Wednesday, September 12, 2018

My Testimony (Why the Book of Mormon Opens History)

An attempt at a testimony:

I could have left the Church a long time ago. I have more than every reason to - I went to Westminster as a philosophy major, for heavens sake. Statistically speaking, I *should* have apostatized. I also know about all the skeletons in the Church’s closet, and I know firsthand the injustices that can be perpetrated by church leaders both local and general. But I’m still here. And the *reason* I’m still here has to do with my understanding of history and covenant.

What is history? Is history what *really* happened, what *factually* happened? Is it *only* this? If you think so, you share in a bias that westerners have held that, put under scrutiny, is not only not very old, but is also inconsistent. For one, most (if not all, I’m open to exceptions but haven’t found any) indigenous cultures do not treat history as something that happened in an irrretrievable past. The past is something that we can return to, something we can act out and accomplish. Ritual, for them, is an attempt to return to *first* time things were done, to do things in the same way that the mythical ancestors did them for the first time, and so make action something that isn’t only a function of something “discovered” in the past tense but a present-tense, repeated, ongoing “discovery.” The past isn’t dead but repeats itself whenever we return to it in ritual. If you’re noticing parallels to the temple, this isn’t an accident, but I’ll hold off of that for now. To assume that history, however, is merely something that happened factually in the way we naively assume today not only ignores that this seems to be the default setting of human beings but also ignores the fact the all-seeing eye of history is purely hypothetical, never has, and never will exist. Though we can retrieve accounts of the past, artifacts from it, and though this is very very useful and sorely needed in many ways, it has the drawback that (like all modes of knowledge nowadays) it assumes it can understand something without at the same time *enacting* something in it. History places no demands on the historian to act in a certain way. Of course, history demands good historiography, and the study of history can demand good action from what you learn there. Not contesting that. Instead, I mean that the historian (like the chemist with his test tube or the biologist with her dissected animal corpse) assumes wrongly that she can understand history from the outside, by *describing* it, and not by acting it out. If this *were* the case, the study of history would be sacred ritual. But it isn’t.

To summarize my point so far, you can only ever understand something completely by *putting it on* and *acting it out*. To describe from the outside, and to assume that description can suffice, is to confuse motricity and perception, to confuse time with space, to confuse verbs with nouns and the present tense with the past tense.There is no all-seeing eye, no view from nowhere. For if there were, it would not be able to see the conditions for its own seeing, the lens of its own eyes or the back of its head, in the same way that a book which purports to include everything can’t exist because if it were to include everything, it would have to include itself, which would then include itself in this itself, and never get to the point but only regress indefinitely. This infinite regress that happens when you represent representation, by the way, is not only what you see when you face two mirrors against each other but also what happens when you take psychedelics and you see the mandalic flower tunnel that leads off into infinity. Sight is cracking under the perception of sight and reality (i.e. The participative, self-transcending, motor factor that precedes sight) is making itself clear. But that’s neither here nor there (literally...ha!).

So when I hear things like how the Book of Mormon has little to no historical evidence (open to correction here) or how there were no horses or wheels in ancient America, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The Book of Mormon is still true even if it has no evidence, even, crucially *if it didn’t happen in history*. Why? I’ll put it a few ways. First, to paraphrase Joe Spencer, it’s not because its history or lack thereof is or ever was in question or, really, the point; it isn’t; its point is to call *your* history into question. In other words, the Book of Mormon is an act of updating history as a closed system, and history is closed, as I talked about above, because it posits an object without a subject. The Book of Mormon gives you no such luxury. Like no other book from the time period, it *addresses* and *challenges* you. *You*, the reader, the one who then has to either accept or reject its challenge and who, thereby, is cast in and acts out a role *that the Book of Mormon itself put you in.* There’s a reason the church’s exoduses parallel the journeys in 1 Nephi, Mosiah, and Ether, a reason why missionary accounts are often so similar to stories from ~Alma 20, even a reason why the typical ex-Mormon claims (this is just confirmation bias; you lay clergy are, somehow, after our tithing money) parallel Korihor’s soliloquies: these people are all responding to the Book of Mormon’s claims about itself in ways that make them, unwittingly, cast as types of people in the Book who were, likewise, also responding to scripture. The Book is a call to action, an action *itself*, that not only describes the action it is but also furthers it. I.e. It is proprioceptive: it not only describes, not only acts, but, in acting, describes itself, and in describing, acts itself out according to its description of itself. This, like the psychedelic tunnel with perception, is a window out of and into history that, crucially, *remakes history in its image.* You don’t have to believe in it to help accomplish its project in this way. You just have to read it. Your reactions will do the rest.

But I, for one, want to be on the right side of (this rip in) history. And that’s where the covenant bit comes in. The Book of Mormon is a covenant in the sense that, if I believe it and act in the way it commands me to act, I will then receive blessings in the way that it decribes: i.e. I will receive a witness that it is true, will speak with the tongues of angels, will become sanctified in Christ. The Book of Mormon is, then, an “If-then” statement, a proprioceptive if-then statement, a description of a chain of events where it and its effects on me are among those events. I want those blessings, I want to speak with the tongues of angels. Moreover, I want the world that the Book of Mormon promises is possible: a world without contention, a world with centuries of peace, a world where the daughter(s) of Zion arise from the dust and put on their beautiful garments. So I try to follow the commandments, and I try to obey the covenant.

This is how I see the Church at large. It seems out of its depth at times, it reeks of hierarchy and senility, but it is predicated not only on the opening into history that the Book of Mormon (and prayer, patriarchal bessings, and the temple ceremonies, etc.) is and are, but also on the continual capacity to revise and update based on that opening. The brethren are mortal men cast by the Book of Mormon, God and their encounter with both in certain ways, and they are trying to act out those roles with unwearying (if sometimes uninformed or tactless) diligence and faith. And it shows. General Conference talks have a profound effect on me often *without regard to what the speaker says.* It’s because something in it speaks to me from that place before, above, and within time, reminds me of the covenants I have made, teaches me how to be me in God’s way. I will not apologize for my faithfulness in and to the Church. God is at the helm, and what this means is that we are each cast in a role based on our reactions to the divine impulse in the Book of Mormon and everything that came from it. We will transform the world if that Book has its way, and I intend to assist in that process, the way it hisses forth from generation to generation, the way Zion strengthens her stakes and enlarges her borders forever and ever, the way God transforms history.

I say these things, as I occasionally do online, in the name of Jesus Christ, my savior. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting take on the Book of Mormon, and the archetypes contained within it, through it, and after its publication. I believe Joseph Smith was a vessel for consciousness to espouse some truths. I like how you said general conference talks can open that connection to the divine for you, like a mandala. (Personally I see general authorities as fossilized automatons. Gives a new meaning to seer stones!)