I’m told that, at least earlier today, the Witnesses film website was listing no theaters in Idaho Falls where the Interpreter Foundation’s movie was being screened. This appears to have been an error: So, if you’re in the Idaho Falls area and you’re interested in seeing Witnesses — and what on earth is wrong with you if you’re not? — please check with the Paramount Triplex Theatre there. And you should do it soon; movie runs don’t last forever, especially in places where people are unaware that the movie is playing.
I’m also pleased to say that Witnesses will begin showing at the AMC Boston Commons theater complex on Friday, 25 June. I’m informed that, with nineteen screens, this is Boston’s highest-grossing movie house. If Witnesses has a good opening weekend there, it could stay for a while. It will be featured just as any Hollywood film would be: Standard ticket pricing will apply per seat. Tickets will be available at the AMC box office, both online and in person. We’re also looking at one or two other possible screening locations in the greater Boston area. If you’re in that area, please go to witnessesfilm.com and request that the film come to a theater near you.
Moreover, as I’ve already mentioned, Witnesses is scheduled to be shown on Monday, 21 June, and Tuesday, 22 June, at the Laemmle Newhall (I believe that’s the right title) in Santa Clarita, California. If interest is sufficiently strong, it may last longer.
If Witnesses were to accomplish nothing else, it has already stimulated the creation of a new favorite counter-explanation for the testimonies of . . . well, of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon:
According to this absolutely wonderful just-so story, the witnesses had a huge incentive to believe that the Restoration is true, even though it really isn’t and even though they actually neither saw nor heard nor “hefted” anything at all. How, though, did the Three Witnesses convince themselves that they had actually seen the angel, the plates, and the other artifacts, and heard the voice of God declaring the Book of Mormon to be true? How did the Eight Witnesses persuade themselves that they had really seen and hefted the plates? And what about the unofficial or informal witnesses? How did they make themselves believe?
Well, you see, as the mortal Moroni put it at Ether 12:6, “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” And, just like you, the Book of Mormon witnesses were familiar with those words. Thus, having experienced absolutely nothing when they said they had, they set about to endure trials, to prove their faith and commitment, in order to become worthy of receiving assurance. And whaddya know? They did! Or, if they didn’t, they hoped that they eventually would. Or something.
They made huge sacrifices in order to believe in something that they desperately wanted to believe. At least intuitively, they were aware of — and they accepted — the pop psychological notion that humans become committed to causes and to people in which they’re heavily invested. They come to believe in them.
Fortunately, in the case of the Book of Mormon witnesses, they were surrounded by large numbers of Latter-day Saints and friends of Latter-day Saints who were as desperate to believe in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon as they were. (Just recall the vast, surging multitudes who praised Joseph and endorsed the Book of Mormon in 1828, 1829, and 1830. The pressures to conform and to believe must have been simply irresistible in those halcyon days of yore. And what about later in their lives? Remember Martin Harris, for example. Years after the Saints had moved on to Missouri and from Missouri to Illinois and from Illinois to the Great Basin West, he spent nearly a decade and a half essentially on his own, increasingly impoverished and isolated, in the town of Kirtland, Ohio, where he acted as the self-appointed caretaker of the abandoned temple. Finally, in 1870. forty-three years after his excommunication, he was persuaded to come out to Salt Lake City, where, perhaps somewhat to his own surprise, he was rebaptized. He died in Cache Valley, Utah Territory, in 1875.. Think, too, of David Whitmer, buoyed up by the support of his neighbors in the always enthusiastically pro-Mormon town of Richmond, Missouri, for fully a half-century after his separation from the Latter-day Saints.)
Latter-day Saint theology, it must be understood, exalts unreasoned and ungrounded belief as the fundamental religious goal and forbids objectively examining evidence as both sinful and without any value whatever. “Bearing witness” becomes itself the confirmation that one’s witness is true, on the principle of “fake it until you make it.”
So, just to focus on the official witnesses, the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses stood by the assertions made in their official testimonies — see here and here — not because of experiences that they had actually had but because of experiences that they hoped someday to have (e.g., perhaps in the life to come, if they remained fiercely faithful). Testifying that they had seen or even hefted the golden plates, that they had seen other ancient objects, that they had seen and heard from an angel, and that they had heard the confirming voice of God, was simply a means to the end of actually experiencing such things. It was no different, really, than thanking God in advance for anticipated blessings, or prophesying that something would happen. Someday, they fervently tried to believe, an angel might actually appear to them. Someday, they would actually hear God’s voice. Someday, they would exchange the promissory note of their preemptive accounts for actual divine cash.
It’s all a tribute, you see, to the mysterious but mesmeric power that Joseph Smith had over his desperately gullible dupes.
And, thus, the claims of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon are refuted!
Actually, of course, this ridiculous yarn illustrates the ease with which history can be be rewritten. If a someone is willing to dismiss all primary historical sources, to dispense with any need for evidence, and simply wants to invent baseless fairy tales in order to protect his or her preferred worldview, historiography becomes more of a Rorschach test than a window onto the past.
And now for something completely different: Here’s an especially disgusting example of the evils wrought by theistic belief, straight from the blood-curdling Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File©
Posted from San Diego, California