Kathryn: Since it’s a topic again today, I’d like to throw two cents into the discussion of the LDS creed:
The fact that so many emailers sent you that South Park quote is I think very revealing–of the fact, I mean, that some proportion of LDS adherents find the Church’s founding events as hard to believe in as do most of us outside the LDS communion.
This is a nontrivial psychological issue. The rationalist in me says that you ought not solemnly and repeatedly profess belief in things you find dubious. The ex-Anglican in me recalls having done precisely that, and having easily squared it with my conscience.
Imagine that by declaring aloud twice a day that most grass is purple, cats lay eggs, Julius Caesar was a woman, and two plus two is five, I could assure myself of access to an otherwise-inaccessible inner serenity, a congenial circle of clean-living acquaintances for myself and my family, and all the strength, courage, and support needed for a “purpose-driven life.” Would I do it? Suppose I’d been brought up from childhood to do it, to not think about it too much, and with the assurance that people much smarter than I had figured out that my creed was all true at some deep and mysterious level of meaning far removed from ordinary language. Then would I do it?
One of the Church fathers (Anselm? I forget, but I’m sure readers know) said “I believe it because it’s absurd.” From a standpoint of pure logic, that makes no sense. Psychologically, though, as I said, it’s nontrivial.
As a sidebar: LDS doctrines about Native Americans being of Middle East descent have been exploded by genetic studies. Some LDS theologians are fighting a spirited rearguard action, but I think it’s fair to say that their arguments are a mighty stretch, at any rate for anyone not deeply pre-committed to the LDS point of view. The heaviest blow here has been to professional geneticists who are also LDS adherents–at least one, Simon Southerton, has been excommunicated. When science and religion collide, there will be casualties.