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About DonBradley

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  1. Thanks so much, friends! ☺️ Don
  2. Ten years ago I was rebaptized after having left the church for five years. The welcoming embrace I received from the church and its members has been one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. When I was in the process of returning to the church, I reread the letter I had written to resign my membership, and cried. I had written that letter with the intention of using it to lock the door behind me so I could never go back. And when I re-read what I had written, I thought the church would never take me back. I called my bishop in a panic and he told me, "Son, if the church couldn't forgive, it couldn't be Christ's church." Weeks afterward I sat in this bishop's office as he invited me back into the church. A few days later, I was baptized. My time away from the church was never used against me by others. When I announced my return on this board, as I recall the count I made at the time, over 200 people here posted to welcome me back. Instead, of holding my having left the church and having sparred with many of you against me, you celebrated my return like the prodigal son's father celebrated his return. I was moved to tears. Just months later I was bowled over by an invitation to work for a time with the Joseph Smith Papers Project. While there I once got to speak with Elder Marlin K. Jenson, then the Church Historian. Elder Jenson told me, "I want you to know we know all about the little detour you took in your faith, and it doesn't matter. We're just glad to have you back." From everything that I have experienced in these ten years, I can attest that the church does indeed forgive. Coming back to the church has opened up so many good things in my life. I'm so grateful for the beautiful way you, my brothers and sisters, have taken me back with open arms. Thank you, thank you, Don
  3. Chauncy Webb and Eliza Jane Churchill Webb, the husband and wife, Fanny Alger stayed with when she left the Smith home, each independently indicated she was pregnant at the time. I've laid all this out in a conference presentation and will lay it out more fully in published form, when I get to it! Don
  4. Despite what people may say about themselves, everyone does this to a great extent - chooses who they are going to trust, who they are going to rely on. Even secular humanists do. No one can master every branch of science for himself or herself and prove to their own satisfaction that the things scientists of specialties consider settled findings really are settled findings. As you say, life is busy--there's so much going on. I think it's perfectly reasonable to trust the church's leaders when it comes to finances--particularly when they have done much to earn that trust! It's also quite understandable to me that people with greater interest and/or acumen in finances would give greater scrutiny to church finances. Don
  5. Oh, I don't agree with that at all. That assumes that morality is just a matter of abstract obligations and has nothing to do with consequences. I believe paying tithing is a good thing---that's not what I'm objecting to in what you say. I'm objecting to the moral logic you're appealing to--one in which actual consequences for human lives are inconsequential and all that matters is obediently keeping rules and honestly keeping promises. We see the ultimate fruits of that kind of logic in the story of Jephthah and his daughter in the Hebrew Bible, where keeping a promise was more important than love or consequences to human beings. Read that story and see if promise-keeping without regard to consequences--what you say you believe in above--is actually the moral logic you ultimately advocate and live by. When push comes to shove, I don't believe you that keeping promises without regard to consequences is really what you believe in, even if you fall back on that position rhetorically here. Mortal life under the veil requires us to learn to make difficult moral choices, as God does. If everything was really supposed to be simple black-and-white, it's-always-obvious-what-the-simple-right-thing-to-do-is, then God made a mistake in putting the veil there and forcing us to make judgments in complex and unclear situations. Using such moral judgment, at least one of the reasons for paying tithing is the good the church will do with it (note reasons, plural - it's silly to say there is only one true reason to pay tithing - there are lots of them). Don
  6. I see absolutely no harm in a whistleblower coming forward. Our society protects whistleblowers for good reason, and it's the right thing to do. The church's fund may not have flouted any tax regulations, and if so, it will all get worked out. Or the church's fund may have flouted tax regulations, in which case things will be done with greater exactness in the future, the problem will be solved, and the fund's managers will take greater care to ensure that its tithing-derived monies are put toward religious/non-profit uses. Thus, in the long run, no actual harm can come from a whistleblower coming forward, because it will either reveal that there is no problem or it will help to correct the problem. On the other hand, harm may actually come from how people react to whistleblower's report, since many people may be disillusioned by it and/or use it against the church. Or good may come of it for similar reasons. The church has demonstrated a great ability to learn from public backlash and from the disillusionment of its own members. The enormous backlash against the church's advocacy of Prop 8 was a source of shock to church leaders and led to them moving pretty far from repeating that sort of action again. The disaffection of many young women in the church has led to some real soul searching and "studying out" on the part of church leaders that is positively impacting women's roles in the church. The widespread reaction against the policy on gay families was almost certainly part of the church leaders later, and rather quickly, reconsidering that policy. Historically, about half of the church's efforts to help the less fortunate have been initiated on a grassroots level. The United Order had precursors in Sidney Rigdon's congregation. The Relief Society was a grassroots project of the women of Navuoo. The Church Welfare Program began on the stake level. And the Humanitarian Fund started because members of the church kept donating, without being asked, after a church-wide fast for tsunami victims, and the church needed a place to put those funds. My point? The church is actually high responsive to the feelings of its members, and it has a long history--going back to the beginning--of turning grassroots motivation to help the less fortunate into new institutional directions for the church itself. The heightened awareness of the means the church has and the good it can do therefore can't hurt in possibly prompting further institutional consideration of how to help those in need. After all, "help the poor and needy" is one of the church's fundamental goals, part of its fourfold mission. BTW, CB, I love your avatar. I love all things Da Vinci, Renaissance, and hermetic. Don
  7. The church also uses the Bible. There are revelations for which Oliver Cowdery was a co-revelator (e.g., D&C 20) and for which Sidney Rigdon was a co-revelator (e.g. D&C 76). The correctness of the Book of Mormon's translation was attested by the Three Witnesses, who heard the voice of God testify to them that it was translated correctly. And no member of the church is expected to believe the scriptures revealed through Joseph Smith based on his say-so, as most churches expect their members to believe what the Bible says simply because it says it. Rather, Latter-day Saints are asked to find out by revelation to themselves if these books are legitimate. That takes the burden of revelation ultimately off of Joseph Smith's shoulders and puts it on the shoulders of every single member of the church. Don
  8. Everything I have ever seen and heard about the church's leadership leads me to trust that church leaders are sincere, committed, non-materialistic, and exercise careful stewardship of church resources. When I was an ex-Mormon regularly spending time at ex-Mormon social events, I routinely heard other ex-Mormons say church leaders were insincere in their faith and motivated by money. Having studied the church's history for decades prior to that, including having read private journals and letters of many of those leaders, this was impossible for me to believe even then. It is, in a word, preposterous. And that is not a matter of faith for me, but of simple fact. When I learned a couple years ago, from leaked information, what the General Authority stipend was--and that it was the same for every General Authority from the newest member of the Seventy to the President of the Church this only deepened my respect for the absolutely principled nature of the church's leaders when it comes to finances. Where else in the world is their any institution of comparable income, for-profit or non-profit, in which 1) the top leader is paid so little of that income and 2) the top leader is paid on an equality with hundreds of other leaders? The CEO of a major non-profit usually gets millions. The president of this church gets a small fraction of that. There is thus every reason to trust that the church's leaders have integrity to the bone. If the church has, indeed, invested some $22 billion dollars over some 22 years and grown that into $100 billion, this only confirms my sense that the church leaders are exercising remarkably good stewardship over those funds. There is probably not any comparable production of such investment wealth over such a period by anyone at anytime, ever. The question, of course, then becomes what to do with such remarkable funds. The good that could be done is immeasurable. Enduring strides could be made toward ending world hunger, curing various killing and crippling diseases, and so on. I am sure that church leaders necessarily expect to hold onto some of this money no matter what, to give the church a cushion against the worst of disasters and to put the church in a position to intervene in even the worst of crises. This is, after all, just another version of what the church has always encouraged its members to do--to keep an emergency fund and stockpile food and necessities in case of disaster. Where I hope the reporting in the Washington Post article is wrong is where it says that the leader of this fund expects to hold onto this wealth until the Second Coming. The Second Coming does not seem like a time when there will need to be massive expenditures. Rather, it's the problems that will happen before the Second Coming, and that are happening, in fact, right now that require such means to resolve. I hope--and expect--that it will not be long before the church's leaders will begin putting some of those talents that have been multiplied by careful stewardship toward ending various kinds of suffering and creating a more millennial world. Don
  9. Instantly one of my favorite posts I've ever read. Thank you, Smac! Don
  10. I'm not sure exactly how "critic" and "anti" are being defined. I never saw myself as "anti-Mormon." That label was associated in my mind with Evangelical Christian antagonists who directly argued against core Latter-day Saint faith beliefs, caricatured church history, and did all this not as part of a larger research aiming at discovering truth, but, rather, because they had competing faith claims. Most of them (which occasional exceptions) never seriously considered that the church might be true, and their primary aim was to refute the Restoration as a religious faith rather than to use the tools of history to improve our knowledge of the past. However others may have seen me at the time, this was not at all where I was coming from and what I was motivated by. As an aside, I should add that there are "anti-Mormons" whom I greatly respect. I'll name Ron Huggins and Aaron Shafovaloff as the two who come most immediately and forcefully to my mind. I can't question their sincerity in the slightest: they are motivated to save souls. And I believe that Aaron and possibly Ron did consider whether the church might be true when they each, respectively, encountered it as teenagers. And Ron has contributed scholarship toward the understanding of Mormon history. While I respect their motives, these were not motives I shared. I was not pursuing as a primary goal what all Evangelical "anti-Mormons" pursue: deconverting Mormons from Mormonism to convert them to something else. My aim had been to discover history, and the refutation (as I perceived it) of Latter-day Saint foundational claims in my work was a byproduct of that search rather than a starting end goal. That said, there was a brief time when I really thought religion was going to destroy the world (a la Sam Harris's The End of Faith), so during that year or so around when I left the church I did have as a secondary goal contributing to saving the world by negating the religion on which I had expertise. The reason I bought into Sam Harris's argument so strongly at the time is that it gave purpose to what often otherwise seemed senseless--the destructive effect on faith that I expected my work would have. This destructive effect had seemed like such a negative thing--not a contribution to the world! So when Sam Harris seemed to prove that it would be a contribution after all--my "destructive" work would help save the world!--I embraced his view strongly. Gradually, however, the view became less and less tenable to me as the clear positives of religion starked to stack up for me. While at that time I was, indeed, very much a critic of Mormonism, in general, at other points, I hated being labeled a critic, because it seemed to put people into opposing camps and assumed my primary motive was attack rather than understanding. While it's true that there are a bunch of polemicists in the world, I wasn't one of them. I wasn't a critic so much as I was a human being and historian who had come to see a naturalistic explanation of Mormon origins as the most tenable explanation. Not all believers are acting as "apologists," and not all nonbelievers are acting as "critics." I think a search of my old posts will bear out that when I engaged in actual criticism, the object of my criticism was usually Latter-day Saint apologetics rather than Latter-day Saint beliefs. I respected the latter but perceived the former as often twisting the truth for partisan purposes. I did sometimes criticize Latter-day Saint truth claims and thought believers were extremely touchy about this - how upset they'd get. Once I returned to the church, I immediately saw that so differently. I remember thinking, "Well of course Latter-day Saints are going to be upset with critics: the critics are just attacking what's most important to them in the world!" My how perspectives change depending on where we stand!!! What a journey! Don
  11. Somehow only just saw this. Gosh I was conflicted on this. There are ex-Mormons---I met plenty of them!--who claim to have had a horrible experience growing up in the church. My experience was so opposite to this that I found it near-incomprehensible. I can scarcely imagine a more perfect way to grow up than as a Latter-day Saint child. I had experienced such good in the church--both as a child and as an adult. So when I came to the conclusion, for a time, that my research demonstrated the falsity of my faith, I felt torn. I had wanted to make a contribution to the church, to my community--that had been the point of my research. When I came to realize that my work, as it then stood and as I perceived it, would not be a contribution to the community, but something destructive of the community itself, I considered simply never publishing. And I left the church. The real prompt for leaving the church for me was not my loss of faith. It was the loss of my sense that I had anything to contribute to the faith. On the one hand, I didn't want to harm the community. And I didn't want to put others through the agonizing loss of faith I had experienced. On the other hand, I felt that I needed to trust the truth--that truth would ultimately serve people better than illusion---however painful it might be to endure the loss of that illusion. Or at least I hoped the truth would serve people better. It also seemed so strongly like Mormon history was my life's work---like I was made for it. And how can you not do your life's work? That didn't seem like a responsibility one has the option to shirk. So I planned to publish. I was not without further conflict on this, and sometimes vacillated, but I did plan to publish my findings as I then perceived them, let the chips fall where they would, and trust to truth that it would be for the best. I still plan to do that now, and am doing it. I just see the truth that I get to help disclose as a far, far more fortunate truth for us all than the one I had perceived before. πŸ˜ƒ Don
  12. My perspective on and experience of Bill is probably different from that of most here because at one time I was a critic of the church and sometimes engaged in argument with Bill over apologetics and Latter-day Saint truth claims. I learned of his death tonight and was just reflecting over on another board, largely dominated by self-identified critics, on my experience with Bill. I used to have a pretty negative view of him, as I think critics mostly do. But a lot of experience changed that view. Here are the reflections on Bill I posted there. Over a decade ago, when I was very active online in critiquing Latter-day Saint apologetics (and, to a lesser, extent truth claims), I made some posts criticizing the the NHM/Nahom find as evidence for the Book of Mormon. Dan Peterson and Bill Hamblin both participated in the discussion. One of my arguments, it turned out, depended on assumptions about Semitic languages that were quite false. I'd recently had a private conversation with Dan Peterson when I ran into him at the BYU library, and I think he knew from that conversation that I was quite sincere in my search for truth. Rather than simply trounce me in refuting the point I'd been trying to make in ignorance of Semitic languages, Dan and Bill both, in an evident spirit of helpfulness, provided further information about how Semitic languages actually work, explaining this "for non-Semiticists"--i.e., in this case, me. A couple years later, in a transition that surprised no one more than it did me, I returned to the church. When I did, I was in no doubt that this was the right thing for me to do. I was also terrified. One of things I worried about was whether other members of the church would actually accept me. I had been pretty public in my criticisms across several years. And in my extensive digging into Mormon history I'd developed a lot of very novel and idiosyncratic views. Not long after this, I arranged lunch with Dan Peterson and Bill Hamblin. I had new findings on the First Vision, part of what had triggered my return to the church, that I wanted to share. Dan wasn't able to stay very long that day, so I mostly laid out my findings to Bill. The primary context I used for the First Vision in that conversation was 19th century Freemasonry. For those who don't know, Bill Hamblin had built a reputation as the most strident critic of various claims that early Mormonism drew on esoteric traditions available in the 19th century. (See, for instance, his review of Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View.) Yet it was exactly this kind of material that I was using to frame my analysis of the First Vision. I went into the conversation sweating bullets--would Bill Hamblin think my ideas were crazy, or, worse, apostate? Bill loved what I laid out. He spent a few hours talking with me and exploring ideas. He had tons of ideas that he generously contributed, which I took copious notes on. He seemed to love exploring new ideas not only about this but also about various aspects of the Book of Mormon. To help my work, he promised me a copy of his new book on Solomon's temple, which he later gave me. If I had worried about being accepted back into the church, and worried that the ideas I wanted to contribute were too "out there" for the supposedly ideologically conservative old guard of Mormon apologetics, Bill Hamblin helped lay all those fears to rest. While Bill certainly earned his reputation for being dogged and even pugnacious in engaging critics, this was one, and it turns out one rather small, aspect of the man. The column that Dan Peterson and Bill wrote about world religions demonstrates this in spades. One would be hard-pressed to find devout adherents to one religion who are as respectful, as generous, and as willing to see the divine in other religions as Dan and Bill were in those columns. Their outlook was quasi-universalist, and their respect and generosity extended "even" toward Islam, although it is a faith that tends to come in for strident rejection among believing Christians. How do I reconcile that Bill Hamblin could be quite pugnacious with critics of Mormonism while also being pretty kind and helpful with this particular critic when I argued against the NHM evidence, and with his openness to new ideas and his universal respect for the faiths of others? When he could see that I was sincere in my seeking, that seemed to make all the difference in the world, even when I had come to very different conclusions from him and was criticizing his own truth claims. Having read his fiery polemics, that isn't what I would have expected, nor would have I expected his openness to my use of Freemasonry in understanding Mormonism, nor his obvious openness to other faiths. Clearly, I had misunderstood the man. In retrospect I have to wonder if part of what was going on was that, having given respect to the faiths of others, Bill Hamblin expected that same kind of respect for his faith from others. That's not going to be the whole story. We human beings are complicated creatures, and Bill Hamblin was certainly no exception. Yet, whatever quirks dominated my perception of Bill in my critic days, the facts that he could see beyond my criticisms ten-plus years ago to my fundamental sincerity, that he could be open to ideas I would have expected him to find wild, and that he overwhelmingly epitomized respect for others' faith, show a man many, many times bigger than the perceptions of his sometime sparring partners. Don
  13. The suggestion was made above that Joseph could have just had Lucy Harris come over to his house to look at the manuscript. It may help to know that Lucy lived a four-day stagecoach ride away in a different state than Joseph, and that Martin was headed home anyway; so the idea of him taking the manuscript home with him would have made sense. There are various questions that arise about why people did what they did in this situation. Why, for instance, was Martin Harris so persistent, pestering God to let him take the manuscript? Fortunately, as I lay out in my chapter about the theft, when we line up the events in their proper order, it becomes evident why Martin did this. Many of these questions can be answered by analyzing the data we have. Don
  14. Tacenda, I can understand where you're at and how you feel about all this. =) You don't need to start from definite knowledge, just that seed! Alma 32 is particularly rich in discussing this--and is a text I think we've just barely begun to mine the depths of. While this presentation is not my most organized one, because I switched tracks of what I wanted to present when I made new discoveries about the text while finalizing my talk, here are some thoughts on what Alma 32 means... Don
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