Bamboozled by the “CES Letter” (free download)
In April 2013 Jeremy T. Runnells published a pdf booklet entitled, “Letter to a CES Director.” This booklet, which is now typically referred to as the “CES Letter,” catalogues Runnells’ concerns and reasons why he left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Runnells has worked hard to make his booklet available to people everywhere (and in several languages) and has, unfortunately, been the agent for leading at least a few other believers out of Mormonism.
Sadly, most of those who have been bamboozled by the “CES Letter“ are Latter-day Saints who were blind-sided by scholarly-sounding interpretations of challenging data. In my opinion, however, the “CES Letter’s” caricature of Mormonism is fundamentally flawed and does not accurately represent either Mormonism or the only logical interpretations of the data.
Unfortunately, the reason the CES Letter has enjoyed any success is that most Latter-day Saints have never been exposed to some of the more complex matters in early Mormon history. On average, the typical Latter-day Saint has never needed to think outside of the box on Mormon-related philosophical, historical, or scholarly issues.
“Bamboozled by the ‘CES Letter'” explains, with a bit of humor, why these complex issues need not kill a testimony. Interpretation matters. A growing number of laymembers as well as educated Mormon scholars, are fully aware of the complex issues but continue strong in their faith because they recognize that there are logical interpretations which can be integrated with their belief in Mormonism.
Tom Johnson says
Thanks for doing all the work to compile this response to the “Letter to a CES Director.
My own daughter has been adversely affected by the Letter. I will bring this response to her attention; as you well know, getting her to read it is the challenge.
There are really only two reasons why someone would leave the LDS church.
1. They do not believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God like the Bible. or
2. They do not believe in God.
The CES letter is not full of reasons, it’s full of excuses.
Guy Forbes says
This reminds me of a group in the Seattle area in the 1980’s called Saints’ Alive. the head of this group was Ed Decker.
It is very much the same as he was pushing at that time.
I have never heard of the CES Letter however this seems like a very thorough response to virtually all the common questions people may have.
Some of the things in the early restored church would be quite strange today. However still some of the things of the biblical church would be quite strange in the 19th century church.
God does not operate in the ways we think he should and he never will.
Alex Jones says
You make a lot of claims that you simply give zero sources for.
Why should your reader trust your words at face value?
Please provide sources for your work, this is a basic principle of the academy.
Mike Ash says
Alex Jones wrote, “you simply give zero sources….”
The 39 endnotes at the end of the ebook tell a different story.
A. Jones: “Please provide sources for your work, this is a basic principle of the academy.”
This booklet was not supposed to be an academic treatise of all the issues. It would have been much longer and more detailed if that was the intent. As explained in the book itself:
” Because this is a relatively small book, I did not include a lot of endnotes (like I typically do in my other books or my on-line articles)—I tried to keep this brief and easy. ”
In the booklet I suggest that those who want fuller treatments with sources acquire copies of either Shaken Faith Syndrome, or Of Faith and Reason, or visit the free website FairMormon.org.
I also provide another free source: “I assume the reader is already familiar with the contents and claims of the CES Letter and I don’t plan to address each accusation in great depth—this has already been done by my associates at FairMormon.org (see this page for detailed discussions of each topic or a new FairMormon “Closer Look” at the CES Letter here).”
I explained this in the booklet as well: “Those who are interested in fuller treatments can find what they are looking for on FairMormon.org.”
And again: “I won’t go through the details of every supposed Book of Mormon anachronism, because interested readers can consult the sources I listed earlier.”
In short, this booklet was designed to be a brief rejoinder to the primary issues discussed in the CES Letter. I figured that not everyone would want to read an academic book on the topic, or may not what to search through a large web library to examine all of the issues (which is what one would need to do to get an in depth examination of all the issues and all the sources).
As noted several times in the booklet, those who want an more thorough engagement– an academic treatise with source notes for every argument– can find what they are looking for (as explained in the booklet itself) in the for-purchase books I suggested as well as all the free material available at FairMormon.org.
Alex Jones says
Thanks for the response. I understand the purpose of the letter, and I understand not addressing every single point you make in it. I have no qualms with that, I think it is an effective and acceptable process.
All I am saying is that for claims that you do make, it would be helpful for the reader to be able to see or be linked to what you are referring to.
For example “Scholarly studies clearly indicate that the Book of Mormon peoples were a small clan who migrated into the larger population of existing ancient American cultures.” That seems very interesting, I would like to see the studies you are referring to. But you don’t give a reference to these studies so I don’t know what exactly you are referencing or where I can find them. Giving citations like these at the end don’t take up a lot of space and are pretty necessary for people who want to learn more about what you are saying.
Mike Ash says
Alex, I agree that it would be nice to include a link to this claim. Someone else, however, would probably find it useful to have a link to another argument, or another claim, and so on. Providing a single link or source to this one argument wouldn’t end there– it wouldn’t end until every single claim an argument has a link/source and then the booklet would, in my opinion, suffer from its intended purpose and target audience.
You can find the info you are specifically looking for at: Shaken Faith Syndrome, pgs. 171-206.
Or here a a _few_ other resources: http://en.fairlatterdaysaints.org/Book_of_Mormon/Lamanites/Relationship_to_Amerindians/Who_are_the_Lamanites (for one of many on-line sources that deal with the issue).
And probably the best source: https://bookstore.fairlds.org/product.php?id_product=1090
(see how these endnotes can add up?)
I am one who grew up in the church and have arrived at a point where I no longer believe. While the CES letter did not “lead me astray” – some of the issues raised – including the Mark Hoffman story started me thinking more critically.
Mike, I appreciate your attempts at explanation – some make some sense and some don’t for me.
I’d like to ask your opinion – if Joseph used the seer stone in the bottom of a hat to “translate” the BofM – why does the church still circulate a picture of Joseph “translating” the plates with both the plates and the paper on the same desk giving the impression that this translation was akin to converting a spanish doc to english? It strikes me as intellectually dishonest.
Mike Ash says
The Church actually mentions this here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng
More depth by Roger Nicholson here: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-spectacles-the-stone-the-hat-and-the-book-a-twenty-first-century-believers-view-of-the-book-of-mormon-translation/
Mike Parker says
You mentioned the Mark Hoffman events. Can you expand on that a bit? What is it about it that troubles you? (Other than, I assume, the fact that two innocent people were murdered by a sociopath.)
I read a couple of works on the Mark Hoffman story ( One was called “A Gathering of Saints”). I was disturbed with this sociopath’s apparent dealings with the Church. One of the works quoted a GA ( I believe it was Elder Oaks) speaking to a meeting of seminary and institute teachers and delivering the message (paraphrased) that if a church instructor shared historical “stories” that were not faith-promoting, then his/her salvation was in jeopardy, regardless of the veracity of the account. It really bothered me then (and still does). I think the truth matters – and can’t help but feel “betrayed” in what i call the “whitewashing” of church history.
Since I didn’t have a good way to contact you, I just wanted to thank you generally for your good work and dedication to the gospel. Your scholarly approach is much appreciated. Really love your 80 evidences book. Your work here with the CES letter is also appreciated – I’m very familiar with the letter, and the EXTREMELY detailed FairLDS response, but your contribution is a welcome addition also.
So, this is just a general message of thanks and sincere appreciation for your light and knowledge. Keep it up brother.
The reason the CES Letter sounds like Ed Decker is because people involved with it are followers of Ed Decker and associate with Decker. Johnny Stephenson, who helped Jeremy Runnells, has his own blog critical of the church. Stephenson goes by Grindael and is a big contributor to a well known anti Mormon site associated with Decker, and others. Stephenson claims to be a former member who was a convert to the church but had his eyes opened.
It is interesting how people like Runnells and Stephenson accuse the church of lying and deceit, listen to and follow people like Decker, who does lie and is deceitful in attacking the church, and lied about their own past and church experience.
Without fail people like Runnells, Stephenson, Decker and their kind do the very things they accuse the church of doing.
I know people just like them, and have been subjected to constant verbal, emotional and psychological attacks for keeping my membership in the church. So much so that I had to cut myself off from them to keep my sanity. Their hatred towards me and the church got out of hand. They are now ex family.
Curious, are you only able to provide sources from this very website, or other extremely Mormon biased sources? Or can you provide one single non-Mormon source stating that “Scholarly studies clearly indicate that the Book of Mormon peoples were a small clan who migrated into the larger population of existing ancient American cultures.” ? How can you prove what the BoM peoples did, when you can’t even prove their existence? Just because a bunch of Mormon scholars get together and come up with some “scholarly” solution to explain the BoM peoples migrating to larger populations proves nothing. This is the problem with most apologetics on this website. This is like using the Bible as proof that God exists. How do you know God exists? Well because the Bible is the word of God. How do you know the bible is true? Well because God says so in the Bible…This is circular reasoning and actually provides no proof whatsoever. It’s frustrating having to point out such simple points of logic so we could actually get on with a real debate. The only problem is if y’all were constrained to logical debate you would have nothing left to argue.
Don Pesquisas says
JRSG, you do know that that’s an ad hominem and that it doesn’t disprove the CES Letter, right?