Mormon Discussion

POST: The Dominant Narrative Is Not True

Word on keyboard made in 3D

Richard Bushman recently said “The dominant narrative is not true”.  Essentially that the story Mormonism has told about itself is not holding up to scholarship and critical thinking.  One has to wonder what Bro. Bushman meant.  Today I wanted to venture to guess both exploring what I think are the greatest contradictions in Mormonism’s narrative and what impact the data has on our theology and history when seriously considered.  Lastly I wish to discuss what Mormonism could do to shift on each to have a more accurate and reasonable narrative.  I would add that one can always find plausibilities and flawed data to support their beliefs.   We all do it.  It is called confirmation bias.  Taking an honest look at our beliefs with an openness to adjust where needed is not an easy thing to do.  My hope is that if you read this, you might be willing to be open to the best data and to show deference to probabilities over plausibilities and impossibilities.

 

  1. Flood

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism holds that a Global Flood literally occurred.  That the earth roughly 5,000 years ago was covered with water.  We teach that there was a real man named Noah and that the biblical story surrounding him is historically accurate.  That he lived to 950 years old and during his life he built a ship large enough to house two of each animal (and 7 of the clean animals).  That only his family was saved aboard the ark and that God destroyed the rest of mankind by water.  We hold that the Earth being covered was a baptism of sorts.  We even have Jesus himself when visiting the Nephites in 3rd Nephi testifying of the flood.

Consequences of the Data:

The Flood is more than a miracle.  In our limited understanding we sometimes judge the flood as simply a miracle that requires God’s super power to intervene and cause a lot of water to cover the earth.  The flood is way more complicated than that.  There are 100’s of issues with a global flood and Noah’s story generally and many of them are quite serious.  I list here only a few but more can be read in the resources.

  • people living to as old as 950 years old before modern medicine
  • how animals that needed specific habitats and specific diets and specific climates made their way to the ark (kangaroos, penguins, camels, Gila monsters, yaks, and quetzals).  When this issue is understood in depth it becomes quite a serious barrier to the realty of the story. (special diets, fresh foods, climates that animals will die outside of)
  • feeding and cleaning up the mess the animals would make.
  • The space such animals would take up even if these animals were in their adolescence is beyond the capacity of the ark.
  • time needed to feed a minimum of 16,000 animals species (32,000 animals plus thousands more in 5 more clean animals of some species)
  • the Flood itself.  The earth simply could not maintain is needed aspects with that much water being on the planet.
  • The number of people on the earth today can not be statistically explained starting with 8 people 5000 years ago.
  • Lack of geologic evidence of a flood
  • Plant survival – Many plants submerged below water for any time period and especially such an extended period would kill most of the worlds plant-life.  were 2 of each plant taken too?  cacti, mangroves, coconuts, and others?
  • How did these animal and plant species survive post flood in a water  drenched  and now desolate landscape.  What did the carnivores eat?  what did the herbivores eat?

The Needed Shift:

Apologists realize the problem and so they have suggested the flood was more local.  A local Flood also has deep issues including Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, and even Jesus having imposed the flood as Global.  The Ship landed on a mountain we are told, imposing a global flood (or at least a flood of some mass scale which presents the same issues).   Moses saw in our restoration scripture in the Book of Moses, in chapter 1, all the events of the earth and since Moses is the author of the 5 books of Moses he should be trusted as a witness.  A local flood would not have killed all the people of the earth and would not have killed all the animals and hence no need to get them all aboard the boat.  The promise by God to never flood the earth again…. is pointless and a lie if a local flood is what happened.

Once one see that a local flood can not give us an adequate interpretation and that a global flood is not just impossible but absurd, then we must shift.  First we must come to grips that the old testament should not be assumed to be a literal telling of events.  That stories like Noah and the flood are likely fictional myth used as a spiritual narrative to help draw people to the divine.  That we need to create room for people to not believe these stories literally but rather to still seek value in them as communal scripture.  Once one finds such room within the Noah account then one will begin to see the scriptures in whole new way.  One will need to wrestle with where to draw the line and to decide on each and every story what is to be held as literal and what is to be held as figurative.  This wrestle has large implications for the Book of Mormon which itself imposes a global flood.  If Jesus truly testified of a Global Flood and such is simply absurd, what do we take from that?  If Jesus didn’t say that and the Book of Mormon claims he did, what does that mean?  We certainly will not be comfortable going down this road, as who wants to lay their comfortable beliefs on the altar exposing themselves to inconvenient truth….. but the data will and is forcing us to re-evaluate what is scripture and what meanings lay beyond the literal view.

Resources:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html

http://ldsmag.com/article-1-14059/

http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_science/Global_or_local_Flood

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/01/the-flood-and-the-tower-of-babel?lang=eng

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2015/04/the-flood-and-its-barriers-to-faith/

 

 

  1. Tower of Babel

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Like the Flood, Mormonism holds that the “Tower of Babel” is a literal structure where languages literally went from one to many.  this event is dated at about 2500 BC.   The Book of Mormon itself hinges on the tower, as Jared and his brother and the Jaredites originate with this tower.  With the Book of Mormon and Old Testament testifying of this story, they stand as two separate sources and hence we have two witnesses enforcing a literal approach to the story.

Consequences of the Data:

Sociologists and science has effectively shown how languages develop and what time and pattern this evolution develops within.  We also have records of language that shows various languages  can be dated to about 10,000 to 60,000 BC and certainly a several languages by 4000 BC.  Now that we live in a a day when the we no longer believe in a three tier universe (heaven above the clouds, earth, and hell beneath the earth) building a tower to heaven is absurd and God being mad about a tower to the clouds when he isn’t just above them is irrational.

The Needed Shift:

The idea of languages being singular until this tower event and splitting from there is absurd and demonstrably false.  Hence we must shift.

Again the need is to allow these stories to be non-literal while still holding meaning.  This impact not only the the old Testament but again our very own Book of Mormon.  Again this will likely make us uncomfortable.  We have held literal ground on these for all too long and to relinquish that ground will be tense and may have us feel unstable for a while.  Yet again, the data, science, and scholarship are imposing on us the necessity of such a shift and that necessity is only building.

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel

http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/tower-babel-001583

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705362025/Michael-Ash-Still-confounded-at-the-Tower-of-Babel.html?pg=all

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700068940/Michael-R-Ash-Is-the-Tower-of-Babel-historical-or-mythological.html?pg=all

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/01/the-flood-and-the-tower-of-babel?lang=eng

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2016/09/towerofbabel/

 

 

  1. Book of Abraham

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism holds that there was a real prophet named Abraham and that the events taught about him in both old Testament and the Book of Abraham report on literal facts.  That this Abraham is the truly the Father of Israel.  Joseph Smith had claimed to have translated Egyptian papyri which was “the writings of Abraham” written “by his own hand”.  When these papyri re-surfaced in the 1960’s and included some of the facsimiles that Joseph worked from, it became extremely difficult to reconcile these documents as the writings of Abraham, written by his own hand.   The Church has acknowledged as much in its recent essay “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” .  In the essay the Church has no solid answer for how the Book of Abraham was translated and offers several plausible reconciliations.

Consequences of the Data:

We are left to have faith that it is indeed inspired but with every explanation given by Joseph, The Church, and apologists not adding up.  We can discuss plausibilities that the Church and apologists offer and you are free to read those in the resources below.   Here I prefer to deal with probabilities we gather from the data.  The data tells us that the papyri was not written by Abraham and absolutely not by his hand.  It is a standard Egyptian funerary text.  It is written long after Abraham and has no connection to him.  Also the facsimiles translated by Joseph appear with strong certitude to have been translated incorrectly as the meanings of these figures is now translated  and understood by egypytologists.   The Church and apologists prefer not to hang their hat on any one explanation because each has severe flaws and problems.  If you wish to know more please see the resources as a launching pad for this issue.  I do want to express that this issue is complicated and is one that must be studied in depth to even approach understanding what the claims are on all sides and to understand the apologetic answers and the critical problems with each.  More than any other issue I implore you take your time delving into and understanding this issue.

The Needed Shift:

The data suggests we re-examine what the Book of Abraham is, and how it is to be understood.  We must re-examine what it means for the Book of Abraham to be scripture.  For many, when all the data is taken in and we seek out what is most reasonable and probable, such ideas as pseudepigrapha (or fictional writings attributed to a biblical prophet to add value to their importance) becomes a reasonable approach while perhaps still offering inspiration to its readers.

Resources:

https://www.lds.org/topics/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham

http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-11-number-1-2010/egyptian-papyri-and-book-abraham-some-questions-and-answers

http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/no-weapon-shall-prosper/egyptian-papyri-and-book-abraham-faithful-egyptological-point-view

http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/no-weapon-shall-prosper/thoughts-book-abraham

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2015/01/brian-hauglid-the-book-of-abraham/

 

 

  1. Prophets seers and revelators who don’t prophesy see or revelate like prophets of old

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism holds that beginning with Joseph Smith till our present President of the Church, that these men have been called by God as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators who commune with God directly.  We have in our manuals and missionary lessons imposed that these men are just like Moses, Noah, and Abraham.  We have prophets in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon to compare to and are told these man are just like them.

Consequences of the Data:

When we read the old Testament we find prophets who spoke to God Face-to-Face, performed wondrous miracles that left the observers in awe, and worked outside the religion making everyone within uncomfortable.  These men were God’s right hand servants and there could be no doubt.  It becomes paradoxical when one grapples with just how wondrous God’s dealings with his prophets were in ages before verifiable history.  That in essence when no one could fact-check the details God did really big and supernatural things.  Fast forward to today when nothing very dramatic by way of revelation seems to occur.  As if the moment history can indeed be fact-checked, God ceases to operate in the same fashion.  No critics struck dumb, no recounting of face to face conversations with God, no marvelous miracles alongside his servants.  Prophets rarely speak and let Public Relations be their mouthpiece.  These 15 good men accomplishing perhaps more or  less that of any other 15 men chosen to lead a company or to build the kingdom or both.  Even Joseph Smith whom I would say there is an observable dramatic difference in proclaimed divine interaction with God was very different from Moses, Noah, and  Abraham.  When looking with outsider eyes at Mormonism, many see what appears to be a lack of revelation, see-ing, and prophecy in the Church today in comparison with prophets of old and yet these men as good as they are and persevering as they do, seem to be something entirely different than Moses, Noah, and Abraham.

The Needed Shift:

It seems that a shift is needed.  That rather than teaching these men’s ability to connect with the divine is vastly different than you and me, we need to reach a place where their ability is understood as nearly the same if not the same as you and me and that only their stewardship is wider and greater.   That Prophets in the old testament are likely embellished if not entirely fictional myth and it should not be expected to see prophets that match the stories of Moses, Noah, and Abraham.  That rather than God having been a supernatural miracle worker in days past and taking a break in our day and age, we instead see that God has always been the same but that it is human nature to embellish, to exaggerate, and to create stories that fill in the gaps between what we can explain and what we can’t.  That in essence, if there is a God we must come to grips that he is extremely hands off and Prophets have no more supernatural ability as they invoke the divine than we do.

Resources:

http://www.mormonthink.com/QUOTES/infallibility.htm

http://www.jefflindsay.com/fallible.shtml

http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_doctrine/Prophets_are_not_infallible

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2016/03/post-a-nuanced-view-of-prophets/

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2016/06/premium-nuanced-lesson-on-prophets/

 

 

  1. Holy ghost as an invalid way to discern truth

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism holds that the Holy Ghost is an effective way to know truth including an effective way to receive a knowledge that the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints is the Lord’s only True and Living Church.  The Church also maintains that Latter-day Saints who are worthy have an additional influence from the Holy Ghost called the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  That Mormons in effect can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost more often and/or in more direct ways.

Consequences of the Data:

Such a view is easy to hold when you are isolated from folks of different faiths.  The trouble becomes visible when you interact with people of different faiths.   You soon realize several things

  • People of different faiths have the same magnitude of spiritual experiences the Latter-day Saint does.  That in essence the Holy Ghost seems to be affecting people within various faiths and belief systems to the same degree.  That if we took a 100 devout Mormons, 100 devout Baptists, 100 devout Muslims, and 100 devout Jehovah Witnesses and asked them to describe the experience and its intensity we would find no difference between the Latter-day Saints and those of another faith.  Hence the Gift of the holy Ghost does not seem to provide a measurable difference.
  • Another facet of this is in discerning truth.  People all over the world from various faiths report knowing from God their faith is the true faith.  People testify just as assuredly that that their “truth” is true even truths that contradict those of Mormonism.  When you experience life with those who believe differently then you, you soon realize using spiritual feelings and impressions to know a historical fact or the reality of a religious truth claim seems to be problematic.
  • Even very dangerous and harmful groups  and leaders like Heavens Gate, Scientology, Jim Jones, and David Koresh all had followers convinced by spiritual experiences that their Church or belief system was the one true belief system.

The Needed Shift:

As one encounters these contradictions one may feel imposed to make the following shifts.  First would be to grant that all of God’s children have the same access to the Holy Ghost as Latter-day Saints do.  That perhaps it is a gift to us because we have been given the explicit notification from God through the Church that we have it, whereas some peoples live their entire life unaware it is with them.  Second is to recognize that we need to perhaps consider moving away from the Holy Ghost as a witness of truth.  This could be reconciled by suggesting that the Holy Ghost may be a more appropriate witness of beauty and goodness and that truth is better sought with secular learning.  There is room in how we interpret and there is scriptural precedence for secular learning and spiritual seeking both to play a part as we learn “by study and also by faith”.

Resources:

youtube.com/watch?v=lwkh_aliF3E

http://www.gospelway.com/bible/emotions.php

pewforum.org/2015/11/03/chapter-2-religious-practices-and-experiences/

 

 

  1. Prophets contradicting each other pointing to an inability to ascertain the will of God

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism attempts to hold ground that Prophets can be trusted to ascertain the mind and will of God.  That these men are the mouthpieces of god and we can place trust that what they say is truly what God would have them say.  There is this unstable arena of paradox between prophets being fallible while also being trust-able.   Church Doctrine has been taught as that which is true and from God.

Consequences of the Data:

When one dives into our history it becomes obvious very quickly that these men are fallible beyond just the small stuff.  These men we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators have taught false doctrine and stated it came from God, have disavowed the teachings of previous prophets when those past prophets imposed those teachings as doctrine, and have taught things officially that have hurt, marginalized, and even have likely as one of many factors contributed to depression and hopelessness of others that have led to them taking their lives.  One has to wonder what greater connection prophets have to God and Christ than the rest of us.  Church Doctrine has been taught as that which is true and from God and yet the realty of our history imposes that Doctrine simply can not be defined that way and be valid and true.

The Needed Shift:

There are many shifts which are needed.  Some of these include the following.  That they can error just like you and me.  That God permits them to teach false Doctrine and that God allows them to harbor racist, bigoted, and harmful views just like you and me.  God allows them to be defensive of old outdated and false cultural perspectives.  That while he may intervene from time to time (D&C 1), he often withholds himself from intervening and allows these men to do their best (and sometimes less than best) which often has damaging results mixed in with deeply spiritual and inspiring moments.  Some leaders have indicated that revelation is less face to face with Jesus (if at all) and more often revelation is ascribed simply when the top 15 men are all on the same page or unanimous.  but we must also come to grips that even all 15 men in agreement have been deeply wrong at times on serious matters that hurt and harmed others.

Resources:

http://www.mormonstories.org/other/Lowry_Nelson_1st_Presidency_Exchange.pdf

https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

http://www.mormonthink.com/QUOTES/adamgod.htm

http://scottwoodward.org/adam-god_brucermcconkie.html

 

  1. 3rd Isiah in the book of mormon

Ground Mormonism Holds:

The Book of Mormon contains much of the prophet Isaiah.  Nephi speaks highly of this Old Testament author and uses a multitude of chapters from Isaiah.  Within the Book Of Mormon are Isaiah chapter 2-14 and 48-52.  The Church holds the Book of Mormon to be an ancient text that begins with a historical figure named Lehi who is called as a prophet and is commanded to leave Jerusalem sometime before the year 587 BC.  They took with them a set of brass plates which contained these Isaiah chapters.

Consequences of the Data:

The problem we encounter here is called the Deutero-Isaiah.  Here is how bible Scholar Peter Enns describes it.

For most of the history of Judaism and Christianity, it was assumed that Isaiah wrote all sixty-six chapter of the book named after him. Beginning in the eighteenth century, biblical scholars began to argue, however, that the book shows clear signs of having been written over a longer period of time. Scholars are now nearly in universal agreement that there were three separate authors for the book, known as First, Second, and Third Isaiah. The First Isaiah wrote most of chapters 1-39 and is the prophet for whom the entire work is named. His influence was so great that he had disciples who carried on his prophetic ministry after his death. This led to what some scholars call an Isaiah “school” that eventually produced Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55, in the sixth century BC, and Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66, in the fifth century or later.

There are several reasons why scholars arrived at this conclusion, namely the change of subject matter beginning in chapter 40. This is where the return from Babylonian captivity becomes the dominant subject matter. The Persian king Cyrus—the same one who ordered the release of Israel in 539—is actually named in Isaiah 44:28. Other historical events of the time are mentioned or alluded to as well. The argument for multiple authorship of Isaiah has never rested on whether or not God can speak of future events so specifically. The point is that prophetic books of the Old Testament were written for the benefit of a present audience. References to events of the sixth century would have no meaning to an eighth-century audience.

This data is the the more widely held position and most scholars agree the data imposes one or two later authors of the Book of Isaiah after the original author.  The minority of people arguing against Detero-Isaiah are apologists and scholars who are compelled to defend theologies that require a single Isaiah.  These include faiths that hold the bible to be the inerrant word of God (because a 2nd and 3rd author deceiving people into believing they are Isaiah would damage the bible as infallible), and Mormons whose scripture “The Book of Mormon” historicity would be shown to be in question if there was a 2nd and third Isaiah.  Why you ask.  Because  these later Isaiah’s would be authoring their text likely between 550 BC and 539 BC…. Which is long after Lehi and his family have left with the brass plates to the promise land.

The Needed Shift:

Again the data is quite convincing to a majority of scholars and even more convincing when you consider what those who are opposed have to lose.  While this isn’t definitive, multiple Isaiah authors does appear to be the more probable conclusion.  With this likelihood, one can only reconcile this by allowing The Book of Mormon to be a non historical text.  To allow its authors Nephi, Alma, Moroni, and all the others to be fictional characters.  Can the book still be scripture? certainly……  but this asks us to see its inspiration as less rigid and more fluid.  This requires that we let it live and breathe and for us to not be bound to any specific interpretation in time.  It also calls for us to not use it to hold one’s theology or members hostage bound to its precepts.

Resources:

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/o/old-testament-of-the-bible/summary-and-analysis/deuteroisaiah

rationalfaiths.com/truthfulness-deutero-isaiah-response-kent-jackson/

rationalfaiths.com/truthfulness-deutero-isaiah-response-kent-jackson-part-2/

2 Nephi and the Deutero-Isaiah Problem in the Book of Mormon #BOM2016

http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/deutero-isaiah-in-the-book-of-mormon

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidbokovoy/2014/04/deutero-isaiah-in-the-book-of-mormon-a-literary-analysis-pt-1/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidbokovoy/2014/04/deutero-isaiah-in-the-book-of-mormon-a-literary-analysis-pt-2/

http://averroes2.blogspot.com/2013/08/deutero-isaiah-in-book-of-mormon.html

 

 

         8 .  Joseph Smith’s violating his own rules in section 132

Ground Mormonism Holds:

Mormonism while abandoning “mortal” polygamy beginning around 1890 still holds it came from God and was part of the “restoration of all things” spoken of by the prophet Joseph.  While polygamy at times involved very young brides, women already married, and sealings to sisters and mother/daughter to the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church maintains that Joseph was only trying to keep the Lord’s command and following God.

Consequences of the Data:

Section 132 lays out three rules that polygamy is to be practiced in.

  • That the additional wives after the first are to be virgins
  • they are not to be vowed to other men
  • that the polygamist husband is to ask his first wife for permission before adding any additional wife

We know with certainty that these rules were not followed.  We know many of the sealings were kept secret from his first wife Emma.  To the extent that secondary mock sealings took place so that Emma would be led to think such was the first go around.  We also know that Emma while his first civil marriage was the 23rd wife sealed to him.  We also know many of these women were not virgins as they were already civilly married to other men who they were sexually active with.  We also know that since some of these women were not only non-virgins  but also presently married he was breaking the law that they not be vowed to other men.

The Needed Shift:

When one considers all the trauma and negative repercussions of polygamy that still run through our culture and also grapple that Joseph didn’t keep the very rules he dictated from God, one may begin to see some room to dismiss section 132, polygamy, and all of its connected webs.  The Church if it addresses such an issue will have to loosen its grip on not only polygamy, but how we define revelation, and canon.  There may even come day where the Church has to search for ways to set section 132 and polygamy completely off to the side while still searching for a way to cling to eternal marriage and families.  This complexity stretches far out into many theological ramifications in our faith an impacts things like what is a prophet, what to do when prophets are wrong, eternal relationships, temples, Family: Proclamation to the World, heavenly parents, and heaven itself.  When recognized and validated this would turn Mormonism on its head.

Resources:

mormonstories.org/dc-132-a-revelation-of-men-not-god/

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2016/07/sunstone-presentation-july-2016-handshakes-drawn-swords/

patheos.com/blogs/yearofpolygamy/2016/09/10-things-polygamy-gave-mormonism/

 

 

      9. Improbability of Book of Mormon stories

Ground Mormonism Holds:

The Book of Mormon is held as a literal historical narrative.

Consequences of the Data:

When one grapples with such ideas as the Flood, Tower of Babel, Detero-Isaiah discussed above, one quickly sees they are connected deeply to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  But there are others.  Such as the 2000 stripling warriors.  Could 2000 inexperienced teenage/young adults feasibly go to battle against a larger older battle experienced army and fight them in hand to hand battle without not a single loss of life.  No gangrene, no major recovery time staying put for months or even weeks for the wounded to heal and recover in-spite of 200 fainting from blood loss?  Using logic and reason and your own experience of real life examples and throughout history in times when such events can be substantiated and verified….. Is such a thing possible?  Is it feasible?  Is it logical?  Is it reasonable?  Can you think of such a case that can be historically veriified?  Does this not seem beyond miraculous and into the absurd?  How about Shiz having his head lopped off and then raising up on his hands and then falling and continuing to struggle to breathe before dying.  How about Moroni traveling from where ever the Book of Mormon took place to Manti to bless the temple site as Brigham taught only to then go back all the way to palmyra to bury the plates in the drumlin hill in New York?  Does such things seem even feasible once one digs into what such a travel encompasses?

The Needed Shift:

When one grapples with such beyond belief stories throughout the Book of Mormon and in other teachings surrounding its characters one must come face to face with historicity.   If what the narrative of the Book calls us to believe in is absurd and unreasonable based on human history and human experience then what are we to do.

prominent LDS Scholar Richard Bushman for instance stated

Some years ago if someone told me the Book of Mormon wasn’t historically accurate, that it was some kind of modern creation, I would have thought they were heretical. I wouldn’t say that anymore. I think there are faithful Mormons who are unwilling to take a stand on the historicity. I disagree with them, I think it is a historical book, but I recognize that a person can be committed to the gospel in every way and still have questions about the Book of Mormon.

when asked if he would make room for such non-historical belief he replied

Yes I would. I know people of that kind. And they are very good people.

Another well known LDS scholar Grant Hardy recently stated

There are certainly problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but the institutional Church can’t and won’t change.

he also said

In any case, however, we might ask, “Can faith in the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction be a saving faith?” My answer is, “Absolutely!” I believe that if someone, at the judgment bar, were to say to God, “I couldn’t make sense of the Book of Mormon as an ancient American codex, given the available evidence, but I loved that book, I heard your voice in it, and I tried to live by its precepts as best I could,” then God will respond, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Could it be non-historical?  sure it could and may very well be non-historical.  Can it still be scripture and give us inspiration to carry out our lives reaching for God? absolutely.

Resources:

http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2016-fairmormon-conference/more-effective-apologetics

mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2015/11/perspectives-richard-bushman/

https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/book-mormon-fourth-nephi-through-moroni-zion-destruction/18-moroni-last-nephite-prophets

http://www.bmaf.org/articles/joseph_rocky_mountains__christensen

 

CONCLUSION:

May I finish by stating that within Mormon Apologetics there are rebuttals to each of the issues I have posed.  Please go and read them.  All I ask is to be honest with yourself and ask yourself which conclusions are more reasonable.  Where do informed scholars stand?  What does your gut tell you?  Do that and I honor you no matter what conclusions you arrive at.  In the end come whence it may… Mormonism is truth.

The Dominant narrative is not true.  So many pieces and parts don’t fit.  So many contradictions, paradoxes, and complexities.  We at present institutionally turn a blind eye to most of it.  People individually are wrestling with it and leaving.  We can make space for them to stay…. but we will have to look the dominant narrative straight on and open ourselves up to validating its deep and problematic shortcomings.  We can fix it but first we have to admit to ourselves that the problem is there.  Can we?  Will we?  Only time will tell… likely years after I go “from whence no traveler can return”.

 

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “POST: The Dominant Narrative Is Not True

  1. Lately I feel so many of your posts and discussions are related to validating the problems. Many of us get the problems. My hope for this podcast has always been rooted in finding ways to remain faithful. How are you able to continue full belief and activity in the church? So far I am still active, but after a heavy transition I am not sure I can do it forever. How can the issues and your needed “shifts” not affect your ability and desire to stay?

      • Thanks for your willingness to share. I suppose your struggle has been evident in your postings. God bless.

        • thanks, I truly am being as positive as I can. I see the Church as very negative at present. doing the best I can.

  2. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and I must say I am in agreement with much of what you have said here, and have thought about many of the very same issues listed here. I now see a lot of these fantastical stories as the “folklore” of Christianity, and that the lessons to learn are not from believing them as literal events, but as what they represent.

    Let’s take the Tower of Babel story, for instance. The key point of this story is that when men focus on an outward effort of great scale to try and reach God, such great efforts fail to achieve the desired result. Focusing on these outward actions leaves people confused and unable to communicate. Did the story literally happen as written – as a historical event? Probably not. But the allegory of attempting to reach God through some great outward effort – and how that fails – is a very important lesson to learn. The story – while likely fictional – still provides us with a great lesson.

    When doing some work on evaluating my own faith journey and the deconstruction and reconstruction of my concepts of faith and spirituality, I came across some information from an Emory professor of Theology and Human Development named James W. Fowler, and specifically his descriptions of a development process of faith. He talks specifically of six distinct stages. One of those stages – Stage 3 – is a “Synthetic-
    Conventional” stage where the narrative is taken very literally and that deference to authority is a key part of this stage. However, as people become exposed to different faith viewpoints through their social connections, they often move into a stage 4 – “Individuative-Reflective Faith” where they begin to question their assumptions and traditional narratives and move into a period of self-determination and taking greater ownership of their faith journey. Right now, I feel that the focus on authority keeps many Mormons in stage 3 and that Mormonism has very little place for Stage 4 kinds of thinking, as there is a constant insistence towards leader conformity. Sadly, Stage 4 faith development is often necessary for people to advance to Stage 5 – “Conjunctive Faith” – where people who have gone through stage 4 have emerged to a comfortable place with their faith and are now able to engage in more open, honest conversations across faith tribes. I think many people who reach stage 4 in their faith development feel they have no place but to leave Mormonism, and find it very difficult to return after reaching stage 5 because they know so many Mormons are hostile towards questioning the dominant narratives.

  3. Just keep the good parts, construct a personal theology that let’s you keep the good and get rid of the bad.

  4. Another great episode, thanks Bill, for approaching the problems from a bridge builder perspective. I think you’ve chosen a very difficult task:

    * The true believers think you’re an evil apostate and devil deluded because you don’t believe in literal Old Testament stuff.
    * Folks struggling to hold on want to hear you say “Hold on! Chiasmus! NHM!”
    * People in angry exmo phase want you hear you say “F this, I am out”
    * The people in Fowler Stage 5 respect what you’re doing, but they’re as rare as the sons of perdition, darnit!

    The Jon Ogden interview was beautiful, thank you. And the Sunstone presentation too.

    We’re all in this mess together, those who are in, those who are out, and those like me who are neither in nor out…

  5. There is so much here to talk about, let’s take one at a time. First, the flood:

    Yes, the flood was real and localized, but its effects were global.

    No, the ark did NOT contain two (or seven) of EVERY kind of animal IN THE WHOLE WORLD, but rather two (or seven) of every USEFUL animal in NOAH’S world. (The story has been greatly exaggerated.) Whales, for example, weren’t included (and didn’t need to be). Neither were most species of animals. This was NOT an “extinction” event for most species (not even for humans), though MANY were killed. It was merely a voyage of ONE FAMILY to a “new world”.

    Yes, the flood was universal. (It covered the whole earth.) But a SHEEN of water — even a millimeter thick! — is sufficient to “cover” the earth. (Some of that water was, no doubt, ice and snow.) Vast river basins WERE inundated. Noah’s ark, built inland, was swept toward the sea — where it APPEARED to Noah (who may have never seen the ocean before) to “cover the whole earth”. The provisions Noah brought with him prepared his family for the voyage.

    Not EVERYONE (other than Noah and his family) was killed…only those who had been exposed to the gospel, who refused to live it, and who REFUSED to get on the boat! (The “rest” were as ignorant as animals and thus NOT held accountable by God.) Did FISH die in the flood? No, not really. Neither did ALL human life. Only ACCOUNTABLE human life.

  6. The tower of Babel:

    To be fair, the Book of Mormon NEVER mentions any “tower of Babel”. It mentions A tower, but not necessarily THE tower. (These MIGHT be the same tower, where certain languages were confounded, but we don’t know.)

    It is QUITE plausible — and certainly not unreasonable — to assume that some people (known only to themselves and not exposed to any other) could suffer some catastrophic “infection”, if you will, affecting the language centers of their brains, precluding them from processing or understanding each other. This inability to communicate might cause some to manifest “barbarism” — or the inability to act “civilized” — leading to discord and confusion, even conflict.

    A man might pray to God that his family might not be affected with this malady — and be led away — as Mahonri and his family and kin evidently were.

    As for a tower to get to heaven: “towers” are quite commonly constructed in association with temples. Some “towers” ARE temples (in Mesoamerica and elsewhere). Building a “tower” or a “temple” to get to heaven doesn’t seem extreme or implausible at all (when speaking metaphorically or spiritually). We build “temples” and “towers” to get to heaven all the time, even today!

    There are some fantastic legends of the City of Enoch beging “lifted up” and orbiting the earth in close proximity to the ground; that those “left behind” built a tower to “get” to it — a la Jack and the beanstalk — and, maybe, that MIGHT be the case. (We’ve built rockets to get to the Moon!) So this historical narrative is not completely — or even remotely — implausible.

    Note: contact by Mahonri’s group with ANY OTHER group would only CONFIRM their belief that the languages were confounded when the nations were “scattered” at the tower — because they WOULDN’T be able to understand each other! Any cultural influences shared while later learning each other’s dialects would only CONFOUND the historical narrative further.

  7. Translating the Book of Abraham:

    The “translation” of the Book of Abraham actually CONFIRMS Joseph Smith’s prophetic ability. He received revelation regarding the EXISTENCE of said writings. Whether those writings were preserved in papyri in Joseph’s day is still up for debate. I doubt it. I tend to think they WEREN’T originals — or even having ANYTHING to do with Abraham! But we can’t know. Much of what Joseph had to work with has since been destroyed.

    What we DO have and know is Joseph Smith’s “Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” (EAAG) — a sort of “translation dictionary” composed AFTER THE FACT OF “TRANSLATING” THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries. Just as Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon (while staring at a rock in the bottom of his hat!), he “translated” the Bible, the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham. (Initial attempts to “translate” the papyri directly proved FRUITLESS for Joseph. It wasn’t until AFTER he ABANDONED the effort of DIRECT translation and went full “revelation” that the work progressed.) Then Joseph’s compatriots went BACK and tried to “reverse engineer” the papyri — comparing funerary texts to what Joseph had “revealed”. (This “key” was later “correctly” used to “translate” the FAKE Kinderhook Plates. The “interpretation” Joseph came up with (in that case) MATCHED EXACTLY what the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar WOULD HAVE indicated to be true IF the EAAG were, in fact, accurate and the Kinderhook Plates were, in fact, Egyptian. (Neither was.)

    But JOSEPH DIDN’T KNOW THAT! His “gift”, apparently, was greater than himself. It was BEYOND his OWN understanding! What he could “prophesy, see and reveal” was a HEAVENLY GIFT! He was NOT a scribe — able to translate (in the normal sense) onE language to another. Rather, he could “translate” — or reveal — something someone had said, written or done AT ANY TIME in human history — WITH OR WITHOUT any source document!

    (How did MOSES write his books — about events transpiring THOUSANDS of years earlier, that WEREN’T even recorded –except by this same gift?)

    Now, the the Book of Abraham specifically:

    Abraham was given funerary texts by Pharaoh — or texts of this nature came into Abraham’s possession. These texts REMINDED Abraham of his visits to Egypt and HE TOOK THEM HOME WITH HIM to show his family. They were HANDED DOWN, from one generation to the next, TOGETHER WITH ABRAHAM’S OWN WRITINGS. He REFERRED TO THEM for pictures, as EXAMPLES of his experience in Egypt, ADAPTING them to HIS PURPOSES.

    “Look here, children! Here I am, sitting on Pharoah’s own throne. You can see these symbols here and think of them as saying (this or that).” Just as Joseph Smith ADAPTED Masonic rituals and symbols for HIS purposes, Abraham adapted Egyptian symbolism for HIS purposes. Joseph came into contact with Egyptian writings, made the “revelatory” connection, and consequently produced the “ancient” texts.

    Did Joseph know what he was doing? NOT AT ALL! For all he knew, these were REAL papyri written by Abraham himself! How could he know better? How does ANYONE know or understand supernatural things?

    Now, of course, what I’m asking you to do is believe that Joseph Smith could do the supernatural: that he could conjure ACTUAL HISTORY and TRUE NARRATIVE from the air! Even looking into his hat!

    But THAT’S THE STORY WE’VE BEEN TELLING ALL ALONG…or, rather, that’s the story we SHOULD have been telling: that God has sent to us another prophet, seer and revelator once again.

    The “proof” is in the “pudding”, or rather, the EFFICACY of that prophet’s words, not just their provenance.

  8. With regard to “prophets, seers and revelators” like unto Noah, Abraham, Moses or Joseph Smith:

    The current crop of LDS “prophets, seers and revelators” are not. They do not belong with that crowd. Since the time of Joseph Smith there HAS NOT BEEN one of their like on earth…with the exception today, perhaps, of Denver Snuffer (and others) now making similar claims.

    The accomplishments of the ancients have, no doubt, been embellished. But rather than conclude that God is extremely stand-off-ish, or even invisible, unknowable, and non-existent, why not embrace the teachings of those prophets who have claimed to meet and know God, rather than reject their teachings while following others who make no such claims?

    The LDS Church, by and large, has REJECTED the teachings of Joseph Smith, Denver Snuffer, et. al., and replaced that faith with following the traditions and leadership of men (like Brigham Young, Thomas Monson, etc.) who have NEVER claimed to meet God in this life. Few (if any) Mormons — leaders or otherwise — now claim to have met God…and Mormon leaders excommunicate and shun practically ALL who do!

    So who has “shifted”? The teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith (and Denver Snuffer, if you wish to include him in this group), are JUST as “disruptive” and “opposed” by the LDS community today as the words of the prophets have ALWAYS been. The prophets are ALMOST ALWAYS opposed, persecuted and rejected by the “believers” of their day, at some point. Being ridiculed and rejected is THEIR HALLMARK! TRUE prophets teach that FALSE prophets will be set up, honored and celebrated by the masses. Is NOT that happening today? REAL prophets are HATED and SCORNED!

    But who HATES Thomas S. Monson? Only the most rabid anti-Mormon (or non-believer in Christ or any other deity). Mormon “prophets” may be rejected and disbelieved by the masses, but hardly ANYONE is PERSECUTING them, CERTAINLY NOT their own people. They are NOT CAST OUT, even by their own (as most REAL prophets are).

    “Which of the prophets have ye not persecuted?” Jesus remonstrated those He ministered to. (They even killed Him! Just as ex-Mormons, Mormon dissidents, apostates and non-Mormons conspired to kill Joseph and Hyrum Smith!)

    Yes, the author correctly deduces that a “shift” is necessary. But it is NOT a shift requiring disbelief in true prophets, diminishing their stature or even disparaging the TRUE natue of God, but rather it is one of HEARKENING to them, REJECTING false prophets, and BEING SAVED YOURSELF.

  9. On the Holy Ghost:

    First, Mormons, by no means, have a “monopoly” on access to the Holy Ghost. (Otherwise they would not appeal to non-Mormons and others to discern the truth by the Holy Ghost’s power.)

    Second, the Holy Ghost is a revelator. Its principle function is to reveal KNOWLEDGE, not emotions. Emotions are primarily elicited as a result of receiving KNOWLEDGE, not the reverse. Knowledge of the truth, revealed by the Holy Ghost, can just as well bring pain and sorrow as comfort and joy. One can feel GUILT when convicted by the KNOWLEDGE of one’s crimes. Or sorrow at the “sight” of one’s posterity being destroyed. (One DOESN’T feel guilt or sorrow in the absence of said knowledge.)

    It is incumbent upon us to “clothe” knowledge with language that approximates the truth(s) being revealed by the power of the Holy Ghost. (This difficulty is the challenge of ALL forms of communication.) Anyone with sufficient knowledge (of any particular subject or experience) certainly knows the limitations of human language: that it is within the realm of possibility to “understand” something that CANNOT be expressed in any form that could (or would) be interpreted or understood fully by anyone who has NOT ALSO experienced it. (Men who return from savage war often don’t even try to describe it.) Likewise, those who have been to heaven (and back) shrink from attempts to describe their experiences there. They are just “not of this world”.

    However, some truths CAN be easily defined and described (when revealed) and, if that’s the case — and God wishes them to be made known — prophets are sent to do the job!

    We can become prophets ourselves, by God’s grace, but ONLY by the same means ALL have become prophets before. (And that’s not likely to happen by “assembly-line” fashion, by ordination in some club. God’s gifts tend to be dispensed DESPITE man’s efforts to channel or control them.)

  10. As for prophets being fallible:

    Yes, all prophets are fallible (and fail). For that reason we are commanded to NOT “follow the prophet” but rather to seek after and follow CHRIST. For HE IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

    No other man (or woman) is.

    Do not confuse modern LDS “prophets” with TRUE prophets, however. They are NOT the same.

    A true prophet speaks in the name of the Lord. He conveys THE LORD’S will and words, NOT his own. He hears the Lord’s word from the Lord’s own lips, as they are spoken by Him or by the mouth of His angels (or other prophets) or by the power of the Holy Ghost. A TRUE prophet can “quote” the Father and the Son, for he KNOWS Them.

    It is incumbent upon US to discern the truthfulness of ANYONE’S “testimony” — REGARDLESS of their status, station or calling inside (or outside) any “church” (“true” or otherwise!). Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice.” That is true REGARDLESS of who is quoting Him. The Lord’s voice is recognizable.

    Angels and demons may quote the Lord. (That’s why He commands the wicked to SHUT UP rather than testify of Him!) ANY of us can be led astray if we follow ANYONE but the Lord. Learning to “hear” and “heed” the Lord (and Him alone) is our challenge. When we do so, we become like Him until we are FULL of the Holy Ghost.

    At that point, God and man become indistinguishable — and the very elements obey us.

    “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6)

  11. About 3rd Isaiah:

    I have no opinion on this matter and am not qualified to speak on its merits…other than to remind the reader that Joseph Smith quoted Isaiah — COPYING the King James Version of the Bible, no less! — by the power of the Holy Ghost, using the “seer stone” he possessed, and, by doing so, included in the Book of Mormon MANY of the Bible’s errors and mistranslations (because it was, perhaps, EASIER and SUFFICIENT for Joseph Smith to do so).

    Joseph never claimed the Book of Mormon was a PERFECT COPY of the golden plates, but a NARRATIVE of that record. (How could it be otherwise? Surely the record was not a “word-for-word” or “symbol-for-symbol” translation. That would be FAR BEYOND any man’s power to produce! Written languages don’t often work that way!)

    Moroni informed us:

    “30 Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words.

    31 Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

    32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

    33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

    34 But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.” (Mormon 9:30-34)

    “Interpretation thereof” is a BIG point.

    I cannot explain how or why “3rd Isaiah” got into the Book of Mormon record, if, in fact, a portion of Isaiah was published AFTER Lehi left Jerusalem. (So I kind of doubt that’s true. I trust the Book of Mormon over modern “experts”.) But I DO NOT hold the Book of Mormon — or Joseph Smith — to be infallible. (In fact, I EXPECT imperfection from them. Moroni promised we would find such!)

    Exercising FAITH will ALWAYS be a requirement of salvation.

  12. Regarding Joseph Smith, polygamy and Section 132:

    The historical record, doctrine and practice of polygamy is a MESS! Brigham Young altered the records, the scriptures, history and church practice after Joseph Smith was killed. What Brigham Young foisted on the LDS Church was NOT LDS doctrine, being contradicted both by the Book of Mormon and D&C (prior to Brigham’s time) and was OPPOSED by Joseph Smith himself.

    So there.

    You WILL NOT BE ABLE to reconcile polygamy with the teachings and practices of Joseph Smith and those who followed after him. THAT TEMPLE has been torn down so that NOT ONE STONE IS LEFT UPON ANOTHER. What you “build” from the rubble cannot hope to be a perfect restoration of what was.

  13. About the Book of Mormon as “fictional” history:

    No. The book has to be true — as in REAL history, involving REAL people — or it is FALSE. A grand lie. A deception.

    The Book of Mormon does NOT just make grandiose claims. Its characters PROMISE to meet us before the judgement bar of God to testify against us if we do not heed and believe their words.

    Was the Book of Mormon conceived by God as some grandiose spiritual “pageant” designed to “train” us to believe and obey Him? I don’t think so. Marching down that path can induce souls to disbelieve even in the advent of the Messiah Himself, disputing His miracles and divinity. Why go there?

    While not imposing a false paradigm of required perfection, I do insist that the book (and its authors) be real. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Either God lives and we can know Him — as Joseph claimed (and died for that belief) — or it’s all a stunt, a farcical exercise in self-delusion.

    I find that conclusion unreasonable. Mr. Bushman may conclude otherwise. But thus many a “wise and learned” man has been led into apostasy by doing so.

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