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The Heretic’s Guide to Mormonism: David Fitzgerald’s Talk at Skepticon 4

David Fitzgerald will make you laugh yourself hoarse. And he knows his history backwards and forwards. His talk at Skepticon 4 — an exposition/ evisceration of the history and tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. The Mormons — is informative, wildly entertaining, and entirely brazen in his willingness to call outrageous, laughable bullshit when he sees it. (He’s also the author of the meticulously researched and highly readable Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All, which you should absolutely read if you’re interested in the question of whether there was a real historical Jesus or whether he’s an entirely mythical character.) Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Blue Duck says

    Terrifically funny vid. I must say, Mormanism has long rankled me because I am two very bad things to be, if I had had the misfortune to have been born in a Mormon familly: I’m a woman and a Native American. I prefer our own native myths and archaeology over anything Joe Smith dreamed up. (Our tribe’s creation myth has its fun moments – first people came from a man who accidentally got pregnant. No, really!)

    Anyway, I remember years ago I was renting a room from an older woman. She had befriended two young, earnest, blond Mormon missionaries. Now, I was in my mid-20s then and these guys looked like kids to me. They were around 19 I think. I thought their religion was nuts, but they were really nice kids. So I was always polite to them and fixed ‘em some herbal tea (no cafeeine, you know) when they visited my landlady. So one day I was telling one of them about the wonders of Powell’s book store in downtown Portland – great place for book nerds. The young missionary asked me earnestly if the Book of Mor(m)on was in the Native American section. I about choked. How could anyone take that nonsense about Indians being the alleged lost tribe o’ Israel? I did not have the heart to tell him off tho’ – I felt like it’d be kicking a puppy. I felt sorry for him. Another thing that struck me as weird is that these boys had the titled ‘Elder’. Elder means something a bit different to a Native – knowledgeable about one’s tribe’s ways sure, but also have some YEARS behind one. These young pups calling themselves ‘elders’ always struck me as so weird and funny.

    In the end, as much as my landlady liked those two kids, she did not join their kooky religion.

    Needless to say, neither did I!

  2. Steve A.E. says

    Greta, since you strongly recommend Fitzgerald’s books Nailed, I wonder if you might have a response to this review that I recently stumbled upon. I found Earl Doherty’s book on the same subject very persuasive previously and had Nailed on my To Read list until I discovered the O’Neill review this weekend. O’Neill (an atheist himself) is pretty harsh on Fitzgerald (and, in passing, Doherty), and I found a lot of his points pretty compelling. The first six paragraphs are throat-clearing and context-setting or whatever, and it gets more focused around the seventh paragraph.

  3. says

    I am not interested in the supernaturalism of Christianity, but am very interested in the study of the early history of the group. I am always happy to talk to others that are also interested in this topic. My interest specifically is up till perhaps a generation or two after Irenaeus. But I would say I am interested in anything from the Maccabean revolt up till about 384CE when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET/religion

  4. says

    Steve, I suggest you contact David Fitzgerald re: the O’Neill review as he has read it and can address the points O’Neill makes.

    I started to read the review, but O’Neill tone is so over-the-top offensive, I stopped. He seems less interested in objective reviewing and more in character assassination.

  5. says

    “I started to read the review, but O’Neill tone is so over-the-top offensive, I stopped.”

    Bad scholarship is bad scholarship and calling it that while demonstrating its flaws is not “over-the-top offensive”, it’s simply calling a spade a spade. My tone is actually far less “offensive” than I have seen (or have used myself) against Christian weak pseudo scholarship – eg Creationism. If my arguments against Fitzgerald’s weak thesis are flawed, show me how.

    It seems you have simply reacted emotionally to what I have detailed about Fitzgerald’s flawed thesis. That’s very human, but not very rational. I prefer rational analysis.

  6. Lessa says

    I too was born into Mormonism, as a woman and a queer person. I stopped believing in any of the teachings before I was even baptized, but that didn’t stop my parents from forcing me to go to church. In fact my mother is a secretary to one of the Quorum of the 12, ha!

  7. says

    I’ll try again, since my last comment strangely disappeared and so wasn’t posted.

    Can you show me which parts of my detailed, closely-argued and carefully substantiated 7,327 word critique of Fitzgerald’s arguments were simply “character assassination”? Because I just re-read it and can’t see anything about his “character” at all, just his crappy arguments. I have no idea about his “character”, since I’ve never met the man. He could be a lovely bloke for all I know. His arguments, however, are pseudo historical garbage and, as an atheist and rationalist, I do get rather annoyed by people like Fitzgerald making the rest of us look stupid.

    If there are arguments he makes that you feel I missed or didn’t address properly, perhaps you could reply to this message and let me know. As for Fitzgerald replying to my review, it’s been up for seven months, along with a shorter version on Amazon.com. And it comes up first or second on any Google search on his book’s title. So far he’s been completely silent. That should tell you something.

    PS Please don’t censor this comment like the last one – that’s something a Mormon whose faith was threatened would do. You’re a rationalist now, aren’t you?

  8. says

    Still no sign of my replies. Doesn’t it bother you that you are behaving exactly the way a devout Mormon would when confronted by an position that conflicted with their faith? Isn’t censoring comments the kind of thing they do? Hows about starting reading something and then stopping because it didn’t confirm their faith-based ideas? That’s Mormon behaviour too.

    Congratulations. You seem to have replaced one hidebound, irrational fundamentalism with another. Not surprisingly really – I’ve found there is a strong correlation between people who find the Jesus Myth hypothesis appealing and former fundamentalists – it seems to appeal to people who can only think in black and white. This means you have not only replaced an emotionally-based and irrational Mormonism with an equally emotionally-based and irrational “New Atheism”, but you’ve even tacked on an unscholarly, kooky fringe pseudo historical side belief as well. So nothing much has changed.

    Still, maybe this is a step you need to take and one day you’ll move on to a more mature, more nuanced atheism and won’t have to cling to extremist kooky crap of any kind.

  9. Crommunist says

    @Tim ONeill

    More than likely, if it’s actually a case of ‘censorship’ and not simply a foulup with the spam filters or the FTB server (and believe me, it happens), your comments violated Greta’s comment policy. Hateful or abusive comments that don’t add to the conversation but only serve to derail it don’t appear on this site. If you want to wave your dick at the wind, you’re welcome to go start your own blog and do it there.

  10. Crommunist says

    Also check yourself for the disconnect between “moderating comments” and “extremism”. If the biggest problem we had with religious extremists (or political or other kinds of extremists) is that they didn’t let people comment on their blogs, we’d live in a much better world.

  11. says

    If it was indeed a series of “foulups” then I withdraw everything I said in my last two or three comments. It’s odd, though, that other people were able to get comments through during these “foulups” yet mine disappeared.

    To go back to my first comment, which disappeared due to the “foulups”, there is no “character assassination” of Fitzgerald in my critical review. To say “David Fitzgerald is a child molester who kicks puppies” is character assassination. I say nothing like that. I have never met Fitzgerald and for all I know he’s a wonderful person of fine character. My critique was purely of the arguments in his little book, which are appallingly bad. And, give that my review is over 7,000 words long, it’s not like I didn’t go into quite a bit of detail as to how they are bad.

    Greta says it would be best for Fitzgerald himself to reply. I’d be happy to read any response of his and to reply to it. But given that I posted my review seven months ago and that it comes up first or second on most Google searches on the book’s title, he seems oddly shy about doing so. If anyone else wants to take issue with what I have to say and post a response, please do so. But saying you didn’t bother reading my critique and pretending this was due to imaginary “character assassination” is not a response.

  12. Steve A.E. says

    Crommunist, Tim O’Neill’s already got his own blog–that’s where the review is that I linked to above. I had actually been planning to defend it against Dana’s weird comment above. (Why would I want to contact Fitzgerald when I was interested in Greta’s opinion of O’Neill’s criticism of Fitzgerald’s book? What specifically in O’Neill’s review amounts to “character assassination” of Fitzgerald? Does Dana really want to suggest, without having even read much of O’Neill’s review, that he offers no substantive criticism of the book?)

    But now, as off-base as I still find Dana’s comment, I’m not much inclined to support O’Neill here, either, given the nature of his. I thought his book review, as harsh as it was, made a lot of substantive points and was pretty well-reasoned. He’s not representing himself here well at all, though.

    The charge of censoring contrary viewpoints is weird, as I posted supportive remarks about O’Neill’s review, and Greta let it stand unimpaired. O’Neill here goes from the charge of censorship against Greta right into “starting reading something and then stopping,” without acknowledging the latter was Dana, not Greta, so he seems to be conflating the two.

    In his second paragraph here, O’Neill says “you have…replaced an emotionally-based and irrational Mormonism with…’New Atheism’,” suggesting Greta had been a Mormon. That’s either not his intent (and therefore unclear writing by him, I’d say), or he’s threading his charges with confused ideas (or Greta was previously a Mormon, and I’m the confused one).

    What really aggravates me, though, is not only his suggestion that “New Atheism” is irrational and emotionally-based, whereas it seems to me to just be atheism held be people who are outspoken and unrelenting in their criticism of religion, but also his determination to tie tightly together “New Atheism” with acceptance of the idea of Jesus as a mythical figure.

    Most outspoken atheist writers who I tend to appreciate identify as “New Atheists,” to the extent they recognize the validity of the label (though it seems a pretty widely to be viewed as a silly label, given the continuity with outspoken atheists of past eras). I would hate to see a dichotomy emerge dividing Gnu atheists on ones side and, on the other, people who allow that the Christian religion may have begun with an actual historical Jesus of Nazareth. To hold the latter position shouldn’t imply theism or Christianity any more than allowing that Joesph Smith or Muhammad existed implies Mormonism or Islam.

  13. Crommunist says

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight, nor do I know anything substantive about the issues at hand. What I do know is that Akismet (WordPress’ spam watchdog) often puts comments into automatic moderation. I’ve been accused of censoring dissenting comments as well, which couldn’t be further from the truth – sometimes things just land in moderation and get snowed under by spam. It happens. I once had a long day at the office and came back home to a furious commenter who had left 6 or 7 messages – 3 which were substantive and 3 or 4 accusing me of stifling her because she disagreed with me.

  14. says

    Steve,

    I probably have misread or misunderstood some of the replies here and not got the context right. So when I read Lessa say, above, “I too was born into Mormonism” I read it as referring to Greta’s background. In retrospect, that doesn’t actually make sense and so I’m happy to admit my mistake.

    But you’ve misunderstood what I said about “New Atheism”. Notice that I said “AN equally emotionally-based and irrational ‘New Atheism’”. That doesn’t mean all “New Atheism” is emotionally-based or irrational at all. Nor am I saying that subscribing to the Jesus Myth hypothesis is a necessary part of “New Atheism”.

    What bothers me, as an “Old Atheist”, is that the rise of the popular acceptance of the Jesus Myth hypothesis has come about at the same time as the emergence of “New Atheism” and, as someone who spends quite a bit of time on atheist fora, I’ve seen plenty of “Gnus” who embrace it enthusiastically. I’ve seen one survey that shows 40% of people who identify as atheists say they don’t believe there was a historical Jesus.

    Of course, many of that 40% may be unclear by what “historical Jesus” refers to and may be rejecting the “Jesus” of faith rather than subscribing to the JM hypothesis. But that aside, the JM idea is rapidly becoming atheism’s equivalent of Creationism – a academically fringe and flawed idea subscribed to for emotional reasons out of an ideological zeal. As a rationalist who has studied the relevant history for 25+ years, that bothers me.

    And if my reply above seems intemperate, I’ve found many “Gnus” who subscribe to the JM theory are happy to censor, smear and lie about opponents. In fact, they behave much like Creationists in a disturbing number of respects. If no-one here is doing so and my posts really fall victim to a series of consecutive “foulups” over a period of two days then I’m happy to hear it. Perhaps we can turn to Fitzgerald’s arguments and my replies and have some historical discussion.

  15. Steve A.E. says

    Yeah, Tim, if you want to say Dana’s being irrational, I wouldn’t disagree with that at all. I haven’t really seen it from Greta, though. I think your conflation of the two above and your consequent reaction undermines the cause of having people initially sympathetic to Fitzgerald give due consideration to the substantive arguments you made in that review.

  16. Tim O'Neill says

    I’ve been posting on the run on my phone while moving house – not conducive to avoiding mistakes. Again, apologies for my confusions.

  17. says

    I don’t particularly think it’s irrational to state an opinion about the tone of the review in question. Tim, you come across like you have a personal ax to grind, the tone is overly caustic, and you seem to take a lot of joy in shredding someone else’s work. Which is, in my mind, a bit of a character assassination in that you’re trying to undercut their legitimacy as an author and their research. Although yes, there is a better way to phrase that and you DID stop short of accusations of puppy abuse.

    Greta, my apologies for contributing to any sort of flame war here. Not my habit and not anything I’m interested in continuing.

  18. Greta Christina says

    Tim ONeill: Your comments got caught in my spam filter, for reasons that are entirely unknown to me. They have been restored. On behalf of my spam filter, I apologize.

    In the future, if you’re having problems commenting, can you please contact me first and ask if there are tech problems, instead of jumping to the conclusion that your comments are being censored? (That’s actually a good policy with any blogger — not just me.) Thanks.

  19. Steve A.E. says

    Dana’s right that it’s not irrational to state an opinion about the tone of the review.

    It is irrational, though, to suggest that if I’m seeking Greta’s opinion about O’Neill’s criticisms of Fitzgerald’s book that I should instead contact Fitzgerald himself. It is irrational also to confuse an attack on the legitimacy of Fitzgerald’s research or work as an author with with an attack on his character. It’s irrational also to dismiss the review as not worth reading when you haven’t even read enough to consider whether it has any meaningful and substantive criticism about the book.

    Also, apart from maybe Dana’s comment 4 above, Tim’s #7 and certainly Tim’s #11, it’s hard to see how this comment thread presents a flame war. And, encouragingly, Tim’s backed off some from his problematic remarks above. (I kind of think an apology to Greta for attributing Dana’s comment to her wouldn’t be out of order, though.)

  20. Tim O'Neill says

    Apologies to Greta. As for “overly caustic”, I have little patience for badly researched pseudo scholarship and even less when it’s ideologically-motivated. Less still when it’s being trumpeted as fine scholarship and being lapped up uncritically by supposed rationalists who should know better and who should be more capable of critical analysis. I’m equally caustic when Christians do the same thing – see my review of Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions for example. I regularly see far more “caustic” analysis of creationist or Christian apologist pseudo scholarship but, oddly, I’ve yet to come across an atheist who stopped reading any of that because of its “tone”. Bad scholarship and shoddy research is worthy of harsh criticism whoever it’s from. And worthy of scorn if it’s based on unthinking ideology. Doubly so if the author purports to be a “rationalist”. Clumsy hacks like Fitzgerald make us a laughing stock.

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