Terryl Givens did graduate work at Cornell University in Intellectual History and UNC Chapel Hill where he received his PhD in Comparative Literature. He holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English, and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses in 19th century studies, and the Bible’s influence on western literature. As a commentator on Mormon religion and culture, he has appeared on PBS, NPR, and CNN. Author of ten books, his writing has been praised by the New York Times as “provocative reading,” and includes, most recently, When Souls had Wings, a history of the idea of premortal life in western thought, and a two volume history of Mormon theology underway for Oxford University Press.
- The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy
- By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion
- People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture
- When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought
- Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism.
There’s a part 5? The link is to part 1.
Oh my gosh. I’ve just listened to the first segment and I didn’t think I could love Terryl Givens more than I already do. I’m so glad I have another Mormon to have a crush on besides Richard Bushman and my husband. As a Mormon mom, I just wanted to also recommend Given’s childrens book entitled “Dragon Scales and Willow Leaves.” It’s about twin kids who see the world from different perspectives. Love it. https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Scales-Willow-Leaves-Givens/dp/0399226192/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1317273283&sr=8-12 Thank you Dr./Brother Givens for being willing to talk about your faith. I’ve read your testimony more than once on Mormon Scholars Testify. I don’t know if intellectual Mormons realize how helpful their professions of nuanced faith are to an average believer who is trying to see the world through a new lense. Thanks so much.
Terryl Givens talked about some articles he read on Harpers Magazine from the 1860’s. Since I have a Harpers subscription, I looked them up, and there were tons of them, from book reviews, to news clips, to full articles. I made a blog with all the articles that seemed more interesting to share with you guys.https://harpersandmormons.wordpress.com/
How cool! Thanks, Manuel!
Listened to part 1 so far. Great work, John & Terryl. Thank you. I’ve got a good Derrida story for you — ask me sometime.
I liked a lot of the podcast. I still don’t really understand how people can somehow support the claim that the book of mormon is, by any stretch of the academic meter, a historically valid text. Book of Abraham papyri and many, many other things seem to point to the fact that most of Joseph’s translations were clearly historically false. Even if these were true, what about other ridiculous stories: Noah’s Ark, the tower of Babel, and so on?
I think mormonism and mormon theology is incredible interesting and amazing way to structure one’s life around. But as far as calling it historically accurate? Saying “well there were clearly other people in the Americas” doesn’t really cut it for me. This is a list I found online:
I am trying to put together a quick list, summary
of my issues on the church. Not something that goes into depth on any
of them, but one that in a sentence or two describes some of my issues.
Actually, I have two lists….one just for issues related to the BOM
and the other for the rest.
This thread is just for the one on the BOM. I remember that one of the
things that got to me was not any single issue, but the large number of
I’m posting the list to get your help in either adding things I might
have missed or rewording things differently…etc….any suggestions
You will note that some of them certainly need a little more.
1)No DIRECT evidence has been discovered yet for the Book of Mormon…not a
single city, or name mentioned in the BOM has been found in a
archeological dig, or even mentioned in art or writing that has been so
2) ALL animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon (except for the snake)
did not exist in the Americas during the time period covered in the Book
of Mormon. LDS defenders and non-biased scientific organizations
(National Geographic, Smithonian Institute) agree on this point.
3) ALL plants/food mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not exist in the
Americas during the time period covered in the Book of Mormon. LDS
defenders and non-biased scientific organizations (National Geographic,
Smithonian Institute) agree on this point.
4) Not a single indigenous animal to the Americas is mentioned in the
Book of Mormon including significant ones that are either deified in the
religions of the civilizations known to exist at the same time or known
as necessary for known civilizations at the time to survive.
5) Not a single indigenous plant/food to the Americas is mentioned in
the Book of Mormon including significant ones that are deified in the
religions of the civilizations known to exist at the same time as the
Book of Mormon people or known as necessary for known civilizations at
the time to survive.
6) Cureloms and Cumoms: A frequent argument is made by those who are
aware of the lack of evidence of animals mentioned in the BOM, is that
those animals really represented a different animal. Like the horse
imentioned in the BOM is really a deer or tapir. They say that Joseph
used names he was familiar with to describe them. Yet, he was given the
name cureloms and cumoms which are to this day entirely unknown by
7) Indigenous peoples are not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Not
once do the people of the Book of Mormon actually run into another
people that is currently known to anthropologists/archaeologists. It is
stated that the Lord might lead others to the land, but there is zero
interaction mentioned with other peoples
Chariots are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but not only has there be
no scientific evidence of chariots in the Americas, no pictorial or
written reference to chariots has been found either.
9) The extensive use of chariots in the BOM means that the Book of
Mormon people were familiar with the use of the wheel. Yet the wheel
was not known during book of mormon times….not only are there no
chariots, there are no carts, no wagons, nothing of any kind that
suggests the use of the wheel, nor any evidence of the impact of the
wheel on civilization. There are no pictures of anything else using
the wheel, nor is the use of the wheel mentioned in any writings found.
10) Coinage in the Book of Mormon. Not a single coin has been found in the Americas that dates to Book of Mormon times.
11) Armor in the Book of Mormon. No armor has been found in the Americas
that dates to Book of Mormon times despite being mentioned as used in
numerous wars and by hundreds of thousands in the BOM.
12) Swords in the Book of Mormon (including cimeters) No swords in the
BOM have been found that date to Book of Mormon times despite being in
numberous wars by hundreds of thousands.
13) Metallurgy in the Book of Mormon. No evidence of metallurgy, no ability to make alloys either (steel)
14) Demographics of the Book of Mormon. Population growth numbers found in the Book of Mormon are not realistic.
15) DNA and the Book of Mormon. DNA studies show that none of the known
civilizations have descended from Hebrew, middle eastern origins
a. Resulting impact on doctrine of the church re: lamanites
b. Change in the introduction of the BOM
c. Change to Limited Geography Theory
16) Location of Hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith said Hill Cumoroah was in
New York, Limited Geography Theory says that it cannot be. No
archaeological evidence for New York Hill Cumorah. Is Joseph wrong? Or
is Limited Theory Wrong?
17) Internal Conflicts in the Book of Mormon. There are at least three instances of internal conflicts in the Book of Mormon.
There are several changes that were made in the Book of Mormon since it
was originally published that actually affected doctrine
a. Changes related to the trinity. Originally Book of Mormon was completely
b. Changes related to black skin, white skin, pure
19) King James version and the Book of Mormon. There is a significant portion of the Book of Mormon that copies the KJV
20) Italicized words in KJV and the Book of Mormon. Words that are
italicized in the KJV are words that were inserted by 17th century
translators and yet they are found in the BOM.
21) Differences between the KJV (as quoted in the BOM), the BOM, and JST
22) Translation of Book of Mormon in 60 days. I used to think that this
was a difficult and almost impossible task. But take into account
material copied from the KJV, stories from his father, American history,
there isn’t much left to come up with on your own. 60 days is totally
23) Quetzelcoatl and the Book of Mormon. Some mormon scholars have
advocated that Quetzelcoatl was really Jesus Christ. Yet, that belief
came from 16th century Spanish Missionaries.
24) Verse in the New Testament that was added in later centuries,
included in Book of Mormon (last twelve verses of Mark)….Mormon 9:24
quotes some of the forged verses)
25) Problems with Moroni’s Visit. He was not alone, no one heard him, no one else woke up.
26) Is Moroni actually Nephi? In the early writings of the church, in
numerous places the angel that appears to Joseph is named as Nephi and
1) If not a member of the church, and you were aware of all these issues
there is no way that you could believe that the Book of Mormon is
actual history. Not a single reputable scientific organization outside
of church sponsored ones gives any credence to the BOM as actual
2) Atheists, Arhceaologists, Historians all acknowledge some piece of
historicity of things mentioned in the Bible…like Jerusalem did exist,
Pilate did exist, there were camels in the middle easy, and there are
cedars in Lebanon. No one except faithful latter day saints believe
that the Book of Mormon is history. More credence is given to Atlantis
and El Dorado than Book of Mormon civilizations.
3) So unless you already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon,
believing that the Book of Mormon is actual history is really tough
unless you only read the Book of Mormon and ignore all scientific
evidence to the contrary or come up with some explanation for all of the
above.” “Currently, all arguments defending the BOM by LDs scholars on
the above points are speculative.
Thanks for editing! I didn’t realize how long the list was until I actually posted it. I wanted to go back and delete/edit my post myself, but wasn’t sure how.
Terryl has nothing new, nothing interesting to say. Is this really the best we have? This is completely unacceptable to me. This interview shows us that academic professionals can become partial people. They love curiosities more than the truth. They derive self worth and professional value from exploring curiosities and finding niche positions, but the truth is an altogether different proposition. Discovering the truth is not merely an intellectual movement; it is also an emotional movement. The truth demands a whole person–mind and heart. I now know why guys like Michael Quinn, Terryl Givens, and Daniel Peterson cannot accept the truth that now so obviously stares them in the face–they’re too old! You can change the ingredients in the mixing bowl, but you cannot change the ingredients after the cake has been put into the oven. It’s baked. These guys are all baked. There’s no way to free their minds at this point. All I hear from them are intellectual curiosities and nuances of rhetoric and thought that help them reconfigure their beliefs without actually facing and accepting the truth.
These old guys are more dangerous than the ignorant saints because they are aware of the problems without facing them; they see the entrance of the path to truth, but never set foot on it. They pretend to be friends of truth, but they love the truth like a fan loves a photo of a celebrity. They have no relationship with the truth; they cannot love it. All they know is the paper, the photograph, the image and the likeness of the truth, but never the actual truth.
At one point, Terryl uses BH Roberts as a cautionary tale that demonstrates BH Roberts’ shortsightedness–a cautionary tale that warns us so to evaluate “what kind of paradigm am I operating within that is wrongheaded and erroneous,” and “instills a kind of intellectual humility that makes it easier to deal with cognitive dissonance.” That’s the point where Terryl lost me because the case against the Book of Mormon has become more damning and incriminating since BH Roberts made his analysis. The accumulation of negative evidence stacked up against the Book of Mormon validates BH Roberts’ tremendous intuition and insight and shows Terryl givens to be the shortsighted scholar. Terryl musters the audacity to claim that defying this accumulation of evidence stacked up against the Book of Mormon actually shows “a kind of humility” when in fact it shows great hubris, great theological pride.
Terryl fails to see which way his humility leans; that his humility bows to religious authority and tradition, but stands arrogantly and defiantly against the larger accumulation of knowledge that now proves the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham to be fabrications.
This is a common problem among us as a people. This tendency to bend our perception of reality to preconceived doctrinal beliefs evidences a theological pride whose eyes are inverted, seeing only that which is inwardly personal and accessible by “the spirit” or the emotions, ultimately dismissing “the philosophies of men” and other secular methodologies of knowing. This theological pride rejects the material and sensible world, which ultimately constitutes a rejection of the human senses. Consequently, theological pride seeks to better understand the world, not by directly experiencing it, but by searching inward for religious experience and revelation. Ultimately, this inwardness, this closedness, this repression, creates a breach from the material world. Isolated and disconnected, theological pride cloisters itself in the private recesses of its own religious experience and therefore cannot adjust its beliefs to the better evidence of the external world. If new evidence forces it to renounce or adjust its beliefs, then that evidence must be squelched, dismissed, or explained away, whether by honest or dishonest means, but never can the evidence persuade pride to admit its error. Thus, theological pride becomes a furnace with one setting that burns night and day, summer and winter; it burns for error as well as truth. Consequently, oceans of conclusive evidence cannot extinguish its burning bosom. As Nietzsche said, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”
We can do better than these old worn out scholars, these partial men whose hearts belong to the system, but not to the truth.
I believe that Michael Quinn, Terryl Givens, and Richard Bushman cannot admit to the truth because it would not be profitable. Mormons are the only people willing to buy their books. If they say they don’t believe then they would lose a lot of customers. Why did BH Roberts not openly admit to the problems he had with the Book of Mormon and keep his true beliefs private? Because he had too much to lose – money, power, prestige. He was paid to believe! Grant Palmer was also paid to believe while he worked for the church – at least he told the truth after he retired. Ultimately truth usually falls at the wayside when money, power and prestige are at stake.
I don’t know whether we can impute those motives to Terryl Givens or not, but what you said shows insight into the Mormon culture. Speaking broadly about the Mormon culture in general, it is not likely that one would deconstruct the ladder on which one is ascending, whether for spiritual, materialistic, or purely ego related reasons. In Mormonism, I have often heard the term “high and holy callings” and I can only imagine that this cultural construct implies that a priesthood holder’s ascension in the priesthood ranks parallels (in their minds) a spiritual ascension as well. Members view their leaders with awe and impute holiness to them. It is no wonder why this construct is so sticky for capable priesthood holders who serve as bishops, stake presidents, and so forth.
for those reasons, it’s easy for members to believe in the “mantle of authority” inasmuch as the “mantle” is a halo each member longs to wear.
I think it is much deeper than that, but it is possible that money may be a small factor. If it were all about money, however, than I am confident many of these men would make more if they were to leave and publish a book about their loss of faith. (As Grant Palmer has done.) Like you said: Their current audience consists only of Mormons, while their potential audience, should they leave, would be much bigger.
I agree that it is deeper and much more complicated than just a “For Profit” motivation. That is why I also included power and prestige as contributing factors. I also admit that there are other reasons why people choose to believe or say they believe after they have discovered the truth: the promotion of social harmony – fear of being shunned by family/community – loss of
potential business relationships – a profitable return on their investment of time, money and research regarding the church – loss of social standing, adoration, respect, high church callings, etc…
I still think that believing Mormons are a far larger audience then non believing Mormons. And non Mormons really don’t count as an audience as they really don’t care about anything Mormon. Think about it, believing Mormons buy their books hoping to find a good defense to anti Mormon claims and also find comfort knowing that the authors still believe despite all the controversial facts. Non believing Mormons also buy their books to prove that the church is finally indirectly admitting to anti Mormon claims. I believe a loss of faith book would exclude true believing Mormons and many questioning Mormons who are afraid to learn more. I guess one would have to examine Grant Palmer’s book sales vs. Bushman’s to know for sure.
I still think that believing Mormons are a far larger audience
then non believing Mormons. And non Mormons really don’t count as an audience
as they really don’t care about anything Mormon. Think about it, believing Mormons
buy their books hoping to find a good defense to anti Mormon claims and also
find comfort knowing that the authors still believe despite all the controversial
facts. Non believing Mormons also buy
their books to prove that the church is finally indirectly admitting to anti Mormon
claims. I believe a loss of faith book would exclude true believing Mormons and
many questioning Mormons who are afraid to learn more. I guess one would have
to examine Grant Palmer’s book sales vs. Bushman’s to know for sure.
Do you think it’s possible that positive reasons exist? Some that I see (putting doctrine aside for a moment):
1. Personal Spiritual flourishing
2. A deep and abiding sense of love in a connected community
3. A connectedness to something that is bigger than our own selfish interests
4. Opportunities to serve others
5. Programs for helping parents raise children in righteousness
6. The education of our hearts and desires, not just our minds
I don’t believe these are good enough reasons for avoiding or denying the awful truth, but these positive elements exist nonetheless. In fact, for the above reasons, the church is far too important to dismiss and reject.
Sure, I think positive elements exist on the surface. Members do find comfort and safety being connected to a like minded community. I think all is well for those who conform and not ask too many questions.
I guess my issue is with the aggressive missionary and reactivation program of the church. The church fosters a polarized us-versus-them mentality which often causes family conflict. Members are commanded to seek out non or less active members to convert or reactivate into the church. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be. I have personally experienced vicious personal attacks from my own family when I went through my crises of faith. I guess I’m calling for more understanding and tolerance for those who choose not to believe after they discover the truth.
I’m sorry to hear that. I really am. You seem to have kept a great perspective on it, calling for greater understanding and tolerance.
Do you believe that your family members would have treated you with greater kindness had they been more humble about the foundations of their religion? If they knew that a lot of Mormons (including well-known Mormon scholars) recognize that the Book of Mormon is fiction, would that fact alone have caused your family to be more open minded and accepting of your crisis of faith?
Not necessarily. I tried giving my true believing parents Richard Bushman’s talk where he asks members to be more understanding and tolerant towards doubting members and they threw it in the garbage. They called Bushman a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I honestly don’t know if the church would survive if it abandons its hard line literal approach to the Book of Mormon and Mormon history. Church membership and/or tithing is already hemorrhaging from the damage done by the internet. Grant Palmer had some good ideas for the church during John Dehlin’s podcast interview, but they would need to act fast.
The church won’t abandon its literalist approach, but the literalist approach will abandon the church. The truth prevails.
MRT01, I hope that you are able to reestablish your relationship with your parents. My heart aches for you. I hope you have a good support infrastructure with good friends in your life. What advice do you have for others who are experiencing similar unkindness and ostracism from family and friends?
It’s amazing how many people I know who are experiencing similar trials–family, friends, new acquaintances who came to me by confidential referrals from friends. Any advice you can offer them would be very helpful. I’ll pass your words along.
Thanks Jonah, I appreciate the kind words of support. It has been a difficult journey and one not taken lightly. It has taken many years of deep study to finally come to the conclusion the church is not what it claims to be despite the concerted efforts of apologists and believing Mormon historians. I’m still disturbed at their continued efforts to twist and contort facts in order to create positive interpretations. I now prefer simple straight forward common sense truths based on rational objective facts and not in factless irrational subjective concepts supported only by emotions and personal feelings. I still have room for spirituality but I now reinterpret spiritual experiences as a general knowledge of a loving God and not as affirmations for specific doctrines.
As far as family support is concerned I was fortunate to have a loving and supportive wife and twin brother who both have taken this journey with me. Unfortunately I also had unsupportive combative parents, in-laws, friends and church leaders who have zero interest in facts or history. In their reactivation efforts they all went so far as to threaten me that my children will all go to hell or have ruined lives unless I come back to the church. After many discussions with them and after presenting them with true facts and documents most of them have since backed off.
My only advice to others who are experiencing similar problems with family, friends and church leaders is to be honest about your concerns and be persistent in educating them. I believe education is the key to peace. The more people suspend judgment after they have all the facts the more peaceful and understanding they will become.
Based on what I just read, you seem like a great guy. Not many people can hold all their relationships together as you’ve done. I respect you for being so patient. Most of all, I feel so glad to see an example of love winning out in the end. It takes real love.
Beyond being unfair, this does not make any sense. All of these men were/are in academia, and it usually does not further your career to write about Mormon topics, pro or con. In fact, it is the opposite. If professional advancement or prestige were their primary goal they would not have written on such topics to begin with. The only one of these guys whose livelihood is dependent on writing books on Mormon subjects is Michael Quinn, and he can hardly be accused of self censoring what he regards as the truth for the sake of his career.
John, and other moderators: Don’t you think it is disrespectful to invite busy people to sit down for marathon interview sessions, receive gracious, charitable, and in some ways indulgent treatment from them, then to turnaround and host a moderated forum where people can’t post lists, but can take personal pot shots at the good faith of your Mormon guests and can make unsubstantiated accusations that they are just in it for the money?
If Givens or Bushman had been so brash and uncharitable in their interviews, or if they had ascribed terrible personal motivations to post-Mormons generally or specifically, I think you would rush to the post-Mormon’s defense. Instead, we have heard Givens and Bushman express empathy for those who have felt betrayed by the church, hurt by teaching practices, or experienced any kind of disillusionment. This has gone a long way toward dismantling the too-common facile duality between the faithful and the unbelieving that has sadly crept into the culture of the church as we experience it. When we hear of members that are unsympathetic and unbending when interacting with people that struggle with belief, at least we can say Terryl Givens and Richard Bushman are striving to change this aspect of our culture from the standpoint of faith.
I have enjoyed many of your interviews and I appreciate your efforts at bridge building. I think you have shown disaffected or hurt Mormons that many comfortable believers can closely relate to them. I think, however, that you could do more to challenge the easy retreats and ad hominem attacks lobbed by the unbelieving. You may not want to referee this much, and I respect that this is your forum so you should handle like you want, but everyone benefits by at least acknowledging the good faith and sincerity of people that feel differently from us. To end on a lighter note, I pity the fool who, like Mr. T 01., really thinks that money carries so much weight with scholars.
Although you lost me a little in your opening paragraph – I don’t know what you mean about can’t post lists?? But regardless I think your sentiments are noble and I applaud your overall message.
1. Personal attacks should not be part of the discussion. Wondering whether money is a motive? That may be slightly personal, but is it unwarranted? Not sure. Listen to apologists make generalizations about those who leave the church, stating that the reason they leave is because of unrighteousness and sin. It’s very common–and wrong in so many ways. Let them make those statements and we get to attack those statements when it’s our turn to speak. I’m fine with that.
2. An author or a thinker better be ready to defend the positions they take and defend them vigorously against attack. Bad ideas need to be vetted and attacked–not the people–but the ideas, the positions.
3. I think back on what D Michael Quinn said about BYU–about it being an Auschwitz for the mind. That was a bomb. I never really grasped it back then when he said it because I was too devout and orthodox. The bomb detonated later on in life like a time bomb and then I was grateful for that statement when I could fully understand it better. Even when I eventually understood it, I knew it was an exaggeration (Nothing is like Auschwitz. Nothing.) That was a pretty aggressive statement, but sometimes we don’t speak the truth when we dumb it down and make it more subtle. Christ used hyperbole and other rhetorical tools on the attack: think whited sepulchers/dead men’s bones, etc.
Similarly, in person, when face-to-face, our facial gestures, our body language, and voice inflections communicate so much more than words. My child could let out a scream that says more than a thousand words–I run quickly, heartbeat racing, blood pressure spiking, and adrenaline in a rush. If my child mumbles or whispers in an emergency, I’ve lost the essence of that communication. Same with written words: let it out, think about your thought, get to the essence of it, focus your words into the tip of spear, and throw it at the idea, the position you want to attack and use every ounce of force you have. Why hold back? Some targets–not all–are worthy of our force. You and the truth are a single inseparable instrument. Use all of yourself, all your strength, and chuck it.
For me personally I found the comments that criticized his speaking style to rude and uncalled for, and I actually really enjoyed his speaking style.
I also found the comments about his motives for writing books to be rude since they are basically calling him a liar. Those are the same kind of attacks that we do see from time to time from active members of the church against those that leave — meaning that are completely based on nothing but conjecture. Lets not get into the game of saying what someone else thinks and believes. Just accept the fact that it is possible for intelligent reasonable people to disagree.
Thanks, Humble Critique. While we’re lovingly bashing John, I observed the following which stuck out during the second half of part IV:
Dehlin: So, in some strange way, he needed something physical to kick-start the process?
Givens: That seems, to me, a good hypothesis that would explain his transition through these different mediums.
Dehlin: Yeah, ’cause again, why is he doing all this? If he’s just making up a book, why doesn’t he just produce the book? Why does he have to, like, go through this spectacle of translating for everybody?
Givens: Yeah, exactly.
Dehlin: I mean I guess it’s ‘cause he has to tie it to actual plates because he wants people to believe the story, right?
Givens: Yeah, but, like I said, you can have the story without having the physical artifact it comes from.
Dehlin: But the physical artifact makes it real, like you say. It’s the difference between he made it up and no, there were real artifacts, right?
Givens: Yeah, possibly so. I mean one contemporary example of fraud is probably the most successful one of that preceding generation was James McPherson who purported to have discovered some ancient Gallic manuscripts which he translated into the poems of oseum. And he publishes these in the late 1700s in England to just fantastic reception and acclaim and these poems are still published all the way into the early 20th century. There were a few skeptical readers like Samuel Johnson who thought there just wasn’t the ring of ancient authenticity to those translations and so he asked him to produce the originals, which McPherson said he would do, and then he never did. And so, gradually, the consensus grew that that was indeed a fraud. But his poems were popular nonetheless.
Dehlin: Alright, um, let’s see, so, so he creates the Book of Mormon and he starts the church. What do you make of Grant Palmer’s…
Typically, John does an excellent job summarizing the view of his guest in a brief sentence or two as a transition to his next question. In this case, however, the summary/transition was not even remotely representative of what Givens articulates as his view with regards to the Book of Mormon. In fact, it is the opposite and it came off to me as being John’s opinion, which is perfectly fine, but I have to say it was a bit surprising based on the conversation that precedes it.
Jonah, would you send me a note at eric_ringgerNO@SPAMhotmail.com ? (remove the obvious pork) Thanks, –Eric
Ringger, Good to hear from you. What do you have in mind? I look forward to talking.
Hi, Jonah. If you’ll send me a private email to the address posted above, I just have a question for you. –Eric
OK. Not going to run a traceroute on my smtp headers or anything like that are you :-)
Jonah – Regarding, “Terryl has nothing new, nothing interesting to say” — all I can ask is….did you listen to the podcast at all? Nothing new or interesting to say…..for a believer/scholar of Terryl’s status/stature to say on record? Really?
It seems like your argument is primarily against religion…not against Terryl or Mormonism specifically….which believe me…I COMPLETELY understand.
And yet most of the world is religious….that’s just a fact. So from my perspective, there’s HUGE value (and novelty) in understanding how someone as thoughtful and as well-read as Terryl Givens makes it work intellectually.
For me, this podcast is priceless in that regard. But yeah…if you reject or devalue all religion….then I can see why you would respond the way you did. But I’ll be honest — I see your response as unfortunate. Can’t we simultaneously have a perspective, and yet show respect to other perspectives?
I listened to the entire podcast and took notes. I really enjoyed it. Having said that, the truth matters!
You’re right about the big picture. There is a place for religion. I truly believe that. I feel that deeply. I just don’t think that what we witnessed is religion. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe Terryl is a very spiritual man, but that’s not what I witnessed in this podcast. The intellectual twisting, the reconfigurations of positions, the recalibration of nuances of thought to make theology work do not for me constitute spirituality. It actually evidences a closedness, a partiality to the system of theology over the vastness of truth that the world offers us.
So here’s my question: is there a scholar who faces up to the truth, stares it boldly in the face, and accepts it despite its awful consequences? Is there a scholar who stops defining the truth as a pleasant surprise or a comforting thought; someone who understands that sometimes the truth is painful?
The fully ripened fruit of knowledge may in fact be difficult and bitter to swallow. When we partake, it may thrust us headlong out of our ignorant paradise and into the lone and dreary world where we find ourselves on a darkling plain at the edge of a precipice where Morpheus greets us, “Welcome to the desert of the real.”
Spirituality is on the other side of that.
I want to witness a new kind of scholar–Adam in the lone and dreary world building an altar from stones that he himself has gathered–an altar of his own making, not the crumbling and decaying remains of our former temples. I want to see him plunge his spade into the soil to rebirth Eden by the good tilling of his own pragmatism and spirituality.
The era of these old guard guys arguing for the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity is over. We need to move past it. That’s where our greater spirituality lies. It’s waiting for us, but these old guard scholars are holding us back.
Just so I can understand your position, can you give me an example of someone testifying to some specific religious truth that is credible to you?
Regarding “a scholar who faces up to the truth, stares it boldly in the face, and accepts it despite its awful consequences” — that’s exactly what I thought Terryl did. That’s why I enjoyed the podcast so much. Terryl seemed very willing to call a spade a spade. I found Terryl’s approach to be very pragmatic…bordering on heretical (compared to the traditional. orthodox LDS mindset).
I guess I’d love to see an example of that for which you pine.
How about accepting the obvious truth–that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are 19th century fabrications, lies. On the other side of that realization, I’m very open to many spiritual discoveries and experiences, including faith-promoting, gospel-building experiences.
What I won’t accept: scholars making a cautionary tale out of BH Roberts who is their intellectual and spiritual superior. Unbelievable.
In his book, Givens calls B.H. Roberts something to the effect of “one of the greatest minds in the history of Mormonism.” And my read of Givens’ take on B.H. Roberts is that Givens sees Roberts as nothing short of heroic. In fact, in the podcast Givens explicitly states that B.H. Roberts was a model for how to approach the Book of Mormon with integrity.
You seem to be blinded by anger or something. Or we simply disagree. But you clearly don’t understand what Givens is saying in my view.
I am not so genteel that I wouldn’t metaphorically kick someone in the teeth and I make no apologies for that. It depends on the person and my level of disagreement and disappointment. It’s time for us to cease being so precious, so delicate and genteel.
I’ll forget what you said about being blinded by anger. I’ve never read Terryl’s books, so I have no idea what he says about BH Roberts in his books, BUT I did listen to the podcast and I know what he said here. That’s all I really care about. Here’s an excerpt:
“One of BH Roberts’ problems was that he operated throughout on a totally wrongheaded assumption: that the Book of Mormon claimed to be a history of the entire western hemisphere. That’s an absolutely ridiculous notion.” According to Givens, this is supposed to make me introspective; supposed to make me wonder: “What kind of paradigm am I operating within that is also wrong headed and erroneous?”
To me, that position unacceptable–especially since modern science proves out BH Roberts and shows him to be correct years in advance of the conclusive evidence!
The more important point of mine that you should have answered is this: why doesn’t Givens admit that the Book of Mormon is a fiction? His refusal to accept this fact causes Givens to contort himself into theological knots and I don’t find this interesting at all. At one point, he calls Ostler’s BoM theory “beautiful” although he doesn’t buy it. Beautiful? These apologists sometimes disturb me. They love these apologetic devices, these theological twistings and contortions, but not the Truth! Not the difficult truth. They would twist themselves into a misshapen theological fraud rather than acknowledge the truth.
We no longer see any of these scholars make arguments against evolution, but here they are making arguments against modern scientific evidence about the ancient Americas–and the case against the Book of Mormon is more damning and conclusive than the case against creationism in the Bible!
Here’s a matter of fact: our people suffer silencing, shunning, judgement, shame, depression, anxiety, fear, and most of all, they have no pathway to honest discourse with their families and loved ones. My cousin’s wife was on the edge of divorcing him–for a virtue; for discovering the truth; for discovering that the Book of Mormon is a fraud. He loves his wife who is an uber orthodox return missionary. He’s loyal. He’s devoted. He’s a great man. Why should this be the case? If you believe that a leveling of all opinions will solve this problem, I disagree. All opinions about the Book of Mormon are not created equal. The truth matters. The only solution is to get rid of these impossible apologetic positions and admit that the Book of Mormon is a fiction. Then, all our people will be able to talk openly, not just in forums and not just in private conversations with red-pill Mormons, but also in their own wards and with their own family members. The larger community of Mormons will continue to believe in the Church, as they should, but they’ll cease to be so arrogant and cock-sure about everything. A little theological humility will go a long way for us as a church.
All virtue begins with honesty. Let’s start there; with honesty. The longer we tolerate this pablum, this drivel about the Book of Mormon, the longer our people suffer. Figure it out. You have the power to do it, but you’re busy being diplomatic to the wrong people. Unite the clans Johnny. Unite the clans. :-)
Hardliners are probably never going to deny the historicity of the BOM en masse. If we approach things this way, we widen the gap swallowing people like your cousin, Jonah. Getting doubt recognized as a socially acceptable position would help things a lot. If Packer and company could add vocal doubt to belief and silence (the only two positions currently acceptable for church members in good standing), then your cousin’s believing family would suddenly lose the prophetic pressure to cut off one of their members. They could still disagree with him, believing the myth he doubts, but they wouldn’t have a prophet of God backing them up if they decided to turn that disagreement into a reason to disown him (effectively).
You have to respect the other idiot if you want him to respect you.
I agree and disagree:
First, you’re right, some hardliners may never deny the historicity of the BOM, but that’s only because our theological system has positioned the formula for belief in that way. I was as devout as a person could be, but I eventually came around to the truth after three years of research. I still live a life of orthodox faithfulness (and intellectual heresy). I’m a red pill Mormon waiting for our better moments. Discovering the truth about our scriptural foundations is not as faith destroying as some think. I have that hope for the rest of the church. I have great faith in the truth; that it will ultimately prevail over concealment. Further, I believe the Saints are capable of discovering the awful truth–and I believe they’re capable of continuing to believe on the other side of that discovery.
Second, I agree that like you said, most things don’t happen en masse, and that’s fine with me.
Third, mass defection or mass rejection of the BOM’s historicity is not necessary. An apologist tries to create a context and a climate in which faith can exist. Unfortunately in our culture, what has been created is a climate of absolute certainty. We don’t need to convince everybody. We simply need to create a context in which doubt can exist. There are many ways we can do this.
Fourth, is diplomacy important? Yes. How important is it? It’s importance runs inversely in relation to the passionate certainty of the opposition. Some walls cannot be broken except with explosives.
THANK YOU and THANKS to TG for these episodes! Wonderful, rich, engaging, brave, illuminating….I could go on. More than anything, very helpful to me and I’m sure many others.
John, as a listener to MSP for years now, I don’t remember and episode where you reacted so genuinely and spontaneously and so often with eplies to things like ‘Really?!’ and ‘Now, wait!…’ and other reactions to his responses that seemed to take you by surprise. I’m wondering, do you feel differently at all about any issues after this wonderful discussion?
I love to listen to TGs take on difficult issues and Mormonism is general, however, I don’t think the average member who confronts these issues will ever be able to approach them with the same breadth and depth.
Your way off on your analysis here of what Givens was saying. While you comments may be correct in a different context they don’t really apply to Givens is saying about the BH Roberts.
“I want to witness a new kind of scholar–Adam in the lone and dreary world building an altar from stones that he himself has gathered–an altar of his own making, not the crumbling and decaying remains of our former temples. I want to see him plunge his spade into the soil to rebirth Eden by the good tilling of his own pragmatism and spirituality.”
I like your position here, Jonah. But I guess I think Terryl is more sympathetic to this than you might think. I think many apologists that we younger bucks fault for being close-minded or cowardly are really just expressing viewpoints forged in a different age, an age when telling any kind of truth that flouted official teaching (even a watered down version of such truth) was really rebellious. I think these guys (particularly Terryl) are authentic. I think they have something to offer. I don’t agree with them about everything, but I don’t even agree with myself all the time. It’s good to have them talking to us, particularly those of us who are too intimidated to use our real names or be who we really want to be in the world, with our families, and with our church community. They give us ways of reaching out to friends and family authentically that do not involve inflicting unbearable pain. My mom won’t read Bagley or even Fawn Brodie, but she will read Terryl Givens, and I can talk to her about the power of Mormon myth in a positive, constructive way.
I suspect, in light of your second comment, that you and I are not really that far apart. I suspect you appreciate Terryl giving what he could (even if it ultimately was not what you would have offered, or perhaps because it was not). Sure it’s not enough. My offering, if I ever have one, won’t be enough either, even though it won’t be as institutionally LDS as Terryl’s. I hope that is OK, because that is the way things always happen. It is not in the nature of humanity to create something that is finally enough. I may do better for myself than you or Terryl would do for me, but I cannot claim to do better for you than you do for yourselves.
I noticed that too. At the end, I felt that he was OK with every single position out there and somehow managed to link them in his head.
Well, Jonah. It seems like you already made up your mind on the subject. I hear that LDS.org has lots of forums for people like you.
John, that interview and Givens himself are amazing. Thanks for doing it.
Marvellous! I agree with Terryl about Romantic poets and poetry reflecting very much Mormon theology. Lord Byron actually reminds me of Joseph Smith! In fact George Byron, I think, would consider himself somewhat of a prophet. ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know.’ Byron reflected very much upon the relationship between the imagined and the real, especially on the line of the sublime which very much resonates Mormon thinking.
Ok – just on part 3 right now, but Terryl Givens expressed well one very important principle that I really value think is lost in LDS culture today. He said that Mormonism/LDS church doesn’t have eternal status. It is simply our current incarnation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is a very expansive idea in my mind, one that really resonates with me.
He also talks about how the LDS church has a responsibility of priesthood and temple ordinances, but said there are other important players as well. That thought made me stop and think “I wonder what sort of responsibilities were other religious belief systems given have that we should be aware of.” What responsibility does Buddhism have? What is their important contribution? What about Islam and Judaism? What are some of their tenants and faith practices that would enhance the worship and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Great food for thought.
I’m listening on the website, the the 3rd part only plays for about 4 minutes. Just fyi
DefyGravity – The site is often slow during the first 48 hours of a release. Please check back and let me know if you’re still having trouble tomorrow. Also, please check out iTunes to see if you have better luck there. Thanks!
Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. From two eyes of perspective, in our short lifetimes, we must synthesize multi-dimensional fields of knowledge as quickly as possible. Yet, what we learn in fine, local field resolution is more slow and methodical requiring more careful thought and experiment. The discovery of truth is a massive undertaking requiring super accelerated reading, perception, and action! The law of gravity has so many evidences for its truthfulness, yet belief continues to produce rewards. We can ride a roller coaster and use it without knowing how it works. Others are designing experimental machinery to measure precisely gravitational waves and fields, and working to discover the elusive graviton. It takes entire lifetimes to study just the 19th century of world history. What did the people of the ancient world really think of God and eternal principles? Nibley helped us harvest divers thought only after vast data mining in the ancient world in 12 different languages. Givens has dug deep to discover thought on pre-existence which not only correlates with mormons but throws more light on the topic. How radical to uncover the thought that the fall could turn out good for us, that god is passible, that atonement and intercession includes infinite empathy, sufficient to save even our dead, or to continue to write new sacred books. Uncovering thought and philosophy in correlation with our faith tradition means that other labs in the world have confirmed a truth proposed, making it less alien. Obtaining these eyes of understanding requires perception through the optics of 1000’s of writers, thinkers, experimenters. If Michael Coe or Grant Palmer after deep and wide study found alternative explanations on the other side of the historical cliff notes shared by the mainstream and yet still admit that Joseph was a genius, then it merits more study by the thoughtful and inquisitive. To find that perhaps a correlation with a new atheist on God as a super-evolved human – even if it does seem to counter Isaiah 43:10 and violates orthodox rules on god as the causeless cause, at least it is a form of theogony to be analyzed and discussed for what it could mean for the future of our race in both motivation for good and computational ethics. Apotheosis of this variety pulls God just slightly to the left of an infinite bounded integral giving us greater hope as we have a shared dna between god and the human family. What will we be doing in 1M years in heaven? Could it be that given the difficult odds of the drake equation that life is so rare, intelligent life even more rare, that there were civilizations which have progressed millions of years to be regarded by us as gods? The truth is that the probability for this is not 0 in a universe with >300sextillion stars. Is the universe a machine to produce gods? Teilhard a paleontologist concluded that the ultimate purpose in our undergirding cells and matter-in motion in the cosmos is to produce Christs – christogenesis. What is Zion? The united, the free – and their were no poor among them for Christ did give them a new heart, and they chose good despite their own vulnerability.
I, for one, enjoyed your discussion on our quest to understand and make sense of layer after layer of information. Mormonism offers hope understanding this information/knowledge in a way that brings tremendous meaning and purpose. It also can sound extremely weird, and way outside the mainstream Christianity. I don’t care how far “out there” Mormonism is (or the portion of it I choose to embrace is), in terms of the “weirdness factor” somehow becoming an indicator of how likely this Mormonism is to be true. To paraphrase Givens, once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole of religion, it’s all weird. This is roughly no stranger that most other faiths, so measuring against them as standards of truth based on “weirdness factor alone”, is silly. However, some of your expressed are are really cool, but aren’t really taken seriously among even most thinking mormons. God’s DNA, Universe Machine to produce gods, and the like are really thought-provoking, but it is very difficult to have a conversation with other LDS on this topic without sheer craziness taking over. That’s why I don’t personally get much benefit (socially/spiritually) sharing these kinds of ideas. All responses are either crazy (in my view) or that they think I’m smoking something. Hard to get a responsible dialogue going, I guess.
John and Terryl,
Thank you for the fascinating series. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it’s probably my favorite podcast (which is saying a lot, because I love all of the podcasts!). Terryl, I loved your position on Frontline’s The Mormons and was always curious about how you reconciled some of the things that I have struggled regarding current doctrine and culture and past historical challenges. You have such a lovely and ethereal point of view, grounded in intellectualism, which is refreshing. You made one of the most compelling arguments for Joseph Smith’s divine role, that I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure I’m on board, but it’s a very interesting and thoughtful take. I will probably listen to this again and again to absorb every morsel. Thanks for doing what you do and interviewing with Mormon Stories. You made me think! Also, well done John. This was a fantastic interview.
After listening with great interest to this podcast, I really like Terryl Givens, though I still cannot believe in the Book of Mormon as a serious historical record. Whenever the podcast turned to literalist apologetics, I just could not follow it. Perhaps this is because I tried so hard to make the Book fit hard evidence for so many years: maybe if I had stuck to reading ancient fables and kept my nose out of modern anthropology and history, maintaining the illusion of historical Nephites (and Llamanites) might have been easier. Kudos to John for asking all the tough questions, with one slight exception: you let Givens get away with llamas as horses and obsidian clubs as swords, but did not comment on what the heck cureloms and cumoms are supposed to be. What gives?! (Please note that this is said tongue-in-cheek!)
While I am not impressed with Givens’ defense of the Book of Mormon as history, I think there is value in approaching it as a sign fraught with meaning. There are important lessons to be learned from it (lessons of myth rather than of history), and I like the way Givens thinks when it comes to drawing these out (though I admit I joined John in dismissing him initially, owing to the literalist apologetic, which I find untenable). I am thinking I will have to look into his published work unworthy of Deseret.
I liked Givens’ openness to learning from deeply flawed people (i.e. human beings, a category which includes prophets). I liked that he did not try to push blame onto the intellectually disaffected (who according to certain apologists should have known better than to believe their teachers and leaders in church). I liked that he takes a historical perspective when looking at Mormonism. I wish he were my bishop. I wish I could have spoken with him before I went to BYU, instead of coming away from there with my faith smashed by the likes of Boyd K. Packer, who seems diametrically opposed to Givens and Bushman from where I stand. (Honestly, while I want to believe Givens when he says that there is no great conspiracy to hide the truth about church history from members, it is hard in light of talks like Packer’s infamous address, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect,” BYU Studies 21.3 : 1-18. How is this not at least an effort to set up and legitimize such a conspiracy? I cannot tell. For what it is worth, however, Packer did much more damage to my testimony with this talk than anyone has ever done by telling me the whole truth, even when it was not exactly what I expected. I think Givens is onto something when he says that betrayal in the present is a bigger problem for the church than having some sordid history.)
Thanks for a really good podcast.
So glad you enjoyed, Hermes.
I always like your podcasts, even when they break my heart (like the one on Eugene England). This one was particularly good, in that Terryl was willing to open up honestly and answer even the toughest questions without getting overly defensive. I really appreciated how open and thoughtful he was.
Me too. And yes….the Eugene England story is a TOTAL heartbreaker. May Terryl’s story end much happier. :)
Thanks! You expressed my feelings exactly
Terryl Givens has been a favorite since I heard him on PBS. I loved this – I will be listening again and taking notes next time. A few of the specific ideas shared were particularly soothing for my own sore spots. Thanks to both of you for a very thought provoking podcast.
Givens-Bushman-Hardy: The Holy Trinity.
Listening to Terryl Givens talk is like listening to silk. He is a symphony conductor of the English language.
Thanks for another great podcast! I loved hearing Givens mention some philosophical/temperamental ties between Joseph Smith and the Romantics. It’s something that has fascinated me, and I’ve never heard it mentioned before. Joseph really was Byronic in some ways, and I love that Lord Byron was apparently one of the people who appeared to Wilford Woodruff asking for his temple ordinances to be performed (along with Wordsworth, Goethe, Schiller, various founding fathers, et. al.). Mormonism and Romanticism is a very rich vein indeed.
I’m less convinced by the Book of Mormon historicity arguments. To me, the thematic unity of the book implies single authorship. If it had been produced over centuries by many various authors in various periods of social history (like the Bible), I think it would have that “ad hoc” feel Givens finds lacking. I suppose you can argue that the voice of Mormon the Abridger drowns out the original author’s voices…but none of this seems terribly convincing to me. I’d be delighted to be convinced of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but I’m still waiting (and not with bated breath). Until then, an unhistorical Book of Mormon works just fine for me.
Anyway, I really appreciated hearing Givens’ approach and was fascinated and inspired by what he had to say. Kudos to all involved.
Re the 5th segment and the mention of Kathleen Flake’s suggestion that there would’ve been easier ways for Joseph to satisfy the demands of his sex drive than to create a whole new purpose-built theology: this maybe kinda worked back in 2006/07 but after the YFZ Ranch raid in 2008 is probably a line that ought to be retired. At this point, in 2011, repeating it only brings to mind the (very recent) spectacle of Warren Jeffs and his courtroom antics and ongoing headline-making shenanigans.
Yes, Chino. Thank you for your observation. That defense is ludicrous.
There is a better explanation for Joseph Smith’s sexual conquests and for a lot of the other things he did: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
My journey of discovery outside the Church manuels began 5 yrs ago. Thanks John and Terryl for an awesome interview. I’m so glad John provides a place where these topics can be explored honestly. I laughed when Terryl mentioned Mother Teresa not having to go to Spirit Prison, because that was the lesson (not literally) in Relief Society just 2 weeks ago and I just couldn’t go along with that. How lucky you are Terryl to be able to work at U of Richmond. What a beautiful campus! Though it wasn’t my son’s first choicefor college, it would’ve been mine….. I’ll be looking forward to future interviews.
Thoughts on Part 2 ( hey, if you’re gonna post five segments, I’m gonna assume we’re all invited to leave up to five random comments ;-) ):
Discussing what *works* means talking about our preferred outcomes. Assuming, as the discussion in this segment seems to suggest, that the only acceptable outcome is continued growth (or at least avoidance of any moves that might trigger a contraction), the question that comes to my mind is whether or not the default defense (i.e., the literal interpretation of key elements in the Mormon story) is, in fact, still capable of getting the job done? The assertion that another retrenchment would only present a problem for well-read Mormons is looking increasingly wobbly as the ground continues to shift and a younger generation of LDS keeps leaving for reasons that are increasingly indistinguishable from those that are driving the exodus from other Christian churches. My sense is that engaging the concerns identified in the research at that link might be more useful than shutting down consideration of a swath of potential institutional LDS responses with a reference to the (arguably) less germane example of the Community of Christ.
Anyway, I’m noticing a pattern here: I’m nodding along with the tentative/descriptive bits but then these get punctuated by a declaration/prescription that leaves me shaking my head. For example, I wouldn’t bridle if someone suggested that the Church *could be* as true as the Gospel, but I’m no longer comfortable with the more famous declarative formulation of that line when it gets used in a way that sounds suspiciously (to me) like a thought-terminating cliché. The Church is *not* going to succeed at “being as true as the Gospel” on the basis of pronouncements regarding where or when B.H. Roberts or Eugene England happened to get things right or wrong, but rather on the basis of its example of how to treat our fellows in accordance with Gospel principles.
So, I was enjoying the subsequent discussion about the rejection of a capricious God in favor of a constant, compassionate deity willing to take risks in order to promote the happiness of His people. But then I wasn’t. The discussion got Hegelian in a way that once again threw me for a loop, but at least the discussion about the one-third and the how/why of their casting out reassured me that I wasn’t the only one feeling slightly confused. Talk about capital-T Tragedy if that 1/3rd had anything like understandable reasons for their reluctance to get with the program…
Moving on, the “mired in banality” observation rings true but there’s got to be more on offer than instrumentalist arguments if that banality is to be redeemed in any meaningful way. Or, if not, at least it ought to be an instrumentalism that’s defended on the basis of a more universally useful pragmatism. Or maybe it was. At this point, I’m having trouble ignoring a nagging voice that’s chiding me for expecting more than a narrow defense of the LDS status quo and it’s getting in the way of my ability to listen and type.
But now this idea has got my full attention: equally compelling evidence for both sides must be presented in order for agency to do its work of sifting the wheat from the tares. Ugh. Right back to Abraham. And since I don’t get this chance very often, this is my big shout out to Isaac: It gets better.
Meanwhile, Earth is an uneven playing field but God is striving. Just like the rest of us. But not all of us. Or something.
See also Saturday’s Warrior.
ALWAYS love your perspective, Chino. Thx for sharing. Keep it up.
Just for the record (and I’m regretting that I feel compelled to add this), that Terryl Givens took the time to share his thoughts and that you took the time to broadcast them counts for a whole helluva lot in my book. My view is that whatever our views might be regarding Mormonism’s past or prospects, good on anybody who’s taking the time to document the journey.
I have no idea what the hell you are saying.
And that’s OK, Nelson. I suppose it makes us even. I have no idea what “Givens-Bushman-Hardy: The Holy Trinity” is supposed to mean.
Chino_Blanco, this is probably a moot point in your exchange with Nelson Chung, but the “Holy Trinity” comment was a play on the “Unholy Trinity” epithet. The “Unholy Trinity” is a oft-quoted nickname for Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris (Givens-Bushman-Hardy being perhaps the antithesis of these men).
Hmmm. Fun explanation. Gotta say, though, I’d expect someone capable of that kind of wordplay to garner at least something from my comment. Nelson apparently had no idea what I was saying. What’s up with that? Or do I just need to play along and leave a truly inscrutable comment for his amusement?
Chino, agree with you – that argument really needs to go away. Just like the best lie is the one closest to the truth, the best self serving proposition (whether it be sexual, financial, or otherwise), is the one that makes the inappropriateness seem most palatable, given the contextualized and unique status of the predator.
I really hope that the delay in the history updates and church material is inefficiencies as Givens suggests. I have considered that myself at one point and was more compelled to question that delay and consider more seriously that there is motive. A loving motive that assumes members won’t handle it to be sure and erring on the side of caution to keep things as they are to ensure the tithes and organization continues to exists. *I* would have handled it and preferred the honesty but more wouldn’t and they know that. I agree with Givens these men and women serving in the general authority capacity are most concerned with their duty at hand but I will say one thing, the way it is may have worked this long but it will not work this way for too much longer and sadly, the church will roll forward and just say the loss is “sign of the times” as the less informed parts of the globe continue to hold to the iron rod!
It is refreshing to hear someone at peace and what not as Givens is. I also enjoy John’s zeal and questions as they are the very things *I* would be asking!
Yeah, I really like Givens’ comments on that subject (especially about Church and CES manuals being “deplorable”). I agree that the Church does have some “bureaucratic inefficiencies” in regard to disseminating scholarly work in Church History down to the curriculum. However, I also think that many active members of the Church are just not that involved or concerned with learning about Church History. I also think it is fair to say that the Church will continue to lose members until they do a better job of focusing on historical/doctrinal inaccuracies and misinformation (or complete lack of information) in the curriculum.
I know that some Church leaders would argue that a fact like Joseph Smith translating the BoM from a seerstone in a hat may be information that is “true, but not useful.” However, if that fact alone is enough to compel a member to leave the Church altogether, then I think it is a useful and very important fact (even important enough to be in a Church/CES manual). I’ve heard of many members being shaken by that fact alone (I’m probably one of them).
Yes, it is all useful to me! If, as this interview highlights, someone’s testimony is a true belief in a story and that story turns out to be varied, I want to hear the variations and make my own decision. If I should decide it isn’t true then the motives of the church should be the whole 90 and 9 thing and address it honestly and openly. As Givens says, and I agree, truth needs no defending, and “God” can defend himself. Very simple perspective that has always resonated with me. My fathers generation was actually told to “stay out of the mysteries” by general authorities. Isn’t that absurd? The entire foundation of the church is founded on mysteries that profess to be true. If we disagree with their version of anything we are tossed aside as apostates. Something is really wrong with that! Who are they at the iron rod and who are they in the great and spacious building???
Terryl Givens is awesome. Thanks for doing this interview, John.
I’m only midway through the second part, but I did want to comment on Dr. Givens’ view of the atonement. I don’t understand the atonement, and the explanation of Dr. Givens, I think, highlights one of my misunderstandings. Dr. Givens mentioned the consequences of sin that we do (or must) experience in mortality. Those consequences do cause us suffering (spiritual and physical). So, in essence, the atonement sounds like dual-suffering to me. In other words, we suffer for our sins, and Christ also suffers for our sins. Don’t we also experience the effects of a separation from God when we sin (including the suffering that comes from that separation)? Why would Christ, in mortality, also need to experience that separation (from the Gethsemane to the cross) if we will experience in mortality anyway? If Christ’s sacrifice is purely for post-mortal suffering that we may suffer at the judgment bar of God, then I am further confused by the unforgiving nature of Christ’s father (i.e., an Old Testament God who is angry, jealous, and vengeful). How could Christ be one with his Father if that was the true nature of God? In my mind, they would be near opposites.
Ive had the same questions on the atonement, especially in light of DC 19: 16-17
” 16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Difficult to square, especially after talks like from E. Christoffoerson in conference who seemed to say that our suffering was useful and necessary. Sorry this just doeent make sense in light of DC 19 or anything the Jesus Christ said or did in the New Testament.
For four and half hours, Terryl Givens maintains his composure without a crack while John comes at him with every doubt, issue and question regarding the church’s history, administration, and theology. Then John says “who is this Lord Byron guy anyway”, and Terryl goes apoplectic. I love it!
Terryl- Thank you for doing the interview. John I think you did a great job asking great questions. I started this podcast looking for answers. I am desperately trying to find away to have some kind of believe in the divine and in the LDS Church. I can appreciate a lot of what Terryl had to say and I think the theology he shared was both interesting and compelling. However, it is not the theology I have been taught my whole life in the LDS church. Listening to Terryl share his beliefs, as well as guys like Dan Weatherspoon share their beliefs, I can’t help but think that in order to still believe in Mormonism I have to reinvent the theology. I have not found a way to do that yet. I really appreciate the the interviews with those who have found a way to reconcile all of their issues. Thank you both for taking the time to share your thoughts.
I have one gnawing question for Terryl. Several times during the interview you talked about the fallibility of prophets as well as the possibility that the scriptures may have embellishments, like the number of dead during battles in the B of M. You also, stated you thought it was possible that Moroni may have edited the book. I understand that the number of dead during a battle is immaterial to the message of the B of M however, I makes me wonder what else is wrong with the book? It seems to me if God is OK with his prophets being wrong and his scriptures being wrong. Then why should I listen to the Prophets? I would really love someone to answer this for me. I feel like I could put an awful lot back on my shelf if someone could give me a compelling reason to listen to the GA and give me any kind of confidence that they are actually speaking for God.
That’s one of the problems I have struggled with I well. Most church apologists are comfortable with the idea that “past” prophets, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and so on, have made some pretty clear mistakes. If this is the case though, why doesn’t the same also apply to our current leadership in the church? Why aren’t we allowed to disagree if we think they’ve done something wrong?
I found this economics model helpful. You may or may not:
Another great podcast (and I’m only half way thru). Thanks John and Terryl. My hat’s off to you, Terryl. You have such a unique and fresh approach to Mormonism – and religion / philosophy in general. *Sigh* with my 30 plus years of faithful mormon indoctrination, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at black/white reasoning. For me, it still comes back to Truth. No matter how warm and fuzzy the spiritual experience (which isn’t a bad thing at all in and of itself, only), unless God(s) delights in treating their offspring like lab rats, it makes no sense to rely on such feelings as a basis for Truth.
Too bad Darwin didn’t publish On The Origin of Species 50 years earlier, and Joseph Sr.’s family read that book instead of the Bible. Maybe today we’d have all the good in Mormonism w/o having to contort logic/truth.
This is by far the best interview I’ve heard on Mormon Stories so far. I look forward to the next podcast in which he’ll discuss the Book of Mormon. Any idea when that will take place?
I don’t want to sound mean spirited, but Givens seems high on the fumes of his poetic wax. He seems nice enough, but his unorthodox views reveal nothing more than the simple motive of wanting more book sales. John seems flabbergasted most of the interview and offers some good BS detection, but then seems to forget it all in the end and ungnashes his teeth at the thousands of unstripled warriors who will have their minds blown back into their skulls by such a “beautiful” StayedMormon moment? I wonder what the GRE defines as sophistry. In my cloudless sky, a dry mouthed pedantic is not a breath of fresh air. Truth cannot be showered away in a eugenics lab or edited out of the mouth of Yaweh. Believe me. Scouts honor. Which I’m glad to find out, may be all I need to get through the veil and past all those labanizing cheribum. Maybe this will be the next token: “Hold on. I’ve got it… Here’s my new name badge…Yes I’m of the custodial class… Now I know not, did you need the cub scout two finger or the boy scout three fingered sign…I’ve got both…Wait, no I’ve got one more. Which one would you like…?”
Fascinating podcast episode. This is part of MS “Inside the mind of the apologist series”.
When the subject of the truthfulness of Mormonism gets tired you can move on to the question of: how do they do it?
This man is a premier example of an extremely intelligent person (no doubt much more intelligent then myself – really) that has intimate knowledge of all the facts at had and yet is a sincere believer. Yet to me the truth of the matter seems to me quite different and as obvious as my nose on my face.
The mystery of how people like this do it is (for me) one of the most intriguing questions out there.
Listening to this podcast provides clues. It seems like he is capable of shooting multiple explosive fireworks of facts into the the sky all at once and then connecting the dots to create images of truth. It does not make it real (the constellations are not real) but maybe useful. It’s almost like a form of modern mysticism. I’m starting to admire this almost like a new (or maybe it’s not so new) kind of art form. I think I am starting to enjoy it now because I no longer feel threatened by it.
I loved the discussion. It was the most relaxed I’ve seen John, and the most open. Terryl is one of the most articulate believers the church has. I especially love that he’s fairly empathetic with those that don’t believe. Without a doubt, this was one of the most important MS interviews done to date.
Terryl I’m so glad you did this. Thanks! And I can’t wait for the next one.
I also really appreciated your boldness, in a few places in particular. 1/ denouncing polygamy as inspired and eternal in nature. 2/ highlighting that while we say we have an open cannon, we really haven’t opened it since about 1918. 3/ highlighting the almost criminal way that the church has taught its history, especially in seminary and the manuals.
While there are far more things I like about Terryl’s perspective than I don’t like, my primary criticism would be that his view and version of mormonism is not the experience that nearly anyone has in modern mormonism. I see how he can pluck out the universalist references that Joseph made for instance and call it mormonism, but his world view and the average latter-day saint’s is much different than each other. Admittedly, Terryl’s version of mormonism is more interesting, but it doesn’t match in lots of places. For instance, his view on the degree of fallibility in prophets would not even match what those fallible men in office today are willing to acknowledge and promote.
In short, I wish we had more like him.
Almost thou persuadest me to be a believer…again.
John and Terryl,
HUGE THANKS for this interview!!!!! Once I started….I couldn’t put it down. The questions explored were spot on and the answers were enlightening and invigorating for me. I feel that there is so much more to “The Plan” out there and this helped open the possibilities for me again within a Mormon context (which I love) and am trying hard to make work despite some of my sincere concerns.
I have lots of other questions, but I’d love to ask Terryl a long, run-on, multi-part question with some background before I get there :) :
It seems that, as a church, we continue to pound home the “us vs. them” approach or the “we are living in enemy territory” mentality…….We continue to hear talks about the ever increasing “moral corruption” of the world and the black and white view of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, satan is out to get us, etc. …….While I believe that historical issues are the MAJOR reason why the younger generation is leaving the church, I would put this “Moral Positioning” as an emphatic #2 or #1a on the list of real reasons why we are losing so many young people.
I recently re-engaged with an old mission friend. A WONDERFUL, FANTASTIC missionary and person. 10+ years later he has left the church. He writes that he still LOVES the church, but he just can’t agree with some of the church’s “moral positioning”. He is out…he is gay….and now he has no place in the church. Here is a GREAT person who served the Lord with full purpose of heart and still LOVES the church in many ways, and yet, just 10 years later feels that he has no place in the church…..what a TERRIBLE loss for us and for him and his family as well!!!
So here is my question FINALLY:
How do you address the subject of homosexuality within the eternal framework that you’ve built around the gospel “plan” or the eternal progression of man/woman?
Where do gays fit into all of this?
How can we find a safe place for these dear brothers and sisters in the church from a doctrinal perspective?
It’s my belief that the church can more easily fix the historical issues (I just wish they’d do it), but this “moral positioning” issue is one that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around.
It seems to me that if we allow people to truly exercise their free agency and leave some issues up to them and God (ie. what we’ve done with birth control, addressing matters in the bedroom, working mom’s, etc.), while encouraging what we believe/THINK God is asking of us, then we’ll be headed in the right direction……However, it just feels like we keep drawing the line in the sand on this issue and the line seems ever so silly in light of what we are learning about the true feelings of our gay brothers and sisters who don’t want to feel the way they do but cannot deny it any longer – like my old mission friend.
Would love to hear this topic brought up in PART II
THANKS AGAIN TO BOTH OF YOU!!!!
Sorry for my rant here!
Just finished listening. The best Mormon Stories podcast to date. Thank you both.
While half of the conversation still flies over my head, there is so much to apprecite, and to bathe myself in…as part of my journey. My heart took a leap at the topic of the 1/3 of heaven that rejected the gospel plan. Yes, there could be such a simple solution, and concern, that there was even much to object to in a plan that brings so much pain and grief to the world, to individuals and families.
Like Stone, I have much concern for our gay brothers and sistes who are rejected for being true to themselves, and their feelings.
Much yet to hear, and I will go over the comments again when finished.
John, will Terryl read and respond to the forum as well.
Thanks for this and other podcasts!
I’m feeling hopeless. Terryl seems to be a really good and intelligent guy (respect for him!) but he seems to be an another good guy who tries to gave a framework how the illogical LDS gospel could work.
I can’t wait until his 2-volume work on the history of Mormon theology comes out.
Dr. Givens and John,
The first few moments of the second hour I want to comment on. Dr. Gvnens when you ask the Missouri church” how is it working for you” you imply that successes for a religion can only be measured by numbers and money. It seems to me that there are far more important ways to measure success of a religion. The fact is focusing on historicity implodes most religious structures. When you read even faithful New or Old Testament scholars you see that if they rely on the history they would not have any faith. It seems to me a much better measure of a religious system is how trans-formative it is on a personal level, and it also seems that emploding historical fact is never a foundation for lasting transformation. Oh by the way there are examples of numerical and monetary religous success that embrace a huge amount of falability in their history, notably the Catholic Church and the Jewish Religion.
Gail, most NT scholars are confident about the historicity of the Resurrection.
It’s the details they’re not so sure about. And this is precisely Givens’s
position regarding the restoration, as he stated in support of Boyd K. Packer’s
assertion about all truth not being useful.
Problems of the historicity in the New Testament may not be the Resurrection but things as central as the authors of the Gospels see the divinity of Jesus very different. I disagree that NT scholars are even confident about what the Resurrection means. OT are pretty confedent that Abraham was not a real person these are very central ideas. The Missouri church has not backed away from Joseph being a prophet or Book of Mormon is still one of their standard works and is considered scriptures. What they have backed away from is they do not insist on the historicity of the Book of Mormon and do not try to hid the problems in Joseph’s narrative. Given’s was comparing that to the Salt Lake church’s insistence on historicity of the Book of Mormon and refusal to talk about the problem with Joseph’s narrative. He did say that the church’s view was not the same as his view, he did imply that the Salt Lake Church’s stand was more successful than that of the Missouri churches. This is what I am taking issue with.
A point of clarification. Numbers have nothing to do with the success of a religion qua religion, ie, as an institution or belief system that has the power, as Gail suggested, to be spiritually transformative. As I understood the question (and over six hours of interviews I could well have been mistaken) the implicit issue was whether de-emphasizing the historicity of the Book of Mormon would make the church more appealing or palatable to a broader constituency. And in that regard, and that regard only, I maintain that the precedent of the CofC suggests probably not, based on comparative growth trends. If I said or implied that the LDS church is more successful than the CofC in any other sense, I apologize and hereby clarify.
I think Bart Ehrman would disagree with you. Is there a mainline NT scholar with university credentials outside of evangelical and mormon circles who are confident about the historicity of the resurrection? At the very least it is a minority opinion among scholars that the resurrection is historical.
A couple of interesting debates on the resurrection,
Thanks for linking the Debate. I actually read the entire transcript. And Craig asserted that the majority of NT scholars are convinced of the historicity of the resurrection. And Ehrman assented. Craig also gave Ehrman a whupping with Bayes’ theorem.
“Is there a mainline NT scholar with university credentials outside of
evangelical and mormon circles who are confident about the historicity
of the resurrection?
Most of them.
A Comment on Limited Book of Mormon Geography- critical responses welcome (because I have not thought through this thoroughly)The apologetic move from the Hemispheric to a Limited Geography Book of Mormon model (LGBM ) is not a paradigm shift. Rather, it is ostensibly an alternative hypothesis within the same naturalistic paradigm – the paradigm of real people living in real places developing real material cultures, by natural means that could, in principle, leave real material traces. LGBM does become a paradigm shift when its implicit supernaturalism is acknowledged as being essential to what it is designed to explain (e.g. glowing stones in airtight barges with inadequate means of air exchange and waste disposal).This necessary mix of paradigms is what makes any claim of LGBG providing intellectual plausibility intellectually defenseless since supernaturalism has no limiting constraints with respect to how it can clean up any mess that objective facts present.
At most the LGBM a pseudoscientific hypothesis. Why? Because it was put forward to explain the lack of evidence of claims made by a text having an alleged supernatural provenance. In other words, LGBM is not derived or motivated by any objective empirical observations.
This makes the LGBM no different than “new earth” creationism theory. It is a wishful expression of faith masquerading as science. It provides only a similitude of intellectual legitimacy that depends on the inability of its adherents to distinguish scientific plausibility from the philosophical impossibility of disproving the not impossible.I do not think LGBM meets Dr. Givens definition of valid apologetics.
On a related note:
I have difficulty understanding the apparent alacrity with which some LDS intellectuals accede to virtually all past LDS prophets, seers and revelators being deluded about the Lamanite ancestry of indigenous American peoples. For one thing (among many) we have to dismiss Oliver Cowdery’s written report of Joseph Smith telling him directly that Mormoni explicitly told him the American Indians were the literal descendants of Jacob . Such a report seems to carry as much evidential weight as internal textual clues from Book of Mormon. And, perhaps more importantly, it seems to undermine stated first purpose of the Book of Mormon – “to show the remnant of the House of Israel …” ? (That is, unless we accept the possibility that ancient Siberians and Mongolians descended from the 10 lost tribes if Israel )Someone please help me understand how this “double dip” undermining of LDS dogma need not present a very serious problem?  Oliver Cowdery “Letter IV” Published 1835 in Messenger and Advocate “DNA and the Book of Mormon” by David G. Stewart, Jr., FARMS Review, 18/1 (2006), page 128 “The Bible declares that the ten tribes were dispersed to the “land of the north” (Jeremiah 3:18)—a designation for which few lands seem as appropriate as the vast steppes of Siberia and Mongolia. The DNA commonalities between modern Siberian and Native American populations may not have been indigenous to the predispersion inhabitants of east Asia but could have been introduced to both locations by migrants from ancient Israel: to east Asia by dispersed lost tribes of the northern captivity and to the Americas by the Lehite and Mulekite groups described in the Book of Mormon.
JT, those who complain about the BoM not leaving any traces are akin to Creationists who cite gaps in the fossil record as evidence in their favor.
I may not understand your point, but the comparison your making seems pretty unreasonable. It is reasonable to expect the events and details of the book of mormon would leave traces and evidence. It is not reasonable to conclude that the absence of fossils prove or strengthen creationism.
I do not think the analogy works. Rather, Book of Mormon advocates more closely align with creationists.
Special Creationists/Book of Mormon (BoM) advocates both base their theories on religious texts and support them using “arguments from incredulity” (i.e. Life/BoM is too complex/amazing to … ) and using “gaps” to argue how their theories cannot be disproven. In other words, neither has amassed significant positive scientific evidence in its support.On the other handNeo-Darwinists/BoM critics both offer positive scientific evidence to support naturalistic theories that explain what IS observed in the fossil/archeological record. Also, they both have multiple lines of converging or complementary evidence that lend further support. So,Neo-Darwinists/BoM critics see the same gaps in the fossil/archeological record as Creationists/BoM advocates. But for them this “absence of evidence” simply means their is no reason to support Creationism/BoM historicity. If positive scientific evidence was forthcoming for the BoM advocates’ position, I would hope that BoM critics would be open minded enough to consider it. P.S. The formatting distortions that occur when I hit “post as” are a mystery to me. I added extra returns this time as a countermeasure. I’ll find out now if they work!
Nope, it didn’t work … just one run-on string of too many words (though the too many is my fault)
I do thing at one level the analogy is sound, insofar as it goes. Both Creationists and BoM critics draw conclusions (or support conclusions) with an absence of evidence. And we’ve all heard the saying, “an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” or some variation of that. But let’s think about what this is saying. How you set up your assumptions that your testing is what’s really important. The above statement isn’t even true, strictly speaking, and the principle illustrated in such statement is helpful only in light of setting up the hypothesis you’re testing.
Is it reasonable to assume that there will be gaps in the fossil record, given the way the vast majority of modern biologists view the principles of evolution? Yes. Gaps are going to happen given the percentage of life forms that leave observable fossils given the relative speed of evolution. If you want to attack the principles of evolution, you’ve got to attack it with much more than gaps. You need gaps plus a flawed theory (of speed of mutation, etc.)
On the other hand, is it reasonable to assume that we would not have found credible archeological evidence in favor of the BoM historical narrative, given the way we used to understand the Hemispheric model. No. How about an extremely small BoM geographic model, perhaps a tiny piece of unspecified land somewhere in the American Continents. (Of course, there’s the issue with the way Mormons understood the geography differently for 175 yrs., and the difficulty finding such geography consistent with the text we have.) Answer: the lack of evidence is speaking loudly but not nearly as conclusively.
The analogy, therefore is not as helpful, in my view, because the BoM the critic is measuring the absence of evidence against the traditional hemispheric or similar model. As you change the BoM geographic model, you shift problems from archeological evidence over to something else: to feeling like you’ve tortured the previously treasured narrative. I am a believing LDS, so this shifting of problems isn’t something that is purely academic to me. I believe it is far more likely that we misunderstood the historical model of the BoM, than it is likely that our originally understood narrative hasn’t been validated through forthcoming archeological evidence.
A Comment on Limited Book of Mormon Geography- critical responses welcome (because I have not thought through this thoroughly)
The apologetic move from the Hemispheric to a Limited Geography Book of Mormon model (LGBM ) is not a paradigm shift. Rather, it is ostensibly an alternative hypothesis within the same naturalistic paradigm – the paradigm of real people living in real places developing real material cultures, by natural means that could, in principle, leave real material traces.
LGBM does become a paradigm shift when its implicit supernaturalism is acknowledged as being essential to what it is designed to explain (e.g. glowing stones in airtight barges with inadequate means of air exchange and waste disposal).
This necessary mix of paradigms is what makes any claim of LGBG providing intellectual plausibility intellectually defenseless since supernaturalism has no limiting constraints with respect to how it can clean up any mess that objective facts present.At most the LGBM a pseudoscientific hypothesis. Why? Because it was put forward to explain the lack of evidence of claims made by a text having an alleged supernatural provenance. In other words, LGBM is not derived or motivated by any objective empirical observations. This makes the LGBM no different than “new earth” creationism theory. It is a wishful expression of faith masquerading as science. It provides only a similitude of intellectual legitimacy that depends on the inability of its adherents to distinguish scientific plausibility from the philosophical impossibility of disproving the not impossible.I do not think LGBM meets Dr. Givens definition of valid apologetics.On a related note:
I have difficulty understanding the apparent alacrity with which some LDS intellectuals accede to virtually all past LDS prophets, seers and revelators being deluded about the Lamanite ancestry of indigenous American peoples. For one thing (among many) we have to dismiss Oliver Cowdery’s written report of Joseph Smith telling him directly that Moroni explicitly told him the American Indians were the literal descendants of Jacob . Such a report seems to carry as much evidential weight as internal textual clues from Book of Mormon.
And, perhaps more importantly, it seems to undermine stated first purpose of the Book of Mormon – “to show the remnant of the House of Israel …” ? (That is, unless we accept the possibility that ancient Siberians and Mongolians descended from the 10 lost tribes if Israel )
Someone please help me understand how this “double dip” undermining of LDS dogma need not present a very serious problem?
 Oliver Cowdery “Letter IV” Published 1835 in Messenger and Advocate
 “DNA and the Book of Mormon” by David G. Stewart, Jr., FARMS Review, 18/1 (2006), page 128 “The Bible declares that the ten tribes were dispersed to the “land of the north” (Jeremiah 3:18)—a designation for which few lands seem as appropriate as the vast steppes of Siberia and Mongolia. The DNA commonalities between modern Siberian and Native American populations may not have been indigenous to the predispersion inhabitants of east Asia but could have been introduced to both locations by migrants from ancient Israel: to east Asia by dispersed lost tribes of the northern captivity and to the Americas by the Lehite and Mulekite groups described in the Book of Mormon.
LGBM does retain all of the supernaturalism found within the BoM, but it does at least reduce the problem of no credible archeological evidence. So is that like straightening up the dec chairs of the Titanic? I don’t think it is. While I think you point is fair, and in fact what a lot of my more literalist friends argue (parsing out “scientific problems” to make one feel better, when the core belief is utterly unscientific to begin with), I think there’s an important reason I find LGBM at least interesting.
I have no desire to take a story narrated by Joseph the Prophet while looking into a hat about glowing stones touched by the premortal Jesus Christ and match it up to the real world I live in. That miracle doesn’t require any evidence to me. It’s like a story within a story within a story, far removed from history. It can be a true story at several levels, independent of the (lack of) evidence. On the other extreme, the very existence of Nephites and Lamanites on this continent 1700 yrs ago goes much further and intrudes into my world much more. And when there’s no evidence that this story fits in the real world I live in (and I admit there should be), I do have to make a hard decision.
And this is what makes me different I guess: I don’t feel the need to adopt the dichotomy of totally true / totally false. There are a variety of ways Joseph Smith could have been inspired by God when producing the BoM without the necessity of the hemispheric model. LGBM is only one of those ways. It’s by any means entirely satisfactory, but it’s interesting.
Beginning with the assumption that there is a God out there, that should be expected to intervene in the lives of human beings, is absolutely necessary before any of this can make sense. I agree with Givens’ implication about this. I also have respect for people who don’t share this assumption, and really know I can learn a lot from these people (Richard Dawkins is a good example).
I have a world view with that assumption. Nevertheless, supernaturalism being invoked (by people with this same assumption) to solve the evidentiary problem of the hemispheric model, on the other hand, starts to look like a magic wand that eliminates all problems. When taken to the extreme, any belief system of any kind gets validated with that magic wand, which can render rational thought, faith, maybe even morality unnecessary.
Limited Geography is a fiction about a fiction. Further, it is simply not enough to stand on its own. For the limited geography theory to even work, one must also buy off on a hundred other apologetically tricky, but blatantly dishonest arguments. Taken in total, all of these apologetic arguments dissipate rather quickly one someone spends some time doing research.
Also John, you might want to check the “most Mormons who know all about Mormon history don’t find the Mormon narrative credible” statement. You do acknowledge possible bias in your sample. I have two different sources that this is not the case.
Add me to the list of people who know a lot about Mormon history and find the narrative credible. Great podcast, as usual, John. So glad you’ve discovered Terryl Givens. In addition to his books, give his 2005 Worlds of Joseph Smith presentation and BYU forum address a listen.
Thank you for this wonderful and thought provoking interview. In part 2 Dr. Givens mentions that contemporary atheists speak of the possibility of a super-evolved deity. I ran across this a few years back in an interview that Dawkins gave to Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I just about fell off my chair when he said the following:“Any creative
intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into
existence only at the end product of an extended process of gradual
evolution… God indeed can’t have just happened, if there are Gods in the universe,
they must be the end product of slow incremental processes”.This quote can be found just after 20 minutes into the March 28, 2007 interview, here is a link: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9180871
Perhaps this does not reflect the intent of your post, but think it is important to anticipate how Richard Dawkins’s ideas may diverge more from Mormon theology than they align with them. The parallels shown here are likely superficial and it would be wrong to get too “confirmationally” excited by this apparently unwitting endorsement.Vey likely: 1. He would say that such an advanced alien life form would have evolved over billions of years starting from the same inert 92 elements we find on this earth.2. He would say that this evolution occurred by a process of “mindless” natural selection acting on random mutations that had no predetermined endpoint and no inherent purpose. The particulars of life-development are exquisitely contingent. 3. He would dismiss vague notions of pre-mortal existing spirit bodies and pre-spirit body “intelligences” as having nothing going for them other than someone’s creative imagination and would challenge Mormons to look for the precursors to these ideas in other human minds. 4. He would say there is simply no evidence of resurrected beings (again, some from of transcendental form of matter) and would argue that belief in such is therefore unwarranted. 5. He would point to the work of physicists, such as Sean Carroll, who carefully outline arguments against any conception of a human soul that enjoy as much scientific rigor to our current knowledge that the earth is not flat.6. Such an alien life forms would probably NOT see themselves as “our gods,” or having anything to do with humans since their own natural evolution occurred completely independently. 7. The natural history of such “god-like” aliens is finite – the conditions for complex life have only existed for a few billion years (the Universe is only 13.7 billion years old, not infinite). And the Universe is likely to have a finite lifespan (time and space ripped apart by cosmic expansion) and therefore all natural history is finite. (It is also made finite by the probability of destruction by Supernova explosions)etc.Please note, this does not take away from the uniqueness and novelty of Mormon Theology relative to traditional Christianity.
I am simply saying that it is misguided to make too much of a “first-glance” parallel delivered from an authority figure from the “other-side” and make too much of it.
For one thing, it betrays a sort of perverse privileging of authority (and Dawkins is not an authority in hypothetical extraterrestrials – but who is?).
For another, unless it is followed up by a serious exploration with a willingness to confront and accede to the discrepancies, it is merely an exploitation of the superficial. I think it is interesting to see that Dawkins does not dismiss such possibilities. This displays his intellectual honesty and openness to new information. But it is as important to point out that he would almost certainly say that there is no good reason to believe such exists.I think faith should be content to prosper in its own realm and not play “grab bag” with science. It is better to look for the reasons (or promptings) for believing in a particular theology elsewhere. Faith just doesn’t have a good track record when it appeals to science. Besides, this is the faith-stance that Jesus taught anyway (Mark 10:15).
You’re right about the the deity not very parallel to the Mormon God, but Dawkins’s argument is just plain ignorant. Biologists don’t have a very good grasp of complexity. The big bang was an transition from simplicity to more complexity, not the other way around. Randomness increased after the Big bang. Simplicity can begat more complexity, and that is what happens when you unzip a computer file. As long as the universe is compressible, it could have come about from something simpler.
34wET%@#$ not compressible
And the universe is definitely compressible; its fundamental laws can be summed up in a few simple equations. Furthermore, scientists are looking for the “theory of everything” that would unite all the laws of nature.
Biologists should stick to being biologists.
Would replacing, “as long as the universe is compressible” with “as long as the universe is de-compressible”?Or, perhaps better”as long as cosmic space-time expansion fast enough to allow the total entropy of the universe to keep increasing from what was its maximum value at the start (as well as from what it is at any time”?I don’t know what Dawkin’s argument was – or if he was really making one. But it might be fair to speculate a human might be likely to mistake an alien being in possession of sufficiently advanced technology to fool him into being a God? Hasn’t this happened between humans? I think it’s OK for biologists to have an opinion on other subjects as long as they are reasonably well informed, not dogmatic, and welcoming of better arguments.
JT: Dawkins’ argument was that God is not a good explanation for the complexity of the universe because God itself is even more complex, hence needs an explanation for itself. That is why he said if a deity exists, he must have evolved.
But a perfectly simple God can bring about a complex universe.
Indeed, a perfectly simple God can do anything one might imagine.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments on my post. I agree with you that Dawkins would have no
intention of endorsing Joseph’s God (or obviously anyone else’s for that
matter). I think your assessment of
what his response would be is pretty accurate.
My intention is certainly not to bring Dawkins into the
Mormon camp (it is actually a pet-peeve of mine when apologist types manipulate
ideas into tidy pat Mormon answers). My
purpose was simply to provide a resource to an interesting comment that Givens
offers in the interview.
Since you bring these extra issues up though, let me share
some of my thoughts on the matter…
While I certainly can’t speak for Givens, I don’t think he was using
arguments from atheists to validate his own thoughts on faith, but rather to
point out that ideas in general are more nuanced and complicated than we humans
sometimes give credit. I enjoy the
contributions of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al, and I think they are not
only valuable, but necessary to any honest dialogue among seekers. Unfortunately I believe they too often fall
into the same snares of absolutism that the likes of McConkie et al do (that
the world is always black or white). I
agree with you that it is a dubious endeavor to use faith to play ‘grab bag’
with science. Likewise I think
outspoken atheists too often hurt their argument when they conclude that it is
possible to ‘prove’ religion wrong. I
believe in organic evolution (in the way that you eloquently described), I also
believe in other aspects of scientific naturalism, and I value humanism and
other ‘secular’ philosophies. At the
same time I have faith in Joseph’s expansionist view of God. I don’t think I am playing ‘grab-bag’ with
I too appreciate Dawkins openness to the possibility of a ‘super-evolved’
deity, but of course you and I both know that his overall message is that there
is no God. I too disbelieve in the God
that Dawkins describes, his ‘God’ is very specific, it is black and white, not
actually nuanced or “open to new information”.
Mine at this point is much more expansive. Thank you TJ (and John and others) for contributing to my ongoing
Sorry, I didn’t mean to include the extra spaces in the previous post.
I found myself lining up with all of your points and finding more to think about. Thanks.
I agree about the problem with claiming things (or non-things) proven (or disproven). Perhaps, if pressed, these “new atheists” would agree.
Dawkins does make the “orbiting Celestial teapot” argument – the point being that some things are just so improbable that they are virtually (but not absolutely) disproved – which simply makes them an irrational basis for any life- organizing worldview.
Dawkin’s also defined his position as technically agnostic – with atheism simply meaning possessing no-belief, rather than as a positive belief in the non-existence of God. He (or perhaps on of the others) said that their atheism is the same as a Christian’s atheism with respect to other gods, like Zeus – that they just take it one god further. I can understand how his read of the evidence would put Zeus and the Christian God on equal footing. We all know what it feels like to not believe something that it not disproven – I appreciate that point.
Dawkin’s also gave himself an agnosticism score of a 5/6 where 3/6 represents taking God’s existence as a 50:50 probability and 6/6 as “absolute” atheism. I found that pretty interesting.
Of course, this does not come out in the heat of his rhetoric in which he mostly criticizes the more dogmatic/fundamentalist strains – but he does use a blunt tool that seems to pound indiscriminately on all believers – and also does not show much understanding when it comes to the real human needs that religion serves and offers no ready alternative.
Philip Kitcher is a philosopher at Columbia University who is a “kinder-gentler” atheist. He writes a critique of the “New Atheists” here:
Kitcher also wrote an excellent book entitled Living with Darwin: Evolution Design and the Future of Faith.
He talks about in this book in a podcast linked here:
P.S. Yes, I too don’t know what’s up with the formatting. Let’s see what happens to this.
Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out.
Enjoyed the podcast, kudos to Terryl Givens for coming on the show. I can respect someone who knows all the problems with church history and the official church narrative, BofM problems, etc but finds a way to continue. Terryl is a good guy but I have wondered how Givens, Daniel Peterson, John Sorenson, etc . continue to defend all these issue when they know the evidence against just the Book of Mormon alone is substantial. I think for some of these guys their reputation, career, church standing, social circles, and livelihood is tied to and dependent on being apologetic. I respect Terryl Givens approach but was surprised he had not listed to the Dr Michael Coe interview.
One more minor issue. At the end of part 5, Givens states that his operating premise when he writes about the BofM is that “if the BofM is true it will remain standing after you throw the worst that can be said about it, at it.” OK, but it will remain standing for whom? It has not remained standing for me and I think many who listen to these podcasts, nor thousands more who leave the church each year. It has not remained standing to those outside the mormon community. So who will it remain standing to? Just apologists and those members who are unaware of all its problems? Im sure it will remain standing but it will be to fewer and fewer people.
“ I think for some of these guys their reputation,
career, church standing, social circles, and livelihood is tied to and
dependent on being apologetic”
Rats. Outed at last.
Reputation: As a
professional educator with a PhD, not believing in angels and gold plates may
have serious repercussions for my reputation.
Career: How will
I prosper at a secular university as an English professor who doesn’t believe
the Book of Mormon?
Not sure what I would do with my life if I am released as substitute Sunday
Indeed, here in the Bible belt ex-Mormons are shunned.
the loss of 600 dollars in royalties (my last check) will mean serious
I love Terryl Givens.
“ I think for some of these guys their reputation, career, church
standing, social circles, and livelihood is tied to and dependent on
Someone is parroting Bob McCue.
Listened to episode 4. I am struck by just how deep the memory hole goes. Givens talked about the rabbit hole but it’s the memory hole that seems to gobble up all the past statements and beliefs on these problematic things in mormon history. Book of Abraham for instance, Givens said it didn’t matter what was on the actual papyri that joseph said he used to translate the book of Abraham. He could have done it through revelation only. It dosent matter if the papyri were Egyptian funeral documents. Except if we dig deep in the memory hole we see that it was precisely the position of the church and joseph that these documents were written by the hand of Abraham and translated by Joseph into the Book of Abraham. Ditto for the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. Now its ok to say, the plates didn’t matter, they were just a conduit. But again if we look in the memory hole we find a plethora of statements from prophets and apostles that are contrary to these new thoughts. Do we just forget everything that has been said in the past so we can make room for new theories?
It seems we want it both ways; our prophets are Gods spokesman and he gives them direction, guidance and answers, but on the other hand when what they have said doesn’t fit the new paradigm we drop their statements in the memory hole.
KC – My interpretation of Terryl’s argument is that he believes in the possibility of even radical fallibility by church leaders….though he can speak for himself.
Ok, John, now we are getting somewhere. That’s what I am desperately searching for. An honest answer, someone of Givens reputation willing to admit this. I listen to mormon stories in hopes that I can find someone who will put forth something that makes sense of all the inconsistencies. So if as you say that is Terryls’s position then, Hallelujah! I know all the paradoxes, discrepancies are not going to be resolved but at least if it’s the position of Givens that “he believes in the possibility of even radical fallibility by church leaders” (again your words) that’s an honest answer that makes sense. The pain and agony, disruption to ones life that occurs when you find out that the very foundations of faith upon which you have based the most important decisions of life are not what they appear to be, it is devastating. Marriages, family relationships, careers, can be negatively impacted because the church has not been forthright and honest about its history and its founding narratives. So, I desperately hope people like Givens have the courage to stand and if indeed that is his postion, state it.
Many have tried ( England, Arrington, others) and they have be squashed.
Given’s defense of the Book of Abraham sounds similar to Hugh Nibley’s defense when he said that Joseph did not directly
translate the Book of Abraham from the Papyri but was instead “inspired” by the Papyri to translate records that are still, to this day, buried somewhere in Egypt. It was very important to Joseph that the church believe that the Papyri was created by Abraham because it was physically used as proof to support his translation. In fact Joseph physically drew new imagery on the actual Papyri to fill in the missing and damaged portions of the vignette in order to support his story of Abraham.
Good points, furthermore, this translation theory runs into problems when the anachronisms in the text are examined.
Pharoah- didn’t become the title for the king of Egypt until 18th dynasty, 1560 BC (long after Abraham lived) In Abraham’s time the kings of Egypt were not as yet called Pharaohs.” At no time in Egypt was the word used as the actual name of any king
Chaldea- Chaldeans” do not appear in history until the 12th century B.C., quite a few centuries after Abraham lived. The earliest mention of them in historical records is in the 9th century B.C., in Assyrian records. It was not until 721 B.C. that they established themselves, by seizing the throne of Babylon, ultimately establishing a Chaldean dynasty in Babylonia, which ruled from 625 to 539 B.C. It is only after this that the term “Chaldea” or “land of the Chaldees” came to be used for “Babylon”.
Egyptus- Hams wife name but intended to be the source of the name of the country. The name “Egypt” is not Egyptian, but Greek (‘Aigyptos’), and thus was not used for the name of the country until the Greeks had contact with it, long after Abraham’s time.
I know a writing is bogus when it tries to perpetuate the claim that blacks descended from Cain and then from Ham after the flood, through cursed lineages. The curse of black skin theology is alive an well in the Book of Abraham.
Similarly, the Book of Mormon extends the tower of babel mythology. It’s not even close to reasonable to believe that the tower of babel story is the reason for the diversity of languages on the earth. It’s very easy to conclude that this is simply a myth, but the Book of Mormon extends this myth by bringing the brother of Jared (at the time of the tower of babel) into the Book of Mormon narrative.
Not sure if it matters to your point or not, but I believe its the Book of Moses that has the references to Cain. I know the LDS church has a long a sorted history with this topic and and I’m not about to act as a defender of it, but I do think you sort of misrepresented it a bit. I’m not saying that your arguments don’t represent someone peoples views, but I think you know they don’t reflect the only perspective on the subject.
With respect to the Great Tower referenced in the Book of Ether as much as feel like I’ll lose all credibility I think Micheal Ash actually had a pretty good explanation here https://www.deseretnews.com/article/700068940/Michael-R-Ash-Is-the-Tower-of-Babel-historical-or-mythological.html?pg=1I know this conflicts with one published in the Ensign that re-affirmed that we believe in all literal old testament stories https://lds.org/ensign/1998/01/the-flood-and-the-tower-of-babel?lang=eng but that’s exactly why I’ve ended up here at Mormon Stories.
Actually, it’s in the Book of Abraham. Check out the detail: Abraham 1:21, 23, 24, 25
With respect to authorship of the BOM or Book of Abraham we pretty much just 3 choices. 1) It was written solely by Joseph, 2) it was by third party or 3) it was a translation or transmission via the God. I realize that you can also intermingle 1 and 2, and there could be multiple third parties, but essentially those are the choices.
I think part of the problem is that we all want to use the BOM to actually prove the existence of God so our belief in the BOM becomes a circular argument and that sucks because we aren’t left with something that we can 100% completely prove. And for most us we grew up are hold life thinking that “they” have actually proven it, and we still hear others bearing testimony of that fact, and we all know now that isn’t the case.
I’ve recently read Grant Hardy’s “Understanding the BOM” and so it really resonated with me when Givens referenced it as being a support of the claim that BOM is not chloroform in print. I was able to discover a brilliance in the BOM that I never knew existed before whether the book was an actual historical record or not.
Another book I read recently was Bob Bennett’s Leap of Faith: Confronting the BOM Origins. Its a pretty good book, but not nearly as scholarly as Hardy’s and I assume Givens is (will be reading that next), but it did a good job of honestly exploring some of the internal and external issues with testing whether the book is a forgery or not. It would be a great read from someone that has explored this issue at all — and its even sold at Desert Bookstore so you can actually assure them its safe to read :)
But in the end if you accept choice 3, that God was involved, then you end up going down the rabbit hole, and once you go down in it then all things are possible. And by reading Hardy’s work and Bennett’s (to some degree) I was able to at least gain an appreciation for the complexity of the actual text, irrespective of anything else, and find that I still could make the decision to believe if I so chose.
Another think I read recently that really resonated with me was Givens speech which referenced in this podcast “Lighting Out of Heaven” especially the last few paragraphs which seem relevant to what I’m saying. https://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=10924
Much of the discussion on this board has centered on
“come up with some explanation,” “theological twisting and contorting,” “somehow
managed to link [divergent positions],” “connecting the dots to create images
of truth,” “tries to give a framework,” “uses a memory hole,” etc.
But that is the burden placed upon all of us as beings of
limited knowledge, confronted every day by a tidal wave of competing and often
conflicting data, sensations, spiritual intimations, testimonies, and
experiences. What we find in life never self-organizes into coherent patters of
meaning. So we construct a paradigm in light of which an underlying meaning
becomes apparent to us. And if we are at all adaptable, we adjust that paradigm
as new information and experience enters our orbit. For thousands of people, developments over time push
them into skepticism or utter rejection of particular kinds of religious
affirmation (like assent to Christianity, or to the LDS faith). And when others
don’t follow that same trajectory, they cry fraud, or deception, or disdain for
truth. That is a rather chauvinistic and
mean-spirited attitude, given that they have to do their own share of radical realignment. A Mormon such as myself
may have to relegate Joseph Smith’s statement about Lamanites in North America to
the “memory hole,” and adjust my corresponding understanding of prophethood to
entail a fallibility more in keeping with his own insistence on being a flawed
instrument-perhaps even more flawed than he recognized. Meanwhile, many others
take such new information and readjust in another direction, deciding Joseph
Smith and the Book of Mormon were frauds. But they too have to make comparable use of a “memory
hole,” disposing of and explaining away the myriad spiritual witnesses that
they at one time recognized and testified of. Usually they do so by
reinterpreting those experiences as self-deceptions and delusions. Of course,
there are implications there as well for what their paradigm now has to entail
with respect to the possibilities of spiritual knowledge, of a benevolent
Father who is able and willing to reveal truth to individuals, etc. These same
people also have to deal with non-spiritual data that once made a different kind
of sense: complex patterns in the Book of Mormon, resonances of the Book of
Abraham with other ancient texts, etc.
Because so much of what feeds into a person’s data set is
personal—traumas to themselves and loved ones, deeply private and subjective
experiences, personal impressions—it is impossible and certainly unfair to
impute bad faith to those who move in either direction, out of the church or
further in, as they continue their quest.
Terryl (I’ll assume it’s really you),
That’s fantastic feedback. I have a few questions for you below:
Do you think it’s possible that our spiritual experiences with scripture tell us more about our relationship to that scripture than they do about the scripture itself?
Do our spiritual experiences need to follow the epistemology that our church has formulated for them? Is it possible to draw different conclusions from our spiritual experiences? For example, if I have a spiritual experience while reading the parable of the good Samaritan, does that spiritual experience necessarily imply that the parable of the good Samaritan is an actual historical account instead of a fictional parable? Isn’t it easier to maintain a more expansive view of our spiritual experiences rather than to use them to contradict the overwhelming accumulation of scientific evidence? Haven’t you afforded that same spiritual allowance to Joseph Smith anyway (he had no idea what was happening: translation, transmission, inspiration, expansion, etc. to account for the problems with the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham)? Accordingly, even if I were praying to understand whether the Book of Mormon were “true,” perhaps my spiritual experience with the book reflects an altogether different truth–i.e., the truth of my spiritual relationship
with the many human narratives and theological principles found in the Book of Mormon.
Should a scientific proposition (the historical accuracy of something) be subject to the domain of prayer and spiritual experience? Should I pray about the age of a rock? The human sciences and the natural sciences often do not mix. Why should we try to mix them in our religion? Why apply spiritual methodologies of knowing to scientific questions?
Isn’t it much easier to be flexible in our understanding of our spiritual experiences than to doctor up the theology and history?
very good questions that deserve answers from those of us who believe Joseph
Smith was a virtuous man and a true prophet of the living God.
can address the questions one-by-one.
“How do you explain the fact that Joseph
Smith’s practice of polygamy never complied with his own supposed revelation on
topic (Section 132)? That revelation specifically forbids Joseph from taking
wives that are already married to other men. As you know, Joseph Smith married
and had sex with up to 11 women who were already married to other faithful
members of the church, one of which was an apostle.”
This question is well phrased and
reflects the common position that Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry. The writer correctly observed that he taught
that sexual polyandry was “adultery” and the woman would be “destroyed” (D&C
132:63). While a strong tradition has been established that the Prophet was a
sexual polyandrist, evidence for the behavior is problematic. Todd Compton proposed a plausible reconstruction in his
award-winning, In Sacred Loneliness, for sexual polyandry between Joseph
Smith and plural wife Sylvia Sessions Lyon.
However, new evidence demonstrates the timeline to be in error. New documents in the Andrew Jenson papers
support a religious divorce followed by a polygynous sealing and the absence of
sexual polyandry. Beyond the case of
Sylvia Session, all other accusations of sexual polyandry have been published
by distant observers and/or biased anti-Mormons with the first complaint not
printed until 1850, six years after Joseph Smith’s death. (See https://josephsmithspolygamy.com/JSPolyandry/AllChartExcerpt.html.)
Despite much assuming by numerous researchers since Fawn Brodie’s 1945 No Man Knows My History codified the
belief, the proponents of sexual polyandry in Joseph Smith’s plural marriages
have yet to produce even one solid evidence of its existence. In fact, a starting point for those who
disagree with me would be to produce a single believable account documenting
need to address the fact that none of the wives complained, none of the
polyandrous husbands complained, none of the officiators and witnesses
complained, and even Nauvoo anti-Mormons John C. Bennett and William Law did not
complain about the nonconventional sexual polyandry or Joseph Smith’s alleged
problem with the tradition that Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry is that
it is built upon an assumption. What
other reason than sex would have compelled him to marry any woman at any
time? If we ignore his theological
teachings regarding eternal marriage, no other answer seems the least
believable. Libido libido libido is the
only conclusion. However, Nauvoo
polygamists did not ignore his doctrines and neither should we if we truly want
to understand what was happening.
taught that the new and everlasting covenant of marriage supersedes all old
covenants (D&C 22:1, 131:2). In
other words, a woman might have a legal marriage binding her to a husband
civilly. But in Joseph Smith’s theology,
if that woman were subsequently sealed in the new and everlasting covenant of
marriage to another man, the legal marriage, the “old covenant” would
be “done away.” It would no
longer authorize conjugality between her and her legal husband. She would experience ceremonial polyandry
(two marriage ceremonies), but not sexual polyandry. Were connubial relations to continue, they
would constitute “adultery” and the woman “shall be
illogical to assume that a woman would accept the part of the new and
everlasting covenant that permits her to become a polygamous wife, while reject
another part of the new and everlasting covenant that “does away
with” her old marriage covenant. Do
we believe the Prophet’s polyandrous wives were that duplicitous and
demonstrates that Joseph Smith contracted “eternity only” plural
marriages, meaning only for the next life.
Such sealings did not authorize sexuality on earth. The precise dynamics of the Prophet’s
thirteen “polyandrous” sealings are not entirely discernable due to
the absence of documentation. However,
historical evidences indicate that he and other Nauvoo polygamists obeyed the
new and everlasting covenant of marriage and the limitations it thrust upon
previous legal matrimonies.
“If polygamy was a revelation, why
didn’t Joseph Smith’s first and second counselors know about the revelation
until after they had discovered Joseph’s sexual relationship with Fanny Alger?”
that perhaps a dozen people in Kirtland, Ohio were personally advised of Joseph
Smith’s first plural marriage to Fanny Alger.
Evidence indicates that he carefully chose those he informed and for
good reason. A March 1830 revelation
warned that lofty gospel teachings, which included polygamy, needed to be
taught with care: “For they cannot
bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these
things, lest they perish” (D&C 19:22).
Neither Sidney Rigdon or Frederick G. Williams (counselors in the First
Presidency), nor Oliver Cowdery (Associate President), ever accepted eternal
plural marriage teachings. In addition,
nowhere are we taught that Joseph was obligated to share everything he received
by revelation to even his counselors or other Church leaders. In April 1843 he declared: ” It is my meditation all the day & more than my meat &
drink to know how I shall make the saints of God to comprehend the visions that
roll like an overflowing surge, before my mind” (Ehat & Cook, Words of
Joseph Smith, 196).
” How do you explain Joseph Smith’s
lies about Polygamy to the Saints, to the families of the polygamous wives, and
more importantly, to his own wife?”
leaders denied polygamy in a variety of ways even while some members were
practicing authorized plural marriage.
This contradiction is difficult for us to accept today in light of the
commandment to not bear a false witness (Exodus 20:16). Evidence shows that Joseph Smith was
confronted with three conflicting commandments.
First, he was directed to not bear a false witness (Mosiah 13:23,
D&C 42:21); second, he was instructed to both build temples (D&C
88:119, 115:8, 124:39) and send out missionaries (D&C 88:81, 84:76); third,
an angel with a sword commanded him to
practice plural marriage. The historical
record demonstrates that he could not have accomplished all three
simultaneously. Upon truthfully
admitting that the Latter-day Saints were practicing polygamy, state law
officials would have brought legal recourse and imprisonment. The resulting incarcerations would have
prevented plural marriage as readily as nonparticipation. They would have also curtailed missionary
efforts and temple building.
examination of the denials shows that most hinged upon technicalities in
definitions. For example, Joseph Smith
had no association with John C. Bennett’s “spiritual wifery” and
could truthfully deny it. Danel Bachman
similarly observed: ‘Most of these
denials stressed semantical and theological technicalities. That is, the language of the defense was
carefully chosen to disavow practices that did not accurately represent Church
doctrines.” Todd Compton wrote: “Faced with the necessity of keeping polygamy
secret, the Mormon authorities generally chose to disavow the practice,
sometimes using language with coded double meanings.” Fawn Brodie agreed: “The denials of polygamy uttered by the
Mormon leaders between 1835 and 1852, when it was finally admitted, are a remarkable
series of evasions and circumlocutions involving all sorts of verbal
gymnastics.” Many of the
disavowals of the practice of polygamy were sometimes based upon doctrinal
hair-splitting that contrasted gentile “polygamy” with celestial plural marriage.
doubtful that listeners and readers were completely convinced. Many if not most could read between the lines
and it does not appear that such tactics were overly effective. Still, plain efforts were made to avoid
outright lying, while accomplishing the other commandments incumbent upon them.
”How do you explain the fact that he employed
his position of authority combined with the threat of spiritual punishments to
coerce and manipulate young women (early teens) into marrying him and having
sex with him?
A great deal
of misunderstanding surrounds Joseph Smith’s sealings to two fourteen-year-old
girls, Helen Mar Kimball and Nancy Winchester.
Nothing is known regarding the Winchester sealing, but Helen Mar Kimball
left a record that indicates the marriage was not consummated. Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball’s
biographer, wrote: “Many years
later in Utah she [Helen] wrote a retrospective poem about this marriage from
which we learn that it was ‘for eternity alone,’ that is, unconsummated.
Whatever such a marriage promised for the next world, it brought her no
immediate earthly happiness. She saw herself as a “fetter’d bird” without
youthful friends and a subject of slander. This poem also reveals that Joseph
Smith’s several pro forma marriages to the daughters of his friends were
anything but sexual romps. Furthermore, the poem reinforces the idea that,
despite the trials of plurality in mortality, a ‘glorious crown’ awaited the
faithful and obedient in heaven.”
In 1894 the
RLDS Church was suing to obtain possession of the Temple Lot in Independence,
Missouri. The Hedrikites who owned the
temple lot sought witnesses to prove that Joseph Smith taught and practiced plural
marriage. Since the RLDS church did not
practice polygamy, they could not be the true successor to Joseph Smith’s
church and did not own the Temple Lot.
Joseph Smith had six living wives in 1894, Helen Mar Kimball, Zina
Huntington, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, Malissa Lott, Lucy Walker and Emily
Partridge. Of those six, only three,
Malissa, Lucy, and Emily, were asked to testify. This is strange because Helen Mar Kimball had
written books defending polygamy and Zina Huntington was very well known. Important to the Hedrikite case was to verify
sexual relations in the plural marriages because nonsexual sealings would not
be considered genuine polygamy and the RLDS attorneys would excuse them as
nonissues. Both Malissa and Emily
admitted in testimony that they experienced sexual intercourse with Joseph and
Lucy admitted it in other testimony. So
why were Helen Mar, Zina, and Mary Elizabeth not deposed by the court? Helen was only fourteen when she was sealed
to Joseph and indicated in her poem the marriage was not consummated and Zina
and Mary Elizabeth were polyandrous wives.
If Joseph had sex with Helen and with his polyandrous, wives, it is
strange they were not called to testify as well.
historical record shows that Joseph Smith gave only one ultimatum for a woman
to join him in plural marriage. It occurred
to Lucy. Joseph first introduced the
principle of plural marriage to her in 1842, but she demurred. He waited until May of 1843 to finally
readdress the issue. During this later
meeting with a total lack of romance, he instructed Lucy saying: “I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you.” Then he gave a very singular directive, “I
will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter.” This twenty-four hour time limit is sometimes
misrepresented as indicating that Joseph commonly gave ultimatums to his
potential plural spouses, to quickly press them into compliance. In fact, after her initial introduction in
1842, Lucy agonized for many months as the Prophet patiently waited. Lucy related:
“I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not
desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me, that I might find rest…
Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul. The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how
unhappy I was…” Only after
witnessing Lucy’s turmoil, Joseph gave Lucy the twenty-four hour
ultimatum. That night she prayed
fervently and received a visitation from and angel affirming to her that plural
marriage was correct. After she shared her
experience with Joseph, he led her to a chair and gave her a blessing.
Joseph Smith’s sealings to three of his plural wives are sometimes cited as
evidence that he made exorbitant promises to women if they would submit to the
marriage. Included are accounts involving Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and
Helen Mar Kimball. I don’t have time to
address these now, but it is incorrect to say that Joseph Smith manipulated them
with impossible promises. Perhaps I can
post again if there is interest.
From your own personal perspective,
do you think that our modern statutory rape laws matured and evolved to protect
young, naive women and to counter exactly this kind of manipulation by savvy
and sophisticated charmers?”
question assumes Joseph Smith was sleeping with fourteen year olds, which is
unproven and I believe is in error. It
is problematic to make assumptions and then to condemn the Prophet based upon
those assumptions. I would challenge any
reader to show that he was having sex with fourteen year olds or practiced
City Council passed a resolution setting the minimal age for marriage at
fourteen. This paralleled the Illinois
statute exactly. But it is important to
note that the policy in Utah, which I believe began with Joseph Smith, was to
let the women mature. Eugene E. Campbell
described Brigham’s instructions given in Utah:
“One of the more distressing developments was the number of men
asking [Brigham] Young for permission to marry girls too young to bear
children. To one man at Fort Supply, Young explained, ‘I don’t object to your
taking sisters named in your letter to wife if they are not too young and their
parents and your president and all connected are satisfied, but I do not want
children to be married to men before an age which their mothers can generally
best determine.’ Writing to another man in Spanish Fork, he said, ‘Go ahead and
marry them, but leave the children to grow.’ A third man in Alpine City was
instructed, ‘It is your privilege to take more wives, but set a good example to
the people, and leave the children long enough with their parents to get their
growth, strength and maturity.’ To Louis Robinson, head of the church at Fort
Bridger, Young advised, ‘Take good women, but let the children grow, then they
will be able to bear children after a few years without injury.'”
good questions. Unfortunately, a
traditional view has been created by authors like Fawn Brodie that depict the
Prophet and Nauvoo polygamists acting like comic book characters, not
historical figures. If we base our
historical reconstructions upon credible evidence, Joseph Smith emerges as a
virtuous man, who didn’t want to practice plural marriage, but upon threat of
an angel, obeyed.
It’s great for you to reply here. I appreciate you taking a stab at it. Here we go quickly (I work 80 hours a week and it’s amazing I still find time for this stuff):
I read every single page of “In Sacred Loneliness” and you misrepresent the book here. No disrespect, but you do. The proposition that Joseph Smith’s marriages were sexless is preposterous. In Sacred Loneliness never denies the sexuality of Joseph’s relationships; never presents the entirety of those relationships as sexless, celestial unions–but here you do!
Further, you seem to be demanding evidence other than the diaries and accounts of his wives and their known relationships. There were no headcams back then, but I guarantee you that even if there were headcams back then and even if we did have it all on tape, there would be plenty of members to stand by the fact that Joseph Smith is a virtuous man, despite the damning evidence to the contrary. There was an article recently that stated that despite all the crimes that Warren Jeffs has been found guilty of, his followers still stand by him as a prophet. Sound familiar? There is a way for you to reconstruct history in a way that makes Joseph Smith virtuous, but rather than attack your belief in Joseph Smith, I’ll just ask you a question:
Is it possible that Joseph Smith himself has taken on layers and accretions of meaning as a religious symbol that make him impervious to honest scrutiny?
One new theory you raised was this idea that Joseph Smith’s “eternal marriages” trump, supersede or preempt the marriages of the women who were already married lawfully to other men. That would really suck to be a member of the church back then wouldn’t it? Too bad the temple endowment wasn’t available to you before Joseph Smith swung by, trumped your lawful marriage, and stole your wife! You just got superseded! As Brigham supposedly said to Henry Jacobs (as he took his wife), “It’s time for men who are walking in other men’s shoes to step out of those shoes.” If it’s true, that story really gives you a distaste for Brigham Young. Henry, you’re fired! Superseded!
Also, the problem that this entire line of logic runs into is that you seem to be clinging to “eternal marriages” and the perpetuation and validation of the eternal principle of polygamy just as the church is officially distancing itself from polygamy? So, why don’t you tell me: does the church officially renounce polygamy or does it still cling to polygamy as an eternal principle?
Thanks for the comments. Sorry the formatting of the message was so wierd. I wrote it in WORD and copy/pasted and
wha-la, strangeness in the pasted formatting.
Of course I may disagree with In Sacred Loneliness. You
wrote “The proposition that Joseph
Smith’s marriages were sexless is preposterous.” This is true for the Fawn Brodies of the
world and Todd, and George and Larry and Richard and Gary etc. They were all
sure JS practiced sexual polyandry. But
what about the evidence?
Your question, “Is it possible that Joseph Smith
himself has taken on layers and accretions of meaning as a religious symbol
that make him impervious to honest scrutiny?” is interesting and undoubtedly
the opinion of many is yes. Joseph said
God teaches “line upon line,” so “layers” might describe his divine
instruction. Regardless, I believe the
Prophet was always worried about “honest scrutiny” from his God, but in Nauvoo
became quite self-reliant with respect to other members and leaders. That said, I don’t think he committed adultery because he taught repeatedly that adulterers would be damned by his
God (D&C 42: , 63:14-16, 76;103) and that adultery was next to murder (Alma
“That would really suck to be a member of the church back then wouldn’t
it?” seems to assume that the men were making all the decisions and the women were
“puppets” on a string controlled by Joseph or Brigham. If you’ve studied the lives of Zina
Huntington or Sylvia Lyons, for example, I don’t find such a milquetoast women. Here we may just have to agree to disagree.
The question whether the Church still believes in
eternal plural marriage is easy. Yes
with no apologies. It is gospel meat so
they don’t teach it to unbelievers and milky Church members (which is a majority unfortunately). But we seal widowers to a new living wife
every day in our temples creating an eternal polygamist.
Perhaps we could try a new approach. I believe individuals who believe JS
practiced sexual polyandry have to make many assumptions. Indeed, I’ve said many times that the
greatest evidences supporting polyandrous sexuality in JS’s plural marriages
are (1) assumptions and (2) the fact that you cannot prove a negative. Of course, neither of those are actual “evidence,”
but the Fawn Brodies of the world seem to treat them as such. Here are the assumptions for proponents of
First, they must assume sexual polyandry occurred
because there is no solid evidence to support it. We have solid evidence for sexual relations
in eleven of JS’s NON-polyandrous plural marriages and solid evidence for
sexual relations in zero of the polyandrous sealings (detecting a pattern
here?). This observation generally
carries little weight with most observers due to their remarkable willingness to
assume sex where there is no evidence.
In some ways, this first assumption is the mother of all
assumptions. Kind of like Frodo’s ring
that ruled all other rings in “Lord of the Rings.” For many and maybe even for most, the
assumption of polyandrous sex is as good as documented history and other
assumptions are essentially dismissed as nonissues. This phenomenon is probably due to Richard Bushman’s
astute assessment: “Polygamy is an
interesting thing because it serves as a Rorschach test. People project onto Joseph Smith and
polygamists their own sense about human nature.”
The second assumption is that JS practiced sexual
polyandry and nobody thought it worth mentioning. John C. Bennett reported in 1842 that some of
JS’s plural wives had legal husbands, but no one else mentioned it or
complained about it until William Hall’s 1850 publication. As I wrote in my previous post, none of the
wives complained, none of the polyandrous husbands complained, none of the
officiators and witnesses complained, and even Nauvoo anti-Mormons John C.
Bennett and William Law did not complain about it. This is curious because sexual polyandry
today is at best novel, nonconventional, if not repugnant and devious. In the pre-Victorian era of the 1840s, polyandrous
sexual relations would have been essentially indefensible as morally acceptable. If you read of the moral standards of that
period, sexual polyandry would have been a hard sell even for a charismatic
leader like Joseph Smith. But even the lack of complaints is less
strange than the lack of reports. If JS
had taught it was acceptable, then why didn’t someone somewhere mention that?
At this point we need to stop and consider a third
Brodiesque assumption to which you may not be willing to agree. She completely ignored Joseph Smith’s
theology of plural marriage apparently under the assumption that Nauvoo polygamists were
also ignoring it. This is very
improbable, but it seems that every writer to date (and I mean every writer)
has failed to contextualize Joseph Smith’s polygamy and alleged polyandry
within his marriage teachings. Nauvoo
polygamists were universally repulsed by the doctrine and virtually none wanted
to practice it. If it had not been
commanded, but instead only permitted, very few would have entered into
it. So why did they go along? It is because of Joseph’s teachings and
spiritual witnesses that many reported. So
if you are not willing to assume Nauvoo polygamists were ignoring JS’s
teachings, then we have four more assumptions that advocates of sexual
polyandry in JS’s life must also accept.
Assumption number three is that Joseph Smith and his
polyandrous wives were willing to commit “adultery” with the women being “destroyed”
because of the sexual relationship (D&C 132:63; see also 41-42). In fact, adultery would equally destroy the
men as well. As you observed in your
first post, Joseph Smith’s theology includes the teaching that polyandrous sex
The fourth assumption I mentioned before. It involves assuming that the polyandrous
wives were grossly duplicitous. That is,
that they would accept part of the new and everlasting covenant permitting them
to become polygamous wives, but would reject the part of the new and
everlasting covenant that makes all old covenants, including all old marriage
covenants (i.e. the legal marriage) “done away” (D&C 22:1).
A fifth assumption is based upon Joseph’s teachings
that exaltation occurs only to sealed couples.
Hence, a woman married to a nonmember (for example) could be sealed to
Joseph for just the next life. Contrary
to what you have read, “eternity only” sealings that did not authorize sex
between the woman and Joseph did occur.
Joseph Smith’s theology provided a reason other than sex for him to be
sealed to some of his plural wives. BTW,
polyandrous sex does not increase a woman’s fertility or her ability to “multiply
and replenish” the earth (this is basic reproductive physiology).
The last assumption is similar to the second. There is no evidence that any one in Nauvoo
or any Church member or polygamy insider ever complained about the Prophet’s
obvious hypocrisy. Joseph taught sexual polyandry
was adultery but was practicing it with up to thirteen woman according to
advocates, and apparently no one cared enough to have voiced concern or
Assumption #1: That Joseph Smith practiced sexual
polyandry because no solid evidence is available that he did.
Assumption #2: That no one cared enough about the
behavior to report or complain about it although non-polyandrous polygamy was broadcast
Assumption #3: That Joseph and the plural wives
would blithely commit adultery, with the women promised that they would be “destroyed”
because of the relationship.
Assumption #4: That the polyandrous wives would
accept part of the new and everlasting covenant (polygyny is acceptable) while
simultaneously rejecting another part the new covenant (that old covenants were
Assumption #5: That nonsexual “eternity only”
sealings could not or did not occur and sex was essentially the only motive for
JS’s plural unions.
Assumption #6: That no one cared about the Prophet’s
hypocrisy including men like William Law.
Please understand that I am not trying to change
your position. I’ve learned that the
only people who can believe some other motive than sex compelled JS’s polygamy,
are those who believe he was a Prophet in the first place. Everyone else will assume sex and I don’t
blame them. What other conclusion could
My goal is simply to show that the historical record
does not support these assumptions that are fraught with credibility and plausibility
problems. These observations will not
sway unbelievers, but it shows believers (like me) that the most reliable
documentation supports that Joseph Smith was a virtuous man and driven to
plural marriage by something besides libido.
Sorry this is so long. Thanks for reading. Comments?
It is truly incredible the lengths apologists like yourself will go to rationalize the behavior of Joseph Smith. Of course Joseph used Polygamy for sexual purposes. William Law, Joseph’s councilor in the First Presidency, said he was shocked once to hear Joseph say one of his wives “afforded him great pleasure.”
Joseph wrote a letter to Nancy Rigdon, who had refused his proposal of Marriage, explaining the justification for polygamy and the pleasures associated with it, dated 11 April 1842 –
“So with Solomon first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which may be considered abominable to all who do not understand the order of heaven only in part, but which, in reality, were right, because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation. A parent may whip a child, and justly too, because he stole an apple; whereas, if the child had asked for the apple, and the parent had given it, the child would have eaten it with a better appetite, there would have been no stripes all the pleasures of the apple would have been received, all the misery of stealing lost.”
I think Joseph viewed polygamy as a pleasurable experience, what do you think?
You’ve admitted that your opinion contradicts the work of known and respected scholars on this topic. For that reason, I think you need to spend your time writing a more in-depth paper to articulate why you disagree with respected scholars and state the case for your position. Based on what I see above, it appears you’re making postulates in a vacuum, ignoring the critical evidence that has led other scholars–and me–to conclude the Joseph Smith’s relationships were indeed sexual. Despite all this, publish the link to your paper and we’ll give it a read.
In the meantime, you really need to edit your posts (you can still do that; there IS an edit button) because you’re formatting makes it tough to read.
You said “Observers need to address the fact that none of the wives complained, none of the polyandrous husbands complained, none of the officiators and witnesses complained, and even Nauvoo anti-Mormons John C. Bennett and William Law did not complain about the nonconventional sexual polyandry or Joseph Smith’s alleged hypocrisy.”
William Law DID complain when he published evidence of Joseph Smith’s hypocrisy and polyandry in the Nauvoo expositor. John C. Bennett DID complain when he wrote a scathing exposé of Joseph Smith, entitled History of the Saints, accusing Smith of crimes such as treason, conspiracy to commit murder, prostitution and adultery. I don’t know where you are getting your history but your sources and/or your interpretations of them are questionable.
Your statements reveal an interesting schism of thought currently going on in the church. Many literalist/fundamental thinking members still support and try to defend polygamy as a true virtuous revelation from God, while non-literalist members admit that Joseph was a deeply flawed individual who made many mistakes including introducing and lying about polygamy but nevertheless was still a true but possibly fallen prophet.
The troubling fact is that both camps continue to defend a charismatic leader who convinced followers to surrender their will to his for ultimate salvation. When one truly dives into the history of Joseph Smith one discovers a pattern of deception. There is a difference between an isolated incident and a pattern. Treasure Digging, The Book of Mormon (DNA evidence, anachronisms, lack of archaeological, anthropological, cultural, linguistic, and metallurgical evidence to support claims), The Book of Abraham, Kinderhook Plates, The Greek Psalter, The Temple and Masonry, The Kirtland Bank Fraud all reveal this disturbing pattern of deception.
Thanks to the internet and honest historians the truth is out there. The apologists are continuing to have a devil of a time rationalizing it away but ultimately all truth loving people will encounter their own crises of faith and be forced to decide what is right and what is easy. I believe the only way the Mormon Church will survive is to confess and forsake the indefensible literalist point of view and move toward a classic protestant-like church that focuses on Christ and not on priesthood power.
I just posted some more comments for Jonah.
I disagree that JCB and WL complained about sexual polyandry. And before you quote anything from Bennett, it is best to establish that he even once sat down with Joseph Smith to learn about plural marriage. I have an article coming out in the Journal of Mormon History showing that Bennett was completely in the dark. If you have evidence to the contrary, please share. So far as William Law, he accused Joseph of adultery with Maria Lawrence, not polyandry with any of his plural wives who had legal husbands. This is my point. People complained about sexual polygyny but not sexual polyandry. If you are going to question my research, please be specific. Most of the sources are available online so we don’t have to sort through dusty books. It is important to examine the tradition and the alleged evidence that Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry.Thanks,Brian Hales
It was wrong from the beginning and it is still wrong. Power and affluence corrupts just as it has from old testament times. The pervs tried to cover up their own lusts by making it a church-wide principle and the members still buy into the idea as God inspired.
Maybe folks with your perspective have lust for little girls and don’t give reality a chance to condemn the pracise as it would close the option down completely.
I’ve not been active on blogs because of the time they require.
However, NEew2podcasts – your comment is so unfair and not useful.
I consider myself thick skinned. But I’m also pragmatic with a busy schedule. I entered this discussion because my publisher encouraged me to do so. If fielding messages like New2podcasts is part of the game, I’ll need to pass.
If you have specific questions, I pick up the mail at http://www.JosephSmithsPolygamy.com.
I admire Terryl and wish him the best!
My apologies for overstating the time period practice of then and now. The contemporary church (I hope) does not groom girls for future personal consumption and that was not fair to put it onto this group of intellectuals that are too personnaly investd in the church to just get out of the practice. Given your intellectual capabilities I am sure you are aware that most non intellectual members of the church of jesus christ of latter day saints do not know that the man that they revere (when they sing praise to the man) was having sexual intercourse with those who our contemporary society would regard legally as children. Further more I can see that I have wrongly drawn the conclusion that contemporary males who defend an early 19th century man for having sex with children would not neccessarily want to have sex with teenagers themselves.
Sorry if you must remove yourself from this blog and save so many folks from listening to your drivel. Thicken up your skin and take a stand for truth and right! Einstein.
No problem – I should be more tolerant.
Time will limit my participation in any blog.
Like I said, one of the most articulate believers in the church.
Not only do former believers reinterpret spiritual experiences as self-delusions but others also reinterpret spiritual experiences as a general knowledge of a loving God and not as an affirmation of a specific doctrine. What about non Mormons who have similar spiritual experiences regarding what they interpret as truth when it conflicts with Mormon doctrine or science for that matter? Do Mormons interpret their subjective spiritual experiences as self-delusions or of the devil?
Terryl, loved the podcast. You’re awesome.
You mentioned a letter that a member had sent to Joseph F. Smith, asking whether polygamy was an eternal principle (with JFS answering that he wasn’t sure). Could you please provide the source for that? I would love to read it. Thanks again for taking the time to do this podcast. I know that it was invaluable to me.
Thank you for sharing your many insights and beautiful perspective of the church and the gospel.
I am sitting here listening to this 5+ hour podcast for the 3rd time now. I have so many questions I’d love to hear your perspective on, but in reality, there is only one that matters to me. I don’t care about the personally disappointing particulars of the church, because I think those can be worked out. But having lost both of my parents to cancer in my teen years, and continuing for the 20 years since to live faithfully active in the church, never feeling their presence in my life in a way I have felt other spiritually moving moments, my most difficult struggle is believing that they still exist. After your near drowning experience, do you believe in an afterlife? You used the word “annihilation” in describing the way you felt in that near death moment. How have you reconciled this?
I originally listened to your podcast only moments after listening to the entire Daniel C Peterson podcast, so my comments are reactions to the combined experience of listening to you and Peterson in a single setting. That’s not fair to you since you and Peterson are different in so many ways. I’m new to Mormon Stories, so as I get some time, I’m going to listen to your thoughts again as a standalone experience.
For the record, I will be compiling the best questions from here and will be presenting them to Terryl in a follow-up interview….so please know that he won’t be responding as much directly here (he’s a super busy guy, as you know).
Thanks for your interest!
For the record, I will be compiling the best questions from here and will be presenting them to Terryl in a follow-up interview….so please know that he won’t be responding as much directly here (he’s a super busy guy, as you know).
Thanks for your interest!
Can you also consider these two questions about his book?
1. When is his two-volume history of Mormon theology going to come out? I looked on his website and it doesn’t say.
2. Will it cover the interaction with Biblical studies, such as the discovery of a divine council in ancient Israelite religion?
If that’s the case, I added a few questions in my reply to Terryl.
Also: A little inoculation through the CES can prevent more apostasy, Givens said. What about missionary work? How do we do missionary work in the U.S. with all this new information on Church history?
Thank you for Mormon Stories and for this interview in particular.
I have many questions I’d love to hear TG’s perspective on, but in reality, there is only one that matters to me. I don’t care about the personally disappointing particulars of the church, because I think those can be worked out. But having lost both parents to cancer in my teen years, and continuing for the 20 years since to live faithfully active in the church, never feeling their presence in my life in a way I have felt other spiritually moving moments, my most difficult struggle is believing that they still exist. After his near drowning experience, does he believe in an afterlife? He used the word “annihilation” in describing the way he felt in that near death moment. How has he reconciled this?
Here’s another question for your next podcast with Terryl:
Hypothetically, if it turns out that the Book of Mormon is a fiction and that this can clearly be shown to your satisfaction–and please consider the full implications of that proposition as a potential domino effect on Joseph Smith’s other claims relating to the first vision, polygamy, polyandry, etc.–what would you want your legacy to be as 1.) a lifelong church member; 2.) as a scholar, and 3.) as a human being? Also, in the context of that hypothetical, would you have lost anything at all by failing to discover this fact during your lifetime? If so, what?
Question about inoculation.
One of the themes your dialogue with TG developed was Joseph’s misunderstanding about his own role. TG is very fluid and articulate about how such possible misunderstandings impacted on accounts of the First Vision, BoM translation, and BoA. This problem has been compounded because the precise role Joseph played (the logistics of how he produced his revelations) somehow became part of the religious narrative, about which a Mormon seeking a testimony could pray and obtain a decisive answer (or at least interwoven into such things he obtained answers about). By comparison, TG mentioned that we don’t appear to be particularly interested in how Paul obtained his revelations.
It is not fun to teach your kids that the BoA contains a divine revelation to Joseph even though he very well may have been confused about the function of the papyri. I’d rather just ignore it. But because I love the church and because I believe it’s true, I have to deal with this unpleasantry. I can’t in good conscience teach the previously understood account and set my kids up for a rude awakening, like the one I had in the late 90s. My parents didn’t really live in the information age, and so they didn’t know, nor were they expected to know by normal standards back then. Now we know. Now we’re reasonably expected to know.
This is inoculation, as you know, and inoculation is a well-developed idea. But the theme (of Joseph’s misunderstanding of Joseph) actually seems (is) quite reasonable if you don’t first get invested in the original narrative. It’s hugely important in my view. It seems it should be the Polio vaccine of Mormonism.
Is this something that could be appropriately initiated from bottom up in the church? (I served as a bishop, and I didn’t feel comfortable at all inoculating, especially in that capacity. My wife and I have and continue to inoculate our kids.) Could we get some kind of “clearance” or at least tacit authorization to inoculate as a grass roots or bottom up. I don’t think we currently have any such clearance. Any idea of how or when we might get this kind of thing?
Are there any signs that we can ever have approved materials (from the top) from which we can inoculate? What’s the likely time-table. I’d hate to wait another generation, because this impacts on the way we build our religious traditions now, and Mormonism offers rich traditions to pass on to one’s family.
Am I waisting my time on this thing? Am I off base, maybe ignoring other important issues in my analysis?
I am still reeling from the utter brilliance of Givens! He has to be my new number one home boy! Ilistening to the podcasts over and over again in my car and getting something new each time. I think I shall buy all of his books and I might even contemplate attending a sacrament meeting. But I repeat!!! I will only contemplate attending a sacrament meeting!
I loved the podcast! It has given me new hope and faith, both in humanity and my own worldview.
One question I had, was how does Terryl view the new emphasis on tithing in the church, and in particular the expenditures on the mall in SLC. For me, I can accept Joseph Smith being flawed, but if that’s the case, that also implies the current administration could be as well, in particular on financial matter with the church?
Thanx for a super interesting podcast. Also reading these comments is of great interest :-).
I admire Terryl’s honesty and openness. His approach, tone and humility made a deep impression on me. While listening, a couple of times I found myself thinking that I really wished I could believe like he does, that the model he uses to explain things would work for me. In many ways what Terryl was articulating was beautiful and majestic. But when I take a step back, and examine the issues, for me it falls apart again. BOM limited geomery, just doesn’t hold. And some of the behaviors of past and present prophets I just cannot swallow. The argument that they are and can be radically flawed, etc, can be used to defend any religous (or other type of) movement.
Anyways, this was hugely interesting. I wonder if Terryl in any depth has studied psychological research which tries to explain the way people act and reason, where faith is concerned. The great inability we have to critically examine a position which we have accepted as true, while at the same time we are very able to examine another’s position which we don’t have the same emotional attachment. For example, to an outsider, the Jehova Witnesses faith and religion should’ve just fallen apart when their several, certain, prophesied dates at which Jesus would return did not come to pass. To an outsider this is just shattering evidence, yet there were a very small percentage who actually lost their faith and abandoned the religion.
Why would we as mormons be any different? What is so special about our religion, that we cannot be blinded by just the fact that we hold the church to be ‘true’? To outsiders, there is a mountain of evidence against mormonism. It’s rock solid. There is no uncertainty. But believers don’t see it. Terryl argues that for there to be any room for real faith, the evidence has to go both ways, equally strong evidence for the validity of the truth claims as against. That is God’s plan, that we in this realm of uncertainty can exercise real faith. Yet to millions of outsider there is no question at all – scientific evidence against is overwhelming. And to some insiders it’s the opposite way, it was for me for 30 years – I heard stories about findings that ‘proved’ the BOM, etc. The church has always grasped at any straws that could solidify faith into knowledge. There was no question, I didn’t live in a middle ground, I knew with certainty that it was true. And to me it seems like this is the position we are raised in the church to end up in, it’s the best way to be from an institutional perspective. From what I understand, this position of knowing, doesn’t according to Terryl, constitute real faith. I hadn’t been exposed to opposing evidence that made me float in the space where knowledge was not certain. The position of balancing between finding the evidence on each side equally compelling, and therefore being able to exercise real faith, seems preciously hard to attain.
I would be interested in Terryl’s response to psychological studies, etc, that have been made. The power of conformation bias, insufficient justification, group think etc.
I found Bob Mcue’s writings on this to be extremely thought provoking, and a way for me to analyse myself, and come to a greater understanding on how the human psyche works. The essay – Do smart mormons make mormonism true:
It would be very interesting to hear Terryl’s comments to that essay. It’s a long read, so maybe he doesn’t have time to read it, but perhaps he has knowledge on the subject… would be nice if it could be addressed in the next podcast.
Thanx again for this podcast John and Terryl!
McCue drones on and on, but glimpsing that article, I can see where a lot of ex-Mormons get their arguments.
That’s a big generalization, instead of dismissing McCue and porter rockwell with a flippant one liner why don’t you address the questions he posed, much like the post above by Brian Hales where he addresses Joseph’s polygamy, now that was a well reasoned response.
Given that, regarding the psychology of belief that Porter Rockwell raised in his post, I much prefer the research in Michael Shermer’s book “The Believing Brain”
Dude the article is over 90 pp. Single-spaced.
John you’ve truly outdone yourself this year. The podcasts have been incredible! Just when I think they can’t get any better they do. Thanks for your work and support in this “labor of love”.
I was not very familiar with Terryl Givens prior to this podcast, but he has become one of my heroes! The issues discussed on the podcast are very thought provoking. I especially found his ideas on Joseph Smith and faith to be fascinating. Thank you Terryl for taking the time to share your thoughts with us! Your books are next on my reading list.
My sincere and deepest apologies; I just couldn’t get through these podcast.
I listened to the first one but kept going over to other sites cause the conversation was just boring.
My appologies for saying that but I just couldn’t stay interested.
Why do people (apologists) continue to say that the Book of Mormon doesn’t imply geographic isolation? Didn’t Moroni tell Joseph that it was a record of THE former inhabitants of this continent and THE source from whence they sprang? Granted this is only Moroni’s opinion, but wouldn’t he know? Also, isn’t Lehi promised that the land should be kept from the knowledge of other nations, that they may possess the land unto themselves (2Ne, 1). The land doesn’t get overrun by others until after the entire civilization falls into sin, which is many years after their arrival. And, if Joseph Smith, Spencer Kimball, and every other other prophet has been calling the native Americans “Lamanites,” it’s easy enough to say they were mistaken, but that calls into question their general reliability as prophets. It seems odd that the apologists are willing to dismiss all of the prophetic statements about pure-blooded Lamanites in favor of something more scientifically plausible (limited geography theory).
Why do people (apologists) continue to say that the Book of Mormon doesn’t imply geographic isolation? Didn’t Moroni tell Joseph that it was a record of THE former inhabitants of this continent and THE source from whence they sprang? Granted this is only Moroni’s opinion, but wouldn’t he know? Also, isn’t Lehi promised that the land should be kept from the knowledge of other nations, that they may possess the land unto themselves (2Ne, 1). The land doesn’t get overrun by others until after the entire civilization falls into sin, which is many years after their arrival. And, if Joseph Smith, Spencer Kimball, and every other other prophet has been calling the native Americans “Lamanites,” it’s easy enough to say they were mistaken, but that calls into question their general reliability as prophets. It seems odd that the apologists are willing to dismiss all of the prophetic statements about pure-blooded Lamanites in favor of something more scientifically plausible (limited geography theory).
Question for Terryl Givens (maybe this question has already been asked – I haven’t read all of the posts)
Question: It seems that there is a growing acknowledgment by many mainstream church members and some general authorities in accepting the creation and flood accounts (including the Fall) in Genesis as well as other events in the OT as symbolic rather than literal. Where can one comfortably draw the line between metaphorical and literal belief and still maintain orthodoxy? What is the preferred cut-off date? 2000 B.C.? 1000 B.C.? 600 B.C.? 100 A.D., 2011? Or can I pick and choose events and dates cafeteria style? Can one believe the Book of Mormon is not historical yet see it as inspired and still be considered orthodox? Is orthodoxy more aptly defined as an assent to a set of behaviors, general concepts (such as revelation and progression, etc.) and self-identifying with a particular group rather than a litmus test of literal beliefs? Does this create a slippery-slope?
The Book of Mormon and D&C are littered with literal references to persons and events from Genesis which then create some (not all) literal belief problems for those books as well.
Terryl Givens has a beautiful mind and thanks to him and John for doing this podcast.
So, so so so great! I can’t wait to hear more from Teryl Givens. Great job John Dehlin!! <3
at the end of the first section they talk about all these myths and ledgends of people failing miserably when they tried to bee too much like God. I wonder where those stories come from? Why has the idea that it it dangerous and fatal to think yourself like God been so perpetuated. Who stands to benefit? What is so “wrong” about thinking yourself able to attain Godhood?
This interview prompted the following reflections. Perhaps some can relate to them.
I let relatively shallow annoyances pave the way for my leaving Mormonism well before I went looking for defensible reasons. I found the meetings boring, the Bishop’s side-hugs patronizing, the home teaching nagging, the testimonies overreaching, and the organ music grating.
But my problems weren’t all so trivial. There were my first, second and last temple visits spanning 1985 and 1986. Strike 1, Strike 2, Strike 3 – or so it appears in hindsight. There were also the dead silences attending a decade of prayers. Was this self-imposed spiritual deafness or restrained imagination?
I never drank, smoked, fornicated, or broke the law from my baptism at 19 until today, which is nearly 3 years post my official “dismemberment.” My slow and unobtrusive leave taking kept my otherwise faithful family intact. Tithing was crisis-prevention insurance as long as it felt necessary. I resisted thinking of it as extortion.
I never met a Mormon who wasn’t generous and kind in the small East Coast wards we attended. Seeing how these people influenced our children checked every temptation for self-serving intrusion. For several years I was simply too busy second-guessing my doubts to share them. For the last 10 years I was a dedicated early-morning seminary-driving apostate.
My wife’s faith is centered on charity rather than propositional beliefs, so arguing doctrine or history was pointless if not beside the point. She honors my professed validity-based doubt and I her utility-based faith. Thank you Dr. David Christian for this terminology.
When I did go looking for external reasons for not believing, I found more than I anticipated. That surprise was simultaneously confirming and disturbing. It just kept piling up. At times it didn’t seem fair. “God, what were you thinking?”
Very early on I looked to LDS scholars for a lifeline. This was even before feeling blindsided by the temple ordinances. I remember photocopying dozens of BYU Studies articles during my first visit to Provo in 1983. Even then I was trying to figure out how people smarter than me might abide these beliefs. I know now, and knew then, that this was a religiously dismissible question. I needed to answer it none-the-less.
I also read apologetics along the way, along with the Tanner’s poorly typeset catalogue of Mormon problems and then many respected historical works. I found I had to regulate my intake. Too much made it too hard to keep my mouth shut. My wife would ask, “What’s wrong honey?” I’d answer, “Oh, I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ll catch up on it Sunday.” I keep my books at work but not hidden from my wife when she stops by.
I’ve given Mormonism a far greater hearing than I thought I would. I don’t think I could have gone to those lengths unless part of me hoped to find reasons for returning. Apostasy is a tremendous strain even when the Church leaders leave you alone, as they did in my case. Sometimes I felt, “Why don’t the put up some resistance -don’t I deserve that?”
I remember opening the letter from the Church’s “Member and Statistical Records Division” notifying me that “in accordance with your request, you are no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” It was signed by the “Division Manager.” I quickly searched my mind for regret. I didn’t root around for long. I figured it would find me if it were there.
At some point Mormon history began to fascinate me for its own sake. I just finished Dr. Given’s Parley P. Pratt biography and Mark Saker’s “Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations.” Both were terrific in my opinion.
Mormon history dovetailed into my ongoing exploration of the sociology, psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience of belief and decision-making. Things are starting to make some sense, albeit in a tentative and incomplete way. I recommend this path in place of locking horns over disputed facts.
But speaking of facts, the Book of Mormon remains the conspicuous unsolved puzzle. It’s like a bobbing apple, hardly breaking the surface of credibility, yet surprisingly buoyant and difficult to sink my teeth into. Faithful scholars say, “It feels ancient” and “it’s coherent.” But can such buoyant forces defy gravity’s claim on gold plates?
I read Grant Hardy’s “Reader’s Edition” of the Book of Mormon this past summer along with his “Reader’s Guide.” Yes, there is more to it than first meets the eye. But it’s ludicrousness and horrifying depiction of God remains. But now Dr. Givens has cast his vote in its favor and for me that merits consideration. So I’ll keep at it.
Allowing room for doubting doubt is the best I can do now. I try not to let infuriating episodes shut that down. I’ll read and I’ll think – but I won’t pray. I can’t. Moroni 10:4 feels too much like an inverted Catch-22. I can’t go there, it requires pretending – or self-consciously imagining the imaginary is real. Perhaps the way I read and think are sufficient substitutes if the universe ends up spinning that way.
Notwithstanding this borderline sarcasm, my heart does not feel hardened. As I head into my 6th decade, I would like, if I can, to do more than merely tolerate Mormon beliefs. Perhaps the best I’ll be able to do is see in Mormonism as good a validation of group affiliation, pro-social behavior, and death denial as any other non-disprovable belief system. I believe that would be more than enough to love my wife, our children, my brothers, and my father more with each year. Blood is thicker than sacrament water.
Thank you Dr. Givens for moving me toward this possibility. Thanks again John Dehlin for bringing Dr. Givens to us.
I stand in awe at Terryl Givens’ ability to express his thoughts in a meaningful and coherent manner. Because of this, I am hesitant in even thinking of challenging any of the positions that he seems to take regarding the Church and its teachings. Moreover, he has studied and written extensively on premortal existence and rightly notes LDS teachings regarding the eternal nature of man. In spite of this, I cannot help but wonder to what extent the Mormon plan of salvation is any longer relevant. If I understand correctly, it is based upon the belief in a literal resurrection, in which the spirit is reunited with the body to form a living soul. Without a literal resurrection, and a reuniting of the spirit with the body, the spirit would forever be hindered in its ability to progress towards godhood.
This belief goes counter to everything that we have come to know about the afterlife. Based on thousands, if not millions, of personal experiences, it is apparent that the spirit does not only not need, but is actually hindered by, a physical body. When a person leaves the physical body and moves into the spirit world, a shape resembling the physical body can persist for a time, but eventually this will dissipate so that all that remains is a state of individual consciousness that we commonly refer to as the soul. Free of any form, this soul is then able to progress though the various levels of the spirit world. There appears to be a choice that the soul can make. Either it can choose to continue on as a purely conscious entity or it can choose to reincarnate into another physical body and repeat the experience of mortal existence.
The beauty of this process, as opposed to the Mormon plan of salvation, is that every soul has the opportunity of progressing to whatever level it desires and in whatever way it desires, limited only by the restrictions it places upon itself. In other words, judgment is self-imposed. As has been frequently stated by those who claim to have experienced some aspect of the spirit world, it is pervaded by light and love. Based upon a soul’s thoughts and desires, that soul may choose to move further into the light or away from the light, into what is sometimes referred to as outer darkness. But those souls who may choose outer darkness are not irretrievably lost. Rather they are ministered to and watched over until if and when they choose to move towards the light. To me, this process that I have described is much more desirable than that taught within the Mormon plan of salvation where individuals are assigned to one of three levels in the afterlife for all eternity and only a limited number can ever hope or expect to return Home.
Thanks, John, for your efforts and your open-mindedness.
I’m working my way through the fourth installment of this podcast and I want to thank John and Terryl for this insightful interview. It was simultaneously brilliant and awkward. Dr. Given’s articulation of his faith is gently poetic. At the same time, his answers to John’s more difficult questions make him sound like another Hugh Nibley–using the language of hope to construct a shaky defense of JS and the Book of Mormon. I believe his intentions are honorable, his spiritual convictions real. I have to admire any intellectual who would risk the ridicule of the academic world outside of the already-converted to stand by his personal religious beliefs.
Still, much as I enjoy listening, I have very conflicted feelings about this podcast. On the one hand, I hear Terryl say that he is predisposed to accepting mysticism. I hear his views on Book of Mormon geography, historical inaccuracies, questionable behavior on JS’s part. He is either dismissive or inconclusively analytical on most of the hard stuff. I think–yes, finally. A serious, Mormon intellectual who can talk about this stuff and not worry about providing faith-promoting answers. Part of me admires his astounding ability to make the historical problems and contextual conundrums sound nearly credible when described from his historically-informed perspective. But then another part of me–the part governed by the critical thinking area of my brain hears these things and I have the same response John did to some of the trickier explanations: “Really?”
Much of the conversation seems so surreal to me. That grown adults, bristling with PhD’s and academic prowess, can seriously debate the existence of Golden Plates, angelic visitations, and peep stones both fascinates and alarms me in equal terms. I guess it’s the sort of thing that gets debated in religious circles all over the world–just with different mythological props and underpinnings. How is it any different than a debate over whether a specific number of virgins awaits the radical Muslim upon his successful attack on infidels? I think it’s another sign in how far I’ve come (for better or worse) in distancing myself from this construct called Mormonism that dominated nearly forty years of my life.
At any rate, I don’t have any more answers than I did listening to the podcast–only more questions. Strangely, though–I loved it. Perhaps that is the very nature of religion–to continually confound ourselves thinking thoughts about the unknowable nature of existence. Humans, recent research seems to suggest, are hard-wired to be religious creatures.
One question I have for Dr. Givens might be this: Can you ever conceive of yourself not believing in the veracity of the Book of Mormon? Maybe you answer that question later in the podcast–I’m only on episode 4.
Thanks again– wonderful dialogue and it helps those of us who doubt and wonder place ourselves in a larger context relative to others in our faith communities.
Thanks … I appreciate your thoughts. In particular
“…both fascinates and alarms me in equal terms.”
The fascination here is thankfully greater than the alarm because Mormonism enjoys a history of getting more, rather than less, benign – though it is still has certain propositional (8) beliefs to overcome.
“At any rate, I don’t have any more answers than I did listening to the podcast–only more questions. Strangely, though–I loved it.”
The more questions, and the more challenging, the better. The questions (or responses) to Dr. Givens comments really span the range – from the traditional apologetic arguments (limited geography) to interesting theological ideas like belief becoming a moral imperative when the evidence creates an exquisite balance (notwithstanding scientifically demonstrable hard-wired biases and other frailties of mind, including rivaling unconscious cognitions inaccessible to introspection).
As an aside, missing was a substantive understanding of what science has to add to these issues (which is different from saying one is on board with science). For instance, not seeing evolutionary interpretations in theology (solving the fortunate fall) but not realizing how problematic evolution by NATURAL SELECTION is for theism, which is what makes it scientific. Also the cognitive/neuroscience challenge to “folk psychological” or intuitive foundation of theological conceptions of free will. In the next decade(s) this may become the new front in the war on science by dogmatic religion (IMO). And even secularists will get hot and bothered over it, at least until they realize it is not as bad as they first think.
Correction: ” For instance, SEEING evolutionary interpretations in theology …)
I really really enjoyed this podcast. I can’t say enough good about it so I hope
this question doesn’t make it appear that I thought Terryl was making bad arguments
but if next time you could question him a little further on polygamy I would
like to hear more of his thoughts on it.
I am a pretty orthodox mormon I think but that area of church history
bugs me a lot. I used to take some solace
in the fact that, like Givens said, many of the women involved felt
disgusted by the thought at first, but then, after prayer felt fine about it. I also took solace in the idea that if it was
just lust, it would have been easier for Joseph to just sleep around instead of
makeup elaborate doctrines about it.
Those arguments don’t
hold much sway for me any more though. Apparently
using religious authority is an effective way to seduce women who are otherwise completely pious. For a modern well documented example google Nick Hacheney. I
believe JS still had the spirit after practicing polygamy so I assume it was
all sanctioned and that his polygamy was much different than what we have seen in
other modern cases but it is something that I have never been able to be
comfortable with and would like to hear more discussion on from someone like Terryl Givens.
I, too, would like to plumb the depths of the polygamy issue–although I doubt there can really be a satisfying answer to those of us who chafe at the idea of polygamy in general and polyandry in particular. The argument that the women whom Joseph took to wife eventually came around to his way of thinking through prayer and spiritual manifestation is not good evidence that coercion was NOT involved. Nor do the recorded testimonies of these women indicate that they were at peace with the practice.
For those who would argue that the women came to accept and embrace the principle of polygamous marriage, I have this question: would such a claim hold up if the same argument were being made in court on behalf of Warren Jeff’s child brides? I’m sure the majority of WJ’s wives would tell you they are willingly practicing God’s law and the law of the Priesthood to be in polygamous marriages. Indeed, many of Jeff’s wives may be perfectly happy practicing polygamy. However, if I were the prosecuting attorney, how long would it take me to gather psychoanalytical testimony that these women, if not coerced, were at least insulated from accepted codes of civil conduct to the point that they were willing to break laws and moral codes to follow amoral leaders?
I suspect in JS’s time, the onus would have been on the women to show that they WERE coerced into unwanted marriages to the prophet–especially within the ranks of the believing members. Given a climate of male hierarchy and extremely limited women’s rights, is it any wonder that many of these women “came around” to accepting their polygamous marriages?
” I believe JS still had the spirit after practicing polygamy so I assume it was
all sanctioned and that his polygamy was much different than what we have seen in
other modern cases”
Well, per Bushman, JS did not receive any revelations when he was sleeping around.
That might fit well into the category of being inspired in the commandment, and uninspired in how he went about living it. I know there are a number of people who think perhaps polygamy wasn’t of God at all but that JS was otherwise an inspired prophet. I guess the biggest problem I have with that is that section 132 is also where we get the revelation and authority to perform eternal marriages. It seems like you can’t get rid of one and keep the other. Either polygamy was directed by God, or the entire sealing ordinance of families was fabricated to cover up JS’s adulterous relationships.
Really enjoyed this podcast. Terryl Givens gave me plenty to chew on. While I don’t fully agree on all his assertions, I do realize that even I am guilty of simplifying some of the arguments against Mormonism purely for convenience sake. While Mormonism still leaves a lot to be desired for me, there are some aspects of Mormonism I have a much deeper respect for through this interview and my own personal studies into spirituality (such as the pre-mortal existence, the eternal progression of intelligence, the role of a prophet, etc.). While I do find Mormonism’s focus on conventional ethics vs theological questions to be its greatest strength, I would also argue that it has been one of those things that has also been most destructive to Mormonism as well (such as view of blacks and homosexuals). However, despite the problems of Mormonism, it is true that Mormon youth are more likely to be involved in their religion and maintain their religious values into adulthood then any other church system. Mormonism isn’t just teaching good ethics; its members are caring them out into their daily lives. So, in that view, Mormonism is doing something that I wish more institutionalized religions could do. So, I walk away realizing that Mormonism still has its problems, but I have more hope for Mormonism because it does get some things right. I still want to see change in Mormonism (updating church education material and making the church financial activities more transparent), but I at least see that Mormonism is not headed for a crash and burn in the future.
Hey thanks for those comments.
I, too, would like to plumb the depths of the polygamy issue–although I
doubt there can really be a satisfying answer to those of us who chafe
at the idea of polygamy in general and polyandry in particular. The
argument that the women whom Joseph took to wife eventually came around
to his way of thinking through prayer and spiritual manifestation is not
good evidence that coercion was NOT involved. Nor do the recorded
testimonies of these women indicate that they were at peace with the
For those who would argue that the women came to
accept and embrace the principle of polygamous marriage, I have this
question: would such a claim hold up if the same argument were being
made in court on behalf of Warren Jeff’s child brides? I’m sure the
majority of WJ’s wives would tell you they are willingly practicing
God’s law and the law of the Priesthood to be in polygamous marriages.
Indeed, many of Jeff’s wives may be perfectly happy practicing
polygamy. However, if I were the prosecuting attorney, how long would
it take me to gather psychoanalytical testimony that these women, if not
coerced, were at least insulated from accepted codes of civil conduct
to the point that they were willing to break laws and moral codes to
follow amoral leaders?
Recently, National Geographic published an article on humanitarian efforts to ease the burden of child brides in third-world countries. One of the issues addressed is the difficulty for aid workers in swooping in and yanking these girls out of the only world they’ve ever known–one dominated completely by men and ancient law. Often when girls do get a chance to leave a horrible marriage, they do not because 1. they have no where else to go, and 2. they would be shunned by their communities and religious leaders for leaving a marriage sanctioned by God himself. I can appreciate that most of JS’s wives were adults (particularly the already-married ones), but they still would have been products of their time, their institutions, and their limited voice in the whole process.
I suspect in JS’s time, the onus would
have been on the women to show that they WERE coerced into unwanted
marriages to the prophet–especially within the ranks of the believing
members. Given a climate of male hierarchy and extremely limited women’s
rights, is it any wonder that many of these women “came around” to
accepting their polygamous marriages?
Is anyone interested in volunteering to help transcribe these interviews?
Perhaps we could individually e-mail John Dehlin, he could form a list and, depending on how many there are, could divy out assignments.
(Perhaps breaking each episode into 20 minute segments).I would also suggest assigning a “checker” for each episode.Vote “like”or reply if interested.John, I hope I am not causing you a headache. It is just that these are particularly worth making available. This is a feature offered by another podcast that I enjoy and I find it particularly valuable. I have often thought I would like to have others transcribed as well.
I skipped over Episode 1 and went to Episode 2 – a selfish self appointment, but willing to share the fruits thereof when I finish.
Which is more important:
That we feel free to openly discuss the problematic issues and our corresponding questions, or
That we feel free to openly state our conclusions?
The answer is: yes.
In this podcast, we never arrive at a discussion of the startling, theology-shattering conclusions because these scholars continue to avoid them. This is unfortunate because sooner or later the truth always prevails. As it continues to disclose itself, we will remain unprepared to discuss it and deal with it.
But, more importantly, I truly believe that we sacrifice important parts of ourselves when we fail to draw the obvious theology-shattering conclusions (e.g., the Book of Mormon is fiction). We effectively cut ourselves off from non-theological methodologies of knowing and become partial people.
Matthew Arnold scrutinized this tendency among religious observers in his essays “Culture and Anarchy,” observing:
“. . . the tendency in us to . . . sacrifice all other sides of our being to the religious side. This tendency has its cause in the divine beauty and grandeur of religion, and bears affecting testimony to them; but we have seen that it has dangers for us, we have seen that it leads to a narrow and twisted growth of our religious side itself, and to a failure in perfection.”
A part of ourselves should be fully attuned to the world–to the material world–and not exclusively to religion. Unfortunately, this tendency to bend our perception of reality to preconceived doctrinal beliefs evidences a theological pride that defiantly closes us off from the many secular ways of knowing such as logic, reason, science, evidentiary materialism, the “philosophies of men,” the opinions of others, human connectedness, culture, community, silent observation, disagreement, listening, poetry, intuition, creativity, imagination, human emotions, etc.
The truth requires that we access all our human capacities for knowing; that we become complete human beings. Unfortunately, we have become partial people, lopsided planets, wobbling and reeling out of orbit from the truth, destined for a cold and distant darkness.
It’s more important for us members of the church to be free to discuss the problematic issues and corresponding questions. Conclusions regarding this topic don’t lend themselves to finality very well. They (the conclusions) are often tentative, and they often involve entanglement with complicated social relationships. We have to negotiate an intellectual, social, and spiritual world during this process, and this is a journey. Sharing conclusions mostly seem to be important after you’ve left, or after you’ve decided that you’re not going to think about it.
By comparison, freedom to discuss the hard questions is essential for many people to be able to experience authentic worship, once one is made aware of all of the issues about the subject religion.
I agree that the overwhelming human tendency to cut ourselves off from non-theological ways of discerning reality, once immersed in religion. You have a nice list of many of these ways, and all of them are important ways of embracing what life has to offer, and to have a good chance at knowing the universe has to offer. Singling out only one or two of these and being immersed into this a narrow range of these ways of knowing is limiting.
But can’t this be blamed primarily on traditions (religious or not) had wield a lot of authority and are immersed in dogma that is intolerant to other ways of knowing and seeing the world? Cultures and traditions like this are all over the place. Maybe your point is that theology is more of a selfish epistemology, strangling out all other ways of knowing and experiencing. It sort of eats everything up in its path. My view is that it’s a culture of dogma, unquestionable assumptions, combined with social pressure that does this, which may or may not involve theology.
The reason I am trying to make this distinction, I guess, is that a less dogmatic theology, one that is open to more possibilities but yet tries to acknowledge God’s intervention, seems like it doesn’t have to trump or strangle out all of those other (wonderful) ways of knowing and living life. Sure there will be inconsistencies and conflicts but most of that comes about because we’re using a dozen different methods.
You’re right, that both dialogue and conclusions are important. Unfortunately, the dialogue is barely permissible in our culture and the conclusions entirely impermissible. A humble theology as you mention would be very interesting to me. Do you know of any?
I seek to make a distinction: I’m not talking about theology, but theological pride–a pride that overvalues its theology at the expense of other ways of knowing and thus closes itself off from non-theological ways of knowing and from people who disagree.
In this case, theological pride is not actually a theology; it’s a human weakness. You’ve seen theological pride in Pastor Jeffress, but unfortunately, it’s always easier to see pride when we are the victims of its devaluations. We rarely see it when we ourselves are guilty of it. In Mormonism, theological pride is alive and well, as when we see scholars and apologists still trying to defend the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity when such an endeavor is absolutely pointless in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I have witnessed the theologically proud make the following reactions to negative evidence that threatens or incriminates their beliefs:
First, they summarily reject or ignore any evidence that appears to conflict with their religious beliefs (ostrich hiding its head);
Second, they falsify the world when they bend reality—lie about reality—in order to force a fit with their preconceived religious beliefs;
Third, they lazily accept the inadequate arguments of their apologetics;
Fourth, they dismiss non-spiritual methodologies of knowing, like scientific inquiry;
Fifth, they attack accusers and seek to discredit them on a personal basis; they devalue those who disagree with them. They and their theological system are the center of the universe and they regularly devalue those people who live outside of it.
Sixth, they dishonestly claim that the issue is unimportant or irrelevant;
Seventh, they intentionally limit the scope of what they can “know in this life” or intentionally obfuscate the truth while simultaneously offering to surrender to the notion that only God knows everything; that we simply cannot know; that we must walk by faith.
Have you seen any other reactions/evidences of theological pride and its response to negative evidence?
Around 29:00 minutes into Episode 2 John and Terryl begin a discussion about the nature of God from the theodicy angle.
I just want to point out what I found startling about the exchange leading into this.
Here’s the dialogue:
Dehlin: So, what is your belief in God? How do you shape it given the theodicy alone?
Givens: OK, I am glad that you asked this because to my mind this is Mormonism’s strongest suit. And this is what I find both intellectually compelling and exciting, but I also find it profoundly spiritually appealing. You know all you have to do is the most cursory review of the history of Christian theology and you confront time and time again a God who is the absolute embodiment of evil. … If that is God I reject him.
Dehlin: Or even the Old Testament God is … I have no interest in that God
Givens: [affirming reflectively] Even the Old Testament God …
Dehlin: I do not see that God. You know there’s this argument that the people prior to Christ were just ignorant and Stone Age foolish so that God had to treat them really harshly…You know, I don’t even want to sign up for that, I’m not even interested.
What I found startling was the lack of recognition that the Book of Mormon God “embodiment” of these nasty attributes.
Please open your Book of Mormon to 3 Nephi, Chapter 9. Start reading from verse 1 and stop when feel that maybe this is a God worth rejecting.
The same Jesus makes appearances in the Doctrine & Covenants as well.
Of course, there are simpler ways of making sense of all this….and none have anything to do with gods.
Interesting comments on an interesting portion of the podcast. The critical approach to 3 Nephi 9 (and the OT and D&C) here strikes me as similar to a Harry Potter reader (or character) who decides that the sole needful key to judging Professor Snape comes from the chapter on the astronomy tower in The Half Blood Prince.
In 3 Nephi 9, and Mormonism generally, as in J. K. Rowling, there is more to to the story. A before and an after, all essential not only for understanding the significance of the astronomy tower, but many other things in Rowling’s books. Just so, there is a before and after, and a wider perspective, and other sources essential not only for understanding the significance of the events in 3 Nephi 9, but their meaning for the both the survivors, and the dead, whose disposition does not end there. I personally find things like Eliade’s Cosmos and History: The Myth of Eternal Return, quite helpful. Also comparisons of 3 Nephi to the Harrowing of Hell literature, which have so much in common as to suggest that the subsequent experiences of the dead would be much like the experiences of the survivors. Just in a different classroom, and perhaps a different teacher. Nibley’s “The Book of Enoch as Theodicy” is also relevant, in approaching related questions and offering solutions by telling more of the story, the before, and the after.. Also, I recommend Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, the penultimate chapter on the “Two Fold Nietzchian Heritage.” Girard offers food for thought on methods, motives, and consequences of different ways we go about selecting from and generalizing about faith communities.
My citation of 3 Nephi, Chapter 9 is but one example of the Jesus/God that spilled out of the mind of Joseph Smith – a mind besotted with the OT as much as the NT in all of its now tarnished bronze-age gory glory.
Of course there is more to the gory glory story. And it can be found in all of the books of the Book of Mormon books leading up to and following 3 Nephi. So your Harry Potter analogy does not apply to me. How many proof-texts would you like?
So, of course there are the sweet parts to go along with the 3rd Nephi sort of thing. But this variety rather points to Joseph producing a mash-up construal of God that makes Him seem bipolar. If we go forward a few chapters we find Smith’s children crushing and burning Jesus weeping over and blessing another batch. Again, it’s a ludicrous mash-up of a mind indiscriminately besotted with Bible images spread over 1000 years of different people’s myths.
I am not sure why you need the help of Eliade, the Harrowing of Hell literature, Nibley, or Girard unless it is to rationalize what on face value is this cursing, vengeful, retributive face of Jesus that, while it obviously had some utility for Joseph Smith and his followers, generates dissonance to the modern mind. Did the Jesus speaking in 3 Nephi 9 expect the church members to turn to such authors as you cite to help them understand (i.e. resolve their dissonance)?
I read the Book of Mormon straight through this past summer over a two-month period with no distractions from work. I used Grant Hardy’s Readers Edition. I referenced hundreds of passages and phrases that struck using the searchable on-line LDS scriptures, GoogleBooks, and Google n-gram. I read Grant Hardy’s Reader’s Guide. It was a very interesting exercise. I have now begun Skousen’s critical text version of the Book of Mormon.
Now, I admit, I am no degreed sacred literature scholar, but I think I’ve developed a reasonably accurate preliminary (got that? I said preliminary) comprehensive character portrait of Joseph Smith’s God of the Book of Mormon – a portrait further augmented by his revelations in the Book of Commandments/Doctrine and Covenants. I would bet that my preliminary assessment is more informed that the person who cherry picks passages or gets them filtered by the Ensign or General Authorities. And I do not think the apologetic case that Terryl Givens makes – that it was all just 19th century religious rhetoric, no worse than anyone else -is adequate. Particularly when when the Lord is being directly quoted.
It seems to me that the Harry Potter’s wholly understandable, reasonable given his perspectives and experience, passionately negative view of Professor Snape does parallel your approach to Jesus in 3 Nephi 9. For me, it is not a matter of multiplying self-justifying proof-texts, but of finding illuminating contexts.
Eliade provided me with a context for why the voice of God comes and recasts the recent disasters in a ritual context, showing that the actualize what the Year Rites everywhere dramatized. (I’ve published on this topic.in my “Paradigms Regained” essay.) Nibley, in his study of The Book of Enoch as Theodicy, in the first paragraph observes “It is equally easy and deceptive to fall into adolescent disillusionment,
and with emancipated teachers to smile tolerantly at the simple gullibility
of bygone days while passing stern moral judgment on the savage old tribal
God who, overreacting with impetuous and sadistic violence, wiped out Noah’s
neighbors simply for making fun of his boat-building on a fine summer’s day.”
In the same essay Nibley observes “Though science has conceded an infinite number of possible viewpoints for
describing any object, in practice it has always insisted that there is really
only one valid viewpoint: the down-to-earth, no-nonsense reality of everyday
experience. We see everything, as it were, through a long, thin tube set up
at an immovable point and welded in position to face in one direction only.
What do we know of reality? For two thousand years the doctors have allowed
God in theory unlimited perception while taking it upon themselves to decide
how things look from God’s point of view.”
So the Enoch literature tells what went on before the disaster’s it describes, and what happens after for those caught in them: “The ultimate vindication of God’s goodness in Enoch is the final disposal of
the issue. The fallen angels and their followers were to be cast into a special
prison (cf. Moses 7:38) and kept in chains of darkness, but only for a certain
set period of time, after which they were to be given another chance to repent
(cf. Moses 7:39) and then stand a fair trial. Repentance would receive forgiveness
through the power of the atonement. To make sure that they receive every opportunity
of salvation, they receive the kerygma from the Lord himself (cf. Moses
7:47), among others, who goes down to teach and deliver the very spirits who
rejected Enoch’s teachings: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins,
the just for the unjust . . . quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went
and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when
once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18—20.)
“Why art thou disquieted?” Michael asks Enoch. “That day is prepared
. . . for sinners an inquisition . . . that the punishment of the Lord of Spirits
may not be in vain. . . . Afterward the judgment shall take place according
to his mercy and his patience.”
The 3 Nephi teaching is very much like the Harrowing of Hell accounts. Which means that both the survivors and victims receive the same invitation and opportunity to repent. The moment of death is not the final, eternal, definitive meaning of life. Just a spot on a path.
You ask, “Does the Jesus speaking in 3 Nephi 9 expect the church members to turn to such authors as you cite to help them understand (i.e., resolve their dissonance)” where cognitive dissonance is always something that happens to other people, one’s own perceptions being the obvious gold standard of clarity.
Yes. Jesus does expect us to search out helpful insights from all sources. In 3 Nephi, Jesus tells the multitude that they cannot understand all his words, but must “prepare their minds for the morrow.” In 2 Nephi 25:1-5, Nephi says that we cannot understand the things of the Jews save we be taught after the manner of the Jews. To see what they saw, as Margaret Barker puts it, we have to stand where they stood. We have to read in cultural context. Presentist readings, and a hot button proof-text approach will not do if I really want to understand. To have my mind expanded, enlightened understanding, and my soul enlarged. To see that the word does not remain inert and dead, but actually changes while I watch, putting out both roots and buds, and branches, changing shape and meaning. In the D&C 88 we are told to “seek out of the best books words of wisdom,” not to sit like lumps on the assumption that we will be spoonfed, and never be caught off guard, and never, ever be disappointed by anyone. He says, “the best books”, not approved books, correlated books, or even Signature books.
So Barker’s discussion of the theology of the Day of Atonement rituals provides an enlightening context for 3 Nephi for those who seek out the illumination. Those who do not obtain it, cannot benefit, even if the gift has been offered. “What was assumed by the New testament writers was a traditional understanding of the temple rituals and myths of atonement. When the rituals had ceased and
the myths were no longer recognised for what they really were, the key to understanding the imagery of atonement was lost. It is recognised that certain concepts in the New testament such as covenant, righteousness, justification and grace must have been related to the central theme of atonement, but the overall pattern, it seems, has been lost.” And “To understand atonement we have to understand what the faith community believed was happening when the priests smeared and sprinkled blood, and when the high priest took blood into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement and then brought it out again to smear and sprinkle around the holy places.”
Further: “When the statutes and laws of the eternal covenant were broken, the fabric of the creation began to
collapse and chaos set in. Total disregard for the statutes resulted in the return to chaos described in e.g. Isaiah 24.5: ‘The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.’ Or
Jeremiah 4.23: ‘I looked to the earth and lo it was waste and void; and to the heavens and they had no light’. Jeremiah sees the world returned to its pre-creation state. When the covenant was restored, the creation was renewed and returned to its original condition of
salom and sedaqah/dikkaiosune.”
Might that have some relevance for understanding 3 Nephi 8-9, and why the voice of Jesus soon announces a new creation. “Old things are done away, all things are become new.”
Harry Potter, based on what he has seen and experienced on the Astronomy tower, and indeed, through much of his life at Hogwarts, would quite eagerly lead a lynch mob after Professor Snape. So Rene Girard’s ideas on the social mechanisms of such actions turn out to be most enlightening, particularly when considered alongside what readers of the The Deathly Hallows discover regarding the unlikable, unattractive, outcast, reject, Professor Snape. Snape is, according to Girard’s theories of violence in society, a perfect scapegoat, and J.K Rowling knows this. The important thing thing about the scapegoating process is that the guilt of the scapegoated figure is never questioned. All of the evidence is in. All of the accusers are united. And the stones fly without any consideration of whether their might be any vision-obscuring motes deserving of introspective consideration, whether to stand where he stood, and to see what he saw, might provide important information and enlightenment.
I am 34 and have only been questioning things for about the past 2 months. After discovering the huge gap between what I was taught all my life about mormonism and a more complete historical record (which I am still learning), I have found myself much more interested in mormonism than ever before. Upon initial realization of this gap, my faith was dealt a major blow and I saw that, at a minimum, the lds church is not everything it claims to be.
There are just so many problems I was unaware of before allowing myself to consider that the church may not be what it says it is – the only true and living church on the face of the whole earth. I feel lucky to have stumbled on this site early on in my crisis of faith and have found some valuable ideas and perspectives that could allow a logically-minded person to be aware of all these issues and still maintain a level of faith as well as doubt.
Terryl’s comments on faith were helpful and make me wonder whether my own faith, while fragile and up against mountains of doubt, may perhaps be stronger than it was just a few months ago when the church was as true as the law of gravity.
Great comment. Thanks, Ryan.
Thanks for sharing this, RC. I was interested in positive apologetics long before all these issues surfaced. That combined with a resevoir of spiritual experiences helped me avert a crisis.
On Abrahamic Tests, Polygamy, and theological naturalism(Picking up on Episode 2 – 48 minutes and 27 seconds):Givens: Yes, we use the expression Abrahamic test a lot, and we can mean very different things by that. Kierkegaard’s analysis suggests that an Abrahamic test is one in which we suspend the ethical, where we obey an authority at the cost to our own conscience.Dehlin: Yes, I don’t like that.Givens: Yes, and I’m not sure that that’s a virtuous decision. So I’m not sure, just like I haven’t made up my peace with polygamy. I believe that in some sense that was an Abrahamic test and to go back to your earlier reference to God, no I don’t believe that God has more than one wife. I don’t believe polygamy has any place in the eternal worlds.First, this reminds me of something Jesus was supposed to have said … in D&C 132, verse 51. “Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.A little cryptic here, but I think there is reasonable historical evidence to suggest what the Lord (or Joseph) was referring to. If these were his words, it seems that indeed it was an Abrahamic test and at least the second instance.Second, Was Mary married to the God the Father when He impregnated her? Many prophets, seers and revelators spoke to the literalness and physicality of this conception and pregnancy. I am being serious, and not disrespectful, when I say this episode (at least) strikes me as so much theological flower arranging with equal amounts of selective insertion and pruning of the LDS canon to create a bouquet that only a British Romantic and Idealist would judge as offering such an exquisite balance of “evidence” that his naive overestimate of his intuitive sense of free choice makes belief in it a true moral virtue.Third,Dr. Given’s claim that Mormon theology is “compatible with naturalism” is completely unwarranted in any scientific (empirical) sense – which makes it misleading. There is nothing more to Mormon theology’s claim to naturalism than there is traditional Christianity’s claim to supernaturalism. Spirit “matter” has no stronger claim to reality (or rational sense) than good ol’ spirit spirit.. It has the same standing as any other extraordinary religious claim that cannot be (and perhaps is not supposed to be) objectively verified, like “I saw two personages standing above me in the air.”
I agree with Dawn64’s earlier comment. “Much of the conversation seems so surreal to me.”
Ignore this – I posted above with better formatting success – although that may be all.
On Abrahamic Tests, Polygamy, and theological naturalism
(Picking up on Episode 2 – 48 minutes and 27 seconds):
Givens: Yes, we use the expression Abrahamic test a lot, and we can mean very different things by that. Kierkegaard’s analysis suggests that an Abrahamic test is one in which we suspend the ethical, where we obey an authority at the cost to our own conscience.
Dehlin: Yes, I don’t like that.
Givens: Yes, and I’m not sure that that’s a virtuous decision. So I’m not sure, just like I haven’t made up my peace with polygamy. I believe that in some sense that was an Abrahamic test and to go back to your earlier reference to God, no I don’t believe that God has more than one wife. I don’t believe polygamy has any place in the eternal worlds.
First, this reminds me of something Jesus was supposed to have said … in D&C 132, verse 51.
“Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
A little cryptic, I know, but I think there is reasonable historical evidence to indicate what the Lord (or Joseph) was referring to. If these were the Lord’s words, it seems that indeed it was an Abrahamic test and at least the second instance.
Was Mary married to the God the Father when He impregnated her? Many prophets, seers and revelators spoke to the literalness and physicality of this conception and pregnancy.
Dr. Given’s claim that Mormon theology is “compatible with naturalism” is completely unwarranted in any scientific (empirical) sense – which makes it misleading. There is nothing more to Mormon theology’s claim to naturalism than there is traditional Christianity’s claim to supernaturalism. Spirit “matter” has no stronger claim to reality (or rational sense) than good ol’ spirit spirit.. It has the same standing as any other extraordinary religious claim that cannot be (and perhaps is not supposed to be) objectively verified, like “I saw two personages standing above me in the air.
I am being serious, and not disrespectful, when I say this episode (at least) strikes me as so much theological flower arranging with equal amounts of selective insertion and pruning of the LDS canon to create a bouquet that only a British Romantic and Idealist would judge as offering such an exquisite balance of “evidence” that his overestimated intuitive sense of free agency would allow making the feeling of choosing it a moral virtue.
I agree with Dawn64. Upon second listening, “Much of the conversation seems so surreal to me.”
Around 49 minutes into Episode 2 John returns to the issue of belief choice being a moral matter. Dr. Givens then steps back to clarify his previous comments about belief becoming a moral choice only when a person is presented with a situation where the evidence “pro and contra” balance.
Here is the exchange:
JD: I do love the idea that belief exists outside the moral realm. Because I don’t like my disbelieving brothers and sisters being disrespected or judged.
TG: Right. Well, well, you know – what I described was an ideal circumstance right? … But earth is an uneven playing field. And depending on heredity, and environment, and upbringing, and intellectual proclivities, and what we happen to be exposed to the possibility of choosing faith in any one context might not really be plausible. And that’s why I can’t ever judge, and you can’t conclude anything from a person’s decision to believe or not believe, But I think that God is striving to create that balance so at some point in your life there will really be a choice, that you are free to make.
This represents a very interesting theological concession to modern science. I am not sure what can of works he is opening up theologically-speaking – it is worth careful consideration. I am aware that his attempt to preserve his theological notion of free will in the gap left for God’s “striving” is a gap that science is narrowing.
For those interested, consider the following short podcast interview of Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author of an excellent popular science book on this subject: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.
typo: “What can of works he is opening” should read “what can of worms he is opening”
I believe you can actually do editing even after you have posted your commented. If your logged in just go back to that comment and it should give you the edit button as an option.
While you addressed one component of the problem of evil through the need to preserve free agency, this does not address another component of the problem of evil that believers have never answered to my satisfaction. Namely, how does one explain the evil of natural disasters? What are we to tell the Haitian mother who lost her child in an earthquake? For that matter, what good came from the dead child? What good is colliding with another good, as you worded the problem?
Humbly submitted, Jason
RE: part 4
Plausible deniability……the anti mormons do the same. We can’t prove anything about a destroyed disapeared ancient peoples.
And Dehlin you do it here too when speaking about the first versions of the first vision.
You also do this when speaking about the treasure digging but Joseph Smith answered those false allegations in his bio that we have today in the Pearl of Great Price. And fact he never found treasure points to the falseness of most of these treasure allegations, since it was nothing more than a contracted summer job.
(By the way I now realise why I found the first couple of podcast here so boring…..its Given’s voice and why of speaking, it put me to sleep more than kept me going at 11pm odd. Maybe you can suggest he take a few oratory classes to keep students awake, cause I wouldn’t be able to! )
Steel….. actually stainless steel wasn’t developed back then but steel, as an alloy of iron with something else, has been around since 2000BC
Steel of the poor quality the nephites had would have long ago rusted away.
But people keep confusing ‘steel’ of the BoM with ‘stainless steel’ invented during the 1800’s industrial revolution ie after Smith wrote the BoM. by the way…
No, really. I don’t think it is a confusion of stainless (high chromium) steel and plain steel. It’s really not that simple. The development of steel was a very long process that had many difficult steps. Different peoples developed or adopted the technology at different times. There is evidence that people of Mesopotamia developed steel as early as 900 B.C., but other places didn’t come upon it until much later.
I believe the problem is that there is no archeological evidence that the Native Americans during the time covered by the Book of Mormon had any such technology. The Book of Mormon talks about fine steel, precious steel, smelting ore with bellows and fire, melting ore, etc.
I believe the consensus among experts is that pre-Columbian Native Americans rarely used metal at all. When they did, it was for ornamental stuff. Some tribes seem to have had access to meteoric iron (hematite) that they could beat into small blades or spear heads. But this doesn’t require the smelting required to make steel that is described in a couple locations in the Book of Mormon.
Teryl, why don’t you start an all new reformed latter-latter day saint church? A modern day reformation where your emotive romantic can slay-with-great-slaughter the irrationally rational natural man. A religion where Magic is more than sleight-of-hand because You say it is. You have many followers, like the moderator and eliza, who profess a love for everything You, and your faith outshines the faith we learn in sunbeams. I want to believe you will have the courage to nail a thesis to a door in SLC. I love your take on the tautology of prophecy where a fallible prophet can put his alleged penis into more than one alleged vagina and still have his calling and election made sure.
In your calling, as professor of religion, can you explain what Joseph Smith shares in common with other martyred charismatics (e.g. Lord Byron, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite)? On that note why read Byron when you can read Bukowski?
Does anyone have a source for the quote by Spencer W Kimball asking for forgiveness if they were wrong about the policy of priesthood restriction that was mentioned by Terryl?
I believe that it was in this interview that John was discussing that peep stones aren’t discussed much in the church and asked the question – why did the church decide that peep stones are weirder to talk about than using a urim and thummim to translate? I’ve been thinking about that a lot and had a few thoughts.
I agree that one isn’t really “weirder” than the other. Rather, the reason might be more related to accessibility. No one has a urim and thummim, but anyone can find a rock or stick and claim to receive revelations through it. The early church had a few problems with people such as Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery giving revelation through peep stones or divining rods which conflicted with the revelations Joseph Smith received. They ground Hiram Page’s peep stone to dust, but really that act itself wouldn’t have stopped him from finding another rock and continuing the practice.
By eliminating peep stones and diving rods from discussions about the revelatory process and focusing on the urim and thummim, the church can eliminate or reduce the problem of members receiving conflicting revelation. If I were to take a stone from my garden and tell my ward that I had received revelation through it, no one would take me seriously since no one believes that such a thing can even happen. If, however, the church was still openly discussing or using peep stones, people would be more comfortable with the concept and might believe me.
I believe that it was in this interview that John was discussing that peep stones aren’t discussed much in the church and asked the question – why did the church decide that peep stones are weirder to talk about than using a urim and thummim to translate? I’ve been thinking about that a lot and had a few thoughts.I agree that one isn’t really “weirder” than the other. Rather, the reason might be more related to accessibility. No one has a urim and thummim, but anyone can find a rock or stick and claim to receive revelations through it. The early church had a few problems with people such as Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery giving revelation through peep stones or divining rods which conflicted with the revelations Joseph Smith received. They ground Hiram Page’s peep stone to dust, but really that act itself wouldn’t have stopped him from finding another rock and continuing the practice.By eliminating peep stones and diving rods from discussions about the revelatory process and focusing on the urim and thummim, the church can eliminate or reduce the problem of members receiving conflicting revelation. If I were to take a stone from my garden and tell my ward that I had received revelation through it, no one would take me seriously since no one believes that such a thing can even happen. If, however, the church was still openly discussing or using peep stones, people would be more comfortable with the concept and might believe me.
This is a very interesting question. Perhaps it relates to our psychological biases toward authority and the experience of the transcendent.
A few speculations:
People tend to accept uncritically the pronouncements of the high status authority figures of their group.
But authority figures need to leverage their authority with something greater than themselves – the group’s meaning-maing and identity-making traditions and myths.
This is because the rank-and-file will not abide their leaders taking too much authority unto themselves. For instance, have you ever thought about why U.S. Presidents always end their pronouncements with “may God bless our the USA.” I think this points to our evolved social psychology.
But at the same time the rank-and-file want the magic and they want their leaders specially connected to it more than they experience themselves to be. They want something more than what they find in their own mundane existence, not the least of which is prospect of mundane death.
With the Urim and Thummin Joseph leveraged the authority of Bible with all of its ancient mythic elements. It connected him to prophets of old and their mighty miracles. All things ancient are wonderfully possible and allow us to safely believe without challenge (including from ourselves).
So, yes, anyone can find a rock and claim they provide purely contemporary spiritual conduits. But Joseph Smith “stole the show” by leveraging the authority of the only certifiably magical ancient Biblical relics.It is the same principle as using King James English to “transmit” the Book of Mormon. It’s the same principle as calling down Peter, James and John to bestow priesthood authority.This, I think, was the genius of Joseph Smith (and/or Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery). They recognized the power of borrowed authority that was incarnate, not simply the residue passed on in the inanimate pages of scripture. People conflate the boldness of Mormonism for its truth. I remember feeling this as a kid. The mere audacity of it counts as evidence. But this is a separate subject.Thanks for your comment.JT
Terryl Givens makes a rather unique point: we are placed by God into circumstances where we have an authentic choice between two (roughly) equally plausible narratives. Basically one of those choices involves faith in God and in the restored gospel, and the other involves skepticism and an unwillingness to make the move without better evidence. He indicates that our choice between these options is the best reflection of what we love, and this is why such choice involves a moral choice. I think I understand his point, and it contrasts sharply from the counter-point that intellectual honesty (requiring extraordinary claims to be supported by extraordinary evidence) seems to be the way most of the rest of responsible living proceeds (at least in my experience_. He mentioned that this idea is expressed in a talk he gave called “Lightening out of Heaven,” and I remember this talk in a BYU magazine where Givens expresses basically the same point. This is something worth thinking about. Importantly, he side-steps the circularity that would result if one were to point to a scripture stating the same thing, and instead he makes the case by appealing to intuition and logic. Overall, I really enjoyed his perspective. A fair amount of twists and turns to accommodate a rocky Mormon history, but also Givens demonstrates a lot of refreshing honesty and frankness as well. Having this perspective is invaluable for Mormons like me. Thanks, John and Dr. Givens!
Let Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, Greg Prince and Michael Quinn be our new leaders and help the church drop the 1950 mentality and lead us in the future, with truth and love as the theme.
Dr. Givens claims that the problem of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon is a non-issue because the believers didn’t think the way they saw the book “undermined” the validity of the experience.
Well, I didn’t question my spiritual experiences at the time they occurred, either. It was only after I allowed myself to stand back and be objective that I saw the truth. Expecting believers to question something that lived up to what they were conditioned to experience is, in my opinion, a rather week defense. Some people claim psychic surgery healed them. That they don’t question the experience makes psychic surgery a valid medical treatment? Some people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. They don’t question their experiences either. So…. alien abduction is real?
Further, we don’t know what those witnesses thought privately to themselves. They could EASILY have doubted the experience later in their lives. We simply do not know… so it’s not proof for or against the issue.
While I get what your saying and I obviously have no way to determine what your previous spiritual experiences were I am always skeptical when people believe they can be so absolutely objective as determine to the Truth. I try to apply this both to believers and non-believers. A common theme I hear is that because we know the biological / psychological pressures that stimulate spiritual experiences in the body that that somehow invalidates them. I could apply the same logic to how I felt when my children were born, or how I feel about my parents and my wife. While I recognize that our bodies are the way in which we experience everything, there are ways to construct a spiritual view that is harmony with that information. Is love any less real because we dissect its parts? If I’ve learned anything reading about cognitive science is that we only partially see the present and are constantly re-imaging the past.
I can’t speak to the proof for or against the witnesses but I know that during the podcast with Daniel Peterson he mentioned a book regarding that and for him he thought it was one strongest cases for the BOM. Anyone remember what the name of that book was?
Actually we do know that the witnesses doubted their experience later in their lives. Brigham Young even confirmed this when he said:
“Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel.” (Journal of Discourses 1860, 7:164)
Despite what Dr. Givens says many believers did think the problem of the witnesses “undermined” the validity of the experience. For example this is a statement from a former Mormon leader Stephen Burnett dated April 15, 1838:“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church and weighed the evidence for & against it-loath to give it up-but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,… I was followed by W. Parish, Luke Johnson & John Boynton, all of whom concurred with me. After we were done speaking, M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of him but have let it passed as it was…”
“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church and weighed the evidence for & against it-loath to give it up-but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins,… I was followed by W. Parish, Luke Johnson & John Boynton, all of whom concurred with me. After we were done speaking, M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of him but have let it passed as it was…”
Wow as world of warcraft or word of wisdom….. :)
Yes, for sure. Thanks MRT01. WOW as in one of the greatest contributions that Grant Palmer made from my perspective. Palmer really did a great job of digging up stuff like this quote from Burnett and others. This quote comes from the “Three Witnesses” chapter in “Insider’s View” which really exposes the three witnesses as unreliable at best.
Funny enough I picked up By The Hand of Mormon earlier this week and just got to pages 39-42 where he discusses the witnesses. I think roughly the same discussion is in Rough Stone Rolling too. He talks about the spiritual eyes reference that Martin Harris made, but there is no discussion of the others denying it or using the spiritual eyes wording. I did a Google search and found the reference MRT01 above, as well a lengthy discussions of other anonymous regarding the witnesses and possible issues. Nothing really stuck out as much as the quote from Burnett, but I sort of skimmed it all. Then I did the corresponding search for Burnett from FAIR and after a bit found this which directly talks about it. https://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2004_Explaining_Away_the_Book_of_Mormon_Witnesses.html
Other Book of Mormon witnessess besides Martin Harris did use “spiritual eyes wording” to describe their experience. David Whitmer’s testimony spoke of the angel and gold plates in visionary terms. In 1885 he was interviewed by Zenas Gurley. Gurley asked if Whitmer knew that the plates were real metal. Whitmer said:
“We did not touch nor handle the plates…The table had the appearance of literal wood as shown in the vision, in the glory of God… I also saw the ‘interpreters’ in the holy vision”. (Zenas H. Gurley, Jr., Interview with David Whitmer on January 14, 1885.)
David Whitmer also said: “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view.” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888, 74. The Saints’ Herald, 28 January 1936.)
John Whitmer who was one of the eight witnesses said in 1839: “They were shown to me by a supernatural power.”
The idea that you couldn’t find anything other than Burnett’s quote is astonishing to me. Suggestion: Type “Book of Mormon Witnesses” into Google, hit return, and then read everything you see, both pro and con. Second, buy Grant Palmer’s book “Insider’s View of Mormonism” and read the chapter on the Three Witnesses.
There’s so much stuff that I don’t really want to list it here. Also, I decided that this kind of legwork is an important part of the journey that each person should take on their own. Doubt should be self-generated. Epiphanies should be self-generated.
Loved your last three sentences there. So true, Jonah Swan. Nothing can be as persuasive or damning as taking the time to do your own homework. To me, the claims of Mormonism fall in the details. And details take time.
Thank you for sharing this quotation. I have never seen anything like it. As John said, “Wow.”
Yeah, I love this reasoning. Testimonies aren’t proof because they might have privately doubted.
I’m not sure if I’m just reading your response as snarky or if you intended it to be so.
But, either way, I stand by my previous comment.
I never said that testimony regarding what someone saw/did/heard isn’t valid evidence for consideration. I said it’s unreasonable for Givens to claim the witnesses never questioned their experiences. He has no way of knowing whether they did or not.
I’m nearing the end of the final segment of this interview. John & Dr. Givens are discussing all of the members who have fallen away from the church.
I don’t know about the experience of others…. but it’s been my experience that TBMs don’t think people are falling away because the church is doing a poor job of religious education. They think members are falling away because this is the end of days and “even the elect will be deceived.”
Personally, I think that viewpoint is driving the church far more than the notion that it must change the way it teaches church history.
I see it all around me. SEVERAL of my friends and family spent days demonizing apostates on their facebook walls after general conference.
John and Terryl,
God bless you both. That was enlightening, painful and satisfying all at once. I listened to all podcasts twice during my commute and will be purchasing some TG books very soon!
This was, by far, my favorite set of podcasts on MS, which is saying something because there have been some doozies. Many, many thanks.
Ditto. One of the best, from my perspective, if not the best MS podcast. For those of us who feel the (perhaps healthy) tension between John’s quite frank and fair questions and Terryl’s thoughtful answers from a perspective of faith, this was spot on. I know some rationally-minded people probably find John’s questions way too forgiving with Terryl’s answers completely undeserving of serious attention. I also know that (on the other end of the spectrum) many or most orthodox LDS would find this dialogue so troubling from the outset that they would call the whole thing apostate, and it would shake their faith down to the core (thus, most of these folks would not listen to it). But for the relatively few of us who find themselves sort of in the middle of the continuum, wanting to keep it honest, yet willing to consider a world view where reality exists beyond the phenomenal experience, this dialogue revealed a valuable perspective on a number of aspects of Mormonism. John, I don’t think Terryl’s insight and perspective would have been nearly as relevant or accessible to me without your soft, yet persistent pounding away at some of the big / stubborn issues. My favorite part: “holy men” that ye know not of. Wow!
Wow! Thanks, David! I really appreciate the kind words.
I am not going to like myself in the morning – cause I’m about to rant.
Some time earlier I posted a comment about the mashup-Jesus that Joseph Smith extracted from his OT/NT besotted brain, with 3 Nephi 9 being a prime example. This is prompted by the apologetic stylings of Kevin Christiansen.
Here is the centerpiece of Kevin Christiansen’s pedantic theodcian musings.
“Eliade provided me with a context for why the voice of God comes and recasts the recent disasters in a ritual context.”
First, something about Kevin’s response made me suspect that he thought I was offended by the Book of Mormon’s construal of God/Jesus. Not true. I’m a non-theist now. However, what does offend me is the manipulation of people accomplished by religious institutions that perpetuate retributive gods and, even more so, those who paint lipstick on them.
Anyone interested can read what I said and his response or stop here. I stand by my original points. Indeed, I think Kevin unwittingly confirms them. Of course I do, just like I can’t help myself from piling on a few more – notwithstanding how mean and ornery I’ll feel in the morning.
Kevin’s argument suites a slim slice of Mormondom – a slice that is not the target audience for the Book of Mormon’s rhetoric about how to draw God’s favor or fire. He may have enough education, time, and sufficient respect for modernity to call on Enoch literature, the “Hounds of Hell,” Hugh Nibley and Margaret Barker to rein in God’s fury. But that’s not how it was intended to work – and that’s not how it does work on the minds of most people, both when it was published and today.
I see Kevin as complicit in perpetuating what this “plain and simple” harmful message of “obey and prosper/disobey and suffer” – a mythical dichotomy having zero empirical support (“just world” fallacy). There is no question that this is what the Book of Mormon insufferably pounds away at from start to finish. And if those Jesus-appropriated earthquakes, fires, and choking vapors of 3 Nephi 9 were not enough, then the intentional constraining of Alma from saving innocent women and children from being burned alive – just so that “the judgments which he shall exercise upon [the bad guys] in his wrath may be just.” (Alma 14:11) – tops it.
Perhaps Kevin should fly down to Haiti and get a first hand view of what a real disaster does to real people. I would advise that he not try to console them with theological musings about how God will make it all up to them in the afterlife. They might not appreciate that their lives are but “spots on earth” despite how it works for him.
Indeed, this all too easy discounting of human suffering betrays the cheapness and self-centered blindness of this theodicy. It seems to work best for those susceptible to promises of special spiritual privilege – which Mormons creatively justify with valiant acts in their imaginary pre-mortal lives.
This is a doctrine that makes of the vast majority of human beings mere props in a world carefully arranged for the chosen few’s fair free agency test – a test of a pathetically circumscribed by the ideal of comfortable suburban homes.
But, it’s really worse than this, or at least potentially, and certainly historically. This theology of implicit human discounting is part and parcel of most authoritarian in-group ideologies that carry within them the seeds of atrocity. All that’s needed to trigger their horror show is enough out-group threat and a supreme leader who takes his calling too seriously. The faithful are set up to be easily rallied to fight the infidel (or Gentile) to the death. Didn’t Joseph Smith and Brigham Young walk up to this edge? What if they had a few more guns and a bigger militia? How close did the first Mormons come to really getting exterminated in Missouri and Utah?
I noticed that Terryl Givens waxed elegant about salvation for all. Perhaps it IS the kindest and gentlest in the history of Christian theology (including what the Book of Mormon describes). But Givens failed to distinguish salvation from exaltation – no trivial omission. Mormon salvation just “ain’t all that.” It’s a simple matter of three degrees. As we all know, if don’t believe and do the right things when presented the opportunity (and whose to say that you haven’t been), your eternal accommodation is downgraded installed with celestial glass ceiling. The real world consequences ar real anxiety over eternally split families and a pervasive preoccupation with “making the grade” in tightly prescribed and duly and recorded ways.
3 Nephi 9 is simply one of the bigger sticks in a “carrot and stick” culture – and not so unique. It’s part and parcel of an impoverished dichotomous worldview that most authoritarian religions use to preserve and grow their institutions and that people fall in step with because they need their local group more than they do not need the institution and its myths. Fear is part of the price of hope and security – oversimplification notwithstanding, its cultura/religious economics.
I’m almost done here…
Kevin quotes Hugh Nibley:
“It is equally easy and deceptive to fall into adolescent disillusionment, and with emancipated teachers to smile tolerantly at the simple gullibility of bygone days while passing stern moral judgment on the savage old tribal God who, overreacting with impetuous and sadistic violence, wiped out Noah’s neighbors simply for making fun of his boat-building on a fine summer’s day.”
Can you hear smugness? Can you see Nibley posing his erudition in a mirror that does not reflect the vast majority of the Church? Kevin evidently follows suite. It seems to me that is the Mormonism delivered for mass consumption that most certainly is the epitome of “adolescent gullibility” and is stuck “in the bygone days of moral judgment of the savage old tribal god.” This is the tribal God that lurks in Mormonism’s “most correct book.”
Kevin’s apologetics point to the worse aspect of religious institutions: They cannot drop bad ideas gracefully – and Mormonism has set itself up to do this especially badly.
I’ve heard faithful Mormons say in the face these problems, “You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It strikes me that this has simply led to a failure to change the bathwater – even after the first babies crapped in it so many brothers and sisters took their turn.
Nope, you can’t throw out the bathwater – better to add a bit more “soft soap.” If you stir it hard enough you can still get some bubbles to cover it over.
I think this sort of relates to the issue your talking about.
What did you think about the way Hardy “reads against the grain” in his book Understand the BOM? His ability to scrutinize the narrators using just the text was liberating, but at same time I found myself thinking (or rather feeling) much like you describe above. Am I meant to read that close to it just to make sense of it? Is this even what was intended or are we just inventing meaning to fit our current morals? But then that seemed to be exactly what the narrator “Nephi”, regardless of who is the actual author, was doing as well as he bent the scriptures to fit his interpretation and needs. I felt like it definitively opened a door in which I could turn the whole book on its head, and if I tried hard enough make it mean something different.
The “carrot and stick” culture is seems to be Mormon’s handy work, and Hardy exposes instances where he has to cover the messy details that don’t fit.
I appreciate what Grant Hardy accomplished in both his “Understanding the Book of Mormon” and his “The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon.” I think he delivers on his stated purposes with integrity and transparency. I would encourage everyone to visit Amazon.com and read his introductions to these books.
As you know Hardy invites readers to consider the Book of Mormon on its own terms as a literary work. His approach is not simply ecumenical, but honors Spinoza’s wonderful dictum, “Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere!” I think I remember Hardy sticking to the text and not turning to esoteric outside sources to make a case for either its historicity or theology. He did not stand between the reader and the textual evidence.
I would have to go back to his book for specific examples of his “reading against the grain.” I just don’t remember anything that came across as a strained apologetic, if that is what you meant.
With regard to your questions: “Am I meant to read that close to it just to make sense of it?” and “Are we just inventing meaning to fit our current morals?”
I do not think the Book of Mormon merits a close reading in terms of making theological sense of it. One might argue that this would be a serious problem for any revealed religion with universal promises. This was the nub of criticism of Christiansen’s apologetics which is to say, yes, he is in a way “inventing meaning” by re-contextualzing. I think this is called hermeneutics. I spoke my opinion on this.
(I want to add that after a good night’s sleep, and reminding myself of Spinoza, I find myself interested in re-considering Christiansen’s approach and perspective– which means I will and that I am willing to reconsider my opinion if there is good reason to.)
That said, I DO think The Book of Mormon merits a close reading to make literary sense of it. Its coherence and complexity is impressive (notwithstanding its other literary shortcomings). Such an analysis should be informed by expertise, just as the analysis of a complex microorganism should be informed by scientific expertise. This is what Grant Hardy provides and is what I found so interesting and informative.
However, if the “truth” of the Book of Mormon’s origins and content are the issue … well that’s another matter. But here Hardy’s close reading and analysis is still relevant.
I’m a scientist by training and disposition. The naturalistic assumption that science must make tends to overflow into my metaphysics (even as I try to be metaphysically agnostic). That’s just my prerogative.
Given this, I don’t abide “arguments from incredulity.” In other words, I don’t move toward belief along such a faulty line of reasoning as:
With this evidence at my disposal –> I just can’t imagine how Joseph could have done it himself –> Therefore it must be supernatural.
Indeed, I think that anyone who finds spiritual support in this type of argument ought to question the status of his or her testimony.
So anyway …
Since I don’t indulge in “arguments from incredulity,” then I must take careful literary analysis into evidence for (or against) any “naturalistic” Book of Momon authorship theory I might consider.
And furthermore, since Hardy’s analysis points to multiple authors (i.e. three distinct narrative voices plus transcribed epistles, etc), then a multiple authorship hypothesis is worthy of (if not demanding of) consideration.
This should motivate me, or anyone else so inclined, to find the best theory of Book of Mormon Origins, to test the multiple author hypothesis by pushing the literary analysis further and pursuing complementary lines of evidence, such as historical-critical analysis or stylometric analysis.
Where would this lead? – To the best naturalistic theory.
What does that mean? – The most plausible accounting of all the evidence.
What assumptions underlie that judgement? – Whatever ones allow you to NOT see the world as the creation of some pious fraud God who makes it appear too ludicrous to bear.
If you can’t believe that the earth was created in 6 days (literally), then you know what this feels like.
Terryl Givens identified a construal of God that he was ready to reject (hear episode 2, about 29 minutes in). Perhaps this is the same feeling I experience when it comes to both the Book of Mormon and gods generally. I do not know the basis for his rejection. I do not pretend to know completely the basis for mine. But I am confident that it has been augmented by a thoughtful evaluation of a lot of evidence and is sustained by something akin to the assumptions I just indicated.
What I meant by reading against the grain, which I believe was the phrase Hardy used in the first section dealing with Nephi where he shows what Nephi said and didn’t say to tease out instances where perhaps it was Nephi who too harsh and one sided in his narration, and his brothers weren’t as bad as he makes them out to be. And maybe Lehi wasn’t always as pleased with him as we would normally think.
Hardy then did this again when he shows examples where Mormon purposely doesn’t deal with facts that would run counter the point(s) he trying to make.
So what I’m really driving out as you read against the grain and see that these narrators are flawed and have agendas just like anyone else, then it opens yet another dimension in which to interpret the theology of the book itself. So regardless if its a work of fiction or not the author(s) own bias have to be dealt with.
I’d have to go back to the book which I’ve been planning to do but to be honest I don’t get as much time as I want to deal with all this stuff. That’s why I love the podcasting and audiobook because I can listen at work. I just did google the term (literally right now after writing the last sentence) and there is an article that actually points a few more of the reading against the grain things Hardy discussed in his book. So, yes it definitively a term he used and not one I made up.
Anyways, thanks for your thoughts.
I hope I didn’t lead you to think that I was questioning Hardy’s use of the term “reading against the grain.” I meant that I could not remember specific examples, and that I simply had no memory of instances in which such “reading” that came across as a “strained apologetic” for his personal beliefs.You wrote:”So what I’m really driving out as you read against the grain and see that these narrators are flawed and have agendas just like anyone else, then it opens yet another dimension in which to interpret the theology of the book itself. So regardless if its a work of fiction or not the author(s) own bias have to be dealt with.”I agree. In principle, just because a writer’s words are engraved on gold plates – and they get to us via an angel and seer – doesn’t mean the words did not originate in a brain that expresses biases, ambivalent feelings, etc. And since we can’t interrogate Nephi, Mormon and Moroni, we have to do our best to interpret their meanings, including theological.So, I guess I am offering Christiansen a little more room for his approach. (Two good nights of sleep can do that!)This does make the debate more sophisticated and substantive IF both sides find common ground in this paradigm. And I guess I am ready to do that.So, within this paradigm I would hope both sides agree that we can expect something more from a writer who claims divine inspiration (or who virtually quotes God). So disagreements become centered, in part, on what “more” means and what greater degree is plausible . The naysayer will argue the writing falls short of its claims and will point to anachronisms and other implausibilities.But the apologist will find parallels in the ancient literature, such as “ritualizing context” in reporting natural disasters.At every “weigh station” the apologist will be able to distill a sufficient residue of truth from his argument – while the naysayer will disagree. FOr one thing, they use different balances. The believer’s balance also registers personal “spiritual” evidence – which breaks the common paradigm. The nay sayer’s balance registers other forms of bias (feelings of betrayal, for instance) but bravely sticks to the objective – despite it’s limitations and uncertainties.And on it goes…one eternal round ;)Yup, a close reading does complicate things, but I think in a legitimate direction. But, it is also a direction that can be pushed too far. As I said in my previous response, it cannot be pushed so far that it demands belief in a world too ludicrous to bear. Ozproof’s recent comment speaks to this.I do not think Hardy was not asking the “truth” question. He was simply trying to show that the narrators have more to reveal about themselves than what a cursory (or non expert) reading would turn up. In other words he was not asking the reader to decide that it was “really” Nephi or Joseph Smith. This is what I appreciated.But hardy does leave us is more data to work with. As I said, that data can be used to either support faith or inform a theory of it being fiction.If you accept the orthodox view that Joseph Smith alone translated the gold plates by “the gift and power of God,” then Hardy’s work supports this in terms it being even more impressive a work – it reinforces as “argument of incredulity” which I argue is problematical, though I understand the power of it.If you don’t accept the orthodox view, then his work supports a multiple-author theory with a hidden manuscript.Thanks for the exchange,JT
P.S. Getting back to your earlier instructions for going back and editing a comment … do I have to register for something to get this feature? I don’t see how it’s done. Thanks.
Gee whiz. I lost all my returns! I’m going to repost. I’ve had success typing a draft into my gmail and cutting and pasting
I hope I didn’t lead you to think that I was questioning Hardy’s use of the term “reading against the grain.” I meant that I could not remember specific examples, and that I simply had no memory of instances in which such “reading” that came across as a “strained apologetic” for his personal beliefs.
You wrote:”So what I’m really driving out as you read against the grain and see that these narrators are flawed and have agendas just like anyone else, then it opens yet another dimension in which to interpret the theology of the book itself. So regardless if its a work of fiction or not the author(s) own bias have to be dealt with.”
I agree. In principle, just because a writer’s words are engraved on gold plates – and they get to us via an angel and seer – doesn’t mean the words did not originate in a brain that expresses biases, ambivalent feelings, etc. And since we can’t interrogate Nephi, Mormon and Moroni, we have to do our best to interpret their meanings, including theological.
So, I guess I am offering Christiansen a little more room for his approach. (Two good nights of sleep can do that!)
This does make the debate more sophisticated and substantive IF both sides find common ground in this paradigm. And I guess I am ready to do that.
So, within this paradigm I would hope both sides agree that we can expect something more from a writer who claims divine inspiration (or who virtually quotes God). So disagreements become centered, in part, on what “more” means and what greater degree is plausible.
The naysayer will argue the writing falls short of its claims and will point to anachronisms and other implausibilities.
But then the apologist will find parallels in the ancient literature, such as “ritualizing context” in reporting natural disasters.
At every “weigh station” the apologist will be able to distill a sufficient residue of truth from his argument – while the naysayer will disagree.
For one thing, they use different balances. The believer’s balance also registers personal “spiritual” evidence – which breaks the common paradigm.
On the other hand, he nay sayer’s balance registers other forms of bias (feelings of betrayal, for instance) but bravely sticks to the objective – despite it’s limitations and uncertainties.
And on it goes…one eternal round ;)
Yup, a close reading does complicate things, but I think in a legitimate direction.
But, it is also a direction that can be pushed too far. As I said in my previous response, it cannot be pushed so far that it demands belief in a world too ludicrous to bear. Ozproof’s recent comment speaks to this. The dividing line is very subjective – which means it is influenced by innate dispositions and the integration of a lot of experiences in the subconscious.
I do not think Hardy was not asking the “truth” question. He was simply trying to show that the narrators have more to reveal about themselves than what a cursory (or non expert) reading would turn up. In other words he was not asking the reader to decide that it was “really” Nephi or Joseph Smith. This is what I appreciated.
But Hardy does leave us is more data to work with. As I said, that data can be used to either support faith or inform a theory of it being fiction.
If you accept the orthodox view that Joseph Smith alone translated the gold plates by “the gift and power of God,” then Hardy’s work supports this in terms it being even more impressive a work – it reinforces as “argument of incredulity” which I argue is problematical, though I understand the power of it.
If you don’t accept the orthodox view, then his work supports a multiple-author theory with a hidden manuscript.
Thanks for the exchange. I’ll check out you’re Times and Seasons link.
P.S. Getting back to your earlier instructions for going back and editing a comment … do I have to register for something to get this feature? I don’t see how it’s done. Thanks.
Yea it looks like you have to register to be able to edits of your comments. See https://docs.disqus.com/help/35/
For me anytime I go back to a comment I made it has a “Edit” button where on ones not done by me I see the “Like” button
I just read the Times and Season review by Julie M. Smith.
I think she quotes Hardy a little out of context in this passage:
“…as Hardy himself points out, the Book of Mormon has the marks of careful craftsmanship, but “the more complicated and interconnected the text, the less likely it is that Joseph Smith made it up” (page xv). The greater the literary complexity of the Book of Mormon, the more likely it is what it claims to be, which places–to put it mildly–a certain burden on the reader.”
First, as a minor point, my copy has this occurring on page xviii.
Second, I would have extracted the following:
“…the circumstances of the book’s production are awkward: the more complicated and interconnected the text, the less likely it is that Joseph Smith made it up spontaneously as he dictated the words to his scribes, one time through. A standard refrain in LDS commentary is ‘Joseph Smith could not have written the book.’ This apologetic point, however, isnot the subtext of the present study. I will argue that the parallels and allusions in the Book of Moron are deliberate and meaningful rather than coincidental, but literary analysis does not compel belief. (Weighing the relative probability of human creativity against divine intervention is always a subjective judgement, and Latter-day Saints exhibit remarkably low leves of skepticism toward angels and miracles.”
I think this is quite fair and transparent. I applaud it. And would not count against Hardy every phrase that a biased non-LDS reader might perceive a tinge of LDS-bias (or apologetic.)
Perhaps Julie Smith does speak for most non-Mormons when she writes:
“The non-LDS reader cannot avoid questions of historicity when Hardy writes on the very first page: ‘The Book of Mormon [was] produced in a sudden rush of revelation as a young, poorly educated New York farmer dictated the text, one time through’ (page 3).”
And I think I recall noticing that Hardy did put forward the Joseph-as-sole-author presumption without qualification – and perhaps this is the best example of bias/apologetic that he lets slip though. But then the single-author theory is taken for granted by most non-LDS readers – and this is the source of tension.
And indeed, the evidence of multiple distinctive narrative voices and the text’s complexity and coherence do make the Book of Mormon’s production by one person dictating one time through an extraordinary accomplishment! And non-believers got to deal with this evidence-based analysis if, in Elder Hollands words, they need to “[crawl] over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit” completely. It does put a burden on them, so they ought to accept it and deal with it.
But it also does not cancel out all the real problems.In this regard I appreciate Hardy saying comment: “Latter-day Saints exhibit remarkably low levels of skepticism toward angels and miracles.” Also, recall my criticism of the dangers of “arguments from incredulity.” They depend on new evidence and smart people not coming along later.
In an earlier post I made this analogy:
“But speaking of facts, the Book of Mormon remains the conspicuous unsolved puzzle. It’s like a bobbing apple, hardly breaking the surface of credibility, yet surprisingly buoyant and difficult to sink my teeth into. Faithful scholars say, “It feels ancient” and “it’s coherent.” But can such buoyant forces defy gravity’s claim on gold plates?”
My personal tentative answer is that the Book of Mormon does not “defy gravity’s claim on gold plates” – which I mean both literally and figuratively.
But I am keeping at it – and want to go down to my grave as a person who kept his mind and heart un-hardened (despite moments of infuriation that lead to comments like I leveled against Kevin Christiansen).
Since I agree that Hardy’s literary analysis points to multiple authors as being more plausible that a sole author, that seems to be the “naturalistic” theory deserving the most attention – if only because the sole-author theory has met a dead end (Joseph’s mind) – assuming no new evidence turns up.
On the other hand, a multiple author theory has new places to mine for evidence to develop a model of the who, what, where, why, and how of it This would include a deeper literary analysis, more historical-critical analysis, and, perhaps, stylometric (word-print) analysis whose text blocks are guided by the former.
Hey, thanks again for the exchange – it was worth putting aside other plans for my Sunday morning – and I am sorry for being so wordy.
I’m ready to begin the 5th segment of this podcast, and I’ve found the whole thing fascinating. At first, as I heard Terryl Givens speak so eloquently and thoughtfully, I began to think he might be introducing a way in which I could still believe in the church. Said outcome would be most welcome. (BTW, I am a couple of years older than Givens and must say that the assumption that older people cannot look the church’s issues squarely in the eye and deal with them, is incorrect. But it is very, very hard to do so.) Gradually, as the podcast continued, I began to feel, as I have before, that it’s so much work to believe, so complicated, and I strongly doubt that the God whom I love would make it so difficult to recognie his path.
I do have two issues that I hope may be included in the next session, John. Does Givens believe that the story of the “golden plates” was actually CONCOCTED by JS in order to give his claims credibility? If not, then what purpose did the plates serve, when they were apparently not used in the translation process? Terryl seems to be saying that the plates, as well as the Book of Abraham papyri, later, were just catalysts of some sort for Joseph to receive revelation. This explanation is not satisfactory to me. Again, would God play such games? And would a prophet who spoke with God actually CARE about his credibility in the minds of mere mortals, enough to make up a story that bolstered the prophet’s credibility?
And then a second question: What is Terryl’s perspective on President Hinckley’s denial of the what he called the “couplet” (recited — and taught as doctrine — at every Young Men/Young Women’s meeting as I was growing up) which sttates that “as man is, God once was; as God is, man may become?” President Hinckley’s dodging and denial felt like a huge betrayal to me. Again, the only explanation I can come up with is that a prophet whom I had believed in was — like JS — equivocating truth for the sake of gaining social credibility or acceptability.
Thank you so, so much, John and Terryl, for doing this. What alot of energy it must take for you both. You are so helpful to the cause of developing understanding and respect among believers and former believers, alike. Thanks.
To Terryl Givens said he believes that the Book of Mormon, which includes parts of the King James Version of the Bible complete with the mistranslations, was no way written using many and various sources available to Joseph Smith in his day, rather than inspired by God as Smith claims. This is clearly an example of extreme denial coupled with a mind-boggling underestimation of the ability of a God to construct sentences that don’t need future grammatical and theological corrections (Smith’s move from trinitarianism to separate and corporeal Father and Son etc).
The story is so full of holes that it becomes astounding how anyone with the level of knowledge that Mr Givens appears to have is able to ignore it all so he can continue to have faith.
The notion put forward that God creates a level of uncertainty in order to test the faithful is again a denigration of what I always believed God to be as a Mormon. Even now as an agnostic I have a higher opinion of a God than this! This supposition smacks of those who believe Satan plants dinosaur fossils to fool the learned and gullible.
Ever since I shook off Mormon thinking I have been trying to consider God as a true father. Would a father place tricks, half truths, total lies and outright fraud in the path of his children to see who falls for logic and reason rather than ignoring these gifts and sticking with what (after all the nasties are ignored) gives warm fuzzies? No! A God would never need to use lies as a tool.
The idea that a God would need to remain hidden and truth would have to be given to his children via a series of disreputable men as part of a test is also nonsensical. That’s like a father not telling his children the rules, but whispering them only to one child with a background of telling fibs, and who changes the rules often, each time pretending they were always the original set. Would a father then punish those children who refuse to listen to this child who claims secret knowledge? What kind of children are rewarded in this “back yard”? Those who are easily led, scared of the world, simple? Would a father consider those who tried to find the facts behind the claims of the messenger child as having a flaw that would prevent them from coming into the house to be with the father?
When facts are ignored in order to make beliefs fit, I believe a God would see this as a great disappointment. Mr Givens never seemed to address many difficult questions. He just ignored them or denied they were important at all. Well they are important. If I am told to act in a certain way by people who do not act that way themselves, I have to ask whether they believe what they are expecting everyone else to believe. If they are also claiming direct contact with God, it then becomes a question of “why would God be telling these men to instruct me in ways that they don’t see fit to act themselves”? Is this another trick to weed out the consistent and logical?
[…] Givens gave an amazing interview on Mormon Stories recently. Just listen to it. His perception of the gospel is so incredibly expansive, and he […]
Ozproof, I certainly share with you the frustration of trying to understand why otherwise fairly intelligent, normal people would feel so comfortable characterizing a God as wonderful being who intentionally places future errors into the brass plates/Book of Mormon, that match up with the errors that later reveal themselves in the King James Bible. This is similar to celebrating a god that creates an earth that appears to be 5 billion years old by all powers of observation, only to test our willingness to believe a literal 6,000 year account, and hold an eternity on consequences upon individuals who make the wrong decision about this. Too often apologists (LDS and otherwise) are quick to contort the God they worship (His character, ethics, etc.) in order to make Him fit with what appears to be the evidence.
Terryl, does clearly describe a god who can’t or won’t interfere with human agency, regardless of what the side effects are. So in that sense he describes a god that has to sort of “work within a system” that produces nasty results, and isn’t the creator of the system itself (i.e., god is a product of the universe not the creator of it.). Beyond that, I see that he mostly describes that there’s just a lot apparent chaos, tragedy and misery that doesn’t seem fair. He doesn’t go so far as saying that god is testing people to see if they ignore the obvious truth (except perhaps the question of whether he exists at all). But I do understand the arguments. I don’t think Terryl, for example, thinks hypocrisy disqualifies prophets. But I hear you that this implies that God (who presumably would know that we consider a prophet’s own actions and whether they’re consistent with their preaching) would then expect us to ignore or overlook what we view as serious credibility issues, and then count such belief as a human virtue. I do see that implication, and so those kinds of concerns are completely fair. I still somehow don’t think that Terryl goes that far in describing that god or implying that LDS believers are expected by god to believe in such.
I’m beginning to think that many exMormons left the church because they had such high expectations of men the believed were called by God; so when the truth was discovered that they were (are) very flawed humans, the shock and disappointment was too much.
Likewise, I always understood God to be good with all the characteristics a benevolent and all powerful being would possess. I find the notion that God intentionally deceives in order to test his children to be astounding. If I was still a believer I would say this is blasphemous.
Isn’t it ironic that those who claim belief in a God need to disparage him so reality can fit belief?
I think your misrepresenting Terryl’s position, or perhaps simply overstating it, by saying he said he believed God was intentionally deceiving us. My recollection of the conversation is that he said he believed that God would allow not necessarily prevent Joseph (or others) from making mistakes. I think it goes along the a lines of not getting in the way of free agency. Seems like the same argument as the classic Problem with Evil.
I’ll have to listen to the podcast again to find the exact place where I heard Mr Givens state that he believes God allows the waters surrounding Mormon history to be not only murky but muddy in order to test blind faith. I remember being actually offended, and I’m and agnostic!
Faith should be the belief in what cannot be proven, not the denial of what can be disproved. Faith does not (or should not) need the elimination of evidence for it to work.
Free agency is impeded all the time by the church that claims to represent God. If Joseph Smith had to be worthy to enter the temple, I doubt he would get a recommend in his time let alone today. Why are apologists so eager to allow Smith the freedom to do whatever he likes yet today the rank and file are made to feel like trash if they enjoy coffee? God knew Smith if you believe in an all seeing God, so he knew this character would jeopardise the reputation of his church and create an obstacle to the salvation of those who hold higher moral standards than Smith held. Again, what is the test here? Does God only want to save those who are willing to believe the words of a man with serious character flaws ranging from dishonesty to sexual depravity depending on the personal standards of the individual observer? Will the Celestial Kingdom be populated by people who ignore truth that makes them uncomfortable so they can keep believing? Are they the ones who become Gods?
I don’t believe creating a murky history that places doubt upon the truthfulness of the church is how God would allow free agency, however, when the church actively lies about its history in order to prevent people making honest judgement, isn’t that standing in the way of free agency? Surely agency is enhanced when people are informed and can make decisions based on truth.
Again, OzProof, I acknowledge your difficulty with any God who would murky up the waters to somehow test his children to see how willing they would to believe in a….well, God who likes to murky up waters a lot (or maybe believe in a God who operates in a counter-intuitive, inconsistent or even dishonest fashion). I think you are completely right on this, I regularly resist and seek a better interpretation from any belief system that degrades God like this.
Strictly speaking, twisting God’s character like this, however, does not in my view screw up one’s free agency. Instead, it just makes God difficult to believe in, it makes him capricious, untrustworthy, and not deserving of worship. Even an afterlife that’s weird, unjust, etc., doesn’t take away free agency. What would limit free agency in my view would be things like immediate physical pain upon committing a sin. Am I right here? Asking people to follow a conflicting set of rules doesn’t impact on agency, it just seems to make the exercise of agency pointless. I don’t know. I may be wrong, but that’s the way I see it.
I don’t know how you all can dismiss evidence in the Church’s favor as wishful thinking. Maybe you guys should read By the Hand of Mormon. The antiquity of the BoM has been recognized by non-LDS scholars. For example, when Nibley showed William Albright, the father of Biblical Archaeology, Egyptian names in the BoM that JSmith would have had no access to, Albright concluded Smith was a religious genius.
These things happen more often than has been documented. Stephen E. Robinson told us at BYU that his dissertation advisor at Duke (Charlesworth) concluded that Joseph Smith was a reincarnated Jewish scribe. Wilfred Griggs has had similar experiences.
A reincarnated Jewish Scribe? So you are willing to entertain the reality of reincarnation despite this not being Mormon doctrine if it helps you accept Joseph Smith as a man of God who was a true prophet who translated entire books from funerary texts that say entirely different things? Really, how far do people have to contort their minds in order to retain belief?
You need to read my post more carefully.
You’re using the magical thinking of others to affirm your view that Smith was something more than just a charlatan seeking power and fame. None of the examples you gave can be considered “evidence in the Church’s favor”. The church itself disregards reincarnation. To use the statement of anyone, scholar or not, who believes Smith is a reincarnated scribe in order to prove Smith was something special is hypocritical mumbo jumbo.
LOL. What does the Church’s position on reincarnation have to do with anything? That’s Charlesworth’s hypothesis for how Joseph was able to recover ancient sources. If you don’t want to believe he’s a prophet, and you’re the world’s authority on Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, that’s what you’re forced to conclude.
That’s interesting to know that even a non-Mormon scholar had to go down a rabbit hole to explain away non-spiritual evidence in favor of the church. Reminds me of TG’s earlier comment which says, in part:
“Meanwhile, many others take such new information and readjust in another direction, deciding Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were frauds. But they too have to make comparable use of a ‘memory hole,’ disposing of and explaining away the myriad spiritual witnesses that they at one time recognized and testified of. Usually they do so by reinterpreting those experiences as self-deceptions and delusions. Of course, there are implications there as well for what their paradigm now has to entail with respect to the possibilities of spiritual knowledge, of a benevolent Father who is able and willing to reveal truth to individuals, etc. These same people also have to deal with non-spiritual data that once made a different kind of sense: complex patterns in the Book of Mormon, resonances of the Book of Abraham with other ancient texts, etc.”
Thank you, I commend you for being able to grasp my point when one other has failed. The example I used was an attempt to illustrate Givens’s quote, and you tied it back together nicely.
I believe Joseph was a prophet of God. Notwithstanding, I still have lots of concerns about much of that “evidence in Church’s favor.” In many cases, well-meaning apologists (and I’m not really including Terryl Givens in this group necessarily) but in many cases, what I was regularly taught was extrinsic empirical evidence supporting the historical literal claims of Mormonism, just weren’t subject to the same evidentiary standards that we commonly use for other important purposes in life. I felt that as a teenager, missionary, and young adult (with no real time to investigate all this for myself) I could safely assume that those apologists (you know, all those smart people) were already weighing both sides for me, and their conclusions were fair. In other words, I didn’t understand the rules. Now I think I do.
I know in your comment you mentioned non-LDS claims (which are presumably more objective) supporting the authenticity of the BOM. I, for one, don’t feel like I am discounting them at all. They are valuable and interesting. But once we subject the claims of Mormonism to rational scrutiny, and consider real-world evidence, then everything (I mean everything) comes in, as you know. It has to, otherwise we’re just playing a little game by bringing evidence into the picture in the first place. And once all that enormous evidence floods in (on both sides) we’ve opened up Pandora’s Box. Much evidence including the difficult/troubling evidence is indeed very stubborn.
Two points here:
1. John Dehlin and others have made this more honest analysis much more accessible to me who didn’t understand the rules the first time around. I’m so glad he has done this over the past 6 or so years. It may not be necessary in a decade or so, because maybe the church’s efforts in this regard will have caught with the information age, but in the meantime, it was a god send for me. (I truly can’t speak for anyone else however).
2. I think Terryl Givens proposes a view that if there’s a situation where the evidence reaches a stale mate (and I’m not declaring where all the stale mates are, because I am no authority by any means!), but if you’ve got a stale mate, then (as long as you really can do this!) an authentic choice in favor of belief in Christ is more moral, all else being equal.
I’m no way saying the net weight of evidence is in the Church’s favor. All I’m saying is that there is strong evidence both ways, and many here lack the neural complexity to process evidence in both directions. As Givens said, they have to explain it all away.
I tend to agree with you. What’s cool, however, is that there are so many here who do appar to have such ability, regardless of how they come out in the end. John Dehlin is a magnet for these kinds of people who are invested in mormonism and who have this kind of preference to (at least try to) subject their own thoughts to critical examination.
I listened to this series for a second time and have a few more thoughts which I haven’t seen discussed on the message board.
At the end of the fourth podcast, Terryl Givens discusses masonry and the temple. He tells a story of a priest who who celebrated a mass using beer and potato chips instead of wine and wafers in order to make a point to his congregation that the symbols we use don’t matter to the ordinance. He then relates this to the temple by saying that we could rewrite the temple ceremony using boy scout signs and handshakes and it wouldn’t matter because the physical aspects of what we go through in the temple don’t matter.
Dr. Givens goes on to say that although Joseph Smith seems to have believed the masonic ritual was an authentic but corrupted inheritance from an ancient endowment but that most scholars now believe it it to be a fairly late invention. However, he says he does not care what relation it is to the Adamic Endowment and doesn’t believe the temple ritual that we engage in has any inherent value. Rather, the value comes from the covenants we make, the promises we receive, and the relationships that are eternalized. The masonic stuff is only the delivery vehicle for the doctrine and covenants of the temple.
This was a comparatively brief section of the podcast but I think it brought up several issues that warrant more discussion. I think many Mormons would not accept the idea that these are symbolic gestures only and are of no value. The endowment itself seems to be largely structured around making sure everyone in attendance properly learn the signs. There are several breaks in the narrative dedicated to this purpose. I think most would believe what Brigham Young said of the signs during the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” This statement does not leave the impression that Brigham Young thought of the signs as only being symbolic gestures.
To my mind, the temple makes the most sense if masonry is in fact a corrupted inheritance from the Temple of Solomon. Throughout my life I was taught that Joseph Smith got the symbols of masonry and used them to restore the Adamic Endowment. However, in a recent series on the Mormon Expression podcast, George Miller explained that Masonic symbols were invented in the 17th century by the masonic workers guild to help identify the skill level of masonry workers to ensure proper job placement and pay. The symbols were not remnants from the endowment ceremony at Solomon’s temple and have no ancient origin. If this is the case, then why continue using, wearing, and assigning religious value to Masonic symbolism?
If they are only a symbolic delivery system, as Dr. Givens says, and the meaning of the symbols remains the same regardless of whether the Masonic Grip of an Entered Apprentice or the Boy Scouts’ Order of the Arrow Handclasp is used, then why bother using them at all? What value do handshakes and signs add to the promises and covenants of the temple? Why does a promise to follow the Law of Chastity require any sort of masonic elements such as handshakes, signs, aprons, and three distinct knocks with a mallet? If a person can make and receive the covenants of the endowment without the Five Points of Fellowship and the penalties, why not the rest of the Masonic stuff too?
Great questions, and I enjoyed your comments. My take is that Terryl Givens believe that rituals, ordinances, or other symbolic behavior is kind of like language. The meaning may seem to have come from quite arbitrarily “assigned” signs which have evolved willy-nilly out of culture, independent from any system (e.g., grammar system, LDS Temples) that “adopted” the signs.
However, even God, desiring to communicate to his children will use the language that his children speak. This particular language is not what’s meaningful to Him (God), but rather it’s what carries meaning to us. What’s meaningful to God is our attitude (worshipful), and the substance (the covenants) rather than whatever delivery vehicle of words, signs, gestures, music, tokens, etc. is used.
The temple ritual contains a delivery vehicle (words, symbols, rituals, ordinances, music) all conveying substance and attitude to God. Put a different way, it doesn’t matter what all that language is “saying,” but rather what matters is what we as practitioners of the religion THINK/FEEL they’re saying. (sort of a game with words, I know, but this is an important point.) Because what we think and feel they’re saying conveys our attitude and covenant exchange to God.
Kind of a silly metaphor, but it kind of reminds me of a bird building a next, using some human artifacts such as fishing line, newspaper, a bit of thread from an old rag, and pieces of a foam mattress. Is that bird’s nest any less natural or real than if the bird had built the nest deep in the forest, away from the suburbs? The nest is for the bird (and her chicks), not for us. The bird probably has no clue what’s “real” and what’s “artificial.” Real vs. artificial is our construct. It’s all natural for the bird, and the nest is for the bird.
So to Terryl Givens, the validity of the Temple ordinances do not hinge on whether or not the adopted Masonic rituals contained a corrupted form of Solomon’s rituals.
But this is not the end of the story, of course. Was Joseph sincerely and genuinely mistaken about this, thinking that the rituals he restored were authentic and divinely created in a way that was immune or untarnished from 19th century western culture? I think Givens position is that it’s entirely consistent that Joseph was mistaken about this. Joseph often apparently misunderstood his role in the method of ascertaining the will of God and the method of conveying it to his fellowbeings.
Such misunderstandings would have been unfortunate, but not as potentially troubling to faith, had it not been for the next development: well-meaning members piled on for 150 years, providing argument and some evidence that Joseph’s interpretation of his own role was in fact correct, and that it is important to the validity of the ordinances (and to the Church itself!) that Joseph was correct in such interpretation of his own role. It’s not what you do that gets you in trouble. It’s what you do after what you do…that gets you in trouble.
I guess now the result is this (my view of the podcast’s obvious implication): Faithful LDS need to be fine with God allowing His church for over a century to wrap its arms around an unnecessarily literal view of things, when certain symbolic views would have been sufficient all along. Maybe I’m being kind to the church when I frame it like this. But I guess I want to be kind on this issue, because I’m sensitive to how otherwise wonderful or decent human beings have done this sort of thing all the time, often an institutional level (Western Culture in general for the past 400 years!). This is just human nature, and God (in my view) apparently limits His involvement in this area. This particular view implies that God’s interaction with his children involves God not being conserned about the specific cultural adaptations used to worship Him and even less concerned about our confusion between “literal symbols” and “symbolic symbols.”
The side effect of all this? Well, if your going to make that all okay, then it’s hard to be overly critical of other religious traditions. Terryl Givens appears to be very uncritical of other religions traditions.
Excellent! Up until Part 5!!! Please read THIS LAND Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation by Wayne May and Edwin G Goble, Editors of Ancient American Magazine. Interview them. Stop perpetuating the TWO Cumorahs and MesoAmerican falsehoods. There is a pethora of physical evidence, artifacts, archeology, native american oral history and language and direct quotes from Joseph Smith that the Adena/ Hopewell sphere of influence is Nephite Central. Every question from and explanation of animals, to weather conditions and weapons found in the Book of Mormon are logically explanable through findings from member and non-member archeologists and professionals. FARMS must come to terms with the evidence RIGHT HERE- in THIS LAND. The church must also come to terms with the fact that mesoamerica is clearly not the place where the events recorded in the Book of Mormon took place
Joseph Smith, (signed in his hand) letter to Emma Smith, June 4, 1834, in Jesse, Dean C., 1984 The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith-
“We arrived this morning on the banks of the Mississippi… we left the eastern part of the state of Ohio… The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the PLAINS OF THE NEPHITES, recounting occassionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving OVER THE MOUNDS of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up thier skulls and bones,as proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendor and goodness so indescribable…”
Stefany is either an anti-Mormon in disguise or someone who bought Rod Meldrum’s snake oil.
TG is such an amazingly clever guy. I can only suppose that his faith in Mormonism is based on the revelatory experience he had when he was around 16, otherwise I don’t think he would follow even his own arguements of support for the faith. He said that this experience did not depend on, nor was it specific to Mormonism but was life changing nonetheless. I would love to know more about this experience, pending Terryl’s willingness to speak of hit.
Part 5 – Do we really need to square polygamy with OT practices of Polygamy? I’m not so sure? Was OT polygamy a tennant or dogma of religious practice as it was in the 19th Century or was it a secular practice? God meets us where we are at. Could the marriages of Abraham
, Isaac and Jacob be a representation of an evolutionary stage in the secular development of marriage culture? Ownership of women to ensure the continuation of a dynasty etc? Did God command polygamy in OT or did he simply allow it because that was the stage of developmental culture which included marriage? In other words, Does God just allow these things to develop and evolve on there own? Or does he have to command in all things? But by the time we get to Joseph Smith, marriage practices have developed to a monogamous situation and perhaps more of a egalitarian and romantic status rather that the ‘business’/dynastic arrangement that was in place anciently.
Does anyone have that quote that TG refers to when he says that Joseph even stated that you don’t have to be Mormon to be saved?
He again repeated that all who would follow the
precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be savedWords of JS 34
Thank you. I think that will help others be less judgmental of those who do leave and therefore help some come back that otherwise be too hurt to return.
This was the best MS podcast ever! I felt the spirit strongly near the end of the last segment when you and TG were candidly and openly discussing the pains some members of the church members feel and how TG is helping to bridge that gap for you. MS helps bridge that gap for others. I appreciate your efforts so much over the years and love you for the heartfelt efforts you put into this and the work you do to help your neighbor. Thank you John and thank you Terryl for giving us an example of someone who knows so much of the negative yet stays positive. TG is D&C 46:13 to my D&C 46:14!
Thanks so much, Carson. John
Simply incredible. There were a few moments that seemed to stretch reason, but those were so heavily outweighed by the amazing insight that Dr Givens brought to the table the rest of the time that it is easily forgiven. I hope he follows up on his comment regarding pushing for new manuals.
Thank you for this wonderful discussion!! I wish everyone in the church could hear it.
[…] nature provide him a unique perspective and ability to express himself. This transcript comes from part 2 of the podcast, 37:30 – 39:20, and part 3, 10:30 – 29:15. Givens lays out the case for […]
Wow, lots of comments. I loved this interview and so much of how Givens framed things was helpful, and a useful corrective to the way I lean. One thing that surprised me was how easily Givens claimed that the New Testament authors penned the works attributed to them. He doesn’t back this up at all; he just says in the face of overwhelming scholarly consensus, “Yeah, I think the gospels were written by the people they are attributed to.”
I was very moved by Givens’ story and inspired by his theological and historical sophistication overall, however. Very well done.
So I’m a little late to this party…but I just want to say a big thank you to John and Brother Givens. I’ve had many MoSto favorites, but I think the second episode of the Givens series has just captured the title of favorite (for now, at least).
I’m listening to these at a time of some personal spiritual and emotional anguish and despair…hearing Brother Givens affirm his faith – an honest faith which acknowledges problems, mysteries, contradictions, disappointments, etc. – is so heartening.”…I have felt that something real has transpired; something that has eternal and transcendent value…I find much of the process inelegant, and deadening, and tedious, but that’s how most of the gospel is…That’s how the gospel works. We’re mired in banality and there are these eruptions of the divine into our lives that occur from moment to moment.”What an amazingly beautiful and apt description of the best of religious experience generally and the LDS church experience specifically. These “eruptions of the divine” in the midst of banality and difficulty and sadness are what keep me tethered to the Mormon church as both an institution and culture, despite its flaws, and to a belief, or hope more accurately, in God, despite all the evidence that seems to point to his absence. I’ve experienced those “eruptions of the divine.”I’m open to the possibility that they were psychosomatic episodes, as many have come in times of deep yearning and need. Yet others have seemingly come out of the blue, not as a response to my pleadings or yearnings or needings.Or perhaps it’s just the romantic in me, as Wordsworth made me switch majors from business to English. Nonetheless, I like Brother Givens, retain some hope, some faith, that those experiences have a meaning that extends beyond chemicals passing from neurotransmitters.A deep thank you to both of you.
I just want to echo the sentiments expressed by Ioway from last week… the second episode in this series was inspiring and encouraging to me as well. As another formerly devout LDS member who’s 35+ yr testimony has recently imploded, this podcast was healing and helpful. Thanks John and Terryl !
[…] JAC refuses to think that the squashing of faith is the victory of reason, just as the extinguishing of reason is not the victory of faith. Those confronting questions about issues in the LDS Church’s history would do well to follow the advice the John Adams Center’s Daniel Peterson gave in a recent interview with the Deseret News. Peterson says that the problem often is not that there are not answers to our questions, but simply that we have not yet done the work to find them. In these situations the best course is to “calm down and then wait. Look around. There may already be an answer out there. Just because you don’t know about it instantly doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Fortunately, there are many quality resources available for Saints looking for answers, including the LDS Newsroom, FAIR and the quality work of Peterson and JAC friend Terryl Givens. […]
Thank you so much for these fantastic interviews! I didn’t agree with everything Terryl Givens said, but he really does give a genuinely thoughtful, honest, and faithful approach to Mormonism. This should be required listening for every would-be Mormon intellectual.
[…] Givens, one of my favorite Mormon thinkers, explained in his interview with Mormon Stories why he thinks that faith must be a reasonable choice and why it matters what we choose to place our […]
[…] nature provide him a unique perspective and ability to express himself. This transcript comes from part 2 of the podcast, 45:03 – 50:39. Givens references a talk he gave at BYU in 2005 called […]
[…] when faithful people will no longer come on. It feels like rejection. Because I helped. When Terryl and Fiona Givens first came on Mormon Stories, many of their books weren’t even offered at Deseret Book. I think I helped resuscitate, I […]
[…] taught the truth in Seminary or in Sunday School? I haven’t heard a good answer to that.” An approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism,” (Mormon Stories #291); see also “Discussion of Mormon apostasy […]