Why I don’t Believe in Big Tent Mormonism

In recent years ongoing negotiations over the constraints on membership and participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have often invoked the language of political parties in favor of inclusiveness. These authors use the term “big tent Mormonism” to describe an LDS Church that could tolerate a wider range of opinions and philosophies than it has in the latter twentieth century. This terminology draws not on the metaphor of the Hebrew tabernacle that stands behind the nomenclature of “stakes” of Zion, but on twentieth-century political partisanship. A “big tent” philosophy suggests that a party will be more powerful if it manages to unite disparate factions for the greater purpose of social dominance and success vis-a-vis opponents. I am sympathetic to, and generally agree with, calls for more inclusive Mormonism, but I think the metaphor of the big tent is fundamentally wrongheaded. We must be able to accommodate a wide array of different people with different needs and outlooks and concerns, but we ought not to use the techniques of political parties to achieve that end. In its place, I propose a metaphor from the world’s most famous tent maker, the Pharisee Saul who took the new name Paul as an emblem of his life in Christ. In an address to the church at Corinth squabbling over who was better on the basis of the distribution of certain spiritual gifts, Paul urged those Christians

But all [spiritual gifts] worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free . . . . For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. . . . That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (1 Cor. 12, KJV)

I love this image, even if the Jacobean translators managed to beat it senseless, and I return to it often (net Bible will be clearer). As I understand Paul, he is indicating that the church community is best understood as a body, in which tissues and organs are all distinct, with very different needs and talents, but in Christ and Christ’s mystical body these various tissues and organs together constitute the great miracle of an integrated body.

I believe strongly that the body of Christ is a better metaphor for inclusion within the Church than the big tent. It would be easy to dismiss my concern as quibbling over “mere semantics” (an oxymoron if ever I met one), but I believe that body instead of tent is a distinction with a difference. In a body we are intimately interconnected—I study homeostasis professionally, and organs are absolutely necessary to each other in the vastly complex networks of human life. In a tent we are temporary neighbors at best. In the body we are deeply committed to each other, in a tent we are compromising on minor agenda items to vanquish a common foe. In the body we recognize our shared salvation as the reason for integrated diversity, in the tent we hope that tolerating differences in opinion will allow us greater power in broader society. In the tent I am biting my tongue in hopes of achieving some other end. In the body I might bite my tongue because I am the same person I intend to criticize, and we are both Christ.

I believe that the same apparent diversity can be present in both metaphors but the type and degree of inter-human commitment is much greater in the metaphor of the body. The burden imposed by the body of Christ, a burden that I believe is essential to our salvation, applies equally to the majority group and the minority group. Within the body of Christ we criticize only with deep humility and love. This does not mean that we will never disagree. In fact, the different organs of the body have very different needs and requirements. What keeps the body alive is the capacity for different organs to communicate needs and adjust requirements to allow the distribution of energy to meet the needs of the constituent organs. It is our commitment to cooperation, communication, and mutual support that allows a body of incredibly varied people to constitute the sacred and mystically powerful body of Christ.

Comments

  1. This is my understanding of “big tent”. In the case of Mormonism, it probably means that you at least believe in Jesus Christ, believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is scripture. Beyond that, it shouldn’t matter what else you believe. That’s my idea of “big tent”. Within a political party, it means you generally believe in a set of common principles, whether they also include opposition to another party, that will unify a group of diverse people on at least a few common ideas. The United States of America, is an excellent example of “big tent.” Though many of us disagree with each other, maybe even hate each other, we have several common principles in which we agree.

  2. Ahman Hax says:

    We are the cells of God in embryo.

  3. Brilliant, and beautiful, Sam.

  4. Sam, I passionately agree that this is the way to go. I think this sort of universalizing metaphor is also truer to Mormonism’s emphasis on sacrament and ritual, which can be dismissed as secondary or even irrelevant in big tent Mormonism. We’re not just trying to inhabit the same general sacred space, come what may with difference and diversity. We’re trying to *bind* ourselves to one another and our dead, to all generations, which was the core of Joseph Smith’s original vision.

  5. I also love that image, Sam – and I really like it to describe the ideal. I’m not as opposed to the idea of big tent terminology (especially since “wards” was taken straight from the politics of the time), but I like the imagery of the organs of the body of Christ as the over-arching metaphor. It’s recognizing that Zion doesn’t have to be comprised of people who are, in practical terms, exactly alike that is the key for me – that Elder Wirthlin’s orchestra analogy of people creating true beauty by playing different instruments under the direction of the same conductor means Zion truly is created when different people love each other and work together despite their differences.

    “A Different Way to Define Zion: Unity Despite Differences” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2012/02/different-way-to-define-zion-unity.html)

  6. As someone who is intensely uncomfortable in physical crowds with their unpredictability and overwhelming otherness, I appreciate the difference between metaphors on that level, too.

  7. Sam, great thoughts. It occurs to me: in the big tent we are first individuals and second members of the tent. In the body of Christ, we are first parts of the body. One could leave the tent and survive. In the body of Christ, the hand cannot leave and survive.

  8. Capozaino says:

    Looking around my ward, I think big body Mormonism may already be a better moniker anyway.

  9. EmmaNadine says:

    I love this metaphor as well.It makes each member an essential and important part of the while in spite of (because of?) their difference.

  10. #8, I was hoping for “body of Christ” Mormonism, but my pot belly appreciates the affectionate shout-out.

  11. This interesting approach places more demands on the orthodox than the non-orthodox since they tend to more exclusive. My guess is that orthodox would find the big tent analogy easier to swallow.

  12. #11 – Orthodoxy tends to like established metaphors and symbols, while heterodoxy tends to look for new metaphors and symbols.

    As I said, I don’t mind the big tent symbolism, in and of itself, but the issue with it becomes establishing just how big that tent needs to be (iow, who gets excluded ultimately) – and that can and does turn to argument and division quite easily. That’s the main reason I like the body of Christ / orchestral instrument image better, since those images focus on the unifying feature of the group – not exact similarity of belief and view, but rather willingness to work together in an interconnected manner under the direction of the Lord. It’s the explicit recognition that every **differing** part / instrument is necessary for the body / orchestra to be perfect (complete, whole, fully developed) – even as they do different things – that I really like.

  13. Sam MB,
    Your metaphor works if you see the Mormon Church as the “Body of Christ”. If you see Christianity as the “Body of Christ”, then the Mormon Church is but a small part of it, and often says “I have no need of thee”.

  14. Meldrum the Less says:

    Great student of homeostasis: What happens to an organism when 80-90% of the cells die? And then the organism ingests another boat load of cells only for most of them to die? Our missionary tactics of the last few decades have resulted in a retention problem that renders meaningless the idea that we are critical to each other’s salvation. Before we talk about tents and bodies we need a major reorientation of missionary work and probably a better definition of who is included in this body or tent. I can’t commit to do everything and be everything to everyone and to stand for anything.

    #1 DD:
    I find your tent too narrow. What about the 7th generation descendant of Brigham Young who maybe believes in God and was raised a cultural Mormon. Who wonders if Joseph Smith might have been a Prophet, but is convinced he was also an obvious scoundrel for his philandering with the women, swindling bank schemes and perpetration of violence. Who finds the Book of Mormon interesting and useful, as a collection of every truth, half-truth, and heresy to circulate in New England during the Great Awakening. Who heard Elder McKonkie sermonize about the problems of a personal relationship with Christ and was glad he didn’t have one. But he still shows up to church once in a while and might be willing to take the scouts camping. Is he in the tent or out?

  15. So… big body Mormonism? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

    Your point about body parts existing only in symbiosis with other body parts is a point well-taken. At the same time, the truth is that the church, in many ways, doesn’t really “need” us as much as we might like to think it does, and I would posit that the converse is also true.

    The strength of the tent metaphor is that it allows people to participate in Mormonism who are not central to the functioning of the body. All bodies need brains, hearts, lungs, and other vital organs to survive, but hands, feet, legs, arms, hair, eyes, teeth, ears, and other parts are completely optional for survival. It’s nice to have these parts, and they’re very useful, but plenty of people live without them. Some of those optional parts are more useful than others. If given the choice between eyes and hair, I’ll keep my eyes. But that’s kind of beside the point.

    In the tent metaphor, yes, people would be free to come and go, and it is indicative of a temporary arrangement, but then again, the church is a temporary arrangement in the first place. How many scout masters will there be in the Celestial Kingdom? Will the Word of Wisdom matter at all after this life? For how many millennia does the church claim the earth was without an authoritative church due to apostasy? Churches come and go. Even the “true church” comes and goes, according to the official LDS version of history, and yet Mormons don’t believe that everyone who lived during periods of apostasy in the past is doomed. Nor do they believe that everyone who isn’t a member of the church now is doomed. These people won’t ever need “the church,” and the church won’t ever need them. You could say that they need the gospel, but the church and the gospel are not the same thing.

    If you say you only want to include those who are vital to the church, like vital organs, then you’ve closed out those that are in some way or another connected to or drawn to the church. You’re telling them that unless they’re willing to sacrifice and become “one of us” that they don’t count and are unwelcome.

    ** You’re digging a moat around the Mormon castle and filling it with crocodiles. “Only the truly committed may enter,” says the sign. **

    But really, whether you say you want big body Mormonism, or big tent Mormonism, I’m going to be one of those that says: have fun playing with semantics, but the most important thing is to be welcoming, whether we call it a big body or a big tent. Insisting on changing the metaphor because it allows for transience and lower levels of commitment is essentially fighting against inclusiveness, in favor of personal standard of exclusiveness that is likely to alienate the very people that the big tent metaphor seeks to draw in.

  16. Interesting re-application of the standard metaphor. I actually do like it better than the big tent metaphor, because it does feel like we all have a common goal, even if that goal is somewhat broad.

  17. #15 – Paul, is there anything inherently exclusive about the body of Christ metaphor? It doesn’t have to exclude a strand of hair, tooth, fingernail, pancreas, appendix, etc. With our resurrection terminology, in fact, it is hard to argue that the perfect body of Christ is lacking anything that is a natural, healthy part of embodiment.

    I understand your concern completely (since I share it), but I don’t think this image has to do what you and I are aware it could do if limited in scope. Fully fleshed, so to speak, I think it is the ultimate metaphor.

  18. Matt W. says:

    one body mormonism. I like it. It reminds of how Catholic means universal and the song we sang in that church when I was growing up “We are one body, one body in christ”. The thing I like about this metaphor is that there is no way to divide it. There are and are not big tenters. There are and are not liahonas and iron rodders. You are either one body or not. It is a call to action, to behave with decency even when we disagree.

  19. I’m not really complaining about the body metaphor so much as I’m complaining that someone would say “I don’t believe in big tent Mormonism” as this post does. To me, they’re two metaphors emphasizing two aspects of the same general concern. There is no need to “believe in” one and disbelieve in the other.

  20. Thanks for the clarification, Paul. I respect that.

  21. The body of Christ metaphor is nice, and I particularly liked: “In the tent I am biting my tongue in hopes of achieving some other end. In the body I might bite my tongue because I am the same person I intend to criticize, and we are both Christ.”

    Nevertheless I have no problem with the big tent metaphor either. One uses whatever metaphor best suits the particular circumstance. If we’re going to be too anal about it, we might as well point out that Mormons are really neither organs in a gigantic body, nor living together in a 13,000,000 man tent.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    If you want to harmonize the two metaphors, consider John 1;14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us….”
    The GR verb underlying “dwelt” is skEnoO, which means “to abide in a tent,” as His spirit was “tabernacled” with the human flesh of His physical body. So in this sense the body is itself a kind of “tent.”

    The nominal cognate of this verb is skEnE “tent.” It was the practice in Greek theater to paint scenes on the side of a tent, whence our modern English word “scene,” which derives from the Greek word for “tent.”

  23. Stan Beale says:

    George Will was once accused of having researchers look up arcane words so that he could make his column seem more erudite and force his readers to have a dictionary handy. Isn’t this just another unintended form of Willism?

    “Big Tent Mormonism” is much more understandable than “Body of Christ Mormonism” to nearly everyone. I believe that the old Kelly Johnson acronym, KISS (keep it short and simple). If you try to adopt a new metaphor, you will have to spend a fair amount of time explaining it. With todays attention span of nano seconds, is this an effective use of time?

  24. Like all metaphors, both these have limitations beyond which they are strained.

    Just for starters, the metaphor of body parts within a body fixes us as functions. The metaphor works in so far as it points out that different kinds of people are necessary as there are different functions to perform. But the value of another person is not that they are the brains, the heart or the feet. At best, we are asked to remember that the value of functions within the body, and not to solely privilege brains or heart within the structure of the church. The ultimate value lies in the fact that they can grow into the whole body, and the community to keep one’s eyes on is the one in which all members will be able to interact in a sphere beyond these kind of personal lacks and needs. If I am going to have to be the liver for much longer, let me out of that tent.

  25. I like the body metaphor because it

  26. Sorry, I accidentally posted too soon. I like the body metaphor because it still has a purpose to it–the functioning of the body–whereas a big tent doesn’t have an inherent purpose. That helps distinguish between people whose fundamental relationships with Mormonism and its truth claims are different. They might have the same kind of casseroles, but the fundamental whys underlying their affiliation are very different, and should be treated as such.

  27. Kevin, thanks for that addition. I didn’t know that.

  28. “a big tent doesn’t have an inherent purpose.”

    It’s a place to gather, by choice, for protection from the storm.

  29. hence, tent “stakes”

  30. Mark Brown says:

    This is an excellent metaphor. It has the advantage of being scriptural, and it gives meaning and honor to even the smallest and most insignificant body parts. There are big differences between the heart muscle and the eyeball tissue, and between the nosehair and the colon. Yet all are needful.

    In contrast, in a tent we are all one, undifferentiated mass. Also, Big Tent Mormonism tends to morph into No Tent Mormonism. The metaphor of the body allows for all kinds of oddball varieties, but also imposes a limit.

  31. Clark Goble says:

    I like the idea of big tent Mormonism in the sense of including people we service. However in terms of leadership or being accepting of all ideas I think I get much more squeamish. For instance someone who accepts the Book of Mormon only as inspired historical fiction I want to attend Church. I’m not comfortable with Stake Presidents or Bishops disbelieving the historicity of the Book of Mormon. (Yes I know that as a fact there are those in leadership with such views – indeed it’s precisely because of that I have those feelings)

  32. I just wish I didn’t have to be the arm pit.

  33. and, as has been discussed here in previous posts, those who do not make it to the Celestial Kingdom will not . . . oh, never mind.

  34. I hope a central point wasn’t lost in the verbiage: I believe that the Church can and should be much more inclusive than it has been in the past.
    My idea was that the best way to do it was through the kind of tender intimacy and mutual regard that comes naturally from the metaphor of the body of Christ but which is really beside the point in the political metaphor of the big tent.
    Next month I want to explore what the loss of diversity, through differential attrition of different types of Saints might mean, what I call the hepatization of the body of Christ.

  35. Researcher says:

    Thanks, smb, for the link to the net Bible version of that passage of 1 Corinthians. It was touching to read that and your post after a remarkable testimony meeting today which very much illustrated the point that in one spirit we are all baptized into one body.

  36. Clark,
    So leadership must be orthodox but heterodox are invited to attend?

  37. @36,

    I think so, not just from a theological perspective but from a sociological one. It seems like religions with cultural affiliates at the head tend to make the religion about cultural affiliation, which does a disservice to those whose metaphysical frameworks are structured by the religion.

  38. Are there lay clergy examples of this?

  39. This was a more general statement about liberal, non-literalist denominations in general (Community of Christ, Reform Judaism, Unitarians, etc.), which isn’t to say that these groups don’t have their own functions within their own communities, but in the reformist case their respective approach to what Judaism fundamentally is is different, and putting a reformist in charge of the Ultra-Orthodox would do the Ultra-Orthodox a disservice given what the particulars that they hope to gain from their worship, and vice-versa. I suppose that both groups fit in the same very broad ethno-religious “tent,” but it’s difficult to think of them as working together because their ends that they are working toward are so different. Similarly, a TBM might by phylogenetically close to New Order Mormons or the C of C, but in terms of teleology the TBM is probably more closely related to an Orthodox Catholic.

  40. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think you’re missing the forest because of the trees, Kant66. Mormons would do well to look to the Jews to see how a minority faith can maintain group identity while finding room for a range of views. Many Latter-day Saints can’t even embrace members of the Community of Christ as their religious brethren. Nice work with the 50-cent words, though!

  41. I’m not sure I’d like to have Big Tent Mormonism either – but could we at least pick up the stakes and move the tent a few feet to the left? Kthxbai.

  42. Short of a miracle the church’s position on many issues is not sustainable when viewed in the light of day; the historical accuracy of the BoM, prophets seers and revelators who don’t, lying through correlation, the ban on women and gays and building urban renewal projects vs. saving third world lives. Over time the orthodox position will be forced to change or broaden.

  43. Latter-day Guy says:

    “the hepatization of the body of Christ” –– a simultaneously clever and really gross metaphor.

  44. I believe that the body of Christ is a much better analogy, and #42 illustrates why perfectly — as Sam so eloquently stated. The body needs each of its parts to be healthy and to recognize that any unhealthy part threatens the rest with infection and the death of the others. The tent metaphor suggests that if you can just place yourself under the large rubric of “Mormon” you really fit into the fold. Moreover, the tent metaphor doesn’t suggest that others could lead to uprooting the tent or causing it true harm because the tent is infinitely expandable. Atheists who hate priesthood and priesthood leaders alike? No problem, we’re all in the same tent.

    However, there are necessary conditions to survival of a body. The symbiotic love and care for each other, and at least civil respect for the primary beliefs and leaders is essential. Those who want to make the church into something fundamentally different by giving up the Book of Mormon, or the belief that there is actually a God, or that the leaders are inspired and receive revelation threaten the life of all in the church and do not constitute merely lifting the bottom to let a few more in. The body of Christ is animated by a single spirit. If it is not so, then the body will die and be placed under a shroud like a tent that will flap in the wind until the dust underneath blows away.

  45. In other words, there can be a cancer in the body of christ. But with a tent, there’s not an easy way to keep out those who drag in mud.

  46. Michael Taylor says:

    Thank you for the post; I loved the approach. Instead of making diversity the goal in and of itself, this approach keeps us focused on the common goal (the unity and mutual salvation of the saints) while using diversity as a tool to meet that goal.

  47. “there’s not an easy way to keep out those who drag in mud.”

    And *this* type of attitude is why I support big tent Mormonism. One person’s “mud” may be another person’s real world experience, or proof of hard work in the trenches; the type of experience and work that the dirt police may never have the privilege of knowing.

  48. Love the article, hate the title. The article argues for a specific form of Big Tent Mormonism, while arguing against the use of the term itself.

    Let me put it another way. If Sam MB gets his way, the Big Tent Mormonism people (who are these people anyhow?) will be pleased.

    I see many more references to cafeteria Mormons, maybe we should turn our guns on that term instead.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    Clark, So leadership must be orthodox but heterodox are invited to attend?

    I don’t like the orthodox label as I’m not quite sure what that means. I think there are some key doctrines one should accept to be in leadership though. I had a friend struggling with a testimony of the Book of Mormon who talked to their Stake President during a temple recommend interview. The SP told them he didn’t believe the Book of Mormon was historical at all. The consequences of that weren’t good. I think that because the role Bishops and SPs play that it is completely fair to demand more from them.

  50. Clark,
    Okay but it plays both ways someone else who is struggling with their testimony could have a bad out come by talking to their Bishop or SP who tells them the BoM is historically accurate.

  51. Clark Goble says:

    It’s how they tell them, isn’t it?

  52. What if the church’s position left you to decide for yourself after praying about it?

  53. #48 re “cafeteria mormons”:

    We are all cafeteria Mormons.

    Do you prefer the renunciation of violence of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis or the violent, self-assured righteous indignation of Captain Moroni?

    Do you dine with prostitutes as Jesus did, or do you follow the EFY-style dictum of staying as far from people with questionable behaviors as possible?

    Do you stick to the temple recommend version of the Word of Wisdom or do you eat meat sparingly only during times of famine?

    Like it or not, no matter how you answer these questions, you will end up favoring one interpretation of Mormonism over another, picking and choosing the parts that sound best to you. There is enough paradox and variation within Mormonism to make it impossible to be anything other than a cafeteria Mormon.

  54. At the most fundamental level, I don’t really care much about what exact terminology / imagery is used – as long as the basic attitude-orientation is charitable. If the initial instinct is to love all and look for reaons to include (allowing for exclusion when necessary), rather than to judge and exclude (looking for reasons not to include), I can accept lots of images and metaphors.

    I really like the “body of Christ” image, since I like the explicit focus on Christ – but I have heard quite a few descriptions over the decades that also resonate with me.

    To each her own – and I mean that literally. I would rather have thousands of reasonable images that cover the broad spectrum of what works for real people than try to find “the one true image” and reject everything else.

  55. Clark Goble says:

    Howard, I don’t quite understand your statement. I think everyone should find out for themselves. However I think it fair to ask that leadership offering council be able to testify to the things they teach.

  56. #55 – I am never going to impose any kind of belief-based litmus test on becoming an LDS leader except the holding of a temple recommend. If it ain’t part of that interview, it don’t matter.

    Also, fwiw, I’ve seen every bit as much damage done by “orthodox” leaders as by “heterodox” leaders. Ime, it’s not about the broad classificattion; it’s about the person – an individual ability to love and an openness to the whisperings of the Spirit.

  57. Clark does it make any difference to the gospel teachings of the BoM if the book is historical fiction or historical non-fiction? I don’t think it does. So by allowing the reader to decide the value of the book remains, the church doesn’t have to defend the indefensible any longer and both beliefs may coexist.

  58. Clark Goble says:

    Howard, yes it makes a considerable difference to the promises made in the Book of Mormon if there are no Lamanites or Nephites. Indeed it makes huge swaths of prophecy meaningless.

  59. Clark,
    There is no scientific or archaeological support for literal Lamanites or Nephites making the entire BoM meaningless to the vast majority of the educated world. Perhaps metaphorical Lamanites and Nephites are better than no Lamanites and Nephites at all.

  60. Capozaino says:

    As long as one person insists that believing in the historicity of the BoM == the “more” that should be demanded of leaders, I think that you’re going to end up talking past one another. The assumption that literal interpretation is better than figurative interpretation is, in my view, not warranted in all cases, and I don’t have a problem with lay members or high ranking leaders preferring non-literal interpretations when it comes to beliefs like BoM historicity.

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    Acknowledging the BoM isn’t literally based on an ancient document seems like the last taboo in Mormon culture. Who knows what percentage of members and even leaders are there, but keep quiet about it. Is this cultural taboo is starting to break down?

  62. Hmmm. Seems like you sussed out an origin of “big tent” that most people who use it don’t even know themselves. In fact, considering a lot of these big tent advocates are my personal friends, I can say with confidence that they absolutely intend to use the term as a reference to the Old Testament tent metaphors (i.e. where we get our stakes of Zion stuff). Was there some specific post somewhere making the political strategy argument that you are responding to? Because otherwise I have no idea what inspired this post.

  63. Re: 61
    Seer stone and face in a hat, plates out of sight. It sounds like a description of a shaman scrying and revelating. Isn’t that what a Prophet Seer and Revelator does?

  64. Paul Bohman (#53),

    I completely agree and would go further. When people denigrate the term “cafeteria Mormon” in front of me I ask whose version of the Godhead they believe in. If they think there is only one I tell them that Talmage came up with that around 1914 and the Church standardized on it. I think that most often people don’t believe me.

    On top your versions of the WoW, you could always go with the text itself even more: not a commandment, you can drink wine, and you can drink beer (a mild barley drink.)

  65. My favorite Jesus quote: “He who is not against us is with us”. We will never see eye to eye on all doctrinal points because God speaks to each member in a way that he/she can understand, which means the language is different for everybody. We’re not pegs that can be placed in a certain hole. We can only seek a basic commonality and depend on the Spirit to do its magic. Mormonism done right is less about teaching and more about facilitating the spirit.

  66. Mark D. says:

    It doesn’t matter nearly as much whether a bishop or SP believes that the BM is historical, as they not teach things that are direct contradictions of fundamental doctrines of the church. They have no business remaining in such a calling if they do, any more than someone (for example) who teaches that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead.

  67. Great post Sam and great comments Paul (#53) and arJ (#64).

  68. MikeInWeHo says:

    RE: 63 Yes, absolutely! Hope I have not been misunderstood. If prophetic voices exist in history, Joseph Smith was one of them. The Book of Mormon is so important. It’s a shame that the debate over literalism prevents some from appreciating it. We don’t need a historical Noah to appreciate the truths presented in Genesis and we don’t need literal golden plates either. Myth is where societies aggregate and express their most important truths. A myth is not the same as a lie. It seems that Mormon rhetoric conflates the two at times, though.

  69. Yes MikeInWeHo, I totally agree with 68. Well said!

  70. Clark Goble says:

    Howard there is even less evidence for resurrected beings than there are for small groups of ancient Israelites. The strongest argument for the reality of the resurrection is Joseph Smith which is pretty much undermined if the plates he was handing around were fake.

    Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand people who don’t have a testimony of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness. But this is exactly why the leadership not having a testimony of it is so troubling. They may think there’s a huge difference between the historicity of Christ and the historicity of Nephites. Most other people looking at it don’t. And my friend supposedly getting counseling from the Stake President recognized that right off and asked the Stake President about Christ. The SP had no good reply with the result being my friend largely left the Church and moved into the agnostic camp.

    And this hasn’t just happened with one or two people I know. The only reason the NT gets a pass is because we know there was a Palestine and Romans. Yet it’s pretty ridiculously bad on historical facts we do know about. And that’s stuff either within the lifetimes of the authors or not long in the past.

  71. Clark I love your first sentence in 70, great argument! But who said the plates were fake? Weren’t they real plates and didn’t people testify to seeing them and handling them?

  72. Clark Goble says:

    If the plates weren’t the account of real Nephites then they are fakes. Perhaps it wasn’t Joseph Smith who made the fake plates (assuming they are fake – I think them real obviously) but it amounts to the same thing.

  73. Clark Goble says:

    MikeInWeHo, I don’t see much evidence for people not believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I think most people who reject Nephites reject Mormonism (and by the stats I’ve discussed on my recent series on retention at my blog, about half of people who leave the Church join the ranks of the no religion crowd).

  74. Clark G. – Use your imagination! Making this an all or nothing scenario is not a winner for the BoM.

  75. Clark,
    Three witnesses claimed that an angel had shown them the plates. Isn’t this a strong argument for the existence of a spirit word? Eight witnesses claimed they saw and handled the plates. Fake? Sorry but it appears there are no “real Nephites” so now what do we do? Are parables non-fiction? Why can’t it be real revealed or inspired fiction? How would this make it fake?

  76. it's a series of tubes says:

    Sorry but it appears there are no “real Nephites”

    Conclusory statements without support don’t advance your argument. Preclassic and early classic Maya fit the profile well.

  77. So it appears there are real Nephites? Does the world know yet?

  78. MikeInWeHo says:

    #70: “And this hasn’t just happened with one or two people I know.”

    #73: “I don’t see much evidence for people not believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”

    So which is it?

    If your friend’s testimony was so brittle that he bolted upon encountering a leader who wasn’t a literalist, don’t you think it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway?

    Not to be in any way disrespectful, though. I can imagine that many members find this whole topic extremely challenging. It seems similar to the situation Evangelicals are in who insist that Genesis must be literal or else all of Christianity falls. Those people often wind up agnostic or atheist too.

  79. it's a series of tubes says:

    Howard, it doesn’t appear that you’re interested in engaging in serious discussion on this topic. I’m sure you’re aware of the point and counterpoint available here:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Archaeology

    as food for thought, if nothing else.

  80. It’s a series of tubes,
    Fair is an LDS apologist organization. In the secular world there is no scientific or archaeological support for literal Lamanites or Nephites making the entire BoM meaningless to the vast majority of the educated world. Shall we sit here and debate church defensive spin? I would rather take a tact that might open the book to the rest of the educated world.

  81. Mike: How is believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon a taboo? It is simply the sine qua non of the faith and Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. Take that away and you have a club that isn’t worthy of the dues. However, I think that those who believe that the Book of Mormon is historical in the way that it claims to be have the better of the argument on this one.

  82. Hosea,
    What does the BoM claim with regard to historical accuracy?

  83. Howard: Why on earth should those who accept the restored gospel cave in to the views of the “secular world”? That is the essence of apostasy in LDS terms. If that is the test, nothing remains of Mormonism that is worth having the “secular world” (whatever that is) even take notice.

  84. Howard: It claims that it was written by prophets deriving from three separate ancient voyages from other parts of the world to somewhere in the New World (as that terms was classically understood). It was written by Jewish prophets named Lehi, Nephi, Jacob and so forth. That’s pretty hard to escape unless one just willfully ignores everything it says. You may not believe it to be what it claims, but it does make these claims.

  85. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 81
    I meant that dis-believing in the historicity of the BoM is a cultural taboo among active members of the LDS church, even though it seems a certain percentage are there. Sorry if I was unclear.

    There are Mormons who believe that the reality of Christ is the sine qua non of their faith, not whether or not Nephites literally existed. Anyway, I get where you’re coming from and respect it.

  86. Hosea,
    Considering another group’s point of view has nothing to do with apostasy and it is not “caving in to it”.

  87. Michael V says:

    I am encouraged by many things I have seen in the last few years which show meaningful “inclusiveness” or
    “widening of the tent” or re-evaluating “the Body of Christ. When President Hinckley praised the previous Catholic Pope at his death, because of his integrity & his influence in maintaining Christianity (paraphrase) he was acknowledging our “connection” in a way I have never heard an LDS prophet do. The way the LDS Church meets
    and cooperates with other Faiths in Salt Lake; the way The Church cooperates with Muslims in common causes—-
    there are other examples like that of seeking to be a “we” instead of an “us & them.” Frankly, I like to think of
    “The Body of Christ” as including all who are seeking Christ or seeking Truth & Virtue even if they do not now
    believe in Christ as we (the LDS) do.
    Another thing I have seen which I never saw years ago (I’m a member over 50 years) is the allowance and encouragement of Christian “non-members” (though I don’t like that term) to participate and express themselves–
    like a Protestant man I know who stands up in Testimony Meeting from time to time and expresses his convictions’
    about Christ in a friendly and not adversarial way. I have read that BYU has a Catholic Religion teacher who testifies each semester of her belief that one can find Salvation through the Catholic Church. Obviously there must be an atmosphere of Trust and Cooperation in situations like that. BYU, since I was there, constructed a center for students who are not of the LDS faith to meet and organize.
    Certainly I see much more community service and community involvement outside our chapels, and I believe we can develop more shared activities inside our chapels—like the “Muslim Exchanges” I have heard about where meetings are held both places for the purpose of mutual understanding and respect.
    I would love to see a growing mindset and practices wherein we are saying to everyone— “Come meet with us
    and share whatever appeals to you and serves your family—we will honor your beliefs and support you in your own Journey without pressure from us”—kind of like BYU welcoming and honoring non-LDS students who observe and respect the key standards. Isn’t that what we do in Healthy LDS Families and Extended Families?
    Too often I think our youth are conditioned to think that is “us vs them” in a lonely and wicked world, and if we
    can acknowledge, honor, and include others of Integrity in more of what we do, won’t that make our world seem less “dark and dreary”???

  88. Hosea,
    Please select a few verses that constitute these claims and let’s see if they actually exclude the possibility of the book being revealed or inspired fiction.

  89. Howard @ 80:

    “FAIR is an apologist organization”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_motive

    “vast majority of the educated world”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority

    @75: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denying_the_correlative

  90. it's a series of tubes says:

    In the secular world there is no scientific or archaeological support for literal Lamanites or Nephites making the entire BoM meaningless to the vast majority of the educated world.

    Again, your absolutist positions cast you as fundamentally unserious on the topic. I’d point you to examples of the various peer-reviewed literature, but you’d simply dismiss them if any of the authors happen to be LDS. On this topic, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    P.S. Care to offer us your educational pedigree? Might lend some support as to why you feel able to make such statements.

  91. Howard, interesting arguments. But it’s never been the intent of the Book of Mormon to convince the intellectual world. Those who learn of its truth (or relevance, or whatever term you wish to apply) do so spiritually. Given treats this quite nicely in By The Hand Of Mormon.

    (I am arguing here neither for or against historicity; the book can be spiritually true, either way.)

    As for the plates, we have witnesses who saw them and so testified. So if we trust those witnesses, then there is evidence of their (the plates’) existence. The book that grew from them (by translation) is an artifact which is spiritually examinable and provable. Millions have done it.

    That Joseph may have recieved part of the translation through a seer stone in his hat does not mean that it is neither translated nor true.

  92. Clark Goble says:

    EHS (74) Use your imagination! Making this an all or nothing scenario is not a winner for the BoM.

    The issue isn’t whether I can come up with ways attempting to reconcile them. The issue is how persuasive such apologetics are. I know some folks find the old FARMS apologetics for the Book of Mormon evidence not that persuasive. That’s fine. I’m just pointing out that the situation for treating it as fiction is way, way worse. If it works for you though more power to you.

    Howard (75) Three witnesses claimed that an angel had shown them the plates. Isn’t this a strong argument for the existence of a spirit word?

    I think it’s evidence for there being real plates but that’s evidence for the Book of Mormon being historic. My replies to you weren’t me arguing for Book of Mormon evidences – I can list off a whole slew – but rather the issue for people who find the Book of Mormon to be fictitious. My further point is that the evidence for the resurrection (which is more than there being a spirit world) is slimmer than the evidence for the Book of Mormon.

    The problem for the person arguing the Book of Mormon as fiction is they have to explain why the elaborate presentation as if it was historic (i.e. real plates, an angel claiming to be Nephite, etc.) I just don’t see any apologetic for the position that there were real plates but the text is fiction. Seems much more plausible that the plates were fake or the Book of Mormon is true. I’m afraid the third choice doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    I’m not trying to go off on a tangent here. And as I said I hope people who struggle with the truth of the Book of Mormon attend Church. But let’s be honest about the logic of the situation. Once you reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon there’s not a whole lot of reason to accept any of the doctrines. If Christ didn’t really come to the Nephites why assume Jesus in Palestine was really Christ? What’s the evidence for it?

    MikeInWeHo (78) If your friend’s testimony was so brittle that he bolted upon encountering a leader who wasn’t a literalist, don’t you think it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway?

    It happened with more than one friend. And yes, of course it was brittle enough that something was eventually going to happen. But the whole point of going to a leader (I didn’t even know these people had struggles) was to get some help. By discarding the reality of the Book of Mormon the leader actually did the opposite. They could offer no help, not even a testimony, and instead provided a position that undermined the NT and Christianity in general but the leader didn’t want to admit that to themselves. I think this is problematic for someone who is supposed to be a shepherd. On the other hand there are plenty of missionaries who go out without a testimony. But I think it clearly undermines their ability to fulfill the calling.

    MikeInWeHo (78) It seems similar to the situation Evangelicals are in who insist that Genesis must be literal or else all of Christianity falls.

    I don’t think so. For one its not at all clear that the historicity of Genesis has much bearing on the truth of Christianity. (It probably has more bearing on Mormonism given our theology of Adam-ondi-Ahman – but I’m sure people could simply discount that particular doctrine) Ditto for most of the OT. If it turns out Job being in the whale was due to textual mistakes or pure fiction it really doesn’t affect any key doctrines. If the Book of Mormon is fiction then it undermines Joseph’s trustworthiness as well as the text being a second witness for Christ.

    The problem with Evangelicals is that the real issue is the inerrancy of the Bible which is a position not claimed by the Bible. That can shake people up if they don’t see the hidden premise of inerrancy. I don’t think the Book of Mormon is inerrant in the least and can accept a high degree of historic error in it. But if the text is pure fiction then that has a lot of logical implication I think many people haven’t thought through.

    Howard (82) What does the BoM claim with regard to historical accuracy?

    I don’t think it claims a high degree of accuracy. I think most read Ether 12:23 to indicate that there are a lot of weaknesses in the text. We probably shouldn’t expect it to be more historically accurate than the typical ancient text composed in the general manner it claims.

  93. Please provide a link to evidence that enjoys broad secular scientific support.

  94. Clark Goble says:

    Howard, were you referring to me? The only public scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon at best offers plausibility. That’s why the issue of the witnesses and the plates are important but most critically personal revelation.

  95. Clark Goble says:

    To add there is nothing that even establishes plausibility in terms of public scientific evidence for the resurrection. Even life after death in terms of scientific evidence is lacking plausibility. Yet an other way the Book of Mormon has a stronger evidentiary stance than the key doctrines rejectors of Book of Mormon historicity require.

  96. Paul,
    I agree the Spirit converts not intellectual arguments. But insisting on historical accuracy will turn a lot of people off and they won’t consider even consider reading it.

    That Joseph may have recieved part of the translation through a seer stone in his hat does not mean that it is neither translated nor true. I agree but I doubt we agree on what true means.

  97. Clark wrote: I think it’s evidence for there being real plates but that’s evidence for the Book of Mormon being historic. I don’t see how, my novel comes in a real book but it’s fiction. The problem for the person arguing the Book of Mormon as fiction is they have to explain why the elaborate presentation as if it was historic (i.e. real plates, an angel claiming to be Nephite, etc.) I’m sorry your conclusion doesn’t follow. You seem to be conflating the presentation with non-fiction. The BoM can be fiction but teach us many gospel truths and truths about people and how they behave. Parables do the same thing. So the elaborate presentation may simply say pay attention this is from God!

    Once you reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon there’s not a whole lot of reason to accept any of the doctrines. If Christ didn’t really come to the Nephites why assume Jesus in Palestine was really Christ? Why? What difference does it make if Jesus Christ was a fictional character?

  98. Clark, sorry 93 was for It’s a series of tubes.

  99. Clark Goble says:

    Howard (97), I had a big answer written and realized I was just making it to complex. Here’s the thing. If someone gives Joseph plates, sends angels claiming to be the people in that book and then the book turns out to be fiction then there is strong reasons to not trust that person. So either Joseph was deceitful or the beings giving info to Joseph were deceitful.

    The complex answer is that performatives in speech acts can’t be done in fiction. For example a promise in a fiction just isn’t a promise.

    If Jesus was a fictional character the sakes things follow. There’s just a high level of deception. You just can’t separate presentation from content the way you are attempting.

  100. The Book of Mormon fails its own stated purposes if it is a non-historical fictional text. Howard has recently gone the rounds on this elsewhere.

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/02/06/looking-at-the-bom-as-pseudepigrapha/

    “It’s a shame that the debate over literalism prevents some from appreciating it.” While this is true in some sense, appreciation of a text is not the same as believing in it, which is not equivalent to assigning it a genre. Nor does does holding the Book of Mormon to be historical and ancient blind people to appreciating it. Much of what is cynically thought to be attempts to “prove” the Book of Mormon is simply trying to interpret it and appreciate it by contextualization, trying to understand its structure and meaning the way its (ancient) writers did.

  101. Clark,
    I would have answered it is easier for people to relate to a real Jesus than than a fictional one. The story is the same but we relate to it much more personally when we imagine him as a real person. But fiction is a much better teaching medium than non-fiction which simply becomes a dry book of facts. We would find little enjoyment in Monson’s cutesie stories if they were told precisely how they happened in the precise words that were actually said so we tacitly allow him editorial leeway and he presents them as entertaining non-fiction as we all smile and laugh. Is it beyond God to spin a fictional story and present it as fact to teach us in a compelling way? In a way we can relate to the characters? Would it be a sin? I don’t think so.

    What is non-fictional history anyway? Today we have many hi tech ways to document history we can video tape violence between Police or military and citizens and then the experts on both sides argue over what the video actually shows, neither side agrees and it’s impossible to know who started it so how shall we document this event in writing so that it is accurate non-fiction? What could non-fiction have meant when history had to be remembered and hand carved into metal plates long after the fact and abridged by others? History is myth commonly written to favor those in power.

  102. Ben S #100,
    Please relate your second sentence to your first.

  103. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 100
    Wow thanks for the link to that Wheat & Tares post. Good stuff.
    “…once you recognize this isn’t just a straight forward history, nor is it just a hoax pretending to be straight forward history, you begin to open a window into understanding the deeper dimensions of the text.” I couldn’t agree with this more.

    Hey Kevin Barney: If you’re reading this I have a question. What would you estimate is the percentage of active members who view the BoM as some type of pseudepigrapha?

  104. Clark,

    What makes the issue of physical plates that bear no to the text more relevant is the Book of Abraham. We have some of the physical book and we have the translated text, and they don’t seem to match up well.

  105. I thought the whole historicity stuff would go a different direction. I believe the Nephite literally existed…but I wonder about the extent of some of the damage described and numbers. I can imagine that a fair number of members may wonder about the accuracy of details, but I can’t imagine any grand percentage don’t believe in something as basic as the existence of Nephites. As far as geographic evidence or lack there of..I don’t consider a lack of evidence as conclusive, there’s always a better microscope, another interpretation or another patch of ground to investigate.

    I also think I can believe the Bible is historical while thinking Noah could be more local than assumed.

    I agree that Christ is the craziest part of any Christian story. The resurrection and the atonement are far more difficult to believe, with far less scientific backing than any other miracle.

  106. MikeInWeHo says:

    “The resurrection and the atonement are far more difficult to believe, with far less scientific backing than any other miracle.”

    I disagree. The resurrection of one personage is impossible to prove or disprove, especially that far in the past. There is nothing to look at. The Bible and BoM give us lots of historical data points to evaluate. We can look for evidence of cities like Sodom or Zarahemla, for example. (Actually, I can conclusively prove that Sodom does exists and its zip code is 90046.)

  107. Isn’t that why it’s harder to believe…and has far less scientific backing? I’m confused what you disagree with.

  108. Clark Goble says:

    Howard (101), as I said there are many features of non-fiction beyond being easier to relate to. As I said there are many types of speech acts impossible in fiction such as promising, apologizing, declaring with authority, direct, make commitments, pronounce guilt, order, etc. There’s no doubt fiction has some strengths but let’s not overlook its weaknesses and weaknesses that are highly problematic in religion.

    Also sending an angel and physical objects telling someone they are history is going well beyond merely teaching us in a compelling fashion. It’s lying and deception. Such a person would be completely untrustworthy. Sorry, they just would. But even if you think it’s OK I’d hope you realize that for the vast, vast majority of people it would not be. Which, relating to my original point, is a problem for leaders.

    To say history is biased, has mistakes, or is inaccurate is quite a bit different from saying it is pure fiction. I think most of us recognize this immediately. If you don’t see the distinction then I’m not sure there’s much to talk about. When history becomes fiction we justifiably criticize the authors.

    John (104), I think the Book of Abraham is problematic precisely because of the reasons you list. However while I’ve not kept up on the debate the last while it does seem more open than you suggest. (i.e. missing papyri, the genetic relationship of the copied papyri to original documents, midrashic expansion on the text, etc.) For one there definitely were real papyri which is quite different from the Book of Mormon as fiction. Now if you are saying there were real historic gold plates that ancient American inhabitants had written but that the Book of Mormon relates to it the way the Book of Abraham relates to the papyri Joseph had then we might have more room to maneuver. I’d just note that is not at all what Howard is proposing. However I personally think anti-Mormons are right to focus on the Book of Abraham because it is the most problematic area on which to attack Mormonism. I have faith it’ll be resolved but thus far there is no fully convincing resolution.

    LessonNumberOne (105), I think we should expect the Book of Mormon to have the same weaknesses as typical ancient texts. That means exaggeration, bias, the problem of interpreting events from a primitive limited basis of knowledge etc. Add in the question of whether during translation there were expansions and the problem of translating certain terms (say horse for deer – not an uncommon translation as Sorenson notes) and you have a lot of room for problems. As I said Moroni himself seems to acknowledge limits in Ether 12:23-28.

  109. Clark,
    Religion already deals with the problem of Biblical fiction how is dealing with BoM fiction any more difficult? Moroni called it an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. There are many different types of accounts. Did he mean a historically accurate account? He didn’t say. Correlation portrays Joseph as monogamous is that intellectually honest? Is it historically accurate? I don’t like it when the church lies even when it is well intended. But they do it. Has it made them completely untrustworthy? Well, not completely yet. But they do have a creditability problem in many areas including the BoM. So what do you think in another 100 years or so we will scientifically identify the Mayans as Nephites? I don’t, I have a testimony that the BoM is inspired fiction and I’m at peace with it. It brings me much more peace than trying to resolve the scientific problems with it being non-fiction.

  110. The “body of Christ” is a very apt metaphor with many layers of meaning.

  111. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 107
    You can’t prove or disprove the resurrection. The fact that it’s a miraculous event is the whole point, isn’t it?

    On the other hand, we can disprove the account of a global flood in Genesis. Heck, we even know that the Jews were never in Egypt. Historical accounts involving masses of people, cities, global events, etc are much more subject to scientific study than isolated miraculous events. This is why Creationism doesn’t hold up.

  112. “Heck, we even know that the Jews were never in Egypt.”

    You sound awfully sure, have you checked?

  113. MikeInWeHo says:

    Heck no! But a few others have:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus#Historicity_debate

    Sound familiar??

  114. Rude Dog says:

    I hope there is room for the term “Big Tent” Mormonism. Most that have been raised in our church love many aspects of it. The community, the opportunities for service. But many of us have come to the conclusions that it’s absolute truth claims are untenable, and have left the need for absolute assurances that “I know this ____ is true,” brings to seemingly satisfy a rather juvenile itch, which is if you think about it, is an unnecessary component of the message of Christ.

    The restored Gospel makes claims about the natural world that can be tested by natural means. These tests are failing to substantiate our bold naturalistic proclamations. Even the testimony of the eight as has been mentioned here are suspect as many of the witnesses described the “angel and plates” as a visionary experience only. There are other problems with the witnesses, and that is a drop in the bucket to the major problems to the historicity of the BoM, the “Keystone” to our religion.

    Regardless, my non-believing heart still pulls the YM/YW behind my non-believing boat, and my non-believing hammer still pounds nails and my non-believing back and F250 still move furniture and wind blown branches. My non-believing ears still warm at the primary songs and my non-believing hand reaches out to warm shakes and embraces. In this era where many are leaving the church in droves, do we really want to shut down “Big Tent” philosophy to those who don’t want to be body connected, yet have love and means to contribute? If that’s the case, the body will be skinny, pale, and more prone to the couch than the marathon.

  115. Rude dog, with respect I think body of Christ matches your situation better. In that metaphor the Saints reach back to you in love and affection. If anything I think body of Christ can deal better with doubt and unbelief because of the emphasis on interconnection, love and tender regard. By the political metaphor they’re maximizing membership numbers by keeping unbelievers around. You do raise the interesting question of how the body of Christ accommodates members that are entirely non-religious, but I think a) that degree of non-religiosity is rare and b) I think the Mormon focus on relationships as sacred I think can deal with even that.

    Commenter in mod Q I ditched the Monty python but am open to clarifying whether you had an important point to make.

  116. Clark Goble says:

    The restored Gospel makes claims about the natural world that can be tested by natural means. These tests are failing to substantiate our bold naturalistic proclamations. Even the testimony of the eight as has been mentioned here are suspect as many of the witnesses described the “angel and plates” as a visionary experience only. There are other problems with the witnesses, and that is a drop in the bucket to the major problems to the historicity of the BoM, the “Keystone” to our religion.

    I don’t quite see that. As for the witness issues that’s been dealt with a fair bit.

    There’s no doubt there remain some big holes that need filled. The relation of the Book of Abraham to the papyri, horses in the Book of Mormon and steel in the Book of Mormon. There are answers but they aren’t sufficiently persuasive at this stage and have problems of their own. I don’t think that entails “failing to substantiate our bold naturalistic proclamations.” I think there has always been a doctrine of divine hiddenness within LDS theology which entails while our key claims can be plausible they’ll never be “substantiated” until it ceases to matter in terms of public evidence.

  117. Clark wrote: I think there has always been a doctrine of divine hiddenness… I’ve heard it suggested that this preserves agency because it is not intellectually compelling allowing gospel truths to be confirmed by the Spirit. Still in 180 years you would think someone would have stumbled onto some kind of significant evidence of LDS truth claims if those claims are literal. Do you believe humankind are being divinely steered away from such evidence?

  118. “Still in 180 years you would think someone would have stumbled onto some kind of significant evidence of LDS truth claims if those claims are literal.”

    Have you ever been a history teacher, Howard? Going back to the point about Biblical scholarship as a comparison, your statement is a small one in comparison to the exact same issue relative to the truth claims of the Bible – even though we have a much better understanding of simple things like geographic location for the stories written there.

    I’m not saying that I believe those stories literally happened. I believe many if not all of the early Old Testament stories are mythological in nature (and I don’t mean “false” by choosing that word), and I’m not going to try to put a percent on the amount of the New Testament that I believe accurately reflects original writings of the people involved, but your statement about evidence just doesn’t hold water for me – especially since we still have almost no idea about the actual geographic location where most of the Book of Mormon is purported to have occurred. (and, in those cases where we do know about geographic location, the evidence is pretty solid in favor of what’s written)

    Fwiw, I personally believe most Mormons still don’t know even what the Book of Mormon actually says about lots of things – demographics, doctrine of the time, the nature of historical record compilation and abridgment, etc. It’s no surprise at all to me that geographic location also is unknown at this point.

  119. All of this is to say, relative to the actual post, that I really like the body of Christ imagery – since I see it as apt way to describe those who might see particular “points of doctrine” differently but who are willing to work together (symbiotically) within the encompassing body of Christ. However, I also don’t mind the big tent imagery, if that symbol is used to mean roughly the same thing – that people can be “doing” different things within a structure as long as they are willing to work together within that overall structure.

    The only aspect of either image that bothers me, frankly, is if either image is used primarily to focus on differences and to divide – the “disease” aspect of the body of Christ or the “separate rooms” aspect of the big tent. If either of those is the default setting for someone, I don’t like the image nearly as much.

  120. Ray,
    So you disagree, 180 years hasn’t been enough time to find some kind of significant evidence or even figure out where the BoM stories took place? But you do find many of the Biblical accounts to be mythological in nature so we do agree on that. Couldn’t many of the BoM accounts to be mythological in nature as well?

  121. “Couldn’t many of the BoM accounts to be mythological in nature as well?”

    Absolutely, and I’ve never said otherwise. There are many things that are “mythological” that also are historical in nature (like, perhaps, Noah’s flood, the story of Esther and the scattering of people in the time of the brother of Jared), and there are many things that are mythological that simply are grand scale parables (like, perhaps, the stories of Job and Jonah) or visionary in nature (like lots of examples in the Bible and the Book of Mormon).

    The issue with physical evidence that supports the Book of Mormon is that the book itself gives very, very few clues about its purported location – once the Lehites leave the Middle East. Having said that, the physical evidence for the Book of Mormon includes all of the research about the geographic claims of 1 Nephi up to the point when they left the Middle East – and it also includes all of the research about the cultural descriptions it contains. That “evidence” actually is quite good – not conclusive, certainly, but quite good.

    Many people focus so exclusively on what really isn’t even very well understood at this point, making it essentially unprovable, that they overlook what can be analyzed – and they focus on the lack of evidence for the unprovable stuff and ignore the existence of evidence for the stuff that might be provable. That’s my main point.

  122. Clark Goble says:

    Still in 180 years you would think someone would have stumbled onto some kind of significant evidence of LDS truth claims if those claims are literal. Do you believe humankind are being divinely steered away from such evidence?

    I don’t know but honestly I don’t really expect independent of such matters to find much evidence. As has been frequently pointed out it’s not at all clear what Nephites would have left behind we could identify as Nephites. The best situation would be discovering some of their religious plates but I’m not sure that’s to be expected if they were few in number. (i.e. it’d be looking for a needle in a haystack assume any survived being melted down over the centuries were they found)

    The best place to expect to find evidence would be the Book of Abraham (as well as best falsification) It is interesting that there was that fire which makes resolving some of the questions difficult or impossible. (There are indirect methods like calculating papyri size via roll tightness and the like)

    Beyond that what would objective evidence look like beyond finding whatever it was Joseph had for the translation. (i.e. tin plates according to some critics, gold plates according to believers) However it seems like neither skeptics nor believers expect that evidence to be found.

    Even if it turned out the passages about horses and steel aren’t translation artifacts but real references to steel and horses I don’t think finding such would convince any critics. At best it’d make one way of reading the text more plausible.

    So in the best possible scenario we have a needle in a haystack no one expects to find.

  123. I like Christ’s metaphor for the Church best:

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:” (Matthew 13:47)

  124. Clark Goble says:

    But you do find many of the Biblical accounts to be mythological in nature so we do agree on that. Couldn’t many of the BoM accounts to be mythological in nature as well?

    I’m not sure I like the word “myth” in this context since to my mind that refers to a particular kind of structure I don’t see in the Book of Mormon. Let’s stick with fiction like Job probably is and Jonah probably is. I think the OT is just problematic on its own terms and I think the Book of Mormon treats it accordingly. We can however certainly read the Book of Mormon as historical but read it with a hermeneutics of suspicion. For instance we don’t consider most ancient histories terribly accurate. (Think Livy’s History of Rome for instance – it becomes more trustworthy in the later parts but the Remus and Romulus section is almost certainly mythic in the proper sense of the term) Likewise if Lehi and Nephi are living around 600 BC around the time the Moses stories are compiled they may accept such stories but their acceptance of those stories and their familiarity with a version of Genesis 2 tells us nothing about those text beyond that they were accepted. Also we have accounts in the book which we can distrust such as the account of the Muelikites. Orson Scott Card long ago suggested reading their account as self-serving and perhaps fiction preying on Nephite expectations. (i.e. maybe they were just an indigenous populace claiming to be descended from a king the Nephites talked about) One could go on with such things – especially when one remembers much of the text is actually written a thousand years later by Mormon and Moroni who have their own biases, ignorances and stances.

    So I think a hermeneutics of suspicion can be a quite fruitful way to read the text even for us believers in its historicity. It gets us, if nothing else, to question our assumptions about the text. As I said if the text is real then we should expect it to have many of the same weaknesses and failings as other ancient texts such as the Bible.

  125. #124 – Well said, Clark. We can’t know for certain about a lot of things in the actual book, but thinking about implications about the actual claimed process of recording and compilation brings all kinds of possibilities that are interesting and exciting – and they don’t require any “mental gymnastics” whatsoever.

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