CES Reply 2.0 – and introducing the Latter-day Saint Survey Project

In April of 2016, I published a document online called “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” It was a response to the infamous “Letter to a CES Director,” colloquially known as the “CES Letter,” that has become a sort of pseudo-scripture, or perhaps anti-scripture, for former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At a FAIRMormon conference in 2014, BYU professor Daniel Peterson described the CES Letter as follows:

Some of you don’t know what the “Letter to a CES Director” is. It’s a letter that’s been circulating online for about a year now… a year and a half, I think, as far as I know, that has gotten quite a bit of circulation. It’s a kind of compendium of standard critical arguments against the truth claims of the Church. It’s entitled “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony,” and it was written, as the story goes, by request of a CES director who wanted to know why this young man had decided to leave the Church. He wrote the letter. The CES director said he would get back to him with answers, but he did not, according to the story. Now the thing is about 90 pages long, and it’s just a rata-tat-tat list of objections. I can understand why a normal person confronted by that would say, “Well, you know, I’ve got a life. It’s 90 pages of quick and dirty objections would take 500 pages to respond to, and probably wouldn’t do much good, so, never mind.

– Daniel Peterson, “Some Reflections on that Letter to a CES Director,” August 8, 2014

Daniel Peterson was wrong. At the time, it took me only 231 pages and 113,031 words to write a line-by-line response to the CES Letter, which, in the past two-and-a-half years, it has been downloaded from my website over 50,000 times.

The response has been rather polarized.

The exMormon subreddit got ahold of it and produced the following merit-free evaluations, which have been edited to for community standards:

  • “This guy is one giant condescending piece of s—.”
  • “Then yes, we are hung up with the rock and a hat, you ignorant pr—.”
  • “The condescending tone is outrageous.”
  • “All I could think reading this was ‘Oh you sweet summer child’.”
  • “So. Much. Cog. Dis. This guy is NUTS!”
  • “This guy is an intellectually dishonest f—.”
  • “This guy has managed to mind-f— himself.”
  • “Honestly this guy is full of himself… frankly embarrassing.”
  • “It is literally a rant from a cult member defending his cult in the most culty way he can muster”

Yet those kinds of responses have largely faded away, and in their place, I continue to receive emails like the following I received from someone currently serving a full-time mission for the Church:

“I don’t recall what directed me to your blog and your CES reply but I can honestly say it is one of my favorite resources. I found your letter to be insightful, entertaining, and a fantastic response to the criticisms in the CES Letter, which turned out to be a great deal flimsier than I had thought they would be. I’ve since read it many, many times. It has done much for my faith and influenced my understanding of many gospel topics. I don’t know whether it will help my siblings, or others I know who have decided the CES Letter to be a damning indictment of the church. But it did help me, and I’m very grateful for that. I’ve frequently shared responses used in your letter with those around me as they’ve encountered criticism of the church.”

I am very grateful for and humbled by these kinds of messages. The original CES Letter has become a sort of cottage industry, and Jeremy Runnells, its author, now makes his living from donations to the CES Letter Foundation, and his full-time professional vocation is destroying the faith of members of my church. As of October 2017, he has substantially revised and enhanced his original letter, which calls for a substantially revised and enhanced reply on my part.

Which, as of today, has finally arrived, in all of its 372-page, 142,331-word glory.

Click here on the image below to download the full PDF:

I had originally thought this would simply be an issue of a few tweaks my original reply, but, as you can tell by the word/page count, it required considerably more work than that. I’ve recreated my reply in the format of the updated CES Letter to make it more visually appealing – and to correct the massive amount of typos and errors from the original 2016 version. (I reserve the right to continually update this file in order to fix all the mistakes here, too. I make no claims to infallibility.) I can’t specifically quantify how much is different this time around, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly half of what I’ve written in this version is new material.

I’m also doing more here than just revising a document. I’ve written this version of the reply as a catalyst for a new effort we’re calling the Latter-day Saint Survey Project, which is why I’m publishing this here at Canonizer.com. Tomorrow, I’ll be detailing what, exactly, the Latter-day Saint Survey Project is and how the Canonizer site is going to facilitate the process.

Tomorrow, I’ll put up another post to describe how that’s going to work, but in the meantime, I wanted to get this out into the world and see what happens.