Book of Mormon Origins?

New Question!!!! This one is pretty heavy, so make sure you’ve got a warm bowl of soup and a cool beverage to work on while you read this. This question was asked anonymously a few weeks ago via my (now defunct) formspring inbox, and the end was chopped off (screw you, formspring). Ok, here’s the question:

Why is this?? There are two possible explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon. It is either of divine or human origin, and if it is of human origin that means that Joseph Smith concocted the Book. If this is true, then the Book of Mormon should b

Well, I get the impression that I missed most of your question.  So… apologies again for that.  I didn’t even get the part of your question that was a question.  So all I can do is respond to the premise you’re trying to establish here.

The premise you’ve suggested is one I’ve heard before – basically that there are only two possible explanations for the origins of the Book of Mormon.  Speaking not necessarily of the BOM, but of Mormonism as a whole, Gordon B. Hinckley summed it up as follows:

…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. 

I won’t outright disagree with this statement, but I will suggest that this black-and-white view of right and wrong is a pretty simplistic method of approaching the Book of Mormon.  In my experience, I have not found it useful or meaningful to apply labels like “true” or “false” to the Book of Mormon (or any other religious text…).  The practical application of religion requires nuance and subtlety, and I’m not comfortable with anything that implies that I’ve got God all figured out.  To take a substantial text like the Book of Mormon, or the complex historical events surrounding it’s creation, and ramming it into a box labeled “true” or “false” is to strip faith of the beautiful subtleties that make it worthwhile and uplifting.

Rather than neatly applying labels to the Book of Mormon, instead, let’s ask the following questions:

  • How is the text useful? (How is it not useful?)
  • How is it inspiring? (How is it disappointing?)
  • How does the text influence your relationship with God?
  • What type of person does the text inspire you to become?
  • How does the text mesh with your understanding of God?

The way we answer these questions will be far more meaningful than simply answering the question “Is it true?”  Once we’ve answered these (and other?) more substantive questions about the Book of Mormon, applying the label “true” or “false” won’t change anything about how we use the text.

4 comments to Book of Mormon Origins?

  • I like this approach, if only because it invites people to just read the Book of Mormon and evaluate for themselves, rather than making snap judgments based on arguments about the the Book of Mormon.

    The thing is… The Book of Mormon holds its own with any foundational world religious text… The Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Gospels, the epistles… The gnostic scriptures… The Koran… The Baghavad Gita… The Tao Te Ching… The Popol Vu… It's hard for me to imagine how it could have been produced by a man like Joseph Smith, Jr. unaided by the divine. It's impossible for me to imagine it being produced by a self-serving fraud.

    I have a profound respect for the Book of Mormon, as I do for any sacred text. That respect has been rewarded again and again and again, as it has opened up astonishing insights in my spiritual journey… That's the bottom line for me (apart from the spiritual witnesses I've received in the process of studying it…).

  • Ren

    I think the book is inspired but I doubt it was transcribed from found text on plates.

    That's how I feel about any religious texts. They're inspired. I don't feel they're the direct word of God and they contain a lot of opinion influenced by the culture and mores of the era and locale they were written in. I take from them what is useful to me and leave the rest.

  • i love your explanation — best i've heard. i also like answering questions with questions, it's thought provoking. thanks for sharing.

  • @J G-W – Yes, just speaking generally, I think it is usually a very good idea to at least read a portion of a book before rejecting it. That's different than saying everyone should read every book. But certainly, if you're going to start applying labels like "true" or "false" to ANY religious text, you better have had read at least a substantial portion of the text.

    @Ren – It sounds like we have a very similar approach to the scriptures.

    @marlamuppets – thanks. Answering questions with more questions is a good way to trick people into thinking you've got answers.