Bubbleworld and Me


The Denver Colorado Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Back around 1985 or early 1986, when I was beginning to compose the lengthy essay that would ultimately become the core of my book Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, I was watching one of the nightly network news programs.  The last few minutes of that broadcast were given over to a profile of the efforts of the Rev. Henry F. Fingerlin, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Littleton, Colorado.


Rev. Fingerlin was quite upset that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was building a new temple only a relatively short distance from his church, and he had launched a campaign against Mormonism that used his building as its headquarters.  Among other things, he denounced Mormons and Mormonism as non-Christian.


Since precisely that charge was the principal focus of my essay, and since I was trying to identify and to deal with all of the arguments and evidence used to justify it, I immediately recognized that Rev. Fingerlin might offer a rich trove of useful primary-source material for my project.  So I found his address and wrote a short, polite, and very business-like note to him, telling him about the piece that I was writing and asking him to send me a representative sample of the literature he and his co-workers were using to demonstrate that Mormons aren’t Christians.  I offered to cover any expenses he incurred.


In reply, Rev. Fingerlin sent me an eight- or nine-page typed letter denouncing Mormonism.  (I can’t recall whether he actually sent me any of his literature; I don’t think he did.)  it was pretty-much standard-issue Evangelical anti-Mormonism, unoriginal and entirely recycled, and little if any of it was relevant to my project.


I do, however, remember that he spent a page or two of his letter explaining to me why I found the claims of Mormonism plausible.  It was, he said — I’m boiling his analysis down to its essence — because I had never been outside of Utah and had never encountered the ideas of non-Mormons.  I had, he said, literally no idea what people beyond the borders of my state thought about my so-called faith.


I responded to him, pointing out that he and I had never actually met, and that he could not have learned much about my biography from the single (and quite non-autobiographical) paragraph I had sent him.  I explained to him that I had actually just moved to Utah; that I had been born and raised (and educated to the doctoral level) in California; that my particular academic field was Arabic and Islamic studies but that I also held a degree in Greek and philosophy; that I had lived for extended periods of time in Switzerland (where I served as a missionary and met several genuine non-Mormons), Israel, and Egypt; that I was multilingual; that my father had, until just a few years before, been a Lutheran (as half of my extended family still were and are); and etc.  The suggestion that I was a Mormon only because I was a narrow-minded, untraveled, sheltered, provincial naïf seemed, with all due modesty, peculiarly ill-aimed in my case.


Rev. Fingerlin and I corresponded just a little bit further after that.  In his final letter to me, he told me that, if I would send him a copy of my book, he would review it.


I sent him a copy of my book.  I had even thanked him in its “Introduction” for helping to inspire its completion.  But he never responded again, never sent a review.


Before and since that experience, I’ve been amused by people who have assumed — invariably without knowing me very well, if at all — that I hold the views that I do on politics and religion because of some combination or other of ignorance, provincialism, stupidity, innate evil, or insanity.


That’s why I’ve found it hilarious, in the wake of Tuesday’s election, to see certain liberal partisans attributing conservative ideas to the putative “fact” that those who have failed to bow the knee to Barack Obama are backwoods yokels who don’t get out much.  One respondent to a blog entry of yesterday wondered whether I actually imagined that such “Obamaphiliacs” (as I termed them) would be convinced by my blog, and what value I saw in responding to them.  No, I don’t expect them to convert — though I would welcome that miracle — but I do find them amusing and, in a curious way, instructive.


And, incidentally, no, I don’t appreciate it when people on my side of the political/ideological fence dismiss all who disagree with them as either ignorant, stupid, innately wicked, or crazy.  I know plenty of sane, good, intelligent, and well-informed people who — for reasons that utterly mystify me — fail to see the world precisely as I do.



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  • Jason Covell

    Dr Peterson,

    In the spirit of your last sentence, I have met many good, intelligent and thoughtful people from Utah who are registered Republicans but who (I tell myself) would most probably lean to rather different side of politics if they were to live in another country – such as, for instance, my native Australia.

    All of which goes to show that I regard much of politics as an amusing and diverting exercise, but ultimately not terribly important in the VERY long view of things. And I say that as someone who has worked in a political field for quite a while. From working closely with politicians, I can say from experience that party affiliation matters far, far less than more substantive questions about the individual politician’s character, and their dedication to serve the public good, rather than the furthering of their own career.

    Turning away from politics, I want to say how important your various writings, talks and scholarly enterprises have been to me. I have delighted in your fearless championing of the Restored Gospel, and sat in admiration for yur willingness to take on all comers with wit and erudition. I have shared your joy in the unfolding of the Islamic Translation Series, and your great fondness and freely expressed warmth for such thinkers as al-Ghazali. And I have even taken delight in a shared appreciation of John Coltrane. Even though I have tended towards a pursuit of Persian rather than Arabic language and literature (and to a far less accomplished level), I don’t feel I would need to explain my delight in that particular tradition to you.

    I say all this not as words to flatter or impress, but simply to let you know, with gratitude, how important your work has been to me on an utterly personal level. Knowing that you are there, actively working for the Gospel and countless other good causes, has made me feel less alone, less awkward on many an occasion. Listening to a podcast or tape of one of your talks has helped me through a dark patch more than once.

    I know there are some folks who come on this blog to make rather unpleasant comments. I just thought I should really offer some balance.

    • danpeterson

      Thanks, Jason. I appreciate the kind note.

  • r

    After reading through some of your writing, I see that your basis of belief in the mormon church boils down to basically this: it seems right. That is not scholarly. Your claim is that educated mormons can’t be wrong. Your article on the witnesses not lying, even unto their death is a joke. These men simply perpetuated a lie in a. The hope of joseph smith actually being right or b. They simply believed in him because he was a good con artist. Either way, that doesn’t make him right. Your logic is weak and for a “scholar” you would think you could come up with a more plausible argument for the mormon church. You rail against the reverend in the posted article but you have not given any of his specific examples or reasons why he is wrong. Have you ever taken a serious look at the Bible and studied its contents? It will reveal itself as true. The book of mormon is a false book that has claims that have never been proven true. Not a single place or period has been proven historically true. You have staked your eternity in a false prophet, system, and church. Your simple answer to that is its sounds right. Sir, for the sake of your soul, repent, truly believe in Jesus Christ alone (as God and Savior and adding none of your own works), and leave the mormon church. Read the Bible alone as the only true inspired Word of God and see how His word has power. Your works will get you nowhere only condemnation. Trust in Christ completely and only in Him.

    • danpeterson

      “After reading through some of your writing, I see that your basis of belief in the mormon church boils down to basically this: it seems right. . . Your simple answer to that is its sounds right.”

      You can’t have read much of my writing, or understood much of it, if that’s what you think.

      “That is not scholarly.”

      More to the point, it’s not true.

      “Your claim is that educated mormons can’t be wrong.”

      That is most certainly not my claim.

      “Your article on the witnesses not lying, even unto their death is a joke. These men simply perpetuated a lie in a. The hope of joseph smith actually being right or b. They simply believed in him because he was a good con artist.”

      And, with that, you simply brush aside all of the voluminous historical evidence regarding these men. I think you’re not in a very good position to characterize my argument as a “joke.”

      “Your logic is weak and for a ‘scholar’ you would think you could come up with a more plausible argument for the mormon church.”

      You’ve provided no evidence that you can even accurately restate my argument, let alone judge it.

      “You rail against the reverend in the posted article but you have not given any of his specific examples or reasons why he is wrong.”

      I didn’t “rail” against Rev. Fingerlin. (See any decent English dictionary for the actual definition of the verb to rail against.) But you’re right that I didn’t take the time or the space here to give specific examples of his claims or to demonstrate why he was wrong. First of all, doing so wouldn’t have been even remotely relevant to the point that I was making. Second, nothing that he said was original with him; it was all derivative, recycled. Third, I’ve responded in various locations to every argument he made, on multiple occasions. But, as someone who has devoted a lot of time to studying my writing, surely you know that.

      “Have you ever taken a serious look at the Bible and studied its contents?”

      Why yes, as a matter of fact, I have. I read it virtually every day — and, on most days I read at least a bit of it either in Greek or in Hebrew. (I also read it daily, for my own reasons, in a number of other languages, principally in German and in Arabic.)

      Thanks, though, for providing a fresh example of precisely the kind of thing I was talking about: Your assumption that I can only disagree with you because I’m ignorant (or — see above — stupid or incompetent) is about as nice an illustration as I could have wished for.

      I’ve omitted the tiresome fundamentalist Protestant boilerplate. I’ve lost interest in it.

  • http://www.believeallthings.com Believe All Things

    Does location influence a person’s political views. As a former resident of Illinois, Indiana, New York and Oregon, living in Utah has definitely influenced my political outlook, especially regarding local, city and state elections.

    • danpeterson

      I think there’s no question that we’re generally affected by those with whom we commonly associate. Hence the need for choosing associates wisely!

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I am repeatedly amused at how people can become professional pastors and devote many hours to the reading of the scriptures and yet have developed no sense of an obligation to the truth, enough to learn information about the Latter-day Saints that goes beyond mere gossip. Apparently humility about one’s understanding is not part of the standard curriculum at a lot of Bible Colleges. I feel sorry for the people in their congregations.

  • John Ziebarth

    Joseph Smith a con artist? Wooden submarines [from previous postings] ? Where do you get the patience to deal with these…?

  • Emily Jacobosn

    I love talking about wooden submarines. Do you have a post about wooden submarines? I’m assuming this was a term applied by a hostile poster, since we never call them “submarines” but refer to them as barges. But leaving aside the semantics, I do keep my ear to the ground for any articles that come around on the Jaredite barges and related topics, Noah’s Ark, the tsohar/shining stones, etc. so if you’ve got something you know about that I might have missed, please direct me to it. I’ve kept up with FARMS/Maxwell Institute articles, Captain Richard Rothery’s article , bits and pieces from Ensign articles, and most recently an interesting tidbit from an Internet “pass around” of an article on a Japanese tsunami dock that washed up on American shores (it apparently took 15 months to make the journey. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-18349741. ) All fun stuff, but I’d love to see more.

    • danpeterson

      I’m probably not aware of anything on this topic that you haven’t already seen.

      You’re right, of course, that it was a hostile poster who used the term “wooden submarines.” It’s an old tactic — seeking to win by word games what one isn’t actually in a position to win via argument or evidence.

  • Philip Wickner

    Dear Mr. Peterson:
    Thank you for all of your substantial work . My personal study (The new Gadiantons) was published Nov. 13 by Digital Legend Press of SLC. I would be honored if you would review my book and comment appropriately. I wish you the best.

    Philip A. Wickner

  • Jim Kinsey

    The whole question of religion comes down to two things. First off, if the LDS church is not Christian, why is the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. I fear many think we are not Christians because they define what a Christian is and since we don’t agree with them we are not Christians. That being said only one church would ever be considered Christan and that would change on a daily basis.

    Logically: First, Christ said in order to get into the kingdom of God one must be baptised by water and by the spirit. It would follow, since He also said that His house is a house of order that the baptiser would have to have the authority to perform that ordinance. Without order there is just chaos and anarchy and that is definately not the way God runs things. That authority must come as a result of personal contact with someone who has the authority to pass on that authority. Not from a good feeling or holding the bible in your hand or a great desire.

    Second: There must be a universal salvation. If your church is the only one that is recognized by God then what about all those who have never heard of it? Vicarious baptism is the only answer. I would be willing to bet that most people who condemn other churches have never read the bible through, or prayed to learn the truth. Maybe all the naysayers and critics of the LDS church and even other churches should take a lesson from the Saviour. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” We claim the privilege of worshipping almighty God according to the dictates of our concience and afford all men the same priviledge.