Mormon Beliefs and Doctrines Made Easier
David J. Ridges
CFI (Cedar Fort), 2007
David J. Ridges has been a prolific writer for Cedar Fort, with a whole series of “Made Easier” books. This is his newest title, for which he received a record advance of $50,000 in the hopes that it will replace Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, which is apparently going out of print.
My copy of the book seems to have had some printing problems on the last couple of pages – the ink on the left side of the page is darker than on the right side. I don’t know whether it’s just my copy or if the whole print run is like this. Other than that, it is a nice looking book.
The book is formatted similarly to Mormon Doctrine and the Church’s own True to the Faith, both of which it quotes from. According to the introduction, there are over 1,300 topics covered. Some of them are very brief, while the longest one, “Same Gender Attraction” covers nearly 20 pages. Unfortunately, it seems that the more important topics – the ones that would actually be considered doctrine – tend to be treated with very little space (“Jesus Christ” takes up 2 pages).
While Ridges plays it safe on some subjects by quoting from official sources such as True to the Faith, the Bible Dictionary, and lds.org, he also perpetuates some of the teachings from sources such as Mormon Doctrine, Doctrines of Salvation, and the Journal of Discourses, that some members of the Church may not agree with. In addition to quoting from other sources, he also gives his own explanations on many topics.
According to the Introduction, this book is intended for members as a “quick reference” and for use “as they prepare lessons,” as well as for non-members, to help them gain “a better understanding of what [we] believe.” However, other than specific topics (such as “Mormons”) that seem to be specifically intended for non-members, most of the other topics would probably be confusing to them or raise more questions than they would answer.
Some topics seem to have information withheld from them, possibly to keep them simple, or to try to avoid controversy, but it seems misleading. One example is “Plural Marriage,” where it says “It is often called polygamy, but the technical term is ‘polygyny,’ since ‘polygamy’ can mean having more than one wife or more than one husband.” This explanation implies that polyandry was never practiced, and indeed it is not mentioned. Under “Nauvoo Expositor” it says that the Nauvoo city council directed the mayor to have the press destroyed, but neglects to mention that Joseph Smith was the mayor.
There are topics that have some of the same information more than once under different titles, such as “Accountability” and “Age of Accountability.” In some cases only a reference is given to further material under one topic but the whole passage that the reference refers to is given under another. This means that if you look hard enough, you can often find information that is being referred to in another part of the book without having to go to the source.
Topics such as “Flood” contain information from Mormon Doctrine that some members of the church do not agree with (“The Flood was the baptism of the earth” is an idea that appeals to some but has no scriptural support). “Flood” also states that the flood was universal, using Genesis 6-9, Moses 8:43 (which doesn’t actually exist), and Ether 13:2 to back it up.
“Book of Mormon, Translation Of” lacks a lot of information that other sources cover more thoroughly, such as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and Neal A. Maxwell’s article that appeared in the January 1997 Ensign.
The “Word of Wisdom” topic gives a brief explanation of its history, including mentioning when it became required to live it in order to receive a temple recommend. It also gives a verse by verse explanation. One part of the explanation that I found particularly interesting is that of verse 13. It mentions that there were Shaking Quakers (the D&C actually refers to them as Shakers) and others in the area that “advocated not eating meat” and that verse 13 might be read as the flesh of beasts and fowls “should not be used only in times of winter, or cold, or famine, like Ann Lee and the Shaking Quakers teach. Rather, they are to be used sparingly.” Perhaps he came up with this explanation because the original text of the Word of Wisdom didn’t have the comma that is found in the current version, which the author also omits in the section I quoted (the comma was added by James Talmage and it gives the verse a completely different meaning, which more closely matches what is taught in the church today). Caffeine is not specifically mentioned, but in other topics it is said that it is up to individual members whether or not they should partake of it.
One topic I found puzzling is “America.” It says “In its broadest use in the scriptures, America means the Western Hemisphere, including North and South America (1 Nephi 2:20; Ether 2:7-8 ).” Of course, the word “America” is not found in the scriptures. The Book of Mormon scriptures cited do refer to the “land of promise,” but it is not clear where that is exactly. Current research has shown that the Book of Mormon people were probably not spread out across the whole Western Hemisphere, as this seems to imply, and as the Church seems to be accepting as reflected in the recent change to the introduction to the Book of Mormon. The topic does go on to talk about the mention of the United States Constitution in the Doctrine and Covenants, which does seem more appropriate.
Under “Evolution,” the 1909 First Presidency statement is quoted. It is followed by an interesting argument: supposing that man evolved from lower life forms, “Should temple work be done for lower forms of life in the ancestral chain?”
Ridges is not shy about saying that we have the potential to become gods. This is covered under several topics, such as “Exaltation,” “Plurality of Gods,” “Godhood,” and “Gods.”
“Proclamations of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” gives the full text of all the official proclamations that have been issued, starting with one published in 1841, except for the Proclamation on the family, which is a separate topic. Notes are included along with each of them.
On the topic of “Jesus Christ,” an introduction is given which includes the frequency of mention of Him in the Book of Mormon as well as quoting D&C 76:22-24. It then goes on to quote from the declaration from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles titled “The Living Christ,” which also quotes from D&C 76:22-24.
“Fellowshipping” is another topic that seems incomplete. It states simply: “A word which commonly denotes the actions of making new members feel welcome in the Church.” While this is one use of the word within the church, it seems to be more commonly used to describe the action of befriending non-members and less active members.
I am really not sure that this book is needed. I think that True to the Faith, which is published by the church, would be a better replacement for Mormon Doctrine (and perhaps it is intended to be such). When compared to True to the Faith, this book has many more topics, but it goes beyond the official explanations that a reader can get from True to the Faith, and presents opinions and some speculation as fact. This is the same weakness that Mormon Doctrine had.
However, if readers approach it with the understanding that it is not all necessarily doctrine, and not all necessarily accurate (there is the standard disclaimer that appears on both the copyright page and the introduction that says as much), it might be a good springboard for further study on the topics it covers – as long as it is not used as the final authority. As Harold B. Lee put it, “All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources when you can find it here in these books.” (Dennis B. Horne, Determining Doctrine [Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005], 175.)