Monday, 22 February 2010

The Mormon “Gordian Knot”

Is the Book of Mormon true? Who knows! Were there such people as Nephites and Lamanites? It’s anybody’s guess! Did Israelites migrate to the Americas from Jerusalem? It is a vexed question. At least a growing number of Mormons seem to think so. A conference talk by apostle Jeffrey Holland has provoked a storm of speculation about the official attitude to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

“When Elder Holland delivered his stinging rebuke to Book of Mormon critics in his General Conference address last Sunday, reactions ranged from woots” and “double woots” by literalist believers of the Book of Mormon, to disappointment by those who felt Elder Holland was backtracking on his prior statement that Church members who don’t believe the traditional story of its origins should not be considered “unacceptable . . . as a Latter-day Saint if [they] can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” However, after listening carefully to Elder Holland’s address again, I think both camps might be mistaken about what Elder Holland was intending to say, particularly with regard to the “Inspired Fiction” theory of the Book of Mormon.”

Inspired Fiction? Hmm. A thoughtful account of this theory can be found at Mormon Matters. In summary, some Mormons have so come to recognise the insuperable difficulties presented by the Book of Mormon that they have come up with an alternative explanation of its nature and purpose. Given the complete absence of archaeological evidence, the implausibility of its provenance and the growing evidence against Mormon claims for it that they have hit upon the idea that it is a sort of allegory; a work of fiction that conveys eternal truths.

The article at Mormon Matters gives a very good account of this idea and the speculation surrounding it but here is the problem. These days Mormons seem to be endlessly speculating about such things; might God have meant this, or that, or something else? But aren’t Mormons supposed to have prophets that make such speculation redundant? If the Book of Mormon is Inspired Fiction, more allegory than history, what does that tell us about Joseph Smith who taught that it was history?

The Mormon Church is founded on the scathing criticism of Christendom for indulging in such speculation. If speculation is the problem, they argue, then prophets are the answer; so what’s the problem? That some Mormons can feel comfortable in thinking that an apostle and prophet of the Mormon Church allows for their wild speculations should prove worrying. But today’s Mormon Church seems increasingly broad and tolerant of dissent. Bruce R McConkie would turn in his grave.

Did Elder Holland Denounce or Carefully Avoid the “Inspired Fiction” Theory? at Mormon Matters

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