Monday, October 5, 2009

Carefully choreographed, for your spiritual enlightenment.

A couple things about the most recent LDS general conference -

On my way to the parents house for bread bowls and soup (fantastic cold-weather fair by the way), I decided to turn on the radio and listen to a little of the LDS general conference the hour-ride afforded me.

The part I listened to was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's rousing testimony of the Book of Mormon. If you didn't hear it (chances are 50/50 you didn't if you read this blog) then you should, because it's a fantastic example of the power of a well-seasoned public speaker. Lot's of general authorities have given their testimonies of the Book of Mormon, but I can't remember one that sounded so.... angry.

Here are some thoughts I had as I listened:

Holland asserts that the Book of Mormon has to be true because Joseph and Hyrum Smith both took solace in it's pages as they waited to die in Cartridge jail, and that if the Book of Mormon was a fraud then wouldn't the brothers' mind's be elsewhere as they contemplated their impending death?

A few responses to that:

- Yes, the fact that they were reading the BoM in a time of great trial, possibly aware they were about to die, DOES bolster their true and undying faith in the truthfulness of the book; but that does not mean the book is true. Many people in history have believed themselves to be prophets; and I'm not talking about the type of malicious people who consciously grasp their own deceptive intentions, but people who REALLY believe they are some sort of prophet. Why not this scenario? - Joseph, in all honesty of heart, created the Book of Mormon thinking it was sent of God; and then throughout his life used it, taught from it, took succor from it's pages, even to the end of his life. Why not?

Can things resonate truth to our souls, but still be fiction? Sorry if the example offends you, but how many of us cried when the character of Dobby died in the final Harry Potter book? Did this creature ever exist except in our collective imaginations? Did that make how we felt any less...real?

This leads me to a larger point about conference and LDS meetings in general; let me frame it with a question: Have you ever read a book, watched a movie, or been on a ride at Disneyland that was so immersive and convincing in its fiction that you lost hold of "reality" for a while and were completely transported?

While I was in my car and listening to Holland yell at me about the absolute truthfulness of the BoM, some part of me couldn't help but feel moved and effected by it. Luckily my life experience (especially within the church) has taught me not all things that glitter are gold. How can anyone completely resist his testimony, especially considering he whole heartedly believes in what he's saying, and that his words were delivered from within a forum where nothing can be questioned and everything is designed to reinforce his message: from the music to the color scheme in the flower arrangement?

Another tangentially related point - The church is only interested in building faith; whether this is accomplished with truth or fiction is irrelevant.

Boyd K. Paker, in a BYU publication from 1981 said:

"There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful."

Really Paker? How far does this principle extend? If something within the historical record is discovered that casts real and serious doubt on the veracity of the church, would the church leadership respect its existence and deal with it, or would they do everything in their power to bury it? And might the inverse be true? - If something that isn't true builds faith, would it be allowed to propagate?

The assertion of the LDS church that it is the only true church on the earth today is heavily reliant on it's history, especially in regards to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It's very hard to study the history of the church when the custodian of the historical record is seriously invested in the picture the record paints.


I don't want to destroy faith. I understand the church's function in the lives of my loved ones and I would never want to take it away from them, even though I personally don't believe it anymore.

But when I heard Holland's talk, rife with it's absolutisms and pointed hyperbole, I can't help but respond; even though about 10 people may read it, and no one in my family. For what it's worth.

1 comment:

Captain Midnight said...

I really like your thoughts on this, and I tend to agree with you. This talk was a really awkward one for me to listen to since I was sitting next to my mom and my leaving the church has been really hard on her. It was a very moving talk, but not one that I can believe in.