Probably all religions, or at least all religions claiming
exclusive truth, create “proofs” to sustain the beliefs of members. Certainly
the early Christian Church and the Roman and Orthodox divisions into which it
split were keen on relics of Saints. I think some forms of Buddhism also
venerate relics. Scriptures, traditions, and stories are all used by various
faiths to support and maintain members’ beliefs.
The danger with stories, as with relics, is that time and
historical research often undermine their effectiveness. A once popular support
of Mormonism’s truthfulness was its rapid growth during the latter half of the
20th century. Scriptural evidence was cited from Nebuchadnezzar’s
dream of the stone cut from a mountain without hands which rolled downhill,
smashed heathen idols—scattering pieces far and wide—and then expanded to fill
the entire earth (easier to visualize with flat-earth geography). Daniel told King Neb that the stone represents
the kingdom which God will set up to destroy all previous earthly kingdoms.
Mormons see their church as the kingdom of God and rapid
church growth as fulfillment of this prophecy. The problem has come with the
flattened, even negative, church growth of the past decade. Wards in many areas,
including our previous ward in Sandy, have shrunk, been dissolved, or combined
with others. Not a problem in Utah where members readily see new chapels and
temples sprouting up in new housing developments. But when our daughter and
son-in-law ‘s old ward in upper New York state was dissolved two years ago,
members with testimonies based on Mormon fulfillment of Daniel 2 struggled to
maintain their faith.
Persecution as evidence of Satan’s opposition to the divine
role of the church is popular in both official and unofficial Mormon discourse.
What Mormons overlook as they tell these stories of persecution is that, with
or without Satan’s help, Americans have a long tradition of persecuting those
of different religions –not to mention different languages and skin color. Mormons
have no monopoly on persecution. Baptists and Quakers who ventured into New
England in colonial times could expect legal harassment, imprisonment, and
physical assault—including torture and murder.
The Missouri persecutions of Mormons are a blot on the
American conscience, but Mark Twain’s writings—both his fiction and
autobiography—show that 19th century Missourians did not limit mob
action to Mormons. Persecution by a group of frontiersmen quicker to shoot than
to think falls short of proof of the divine mission of the Church.
How do we prove the Mormon Church or any other faith is
true? We can’t, of course. Religious beliefs are deeply personal. Does it
really matter if everyone does not share ours?
When our daughters were in high school, a rumor circulated
among seminary students that Val Kilmer, the star of Batman films, was joining
the Church. How exciting. If a popular film star joined the Church, it must be
true. As far as I’ve heard, Val never joined the Church—which may be a good
thing. Celebrity members often embarrass the Church. Better to base one’s
testimony on the still, small voice within than on reinforcement from without.