Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

As of last week, I have finished the Book of Mormon.

This might be a dangerous thing to say, but until recently I had never even come close to accomplishing such a feat. In fact, in past years I was far more interested in reconciling my religion with others than with actually delving into its doctrine and scripture. This has changed. I now know that you must recognize the truth of your intellectual roots before you can begin to look for it elsewhere, and as a result my life and testimony have grown immeasurably richer. If I were to put it boldly, I would say that reading the Book of Mormon has caused me to experience my religion's truth in a way unlike anything else. Here I will try to convey this experience, show that it is indeed a rod leading to God's love, and testify that it is true.

The Book of Mormon is not a collection of disparate stories and sermons - it is a unified whole with consistent and coherent themes. But there is one motif that is more all-encompassing than any other, and it is stated in very clear words near the beginning. I speak of 2 Nephi 2:11, and I now insist that Lehi's teaching of an opposition in all things is the book's most important passage. This work of scripture is filled to the brim with opposition of all sorts, as it depicts persecution, war, suffering, and destruction. But the key truth at its heart is that this opposition leads to harmony. Think of the trans-oceanic journeys in 1 Nephi and Ether, the Nephites' half-millennium-long wait for Christ, and the destruction that occurs just prior to his coming: in each case the conflict leads directly to joy, making it worth more than it would be otherwise. Even seemingly meaningless conflicts like the wars of Alma or Mormon find their import in the significance they give to the reader's lives. All of this speaks directly to us: our own suffering and opposition will ultimately have meaning and be for our good. 

However, there is an opposition which was uniquely significant to me, as it turns out that I was opposed to the book itself. When I read it, I was suddenly struck by how many flaws there were: it was often condemning, had dubious historicity, and was, to put it bluntly, awkwardly-worded. The critical reader inside of me was initially very resistant, wondering how such an imperfect work could have any inherent worth. But I trudged through the "wo unto"'s and the "and it came to pass"'s, having faith that it would ultimately mean something. Though it was very frustrating, and though I felt at times like I should give up, I ultimately emerged from the mists of darkness and experienced something extraordinary: I found that I didn't care about the book's foibles, for I had tapped into the heart of gold beneath them. In fact, the words on the page soon became completely irrelevant. Everything written there was merely a conduit, transparent glass that allowed me to perceive the ineffable light of divine truth within. I ultimately became a prism for this light, as when I was in the resultant spiritual "zone" I became more virtuous, receiving spiritual epiphanies like machine-gun-fire.

I do not believe I could have experienced this state without struggling through the literary flaws which preceded it. The oppositions of language, history, and ethics that some readers may experience with this book are spiritual paradoxes, (koans) which are quite intentional and serve a specific purpose. In truth, the Book of Mormon is a test. These paradoxes check our spiritual mettle, causing the critical reader to either dismiss or believe the claims made therein. For if one is to get anything out of this book, he or she must read it with faith. And if they do so, they will be rewarded.

Though the Book of Mormon was an amazing experience, the reward I speak of came to me in its fullness only near the end. No, I'm not talking about Christ's visit to the Americas, though that was rewarding in its own right. Instead, I speak of the Brother of Jared's divine vision. You see, I had always had a problem with the notion of God's body. To think of the origin of the universe - the link between you, me, and everything else - having body parts like a nose, elbows, or toenails was the epitome of ugliness. Considering this, and that Ether 3 is the most clear elucidation of divine corporeality short of the King Follett discourse, I thought I was headed into a train wreck. But I was to be surprised. I cannot tell you why, but in that moment I had absolutely no problems with the doctrine of God's body. This intellectual peace, my goal since long before I began this blog, was nothing less than miraculous. To me, it was a divine encounter in itself.

But is the Book of Mormon true? That seems to be the key question, doesn't it? Answered with a "no", everything falls apart. It means there is no priesthood, that the first vision never happened, and that all the saints' sufferings were for naught. But if it's true, then all else follows. So, which is it? After taking a course in epistemology, I cannot claim that the words on a page grant me any knowledge about the historical events in ancient Mesoamerica. There are too many factors that might interfere to positively claim you know the book is true. However, this is only a problem when using knowledge in a traditional sense. There is another, better, model of knowledge which makes the Book of Mormon true without any question. Devised by a man named William James, it goes like this: something is true if it proves useful to one who believes in it. Or, if I might rephrase it, something is true if it has "good fruits". And what are the fruits of the Book of Mormon if not good? Think of how many people's lives, including mine, have been made better for reading it. It is beyond measure.

I am suddenly reminded of Alma 32: "O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good". The Book of Mormon, because it has so much of this light and good, is real. Moreover, it is true, in every way that matters. Knowing this, I humbly leave this testimony with you, saying these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


  1. So the Book of Mormon is true for you because it makes you feel spiritual? That's a nice way to look at it, and it's good for you if that makes you happy.

    However, I have an issue with your argument that if a work makes people's lives better, it is more or less true. You mention the suffering of the early saints. Would it really be so bad if the Book of Mormon wasn't true? The early saints still left a huge mark in history, helping the US expand into the west and whatnot. Their belief in an untrue book led to their suffering. Plenty of other people have suffered for their beliefs too. Take Muslims for example. Mormons believe theirs is the "one true church," making the Koran and the entire religion of Islam untrue. Was the suffering of Muslims for naught? If you were not raised a Mormon, but as a Muslim, what would your opinion be after reading the Book of Mormon?

    Also, is it better for one to believe in the Book of Mormon and be more or less in denial, ignoring the obvious factual errors in the book itself and the dubious history of how it came about, or not believe in the Book of Mormon and be free to research what is actually true and draw one's own conclusions about the world? Ignorance is bliss, sure, but isn't there nothing better than really knowing how the universe works?

    I'm not attacking you, just giving you a few things to think about. You seem like a pretty intelligent guy and it saddens me to see smart people content believing in a lie.

    1. Though it might seem a ridiculous notion, people like William James believed that two contradictory propositions could both be true, if they were both useful. Like Kierkegaard's assertion that "subjectivity is truth", it does not matter whether or not something is factually and objectively true: what's important is the import it has to you in your life.

      You say that there is nothing better than knowing how the universe works. I don't see how that is the case. We "know" that we are lumps of flesh, living out our infinitesimally short lives on what amounts to a speck. But are we better off? Are we happier? I don't think anyone would say so. The objective world might have a sense of order, but it is ultimately a meaningless shell, hollow and devoid of value.

      But it's REAL, isn't it? Is it? The way I see it, (and getting a little Cartesian) the only thing that is definitively real is myself. Everything outside my skin is subject to doubt, as there is the possibility that it is an illusion. And it's more than a possibility, I think. I mean, elephants...what the hell? Anyone who hadn't encountered them would have thought of them as an fantasy. And yet, they are "real". Ultimately, we are in a free-fall of doubt, meaning that we have reason to be skeptical of everything. Thus, the only thing we have left are feelings. And knowing that, I'll choose the best ones.

      But in any case, I love that you commented. Aside from the attention, it's nice to get a respectful criticism.

  2. Hey cousin! I am your great uncle Phil's daughter Kate. We did Christmas Carol in Orem together when you were like 9. I really enjoyed your writing and your thoughtful insights, glad to see you all grown up and smart and productive and all that. Carry on with the good work!

  3. I second Kate's opinion, and am also a relative. :) Mike Hale's daughter (of the Phil clan), so I don't know what sort of relation that makes us...but your acceptance of doubt and concurrent emphasis on faith are really impressive to me. Thanks for sharing. :)

    And to Anonymous above (if you ever come back), I just wanted to quickly hit on your point on Islam, and whether or not believing in Mormonism excludes a belief in the truth of other faiths. I think taking the phrase 'One true church' and applying it with the implication that Mormons believe we have the monopoly on truth is simplistic and rather uninformed. I don't blame you though, it's a logical extension of the phrase. However, it is my belief (and I would say the belief of the church at large) that truth is found in many places, many many places, including the sciences, and other religions. I have no problems saying that I believe I worship the same Gods as the Catholics, the Protestants, the Hindus and the Muslims. I know what worship looks like, I know how dedication feels, and if they are experiencing the same 'fruits' I am experiencing (increased love, desire to serve, be better, etc), we are worshipping the same entity. Now granted, I don't believe in some of the specifics of other's faiths. I do believe that God has a body, and exists as a Father to us on earth, which is a different conception than many other faiths have of the Nature of in that capacity I believe we have 'the truth.' But those are the nuts and bolts specifics, and while central to understanding and developing a relationship to God, I believe not prohibitive to other's having legitimate experience with him. There's an LDS Newsroom post about finding truth in many places, and how there have many people (including Buddha and Mohammed as I remember) who have been inspired of God to bring light to people in diverse places...but the site is down and I couldn't locate the article. :/ Still, I hope that clarifies some things.

    And Christian, I also loved your emphasis on fruits, as well as how you brought in William James (Psych Major. ;) ). That's one argument I just can't get around--the joy and goodness the Gospel brings into people's lives that embrace it. If we ever have a big ole' family gathering, I hope to meet you for real!

  4. Kate:

    Thanks! I intend to!


    Thank you so much for your support! Also, I can't tell you how glad it makes me when I encounter someone who appreciates that the truth of the LDS church isn't mutually exclusive with at least some of the truth of other traditions.

    Oh, and I think we're second cousins. :) (I could be wrong, though)