Mormon Irrationality? A Case in Point

I’m presently trapped in travel purgatory — my attempts to return to Atlanta last night were thwarted by thunderstorms around New York City — and unable to post the usual content.  But I thought I would share an article I came across.

In my recent post on Mitt Romney’s Mormon beliefs and whether they ought to concern voters (to which I answered in the negative), I mentioned the argument that Mormon beliefs are simply so irrational and so plainly divorced from reality that anyone who believes in them cannot be trusted (not as a matter of character, but as a matter of rationality).  In case you doubted whether this argument was being made, I thought I’d offer this example.  This comes from M. Joseph Sheppard, who is apparently a Christian and a conservative.  Here is the core of it:

Thus for Romney to hold, as I am sure he sincerely does, to the purported historic roots of the Mormon faith shows that, to me at least, he has thought processes that are a significant aspect of his personality that are questionable in respect of wider views he might hold now or in the future. These include concepts which, again to me, are totally divorced from reality. I would not look to a candidate for president to have, again as a major aspect of his very being, this sort of mindset. Simply put, if non-rationality at this core level can be accepted and acted on then what other non-rationality can also be accepted and acted on?

This is the kind of argument to which I responded — briefly — in the second part of my most recent post.  I didn’t want you to think I was inventing a straw-man.

I am opposed to this.  One of the things I most value about the academic experience is the attempt to enter imaginatively into a different way of viewing the world.  Academics do not practice this evenly; they’re much more interested in sympathetically understanding Tibetan Buddhists than conservative Christians, for instance.  But the practice is important.

To a person raised Atheist, for instance, it must seem very peculiar that I take my cues on moral and metaphysical matters from a collection of texts that are thousands of years old.  But if one accepts the suppositions that (1) there is a Creator who (2) revealed himself and entered into a covenant relationship with a particular people whom he had chosen to be his vessels to the world, and who (3) most perfectly and completely revealed himself to the world by (the Second Person) becoming incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth, then it makes sense that I should look to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

When Christians look at Mormons and find certain of their beliefs implausible in the extreme, and move from that implausibility to mockery or a dismissal of the rationality of those who believe, I fear that we’re doing the same thing as the Atheist who mocks us for caring what the story of Lot in Sodom might reveal about the morality of homosexuality.  It may be the case that Mormon beliefs are wrong, and it may be the case that they’re irrational (which are two very different things), but that judgment can only be made after studying those beliefs thoroughly and attempting to understand the thought-world in which those beliefs make sense to millions of Mormons around the world.  And, further, even if some of those beliefs are irrational, this does not necessarily mean that Mormons as a whole, much less any one Mormon in particular, is irrational.  Let me tell you, as someone who has known a lot of purportedly rational people on faculty at prestigious universities: rational people believe irrational things all the time.

If we’re going to ask people who reject our beliefs to acknowledge nonetheless our rationality, then I think we ought to extend the same courtesy to Mormons.

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  • I’m not afraid of Mitt Romney being a Mormon, any more than I was afraid of his father George when he was a presidential hopeful. I’m afraid of Mitt Romney because he is so solidly committed to the very folks who ruined our economy — which was not the government, but the financial industry. They don’t have to pull his strings — he already thinks and talks like they do. I hate to say nasty things about public figures, but he’s too much like the back half of a cuss word for me to consider supporting him.

  • daniel fielding

    You make a very valid point. To an atheist, the very concept of the virgin birth, or the concept of the resurrection is about as irrational as one can get. So, we ought to realise what Joseph Smith taught was no more irrational or fantastic.
    As athiests would say, all religious beliefs are irrational and crazy.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      My point, Daniel, was that we should be reticent to leap from (a) a belief that seems implausible to us to (b) the accusation that the person who believes that belief is irrational. It takes time and effort to understand the fundamental suppositions of any worldview — including atheism — before one can truly judge the rationality or irrationality of that worldview. I find atheistic suppositions as absurd as many atheists find mine. That doesn’t mean that there is no truth of the matter; it just means a little humility is in order.


  • DougH

    Joseph Sheppard obviously hasn’t taken a look at modern LDS speculations about how the Book of Mormon fits in with what little we know about Mesoamerica (not much).

    As a Mormon, I’ve run into this general situation a time or two, being asked how I can believe that an angel actually appeared to a teenage boy in early 1800s New York and told him about some gold plates. My usual response is to ask why that’s more unbelievable than an angel appearing to a teenage virgin and telling her that she’s going to be pregnant with God’s son.

    • Deekster

      DougH – I guess I’d reply to your response with prophecy from the Old Testament Scripture. Not sure in Bible where it speaks of an angel appearing to a teenage boy in the 1800’s in NY, but it does speak of the coming “virgin” birth.

      Regarding Jesus’ birth — Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

      • DougH

        Absolutely. And for Mormons, there’s Genesis 49:22, Psalm 85:11, Isaiah 29:11-14, Ezekiel 37:15-19, John 10:16, Revelation 14:6. Obviously, I don’t expect non-Mormons to agree with our interpretations, any more than one can expect Jews to agree with Christian interpretations of the scriptures you mentioned. But that isn’t the point – it doesn’t mean that Mormons are irrational for not agreeing with other Christians, any more than Christians are irrational for not agreeing with the Jews (or vice versa for both).

  • Peter Marlow

    Dear Timothy,

    Thank you for your thoughtful essays on Mormons and Christianity. I’ve enjoyed them. I am trying to understand mainstream Christian thought, to which it appears you subscribe, but I’m having some problems. I hope you can clarify things for me.

    First, you might want to understand some things about me. I converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from atheism about 34 years ago. I was a hardcore atheist (from my earliest childhood memories, being so taught by my father), wherein one day, at age 20, while humbly recognizing my fallacy, I decided to completely change my life, starting with a belief in God. Believing in God felt good, making me think that God might really exist. That good feeling curiously got very, very strong – quickly. I then immediately made a deep and sincere personal commitment to God to do His will and keep all of His commandments always, seeking nothing for myself and holding nothing back, upon which He then revealed to me the truth of His existence and His infinite love in an extremely real and powerful way, by a divine manifestation of the Holy Ghost. It was an indescribably wonderful and glorious experience.

    God then revealed to me that through Jesus Christ, someone I had previously known nothing about, forgiveness of sin is possible. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in my first ever prayer to God and felt His truly miraculous forgiveness. I soon started reading and loving the Bible and felt a need to go out and join a church. God told me to keep reading the Bible, but to wait regarding a church, that not all churches were true. A short time later He sent missionaries from the LDS Church to see me and, again by the power of the Holy Ghost, let me know that everything in their message, including the Book of Mormon, is true. I was baptized a month later. So, what did I do wrong? Was it wrong for me to follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost regarding the Book of Mormon, that same Holy Ghost that testified to me of God’s love and the Atonement of Jesus Christ before I knew anything about Mormons?

    That these manifestations of the Holy Ghost have been very real to me should be obvious by the fact that I have changed my life as a result. Otherwise, why would I still feel to need to defend these experiences 34 years later in this letter to you? (Imagine my feelings at having to defend my experiences from those who call themselves Christians.) We all know how hard it can be for a person to sincerely commit to giving up all his sins. But I did that. What does that tell you about not only the reality of my experience, but also its divine nature? In my conversion I went from mocking all religions, even hating Christianity, being self-centered and prideful, and living my life with no regard for right or wrong, morality and sin, to, for the next 34 years, consistently loving God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, with all my heart, might and mind, and seeking with all the energy of my soul to know God’s will and to do it, with love and humility, respecting all faiths, feeling His love and guidance, while finding unspeakable joys in the service of the Lord. Why do some Christians, all of whom I feel a very strong love and kinship for, by the way, insist that I am serving Satan and that I will surely rot in hell? I don’t think that of them.

    Is a divine manifestation of the Holy Ghost not more valid than the opinions of men, even intelligent men? Of course, I know that our stories of the Father and the Son appearing to a boy, an angel showing him the records of ancient prophets who lived on this continent, and the translation of those records into the Book of Mormon sound incredible. But since when does God not do incredible things because some learned men might be offended? Does God care for orthodoxy more than truth? Can you see the parallels to the treatment of Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees, who were proud of their learning, orthodoxy and traditions?

    Science and history might not agree with some of the accounts of the Book of Mormon. Science and history might also tell you that a virgin birth or a resurrection is an unbelievable thing. So, why are we so concerned about what scientists and historians think? Are they less fallible than the Holy Ghost? In fact, we know that they are very fallible. They are always changing their stories. But we know that God is infallible.

    That a virgin birth and the resurrection happened 2000 years ago and that since then, because of established traditions, believing in those things no longer poses the risk for Christians that it did in the time of Christ, we can believe without much opposition or controversy. Being a Christian is relatively easy today. But to then smugly discount the veracity of LDS Church teachings because they are new, not widely held, odd, or disagree with your orthodoxy is to slap the face of early Christians who had to deal with those same difficulties themselves. Has anything really changed since the time of Christ?

    Undoubtedly, you will want to point out in the Bible how our teachings are false or unsupported by any Biblical precedent. We can just as easily turn to the Bible to demonstrate that our teachings are reasonable and inspired of God. In fact, we can find a rational basis for all of our teachings by the Bible alone, even for our underwear and Kolob. We could do a: “The Bible says this!” “No, the Bible says that!” all night long. So what does that prove? It proves a need for continuing revelation on the earth today, a principle which can also be found in the Bible.

    Any appeal to scripture, because it will always be subject to men’s interpretations, will always fail to be definitive. Scripture, whether from the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or from the words of modern prophets, because it is received from God and given to us by imperfect men, and often translated by other imperfect men, is not infallible or perfect, anyway. The scriptures are full of inconsistencies, translation errors, irrelevancies, etc. They cannot prove anything. So what? We love them and use them as canon. They teach divine knowledge when their study is illuminated by the Holy Ghost. Only the Holy Ghost can definitively reveal unmistakable truth. The Holy Ghost bears witness, for example, that yes, women are allowed to speak in church (see 1 Corinthians 14:34). We don’t need clever interpretations to know that. I testify that the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth of all things to every individual who exercises sincere faith in Jesus Christ and believes it is possible.

    Consider this: you may be missing out on the most wonderful thing God has done on the earth since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How do you really know, except by prejudice, that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, did not appear to a 14 year old boy in upstate New York in 1820 to restore His church and His priesthood authority again to the earth as it existed in the time of the ministry of Jesus Christ? If God had started calling prophets again then, wouldn’t you want to know? Do you think it might be important to you? Or, would you rather be among those who reject His prophets and seek to destroy His work.

    It may be an easy thing to summarily reject it all – easier than taking a leap of faith that may cause you to have to make many difficult changes in your life, even giving up religion as a source of income. But has Christianity today been reduced to just doing those things that are easy? It takes courage to believe things that are unpopular. It once took courage to be a Christian. What kind of Christians are we if we fear men more than God? What kind of Christian are we if we do not recognize the power of the Holy Ghost to make truth known to each of us individually?

    That many millions of people have received a testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS Church and the Book of Mormon in a manner much like mine, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and that their testimonies can withstand the mocking and the insults hurled at them by those you teach should provoke some serious interest on the part of any honest Christian, and perhaps make it a little easier to believe, if ease of belief is what one is looking for. That we have such a unity of faith (even though we allow ourselves to be individually led by the Holy Ghost), such love for God and one another, such a desire to serve God and do His will, His works (which many ‘Christians’ are so suspiciously quick to malign), and faith in Jesus Christ, all of which will be readily apparent to anyone who associates with us for a few weeks, should make it even easier to accept that the LDS Church is true.

    But we are not about making things easy. We are about testifying of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. I pray that you may know as I do, not by histories, or science, or the opinions of learned men, and not even by the thoughtful interpretations of true scripture, but rather by personal revelation directly from God, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer and the only name by which we may have eternal life, and that He has done a marvelous work and a wonder in our day by restoring His true church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the earth. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

    Peter Marlow

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Dear Peter,

      Thank you for this lovely note, and I appreciate the compassion behind it. I’m afraid I don’t have time to write out all the thoughts it brings to mind, but I will write out some:

      (1) Testimonies are powerful things, and your own story is a remarkable and moving one. I’m very glad that God revealed himself to you and led you to Christ. It sounds as though the transformation in your life has been profound, and much for the better. I certainly wish you well in your journey.

      (2) The limiting factor when it comes to testimonies is that I know of many, many testimonies leading in the other direction, whether from atheism to (let’s call it) evangelical Christianity or even from Mormonism to evangelical Christianity. Indeed, I have my own testimony which, like yours, involves the ongoing attempt to listen to God’s guidance in every moment of every day, and the conviction that I have found the Way, the Truth and the Life in Jesus Christ, and a way of worshiping Christ in community — in the Church — that is fulfilling and transformative. I don’t doubt your story, but I also don’t doubt the stories of many others whose narratives took them in different directions. The problem is that stories don’t interpret themselves, and individuals in the midst of those stories may or may not interpret aright the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Since “many millions of people have received a testimony of the truthfulness” of orthodox Christianity, and that their testimonies do “withstand the mocking and the insults” (of which I too have received more than my share) can be said on both sides of the line, so I fear it doesn’t get us very far.

      (3) This is why the careful and humble interpretation of the scriptures is so important. God gave us his Word, both in the Bible and in Christ, and I trust what Christ says a good deal more than I trust what I might feel or be inspired to say or do at any particular moment. So the Word becomes, for me, the lens through which my experience is understood — not the other way around. So while I grant that appeals to scripture are often less than dispositive, that disagreements and controversies always remain, I very much believe that an honest, humble, searching examination of the scriptures (seeking the illumination of God) is the best place to begin. And my own examination of the scriptures leads to a different set of beliefs than the Mormon beliefs regarding God and Christ and salvation.

      (4) To my mind, it is one thing to believe that the Creator of the universe can do things that are inexplicable and defy naturalistic explanation — and another thing to believe in a scripture that tells a historical story that really does seem to run against the grain of everything we know historically. When the Bible speaks of the foolish things shaming the wise, or of spurning the so-called wisdom of the world, I don’t think it means to believe in factual claims against the evidence. The attitude you express, eloquently though you express it, is a very effective (and, if I may say it, convenient) way of disregarding all of the problems with Mormon historical and theological teachings. The point of this post was to say that I do not think Mormons irrational for the things they believe. But I do view many Mormon beliefs as wrong. I believe that God guides all of us, and that God gives special gifts to teachers and etc., but I don’t believe that God called a new line of prophets with the kind of authority you ascribe to yours.

      (5) Insofar as Mormonism grew out of Christianity, and a particular version of Protestant Christianity (which I believe has some advantages over other strands, and some disadvantages), it has many things within it that are true. In my own view, that which in Mormonism is true is what it has inherited from orthodox Christianity. It is the additives that ring false to me. (Also, you reference the treatment of Jesus from the scribes and the Pharisees. What Jesus taught was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, and his teaching emerged organically from that tradition. He did not propose a new history, a new cosmology, a new theology. Besides, if being rejected by the authorities were the criterion for the revealers of God then perhaps we’d have to accept that Fred Phelps is God’s messenger.)

      (6) I do not make money off of my religion. Are you assuming I’m a pastor? I know it’s a common strain of argument amongst Mormons that Christian pastors oppose Mormonism because they’re afraid they’ll lose their congregations and their incomes. Let’s do each other the kindness of assuming that we are all indeed sincere in believing what we believe and in seeking the truth.

      (7) I hope it was clear, in my references to Kolob and underwear and etc., that I was not critiquing those beliefs so much as I was critiquing the people who laugh at them. I think mockery and scorn are about the opposite of what I’ve done here, but perhaps I’ve overlooked something.

      Again, I appreciate the time you took to craft the letter, the compassion with which it’s sent, and the remarkable story you shared. While it’s unlikely that I will become Mormon, I’m perfectly open to continuing the discussion, particularly with regard to your desire to better understand mainstream Christianity. If there’s anything I might help explain, please let me know.


      • Peter Marlow

        Dear Timothy,

        What I enjoy most about your writing is the fairness and tolerance you exhibit. I hope you don’t take this as a criticism of your religion, but it is quite refreshing to get a viewpoint like yours from an evangelical. So it bothers me that in my haste to compose my above reply, I used “you” in a few places where I should have used “some Christians” in describing my displeasure at the ways members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are treated by others. And I hope that I didn’t give the impression that I was questioning your courage. In fact, I imagine that your gentle appeal for tolerance of Mormons may earn you the ire of some in your community, and therefore does demonstrate courage. Please accept my apologies.

        I also apologize for assuming that you make money off of your religion. I am glad you don’t. Money usually corrupts. I feel it is a mistake to assume that those who make money off of religion are all sincere. We have good reason to believe otherwise. I’m sure you have seen

        Thank you for believing and respecting my story. Regarding testimonies that “lead in the other direction” as you say, it is my opinion that part of my experience as related in my previous post, the part where I came to a realization of the truth of God’s existence and His love for us, happens to many others around the world, that such experiences are common. I imagine that similar experiences account for most conversions to all religions, including Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, Orthodox, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.

        There is a subtle difference, however. Most conversions happen while someone is being taught by another, either at that moment or later, while the teachings are being contemplated. The religion of the person doing the teaching will usually be the religion adopted. A person may have previously identified themselves as a member of a particular religious group, not because of a conversion, but because of their familial or social affiliations, but will often convert to the religion (which can be the same as or different from the previously self-identifying religion) of the person teaching. Why? Because by teaching, the teacher demonstrates great love – and God is love. That this may happen in any direction is understandable.

        And there is nothing wrong with this. All teachings which help us to better understand God’s love for us are good and come from God. The unique limitations in the abilities of each of us to understand God’s love may be a factor God considers as He leads us on our spiritual development through one religion or from one religion to another as our limitations change.

        I had heard of Christianity, but had never listened to the message. So I was a blank slate. I had no preconceptions, no inclinations, no concerns of disappointing family or friends, and no prejudice. Whatever pride in myself and my atheistic beliefs I had previously held, I had to completely rid myself of all of it when I first approached God. I distinctly recall humbling myself absolutely and completely, to zero, and expressing a willingness to make any sacrifice He would require of me.

        And I wasn’t being taught by anyone prior to or during that experience. On one or two occasions long before this, others had tried to teach me about God and Jesus Christ, but in my pride then, I had refused to hear any of it. A few months earlier I had tried reading a book on a certain exotic eastern religion, but it didn’t make any meaningful sense to me.

        Perhaps it was God’s will to do it Himself at that time and in that way, or it might have been my circumstances that made it necessary (as until then I hadn’t known about Jesus Christ making forgiveness possible), but after coming to a wonderful knowledge of God’s existence and His love, He brought me to a very painful conviction of my sins and then, in His great mercy, taught me enough about Jesus Christ to allow me to experience forgiveness. He simply told me, “Forgiveness of sin is possible through Jesus Christ.” I then pleaded for that forgiveness in that name. I didn’t need to know anything else about Him – just His name. I am eternally grateful to God for providing forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that this forgiveness could be applied to me, and for offering it to me so quickly, that I didn’t have to wait to be taught by someone else.

        So, for me, the Holy Ghost, that Spirit of God which testifies of Christ and the truthfulness of all things, is absolutely reliable. No interpretation is required. Our communication from one person to another is imperfect. Our judgment is imperfect. Anything God asks any mortal to do is done imperfectly, even if done by His greatest human prophets and apostles. The only perfect mortal was Jesus Christ. The compilation and translation of the Bible, which took place hundreds of years after Christ, is imperfect. Even the original texts of the Bible, because they were written by human hand from human recollections, were imperfect. In a perfect world, we would still have those original texts and the many others like them that remain lost, that could have added so much to our understanding, in depth and breadth, of the Gospel. But they still wouldn’t give us perfect understanding. Only God is perfect. And mercifully, because He loves us, He provides a perfect conduit of knowledge between Himself and each of us individually by which all truth may be absolutely known: the Holy Ghost. We just need to trust Him and believe – to have faith.

        Jesus Christ asks us to be perfect. Someday in the next world, if we have here followed Him and have done His will to the best of our imperfect ability, we will be made perfect by Him. We will then be as God is: perfect, and sit with Him in His throne. Why? Because He loves us with a love beyond our imperfect understanding. We are His children, after all. He wants us to experience His joy – all of it. He wants to give us all that He has, and that includes all of His knowledge and experiences. He wants us to learn to create worlds without number and do what He now does. The glory He will give us in the eternities will add to His glory in a great eternal and infinite expansion of all things.

        I know that Jesus Christ has a perfect Body. Ancient Greek philosophy teaches that there is something wrong with having a body – with being material. But I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ received in His resurrection a glorious immortal and tangible Body, and that He has not lost it. He lives forever, Spirit and Body together, never to die again. His Body is no less glorious nor more so than the Body of His Father, in whose image we were created and to whom Jesus went to present Himself after His resurrection. Those who have seen Him, have seen the Father. They are alike in all things. They look and feel alike. The Father gave His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, in His greatest moment of glory, in His victory over sin and death, all of His glory, His kingdom and His greatness. This would certainly include the glorious, immortal and perfect eternal Body like His own, so that in all things, He would be like His Father.

        We will also someday be resurrected and live forever in resurrected bodies, never to die again. When we sit with Him on His throne, it will be in our glorious resurrected bodies. He will embrace us and we will embrace Him. We didn’t create God to look like us. He created us to look like Him. There is nothing wrong or strange about that, except to those who have added Platonic philosophies to their Christianity.

        To me, these truths are clearly evident in the Bible. They were clearly evident the first time I read the Bible, before I ever knew anything about Mormons. There is nothing irrational about them. Yet long after having read the Bible, and after having been led by the Holy Ghost to know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, I discovered that not all Christians believe them.

        I thought it was common knowledge that we can and should know God. Jesus taught this. Yet, I have come to know that some Christians think God is “unknowable.” I thought it was common knowledge that we should strive to keep the commandments of God, all of them, always. I was greatly disappointed at hearing conflicting opinions from Christians, some going even as far as to say that sinning is good, because sinning makes the Atonement of Christ more meaningful in our lives, or something like that. These Christians were telling me that by trying to keep the commandments of God, as Christ taught us to do, I was trying to save myself and therefore would have no part of Christ’s salvation. God wants me to sin? By the Holy Ghost I know we get to know God by keeping His commandments, that in so doing we can truly experience and learn the meaning of love. And God is love.

        We should not be discouraged because we are not perfect at keeping all of God’s commandments. But we should be continually trying and improving ourselves, learning line upon line, applying all the energy of our souls towards obedience until we are made perfect through the continuing process of repentance. It is only through Christ that repentance is even possible. Christ makes us perfect.

        The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives me a great understanding of God’s love. By baptism for the dead, I know that Christ’s appeal to the Father from the cross for the forgiveness of those who “know not what they do” was not made in vain. The Gospel is being preached to the dead, to the spirits in prison, to those who had not had the opportunity in this life to know of Jesus Christ. They are not all lost! They, too, can receive baptism to fulfill all righteousness. God is merciful. God is love.

        And with the authority Christ gave Peter to bind on earth to thereby bind in Heaven, I know I can be bound together forever with my wife and children. That authority exists on the earth again today. I have been so bound. I have that joy today. God is so kind and loving to allow me to experience His eternal joy in my marriage and in my family relationships here on earth. They are eternal. How beautifully divine! I can’t imagine being happy any other way, and certainly not with an expectation of divorce at my or my spouse’s death.

        He invites us all to partake of His joy. He invites us all to come to a knowledge of the plain and precious truths of the Gospel that have been lost from the earth for so many years due to the imperfections of men. You can begin to know of these truths by studying the Book of Mormon with an open heart and then allowing the Holy Ghost to let you know of its truthfulness. It will bring you so much happiness. And our infinite and eternal happiness is, after all, God’s greatest desire, the reason behind everything He does. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


        • Jeff Webster

          Here is what it comes down to: Mormons believe God was once a man who somehow acheived the highest level of perfection and thus elevated himself.
          They also believe God came down to earth, had physical intercourse with Mary, and that Jesus, while his son, is not Jesus and He truly is.
          Mormans reject the Trinity.
          The Book of Mormon is chock full of silly mistakes carried over from mistranslations of the King James and has other errors, as in the people eating honey when honeybees did not come to the western hemisphere until the Spanish brought them.
          Are Mormons good people? Depends on the individual.
          Is their belief, to use a phrase “highly unusual and not at all Christian?’ YES

          • DougH

            There is no official Church position, either doctrinal or theological, on how Mary became pregnant. I personally do not believe physical sex was involved, but the how isn’t important – only the result.

            The LDS do not reject the Trinity, simply that it is one in substance. Seeing how that was not made the official position of the Church until the First Council of Nicaea in 325, I don’t really see how not agreeing with it can be *that* bizarre. I have no idea what you mean by Jesus not being Jesus.

            For those “silly mistakes” from the KJV, there’s a discussion among Mormon scholars on how inspired translation worked but to me the most simple explanation is that Joseph Smith went with the language he was familiar with from reading the Bible when he hit a section that was familiar.

            Of the six mentions of honey in the Book of Mormon, three are quotes from Isaiah and the other three refer to events occurring in the Old World (two in the Arabian peninsula, one somewhere in Asia) rather than the New World.

            And what any of that has to do with a candidate’s fitness for office, I don’t know.

          • David

            Jeff – you’ve stuffed quite a scarecrow there, no “ole Joe Smith” satire to bring it home?

            Tim, thank you for the insightful and genial discourse – it is well received.

          • Jeff Webster

            Does the LDS church believe and teach that God was man and elevated himself to Godhood or not? Yes or no?

          • Peter Marlow

            Any fair examination of truth always requires a study of both sides of an issue. Please understand that the arguments against Mormons are based mainly on obscure quotes, sometimes inaccurate, all taken out of context purposely to maximize confusion, and then accompanied by the deceptive “explanations” of those who are strangely consumed by an urgent need to tear us down. Does that sound like a formula for finding out truth? And because many of these quotes are speculative, anyway, and were therefore never included in LDS Church canon as doctrine, they don’t always represent our beliefs.

            You may want to know what all this fuss is all about. Perhaps you are interested in learning more. You can get the other side of the story at So, why not balance your exploration of Mormonism by studying what we believe from those who believe it – from the source? Learn what we really believe from us, not from those who don’t understand us (because you will then only learn their misunderstandings), and not from those who anxiously seek to misrepresent what little they do know (because they are trying to deceive you). You’ve heard them mock and insult us the way atheists mock and insult you. Does that seem right or Christian to you? There is a better way. Give us a fair chance. You might be delightfully surprised at what you learn.

            For example, carefully check out and ask yourself if the Jesus we believe in is not the same Christian Jesus you believe in, maybe even more Christian than what you’ve been taught before. Ask yourself if the things we teach do not help you gain a better understanding of the immense magnitude of God’s love for you. You’ll discover that we know love better than anyone. And God is love. You may actually find answers to questions you’ve had that no-one else has previously been able to answer for you. We get that a lot.

            Did you know that though we believe we are the true church of Jesus Christ, that He has personally brought back to the earth His original church organization and leads it today through His divinely restored priesthood authority, and that therefore, naturally, all other churches are missing one thing or another – most importantly, all are lacking His priesthood authority – though we believe this, we teach only love and respect for all other religions. Though a few of our younger members may still be working on improving their manners, we don’t as a church mock the beliefs of others, insult them or try to make them appear evil. In fact we believe that God loves all His children and understands the stumbling blocks they face. He is patient as they learn and grow. We believe there is a lot of good in all churches and religions. And we certainly don’t think other Christians are going to hell.

            Ask yourself this, if Mormons also believe in the Bible (which we very strongly do), perhaps it all just comes down to how one chooses to interpret the Bible. But how can you know whose interpretation is correct? There are, after all, hundreds of widely accepted interpretations, all of them done by intelligent scholars, which have led to hundreds of respected Christian sects, none of which agree on everything, each one claiming to be right. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has brought something a little bit different to the discussion, something new and unusual. That’s why all the attention is on us.

            We testify that God has made a unique promise to you to help you sort through all of the confusion. It’s in the Bible – a little bit in one place, a little bit in another. It’s also in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps you’ve already discovered it. It requires that you put all your trust in God. It is that God can lead you by His Spirit, the Holy Ghost. He can reveal His divine knowledge to you personally. And He will, if you put all your faith in Him – not in what any person tells you, not in histories, traditions or orthodoxies, not in any of the philosophies of men or their creeds (all things which Jesus warned against) – but only in Him.

            God promises you that if you will study His Word – and do it with an open heart, without prejudice, with a sincere desire to know and while humbly making a personal commitment with Him to do His will and always keep His commandments – and if you then ask Him to confirm the truth of His Word to you personally, with faith in Jesus Christ, while trusting and believing in His love for you, His desire for you to know the truth, and in His power to make truth known in a way that cannot be mistaken or confused, He will manifest the truth of it to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost you can know the truth of all things.

            I’ve done this. I’ve asked God and He has revealed His truth to me. As a result, I can share it with you. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that our Heavenly Father lives, and that He knows you and loves you. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, who took upon Himself the sins of the world. Jesus conquered sin and death so that we could be saved in the Kingdom of His and our Father. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church upon the earth today. I testify that He calls prophets on the earth today and that a true prophet leads His church under His direction. I know these things are true by the power of the Holy Ghost. You, too, can know these wonderful truths, to your – and His – great eternal joy.

          • Jeff Webster

            Quit telling us to go to this website or that website and answer the question: Is the God you believe in a being who elevated himself to godhood from some lower level of being?
            Do you or do you not believe in baptism of and for the dead?
            Do you or do you not believe in varying levels of “godhood?” in the afterlife?
            Do you or do you not believe propose a continuing revelation?
            Quit punting and answer the questions! The reasons Mormons wont is they want to sell you all this talk about Jesus before you find out what is really going on …

          • Jeff Webster

            Apparently Catholicism is a route to Hell, then? And Jesus, who so clearly left Peter in charge of His Church (His body on earth)knew dissensions would come (hence his prayer John 17). TO say that Rome is wrong is to say the Jesus was wrong, that he left his church in the hands of those who would corrupt it, meaning Jesus is not divine, not Christ. Mormons reject the Triune God and are, by that very standart, NOT Christian

          • Ken Dahl

            Peter Marlow is a Mormon apologist, spin-doctor and lobbyist. His verbatim comments can be read elsewhere, exhaustive boilerplate narratives all over the internet.

            The bottom line remains the same. A Christian must, first and foremost, have faith. Faith is a belief in something which has no proof. Mormons always cross this line with their glowing testimonies of certainty, confirmation from the Holy Ghost, personal revelation, etc. It is all a ruse, copycat regurgitation of spoken nonsense from the Mormon pulpit.

            There is plenty to know about Mormonism which will never come to light from, or a member’s account of Mormon teachings. If the founder’s words, uttered as prophecy, can be denied by today’s Mormons as true beliefs of Mormonism, where does one draw the line?

          • Peter Marlow

            All the evidence in the world pointed to the continued enslavement of God’s people by Pharaoh. What hope did they have? Yet God, through Moses, set them free.

            By miracles no less profound than the parting of the Red Sea, The Lord God in 1830 restored His true church to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. Though your claims to the contrary may be very persuasive and convincing, they are only the words of a man, and all men are fallible. The testimony of the Holy Ghost which confirms all truth is more persuasive. The Holy Ghost allows each one of us to know absolute truth with absolute certainty.

            I have experienced receiving, and continue to receive, a sure knowledge of the truth by the Holy Ghost. God is telling me that many of the ideas held today by archeologists, scientists, historians and theologians can and will change. Change is the one constant in the understanding of men. So much of what men believe is based on assumptions, anyway – their own assumptions or the assumptions of others. But the truth of God never changes. It will outlive the wisdom of men. What joy it is to know and trust God, to know that for God, and therefore for those who love Him and have faith, all things are possible!

            And what is the foundation of God’s truth that never changes? What is this great mystery that the Holy Ghost is even at this moment revealing to me? Love. God allows us to believe what we want to believe. But angry pride in what one believes is the evidence of his folly. If only they would know God, they would know love, for God is love. But try as they might, those consumed by their folly cannot demonstrate God’s love. They don’t know God. But He knows them and loves them.

            God lovingly invites all of us to put Him to the test. So, why not find out for yourself? Read and study the Book of Mormon with an open heart, with faith in Him, and ask Him if it is indeed a true witness of Jesus Christ. I did this 34 years ago. I freed myself then of all my preconceived notions and assumptions and humbly appealed to God for His wisdom. God confirmed to me His love and revealed that yes, the Book of Mormon is true. And what I have learned from that book, together with the Bible, has allowed me to find a very fulfilling and lasting happiness, a life of love and happiness I could never have imagined for myself. The Bible and the Book of Mormon, the sticks of Judah and Joseph together in one hand, declare from the east to the west His truth that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus lives! He is the Risen Lord!

            Don’t believe because of what I say. I am only a man, and therefore also fallible. I could be completely wrong about everything. How would you know? Get your confidence from God. Go directly to God yourself and seek your answer from Him, and only Him. Go to Him in humble prayer. Trust Him. He loves you. I have absolute confidence that He will lead you to His eternal truth.

      • Tim and Peter; I am impressed with the comments of both of you. Peter, as latter-day saint, I could not have said it better than you. There is no question Tim as I have spent over 37 years of religious studies beginning with the bible and continuing that study up to today and when I began to comprehend this great plan contained in that marvelous work and was converted in a like manner as you were peter. I began a study of the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well shortly after and there is no doubt in my mind that the bible is the greatest witness of what I call the complete gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one point that I would like to make as I have considered what the two of you have expressed. I personally believe that this gospel plan consists of all of the religions of the world from those of total truth and those that maybe anywhere in between to the lowest level of total falsehood. All of these religions are actually under the control of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, who limit the power of Satan as they accomplish their plan for all of creation. Their purpose to prepare each of His children for the greatest blessings that they may receive in the resurrection. If we do listen to the still small voice and truly follow the Lord we will receive blessings and a glory of which is spoken of in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. I do believe that the Lord knows what he is doing and we need to be patient and move forward as you did Peter and as Tim seems to believe that he has done as well. There is no doubt that their is one name only under heaven whereby we maybe saved. Enjoyable reading.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Grin.


    • Bob Aillery

      Peter Marlow: What a beautiful explanation and testimony. Those who have heard his voice as you have (John 10:27) will love what you wrote. You have a big hug of appreciation from me. Thank you for writing.

  • Nicholas Benton

    I think you have touched upon one of the striking causes of dissent and communication breakdown within the realm of politics. I am, as an individual, disinterested in the realm of politics, but I do recognize the dissolution created by the approach of “he believes this, obviously he is not rational”.

    I think a good and wise practice in such a scenario would be to extend that same courtesy, as you mentioned, on a broader scale. I would be interested to note how many people within the circles of this dismissive practice believe in “extraterrestrial life from other planets”, (a concept that hasn’t even the remotest of evidence in support of it…yet has mountains of evidence declaring it as unlikely and highly improbable), would accept this same branding of their mental faculties.

    That said, I am not a supporter of Mormon ideas on religion or spirituality…but I, none the less, would not use that as a means of dismissal in and of itself, outside the realm of theological discourse.

  • M Joseph Sheppard

    You say “if we’re going to ask people who reject our beliefs to acknowledge nonetheless our rationality, then I think we ought to extend the same courtesy to Mormons.” However,you, rightly, set out “if one accepts the suppositions that (1) there is a Creator who (2) revealed himself.” Thus the difference is, that whether or not people ( e.g. atheists) reject our beliefs they, the beliefs, are true.

    Conversely, if beliefs which are demonstrably false are rejected, then the rationality about temporal things by those who hold them may be properly questioned.

    Mr.DougH has drawn a false parallel. Because one statement within a faith may be wrong (but in his example not demonstrably so) it doesn’t somehow make belief in gold plates, or civilizations, of which there is not the slightest shred of evidence, any less unbelievable.

    • DougH

      True, nor do I expect people to believe that the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith simply because they believe the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The question isn’t whether both are true, but how to believe one is rational and the other isn’t.

      As for the archeological evidence, considering the state of flux of much of the archeology of the Holy Land, which has been continuously occupied and has millennia of written records, I don’t expect New World archeology to get any better result than “could be, but not proven” for the Book of Mormon. The best evidence has always been written records, the Spanish destroyed most of what there was when they arrived, and I don’t know why we’d expect those written records to go back 1200 years and if I remember correctly successive kingdoms, anyway. But our scholars are doing the best they can with what little there is, and in my opinion that best is pretty good, while acknowledging that Mesoamerican archeology is a field of study with a huge amount to be yet uncovered and much that probably never will.

      Consider the battle of Cannae – one of the most important battles in the history of the West, and the only reason we know it happened is from the written record, from what I’ve read we aren’t certain just where it took place, and a recent archeological survey of the general region has proven that our assumptions of the before and after facts on the ground when it came to human settlements based on the written record are wrong. The same goes for Saul, David and Solomon. Archeology can supplement and sometimes fact-check the written record, but cannot replace it.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The main topic here is not whether people agree with any Mormon beliefs that vary from the range of beliefs in traditional Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant Christianity, but whether such a disagreement is a basis to not vote in support of a candidate, and encourage others to follow you in that decision.

    The fact is that, while discussions about Mormonism focus on those beliefs that are distinctive, the majority of Mormon beliefs are (as you have pointed out) similar to many traditional Christian beliefs. Mormons believe that salvation comes to those who exercise faith in Jesus Christ as the atoning Son of God, repent from their lives of sin, receive baptism by immersion in the name of the father, Son and Holy Ghost, and then have hands laid on their heads to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (just as Peter and John gave this gift to the Samaritan converts).

    There are disputes among traditional Christians over all sorts of aspects of belief, including the authority of the Bible versus that of the Church (Protestant versus Catholic), and the identity of the Church itself (Orthodox versus Catholic). Those differences historically were enough to have people in one branch of Christianity proclaiming that those in the other branches were not only mistaken but bound for hell. There is still disagreement among Protestants about questions like the necessity for baptism, and the amount of free will we have in accepting God’s grace.

    Historically, the major schisms in Christianity were the basis for kings to be toppled and wars fought. The positive history of religion in America has been that mutual tolerance and religious freedom has helped all churches to prosper more significantly than the long history of melding religion and state power.

    To assert that Mormon’s religious distinctiveness is a basis to render Mormons into second class citizens in America, who participate only at the sufferance of more “established” religions (in the sense of tradition, not government support), is a betrayal of the founding principles of the United States. While Article VI is a directive to government officials, to refrain from using religious differences to deny an American the right to hold appointed or elective office, it is of a piece with the intent of the First Amendment, which was to place adherents of all religions on an equal footing within political society. The Founding Fathers did not want a society in which some citizens were Dhimmi, as in Muslim lands in 1789.

    The US Constitution does not say “religious freedom except for those who believe silly things” nor does it say “no religious test for office except for those whose religion really offends you.” Religious freedom in America is founded on a specific commitment to NOT use a man’s religion against him, either in the ballot box or in hearings on an appointment (such as a Mormon being nominiated for the Supreme Court).

    Mormons have explicit commitments to the principle of religious freedom and equality, in their Articles of Faith and in Section 134 of the Doctrine & Covenants. Similar respect for religious dissenters is explicit in the Book of Mormon narrative. Perhaps Mormons are more loyal to the plurality and tolerance taught by the Founding Fathers than many other Christians. Do other Americans even feel they have a duty, under the Constitution and the principles of equality in the Declaration of Independence, to respect their fellow citizens’ religious beliefs enough to afford them equal political rights? Or are they taking the position that promoting their own particular religious views are more important than the civil rights of their neighbors? If so, how do they square that with Christ’s affirmation that the second great commandment is to love our neighbors, including heretical Samaritans, as ourselves?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Just a side note. Often a shorthand for pointing up the supposed irrationality of Mormon beliefs is the claim by Joseph smith, and 11 other men, that the record was engraved on gold-appearing metal sheets bound with rings in a book. Few people seem to want to deal with the fact that those 11 other men were true to their affirmations of having seen the plates, even at times when they were disaffected from Joseph Smith. But what most critics say is “gold plates, how ridiculous”.

    That ancient religious records might be engraved on metal plates to preserve them over centuries was certainly a startling idea in 1829. If Smith was trying to make his story more plausible, he could have just skipped the plates and claimed to have the narrative revealed to him in visions, like Mohammad. The plates made the whole story easier to ridicule.

    Yet a curious thing has happened since 1829. Archeologists have discovered the widespread practice of recording important narratives and declarations on metal plates, including gold, silver, copper and bronze. Roman soldiers who retired were given certificates engraved in bronze, including a sealed portion that could not be tampered with but could be opened by a court. Ancient Italians wrote a religious narrative on bronze in three of the ancient scripts of Italy, including Etruscan (a photo was in National Georgraphic). The deeds of Darius were engraved on gold and silver tablets and sealed up in stone boxes in the foundation of one of his palaces. One of the records found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Copper Scroll, engraved on thin copper, and rolled up before being stored in a jar, recording the location of treasures. Literally hundreds of examples from the ancient world, including many contemporary with the Book of Mormon’s asserted origins in 600 BC, have now been found.

    The recovery of the Dead Sea Scrools, and of records like the Nag Hamadi books, buried in the desert in Egypt, show that hiding up religious records was a practice dating to at least as early as the first century BCE.

    Thus, Joseph Smith’s most obviouosly ridiculous claim, that an ancient reliogioous record was engraved on metal plates and hidden up to come to light over a thousand years later, is now such a commonplace that obvioously, smith got the idea from those other records. Except no one knew about them in 1829. What a wild shot in the dark, such a crazy assertion about ancient religious practices, that ended up being a bullseye. How irrational, to guess so perfectly accurately!

    Those who want to give examples of Mormon irrational beliefs by citing the “gold plates” need to acknowledge that they are offering in fact an example of a rational characteristic of an ancient religious record, placing it into a family of such narratives known to modern scholarship. If after educating themselves on this topic, they insist on using it, then they are demonstrating irrationality of their own.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    Beyond whether a given belief (religious or otherwise) is demonstrably false rather than merely unprovable, is the issue of whether that belief directly affects a politician’s policy decisions. Certainly one’s religious beliefs inform one’s values and general worldview, but belief in a virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea don’t come up much in policy debate. Only rarely does a specific false or unproven truth claim directly lead to an idiosyncratic policy position.

    Now that polygamy and overt racism are out of the canon, I see little evidence that the truth claims of Mormonism are particluarly at odds with the mainstream spectrum of the understanding of how the world works. As an agnostic Jewish democrat, I’d be much more comfortable with Romney as president than any candidates who disbelieve in evolution by natural selection or ignore the consensus on climate change or just generally reserve their greatest skepicism for science. It’s not the implausibility or irrationality of a given belief that concerns me- it’s whether that belief will be a factor in policy decisions.

    • Very good! I would add to that the fact that this racism is one subject that most of the Christians I kknow of and am familiar with were just as racist as they claim today tha tthe Mormons are or were.

      • DougH

        A note on the revelation giving Blacks the priesthood. I’m old enough to remember when it happened, and how my mother cried from sheer joy when she heard the news.

        For myself, I was too young to understand why everyone was celebrating – I’d been taught all my life that it was going to happen eventually, it happened earlier than expected, I didn’t see what the big deal was. (And no, I didn’t know any Blacks personally, to allow me to understand their perspective.)

        Were there Mormons that were as bigoted as any Klansman? Since I believe at least a few left the Church after the revelation was announced, I imagine so, nor do I think that they all left then. But I have never met any Mormon that has expressed anything but joy because of that revelation.

  • Karen Paulus

    If you are interested in what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) really believes, please visit

  • Mark Stoddard

    Judging or condemning someone because of their religion is Un American. It’s unChristian as well.

    The ONLY question today is “will Mitt Romney lead the US out of the Obama quagmire better than someone else?”

    The election is not a referendum on faith but on judgement. Those who condemn a person for his faith deny the U.S. Constitution.

    And seriously, would you really stay home on election day if the choice was Romney vs. Obama? That’s UnAmerican.

  • LindaSDF

    There is one other thing to consider, as far as I’m concerned.
    I would accept that some people find our beliefs irrational. I don’t have a problem with that.
    My problem is, what are you considering to be irrational? Our beliefs, or what those who are against us SAY are our beliefs?
    There are those calling themselves Evangelical Christians, who seem to have nothing better to do than to make up lies and half truths about our faith, and/or who take little snippets of things said (or purportedly said) by our church leaders from 100 years ago, making up doctrines from them, and totally bastardizing our real beliefs.
    This is what, I think, is the problem a lot of people have with having a Mormon in the White House. They comment on our weird beliefs, and it seems like 9 times out of 10, it’s not our beliefs, but those anti-Mormon bastardizations they are referring to.

  • Doug King

    I join Mr. Dalrymple in rejecting the notion that one’s deepest religious beliefs must be scrubbed of all “irrational” beliefs in order to be a worthy political candidate. All faiths that seek to connect this world with the divine must, at some point, entertain ideas supported only by faith versus empirically proven facts. I think we don’t appreciate the leap of faith required of the Founders when they finally realized our “unalienable rights” come from “Nature’s God” and “Providence” (their words for God, about whom they disagreed). How “rational” did it seem at the time to defy historical precedent and abolish religious tests as a requirement for office?

    As the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom warned: “the proscribing any citizen as unworthy of the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, … tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage.”

    The Founders knew the best measure of human character was past action, not outward conformity to a system of theology. I think we should emphasize the same when evaluating Romney or any other candidate.

    • DougH

      There is one consideration I believe needs to be taken into account when making a political judgment when it comes to a candidate’s religion, and that is what impact those beliefs are likely to have when it comes to the candidate doing his job if elected – why he holds those beliefs is irrelevant.

      And even then, one has to consider the difference between an official church position and personal belief. Consider Catholicism and abortion. The Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life, yet there are a number of elected pro-choice Catholics (and from what I’ve read, a certain amount of controversy therefrom). For Mormons, it is often difficult to believe that Senators Reid and Hatch belong to the same church.

      So take a look at a church’s doctrines to see if there are any that you might have problems with if put into practice politically, check to see if individual candidates hew to the “party line,” just don’t reject candidates because their religions seem bizarre – all religions have aspects that seem so from the outside.

      • Doug King

        I think it is assessing individual religious belief is difficult and error prone. Nearly all the founders were affiliated with one church or another. But many of their writings reveal they did not totally agree with what was being taught.

        Rather than try to judge candidates by their relationship to God, I think it’s better to judge them by their relationships with other people.

  • Mark Stoddard

    I was asked recently about preposterous Mormon beliefs. I said, “Yes, concerning Mormon beliefs, if you can get over the beliefs Mormons have in a Virgin birth, in turning water into wine, miracles of the loaves and fish, that Christ died and was resurrected 3 days later and then ascended into heaven… if you can get past those incredible beliefs, the rest is easy.”

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