Review of Paul F. Fink. Comparing and Evaluating the Scriptures: A Timely Challenge for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mormons. Lompoc, CA: Summerland Publishing, 2008. 166 pp. $16.95 (paperback and e-book format).
I expected better things from Professor Fink’s book, as it points out on the cover that he started as the son of a “conservative Christian Minister” and ended as a professor of philosophy; such a life journey, made thoughtfully, ought to sow very interesting things to say. His stated purpose is broad: an “orderly,” “even-handed” analysis of the Bible, Koran, Torah, and Book of Mormon. He invites readers to imagine themselves on a jury—one called to impartially evaluate the evidence regarding these sacred works, with minds cleared of presupposition and bias, and required to conclude with completely logical answers to the questions Fink poses at the end of the book.
The questions, disappointingly, are of the smugly conclusory variety, all obviously calculated to encourage the inquisitor’s predetermined decision, which is that as an intelligent and mature participant in this very scholarly exercise, I must conclude that religion makes no sense, creates awful consequences, and must be abandoned (see pp. 126–29 and 136–37 for Mr. Fink’s clearest expression of these sentiments). This is the book Korihor might have written for an introductory seminar, though even the dimmest student might recognize that the choices of which evidence to present and which questions to ask [Page 2]are crucial ones a prosecutor does not make accidentally, and that there can be no fair trial without two opposing lawyers making their respective cases. Fink assures us his presentation of evidence is all we need, for he will impart an “honest understanding of the beliefs of our religious brethren” (p. 8). And so the trial begins.
I’m genuinely puzzled as to whom Fink intended this book to persuade. He titled it a “timely challenge” to the religious believers themselves and presents himself as an expert challenger, but it took me a mere twelve pages to suspect that his grasp of Mormon theology is shockingly poor. I doubt other believers—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—could get much further without acquiring the same suspicion. Here are some of Fink’s worst blunders regarding Mormonism (I will leave other theologies to fend for themselves):
- When Nephi married into the family of Ishmael, it was the Ishmael, discarded son of Abraham (p. 21).
- Mormons continue to circumcise their male children as required by covenant (p. 23).
- It fell to church president “Joseph E. Smith” to distance Mormons from trinitarianism and proclaim Jesus is a material being separate from his Father (p. 88).
- A cited Book of Mormon passage describing the formation of “many churches” among the gentiles is, in Mr. Fink’s telling, actually a symptom of major anti-Catholic sentiment (p. 105).
- The Book of Mormon describes the origin of the Negro race (p. 105).
- The Book of Mormon consigns the wicked to “eternal torture” in hell. Although the cited passage does read that way, Fink is proof-texting without betraying any awareness of, say, Alma 40, let alone D&C 76 (p. 106).
- Nephi’s quoting Isaiah on women with certain vices—“wanton eyes,” “tinkling” feet, and such [Page 3](2 Nephi 13:16–24)—indicates an “antagonistic and demeaning view of women,” not a more obvious warning against pride directed toward Israelites of both genders (p. 106).
- A complicated Isaiah passage directly addressing the devil and anticipating slaughter for “his children” is interpreted as approval of ethnic warfare and genocide in a presentist Middle Eastern framework (p. 108).
There’s every indication that Fink simply thumbed through the Book of Mormon, pulling out passages here and there to support the points he already planned to make without the slightest effort at really understanding even its basic historical setting and message, let alone Mormon doctrine as a whole. The omissions wouldn’t have been so glaring had they been unrelated to the points he wanted to make and the condemnation he wanted to bestow, but they’re all of a piece. It is laughable to see Fink in his “Professor of Civilized Morality” garb condemning Mormonism for sadism because it foretells eternal torture for the non-Mormon. This is especially true considering that a ten-minute conversation with a knowledgeable Latter-day Saint would have spared him the embarrassment of committing all of this to print.
I suspect that this book, though dressed up as an assault on all Western religion, is at heart really a rebellion against and self-justification for Fink’s own strict Protestant past. Remember his father, the “conservative Christian Minister”? Dear old Dad must have emphasized some very specific beliefs about the Bible, because his son can’t seem to tear his gaze away from their particular prism. The heart of the book is the case, tendentiously presented, that the religious of necessity believe their scripture is infallible, dictated directly by God, correct in all details, and so forth. The argument is worth presenting in its entirety—it won’t take long—because it shows, better even than Fink’s Mormon gaffes, that his understanding of the great [Page 4]diversity of believers he is presuming to expertly correct is extraordinarily shallow:
The positions dictated above [a few proof texts from each book stating that scripture is revealed from God] are unequivocal. Clearly, their authors regard Holy Scriptures as being supernatural in origin. They are, therefore, taken to be the authoritative Word of God. Since God is thought to be perfect, His Word likewise is thought to be perfect. Hence many religious persons use words like “divinely inspired,” “revealed,” “infallible,” “authoritative,” “inerrant,” and “holy” to describe their Bibles [Mr. Fink here uses “Bibles” generically to mean scripture]. Scriptures are to be understood as presenting divine commandments for almost all our thoughts and actions. So important are these commandments thought to be that no other source of theological or moral truth is necessary, or even legitimate. The Holy Scriptures are believed to contain all the divine truth and wisdom we will ever need to guide our lives. It is not only unnecessary, but also mistaken to look elsewhere. (pp. 44–45)
It would be kind to assume Professor Fink is actually sheltered enough to truly think that religious belief requires scriptural inerrantism. However, his position is so convenient to the rest of his argument that one does begin to wonder. In searching the Book of Mormon for convenient quotations, he never stumbled across one of several passages forthrightly stating that it may contain errors? He’s never encountered a believer with a nuanced view of scriptural accuracy despite preparing to write a book that claims to completely invalidate the scripture of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Latter-day Saints in one fell swoop? So again I wonder who Fink’s intended audience really is. Perhaps the lightly churched, young and self-righteous, [Page 5]unfamiliar with the issues raised, and ripe for being eased by intellectual and moral flattery into taking the short step away from faith into atheism. From the premise that religion requires inerrancy, Fink devotes several pages rehearsing the well-worn litany of obvious inaccuracies in the Old Testament—Ahaziah’s age at the start of his reign and so forth—which, along with the moral depravity he finds evident in much of scripture, provides all the evidence Fink needs to reach the verdict that religion is bunk and enlightened individuals should liberate themselves therefrom.
By the end, Fink is reduced to sniffy condemnation of Jesus calling Mary “woman,” and hitching his argument to that of “new atheists” like Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, whose book weakly posits that Jesus was invented from pagan lore. ((Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999).)) Underwhelming all around—not that a thorough, thoughtful case can’t be made for rejecting organized religion, but Fink’s book isn’t it. To anyone predisposed to think that the choice between belief and atheism is such a simplistic one, I hope such an important decision is not made on the basis of such weak research and poor arguments.