The Christian world has plenty of people eager to predict the future. Hal Lindsey published several predictions of the End. Harold Camping hilariously predicted the end of the world in 2011 (I wrote about that here, here, and here).
These are just a few in the long line of end-of-the-world predictors, and they all make two mistakes. First, they delude themselves that they can predict the future. Second, they’re too specific! That’s why Nostradamus’s nonsense is still popular but Hal Lindsay’s breathlessly titled books The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon or Planet Earth: The Final Chapter aren’t. Nostradamus is ambiguous, so it can be interpreted (always in hindsight!) to mean something profound. Specific, short-term predictions tend to explode in your face when they don’t happen.
The importance of that lesson will be apparent shortly.
Mormonism beats Christianity
I wrote a post with this thought experiment: imagine the most convincing historical record of a religion. What could it possibly say to convince you to sign up?
Mormonism almost has the perfect historical record of that imaginary situation. It certainly beats conventional Christianity.
- Number of documents. The Christian apologist may say that the New Testament story is supported by the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and other outsiders. But Mormons point to newspaper articles, diaries, letters, and even court records documenting the early fathers of the church, a far broader record than that of the New Testament. Some of these accounts of the events in the early Mormon church were written days or even hours after the events.
- Quality of copies. The apologist will talk about the tens of thousands of New Testament manuscript copies and the antiquity of some of the oldest manuscripts, the most voluminous record of any book, but the Mormon record beats this again. The books of Mormonism were written after the modern printing press, and we have many early, identical copies. There is no centuries-long dark period separating originals from our earliest copies and no worry that scribes “improved” manuscripts as they copied them.
- Cultural gap. The Jesus story is from a culture long ago and far away, and the gospels document the Christian tradition within Greek culture, already one culture removed from the Aramaic Jewish culture of Jesus. In Mormonism, we can read the accounts of the participants in our own language.
- Oral history gap. The apologist will talk about how little time elapsed between the events and the documentation of those events—perhaps 40 to 70 years for the gospels. Not bad, but Mormonism spent basically no time in the limbo of oral tradition. Its holy books were committed to paper immediately.
- Provenance. The New Testament books were written by ordinary people, not by God himself or even angels. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was told by an angel about the golden plates, from which the Book of Mormon was written. Yes, Smith’s translation process was fallible, but he wasn’t writing from memory. That his source document was vetted by an angel says a lot about the quality of what he started with.
- Eyewitness accounts. The four gospels don’t claim to be eyewitness accounts. We don’t even know who wrote them. Within Mormonism, 12 men saw the golden plates. Testimony from those men is at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
- Who would die for a lie? Christian apologists ask this question and then point to the martyred disciples of Jesus. In the first place, this argument crumbles on investigation. In the second, Mormonism matches it. The Mormon inner circle put themselves through much hardship, including death in at least the case of founder Joseph Smith. If Christian apologists claim that this is strong evidence for Christianity, must it be for Mormonism as well?
- Naysayer hypothesis. Christian apologists say that if the Jesus story were false, naysayers of the time would’ve snuffed it out. A false story wouldn’t have survived to be popular today. In the first place, this argument is ridiculous. In the second, Mormonism matches it. If the story were false, those in the inner circle would’ve shut it down, right?
But there’s another side to the story: part 2.
If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed;
if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
— Mark Twain
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/14/13.)
Image credit: Michael Whiffen, flickr, CC