Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson has his share of antagonists, some of whom have accused him of being a "lying mercenary."

But the Brigham Young University professor has one question for those who feel he's out for financial gain.

"When's the check going to arrive?" Peterson said.

Humor, after all, is ione of his best defenses.

As an individual who embraces opportunities to answer critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Peterson is the recipient of what he calls an "absolutely enormous amount" of hostility. But it doesn't discourage him from speaking out.

While he laughs off those who accuse him of having less-than-honorable intentions, Peterson's motivation for defending the church is entirely serious — a combination of personal conviction and moral obligation to those in need of answers.

"I'm happy to do it," he said. "I really am a believer, and it bothers me to see people out there who come under attack ... and don't have the resources to defend themselves."

As a one-time philosophy and Greek major at BYU who went on to spend five years in the Middle East studying Islam and Arabic before earning a doctorate at UCLA, Peterson has impressive academic credentials. But he's best known as a defender of the LDS Church — a designation he doesn't mind.

"I'm not at all uncomfortable with that," said Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU. "I believe it. It's under attack and I feel it's my obligation."

Covenant Communications recently released a recording of Peterson's lectures, titled "Defending the Faith: Dealing With Criticism of the Church." The two-disc set features Peterson's advice on how to tackle specific attacks aimed at the church.

Peterson says one of the most common issues he addresses is the attempt to discredit the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. While the old notion that they were dishonest or insane has "pretty much gone out the window," Peterson said, the modern argument contends the witnesses were unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. Not likely, says Peterson, who finds it difficult to believe that individuals who spend their time in air-conditioned offices staring at computer screens have a better grasp of reality than those who spent their days laboring on farms.

Another issue critics often use to attack the church is "human deification," or the LDS doctrine that individuals can become like God. Peterson points out that the anti-Mormon film "The God Makers" ridiculed the church for teaching "wildly blasphemous doctrine." However, Peterson says the concept, called "theosis" in scholarly literature, is "common across early Christianity."

"It turns out, we're not the ones with the problem on that issue," he said. "Our critics are. We win."

Peterson finds humor in some attempts to discount Mormonism. For instance, some have suggested the use of the word "adieu" at the end of the Book of Jacob discredits the Book of Mormon, because the French language did not exist at the time the account takes place.

"There's English in the Book of Mormon, too," Peterson said. "This is a translation. That probably seems to be the single dumbest argument I encounter."

Peterson doesn't just defend the church. He tries to go on the offensive by lending his support to projects, from print to radio to film, that put the faith in a positive light. He speaks extensively and is active in a non-profit organization called FAIR — the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research.

Peterson also participates in online conversations about the church — saying he spends "way too much time" on the Internet. He's an advocate of making as much information available online as possible.

"To a certain extent, our critics have owned the Internet for a while," he said. "And I'm not willing to cede that to them.

"In my opinion, we ought to be trying every way we can to reach everyone we can."

Peterson concedes that the work can be time-consuming, and he's not immune to feelings of sadness that come from being portrayed negatively by critics. But he's learned how to deflect the attacks that come his way.

"Basically I've developed a pretty thick skin," he said. "(It) gets to you sometimes, but on the whole I treat it with humor."

He's even been accused of having too much fun. But even when it's an unpleasant situation, Peterson will take the time to defend the church — saying he feels "morally obligated."

Contending with critics, after all, is his strength.

"I do it because I'm absolutely committed to the truthfulness of the gospel," Peterson said. "This is one way that I see that I can help build the kingdom.... This is one offering I can make."


E-mail: ashill@desnews.com