Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Concern For Those Who Are Struggling

I want to recommend an active BCC post: "The Hard History–is faith enough to get us through?" My participation there, as well as many wonderful comments (including some who are struggling) has prompted me to think about not only how we present some of the "hard" history, but how we can help those who find themselves in a crisis of faith. I want to shout from the roof tops that it is so critically important that we not judge those who struggle with doubts. It's imperative that we not dismiss the concerns of those who have legitimate questions about interpreting the "hard" facts of Church history.

All too often, people (including family members and friends we are prone to go to first) get defensive and don't seem to care as much about the person who is struggling as much as they seem to care about protecting their own beliefs. We need more empathy all around. Less worry and more love. I recommend Richard Bushman's pastoral approach.

I don't have a lot of experience in this realm. But I've had enough to feel prompted to share some thoughts. Sometimes when people present their concerns to those who haven't yet assimilated those facts into their own faith paradigm, problems arise in communication. That's when concern for the "one" rather than concern for ourselves should kick into gear. That concern is exactly what Elder Wirthlin was talking about in his now classic conference talk: "Concern for the One".

I tried to do this, in my own imperfect way for sure, in response to an email I received several months ago:

I appreciate you writing and feeling confident enough to ask your questions honestly and openly, and share your concerns with an "outsider". I sense your sincerity and I hope something I say can be helpful. First off, let me just say that you're not alone; you're not the first to have struggled with these questions. I hope it can give you hope to say that passing through doubts with your beliefs still in tact can actually strengthen your testimony. And in some respects, I think all of us live continue to live with doubt to some degree.

One thing I do know--"know" undeniably--is that I have had some very powerful, spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon, and I always come back to that. That's the foundation of my testimony. There are many things I'm not 100% sure of, but I always come back to the Book of Mormon and the implications which it carries with it (ie: God does live and reaches out to bless his children, Jesus is the Christ and really did live, die, and take up his life again, etc). Naturally, it is the single greatest evidence of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. Joseph had many flaws for sure, but as Elder Holland's fourth great-grandfather said when he heard of the Book of Mormon in England, he walked away from the service saying "no good man would have written that, and no bad man could have written it." It still remains the single greatest evidence for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. So even though Joseph isn't perfect, and the Church isn't perfect (because it's made up of very imperfect individuals)--the gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect and I cling to that. And I find that gospel taught powerfully in the Book of Mormon, and I recognize God's fingerprints all throughout that book. That's why I believe.

It's easy to doubt. It's a little harder to have faith, but that is the path that I have walked, even as I've had to adjust my framework of the Restoration as I've learned more. I once wrote on my blog: "I stubbornly desire to remain open minded yet filled with faith at the same time. I appreciate what President Hugh B. Brown said about doubt: 'Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self' ("An Abundant Life")."

I don't think it would be as helpful to focus your concern on whether "the Church is true", because there are some things that does mean and some things it does not mean, and it's easy to miss the boat and confuse the issues. That's why I'd say start by focusing on the Book of Mormon; focus on goodness--focus on true joy. Start with what you DO know and go from there. I don't think it's particularly helpful to have too many concerns/doubts floating around in your head all at once. But keep in mind that there will always be other, more positive perspectives that you can accommodate into your testimony than that which is offered only by the critics of the Church. They have an agenda, and it's not always as fair as they want you to believe.

Last thing, if you truly want to know truth, you also need to make sure you're sincerely trying to keep the commandments, otherwise you won't always be able to distinguish light from darkness, and sometimes guilt can sway your perspective. Like Jesus said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17).

My heart goes out to you. You're in for quite an adventure. It might be a struggle, but you have every right to know for yourself if all this good news is really true, or if, as you said, it's like Santa Claus. I'll share with you my conviction--this isn't just a fairy tale or pie in the sky. It's really the greatest, most important knowledge to know that God lives and that Jesus is our Savior. This life has purpose. We didn't come hear just to live and die and have that be the end. I have an atheist co-worker, and while she is a fantastic person, she sure is missing out on at least living with more hope (see Ether 12:4). Because even if it weren't true, it can sure bring a lot of happiness and goodness to how we live our life.

You talked about fear. Faith really is letting go of your fear and turning yourself completely over to Christ. Only then do you truly find rest for your soul. You also talked about "knowing" versus just being "pretty sure". Here's how I've come to know, versus merely have faith, on some of these issues. Read Alma 32, at least from verse 26 on, where Alma compares "the word" to a seed. The power comes from actually reading in the Book of Mormon, but here is my paraphrase:

He says that when you plant a seed, do you "know" if it is a good seed? No, but you have faith. But as the seed begins to grow, and if you nourish it and don't cast it off because of unbelief, then it continues to grow, and then you stop needing to have faith that it was a good seed, but now you actually know it was a good seed. And if you continue to nourish it, it eventually grows into a tree which bears fruit. When you partake of the fruit, when it has enlarged your soul, enlightened your understanding, and it is delicious to you--you no longer have faith in that seed. You KNOW. And that's how I know what I know.

Alma goes on to say in Chapter 33, verse 23, his concluding remarks: "And now…I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen." So this is the "experiment" that he recommends. I guess I recommend it too. :)

("Clean Cut")

PS: Although I have never felt it personally necessary, I know some have found the following website helpful. If the advice I gave isn't quite what you're looking for, it may or may not have something you are looking for: www.staylds.com


Matt said...

Thanks for your post! You give some excellent advice, this will be a great resource for those finding themselves questioning their most fundamental beliefs.

Papa D said...

Elder Wirthlin's talk is my all-time favorite and should be understood by every member and leader in the Church, imo.

Jared said...

Clean Cut--

This is an important subject and you covered it well.

I have found, as you apparently have, that the Book of Mormon is the tool the Lord has given us to acquire faith and testimony that will get us through every challenge that can come our way.It is the "iron rod".

A testimony of the Book of Mormon will quench all the fiery darts of the adversary and the trials the Lord sees fit to put us through.

I think we sometimes forget that the most difficult challenges we face don't come from satan, but from Heavenly Father. He will have a tried people.

Could it be that the trials church members are facing today were designed from the foundation of the world?

Papa D said...

Jared, some of them, absolutely. I believe some of them, however, are totally of our own making - and that they actually make God weep as He watches us suffer from them.

Clean Cut said...

Well said, Papa D. Well said.

Bruce in Montana said...

I've always felt that if we are striving to live right ourselves...if we are praying and trying to keep the spirit with us in our reading and studying that when "hard history" issues come up, we will be led in the right direction to find the truth.

Thanks Clean Cut for the link to the Bushman interview regarding Rough Stone Rolling. I plan to listen to all of them when time allows.

Aaron said...

Hey Spence, I have been reading your blog for a while now and I like your writing style and your insight into the Gospel. I wanted to share some thoughts on this post because it really hit home for me.

I have been a member of the church for 12 years now and when Mitt Romney ran for president I began to take part in “the national discussion” about the church. I was excited that someone with such moral character as he would possibly lead our country.

As I began to take part in the national discussion I came across many of the church’s skeletons. Many of these I had never heard before, and some were events I was familiar with, but important details of which I had never learned about in the church. I felt uncomfortable being a member of the church and not knowing about these issues, it made me feel naïve and unprepared to take part in these important discussions.

As I dug deeper into the history of the church, I experienced one shock after another. I was cautious and skeptical about many of the things I read, being careful to separate baseless attacks on the church from well founded criticism supported by facts. I recently began reading Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling so that I could reference to something that was not biased against the church or written by somebody entirely anti-religious etc.

At this point I still believe in all the values taught by the church today, but my faith in Joseph Smith as a prophet has been damaged severely. My trust in the church has been damaged as well.

This brings me the point I want to make for members of the church who are not struggling with their faith. I constantly hear “Joseph was not perfect” or “no prophet was ever perfect”. I completely agree with that, but it misses the boat entirely. The struggle for me and others is not about Joseph Smith’s faults, it is about Joseph Smith’s authenticity. I never expected Joseph to be perfect or without character flaws, but I do expect him to be genuine.

I just wanted to point out this is one of the problems for those of us who struggle with our faith and try to reach out to family, friends and church leaders for help. Everyone thinks we are criticizing Joseph for being imperfect and that is way off the mark.

I also thought Elder Wirthlin’s talk was great, but not applicable to those of us in a crisis of faith because of “the hard history”. He outlines a few common causes for people who struggle with their faith in the Gospel:

1. Because they feel they do not fit in.

2. Because they feel overwhelmed, stressed etc.

3. Because they have strayed by committing sin or not keeping the commandments.

While important, none of these specifically address the issue of trying to cope with the hard facts about the history of the church and its founders.

Bushman’s approach to the situation as you referenced above is excellent, thanks for sharing that. Bushman sums up my feelings / experiences well:

“Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.”

Instead of trying to understand why we are struggling, often those we reach out to react negatively, trying to defend their own beliefs as if we are attacking them. This only makes us feel worse because most of all we are seeking insight and perspective on these troubling facts from those we trust the most. I can speak from experience on this as I recently participated in a family conversation online via a discussion forum. It was a complete disaster.


Clean Cut said...

Aaron, I can't thank you enough for sharing what you have just shared. I understand all too well what you're talking about because I've lived it too. Granted, I may not be perfect in how I've brought things up for discussion with family and friends as I was learning things for the first time, but that's still no excuse to be met with defensiveness when what you're needing is that pastoral concern, right?

But I can also empathize with them as well. Like I said, we need more empathy all around and it goes both ways. It's tough because we're all at different stages and it's a struggle (specifically even just with family and friends who question YOU rather than try to understand you and help you in a Christlike way.) There may be more need for faith on their part rather than fear of what they too are going to learn. Hence my motivation for this post!

We all struggle in some way. We're all prodigals. But hopefully we're learning how to work through some of these things together, and we don't judge others because they have legitimate questions about some of those "skeletons" in the closet. We can do this from a faithful perspective, and by doing so we'll have a stronger foundation and a deeper, stronger faith in the long run.

Now as to your main concern. Let's talk about it. You said: "The struggle for me and others is not about Joseph Smith’s faults, it is about Joseph Smith’s authenticity." What do you mean, exactly? Are you talking about whether Joseph himself was authentic or are you talking about the authenticity of depictions or portrayals of Joseph?

While my paradigm shift was real, and for a time it was even a bit of a faith struggle, I never felt that I lost all rocks of stability or that the whole floor had been pulled out from under me. I just threw out the wrong and held to that which was right all along, and tried to adjust my paradigm accordingly. I came to realize that even Church history is a lot messier than a lot of people who only want to hear "faith promoting" are ready to accept. But I'm okay with messy. That's authentic! That's real life. I like that.

I remember some of these "facts" seemed to be such a big deal to me at the time--even disturbing. Now it's really not that big a deal to me. I've come to simply accept the facts and how they fit into the whole, but always coming from a faithful perspective, and I'm okay with being puzzled too. While I surly see things differently now, I wouldn't trade my new perspective for the world.

I was able to assimilate that knowledge and I feel so much stronger and healthier for it now, that I almost forget sometimes that I haven't always felt this way. I do have a more critical eye than before, but I feel just as much joy (if not more so) in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then separately in the fascinating (and sometimes perplexing) history of the Church.

Aaron said...

Yeah your paradigm shift post was how I found your blog, good stuff.

To answer your question, my main concern is about whether Joseph himself was authentic. Authentic portrayal of Joseph by the church is important also, but not a faith shaking issue for me, more of a trust issue.

Clean Cut said...

Well good. That's a worthy discussion. I like what you said about looking for "insight and perspective on these troubling facts from those we trust the most". I think we get some insight and perspective from Joseph himself, as well as from those who knew him best.

I don't think he ever claimed to be anything other than what he genuinely was convinced of himself. I just can't see how a lier could pull off all that he did. And I don't think any of those closest to him ever doubted his authenticity. Some doubted some of the things he did or said, but I don't think they doubted his authenticity--even those who for whatever reason later felt disaffected with Joseph personally.

I believe Joseph himself was being authentic and genuine, even when he was mistaken. Even when he was wrong, at least he was sincerely wrong.

Take the Book of Abraham, for example. I don't think Joseph was lying. I think he genuinely believed that the papyrus contained what he thought it contained. But how was he to know any different when he didn't translate in the conventional sense? He knew he received a genuine revelation. I think he concerned himself more with whether the divine source of that revelation was genuine, rather than the actual physical objects.

And if you believe in the revelations (including the Book of Mormon), I think that you clearly believe that the source of the revelations was divine, and that Joseph was clearly inspired--even if some of the things he did rub you the wrong way. How else are you to explain the actual content in any credible way? Just some initial thoughts.

Of course Joseph himself said: "I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught". I don't think he was talking about grammatical errors or changes that he himself ended up making corrections to the revelations. I think he's talking about the Source of the revelations--the meaning and spirit behind them. That's genuine.

As always, the content in the Book of Mormon is the ultimate test for me.

Clean Cut said...

Just another thing to keep in perspective--Joseph Smith was just the messenger. He was not the message! And he never claimed to be anything different. Our faith shouldn't be grounded on the prophets themselves but rather on the Savior of the World. Our foundation of faith is (or at least should be) Jesus Christ--not his servants/witnesses.

Aaron said...

I agree, I think “liar” or “fraud” mischaracterizes Joseph. I would also agree that those closest to him believed he was authentic, with the exception of maybe Emma during her struggle with the polygamy issue. I would also note that I question some of their rationality. Some of these people were very strange ducks.

I have not had a chance to research the Book of Abraham issue in depth yet, but I have been studying the events around the translation of the Book of Mormon. I do believe in the message of the Book of Mormon, but its source is a matter I am still working out.

The most troubling issue for me has been the magic culture of the Smith family and their community. The use of magic seeing stones to find treasure and “see the unseen” is crazy talk to me and I cannot believe any of it was true. Because that same magic stone was used to translate the Book of Mormon it plainly raises the probability to me that the translation could have been fake also. Not necessarily an intentional fraud, as Bushman noted, any theories of fabrication “require considerable fabrication themselves.” But maybe it was just another crazy magical quest that got carried away and drew a lot of attention from those who had interest in the supernatural.

I don’t want to downplay the significance of the Book of Mormon as evidence itself because that needs to be factored in also. I am certain that the message of the Book of Mormon is true, and I also agree that Jesus Christ is the true foundation of our faith and not Joseph Smith. The problem is acknowledging him as a true prophet is a major requirement to be a member in good standing. Can I just believe in the church today and not all the weird history and weird people? Unfortunately not. In order to have a temple recommend, be a worthy priesthood holder, hold callings, etc. I have to state in an interview that I believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. In addition, I have to accept to allow my kids to be taught the mantra Joseph Smith “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived.”

So there is my dilemma, and the same dilemma of thousands of members who are discovering uncensored church history. When that happens, your faith suddenly seems like ignorance and that is a tough realization to come to grips with.

Clean Cut said...

Everyone works through these issues differently. Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" frames all the issues quite nicely, I think. So that's an absolutely appropriate book to be reading. It's extremely important to place things in context, such as the magic culture Christians at the time were using to seek out/connect to as evidence for miracles of Christianity. I think Bushman deals with placing it all in context quite nicely.

Michael Ash also has a very well done article on his own website entitled Occultism, Seer stones, Divining, and Money-Digging that I think you ought to check out. It may be an even better, more detailed resource than Bushman alone. If you'd like, you can send me an email (displayed on my profile) and we can discuss it more in detail.

All in all, don't be too rash in coming to a "final" conclusion. You'll probably want to check out FARMS and FAIR for excellent scholarship dealing with most everything you can think of. Ultimately it's still your choice to make whether or not to believe, but I think there's another, more positive way of looking at these issues. Perhaps you should write down exactly what is troubling you and deal with one thing at a time rather than all of them at once.

Perhaps the most puzzling continues to be why Joseph felt he had to conceal some of the plural marriages from Emma. Whether or not one believes that God "commanded" Joseph to begin the practice, I think you can see that Joseph himself felt like he was supposed to do it. But why keep things from Emma? Is it possible he was simply torn between doing what he felt God was requiring him to do yet also recognizing how Emma would perceive it and not wanting to break Emma's heart?

It's also very possible that while he believed in the revelation on plural marriage in principle, he messed up on some of the actual application in practice. It's still a very foggy picture to make clear, even for the best of historians who've done all the research. In fairness, we still only see "through a glass darkly".

When you finish "Rough Stone Rolling", I highly recommend Bushman's "On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Authors diary". In it he counsels someone who is struggling with the more difficult issues in Joseph Smith’s life to ponder well and ask “Is there anything admirable, heroic or miraculous [in Joseph's life]?” What of the good? Things to think about.

I personally appreciate a coherent theology (especially when compared to Calvinism, IMHO) and the soteriology that came out of the Restoration--involving the breathtaking Plan of Salvation. I invite others' input.

While you look into the Book of Mormon translation process and the Michael Ash article, I also recommend more food for thought: Blake Ostlers' Updating the Expansion Theory and Gardner on Ostler's Expansion Theory.


Clean Cut said...

Aaron, I was thinking about your comment about the possibility that the Book of Mormon could be fabricated. I'm trying to think through the implications of that view. I see several concerns right off the bat that would need to be seriously addressed.

Let's say that if you were to take that view, would you then be conceding that Joseph Smith was an absolute genius? How else could he have pulled it all off? Not just parts of it, but a complete book of scripture that continues to shape religious history, with inspiring pages that I have spent a huge chunk of my life searching, studying, cross-referencing, and which impacts my daily discipleship?

Not only that, but he would have either been mad or had a lot of guts to then boldly claim that his little volume of work 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.” Guts indeed.

I personally would need a better explanation than simply that Joseph thought it would be fun to get involved with magic, produce a hoax, and then live the unrelenting and persecuted life he lived defending a lie, eventually give his life for it. That just doesn't work for me. John Taylor--a witness to the martyrdom of Joseph and his brother Hyrum, and who himself was shot--later wrote that Joseph "sealed his mission and his works with his own blood".

As Jeffrey R. Holland writes:
“Consider the withering examination the Book of Mormon and its admittedly extraordinary claims have withstood. Has anyone presently reading these words ever tried to write anything of spiritual, redeeming, genuinely inspiring substance? With university degrees and libraries and computers and research assistants and decades of time, have you ever tried to write anything that anyone could read without tedium or apathy? And if one could produce even a few such inspiring pages, would that slim volume be anything anyone would want to read more than once, to say nothing of scores of times—marking it and pondering it, cross-referencing and quoting it, taking thousands of public sermons and a heart full of personal solace from it? Would it be good enough for people to weep over, to say it changed their lives, or saved their lives, or became something they were willing to give up fortune and future for—and then did just that?"

And then, of course, there are the faithful-to-the-death witnesses to the Book of Mormon that you'd then have to account for. How does Joseph fabricate a vision of the angel or the plates?

As Richard Lloyd Anderson writes in "Book of Mormon Witnesses":
“I have often thought that Joseph Smith would have been in a terrible position if he was somehow putting people on. How could he produce a revelation? How could he produce five ancient objects? How could he satisfy people that a personage with the power of God was really there? You cannot counterfeit the power of God. You cannot counterfeit ancient objects.”

Aaron said...

Hi Spence,

I think if I were to take that view, maybe religious revolutionary vs. genius would be more of an appropriate way to describe Joseph. Based on the facts I would also have to conclude that Joseph was not the only contributor to the church as we know it today.

As an example, in Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman details the recording of the revelation received in the Kirtland Temple where Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith saw “The Lord standing on the breastwork of the pulpit…” and the appearance of Moses, Elias, Elijah, etc.

This account was not recorded by either Joseph or Oliver. The only account ever written of this event was by Warren Cowdery, who was Oliver’s brother and was serving as Joseph’s clerk at the time he recorded it. (see pgs. 319-321) This makes one wonder how much of church history and doctrine we believe in today was from Joseph himself and how much of it was from others? “When the Lord's servants speak or write under the influence of the Holy Ghost, their words become scripture (see D&C 68:4)” Do Warren Cowdery’s writings truly meet that qualification?

My point is the theory of Joseph being a genius capable of producing the Book of Mormon is only part of it. There were others involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon and in the founding of the church.

But again, on the Book of Mormon you bring up a good point, and like I said in my previous comment I agree, Bushman says that any theories of the Book of Mormon as a fabrication “require considerable fabrication themselves.” There is no doubt the book as a teaching tool for the principals of faith in Jesus Christ, is considerable and much clearer than the Bible. I think that is one of the things that have attracted so many to the church. I too have spent much of my life studying the book, and it along with the community of the church, have helped me become a much better person than I thought I was ever capable.

Joseph definitely was bold in declaring the Book of Mormon as the most correct on earth. He made that statement in 1841, a time Bushman describes as the happiest of Joseph’s life. He had founded Nauvoo, and as he described, it was a time of “steady and rapid increase of the church in this State, the United States, and in Europe” and “peace and prosperity attend us; and we have favor in the sight of God and virtuous men.” (pg 403) Perhaps some of his self confidence factored into his willingness to make such a statement.

The words of Elder Holland and Richard Lloyd Anderson are powerful no doubt. I certainly cannot deny the fruits of the Book of Mormon, I can see them in my life and in the lives of friends and family every day. I just wish I could see the roots more clearly.

Clean Cut said...

I'm fully aware that there are members of the Church who do not believe that the Book of Mormon is authentic. They generally classify themselves as "New Order Mormons". Although, that view really isn't that new.

Sterling McMurrin, for one, did not believe the Book of Mormon was authentic. Yet he made some wonderful contributions to the Church. I recently just read the interview Blake Ostler conducted with him that was published in Dialogue. While McMurrin did not believe the Book of Mormon to be authentic, nor the Church's position on it, he yet maintained that it was a very remarkable book, worthwhile, and even had respect for it as sacred literature--or literature made sacred.

I have a harder time understanding that view. Not that I can't understand it. But it leaves a lot of questions in need of answers. I tend to believe that no matter how it happened, God still had a hand in the Book of Mormon. In that respect, I line up with his interviewee. In "Updating the Expansion Theory" of the Book of Mormon, Blake Ostler concluded by stating the following:

"I believe that the Book of Mormon is precisely what it claims to be: a book translated by the gift and power of God that tells us about the record of an ancient people. However, translation by the gift and power of God isn’t translation based upon an isomorphic rendering of an underlying text into English based on a knowledge of the ancient textual language; rather, it is a revelation from God which involves necessarily the limitations of vocabulary, conceptuality and horizons of God’s servant chosen to render it into English for us."

I've also listened to Richard Bushman, after being asked about if there could be a "middle way" in approaching the Book of Mormon, he seemed to hesitate about that but simply said: "When you give up the Book of Mormon you give up a lot". I believe that is true. While surly it's not the end of the world, you definitely give up a lot if you give up on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

And while surly Bushman's testimony is different than a lot of members of the Church (like anyone informed of the history--it's naturally more complex), he has said that he still "believes in angels and gold plates". That's an important statement, in my opinion. It means he still believes it is authentic. In fact it was that statement that inspired me to share my short testimony: Angels, Gold Plates, and Miracles.

However, like I mentioned earlier, I think it may come down to a choice. Faith is a choice, as much as it is a gift. I'm not even sure I understand the implications of that statement. But that's what I feel to say: faith is a choice, as much as it is a gift.

I believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I believe for so many reasons, including the goodness, faith, and power that the Book of Mormon brings into my life. In short, like Bushman, "I am a believer and I can't help myself. I couldn't possibly give it up; it is too delicious."

Clean Cut said...

I just remembered a great statement by Elder Holland that he made during the interviews for the PBS series "The Mormons" concerning the authenticity of the origins of the Book of Mormon. The full interview can be found here:

"The origins of the Book of Mormon have been criticized. There have been counterclaims to its origins. ... What are the counterclaims that you've taken seriously?"

... The Book of Mormon is ... a matter of faith, but it's there. It's readable. It sits on the table, and it won't go away. ... For me it is ... another testament of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the single most [important] piece of evidence, the declaration that Joseph Smith was a prophet. ...

I've thought about it a lot, read it often. ... I wrote a book about the Book of Mormon, partly just because I wanted my own conviction, my testimony, to be in print, even if only for my children's sake. I dismiss out of hand the early criticism that somehow this was a book that Joseph Smith wrote. The only thing more miraculous than an angel providing him with those plates and him translating them by divine inspiration would be that he sat down and wrote it with a ballpoint pen and a spiral notebook. There is no way, in my mind, with my understanding of his circumstances, his education, ... [he] could have written that book. My fourth great-grandfather -- this goes back to my mother's pioneer side of the family -- said when he heard of the Book of Mormon in England, he walked away from the service saying no good man would have written that, and no bad man could have written it. And for me, that's still the position.

So I disregard the idea that Joseph Smith could have written it. I certainly disregard that somebody more articulate or more experienced in ecclesiastical matters could have written it, like [Smith's close friend and adviser] Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon doesn't even come to the church until the Book of Mormon is out and in circulation for eight or nine months. ...

Now, in terms of more modern theories, there are those who say it's more mythical literature and spiritual, and not literal. That doesn't work for me. I don't understand that, and I can't go very far with that, because Joseph Smith said there were plates, and he said there was an angel. And if there weren't plates and there wasn't an angel, I have a bigger problem than whether the Book of Mormon is rich literature. ... I have to go with what the prophet said about the book, about its origins, about the literalness of the plates, the literalness of the vision -- and then the product speaks for itself.

I don't think we're through examining the depth, the richness, the profundity, the complexity, all of the literary and historical and religious issues that go into that book. I think we're still young at doing that. But the origins for me are the origins that the prophet Joseph said: a set of plates, given by an angel, translated by the gift and power of God. ...

Clean Cut said...

The follow up question was:
"[You say] there are stark choices in beliefs about the origins of the book. Explain why there's no middle way."

Elder Holland's Answer:
... If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That's what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody's liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. ...

I think you'd be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we're not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. ... We would say: "This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I'm going forward. If I can help you work toward that I'd be glad to, but I don't love you less; I don't distance you more; I don't say you're unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can't make that step or move to the beat of that drum." ... We really don't want to sound smug. We don't want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.

... There are some things we can't give away. There are some foundational stones. If you don't have those, you don't have anything. So the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, those are pretty basic things. ...