What do you do when you learn about something shocking that you did not previously know in Church History? Freak out? Retreat into a stupor of thought? Pray for comfort? Shrug and say “who cares what happened to dead people over a hundred years ago”? Search anti-Mormon sites to get the “real deal”? Talk to your bishop? Call Ed Decker to see if he’s hiring? This post comes from guest blogger Matt.
Upon engaging unsettling historical evidence, most people will fall into one of roughly four groups:
- The “Blind Faith” approach. Reject the evidence out of hand as “white noise” from Satan. Continue to accept the official church party line as 100% correct. Steer clear of further information on this topic because it is apostate or unhealthy.
- The “Have Your Cake and Eat it Too” approach. Accept one of the many apologetic explanations that attempts to reconcile the evidence while still hoping for additional information to exonerate. In the end, the authenticity of the actual story is held more or less in tact.
- The “Post Modern” approach. Realize that many factual and historical claims are simply unknowable and contingent on other unknowables, so it probably doesn’t matter. What matters is what you think and do because religion is nothing more than personal/spiritual feelings about the Divine put into story, symbol, ceremony, and covenant. All of us adopt some stories and reject others. This approach moves the focus away from Joseph Smith and onto you. What has God told you? Do these stories resonate with you and help you become a better person?
- The “See You Later Alligator” approach. Accept the evidence as pretty damning and reject the church’s claims out of hand. Likely reject Joseph as either delusional or very calculated. Reject believers, especially those in categories 1 and 2 above, as seriously biased, or even deluded or calculated.
Obviously there are subcategories and various permutations to the above approaches. Feel free to add categories I may have missed or to think of this as a sliding scale. If your initial approach was to “ask of God” as Joseph Smith did, regardless of your answer (or lack thereof), you still likely fall into one of these categories. Does that experience color where you fall on this scale?
The interesting thing is that you’ll probably use the same approach to any of Mormon issues you encounter (i.e. BOM historicity, polygamy, patriarchy, priesthood restoration, first vision, blacks and the priesthood, translation methods, etc.) and possibly to any Christian issues you encounter (i.e. creation story vs. cavemen, age of the earth, miracles, Christ’s conception, the concept of atonement when viewed as a historical event, etc.) or religious issues in general (i.e. the inability to empirically prove the existence of God, the inability to statistically prove the power of prayer to heal, etc.).
I’m not making any value judgements here. There isn’t a “correct” approach, only an approach that allows you to better engage with God. Which do you choose?