[1]For an eloquent summary of the current situation from an LDS perspective, see L. C. Midgley, Defending. Already in 1905, Chesterton could write: “Atheism itself is too theological for us today” (G. K. Chesterton, Heretics). Likewise, Charles Taylor (C. Taylor, Secular Age) provides an eloquent discussion of the process and consequences of the loss of “immediate certainty” of the moral and spiritual dimensions in Western culture. Nonmember LDS historian Jan Shipps’ experiences in responding to media questions about Mormonism illustrate the kinds of issues that arise for believers of all faiths in our day (J. Shipps, Sojourner, pp. 282-283; cf. R. L. Bushman, Mormonism, pp. 113-114):


I remember very well how the voice of one reporter coming across the telephone wire expressed both exasperation and astonishment. “How,” he wailed, “can perfectly sane people believe all this crazy stuff?” Because I had spent the first half of the 1980s writing a book designed to answer that very question, I had a ready reply… It usually began with my pointing out that the idea that Joseph Smith found golden plates and had revelations was not any more absurd than the idea that Moses and the Hebrews walked across the Red Sea without getting wet or that Jesus, who was dead, is now alive.


That debates about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection are not a new phenomenon of the age of science is emphasized by N. T. Wright, who reminds us (N. T. Wright, Surprised, p. 294): “We didn’t need Galileo and Einstein to tell us that dead people don’t come back to life.”


Getting to the nub of the problem, Neusner (J. Neusner, Vocation, p. 117) concludes that “among our colleagues are some who do not really like religion in its living forms, but find terribly interesting religion in its dead ones. That is why an old Christian text, one from the first century for example, is deemed a worthy subject of scholarship. But a fresh Christian expression (I think in this connection of the Book of Mormon) is available principally for ridicule, but never for study. Religious experience in the third century is fascinating. Religious experience in the twentieth century is frightening or absurd.”


Charles Dickens approved as Hannay charged the Mormons with “the absurdity of seeing visions in the age of railways”-simultaneously commending our “immense practical industry” while decrying our “pitiable superstitious delusion.” His conclusion at that time is one that would be met with understanding nods by many perplexed observers of Mormonism in our day: “What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense” (J. Hannay, Smith, p. 385, cited in R. J. Dunn, Dickens, p. 4).


[2]M. Muggeridge, Jesus, p. 19.

[3] Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber co-wrote the “rock opera” Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970. Judas Iscariot was arguably the tragic hero of the work, while Jesus Christ appeared as weak, ineffectual, and unquestionably mortal.

[4] Nikos Kazantzakis, anathematized by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1955, wrote The Last Temptation of Christ, a work that portrayed a Jesus Christ who was racked with doubt, fears, and guilt.

[5] John Dominic Crossan, a former Catholic priest and a retired professor of Biblical Studies at De Paul University, has been a key figure in scholarly movements over the last few decades to understand the historical Jesus. Crossan has argued fervently against taking the Gospels as factual accounts of Jesus’ life and miracles.

[6] Cf. D. H. Lawrence’s story of Jesus as The Man Who Died.

[7]E. T. Benson, Cleansing, pp. 6-7. Cf. E. T. Benson, Teachings 1988, p. 435.

[8]H. W. Hunter, Promises, p. 8.

[9]H. W. Hunter et al., Christmas. See also McCall’s Magazine, Dec. 1959, pp. 82-83.

[10] Mosiah 24:15; see also Mosiah 3:19.

[11] Mosiah 15:7.

[12] John 5:30.

[13] President Ezra Taft Benson taught (E. T. Benson, Teachings 1988, 7 December 1986, p. 361):


Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life (see Matthew 10:39).


[14] Luke 10:40.

[15]J. E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 402.

[16] Luke 10:41-42.

[17]J. E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 402-403.

[18] See D&C 29:34. Smith and Sjodahl explain (H. M. Smith et al., Commentary, p. 156):


Man makes a distinction between temporal and spiritual laws, and some are very much concerned about keeping the two separate. To the Lord everything is both spiritual and temporal, and the laws He gives are consequently spiritual, because they concern spiritual beings. When He commanded Adam to eat bread in the sweat of his brow, or Moses to strike the rock that the people might drink, or the Prophet Joseph to erect the Nauvoo House, or the Saints in Utah to build fences and roads, such laws were for their spiritual welfare, as well as physical. To obey such laws, when given, is a spiritual duty. One who performs his daily labor “as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:7) derives spiritual benefit from whatever his duties are.


[19] Lewis expressed this idea as follows (C. S. Lewis, Christianity and Culture, p. 90): “[O]ure leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Elsewhere he wrote (C. S. Lewis, Mere, 3:9, p. 117):

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point form which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.


[20] See N. A. Maxwell, Not My Will,p. 76.

[21] See Alma 5:15, 32:40; Ether 12:19.

[22] That this applies not only the present and future, but also to the past is argued by Lewis (C. S. Lewis, Divorce, pp. 67-68):


[B]oth good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this [Heavenly] valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that [spirit prison], but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.


[23] Matthew 13:13, 16.

[24] Sensing the likelihood that his own life would end within a decade, Malcolm Muggeridge provided this useful perspective (M. Muggeridge, Things, p. 166, cited in N. A. Maxwell, Prove, p. 118):

Now, the prospect of death overshadows all others. I am like a man on a sea voyage nearing his destination. When I embarked I worried about having a cabin with a porthole, whether I should be asked to sit at the captain’s table, who were the more attractive and important passengers. All such considerations become pointless when I shall soon be disembarking.

[25] In the preface to his allegorical tale of Heaven and Hell, The Great Divorce, Lewis wrote (C. S. Lewis, Divorce, p. 11): “I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”

[26] Elder John Taylor expressed it this way (J. Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, p. 348; J. Taylor, 5 March 1865):

Standing on this platform, we view all things of a political and religious nature associated with the earth we are living on as being very uncertain, intangible, and unphilosophical. We expect to see the nations waste, crumble, and decay. We expect to see a universal chaos of religious and political sentiment, and an uncertainty much more serious than anything that exists at the present time. We look forward to the time, and try to help it on, when God will assert his own right with regard to the government of the earth; when, as in religious matters so in political matters, he will enlighten the minds of those that bear rule, he will teach the kings wisdom and instruct the senators by the Spirit of eternal truth; when to him “every knee shall bow and every tongue … confess” that Jesus is the Christ (Romans 14:11). Then “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Then shall the mists of darkness be swept away by the light of eternal truth. Then will the intelligence of heaven beam forth on the human mind, and by it they will comprehend everything that is great, and good, and glorious.


[27] Lewis wrote (C. S. Lewis, Weight, pp. 105-106):

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a [being] such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ … – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.


[28] Hebrews 11:13, 16.

[29] As Hugh W. Nibley described (H. W. Nibley, Tenting, pp. 42-43):

[The] temple [is] best thought of in terms of a tent, according to Jerome … until the time comes when the saints “will no longer have to use a movable tent,” according to the early Fathers (See Origen, John, 10:23, p. 404. “The pitching of the tent outside the camp represents God’s remoteness from the impure world” (H. W. Nibley, Tenting, pp. 42-43, p. 79 n. 40).), who get the idea from the New Testament (e.g., “John 1:14 reads literally, the logos was made flesh and pitched his tent [eskenosen] among us’; and after the Resurrection the Lord camps’ with his disciples, Acts 1:4. At the Transfiguration Peter prematurely proposed setting up three tents for taking possession (Matthew 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33)” (ibid., pp. 42-43, p. 80 n. 41).)… It is now fairly certain, moreover, that the great temples of the ancients were not designed to be dwelling-houses of deity but rather stations or landing-places, fitted with inclined ramps, stairways, passageways, waiting-rooms, elaborate systems of gates, and so forth, for the convenience of traveling divinities, whose sacred boats and wagons stood ever ready to take them on their endless junkets from shrine to shrine and from festival to festival through the cosmic spaces. The Great Pyramid itself, we are now assured, is the symbol not of immovable stability but of constant migration and movement between the worlds; and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, far from being immovable, are reproduced in the seven-stepped throne of the thundering sky-wagon.” [13, pp. 42-43]

Observe that scripture makes a clear distinction between the fixed heavenly temple and its portable counterparts. For example, in Psalm 18 (cf. 2 Samuel 22) and D&C 121:1, the “pavilion” (i.e., booth or canopy; Hebrew sukkah) of “God’s hiding place” should not be equated with the celestial “temple” (i.

e., palace; Hebrew hekal) to which the prayers of the oppressed ascend (Psalm 18:6; D&C 121:2. J. F. McConkie et al., Revelations, p. 945 mistakenly identifies the “pavilion” of D&C ?121:1 as God’s heavenly residence, while S. E. Robinson et al., D&C Commentary, 4:151 correctly identifies the “pavilion” as a “movable tent.”). Rather, it is a representation of a movable “conveyance” (Appropriately translated from the Greek as “Tabernacle” (J. N. Sparks et al., Orthodox Study Bible, Psalm 17(18):12, p. 691)) in which God could swiftly descend to rescue His people from mortal danger (K. L. Barker, Zondervan, p. 803 n. 18:7-15). The sense of the action is succinctly captured by Robert Alter (R. Alter, Psalms, p. 53 n. 8): “The outcry of the beleaguered warrior ascends all the way to the highest heavens, thus launching a downward vertical movement” of God’s own chariot.

[30] Saint Exupry’s fox in the story of The Little Prince teaches that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (A. d. Saint Exupry, Prince, p. 87. See also pp. 93-94). Hence Saint Exupry’s paradoxical definition: “Faith is doubt that forges ahead, sure to find the truth.”

[31] D&C 77:1; 130:9. As expressed in the words of Folliott S. Pierpoint’s (1835-1917) hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth,” the beautiful “flowers of earth” are nothing more than the “buds [we will find in] heaven.”

[32] Later, the Teacher in his story argues that Heaven is more substantial and real than earth, and infinitely more so than Hell (C. S. Lewis, Divorce, pp. 120, 68):

“All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of [this heavenly] world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.”

“It seems big enough when you’re in it, Sir.”

“And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell’s miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule” ….

“Hell is a state of mind … And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains.”

Elsewhere, Lewis writes (C. S. Lewis, Evil and God, p. 95):

Good and evil … are not on all fours. Badness is not even bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Ormuzd and Ahriman[,the good spirit and the bad spirit in Zoroastrianism respectively,] cannot be equals. In the long run, Ormuzd must be original and Ahriman derivative. The first hazy idea of devil must, if we begin to think, be analyzed into the more precise ideas of “fallen” and “rebel” angel… [I]f Michael is really in the right and Satan really is in the wrong this must mean that they stand in two different relations to somebody or something far further back, to the ultimate ground of reality itself.

[33] The more complete quote, taken from the writings of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, reads as follows (N. A. Maxwell, Prove, pp. 88-89):

Some disbelievers do not necessarily deny the great truths but are simply too preoccupied with other concerns (W. Bagehot, Bagehot, 1:42):

They do not deny them, but they live apart from them; they do not disbelieve them, but they are silent when they are stated. They do not question the existence of Kamtchatka, but they have no call to busy themselves with Kamtchatka; they abstain from peculiar tenets. Nor in truth is this, though much aggravated by existing facts, a mere accident of this age, – there are some people to whom such a course of conduct is always natural; there are certain persons who do not, as it would seem cannot, feel all that others feel; who have, so to say no ear for much of religion, – are in some sort out of its reach.

Is there a remedy?

If you could extend before men the awful vision of everlasting perdition; if they could see it as they see the things of earth – as they see Fleet Street and St. Paul’s; if you could show men likewise the inciting vision of an everlasting heaven, if they could see that too with undeniable certainty and invincible distinctness – who could say that they would have a thought for any other motive? (ibid., 2:302)

[34] Hugh Nibley argues that an “eschatological” state of mind (i.e., keeping one’s attention focused on ultimate things rather than the mundane) was the “prevailing attitude of the early Christians.” To take on this attitude is not to assert that temporal, workaday concerns are unimportant, but rather to affirm that they are part of something infinitely larger.  To illustrate this state of mind, Nibley provides the following parable (H. W. Nibley, Way, pp. 302-305), which is perhaps modeled to a degree on his own experience (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, pp. 115-116):

Imagine … a successful businessman who, responding to some slight but persistent physical discomfort… pays a visit to [the] doctor. Since the man has always considered himself a fairly healthy specimen, it is with an unquiet mind that he descends the steps of the clinic … [knowing] that he has about three weeks to live. In the days that follow, this man’s thinking undergoes a … quick and brutal reorientation. By the time he has reached home…, the first shock of the news has worn off, and he is already beginning to see things with strange eyes. As he locks the garage door, his long-held ambition to own a Cadillac suddenly seems unspeakably [childish] to him, utterly unworthy of a rational, let alone an immortal being … With shame and alarm he discovers that he has been making a religion of his career. In a flash of insight he recognizes that seeming and being are two wholly different things, and on his knees discovers that only his Heavenly Father knows him as he is. Abruptly he ceases to care particularly whether anybody thinks he is a good, able, smart, likable fellow or not; after all, he is not trying to sell anyone anything any more.

Things that once filled him with awe seem strangely trivial, and things which a few days before did not even exist for him now fill his consciousness. For the first time he discovers the … beauty of the world of nature …

The perfection of children comes to him like a sudden revelation, and he is appalled by the monstrous perversion that would … destroy their sensibilities in unscrupulous plans of sales promotion. Everywhere he looks he gets the feeling that all is passing away – … he sees all life and stuff about him involved in a huge ceaseless combustion, a literal and apparent process of oxidation which is turning some things slowly, some rapidly, but all things surely to ashes ….

What has happened to our solid citizen?’ his friends ask perplexed. He has chosen to keep his disease a secret, … [but] he cannot conceal his change of heart. As far as his old associates can see, the poor man has left the world of reality …

Now the question arises, has this man been jerked out of reality or into it? Has he cut himself off from the real world or has cruel necessity forced him to look in the face what he was running away from before? Is he in a dream now or has he just awakened from one? Has he become an irresponsible child or has he suddenly grown up?… Some will answer one way, some another. But if you want to arouse him to wrathful sermons, just try telling the man that it makes no difference which of these worlds one lives in…

[35] January 9, 1977.

[36] President Ezra Taft Benson expressed this thought as follows (E. T. Benson, Teachings 1988, p. 59. See also pp. 40-46. Cf. B. R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah, pp. 146, 161, 171ff; B. R. McConkie, New Witness, pp. 393-394):

If [the Nephite prophets] saw our day, and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, “Why did the Lord inspire Mormon or Moroni or Alma to include that in their records? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?” And there is example after example of how that question will be answered. For example, in the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet.

[37] If it is hard enough to accept the divine nature of Jesus’ birth, it is more difficult yet to take seriously the reality of His return. The following parable from Sren Kierkegaard vividly illustrates the tenor of our times (S. Kierkegaard, Parables, p. 3):

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.