Well, it wouldn’t be quite fair on a blog that’s supposed to be dedicated to Mormonism (sorry folks, 2 Nephi is just sooo boring it’s hard to blog about) to do an entry on the “Muslim Mind Prison” and not follow-up with an essay on the Mormon Mind Prison. Islam and Mormonism have a lot of similarities in how they were founded, but their present-day practice and social integration couldn’t be further apart. Unlike Muslims, Mormons are well-integrated into most societies and cultures, have literacy rates up to Western standards, and (believe it or not) are more open-minded. Nevertheless, Mormons have several intellectual barriers that can make dialogue or debate a frustrating exercise.
Mormons Cannot Engage the Book of Mormon as Literature
I’ve pretty gone as far as I can with the missionaries at the temple visitor’s center. After a certain point of discussion, they all but stop volunteering information or answering questions to any degree of satisfaction, and instead seem to be reading from a script. It’s not really their fault, however, because I’ve tried to take them outside the perimeters of their mind prison. The most obvious way in which we’re on two irreconcilable wavelengths is my stubborn refusal to accept the Book of Mormon as fact in any way. My open rejection of its historicity is met with aggressive, dogmatic claims that saturate the entire discussion. If you don’t believe the Book of Mormon, it will eventually take its toll on the conversation, as if the missionaries seem to be trying to gradually wear away at your defenses, fatigue you into conceding to their belief for the sake of advancing the conservation, or possibly get you to inadvertently agree with them in some small way. It’s life or death for the Mormon in this scenario, because the Book of Mormon absolutely has to be literally true or else the entire faith unravels. This contest of wills is possibly one of the keys to the missionary’s success rate, since even people who are challenging the claims of Mormonism need to overcome this hurdle to move the conservation forward, and agreeing with or ignoring their claims about its origins and authorship seems like a small compromise at first.
Mormons Give More Weight to the Book of Mormon than to the Bible
For a religion that claims to use the Bible, you almost wouldn’t know it from how the book is handled in the church. The LDS’ Eighth Article of Faith states:
“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
While it’s common for people to view canons as flat, with lesser books still bearing the same weight as the major ones, in the Mormon mindset the Bible is unreliable without the body of other Mormon literature and the footnotes to the Joseph Smith Translation. The damaging effect this has cannot be underestimated. Anybody engaged in a Biblical discussion with Mormons needs to be aware of this fact, or they will be assuming a level playing field where one does not actually exist. A sola scriptura Bible-based approach to trying to convert the Mormons is ultimately doomed to fail, because ultimately, the Mormon’s understanding of the Bible is filtered through Mormon theology, and in their minds the two are indistinguishable. Mormons often cannot relate to how a Biblical interpretation would differ in the absence Joseph Smith’s doctrinal peculiarities, and even though they think they grasp it, they’re not easily capable of understanding Christian theology until they mentally divorce Mormon thought.
Mormons Think They Know about Other Religions
Because their canon encompasses the Old and New Testaments in addition to all their other books, Mormons often see themselves as more knowledgeable about scripture than Jews and Christians. This isn’t in itself entirely the fault of Mormonism; a lot of Western Christians mistakenly believe they know more about Judaism than Jews, when the reality is they know very little of the Old Testament outside of the narrative. This aspect of American folk religion permeated into the Book of Mormon, in which it appears Joseph Smith was entirely ignorant of ancient Hebrew culture. There may be vague references to keeping commandments or festivals, but absolutely no specifics are cited from Mosaic Law. It reads like what a Gentile would envision Hebrew society was like, but falls short of any identifiable facts. Not only that, Joseph Smith continued to write his own scriptures that sought to correct the “mistakes” of mainline Christianity, but really only demonstrated his ignorance of Christian theology. As a result, Mormons think they know what the Trinity is, when their anti-Trinitarian arguments are usually addressing Modalism instead. Their smug know-it-all attitude about Christianity shouldn’t be as successful as it has been, but unfortunately most of their prospective converts are just as ignorant. They may not know Christianity, but they do know more than a lot of Christians. Not to mention they’re better dressed and prepared for the uninvited meeting, all of which give them a confident edge over their prey.
Mormons Fall Back on Their “Testimony” When All Else Fails
Obviously, the greatest intellectual barrier separating Mormons from the rest of society is their emphasis on their personal “testimony” that the Book of Mormon is true (in their mind, anyway). Never mind that if every believer used this argument to defend their holy book nobody could ever be reasoned into changing religions. Mormonism is the epitome of irrational and illogical faith, yet it is only within the domain of reason and logic that one can engage them. It goes without saying that a Mormon cannot leave the church until they overcome this barrier, yet all too often its influence on the Mormon mind is not fully grasped by the one trying to reach them. However, it can be very frustrating when reason, facts, and logic vanquish Mormonism in a debate but the Mormon still holds to their faith by this single thread, truly retreating into a mind prison.