|Subject:||Inquiring Doubting Minds Want to Know: Did Ezra Taft Benson believe he was a prophet of God?|
|Date:||Feb 09, 2008|
|Over the years since having left Mormonism, I have
been asked what, if anything, I was able to conclude from my own experiences
and observations regarding the so-called "special witness" of my
grandfather/LDS Church president, Ezra Taft Benson, as well regarding the
allegedly unique testimonies of other Mormon General Authorities.
For instance, poster "No Longer a Believer" recently asked:
"Steve, did your grandfather consider himself to be a legitimate prophet of God?
"I'm curious to know how a prophet of God could reconcile that he is a prophet notwithstanding he never had a visit from the big guy in the sky, for I'm certain that we agree that Pres. Benson never received such a visit, and he must have wondered why he never did.
"Or, did he know that he was not a prophet but had to keep appearances?
"Or, did he believe he was a true Prophet but that prophets don't receive heavenly visitations anymore? (This is what I tend to think)
"Thanks if you can help me understand the view of the Brethren. Ever since I found out it is not true, my head is spinning trying to make sense of it." (Subject: Question for Steve Benson, Date: Feb 09 19:15, Author: No Longer a Believer)
A similar question was also asked by RfM poster "OntheFence," who wanted to know what information I might have regarding the expression of personal testimonies from Mormon apostles that could help illuminate their personal positions when it came to belief in Mormonism:
"I discovered this site about 5-6 months ago and, as you can guess, have found it and the various links I have followed to be quite injurious to my ever more fragile faith.
"While the historical information and analysis I have encountered (which obviously differs markedly from what I have been exposed to in the past) have had a significant impact, I have found the material supplied by Steve Benson to be the most intriguing.
"To be able to interview two apostles (especially Apostles Maxwell and Oaks) would be major fantasy for me. You indicated that the testimonies provided by these leaders were weak at best.
"What about similar experiences with your grandfather? Did he ever describe direct revelation or the basis of his devotion to the church? In your opinion, are most of the Quorum of the 12 solid believers or do you think that there are some closet doubters among them?" (To Steve Benson -- Testimony of General Authorities, Date: Aug 19, 2007)
In response, based on my own interactions with my grandfather--as well as with other high Mormon Church leaders--my assessment of their personal "Prophet Show and Tell Time" is this:
Testimonies from Mormon apostolic leadership supposedly inicating their "Special Witnesses" status for Christ are, well, unimpressive.
In fact, I would characterize their expressions of devotion and knowledge as constituting a non-special witness to what they claimed to be true.
I could pose the question another way:
Mormon General Authority leadership may believe the LDS Church is "true," but do they really know it? And are they forthright with the Mormon membership about what they say claim either believe or know?
Based on my individual contact with some of Mormonism’s highest leaders, obtained through direct conversation and correspondence with them, the answers to these questions is simply "No."
The evidence, as I have come across it in my own contact with these men, is outlined below:
APOSTLE DALLIN H. OAKS
In September 1993, I held private conversations behind the closed Salt Lake City LDS Church office doors of Apostle Neal A. Maxwell, where I met with him and his colleague Dallin H. Oaks. (My wife Mary Ann attended and participated in the first meeting; I returned alone approximately two weeks later for a second meeting with the two men).
--Oaks' Personal "Special Witness" Testimony
In the second meeting, I asked Oaks (and Maxwell) the following question:
"What personal spiritual experiences have you had which gave you your testimonies as special witness for Christ?"
In response, Oaks summoned up memories of his days as a college student at the University of Chicago. Back then, he said, he though he "knew a lot" about the Gospel. He admitted, however, that he had "questions about the Church"--although he did not elaborate exactly what they might have been.
Oaks said a local LDS Institute teacher helped him work out the answers.
This, was the sum total of Oaks' answer--an answer that I did not need to travel 700 miles to Salt Lake to hear. I could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble if I had just stayed home, gone to the next fast and testimony meeting at my local ward and listened to regular members bear personal witness to the same kind of experiences.
There was no testimony bearing from this alleged modern-day Peter or Paul of personal visits, in the Flesh, from the Father and/or the Son.
There was no telling of any "road to Damascus" story.
There was no recounting of angelic visitations.
There was no description of rushing winds or flames of fire.
In short, there was "no there there."
During these conversations, Oaks also said that the basis for his personal testimony about the truthfulness of Mormonism took the form of a warm spiritual witness which he felt in his heart.
--Oaks on the Book of Abraham
Oaks said this witness had particular meaning for him with regard to the truthfulness of official Mormon scripture.
He admitted, for instance, that critics of the Book of Abraham seemed to presently hold the upper hand in arguments against its authenticity.
Oaks said, however, that the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham ultimately came through a personal, spiritual witness.
--Oaks on the Book of Mormon
Oaks asserted that the Book of Mormon could neither be proven or disproven by evidentiary examination, but in the end, also had to be accepted on faith.
In admitting that the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon could not be empirically proven, Oaks acknowledged that portions of the Book of Mormon (albeit insignificant, in his opinion) might show potential problems with plagiarism.
Specifically, he admitted that he, too, had wondered while composing his own sermons how the words of the Apostle Paul from his epistles to the Corinthians could end up, almost word for word, in the Book of Mormon, even though Bible prophets preceded by generations their counterparts in the Book of Mormon.
Oaks concluded that God must have inspired Bible and Book of Mormon prophets to speak using the same, exact language.
Oaks then attempted to minimize obvious Book of Mormon plagiarisms by drawing a comparison between the Book of Mormon and one’s marriage.
He said that one should not abandon one’s marriage because it is not perfect; likewise, Oaks argued that merely because 5% of the Book of Mormon (an estimation he came up with himself based upon a quick perusal of a paperback copy of the book which my wife Mary Ann had highlighted with examples of plagiarisms), one should not abandon it.
Regardless, Oaks said that he had received a spiritual witness that served as the basis for his personal testimony that the Book of Mormon was true.
Oaks, however, would say one thing in private and another thing in public when it came to his belief in the Book of Mormon.
Approximately six weeks after the initial meeting that Mary Ann and I held with Oaks and Maxwell, Oaks spoke publicly on the Book of Mormon in a sermon entitled “The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," delivered at the annual dinner for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in Provo, Utah.
The text of his banquet remarks are available at:
What follows is a compare-and-contrast examination of what Oaks privately said about the Book of Mormon in those private meetings with him and Maxwell, alongside what he publicly told the FARMS audience a few weeks later at their Provo banquet.
(Give note to the similarities and, more interestingly, to the differences between Oaks’ private and public observations on the Book of Mormon--the keystone, mind you, of the Mormon faith).
--Oaks on the Historictiy of the Book of Mormon and Evidence of Plagiarism
In the first meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, Mary Ann began by explaining to them that she was sincerely trying to do what the Mormon Church had admonished its members to do: namely, to study the scriptures. She informed them that the more she examined Mormonism's scriptural texts, the more she found contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
Mary Ann informed Oaks and Maxwell that she was having a difficult time reconciling those contradictions. Therefore, she said, she decided to undertake her own personal study of the Book of Mormon--but from another point of view.
She took out a well-used, paperback copy of the Book of Mormon and showed them what she had done with it. Opening the book and thumbing through its pages, she demonstrated to them how she, in Seminary scripture study cross-referencing style, had color-coded the text for the "Spalding Manuscript," B.H. Roberts' study of parallels between Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon, the King James text of the Book of Isaiah and the King James text of the New Testament--with particular emphasis on the Book of Mormon timeline from 600 BC to 1 BC, when the words of the New Testament had not yet been written.
She then pointed out to Oaks and Maxwell 17 parallels she had discovered between the lives of the Book of Mormon prophet Alma and the New Testament apostle Paul. She also directed their attention to wording in Alma's letters that was found in exactly the same language as that in Paul's.
Mary Ann asked Oaks and Maxwell to explain to her how these things could find their way into the Book of Mormon.
Mary Ann later recalled how Oaks jumped more eagerly at her question than did Maxwell and how he became quite animated during this portion of the discussion. She also later noted to me that Oaks was, in some ways, "a little condescending" to her.
Oaks told Mary Ann, "Well, you know, as you've thumbed through your book, it only appears to me that 5% of your book has been marked, so I would say don't throw out the 95% because of the 5%. Don't take the 5% that you have serious questions about and cast out the 95% that is unexplained or, as Steve said, divinely inspired." (In point of fact, I did not tell Oaks that I felt 95% of the Book of Mormon was divinely inspired, despite his claim to the contrary).
He continued, "It's like being married to our wives. I'm sure there's more than 5% of me that my wife finds disagreement with, but she puts up with it anyway. It's kind of like being married to the Book of Mormon. Don't let your doubts keep you out of the mainstream."
Oaks (along with Maxwell) challenged Mary Ann to read to them something from the "Spalding Manuscript" that she felt found parallel in the Book of Mormon. Mary Ann initially chose an example in which Spalding described fortresses and earthen banks defended by spikes placed at intervals from one another in order to prevent arrows from coming through. (She later said to me she wished she had offered a better example. Nonetheless, she felt--and I agreed--that it was a comparison of substance).
Mary Ann showed Oaks a pamphlet authored by Vernal Holley, entitled, "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look," which laid out, among other things, strikingly parallel word combinations between the "Spalding Manuscript" and the Book of Mormon.
Oaks' response was that many of the comparisons were "insignificant" and "almost superficial." He dismissed them as being unimportant, arguing that they reflected general concepts which were typical of the day in which Joseph Smith lived.
I replied that I thought the precise ordering of the words in both texts seemed "more than coincidental." Oaks rejected that position, insisting that the phrases in question represented "common ideas" one could share "across culture and time."
Further, he argued, there was no doctrinal content in the parallels. He asked, "Where's the doctrine? You've only shown me these technical points."
I therefore mentioned that the doctrine of polygamy--which was expressly forbidden in the Book of Mormon unless specifically authorized by God--was also the same doctrine found in the "Spalding Manuscript"--namely, that the practice was forbidden unless divine permission was granted.
I also pointed out to Oaks the shared centrality between the Book of Mormon and the "Spalding Manuscript" in stories featuring a divine figure (Christ, in the Book of Mormon and Labanska, a great teacher in the "Spalding Manuscript").
I encouraged Oaks to read the "Spalding Manuscript" for himself. Oaks, however, was dismissive of Spalding's work and refused to take the offer seriously.
Oaks asked Mary Ann to demonstrate "another example" of "doctrinal evidence" for plagiarisms in Book of Mormon. Mary Ann turned to Moroni 10, where it speaks of gifts of the spirit (To one is given one gift; to someone else is given another, etc). Mary Ann pointed out to him that, verse for verse--comparing Moroni 10 to First Corinthians 12--the texts were almost exactly the same.
Oaks replied, "That's better," but refused to concede, adding, "Well, it's not word-for-word and it's not the whole chapter."
Mary Ann responded that--except for some minor variations, such as the phrase, repeated over and over, "and again"--it was, for all intents and purposes, word-for-word. She asked Oaks how he could explain that Moroni used the same language found in the King James version of the Bible, written hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon was recorded.
Oaks replied that he himself had had the same question while preparing a talk on gifts of the spirit, as outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. Oaks said he concluded that all three authors were "impressed by the Holy Ghost" to record their thoughts "in this particular manner and in these particular words."
Compare and contrast the above with Oaks' banquet speech to FARMS:
"In these remarks I will seek to use rational argument, but I will not rely on any proofs. I will approach the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon from the standpoint of faith and revelation.
"I maintain that the issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is basically a difference between those who rely exclusively on scholarship and those who rely on a combination of scholarship, faith, and revelation.
"Those who rely exclusively on scholarship reject revelation and fulfill Nephi's prophecy that in the last days men 'shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance' (2 Ne. 28:4). The practitioners of that approach typically focus on a limited number of issues, like geography or 'horses' or angelic delivery or nineteenth century language patterns. They ignore or gloss over the incredible complexity of the Book of Mormon record.
"Those who rely on scholarship, faith, and revelation are willing to look at the entire spectrum of issues, content as well as vocabulary, revelation as well as excavation."
--Oaks on Book of Mormon Doctrines That Are Not Supposedly the Product of Plagiarism, but of Divine Revelation
In our meeting with Oaks and Maxwell, Oaks offered me the following advice: "You ought to go through the Book of Mormon," he said, "and color in all the differences and emphasize the unique and special teachings of the Book of Mormon that don't have any similarities to other sources." (However, Mary Ann's point for being at the meeting in the first place, as she herself said, was not to talk about or debate differences between the Book of Mormon and Spalding texts; rather, she wanted to get answers regarding their similarities in areas of story lines, exact wording, etc).
Compare and contrast the above with Oaks' banquet speech to FARMS:
"Scholarship and physical proofs are worldly values. I understand their value, and I have had some experience in using them. Such techniques speak to many after the manner of their understanding.
"But there are other methods and values, too, and we must not be so committed to scholarship that we close our eyes and ears and hearts to what cannot be demonstrated by scholarship or defended according to physical proofs and intellectual reasoning. . . .
"I admire those scholars for whom scholarship does not exclude faith and revelation. It is part of my faith and experience that the Creator expects us to use the powers of reasoning he has placed within us, and that he also expects us to exercise our divine gift of faith and to cultivate our capacity to be taught by divine revelation.
"But these things do not come without seeking. Those who utilize scholarship and disparage faith and revelation should ponder the Savior's question: 'How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?' (John 5:44)."
--Oaks' Claim That God Has Not Yet Provided Final Proofs as to the Truthfulness of the Book of Mormon from our meeting with Oaks:
After Oaks had presented to us his defense of the Book of Mormon, Mary Ann again asked him and Maxwell how she should deal with the things she had found in her own Book of Mormon. At this point, Oaks (along with Maxwell) said that the jury was still out.
Compare and contrast the above with Oaks' banquet speech to FARMS:
"Another way of explaining the strength of the positive position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon is to point out that we who are its proponents are content with a standoff on this question. Honest investigators will conclude that there are so many evidences that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text that they cannot confidently resolve the question against its authenticity, despite some unanswered questions that seem to support the negative determination.
"In that circumstance, the proponents of the Book of Mormon can settle for a draw or a hung jury on the question of historicity and take a continuance until the controversy can be retried in another forum."
--Oaks on the Weight of Evidence For and Against the Book of Mormon
Oaks in his final assessment of evidentiary proof concerning the Book of Mormon, admitted to us that the arguments for and against the book were "equal," with neither side being able to prove whether the Book of Mormon was true or untrue. In the ultimate analysis, he (and Maxwell) told us, the Book of Mormon had to be accepted on faith.
I responded by telling them that I was attempting to examine both sides of the question and was not convinced that the pro-Book of Mormon side had the advantage. To the contrary, I told them that I was inclined to believe the advantage lay with the book's critics. I said that because I did not regard the evidence on the Book of Mormon to be equally balanced, I therefore did not believe I was obligated to accept it on faith. I also expressed the view that if, in fact, there was an evidentiary advantage to one side or the other, that should then allow for the person doing the investigating to make a decision as to Book of Mormon veracity--outside the realm of faith.
Oaks replied by again saying there was no evidence proving or disproving the Book of Mormon. He placed his right hand over his heart and said, "I get this knot, this warm feeling right here, and that is what I go on." Oaks told us that he had a conviction that the Book of Mormon was "true." He said that feeling of truthfulness came from a "personal witness."
Compare and contrast the above with Oaks' banquet speech to FARMS:
". . . [I]t is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Its authenticity depends, as it says, on a witness of the Holy Spirit. Our side will settle for a draw, but those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon cannot settle for a draw. They must try to disprove its historicity--or they seem to feel a necessity to do this--and in this they are unsuccessful because even the secular evidence, viewed in its entirety, is too complex for that. . . .
"Speaking for a moment as one whose profession is advocacy, I suggest that if one is willing to acknowledge the importance of faith and the reality of a realm beyond human understanding, the case for the Book of Mormon is the stronger case to argue. The case against the historicity of the Book of Mormon has to prove a negative. You don't prove a negative by prevailing on one debater's point or by establishing some subsidiary arguments."
--Oaks on FARMS' Efforts to Empirically Prove the Book of Mormon
Oaks acknowledged to us that FARMS sometimes gets "hyperactive" in trying to prove that the Book of Mormon is true. He said he becomes concerned when FARMS "stops making shields and starts turning out swords," because, he said, "you cannot prove the Book of Mormon out of the realm of faith." Accepting the Book of Mormon, Oaks said, was ultimately a matter of faith.
Compare and contrast the above with Oaks' banquet speech to FARMS:
"Brothers and Sisters, how grateful we are--all of us who rely on scholarship, faith, and revelation--for what you are doing. God bless the founders and the supporters and the workers of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. The work that you do is important, it is well-known, and it is appreciated."
--Oaks on the Behavior of Fellow Apostle Boyd K. Packer
Moving to other matters, Oaks' testimony (expressed to me in the second meeting) regarding Mormonism's apostles and prophets was both illuminating--and conditional.
He admitted to me not being impressed with the antics of certain fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve, notably his senior, Boyd K. Packer.
After it became public knowledge that Packer had improperly involved himself in the excommunication of Mormon dissident, Paul Toscano, Oaks, in referring to Packer, told me, "You can't stage manage a grizzly bear."
Oaks then lied on the record to the press about what he actually knew of Packer's inappropriate behavior and was forced to retract when caught.
--Oaks on When Not to Support the President of the Church
Oaks privately said that he would steadfastly stand by the President of the Church, with one notable exception:
Oaks said he would not defer to the President of the Church if the president were to come out and declare that the Book of Mormon was not true.
If that should happen, Oaks said he would look to the Quorum of the Twelve for a vote as to whether what the Church President had said about the Book of Mormon deserved support.
--Oaks on the Believability of LDS Prophet "Prophecies"
Oaks also did not seem all that certain with regard to the reliability of prophecies uttered by Mormon prophets.
He said that Church members should not be keeping track of which prophecies had been borne out and, further, that prophecies made by Mormon prophets were for private, rather than public, application.
Oaks downplayed the prophetic role of Mormon Church prophets by asserting that prophesying was only a minor responsibility of prophets. Their major role, he declared, was to testify of Jesus Christ.
Oaks further argued that the role of Mormon prophets had evolved over time.
He said, for instance, that the basic doctrines of Mormonism were revealed by Joseph Smith early on in the history of the Church.
Oaks noted that the more modern approach of Church governance has been, since the time of President Joseph F. Smith, to "beseech his counselors in the First Presidency to help him, to watch over him, so that they could together make the right decisions that God wanted them to make."
APOSTLE NEAL A. MAXWELL
When it came to testifying to his own unique apostolic conviction of Christ, Maxwell was just as as unimpressive as Oaks.
--Maxwell's Personal "Special Witness" Testimony
In answer to my question posed in my second meeting with Maxwell and Oaks--namely, "What personal spiritual experiences have you had which gave you your testimonies as special witness for Christ?"--Maxwell responded by hearkening back to his days as a boy, when he said he observed his father give a healing "priesthood blessing" to his sibling, whom Maxwell thought was dead.
As with Oaks, this was the totality of Maxwell's answer; again, a boiler plate testimony that I could have heard in any typical LDS sacrament meeting from any typically faithful Mormon.
Again, no account of any personal visitation, in the flesh, from God the Father or Jesus Christ.
Again, no telling of any "road to Damascus" story.
Again, no recounting of angelic visitations.
Again, no description of rushing winds or flames of fire.
Again, "no there there."
--Maxwell on the Book of Mormon
As with Oaks, Maxwell also seemed personally unsure as to the evidentiary proof for the Book of Mormon.
He said, for instance, that God would not provide proof of the Book of Mormon until the end--thereby indicating that such proof did not presently exist.
--Maxwell's Dependence on FARMS to Keep From Being Outflanked by Mormonism's Detractors
Maxwell also said that one of the purposes of FARMS was to prevent the General Authorities from being outflanked by the Church's critics.
In fact, in my second meeting with him and Oaks, Maxwell made an attempt to defend the Book of Abraham's supposed historicity by means of a fax that he requested be sent to him by FARMS from its BYU address, which Maxwell gave to me for reference.
--Maxwell on Following the Prophet
As to how Maxwell personally regarded the pronouncements of president of the Church, he said it was his duty to be loyal to the Church president.
Maxwell added, however, that he did not agree with everything President Ezra Taft Benson had to say on political matters.
This was a particularly interesting admission, given that ETB had earlier (albeit as an apostle) publicly declared that God's prophets could speak authoritatively on all matters, including those of a political nature. (See Ezra Taft Benson's "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet," Fundamental #7, at: http://www.lds-mormon.com/fourteen.shtml)
--Maxwell on the Reliability of Mormon Prophet "Prophecies"
Maxwell (like Oaks) warned against keeping "box scores" when it came to tallying which prophecies uttered by Mormon prophets turned out to be turned--and which ones turned out to be false.
He maintained that Mormon prophets spoke as prophets only when they were acting as prophets--but that, for instance, the teachings about people living on the moon attributed to Joseph Smith were probably misreported.
--Maxwell on How the Mormon Church Actually Receives "Revelation" from God
Maxwell also explained how revelation for the Mormon Church was actually received.
He said that Joseph Smith's role as unilaterally revealing doctrine in behalf of the LDS Church was a practice not continued by subsequent Mormon prophets.
Maxwell claimed there are four levels of fundamental Church doctrine:
(1) doctrines revealed by the prophet speaking alone;
(2) doctrines revealed by the prophet in conjunction with his First Presidency counselors;
(3) doctrines revealed in First Presidency statements, with the words of the First Presidency assuming "a special status;" and
(4) doctrines revealed by official declaration.
--Maxwell on How to Tell if the Mormon Prophet Is or Is Not Divinely Inspired
Maxwell (along with Oaks) asserted that declarataions by president of the Mormon Church must be in compliance with the Standard Works of the Church in order to be accepted as scripture.
Maxwell (and Oaks) agreed that when Brigham Young taught what Oaks called the "false" doctrine of Adam-God, it was because he was a young prophet who was in need of the help of some good counselors.
PRESIDENT EZRA TAFT BENSON
My grandfather's testimony of Mormonism, as expressed to me repeatedly over the years in personal discussions and correspondence, was rooted in the following two basic beliefs:
--ETB on the Book of Mormon
My grandfather fervently believed that the Book of Mormon was the revealed word of God and an actual historical document. From what I was able to observe, he never, for a moment, questioned its authenticity.
That said, however, I never personally heard or saw him analyze or critique the Book of Mormon in any real depth on issues relating to its alleged historicity, authenticity or reliability.
In private, his feelings about the Book of Mormon were not as resounding or convincing as they were when he was behind the pulpit.
For instance, he did admit to me, one-on-one, that even though he insisted the LDS Church was not neutral on the question of organic evolution, one could argue for or against it from the same Mormon scriptures.
In other words, for all his publicly-expressed confidence in the Book of Mormon, in this particular instance he was not nearly as emphatic or confident in private as he appeared in public about the surety of LDS scripture.
Nevertheless, his hesitancy on that question was not enough to shake his unbending faith in the authenticity of the gold plates.
To my grandfather, they were without question the translated word of God, serving as a pillar of unshakeable, personal, testimonial faith.
Politically speaking, he also told me that ranking second only to revealed Mormon scripture in battling what he called godless Communism were the publications of the John Birch Society--which he also told me via personal correspondence every American should have access to.
--ETB on Obeying the Commands of Mormonism's Ranking Leadership
My grandfather unquestioningly believed and simply accepted that the highest leaders of the Church--most notably, the LDS President and the First Presidency counselors, together with the Quorum of the Twelve--were inspired by God in leading the affairs of the Mormon Church.
He insisted that all must follow the Brethren devoutly--and without skepticism.
For example, when he called me one cold, wintry day in Provo, Utah (at the behest of my distraught mother) to tell me to break off my engagement, he introduced himself to me on the phone by saying, "Stephen, I'm not calling as your grandfather, but as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve."
He did, however, privately acknowledge to me that these Church leaders were human, that they made mistakes, that they did not always agree among themselves on doctrinal matters (such as on the official Church position on organic evolution) and that some matters about which they disagreed among themselves (again, such as with organic evolution) were not necessary to one's eternal salvation.
Still, he told me that obedience to the General Authorities--even if what they claimed to be true was, in fact, wrong--constituted a fundamental principle of the Gospel.
He assured me that God would bless those who followed the Brethren, even when the Brethren were in error.
My grandfather also told me that he did not want me to publish anything that would undermine faith or testimony in the leaders of the Mormon Church. (This advice he gave me as I was doing a BYU undergraduate research paper at BYU on the LDS Church's official position on organic evolution).
In short, he was more committed to the idea that obedience trumped truth than the other way around.
--ETB on His Personal Revelatory Encounters with Deity
My grandfather never claimed to me (or anyone else of whom I was aware) that he had personally seen God, Jesus Christ or other divine beings.
He did, however, emotionally inform me that he had had an experience in the Salt Lake temple (regarding the announcement by President Kimball on Blacks and the priesthood) that was too sacred to talk about.
He told me that it was one of the most "spiritual" experiences of his life but that he would not delve into it at all, even though I requested that he do so.
He also informed those in attendance at a Benson family reunion in Nauvoo, Illinois, that there were other matters which he was not at liberty to discuss, either.
What those were, he never did say.
My grandfather was never specific with me in revealing any particular personal experiences of his that formed the basis for his testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism--other than to bear witness to knowing that truth of LDS claims through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
--Ezra Taft Benson's "Prophetic" Plagiarisms
For all my grandfather's professed belief in Mormon prophets receiving modern revelation from God, his sermonizing actually contained significant, unattributed lifting of material (both in terms of wording and concept)
from non-Mormon Christian sources.
In LDS circles, one of the most beloved sermons attributed to the then-Mormn Church president Ezra Taft Benson is the one entitled, "Beware of Pride" (which was actually read on 1 April 1989, at the Saturday morning session of the 159th semi-annual General Conference, not by my grandfather, but by First Presidency counselor Gordon B. Hinckley, who delivered it in his ailing behalf).
This talk by my grandfather has been described by LDS devotees as "[p}erhaps the best remembered of all Ezra Taft Benson's talks . . . [Church] [m]embers from all over the political spectrum love and agree with him here. This talk is . . . loved."
Moreover, in a glowing obituary of my grandfather authored by his oldest son Reed, the sermon was mentioned as follows:
"Continuing to help set the Church in order and perfect the Saints, he delivered another landmark address entitled 'Beware of Pride' . . ."
Unfortunately, much of ETB's "Pride" sermon was a blatant exercise in plagiarism, extracted from the writings of Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, as found in Lewis' work, "Mere Christianity," under the chapter heading, “The Great Sin” (C.S. Lews, "Mere Christianity," revised and enlarged [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952]).
Not only was my grandfather's sermon delivered by someone else, persuasive evidence has surfaced that a person other than Ezra Taft Benson actually researched and wrote the talk.
That person was Reed Benson's wife.
First, a line-by-line comparison of the text of both documents provides clear and convincing evidence that a major source source for ETB's talk on pride was, in fact, the earlier work of Lewis.
Examples of these plagiarisms are listed below, by category.
*Pride is the Ultimate Vice*
"The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride." (p. 109)
"Pride is the universal sin, the great vice."
*The Competitive Nature of Pride*
"Pride is essentially competitive--is competitive by is very nature . . .” (p. 109)
". . . Pride is essentially competitive in a way that other vices are not." (p. 110)
"Pride is competitive by its very nature." (p. 110)
“Once the element of competition has gone, pride is gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.” (p. 110)
"A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." (p.111)
"Pride is essentially competitive in nature. . . .
”Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled."
*The Proud See Themselves Being Above Others*
“When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom.” (p. 112)
“Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us.”
“There is, however, a more common ailment among us and that is pride from the bottom looking up."
*Pride Equals Enmity*
"Pride always means enmity--it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God." (p.111)
"The central feature of pride is enmity--enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowman."
“Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers.”
“Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen.”
*Pride and Self-Value*
"You value other people enough to want them to look at you." (p. 112)
"The proud depend upon the world to tell them whether they have value or not."
*Pride vs. Humility*
"The virtue opposite to it [pride], in Christian morals, is called Humility." (p. 109)
“ . . . if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightfully humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which had made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible . . .” (p. 114)
"The antidote for pride is humility . . . "
“Choose to be humble. God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.”
*Pride Not Admitted in Self*
"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves." (pp. 108-09)
"Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves."
Only once in ETB's sermon was proper credit given to C.S. Lewis as a source:
"The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: 'Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. . . . It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone' ("Mere Christianity" [New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109-10)."
Now, as to the individual who actually researched and wrote Ezra Taft Benson’s “Beware of Pride” sermon.
Several years ago, Mary Ann and I visited with May Benson, wife of Reed Benson (Ezra Taft Benson’s oldest child), in their home in Provo, Utah, during which time the subject of pride and my grandfather’s sermon on the matter was a focus of conversation.
The first occasion was prior to the public delivery of Ezra Taft Benson’s sermon by Gordon B. Hinckley in the April 1989 General Conference and the second visit took place after the speech.
May told us that she had very strong feelings about the subject of pride. She was especially offended and concerned with what she regarded as the Benson family's own problems with pride.
(In fact, May had gotten up in disgust and walked out of a wedding breakfast for one of my sisters, Meg, when one of the daughters of Ezra Taft Benson, Beverly Benson Parker, as she was listening to the father of the groom, Cap Ferry, make some remarks to the assembled, leaned over and whispered to others at the table, "Well, we know which family was blessed with the spirituality").
May also said she had put together quite a few thoughts on the subject of pride that she hoped someday to compile and publish in a book.
However, after my grandfather’s pride sermon was delivered, May said that she no longer felt it necessary to publish her hoped-for book. Why? Because, she indicated, her husband Reed had spoken with Ezra Taft Benson about her research on the topic.
May was clearly indicating to us that her information and study efforts had been used in crafting my grandfather’s sermon on pride.
However, the true extent of May Benson's involvement in that effort was not shared with us by her and did not become evident until some time later.
Reliable sources in Provo subsequently informed me of rumors that May herself may have worked on Ezra Taft Benson’s sermon.
This I was able to confirm conclusively from a very credible source inside the Benson family who knows May quite well, who was directly familiar with the situation and who wishes to remain anonymous.
The source told me in a face-to-face meeting that May Benson, daughter-in-law of Ezra Taft Benson through marriage to his son Reed, traveled to St. George, Utah, where over a period of several weeks “she wrote his talk.”
It appears that those responsible for the production and delivery of Ezra Taft Benson's "Beware of Pride" sermon were themselves too prideful to acknowlege that:
--(1) the sermon was largely plagiarized from the earlier works of a noted Christian writer; and
--(2) the sermon was actually ghost-written by a woman doing research on the talk for an uninspired Mormon "prophet."
To borrow from an old Mormon hymn, praise to the man who depends on a woman.
APOSTLE BRUCE R. McCONKIE
In a lengthy face-to-face conversation I had with McConkie at his home while doing a BYU research paper on the official Mormon Church position on the subject of organic evolution, McConkie strongly emphasized what was an obvious and fundamental basis for his belief in the truthfulness of the Mormon Church.
--McConkie's Criticism of Sitting Mormon Church Presidents as Being in Uninspired Opposition to the Standard Works
It was McConkie's assertion to me that the doctrinal foundation of Mormonism were that the Standard Works of the Church, which he argued served as the ultimate authority in determining LDS doctrinal truth--even more so than the words of the so-called "living prophets."
McConkie said that the canonized LDS scriptures superceded anything that living Presidents of the Church had declared, or might declare.
He said that the Standard Works served as the final test--the pre-eminent standard of measurement--in ascertaining the validity of any claim made by Mormon Church leaders, including teachings of both living and dead presidents of the Church.
Otherwise, McConkie told me, these scriptures would not be known as the "Standard" Works.
In making this claim, McConkie specifically criticized in my presence two LDS Church presidents whom he said had made uninspired pronouncements while serving as heads of the Church.
Their pronouncements were false, he argued, because what they said was clearly contradicted by the LDS Standard Works.
The first was President Brigham Young, for his teachings on the Adam-God doctrine (specifically, that Adam, of Adam and Eve fame, was actually our Heavenly Father and had sired Jesus Christ through sexual intercourse with Mary).
On this subject, McConkie admitted to me that one could quote Young against himself.
The second Mormon Church head to utter false doctrine in that capacity was, McConkie told me, President David O. McKay.
McConkie said that McKay delivered untruths to BYU students in a campus oration, in which he advised them to study the theory of organic evolution and the geologic history pointing to an ancient earth.
McKay told the students that organic evolution was a beautiful theory, as long as God was not divorced from it, and that the Earth was, in fact, millions of years old.
McConkie informed me that these claims of McKay had not been inspired by the Holy Ghost.
McConkie did not admit to having himself made any doctrinal errors himself. In this area, his testimony seemed to rest on his own sense of doctrinal infallibility.
In fact, McConkie told me that his emphatic claim (published in the first edition of his book "Mormon Doctrine" but edited out of its second edition) that the Roman Catholic Church was the Church of the Devil was true.
When I asked him to explain its deletion from the books later edition, McConkie insisted that it was removed not because it was not true but because it was too difficult for people to accept.
--McConkie's "Prophetic" Plagiarisms
Years after personally meeting with McConkie, I discovered through researching McConkie's own sermonized writings that he, too, had plagiarized non-Mormon sources without attribution for General Conference remarks.
In his case, McConkie relied on an unknown Arab in donning a "divinely inspired" disguise.
Faithful Mormons took the hook.
For example, in eulogizing the by-then-dead McConkie at a BYU fireside, then-member of the First Quorum of the Seventy John K. Carmack offered this glowing tribute to McConkie, comparing the Mormon Church to caravan moving steadily advancing into eternal realms of glory:
” . . . [A]s an expression of his confidence in the Church, and as a seer whose words light the pathway we must travel as we endure to the end of that path, Elder McConkie saw the road ahead and the kingdom as a moving caravan triumphantly moving to its destiny.”
Carmack was borrowing his in-memorium caravan image from an earlier McConkie sermon entitled “The Caravan Moves On.”
Come to find out, McConkie himself had lifted the caravan metaphor (without attribution) from an old Arab proverb.
McConkie’s sermon (which appeared in the November 1984 issue of the Ensign) likened critics of the Mormon Church to dogs yapping at the heels of the caravan of truth as it rolled ahead, undaunted and undeterred by apostate hounds nipping at its rear.
Declared McConkie in solemn, stolen tones:
”The Church is like a great caravan--organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of tens and captains of hundreds all in place.
”What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way?
"The caravan moves on.
”Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise.
"The caravan moves on.
”Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, and rivers to ford? Such is life in this fallen sphere.
"The caravan moves on.
”Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest.
"Thank God that the caravan moves on!
”In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.”
McConkie’s celestial caravan imagery was purloined from what has proven to be a popular ancient Arab proverb. In historical practice, the caravan line has been used to illustrate all kinds of points of view, McConkie’s anti-dog doctrine being just one of them.
The utility of this well-known Arab proverb was illustrated when Russian President Vladimir Putin was mentioned in a news article as "recit[ing] a long list of Russia's economic accomplishments during his presidency, dismissing foreign critics of Russia's worthiness for Group of Eight membership with a proverb: ‘The dog keeps barking, but the caravan moves on.’"
But far from McConkie to give thanks to some lowly, brown-skinned Arab, although he's not named in history as the proverb's originator:
Old myths about supposedly inspired Mormon leader utterances die hard. (As they say, never let the facts get in the way of a good prophecy).
In a talk delivered at a Brigham Young University-Idaho devotional entitled “Obedience to the Commandments of the Lord,” Kim B. Clark soberly to make a nonsensical point.
" . . . I would like to marry Nephi’s metaphor of the iron rod and the strait and narrow path to another image given us by another prophet, seer, and revelator in our day. I think in so doing we may see new dimensions of the journey and gain deeper understanding of what we must do to obtain eternal life.
"The metaphor I have in mind was given to us by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in a talk he gave in General Conference in the fall of 1984.
"Let’s listen to Elder McConkie:
"'The Church is like a great caravan--organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of ten and captains of hundreds in place.
"‘What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way?
"The caravan moves on.
"'Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise.
"'The caravan moves on.
"'Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, rivers to ford? Such is life in the fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.
“'Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest.
"'Thank God that the caravan moves on!'”
Sorry to burst the testimonial bubble of the Mormon faithful, but McConkie did not give them that inspiring metaphor.
An anonymous Arab--one long lost to history--did.
Time to move on.
To borrow from Islamic scripture, "There is no God but Allah and McConkie's not his prophet."
PRESIDENT SPENCER W. KIMBALL
During the course of my BYU research paper on the official LDS stand regarding organic evolution, I repeatedly corresponded with Kimball, who was then Mormon Church President.
It proved to largely be an exercise in futility.
--Kimball's Inability and Unwillingness to Give Direct Answers to Gospel Questions on Organic Evolution
Throughout the course of our exchanges, I had a difficult and increasingly frustrating time obtaining direct and clear answers from him on the subject, even though I made specific and detailed inquiries.
For instance, on the question of previous First Presidency statements on the physical origins of humankind, Kimball informed me in personal correspondence that he was not familiar with the First Presidency statements I had cited in my initial correspondence with him and requested that I mail them to him, which I did.
Clearly, whatever confidence Kimball had in the truthfulness of Mormonism was not always based on official Mormon positions enunciated by the Presidents of the Church, some of which he admitted to me he knew nothing.
However, in contradicting Kimball for whom he worked, Secretary to the Office of the First Presidency Arthur C. Haycock later told me in a phone conversation that Kimball was incorrect in confessing to me ignorance about the First Presidency statements he had asked me to send him.
In a discussion from his Church office in Salt Lake City, Haycock informed me that Kimball was, in fact, aware of those official First Presidency statements--but that he had forgotten he was aware of them.
When I asked Haycock for permission to reproduce Kimball’s correspondence to me in a BYU undergraduate research paper I was doing on the subject, Haycock said I could--as long as I made it clear in my paper that the interpretations reached about Kimball's correspondence with me were my own.
Haycock did not offer me Kimball’s explanatons of his owncorrespondence with me, assuming Kimball had any to give.
On the subject of organic evolution and faith, the only direction Kimball gave me was to ask if I had Henry Eyring's book, "Faith of a Scientist," in which Eyring asserted that science and religion both served as tools in the search for truth: the former in helping people avoid myth; and the latter in directing people toward God.
When I told Kimball that I had read Eyring's book (a copy of which had been given to me by my grandfather) and asked him to provide me with his own views on it, Kimball remained silent.
Over the course of several months I had doggedly pressed Kimball for answers but received nothing of substance from him.
Eventually, the First Presidency (consisting of Kimball and his two counselors, N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney) signed and sent a letter to my Arizona bishop, directing him to answer my questions in their behalf.
To assist the bishop in that effort, Kimball, Tanner and Romney included a 1909 statement from the First Presidency of Joseph F. Smith on the subject of organic evolution--a statement that Kimball had told me in his earlier correspondence with me that he was not familiar with and which had I ended up sending to him, at his request.
Although they included the 1909 statement for use by my bishop in explaining to me the official Church position on organic evolution to me, the Kimball First Presidency did not tell my bishop what that statement meant.
Despite Kimball's, Tanner's and Romney's directive to my bishop to answer my questions on the official Church stance on organic evolution, the bishop felt unqualified to do so.
Therefore, the bishop advised me to write Kimball one more time, requesting further clarification on the subject.
I did so but Kimball never answered back.
APOSTLE MARK E. PETERSEN
In conducting my research on the question of the official Mormon Church position on organic evolution, I also corresponded with Petersen.
--Petersen's Admission That He Anonymously Wrote 'Church News' Editorials and That They Were Only His Opinion
Petersen evidenced in personal correspondence with me a lack of firm belief in the seemingly official pronouncements of even unsigned editorials in the official LDS publication, the "Church News."
In pressing him, Petersen admitted to me the following:
*The unsigned "Church News" editorials written on the subject of organic evolution had actually been authored by him.
*These editorials represented his personal opinion only.
*Official statements on Church doctrine came soley from signed First Presidency statements.
--Peterson's Failure to Explain Official Mormon Church Positions
Petersen then refused to tell me, even though I specifically asked him to so, what the official Mormon Church position was on the topic of organic evolution.
PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN TO EXPOSE THE GENERAL AUTHORITY TESTIMONIAL PARADE CHARADE
The above statements by Mormonism's supposed prophets, seers and revelators amply speak for themselves.
Based upon their own admissions and practices, these men do not have persuasive, convincing or complete knowledge concerning the truthfulness of Mormon doctrine or scripture.
Nor do they have unswerving confidence in the ability of Mormon prophets, including the President of the Church, to speak divine truth.
The LDS Church is a demonstrable fraud--rooted in myths perpetrated by its leaders in public, confessed by them in private and exposed by their own sermons written for consumption by the believing Mormon masses.
|Subject:||Thank You Steve Benson!|
|Date:||Feb 10 00:54|
|Author:||No Longer a Believer|
|I appreciate that post. I read the whole thing with
You know, the Book of Abraham has a very similar problem to what you mentioned with the Book of Mormon, which is, isn't it curious that Abraham penned (or etched or however they wrote back then) a version of the creation story that essentially lifted from the Genesis account supposedly written by Moses? Problem is, scholarship suggests that the Genesis creation story is a fusion of accounts written hundreds of years after Moses and over a thousand years after Abraham. Anyways...
Again, thank you Steve for that wonderful post. Peace out.
|Subject:||By the Way...(again, for Steve)|
|Date:||Feb 10 01:04|
|Author:||No Longer a Believer|
|I took a Book of Mormon class from your Uncle Reed
during the 1991-1992 school year, both semesters I think, so I was
particularly interested to hear that his wife was responsible for the Pride
talk, because he reference it all the time!!
What is Reed doing these days?
|Subject:||He's retired from BYU and living in Provo. nt|
|Date:||Feb 10 01:05|
|Subject:||Was in May and Reed's Riverbottoms Ward and I remember|
|Date:||Feb 10 01:55|
|people talking about how May was writing a book about pride. BTW intensely interesting post.|
|Subject:||The Trout in the Milk|
|Date:||Feb 10 04:25|
> Oaks told Mary Ann, "Well, you know, as you've thumbed through your
book, it only appears to me that 5% of your book has been marked, so I would
say don't throw out the 95% because of the 5%. Don't take the 5% that you
have serious questions about and cast out the 95% that is unexplained or, as
Steve said, divinely inspired." (In point of fact, I did not tell Oaks that
I felt 95% of the Book of Mormon was divinely inspired, despite his claim to
> He continued, "It's like being married to our wives. I'm sure there's more than 5% of me that my wife finds disagreement with, but she puts up with it anyway. It's kind of like being married to the Book of Mormon. Don't let your doubts keep you out of the mainstream."
I can imagine Oaks as a defense attorney: "But consider all the guns that do NOT have my clients fingerprints on them."
"But Officer, what about all the red lights that I DIDN'T run?"
"Gee, Honey, what about all the women that I DIDN'T have affairs with."
There's a quote from Henry David Thoreau: "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk." I assume Oaks would draw attention to the fact that the trout takes up only 5% of the milk container.