Thursday, August 28, 2014

A New Semester Means New Books!

I am very excited for my upcoming semester at BYU. It will be, incidentally, my second to last semester before I graduate. So not only do I have my classes to worry about, but I also must now begin the process of applying for grad school. That is going to be an adventure all on its own.

In any event, I am especially excited for this upcoming semester because of the classes I am taking and the books I get to dive into along with them! One thing I love about my major is that my textbooks are still relevant and useful even after the class is over. Unlike the curriculum from my Biology or Math classes, I can keep my textbooks from my major classes and use them in my research and writing.


So what's on the docket for this semester? Glad you asked!

Aramaic

This semester I will be diving into studying biblical Aramaic. My textbook is Miles V. Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Aramaic: Complete Grammar, Lexicon, and Annotated Text.


Hebrew

My readings in the Hebrew Bible class is, well, just straight reading from the Hebrew Bible. I've still got my handy Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia from when I began studying Hebrew, but have since gone digital with Accordance. Not only do I not need to lug around my Hebrew Bible to and from campus, but I can also cheat with Accordance, which parses verbs, defines words, and offers parallel versions all with the click of a button! 


Archaeology of Egypt

I have three books I'm reading for this class, including Manfred Lurker's An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt, Kathryn A. Bard's An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, and Jaromir Malek's Egyptian Art




19th Century German Literature

Besides re-reading Faust from my beloved Goethe, for this class I'll be diving into Romantic and post-Romantic literature from a number of authors. This includes the poetry of Heinrich Heine and Joseph von Eichendorf, Georg Büchner's Leonce und Lena, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's Die Judenbuche, Theodore Fontane's Effi Briest, and finally Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' Manifest der kommunistischen Partei. I confess that I'm more than a little excited to read Marx and Engels. I've already read Freud and Nietzsche at BYU, so why not top off the atheistic triumvirate with Marx while I'm at it? I hear the term "Marxism" and "Marxist" thrown around a lot these days (especially at a certain black President of the United States who shall remain nameless) but I only have a passing acquaintance with Marxism as a political/economic system. Now I'll be able to go straight to the source to find out what Marxism really is (as opposed to what Fox News keeps saying it is). Should be fun!





Lots of reading to keep me busy this semester, that's for sure. Thankfully, I do not anticipate any of it to be boring or wasted. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

If the King's English was Good Enough for Lucretius, it's Good Enough for Joseph Smith

I know I need to stop doing this . . .

You will recall that Richard Dawkins believes the Book of Mormon is a fraud because of its archaic English. Specifically, Mr. Dawkins believes, "[The Book of Mormon is] a 19th century book written in 16th century English. That’s not the way people talked in the 19th century – it’s a fake. So it’s not beautiful, it’s a work of charlatanry." In response to Mr. Dawkins I wrote a series of blog posts explaining why this actually isn't such a big deal (see here, here, here, and here).

Imagine my delight and surprise when I ran across H. A. J. Munro's translation of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura), a first-century BC philosophical-poetic discourse written in Latin. Munro's translation appears to have first been published in 1908, and was republished in the 1940 anthology The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers.[1] Here are the opening lines.




But always remember that whenever Joseph Smith renders a translation in deliberately archaic English, he is to be branded a fraud and charlatan.

–Notes–

[1]: H. A. J. Munro, "On the Nature of Things," in The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, ed. Whitney J. Oates (New York: The Modern Library, 1940), 69–219.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Joseph Smith: Seer, Translator, Revelator, and Prophet"

Professor Alexander L. Baugh is a professor of Church History at Brigham Young University. He is the author of numerous articles on early Church history and wrote the magnificent dissertation A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, one of the definitive works on the 1838 Mormon War. You can read the rest of professor Baugh's bio and CV here.

I had the privilege of spending time with professor Baugh last summer visiting Mormon historical sites in Missouri. I've gotten to know professor Baugh somewhat personally, and can attest that besides being an excellent scholar and historian, he is also a genuinely awesome guy!

On June 24, 2014, professor Baugh gave a devotional at BYU on the subject "Joseph Smith: Seer, Translator, Revelator, and Prophet." I was in attendance at this devotional, and thought it was excellent. Below is the video. Enjoy!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The "Real Scholars" of Jeremy Runnells

When Jeremy Runnells accused Brian C. Hales of being an "amateur," he assured me that "[t]he real scholars in the field of polygamy have issues with many of Hales' conclusions and interpretations."

I asked Runnels who exactly these "real scholars" were, and also specifically asked where they had published their rebuttals of Brian's work. Remember, before releasing his three-volume series Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Brian had published his research in such venues as the Journal of Mormon History and the Mormon Historical Studies journal, two of the premier peer-reviewed, academic journals on Mormon history.

My wait appears to be over, as Runnells has recently updated his website to include the following comments on Brian's work.

1. A statement from Dan Vogel on the comments section of one of John Dehlin's podcasts.


2. An unpublished paper written by D. Michael Quinn and delivered at the 2012 Mormon History Association. (Note: Brian has responded to this paper here.)


3. A statement by Richard Bushman on the dust jacket of Brian's Joseph Smith's Polygamy.


4. A statement by Todd M. Compton on the dust jacket of Brian's Joseph Smith's Polygamy.


5. A statement by Lawrence Foster on the dust jacket of Brian's Joseph Smith's Polygamy.


6. A blog post by Cheryl L. Bruno.


Mind you, this comes after Runnells' statement that, "Brian heavily interprets the facts based on his biases. This is the key difference between apologists and scholars. This is why Brian C. Hales is not a scholar." I am puzzled that Runnells is so naive to think that this is what separates the scholarly wheat from the apologetic tares (as if "scholars" are lifeless automatons without bias or assumptions that influence how they interpret data and evidence), and that he would try to use this tactic to discredit Brian, seeing as how it was Runnells himself who conceded, "I never claimed to be a scholar or expert or that my letter is an academic paper." What should we call Runnells then, if not a scholar? An ex-Mormon apologist, perhaps?

But a bigger problem for Runnells, of course, is that none of these statements collected by him come from peer-reviewed sources. Remember, I specifically asked what published work had refuted Hales. The only one of these that could even begin to qualify would be Quinn's paper, which was presented at an academic conference. But even then, Quinn's paper (as far as I know) has not been published. So even it does not qualify.

Perhaps the most perplexing comment posted by Runnells, however, comes from "Mormon historian" Thomas Kimball.


Leaving aside his questionable assumptions about the achievability of impartiality or his bizarre claim that Brian lacks "specificity in his reporting," I am assuming this is the same Thomas Kimball who is the "marketing director for Signature Books." His bio on the Signature Books website mentions no academic training in history, nor does it mention any publications on Mormon history to his name. I am therefore genuinely curious to know why Runnells thinks Kimball qualifies to be bestowed the exalted title of "Mormon historian," whereas Brian does not. Perhaps Kimball has some publications that I'm unaware of. Google only turned up a personal essay in Sunstone, but that was it. If so, I'd be happy to take a look at them. (I am also curious to know where exactly Kimball made this comment, since Runnells did not provide a source.)

And if Brian is an "amateur" for being an anesthesiologist and yet opining on Mormon history, then what are we to make of "marketing director" Kimball? It seems abundantly clear to me that Runnells is simply playing a game of "people I agree with are 'scholars,' but people I disagree with are 'amateurs'." It's a fun game to play, to be sure, but not very helpful in the long run. It also shows that Runnells seems perfectly fine with employing a double standard when it suits his anti-Mormon purposes.

In addition, Runnells has also misrepresented Bushman, Compton, and Foster. Since Runnells and his likeminded chums on the Internet seem to love using graphics to illustrate their point, below is a graphic comparison of the excerpted quotes produced by Runnells and the originals as they appear on the back of Brian's book. (You can also find these images on the FairMormon wiki.)


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Do you notice the distortion? Runnells is guilty of quote mining. He has selectively chosen only those parts of these quotes that indicate some kind of disagreement with Brian. When read in their entirety, however, these quotes actually praise Brian for his scholarship! Bushman says that with Brian's research "[t]here has never been a more thorough examination" of plural marriage. Compton calls Brian a "conservative Mormon scholar" (!) who has produced a "a landmark in the historiography of Mormon polygamy," and admires "the depth of his research." Foster, for his part, compliments Brian as "an exceptionally thorough, meticulous, and evenhanded researcher and assessor of Joseph Smith's complex and controversial polygamous practices," and praises his research as "path-breaking and indispensable." And why did Runnells omit Danel Bachman's comments? Maybe because Bachman said Brian's research "will now be the standard against which all other treatments of this important subject [including Runnells'] will be measured."

Remember that scholars will always have disagreements, especially over complex and controversial subjects like Joseph Smith's plural marriage. That's only to be expected. The historical sources on Joseph Smith's polygamy are not so unambiguous or clearcut that scholars are just going to sit down an automatically agree on everything, and the boilerplate language of Bushman and others that not everyone may agree with Brian isn't anything particularly radical or damning. Runnells' attempt to exploit these quotes in such a pedantic manner, however, shows he is grasping at straws.

But the distortion and misrepresentation by Runnells does not end with the three scholars quoted on the dust jacket of Brian's book. Here, for instance, is a part of Bruno's blog post that Runnells conscientiously avoids reproducing in his attack on Brian.
Yet, despite the various difficulties Hales has with analysis and handling of evidence, this set is nevertheless a “must-have.” It is a significant milestone as one of the first rigorous historical treatments of Joseph Smith’s polygamy from an apologetic standpoint.  It is clearly the single greatest guide to available resources on the practice of polygamy in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo. And, it will without any doubt shape the arguments regarding the centrality of plural marriage in early Mormon theology, as well as arguments on precisely what that plural marriage means historically and theologically for Latter-day Saints. 
Upon reading the original post by Bruno, one will quickly notice that this statement rests snugly between the second and third paragraphs as quoted by Runnells. I wonder why Runnells decided to omit it. What's more, why didn't he at least bother to use ellipses to indicate he had omitted this text? Was he just lazy, did he not actually read the original source, or did he purposefully not want his readers to know there was something missing, lest they go look it up for themselves?

Click to enlarge.

But Bruno has more to say about Brian's work.
In future writing and conversation on the subject of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, the issues that Hales has set forth will demand first attention. There is little doubt that Brian has done a substantial work in laying out the major topics and giving the pertinent documentation. From this base, others will be able to make their own interpretations. 

Whether or not you are inclined to agree with his conclusions,  I encourage you to purchase these volumes and enter this discussion. Read the evidence and Brian’s analysis, and decide for yourself what theory best accounts for this fantastic presentation of the facts.
Bruno may be critical of some of Brian's positions or arguments, but for some inexplicable reason I get the impression that she is nevertheless impressed with Brian's work. Far from the impression given by Runnells' cherry-picking, it is evident to me that Bruno has some very positive things to say about Brian's research.

What have we learned from all of this? Above all, the conclusion is unavoidable that Runnells was either dishonest or irresponsible in how he represented at least four of these quotes.

Let me conclude this post with a couple of assessments and observations.

1. I have no doubt that Vogel, Compton, Quinn, and others who have expressed reservations with Brian's analysis may have valid criticisms or points to consider. The data on Joseph Smith's plural marriage is complex and highly ambiguous, and Brian certainly does not have the final say. That being said, it is downright ludicrous for Runnells to think that a few lines hastily scribbled off on the comments section of a website or the back of a dust jacket or some blog constitutes sufficient proof that Brian's views on plural marriage have been refuted and can therefore so casually be brushed aside. The fact of the matter is that these commenters and others have at least found Brian's work important enough to take time to engage it in some manner. (Quinn's paper, and Brian's response, shows the level of argumentation and discussion this topic can reach.) We might hope that Runnells would extend Brian the same courtesy, but given the zeal he has exhibited in his idealogical crusade to defame the Prophet Joseph Smith by any means necessary, I doubt he will.

2. Runnells, for all of his smoke and mirrors and rhetorical posturing, has yet to substantially refute Brian's arguments. He has promised to respond to Brian's "hit piece" on Rational Faiths, but even then I suspect what we will get from Runnells is the sort of flippant, casual dismissal that is characteristic of his treatment of other LDS scholars. (That is, when he even bothers to engage other LDS scholars.) But why should Runnells stop with Brian's blog post? Why not demonstrate his prowess by systematically refuting the entirety of Brian's corpus of research, if he can? Surely the man who spent the better part of a year using Google to cobble together his celebrated letter could make mincemeat of the five years-long intensive research of Brian and his assistant Don Bradley.

3. It is clear that Runnells either (A) doesn't care about employing double standards, or (B) is oblivious to the fact that he's employing double standards. For him to sneeringly dismiss Brian as an "amateur" and in the same breath hold up Thomas Kimball as some kind of authoritative "Mormon historian" is nothing more or less than a brazen double standard. If Runnells wants to be taken seriously at all, he needs to be consistent in how he classifies his "amateurs" and his "historians" and by what criteria.

4. Runnells' flagrant misrepresentation of his sources indicates he either (A) did not read them carefully (if at all), or (B) was lazy, or dishonest, in his analysis. Either way, this does not speak well to Runnell's analytical ability. If we can't trust him to represent simple things (e.g. easily accessible quotations in English) correctly, then why should we trust him to represent complex things (e.g. Egyptian iconography or Mesoamerican archaeology) correctly?

Perhaps I'm just stating the obvious, but after all of this I remain profoundly skeptical (in fact highly dubious) of the propriety of Runnells' methods, his presentation of the evidence, and his conclusions drawn therefrom.

Monday, August 4, 2014

John Dehlin Continues to Allege that President Monson has Dementia

Pictured: a cabal of scheming men lusting for power.

Readers of this blog will recall that I had some choice words for John Dehlin because of his continual claiming that President Monson suffers from dementia. In his recent interview with Kate Kelly, Dehlin once again made the claim that President Monson has dementia. At one point in his interview, Dehlin mentions that "[s]ome people are speculating that there’s a power vacuum in the Church right now." (Given that Dehlin himself has speculated about a farfetched "power vacuum," I find it more than a little disingenuous how he phrased this, as if it's not he, but others, who are doing the speculating.) Kate Kelly wisely demurred (for the most part) from commenting about President Monson's alleged mental health problems, but that didn't stop Dehlin from pulling out all the stops.
I’ve probably talked to 50 people who work directly with the church in some significant capacity who all confirm that President Monson has some form of dementia and that unless he’s got handlers around him, and unless he’s reading a speech, he’s unmanageable and incoherent, and you know that doesn’t mean he can’t be friendly to a child and wink to a crowd or wiggle his ears or read a teleprompter, but in terms of really managing the church, he’s over 90. He’s past his capacity given dementia. Do you ever think about that stuff and that might might be why–you know if the prophet’s not speaking, it can’t be Boyd K. Packer that responds to you, but if the prophet’s not able to even think about it, let alone really respond to it, thus we don’t have statements from the Brethren, and thus we get statements from PR, and is it possible that it’s this power vacuum where someone like a Ballard or a Clayton might feel empowered to come after a you or a me, when otherwise a strong leader wouldn’t allow that?
This is a remarkably revealing comment from Dehlin. Let's break it down.

"I’ve probably talked to 50 people who work directly with the church in some significant capacity who all confirm that President Monson has some form of dementia."

For the first time we finally get some kind of indication from Dehlin where he is getting his information. According to Dehlin, it's 50 people "who work directly with the church in some significant capacity" that have told him this. Immediately I can still think of problems with this, however. One of the commenters on the blog post, going by the alias Left Field, said it well.
If we can reliably trace this rumor back to an a [sic] known person who examined the patient and who is qualified to make a diagnosis, then I’ll pay more attention. Dehlin claims to know fifty people in the [Church Office Building] who confirm the rumors. There’s fifty people who have first-hand information and are willing to spill their guts to John Dehlin? Sounds more like fifty people willing to pass on the gossip *they* heard. I’d be more impressed if he knew one or two people and could explain the source of their knowledge. Sometimes gossip turns out to be true, but gossip is still gossip.
This is fundamentally my problem with Dehlin continuing to perpetuate these rumors about President Monson's health. Even now, when he gives some kind of indication where he is getting his information from, Dehlin has done little more than confirm he didn't hear it from President Monson's neighbor's dentist. But whom does Dehlin specifically have in mind when he says that people in the Church of "some significant capacity" have told him this? Apostles? Seventies? A receptionist who works in the Church Office Building? Who? The way Dehlin has worded this raises more questions than it answers. Until Dehlin is more specific about whom he has spoken with in the Church, we're essentially back to square one.

"[I]n terms of really managing the church, he’s over 90."

Besides the not-so-subtle ageism in this comment, and besides the pesky fact that President Monson isn't even 87 yet, what kind of possible meaningful criteria has Dehlin used to establish the validity of this observation, as if it were some kind of scientifically calibrated fact? (Hopefully he has something more robust than how he conducted those surveys on why people leave the Church, at least.) If he hasn't, and he is just spouting an opinion, then why should we take Dehlin seriously at all? Any bloke can share an opinion about President Monson's health or capacity to lead the Church, but what worth does it have for the subject under consideration?

But this next comment is the crown jewel of Dehlin's entire statement, as it perfectly reveals with the utmost transparency what Dehlin's game is. Remember in my last post when I summarized Dehlin's likely point for bringing this topic up as basically being, "If President Monson was in his right mind, he'd agree with me [Dehlin]. Because he has dementia, there must be a power vacuum among the Brethren and one or more of them is out to get me, just like they did with the September Six! That's the only possible explanation for why I am being summoned to a disciplinary hearing"? Keep this in mind as you read the following from Dehlin:
Do you [Kelly] ever think about that stuff and that might might be why–you know if the prophet’s not speaking, it can’t be Boyd K. Packer that responds to you, but if the prophet’s not able to even think about it, let alone really respond to it, thus we don’t have statements from the Brethren, and thus we get statements from PR, and is it possible that it’s this power vacuum where someone like a Ballard or a Clayton might feel empowered to come after a you or a me, when otherwise a strong leader wouldn’t allow that?
With this comment we can see exactly why Dehlin cares if President Monson has dementia. Let me explain. (We will ignore for a minute that the Brethren have come out with a statement about Kate Kelly's quest to gain priesthood ordination for women.)

Anyone who has followed Dehlin's work knows he has made it an imperative for his narrative and image that he comes across as the good guy, the guy who's just out there to help, the guy who's there to give you a shoulder to cry on, and, above all, the guy that Brother Bob or Sister Suzy from Typical Mormon Ward in Anywhere, Utah can trust with their faith and testimony when they encounter trouble. Anything, therefore, that could even potentially threaten this image that Dehlin has so carefully made for himself must either be suppressed (cf. Greg Smith's paper) or spun to do damage control (cf. Dehlin's claim that his pending disciplinary action is because he's simply trying to help X marginalized group in the Church [e.g. people with questions, LGBT individuals, etc.])

With this comment we can see Dehlin conjuring yet another attempt to salvage the image he's made for himself, as well as explain the disciplinary action incurred by his confederate Kate Kelly. (As if Kelly's excommunication needed any more explaining than what was already laid out by her bishop.) What Dehlin has done is suggest that the "strong leaders" (President Monson, I suppose) in the Church are incapacitated (thanks to things like dementia), which has left a "power vacuum" in the Church. This has created opportunities for bullies like Elder Ballard and Elder Clayton to surreptitiously excommunicate Kate Kelly, or for the Public Affairs department to go rogue and release press statements without authorization condemning Ordain Women. Thus Dehlin and Kelly's public image is saved. You see, it's not their fault that they are facing Church discipline because of their apostate actions. It's those old, white, male, cisgendered, heteronormative fogies in the Church Administration Building that are leading a witch hunt now that an incapacitated President Monson is out of the picture!

(Because remember, of course, that President Monson is famous for his advocating progressive ideals about sexuality and gender roles in the Church and society [to say nothing of his fondness for the work of revisionist historians at Signature Books who have systematically tried to undermine the very foundations of the Restoration]. If only he didn't have dementia, I'm sure he would've stepped in by now to personally stop whatever conspiring apostles were trying to give Dehlin and Kelly the boot.)

In short, Dehlin simply cannot accept that his and Kelly's apostate behavior is what's responsible for the weight of Church discipline coming down on them, so he is attempting to manufacture a conspiracy in the hierarchy of the Church to explain all of this away and save face with the public.

If there is any other possible reading of these comments from Dehlin, I'm all ears.

Of course, Dehlin never outright claims this is the case, because he has no evidence for it. But he can play coy by throwing out claims of having sources of "some significant capacity" or cunningly word his accusation as a hypothetical question or scenario. (As if to say, "Don't get mad at me! I'm just asking questions!") And if nothing else, just the impression of nefarious things going on at 47 East South Temple can be enough to sway people to Dehlin's narrative, which is all he needs.

Let these comments from Dehlin sink in, dear reader, and then ask yourself if these are the words of a man who genuinely sustains the Brethren or cares about the priesthood structure of the Church. For my part, so long as Dehlin keeps perpetuating this narrative, which he has manufactured from innuendo, question begging, hearsay, and cynically ascribing nefarious motives to the Brethren, I simply cannot take any of his feigned words of support for the Brethren or the Church, such as they are, seriously.

[N.B. For the record, I'm not disputing the possibility that President Monson has mental health issues. For all I know he does. What I am disputing are those who are using rumors and hearsay to perpetuate apostate narratives that undermine faith in the Brethren. It's one thing to say, "President Monson has (or might have) mental health issues, so we should be caring and sensitive and pray for him and his family." It's quite another to say, "President Monson has dementia, which means there's a power vacuum, which means the Brethren are stomping out dissent by unauthorized means, which means people like me (Dehlin, Kelly) are being persecuted by bullies like Packer or Oaks or Ballard. Oh, and make sure you keep repeating this on the Internet so everyone knows!"]

Saturday, August 2, 2014

An Overlooked Part of Sidney Rigdon's Fourth of July Oration

Sidney Rigdon (1793–1876)
On the Fourth of July, 1838, in Far West, Missouri, Sidney Rigdon delivered a powerful, if not verbose, oration.[1] Being the Fourth of July, his sermon is filled with the kind of patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric you'd expect on such an occasion. His speech, however, also contained some over-the-top fiery rhetoric that would be used by hostile Missourians to justify militia and mob violence against the Saints in Caldwell and Daviess counties later that same year.
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed. --Remember it then all MEN.[2]
This part of his speech, which came at the very end, is what's often latched onto by those commenting on the causes of the Mormon War of 1838.[3] For the purposes of this blog post, however, I want to focus on a part of Rigdon's oration that is often overlooked.
The object of our religion, is to make us more intelligent, than we could be without it, not so much, to make us acquainted with what we do see, as with what we do not see. It is designed to evolve the faculties, to enlighten the understanding, and through this medium, purify the heart. It is calculated to make men better, by making them wiser; more useful, by making them more intelligent; not intelligent on some subjects only, but on all subjects, on which intelligence can be obtained: and when science fails, revelation supplies its place, and unfolds the secrets and mysteries of the unseen world, leads the mind into the knowledge of the future existence of men, makes it acquainted with angels, principalities, and powers, in the eternal world; carries it into heaven and heavenly places, makes it acquainted with God, its Redeemer, and its associates in the eternal mansions; so that when science fails, and philosophy vanishes away, revelation, more extensive in its operations begins where they [science and philosophy] ends, and feasts the mind with intelligence, pure and holy, from the presence of God.[4]
It's a shame that this part of Rigdon's speech is overlooked, since I find it highly remarkable. It jives nicely with what Joseph and Brigham and other Church authorities have taught about the goals of Mormonism vis-a-vis intellectual attainment, and stirs within me the Romantic drive to gain wisdom and knowledge not just from scientific or scholarly routes, but also through our subjective experiences with the divine.

Notes

[1]: Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, on the 4th of July, 1838, At Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri (Far West, Missouri: The Journal Office, 1838). Rigdon's Fourth of July oration is not to be confused with his equally (in)famous "Salt Sermon" delivered a few weeks earlier on June 17, 1838, wherein he blasted Mormon dissenters (including Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, and the Whitmers) in their falling out with Joseph Smith and the Church, comparing them with the proverbial salt which had lost its savor, and was thus only good "to be trodden under foot of men" (Matthew 5:13).

[2]Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, 12.

[3]: See Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia, MI: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 49–53; Alexander L. Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2000), 33–36; “Joseph Smith in Northern Missouri,” in Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010), 308–310; Leland H. Gentry and Todd M. Compton, Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836–39 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 137–141; Alexander L. Baugh, "War of Extermination," in The Mormon Wars, ed. Glenn Rawson and Dennis Lyman (Salt Lake City: Covenant Communications, 2014), 51–53.

[4]Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, 9.

Two Quotes

1. From J. N. Washburn (sent to me by my friend Neal Rappleye):
I have no fears for the future of the Book of Mormon. While I may agree with those who say, "If it is man-made, the sooner we find it out the better," I am convinced that it will stand up under all the tests of scholarship. I am not fearful of investigation at any point nor from any source. There may be surprises in store for us, as for others. We shall unquestionably have to change some interpretations and adjust to new developments, as men have had to do in the case of the Bible, but the Book of Mormon will survive these adjustments, even if some of its devotees may not. It is my earnest, soul-filling, time-tested testimony that it is the work of God. 
(J. N. Washburn, The Contents, Structure, and Authorship of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954], xv.)

I could not articulate my own thoughts any better. I have had to adjust my understanding of the Book of Mormon (sometimes dramatically) over the years, and I still have plenty of questions relating to its historicity and teachings, but that has not negatively impacted my confidence in the authenticity and divinity of the Nephite record.

2. Speaking of the state of German literary criticism before the advent of the highly influential Enlightenment thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the literary critic Samuel P. Capen scathingly commented, "German scholarship [of the 18th century] was a horrible scarecrow of desiccated, meaningless pedantry."

(Samuel P. Capen, Lessing's Nathan der Weise [Boston: Ginn and Company, 1914], xii.)

I cannot think of a single greater descriptor of a lot of the anti-Mormon material I've read over the years. The material on MormonThink, as well as Jeremy Runnells' noxious Letter to a CES Director, particularly qualifies.

Then there is this from Capen:
[W]e are accustomed to think of the critic as a destructive agent, or at best as a kind of parasite. The things which he criticizes must exist first, and off these he feeds. Yet the great critic is not a mere parasite, and his work is most certainly not destructive. The great critic is not only a judge but a teacher. He not only estimates what has been done but he shows how it might be improved, and the measure of his greatness lies in the truth and forcefulness of his recommendations, and in their effect upon intellectual and artistic production. 
When I read this definition of a "great critic," in the positive and intellectual sense of the word, I think of all the great thinkers in Mormonism, such as Bushman, or Givens, or Nibley, or Madsen, or Ostler, or England, or Roberts, etc. And that greatly encourages me to continue my studies!

Friday, August 1, 2014

"We Believe All That God Has Revealed"

[This blog post was written by my good friend Brandon Habermeyer, a BYU graduate in philosophy and film studies. It has also been cross-posted at the FairMormon blog.]
I remember hearing a quote in my institute class from the late Hugh Nibley, who is reported to have said something along the lines of, “In order to be a good Latter-day Saint you need to have an infinite capacity for boredom." This quote, I think, humorously holds some truth, but for certain reasons that I think it shouldn't be true. Put differently, true, honest discipleship does not afford us the chance to ever get bored. And the reason for that, I believe, is found in the reflective margins of the ninth article of faith, which will be the basis of this post today.
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9). For me this article of faith reveals one of the more fascinating paradoxes of Mormonism. We believe in continuing revelation. Because we believe in continuing revelation it seems that we cannot have a theology that is any more than provisional, or temporary, because to claim otherwise is to claim that we’ve reached a plateau, a conceptual end, a spiritual license to cease from asking, knocking, and seeking. To claim that our doctrine, in other words, is absolute and immune to change, has no need for further clarification and articulation, and represents the final, inalterable word of God seems to establish what in sectarian language we call a “creed.” And creeds, by their very nature, cannot be trumped by further light and knowledge. From the perspective of the Prophet Joseph Smith, creeds were not looked favorably upon. Joseph taught, “The creeds set up stakes and say, 'Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further,' which I cannot subscribe to."[1] A few months before the Prophet had similarly expressed, "I want the liberty of believing as I please; it feels so good not to be trammeled."[2]