Episode 105: Richard Packham

John Larsen and Richard Packham discuss the state of online criticism of the Church for the last 25 years.

Richard Packham’s Website

Episode 105

24 comments on “Episode 105: Richard Packham”

  1. Hermes Reply

    Regarding the way scholars spew BS and make it believable, Packham might have quoted Nibley’s gas law of learning: “Any amount of information, no matter how small, will fill any intellectual void, no matter how large.” In my opinion, Nibley was a better satirist than he was a scholar. Some of his best work rips correlated Mormonism to shreds (no matter how you read it).

  2. Jay Bryner Reply

    I liked this podcast. It speaks to the fact that people who have left the church for whatever reason are not ‘enemies’. It surprises me the degree to which people who leave are immediately classified as outsiders in the worst way. It surprises me to look back on some of my own attitudes.

  3. The Whiner Reply

    I remember being kinda scared of Richard Packham when I was a TBM. But now that I’ve listened to his interview here and on Mormon Stories, I just love the guy. He sounds so genuine, kind, and honest. Not to mention well-informed. Good discussion. I liked this episode a lot. 🙂

    • Anonymous Reply

      Of course you were. He was the enemy. The devil. He wasn’t a real person and certainly not a nice one.

      And then you open your eyes and realize the exact opposite is true. Richard is the Dean of the ExMormons. A wonderful person as far as I can tell.

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  5. brandt Reply

    Packham’s conversation was very interesting, and I really like the information he gave to the bishop (I think he said it was his brother?). As someone who still believes, this is something that I can totally agree with. Basically, be a good person. Don’t lie to people. Get people the correct help. Realize that you’re mission isn’t to be a savior.

    I’m putting myself out there, but here goes: There was some stuff I obviously disagreed with, but probably the biggest one is the fact that myself, a faithful believing active Mormon, comes off as the enemy, or the blind follower, or just ignorant in the eyes of people like Packham. I can understand his position, and I’m probably one of the few faithful’s that actually listen to the podcast to view Mormonism in it’s whole, with all viewpoints, but it seems there’s no give on the other side. I’m comfortable in the fact that there’s a lot of questions that I really don’t know the answer to. And I think we have a lot of people within the church who are just trying to do the right thing. Does this make them “Bad” people? I’m sure the over-zealous ones who make it their mission to convert everyone (faithful, ex-, and non-Mormon alike) give people like me a bad name, but where is the other side on Packham’s comments?

    (let the flame war begin)

    • The Whiner Reply

      Brandt, have you ever spent any time on any of the recovery from mormonism or NOM type boards? So many people are suffering at the hands of ardent mormons. Marriages are ripped apart, lives are ruined, families are broken. People who “fall away” face all sorts of discrimination and pain. THAT is what people like Mr. Packham have beef with. I really don’t think Mr. Packham would call you a bad person for believing. He’d probably be pleasantly surprised to find out that you know all of the dirty underbelly stuff because believers who know all of that and still actually believe are rare. But I’ve yet to meet one single NOM or former mormon who hold ill will toward people simply because they still believe. The problem comes with the discrimination and bad treatment. Not the belief.

      • brandt Reply

        While I have spent some time on the boards, and I read the responses, frankly, I just don’t fit there. However, I do understand your concerns. As a matter of fact, I think your concerns are spot on. Too often overzealous leaders confuse their own brand of Mormonism with the broader view of things. And I think that is going to be a big sticking point with the Church going forward. My wife know that I listen to the podcast, and through our discussions she also knows the sticky points of doctrine and history that even I struggle with. She once told me “Brandt, just be careful,” thinking that by me listening to the podcast (and commenting, and sharing my opinions, and hearing differing opinions) that I was going to lose my own conviction of things. And that mindset is what fuels many of the people who use the asinine logic of common church members, which, in my mind, goes counter to the logic of Christ. Again, my opinion is that many who have left Mormonism or consider themselves part of the DAMU or NOMs look at people who stil believe as either ignorant people who have been manipulated or people who have been duped by the Mormon Machine. Sometimes, though, all I can say to the questions that get brought up to me is “I don’t know.” And it’s almost as if that’s not good enough. I don’t know, that’s just been my experience.

    • Hermes Reply

      As long as people are willing to admit my integrity and good faith when I disagree with them respectfully, I have no problem with them. Problems arise when people (usually leaders) insist that I have no voice in the community. I cannot get spiritual nourishment at church, not because people are bad or the gospel isn’t “true” (whatever that means), but because my investigation of human life has turned up ideas that do not square neatly with correlated Mormonism. If I say anything about the details of my discoveries, no matter how careful I am, people feel uncomfortable and respond by attacking me as some kind of evil freak. Not everyone is this way of course. Back when I was 100% active and convinced of correlated LDS talking points, I was not this way toward “doubters” or “antis” or whatever you want to call us. I figured God would sort everything out without my input (and that correlated Mormonism would be vindicated). I still think this “live and let live” approach is the best one (though I am no longer expecting the vindication of correlated Mormonism). To this day I live the Golden Rule, the law of chastity, and many other principles that Mormons rightly find useful to fostering a healthy, happy community. Why am I an outcast merely because I hold unorthodox views on the origin of the Book of Mormon and the character of Joseph Smith? Unlike some, I do not find either to be pure, unadulterated evil: they are just not what correlated Mormonism says they are (an historical record and the restorer of primitive Christianity, respectively).

      For what it is worth, I understand why the church wants me muzzled: I represent a threat to the illusion that Big Brother has everything under control. The irony is that I became what I am because I believed everything he said. I became an expert in early Christian history under the illusion that it would make me a better (correlated) Mormon. I would understand the correctness of correlated Mormonism better than ever and be in a better position than before to reach out to other Christians (in and out of the church): how could that be a bad thing? Well, it turns out Big Brother did not really mean it when he encouraged me to study history and religion seriously. I was just an outreach project, useful as PR (“we study religion seriously; look at that dude: he studies early Christianity, and he’s a Mormon!”), but expendable once my research went south (kind of like the scientists whose findings contradict what drug companies want them to say). Because of my history with Mormons, going all the way back to my birth in a family of converts, I know they are good people — as well-meaning, intellectually curious, and inherently capable as anyone out there. Unfortunately, this says very little about the reliability of the truth claims they make when attempting to convert the world. I was never on board with the gospel as shutting up and agreeing with the brethren. I took them at their word when they told me they were open to questioning. I never wanted to make everyone in the church agree with my conclusions regarding church history and doctrine. I still don’t want that. But I do want the freedom to explore spirituality (including Mormonism) for myself and be honest with others about what I find. No one has to accept my word as law, but I should at least be free to speak it once in a while without running the risk of excommunication. That’s really all I personally am looking for.

      • brandt Reply

        I think that what you’re describing is the problem the church is going to face going forward, and that in the future is something they are going to have to address. I’ve thought long and hard, and can’t think of a great way to combat this problem, but here goes:

        You mentioned you “…hold unorthodox views on the origin of the Book of Mormon and the character of Joseph Smith…”, which is something that goes against what the Church would have you believe because it goes against their Correlated version of Joseph or the Book of Mormon. The Church is going to need to address this because of the mass amounts of information that is now readily available at the click of a button. What I fear is going to happen (and what I think will happen) is that the church will conform the information they find to meet their vision of either Joseph, or the Book of Mormon, or Polygamy, or whatever. The only way that the information can be used for good is to be public with the information and utilize the talent you have in the membership. It’s not that they should air the dirty laundry on the church website, but there should be some sort of education and information made available to people so they can make their own conclusions.

        Second, what you’re describing in your research is what we face in society today. I once had a research professor tell me “Never believe statistics unless you have the information from where the statistics were gleaned. Statistics lie.” And that’s the nature of the society we live in. There are people who spin George W. Bush to be an absolute saint from the right, and a maniac who should be tried for war crimes from the right. Obama is the same way. And you could go back and find that for just about every situation in history. That’s just the society we live in. But the problem with religion, and especially the Mormon position, is the claim of being infallible. For something that goes wrong, you can claim a leader was acting as a man. For something that goes right, you can claim he was inspired of God. And where do you draw the line, and where do you say “I don’t know” on certain issues. So your points are very valid.

      • Jay Bryner Reply

        This is the ‘problem’ I’ve been working through over the past (insert time period here depending on the historical problem) and it truly is a dilemma for me.

        On the one hand I have a whole bunch of people in my life who are truly awesome. They aren’t faking it. They really are just mucho bueno.

        On the other hand I keep crashing up against the reality that I was taught completely wrong. Conclusions I have come to over the years are either unsound, or invalid.

    • Glenn Reply

      I’m glad you spoke up, Brandt. I like to hear it, you know, in the spirit of “the discussion continues…” and all that. So what exactly do you mean when you say that you are a believer?

      • brandt Reply


        I guess I would classify myself somewhere between a liberal Mormon and a TBM. For example, I think the church is led by men inspired of God, but they are men who make mistakes. I disagree with Correlation, but see it as a necessary evil. I don’t think sticky issues with Church History should be discussed from the pulpit, but that the vast majority of the membership, whether uninformned by ignorance or by choice, has a responsibility to know the religion they belong to’s history. I’m still an active temple recommend holder, serve in my Elders Quorum Presidency, and attend faithfully every week. Categorize me how you may, because I’m really not sure where I fit.

        • Me Reply

          It sounds like you and I might fall in the same classification/category. The only part I think we may part ways on is the “sticky issues over the pulpit”. I just wonder if these issues (and there are many) were acknowledged, discussed, and maybe even explained if we’d be a better people – less judgmental, less quick to point out the “evils” of others, more understanding of individual challenges. For example, let’s say they finally acknowledged that Joseph Smith and several others drank wine and other beverages of choice back in the day maybe church members wouldn’t look at their “neighbors that drink” as followers of satan. Maybe a discussion on polyandry and the challenges it caused would allow people to realize that are leaders truly aren’t perfect and we need not expect them to be perfect. Maybe these issues would make the church at large not so uptight about every little thing being of the devil. Know what I mean?
          I just wished we’d focus on Christ teachings more than what an “us vs them” focus. Just my take…

          • Me

            forgive all the grammar/spelling mistakes I made…was trying to type while holding a 10 month old and a 4 year old driving me crazy!

          • brandt

            You know, I thought like that for a while too (discussing the “sticky issues from the pulpit”). A long while, actually. And while I do think there is a need for an open and honest discussion, I don’t know if Church would be the best place for it (again, the problem is, I don’t know where the best place would be). I think it would be beneficial in 2 realms: First, the fact that nobody would be broadsided with things they didn’t know about, and second, like you said, it would take away the “us vs. them” mentality. I lived in Idaho when I went to BYU-Idaho, and that was the hardest thing to wrap my head around (me, hailing from Detroit,MI) – every slightest thing that was public that went against Mormon ideals was considered either persecution or “the signs of the times” or a further method of proving “See, this is Satan going against everything that’s right.” I’m not excluding that in some situations, and of those could be the case. But I think that it’s far far far less than reality, and what actually happens.

            But your last sentance really drives it home for me why I don’t think the pulpit is the best place to discuss these things: “I just wished we’d focus on Christ teachings more …” I don’t think we should keep those topics off limits, and I have actually mentioned them in EQ as well as briefly skimming over them in talks, but all in the context of keeping Christ within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because sometimes we leave Him out, and we become The Church of Latter-day Saints, which is my biggest pet peeve.

    • Tierza Reply

      The “letter to a bishop” made me wonder if the bishop to whom I came out as an unbeliever had read that. His response was completely supportive and unexpected. He told me that he knew everyone has to follow their own path and that he hoped I would find what I was looking for.

      It is interesting that you here Packham saying that faithful Mormons are “bad” somehow. I certainly did not hear that. I think what you are hearing is a man who has made a decision (the church is not true) and is simply living that decision. As a non-believer myself, I would hate for the believers in my life to think that I look down on them. I don’t even thing believers are ‘wrong’, I just think they have reached a different conclusion that I have, and I am cool with that. (As long as they have reached that conclusion knowingly).

    • Fanson Reply

      Absolutely! His comedy schtick where he satirizes LdS Apologists by playing a total hack scholar who thinks he’s legitimate is beyond belief – it’s one of the funniest things on the Internet next to Wayne May, and Mike Ash who have similar acts.

      However, Shirts tops them all with his mad digressions like taking 5-minutes to give us a tour of his house, interviewing his dog, and citing long discredited sources as if they’re still credible.

      He’s the BEST!

  6. G Reiersen Reply

    Thank you for this interview with Richard Packham. As he so clearly pointed out, so-called anti-Mormon literature is not what usually causes people doubt that the Church is what it claims to be. As was the case with him, information I found in church approved sources did far more to raise doubts in my mind about the church than any or all sources I read that were openly and antagonistically critical of the church. For example: I find it astounding that any reasonable person, especially those with any mathematical, scientific, historical and/or engineering expertise can take seriously the Book of Ether in the BOM. The description of the barges used by the Jaredites to travel to the promised land is so ludicrous that I doubt that even Joseph Smith could have really taken it seriously. I imagine him having a good laugh at the gullibility of his followers who swallowed that story hook, line and sinker. Are we really expected to believe that God is such an incompetent engineer that he could not design vessels that could cross the ocean in less than 344 days, even while being continually driven by gale force winds in the direction of their final destination (according to chapter 6 in Ether)? Thor Heyerdahl’s primitive Kon Tiki raft using nothing but normal winds and currents for propulsion moved faster than that! The ships used by ancient Phoenicians were much better than that!

    Another thing I simply cannot overlook or condone are the undeniable instances of deliberate lies told by church leaders. Richard Packham pointed out one of the most egregious examples of John Taylor lying about polygamy in 1850 while in France. And there is no doubt about the fact that Joseph Smith also lied about polygamy to the press and even to many of his followers (including his wife) up to the day he was martyred. In Ether 3:12, the brother of Jared says to God, “I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.” Is this itself a lie? Is there any significant difference between God lying and permitting or requiring his prophets to lie for him? If we know that God’s prophets can lie, whether authorized by God to do so or not, how can we trust anything said by anyone claiming to be a prophet?

  7. Fanson Reply

    Every time I hear Richard Packham speak or get interviewed my respect and admiration of him goes up a notch or two.

    And this was no exception.

    I can only hope to be attain the level of Mormon Studies Scholarship – and dare I say – and level of Critical Analysis of Mormonism that Mr. Packham has achieved.

    And I say this as a Theist who disagrees with a great deal of the things that Mr. Packham criticized on the Theistic side of the fence. In fact, the one quality of Mr. Packham’s that I admire the most is how he disagrees civilly and respectfully with those that he criticizes.

    He is indeed a wonderful role model to us all.

    I absolutely loved this interview!

    • Wes Cauthers Reply

      I fully agree, Fanson. I was at the exmormon conference in 1998 that Richard mentioned and very much enjoyed meeting him even though we differ on the issue of theism. It’s unfortunate there are not more folks like him out there who can disagree with the same level of civility and respect.

      • Fanson Reply

        100% agreement Wes.

        I find it unfortunate that many ExMormons can’t bring themselves to be civil to Theists who share their values, ideals, and objectives when it comes to criticism of Mormonism. Exhibit A is how they’re often treated on ExMormon discussion boards.

        And the same is true, sadly, of many Theists who are put off by the militant atheism of many ExMormons and can’t turn off their proselytizing “sub-system” when they interact with them.

        I have a faint hope that someday both parties can engage in what Francis Schaeffer called, “Peaceful Co-Belligerence” and agree to disagree on the issue of Theism while working together to expose the continuing lies and deceptions of the LdS Church.

        Unfortunately, it remains a FAINT hope.

        Richard Packham gives me hope and so does Mormon Expression – I have been treated respectfully by both despite my established and well known Theistic stance.

  8. Ltwnt Reply

    What surprises me is that those who leave the LDS Church can never seem to leave it alone. They fight against it,talk against it,make a life mission to “convince others”.Follow the New testament advise at the time of the Savior…if it is Not of God it will fail…if it is of God..well then that is other story.

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