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Liberal Theology and Traditional Lds Apologetics


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Many of you are familiar with my faith crisis material, which is defending the Church more in the vein of liberal theologians who acknowledge or concede truth claim issues to critics but focus on the lived experience and spiritual and religious value, and to view historical and absolute claims as metaphorical. I'm putting together a 12 episode podcast series titled "Faith Crisis and Reconstruction" to share my paradigm.   

 

From the first episode:

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My third intended audience are the informed scholars and apologists, and I'll make a note on that word apologist a little later. The informed defenders and other church leaders or traditional active believing members who are very, very aware of the issues and who are involved in the faith crisis, community, helping others and defending the church, helping people go through this.  I would like to speak to you to share this paradigm and see if you might be able to incorporate some of my message or if we might be able to work together more.

I would like to be a part of FairMormon. I consider myself an apologist and I sat there in the FairMormon conference when Elder Kevin Pearson from the quorum of the 70 spoke and told us that helping people in the faith crisis community is not just the church's job. It's all the member's job. And he invited people to do YouTube channels and blogs and podcasts to try to reach people, to try to help people.

It's a big problem. This faith crisis problem right now. And the church alone can't do it. And I felt the Holy Ghost in that moment. And I felt inspired to make even more of a difference than I was already trying to do. I consider myself as part of this tent of Mormon apologists. And I hope that you FairMormon types can see me that way and that we can maybe work together more.

...

Today's apologetics are like the BOM Central, FairMormon and The Interpreter. I interact a lot with these guys and I consider them my friends. And there's some tension between us because we don't see eye to eye on some things. Especially book of Mormon historicity is a big deal. And so we don't see eye to eye on some of these issues and there's some tension, but I would like to work as hard as I can to reconcile that tension and to be considered more aligned with them. I think we have a lot more in common than we have different. I think that in the field of LDS Apologetics, there could be on the extreme side, on this one side that the church is true metaphorical paradigm.  I really think that works and can be most beneficial to the church and field of LDS Apologetics.

 

Thoughts? Are our paradigms so different we could never be viewed as being on the same team? Or is this possible?

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4 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "liberal theologians who acknowledge or concede truth claim issues to critics."

The BOM Central / FAIRMormon / Interpreter crowd seem to do fine in "acknowledging" that "issues" exist in relation to the Church's central "truth claim{s}."  These "issues" are the sine qua non of their work, the bulk of which is based on acknowledging, and then contextualizing and addressing, those issues.

The problem, I think, arises when "liberal theologians" give away the farm.  When they go beyond "acknowledging" issues and controversies about the Church's truth claims, and actually abandon and/or turn against those claims.  That, in my view, is not workable.

Amasa Lyman went beyond being a "liberal theologian."  While serving as an apostle and as a member of the presidency of the Church's European Mission, he "preached a sermon in Dundee, Scotland, which all but denied the reality of and the necessity for the atonement of Jesus Christ," a concept he continued to preach years later even after being corrected and after he apologized for it.  He was subsequently released as an apostle, and within a few years was affiliating with an apostate sect, and was then excommunicated (his membership and status as an apostle were posthumously reinstated).

I think affirmatively rejecting the historicity of The Book of Mormon is a more recent example of going too far.  Some of these folks have tried to couch this in terms potentially palatable to fellow Latter-day Saints (via the "inspired fiction" approach).  I find that massively problematic.  The central conceit of the Inspired Fiction concept is that Joseph Smith lied about it.  About the visions.  The dreams.  The angels.  The ancient plates buried in a hill.  The translation of those plates by "the gift and power of God."  Or else he was so profoundly mentally ill that he was a "pious fraud" about these things.  Or, if we are really going to scrape the bottom of the barrel, that God commanded Joseph to lie about these things.

If The Book of Mormon is fictional, then there were no plates (no Lehi --> no Nephi -------> no Mormon --> no abridgement of records --> no Moroni --> no resurrected Moroni --> no visitations to Joseph --> no plates buried in a hillside, etc.).  Was there a sham artifact?  If so, where did it come from?  Did Joseph Smith make it?  Did he collude with others to make it?  Did God tell him to fabricate these plates?  Did God also tell him to lie about these plates being an ancient record?  If there were no real ancient plates, then how do "inspired fiction" folks account for the testimonies of the Witnesses?  Were they lying when they said an angel came down from heaven and showed them the plates?  Were they collectively deluded/insane, yet somehow all experiencing the same delusion at the same time?

To be frank, I think the Inspired Fiction folks have not really thought through the ramifications of their proposal.   The "fake but accurate," "I can reject what The Book of Mormon claims to be and what Joseph Smith represented it to be, but still accept it as scripture" type of reasoning is a fundamentally flawed line of reasoning. Elder Oaks aptly described it as "not only reject(ing) the concepts of faith and revelation that The Book of Mormon explains and advocates, but it is also not even good scholarship."

This is why I find advocacy of this approach problematic. Such advocates are steering others up a spiritual blind alley; a path, I think, which sooner or later will culminate in a crisis of faith and/or a rejection of The Book of Mormon. After all, one who rejects its historicity has already rejected a substantive, even vital, part of the book. Rejecting the rest of it would seem to be just a matter of time.  I think an affirmative denial of the book's historicity will, sooner or later, become fatal to a testimony of the book. Ambivalence about historicity is perhaps possible, but affirmative denial is, I think, not compatible with an enduring and efficacious testimony of The Book of Mormon.

I think there is room for principled disagreement on many issues in the Church, including "hot button" issues like the general location of the events described in The Book of Mormon (Central America v. "Heartland Model" v. Hemispheric), the scope of the Great Deluge (global v. localized), evolution, and so on.  However, the "Inspired Fiction" theory is, I think, not merely "principled disagreement."  It necessarily requires a rejection of many important, perhaps even core, elements of the Restored Gospel, most notably the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and his claims about angelic visitations, the restoration of the priesthood, the origins of The Book of Mormon, and so on.

 

The Church's tent is big, but at the end of the day it still has boundaries.  I think there are limits as to how liberally we can construe the doctrines of the Church.  I think perhaps the three primary limitations are:

  • A) the proximity of the teaching to the "core" teachings of the Church, 
  • B) how far the individual who holds "unorthodox" views goes in terms of persuading others in the Church to accept those views, and
  • C) whether the individual sets himself/herself up as a voice of authority contrary and superior to that of the Brethren.

This is why the scriptures and the Church provide extensive mandates to guard against apostasy and false doctrine.

The "inspired fiction" approach to The Book of Mormon requires an affirmative rejection of The Book of Mormon as what it claims to be, and what Joseph Smith and the Witnesses said it is. To accept it on those grounds would be like saying "Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Lord and Savior, even though I reject the idea that he ever actually existed." A fictional Christ does not work, and neither does a fictional Book of Mormon.

I think those who seek salvation, but who reject the messengers who bring it, are in serious error.  Nevertheless, as deeply flawed as their position is, I welcome such persons who buy into the "inspired fiction" meme in fellowship in the Church.  We are all of us working to improve our understanding of God and His plans for us.  It is not for me to withdraw or withhold fellowship from those who differ from me on this issue.  I also won't speculate as to their standing in the Church generally, and will instead leave such things to those who are in authority and have proper stewardship.

Thanks,

-Smac

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I think 100 years ago people made similar arguments about things like a young Earth or a global flood that now even conservative religionists incorporate into their worldview. Maybe I'm 100 years too early. Or maybe it will never go that far. 

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17 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I think 100 years ago people made similar arguments about things like a young Earth or a global flood that now even conservative religionists incorporate into their worldview.

I'm not sure about that.  See, e.g., these remarks by Elder John A. Widtsoe in 1909:

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The scientific doctrine of the great age of the earth, rests largely upon the evidence of the orderly arrangement of plant and animal fossils in the rocks constituting the upper portion of the earth’s crust. Those who hold to the six day theory of creation, claim that in accordance with the above quotation from the Prophet Joseph, these stratilied rocks, containing fossils, are fragments of other worlds, and do not represent processes that have taken place on this earth. Why fossils may have been formed on other worlds, but not on the earth, is nearly as difficult to understand as the doctrine that living, intelligent beings are found only on the earth. Modern science has developed a doctrine like that of Joseph Smith, which teaches that heavenly bodies may be made up of fragments of destroyed worlds, but the parts of destroyed worlds which go to build new heavenly bodies are minute, even microscopic in size. There are numerous strong evidences against the view that large sections of other worlds were brought together to form this earth (see an article by Dr. J. E. Talmage, Improvement Era vol 7, p 481). Primarily, it would not be the way of nature, as we know it. God, who is nature's master, does his work in a natural manner.... The more the matter is carefully examined, the firmer grows the belief that the creation of the earth occupied immense time periods, the exact length of which is not yet given to man to know. This view does not in any way discredit the book of books, the Holy Bible. The Bible must be read with understanding minds; as :1 hook, it must no more be held to a word. than a man desires so to be held. By verse and chapter and book, the Bible will be found an accurate, inspired record of the most wonderful and valuable events and doctrines of the world. However, it must not be forgotten that the Apostle Paul has reminded us that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” God reveals himself in nature; and when nature is read understandingly God may thereby in part be comprehended. There is no conflict between the story of the rocks and the Bible, except as man has made it. Finally, it must be said that so far as living a correct gospel life is concerned, it matters little whether or not we know the time God consumed in making the earth a fit habitation for man.

And these from Elder Charles Penrose (same link) :

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In times past a large portion of the religious world, following perhaps the chronology of the scriptures given by Archbishop Usher, believed that the creation took place in the year 4004 before Christ. but this no longer prevails among enlightened people, and has been exploded by researches and developments and scientific observation. Geology, or "the science of the earth.” has demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that the earth is such a young; planet in this universe. We do not regard geology as sufficiently scientific to determine exactly the period when this globe rolled into organized existence, revolving on its own axis and traveling [sic] on its career round the sun, but the data furnished by thoroughly sincere and truth exploring geologists are sufficiently definite and reliable to prove that this planet existed and moved and had its being long ages before the six-thousand-years period....

The light thus thrown on the process of creation and the periods thereof , throws hack the age of the earth at least :1 period of six thousand years before the time set forth in the chronology, which for 3 long time was accepted in Christendom. Readers of the Bible should understand that the figures placed at the head of chapters therein are in It large degree speculative and unreliable: some of them, showing the periods from the birth of some of the patriarchs to that of others. are measurably correct, because they are computed from statements given in the sacred record. But those ventured as starting points on which to calculate the age of the earth, are altogether mere matters of conjecture? That which we have referred to as given by modern revelation does not die- close. or profess to disclose, the actual age of the earth. It only starts from the period alluded to in Genesis 1: 3, when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” How many ages upon ages passed from the time called “in the beginning," to that when God called forth the light out of the midst of the darkness, cannot be gleaned from any revelation or scripture ancient or modem, that is now known to man.

Neither the periods nor the processes of the development of the earth from the nucleus or starting point of its organized development are revealed in the sacred writings, but there may have been eons of ages between the time mentioned as “in the beginning” until the time when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” And it should not be thought that this command of Deity was the actual creation or formation of light, for that is an eternal principle or manifestation of an eternal essence. It was simply the bringing forth of light to penetrate “the darkness which was upon the face of the deep.” So, when after several periods in the order of creation “God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night,” and further, when it is said, “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also,” it is not to be understood that they were for the first time brought into being, but that they were disclosed to this globe, and their influence was brought to bear upon it by the clearing away of the dense mists that had surrounded this planet.

And these remarks by Elder Talmage from 1904 (same link) :

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A clear distinction must be made between theory and fact. The observations last referred to are in no sense representative of theory, but, on the contrary, stand as demonstrated facts. The planetesimal hypothesis suggests the formation of worlds—of this earth, at 1east—by the coming together of small but discrete particles, world-dust, if you please, but not large masses of structural character. However, the theory does not deny that during the early formative stages of the earth, ponderous masses may have thus fallen together; but neither theory nor observed facts war- rant the belief that the present structure of the outer parts of the earth is in any way due to the structure of the infalling bodies, Whether particles comparable to dust, or masses of greater size. Approximately nine-tenths of the land surface today consists of stratified or sedimentary rocks. These are composed of the debris of earlier formations, which material by erosion, transportation, and re-deposition has been laid down as orderly beds at the bottom of ocean, sea, or lake. Even the oldest eruptive and metamorphic rocks known to us appear to consist of the material of yet more ancient rocks, changed and made over in the construction of the formations as we now observe them. He would be rash in- deed, who would attempt to affirm that he had identified any rock formation as part of the so-called first or primitive crust. What- ever may have been the character of the planetesimal bodies, the existing structure of the earth’s crust is the result of causes less remote than the original accretion of these bodies,—causes of a kind yet operating,—disintegration, removal, and re-deposition in the case of these dimentaries, volcanism and metamorphism in the case of crystalline rocks.

These fellows seem like the forerunners of the BOM Central / FAIRMormon / Interpreter crowd, in that they were seeking to reconcile the truth claims of the Church with what they were observing in the natural/scientific world. 

In contrast, the "inspired fiction" folks are not reconciling the Church's claims about The Book of Mormon, they are jettisoning them.

17 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

Maybe I'm 100 years too early. Or maybe it will never go that far. 

Too early for what?

Thanks,

-Smac

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1 hour ago, churchistrue said:

Many of you are familiar with my faith crisis material, which is defending the Church more in the vein of liberal theologians who acknowledge or concede truth claim issues to critics but focus on the lived experience and spiritual and religious value, and to view historical and absolute claims as metaphorical. I'm putting together a 12 episode podcast series titled "Faith Crisis and Reconstruction" to share my paradigm.   

 

From the first episode:

Thoughts? Are our paradigms so different we could never be viewed as being on the same team? Or is this possible?

What would you state as your goal?  If it's to facilitate understanding each other, then I think that is fine and honorable, and conceivably the greatest thing you would ever be able to do, but most likely all of you would still disagree.

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16 minutes ago, Ahab said:

What would you state as your goal?  If it's to facilitate understanding each other, then I think that is fine and honorable, and conceivably the greatest thing you would ever be able to do, but most likely all of you would still disagree.

My primary goal is to help people who love the church and go through faith crisis and can't make it work with the traditional FairMormon type explanations, for those people I would like them to consider staying in the church with the paradigm I share rather than leave. 

My secondary goal which relates to my post here is to have the established power brokers in the faith crisis world (ie FairMormon and other Apologists or defenders) accept my paradigm as a valid, albeit inferior, form of perspective/testimony of the church. And to relieve the tension between those in my camp and those in the FairMormon camp and to cooperate together in the effort to save souls and build up the kingdom.

 

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17 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

My primary goal is to help people who love the church and go through faith crisis and can't make it work with the traditional FairMormon type explanations, for those people I would like them to consider staying in the church with the paradigm I share rather than leave. 

Is it your understanding that the BOM Central / FAIRMormon / Interpreter crowd would rather have these folks leave the Church?

17 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

My secondary goal which relates to my post here is to have the established power brokers in the faith crisis world (ie FairMormon and other Apologists or defenders) accept my paradigm as a valid, albeit inferior, form of perspective/testimony of the church. And to relieve the tension between those in my camp and those in the FairMormon camp and to cooperate together in the effort to save souls and build up the kingdom.

First, I would like to better understand what your "paradigm" entails.  Belief in God?  Acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer?  Belief in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith?  Belief in the Restoration?

Second, what would it mean for FAIR and "other apologists or defenders" to "accept {your} paradigm?"  What would that entail?  Some sort of détente?  What would you expect this crowd to change in their behavior?  What would you have them do that they are not presently doing?

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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1 hour ago, churchistrue said:

for those people I would like them to consider staying in the church with the paradigm I share rather than leave. 

We have seen this presented before by others on the interweb. Usually their membership is affected. 

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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

I'm not sure about that.  See, e.g., these remarks by Elder John A. Widtsoe in 1909:

And these from Elder Charles Penrose (same link) :

And these remarks by Elder Talmage from 1904 (same link) :

These fellows seem like the forerunners of the BOM Central / FAIRMormon / Interpreter crowd, in that they were seeking to reconcile the truth claims of the Church with what they were observing in the natural/scientific world. 

In contrast, the "inspired fiction" folks are not reconciling the Church's claims about The Book of Mormon, they are jettisoning them.

Too early for what?

Thanks,

-Smac

Probably too early for that degree of falling away from the truth to be accepted as normative and palatable. 

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4 hours ago, churchistrue said:

Many of you are familiar with my faith crisis material, which is defending the Church more in the vein of liberal theologians who acknowledge or concede truth claim issues to critics but focus on the lived experience and spiritual and religious value, and to view historical and absolute claims as metaphorical. I'm putting together a 12 episode podcast series titled "Faith Crisis and Reconstruction" to share my paradigm.   

From the first episode:

Thoughts? Are our paradigms so different we could never be viewed as being on the same team? Or is this possible?

I have been carrying on a conversation with someone on another platform online.  He had initially raised questions about the LDS ban on Black priesthood, and I apprised him of several of the complexities of that issue, while he asked about differences of opinion among GAs on that issue.  I finally congratulated him on at least coming to grips with those issues, but he thought I was putting him on.  I had to assure him that I was sincere.  After all, he was at least dealing with the issue, which is where the road to understanding begins.  It is a process, not an end -- particularly for those just starting out in their inquiries.

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4 hours ago, smac97 said:

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "liberal theologians who acknowledge or concede truth claim issues to critics."

The BOM Central / FAIRMormon / Interpreter crowd seem to do fine in "acknowledging" that "issues" exist in relation to the Church's central "truth claim{s}."  These "issues" are the sine qua non of their work, the bulk of which is based on acknowledging, and then contextualizing and addressing, those issues.

The problem, I think, arises when "liberal theologians" give away the farm.  When they go beyond "acknowledging" issues and controversies about the Church's truth claims, and actually abandon and/or turn against those claims.  That, in my view, is not workable.

................................................

The Church's tent is big, but at the end of the day it still has boundaries.  I think there are limits as to how liberally we can construe the doctrines of the Church.  I think perhaps the three primary limitations are:

  • A) the proximity of the teaching to the "core" teachings of the Church, 
  • B) how far the individual who holds "unorthodox" views goes in terms of persuading others in the Church to accept those views, and
  • C) whether the individual sets himself/herself up as a voice of authority contrary and superior to that of the Brethren.

..............................................

One question might be as to what is "liberal."  Is it liberal, for example, to concede that Joseph used a seerstone in a hat to read the English text of the BofM to his scribes?  I know of hard core conservatives in Independence, Missouri, who reject any such suggestion.  Is it liberal to concede that Joseph Smith opposed slavery, would not allow segregated congregations, and approved of the ordination of Black men?  Including making Elijah Abel a Seventy and sending him on three missions.  Is it liberal to find that Brigham Young lost his way in banning Black priesthood and Black temple access, etc., and that Orson Pratt was correct?  Who were the conservatives in that debate?  Was it conservative or liberal of Elder McConkie to have denounced his own previous opinions on the negroes (along with denouncing the opinions of B. Young and G. Cannon, et al.) in his Aug 1978 sermon at BYU?

Is it liberal to concede that the language of the BofM in the manuscripts is Early Modern English, and that it was a language unknown to Joseph Smith?  Does Dan Vogel take the conservative position in insisting on a purely 19th century BofM English text?

Was it liberal of young Joseph Smith to have gone out 200 years ago into the grove to pray, thinking that God might actually reply?  Was it conservative of a local pastor to have criticized him for such hubris?

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16 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

One question might be as to what is "liberal." 

Yes.  That's why I put it in quotes.  It depends on the context, I suppose.  In terms of doctrine, and relative to the rest of Christianity, we are theologically "liberal."  However, many Latter-day Saints are sociopolitically "conservative."

16 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Is it liberal, for example, to concede that Joseph used a seerstone in a hat to read the English text of the BofM to his scribes?  I know of hard core conservatives in Independence, Missouri, who reject any such suggestion.  Is it liberal to concede that Joseph Smith opposed slavery, would not allow segregated congregations, and approved of the ordination of Black men?  Including making Elijah Abel a Seventy and sending him on three missions.  Is it liberal to find that Brigham Young lost his way in banning Black priesthood and Black temple access, etc., and that Orson Pratt was correct?  Who were the conservatives in that debate?  Was it conservative or liberal of Elder McConkie to have denounced his own previous opinions on the negroes (along with denouncing the opinions of B. Young and G. Cannon, et al.) in his Aug 1978 sermon at BYU?

Is it liberal to concede that the language of the BofM in the manuscripts is Early Modern English, and that it was a language unknown to Joseph Smith?  Does Dan Vogel take the conservative position in insisting on a purely 19th century BofM English text?

Was it liberal of young Joseph Smith to have gone out 200 years ago into the grove to pray, thinking that God might actually reply?  Was it conservative of a local pastor to have criticized him for such hubris?

Yep.  Context.

I'm not sure "liberal" and "conservative" fit within the Latter-day Saint paradigm.

Thanks,

-Smac

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5 hours ago, smac97 said:

The "inspired fiction" approach to The Book of Mormon requires an affirmative rejection of The Book of Mormon as what it claims to be, and what Joseph Smith and the Witnesses said it is. To accept it on those grounds would be like saying "Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Lord and Savior, even though I reject the idea that he ever actually existed." A fictional Christ does not work, and neither does a fictional Book of Mormon.

A fictional Christ does not work because a fictional Christ cannot save anyone, but I'm not sure so much is riding on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Many scriptural productions are not "what they claim to be"—how many books in the Bible contain nonfactual accounts or are written under a false name, yet still have spiritual value? Joseph Smith declared that "The Book of Mormon is a reccord of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians." Yet few apologists today insist on Joseph's infallibility in such matters. 

Here's something from a new book by William Davis that suggests a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon that is not necessarily incompatible with divine inspiration.

Quote

When combined together, the textual evidence and historical accounts favor a scenario in which Smith began thinking about the Book of Mormon narratives sometime before 22 September 1823, when he first announced the appearance of the angel Moroni and the existence of an ancient record. In the years that followed, Smith carefully developed his ideas about the narratives through a process of revelatory translation, which may or may not have involved the use of his seer stone. Through a meticulous process of testing out narrative patterns against his affective spiritual responses, Smith produced, revised, and honed the narratives over several years, becoming intimately familiar with the stories and characters during the process.

By the time he actually started dictating the text, Smith would have required only a small handful of notes containing brief outlines and narrative cues, which he could keep private among his personal papers. Such preparations would have provided him with a guiding framework of story patterns, which he could then expand rapidly and extemporaneously in the moment of oral performance, allowing himself the flexibility to improvise new topics and tangents along the way. Alternatively, depending on his level of increasing familiarity with the overall narrative, he may not have required any notes at all, relying exclusively on his memory of the historical structures he had formulated and his semi-extemporaneous expansion of them.

In the end, however one chooses to understand Smith’s involvement in the production of the Book of Mormon, his method of revelatory translation complicates easy characterizations of the process. Because Smith’s approach involved meditating on narrative possibilities, while seeking spiritual confirmation about their truthfulness and historical authenticity, the work emerged from some form of dialectical process, which, nuanced according to one’s beliefs, might be understood as involving the participation of the Holy Spirit in connection with Smith’s inspired imagination or as a complex matrix of Smith’s affective and spontaneous responses to conscious narrative creations and subconscious elaborations in his mind. Whatever we may choose to believe, the historical record strongly suggests that Joseph Smith genuinely felt that his project emerged from divine inspiration and guidance. . . .

The question of authorship in such a divine collaboration resists any effort to draw a distinct line of separation between the specific contributions of each coauthor. Smith’s response hints at his own uncertainty about the precise details of such an interactive and divinely engaged process. Indeed, Smith himself may well have been astounded by the final text of his virtuoso oral performance, as he witnessed the emergence of full-blown religious histories from little more than a few years of preliminary meditations and, possibly, a handful of brief narrative sketches. As Taves has observed, individuals constructing narratives involving spiritual methods or supernatural conditions often believe that the resulting stories originate outside themselves and are historically true. Thus, Smith’s inconclusive and somewhat vague references to translation and authorship suggest his own indeterminacy about the exact nature and process involved in the creation of the Book of Mormon. He literally may not have known, consciously or otherwise, how much or how little his own contributions influenced the language and shape of the final text.

William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2020), 191–192.

 

Edited by Nevo
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A symbolic Christ is inspiring in my life. I’ll never be a 100%-in Mormon, but I do derive meaning and spiritual belonging from my membership and participation. All of the arguments against inspired fiction or any kind of non-literalist interpretation because they undermine truth claims are simply not sound. I and others like me are living proof that non-literalist interpretations can work fine within Mormonism. Alright? I’ll go back and hide under my rock now.

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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8 hours ago, churchistrue said:

accept my paradigm as a valid, albeit inferior, form of perspective/testimony of the church.

What do you mean by “valid”?

I think there maybe difficulties in accepting your premise as a basis for more than a superficial examination of our founding narratives because of the documented participants’ claims in receiving and publishing of the Book of Mormon and the visitations of angels.
 

I see this as fundamentally different than geological or anthropological evidence in contrast to people’s interpretation of ancient scripture where we don’t know how historical the authors believed the writing to be and where what knowledge there is of that culture  allows for a wider variety of interpretations. Eyewitnesses are relevant in the letters attributed to Paul and some of the gospels, but even there the option exists to assume someone is telling what they heard about a person’s words as opposed to being the one dictating the text.  In the case of Joseph and the Witnesses, in essence we know too much because we can prove who wrote and said many of the details and claims were made that it actually happened to them and they are not just passing on what they were told and that narrows logical and reasonable options of interpretations. 
 

An analogy would be the difference between an originally oral family tradition going back to the invasion of England in 1066 and then ancestors relating what they had read in journals of other ancestors no longer available to study save for one written by your grandfather in his youth based on what his great great grandmother wrote about what she heard from a grand uncle and your grandparent and his siblings telling you stories of his life and insisting they were actual occurrences.  

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4 hours ago, Nevo said:

A fictional Christ does not work because a fictional Christ cannot save anyone, but I'm not sure so much is riding on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Many scriptural productions are not "what they claim to be"—how many books in the Bible contain nonfactual accounts or are written under a false name, yet still have spiritual value? Joseph Smith declared that "The Book of Mormon is a reccord of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians." Yet few apologists today insist on Joseph's infallibility in such matters. 

Here's something from a new book by William Davis that suggests a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon that is not necessarily incompatible with divine inspiration.

 

I think there are two different issues at the heart of this discussion. One is the creation of the text. I think there is a wide range of what one can believe the text is (for example, one possibility is believing the texts that are first person are as accurate as someone writing their journal nowadays hoping to be both accurate in remembering details and trying for it to be uplifting for others while the texts that were edited by Mormon might have been creation and other myths he understood to be history mixed in with historical records allows for some of the text to be seen as myth, not history).

The other is the context of how the text was created, the modern stories Iow. Since we have more detail on how Joseph and others intended people to understand their stories (God actually appeared to him, not a metaphor; the plates existed as a physical reality, not a metaphor, etc), I don’t see options to say something like “Joseph wasn’t lying about the visit of Moroni because he was using angels as a metaphor for spiritual revelation for his life story and therefore he never intended anyone to believe it really happened”.

Edited by Calm
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7 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

I and others like me are living proof that non-literalist interpretations can work fine within Mormonism.

So how do you view Joseph’s story of Moroni visiting?  Do you believe it happened and if not, do you believe he taught it with the intent for others to believe?

If yes, do you see that as him telling a falsehood or something else?

I am interested in how you work this out, not challenging you on it.

Added:  what do you define as the truth claims of the Church?

Edited by Calm
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4 hours ago, Calm said:

What do you mean by “valid”?

I think there maybe difficulties in accepting your premise as a basis for more than a superficial examination of our founding narratives because of the documented participants’ claims in receiving and publishing of the Book of Mormon and the visitations of angels.
 

I see this as fundamentally different than geological or anthropological evidence in contrast to people’s interpretation of ancient scripture where we don’t know how historical the authors believed the writing to be and where what knowledge there is of that culture  allows for a wider variety of interpretations. Eyewitnesses are relevant in the letters attributed to Paul and some of the gospels, but even there the option exists to assume someone is telling what they heard about a person’s words as opposed to being the one dictating the text.  In the case of Joseph and the Witnesses, in essence we know too much because we can prove who wrote and said many of the details and claims were made that it actually happened to them and they are not just passing on what they were told and that narrows logical and reasonable options of interpretations. 
 

An analogy would be the difference between an originally oral family tradition going back to the invasion of England in 1066 and then ancestors relating what they had read in journals of other ancestors no longer available to study save for one written by your grandfather in his youth based on what his great great grandmother wrote about what she heard from a grand uncle and your grandparent and his siblings telling you stories of his life and insisting they were actual occurrences.  

OK. And? 

I don't see this is being such a big hurdle. So, Joseph might have exaggerated something. Can we get past that? Further, I think there are elements of Joseph's story that seem clearly _____. Fill in the blank: deluded, fraudulent, off, sketchy, dark-glass-looking, whatever. I'd like to find a little bit more faithful language to express this concept, but it's difficult. But the point is that super clean version of Joseph is already compromised, so I don't think it's wise to try to hold BOM creation to that standard.

 

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4 hours ago, Calm said:

I think there are two different issues at the heart of this discussion. One is the creation of the text. I think there is a wide range of what one can believe the text is (for example, one possibility is believing the texts that are first person are as accurate as someone writing their journal nowadays hoping to be both accurate in remembering details and trying for it to be uplifting for others while the texts that were edited by Mormon might have been creation and other myths he understood to be history mixed in with historical records allows for some of the text to be seen as myth, not history).

The other is the context of how the text was created, the modern stories Iow. Since we have more detail on how Joseph and others intended people to understand their stories (God actually appeared to him, not a metaphor; the plates existed as a physical reality, not a metaphor, etc), I don’t see options to say something like “Joseph wasn’t lying about the visit of Moroni because he was using angels as a metaphor for spiritual revelation for his life story and therefore he never intended anyone to believe it really happened”.

In exactly what way does your religious experience on a daily basis change if God actually appeared to him or if he didn't?

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9 hours ago, Nevo said:

A fictional Christ does not work because a fictional Christ cannot save anyone, 

 

IF there's no actual Christ who can't save anyone from a non existent damnation then there remains plenty of room for a fictional Christ.  As it is, the need to be saved from something amounts to assumption.

Why must anyone be saved?  

Is it because we read that we must be saved in scripture?

Well, if we aren't saved by Christ, is the answer, then we become subjects of the devil.

What devil?  That mythical being sprung upon us to tell us there are evil forces?  

It's all assumption built upon assumption, it seems to me.  

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44 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

OK. And? 

I don't see this is being such a big hurdle. So, Joseph might have exaggerated something. Can we get past that? Further, I think there are elements of Joseph's story that seem clearly _____. Fill in the blank: deluded, fraudulent, off, sketchy, dark-glass-looking, whatever. I'd like to find a little bit more faithful language to express this concept, but it's difficult. But the point is that super clean version of Joseph is already compromised, so I don't think it's wise to try to hold BOM creation to that standard.

 

Joseph exaggerating his story into getting actual revelation from God and angels...you don’t see a problem with that?

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5 hours ago, Calm said:

I think there are two different issues at the heart of this discussion. One is the creation of the text. I think there is a wide range of what one can believe the text is (for example, one possibility is believing the texts that are first person are as accurate as someone writing their journal nowadays hoping to be both accurate in remembering details and trying for it to be uplifting for others while the texts that were edited by Mormon might have been creation and other myths he understood to be history mixed in with historical records allows for some of the text to be seen as myth, not history).

The other is the context of how the text was created, the modern stories Iow. Since we have more detail on how Joseph and others intended people to understand their stories (God actually appeared to him, not a metaphor; the plates existed as a physical reality, not a metaphor, etc), I don’t see options to say something like “Joseph wasn’t lying about the visit of Moroni because he was using angels as a metaphor for spiritual revelation for his life story and therefore he never intended anyone to believe it really happened”.

There is plenty of room to see Joseph's claimed visits in many ways, not the least of which is wishful thinking.  The stories appeared years after they supposedly happened.  Also, they were represented as dreams and visions.  There's no clear "God actually appeared to him".  And of course, the plates were useless props, not even used in the "translation".  

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49 minutes ago, churchistrue said:

In exactly what way does your religious experience on a daily basis change if God actually appeared to him or if he didn't?

Let’s see if the first vision and revelations about who God is were Joseph’s imagination...I have lost any foundation to believe that God is my literal father and that I can progress to become like him. God becomes a being who I will never comprehend.
 

 Kind of shifts the whole expectation of what my eternal life is and therefore how I view the priorities in my life as well as altering what I feel is a deep connection with God who I see as understanding me so well because he has lived a similar life rather than just having supernatural awareness or knowledge. 

Edited by Calm
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