Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

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napsack
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Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by napsack » 25 Mar 2016, 13:42

I have seen and heard about many active members who refer to the idea that the BOM not being a literal history isn't big deal in context to their membership as a whole. It seems like many more active members than I had realized currently live with the idea that the BOM is not a literal history, while still believing in the church.

So my question is this: If we imagine the BOM is not a literal history, then how does this affect the validity of the BOM and the validity of the church? Can the church still stand if the BOM is not a literal history?

To be fair, this is an issue I am currently struggling with. I am genuinely interested in how people answer this question and what thought process they use to come to a conclusion. As part of the faith crisis I am currently going through, this has become an increasingly important point for me. Having reviewed DNA, linguistic, archeological, cultural, and other evidence, I am no longer convinced that the BOM is a literal history. In my opinion, this would mean the following:

- The people and civilizations in the BOM were not real; they did not actually exist.
- Joseph Smith (JS) did not fully understand what the BOM was, either during or after translation. Subsequent prophets and church leaders also do not fully understand what the BOM is.
- Moroni and other BOM angels did not literally or physically appear to JS, because they don't exist.
- There were never any gold plates (which makes sense considering the church's recent admission of the use of seer stones)
- Subsequent revelations received by JS (such as the Zelph revelation) were false.
- The BOM itself is contradictory considering it specifically mentions that these were real people occupying a real land and kept real records.
- Christ never actually appeared or administered to the Nephites or any BOM people, casting doubt on the origin of the gospel principles revealed in the BOM.
- The church's basis for many policy decisions and doctrinal interpretations between 1830 and the 2006 BOM intro change (principle to among) were based on false pretenses.

My personal summation is that if the BOM is not a literal history, then the church loses all support and cannot be the true church I have been taught it is.

Thoughts?

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by Curt Sunshine » 25 Mar 2016, 14:22

No time right now, but we have some good threads in our archives about this topic. If someone can find one or two and provide the link(s), that would be great.
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by nibbler » 26 Mar 2016, 11:45

napsack wrote:If we imagine the BOM is not a literal history, then how does this affect the validity of the BOM and the validity of the church? Can the church still stand if the BOM is not a literal history?
That's a good question. I believe that the Community of Christ could provide a decent case study.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community ... _of_Mormon
In 2001, Community of Christ President W. Grant McMurray reflected on increasing questions about the Book of Mormon: "The proper use of the Book of Mormon as sacred scripture has been under wide discussion in the 1970s and beyond, in part because of long-standing questions about its historicity and in part because of perceived theological inadequacies, including matters of race and ethnicity." In the introduction he qualified his statements: "I cannot speak for each person within our community, but perhaps I can say some words on behalf of our community."

At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled as out of order a resolution to "reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record". In so doing he stated that "while the Church affirms the Book of Mormon as scripture, and makes it available for study and use in various languages, we do not attempt to mandate the degree of belief or use. This position is in keeping with our longstanding tradition that belief in the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the church."
It sounds as if they have attempted to go down the road you mention. I don't know whether they've gone down the path of preaching that the BoM is not historical. There's a big difference between doing that and what the leaders said in those two statements. I suspect we'd find people all along the spectrum in the Community of Christ, people that still believed in the historicity of the BoM and those that do not. I feel those statements create room for either extreme.

I also don't know what kind of impact those statements made to the membership, whether it was a relief, a shock, whether people left, etc.

The historicity of the BoM means less to me than it once did. Take the Bible for instance, there's a lot of stuff in the Bible that I no longer view as being historical in nature, but the real value in the Bible is from the lessons that I can extract from it and apply to my life in the here and now. Noah's ark. Probably didn't happen but it teaches me that it's a good idea to make a backup of all my important stuff before reformatting my hard drive. If I'm willing to extend that principle to the Bible why not to the BoM as well... or any book for that matter (fiction or non-fiction). If a Christmas Carol prompts me to live a better life does it really matter whether there was an Ebeneezer Scrooge?
D&C 88:118 wrote:And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this scripture gives me license to do what I was talking about earlier. I'm after wisdom, learning, and faith. Those can come from any source and they don't have to be rooted in history.

I'll single out a few of your conclusions:
napsack wrote:- Christ never actually appeared or administered to the Nephites or any BOM people, casting doubt on the origin of the gospel principles revealed in the BOM.
But it could be possible that Christ did appear to people on other continents. Maybe they didn't label themselves as Nephites, but there's beauty in the message that Christ ministered to everyone... whether he actually did or not. And yes, I realize how that sounds.
napsack wrote:- Subsequent revelations received by JS (such as the Zelph revelation) were false.
This is another "not necessarily" for me. When I can see it, I try to divorce myself from an all or nothing approach. What that means in this context is that I want to be willing to listen to what a person has to say and not feel like I need to force it to resonate with me or reject it without consideration simply because of the person that said it. Maybe JS had some things to say that I want to incorporate into my faith, maybe there are some things that he said that I will never incorporate into my faith. In years past I couldn't have said that. That's the beauty of a faith crisis, it's a process of becoming an arbiter of our own faith.

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DarkJedi
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by DarkJedi » 26 Mar 2016, 13:11

I don't have a tone of time at the moment, but as ray said there are some threads where this has been discussed in depth. I will try to find some of those later.

I see all scripture as non-literal. The Bible contains many stories, some of which have historical context. Yet, the Jews do not view the Bible as historical text. The Bible, in my view, teaches great moral concepts and can lead us to be closer to God and Christ. Jesus himself taught most of his greatest principles using made up stories (parables). Frankly, I see nothing wrong with that. Things we consider to be our greatest literature are made up stories, some with historical context. For me, the Book of Mormon fits in that same realm. It doesn't matter to me if the stories of Adam and Eve or parting the Red Sea or Jonah or Nephi are contrived - they teach a principle that can people closer to God/Christ.

I'm also not subscriber to the domino theory - if the BoM is true, then Joseph was a prophet, then the church is true, etc. I'm not totally certain what "true" is in relation to the BoM (in the above context it's as true as the Bible in my view), but it can be true and Joseph not be a prophet - or they both could be true independent of each other. I'm even less certain what it means when people say the church is "true." In that the church teaches that Jesus is the Christ, it certainly is "true" (along with a bunch of other churches).
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Heber13
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by Heber13 » 26 Mar 2016, 16:42

I believe the church can stand and go forward if it is not a literal history.

I also believe, like many things in life, it is not all black and white dichotomies. It is not all true or all false. Because humans are imperfect and are limited, many events happened, and then in the retelling become embellished to emphasize teachings or are symbolic, metaphorical, mystical, and spiritual. In other words, some things happen as hisoltoricsl facts, and the stories passed down are peppered with truths but not facts. It is not all non literal, but not all as if we had video cameras capturing factual events.

Can the Book of Mormon teach truths about Jesus Christ's gospel while also having folklore and copied verses of the bible and midrash all woven together?

I think it can.

It is not all historical fact, or all made up by Joseph. There are other options.

I think the church would have collapsed by now if not.

My experience with the church influences my view. My experience is that good things exist and are perpetuated that help my family. Spiritual experiences occur. Even if I can't buy everything literal. But I can't call it all false either.

It is a paradox. It requires balance and middle ground.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

napsack
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by napsack » 26 Mar 2016, 20:28

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

After reading the responses and thinking about this more, it seems that lots of people come to the conclusion that there is a distinction between the validity (or "truthfulness") of the church vs. the validity of the church as a source for good teachings that help you get closer to God. The church can still be "good"- that is teach good things and bring people closer to God- while not being "true". People who struggle with doctrine or history end up either adopting a view that alternate interpretation of the doctrine is okay because it still brings them closer to God, or they decide it should be true, isn't, and end up leaving the church. I don't hear many people struggling with this stuff and then adopting a "it is all 100% true" perspective, but I guess its possible.
nibbler wrote:Take the Bible for instance, there's a lot of stuff in the Bible that I no longer view as being historical in nature, but the real value in the Bible is from the lessons that I can extract from it and apply to my life in the here and now. Noah's ark. Probably didn't happen but it teaches me that it's a good idea to make a backup of all my important stuff before reformatting my hard drive. If I'm willing to extend that principle to the Bible why not to the BoM as well... or any book for that matter (fiction or non-fiction).
Heber13 wrote:It is not all historical fact, or all made up by Joseph. There are other options.
DarkJedi wrote:For me, the Book of Mormon fits in that same realm. It doesn't matter to me if the stories of Adam and Eve or parting the Red Sea or Jonah or Nephi are contrived - they teach a principle that can people closer to God/Christ.
So let me maybe restate what I am hearing here. The LDS church (or really any religion) doesn't need to be 100% "true". Rather, we should seek out good things in all forms and from all sources, and if the LDS doctrine and scripture do that for us, then it is serving its purpose.

I totally accept this idea, and I have always felt that truth exists in all religions and in all studies. By this logic, though, there is no reason to be a member of the LDS church over any other church or no church altogether. Really, the big problem here is that the LDS church bases its entire purpose and existence on being the "one true church", restored perfectly by God, with sole authority and sole collection of saving ordinances. This idea can't really coexist with an idea that the church isn't all true.

To clarify, my argument here is largely against the rhetoric of the LDS church that it is the only true church and that everything hinges on the BOM. If the church did not so heavily preach this (and in fact require their membership to believe this), then it would be very easy (and refreshing) to adopt a less strict interpretation of "one true church".
nibbler wrote:But it could be possible that Christ did appear to people on other continents. Maybe they didn't label themselves as Nephites, but there's beauty in the message that Christ ministered to everyone... whether he actually did or not.
This is a good point. I've thought about this, specifically that this could be a metaphor for Christ's earthly ministry in general. I've always thought the descriptions of Christ's appearances to the Nephites were really beautiful summation of Christ's ministry as told in the New Testament.
nibbler wrote:When I can see it, I try to divorce myself from an all or nothing approach.
I really appreciate hearing this, even though I am clearly failing at it. I actually really hate the all or nothing approach and wish that the church didn't build itself on this notion. I feel like I can personally come to the conclusion that the BOM isn't all "true" in history, origin, etc., but that puts me in direct conflict with the church that tells me it absolutely is true. So if the Brethren tell us it is ALL true, then they are not really providing its members much room to adopt alternate views.

I also think that the big problem here is that JS and the church for over 150 years have heavily promoted that it is all historical fact. Even now we hear it over the pulpit and in Sunday School, and the church's recent essays still heavily lean in this direction. I feel that in some regards the church is lying about what it is (or isn't), and this is what really gets me. If the church is not being fully honest, I have a hard time accepting its teachings because they seem so sanitized.

This has been really useful in helping me think through all of this, thanks guys!

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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by amateurparent » 26 Mar 2016, 22:44

Napsack:

Personally, I run into a problem with non-literal belief. When I am out in the community, living my life, and someone finds out that I am a Mormon, they assume certain things. The label, "Mormon" means a very specific core group of beliefs that are congruent with the FP. I have had to ask myself, "do I qualify under that label?" The answer for myself is no.

I tell people that I was raised LDS and that I am not sure what I am at this point, but that I am married to a devout LDS man and our children are being raised LDS.

If you asked LDS leaders on any level what it meant to be Mormon, non-literal belief of the BOM and the JS story would not make the cut. We can talk and write and discuss all we want, but the reality is that non-literal belief separates us from the core tenets of the LDS faith. Mormonism is not just another way to be Christian. There is a reason other churches consider the LDS church to be a cult.

A non-literal Mormon is someone who is culturally LDS but no longer religiously LDS. Some churches have been accused of becoming more like social clubs than religions. LDS Non-literal believers filling the pews will increase that trend. I don't see that as a negative or a positive, but as a trend that is happening. I am curious to see what the backlash from the FP will be.
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by LookingHard » 27 Mar 2016, 06:49

True AP. It will be interesting as more leave and many people come out as NOMs it seems either the reigns will be loosened to be a bit more inclusive OR it could be tightened and become more hard core by nudging out anyone but the most TBM.


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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by Roy » 27 Mar 2016, 10:32

I hear ya Napsack. There is a view that is often promoted at church that everything is 100% literal (from Adam & Eve all the way down to the restoration events of JS). For many people this sort of black and white thinking gives order and purpose to their lives. It helps them to be good citizens and reach fulfillment. It worked for me for many years...and it was good. I do not begrudge it working for other people now. We all believe things at any given moment that are probably not true. As long as they are not hurting themselves or others, who am I to judge.
napsack wrote:
nibbler wrote:But it could be possible that Christ did appear to people on other continents. Maybe they didn't label themselves as Nephites, but there's beauty in the message that Christ ministered to everyone... whether he actually did or not.
This is a good point. I've thought about this, specifically that this could be a metaphor for Christ's earthly ministry in general. I've always thought the descriptions of Christ's appearances to the Nephites were really beautiful summation of Christ's ministry as told in the New Testament.
This is pretty much where I have landed. Was Jesus the son of God? Did he die for us and then overcome death by rising from the grave? I do not know but the concept of a God so full of love that he is willing to sacrifice himself in order to forgive is so beautiful that I want it to be true. That is a concept I can support with my worship.

Is there any life after death? If so will we retain any consciousness and be able to recognize and associate with our loved ones there? Again I do not know. I choose to believe that the temple sealings are beautiful metaphors for the importance of family relationships. While I have no guarantees that I will see my family in the afterlife, I believe that this teaching can help me be a better father and husband in this life.

In comparing JS to biblical/ish prophets like Moses, Jonah, Peter, Lehi, or Mohamed. I believe he absolutely fits the profile of a visionary man who received and taught spiritual truths. If Joseph lived in ancient Israel he could absolutely be a prophet in our bible today (or maybe scriptural history would have regarded him as an anti-hero like Simon Magus or Nehor [Alma1:2-16]. Scriptural narrative can be funny that way.)

For me personally, I am not able to maintain the level of activity, commitment, and sacrifice that the church wants on a sustainable level. If my 10% gets me a ticket into heaven then I would consider it a bargain. If my 10% gets me a nice church community with a strong belief system and some meaningful metaphors... then the cost benefit analysis gets more murky.

I give/serve how I can and stay connected to the community. I do not publicize my divergent viewpoints because I believe it would only serve to isolate and ostracize me and my family.

As a minor success story, I have been able to baptize my two children while not paying a full tithe. My bishop knows that I have faith and hope in many gospel principles but not knowledge (I only ever speak in generalities because I do not want to argue any points.). He has been patient with me as I work through my faith transition.
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"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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DarkJedi
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Re: Book of Mormon- does a literal history matter?

Post by DarkJedi » 27 Mar 2016, 11:34

I think it needs to be pointed out that there seems to be a difference in perception and reality here.

Except perhaps for my baptismal interview, which I remember absolutely nothing about, I don't recall ever being asked whether I believe anything about the Book of Mormon - including whether it is the word of God, a historical record, translated from gold plates, or whether I believe in it at all. It's not a temple recommend question. Neither of my sons say they were asked in their mission prep interviews. Likewise, I have never been asked about Joseph Smith as a prophet (except again in a long ago interview that I don't recall). I have also never been asked if I pray at all, or many other things that we might perceive as things "good members" believe or do. I will not argue the point that GAs do talk about things like Adam & Eve being literal people (and maybe they were, I don't know). But because Pres. Nelson (for example) believes and testifies of Adam & Eve doesn't mean we have to believe that - he never says so, he states his belief.

I think members, especially those in faith crisis and transition, can get too caught up in the ideas of what we're "supposed" to believe, when there really is no such thing - it's only how we perceive it.

So, Napsack, why does it matter if you believe in the Book of Mormon differently than the person sitting next to you? I believe pretty much as you stated - there were no literal Lehi or Nephi or Nephites & Lamanites. There may not have been actual gold plates. Nobody may understand what the BoM really is - including Joseph Smith and his successors. Does that make me any less a Mormon? I don't believe so, I hold a leadership calling in which I regularly speak and a temple recommend. I believe the BoM is a good book that can bring people closer to God and Christ. How am I less of a Mormon than my neighbor?
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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