I recently finished Charles Mann’s book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and wanted to do a quick book review.
As the title indicates, this is a book about what the civilizations of the American continent were like before Columbus arrived. The book is based on the most current research on the subject, though I must warn you that even our best most recent research seems quite tentative to me, as the author often admits. But here are some interesting new directions that seem worthy of note.
Not long ago I did a reprint of a Mormon Matters post where I asked people if they would regularly study inspired fiction. The overwhelming answer was “no.” But in the choir of voices, there was one particularly interesting response that I think is worthy of sharing.
Now this commenter did not believe the Book of Mormon is in any way historical. In fact, when he took my question to the group, he rewrote it like this:
Did coming to
believe realize The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction not a literal history cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?
His response was then:
I’ve known this since my teenage years, so a before/after comparison is impossible. All of my adult study of the Book of Mormon has been informed by my understanding that it is not a literal history.
His biggest concern with my original post was that:
I think the terms “fiction” and “fictional” are loaded words that break the spiritual mood. To keep a religious feeling, it’s probably better to say “parable” or “inspired stories” or simply “scripture,” with the understanding that scripture is not history and vice versa.
My concern with his rewording was that just saying “parable” failed to get to the heart of my real question, which was how do you explain the plates. Joseph Smith carted them around and many many people touched them under a cloth.
Then an amazing thing happened, he actually gave an tentative answer to this question. Outside of this one time, I never seen nor heard of any person in favor of an “inspired fiction” view of the Book of Mormon actually make an attempt to explain how such a thing is possible! (See also Mike Parker’s article on this subject.)
The post below is a reprint from Mormon Matters. The discussion that followed was intriguing. Most of the posters that no longer believed in the historicity of the Book of Mormon openly admitted that when the Book of Mormon lost it’s historicity for them, it also lost it’s value as scripture worthy of study. There was at least one notable exception of someone that still studied it as scripture regularly, if perhaps a reduced level overall, though he admitted that he felt the same way about the Bible as well. Also intriguing was John Hamer’s concerns that the wording was biased because the word ‘fiction’ might be a loaded term. I had not intended it to be so, but I compromised by adding a ‘revised wording’ version at the bottom.
I’m intrigued by those on the bloggernacle that see The Book of Mormon as fiction but inspired by God. It’s common to hear someone that holds that belief say that it doesn’t really matter if The Book of Mormon is historical or not.
In the past, Clay asked me if I thought that someone who believes The Book of Mormon to be fiction lost their salvation. My answer was, no, I do not believe such a belief causes a person to lose salvation in and of itself. [12/22/2010: At this point in time, I had not admitted to people that I was just shy of a universalist.] DougG asked me if I believe people that believed the Book of Mormon was inspired but not historical should be rooted out of the Church. My answer to that question was, no they shouldn’t be.
Both of these questions made me think of some counter questions for those that believe The Book of Mormon is inspired of God but just a work of fiction:
- Do you still study The Book of Mormon as a guide to your life on a regular basis?
- Do you still prayerfully seek for truths in The Book of Mormon to apply into your life?
- Did you do any of the above types of study when you thought The Book of Mormon was also historical?
- Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding 19th century patterns now or are you open to finding unique eternal truths there for our day?
- Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only what you need to do to fulfill a calling? (Like say preparing for lessons.)
- Did coming to believe The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?
A few years ago, while serving as Ward Mission Leader, I was introduced to a young man who had come to church with a less-active member of the ward. I knew Rory (not his real name) from the neighborhood, but had never been formally introduced.
The following guest post comes from Mike Parker, a long-time Bloggernacle commenter.
A small percentage of Latter-day Saints are aware that the historicity of the Book of Mormon has its detractors. Among those who are aware of the issues, there has been some discussion on this topic.
Actually, “discussion” is probably too polite a term.