankled by Frank’s insipid article that one has concluded that one must respond or else one is going to spend the entire Trans-Pacific flight one is about to take stewing about it. So here one goes.
Frank accuses Romney of lying about an argument made in Noam Scheiber’s book about the Obama teams’ reaction to the economic crisis. It is not within the purview of this blog to weigh on such matters, so we won’t. What we will weigh in on, however, is Frank’s statement that, “Mitt Romney doesn’t lie. He is telling the truth as he sees it – and truth it is, the facts notwithstanding.” In other words, Romney simply comes to a conclusion, establishes it as truth in his mind, and then ignores any and all evidence that would challenge this truth. And where, do you suppose, Mr. Frank believes Mitt Romney acquired this habit of seeing truth in cases even where facts contradict the truth? I hope you guessed Mormonism! (In fairness, Frank, gamely acknowledges that “One doesn’t have to be Mormon to lie.” All Mormons are liars, but not all liars are Mormons; it’s important for you to know that, so you don’t go around assuming that someone isn’t lying to you just because they’re not Mormon. That non-Mormon could, technically, still be lying to you, in spite of their not being a Mormon, although it seems unlikely.)
According to Frank, “In the Mormon Church, there was a decision to accept authority as true — whether or not evidence supported it.” Also, “There is a long tradition in the Mormon belief system in which evidence takes second place to faith. Examples abound.” Well, yes, I am sure they do. There are, what, 12 million of us, and not all of them are paragons of empiricism. Of these abundant examples, Frank cites . . . one. Which comes from an account by an ex-Mormon who questioned some Mormon missionaries about some perceived inconsistencies in the Book of Mormon; the missionaries replied, “We know the Book of Mormon is true and that it contains the Word of God even in the face of evidence that appears contradictory.” If examples of this behavior truly do abound, one wonders why Frank limited himself to the response of two 20 year-olds (as related by an antagonist of the Church).
It becomes clear that Frank is taking for granted the existence of evidence that clearly establishes the Book of Mormon as fictitious and the divine authority of the Church as false, and that a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the divine authority of the Mormon Church requires one to ignore or dismiss this evidence. His entire argument rests on this assumption. Unfortunately for us, he doesn’t deign to provide any evidence for this assumption, other than a throw-away line about Joseph Smith lying about being illiterate – and I’ve never heard the claim that he was illiterate; I’ve only heard he was unschooled, which is true – and telling us that there are some unnamed inconsistencies in the Book of Mormon.
In other words, in an article arguing that Mormons are taught to ignore evidence, Frank provides precious little. (“Sigh. What’s the point in presenting all this great evidence I have? They’ll just ignore it!”) If Frank is indeed of possession of spates of evidence disproving Mormonism, I – along with 12 million of my benighted coreligionists – would love to see it.
Mormons believe that the truth of spiritual things is best arrived at by spiritual means, mainly prayer and meditation. Knowledge attained in such a manner – which Mormons believe comes directly from God – is given primacy over knowledge attained in any other. This knowledge is often referred to as a testimony. However, a critical part of this process entails weighing evidence and arguments with one’s intellect and coming to a conclusion, at which point one turns to God to understand whether the conclusion one arrived at is correct. Indeed, some (but not all) Mormons are very serious about understanding the facts and evidence associated with Mormon history and doctrine. We have journals and symposia and blogs dedicated to these questions. Most of the Mormons I know believe it’s important to figure out a way harmonize scholarly and scientific evidence with their spiritual beliefs. I’ll forgive you, though, if you don’t believe me; I am Mormon after all, and therefore probably lying.