Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Book of Mormon 4/18

Mormons often ask me how I feel when I read the BOM. I find that a little frustrating because it doesn't matter how I feel when I read it. It only matters whether it's true. I don't think you can tell whether it's true by how you feel when you read it, so it doesn't matter how you feel. I wrote more about that in my series on Mormon epistemology.

I don't mind saying how I felt, though. When I was first visited by the Mormons over ten years ago, I prayed about the BOM like they asked me to, and all I felt was a foreboding. It was the same foreboding I felt before I prayed about it, though. Now I don't attribute this foreboding to the Holy Spirit. I attribute it to the fact that I already had serious doubts about it. But I didn't read the whole BOM back then. I only read the passages the missionaries gave me to read.

Last August, I read the whole BOM. When I met with Kay's bishop later on, he asked me how I felt when I read it. I told him I couldn't remember since I wasn't really thinking about my feelings when I was reading it.

But reading the BOM caused me to have far more doubts about it than I had before I read it. So I don't feel very good about the BOM at all now.

The BOM is much better when read cover to cover. What kept me from reading it before was pure boredom and lack of interest. But I was only reading isolated passages. I couldn't possibly see how it all fit into the story. The BOM isn't like the Bible where you have a collection of independent books from different genres. The BOM is more like a novel. You can read it from cover to cover, and it's just one long story. I think that's the way it ought to be read, at least the first time you read it. Then you can go back and read passages over again and know how they fit in the broader story.

Part 5

21 Comments:

At 6/09/2009 10:32 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Two quick comments here.

If the BoM is a good story, then you might expect people to have a positive feeling about it. This would be the case whether or not the BoM happened to be true. The apocryphal book of Enoch gives me a good feeling -- I find it intriguing. But it is my knowledge about it that leads me to doubt that it is actually true. If our knowledge and reason must be excluded from the equation in place of feelings, then the Lord of the Rings would be the truest of all books for many people.

If we have good reason to doubt the veracity or theological soundness of the Book of Mormon, then how is it sensible to pray to God about it? There are many "inspired" books we might pray over. Do we have an obligation to pray over them all? Has the Mormon prayed over them all? Surely we are not justified in praying over Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible! Neither would we pray to God to determine whether a dirt burrito should be ingested. No offense intended, but it does not seem sensible or honoring to God to ask Him to verify by feeling what He is unwilling to grant support by reason. Sam is busy pointing some of the failings in this area, and it seems reasonable to do at least a cursory inspection of the burrito before taking a bite.

 
At 6/09/2009 1:03 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I remember Kay telling me the frame of mind I had to be in when I read and prayed about the Book of Mormon before God would give me a witness that it is true. She said I had to want it to be true, and it sounded like I had to almost already think it was true before praying. I guess if you expect God to say yes, you'll "hear" it. Personally, I try not to manipulate myself in such ways.

Kay and I had an email discussion once where she was encouraging me to try Mormonism out. She said:

My suggestion, if you do have questions about the LDS church is to try living the lifestyle for a few months, and see what happens. For example, read the scriptures daily, pray often, talk to Heavenly Father about EVERYTHING, keep the Sabbath day holy, fast often, go to Ward meetings, partake in the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing, etc…. and so on.

To which I replied:

What would you say if a Muslim wanted you to pray about the Qu'ran? Would you feel it necessary to pray when you already feel that God has revealed to you that Islam is false? What if they wanted you to start attending a Mosque, praying 5 times a day toward Mecca, and going through the motions? Would you do it? If you refused to do it, would the Muslim be right in saying you were just being stubborn, or that it was because of your sinfulness that you were unwilling to try it?

To which she replied:

Muslim's don't worship God the Father of Jesus Christ... Their doctrine is completely different...

To which I replied:

That is exactly my point. LDS doctrine is completely different than mine. The God that Joseph Smith described in the King Follett
discourse (which I read just a few days ago) is completely different than the God described in Isaiah 40-50. If you see no reason to pray about the Qu'ran and Muhammad on the basis that they present a doctrine completely different than your own, why should anybody else be willing to pray about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith when those sources present a doctrine completely different than their own?


Of course the conversation was longer than that. I'm cutting out the pertinent paragraphs.

With that being said, I have prayed about the Book of Mormon, but I have not gotten a witness about it. Since then I've learned enough about it to be reasonably sure it's not the word of God. So I don't see the need to continue praying about it. I get the impression from some Mormons that I ought to continue praying about it for the rest of my life until I get a witness, but it seems to me you've eventually got to come to a conclusion. If the Book of Mormon is not falsifiable, then one might very well believe it even if it's not true.

 
At 6/09/2009 2:23 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I'm out of luck too. I could never muster a sincere prayer about it because my knowledge stands in my way. I go further to the belief that it is actually disrespectful to God to ask for confirmation of what we already believe to be against His revealed word. How much affront will He suffer or predisposition to reject His existing Revelation before He allows a delusion to overtake such a "seeker" of truth?

 
At 6/09/2009 2:44 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Amy Hall made a similar point in an email to me once. She said that if we do not love the truth, God himself will send a powerful delusion to cause us to believe what is false. She based that on 2 Thessalonians 2, which I wrote about here. Loving the truth does not mean believing what we want to be true (2 Timothy 4:3), which is why I didn't think Kay's suggestion of wanting the BOM to be true in order to get a witness was a wise suggestion. The BOM makes the same suggestion, which I will discuss in part 14 of this series.

 
At 6/09/2009 3:13 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Here is a bible scripture we reference:

"Jam 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Jam 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jam 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord."


So I can see some of what Kay was saying. But I was also quite skeptical going into the process and had a very different result.

I can say that, even given my skepticism, I went into the process with an open mind. Without putting words in your mouths, I get the impression you both have a strong preference that it NOT be true. There are few bible references like Paul's where God more or less forced conversion - He seems pretty open to letting people make their own choices.

The scripture above makes it pretty clear that your desire to know has to be unwavering, but I know from personal experience that you don't have to be predisposed to get a yes answer. I have talked with lots of people over the years, and the keys I have found is that they have to really want to know if its true, and they have to be willing to change their lives if necessary once they find out it IS true.

I don't believe there is a need to try to force the issue. Being pressed to try again and again will only make you bitter. But don't be surprised if someday you have a different frame of mind and feel like trying again. Or not. I honestly can't say why some people hear about it, investigate it and get a testimony, while others don't.

 
At 6/09/2009 3:48 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Curtis, that is the same passage I addressed in the blog I linked to in the comment just above yours.

I'm glad you gave me your own account. I've been wondering for a while now whether any Mormons have ever gotten a witness while being predisposed NOT to believe any of it. Most of them have told me it was a gradual process. Usually, they became favourably disposed toward Mormonism because they really liked Mormon people. That was the situation with both Kay and with Sierra. You are the first person who has told me they got a witness while being skeptical.

So maybe I am not a hopeless case. Maybe some day God will give me the same witness he gave you. Kay tells me that I can't possibly understand what it's all about until I experience it for myself. In the meantime, I have nothing but the testimony of other people to go on.

I honestly can't say why some people hear about it, investigate it and get a testimony, while others don't.

I attempted to answer that question in a two part series called "Why is it that some believe and some don't?" Here is part 1 and here is part 2.

 
At 6/09/2009 4:23 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Without putting words in your mouths, I get the impression you both have a strong preference that it NOT be true.

Curtis, you're not hearing what we are saying. It's not that we don't want it to be true; it's that it doesn't look on the face of it like it actually is true. In a sense, I guess, I would prefer that God not confirm to me that something counter-factual is actually true. If I can't count on logic, then I can't even count on the truth of a proposition like, "I should follow my feelings over my intellect."

We are at an impasse. Only a reasonable defense of the concerns we have about the BoM and other issues could break the tie.

 
At 6/09/2009 6:31 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Curtis, If you don’t mind my asking—what was one thing you were skeptical about, going into the process? And what method did you use to address that skepticism?

 
At 6/09/2009 7:07 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, speaking of methods, you asked me a while back what methods I would use to determine whether one source had borrowed from another. One of the articles I read in The New Mormon Challenge gives a list of criteria, and while reading it I wondered what you would think. I will blog on that at some point in the future. That is, if I ever get around to it.

 
At 6/10/2009 11:56 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

Curtis, If you don’t mind my asking—what was one thing you were skeptical about, going into the process? And what method did you use to address that skepticism?

Wow, it's been so long ago. I certainly remember being skeptical about an angel appearing to Joseph Smith, let alone Jesus and Heavenly Father, and I was skeptical that people lived on the American continent hundreds of years ago who believed in Jesus Christ. I was NOT skeptical about a premortal existence or that we are spirit children of a Heavenly Father. These were beliefs I already had developed on my own.

 
At 6/10/2009 12:23 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Coming from the mainline Christian church, how had you come to those beliefs on your own, since they are antithetical to its teachings? Perhaps you had already pushed away from the church before you stepped into Mormonism.

 
At 6/10/2009 12:35 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Thanks, Curtis. Now knowing what you were skeptical about, I was really far, FAR more interested in the answer to my second question--how did you resolve it? What method did you use to come to some conclusion in the matter upon which you were previously skeptical.

 
At 6/10/2009 3:12 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Paul said...
Coming from the mainline Christian church, how had you come to those beliefs on your own, since they are antithetical to its teachings? Perhaps you had already pushed away from the church before you stepped into Mormonism.


I don't know how I came to believe it while attending the Baptist church, nor do I remember talking about it much with other members. I believed it as a member of the First Christian Church and they didn't seem to have a problem with it. But, like I said in another post, that church pretty much let you believe anything you wanted.


DagoodS said...
Thanks, Curtis. Now knowing what you were skeptical about, I was really far, FAR more interested in the answer to my second question--how did you resolve it? What method did you use to come to some conclusion in the matter upon which you were previously skeptical.


As I mentioned in other posts, I followed the admonition in James and Moroni and prayed about it and received an answer to my prayers. The strength of my spiritual conversion was such that I felt no need to remain skeptical.

I must say that now there is nothing about the church that I find illogical, even if it may seem unusual to others. To me, everything fits. But I understand concern and skepticism held by others, although not the hatred I receive at times. I'm a pretty laid-back person, and what you are getting here is a reasonable reflection of my personality. So it surprises me that some people feel the need to hate me so badly simply because of what I believe. Nice that it's not happening here.

 
At 6/10/2009 3:17 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Curtis, I don't know what you have experienced, but being a Calvinist, I have seen people get really worked up about how evil Calvinism is, how we're not really Christians, and all that. I've never really taken that as hatred toward me personally, but just people feeling very strongly about how wrong and dangerous they think Calvinism is. But if people really have expressed hatred toward you because you're a Mormon, I'm very disappointed to hear that.

 
At 6/10/2009 3:56 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Ah well, then, Curtis. I “haven’t a prayer” under such a method. [pun intended] *grin*

 
At 6/10/2009 4:31 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Sam said...
I've never really taken that as hatred toward me personally, but just people feeling very strongly about how wrong and dangerous they think Calvinism is. But if people really have expressed hatred toward you because you're a Mormon, I'm very disappointed to hear that.


My experiences are probably more like yours, in that the people just saw me as a focal point for their hatred. None of them knew me personally. It's hard, though, to separate the fact that they hate what I am, and not me, when it is me they are spitting on. In my heart I recognize that they are probably afraid of me, but I know I am nothing to be afraid of. Ah, well.

DagoodS said...
Ah well, then, Curtis. I “haven’t a prayer” under such a method. [pun intended] *grin*


That's funny right there!

 
At 6/26/2009 2:50 PM , Blogger Angela said...

The reason Mormons want you to pray about it is because of the promise in Moroni 10:4-5. The idea that you have to want it to be true probably stems from Alma 32's description of how to grow faith. To me, Alma 32 sounds like a recipe for confirmation bias.

My own experience was quite the opposite, in fact. I was convinced the BOM was false. I read it with the objective of disproving it. But when I prayed about it, I had a clear answer that it was true. I haven't lost sight of the errors, honestly I still am not a fan of the BOM for those reasons, but I was ready to act on the answer I received, and I am glad I did. It has made me a better person.

Nevertheless, I don't believe everyone will get that same answer or that it means they are a bad person. I do believe you have to be willing to act on the answer if you get it.

I've enjoyed your series because so many of your observations are similar to the ones I had when I read it back then (although without the benefit of the internet), and my conclusions were largely the same as many of your key conclusions. I could honestly say that I "knew" it was not a true historical record. And yet the spiritual answer I got contradicted my knowledge.

Perhaps God wanted me to follow this path, but maybe it's not best for you. Who am I to judge another's experience? Spiritual experiences seem to be personal and really only of benefit to the one with the experience.

 
At 6/26/2009 5:25 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Angela,

Two questions:

1) Why would you pray to God for confirmation of a book that you knew was not a true historical record?

2) How is it that God can spiritually affirm something that contradicts reason/knowledge (unless you were actually wrong in your knowledge)?

 
At 6/26/2009 6:05 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Paul - in answer to your questions:

1 - I was raised LDS, although I had left the church at that point and was agnostic. Based on some friendships, I decided to give the BOM one more try. As I read it, I found flaw upon flaw and concluded based on logic that it was false. But when I prayed about it, my answer was unmistakably affirmative about the book. This was the first time I had ever prayed about the BOM, although I had read it before on many occasions.

2 - I don't know. Perhaps what is "logical" isn't always right. Perhaps I was wrong in my assessment and it really is a historical record mixed with human weaknesses. Perhaps there was a historical people like this that JS was inspired to write about, but JS mistakenly added his own thoughts into the book. Or perhaps God thinks I have more potential as a Mormon than I did as an agnostic. Spiritual experiences don't always match our logical conclusions. I was extremely surprised by the answer I got. I had literally just said to myself, "Nothing will happen."

 
At 6/26/2009 8:40 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Angela: To me, Alma 32 sounds like a recipe for confirmation bias.

Sam: I had a similar impression. It sounded like a recipe for self-delusion to me. I'm going to talk about that passage more in part 14.

Nevertheless, I don't believe everyone will get that same answer or that it means they are a bad person.

What do you think it means, then? I have a theory about it myself. I figure if you make some arbitrary claim, such as, "My cat is pregnant," or "Michael Jackson is still alive," and you ask a group of 1000 people to pray about it, saying the Holy Spirit will convict them of the truth if they do, it's inevitable that some people will come back and say the Holy Spirit confirmed it. And they'll be certain, too. It's just the law of averages. Mormonism is an evangelistic religion, so it is no surprise at all that many people receive testimonies that cause them to believe it's true. And it's no surprise that most people don't.

But I think that if Moroni 10:4-5 were true, we should expect that more people would convert to Mormonism than who actually do. I should've received a testimony.

I would like to perform an experiment if I could. Get 2000 people together who are unchurched, fairly secular, and who don't know much or care much about religion. Take 1000 of them, explain to them about Joseph Smith and the BOM, and then ask them to pray about it. Do the same with the other 1000, except instead of the BOM, use some other book--maybe the Quran or Desire of the Ages or something made up that tells a similar story as the BOM. It would be interesting to see what would happen. If the BOM is true, we should expect to see a greater percentage of people getting a witness about the BOM than about the other book.

to be continued...

 
At 6/26/2009 8:43 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I do believe you have to be willing to act on the answer if you get it.

Why do you think that? Why not, instead, doubt the legitimacy of the experience? Regardless of how compelling the experience is, all perception goes on in the mind, right? All thoughts, beliefs, impressions, visions, sensory experiences, etc., go on in the mind. So no matter how convincing the "testimony" is, it's possible that it's only in your mind. I can understand why you might subscribe to such an experience if there were no good reasons to doubt it, but when you have good reasons to doubt it, why don't you? If reason and evidence indicate that the BOM is not a translation of an ancient American document, but you have some purely subjective experience telling you otherwise, why would you go with the experience instead of the reasons you have to think otherwise?

I'm having a hard time explaining myself here, so please bear with me. Let's just compare these two mental states:

1. The belief that the BOM is not true.

2. The belief that the BOM is true.

(1) describes your first mental state before you received a testimony. Your first mental state was caused by you applying reason to the evidence you looked at. In that case, you had something to connect your mental state with reality, which gave you a basis for saying, "I know the BOM is false."

(2) describes your second mental state, but it was not caused by any evidence or reason. It spontaneously entered your mind as a result of a purely subjective experience. There is nothing that connects it with reality.

So why would you ever trust a subjective experience over your assessment of the evidence? I mean I can understand why you might do that if the evidence were not that strong. We've all gone on hunches before. But in your case, you seemed to think the evidence was enough to warrant saying you knew the BOM was false.

We both know that people from a variety of beliefs have these kinds of personal experiences that cause them to be certain. Charismatic Christians often have these kinds of experiences, and they're highly offended when you question them. Muslims have them, too. It ought to be obvious to all that it's possible to have such an experience, to be 100% certain of your beliefs as a result, and to still be wrong. With that in mind, why not give more weight to reason and evidence than to our own subjective experiences?

From what you have said, you were once in exactly the same situation I'm in now, doubting the BOM and the LDS Church for all the same reasons. But then, to your surprise, the Holy Spirit gave you a confirmation that changed your mind. So it isn't impossible that the same thing could happen to me. If it ever does, I wonder what I will say about everything I've written here.

I've enjoyed your series...

I'm glad you've taken the time to read all my posts and respond to them. I really appreciate your openness as well.

Perhaps God wanted me to follow this path, but maybe it's not best for you.

Do you really think it's best for some people not to know the true gospel?

I just have one more question for you. You said that your testimony contradicted your knowedge, and that while you got a clear answer that the BOM is true, you still think it has errors, and you're not a fan of it for that reason. My question is: Do you affirm contradictions? Do you think it's possible for two claims to contradict each other and still both be true?

 

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