The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 1

Moroni's Book of Mormon Promise

To a staggering degree, the entire Mormon religion hinges upon these 3 verses in The Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5). That is because from a very real perspective, Mormons consider the alleged fact that the Book of Mormon is true to be in and of itself more important than any of the alleged truths it contains. The train of thought goes like this:

  1. I followed the recipe described above—I read, pondered, and prayed.
  2. During some point of that process, I felt a vaguely ok feeling (or a decidedly good feeling or in rare cases, a profound feeling).
  3. That must have been the Holy Ghost telling me that the book is true.
  4. If the book is true, then Joseph Smith must have been a true prophet.
  5. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then the church he founded must be true.
  6. If the church is true, then I should do everything that the church tells me to do: in a nutshell, I should join the church and consecrate 100% of my time, energy, and money to it.

That logical flow is what The Book of Mormon is all about. 99% of the doctrine in The Book of Mormon can also be found in the Bible. The other 1% does add a slightly different spin to the religion of Protestant Christianity, but it is relatively minor. For example, The Book of Mormon shows that God reveals himself in the same way to people all over the world—not just to those who happened to live in Palestine. The purpose of life is to have joy. Infants have no need to be baptized. The Catholic Church really is the great whore of all the earth. I’m sure there are other minor little twists like that that The Book of Mormon provides, but nothing really major.

The importance of the Book of Mormon isn’t the doctrine it contains, but rather the way it is used to "prove" that the LDS Church is true and should be followed.

So let’s take a closer look at the 6 steps described above.

Steps 1 and 2. Read, Ponder, Pray. First of all, this 3-step recipe will only work if the Book of Mormon is true (or if the Holy Ghost exists and decides to honor a promise in a false book). It logically follows that if you follow the steps and don’t get a clear knowledge from the Holy Ghost that it is true, that is proof that the book is false.

Go ahead and read, ponder, and pray. Give it a good shot. Did the Holy Ghost cause you to know that the book is true? If not, that is proof that the book is false.

Of course, Mormons will not accept the logic of the previous paragraph. The logic they use is this. First, they know the Book of Mormon is true. It follows from that premise that the promise in Moroni 10 works 100% of the time—after all, God promised it and God doesn’t lie. It follows from that that if you try it and claim that you didn’t receive an answer, one of the following 3 things is the explanation:

  • You didn’t follow the recipe right. The usual culprit is faith. God didn’t answer your prayer because you didn’t pray with enough faith. Or perhaps God is withholding the answer to test your faith. Solution: Keep reading, pondering, and praying. The secondary culprit is sincerity. The Holy Ghost only answers your prayer if you sincerely want to know. If you don’t really want to know, then he won’t show up. Solution: Keep reading, pondering and praying. Be more sincere in your desire to know, and have more faith (is having more faith the same thing as trying to believe that it is true?).
  • You felt the Holy Ghost but didn't recognize it. The feeling of the Holy Ghost is usually quite subtle, and if you aren't familiar with it you might need a missionary to help point it out to you.
  • You are lying. You are lying about going through the steps, or lying when you said you didn’t get an answer, because deep down you know you really did. Solution: Be honest with yourself and admit that you know the book is true. If you are really sincere, you have got to admit that at some point, no answer (or a hopelessly vague answer) is the answer, and the answer is that the book is false.

Step 3: That feeling must have been the Holy Ghost telling me that the book is true. Feelings of goodness, wellbeing, peace, and light are common among people. Even intense feelings of divine manifestation happen to various people of various beliefs at various times. Can we be 100% certain that a particular feeling or manifestation we receive is an encrypted message from God? Neurologist James Austin had an incredibly intense spiritual experience once, where his perception of everything changed—he felt at one with the universe and was overcome with profound feelings of awe. How should have he interpreted that experience? Was it God trying to tell him that there is a God? That he needs to accept Christ? That he should listen to the Mormon missionaries the next time he crossed paths with them? Austin interpreted the experience as "proof of the existence of the brain" (Newsweek, "Religion and the Brain", May 14, 2001)

I have probed several Mormon friends regarding the nature of their certainty that the Church is true. They say they know it's true because of the spiritual experiences they’ve had. Often, they have had a singular efficacious experience. Its power and uniqueness caused them to be certain the church is true. This momentous experience is bulwarked by a legion of more subtle feelings of goodness and peace. When I dig deeper, trying to see how a feeling leads to knowledge, I always get two responses. First, the quality of the feeling is so distinct from the feelings they usually associate with their bodies and brains that they are sure that it must have originated from God--neither a human body nor a demon nor Satan himself could cause this particular feeling. Secondly, the intensity of the feeling on the defining occasion was so strong that the brain could not have caused it.

Personally, I remain unconvinced. The human psyche is wired in such a way that it causes people to have profound feelings, to hallucinate, and to feel absolutely certain that their particular beliefs are true. How can somebody be certain that they themselves are having the genuine revelation and that they really know what they think they know, while others who feel the same way about their mutually exclusive beliefs are the ones that are deceived or hallucinating?

Jeff Lindsay makes the case that when others have these types of revelation that it is the same God telling them that part of their religion that is true really is true. That argument is pretty weak in my opinion—the person who is receiving the revelation doesn’t hear that only part of their beliefs are true—they hear that all of their beliefs are true. The Born Again Christian doesn’t just hear "Jesus is the Christ", a belief entailed in Mormonism, he also hears, "all you have to do is accept Jesus," a belief that contradicts Mormonism.

He goes on to say that while other people rely upon emotions for their beliefs, only the Mormons have a process to go about doing that that is well-defined. He takes that in and of itself evidence that the Mormon Church is true. Frankly, I don’t follow him on this point.

Step 4: If the book is true, then Joseph Smith must have been a true prophet.

I won’t quibble with this one.

Step 5: If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then the church he founded must be true.

This step in the argument is particularly weak. It’s possible that the Book of Mormon is true, but that the message it meant to contain is totally within the book, and that God did not command Joseph Smith to start a church—Joseph did that on his own.

Even during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the beliefs of the church changed radically, and at one point the doctrine that Joseph Smith practiced was the exact opposite of what Joseph Smith preached. It would seem entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that at some point during this that the LDS Church fell into apostasy.

Even if Joseph still held the keys when he died, very strong arguments can be made that the true authority didn’t go to Brigham Young. And even if the true authority went to Brigham Young, it is quite possible that the church fell into apostasy when his successors reneged on the fundamental stances and doctrines of the church.

The Book of Mormon being true doesn’t imply that the contemporary LDS Church is true—they are two fundamentally different assertions.

Step 6: If the church is true, then I should do everything that the church tells me to do: in a nutshell, I should join the church and consecrate 100% of my time, energy, and money to it.

Even if the LDS Church is "true", it is possible that the various commandments and interpretations made by the various leaders of the church are wrong or less general than they imply. After all, the D&C says,

That [the rights of the priesthood] may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:37-39)

Perhaps that is God’s way of telling us that we should take the priesthood leaders and the authority they presume to have a lot less seriously than they ask us to.

Up Next

If you have a question or would like to discuss these topics, I suggest that you go to a Mormon-related bulletin board (here are some recommendations). If you'd like to contact me with comments or feedback, you may send an email to