Book Review - Deception by Design

Cultic Studies Journal, 18, 219-220

Deception by Design: The Mormon Story. 

Allen F. Harrod. Morris 

Publishing, Kearney, NE 68847. 1998, paperback with illustrations. 326 pages. Listed at $12.95.

Mr. Harrod is clear about his motives for writing this book. He wants to refute Mormon teachings and Joseph Smith as prophet. Secondly, he wants to evangelize and point out the biblical errors in their unique theology, and, thirdly, he wants to equip his readers with tools to counter Mormon propaganda. He is also clear about his Christian evangelical partiality. This is especially apparent in Part Five. Readers, other than fundamental or evangelical Christians, might write off this book as just another biased anti-Mormon diatribe. This is unfortunate because the author presents valuable information. Even though his evangelical position may be uncomfortable to the non-evangelical reader, this book deserves consideration. Harrod’s sensitivity to the Mormon people is commendable, and he desires all readers to be educated, charitable, and tolerant, thus refraining from any emotional or irrational hostility toward the Mormon people.

The title, Deception by Design, succinctly captures the theme of the book and the reality of Mormon history. Abundant documentation corroborates the author’s thesis. The Mormons’ own documents map out the “deliberateness” in the creation of the Mormon organization, especially the origins of the three Mormon scriptures. Their religious practices, their isolation and insulation from other communities, and an effective public relations campaign have made Mormonism cryptic to most Americans. It also masks the real and devastating control and manipulation, which the leadership applies to their recorded history (the foundations of the group, their original theology, and their early 1800’s world view of native American origin, etc.) as well as their people (their blood atonement practice, the mandatory missionary (recruiting). Mormon records do seem to reveal a history of “deception by design.”

Mr. Harrod has done his homework. The body of facts on Mormon doctrine and history makes the book valuable to the casual reader. He uses Mormon and non-Mormon historians to support his thesis, and this contributes to the author’s credibility. The book is easy reading, providing the reader with a clear picture and understanding of Mormonism. The bibliography is excellent.

Mr. Harrod chronicles Joseph Smith’s early family history, especially the influence of religion and spirituality (i.e., his mother’s visions and superstitions) and the early 1800 social and cultural customs (i.e., common treasure seeking customs and the book View of the Hebrews). He concludes, “It matters little to many that the authority for Mormonism arose from such a questionable beginning.” Harrod also describes: (1) Joseph Smith’s personal behaviors, (i.e., his drinking, his ownership of a bar, being a Mason, a general in his own army, and his candidacy for president); (2) the conflicts and tensions that occurred in all cities Mormons moved into; (3) the struggle for leadership after the death of Joseph Smith and the proliferation of visions mimicking those of Smith – including angels appearing to every want-to-be-leader; (4) the controlling and manipulative design “revelations” play in Mormon culture; (5) the actual purpose and goals of Mormon theocracy; and (6) the creative imagination within their scriptures (i.e., the Book of Abraham deception and cover up, the lack of supporting archeological proof for the Book of Mormon) and how they have been altered over the years. These, and many more facts of the Mormon history, make this book engaging reading.

Mr. Harrod classifies Mormonism as a cult. I tend to agree, but for different reasons. Mr. Harrod lists six standards by which he defines a cult, all based on Christian theology and scriptural interpretations. A belief system, even one contrary to established tenets, in itself, does not necessarily constitute a cult in my opinion. Belief in Mormon theology (non-biblical Christian as it is) does not make one a cultist. Mormonism becomes cultic by its years of deception; changing the definitions of Christian terminology and not admitting to altering its history, doctrines, rituals, and membership requirements and then denying the change. Furthermore, he points out their anti-intellectual loyalty to the organization and refusal to acknowledge the realities of their history, (as Mormon’s avow, even if everything about Smith is found to be fraudulent each one would still believe in the organization as being true, because of the “burning of the blossom.”) He goes on to detail their fear and the condemnation of the organization’s historians, as well as the fear of dissent and leaving the organization (Blood Atonement practice and its continuing influence), the control the organization has on the daily and personal lives of its members, and the secretiveness and exclusion qualities of their ceremonies. Harrod makes evident 150 years of a willful theologically, archeologically, historically “design to deceive” non-Mormons, new recruits, and even their own people.

In short, Deception by design is a commendable book. It clearly attains the author’s goals. I recommend it with the one reservation- that its evangelical bias muddles the raw data.

Brother Timothy Mayworm, FSC

Pasadena, California

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 18, 2001, page