Saturday, January 4, 2014

Observations on the Book of Mormon, Part 2

Hello again!  As promised, here goes the second part of my Book of Mormon analysis. This post will differ from the previous one in that it will focus on the process of gaining a testimony, as opposed to merely the text itself.

3.  Gaining a testimony is a way of accepting the unknown

While I am quite interested in the efforts of Book of Mormon archaeologists, I can't help feeling that they are somehow missing the book's point. They may find a great deal of similarity and correspondence between this work of scripture and the history of ancient Mesoamerica, but there will always remain equally powerful arguments against the book's historical validity. This is as it should be. The intellectual arguments for and against the Book of Mormon's historicity will always invalidate each other, meaning that humble seekers after truth have nothing to rely upon except faith.

The Book of Mormon's historical reality is what I like to call an "epistemically neutral proposition". Because no one can find a conclusive argument to prove or disprove it, anyone who wishes to decide one way or the other will inevitably find frustration. If someone wishes to get out of this double-bind, they must choose one of two options. 

The first is to tell yourself that the Book of Mormon has no evidence (a proposition which is absolutely false) and by doing so cling only to those things which are undeniable "common-sense". But when someone rejects the Book of Mormon, they do so because they are uncomfortable staying in the no-man's-land of intellectual ambiguity, and this occurs in turn because they do not like the idea of the "unknown". This presents a problem. Not only is the historicity of the Book of Mormon empirically unkowable, but also many things which are crucial to our existence as human beings - the future, the unconscious part of our psyches, and even groups of people with whom we are unfamiliar. If a person has an adversarial relationship to the unknown, they will face these uncertainties with fear and hostility. They will take drastic efforts to control things which cannot be controlled, will try to beat all parts of themselves which they do not like into submission, and consider all strange people as enemies. This is the basic human condition, the scriptural "natural man". When someone rejects the Book of Mormon, they merely perpetuate the adversarial attitude of all natural men and women toward things they do not know or understand. However, there is another way.

When someone believes the Book of Mormon to be true despite all epistemic ambiguity, something remarkable begins to happen. Instead of rejecting those parts of the book which lack evidence or don't make sense, he or she learns to wholeheartedly embrace them, and show faith even when it seems impossible. By continuing to read this book regularly, they work at their acceptance of the unknown like training a muscle. Soon, their attitude toward the world begins to change, allowing them to become more loving of others, more accepting of themselves, and more able to go with the flow of life. I have felt this process myself. The more I read the Book of Mormon, the more love and acceptance I can show to both other people and myself, for real love requires the same patience and faith we exercise while reading that amazing work of scripture. In all honesty, I can think of no better way to overcome fear and hatred than by using the kind of practice inherent in this struggle for faith.

4. There are two Books of Mormon

I previously quoted Grant Hardy as saying that the Book of Mormon is "better than it sounds". Since then I have reflected upon this quip, and it suddenly struck me that his remark has more truth than meets the eye. How so? I actually believe that it is true because there are not one, but two Books of Mormon.

Seeing as the number of the book's copies far exceeds two, you may become confused at this point. However, instead of actually counting the number of books in physical existence, I simply mean that every edition of the Book of Mormon contains two versions of the text within it: one external, and one internal. The external Book of Mormon is a tediously-written story about the origins of the Native American people. It is awkwardly-worded in parts, potentially racist in others, and contains an overall sense of condemnation. This external text is all some people will ever know about the Book of Mormon, for many only concern themselves with what lies on the intellectual surface. Little do they know that such "chloroform in print" (to quote Mark Twain) conceals another book within.

To reuse an idea from the Little Prince, no one can read the "internal" Book of Mormon with their eyes. This inner book escapes all attempts to read it critically or while trying to compare it to external criteria, for we can only learn its teachings with an eye that "cleaves unto every good thing". This principle of "looking for the good" in all things is actually the key to the Book of Mormon. In fact, I daresay that it is nothing less than a Urim and Thummim for we who read. When we exercise this love for all things good, the Book of Mormon suddenly changes from a mass of incoherent language to a beautiful testimony of all that is good and true.

If you allow me to speak directly, you stand in Joseph Smith's place. Each and every reader of the Book of Mormon has been invited to unearth an ancient record from beneath the built-up earth of time, and while it may take years of patience to actually be in a place to comprehend its teachings, we can all eventually begin the arduous task of translating it. By using the twin interpreters of love and faith, you can slowly begin to peel back the seemingly objectionable surface, until you finally stare face-to-face with what lies within. And what lies within is glorious. Beneath each and every flaw lies pure goodwill, incommensurable truth, and above all, the blazing fire of love. But this fire does not stay put. Its embers constantly fly out to those in its presence, and when you behold it in even portion of its glory, it will captivates you with an erupting flame. Soon after everything catches fire, and you will begin to see in everything the brilliant love of God's heaven. Everyone around you will become nobler, each and every idea will contain more truth, and even the very colors surrounding you will shine will a brightness you haven't seen since the days of your childhood. 


That's that. I've actually decided that this will be the last post in this series, as opposed to the three that I tentatively promised you. But before I go, I'd like to say a few words to you in summary.

If you learn to have faith in the Book of Mormon despite all its imperfections, you can better see past the imperfections of all things. This wondrous work of scripture is a perfect laboratory, a remarkable training ground in which you can fearlessly grow the seed of your faith until it blossoms into a veritable Tree of Life. But with faith comes love.   By embracing the strange and the unknowable, the arms of your love can reach even farther than you can see with your eyes. In fact, the Book of Mormon will teach you not only how to extend your love to the unkown reaches of the world, but also to that strangest thing of all - yourself. 

I bear your my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. While it may seem strange and needlessly complicated, it conceals within it a roadmap to the eternties, not only in the hereafter, but in each and every moment. It is the iron rod, and by clinging to it through the darkness of doubt and temptation, it can lead you straight to the source of all good and truth: the love of God. I have tasted this love. As such, I can testify to you that it is greater than all things, for it not only burns brightly beneath this book's pages, but in your heart, and in the eyes of each and every one of God's children.

I am suddenly inspired to offer a challenge to you, the reader: if you love only what you can see with your eyes, or if you fear and despise what is strange or unknown, I invite you to step out of your comfort zone. Read the Book of Mormon, and if you encounter something that  rubs you the wrong way, bring it to God. Either vocally or in your heart, bring the contention you feel to Him, and He will turn it to peace, love, and openness. By doing this you will learn to love without prejudice all that is good and true. You will face the obscurity of fear and hatred, and you will find that it suddenly turns into the brilliance of love.

This I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true and so beautiful. I love this idea of us acting as proxy Joseph Smiths, unearthing and translating the ancient record for ourselves. It goes back to one of your other points in a more recent post, that Mormonism is all about these eternal connections things and people have to each other. The Book of Mormon invites us to explore that connection through this proxy work of personal translation of the text, if you will. The more we study it the more connections we can find in it and in us to all things. This is so true!