Saturday, May 26, 2007

questioning the book of mormon prophets (by taking them seriously)

i intend this to be the first of several posts where i am going to argue that mormons have largely failed to take their historical claims of the book of mormon seriously. they want to hold that the characters in the book of mormon are historical human beings, yet in reading them, mormons have a tendency to strip away their humanity making them into something more (or less) than human. in this post i hope to merely lay the groundwork for a different understanding of the book of mormon actors that restores their humanity and brings a vibrance and reality to the text that is usually left buried. in later posts, i will use this methodology to examine particular book of mormon prophets in an effort to see them as historical persons.

for most mormons, the book of mormon is an ancient historical text written by actual ancient historical person. the accounts within the book are narratives of actual historical events which really occurred. lehi, nephi, alma, mormon, and moroni were just as real as christopher columbus, george washington, joseph smith, brigham young, and tupac shakur. in fact, for many mormons, the narratives in the book of mormon are more historical than any historical biography or textbook. for many mormons, accepting the book of mormon as an authentic history is essential to participating in the faith. church-associated (sponsored?) organizations, such as f.a.r.m.s. spend a good deal of time and effort defending the historical claims of the book of mormon.

yet, despite all of the affirmations that the persons in the book of mormon are historical human beings, there exists at the same time a denial of a key aspect that enables these characters to be historical humans… their humanity.

humans aren’t perfect. humans are fallible. humans have opinions which they mistake as facts. humans have speculations which they mistake for revelation. humans have biases. humans are unaware of the social constructions moving them. humans have self-interests. humans have pride. humans can be awfully stupid at times.

in mormonism, we are usually happy to ascribe humanity to our latter-day leaders. we allow them to make mistakes. we allow them to be human. we let brigham young be wrong about his adam-god doctrine. those in the know are willing to let his racism slide. we laugh at j. golden kimball’s adventures in swearing. joseph fielding smith is able to get away with his fanatical anti-intellectualism. we’re cool with his 13,000 year old earth and his declaration that scientists (including his fellow apostle james e. talmage) were fools deceived by satan. we can chuckle about his teaching that man would never go to the moon. bruce r. mcconkie? his name associated with a teaching is grounds for suspicion in mormonism. for the most part, we are willing to accept that any of the latter-day prophets and apostles can be mistaken (besides joseph smith and the current president – a topic for a whole other post) – even from the pulpit.

we do this because we accept they are human. we realize they can be wrong. and we’re fine with that. they can be wrong in general conference. they can be wrong in the letters they write. they can be wrong in their writings. in some ways it makes them admirable. we can look up to and revere them because they are humans, just like us. they are trying to do god’s will the best they can, despite their humanity.

yet why do we strip the authors of the book of mormon of their humanity? why do we not allow them to be wrong in what they say, do, or write? if the book of mormon is true, if it is a true history of historical persons, shouldn’t it reflect their beautiful humanity in its text – complete with their biases, mistaken revelations, self-interests, pride, and failings – many, if not mostly, unbeknownst to them? why do we force them into roles of perfection and infallibility and not accept them as one of us – human beings striving to do god’s will despite our humanity.

in later posts, i hope to be able to explore the book of mormon prophets with a healthy measure of suspicion, to look at them as humans and to ask what else may have played a role in their prophetic lives.

after all, they taught that the righteous would prosper in the land - and we have the text of those who were destroyed and wiped from it.


  1. This is quite the undertaking, and I am excited to see what comes from it... I wish that there were more of this mindset, that do not live by absolutist rule.

    Elitists unite

  2. I'm not sure where you taking this. I can see one road that could prove quite interesting / stimulating to the mind ... and another where - not so much.

    The humanity and fallability is definatly an aspect that gets over looked - mostly (99%). However we must remember that Moroni had +/- 1000 years worth of records to compile. He saw a vision of our day so he knew what we would be facing / dealing with. So he took the best of the best of 1000 years of prophecy and compiled it. I don't care how inclined to personal rants a raves any of the BoM prphets were, if you have 1000 years worth of records to pick and choose from - your only going to get the relevent - pertinant talks. The church as reestablished by Joseph Smith is closing in on only 200 years of history and I'm more than certain that you could take only the teachings of modern day and EASILY assemble a 500 page book of nothing but good, quality, relevent talks.

    However, if it's more a "what if..." type of historical look back - that could be seriously interesting.



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