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
believerealize The Book of Mormon was only inspired fictionnot 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.)
I should note that contextually I have no reason to believe this response was his own personal beliefs. Actually, I was under the impression that he was not speaking of his own personal beliefs, but instead only suggesting how an LDS person could choose to look at it. Further, this commenter had a history of suggesting “LDS people can look at things this way if they wish.” (Take a look at the whole context of the conversation and judge for yourself.)
Regardless, this is the first and only time I’ve seen someone try to make a rational case for an inspired but non-historical Book of Mormon. Even if it was only ‘you could look at it this way’ it’s still worthy of respect for having made the attempt. (And if it was his personal beliefs, then it is worthy of our tolerance anyhow.)
So I want to put his comment up here and I want to encourage honest and open dialog on this. Keep in mind that any time someone puts their neck out with an explanation it is worthy of the utmost respect.
Also keep in mind that the ultimate form of respect is rational criticism, because it means you are taking the explanation seriously. Politely ignoring it is not a show of respect, because it means you are treating it like it doesn’t even deserve your time.
Probably the best way to assess this theory is to answer it like this: Could this approach work for you personally? Why or why not?
But I will delete any comments to the effect of “that’s lame” or something like that. That’s disrespectful and this deserves our deepest respects for having made an attempt at a rational explanation.
Let’s consider the box [that people hefted with the plates in them].
[Bruce asked:] “How does believing The Book of Mormon is…a parable or inspired writing of modern origin but still sent by God yet that the revelator that received it claimed was an ancient record either fraudulently or out of ignorance (including hefting around a bunch of heavy plates in a box) affect how you feel about, study, or treat The Book of Mormon (if at all)?”
Does God authorize his prophets to part ways with the truth in order to accomplish an important result?
In order to survive a famine, Abraham and his wife Sarai were forced to travel to Egypt. On the way the Lord said to Abraham:
“Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.” (Abraham 2:22–24)
This is a direct commandment from the Lord to his prophet to depart from the truth in order to accomplish an important purpose: that Abraham and Sarai could live and produce children in the covenant.
When God commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go, he was instructed to pretend that they were only going to make a temporary journey three days into the wilderness (Exodus 3:18). Of course, God had already confided that his true purpose was to “bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). But the Lord commanded his prophet Moses to stray from the truth in order to accomplish the important goal of freeing the people.
When God commanded Joseph Smith Jr. to restore plural marriage in order to establish and build up the Kingdom, Joseph faced the same concern as Abraham and Moses among the Egyptians. If the Gentiles knew with certainty what he was doing, Joseph would certainly be killed — as eventually he was. And so Joseph publically and repeatedly throughout his life strayed from the truth by denouncing the practice of polygamy and denying his participation in it.
As the Lord’s prophet he spoke “on this wise” (in the Lord’s words), engaging (like Abraham and Moses) in what you are calling “fraud.” And he did so as a means to accomplish the crucial end result of establishing and building up the Kingdom of God on earth.
How much more critical is restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth? And yet you want to label the box, which was the means of accomplishing that great end, a “fraud”?
I am hesitant to give my own rational evaluation at this point, though I certainly have a point of view. Most of you can probably guess what my point of view is. Perhaps I’ll explain my own view in the comments or in a future post if there is interest.
One thing I will say for this explanation is that I suspect it is as rationally solid as was possible for this particular issue. That is to say, I doubt this argument could be much improved upon. But I’d be interested in alternative theories from those that actually believe in a inspired but non-historical Book of Mormon. Perhaps there is an even better argument lurking out there that has yet to be openly argued for and so I’m just not aware of it.
But for now, assess the pros and cons of this approach to the Book of Mormon for yourselves.