Just re-read Runnells' CES Letter. A few troubling things about his approach:
1) He assumes that the only valid mode of viewing the world is one of western rationalism from the last few centuries. Never mind that this point of view is a historical aberration compared with the vast swathes of human history and pre-history (tens of thousands of which were unchanged in shamanic, tribal systems). Never mind how this rational aberration is associated with western imperialism and is, arguably, its root. Never mind how talking about "magical thinking, superstitious, inconsistent, and treasure digging men" as Runnells does uses the same kind language that we *could* use to describe, say, indigenous tribes in Africa or the Amazon in ways that we would find deeply offensive and subject to imperialistic bias.
2a) Along the same lines, he assumes that a vision can only ever be "imagination." Not only is this part of a centuries-long act of making the imagination, the psychic factor, into an enemy, something that can't be real (part of the above rational-imperialistic factor), but this attitude ignores that imagination is a) something *very* real, at least subjectively (ask someone suffering from schizophrenic hallucinations), and b) is arguably real in a way that is ontologically primary. There is no encountering the world *without* imagination (that's not a couch; that's a bunch of quarks).
2b) Moreover, I consider that part of the essay nonsense because I and many other people I know have had super-sensory experiences (i.e. visions) that are both difficult to explain scientifically and self-evidently real to us. You can say visions are *mere* hallucinations, but (in the words of Swedenborg, who not only had visions, but had visions that told him things he shouldn't have been able to know) "by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt."
3) He just skips over the fact that the Book of Mormon is remarkably self-consistent and the witness accounts to the translation process (some of them by enemies) that say he just dictated, line-by-line, sometimes picking up mid-sentence from where he left off. He also ignores that the Book of Mormon's history has a remarkable internal consistency (both in terms of time, geography, internal reference, and narrative voice, though, to be fair, he gives an explanation of the Book's geography that could explain it in that realm). This is a human impossibility. That didn't stop it from happening, however, not only with people like Joseph Smith but also with Helen Schucman, the one who received the book A Course in Miracles and (no doubt) others.
4) And, the piece de resistance, this work is about history and historical weirdness and inconsistencies. He seems to only be concerned *about* history. Never mind the problem of gay marriage or about the dysfunctional sexual complexes acted out and perpetrated in the church at large. If there's going to be a problem in the Church, says Runnells, it's going to be the fact that Joseph Smith was a treasure seer. I *like* weirdness, everything New-Age and woo-woo, and the fact that Runnells sees it as something *self-evidently* worth rejecting is symptomatic of not only Runnells' biases but also the biases of the people swayed by the letter. I have no patience for people who leave the Church because of history. None. Leaving for political or present-day practical issues - I respect *that*. It means you care MORE about the living than the dead, more about people than ideas. But if you're going to leave because of dowsing rods and peeping stones...you're halfway to neckbeard, bucko.
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