Yo, Dre, I got something to say!

index

Two related points about the Book of Mormon:

First, I think we need to carve out a space for people who are willing to accept the BoM as scripture, just not of the historical kind (i.e., a modern pseudepigraphon[1]), to remain within the fold and be accepted as good members of the Church.

I loved President Hinckley, largely for his folksy pragmatism, his sense of humor, his sense of moderation, his openness to the world, characteristics often in short supply among our top leadership. But I personally thought his all or nothing statement as part of his PBS interview was not wise:

Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that’s exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That’s our claim. That’s where we stand, and that’s where we fall, if we fall. But we don’t. We just stand secure in that faith

On the one hand I appreciate the vibe he was going for, and this it’s all true or all false stance does indeed pack significant rhetorical power. But note that this is exactly the stance anti-Mormons want the Church to take, because it makes their job incredibly easy. On this stance all it takes is one problem, one counterexample, one bauble that turns out on examination not to be as shiny as it seemed at first blush, to bring the entire house of cards down. Not leaving room for any sense of nuance at all for a religion as recent and messy as Mormonism simply is not a smart corner to paint ourselves into.

Along these lines, I think we need to leave room within the faith for people who can accept the BoM as scripture, even if non-historical. I think it was for instance incredibly short-sighted for the Church to excommunicate David Wright over his private stance to this effect, something he never taught or promoted to students when he taught at BYU. We lost an excellent scholar over a need for absolutist, simplistic purity of thought within the faith.

My second thought is, taking the BoM as a pseudepigraphon for the sake of argument only, why would Joseph have created such a production? What was the pseudepigraphic impulse that led him to do it? Well, I see him as a young Ice Cube: He had somethin’ to say! And while for some purposes having a sharply closed canon can be a feature, it can also be a bug. If the canon is closed shut, tight as a drum, what is a new prophetic voice to do? Who is going to listen to the musings of an ignorant farm boy to the effect that, say, the  Old Testament is not sufficiently and explicitly Christian? Maybe his family, but that’s about it. Not a soul would care what Joseph qua Joseph had to say about much of anything.

This is the same dynamic that occurred in the formation of the biblical canon originally. There are almost certainly pseudepigraphic works within our biblical canon, because false ascription was simply the only way for those works to gain a hearing.

Wikipedia presents the following levels of pseudepigraphic authenticity:

 

  • Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
  • Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to an amanuensis.
  • Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
  • Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his name.
  • Apprentice authorship. A church leader dies, and disciples who had been authorized to speak for him while he was alive continue to do so by writing letters in his name years or decades after his death.
  • Honorable pseudepigraphy. A church leader dies, and admirers seek to honor him by writing letters in his name as a tribute to his influence and in a sincere belief that they are responsible bearers of his tradition.
  • Forgery. A church leader obtains sufficient prominence that, either before or after his death, people seek to exploit his legacy by forging letters in his name, presenting him as a supporter of their own ideas.

 

To me, the forgery label is a bit harsh in a closed canon environment, where false ascription is simply the only way for your work to get any sort of a hearing at all.

So I think we should erect a tent big enough to enclose Saints with various kinds of doubts. Doubts are natural; in and of themselves, doubts do not amount to a moral failing. And I think that seeing Joseph’s scriptural productions as modern pseudepigrapha should be a sufficiently acceptable position for those holding it to be able to remain within the faith.

[1] From pseudo- + epigraph “ascription of false authorship to a book.”

 

Comments

  1. I recently asked myself the question, “how much of scripture must be historical?” It was set up, I think, but those scholars who agree that the Book of Job is not a biography/history, but some form of fiction. As a scientist, I, of course, frequently wonder how much of the creation accounts are “historical”, as well. With these two elements of scripture setting the precedent for “something can be fictional and still be scriptural”, I simply had to ask myself if any of it must be historical. It was an interesting thought experiment for me, resulting in a conclusion like you describe here — our rhetoric may need room (or more room) for the possibility that not all scripture is history.
    This post by Ben Spackman http://www.patheos.com/blogs/benjaminthescribe/2016/06/scripture-context-and-genres-scattered-reading/ which is mostly quoting Catholic scholar Raymond Brown discussing some of these issues.
    Perhaps in the spirit of Elder Ballards “inoculation”, it would be interesting to include in some of our curricula discussions around how some scripture might be “inspired fiction”. It seems that many, both LDS and broader Christian, lose their faith when they decide that they can no longer accept a book of scripture as “historical”, simply because no one has ever even entertained for them the idea that scripture can be fiction and still be “true”.

  2. Who is the “we” that needs to carve out space, and for whom? David Wright is a distressing counter-example, but 22 years ago in an environment that most of us hope will never be repeated. And he was publishing on the subject; whether teaching or promoting to students, that’s not really my idea of ‘private.’
    I think the question in 2016 is not whether one can have some form of pseudopigraphic view in private, but whether one may or should teach from such a stance. My opinion, expressed in my actions and choices, is that I can hold such a view for myself (I in fact do) and as a student, even to the extent of making comments in a class, with little or no trouble or complaint, but that I should not teach it or use it in presenting materials from the pulpit or from a called teaching position. To argue for the teaching position is a big step, and while I have some sympathy for the end result, I don’t think you’ve made the case.

  3. I agree with this post, there needs to be room for those who accept BoM as scripture but not as history. I myself am somewhat agnostic about the historicity of BoM.

    What is it that you don’t like about Hincley’s statement? Is it just the general sentiment? The specifics he mentioned are quite general, unless you think that the existence of person called Moroni who visited JS implies historicity of BoM.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Christian, I did not mean to suggest that the Church needs to sponsor non-historicist views among its teachers, whether in its universities or its wards. It’s well within its rights to give such positions to historicists. But we shouldn’t be excommunicating people who hold positive but non-historicist views of the BoM, even if they share them on social media or whatever.

    Niklas, my problem with the GBH statement is its absolutism. Either it’s ALL true or it’s ALL false. That’s a dangerous framing, because all you have to do is find one “false” thing, no matter how minor, and that of necessity tilts the arrow towards the ALL false conclusion. Absolutes may sound impressive in the abstract, but they can become brittle in reality.

  5. “Absolutes may sound impressive in the abstract, but they can become brittle in reality.” They are only brittle IF anything is untrue. If everything is true, then it is perfectly strong and sound.

  6. Nate S. says:

    I want to look at it from the other side.

    I empathize with anyone who struggles to figure out how the Book of Mormon fits into the world that we know and the other parts of the world that we think we know.
    Where does one draw the line of certainty, truth and fact?

    What if all of our currently accepted theoretical methods of determining historicity of world events, geologic formation, climate change, and species evolution are wrong?
    Are the supposed “falsehoods” found in the Book of Mormon based on carbon dating or the 14-billion-year-old-earth model? Or are they based on some extrapolation of imprecise analytical modeling methods.
    We could go round and round like this for days and end up nowhere, and the reason I see this quandary even existing is because we always give science a free pass.
    I’m ) an engineer who works with a lot of scientists, and I have seen behind the curtain enough to know that “science” is NOT the answer to all of life’s questions. I liken the current state of scientific awareness to a blind man visiting a museum. He can feel where all of the walls are and in some cases can feel the texture of the oil paintings. He can get a sense of the spatial layout and flow through the museum, and he can make up all kinds of reasons why the museum is shaped the way it is and why it does what it does. Al these theories might get him close to the truth of things, but he could also make up some really wacky and absurd theories that hold A LOT of water in his personal reality. Because he lacks the ability to see the art,and therefore the original purpose of the museum, he misses a critical layer of information as to why things are laid out the way they are or structured a certain way. Seeing the art would yield a much better, more elegant, and simpler theory of museum construction.

    So. . . To hold the Book of Mormon up to the scrutiny of science (or history) makes little sense to me when I am not convinced that we really know the science (or the history) as well as we think we do.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    jax, if we intentionally frame the argument in such stark terms that a single anachronism in the BoM causes the entire Church to crumble, then we have done the Church a grave disservice, especially since such a stark framing is by no means necessary. Anyone who is so confident that there is no such thing as even a single anachronism in the BoM that she is willing to frame the case as GBH did is setting the BoM and the Church with it for a great fall, because even faithful BoM scholars would readily acknowledge that there are anachronisms in the text. Those can be dealt with if we retain the flexibility to do so, but not if we paint ourselves into a corner with absolutist claims of no anachronisms whatsoever.

  8. it's a series of tubes says:

    who is so confident that there is no such thing as even a single anachronism in the BoM that she is willing to frame the case as GBH did is setting the BoM and the Church with it for a great fall

    Kevin, aren’t you being a bit deliberately pedantic here, and in your reading of GBH’s comments in the OP? There’s a lot of middle ground between “true” (as misconstrued to mean perfect, without flaw, and impeccable) and “the BOM is ahistorical”.

    What about approach that the book itself takes on the title page with respect to faults? Seems to me that there is still plenty of room for the book to be true, and historical, without it being perfect.
    Similarly, nowhere does GBH assert the BOM is perfect. Your absolutist interpretation of his statement comes off as somewhat uncharitable, especially since he lists only some key principles of the restoration as being “true”: first vision, visit of Moroni, BOM having connection to physical plates, restoration of priesthood.

  9. Thanks for this, Kevin. We need more west coast rap references on BCC.

    I’m not sure whether the BoM is historical, but I’m comfortable with my testimony that it’s an inspired message from God (and thus scripture). Whether or not we’re interpreting that message correctly is the real question I struggle with as I read it.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    tubes, I guess it’s a matter of taste. I agree that a line like “If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud” is a great piece of rhetoric. But there are significant issues with all of the things he mentions. Not little issues, significant issues. Now, I think we can deal with those issues, but the extent to which we are going to be persuasive in dealing with them is going to be in the eye of the beholder. So to frame it in such absolutist terms is playing with fire in my view. It can end up being taken as an admission that “we’re engaged in a great fraud.” Absolutist rhetoric like that can backfire really easily.

  11. it's a series of tubes says:

    Gimme the microphone first so I can bust like a bubble:

    Kevin, I don’t disagree that being overly absolutist tends to be more harmful than helpful. But let’s look at the actual statement: “that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently”

    Which of these have significant issues, from the LDS perspective, of being “true”? Several of these claims are of the type that are unverifiable / unfalsifiable.

    Only one that comes to mind as potentially being incomplete or deliberately misreadable is BOM translation (leaves out the rock in the hat), but if the BOM text corresponds (to a looser or a tighter degree) to what was written on the plates, can we say that portion of the statement isn’t “true” with a straight face?

  12. Brother Sky says:

    Kevin, I like your point about absolutist rhetoric, in part because I agree with it, but also because I think it’s the very thing that prevents us from “enlarging the tent,” so to speak. Having just come from a testimony meeting where every testimony but one included multiple instances of “I KNOW that such and such is true,” I think Mormons feel this bizarre and unhelpful (IMHO) pressure to be absolutely certain about matters of faith which, in my experience, are the things I’m LEAST certain about.

    And I don’t think it helps that we’re a bit overzealous in our boundary-patrolling. As long as so many members feel the pressure to be certain about rather nebulous matters, the church as a whole will not embrace the notion of “inspired, but not historically true/factual.” And in truth, I think many members would say that’s a good thing. It helps make it very clear that any questioning of authority or “history” or “truth” isn’t to be tolerated. That means that, sadly, Mormonism will remain a small tent (and may continue to shrink), but at least people will know what they’re getting themselves into. And drawing hard lines in the sand works the other way, as you point out in your 3:18 quote. Such rhetoric both helps a certain kind of people into the church and helps another kind of person out of it. In other words, absolutist rhetoric, in the view of TBMs, helps separate the wheat from the chaff. I think that’s actually what that kind of absolutism is designed to do. Too bad that it leaves no room for doubt or subtlety or multifaceted approaches to questions of faith, doctrine, etc.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    We have a Gospel Topics Essay on the First Vision for a reason, because so many of our young people are blindsided by a complete lack of knowledge of the multiple FV accounts and the variations among them (the 1832 does not explicitly mention both the Father and the Son, for example). Mark Hofmann notwithstanding, the Moronoi accounts have a folk magic context that your average member knows nothing about. The nature of the “translation” of the BoM is a huge issue, as is the existence of physical plates. The priesthood restoration accounts have all kinds of issues (for instance, was the MP restored shortly after the AP in 1829, or not until the summer of 1830, as Richard Bushman maintains?)

    By making this kind of a blanket claim that there’s not a single, solitary thing false about any of these issues we’re opening the gate for critical examination of them. And your average Latter-day Saint simply does not know enough to deal with these kinds of issues effectively. To me it’s not smart to intentionally open the door and invite critics to find holes in these things, because there are holes to be found. Senior church leaders are not scholars and may well be ignorant of these kinds of issues, but they do exist.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    You may well be right, Brother Sky, that the exclusionist effect of the absolutist rhetoric may in fact be intentional.

  15. it's a series of tubes says:

    By making this kind of a blanket claim that there’s not a single, solitary thing false about any of these issues

    Kevin, your restatement exceeds the scope of what GBH said, significantly.

  16. “Are the supposed “falsehoods” found in the Book of Mormon based on…the 14-billion-year-old-earth model…”
    The problem with taking the anti-science crowd seriously is that they never actually know or understand the science. 14-billion-year-old-earth model? Really? No scientist believes this earth is 14 billion years old. Try 4.5 billion years.

  17. Kevin, Tubes is right here. The issue of WHEN the MP was restored doesn’t affect the claim that it was restored. To have a problem with GBH’s statement would mean you think that it wasn’t restored at all (or that JS made up the story of the FV, or that the BoM wasn’t translated but written/authored by JS, etc) and therefore we’re perpetuating a fraud.

  18. Kevin, Just to make sure I understand your point, take the President Hinkley quote you have referred to. How would you rephrase it so as to avoid the problems you think it creates while retaining the truth claims of Mormonism that President Hinkley is promoting and would be unwilling to give up?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t know how to articulate my position more clearly than I already have. Several of you strongly disagree with my reading, which of course is fine. To me it’s extremely problematic to say “it’s either true or false.” Life and religious tenets are rarely that simple, they’re complicated, so if you find some elements of traditional Mormon understanding that by such a standard are “false,” you’ve conceded that the whole kit and caboodle of the church and all it stands for is “false.” It seems to me that only someone without a strong knowledge of the issues at play in church history and scripture would so cavalierly make such a grandiose statement. An attorney at trial does not so cavalierly open such an avenue of attack to the opposition.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Fred, I can’t rephrase it because the whole point of it is the absolutist rhetoric. I do appreciate it as a rhetorical flourish, but absolutes are very difficult to defend. I’m not a litigator, but as an attorney I am concerned with that which is defensible, and to trade defensibility for a nifty rhetorical floourish does not strike me as wise.

  21. Life is almost ALWAYS that simple Kevin. I either did go to work, or I didn’t. I either did kiss my wife, or I didn’t. Same with JS… he either did have the FV, or he didn’t. There isn’t much middle ground… either the event happened or didn’t. Now belief of the event happening will vary as widely as people vary, but no matter the number of people who think an event did or did not occur has no bearing on whether or not it did. Their belief doesn’t play a role in past events.

    “It seems to me that only someone without a strong knowledge of the issues at play in church history and scripture would so cavalierly make such a grandiose statement.” Well that’s quite a claim to make against a prophet. Couldn’t it just as easily be that only someone with a sure knowledge of the events could make such a strong claim?

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Anti-Mormons have been making this “it’s either true of false” dichotomous framing for decades. They want it to be black or white. It’s in their interest to frame it that way. They LOVE this was of setting it up. So I find it disconcerting when we allow ourselves to be suckered into taking a page from their playbook and framing. It’s in their interest to frame it that way, not ours.

    Jax, if we’re being absolutist about it, and there’s an article in the Ensign that claims the restoration of the MP occured within a month of the AP restoration on May 15, 1829 (and there is such an article), and if scholars were to conclude that no, it really happened in the summer of 1830 (I personally agree with Bushman, but at this point it remains a debated point), then the Church falsely (as the Ensign is the official organ of the Church) made a claim about the restoration of the preisthood and was wrong to that extent. And if you frame your argument as an absolute, then ANY error dings your argument, because you chose to frame it absolutely.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    And Jax, I did not mean “someone without a strong knowledge of the issues at play” as a dig against GBH, whom I loved. It’s simply a fact of life that most of our top leaders spend their every waking moment on the administration of the Church, and they simply do not have the time to become experts in topics such as Church history. I would have thought that limitation on our top leaders would have been obvious and uncontroversial.

  24. ” if scholars were to conclude that no, it really happened in the summer of 1830 ” – Scholars concluding something has no bearing on whether that thing did or not take place. You would have us place our faith in the scholars instead of where it belongs.

    I have in fact done things that investigators later concluded that I did not do. I have not done things that investigators concluded I did do. Their conclusions have/had no actual correlation to the truth of what took place. Same with the “scholars” you trust so much.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t think it’s productive to argue any more about it, Jax. We obviously see the matter differently, and that’s fine.

  26. Agreed Kevin… Happy Independence Day!

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Same to you!

  28. Katie M. says:

    Among those who think the BOM is scripture, but not historical, what is generally taken to be the level of Joseph Smith’s knowledge of what he was doing? For those who don’t think he was prophetic the options are 1) he was lying for personal gain, or 2) he was delusional; he really believed he was translating an ancient book, but was not. For those who wish for a “faithful” response, the options seem to be:

    -Joseph knew he was creating a “fabricated” non-historical pseudepigraphon, but the Lord told him it was okay to tell people it was historical, because otherwise they wouldn’t listen.
    -The Lord allowed Joseph to believe he was really doing a historical translation, even though it wasn’t, because it would have been too hard for him to authentically sell the book as such, unless he himself believed.

    Either way, it brings up some interesting questions/issues: is it okay to “lie” for the Lord? Or is okay for the Lord to lie in order to carry out a needed work?

    It also brings up the question of what to make of the line of prophets since JS who have testified that the BOM is both scripture and historical. Did they lie, because the Lord them that’s what people needed to hear in order to listen? Or did the Lord witness to them of something that wasn’t true, in order to further His work?

    These are sincere questions — I’m curious has to how those who believe that the BOM is scripture but not historical resolve them.

  29. Nate S. says:

    Tim, thanks for correcting my typo and inserting “4.5 billion”, because it kind of works towards making my point. The de-facto scientific theory of how old the world is can seemingly never be challenged, even though the theory to get us to that number is based on a lot of really big assumptions that cannot be proven. And when we peel the onion the theory shows its inherent weaknesses, but nobody can say that the emperor has no clothes for fear of institutional shunning. Or maybe they take the angle of assuming the emperor’s clothes are nice because they read a lot of articles written by people who say that they are nice, so that is good enough for them.
    I’m an engineer, and I make my living by putting the scientific method to work day in and day out to test cutting edge technology, so I am by no means anti-science. I would even wager my two engineering degrees to say that I understand science well enough to know when I smell a rat (a.k.a. Big Bang and cold dark matter theories).

    But as far as establishing a correlation between what we have in front of us (the Book of Mormon) and the weird pile of historical evidence (stuff people wrote about Joseph Smith), I see that it is very similar to getting mad at all the “bad physics” in superhero movies.

    One can be TOTALLY OK WITH AN IMMORTAL, OMNIPOTENT, FLYING ALIEN (e.g. Superman) but they get mad when a flipped car explodes in a ball of fire, or when a bullet sends a guy flying 15 feet back. . .

    Now flip it around – one can be totally ok with an omnipotent and omniscient God, immortal spirits who live in invisible dimensions that may or may not overlap our own physical reality, the ability to resurrect decomposing corpses, and all manner of similar things. However, that person could be hung up on how much Jospeh Smith may or may not have editorialized the Book of Mormon based on shaky conclusions from a several-decades-old method of comparative literary analysis that seeks to extrapolate (centuries later) motive and meaning from the most jumbled, inconsistent, and ever-evolving language on the planet. It’s an interesting conundrum to be sure.

    I don’t say any of this to mock or belittle one’s struggle to find the truth. I do it mainly to ask the question of “why do we put certain of our eggs into certain baskets?” Why do we cling to our own personal sets of assumptions that go into creating a datum for comparative analysis and certainty?

    But for whatever it is worth, put my vote into the “it either happened, or it didn’t” category. If scholarly analysis lines up to support the absolutist in me then that’s fine. If scholars come up with something else, that’s fine too because I’m putting all my eggs into the “immortal, omnipotent, flying alien” basket.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    Katie, an important take on the topic of lying for the Lord is an appendix by Carmon Hardy to his book Solemn Covenant, which you can read here:

    http://www.mormonismi.net/pdf/lying_for_the_lord.pdf

  31. Jax, I suspect we all agree that no scholar and no historical document has any impact on What Actually Happened. But even with a seminal moment like the First Vision, the sole eyewitness didn’t provide a consistent account of What Actually Happened, so any statement about the truthfulness of the First Vision requires an asterisk. (Some elements of the various accounts are hopefully true, some are necessarily false because they conflict with each other.)

    I don’t believe it’s faithless to say “we don’t know the details.” A true/false binary doesn’t leave much room for that, though, which gives our critics an easy layup, as the OP says.

  32. I’m sensitive to this because our all-true-or-all-false stance drives people away from the church as soon as they see even a tiny crack in what we’ve claimed is an impenetrable Shield of Perfect Truth. Any imperfection or inconsistency means it isn’t perfect like they were told.

    There is a ton of inconsistencies, and that’s fine. We don’t need to oversell our level of knowledge. The truths that we do have are beautiful.

  33. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m sensitive to this because our all-true-or-all-false stance drives people away from the church as soon as they see even a tiny crack in what we’ve claimed is an impenetrable Shield of Perfect Truth.

    Who, may I ask, is actually making this straw man claim?

    Not the BOM – see title page, Mormon 9:31, etc.
    Not the current leadership of the church – see Uchtdorf, Oct. 2013.
    So… who?

    And why, in a forum where so many are skilled at parsing subtleties of language, is one side consistently advocating that claiming “truth” must be entirely equivalent to claiming “perfection”?

  34. @Tubes – This true-or-false ideology is exactly what I was taught as a missionary and told to teach others back in the 1990s. It may not have been intended to be taken as a measure of absolute truth, but I was taught no nuance, nor given any instructions about truth being different from perfection and that the stories I were teaching were not entirely accurate. If the leaders / mission president/ missionary program (I could add in Sunday school teachers/manuals as well) didn’t teach the difference, where should I have learned it?

    I’d actually say that for many years my entire testimony was based on this ‘straw man’ argument. Not because I wanted it that way, but because I didn’t realize other options even existed. It was only when the cracks appeared in the perfection and I was forced to deal with them that I had to find the nuance myself. So in theory I agree with you, but in practice all-or-nothing is what we did (and in many ways continue to do) teach.

    If your argument is correct, then why do SO many individuals leave the church struggling with this exactly problem?

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    ReT, I recognize that much of our opinions on this topic arises from our own personal experience. Let me state at the outset: I COMPLETELY agree that we want to present an accurate view and we don’t want to conceal or misrepresent things, because as Kyle said:

    There is a ton of inconsistencies, and that’s fine. We don’t need to oversell our level of knowledge. The truths that we do have are beautiful.

    That being said, I don’t see GBH’s statement quoted above as overselling our level of knowledge. He merely asserts that the Mormon church holds certain things out as truths: the occurrence of the first vision, certain angelic visitations, the BOM as translated scripture, priesthood restoration. He doesn’t get into procedural specifics, or dates, or comparative analysis of various historical accounts – the type of things that others have raised as areas where significant debate and discussion exist. And so, in the limited context of his statement, as others have noted, these things are indeed either true or false. Either God appeared to Joseph, or he didn’t. Either an angel who referred to himself as Moroni visited Joseph, or he didn’t. Either the BOM is scripture, or it is not. Either priesthood authority was restored, or it was not. Each of us can decide how we view these issues, because in the end they are a matter of faith and personal revelation. To assert otherwise is to wrest the words of the man who was perhaps the most media-savvy of any modern prophet.

    ReT, it appears that you and I were raised in a similar time in the church, as I served as a missionary from 1996-1998. But our personal experiences clearly differ significantly. Anecdotally, I was forced to confront nuance and complexity at an early age, for example on one issue simply by location: my grandparents house was next door to a large FLDS polygamist compound in SLC.

  36. FarSide says:

    Excellent, as always, Kevin.

    I, for one, fully agree with your analysis of Hinckley’s statement and the self-inflicted problems the church creates when it employs false dichotomies. They are simply unnecessary, drive away members and prospective members who are accustomed to testing and questioning all propositions, and induce many of the faithful to build testimonies on sandy foundations.

    Further, to reject historical criticism of the Book of Mormon because all knowledge about science and history could someday proven false is to call into question the value of all empirical pursuits. It is also patently absurd and hypocritical to argue that all scientific learning may ultimately be proven false while claiming that a prophetic utterance by the president of the church about the historicity of a book cannot possibly be wrong—and therefore constitutes an eternal truth—because it was spoken by a prophet.

    I, for one, believe that, at the very least, some of the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, perhaps most of it. The evidence upon which that belief is based is compelling, in my opinion. Is it possible that future evidence will cause me to alter my views? Absolutely. But whenever there is sufficient evidence for me to reach a conclusion regarding a likely explanation for a particular phenomenon, historical event, or the actions of an individual, I will not hesitate to form an opinion and act accordingly. The common LDS response of “let’s wait and see if something turns up that provides some support for the Mormon narrative before we reach any conclusions” is unsatisfactory; it simply is not how most people weigh evidence, make informed judgments and live their lives.

    I do not advocate teaching concepts from the pulpit or in a church classroom that are at variance with today’s church curriculum. But, as you say, no one should be punished for expressing these views in a private setting, in a scholarly publication or on a social media. Sadly, I so doubt the church’s willingness to tolerate even a minimal amount of unorthodoxy that I continue to post under a pseudonym. Those who believe that what happened to David Wright 20 years ago couldn’t happen again today are mistaken.