There comes a point of impasse for most readers of the Book of Mormon. Either you can believe in angels, seer stones, and gold plates, or you cannot. If you cannot, the Book of Mormon is likely to forever languish on the shelf next to the Bhagavad Gita that the Hare Krishnas similarly foisted upon you. After all, who can take such a preposterous book seriously?
Therein lies a problem. We merrily flood the world with the Book of Mormon, yet it remains largely unwanted, unloved, the imagined prank of a fraudulent American boy.
Mormons realise this is a high risk game. If it could only be believed (angels! prophets!) it changes everything. If it cannot be believed, then our unspoken admission is that the Book of Mormon holds little of value. In other words, for the outside world we proclaim a Book of Mormon that is either “true,” or it is bust.
What a waste.
There is power in the Book of Mormon beyond Moroni. A recent thread here at BCC demonstrates how a rediscovery of the book’s Christology by modern Mormons has led to a renaissance in the idea of divine grace. That is no small thing, viz., that a careful reading of the Mormons’ own book reawakened them to Christian truths they themselves had lost.
In my own reading I find the Book of Mormon’s visions of a social utopia to be deeply moving, or better put, they are “desirable to make one happy” (to borrow one of its own phrases). When my son was gravely ill with pneumonia I found myself turning for comfort to 3 and 4 Nephi, where the Christian ethic is shown to have produced a people of profound and robust charity. This vision gave me much peace during a dark time. I clung to the Book of Mormon not as a comfort blanket, but as a real and powerful source of light.
There are also beautiful symbols to be found in the Book of Mormon. If you have seen Richard Dutcher’s wonderful States of Grace, you will remember the scene where a hardened gang-banger — in a desperate effort to repent from his life of violence and pain — buries his guns and knives in the back yard. This is an image taken directly and deliberately from the pages of the Book of Mormon. It is not a facile image, either. The story of a people moved to pacifism does not have a tidy ending, but so, also, is life: noble gestures beget awkward consequences. This makes for uncomfortable moments in the book and in the film, but they are real and they are mature.
All these are random vignettes of profundity that I can think of as I type this, desperately missing the large Readers’ Edition that I left in a box in England. I think the Book of Mormon has much to offer, and we should offer it. Whilst I realise that for sound ecclesiastical reasons, the supernatural tale of Book of Mormon origins remains (and will forever remain) a scandal the church must support, I feel strongly that we can break the impasse for many of our readers by offering them something on the other side of that great and terrible stumbling block.
And so I turn to you, fellow Book of Mormon reader. Beyond its use as the ecclesiastical keystone of the church, what else does the Book of Mormon have to offer this weary world?