The Book of Mormon: Would You Regularly Study Inspired Fiction?

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?

Lest I leave out Believing Mormons from this post, I have a similar set of questions for you:

  • Do you study The Book of Mormon as a guide to your life on a regular basis?
  • Do you prayerfully seek for truths in The Book of Mormon to apply into your life?
  • Do you limit your study of The Book of Mormon to only finding ancient patterns?
  • 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.)
  • Or is The Book of Mormon more useful to you as a differentiator then a doctrinal source?
  • What benefits do you feel there are to believing The Book of Mormon is historical? Does believing it is historical make much of a difference to the way you study or use The Book of Mormon?

Update: Based on working on the wording of the question with John Hamer, here is a possibly more neutral re-wording:

If The Book of Mormon once taught you a message that had enriched your life, and if you possessed a firm testimony that it was inspired of God, but later you felt you learned its narrative had solely modern origins, how has this, in real life, affected your relationship with the Book of Mormon? (i.e. change in how or how much you study it or use it) Do you still continue to seek spiritual guidance from it? Do you still do it in the same manner before you decided it was a modern work?

12 thoughts on “The Book of Mormon: Would You Regularly Study Inspired Fiction?

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  2. I’ll cut to the chase and say that if the Book of Mormon were not historical, but allegorical and given from God it would hold exactly the same weight, perhaps even more so. One can dispute with Mormon’s interpretation of history as he is putting it on the page (perhaps) but you can’t dispute what the Savior is teaching in the parable of the lost sheep, if you believe in Christ. Ah! But that lost sheep was totally asking for it!

  3. Ironically, with all the circumstantial evidence that seems to be mounting daily for the historicity of the BofM, I find it hard to believe that it would be a work of fiction.

  4. “I’ll cut to the chase and say that if the Book of Mormon were not historical, but allegorical and given from God it would hold exactly the same weight, perhaps even more so.”

    I think the real question here is how to reconcile God claiming it is historical but not being so and determining if this is a contradiction or not. It seems to me that it’s a contraction, so we can just ignore the possiblity.

    For example, if I knew for certain that the Book of Mormon was not historical but I also knew for certain that God wanted me to believe it was, what am I to do? I literally could not do what God asked me to do because it’s a contradiction now, isn’t it? It would be like God asking me to not think of pink bears.

    As an alternative, consider the ‘softer’ point of view that Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon lock stock and barrel but that during the creative process God inspired him to include many great and correct teachings by which God wants us to live our lives.

    On the surface this seems less problematic. But is it? I think it essentially bumps into the very same problems once you start to think it through all the way. For example, we now have to explain why God intentionally put his stamp of approval on a fraud and how such an act can be justified when it’s bound to massively mislead millions of people that then see that it’s truly inspired of God (i.e. that it is a direct revelation) and therefore naturally assume it’s also true. What could God’s greater purpose possibly be in doing this?

    Perhaps another alternative is to imagine God inspiring false beliefs because that is the best those people can do. We can, for example, imagine some tribesman who worships Baal that God actually responds to at times because that’s all he can handle at this point. This would make some sense to me logically, but there is — beyond doubt — a logical corrallary to this: that the LDS Church is spiritual inferior to ‘the Truth’ that is somewhere out there. In this case, the LDS Church members should leave their Church as soon as they find the real truth and they should leave their old beliefs behind when they do so. Also, there is an open question of how they are supposed to recognize this ‘one truth religion’ that is somewhere out there since apparently even prayer misleads them.

    Yet another alternative would be to think of “God” as being equivalent to “human morality.” Essentially God becoming a metaphor. Under this scenario the idea of an ‘inspired fiction’ no longer seems self contradictory to me and I see no essential problems with this point of view rationally. Obviously this is really just atheism in disguise and I’d take objection to someone holding this point of view without acknowledging that. Or is it Atheism? If it isn’t, what’s the difference? This is the only scenario I’ve been able to think of so far that allows for an inspired fiction without massive rational problems. Of course ‘inspired’ is a pretty vague concept now and is pretty much just in the eye of the beholder.

    I would love to have someone that actually believes in the “inspired fiction” model explain how they work out these thorny issues. But that requires sticking one’s neck out and risking criticism of your point of view and I know that’s unpopular.

    So perhaps a better alternative would be to ‘play devil’s adovcate’ and to try to come up with the best possible argument in favor of an inspired fiction and put it out there even if it’s not what you believe. Anyone willing to take a stab? I think this is much harder than people think it is.

  5. do not believe that the bom is a work of fiction,know that the bom is a true work of the people and joseph smith that lived in those times.

  6. I don’t think the idea that the BoM is both ahistorical and divinely dictated can hold water, mostly because it puts God in the position of lying big time for the better good.

    So someone who believes the BoM isn’t actually historical must generally also accept the position that Joseph Smith or someone before him was manufacturing history for the better good, or there was a confusion on the part of the former as to the historicity of the record he propagated.

    I also believe that it is absolutely certain that belief (true or not) that the BofM is ahistorical will diminish how seriously people treat its teachings. For one thing, about half the book is borderline irrelevant if it isn’t historical.

    The other half would inevitably be treated worse than if it was presented as modern day scripture in the first place, due to the discredit involved. Of course, if everyone didn’t believe it was historical up front, that would mitigate that factor to some degree.

  7. Mark D. nailed it. Joseph Smith left a very detailed account of Moroni’s visits to him and his description of the purpose and contents of the plates of Mormon (canonized in Joseph Smith—History 1:30–31). If the Book of Mormon is ahistorical, we’re left with only four conclusions:

    1. Moroni really appeared to Joseph Smith, but Moroni lied about the plates and their contents because God sometimes directs his angels to lie for an unknown purpose.

    2. Moroni really appeared to Joseph Smith, but Moroni lied about the plates and their contents because he was an agent of Satan.

    3. Moroni didn’t appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph lied about the experience.

    4. Moroni didn’t appear to Joseph Smith; Joseph was delusional.

    Any one of these conclusions has disturbing implications for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the message of the restored gospel.

    I’ve laid this out for people who believe the Book of Mormon is inspired but ahistorical, and I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory answer on how they deal with it. Numerous times I’ve been told, “There are other possibilities,” but no one has ever told me what those possibilities are. I’m sincerely interested to know how one reconciles an ahistorical Book of Mormon with a true God and an honest, sane Joseph Smith.

  8. Mike, to back up your point in number 7, I think most anti-Mormons believe either 3 or 4. But then you must reconcile Joseph Smith’s later behavior with his continuing insistence that he actually saw an angel who actually gave him the plates. And then you have to deal with the three witnesses and then the other witnesses. It’s a lot of work trying to overcome all the actual history.

  9. Mike,

    I enjoyed the article you wrote ont this.

    I am of the opinion that people that claim “There are other possibilities” actually believe 3 or 4 but would prefer to not have it worded that way. But they are hesitant to reworded it because it requires them to advance a counter theory (i.e. stick their neck out) that would be easily shot down.

    Geoff,

    I agree. Trying to solve all the “problems” of LDS history seems difficult no matter what point of view you are trying to argue for. The disbelieving position is one of the hardest of all.

    It’s enough to make a rational person tear their hair out. :)

    I was recently thinking about how Evangelical Christians believe Mormon Polygamy came from the devil. But that just means that when these women prayed about it and thought they got answers (from angels, visions, dreams, heavenly lights, etc.) that God refused to answer these poor girl’s sincere prayers and let the devil do it instead. Therefore Mormon Polygamy is a bigger problem for Evangelicals then it is for Mormons.

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