If You Want to Learn About a Ford (Mormonism) . . .

When heated discussions about Mormonism come up online with negative portrayals of theology, almost inevitably a Mormon will make what at first sounds like a reasonable request. They will ask as an analogy, If you want to learn about Ford vehicles, do you go to a Honda dealership? No, they will state. This will be followed by a request to ask a Mormon or, visit mormon.org, or lds.org websites for research. Not sure where this “meme” reaction came from. It isn’t a completely bad request, but it can be cringe worthy.

The problem is the phrasing and logic of the answer is not correct. When you want to learn about Ford vehicles, do you go to a Honda dealership? Well yes you will go to both if you want a good comparison in price and reliability. In fact, those looking for a car in general might go to a number of dealerships unless they have made up their minds already what kind of brand they hold loyalty or preference.

There are some examples from my own study of Mormonism that explains how research from both critics and more faithful places give the possibility of better perspective. Without reprinting my full posts on learning about LDS history and doctrine there are some points I’d like to quote in amalgamation. Some in the “bloggernacle” might say its a discussion of “inoculation” against more serious issues of the faith. That is partly true, but I prefer to think of it as how a person can truly learn any subject when there are competing narratives.

My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was than how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. That there was more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me.

Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I had decided to find another one. As with so many people, that would be Fawn Brodie’s treatment. At this point my focus of LDS Church history was set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. I read a few chapters, a few at the start and a couple in the middle (I have since read in full). Unlike so many people who apparently read her treatment and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.

Another curiosity is that for all the “hidden” information, it is interesting that the bulk of the knowledge comes from LDS produced writings. For example, other than a few original newspaper sources and letters, Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” mostly uses The Joseph Smith History and Journal of Discourses. Aside from that, much of what she talks about can be found in B.H. Robert’s Comprehensive History of the Church from a different perspective. Now, if you go to blatant anti-LDS works, they are a compendium of quotes (badly edited and way out of context) from LDS sources. To paraphrase Scully from the X-Files, “the [information] is there. You just have to know where to look.” Thus, a person can actually go to the source material even more so than ever before and decide for themselves what the bigger or different picture might include.

Next time there are negative statements discovered online that need countered, get rid of the Ford only analogy. Direct them to positive LDS Church related material, but don’t imply that is the only place to get accurate information. It gives off the impression that Mormons are trying cover-up rather than expand sourcing. Those people blatantly anti-LDS are easy to detect because they ignore other interpretations and critical contexts. Thoughtful people don’t like propaganda from either side as a single source of information.

My own quick reply other than direct answers to specific charges would be,

“You can get a better understanding of how Mormons view the issues and history by asking a Mormon or visiting the official websites. You can’t learn about a Ford [Democrat] if you only consider the views of a Honda dealership [Republican].”

8 thoughts on “If You Want to Learn About a Ford (Mormonism) . . .

  1. Agreed, jettboy. We could actually go one step further, though: If you want to know about a Ford, why would you go to Ford OR Honda? Go to Consumer Reports, Car & Driver, etc. A savvy consumer will look skeptically at anything Ford says about itself, and I wonder whether our own materials instill that same skepticism.

  2. I think it is a bit more complex than this. I had read a lot of anti and pro literature before joining the Church. There is no way I would have found the pro-church literature compelling without the Spirit knocking me on the head with a 2X4. Once that happened, I could see the literature in a new way — on both sides.

    The purpose of the official Church materials are to 1)instruct 2)help build faith 3)exhort to continue to build faith 4)bring you the Holy Ghost 5)lead you to do your own study. The official church materials are not so good at apologetics, and that’s probably a good thing.

    But if all you are relying on is anti-Mormon literature, I can tell you from personal experience you are about informed as the captain on the Titanic was just before he hit the iceberg.

  3. When the issue is fact based, your approach is absolutely correct–one should not rely only on a single interested party. When the issue is values based, however, you have to turn to the party whose values you wonder about. So I think it appropriate to say that if you want to know what Mormons believe, you should ask a Mormon instead of a Catholic. But the Ford analogy is still bad because what people want to know about Fords is fact based, not values based.

  4. Nice post, and I agree. I second what Geoff says. In my opinion, without the Spirit’s involvement, all evidence, either for or against the church, will not lead one to embrace it.

    The fact is that some of our church’s claims seriously tax rational belief. God set it up that way, to be a stumbling block, a rock of offense. This way, the believer will be forced to trust in personal revelation of the spirit, not that physical evidences of this world.

  5. “God set it up that way, to be a stumbling block, a rock of offense. This way, the believer will be forced to trust in personal revelation of the spirit, not that physical evidences of this world.”

    Whoa Nate! Did you just give a theoretical faith-based answer that could be used to counter evolution! :)
    Hah, actually not trying to bring up an evolution argument, but with the reliance on revelation it still does just come down to “because God said so”… although at least the main (and difficult to explain without setting off alarm bells) difference between us and many other faiths is not because God said so in this book, but “because God told me so”.

  6. Yes Chris, actually, we are agreeing for the first time! I believe it all comes down to “God said so.” But not because God said so in a book, or told someone else. It’s because God told me personally to follow a particular book, and a particular church, even though that book and church sometimes seem totally crazy. But really, on a spiritual level, what can we “know” other than what we have experienced personally through revelation? Everything else is inference and assumption.

  7. The car analogy is great. The point is if you want to learn about a Ford, you definitely should not go to a Honda dealer or another competitor of Ford. A Honda salesman will be biased, and will most certainly recommend you buy a Honda and will not say anything good about Fords. At the Ford dealer, you can actually sit in a real Ford, see how it looks, kick the tires, test drive one, etc. Judge for yourself. In addition to visiting a Ford dealer, you should also talk to owners of the Ford model you’re interested in buying. Buying a car is not strictly fact based and objective. There is much subjectivity involed also. For example– exterior/interior styling and how does it “feel” when you drive and how does the car make you feel when you drive it?

    Absolutely comparison shop and visit other car dealers—but not to find out about Fords.

  8. Sorry Scott, the analogy works only if your already interested in a Ford. Most people want to compare a Ford with other vehicles the times it has come up. I suppose if you got into a more detailed explanation like you just did it would come off more logical, but most internet comments about the Ford are almost flippant. My biggest problem is I have seen it backfire and make Mormons seem fearful of critical examination. Then you have the old canard of “hiding secrets or history” that is not “Church approved” or something like that.

    For yours to work it would be better to say “why don’t you go visit an LDS Church service to see what it is like and talk to Mormons,” rather than give them a website to visit. Then it becomes more experiential to your point. Any other suggestion is more about information like pamphlets. That comes off sounding like begging to ignore that person’s propaganda and reading only Mormon propaganda.

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