Okay, so I looked through my posts and realized that I’ve been pretty hard on Mormonism in almost every post. I guess that since I’m currently questioning Mormonism in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy, my blog is going to reflect that questioning. But I grew up a Mormon and I still (mostly) attend the LDS church – so I can’t think it’s all bad! In fact, there are lots of remarkable things about Mormonism. So here’s a post about one remarkable thing about Mormonism.
I think the Book of Mormon is absolutely remarkable. Even though I don’t know if it’s necessarily true at face value (I’m not sure there was an actual person named Nephi, Mormon, or Moroni who wrote on plates, etc.) I do think that it’s a very strong argument for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Mormons sometimes try to portray Joseph Smith as kind of an uneducated hick who couldn’t possibly have come up with the Book of Mormon, and I’m not sure that’s entirely fair to Joseph – I actually think he was a genius, educated or not. But I haven’t read any plausible theory of how the Book of Mormon was created other than the story Joseph claimed to be true. Even if he was some kind of genius, it would have taken a ridiculously clever person to have dictated the whole Book of Mormon, even with slight errors in grammar or structure, from beginning to end with his face buried in a hat. I don’t think Mormon detractors fully appreciate the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Book of Mormon, nor do they fully appreciate the length, depth, complexity, and tightly woven narrative through the book. It’s a 1000-year history of a civilization from beginning to end, starting with humble beginnings and telling the stories of kings, missionaries, prophets, wars, battles, and some pretty deep theology at times. It has been my experience that most of the people who criticize the Book of Mormon have not read through it nor have they investigated deeply into its creation. Most of the alternate theories of its creation seem to fall short of really explaining the entire story. I don’t think this makes it automatically true, but I do think it’s not so easily dismissed, as Daniel C. Peterson’s essay also argues.
Now does that mean I totally buy that it came from golden plates and was inspired by God? Not necessarily. I reject the LDS line of thinking that if the Book of Mormon is true, that means Joseph Smith was a prophet and that means the LDS church is true. After all, there are probably a dozen Mormon denominations that are active out there that I could join, who all believe in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to some extent. I don’t think that believing Joseph Smith was a prophet necessarily means accepting that Brigham Young was his successor. Additionally, my biggest gripe with the Book of Mormon is that I think it doesn’t really add much to what I think Christ’s essence is. Rather than deepen my spiritual understanding of Christ, I feel like it just says more things about Christ (kind of the difference between knowing things about Christ and knowing Christ). And I think it does distract Mormons away from the Gospels and Paul which I think are far better at communicating Christ’s essence as I understand it – for instance, when I first took a secular, university-level New Testament course I found scriptures in the New Testament that I’d never seen before in my life! I don’t think my Mormon upbringing, which included Primary, Sunday Schools since I was young, early morning seminary, Institute, and a year at BYU-I helped me actually understand the New Testament except inasmuch as it confirmed the Mormon world-view (proof-texting this or that scripture that seemingly confirms some Mormon doctrine). But those feelings are very, very subjective, and I realize that.
However, I do think that the Book of Mormon is a remarkable achievement – wherever it came from. My wavering testimony of Mormonism does not discount the fact that I think the Book of Mormon should be studied generally more than it is. If it is not divinely inspired, then psychologists have a long way to go in understanding the mechanisms whereby a farm boy like Joseph Smith could produce such a text out of his imagination (if that’s how it happened). If literary scholars, linguists, theologians, and psychologists regularly study Tolkien, then they should study Smith, too, for the same reasons (though, arguably, that’s what the field of Mormon Studies is for – but I think it deserves to go beyond a small core of Mormon scholars and should become much broader, which is why I appreciate movements in that direction such as this blog).