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Musings Re: Historicity and the Book of Mormon


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32 minutes ago, smac97 said:

But surely a rational person can generally distinguish a dreamed experienced from a waking one?

Yes, generally, but that doesn't mean there are no exceptions.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I get that.  But getting there requires that someone to jettison the narrative of Joseph Smith by branding him a liar, a mentally ill person, a dupe, or some combination thereof.

I disagree.  I think they have huge meaning.  

The physical reality of the plates.  They attest to that.

That's a substantial mischaracterization as to the statement of the Three Witnesses.  And a patently false statement as to the statement of the Eight Witnesses, which involved nothing like "a visionary, dream-like scenario."  It was utterly mundane.

No, it can't.  To do so is to do violence to what the witnesses said.  

The Eight Witnesses didn't claim that.

The Three Witnesses did, and also that they saw an angel.  And also that they saw the plates.  

Nor am I.  But the really is black, and there really is white.  Sometimes there really is a yes-or-no decision to be made.

Did Joseph Smith have actual, physical plates, or not?

Were the plates authentically ancient, or were they fabricated and passed off as a sham artifact?

Yep.  Such are, I think, the necessary ramifications of the "Inspired Fiction" theory.

Per the OP, I guess I could say that my father could be "lying" and/or "deluded" about where he got the date jar.  What I can't say, however, is that the origins of the date jar, and my dad's recitation of those origins, don't matter.  Of course they do.

They do in so far as putting the meaning into it that he and you do.  But of course the plates weren't a jar of ancient origin, if they were at all.  THey were supposedly something more, in terms of religious discussion, than that.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I'm sorry, but I don't think you have explained your point.  Let's go through the points again:

  • Either Joseph Smith saw an angelic being named Moroni, or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

I've already pointed that third one out--he dreamed or visioned, if you will.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:
  • Either Joseph was instructed by that angel to go to a particular location, a drumlin in upstate New York, or else that did not happen.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

I don't know how that matters.  So sure, he was so instructed, by the possible figment of his imagination, Moroni.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:
  • Either Joseph went there at the instruction of the angel and located the burial site of the plates, or else that did not happen.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

  • Either Joseph had further interviews with the angel at that site for years afterward, or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

Again, its not as germaine as you are making it, on a purely inspired fiction model.  Joseph simply could have dreamed these things, and these dreams could have been inspired, they very well could be without the notion that Moroni ever lived at all, or if Joseph just dreamed him up.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:
  • Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

Yes....there is.  If he felt like the Moroni dreaming was true, even if he was dreaming and making it up in his own brain, if he felt he was destined to write scripture from ancient inhabitants of this continent, then the plates were immaterial.  He could have dreamed them up and used a prop of sorts as per unknown further instruction.  As it is, the possibilities are endless here.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:
  • Either the Three Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

Already addressed.  yes, they could have dreamed or felt particularly inspired.  Hearing God's voice is something many have heard before.  What does it mean exactly?  That they thought it?  Sure...it's quite possible.  An angel is, as I said, a messenger.  He need not be an extra-terrestrial.  And there was no indication he spoke anyway.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:
  • Either the Eight Witnesses saw the plates under the circumstances described in their testimony, or they did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

Yes.  Already described.  

32 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I don't understand what this means.  "View scripture as anything more than what it is?"  Speaking of The Book fo Mormon, what do you think "it is?"

Thanks,

-Smac

I'm not sure getting into what I think the BoM is, will pertain much to the topic.  So I politely decline to get into that here.  

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6 minutes ago, pogi said:

Your argument presumes that the Book of Mormon must be historical or it cannot be the word of God. 

Pretty much.

6 minutes ago, pogi said:

I am not comfortable with that. 

I understand and appreciate that.  But it's not really my argument.  A few minutes ago I posted a number of quotes from General Authorities who have presented it.  

6 minutes ago, pogi said:

I don't think it can be concluded that Joseph Smith was not a prophet if it is found that the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical.  If the Book of Mormon is the word of God but not historical, that would not affect our claim to authority, because our claim of authority is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.   

It's derived from the same source: Joseph Smith.  

Again, why is Joseph Smith trustworthy as to the one set of miraculous events (restoration of the priesthood), but not trustworthy as to the other set (the origins of The Book of Mormon)?

I get that this is a difficult issue.  The early Saints faced a similar problem in John 6.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Just now, ttribe said:

I understand what you are trying to argue, but I don't see evidence you've thought through what the hypothetical position you are allowing to exist actually means in terms of undermining the credibility of every single claim made by every alleged prophet to have led the Church.

Has every prophet that ever lived claimed that the Book of Mormon is historical?  If so, have they done so by revelation or are they following a cultural narrative/belief?

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2 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

 

Quote
  • Either Joseph eventually recovered the ancient plates (and other items buried with them), or he did not.

Do you think there is a third alternative here?  If so, what is it?

Yes....there is.  If he felt like the Moroni dreaming was true, even if he was dreaming and making it up in his own brain, if he felt he was destined to write scripture from ancient inhabitants of this continent, then the plates were immaterial. 

So . . . no physical plates?  Then how do you account for the statements of the Witnesses?

2 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

He could have dreamed them up and used a prop of sorts as per unknown further instruction.  As it is, the possibilities are endless here.  

So . . . physical plates that were a sham?  How do you account for the statement of the Three Witnesses?

Who created this "prop?"  Joseph Smith?  If someone else, who?  

It sounds like you are expounding on the "or not" option.  Either Joseph Smith recovered a set of ancient plates (as he claimed), or else he did not (because he was deluded and "making it up in his own brain," or because he "dreamed them up and used a prop...").  In other words, he was either mentally ill, or a pious fraud, or both.  That's your position.  But that doesn't account for the statements of the Three Witnesses, the statement of the Eight Witnesses, and so on.

Thanks,

-Smac

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8 minutes ago, pogi said:
Quote

I understand what you are trying to argue, but I don't see evidence you've thought through what the hypothetical position you are allowing to exist actually means in terms of undermining the credibility of every single claim made by every alleged prophet to have led the Church.

Has every prophet that ever lived claimed that the Book of Mormon is historical?  If so, have they done so by revelation or are they following a cultural narrative/belief?

Are you open to the possibility that the "Inspired Fiction" explanation for The Book or Mormon is a more likely example of "following a cultural narrative/belief" than, say, the prophets and apostles of the Restoration all being cumulatively and fundamentally wrong on the "keystone of our religion?"

Thanks,

-Smac

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Interesting how when 19th century prophets are accused of racism it is presentism but 19th century witnesses to divine events, on the other hand, must have experienced it the same way we do.

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12 minutes ago, pogi said:

Has every prophet that ever lived claimed that the Book of Mormon is historical?  If so, have they done so by revelation or are they following a cultural narrative/belief?

As to your first question, I have not done an empirical analysis, but I have substantial reason to suspect the answer is 'yes.'

As to your second question, go ahead and apply it to every single claim to authority made by every president of the Church from Joseph Smith to Russel M. Nelson and I think you get a sense of the real problem, here.

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14 minutes ago, ttribe said:

I understand what you are trying to argue, but I don't see evidence you've thought through what the hypothetical position you are allowing to exist actually means in terms of undermining the credibility of every single claim made by every alleged prophet to have led the Church.

ETA: In the interest of full disclosure, I DO have a position on this and believe there is insufficient evidence to support Book of Mormon historicity.

Could you explain this?  I'm interested in the metrics you are using to quantify "insufficient evidence."  

My thinking on this has been heavily influenced by a number of things.  The text of The Book of Mormon exists.  It should be accounted for.  In 2004 Daniel Peterson wrote an excellent article on this issue: "'In the Hope that Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for The Book of Mormon".  It's worth a read.  Essentially, he posits that the Church's position is that The Book of Mormon is a translation, through divine means, of an ancient historical text.  He further posits that the critics' position is that The Book of Mormon is a fraud, that it is not a translation of an ancient historical text.  Another good one is Dr. Peterson's "The Logic Tree of Life, or, Why I Can’t Manage to Disbelieve."

Thanks,

-Smac

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13 minutes ago, smac97 said:

So . . . no physical plates?  Then how do you account for the statements of the Witnesses?

So . . . physical plates that were a sham?  How do you account for the statement of the Three Witnesses?

Who created this "prop?"  Joseph Smith?  If someone else, who?  

It sounds like you are expounding on the "or not" option.  Either Joseph Smith recovered a set of ancient plates (as he claimed), or else he did not (because he was deluded and "making it up in his own brain," or because he "dreamed them up and used a prop...").  In other words, he was either mentally ill, or a pious fraud, or both.  That's your position.  But that doesn't account for the statements of the Three Witnesses, the statement of the Eight Witnesses, and so on.

Thanks,

-Smac

THanks Smac for the discussion.  I admit, the questions you've come back with all appear to already have been addressed and I'm not sure why I'd get caught up going back and forth trying to reemphasize the points.  Particularly since I'm not in the Church, per se, and have no belief that the BoM is scripture, per se.  I hope that's enough per se's.  I simply wanted to explain why I think there should be room, not that there currently is, for people who accept the Inspired Fiction idea of the BoM in the upper echelons of the local Church, if not room beyond those spheres.  

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2 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I understand and appreciate that.  But it's not really my argument.  A few minutes ago I posted a number of quotes from General Authorities who have presented it.  

Those quotes were about the church standing or falling on the truthfulness (as in the word of God) of the Book of Mormon, and on Joseph Smith being a prophet or not.  I am not disagreeing with them. 

12 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Again, why is Joseph Smith trustworthy as to the one set of miraculous events (restoration of the priesthood), but not trustworthy as to the other set (the origins of The Book of Mormon)?

I am not arguing that he is untrustworthy in either instance.  I am simply stating that the authority of the church is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  

 

 

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4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

THanks Smac for the discussion.  I admit, the questions you've come back with all appear to already have been addressed and I'm not sure why I'd get caught up going back and forth trying to reemphasize the points.  Particularly since I'm not in the Church, per se, and have no belief that the BoM is scripture, per se. 

I was wondering about that, too.  Nevertheless, your comments have been both thoughtful and respectful.  I appreciate it.

4 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I hope that's enough per se's.  I simply wanted to explain why I think there should be room, not that there currently is, for people who accept the Inspired Fiction idea of the BoM in the upper echelons of the local Church, if not room beyond those spheres.  

No need to persuade me.  I already think there is room in the Church for such folks.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Posted (edited)
6 minutes ago, pogi said:

I am not arguing that he is untrustworthy in either instance.  I am simply stating that the authority of the church is not derived from the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  

From Pres. Hinckley:

Quote

“Well, it’s either true or false. If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that’s exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That’s our claim. That’s where we stand, and that’s where we fall, if we fall. But we don’t. We just stand secure in that faith.”

The most poignant and pointed remarks, however, come from Pres. Benson, by way of Elder Holland:

Quote

“Let me quote a very powerful comment from President Ezra Taft Benson, who said, “The Book of Mormon is the keystone of [our] testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church…”

It looks like Pres. Benson ties the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon to the credibility of Joseph Smith, along with "our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church."

More from Elder Holland:

Quote

“I am suggesting that we make exactly that same kind of do-or-die, bold assertion about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. We have to. Reason and rightness require it. Accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and the book as the miraculously revealed and revered word of the Lord it is or else consign both man and book to Hades for the devastating deception of it all, but let’s not have any bizarre middle ground about the wonderful contours of a young boy’s imagination or his remarkable facility for turning a literary phrase. That is an unacceptable position to take—morally, literarily, historically, or theologically.”

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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6 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Could you explain this?  I'm interested in the metrics you are using to quantify "insufficient evidence."  

My thinking on this has been heavily influenced by a number of things.  The text of The Book of Mormon exists.  It should be accounted for.  In 2004 Daniel Peterson wrote an excellent article on this issue: "'In the Hope that Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for The Book of Mormon".  It's worth a read.  Essentially, he posits that the Church's position is that The Book of Mormon is a translation, through divine means, of an ancient historical text.  He further posits that the critics' position is that The Book of Mormon is a fraud, that it is not a translation of an ancient historical text.  Another good one is Dr. Peterson's "The Logic Tree of Life, or, Why I Can’t Manage to Disbelieve."

Thanks,

-Smac

Are you really asking me to outline the complete set of evidence upon which I based my conclusion I could no longer believe in the historicity and divine origins of the Book of Mormon (for they are intertwined)?  C'mon, Spencer.  I don't think that can of worms needs to be opened here; not to mention that there is so much deeply personal and painful involved in the loss of that belief.  I just don't think we should do this.  Suffice it to say, I have considered all available evidence (about which I know), both temporal and spiritual, and reached the conclusion there was not sufficient evidence to continue justifying my belief in the Book of Mormon.  This is not a situation in which I am attempting to persuade anyone to adopt or validate my conclusion(s) on that issue.

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16 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Are you open to the possibility that the "Inspired Fiction" explanation for The Book or Mormon is a more likely example of "following a cultural narrative/belief" than, say, the prophets and apostles of the Restoration all being cumulatively and fundamentally wrong on the "keystone of our religion?"

Thanks,

-Smac

I wouldn't say more likely.  

Pretty much all prophets interpreted the Book of Mormon to mean that black skin was a curse.  It was in all of our manuals and taught from generation to generation.  It was even printed in the most recent manual, only to be redacted later from the online version after it had been printed.  All the prophets have been wrong before about an aspect of the Book of Mormon.  It's not a deal breaker for me if prophets are wrong.  They are human. 

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Just now, ttribe said:
Quote

Could you explain this?  I'm interested in the metrics you are using to quantify "insufficient evidence."  

Are you really asking me to outline the complete set of evidence upon which I based my conclusion I could no longer believe in the historicity and divine origins of the Book of Mormon (for they are intertwined)?  C'mon, Spencer. 

No.  I asked about the "metrics."

If it would take too long, or if you haven't formulated an exposition of it, that's fine.  I was just curious.  I will not read anything into you declining to respond.

Just now, ttribe said:

I don't think that can of worms needs to be opened here; not to mention that there is so much deeply personal and painful involved in the loss of that belief. 

I did not intend to ask you to re-visit pain.  You brought the subject up.  I asked if you could elaborate.  You are declining.  Sounds good.

Just now, ttribe said:

I just don't think we should do this.  Suffice it to say, I have considered all available evidence (about which I know), both temporal and spiritual, and reached the conclusion there was not sufficient evidence to continue justifying my belief in the Book of Mormon.  This is not a situation in which I am attempting to persuade anyone to adopt or validate my conclusion(s) on that issue.

Okay.  I have considered quite a bit of evidence as well, and have found ample grounds to justify continuing my belief in The Book of Mormon.  I hope you re-visit the basics of this issue some day.  If not, I still wish you well.

Thanks,

-Smac

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10 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Could you explain this?  I'm interested in the metrics you are using to quantify "insufficient evidence."  

My thinking on this has been heavily influenced by a number of things.  The text of The Book of Mormon exists.  It should be accounted for.  In 2004 Daniel Peterson wrote an excellent article on this issue: "'In the Hope that Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for The Book of Mormon".  It's worth a read.  Essentially, he posits that the Church's position is that The Book of Mormon is a translation, through divine means, of an ancient historical text.  He further posits that the critics' position is that The Book of Mormon is a fraud, that it is not a translation of an ancient historical text.  Another good one is Dr. Peterson's "The Logic Tree of Life, or, Why I Can’t Manage to Disbelieve."

Thanks,

-Smac

I have read and listened to Dr Peterson present on this topic before. Admittedly it has been quite a while. He is a very engaging speaker but as I left his presentation or finished reading what he had written I was left with the question of why a failure to  adequately  provide to a believer a fully  satisfying naturalist explanation of how the Book of Mormon was produced  is evidence that it is divinely inspired?  We frequently hear "Joseph Smith could not of done this" . Okay, but why is that evidence that it happen how he claimed it did? 

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11 minutes ago, smac97 said:

The most poignant and pointed remarks, however, come from Pres. Benson, by way of Elder Holland:

I agree with Ezra Taft Benson.  Either it is true (inspired word of God) or false (not inspired).  If it is not the inspired word of God, then everything else crumbles.  That says nothing of historicity.

I likewise agree with Elder Holland 100%  Wouldn't change a word.   Says nothing of historicity.

 

Edited by pogi
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Just now, CA Steve said:

I have read and listened to Dr Peterson present on this topic before. Admittedly it has been quite a while. He is a very engaging speaker but as I left his presentation or finished reading what he had written I was left with the question of why a failure to  adequately  provide to a believer a fully  satisfying naturalist explanation of how the Book of Mormon was produced  is evidence that it is divinely inspired?

I don't think that's quite his point.  Nor is it mine.  I laid out my thinking on this point back in 2016:

Quote

1. We are coming up on 200 years of The Book of Mormon being subjected to every sort of vigorous critical scrutiny.

2. The Book of Mormon is a substantial and complex book, with extensive indications of ties to the ancient Near East.  See, e.g., this observation by Hugh Nibley: 

Quote

The book itself declares that it is an authentic product of the Near East. It gives a full and circumstantial account of its own origin. It declares that it is but one of many, many such books that have been produced in the course of history and may be hidden in sundry places at this day. It places itself in about the middle of a long list of sacred writings, beginning with the patriarchs and continuing down to the end of human history. It cites now-lost prophetic writings of prime importance, giving the names of their authors. It traces its own cultural roots in all directions, emphasizing the immense breadth and complexity of such connections in the world. It belongs to the same class of literature as the Bible, but, along with a sharper and clearer statement of biblical teachings, contains a formidable mass of historical material unknown to biblical writers but well within the range of modern comparative study since it insists on deriving its whole cultural tradition, even in details, directly from a specific time and place in the Old World.

3. During those 200 years there have been various countervailing explanations for the origins of The Book of Mormon.

4. In my view, none of these countervailing theories has come close to presenting a coherent, evidence-based explanation for the origins of The Book of Mormon.  

5. The durability of The Book of Mormon in the face of 200 years of such intense scrutiny is - to me - "interesting" as a secondary/supplemental indicator that The Book of Mormon is what it claims to be.  Hugh Nibly put it well:

Quote

The Book of Mormon is tough. It thrives on investigation. You may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.

I think this is a reasonable assessment.
...

Quoth Sherlock Holmes:

Quote

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

I've never really bought into this logic, as I think it's predicate ("eliminat{ing} the impossible") is too subjective, too difficult to ascertain based on finite information.  But in a sense, I think it has some utility as far as contrasting the competing explanations for the origins of The Book of Mormon.  In my view, and to date, I have not seen a counter-theory for The Book of Mormon that holds up to much scrutiny, which leaves me with "whatever remains," which although may be seen as "improbable," is in my view "the truth."

I hope that clears things up.

Just now, CA Steve said:

We frequently hear "Joseph Smith could not of done this" . Okay, but why is that evidence that it happen how he claimed it did? 

Discerning truth can often involve a process of elimination.  "Joseph didn't, couldn't, have written the text of The Book of Mormon" is, or can be, part of the process of evaluating where the text came from.

Thanks,

-Smac

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7 minutes ago, smac97 said:

No.  I asked about the "metrics."

If it would take too long, or if you haven't formulated an exposition of it, that's fine.  I was just curious.  I will not read anything into you declining to respond.

I did not intend to ask you to re-visit pain.  You brought the subject up.  I asked if you could elaborate.  You are declining.  Sounds good.

Okay.  I have considered quite a bit of evidence as well, and have found ample grounds to justify continuing my belief in The Book of Mormon.  I hope you re-visit the basics of this issue some day.  If not, I still wish you well.

Thanks,

-Smac

I appreciate that.  I only brought it up as a disclosure of my position so the reader could evaluate for herself or himself what my bias may or may not be.

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8 minutes ago, smac97 said:

I hope that clears things up.

Not really. I believe that was exactly his point.

 

8 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Discerning truth can often involve a process of elimination.  "Joseph didn't, couldn't, have written the text of The Book of Mormon" is, or can be, part of the process of evaluating where the text came from.

And this is exactly the point I was making.  Eliminating explanations does not add weight to others.

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1 hour ago, stemelbow said:

THanks Smac for the discussion.  I admit, the questions you've come back with all appear to already have been addressed and I'm not sure why I'd get caught up going back and forth trying to reemphasize the points.  Particularly since I'm not in the Church, per se, and have no belief that the BoM is scripture, per se.  I hope that's enough per se's.  I simply wanted to explain why I think there should be room, not that there currently is, for people who accept the Inspired Fiction idea of the BoM in the upper echelons of the local Church, if not room beyond those spheres.  

Agreed.  There should be room. I feel like these kind of arguments try to pigeonhole people who may be undecided to either accept  the historicity or admit that everything in the church is a lie.  That is not fair.  That will only push people away who are not at all comfortable with the historicity but still believe the Book to be the word of God.   

Edited by pogi
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3 hours ago, stemelbow said:

"Historicity is essential if we rely on the church as God's authority." 

Nope. 

All you have to do is commit yourself to the authority of the organization.

We could elect you president of our club we are now forming to be dedicated to whatever cause we want, and decide to give you that Authority today.

To give an organization Authority simply means to obey it.  Poof.

You have authority!

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1 minute ago, mfbukowski said:

Nope. 

All you have to do is commit yourself to the authority of the organization.

We could elect you president of our club we are now forming to be dedicated to whatever cause we want, and decide to give you that Authority today.

To give an organization Authority simply means to obey it.  Poof.

You have authority!

Authority over a human organisation is not the same as being the authority representing God to human beings.

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16 minutes ago, pogi said:

Agreed.  There should be room. I feel like these kind of arguments try to pingeonhole people who may be undecided to either accept  the historicity or admit that everything in the church is a lie.  That is not fair.  That will only push people away who are not at all comfortable with the historicity but still believe the Book to be the word of God.   

Yep.

I am not convinced by the arguments that the Book of Mormon is ancient. It doesn't ring true to me as an authentic history of pre-Colombian peoples. Yet, at the same time, I have had profound spiritual experiences in the Church—while reading the Book of Mormon, while participating in the ordinances of the Church, while worshipping in the temple, etc. What am I to do with that? According to the "no-middle-ground" folks, I need to conclude that the Church is a fraud and a deception. No other position is morally or logically coherent, apparently. 

Edited by Nevo
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56 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

Authority over a human organisation is not the same as being the authority representing God to human beings.

How can one know that statement is true?  What justifies that way of thinking?

Edited by mfbukowski
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