Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Book of Mormon: What It Is And What It Is Not

Recently, I have begun to read The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ fro the beginning again. As always, I continue to be impressed with the work, as well as continuing to gain new insights into the work itself. One thing is for sure: Joseph Smith, Jr. could not have produced such a work. It is my testimony that this book is a book preserved by God himself for our day.

However, in this post I do not want to give my testimony as much as I want to point out two logical fallacies, one committed by non-members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the other by active believing members.

The first fallacy, committed by non-members, is this "Because the Book of Mormon does not contain all the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it cannot be stated to contain the fulness of the gospel." Here non-members commit the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy; meaning that they reduce the Book of Mormon down to two choices when there may be more options available. 

The problem here is that the non-believer is reading into the Book of Mormon what the book does not say about itself. The purpose of the book, according to its cover page, is "Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Book of Mormon Title Page).

Notice here that the Book of Mormon has 3 purposes: 1. To show the remnant of the House of Israel that the Lord blessed their ancestors 2. For the remnant (as well as others) to remember the covenants the Lord has made with his people 3. Convincing all people that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the God of this world. Among the reasons listed is not to tell all people what all the correct ordinances or teachings of the gospel are. To say that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because it does not contain all doctrines, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ is similar to saying that Darwinian evolution cannot be true because it does not teach us the origin of the universe. Darwinian evolution does not claim to teach the origin of the universe, and the Book of Mormon does not claim to teach all the doctrines of the gospel.

The second fallacy I wish to address is committed my members and missionaries every day. The argument goes like this: If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet. Here members are committing the fallacy known as "begging the question", a fallacy committed by assuming that because the premise is true that the conclusion must also be true. This argument also commits the false dichotomy fallacy by giving us two options.

Nowhere in the text of the Book of Mormon does it say that the person who brings the book forward would be a prophet. It merely says that the person who brings it forward would be blessed (Mormon 8:16). So, the Book of Mormon could be true and Joseph Smith could be a false prophet. In order for a person to know whether Joseph Smith is a prophet, they will need to read his teachings and ask God about them (Moroni 4-5). Praying about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon would give a person a confirmation only that the words contained within the text are true.

I hope that as members and non-members read the Book of Mormon they will root their understanding of it in the text itself and not write their own metatext into the text. Doing so may cause us to lose sight of what the book and God want to teach us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review of "By the Hand of Mormon"

To all of my faithful readers, I apologize for being away from the blog for several weeks. Many things have been going on in my life, among them registering for school which unfortunately also included establishing my residency in the state of Utah, an appellation that I am not proud of. But, you have to do what you have to do. Now that that is completed, I am happy to state that I will be blogging more frequently, at least twice a week. Also, I may be switching to a wordpress format soon, so just giving you a heads up.

After finishing up "The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration" by Tad R. Callister, i struggled to pick a new book from my library to read, but I eventually chose "By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion" by Terryl Givens. A little background on the author, Terryl Givens is a professor of English and Religion at the University of Richmond, and the author of 11 books, with the 12th in process of being printed. A theologian, historian, and man of letters, Givens is known to be very meticulous with his scholarship, and shows himself to be very unbiased and lets the evidence speak for itself, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions (if I did not know that Givens was a Mormon from reading his book, I would not have known after reading it.) In my estimation, Givens is the St. Augustine of Mormonism; Blake Ostler is the St. Thomas Aquinas of Mormonism. Hopefully both can write together at some point.

In this book, Givens focuses on three important things: 1. How the Book of Mormon came into existence 2. What was its meaning to the early members of the Latter-day Saint movement 3. What is its importance today.

On the first point, Givens points out the traditional story of the obtaining of the plates from the Angel Moroni by the Prophet Joseph Smith, but adds in that Joseph was often lectured by the angel for his weakness, and at one point even struck by the angel for attempting to take the plates before the time was right. He points out that the seer stone was used during translation (the LDS Church recently talked about that here), and that the Prophet dictated hour after hour with no need of being reminded where he left off. Suffice it to say in terms of translation of the book, there are really only two options: Joseph Smith translated it by the gift and power of God, or he is the best fraud of all time. Impressive either way.

The second point was very interesting, because it brought to the forefront something I had known about for some time, but had not really thought about. In the Church, and in life most of the time, we think that things have always been done a certain way because we have only known of them being done a certain way. Take the missionary lessons for instance. Today, we start with lesson 1, which encompasses who God is, the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Apostasy, and finally the Restoration. However, the first missionaries did not teach that way. Instead, they showed the Restoration had happened through a return of the age of miracles, which the Book of Mormon itself was an evidence. My colleague and friend Dr. Daymon Smith has written 5 volumes on this, and his views are quite antithetical to Givens and mine, but worth the read anyway.

The third and final point was about how the Book of Mormon is used today. Here Givens talks about dialogic revelation, which is a fundamental idea in the Latter-day Saint movement. He talks about the fact the ultimately the Book of Mormon conveys a message that is often overlooked. That i that God has spoken to people throughout human history, and he continues to do so today. But this speaking is not contained to prophets and apostles alone; the heavens are opened to you. This something that Givens also talks about in his other works, but he lays it out well in this brief ending chapter.

Givens also touches on how the Book of Mormon has been shown to be historical by evidence in archaeology, as well as the text itself with its linguistic complexity. Again, Givens shows evidence, but does not claim to prove anything by these things. But, the evidence is sufficient enough that one can legitimately claim the Book of Mormon is an ancient text rather than a 19th century myth.

I highly recommend this and all of Dr. Givens other works. 5 stars out of 5 stars.