Sunday, April 24, 2016

Reflections: The Book of Mormon, Part 1

It is no mistake that the vast majority of reviews on Amazon of The Book of Mormon are either 5 stars or 1 star.  The very nature of the book, claiming as it does to be holy writ, the word of God, makes it divisive and partisan.  Therefore, you see reviews related to the book as follows:

"A trite, misogynistic, racist collection of demonstrably false stories written by a convicted con artist and peddled as Gospel truth by a masonic country club of ancient, white men who gleefully scam their ovine followers out of time, money, and critical thinking skills..."(Amazon Customer)

"One of the most helpful books you can ever read! I have read it many times and yes I had my doubts but anyone who prays to God while reading this book will know the truth. Many people try to prove this book wrong and failed. They will continue to fail because that which is truly from God cannot be destroyed." (Dustin)

The dichotomy is staggering yet not unexpected.  During Jesus Christ's time some said He "was not of God" while others said: "How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?" (John 9:16).  As a devout Latter-day Saint, I firmly believe The Book of Mormon comes from God.  I have written before that I don't believe in encore reading; however, a book like The Book of Mormon or the Holy Bible are designed for encore reading.  Indeed, their purpose and significance cannot be truly appreciated unless they're read again, again, and again.  Having recently completed The Book of Mormon for the thirteenth time, I felt it was appropriate to provide a reflection on the book, from a reader and a believer's perspective.  

The Book of Mormon deals with the great themes of humanity.  In its commentary and perspective it is extremely binary.  Nations are wicked or righteous.  Choices are good or evil.  The complexities of the nations aren't exactly on display in this record.  Yet, the endless cycle is.  As Joseph Campbell said: "As I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still . . . put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends, or by madmen to nonsense and disaster" (Emphasis added).  Those "motifs" are clearly and simply detailed in The Book of Mormon.  This simplicity compels some to criticize the book; however, for those who believe the record's truthfulness it is one of its most attractive features.  

At its core, The Book of Mormon is a work of doctrine, not history; therefore, those details which normally would be included in such a record, compels, once again, its critics to look for something The Book of Mormon never attempts to be.  The record's authors are far more worried about the faith in its readers than their intellectual understanding of ancient American civilization.  It provides details that supporters and detractors obsess over but in the end don't matter to its essential message.  The doctrines emphasized in The Book of Mormon are ennobling and inspiring, but the historical message and its conclusion are not particularly encouraging.

The sanguinary conclusion of The Book of Mormon describes a people "without civilization," which they lost in "only a few years" (Moroni 9:11-12).  It's a tragic lesson for any people, any nation, any family.  Beyond the religious and doctrinal implications of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon is a message about humanity which can only be ignored with devastating consequences.  People may laugh at and scorn the book, but they miss something crucial when they do.  They miss some of the greatest themes and repeated lessons of history.

Those involved in the bringing forth of The Book of Mormon, such as Joseph Smith, in some cases gave everything, including their lives.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland asked why they would do such a thing for a book which was not only false but a fraud.  He said: "They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."  Furthermore, he made the following comment regarding the various explanations for the book's existence: 

"For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator."

And so I line up on one side of the debate, the side of faith and acceptance of the book as the genuine word of God.  The Book of Mormon will remain a divisive book, perhaps one of the most divisive because it claims so much more than almost any other book.  Stephen L. Carter once wrote that religion and education "share a characteristic that so many human activities lack: they matter."  The Book of Mormon, unlike many or even most books, matters.  This I believe and know to be true.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Apocrypha
Reflections: Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
Reflections: People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

1 comment:

  1. Amen, Adam. Happy am I to stand at your shoulder and defend this book amidst an endless onslaught of fiery darts. I hope to offer such a testimony on my 13th read. Thanks for standing for truth. We need much more of that.