Isaiah in the BoM

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So I’m preparing for lesson #9, which is the Isaiah lesson, and doing some of the reading. I come to 2 Nephi 12:16, which reads as follows:

And upon all the ships of the sea,

and upon all the ships of Tarshish

and upon all pleasant pictures.

As I read this verse, I recalled that there is supposed to be some sort of evidence from the Septuagint favoring the first line, which does not appear in KJV Isaiah 2:16, as a restoration of the original text. (There is actually a footnote in the 1981 edition of the BoM to this effect.) I also knew that the argument concerning that LXX evidence was questionable somehow. But I simply could not remember the details. So to refresh my recollection, I re-read Dana M. Pike and David Rolph Seely’s[1] article on this subject from JBMS 14/2 (2005), available here. It’s a great article and I highly recommend it. Basically, years ago Sidney Sperry made the argument that the BoM preserves the original form of text. The MT preserves only lines 2 and 3, the LXX only lines 1 and 3, but the BoM preserves all three (original) lines. (Although Sperry does not use the word, he clearly meant to suggest that the MT and LXX had each lost a line due to haplography caused by the repetitive structure of each line.) The tl;dr of it all is that, pace Sperry, this is not a restoration of the original text; rather, the first line, which does indeed derive (presumably indirectly) from the LXX, is actually just a translation of the same MT Hebrew that gives rise to line 2 (IE the Hebrew word Tarshish was sometimes taken to mean “sea” in Greek texts).

So I get to the end of the article, and I’m thinking, “Great, that all makes sense to me. Now if that line is not restoring the original text, where did it come from?” And the article doesn’t really answer that question. At the end they give three possible approaches, none of which is compelling (as they themselves concede). They then comment:

People who do not accept the authenticity of the Book of Mormon will likely accept the primacy of the synonymous couplet found in the Masoretic Text and Septuagint over the three-line form of 2 Nephi 12:16 and will suggest that Joseph Smith erred or accepted outside influences when he “composed” this verse.

So at the conclusion of the article I was confused. If it was not original, where did that extraneous first line come from? The authors suggest but then reject (in my view, correctly) three possible alternative approaches Mormons might take. They then likewise reject the possibility of any outside influence on the text. So where did the line come from? They simply don’t say, but seem to take it as a given based on faith commitments that those words must have been on the plates. I was quite confused by the conclusion of what was otherwise a terrific article.

So then I went back to re-read the pieces by David Wright and Ronald Huggins that inspired their article in the first place. (I had read all of this material in the past, but I just couldn’t recall the specifics of the arguments, so a re-reading was necessary. I’m getting old.) And both Wright and Huggins suggested that the extraneous first line came from another source that was available to Joseph. Not the LXX directly, since Joseph didn’t read Greek, and probably not even a translation of the LXX, but a secondary source that would have been available to Joseph (and even then perhaps not directly, but as mediated through a minister). The possible sources they mentioned included:

  • “vpon all shippes of the see [sea]” from Coverdale’s 1535 translation.[2]
  • “V. 16 Tarshish—The ships of the sea, as that word is used” from John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the Old Testament (1765)
  • ‘ships of Tarshish’ signify in Scripture any trading or merchant ships. Accordingly, here the Septuagint render the words, ‘ships of the sea,’ as our old English translation does, Psal. xlviii 6 (from William Lowth’s Commentary, 1727 [the “old English translation” mentioned here is Coverdale]. Lowth’s comment was repeated in many pre-1829 editions of Thomas Scott’s The Holy Bible and in Matthew Poole’s Annotations.
  • “Ships of Tarshish signify, in scripture, any trading or merchant ships. The Septuagint translation is ‘ships of the sea.'” from John Fawcett’s Devotional Family Bible (1811) [based on Lowth]
  • Luther’s German Bible (as mediated through the Whitmers)
  • Adam Clarke’s Commentaries.

Now here’s my point. I’m not offended in the least by the suggestion that Joseph picked up this line from some source that was available to him in that time and place. In fact, such a suggestion to me makes more sense than just saying it inexplicably was on the plates or Joseph just happened to divine it somehow.

It’s common today for Saints to take the view that Joseph actually had very little influence on the textual form the BoM took. His role was simply that of a reader; he himself had no input into the text at all. (I call this the “divine teleprompter” theory.) I acknowledge that there is some evidence that seems to point in this direction. That notwithstanding, I continue to hold to the older B.H. Roberts/Blake Ostler view, which holds that Joseph was very much involved in the production of the text. Yes, it was authentically ancient, but as translator he had a role in shaping that translation. And under such a contributive theory of translation, I don’t see it as any problem at all to acknowledge that Joseph picked up that line somewhere and reflected it in the text.

This brings us to the much bigger issue of what passages from Deutero-Isaiah are doing in the BoM, since by scholarly consensus those texts date to a time after Lehi and family left Jerusalem and so would not have been on the Brass Plates. It’s an interesting question, and I’ve never taken the time to try to fully wrap my mind around it (and I still haven’t). In my Documentary Hypothesis article in Dialogue I gave this footnoted introduction to the question, which was my way of simply punting to another day:

A more significant dating issue for the Book of Mormon relates to the proper dating of Second and Third Isaiah. A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this essay. Most Mormons have responded to the issue by insisting on the unity of Isaiah; for a brief survey of this position, see John W. Welch, “Authorship of the Book of Isaiah in Light of the Book of Mormon,” in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1998), 423-37. I will simply point out, as Nibley first observed (in Since Cumorah, 137-43), that the Book of Mormon text does not itself necessarily require such a conclusion. Indeed, in certain ways the Book of Mormon supports a multiple authorship view, particularly by beginning with Isaiah 2 rather than the later Isaiah 1, and by not quoting from Third Isaiah (with the possible exception of Jacob 6:14, which may allude to Isaiah 65:2; however, as David Wright himself observes, the allusion is only indirect, and seems to be directly based on Romans 10:20-21). This observation does not completely resolve the problem because the Book of Mormon still quotes from Second Isaiah, but it does provide a foundation for a scholarly resolution, as one could posit a Second Isaiah dating to the end of the 7th century or, possibly, the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E. See William Hamblin, “‘Isaiah Update’ Challenge,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 4-7. David Wright insists that Second Isaiah must date to no earlier than 540 B.C.E., thus, leaving a remaining gap of a minimum of about 60 years; see his “Does ‘and upon all the ships of the sea'(2 Ne. 12:16//Isa. 2:16) Reflect an Ancient Isaian Variant?” Mormon Scripture Studies http://mormonscripturestudies.com/ at n. 34. While the issue has not yet been fully resolved, it seems to me that working with critical scholarship, as Nibley and Hamblin do, rather than butting heads against it, as most have tried, is the most promising avenue for an acceptable resolution.

Someday I would like to explore this issue more deeply. But until that day comes, my working assumption is that Joseph himself added the Deutero-Isaiah material to the text. Which to me seems like an entirely responsible thing to do. Yes, there has been a lot of focus on the authorship of Isaiah. But whoever authored what portions, as a coherent work of scriptural literature it is clearly divided into two parts: the first half focusing on judgment, and the second half focusing on restoration. I think one can make the argument that as a Prophet himself Joseph would have been negligent not to balance the judgment material from Proto-Isaiah with some of the more hopeful restoration material from Deutero-Isaiah.

Because I accept Joseph as a Prophet, I’m not bothered by the possibility that he played more of a role in shaping the text than that of simply being a reader to a scribe. If our people can somehow get acclimated to such a possibility, that may be the best path forward to making sense of the presence of the Isaiah texts in the Book of Mormon.

[1] Dave is an old friend of mine from when we (and Todd Compton, among others) studied classics together at BYU in the early 80s. A scholar and a gentleman he.

[2] That the LXX used a singular “every ship” but the BoM plural “ships” matches the putative English sources is a significant argument favoring English source influence.

Comments

  1. Jacob H. says:

    I believe this alternative “ships of the sea” is also noted in a footnote in the Bible that Joseph and Oliver purchased (I know there is a footnote there but I don’t have access to what it said). Note that Joseph translates Isaiah 2:16 in the “Inspired Version” similarly, which doesn’t always happen when comparing that to the BoM. Although apparently purchased in October 1829, I don’t think that precludes the possibility that this particular Bible was used to “fill out” much of 2nd Nephi shortly thereafter, so I would add the 1828 H. and E. Phinney Cooperstown Bible to the list of possibilities.

  2. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Kevin.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Yep. Thanks.

  4. Nice work, Kev.

  5. What it all comes down to is either a natural or a supernatural explanation for the Book of Mormon. All critics and many apologists prefer a natural explanation, although there is no evidence that the text of the Book of Mormon came from any source other than the seer stone. A supernatural source for the Book of Mormon should not be limited just to God. If we have any belief in the spirit world and intelligent spirit beings with possible access to information unavailable to us, it is entirely possible that the text of the Book of Mormon was composed in the spirit world, transmitted through the seer stone, and may have nothing to do with an actual record on plates written by a group of people who likely never had a physical existence.

  6. With all due respect, it looks like cognitive dissonance to justify deutero Isaiah in the Book of Mormon as you do. The Book of Mormon text itself leads one to believe that “Nephi” was the one quoting Isaiah when that was clearly not the case as you admit. So, if Joseph Smith was the source of the deutero Isaiah passages as you admit, and the Book of Mormon leads one to believe it came from “Nephi,” isn’t this then clear evidence of at least a pious fraud or lying for the lord as its called today’s?

    Why don’t you deal with this now instead of …. someday ….. ?

  7. Exiled, Kevin can reply for himself, but his reading (which I largely agree with) doesn’t require a pious fraud, lying for the Lord, or any other marginally-ethical process. Although Joseph didn’t provide any significant detail about his translation process, he was clear in D&C 9 that translation wasn’t purely a passive processes–the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that he failed at translation because he assumed he could merely receive the revelation. The D&C clearly acknowledges some sort of participatory, rather than passive, process.

    Moreover, as Bushman points out, it’s not clear that Joseph always understood the full relevance of what he was doing. Ultimately, though, nothing demands that we assume that either translation occurred according to the divine teleprompter method or that Joseph was lying; that’s clearly a false dichotomy.

    As for why Kevin doesn’t address the question now: he has a day job. And it’s not like he can merely wake up in the morning with a fully-formed, informed theory. That said, I look forward to his conclusions when and if he has the time to look into it.

  8. I have to respectfully disagree with your view of the translation process. The witnesses to it say that JS saw words on his rock and then had his scribe right them down. Further, your loose “translation” theory doesn’t account for the places where the BofM is very specific, that is unless you adhere to an inspired fiction theory.

    D&C 8 seems to say that all Oliver had to do was ask and then he would be able to translate. However, then the “lord” does a head fake in D&C 9 and adds to the requirements of studying it out in your mind for the “translation” process while giving Oliver the brush-off at the same time.

    How is one supposed to study it out in their mind when looking at a completely foreign language that supposedly no one knew about? Does one merely guess at what the foreign character means and then ask the Lord “does it mean this? does it mean that?

    Isn’t the study it out in your mind really another way of saying that JS manufactured his book like any fiction writer would do?

  9. Exiled, but what’s the context around the witness statements? They come decades later, with their own underlying purposes. Certainly, plenty of people assert that Joseph read off of a divine teleprompter. But Joesph never said that, and the text of the Book of Mormon doesn’t really bear out that he had no input. So you’re totally welcome to respectfully disagree, but the evidence, such as it is, is no more compelling than Kevin’s story.

  10. Lee Smith says:

    KEVIN BARNEY – IF YOU WERE RAISED IN LAS VEGAS, NEV., PLEASE CONTACT ME.
    LEE SMITH – thumper8@cccomm.net

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Lee, that must be someone else, I grew up in Illinois.

  12. I am not at the same level of scholarship as many in this discussion. More like a foyer crank. But I am somewhat aware of many of the troubling questions such as Deutero-Isaiah. One time years and years ago I had a great idea for a Sunday school lesson entitled influences of Shakespeare on the Book Mormon. Many of you can well imagine where this was going. I was surprised at the responses which spanned the gambit.

    The most interesting one came from a recent convert from Angola. He was not blessed with a western education at all and before his conversion he believed in some sort of tribal primitive shamanism. He served in the military and spent time in a prison camp in Africa. He could read Portuguese and English and dabbled in a few random areas. He suggested that it was quite possible for the spirit of Nephi to influence Shakespeare without any formal supernatural visits.

    Our powerful western education opens our minds up in many ways but it might also close our minds to some possibilities.

  13. My favorite treatment of the deutero-Isaiah theory is Nibley’s in Since Cumorah. The theory seems to rest on the assumptions that 1) Isaiah did not engage in predictive prophecy, and 2) Isaiah’s writing style, vocabulary, and themes could not have changed in any substantive way over his 50-year career; or, his changes in style, vocabulary and theme are beyond the level of what could be expected from the redactor(s) who compiled his writings over time.

    I hope that someday someone can point me to a critical scholarly argument for this theory that isn’t extremely selective in its evaluation of textual evidence. I have yet to see one. My sense is that the Book of Isaiah is a lot like the Book of Mormon: whether you explain its features in naturalistic terms or in terms of divine provenance, you will find plenty of textual evidence to support your position. To maintain a strict position, you will need to ignore very compelling evidence to the contrary.

  14. Sam:

    Regardless of whether or not you believe in a literal or loose translation, JS still used a rock as a medium for the so called “translation.” The rock in hat makes the entire story highly questionable. It makes the book look made-up obviously. Deutero Isaiah, like DNA is just another reason to believe that it came from the mind of Joseph Smith.

    The church even admitted the rock in hat method in the October 2015 Ensign. So, its probably too early to flush this down the memory hole. They tried in the past with artwork depictions of the translation, but the internet brought it back into the fore. So, inspired fiction seems to be the best explanation.

    Maybe if more people believed in inspired fiction, we could finally get some financial disclosure from these guys?

  15. Jason K. says:

    Exiled: what are you trying to accomplish here? Serious question. Being disillusioned with the Church is fine. Really. But isn’t there something better to do with your life, then, than comment on Mormon blogs? (And to comment rather predictably, at that?) Spring is coming on (at least in the northern hemisphere). Go for a walk. Look for the buds on the trees: signs of new life beginning. Work on building up whatever good you see in the world. Tearing stuff down isn’t much of a legacy.

  16. Exiled brings up some good points that I don’t think are well addressed, neither in post nor in others that I’ve seen. How exactly are we to maintain that Joseph Smith was right that the Book of Mormon was a direct translation of the words, concepts, and ideas of ancients in the Americas (not to mention, the most correct book on earth) and then also entertain the idea that he inserted (either consciously or unconsciously) all sorts of verbiage, expressions, and even ideas? I don’t understand how this wouldn’t be delusion on the part of Joseph Smith, at best, or fraud, at worst. And if we are to concede that part of the Book of Mormon is a product of Joseph Smith’s imagination, then on what grounds could we claim that the other parts aren’t a product of Joseph Smith’s imagination? Should such decisions be all ad hoc? Should we just assume that everything in the Book of Mormon is a direct translation of the words and ideas of ancients in the Americas except for the parts that appear to conflict with what has been established by outside scholarship?

  17. Jacob H. says:

    Maybe part of the disconnect here is that some readers aren’t familiar with “the older B.H. Roberts/Blake Ostler view” maintained in the OP? Perhaps some elaboration would be helpful.

  18. Jason K. says:

    Brad: they’re good questions, but they can’t be addressed empirically. They come down to whether or not someone chooses to believe in the whole business or not. People’s mileage obviously varies widely on that. I’m not interested in impugning anyone who decides that differently than I do, but I do get impatient when people show up here intent on pointing out these questions as though they’ve never occurred to us, and as though they point to only one obvious conclusion. Kevin, for instance, has published an article in Dialogue on higher biblical criticism. About five minutes’ exposure to that stuff obliges one to start reckoning with the reality of human involvement in the production of scripture. And at some point, one has to decide whether to go on believing in it as scripture. For me, yeah, I see all the problems, but I still see so much that speaks powerfully to me that I choose to continue engaging with it. The question isn’t so black-and-white as either you or Exiled (or any number of commenters before you) make it out to be.

  19. Jason K. says:

    Jacob H.: Good question. I read the B. H. Roberts in Signature’s The Essential B. H. Roberts, although I’m sure there are other/better sources. IIRC, Ostler published his views in Dialogue (the archive is both free and searchable).

  20. I took an Isaiah class at BYU with Victor Ludlow, who wrote a book on Isaiah that answered that very question. Go to DeseretBook.com and search for the book “Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” by Victor L. Ludlow.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    I apologize for not going into detail on various BoM translation theories, from those that propose a loose control (such as Roberts and Ostler) v. those that propose a tight control (such as Skousen). This old thread should give the novice a rough idea of the different approaches:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2005/04/updating-the-expansion-theory/

  22. Jason K., the issue at hand is not so much what can be established empirically, but how someone can maintain logical consistency by claiming that some parts of the Book of Mormon are a product of Joseph Smith’s imagination while other parts are not. I, for one, would like Kevin or you or someone else who thinks like you and takes the time to write and publish things about Mormonism to 1) take a little more time and pinpoint which parts of the Book of Mormon are the words of ancients in the Americas and which parts are the inventions of Joseph Smith, and 2) tell us the basis for determining this. Is it all an arbitrary personal preference? And is that really permissible in Mormonism?

    The problem is that Mormonism is not framed in such a way that it permits the adherent much latitude in determining what is God’s words and what isn’t. It is not a smorgasbord of ideas that one can freely pick and choose from (i.e., I think that Nephi really existed but that Joseph just made Alma up, sounds ridiculous, right?), but more of a package deal. Entertaining too many scriptures to be a product of human imagination signals 1) a lack of faith (at least by LDS standards) and 2) doublethink (by standards of modern secular scholarship).

  23. Brad, it’s quite easy to maintain logical consistency in claiming that Joseph Smith had input into what came to be the Book of Mormon. You ask how we can maintain logical consistency in believing that, as though yours is the necessary default assumption. But I reject your underlying assumption, which seems to be that either Joseph Smith made the whole thing up or he merely transcribed some celestial closed captioning.

    As to which parts were Joseph emendations and additions: before you come demanding that Kevin or Jason or someone else lay them out, it is probably incumbent on you to figure out what we’re talking about here. Blake Ostler provided theoretical grounding for the idea that parts of the BoM were expansions by Joseph almost 30 years ago in Dialogue; that’s probably a good place to start. There, Blake discusses the difficulties attendant to determining which precise parts were expansions and which weren’t.

  24. Sam, Joseph Smith clearly stated in what is now the 8th Article of Faith that the Book of Mormon was to be considered the word of god in contradistinction to the Bible which was to be considered such only as far as it was translated correctly. Joseph Smith also said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth.” Blake Ostler’s idea that Joseph Smith brought forth the Book of Mormon through a process of “creative co-participation” with god (Ostler 1987, 109, 111, 112, 113) appears to be a concession that Joseph Smith (and/or god, if you accept that god told JS to do this) was either deliberately or inadvertently misleading people about history. Moreover expansion theory is at variance with what Joseph Smith said about the Book of Mormon. I suppose you can toggle with what is meant by the term “correct,” but that would then make your explanation unparsimonious. Lastly expansion theory is completely ad hoc. It concedes invention and imagination only in cases where there appears to be no way to explain away what has been established about history through strong evidence in modern academia.

    Venturing partly down the pathway towards an invented Book of Mormon puts one in a position of a double standard in terms of determining historical truth.

  25. Brad,

    I’m sorry if the expansionist model makes you uncomfortable, but for many of us, it is a very good way of thinking about the process, and it aligns with our own observations and experiences. When both Nephi (in 2 Nephi 4) and Paul (in Romans 7) say the phrase “Oh wretched man that I am!”, It makes sense to me to infer that Joseph used some Pauline language that he was familiar with in order to convey an impression he had of Nephi’s thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t make 2 Nephi 4 any less the “word of God” to me.
    Plus, as others have noted over the years- if the Book of Mormon was revealed word for word, then why the grammatical mistakes, and why the need for so many revisions over the years?
    Not trying to argue here, but I just want to point out that many of us embrace this theoretical approach and we love and revere the scriptures no less than people who take different approaches.

  26. Dan E., to put it differently, the expansionist model is good at making intellectual people who were raised LDS (mostly) and want to continue to profess belief in many of the fundamental traditional beliefs of Mormonism (probably because of social pressure from family, friends, and colleagues, or because they have built a reputation as a believing defender of Mormonism that they want to maintain) feel that Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon are somehow reconcilable with the modern secular academic values of reason, evidence, logical consistency, intellectual honesty, and parsimony that they have also come to treasure. They’re not. Nor will they ever be. Expansion theory is written by a believing Mormon for believing Mormons (who desperately appear to want to believe in spite of occasional doubt and cognitive dissonance). It will never gain traction as a model for understanding Book of Mormon historicity in the wider intellectual world.

    What many proponents of expansion theory aren’t realizing (or admitting) is that instead of alleviating cognitive dissonance, expansion theory is so inconsistent with how Joseph Smith and early and recent LDS leaders have presented the Book of Mormon that upon realization of the full extent this, it could cause an even greater cognitive dissonance in one’s mind. In fact, in my many interactions with the former Mormon community, I have come to find that what they identify as what led them to change their minds and attitudes about the LDS church was not so much the seeming anachronisms of the Book of Mormon, but the concessions on the part of apologists of the likelihood of these anachronisms with justifications that didn’t seem to gibe with traditional lines of thought emphasized by JS and other leaders about the BoM.

  27. Jason K. says:

    Brad: it’s pretty smug to insist that intellectual Mormons only continue to profess belief “because of social pressure from family, friends, and colleagues, or because they have built a reputation as a believing defender of Mormonism that they want to maintain.” I hear this line emanating from Dehlinite circles, and it strikes me as precisely the sort of comforting groupthink it professes to condemn. Mormons gonna Morm, even when they’re ex-.

    Your talk of logical consistency belies a positivism that has been philosophically indefensible for nearly a century (see: Gödel). Admittedly, reason remains a powerful tool for making sense of the world, and nobody’s advocating that we all run headlong into irrationality, but so-called secular academia has invested a lot of time in recent decades probing the limits of Enlightenment reason. Obviously in the humanities, but in the hard sciences, too: see the recent developments in neuroscience, showing that reason usually amounts to post-hoc justification of what the amygdala already decided. (Nor, if we’re talking academia, should you ignore the “religious turn” in philosophy of the last twenty-five years, or the pressing current interest in post-secularity. We have atheist philosophers like Alain Badiou putting forward St. Paul as a relevant thinker for our time. Such a development seems unthinkable from your worldview, since surely an enlightened atheist like Badiou would know that Paul was full of crap and have left that nonsense behind long ago.)

    In general, the effect of spending my adult life in academia has been to make me less sure about basically everything. And yet, for all that, I still find value, both personally and spiritually, in Mormonism. That you don’t is fine, but don’t expect your positivism to convince me. It looks just as naive to me (from my stance as a secular academic) as my belief probably does to you.

  28. Jason,
    Gödel’s point about consistency is that supposedly consistent systems are probably incomplete and that the consistency of axioms within a given logical system cannot be proven. Gödel never acknowledged that consistency cannot be detected or known or that it doesn’t exist and that there is no point in trying to understand it. His point appeared to be that consistency is harder to understand than people often make it out to be. He’s probably right. But the inconsistency of the propositions “the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth” and “the Book of Mormon contains anachronisms and is partially a product of Joseph Smith’s imagination” is quite clear.

    You should note that Gödel said later in life that “[mathematics] is given to us in its entirety and does not change, unlike the Milky Way. That part of it of which we have a perfect view seems beautiful, suggesting harmony” (quoted in http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/14/arts/truth-incompleteness-and-the-godelian-way.html). He believed that there was a part of math of which we had a perfect view and that brought us a sense of consistency/harmony, and parts which were more vague and not easily grasped. I like to think the same of history. There are parts of history that we perfectly understand, and parts which are vague and the understandings of which are in constant flux. Some claims about historical truth are so patently ludicrous that they are hardly worth serious consideration. The same would go for the mathematical proposition that 2+2=5. I would like to think that this is your attitude towards Christopher Nemelka’s claim to have translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon and James Strang’s claim to have translated the plates of Laban. Furthermore, any propositions that logical consistency isn’t detectable or important are ludicrous. Consistency exists, it is more detectable in the comparison of some propositions than in others, and it is important for us to seek consistency in our thinking when we do detect it. Do you disagree? I’ll agree with Gödel that math, like reality, is perfect and does not change. There is an objective truth out there. Let’s try our best to understand it and not make excuses not to understand it simply because seemingly true propositions about reality don’t square with our a priori beliefs about it.

    You’re assuming me to be a positivist. I’m not. I agree more with Kuhn, Popper, and other postposivitists than Auguste Comte. My position on Book of Mormon historicity is not that it is provably false, but that no one bears the burden to prove it false. Instead, it is the LDS church and its believing followers who bear the burden of proving it true, and so far, attempts to use the tools of modern secular scholarship have not yielded any convincing results (at least any that do have or would have any widespread acceptance in the broader intellectual community). The same goes for Nemelka’s and Strang’s claims about historical truth. They haven’t provided any convincing evidence of the truthfulness of their claims, and I do not have high hopes that they will. People who attempt to claim belief in a historical Book of Mormon while acknowledging its anachronisms are out of line with how Joseph Smith intended it to be believed. Joseph Smith strongly implied that it was translated correctly (unlike the Bible, which he felt compelled to render a different translation of), and he said it was the most correct book on earth. Unless you propose a completely different definition from how the term “correct” has been understood across space and time by English speakers (which would border on dishonest), suggestions that the Book of Mormon is not correct are at variance with how Joseph Smith viewed it.

    In a previous comment, you wrote, “They come down to whether or not someone chooses to believe in the whole business or not.” Provided that you subscribe to the idea human belief is informed by post-hoc justifications of what the amygdala have already decided (which it appears you do), then there is no conscious choice to believe. Instead belief must be understood to be caused by factors unrelated to personal preference. If this is the case, then you would seem to be in agreement with me that it is reasonable to assume that intellectual believing Mormons profess belief mostly because of social factors instead of the merits of Mormon thinking alone. You need to iron out this seeming inconsistency in your thinking. If the merits of Mormonism alone were the main driver behind their profession of belief, then it would be reasonable to expect to see a more widespread acceptance of Mormon claims as plausible across intellectual circles, which is most certainly not the case. While there are intellectuals who have converted to Mormonism citing the merits of its claims about historical and natural truth, they are a really rare breed. The vast majority of believing intellectuals aren’t reaching their positions about Mormonism without a rather long history of socialization into the religious culture. Are outside external factors informing secular scientific thought as well? Of course. Is there groupthink in secular scientific thinking? Of course. But the groupthink is much less than it is in religious communities because scientific communities encourage questioning and challenging each other’s propositions. Mormonism discourages questioning and challenging its core doctrines and encourages loyalty to a rather well defined body of propositions about historical and natural truth.

    As to your claim that there has somehow been a “religious turn” in philosophy, there hasn’t been. What HAS occurred is a cooptation of the ideas of secular philosophers (and rather ironically many postpositivist and postmodernist philosophers) by religious folks to try to justify their traditional truth claims. And Alain Badiou is none too pleased with this. In an interview with the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, he said in response to the question of whether he was nervous about a “religious co-opting of his work,” “I have to deal with this sort of religious co-opting of my work and I have to propose a subtraction of my work from it.” (http://www.philosophyandscripture.org/Issue3-1/Badiou/Badiou.html)

    Lastly, you write, “In general, the effect of spending my adult life in academia has been to make me less sure about basically everything.”

    I’m not buying it, unless you followed that claim with, “I’m not a believing Mormon.” Now I’m assuming that you are a believing Mormon and that given your passion against attempts to point out the flaws in believing intellectual Mormon rhetoric that you are sure that the Book of Mormon contains the words, ideas, and concepts of ancients in the Americas either directly revealed to them by god or from their own heads. If you can’t say that, then by believing Mormon standards, you lack faith, and by secular standards of modern scholarship, you’re guilty of Orwellian doublethink (because, well, Mormonism is all about making bold absolutist claims that people in the Americas saw and wrote about Jesus). Too many believing Mormon intellectuals seek comfort from cognitive dissonance in the seeming warm embrace of postmodernistic thinking not realizing that postmodernism is a gas chamber to religious thinking that is in some ways more toxic to the absolutist claims of Mormonism than Comte’s positivism.

  29. Jason K. says:

    First, my apologies for incorrectly identifying you as a positivist. Trying to understand people on their own terms is a core value for me, and I’m sorry to have fallen short.

    I do understand that, as far as secular intellectual standards go, the burden of proof lies with those asserting the belief. Consider, however, the Book of Genesis, whose historical basis seems slender at best. Or Job, which is pretty much transparently fictional. Or Jesus’ parables. Or, for that matter, Middlemarch. These books can be (and in my view are) powerful tools for understanding the human experience (including its spiritual dimensions), whether they’re historically true or not. To my way of thinking, trying to prove the Book of Mormon historically true is just as beside the point as trying to demonstrate that there really was a Dorothea Brooke. Now, I get that historically Mormonism has made all kinds of claims requiring that the BoM be a historical record, and that my indifference to those claims might make me a bad Mormon in the eyes of some members, but so be it. Looking apostate to so-called TBM members while looking like shills for the institution to skeptics is about par for the course here at BCC. I suppose that part of why I stay Mormon is to insist by my presence that Mormonism isn’t monolithic. I don’t think it is in any case, but I understand how it can look that way, and I hope that my staying gives other people a little more room to be themselves. I suppose you’re welcome to impugn my motives all you want (this is the internet, after all), but if you actually want to understand my spirituality, go read my entries in the Mormon Lectionary Project here. They’re the fairest representation of where I’m at.

  30. eponymous says:

    It is always fascinating to observe the dogmatic approach by which people parse scriptural writings and hold to specific interpretations of verses and statements. Joseph did indeed state that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book,” but what did he mean by that?

    I honestly feel like I’m feeding a troll here but I’ll indulge the thought because Brad wants to repeatedly and enthusiastically decry that “correct” is absolutely held to a standard of being factually accurate in all elements of what the writing conveys. Only there’s clear evidence that this is not what Joseph was saying. Was he saying the entire book was historical? Was he saying that every single word was exactly what Nephi, Mormon, Moroni and others inscribed into the gold plates? It seems to be a leap to claim that this is what he meant. The sentence itself provides clarity that he was speaking to doctrinal purity. That if a man wanted to get nearer to God then no book would provide more precise instruction on who Jesus Christ is and how we fit into God’s plan nor provide a better source of faith experience for the reader. That is all the sentence claims and should be held to when attempting to interpret Joseph’s meaning.

    What else did Joseph teach concerning the Book of Mormon and his translation experience? More myth than truth has piled up around his actual statements. But what does he mean when he says, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” He’s saying that the Bible has undergone multiple translations by those not bearing the mantle of seer and prophet whereas the Book of Mormon was handed from one ancient prophet to a modern prophet and the text was translated under the inspiration of God.

    Does everything have to fit together neatly in order for it to be tied up into a precisely stated package? Why would that be the case in any human interaction, let alone interaction between God and man? The writers in the Book of Mormon and Bible complained about their own inability to articulate what they saw and and understood in their visions with God. They complained the language constrained them and that any errors would be those of man and not God. In a world of email and texts where language and intent are regularly misunderstood between two intelligent, rational human beings why is this such a strange concept?

  31. it's a series of tubes says:

    it is reasonable to assume that intellectual believing Mormons profess belief mostly because of social factors instead of the merits of Mormon thinking alone

    Brad, while I lack the specific education to contribute meaningfully to the discussion between you and Jason on these points, doesn’t the foregoing sentence omit a potentially significant alternative reason for profession of belief, namely, some form of ineffable experience with the divine?

  32. Jason K. says:

    Just so, IASOT. The sentence works from the secular assumption that religion can only be an epiphenomenon–a symptom of something else. That seems like a strange, if nevertheless fairly common, position for someone ostensibly committed to empirically observing the world to hold, not only because religion obviously persists in modernity and even postmodernity, but also because human history itself is so shot through with religion (in all its diverse forms) that any attempt to understand humanity without taking religion seriously seems willfully obtuse. Post-Shoah it’s not only obtuse but irresponsible. Secularism has utterly failed to eradicate religion–believing that it might amounts to a kind of messianic faith–and it seems to me that the pressing challenge of secularity isn’t trying to reduce its pluralism to singularity through the imposition of some objective standard (the absence of which is the defining feature of our present societal condition), but of learning how to live together without succumbing to the temptation to kill off the people who offend whatever our notion of purity happens to be.

    And, Brad’s reference to social motivations notwithstanding, a big thing that keeps me Mormon is the people, and it’s not because I’m afraid of what they’d think if I left, but because I find that associating with them, on the whole, brings me closer to God. Not everyone has that experience, but I do. Sure, I cringe in Sunday School sometimes, but I’m also forced out of my comfort zone in all kinds of salutary ways. Sitting in the pews each week with people who differ from my own habituated ways of life calls me, again and again, to the challenging path of attempting empathetic understanding and love–not as some kind of great personal achievement, but as a common good. Paul wrote about it in his hymn to love, and Joseph Smith’s description of friendship as the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism, along with his impassioned talk of Zion, points to the same thing. So does the Book of Mormon, at least as I read it. I think that religious principles of this kind are strikingly relevant in a post-secular context. They’re not the only way of skinning the cat, by any means, but they seem to me like helpful tools in navigating the particular circumstances of today’s world (i.e., not just relics of an unenlightened pre-modernity).

  33. Eponymous, the more you concede anachronisms and Joseph Smith’s imagination in the Book of Mormon, as the expansion theory does, the more you drift from how Joseph Smith viewed and explained the Book of Mormon. I don’t see how this is controversial.

    Here is more from Joseph Smith on the Book of Mormon from a letter that he wrote to Noah C. Saxton on January 4, 1833:

    “The Book of Mormon is a reccord of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians, having been found through the ministration of an holy Angel translated into our own Language by the gift and power of God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years containing the word of God, which was delivered unto them, By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are desendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the Land of America is a promised land unto them, and unto it all the tribes of Israel will come. with as many of the gentiles as shall comply with the requesitions of the new co[v]enant.” (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/letter-to-noah-c-saxton-4-january-1833?p=4#!/paperSummary/letter-to-noah-c-saxton-4-january-1833&p=4)

    The problem I see is that too many people want to have their cake and eat it too. You can’t do that. By conceding that the Book of Mormon contains anachronisms and concepts that were the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination, you throw either Joseph Smith or god under the bus.

  34. Eponymous says:

    Brad, or you do neither. You claim Joseph had a perfect understanding of that which he translated. I see no issue in accepting a Prophet who grew in his relationship with the text that he translated and lacked a complete understanding on day one and perhaps never achieved a full knowledge in his lifetime. That’s what line upon line, precept upon precept is all about. But is anything he wrote actually wrong there? Did the Lamanites make some small contribution to the population of native Americans?

  35. Jason K. says:

    Brad: you assume we’re obliged to understand the BoM only in the terms JS laid out, or we aren’t faithful Mormons, but it’s a false dichotomy. For the most obvious evidence of which, see the way that the introduction to the BoM has in recent decades partly backed away from claims about the BoM peoples as the ancestors of Native Americans. Mainstream Mormonism’s relationship with JS is too complicated to sustain the kind of Scalia-style originalism you’re propounding (and the complication is as it should be, for the reasons Eponymous gives). It’s a living religion, not an insect trapped in amber. Seems like you’re more committed to prophetic infallibility than we are!

  36. IASOT, the broader intellectual world doesn’t appear to be having any “ineffable experiences with the divine” that lead them to believe Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon. There are a good number of intellectuals who deeply study the Book of Mormon who are not convinced that it is an ancient record (i.e., Ann Taves, Jan Shipps, Paul Gutjahr, Harold Bloom, John Turner, Robert Ritner). The only intellectuals who claim to have these experiences are brought up in the LDS culture and are so deeply rooted in the LDS church that it is hugely inconvenient for them to leave. In fact, for many of them who have built a reputation on claiming the historical truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, a reversal of their position on the Book of Mormon, even stated with the utmost decorum, could result in job loss, divorce, and complete ostracism from their social network.

    Based on my interaction with believing Mormon intellectuals, particularly those who have a name either online as a blogger or in the academic community with published articles asserting the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness, I see a similar pattern. A young college student develops a passion for Mormonism and Mormon history. They amaze other believers with their powers of articulation early on, so much that they decide to engage in more high-level study and writing about Mormonism. Some go off to prestigious graduate schools where they devote much of their time to figuring out ways to defend Mormonism. Others write about Mormonism as a side project to other career pursuits. A combination of the natural drive to study and think about Mormonism which they developed at a young age with heightened social expectations from their believing peers and family that they routinely defend the traditional Mormon truth claims about history and nature drives them to continue to trying to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable and putting forth explanations that have traction only among other believers (and couldn’t possibly gain traction outside that group).

    My prediction is that we won’t see a new generation of Mormon apologists (either as part-time bloggers or as full-time scholars). This is for two reasons: 1) the age of information makes it easy to fact check and 2) more importantly, there is growing online support for people who want to leave the LDS church. The naturally curious, ambitious, and articulate young believing students of Mormonism (who exhibit a propensity towards apologetics) can more easily leave the LDS church once cognitive dissonance sets in, and my guess is that they’ll opt for that instead of a long life of mental gymnastics and ad hoc hypotheses. You could say, “but they could still opt to be cultural or spiritual Mormons.” If these were Catholics, I would agree. But the Mormon church is small and needs stalwarts to move it forward. Its doctrine is rigid and requires belief in lots of very detailed instances of the supernatural. Both the culture and the leadership is exhibiting increasing intolerance towards the middle pathers.

  37. Jason, Mormonism is a living religion that is trapped by its own past to a great extent. If it transitions too hastily away from past positions and traditions, it causes ruptures in its core membership.

  38. Eponymous says:

    Brad it’s fascinating that you think we’re so weak spirited as to wilt under the pressure of online criticism or additions to our historical understanding. What that says to me is you continue to fail to appreciate the power of a solid testimony built through doing what Mornons do: asking faithful questions and finding God responds in small yet powerful ways.

    I and others like foresee an even more talented generation bolstered by the confidence of realizing we believe all things God will yet reveal.

  39. ApologiesForTrollFeeding says:

    BYU’s Religious Studies Center published an article that talks about this statement.

    The “most correct book” statement by Joseph Smith does not apply to its textual characteristics (such as spelling or verb-subject agreement), does not preclude scribal errors, cannot rule out historical errors, cannot guarantee doctrinal correctness, nor, most relevantly, can it affirm some kind of ultimate accuracy of the translation in the Isaiah passages or elsewhere. Rather it is “most correct,” as Joseph went on to say, in its capability to bring us closer to God through living by its precepts.

    That seems to put some authority (however much or little a BYU publication offers) against Brad’s assertion of what “most correct book” *must* mean.

  40. Jason K. says:

    Thank you, Edmund Burke. (Although I gather that Thomas Paine is rather more your type.)

    Given the choice between Mormonism and Dehlinism (which is basically Mormonism, minus everything positive about it), I choose Mormonism any day.

    I suspect you of Dehlinism because you’re effectively a Mormon missionary reciting your secularist discussions to reluctant folks you hope to convert, but whom you’re incapable of seeing as living meaningful lives absent your intervention. If you weren’t still Mormon, albeit of the Dehlinite sect (or some cousin to it), you’d probably find better things to do than expend so much of your finite time on this blog. Like, pretty much anything.

  41. Eponymous, I am assuming that like me and other commenters that you are middle-aged (30+) and more established in life. This is a time when people become more set in their ways and the narrowness of waist and broadness of mind trade places, so to speak. I’m talking about high-school and college-aged kids, who are just beginning to take an interest in Mormon history and doctrine. I’m also talking about an even more narrow group among them, the highly articulate who before the vast expansion of information available through the internet (pre-2008 or so) would have gone on to become the leading apologists of Mormonism.

    Your comment touches on an even more important point, though. You seem to think that remaining in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance is a sign of emotional strength and that leaving the church for whatever reason is a sign of weakness. I am confident that the more the social barrier to leaving the church is reduced, more people will interpret leaving over cognitive dissonance to be common sense, not weakness.

  42. Jason K. says:

    The people who leave may be stronger, but it turns out that not all of them are so strong as to leave completely. A great world of common sense beckons, and yet here you are mucking about with the swine. Pity, that.

  43. ApologiesForTrollFeeding, thanks for finding the quote from BYU’s Religious Studies Center. This just shows how bad the cognitive dissonance among intellectual believing Mormons. You actually touch on another important issue, which is what is authoritative in Mormonism. What is? Joseph Smith, his prophetic successors (well, only a certain line), and the Mormon standard works. Lay intellectuals, be they affiliated with BYU’s Religious Studies Center or not, are not authoritative in the least. Mormonism is defined from the top-down, not the bottom-up attitudes of its intellectuals.

    The BYU Religious Studies Center is guilty of a double standard. They take much of what Joseph Smith said very seriously, not because it corresponds with arguments that can be made through modern secular scholarship about truth, but because they claim to have felt a strong feeling while praying that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that much of what he says is authoritative, and that they can and should believe things simply because that Joseph Smith said so. They take his claim that he translated the actual words of ancients in the Americas about Jesus Christ by looking at a stone in hat very seriously simply because he said so. They take his claim that he actually witnessed god very seriously simply because he said so. But when Joseph Smith says that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book, they hem and haw and claim disingenuously that this only pertains to really abstract vague stuff, like finding god, and couldn’t possibly have any relevance to the actual correspondence of its claims to historical accuracy, such as the idea that most of the Native Americans are descendants of the Lamanites or that Joseph Smith delivered a practically precise transmission of the words and ideas of ancients in the Americas, made repeatedly by the highest ranking leaders in the LDS church over decades and decades. They even go as far as questioning the doctrinal correctness of the Book of Mormon. If that isn’t throwing Joseph Smith and all of the LDS church’s leaders (who claim the Book of Mormon to be scripture and regularly cite it as an authoritative source on truth) under the bus, then I don’t know what is.

    The most bizarre thing about many apologists is how in defense of a traditional narrative about historical and natural truth made by authority (and not secular reasoning) they try to claim authoritative explanations.

  44. Jason K., like you and other commenters here, I’m naturally driven to discussions about Mormon history and society. My presence here is not just to get a reaction. I want to get to the bottom of things, like others. I find it odd that you compare me to teenagers who recite a carefully written prescripted narrative to strangers.

    Reading your comments, I can’t help but wonder if a part of you wants out of the LDS church and how much longer you can last. Five, ten years?

    Thanks for the riveting discussion.

  45. Jason K. says:

    “I find it odd that you compare me to teenagers who recite a carefully written prescripted narrative to strangers.”

    Well, you did finish this debate by repeating (using almost the same words as before) the same idea you insisted on when you first entered, which seems premised on a dogmatic belief (stated in other comments above) that Mormonism is so rigidly monolithic that expressing disagreement with ideas that past Mormon leaders have advanced results in untenable unfaithfulness, either to the Church or to this body of secular intellectuals to which you keep appealing (as though they, too, were a uniform body). And you even end with one last missionary appeal! Add to which the fact that we’ve heard all these ideas before, emanating from an identifiable body of disaffected or ex-Mormons. But if you read through the comments on this blog, you’ll see that we’ve been tracted before.

    Indeed, the existence of believing intellectuals seems to be the cog-dis catnip for your worldview. According to it, we shouldn’t exist, and yet here we are. I’m not going to leave the Church just to resolve your cognitive dissonance.

    If I may be forgiven my own missionary moment in parting, you might try reading Charles Taylor’s _A Secular Age_, which to my mind gives a more persuasive account of the tensions between reason and belief than the one you seem to be putting forward. Even the believers these days are secular, it turns out, and Taylor might help you see how we can continue to exist in the conditions of modernity. (It’s not without dust or heat, as Milton would say.)

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    IASOT, the broader intellectual world doesn’t appear to be having any “ineffable experiences with the divine” that lead them to believe Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon.

    Nor would I expect them to; I believe that the LDS faith will always be small, as outlined in the latter portion of Jacob 5, and those that choose to believe will always be a minority.

    That being said, by way of meaningless anecdote: the half-dozen other LDS people at my place of employment (~1000 folks) comprise a PhD chemist, two MDs, and three others with post-graduate degrees, in addition to myself (masters and doctorate from top 25 schools in two different fields). Not, perhaps, “intellectuals” per your strict definition, but certainly people capable of rigorous thinking. And in each instance, the person chooses to believe, not based on social pressure or by being intellectually convinced, but due to a direct experience with the divine.

    I found God when I wasn’t looking for him. And the reality of that experience for me cannot even begin to be expressed by any spoken or written word, nor negated by any argument to the contrary, no matter how logical or articulate. The hot iron of God’s reality has permanently branded my soul. And the Book of Mormon was the path to that door.

    I don’t need anyone else to believe it; they can come to God (or not) through the path they deem best. But arguments, like yours, that there is in fact no path… well, let’s just say I’m not too bothered about them.

  47. eponymous says:

    Brad, you play a fine game of what we call “old Scratch,” picking and prodding to find a weak point at which to focus and crack what you perceive to be a thin shell of self-imposed armor. By your theory this armor was set in place by any true intellectual to wall themselves off from all the magnificent insights that could be available if they just set themselves free from the obvious truths about LDS origins and actions.

    You see cognitive dissonance because you cannot seem accept that one could be a believer – with a firm testimony natch – and yet reasonably explore and think through the evidence of early Saints and Prophets who struggled through the process of becoming one with God and reestablishing Jesus Christ’s church on Earth. If it’s messy it can’t possibly be true because it doesn’t seem to stand up to evidence that an enlightened or even esoteric thinker would expect to uncover.

    Yet here is where the divine enters and why I see great promise in the youth of today and tomorrow. Unlike some of us who grew up in the homes of deep thinkers: doctors, teachers, engineers, chemists, businessmen who collected vast libraries of books about Church history and all things LDS intellectual where these “new facts and possibilities” were regularly discussed in very open terms long before they burst into view online, our youth now have the opportunity to experience this themselves even if they don’t have that access at home. Even the Brethren themselves are shifting away from declaring all intellectuals and historians as scandalous rumor mongers to the guardians and truth tellers of reality. See Elder Ballard’s recent devotional where he called on all CES teachers to embrace and learn from faithful LDS historians.

    In my mind, the signal to noise only becomes stronger from here on out. And in the midst of that I see deep testimonies and valiant spirits among our youth who can weather the storm of whatever those like you feel obsessed to throw at them.

  48. Eponymous, you presume that testimonies actually exist (meaning that people actually witnessed the truthfulness of Mormon truth claims) and that they aren’t a manifestation of confirmation bias. How do you explain testimonies (called shahada) in Islam?

    IASOT, I never claimed that Mormons aren’t by and large an intellectual group of people. They are. That has largely to do with the fact that Brigham Young established strong control over the Great Basin in the Mountain West and create a wealthy class of devotees (who valued education, as upper classes throughout the world tend to do) which persists today. My point is that that intellectual class is beginning to decline because the sociocultural forces that have kept Mormonism intact are being eroded. Your brilliant co-workers are from a preceding generation.

    Jason, I’ve slogged through some of Taylor’s book (a detailed reading of the entire thing is a feat that few accomplish), at least to have a sense of his general point. I disagree with him that religiosity is persisting in spite of the rise and spread of secularism. Secularism is watering down religions, forcing them to become more hollowed out, vague, deistic paths with only some lingering attachment to a few distinct traditional ritual practices. The superstitions of rural Americans and Europeans two hundred years ago used to be similar to the superstitions of rural Africans at that time and still today. The spread of science and critical thinking in the West has almost completely eroded much of the traditional superstitions in Europe and the US while the relatively uneducated and undeveloped parts of rural Africa remain steeped in them. Belief in evil spirits and the need for detailed ritual practice to ward them off (or satisfy their demands) governs everyday living in rural Africa. People throughout the developed world (not just Western Europe and the US, but Russia, China, Japan, and much of the urban areas of the semideveloped world such as the urban upper to upper-middle classes of India and even parts of Africa) spend little to no time worrying about the effects of evil spirits on humanity. The BYU Religious Studies’ seemingly contradictory and non-committal stance on “the most correct book” is evidence of the watering down of religiosity in Mormonism. Elder Ballard’s call on CES instructors to learn from non-CES believing intellectuals (whose flirtation with secularism has often been held in deep suspicion by both CES and LDS church leaders) can also be interpreted as a subtle acknowledgement on the part of the LDS leadership that the traditional CES approach of inculcating religiosity through socialization, ritual, and superstition is not as effective as it used to be.

  49. eponymous says:

    Alas Brad I cannot help you if you attach confirmation bias to the concept of spirit speaking to spirit where understanding is indelibly imprinted upon the soul of an individual. As Joseph said, for you are wont to quote him,

    Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.

    A testimony is a living, breathing element of who I am. I did go seeking a witness and found myself frustrated in the effort. When I quit looking the answer sought me out. IASOT likened it to being branded with the hot iron of God’s reality. Unlike Jimmy Buffett’s “Permanent reminder of a temporary feeling,” it is a permanent reminder of eternal knowledge.

    How do I explain testimonies in Islam? Allah, YHWH, Jehovah, they’re all the same God. Why would He only speak to one people and one prophet? I’m very familiar with Shahada as I’ve spent a great deal of time talking with and developing understanding with acquaintances, friends and colleagues who are Islamic adherents.

  50. Eponymous, however you want to justify your belief in whatever for yourself is fine with me. But the fact that people claim visions, personal witnesses, or testimonies or what have you of supernatural experiences does not refute the idea that confirmation bias, delusion, hallucination, social environment, or even intent to deceive are what is actually behind these occurrences. There are thousands of concepts of god, the Mormon, Muslim, and Jewish concepts of god are vastly different from each other, and there are even different and even mutually exclusive concepts of god within these religions. All these concepts cannot possibly all be right. All religions cannot possibly all be true. If so, then your concept of god is someone who is a tricky and contradictory being who deliberately leads people to believe mutually exclusive contradictory concepts about nature and reality and someone who changes the game all the time. Of course, this concept of god is vastly different from the traditional Mormon concept of a consistent unchanging god who called all other religious creeds besides the one he revealed to Joseph Smith, and a select few men in Hebrew and Aramaic cultures from about 4,000 BCE to about 70 CE, “abominations in [his] sight.”

    Are you suggesting that testimonies in Islam actually come from the Mormon god? Please. I suspect that you are saying this out of argumentative convenience (not realizing that this puts you in a far worse argumentative position than conceding what you probably actually think, which is that Islam is false and Islamic testimonies are not real testimonies) and not out of any true conviction that Islam is also god’s religion and Muhammad is also god’s prophet, just like Mormonism and Joseph Smith, respectively. Then how about you put your money where your mouth is and write a letter to the First Presidency asking them to include the Qur’an as part of the standard works and acknowledge the prophethood of Muhammad.

  51. Jason K. says:

    Brad: you need to finish the book. Your comment shows that you haven’t grasped its argument.

  52. Eponymous says:

    Blake, I made that statement in part to check and see how in touch you were with Mormon perspective and attitudes. What else does it mean to say we recognize truth wherever we find it? That’s a paraphrase from Joseph as well as Bruce McConkie by the way.

    Now how do I support that? Our own leaders have historically made similar statements:

    God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.

    Elder Orson F. Whitney

    While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.

    Elder B.H. Roberts

    Then there was the 1978 statement on religion made by the First Presidency in which they stated:

    STATEMENT OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY REGARDING GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND

    February 15,1978

    Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.

    The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

    The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.

    Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all people sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.

    We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to his Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.

    Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are the sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.

    Spencer W. Kimball
    N. Eldon Tanner
    Marion G. Romney

    I think that’s pretty self explanatory.

  53. eponymous says:

    Sorry that should have been addressed to you Brad.

  54. Eponymous, in a previous comment, you suggested that the Muslim shahada is as valid a witness of truth as a Mormon testimony. This is completely inconsistent with Mormon teachings. None of the quotes you provided support your suggestion.

    All of these quotes either suggest or directly say that other religions are only partially inspired but do not contain the full truth, like Mormonism. The First Presidency clearly states that Mormonism in the only full truth, that a testimony of it is far superior to whatever alleged spiritual witnesses people have of the truth claims of other religions (particularly those truth claims that are diametrically opposed to what Mormonism teaches, such as Islam’s claim that it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus is the son of god). In fact the 1st Presidency statement implicitly supports my position, which is that Mormon leaders regard other religions to be partially false and other witnesses to be either worldly human-inspired, at best, or devil-inspired, falsehoods and misunderstandings of truth.

    When LDS leaders talk of other religions contributing to a great work, they basically mean the great work of preparing people, by cultivating beliefs and behaviors that are more compatible with those in Mormonism, to convert to Mormonism when missionaries find them. The idea is that the religious are far easier to convert to Mormonism than atheists, secularists, and agnostics, who are lost causes.

    Now back to the shahada. If you believe a good portion of what the Mormon leaders say about truth, then the only possible logical explanation for Muslims’ claim to have a personal witness of Islamic truth is that it is partially a product of delusion and socially caused confirmation bias. You cannot logically claim that a witness of Islamic truth is as valid as a Mormon one.

    More importantly is that in Mormon teachings, what is more authoritative than the words of divinely called leaders is the directly quoted speech from god via Joseph Smith’s or another divinely called prophet’s revelation, which we happen to have in Joseph Smith History 1:19, in which Joseph Smith reports god to say that that all the creeds of all Christian sects existing in upstate New York in the early 1800s (it can be inferred that all religions of the time are included too) were an abomination in god’s sight. I don’t know how much clearer and more authoritative a source one can get.

  55. Is it possible to be a faithful Mormon and also believe that God transcends all faiths, including Mormonism? That the contradictions between faiths may boil down to the likelihood that when God speaks, we interpret it to confirm our own hopes rather than to really seek an understanding of the nature of God’s voice? Perhaps, the faithful intellectuals of a tradition believe they have been led to their faith by the voice of God, but that’s also as far as God’s voice came. Perhaps God did not confirm any (or at least most) particular point regarding the faith, so all are subject to further refinement and understanding. Maybe the endgame and ultimate reality behind God’s works are understood to be beyond one’s understanding or capabilities, but that is accepted as sufficient for the life of faith, not as a surrender but as a facet of reality.

  56. Jason K. says:

    Indeed, the Hebrew Scriptures contain some pretty persistent grappling with the tension between a universal God and a peculiar people–perhaps nowhere as pointedly as in Deutero-Isaiah (which, recall, is what this thread was initially about). Paul also wrestles with it in Romans 9-11. Arguably it’s a problem writ large in the BoM, since the Nephites think they’re so special in the face of Lehi’s promises about Lamanite salvation. The tension is by no means new, although modern secularity poses its own spin on the problem.

  57. Jason K. says:

    And, to Brad’s persistent concern with “Yes, but did it really happen?”: the (fictional, satirical) Book of Jonah deals with that tension as well. Things don’t have to be historically verifiable in order to be useful tools for dealing meaningfully with real issues.

  58. Jason, thanks for all your comments on this thread.

  59. eponymous says:

    Brad, you seem obsessed with placing Mormons and even God within a very tight box of doctrine and possibilities. Would you mind looking and see if Schrödinger’s cat is in there too? But if God is in there would He let the cat die? Maybe you can resolve the paradox for us once and for all?!

    It’s a curious state, this boxing of God, when the beauty of telling the world that God speaks to man again means that there is no closed canon. This was Joseph’s central message and that of every prophet who preceded and followed him. This startling revelation (meaning John’s statements in Apocalypse are not to be taken literally as so many Evangelicals do) means we do not have a Deist creator who set everything in motion and then turned His back on us all. That instead He is knowable and open to speaking with His children in a variety of venues.

    Why would God the Father and His Son declare,

    “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof?”

    Well, if we’re going to quote Joseph let’s ask him. In a sermon in October 1843, a time when he was at his most mature understanding of the Gospel as he was only months away from his martyrdom, Joseph stated,

    I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things: but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’; which I cannot subscribe to.

    What does the Shahada declare? The two testimonials as professed by adherents states:

    There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.

    If I read the First Presidency’s statement I see no incompatibility. No box here my friend. But I’m surprised you demand one because this is quite typical of a Dehlinite attitude and many like you have wandered through this forum declaring such mindsets. But is that who you are? Where do you stand? Obviously Mormons are in error according to you and if so where is the truth? Is it only found in reason or is God out there somewhere according to you? And if so, through whom does He speak? I ask simply because you know where we stand (on the side of eternal truth and revelation as it were), so it seems fair to expect you to declare yourself.

  60. eponymous says:

    That should read, “But I’m NOT surprised you demand one….”

  61. Jason K. says:

    Like I said before, intellectual Mormons seem to be Brad’s cog dis catnip. His worldview can’t explain us, so he needs us to collapse into one of his neat categories (religion as epiphenomenon, which shows that he’s more out of touch with the breadth of contemporary scholarship than he’d like to admit, especially since he refuses to engage the argument).

  62. “And, to Brad’s persistent concern with “Yes, but did it really happen?”: the (fictional, satirical) Book of Jonah deals with that tension as well. Things don’t have to be historically verifiable in order to be useful tools for dealing meaningfully with real issues.”

    Jason, Mormonism and many other religions wouldn’t have nearly the number of followers, wouldn’t be able to raise nearly as much money, and have nearly the degree of social control that they do without emphasizing literal belief to supernatural claims. Had Joseph Smith said, “the Book of Mormon is a piece of fiction that I wrote [perhaps in collaboration with others] that may help lead you to find god and have a better understanding of Jesus Christ,” Mormonism as we know it today would not exist, and the only way we would actually know about the Book of Mormon would be through some obscure study or reference to it by a historian researching religious literature in 19th century New York. There may be room for symbolic believers in Mormonism, but they are free riders. The real fuel that makes the engine of Mormonism run is literal belief and the core members motivated by that. Historicity of the Book of Mormon matters most to the people who matter the most to the LDS church.

  63. “you seem obsessed with placing Mormons and even God within a very tight box of doctrine and possibilities”

    Eponymous, the LDS church is obsessed with this (why do think they build lavish temples throughout the world, are attempting to gather the names of all people who ever lived, and vicarious perform very long, detailed, and complex ordinances for them one by one?). I’m simply making you aware that it is (which I’m positive that you are, it is just that too often in contests of one-upmanship, disingenuousness becomes a fall-back for the losing side). Your suggestion that the doctrines of other religions are almost fully compatible with those of the LDS church is a completely intellectually dishonest assertion. You misrepresent the implications of the shahada. It is a confession that there is no god except what Muhammad has said about god and that Muhammad is god’s messenger, meaning that god’s message as delivered through Muhammad and contained in the Qur’an is the most pure and unadulterated message of god that we have. This is way that the overwhelming majority of Muslims have understood it and continue to understand it. You cannot accept the shahada as fully true and Mormonism at the same time. At this point, you’re going off on tangents, avoiding my central points, not owning up to your own words, and playing stupid. This is a clear sign that I won the debate.

  64. “Is it possible to be a faithful Mormon and also believe that God transcends all faiths, including Mormonism?”

    The short answer is no. In LDS teachings, Mormonism is god’s one true church and all other religions are corruptions (even if they contain some truth) of god’s truth. There is no way around that.

  65. Jason K. says:

    For someone so apparently troubled by what you perceive as Mormonism’s controlling aspects, you seem strangely invested in controlling what we, as participants in a tradition you seem to have left (if only halfway), get to believe about it. To call this deeply ironic understates it by half. I really do think that your sense of liberation (such as it is) depends fundamentally on our bondage, which is why you insist on it so vociferously. Here we sit as living evidence that Mormonism isn’t so monolithic as you think, and yet you insist that Mormonism is so monolithic as to exclude us, in theory if not always in practice. I submit that this says more about you and your worldview than it does about us.

  66. Jason, my original point was that intellectual Mormonism is logically inconsistent with how Joseph Smith and LDS leaders portrayed and continue to portray Mormonism. I never claimed that Mormonism (meaning the membership not the body of central teachings) wasn’t monolithic. In fact, I’ve consistently agreed with you that is not monolithic. Yet my position has been that it is going to become increasingly monolithic (in terms of how it is explained and portrayed) because the social constraints that have made people feel the need to live in a state of ongoing cognitive dissonance and consequently engage in complex mental gymnastics and try to reconcile Mormonism with current secular intellectual trends (which is the current state of intellectual Mormonism) are now eroding. You’ve consistently misrepresented my points and failed to address them.

    This idea that I’m trying to control you is nonsense. You’re free to be a Mormon for whatever reason and explain it any way you want. You are not free, however, to define Mormonism or claim that it doesn’t teach something when it does. That is ignorance at best or dishonesty at worst. I suspect the latter.

  67. Jason K. says:

    My point is (and has been): why do you care? Why the investment in prognosticating the future of Mormonism? The world of secular intellectuals mostly ignores Mormonism, so why don’t you? All of this points to some cathexis on your part, which you are (on the evidence of this thread) deeply reluctant to discuss. I think that if you were free enough of cog dis to sneer at ours from the ethical high ground, you wouldn’t be here. Which doesn’t exactly recommend your worldview as a liberated alternative to Mormonism. You play a good game of tearing down intellectual Mormonism, but the best you have to offer as an alternative is a malingering interest in commenting on Mormon blogs.

    And, for the record, I’m not advancing my perspective on Mormonism as normative. I’m reminded basically every Sunday that it’s not. And yet I have the gall to believe Pres. Uchtdorf (to say nothing of my own personal experience in various wards, notwithstanding my difference from the norm) when he says there’s room for me. No doubt you have some quote from someone or other to show that he’s lying, but all that really shows (empirically) is that there’s a diversity of views within Mormonism (and at the highest levels, to boot), even on the question of whether or not there’s room for the likes of me. You can believe, but not prove, that Uchtdorf’s view will not prevail over time. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but that just brings us back to the question of why you, personally, are so invested in believing it won’t. I don’t think you can really claim neutral objectivity here, especially given your reticence in naming your own apparent personal investment in Mormonism.

    So, tell us about this brave new world you inhabit. Explain why it’s better than the ignorance/dishonesty we currently suffer under. Show us the wonders of a happy, balanced life you’ve been hiding behind your attacks. Any three year old can tear stuff down, but can you build anything better in its place? Color me skeptical.

  68. eponymous says:

    Brad, I can’t, I just can’t. That you feel there is a winning or losing in this discussion is simply sad. Discussing the gospel is never a game of one-upmanship for me but instead an earnest opportunity to share insight and expound upon what we understand. Have I poked fun, yes? But only in good humor. I am simply amused at your dogged determination at holding us as believers to a set of false parameters. What I hear from you is akin to an anthropologist who attempts to explain a people by watching a single channel of TV programs all populated with reality TV and then declaring that he knows exactly what drives them and what their future holds. And then proceed to dictate to the people the precise rules by which they must live else they are clearly living falsely.

    The Church of Jesus Christ is focused on bringing the gospel and through it salvation to every child of God who lives on Earth. But we recognize that we are joint travelers on that path with many who will never accept our message and yet who make massive contributions toward accomplishing God’s own work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of all women, men, and children. Many have a far greater reach and influence that we do and we respect and support them in those efforts.

    What do I think of my 85 year old Catholic neighbor who lives a life of constant service including spending 3 times a week visiting the seniors living at the “old folks home” to sing to them and share her flowers and her enthusiasm and her piano skills. Who performs with the choir at weekly Mass and performs so much service for her community that her schedule is even busier than mine as a father of 6, a church leader and an executive for a Fortune 500 corporation? I think thank God for her and the influence for good that she has on so many lives as she shines the light of Christ daily on so many who need what she can offer. We talk about the Church, she loves the MoTab, and she has joined us at church for our children’s important events. But as we’ve prayed about how to share the gospel with her, how to help her, the message that comes back is she is exactly where God needs her. And that doesn’t just happen with her, we find similar answers with other friends who make a significant impact in their mosque, their mega-church community, their synagogue, and elsewhere.

    So tell me Brad, what are we to make of that? Why would that happen?

    Because God doesn’t live in a box. And that’s not just me talking. Spend some time talking with an Apostle and ask their opinion on these things. Have you? I’ve had a few of those moments in my life, visiting in the temple or a quiet classroom with only 5 or 6 other people and the answers to those questions are similar to what the Spirit has whispered to me.

    I know, to you this is all just confirmation bias. And for that I feel sad. Hopefully some day you’ll find otherwise.

  69. Jason K. says:

    And I’m already going to retract that last comment. Brad’s probably traumatized by his encounter with Mormonism (seeing as the defining feature of trauma is returning to the site), and it was un-Christian of me to be sarcastic like that (as also in some other comments in this thread). I care far more about being Christian than I do about being Mormon, but I’ve caught myself here doing exactly the wrong thing: starting to care more about being right than being good. My apologies.

  70. The fact that the universalist strain in Mormon thought has historically been a minority position in the church since the time of Brigham Young through the mid to late 20th century, does make make it any less Mormon. It has roots that go back to Joseph Smith himself, as eponymous has hinted at, and if you were so inclined you could find those roots in significant passages of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. It’s not just the idea of (nearly) universal salvation set forth in the vision of the degrees of glory. There are lots and lots of passages that affirm universal or near universal Christian truths. And while the universalist strain has waxed and waned, it’s never disappeared, and occasionally bears paradigm-shifting fruit. So even if it’s a minority position, it is firmly established as a part of the Mormon tradition, dogmatic statements by church leaders notwithstanding.

    I guess what I’m saying is, Jason, while it may be true that your vision of the church and the gospel is not “normative,” other, more dogmatically stated, perhaps more popular visions are no more normative. And neither vision is alien to Mormonism. And they are perhaps best seen as in dialogue, with truth to be found in the balance, rather than in competition.

  71. Eponymous, Mormon leaders have consistently preached that the LDS church is god’s church headed by god and Jesus Christ and that all other religions are false and cannot enable life with god in the hereafter, even if they may happen to contain some truth. If you don’t personally accept that, that’s fine with me. But you have to accept that in so believing that your beliefs are not consistent (much like those of Jason K., Sam Brunson, Kevin Barney, and others) with how Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS leaders have viewed and explained Mormonism.

    Jason, instead of actually engaging my arguments (which you tried to at first, but fell short) you’re now just questioning why I care about talking about Mormonism and what I have to offer that’s better than Mormonism (or religion in general). That’s completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    It appears that at this point you guys are now just trying to save face from poor argumentation and putting up barriers to having to confront inconvenient truths about Mormonism. I think I’ll declare victory and bow out.

  72. pconnornc says:

    Re: comments on confirmation bias. Read an article and had a discussion w/ a Duke professor recently on that. Confirmation bias impacts all truth – scientific or religious. The way science tries to stamp out confirmation bias is to test, re-test, re-test, etc. I appreciate a faith that continually exhorts us to test/retest the “truths” that we think we already know. I certainly have confirmation bias in many truths, but my experience has been every time I “prove” the gospel truths, I come away with the same answers.

  73. Jacob H. says:

    I’ve enjoyed listening to every voice here. Brad, you’ve got some valid points. When I’m at church, I like to focus on early 1830’s perspectives on things, and proceed from there to the twists and turns that have led to today’s perspectives, in order to point out some of the inconsistent and flowing nature of policy, doctrine, belief. And to stake out my own positions as heretical but reasonable and faithful (in some sense – faith as an active choice to construct understandings that although often naturalistic, leave room for different possible modalities of God. Currently experimenting with process theology), and usually closer to Joseph Smith on some matters, or else closer to pure secular science on others, than to modern mainstream positions.

    As you distinguish between the points different commenters are willing to make or take on, you’ll notice how divergent all our viewpoints are, even on seemingly essential matters. That’s something this blog in particular has made me appreciate, though. There was a time in my life when I didn’t know what to do about my awareness that reality wasn’t at all what I was raised to believe about it – I kept quiet, considered separating myself from religion altogether, vented my frustrations and argued a bit online and off, and finally found large communities of diverse, intellectual believers and nonbelievers who I could respect, get along with, and learn from. By remaining committed to the church, I protest with my entire being the elements that would try to define a boundary for our tradition that somehow excludes me. The effect may be small or ineffectual, but it is worth it to me because I see it as making the church a better place. My wife and I are better able to befriend the marginalized than many, and we ourselves have been embraced by the more “normal” elements of the ward as well. I see in Zion a plurality, not a uniformity, and seek to live it. For the past several years, it has sufficed (though not without personal struggles and growth along the way).

  74. Jason K. says:

    Amen, Jacob H.

  75. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for your comment, JKC. I’ve been a Mormon universalist since I was a teenager, and I’ve long held that Zion means unity in diversity (which is why I now think that some of my comments in this thread are sins against charity).

  76. I love the Mormon universalist comments, seeing myself in there somewhere. It does seem a beleaguered position in the modern Church. There is little external support and one has to regularly claim and insist on inclusion. (Which is, I suppose, a nod in the direction of one or two of Brad L.’s comments.)

  77. Jason K. says:

    Right, Chris, but as long as people think it’s worth doing…

    And, honestly, in my experience teaching Sunday School in two very different wards, quite a few people are willing to accept universalism as part of their faith, especially when you take time to talk about some of the scriptures supporting it. Many of them may then go on to make particularist comments in the 3rd hour or whenever, but that tendency doesn’t mean they’re actively opposed to universalism in principle, which means that they can accept a universalist in the pews without a second thought. For all my apparent difference from so-called mainstream members of the Church, my adult experience (living in four different states, including Utah) has been that people are more than happy to accept me. Which, I suppose, explains why I disagree with Brad, whose experience may well have been (and almost obviously was) different, which is why he sees things as he does. Which, ultimately, is why I should have been kinder and less argumentative (and, especially, less bitterly sarcastic).

  78. Thanks for your comments, Jason! Brad seems to be a genuinely bright fellow and it is our loss for someone like him to no longer consider himself part of the community of saints (if I can presume that to be the case). He reminds me so much of a particular sociologist I’ve had dialogues with in the past that I wonder if it isn’t the same guy? Or perhaps they merely share a particular kind of Dehlinist inflection and an apparent delight in a good jousting match. :-)

    Brad speaks of reduced groupthink in intellectual circles where questioning is encouraged. I would cede that point but counter with the assertion that there is also a reduced commitment to charity, forgiveness, and compassion outside of a community such as mormonism that actively encourages such values. I’m not sure that’s an exchange I prefer.

    He also implies that the cognitive dissonance presumably burdening mormon intellectuals regarding the Book of Mormon and other strong truth claims could be alleviated by leaving the church. But such a break would also involve rejecting (and even withholding from those close to me) the wealth of blessings that flow from living a mormon life. In the end, I doubt I would actually end up with a lower net amount of dissonance rattling around inside me if I were to leave behind the social and spiritual benefits of church membership in pursuit of a more rationally tenable intellectual position.

    Whatever the case, I wish Brad well in finding a path, whether in or out of mormonism, that will allow him to flourish; the ultimate and tragic ineluctability of cognitive dissonance notwithstanding.

  79. Thanks for your words, Walter F. I’m not a sociologist. I see why some want to continue being LDS. It’s a good life in many ways. I continue to be in a limited sense. Charity, forgiveness, and compassion can be hard to measure, so I think that the question of reduced commitment to these in non-religious circles is debatable, but these are certainly important values held high by LDS folks, no doubt.

  80. Sorry, Walker F.

  81. Clark Goble says:

    I think the meaning of “universalism” needs broken out a tad. It’s not entirely clear as I read the comments that there’s a terribly clear notion here. There certainly are both major and minor theological strains than could be called universalist. After all the idea that only the sons of perdition don’t go to heaven is pretty universalist even if the notions of degrees of glory with only the highest being the one that counts is pretty anti-universalist.

    Determining who goes to heaven is beyond our capabilities especially when it appears from our theology that the bulk of the work in conversion happens on the other side of the veil for most people.

  82. Joseph Stanford says:

    Great discussion. Something I heard on Mormon Stories podcast some years ago seems appropiate here. Paraphrasing: People are more important than propositions. Questions are more important than answers.

  83. Jason K. says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, Joe. Thanks for that perspective.