long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dialogue on Mormonism No. 3

In July 1841, the Times and Seasons (the Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo) published "Dialogue on Mormonism No. 1" (available here) and "Dialogue on Mormonism No. II" (available here). These are discussions of Mormonism in a question-and-answer format. They are fictional representations of a conversation between people investigating the Church. The second one adds a missionary to the conversation.

Although the Dialogues are a little dated, it is interesting to see how some of the themes and questions remain relevant today, 175 years later.

At the end of this post I'll reproduce the two Dialogues in full. First, though, I'm posting an updated Dialogue that represents what takes place regularly today.


Dialogue On Mormonism.
No 3 (2016)

Between Mr. Mathews & Mr. Roberts.

Mr. M. Good morning Mr. R.

Mr. R. You won't believe this, but I met with some of your Mormon missionaries last night.

Mr. M. Really?

Mr. R. My wife set it up without telling me. Some friend at her work invited us over.

Mr. M. What did you think?

Mr. R. My wife was impressed. Taking time out of college like that...

Mr. M. What about you?

Mr. R. I don't see the point. I mean, we're already Christian.

Mr. M. But this is another testament of Jesus Christ.

Mr. R.  I get that, but you can't compare the Bible to the Book of Mormon.

Mr. M. They both talk about Christ, just on different continents.

Mr. R. Look, I'll be honest with you. We had a nice time. The missionaries were sincere, I don't doubt that. But while they were talking, a million arguments came to mind. I didn't want to be rude, but I asked a simple question they couldn't answer. After that, I kind of tuned out.

Mr. M. What question?

Mr. R. They said Jesus visited the people after his resurrection. The Bible tells us exactly where Jesus showed himself to his disciples. That's kind of important. I just wanted to know where Jesus appeared to these other people, supposedly the other lost sheep.

Mr. M. What did they say?

Mr. R. They said they didn't know. Just somewhere in the Americas. They opened a copy of the Book of Mormon and showed me illustrations in the front. There was a guy standing on a huge stone wall that looked like a European castle. And then there's a painting of Jesus visiting people in Mayan ruins. I asked if they were saying Jesus appeared to the Mayans. They said they guessed so. Is that right? You guys think Jesus visited the Mayans?

Mr. M. I guess so. That's what I've always been taught. I don't know if it was Mayans or Incas or Aztecs, but somewhere in Central America.

Mr. R. But the missionaries first said Joseph Smith found the gold plates in New York.

Mr. M. That's right.

Mr. R. That makes no sense. On the way home, my wife asked what I thought. I told her it's a strange story. I mean, it would be cool if Jesus visited people around the world after he was resurrected, but just because it sounds good doesn't mean it happened. When we got home, we googled it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you Mormons have no idea where these people lived. You say there was a big civilization of people living the law of Moses, and they destroyed themselves in huge battles, but you have no idea where?

Mr. M. I don't know. I always assumed they lived in Central America somewhere.

Mr. R. That's what the missionaries said, too, but there are lots of Christian sites that say you've changed your mind. Not you, but your Church. First, these wars ended in New York. Now, they ended in Mexico. You just admitted you don't know, just like the missionaries didn't know. I don't see how you can expect me to believe something that you don't know yourself.

Mr. M. We believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, so it doesn't really matter where it took place.We take it on faith.

Mr. R. My wife and I decided that we already have faith, based on a testament of Jesus that is reliable. We know where Jesus lived and where he died and was resurrected. Maybe he visited people in other places, like you say, but we can't change our entire lives just because you say so. We need evidence, at least as good as the Bible.

Mr. M. I'm sure there is evidence. There are lots of books about this. I can get some.

Mr. R. Have you read them?

Mr. M. Some of them, I think.

Mr. R. But you can't answer my question. That's exactly what the Christian sites said would happen. Joseph Smith and the witnesses said these people lived in New York and the Midwest, but now your scholars are saying Joseph Smith and the witnesses were wrong.

Mr. M. I don't think that's right. There is a lot of anti-Mormon stuff on the Internet.

Mr. R. Look, we've been friends a long time. I'm not anti-Mormon in any way and I don't want this to affect our friendship. I don't care what anyone believes so long as they are good people. But this isn't anti-Mormon propaganda. These are simple facts. I'm not trying to change your mind about your religion, but you ought to google this yourself. Just so you know what people like us find.

Mr. M. I appreciate that. I think I will. So are you going to see the missionaries again?

Mr. R. My wife is calling them today to cancel the next appointment.

Dialogue On Mormonism.
No 1 (1841)
Between Mr. Mathews & Mr. Roberts.

Mr. M. Good morning Mr. R. Did you go to hear the Mormon preach last evening?

Mr. R. No, indeed I did not, I think it below my notice to listen to those babblers.

Mr. M. Mr. R., do you call them babblers and think so meanly of them? I'm sure I heard nothing objectionable in the discourse last evening.

Mr. R. Why! have you not heard the reports which are in circulation respecting them?

Mr. M. Yes, I have heard a great many stories about this people, but some of them were so extravagant and carried their own refutation on the face of them, that I thought I would hear both sides of the question.

Mr. R. Well, for my part, I am astonished that any respectable person should give ear to them. Such imposters [impostors] should be discarded.

Mr. M. Probably, you may have been mis-informed, and have heard reports which have no foundation in truth. I think if you were properly informed on the subject, you would not feel so inimical to them. You know what the scriptures say "Prove all things and hold fast that which is good," and you know that public opinion is not always a proper standard for us to judge by, if it were so, our Savior would not have been crucified by the Jews, nor would the apostles have had to flee from one city to another, and be brought before magistrates and rulers.

Mr. R. Well, well Mr. M., that is good reasoning enough; but the idea of walking on the water, their pretensions of raising the dead, and other extravagant notions, are so absurd and ridiculous that I wonder any men of common sense should join them.

Mr. M. I have heard such stories, but when I talk with them on the subject, I find that they make no such pretensions, but speak very rationally, and I assure you they argue very logically on the scriptures.

Mr. R. Why! do you mean to say, that they believe any thing of our bible? Dont [Don't] you know that they have discarded our scriptures and have got a bible of their own?

Mr. M. Why sir, the preacher last evening confined himself exclusively to the scriptures of the old and new testament, and proved the doctrines he advanced from the same. I, afterwards, had some conversation with him, and made some enquiries [inquiries] respecting the Mormon bible as it is termed, and he very freely and candidly answered my enquires [inquiries], and said that the "Book of Mormon," was a record of the aborigines of this continent,
(page 456)

which had been preserved on plates, and handed down from generation to generation, until, on account of the wickedness of the people, they were hid up; and that Joseph Smith was informed by a heavenly messenger where those plates were-was instructed to obtain, and power was given him to translate them. I have not yet had time to examine the book, but I shall certainly read it, and then, afterwards, I shall judge; but they certainly beleive [believe] our bible Mr. R.

Mr. R. Mr. M., this is strange news. Why how can people get up such wonderful stories? There must be some foundation for them. Again, you know that the Rev. Mr. H. and other very worthy ministers, who are eminent for their piety and learning, speak hard things against them, and warn their people against receiving them into their houses, and not to countenance such redegadoes [renegades].

Mr. M. I am aware that this is the fact, and I am sorry that the preachers should have no better weapons to use than to publish the reports which they have done. If Mormonism is a deception why do they not argue the subject like men and christians? If the doctrines they teach are so monstrous, why do not the ministers of the different denominations, expose them and prove them so from the scripture? Such a course would be far more honorable than retailing slanderous reports.

Mr. R. But do the Mormons wish to have their religion investigated? Do they not assume a high dictatorial bearing, and refuse to answer any questions; but say, that if reason and scripture come in contact with their doctrines, they do not care, but assert, that they know that there doctrines are true?

Mr. M. Such have been the reports; but when the preacher had got through his discourse last evening, he said, that inasmuch as there were many reports in circulation respecting their church, and the doctrines they advanced, he would give an opportunity for any one to ask any questions on the subject, and, if any one had any objections to urge against the doctrines he had advanced, they were at liberty to do so.

Mr. R. Did any one make any objections?

Mr. M. No sir. The doctrines he advanced were elucidated with so much clearness, and proof upon every point he advanced was so abundant, that I saw no possibility of making any. Some questions were asked respecting the book of Mormon which were answered very satisfactory, and then the meeting separated. I remained some time longer and conversed with him on the various subjects he had advanced and found him very communicative indeed, and seemed to take considerable pleasure in giving information respecting their faith and doctrine. I wish you had been there Mr. M. [R ?] I think you would have a better opinion of these people if you could once hear them preach.

Mr. R. I probably might, but I do not think I should. I can never have a great opinion of any people who will condemn the whole world, and say "The temple of the Lord are we, and heathens all beside."-No, Mr. M. they cannot catch old birds with chaff. I should be sorry to indulge in prejudice against any sect; neither would I persecute any man for his religious opinion. But, really Mr. M., this Mormon doctrine is monstrous.

Mr. M. I have ever considered you a liberal minded person, and I really do think, that if you were to hear them preach once, you would think differently of them to what you do now; or, if you were to converse with them on the subject. I invited the preacher to come and spend the afternoon at my house, to converse with him more fully on these subjects; I should be very much pleased indeed, if you and Mrs. R., could make it convenient to come over, and chat with us awhile. I believe you will find the preacher a gentleman, very affable; and probably we may both hear some thing that may tend to our benefit.

Mr. R. I am obliged to you for your kind invitation and good feelings, probably I shall comply with your request; I shall go home and see if it will be convenient for Mrs. R. to accompany me.-However there is one privilege I wish to have, and that is, if I find the preacher garbling the scriptures, or advancing any erroneous notions, I want to expose him fully and treat him as he may deserve.

Mr. M. I am not afraid of your overstepping the bounds of a gentleman.-Good morning Mr. R.

Mr. R. Good morning.


Dialogue on Mormonism. II (1841)
Book of Mormon.
Between Mr. Mathews, Mr. Roberts, and Elder Pierce.

Mr. M. I am glad to see you and Mrs. R., I was ready to think that you were not coming this evening.

Mr. R. Indeed Mr. M. I must say, I felt no very great desire to come, but as I had given you reasons to expect my company, I thought you would think me too much predjudiced [prejudiced] against your favorite doctrine of Mormonism, if I staid [stayed] away. It was not so with Mrs. R. she no sooner heard of a Mormon preacher being at your house, than she made every preparation to come. You are aware that women are somewhat curious.

Mr. M. I am aware that is their prevailing characteristic; indeed I think we all ought to have curiosity enough to induce us to listen to truth. Elder P. had just commenced to give me an account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, I suppose you are curious enough Mr. R. to listen to his statement.

Mr. R. This was the object of our visit. I shall be pleased to hear Elder P. proceed.

Elder P. The subject I was speaking upon was the much abused Book of Mormon, or as it is termed, by way of ridicule, the Mormon bible. Their being many foolish and extravagant stories afloat respecting it, I always deem it important to correct the public mind on this subject, before I proceed to any other item of doctrine in our religion. One impression that has gone abroad, is, that we put it in the stead of the Bible, the scriptures of the old and new testament. I presume you have heard it represented so.

Mr. R. Certainly I have, by several individuals, and I must say that I felt surprized [surprised] when Mr. M. told me this morning that such was not the case.

Mr. M. This has been the received opinion of this neighborhood, and is yet by some, for when I told Deacon Jones last evening that it was an erroneous idea we had imbibed, he plainly told me he knew better, and would not listen to any argument on the subject.

Elder P. Well gentlemen, I will endeavor to inform you what the Book of Mormon purports to be and then you can judge for yourselves. The Book of Mormon is a record of the aborigines of this continent, (America,) which was engraven on plates of precious metal, and handed down from father to son, from generation to generation. It gives an account of the first settlement of this land by the seed of Israel in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, some time before the Babylonish captivity. While in Jerusalem
(page 472)

during the decline of the Jewish polity, the Lord appeared to a man of the name of Lehi, and commanded him to take his family and journey into the wilderness, and also informed him of the destructions which should come upon the Jewish nation. Lehi obedient to the heavenly command, took his household and journeyed in the wilderness for some considerable time, subject to hunger and many privations, till at length they came to the borders of the sea, where they were instructed to build them a ship, and launch forth upon the mighty ocean. Having got every thing prepared, they did so, and were carried forward upon the waters for a long time, until, at length they arrived on this western continent: and after returning thanks to the Almighty for his protection and great deliverance, they engaged in cultivating the soil, and were prospered exceedingly upon the land and became very numerous indeed.

Mr. M. You will observe by this account Mr. R. that this people who landed here were Jews, this you know agrees with the idea, which many learned men have had, that the Indians are descendants of the Jews.

Mr. R. I am aware that this idea is generally entertained among the learned.

Mr. M. Pardon this interruption Elder P.

Elder P. I shall be pleased for you to make any remarks or ask any questions on any subject as I go along.
After their settlement here, part of the family being righteous, and part wicked and rebellious, they had considerable difficulty and strife, until at length the Lamanites, the wicked portion of the family, were smitten with a skin of blackness and became an idle and filthy people.
It also gives an account of their wars-the reign of their Kings and Judges-the prophesies of righteous and holy men who were among them, several of which have been fulfilled since the records have been found-their skill in architecture-their faith and knowledge of the truths of the gospel-the rending of the rocks on this land at the crucifixion of Jesus-and then gives a very interesting account of our Savior's appearing to the people on this continent after his resurrection at Jerusalem, agreeable to the saying of his, "I have other sheep which are not of this fold, them also, must I bring in"-his teachings to the people-his choosing apostles and establishing his kingdom after the same pattern he did on the old continent.

Mr. R. This is certainly new to me, but there is one very serious objection in the way, which I must have removed before I can believe the Book; and that is, if Christ established his church and kingdom on this continent how happens it that the Indians have no tradition of the fact, and are altogether unacquainted with the gospel?

Elder P. It is a question which naturally arises; and I think I shall, before I get through, be able to satisfy you why it is so. After Christ had established his church and sent forth his servants to proclaim the gospel, great success attended their labors, and the greater part of the people became obedient to the faith; true and undefiled religion flourished, and every blessing followed in its train. However, after sometime had elapsed, their began to be schisms in the church; predjudice [prejudice] and its attendant train of evils crept into their midst, until, finally, they began to fight one against the other-the Lamanites against the Nephites, until the Nephites were utterly destroyed from off of the face of the land-the last man remaining was Moroni, in whose possession were the sacred records which had been handed down to him, and which he was commandeed [commanded] to hide up unto the Lord, in consequence of the wickedness of the Lamanite, who had not only derided the name of Christ, but sought the lives of all such as proffessed [professed] christianity. Consequently they were given up to a wicked and rebellious heart, and became willing instruments in the hands of Satan, and continued to wander in darkness, ignorance and superstition, until the present time, the degenerate and fallen sons of noble and worthy sires.

Mr. M. I have always thought that there had been a more enlightened people on this continent, than the present Indians. The remains of ancient buildings, monuments &c., are evident proofs on this point

Mr. R. There can be no doubt on this subject. In the recent researches in Central America, the ruins of very large and splendid buildings have been found, but it does not necessarily follow that the Book of Mormon is true.

Elder P. By no means, but you will undoubtedly admit that it is circumstancial [circumstantial]
(page 473)

evidence in its favor. Another thing I would observe is, that there is no correct account given of their descent, or their history-the world has been shrouded in darkness on these matters; but the Book of Mormon like the rising sun, eradiates the gloom, throws a flood of light on the history and proceedings of this people, and brings to light things which have been hid from generation to generation-contain many predictions respecting their restoration to righteousness, and again becoming a 'fair and delightsome people.' I cannot better express my ideas on this point than in the language of the hymn, which has been composed by one of our preachers, and which we sung a short time before you came. I will endeavor to repeat it.

Mr. M. No, Elder P., pray sing it again. I am sure Mr. and Mrs. R., will be pleased to hear it, the tune and hymn are beautiful.

Mr. M. We will do our best.

O stop and tell m [me] Red Man, And long they've lived by hunting,
Who are ye? why you roam? Instead of work and arts,
And how you get your living? And so our race has dwindled
Have you no God;-no home? To idle Indian hearts.
With stature straight and portly, Yet hope within us lingers,
And decked in native pride, As if the Spirit spoke:-
With feathers, paints, and broaches, He'll come for your redemption,
He willingly replied:- And break your Gentile yoke:
"I once was pleasant Ephraim, And all your captive brothers,
When Jacob for me pray'd; From every clime shall come,
But oh! how blessings vanish, And quit their savage customs,
When man from God has stray'd! To live with God at home.
Before your nation knew us, Then Joy will fill our bosoms,
Some thousand moons ago, And blessings crown our days,
Our fathers fell in darkness, To live in pure religion,
And wander'd to and fro. And sing our Maker's praise."

To be continued.

[Note: the hymn, written by W.W. Phelps, was included in the first Mormon hymnal, compiled by Emma Smith with Phelps' assistance. The hymn survived through the 1927 hymnbook, but was dropped from the 1948 hymnal. These Dialogues were never continued. Dialogue No. II was reprinted in the Millennial Star, October 1841. Both Dialogues are anonymous, but as I've shown elsewhere, I think they were written by Benjamin Winchester.]

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