The Book of Mormon: Would You Regularly Study Inspired Fiction?

June 10, 2008
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I’m intrigued by those on the bloggernacle that see The Book of Mormon as fiction but inspired by God. It’s common to hear someone that holds that belief say that it doesn’t really matter if The Book of Mormon is historical or not.

In the past, Clay asked me if I thought that someone who believes The Book of Mormon to be fiction lost their salvation. My answer was, no, I do not believe such a belief causes a person to lose salvation in and of itself. DougG asked me if I believe people that believed the Book of Mormon was inspired but not historical should be rooted out of the Church. My answer to that question was, no they shouldn’t be.

Both of these questions made me think of some counter questions for those that believe The Book of Mormon is inspired of God but just a work of fiction:

  • Do you still study The Book of Mormon as a guide to your life on a regular basis?
  • Do you still prayerfully seek for truths in The Book of Mormon to apply into your life?
  • Did you do any of the above types of study when you thought The Book of Mormon was also historical?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding 19th century patterns now or are you open to finding unique eternal truths there for our day?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only what you need to do to fulfill a calling? (Like say preparing for lessons.)
  • Did coming to believe The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?

Lest I leave out TBMs from this post, I have a similar set of questions for you:

  • Do you study The Book of Mormon as a guide to your life on a regular basis?
  • Do you prayerfully seek for truths in The Book of Mormon to apply into your life?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding ancient patterns?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only what you need to do to fulfill a calling? (Like say preparing for lessons.)
  • Or is The Book of Mormon more useful to you as a differentiator then a doctrinal source?
  • What benefits do you feel there are to believing The Book of Mormon is historical? Does believing it is historical make much of a difference to the way you study or use The Book of Mormon?

Update: Based on working on the wording of the question with John Hamer, here is a possibly more neutral re-wording:

If The Book of Mormon once taught you a message that had enriched your life, and if you possessed a firm testimony that it was inspired of God, but later you felt you learned its narrative had solely modern origins, how has this, in real life, affected your relationship with the Book of Mormon? (i.e. change in how or how much you study it or use it) Do you still continue to seek spiritual guidance from it? Do you still do it in the same manner before you decided it was a modern work?

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88 Responses to The Book of Mormon: Would You Regularly Study Inspired Fiction?

  1. June 10, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I guess before I could answer I’d need to have a better idea what “inspired fiction” means. If Joseph Smith wrote it as one would write a novel and then passed it off as a translation, it would be fiction but not inspired given his motivation. The themes and messages might be inspiring but I’d be hard pressed in that case to consider them inspired.

  2. Dwarik
    June 10, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I do study TBM regularly. I do try to seek truth from TBM. do i think it’s historical? to be honest i don’t know. Both sides seem to have valid arguments. regardless the answer i think there is truth to be found in TBM. morality can be tought just as well whether stories are historically accurate or not. Most of history is not something i can personally verify anyway. Doesn’t mean that genocide is any better regardless the accuracy of a specific event happening exactly as in a certain history book.

  3. Bill
    June 10, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Once I came to the conclusion that the BOM didn’t seem to be historical, I considered the inspired fiction theory. It was difficult to swallow, so now I’m on the ‘inspiring fiction’ theory. Or maybe the ‘occasionally inspiring fiction’ theory.

    No–I don’t read it as much now that I don’t believe that the events actually happened.

  4. John Nilsson
    June 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Bruce,

    You have a knack for asking the naggingly omnipresent questions no one else gets around to asking.

    Where would someone who leans towards Ostler’s expansion theory fall in your dichotomy of belief? It seems to be a middle ground theory acceptable to orthodoxy.

    I think this question about one’s view of the Book of Mormon impacting one’s study of it is hard to separate from one’s view of scripture in general, and could also be asked of one’s study of the Bible, although the Book of Mormon is distinct enough in its claims to warrant the questions you are asking.

    I would say I read the Book of Mormon about as much, in terms of minutes, as I read the Bible, that I read the other LDS standard works less, and that the standard works as a whole represent less of my total reading than they did when I was in early-morning LDS seminary in high school.

    I would also say that I read the Book of Mormon more topically now than chronologically as I used to, and the same goes for the Bible. When I was a kid, I knew nothing of biblical scholarship which had taken place hundreds of years before my birth, knew little of other religions, psychology, evolutionary biology, historical methods, etc. Now that I have learned a bit more, I tend to believe that certain Old Testament narratives like Job, Jonah, and much of Genesis are, according to your definition, “inspired fiction.” I also recognize from the history of literature that the word fiction itself is a modern construct, as well as the division of prose from poetry, which would not be recognizable to premoderns who wrote the Bible and presumably the Book of Mormon.

    So yes, these recognitions affect my study of the scriptures, but the Book of Mormon no less nor more so than the Bible. My understanding of the nature and character of God have changed since I was in seminary too. I somehow imbibed the notion as a teen that the more pages or minutes you read a day the more God approved of and loved you. I no longer believe that, so my reading has slacked off a bit as I now have more things to do in terms of taking care of a family, etc, that may matter more in the long run to God.

    I will try to answer your questions in a later comment, honestly!

  5. Arthur Davis
    June 10, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    I would have a hard time reading it and studying it if I were convinced it was fiction (but I don’t read much fiction anyway, I prefer non-fiction). I know people, however, who see Christian inspirational stuff in almost everything, Harry Potter, Family Guy, M*A*S*H, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, etc. But, those people, as far as I know don’t pray for inspiration before and after reading (or watching) those things, to ASK for inspiration.

    Interesting idea, however. Thanks for starting this thread.

  6. hawkgrrrl
    June 10, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    I’m going to go out on a different limb on this one. I believe it’s a not-very-inspiring ancient record. I do read it, but it’s a bit of a chore. And yet, I have a personal testimony of it based on prayer. I prefer my standard works in this order: NT, POGP (Abr & Mos), D&C, OT, BOM. I also like some of the apocrypha. I read all scriptures somewhat critically, and I try to find what is inspiring to me at the time – I can always find something.

    The BOM is useful in that it clarifies some of what we have elsewhere but does it in a way that is very complementary. Interestingly, one could say that the BOM contradicts some modern-day revelation (e.g. polygamy), and that JS didn’t focus much on it. Also, I assumed the “darkness” of the Lamanites was due to them being rednecks or in the sun a lot rather than changing their race; I was surprised when others said it was racist, although now I see how they are reading it.

  7. Bruce Nielson
    June 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    John,

    You bring up an interesting point that seems relevant to my questions.

    First, I would think Ostler’s view of it being an expansion on an original history falls well within the “orthodox” view of it being “historical.” Believing Joseph Smith expanded upon what he found (as we know he did in at least one verse) does not seem to present much of an issue to believing Mormons.

    But your examples of parts of the Bible being fiction seem relevant too. I have seen many Mormons on the bloggernacle advocate positions where parts of the Book of Mormon are fictional but date back to an ancient writer. For example, believing that Mosiah onward is history but all before (including Nephi) is fiction, but was honestly believed by the writers to be historical because they couldn’t tell myth from history.

    Or Orson Scott Card had a theory of Mulek being entirely fictional as a way of attempting to trump Nephite cultural supremacy. But again, it’s fiction but really believed by the ancient authors.

    I would think that for the purposes of my questions any of the above would be considered “historical” as none of them in any way create a challenge to an “orthodox” position nor a faith challenge IMO. And they are as “historical” as the Bible still in such a person’s mind.

    So I think I’m really asking either:

    1. What if someone modern wrote it like a novel and then went around pretending it was historical. (e.g. what GBSmith says in #1)
    2. Or what if someone made it all up in automatic writing fashion (so they really thought it was historical) but in fact it was just their subconcious writing a piece of fiction.

    I would think either of these options might present a challenge to faith or might lead to viewing or treating the Book of Mormon differently.

  8. June 10, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Of course, isn’t all history fiction? I mean, we’re piecing together fragments of events from fragments of evidence, and our views get revised continuously.

    Obviously I don’t vitally believe that most history is wrong, per se, but what we have is at best an approximation. I don’t consider much of the historical/anecdotal portions of the Bible to be as true as the Book of Mormon, but as I know that most of what I carry around in my head as truth is probably false, I’m certainly open to a broader interpretation of the Book of Mormon and its events.

    For what it’s worth, I do believe the BOM to be true. I find the primary benefit in believing its historicity is that it seems more in line with what Joseph Smith believed about the volume.

  9. Arthur Davis
    June 10, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    #8 Neal Davis, I have been reading Grant Palmer’s book about Mormon Origins recently. It certainly seems to call into question the historicity of the BoM. Makes the point that there are many ways Joseph could have written, rather than “translated” that book, having to do with all the things that were in his environment in the early 19th Century. Also, I have, and have just started reading the publication of BH Roberts’s studies of the Book of Mormon.

    Does anybody here have any experience with those books? BH Roberts was in the Presidency of the Seventy and the Assistant Church Historian when he did his studies.

    And, I’m not sure I understand your last statement, Neal, are you saying you believe its historicity because Joseph Smith believed its historicity? That might be a little problematic, because if it isn’t historically accurate, then the most likely conclusion would be that Joseph knew that and was untruthful. It seems unlikely that God or angels would perpetrate a hoax on Joseph and intentionally give him a book of fiction and tell him it was truth.

    But, I think that’s at the heart of the question. If based on the research you have done, (or not done, or whatever) you choose to believe Joseph Smith, that’s fine. I think the very question about “If it is fiction. . . ” is taking the premise that Joseph’s word alone is not enough to make the determination. Obviously if it were enough to make that determination, then everyone would accept it as truth.

    This is just yet another of those things that is puzzling to me.

  10. June 10, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Comparing the BOM to parts of the bible using Marcus Borg’ term of “fictional but true” doesn’t quite work. With the bible I can decide what I do or don’t believe to be factual without having to toss it out as a source of truth or as a collection of God’s word to His people. There are spiritual and moral truths in both and precepts worth following but with the BOM it still comes down to whether it’s what Joseph Smith said it was. As an aside reading the BOM topically rather than chronologically helps to avoid the problem sections and allows you to get out of it what you want without having to get dissonanced. Sorry for the binary thinking but I think that’s the bottom line.

  11. hawkgrrrl
    June 10, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    GBSmith – “With the bible I can decide what I do or don’t believe to be factual without having to toss it out as a source of truth or as a collection of God’s word to His people.” Based on what? Because lots of people accept it?

  12. June 10, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    I think Hawkgrrl’s comment deserves a follow-up post. I count myself one of the ones who does not quite get what the big deal about the Book of Mormon seems to be. I understand from a historical perspective that it serves as a sign of the prophet Joseph’s calling. But when I hear things said like “there is a special spirit about that book,” I can’t quite give full mental assent. Granted, I come from a Protestant background and feel much more comfortable and conversant with the Bible. I have had times where I intensely studied the BoM (e.g. mission), but my experiences with it have been no more positive than with other standard works (and sometimes not as much as some not-so-standard works).

    As to where I fall on the historicity continuum, I identify more and more with the Ostler hypothesis.

  13. Ray
    June 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I’m not sure we ever will be able to know conclusively, so I stick with my personal impressions. It’s interesting to me that even a “faithful” interpretation of it as a historical record can be MUCH more ambiguous than most assume.

    I accept it generally as the perception of one man (Mormon) who abridged all the records of his time into one concise account. (the small plates of Nephi and Moroni being the exceptions) Therefore, it is as “true” as he made it – and as the original recorders made their writings.

    It is said many times that the original writers picked and chose only a few things to share, and Mormon picked and chose only a few of those things – all dealing with one central theme: How the interaction of God with his people would be best presented to people of a much later day. That’s selective history to begin with; when you add the long practice of “likening these things unto ourselves” and Mormon’s “thus we see” commentary (and the fact that he might have had up to 35 years in isolation to craft and hone his story), it is easy to see, imho, how the final product could read like “the good parts version” concept described in The Princess Bride. (How’s THAT for a comparison? Am I Mormon or what?)

    Iow, I believe Mormon recreated a spiritual history record, filtered through his ability to look back at the destruction of his people – which easily could have led to the romanticizing of certain narratives and the actual selection of some things over others. When a writer goes into a historical account with a specific agenda, what she produces OFTEN is closer to “historical fiction” than to “unbiased fact”.

    Do I believe it is “inspired fiction” in the same way that the term commonly is understood? No. Do I believe it is “true history” in the sense that it is unbiased reporting of fact? No. Do I think it is historical in nature and the record of an actual people? Yes. Do I think it is a freakishly awesome book? Yes. Do I think most members have the tiniest clue what it really says and is? Not at all. Do I think there is so much packed into that record that it startles me still on a regular basis? Abso-freaking-lutely.

  14. Doug G.
    June 10, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Bruce,

    As a missionary we were commanded to read the BoM at least 30 minutes every morning. Being the obedient soul that I was in those days, I never missed. During my 24 month mission, I read the book approximately 14 times all the way through. To alleviate the boredom of tracting, I or my companion would read a verse and ask the other to give the reference. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I got to where I could hit most anything read within two or three verses.

    Several years ago, I concluded that the book couldn’t possibly be historical. If I’m being honest with myself, I had problems with certain parts even as a missionary. There were many places I believed were just too hard to swallow as an actual translation with each and every word revealed directly from God. So even as a 19 year old youth, I started out believing JS put his two cents worth in at times or expanded on a topic based on what he already believed.

    Bruce, I would like to answer your list of questions with questions of my own.

    What did you get out of Paul H. Dunn’s stories? (I liked them so much I even bought the tapes and played his talks for investigators.)

    Do you believe anything he taught in those stories had any value for us as members? Is it possible to even now listen to those talks and come away with something edifying, knowing that it’s fictional?

    Do I still read the book as much as I used to ten years ago? No

    Do I think some of the stories have merit and teach correct principles? Absolutely

    Could God allow JS to get inspired as he starred into that hat and come up with some great lessons in compassion, forgiveness, repentance, atonement, and alike? Sure

    Could well meaning individuals mistake the spirit of the lesson and take it to mean the book is literal? (Think of Paul Dunn) Of course they can and do…

    Do you base your belief in the historicity of the BoM on a feeling and do you really think the God you communicate with is concerned about that or the message? For me, it’s got to be about the message and how we live day to day.

    Does the church help a certain group of people find peace and live better lives? Of course it does, but that doesn’t mean it will do that for everyone.

    Most importantly, is God concerned enough about getting the real message out that he tolerates many different belief systems knowing that most are trying to connect the two great commandments with the people? In other words, can people of many different faiths be inspired by the writings of their leaders and in-turn live better? I think you already know the answer …

    So what this long post means to me is the BoM can inspire people and my God wouldn’t have a problem with it. It also can then be inferred that there doesn’t need to be “one true church”, but then I think we’ve covered this ground many times before…

  15. June 10, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Smith got so many interpretations about the book wrong (which makes sense if it wasn’t his book), that I doubt the American setting (assuming historicity which I’m not sure about). I know we dropped the principle ancestors to the American Indians BRM crap, but have we dropped the American setting claim?

  16. hawkgrrrl
    June 10, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Doug G. – “There were many places I believed were just too hard to swallow as an actual translation with each and every word revealed directly from God.” I don’t disagree with your critical challenge to the BOM; I don’t believe that the translation was like this, nor that everything that went in or came out of the translation was of equal value. I certainly wouldn’t put it on par with Paul H. Dunn, though; I don’t believe that JS made it up. My testimony of it was based on an answer to the prayer whether it was an ancient record. Based on that experience, that’s my belief; but I didn’t shut off my brain after that answer. It also was not based on a “spirit of the book” in my case, since I had just set my pen down where I was recording all my objections to what I had read.

    Steve EM – “I doubt the American setting” – do you mean you doubt that the people lived on the American continent? All or some of them? References within the BOM indicate the American continent (e.g. about the American Revolution), but can you elaborate on your question?

  17. Ray
    June 10, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    #16 – Hawkgrrl, One of the things that leads me to believe that many members don’t really understand what it ACTUALLY says in the book is the difficulty of sorting through decades of assumptions from previous people.

    As I’ve said many times, I am a dedicated parser, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard members say something about the book and (either silently or verbally) said, “Wait. The book itself doesn’t say that.”

    Good example:

    “References within the BOM indicate the American continent (e.g. about the American Revolution).”

    Based on what the BofM actually says, I personally believe that the only realistic option is the Limited Geography one. Anything else simply doesn’t fit the actual record, the assumptions of the early saints and Joseph himself notwithstanding. However, from Nephi’s perspective, all of the Western Hemisphere could have been “this land”. If that was the case, there would be NO problem with Nephi identifying “this land” as the location for the Revolutionary War **even if he actually was located somewhere in South America**. Again, from his perspective, if he had been able to see the entire hemisphere, the entire hemisphere would have been “new” land to him.

    Personally, I think the Central American assumption makes sense, but it is not taught necessarily in the book itself. It is an assumption, widely believed though it is.

  18. Doug G.
    June 10, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Hawkgrrrl,

    “My testimony of it was based on an answer to the prayer whether it was an ancient record.”

    I can respect that…

    For me, prayer has never been a very exact science. As I’ve obtained more information about any number of topics, the answers to prayer have changed along with that knowledge. I’m obviously not as connected as many of the good folks here because my answers seem to lead me off in a totally different understanding of truth. But then again, if I read the bible as written, many people are not very well connected unless they happened to be born in the right lineage. Perhaps I was adopted by my parents and my blood is actually common gentile…:)

  19. June 10, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Hawkgrrl, I don’t believe there was a worldwide flood but there was a likely a regional one given mythology and the geological record. I don’t believe there was a tower of Babel but can see the use of the story in explaining to people the differences of languages. I don’t believe there was a Job or that his family was destroyed so that God could test him but I can believe in some of the things taught in the book and appreciate the poetry. Marcus Borg’s book, Reading the Bible Again For the First Time was very helpful to me in feeling like the bible wasn’t an all or nothing proposition. My point is, however, that given JS’s claims as a translator, it is an all or nothing proposition.

  20. hawkgrrrl
    June 11, 2008 at 12:02 am

    GBSmith – “given JS’s claims as a translator, it is an all or nothing proposition” I understand where you are coming from. However, I disagree conceptually on the grounds that both the Bible & BOM have multiple authors spanning centuries, writing and condensing for their own purposes. The only difference is a single “translator” for the BOM; we could say that there was a single “compiler” for the KJV (and for each of the other Biblical translations and compilations). But that actually falls apart a little bit given that the BOM was also compiled by Moroni and others, and part of it was translated by others, all before it was hid up in the earth. So, JS was just the single “most recent” translator. Human errors can creep in through many means. Accounts of JS’s translation don’t lead me to believe it was clearcut like reading a book and word-for-word or being read to by God. He had to study it out in his mind. It just doesn’t sound as precise as we generally imagine it.

    Ray – you are right. There could be other interpretations of that. I was hoping to get some clarification from Steve EM on his line of thinking. I don’t have any idea where the BOM geography was, but I certainly think it was limited given some of the statements in it. Mesoamerica always seemed somewhat promising, but some guy is now suggesting near the great lakes. Who knows?

  21. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 11, 2008 at 1:05 am

    I’ve wondered if the different skin hues came as a result of intermarriage with other inhabitants of the geographic location, peoples that Mormon chose not to mention. Mingling with other cultures could explain the acquisition of strange practices such as drinking blood, mentioned in Jarom 1:6. It would also give explanation to the mention in that verse that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than the Nephites. The “cursing” in that scenario would be a result of marriage outside of the covenant, which was significant to the culture of Lehi and Nephi. It would result in the seed being cut off from the blessings of the covenant which would explain the actions in 2 Nephi 5 describing the Lamanites being cut off from the presence of the Lord as well as the warning not to mix with their seed. Mixing doesn’t seem to be an issue in later books with Lamanites who are converted. (Even if Ammon doesn’t take to the idea of marrying the king’s daughter)

    I’ve also wondered if we have gotten the idea of skin hues entirely wrong if the “skin of blackness” used in 2 Nephi 5:21 has a meaning more equivalent to “scales of darkness” used in 2 Nephi 30:6, the verse which also has the “pure and delightsome” reference.

    If Joseph was to have added in things to the translation, it would seem that the Book of Moroni would be suspect. It has a hodge podge of things that seem to be thrown in because they were not mentioned anywhere else. Nevertheless, it has chiastic structure the same as the rest of the book, and it could be explained that Moroni read the abridgement and felt that he had the responsibility to clarify a few issues.

  22. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 7:05 am

    DougG, I am trying to mostly stay out of this discussion, but since you asked me questions, I will answer:

    What did you get out of Paul H. Dunn’s stories? (I liked them so much I even bought the tapes and played his talks for investigators.)

    I was too young at tht time. But I’ve heard some of them since and they are cool stories and probably would have deeply inspired me.

    Do you believe anything he taught in those stories had any value for us as members?

    Sure

    Is it possible to even now listen to those talks and come away with something edifying, knowing that it’s fictional?

    For me, no.

  23. June 11, 2008 at 8:12 am

    I think the terms “fiction” and “fictional” are loaded words that break the spiritual mood. To keep a religious feeling, it’s probably better to say “parable” or “inspired stories” or simply “scripture,” with the understanding that scripture is not history and vice versa.

    I certainly don’t read the first books of the Bible less because I know they are not historical. In fact, I read them more than I read Thucydides, which I know is historical.

  24. June 11, 2008 at 8:27 am

    I am sure that the BoM is a historical record, the writing and translation of which was inspired by God. I question the assumption that the events of the BoM necessarily took place in the Western Hemisphere of planet earth. Naturally that’s what the people of the 19th century assumed. God knows a lot more about physics, dimensions, and the universe than we do, though. Christ expressly mentions that some of his sheep are elsewhere, lost to us but not to him. Where do we suppose they might be? Antarctica? Mars? The center of the earth? None of those places make sense. The lost sheep must be some place the existence of which we are currently ignorant.

    Historically, there have been other examples in western culture of places we once didn’t realize existed. There was a time when Europeans didn’t know that the Americas existed, for instance. There also was a time when we didn’t realize the moon was another world, etc. Other galaxies were once thought to be spiral nebulae within our own galaxy, which we considered at the time to be the whole universe. Later the galaxies were discovered to be “island universes” in their own right. This long history of gradual human discoveries of the existence of new places leads me to intuit by inference that there are quite likely other dimensions, other universes, other places that we don’t yet know about. Christ even refers to them directly, in his mention of his lost sheep.

    So it doesn’t surprise me at all that when we get the record of this ancient people, their language might not match up exactly and the place they lived might not match up with the scientific assumptions we’ve made given our current knowledge. My belief is that the record is true, it’s our assumptions about it that are mistaken. Perhaps since the Angel Moroni finds it possible to come here in his actual physical body, it isn’t that hard for him to bring a book with gold plates to an underground chamber here either. Or to move that chamber from the spot where it was when the stuff was originally buried to a hill in New York. Maybe that same hill exists in multiple parallel universes, as hypothesized in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Maybe it’s something else entirely, something beyond our current ability to imagine.

    None of that stuff matters, to me. It’s all details. The part that matters is the message in the book. We can and should discover the physics and stuff ourselves someday, from observing nature. God didn’t mean to teach us science and technology that’s way beyond our current level, I don’t think (other than to give us hints that there’s far more for us to learn). I think the intent was to get that record to us, and get it translated, and so that’s what happened. How, precisely, it came about, is much less important to me than the fact that God sent this book as a message to me. When you hang out with gods and exalted beings and such, you have to expect that they’re going to have technology you don’t have. You can get hung up in that and start closing your eyes and denying everything, or else you can just chill and trust them, when they’ve time and again proven themselves trustworthy.

    Scientists daily inhabit the realms of the unknown, the vast kingdoms of our current ignorance. We’re a lot more comfortable here than other folk, I suspect. I applaud the study of ethnology and archaeology, and appreciate what it can tell us about the world. I don’t worry about it falsifying my faith, though. The existence of the Book of Mormon, which is so clearly a true record, is an input to my theorizing. It’s an observation, not a theory in itself. The only thing that can be falsified about it is our tentative contingent scientific hypotheses, not the book itself.

  25. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Ray,

    Not that I didn’t appreciate your well thought out answers already, ;) but would you consider addressing these specific question: “What benefits do you feel there are to believing The Book of Mormon is historical? Does believing it is historical make much of a difference to the way you study or use The Book of Mormon?”

    I admit I’m asking out of curiosity of how you’ll address them.

    John Hamer,

    Since “parable” or “inspired writing” is as loaded as “fictional” I’m going to have to let people decide for themselves how to answer the question as you are probably right that we’d get slightly different answers depending on how it’s worded. However, if I were to reword the question to use your wording it would have to be reworded something like this:

    How does believing The Book of Mormon is a ancient record vs. believing it is a parable or inspired writing of modern orgin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently or out of ignorance (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)?

    You see, it doesn’t really help to use “parable” as the spiritual mood is still broken. To change the question to “How does an inspired writing or parable inspirely you differently then an ancient historical record?” would make it no longer the very question I am asking. It’s a valid question in it’s own right, but it’s not the same question I’m seeking answers for.

    In other words, my question was specific to the Book of Mormon and all related facts. It was not a general question of being inspired by fictional/parable vs. historical/reality. (Again, a valid question in and of itself, just not the one I’m asking.)

  26. John Nilsson
    June 11, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Bruce,

    As promised, here are the answers to your questions:

    1. Yes.
    2. Yes.
    3. Yes.
    4. “Unique eternal truths” I am open to finding in the Book of Mormon. I especially enjoy Alma 30-32 in this regard. I find it curious that you juxtapose “unique eternal truths” and “our day.” I think I see why you do this, but it seems either redundant to add our contemporary context or perhaps contradictory. I should probably do a post on “un-likening the scriptures” at some point.
    5. No, although I would say that does account for about half of my reading time with the text.
    6. Yes and no. Again, reduced study time for me has more to do with a changed understanding of the character of God and with increased “grown-up” responsibility.

    Part II

    1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. No, although it’s interesting when something I read looks like a part of Isaiah or Malachi.
    4. No, but that accounts for about half of my reading time.
    5. No, but do you mean by differentiator orthodoxy from heresy?
    6. Believing it is historical makes the characters seem more like the result of a clumsy translation than an intricate study of human nature. It also points one away from the text to the translator and his other presumed gifts and roles.

  27. June 11, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Bruce, I think you’ve really hit on a profound set of questions here. The question of Book of Mormon historicity isn’t merely academic, or even merely spiritual. The answer to that question has a significant impact on the behavior of anyone who encounters the book.

    I wonder, in fact, whether those outside the Restoration tradition would be more open to The Book of Mormon. If the book was presented as an allegory or fable, would it have the potential to provide inspiration to a larger segment of the christian world?

    At the risk of open derision from self-aggrandized sophisticates (you know who you are–grin!), let me suggest a parallel example—The Matrix Trilogy. Now, I understand that some people found the trilogy incomprehensible and nonsensical, much as some have criticized The Book of Mormon. To an LDS member, those who ridicule The Book of Mormon “just don’t get it,” and are entirely missing the point. I can say the same with regard to The Matrix Trilogy—those who were disgusted with the second and third movies just didn’t get it, and entirely missed the point.

    Now, I’m a person who loves symbolism. I like being “in the know.” I lpve viewing a film like The Matrix, and being able to identify subtle references (in dialogue, music, and images) to christianity, Buddhism, Freemasonry, Islamic philosophy, Plato, etc., etc. I “get” the Trilogy, because it speaks my language. Because I “get” the Trilogy, I actually consider it a profoundly inspiring allegory. I’ve pondered words and ideas from the films in the same way that we ponder works we consider scripture. I can watch them again and again, and just like re-reading scripture, I can get more insights from them. Knowing full well that the films are fiction, I find that they point me toward profound truths.

    All this has meaning with regard to the nature of The Book of Mormon. It’s entirely possible to find profound meaning and insight in that volume, even if one considers it the product of Joseph Smith and his environment. I’d venture to say that if those outside the LDS church could approach the book without focusing on the “baggage” of gold plates, angels, and buried Zelphs, the book could have far wider influence for good. Who’d have thought?

  28. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 9:21 am

    >>> I wonder, in fact, whether those outside the Restoration tradition would be more open to The Book of Mormon. If the book was presented as an allegory or fable, would it have the potential to provide inspiration to a larger segment of the christian world?

    I believe personally that if Joseph Smith had specifically said the Book of Mormon was a parable or if he had wrapped the content into another format (say a group of revelations as in the D&C) that Joseph Smith would today be hailed as the greatest mystic/religionist America ever created and one of the top religious geniuses of history. The scandal of the of the golden plates (to quote Given) prevents that from happening.

    And I’m glad.

  29. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 9:34 am

    >>> let me suggest a parallel example—The Matrix Trilogy

    Nick, this is by far the coolest threadjack of all times. You have my full consent on it. ;) I think you deserve some sort of reward too. :P

    By the way, while I’m not disagreeing with anything you said in terms of the Matrix perhaps being fiction that has profound truths… I do want to point out that the main problem with the Matrix was that the ending of part 2 included a phenomenally bad plot hole (and by that I mean it has a massive interal logic inconsistency that can’t be explained away) and thus led to the rest of the series being confusing.

    For those that now want to flame me for “attacking the matrix” feel free to email me offline and I’ll be happy to explain the plot hole in detail to your satisfaction. (I’ve done it before and it’s convoluted enough to be difficult to explain.)

    As with most things in life, people can overlook contradictions somewhat but they leave them with an uneasy feeling. That’s what ruined part 2 and 3 IMO for most people, even if they didn’t realize that was the problem cognitively.

    I took one huge fan of the matrix through this with him protesting against my “facts” every step of the way. Months later he came back and admitted I was right on the plot hole issue and probably right that that was was ruined it for most people even if they didn’t realize it. :)

    That being said, Nick, your approach to the matrix of enjoying it for the symbolism would avoid the plot hole problem and it would be a non-concern. But for anyone that was trying to enjoy the story line (me) this was a series breaker. I now pretend like only the first movie exists and it helps me cope with my cognitive dissonance. :P

  30. June 11, 2008 at 10:11 am

    By the way, while I’m not disagreeing with anything you said in terms of the Matrix perhaps being fiction that has profound truths… I do want to point out that the main problem with the Matrix was that the ending of part 2 included a phenomenally bad plot hole…

    It’s okay, Bruce! The horses were really deer, and god changed Neo’s DNA! ;-)

  31. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

    >>> It’s okay, Bruce! The horses were really deer, and god changed Neo’s DNA!

    Oh, if only the Matrix’s problems could be that easily explained. ;) I might still enjoy the series to this day. :P

  32. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 11, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I was just looking for some Paul Dunn material in a used book store, as I also missed the opportunity to glean his writings for myself. Didn’t find anything available. I don’t suppose there is any online repository of his writings that anyone has uncovered.

  33. hawkgrrrl
    June 11, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Tatiana: “My belief is that the record is true, it’s our assumptions about it that are mistaken.” Well said. She shoots; she scores!

  34. June 11, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Everything extends from a person’s foundational belief. If it’s your witness that JS was a prophet and through whom the fullness of the gospel was restored, then everything else can be explained. The problem is that some of the peripheral issues like the historicity of the BOM are not as easy to explain. You can pray harder as suggested by a comment in an earlier post and if you don’t get an answer figure it’s your fault. You can believe that “our assumptions about it are mistaken” as Tatiana states above and just believe in it. You can read the BOM topically and avoid the little things that can be aggravating. But it you start to feel that JS was less than forthcoming about what the book is and how it came to be then you’re going to get dissonanced to coin a new verb and it’s a slippery slope from there. I love parts of the BOM especially King Benjamin’s sermon but there are parts that I can’t go near because of the feelings they conjure up. That said my answer to your initial set of questions would be no to all but the last.

  35. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 11:50 am

    AHLDuke said: “I count myself one of the ones who does not quite get what the big deal about the Book of Mormon seems to be”

    This is going to differ by personal experience, of course. But these link represents a study I did that led me to a much greater appreciation for the Book of Mormon. Before that I was in Hawkgrrl’s position.

    Here

    And Here

    This is what worked for me, but I have no delusions that it was anything but a specific answer to a specific personality.

    I also started paying attention to the doctrinal development using the Book of Mormon as the starting foundation and building the chronological developement line upon line. I was shocked at how well this line of study worked in terms of enlightening me on many points. But again, this is God’s answer for me and not necessarily for anyone else. But I thought I’d share nonetheless.

  36. hawkgrrrl
    June 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Bruce – Thanks for the links. The development idea is very important in Mormonism, and has been pointed out, is also the bane of our existence, causing many misunderstandings. It is a common theme of the restoration. Early revelations hint at things (perhaps JS didn’t fully understand them or just didn’t know how to clearly articulate them), but then later revelations are much more obvious and clearcut.

    Perhaps this is why blogging is foundational – concepts rise to the surface, are examined, and through critical evaluation, clearer thoughts emerge and all (give or take) are edified.

  37. Carlos U.
    June 11, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    I consider the BOM to be exactly what it claims to be: A sacred historical record, compiled by Mormon and Moroni for our benefit in this latter days and to help us though the harrowing days to come, with some errors of men in it as an unavoidable part of being in a telestial world.

    I saw evidence of it truthfulness before becoming a member: Elephant heads on the shoulder of Maya stelas (now I know it’s called Stela B, Copan, Honduras), Bibles that when translated into a Southern Costa Rican Indian tribe’s language kept the Aramaic “Father, why has thou forsaken me” intact because that’s how you’d say it in the Indian language, and the well-known Quetzalcoatl legend. Since then, it has been reaffirmed by spiritual confirmations troughs years of study.

    One day I was pondering why we have been so counseled so heavily to read the BOM. I came to two conclusions: One, it is custom-written for us in our day to deal with the problems we face and will yet face. Two, because it’s a confirmation of the divinity of this work. Anti-Mormons, for the most, have no desire to destroy your testimony of the Bible. But they do want to destroy your testimony of the BOM to get you out of the Church. A person with a strong testimony of the BOM automatically has a testimony of the Bible, other scriptures, and of the Church. One study conducted by the Church showed that the best predictor of youths becoming active adults was having had spiritual experiences.

    Besides the grafting of new, faithful members (and some not so faithful), we are also, as a Church, undergoing a pruning. Descendants of pioneers—with heritages of faith and faithfulness—sometimes grow having been imbued with cultural Mormonism but without ever developing a spiritual confirmation, a testimony of the BOM born of frequent family and personal scripture study. Many of this cultural Mormons without testimonies choose to leave the church as adults. The world has too much to offer to resist it without a strong reason.

    So as the pruning of the faithless and the grafting of the believing goes on, we have two camps developing: People with firm testimonies of the BOM, both “genetic, ethnic” Mormons and new converts, who choose to adhere to the Church and its teachings, and people who don’t believe in the BOM, both non-members and former members, many of them “ethnic”, cultural Mormons.

    It seems that as parents and as an institution, we have some scant 18 years at best to take a child and help them gain a firm testimony of the Church, which must sooner or later be based on the truthfulness of the BOM. That’s why there is such an over-emphasis on the BOM by the Church and the apostles. Again, the antis will support your testimony of the bible but attack your testimony of the BOM. That testimony, added to other spiritual experiences they hopefully will have, will be what will give them the reason to transition from children to adults who are active and believe on their own volition.

  38. June 11, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Re (#24) Bruce: “Parable” and “inspired writing” are not as loaded as “fictional.” We don’t talk about Jesus’ fictional story of the prodigal son — even though we know the story is a fiction. The reason we use the archaic word “parable” in that context is to establish a particular mood. Language conveys tone. I use academic language when discussing ideas with historians and I use more contemporary slang when I’m hanging out at a friend’s bbq. The reason Joseph Smith used archaic English to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon was to convey a reverent, scriptural tone.

    You write:

    How does believing The Book of Mormon is a ancient record vs. believing it is a parable or inspired writing of modern origin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently or out of ignorance (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)? You see, it doesn’t really help to use “parable” as the spiritual mood is still broken.

    I answer: The only reason the mood is still broken is because you deliberately broke the mood by using the words “fraudulently” and “ignorance.”

    With your questions here, you have your conclusion first (historicity is a testimony-breaker for you) and you are using language to stack the deck against the alternate conclusion (that the gospel has truth regardless).

  39. Ray
    June 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Bruce (#25) – ““What benefits do you feel there are to believing The Book of Mormon is historical? Does believing it is historical make much of a difference to the way you study or use The Book of Mormon?””

    Honestly, Bruce, that would take a short dissertation to answer, and I really have to read the comments to my own post. :) I hope there is a way to answer those questions another time. Suffice it to say that I think there are important reasons – at least for me. (The answer to the last question is, “Yes.”)

  40. June 11, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Let’s consider the box.

    How does believing The Book of Mormon is…a parable or inspired writing of modern origin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently or out of ignorance (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)?

    Does God authorize his prophets to part ways with the truth in order to accomplish an important result?

    In order to survive a famine, Abraham and his wife Sarai were forced to travel to Egypt. On the way the Lord said to Abraham:

    “Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.” (Abraham 2:22-24)

    This is a direct commandment from the Lord to his prophet to depart from the truth in order to accomplish an important purpose: that Abraham and Sarai could live and produce children in the covenant.

    When God commanded Moses to tell Pharoah to let the children of Israel go, he was instructed to pretend that they were only going to make a temporary journey three days into the wilderness (Exodus 3:18). Of course, God had already confided that his true purpose was to “bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). But the Lord commanded his prophet Moses to stray from the truth in order to accomplish the important goal of freeing the people.

    When God commanded Joseph Smith Jr. to restore plural marriage in order to establish and build up the Kingdom, Joseph faced the same concern as Abraham and Moses among the Egyptians. If the Gentiles knew with certainty what he was doing, Joseph would certainly be killed — as eventually he was. And so Joseph publically and repeatedly throughout his life strayed from the truth by denouncing the practice of polygamy and denying his participation in it.

    As the Lord’s prophet he spoke “on this wise” (in the Lord’s words), engaging (like Abraham and Moses) in what you are calling “fraud.” And he did so as a means to accomplish the crucial end result of establishing and building up the Kingdom of God on earth.

    How much more critical is restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth? And yet you want to label the box, which was the means of accomplishing that great end, a “fraud”?

  41. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    >>> How much more critical is restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth? And yet you want to label the box, which was the means of accomplishing that great end, a “fraud”?

    No, I just left it open as a possibility. Re-read the question. :P It’s up to the individual to decide and answer based on their own opinion.

    You use words like ‘stack the deck’ on the way I worded it, but I was honestly trying to think of all possiblities. You bring up another one, so let me reword:

    How does believing The Book of Mormon is…a parable or inspired writing of modern origin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently, out of ignorance, or command by God to use untruth to spread His word (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)?

    Listen, John, I don’t want to go in circles with you over this. The fact is that there is a legitimate question here and I’m doing my best to not phrase (in the original post) one way or the other. But I do not feel your suggestions are still asking the same question nor addressing the same issues. And since I think they are valid issues to discuss, I’m going to have to turn down your suggestions.

    I DO feel that they might answer my original question for yourself, but you haven’t said so for certain. I MIGHT take what you are saying as “God told Joseph to part ways with the truth about a stack of brass foil for the sake of spreading God’s inspired word and helping people have spiritual experiences” but you aren’t saying that is really your point of view either. I will let you speak for yourself. And yes, I would consider that a valid and clever answer if you said that was your answer.

  42. June 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    No, I just left it open as a possibility. Re-read the question.

    Ok, fair enough. :)

    I’ll believe you and I’ll apologize — if you use the word “fraud” or “lying” to describe Joseph’s public statements on plural marriage, e.g. “Although Joseph repeatedly lied when he denied practicing polygamy, his fraudulent practice was necessary to build up the Kingdom.” That would show me that you were using “fraudulently” as a neutral term and that you weren’t stacking the deck at all.

  43. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    >>> That would show me that you were using “fraudulently” as a neutral term and that you weren’t stacking the deck at all.

    Well, *I* wouldn’t say that as *my* explanation. But if I were asking other people their view I’d want to include that as an option, yes.

    I do think that “ignorantly” could be rephrased as “innocently”… but we’re still taking about my rephrase to attempt to show how I’d have to use “parable” but still be asking the same question. I think my original phrasing in the post was the best because it left things open and people could decide for themselves how they felt. Simply changing the question to “Would You Regularly Study Inspired Parables?” is too loaded away from the very Book of Mormon issues I’m actually asking about. I was even careful to give a whole list of questions to try to avoid stacking the deck one way or the other — or at least that was my intentions.

    However, I’d appreciate your input. If you can rephrase my questions so that they are more neutral without causing it to be a wholy different question, by all means. It would be nice to give people more options or differing perspectives.

  44. June 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    However, I’d appreciate your input. If you can rephrase my questions so that they are more neutral without causing it to be a wholy different question, by all means. It would be nice to give people more options.

    Thanks, Bruce. I do believe that this is a very important question. How about this?:

    If a story from the scriptures taught a message that had enriched your life, and if you possessed a firm testimony that it was inspired of God, would you lose your testimony of that scripture if you later learned that its narrative did not describe a literal history of events? Would you cease to treasure that story and its lesson if you learned that the prophet who revealed that work of scripture was teaching through an elaborate parable?

  45. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    >>> If a story from the scriptures taught a message that had enriched your life, and if you possessed a firm testimony that it was inspired of God, would you lose your testimony of that scripture if you later learned that its narrative did not describe a literal history of events? Would you cease to treasure that story and its lesson if you learned that the prophet who revealed that work of scripture was teaching through an elaborate parable?

    Nope, not the same question, I’m afraid. This would work for the Bible, but not the Book of Mormon. I’m looking for how people deal with the specific issues with the Book of Mormon. The ones you dealt with skillfully in your later posts.

  46. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Upon further reflection, your wording might be fine… so long as we are dealing with a real life circumstance like the Book of Mormon. In other words, I guess I don’t care so much how it’s worded as along as we’re dealing with what how they really did act rather than a hypothetical.

    How about this:

    If The Book of Mormon once taught you a message that had enriched your life, and if you possessed a firm testimony that it was inspired of God, but later you felt you learned its narrative had solely modern origins, how has this, in real life, affected your relationship with the Book of Mormon? (i.e. change in how or how much you study it or use it) Do you still continue to seek spiritual guidance from it? Do you still do it in the same manner before you decided it was a modern work?

    It’s really just the removal of the Book of Mormon from the question I objected to. I’m fine with the above wording. People should decide for themselves if they choose to view it as “inspired”, “fraudlent”, “innocent mistake”, or what have you.

  47. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    And John, I am interested in how you answer the question yourself, if you are interested in answering.

  48. June 11, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Fair enough! As promised, I apologize for impugning your goals and I apologize for threadjacking you into a meta-discussion. :)

    I’ll answer the questions that are applicable to me:

    Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding 19th century patterns now or are you open to finding unique eternal truths there for our day?

    I am not personally interested in finding 19th century patterns in the Book of Mormon. I’m not looking for them at all.

    However, I am very interested in finding truths in it that are applicable to Mormons in the 21st century. One of the most critical truths the Book of Mormon showed the 19th century Saints was that that heavens were not, in fact, closed — the canon was open. That lesson had nothing to do with the book’s content, just the existence of the book itself.

    Likewise today, I believe that the Book of Mormon can teach 21st-century Saints what scripture is and what scripture is not. By being scripture and by not being a literal history, the Book of Mormon frees the Saints from the rigid constraints of scriptural fundamentalism — a way of thinking that plagues both Islamic fundamentalists and Christian evangelical fundamentalists.

    Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only what you need to do to fulfill a calling? (Like say preparing for lessons.)

    I have a very expansion definition of “calling,” but I have no formal calling in any church organization. To my way of thinking, all of the time I spend considering the Book of Mormon falls under my personal calling.

    Did coming to believe realize The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction not a literal history cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?

    I’ve known this since my teenage years, so a before/after comparison is impossible. All of my adult study of the Book of Mormon has been informed by my understanding that it is not a literal history.

  49. June 11, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    BTW: Although I can testify that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Book of Mormon is not a literal history, I want to point out that I am not arguing that Mormons need to immediately accept that testimony.

    My constructive criticism is that Mormons ought to keep believing that it (probably) is a history (inasmuch as they need to or can) while simultaneously opening themselves to the possibility that it is not. By adamantly rejecting the possibility that it is inspired but not history, people (in my view) are walking themselves out onto a ledge from which there is no getting down without falling.

    Being open to an egress, without necessarily embracing it, is potentially faith-saving.

  50. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Although I can testify that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Book of Mormon is not a literal history, I want to point out that I am not arguing that Mormons need to immediately accept that testimony

    Certainty: Blessing or Curse?
    :P

  51. June 11, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    This is another example of where I diverge from Nick, who seems to be enjoying his new-found uncertainty. More power to him. :D

    For better or for worse, certainty is not something I have in short supply. If that’s a curse, so be it. :)

  52. Bruce Nielson
    June 11, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    >>> certainty is not something I have in short supply

    I was certain of that. ;) Dang, it was funnier back when it was all on Nick’s post. :P

  53. June 11, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    I too like The Matrix and would like to see a modern temple liturgy based on it.

  54. Doug G.
    June 11, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    John Hamer,

    Your point in #40 is articulated better than I ever do in these posts, but the thought is the same one I was trying to make by comparing Paul H. Dunn’s “parables”. Thanks for helping!

    For those that didn’t know, Paul Dunn was probably the most popular General Authority in the 70’s for the youth of the church. His fireside talks were deeply spiritual to many of us as well as his general conference addresses. He excelled at teaching principles with inspiring stories from his life. When I first heard that most of his stories were either completely made up or greatly exaggerated, I refused to believe it because I felt the same spirit from those fireside meetings as I did reading King Benjamin’s talk in Mosiah. In many ways I’m still grateful to him as he showed me that “inspired fiction” can be just that, INSPIRED fiction.

    Points made by others about the problems of believing the book is either historical or fraudulent, are right on the money. Just as Paul Dunn and all of us “true believers” had to accept, from overwhelming evidence, that he deliberately defrauded us and his fiction was indeed fiction. One day many of you may have to accept that the BoM is in reality just another work of inspired fiction. For me, I’ll still be here still practicing much of the good I have taken from my membership in the church without the baggage. But many of you will have moved on, perhaps indulging in Carlos’s things of the world that are just too tempting to resist once you know the truth. A fairly offensive comment but perhaps reality for him…

  55. June 11, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Doug G. (#54) I agree with you. I had a great grandfather whom I fondly remember from childhood. He was one of the last members a of a great tradition of Southern story-tellers. His folks were from the southern tip of Illinois and they were essentially hill-billies. He wasn’t an educated man, but he hailed from a grand oral tradition and was a great story-teller. He could hold the attention of a crowd and make everyone laugh and then feel any other array of emotions.

    My mother took the time to record and transcribe these stories and self-publish them in a book. I have a copy and I treasure these stories. My partner Mike and I have traveled down to southern Illinois and visited the homes and sites and graves more than once as a kind of pilgrimage.

    There is no doubt that my great grandfather seriously embellished some of his tall tales. In some cases, we can track down the (contradictory) facts from other sources. However, for me, that’s not the point. Grandpa’s stories were artful as stories, not as history.

    I’m certainly interested in history — and I’m interested in producing accurate, open, and honest history. But history is not what my great grandfather was producing. And that’s just fine.

  56. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 12, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    I remember watching a Cleon Skousen video of his visit to the Holy Land and the description of a discovery of an oral tradition of some country folks regarding the “lost prophet” ‘Lay-hee’. (He used this pronounciation to match the pronounciation that the locals used). The story was that a long time ago there was an unappreciated prophet who warned the locals of calamities if they did not repent, he was rejected and he disappeared. There was regret that he did not remain with them, if only the people had listened.

    As a youth listening to this story and watching a video showing the place where the events occurred, it triggered sensations of excitement within me. It was not the kind of feeling that, with maturity, I identified as a personal spiritual witness. I think this kind of sensationalism is different then the stories that Paul H. Dunn gave that were inspirational to Doug. How different, though, is a question that I still have.

  57. June 12, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Count me among those who subscribe to the ‘special spirit about the Book of Mormon’ view. I’ve had too many “Wow!” experiences with it, from it, for it and about it.

    It’s not just of divine origin, it’s divinely miraculous in and of itself. I put my thoughts in a post that got kind of flowery, but here it is.

    I believe it is that important. My conclusion of that post is: Knowing that a book, just printed words on paper, can bring revelation, miracles and power, it should be no surprise that the Savior, the source of all light and energy in our universe, has as one of his titles “the Word.”

    I’m confident that millions of people around the Earth are hungry for it, and don’t know what they are hungry for, or how to feed that hunger.

    Somehow the Book of Mormon has a life/spirit of its own. I’m not sure how inanimate objects, such as a physical book, have a “spirit,” but there are many meanings to the word spirit as it relates to objects, places, concepts, ideas, emotions, desires, etc.

    The Book of Mormon is not just alphabetic patterns of physical ink on physical paper; it documents, communicates, represents and embodies divine concepts, ideas, emotions, desires, etc. The “spirit” of those concepts/ideas/emotions etc, somehow gets infused in, associated with, or transfered to the physical compilation (the ink and paper) of the words.

    The “spirit” of the book somehow (figuratively) “seeks out” people. President Benson said “the Book of Mormon is the great finder of the golden contact.” I concur that that is true, as I have witnessed and participated in that finding.

    I disagree with those who relegate the Book of Mormon to “inspired fiction.” I think such people are doing to the Book of Mormon what mainstream Christians have often done to the Bible, dismissing or explaining away the truths and power therein. I think that people who call the BoM inspired fiction come dangerously close to “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” and though they may not actually remove the plain and precious parts, they are re-interpreting, second-guessing, dismissing and belittling such parts.

    I think that relegating the Book of Mormon to the category of inspired fiction may be a step down a slippery slope that leads to dismissing it entirely.

  58. Doug G.
    June 12, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Rigel,

    I believe it’s a real shame that no one can find these talks delivered by Elder Dunn anymore. Covenant Recordings made a small fortune selling his talks on cassette tape. It seems nearly impossible today to find any of these despite the numbers that were sold. As a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, he delivered many talks in conference as well. These talks should be available somewhere. I’ll do some research and see if I can find a link. I think it’s fair to say that he wouldn’t have been given all that time in conference if the brethren didn’t think his messages carried the spirit…

    More to come…

  59. Doug G.
    June 12, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Bookslinger,

    I believe you to be a good candidate for the point I was making in comment #54. With all your eggs in the basket of its being “historically true” you believe you have removed yourself from the slippery slope. First, I completely disagree with your thoughts on the matter and second, if the day comes (for many that day has already arrived) when science can prove beyond any shadow of doubt that there is no-way these people ever existed even in a limited geography model, you my friend will be the one on the slippery slope and I will still be here. That’s the problem with such conviction on tangible things (historicity) instead of faith in things (God) that can’t be proved and in my humble opinion the path to the actual slippery slope…

    Having said that, I certainly respect your conviction and for your sake, I truly hope you are correct.

  60. Ray
    June 12, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    “That’s the problem with such conviction on tangible things (historicity) instead of faith in things (God) that can’t be proved and in my humble opinion the path to the actual slippery slope…”

    Doug, if the historicity is one of those things that can’t be proved, how is your position any different than Bookslinger’s – based on your construction?

  61. June 12, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Doug:

    “when science can prove beyond any shadow of doubt that there is no-way…”

    1. I don’t think there is a “beyond any shadow of doubt” in archaeological science. It’s a matter of guess-work based on interpreting incomplete evidence. Those who put faith in a monolithic “science” such as you implied, usually get overturned by later “science” or newer discoveries, or re-interpretation of old evidence necessitated by new discoveries.

    2. I don’t think any “science” can prove such a negative, ie, that the BoM “can’t” be true. IE, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. But the opposite is in fact true, that hundreds of tidbits have been discovered that lend _plausibility_ to the Book of Mormon.

    3. God being a God of miracles, He could have done any number of things to hide evidence. The extensive change in land mass described in 3rd Nephi: land sinking under water, and dry land emerging from previous water covered territory, could have done much to occlude whatever evidence there was. Moreover, so little of the American continent has been dug up and archaeologically explored, there’s no way anyone can rightfully claim all possibilities have been exhausted. Perhaps no divine intervention was needed. The erosion and decomposition of 16 centuries alone could have oblitered “evidence.” Or, the archealogical evidence is there covered over by 16 centuries of growth and layers of dirt waiting to be discovered.

    One grand mystery that I learned about in grade school was the Mound Builders. That subject was taught in Ohio in the 60′s and 70′s. As far as I know, we still don’t know who they were. “Science” hasn’t explained them yet, either.

    4. “Historical fiction” proponents have a problem explaining the 11 (8+3) witnesses, and Joseph Smith’s claims to have received face-to-face visits from Moroni, an actual participant in the Book of Mormon. For God to create “fake” plates for Joseph and the witnesses, and send an angel to tell Joseph falsehoods would be harder for me to swallow than believing God hid the archaelogical evidence of the Nephites, and miraculously changed Lamanite DNA to match that of Asians. If one throws out the historicity of the Book of Mormon, then Joseph Smith goes as well.

    5. Your definition of faith (and perhaps your concept of testimony) is different from mine. Faith is not reserved for things that “can’t” be proven, but rather faith is a belief in something that hasn’t been proven or illustrated _yet_ to that individual. Faith is something that a person has before he has a knowledge of the thing. Faith should eventually lead to testimony, ie, a knowledge.

    6. Perhaps I don’t have faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. If so, I would have lost it when I left the church in 1987. But I had, and still have, a knowledge that it is true. I couldn’t seem to “unknow” that piece of information, even when I tried to disbelieve. I couldn’t talk myself into thinking that God didn’t tell me what he told me. I received a powerful testimony that Christ did indeed visit those people. I don’t see how I should allow a “lack of physical evidence” to dissuade me from that Spirit-borne testimony.

    7. One of the big problems I’ve seen as I’ve delved into apologetics in the bloggernacle, is that the questions of authenticity of the Book of Mormon, in the “can’t possibly be true” versus the “yes, it could” camps, is that the nay-sayers (and to some degree the true believers) both have read into the Book of Mormon things that aren’t necessarily there. And both sides likely have missed many things that are there.

    8. Back in my youth when I investigated others churches (which was years before I found the LDS church) one of my discoveries was how many Protestants discount the Bible, claim the events didn’t literally happen, explain it away, water it down, claim it says things it doesn’t say, claim that what it does say actually means something else, etc. So when I learned the phrase “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”, I immediately had a mental picture of an example. This thing about reducing the Book of Mormon to inspired fiction seems to me to fit that pattern.

  62. Ray
    June 12, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    #61 – points 7 & 8:

    Amen, and Amen.

  63. Doug G.
    June 13, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Ray and Bookslinger,

    I suspect what your really saying is that for some no amount of physical evidence is going to be enough to convince some believers that the book isn’t historical. Then again, there are some people who don’t believe we landed on the moon or that the world actually is round despite the scientific evidence.

    The brethren recently changed the introduction to the BoM because of scientific evidence. (I’m making a guess here, but I don’t believe it was changed due to some revelation)

    Let’s take a look at what I think your saying:

    1. I don’t think there is a “beyond any shadow of doubt” in archaeological science. It’s a matter of guess-work based on interpreting incomplete evidence. Those who put faith in a monolithic “science” such as you implied, usually get overturned by later “science” or newer discoveries, or re-interpretation of old evidence necessitated by new discoveries.

    I couldn’t disagree with you more in this point. Certainly there are unknowns, but archaeology, anthropology and linguistics have come a very long way… Much of what we enjoy today is the result of good science. If the scientific method was actually as unreliable as your suggesting, we’d still be in the dark ages.

    2. I don’t think any “science” can prove such a negative, ie, that the BoM “can’t” be true. IE, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. But the opposite is in fact true, that hundreds of tidbits have been discovered that lend _plausibility_ to the Book of Mormon.

    This is getting to be a very old argument. Interestingly enough, only LDS scientist see anything plausible about the BoM. Am I wrong on this? Please reference me to any peer reviewed study from a university (not run by the church) that has found anything that even hints at the kind of civilization the BoM teaches about existing for over a thousand years in the Americas.

    3. God being a God of miracles, He could have done any number of things to hide evidence. The extensive change in land mass described in 3rd Nephi: land sinking under water, and dry land emerging from previous water covered territory, could have done much to occlude whatever evidence there was. Moreover, so little of the American continent has been dug up and archaeologically explored, there’s no way anyone can rightfully claim all possibilities have been exhausted. Perhaps no divine intervention was needed. The erosion and decomposition of 16 centuries alone could have oblitered “evidence.” Or, the archealogical evidence is there covered over by 16 centuries of growth and layers of dirt waiting to be discovered.

    First, if the God of miracles actually did deliberately hide the evidence from me, then he isn’t going to have any problem with me deciding it didn’t happen because obviously he doesn’t want me to know. I guess my actual point here is that I can’t believe in the kind of God who would engage in that type of behavior. Second, in response to your 3rd Nephi reference, I guess the 400 years of BoM culture and civilization after that verse is just very well hidden as well. Goes back to my first point…

    “One grand mystery that I learned about in grade school was the Mound Builders. That subject was taught in Ohio in the 60’s and 70’s. As far as I know, we still don’t know who they were. “Science” hasn’t explained them yet, either.”

    You should really do a little more research on the mound builders thing. Even Mormon apologists are backing away from this subject…

    4. “Historical fiction” proponents have a problem explaining the 11 (8+3) witnesses, and Joseph Smith’s claims to have received face-to-face visits from Moroni, an actual participant in the Book of Mormon. For God to create “fake” plates for Joseph and the witnesses, and send an angel to tell Joseph falsehoods would be harder for me to swallow than believing God hid the archaelogical evidence of the Nephites, and miraculously changed Lamanite DNA to match that of Asians. If one throws out the historicity of the Book of Mormon, then Joseph Smith goes as well.

    I don’t think we need to rehash stuff that has already been well covered here about the 11 witnesses. The whole second sight thing and not being literal is plenty of room for other conclusions about what they may or may not have seen. Fawn Brodie and Grant Palmer have made the story of the witnesses far less creditable than we have been led to believe in Sunday school.
    Please show me where I ever said God created fake plates or that I thought Joseph ever saw anything literally. I’m actually with you on this point, as the God I believe in wouldn’t do that. When I say he wrote inspired fiction, I mean he could have had inspiration from God to teach a true principle. Go back and read my Paul H. Dunn post. He managed to pull off the same thing…

    5. Your definition of faith (and perhaps your concept of testimony) is different from mine. Faith is not reserved for things that “can’t” be proven, but rather faith is a belief in something that hasn’t been proven or illustrated _yet_ to that individual. Faith is something that a person has before he has a knowledge of the thing. Faith should eventually lead to testimony, ie, a knowledge.

    No…I’m sorry but that is not the definition of faith as I understand it. If you have knowledge, then you don’t have faith anymore. I read that somewhere in the BoM… I think it was the brother of Jared. Lack of faith is a dangerous thing…:)

    6. Perhaps I don’t have faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. If so, I would have lost it when I left the church in 1987. But I had, and still have, a knowledge that it is true. I couldn’t seem to “unknow” that piece of information, even when I tried to disbelieve. I couldn’t talk myself into thinking that God didn’t tell me what he told me. I received a powerful testimony that Christ did indeed visit those people. I don’t see how I should allow a “lack of physical evidence” to dissuade me from that Spirit-borne testimony.

    I can respect that…As I stated in my last post, I hope for your sake that it is true. Because if it ever gets proven not true then you’re really in trouble based on what you’ve said here.

    7. One of the big problems I’ve seen as I’ve delved into apologetics in the bloggernacle, is that the questions of authenticity of the Book of Mormon, in the “can’t possibly be true” versus the “yes, it could” camps, is that the nay-sayers (and to some degree the true believers) both have read into the Book of Mormon things that aren’t necessarily there. And both sides likely have missed many things that are there.

    I never said it can’t be true. I think the cards are stacked against it, but science is not to the point of saying they have the smoking gun that will kill it. Of course I believe that science can eventually uncover enough evidence to show it as a 19th century work. It doesn’t need to be proven false by archaeological evidence alone. What would happen if someone found a manuscript written in Sidney Rigdon’s handwriting or another author with proof that it was completed before 1829?

    8. Back in my youth when I investigated others churches (which was years before I found the LDS church) one of my discoveries was how many Protestants discount the Bible, claim the events didn’t literally happen, explain it away, water it down, claim it says things it doesn’t say, claim that what it does say actually means something else, etc. So when I learned the phrase “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”, I immediately had a mental picture of an example. This thing about reducing the Book of Mormon to inspired fiction seems to me to fit that pattern.

    Ok, if that’s how you feel about it then you shouldn’t do it. For me, it’s better to consider it inspired fiction then the alternative. Of course I believe my assessment is correct and you believe yours is. We can agree to disagree… thanks for listening

  64. Ray
    June 13, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Doug,

    The “archaeology can’t disprove it” argument rests on the fact that the BofM doesn’t tell us where it happened. All we have are educated guesses when dealing with this hemisphere, but we could be off by an entire continent. That’s not trivial. There have been some interesting discoveries about ancient plates, however, that point toward the possibility of what Joseph claimed to have found.

    Archaeological and geographic evidence can support the descriptions in 1 Nephi, however, since we are dealing with a known and limited space there. There have been some interesting discoveries in that area – some quite astounding discoveries when you consider that many of them simply could not have been known to Joseph at the time. Also, other stories similar to the Tree of Life add to the evidence for the small plates of Nephi.

    The Jaredite record is critical, imo, for a discussion of this topic – and it is literally the oddest part of the entire book in many ways. It makes very little sense at first read to find it there, but, based on most modern discoveries, it seems to have been found and translated specifically to bolster certain findings now. The Jaredites appear to have been from the Asian continent, and they appear to have been the largest and most wide-spread civilization described in the BofM. DNA findings might require a change in assumptions about the Lamanites’ progeny, but they also open up a whole new door to consider the Jaredites’ descendants. In a truly ironic way, the principal ancestors of the American Indians might just be a people described in the BofM – just not the people everyone assumed when it was published. If that people mixed in any way with even only a few Lamanites, which happens all the time in history, then the new wording could be perfectly true, as well. That’s not a stretch – not when you look only at what the book actually says in light of how things are worded in the Bible and other historical records, as well. (the use of hyperbole to make a point and universal claims appearing to apply only to limited localities)

    Linguistic evidence is fascinating, and for every “this obviously was Joseph’s language” example there is a “this obviously was not Joseph’s language” example. Those examples tend to make it much harder to disprove, especially when the actual translation method is understood as not “reading” the plates. In that limited sense, inspired fiction might be appropriate – if you mean that he was translating perceived meaning sometimes using his own words but don’t mean he “made it up”.

    Finally, no serious scholar outside of Mormonism/anti-Mormonism has undertaken the kind of project that Nibley and groups like FAIR/FARMS have done. Nobody outside that paradigm really has cared enough to do it. Again, the archaeological effort could be useless – lacking any real clue as to exactly where it might have occurred – so why in the world would someone not emotionally attached to Mormonism even try?

    As you said, we can agree to disagree. I just think the assumptions of what the book says should be laid aside, and we first should go back and lay out better what the book actually says.

  65. Doug G.
    June 13, 2008 at 9:53 am

    “Finally, no serious scholar outside of Mormonism/anti-Mormonism has undertaken the kind of project that Nibley and groups like FAIR/FARMS have done. Nobody outside that paradigm really has cared enough to do it. Again, the archaeological effort could be useless – lacking any real clue as to exactly where it might have occurred – so why in the world would someone not emotionally attached to Mormonism even try? “

    Ray, your point here is well taken. There has been a huge amount of work on the cultures and civilizations that existed here in the Americas for thousands of years. As these studies have been done in large part by scholars with no bias for or against the BoM, I believe the research is valid. What I was asking for above is just one of these type peer reviewed papers that has found any evidence of Judo-Christian culture in the new world before Columbus. (To most this would be huge news especially for Christians) I fully acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know and therefore why I agreed that there still is not a smoking gun against the historicity of the BoM. However, to make the leap of stating that the BoM can never be proved as a 19th century creation makes you as guilty as those who are “certain” that it is. Hence my point, it still could actually be a historical record, I just thing the probability is very low.

    Bruce uses this logic many times in reverse and I’m learning from him. That’s a complement to you Bruce, as I think you make an excellent point with it. I’m just saying it goes both ways…

  66. Bruce Nielson
    June 13, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    >>> Bruce uses this logic many times in reverse and I’m learning from him. That’s a complement to you Bruce, as I think you make an excellent point with it. I’m just saying it goes both ways…

    Doug,

    I’m not supposed to be posting… or even reading… but couldn’t resist to say thanks. :)

    And yes, it must go both ways.

    I once asked myself what level of scientific evidence would be required to “prove” the Book of Mormon non-historical if we assume a limited geography theory and assume the translation fit a modern expanasion/midrash/loose translation theory. Based on these two assumptions, it would be tough but not necessarily impossible to conceive a scientific disproof.

    For example, (to use a SF example) if science allowed us at some future date to go back in time (or view back in time) and tag every person in the Americas and verify none of them were from the Book of Mormon, I’d imagine that would do it for me and I’d drop my beliefs in the Book of Mormon. :P (I also imagined doing the same with Jesus. Tagging every Jesus at the right time period that started a religious movement and then recording His life. Then of course following the flow of time to figure out which Jesus is the one the Bible is written about.)

    But obviously, it’s hard to imagine science like this happening in my life time, or maybe ever, which is why I feel it’s difficult to imagine it ever actually becoming a real issue for someone that is believing on faith anyhow.

  67. June 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    #61
    3. God being a God of miracles, He could have done any number of things to hide evidence.

    and…

    For God to create “fake” plates for Joseph and the witnesses, and send an angel to tell Joseph falsehoods would be harder for me to swallow than believing God hid the archaelogical evidence of the Nephites, and miraculously changed Lamanite DNA to match that of Asians.

    Argh….Okay, for those of you who’ve been following my comments on a couple OTHER threads in this blog, do you see what I mean? Remember this, when you tell me “no” faithful LDS think a certain way, okay folks?

  68. Ray
    June 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Yeah, Nick, I know, but I don’t think anyone here has said that “no” faithful LDS think that way – at least I hope not.

  69. Bruce Nielson
    June 13, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Nick,

    I’ll let Bookslinger speak for himself on this. I am not seeing his post suggesting God plants counter evidence though. Also, although I don’t believe God hides evidence either, that isn’t the same as planting counter evidence to try faith. One is lack of evidence and the other is evidence against. Those are distinctly different issues. I was responding specifically to your example of a video type of Jesus not walking on water or positive proof that the miracles didn’t happen. That’s evidence against, not lack of evidence.

    Also, he seems to be only making a comparision to the alternative of believing God inspired a fraudulent individual. It seems to me he might have been mocking the point of view that God plants counter evidence to try people’s faith. You have no right to read in more without asking him directly to clarify his point, so you shouldn’t be acting so certain yet.

    >>> Remember this…

    I’ll tell you what, Nick. I’ll give you credit for 1 believing Mormon on the bloggernacle out of hundreds on this *after* you get bookslinger to admit he wasn’t just making a comparision to illustrate his point, if you give me credit for the, oh, 20 or so post-Mormons (out of 20 or so) since your Certainty: Blessing or Curse? post that have proven you should not have only scolded believing Mormons on that front. ;) (As per my comment to your post. Not that I think there is anything wrong with your post, btw. It was excellent. It just needed to be extended a bit broader.)

  70. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 13, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Hey Doug, hows it going?

    I wanted to ask you about one of your comments, and hope you can help me see your point of view more clearly. I’m not trying to argue a counter-position here, although that could be assumed.

    “First, if the God of miracles actually did deliberately hide the evidence from me…obviously he doesn’t want me to know. I guess my actual point here is that I can’t believe in the kind of God who would engage in that type of behavior.”

    Since the plan of salvation requires that the evidence of God, heaven, pre-mortality, and the spirit world be deliberately hidden, what is it about the theoretical act of “deliberately hiding evidence” in this instance that is divergent enough from the overall plan to change one’s attitude toward God?

    If one is assuming the motive of God can only be deception, there are other scriptural examples where one could attribute deception to the motive of God. How can one decide whether these acts have a motive of deception or follow a plan of opposition and agency?

    If evidence is in fact “hidden”, wouldn’t, in fact, the deliberate nature of the “hiding” be the same whether it occurred by a natural disaster, epidemic, famine or whether it was direct concealment?

    Judging the “behavior” of God is a tricky business. There are a number of conditions where individuals come to a decision that they can’t worship a God or belong to a church because of a set of circumstances. Assumptions about the motives or qualities of God are often involved. “How can a loving God let this happen?”, etc. The pain the individuals feel is immense and I could not begin to judge the course someone has taken because I have not felt the same pain. Nevertheless, I have to internally reconcile my decision to maintain my own belief in God or my continued activity in the church with awareness of those extremely difficult circumstances. I know individuals who have remained involved in church after losing a child to cancer, but am aware that they have been forever affected in a way that their course back to a testimony has not followed the same route. They have had to let go of some assumptions they had about God and acquire a reworking of their relationship with God.

  71. June 13, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Bruce, there’s no doubt that the second comment was intended as comparative. The first one, however, doesn’t read that way.

    As for the “Certainty” post, I must not have communicated very clearly with you there. The post was not, by any means, directed solely at certainty among the LDS. It was intended (and I thought, written) as a generalized statement about life, not a specific statement about LDS individuals.

  72. Bill
    June 13, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    #69–”that have proven you should not have only scolded believing Mormons on that front.”

    This business about ‘we aren’t any worse than the rest of Christianity’ is reall weak. This card seems to be played in dealing with race relations (‘we weren’t any more racist than anyone else’), general apologetics (‘our arguments aren’t any more absurd than the rest of christianity’), and historical issues (‘there’s little evidence to support the book of mormon, but the bible has just as many historical issues’). This isn’t some comparison between us and everyone else–lets leave them out of it.

    #70–”Since the plan of salvation requires that the evidence of God, heaven, pre-mortality, and the spirit world be deliberately hidden”

    I’m not so sure that this is clearly required by the plan of salvation. The book of mormon seems to teach that ‘all things denote that there is a god’. Doesn’t sound like God went around hiding evidence.

    In a significantly unenlightened age, all things DID denote there was a god. Science has provided much more reasonable explanations for most of these things, so these ‘proofs’ now seem somewhat empty.

  73. Bruce Nielson
    June 13, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    >>> It was intended (and I thought, written) as a generalized statement about life, not a specific statement about LDS individuals.

    Fair enough. And I’m glad to hear that. (And with your further clarification, I feel it’s only fair to retract my comment. :) )

    >>> The first one, however, doesn’t read that way.

    I think Bookslinger should speak for himself what he meant. It’s possible he does believe God “removes evidence” or at leasts allows evidence to be removed or not found. I believe the last: he makes sure certain evidence is not found as to spoil the plan of salvation and faith.

    But I see no reason to believe he thinks God places counter evidence to try faith. I still think you don’t have a good example here as per your original comment of people finding video taped proof that Jesus didn’t perform miracles and then avoiding that evidence by claiming there was a miracle to remove it to try their faith. I don’t see those as closely related at all.

    Also, you need to be fair and admit that you misrepresented me. I said nothing about no faithful LDS person saying such a thing. I even admitted some do. I said I’ve never heard of someone on the bloggernacle (which I assume to be better educated over all in general) advocating a position similar to the example you used.

    That’s the beauty of this, we can ask Bookslinger to clarify his personal views and we don’t have to act like scholars trying to parse out his words and then claim (with certainty ;) ) that we know what he meant.

    So Bookslinger, enlighten us as to your meaning. This is in reference to this comment from Nick and my follow up.

  74. Bruce Nielson
    June 13, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    >>> This business about ‘we aren’t any worse than the rest of Christianity’ is reall[y] weak…

    Well, Bill, I was going to protest, but then I realized that our logic here was no weaker then yours. So then I felt like there was no need. ;) (Especially since it wasn’t a comparison between Mormons and other Christians.)

  75. June 13, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I said I’ve never heard of someone on the bloggernacle (which I assume to be better educated over all in general) advocating a position similar to the example you used.

    Yes, that’s absolutely correct, Bruce. I apologize for (unintentionally) mischaracterizing your comment.

  76. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 13, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Re: #72 ‘all things denote that there is a god’

    Good scripture Bill. The verse begins by talking of testimonies and ends by saying that the earth and the planets ‘witness’ that there is a Supreme Creator.

    But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

    It doesn’t seem to be a very effective argument for an antichrist until you read on and discover that Korihor always knew there was a God. At any rate, the evidence described is still testimonial, not scientific. The scriptures laid before him were also evidence.

  77. Doug G.
    June 13, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Rigel,

    Thanks for your interest in my posting! I didn’t really know if anyone actually read that long thing…

    To your point, this obviously goes to the core of how each of us perceives God. As a belief in God is actually a very personal thing and also a work of faith by every definition I know about, I don’t pretend to say I “know” what He would or would not do. So this is now a matter of faith and my faith perceives God as the ultimate loving force in the Universe with no hidden agendas. I guess I see Him as completely accepting of who I am without judgment. I believe those that choose to live with Him in the next life will need to be just like that themselves.

    So why does God withhold information from us and the rest of mankind, as you’ve used in your examples? The answer is very simple for me, because when it’s all said and done, knowing the answers to questions of where I came from and what heaven’s going to be like are not relevant to us here in the present. I suspect they’re not even in the realm of our finite minds ability to understand. Rather than present something we can’t understand, I think he chooses to focus us more on what is actually important. (The two great commandments. Everything else is man-made by people who want to provide you all the answers, or sell you something.) He can do that by working within all of our hearts to find the good and inspire us to love one another.

    In some ways, organized religion is the enemy to this plan. It attempts to set strict standards of do’s and don’ts with lots of meaningless works that don’t help anyone. It creates an atmosphere of judgmentalness for adherence to the do’s, avoiding the don’ts, and allows some to look at their neighbor and say with conviction, “because you don’t believe in _____________ (fill in the blank), you’ll never be accepted in heaven”.

    Rigel, I don’t know if I actually answered your question to me or not, but thanks for letting me describe my own personal belief in God. Of course, mine is the correct one…I’m just certain of it…:)

  78. Bill
    June 13, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    “It doesn’t seem to be a very effective argument for an antichrist until you read on and discover that Korihor always knew there was a God.”

    Korihor’s philosophy (which I largely share) was never given a fair hearing in the book of mormon. I guess my lesson from the book of mormon is that I must really know that there is a god, but that I’m just possessed with a lying spirit.

  79. Rigel Hawthorne
    June 14, 2008 at 1:15 am

    Thanks to you, Doug for reading my questions and sharing with me. It seems that those who experienced a personal encounter with God in the early days of the restoration came away with a feeling of incomparable love that persisted with them for a long time afterward. Even that new LDS oriented movie “Return with Honor” as bad as it was, described the main character’s near death experience as revealing complete love and acceptance without judgment. So, once again, its worth questioning how much of our assumptions about God miss the mark.

    Bill, good one (#78}. You did get me to crack open and read my BOM, which I confess was probably only the second time this week.

  80. Doug G.
    June 14, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Thanks Rigel, very kind words…

    Just to clarify, my understanding of God was developed we’ll before that movie came out. Some of my previous posts here will bear that out. Interesting though, that an LDS writer would seem to support my view…

    On the subject I was discussing with bookslinger and Ray, about scientific evidence. I found another LDS author who would seem to recognize my point about having to face up to certain truths once enough evidence is uncovered. In the June 2007 Ensign, Elder Robert Wood makes a point of stating that sometimes even “basic truths” get over come with additional scientific evidence. His point was dealing with scientific truths, but in reality the world of religion has been revising its beliefs for thousands of years to conform with new scientific evidence as well.
    Last year I made a similar statement and I still believe it has merit… (see #5)

    http://mormonmatters.org/2007/11/09/episode-17-book-of-mormon-introduction-lamanites-and-native-americans/#comments

  81. Ray
    June 14, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Doug, I have said many times that our understanding is evolving regularly – which is why the CONCEPT of on-going revelation is critical. I have no problem with scientific discovery altering religious perspective (like evolution influencing our view of the creation); I’m just saying that there are some things that I’m not sure science will ever be able to prove or disprove. Some things, I believe, are always going to be matters of faith in mortality.

  82. Doug G.
    June 14, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Ray,

    “Some things, I believe, are always going to be matters of faith in mortality”

    No argument here…

    Having said that, some things that are a matter of faith today may become knoweldge tomorrow and some things may just need to go away, period.

  83. June 14, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    There was one point in my spiritual journey that I held to the ‘rosary’ view of the Book of Mormon. The more times I could read through it, the closer I was to God. My view has changed over the last few years to more of a topical read of the book as others have expressed. By doing so, I am continually amazed at the insights one can gain from the book.

    I have recently been researching the geography options of the book. Given I have lived in Ohio for a number of years, I had developed a partiality toward the Great Lakes geography. Recently, as I prayerfully pondered the complexities, the thought came strongly to me that these geography considerations are a distraction. What was reinforced to me was that the message in the book was the important aspect.

    Since I have carried with me for a number of years a strong testimony of the inspired contents of the BoM, I had, perhaps naively, assumed that there was a clear historical component to the book. I have weakened somewhat on that.

    God has used symbols in many of his messages to man. Lehi’s Dream is a good example. I would softly align that with the idea of the book as a parable. Would I be happy to see the geography clarified through further research? Yes. Would it effect my life significantly if the book were provided as a symbol of man’s ability to receive revelation? Likely not, for the message of the book is, in my mind, anchored to the simple message of “come unto Me.”

    I enjoyed Bruce’s link to the Sunday School class lesson experience. I agree that there is a lot of doctrinal and spiritual food in the BoM that we sometimes discount. I am reminded of Elder’s Maxwell’s characterization of the BoM as a great mansion with many rooms. Some people, like hurried tourists, quickly scan the various compartments and hurry on their way. Others linger, slowly moving room to room, to absorb the richness of each rooms decorations. Such is my approach; I no longer act like a sightseer.

    The Book of Mormon, regardless of it’s origins, remains a constant reminder that there is a higher plane to which I strive.

  84. Ray
    June 14, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    #82 – Amen, Doug.

  85. June 14, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    #83:
    Funny that Spektator would bring up Lehi’s dream. Rick Grunder’s Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source has a truly remarkable section, detailing striking parallels between this passage, and a geographical site not far from Palmyra which Joseph Smith was known to have visited. It gives some serious food for thought, on the whole “inspired fiction” motif!

  86. foxjones
    June 14, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    When I read the teachings of the Buddha, I was impressed with how much he sounded like Jesus, with his teachings. The Book of Mormon from esp. 3 Nephi we can find much of in the NT. Many of the phrases in The Book of Mormon are identical to the Bible. A lot of the narrative is new, with the exception of the “and it came to pass” etc. King Mosiah’s sermon from what I can see appears to be a great western christian sermon, something that Joseph Smith may of heard from a Methodist camp meeting or a collection of meetings, the emotional pitches, feeling remorse for their sins, and coming to Christ, etc. All in all when the Book of Mormon is looked on as Western religious narrative, from the creative mind of Joseph Smith, it becomes a work of fiction. Works of fiction are good to understand say the teachings of Islam in the Quran, or the teachings of the Buddha in their scriptures, it helps us to understand what religious folk base their beliefs off of. At times we may read something that impresses us or inspires us, even when we know what we are reading is fiction. When I read the words of the Buddha I was greatly impressed with his teachings on compassion. The focus on Christ (teachings) is impressive in the Book of Mormon, however making him come to the Americas would for me just be a story. The real strength of any work of fiction is the ideas it expresses. By taking a strictly historical view of the book one can miss out on the teachings contained therein. Critically assessing those teachings is more important than geography, once we get rid of the historical myth thesis. Much of the teachings on Christ seem to be filled with a mystism, such as come unto Christ and be perfected in him…much of it is not clearly defined but seems more like a poet speaking. Poetry of course is not rational but it sounds good to listen at times, if you like that stuff. Other times the Book of Mormon is just plain, let’s be honest, boring and repeats itself needlessly.

  87. hawkgrrrl
    June 14, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Joseph Smith on Matthew 13: 31-32 (parable of the Mustard Seed): “Let us take the Book of Mormon, which a man took and hid in his field, securing it by his faith, to spring up in the last days, or in due time; let us behold it coming forth out of the ground, which is indeed accounted the least of all seeds, but behold it branching forth, yea, even towering with lofty branches and God-like majesty, until it, like the mustard seed, becomes the greatest of all herbs. And it is truth, and it has sprouted and come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts, and angels to lodge in the branches thereof.” Interesting that the parables about the kingdom of God are so often about something great coming from something small that is hidden. I agree with foxjones that some parts of the BOM are boring and needlessly repetitious (same with OT books like Numbers & Leviticus). Maybe the book itself is like the kingdom of God – you have to dig to find that treasure, buried in with the wars and “it came to pass”es.

  88. May 28, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Sometimes we miss the depths of the BofM because we only study it one way — probably the way we first learned about it in a class setting that broke everything up into chapter-sized lessons that could run in a set amount of time. I suspect that may so focus us on details that we can miss the great themes and sweep of the Book. Sometimes we need to step back and “see the forest” instead of “counting the twigs”. Bringing different perspectives allow us to see different truths.