Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The "Letter to a CES Director" Made Harder

Hello, all! Today, I'm going to get down to something that's been on the radar for me for a while. A few years ago, a fellow named Jeremy T. Runnells published a PDF pamphlet called "Letter to a CES Director, one that criticizes many truth claims made by the LDS Church as untrue. As a document, it reflects an attitude by many up-and-coming LDS youth that the LDS Church "lied to them," purposefully not telling them about things like the seer stone or Joseph Smith's multiple wives in Sunday School or Seminary.

Now, there is a series of books by BYU professor James E. Falcouner called "The Scriptures Made Harder," where he takes scriptural texts and--instead of giving insights to make them easier to understand--raises insights that that make them harder to understand by bringing out their unseen depths. Now, I haven't read these books, but I admire the sentiment behind them. So I'm going to do the same thing with Mr. Runnells' pamphlet. If you admire his work, feel free to continue doing so. I'm just going to use this post to ask questions--questions I won't answer--that will make the clear-cut conclusions he comes to seem less clear cut. For reason I hope you soon see, truth isn't what most people think it is.

I'll go in the order of Runnells' own chapter divisons:

Book of Mormon Concerns and Questions

  1. If the Book of Mormon is unhistorical, does that mean that it isn't true?
  2. Would the Book of Mormon lose any of its power if the events it depicted didn't historically happen?
  3. If so, why?
  4. Does an event have to happen in history for it to have occurred?
  5. Can fiction be true?
  6. What is history anyway?
  7. What does it say about us if we assume the only kind of existence is historical? Isn't that just secular materialism?
  8. Could the Book of Mormon have a symbolic meaning?
  9. Could the Book of Mormon have taken place in another kind of existence entirely?
  10. Could the Book of Mormon have taken place in the spiritual reality where Islamic mystics (among others) say the events of scripture happened? (link)
  11. Could the Book of Mormon be a collection of "archetypes" for events rather than a series of actual historical events? Like a "periodic table of human life?"
  12. Could the Book of Mormon be what scholars of Islam call a "recital?," an "incarnation" of ineffable spiritual events in a symbolic story?
  13. Could the Book of Mormon have been dictated by spiritual presences in the present? Is the Book of Mormon more séance than science?
  14. Could the book of Mormon--as the record of voices "crying from the dust"--be an outcry of the Native American residue in America's collective unconscious, desperately crying for attention in the same year as the infamous Trail of Tears?
  15. Is the Book of Mormon the voice of what Carl Jung calls "the dead" in his Red Book? (link)
  16. Does God always speak in words?
  17. Does God ever speak in words?
  18. If revelation comes from an infinite being, how does an endless meaning get incarnated in finite words and sentences?
  19. Could Joseph Smith himself have come up with the Book of Mormon's verbiage?
  20. Can the Book of Mormon be divine in its meaning and human in its details?
  21. Could the meaning behind the Book of Mormon have clothed itself in the concrete details (words, names, geography) that Joseph Smith knew?

Book of Mormon Translation Concerns and Questions

  1. Does the seer stone have to have been special in itself?
  2. Could the seer stone have been like tea leaves, palms in palm reading, or any medium for interpretive divination? In other words, is it possible that the seer stone was just a way for revelation to embody itself in randomness? (link)

First Vision Concerns and Questions

  1. Do visions actually happen physically?
  2. Do visions happen in time at all?
  3. Can visions become more clear with time and recollection?
  4. Can two (or more) descriptions of an event both be true?

Book of Abraham Concerns and Questions

  1. Can an artifact like the Book of Abraham's papyrus "show forth" something it physically isn't?
  2. When I fall in love with a person who's objectively nasty (i.e. blinded by their beauty, love at first sight, etc.), what am I really falling in love with?
  3. If I get an insight while reading the scriptures that wasn't physically there in the text, did I get the insight from the scriptures or not?
  4. Can a text mean something more than the sum of its words?
  5. Can a text be more of a means than an end for its meaning?

Polygamy/Polyandry Concerns and Questions

  1. Could polygamy have been a manifestation of the gathering?
  2. Does polygamy deconstruct the chauvinistic attitude of "ownership" inherent to some marriages?
  3. Is polygamy wrong?
  4. Are polygamous marriages elsewhere in the world (i.e. in places where it is tradition) valid?
  5. Does God guide those peoples?
  6. Does the attitude that the west's monogamy is the only way implicitly assume a cultural superiority over other cultures where polygamy is the norm?
  7. Could Joseph Smith have been planning a doctrinal development about polygamy he never got to implement (i.e. because he died too soon)?
  8. Would a doctrine of polygamy publicly expounded by Joseph Smith have been the same as the one propounded by Brigham Young?

Prophets Concerns and Questions

  1. What does it mean to "be God?"
  2. Who is Adam anyway?
  3. Is Adam one? Or is Adam many? (Moses 1:34)
  4. What does it mean that the word "Adam" just means "man" in Hebrew?
  5. If Christ said that "ye are gods" (John 10:34), what does that mean for the Adam-God theory?
  6. Could Brigham Young have misinterpreted Joseph Smith?
  7. Does the prophet recite what God dictates? Or does he interpret impressions?
  8. Would dictating revelation like this actually violate agency?
  9. Is revelation--as Blake Ostler has written--a co-creative process between God and humankind?

Witnesses Concerns and Questions

  1. Is imagination real?
  2. Does a vision or a witnessing that occurred only in the imagination have to be false?
  3. Is "spiritual sight" just a version of the imagination? (link)
  4. If so, does that denigrate spiritual sight or elevate the imagination?
  5. Do we ever perceive anything without the imagination? (Reference Kant, etc.)

Temple & Freemasonry Concerns and Questions

  1. Does revelation ever come "sideways?" (i.e. from other people and only indirectly from God?)
  2. If we think of ordinances like those in the temple as "bodies," where are their spirits?
  3. Is the ordinance powerful in itself? Or does it just display power?

Science Concerns and Questions

  1. Is there only one meaning for scripture?
  2. Was the Fall of Adam--like Swedenborg and other religious thinkers think--a fall in human consciousness?
  3. With the right eyes, is death real even now?
  4. How is reading the Bible (or the Book of Mormon) literally like judging someone based on their looks?
  5. If Noah actually, literally, historically built an ark with all the animals, etc., does it affect me at all?
  6. Do I lose anything at all by interpreting the Bible symbolically?
  7. What do I gain?

Other Concerns and Questions

  1. What does it say about the Letter to a CES Director that the author considers two-hundred-year-old inconsistencies to be a bigger problem with the Church than the pain it causes in the present-day (with homosexuality, etc.)?
  2. Was Joseph Smith a manifestation of the "Trickster" archetype, a mischievous but revered type of figure in cultures across the world who "stirs the pot" (even involving lies and deceit) to unravel the too-stuck-up?
  3. Is it significant that Jacob and Joseph from the Old Testament are also Trickster figures (think of Jacob's bowl of pottage or Joseph tricking his brothers in Egypt)?
  4. Is it significant that the Bible takes Jacob's and Joseph's side?
  5. Did Joseph care about the literal meaning of what he taught, or did he care more about the purpose behind it?
  6. Should we care about the literal meaning of what what we teach? What we learn?
  7. Does history even matter?
  8. If not, what does?

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