Friday, October 24, 2008

Dealing With "Hidden" Mormonism

Mormons who say they have just "discovered" Mormon history and doctrine after years of membership just don't make any sense. Perhaps a couple decades ago that might have been a possibility, but even then not likely. Some say that the LDS Church hides its history and doctrines, but that is innacurate. At worst it chooses what it presents like any religion or organization seeking to have a voice. That doesn't mean things are hidden; just slanted or emphasized.

There are some approaches to LDS history and doctrine at Dave's Mormon Inquiry that absolutely represents my own faith and knowledge journey. He lists those as:

The "what's the rest of the story?" approach. Most accounts are either abbreviated, selective, or influenced by a writer's personal agenda. Before freaking out, do more reading from a variety of authors.

The "adjust my opinions and convictions" approach. Yes, new facts are a fine basis for updating your inherited stock of opinions about life and all that. What better way to expand your understanding of human nature and institutions than reading history? A scaled-down-to-reality sense of what human institutions, including the LDS Church, can actually achieve is one of the benefits of reading history.

The "I'm a little bit smarter now" approach. I'm puzzled at why so many people who first read up on LDS history (at 20 or 25) leap to the conclusion that they've been lied to all these years. Right, try teaching history to LDS teenagers. Or adults. In a world filled with books and websites, you can start learning all you want to know about LDS history the day you get interested. If you do, give yourself a pat on the back and keep reading.

Each of these I subscribe to in my own reading throughout the years. The polygamy issue has perhaps been the most problematic, but hardly missing. There were repsonses to the RLDS (now Community of Christ) that dealt specifically with Joseph Smith having plural wives. The Doctrine and Covenants still contains a section that directly relates to Joseph Smith's revelation on the subject, as critics continue to point out. I love the quote from Kirk Douglas at the same blog above:

"I grew up, went to college, but my Judaism stayed stuck in a 14-year-old boy's Hebrew school book. It has been pointed out to me that no rational adult would make a business decision based on what they knew when they were 14. You wouldn't decide who to marry based on what you knew about love and relationships when you were 14. But lots of us seem satisfied to dismiss religion based on what we learned at 14, and I was one of those that stupid."

That is exactly what happened to me with polygamy, to continue the example. I first learned of the practice and doctrine around the age of 13 from a non-member friend. I didn't believe it. However, when I did discover the truth during my readings of "orthodox" books I wasn't shocked. It was there in black and white. To this day hearing grown men and women say they just discovered the same information just doesn't make any sense to me. When I was a child I thought as a child, but I didn't have to grow up to find the information.

I must say that I am amused by the idea of "hidden" things. I knew a lot about those things before I went on my mission just from reading LDS Church produced material. Other readings were either different (mostly antagonistic) opinions on the same history and doctrines, or the filling in of details.

Maybe it has to do with the hunger effect. when a person is seriously malnourished it can kill them to eat a feast. From what I understand most who lose their faith over what they read all of a sudden discover all these "hidden" teachings and historical information. Those who have continually read the scriptures and other material starting out young stay strong, or lose the faith in a different way.

Another curiosity is that for all the "hidden" information, it is interesting that the bulk of the knowledge comes from LDS produced writings. For example, other than a few original newspaper sources, Brodie's "No Man Knows My History" mostly uses The Joseph Smith History and Journal of Discourses. Aside from that, much of what she talks about can be found in B.H. Robert's Comprehensive History of the Church from a different perspective. Now, if you go to blatant anti-LDS works, they are a compendium of quotes (badly edited and way out of context) from LDS sources. To paraphrase Scully from the X-Files, "the [information] is there. You just have to know where to look."

Here are my own "must read" books to read before going on a mission. Warning: these are not easy to digest in one sitting lesson manuals. It might take a year or more with one grouping. This list also contains some books that came out later that if existed before my mission I would have read:

The Book of Mormon, New Testament, Pearl of Great Price, selected Old Testament, and selected Doctrine and Covenants.

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith

Discourses of Brigham Young, edited by John A. Widtsoe.

Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage.

Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard L. Bushman.

Brigham Young: American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington.

Answers to Gospel Questions: The Classic Collection in One Volume
by Joseph Fielding Smith.

Selections, particularly the prophets and well known persons and sermons, from Journal of Discourses, edited by George Watt.

Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by B.H. Roberts.

By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, by Terryl L. Givens.

The Latter-day Saint Experience In America, by Terryl L. Givens.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows, by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard.

Just about anything by Hugh Nibley (probably more of a personal taste). I admit he, more than any other author, shaped my approach to Mormonism.

Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, by Hugh Nibley and David J. Whittaker.

Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, by Hugh Nibley, edited by Don E. Norton.

An Approach to the Book of Mormon, by Hugh Nibley.

Mormonism and Early Christianity, by Hugh Nibley.

1 comment:

Tigersue said...

I would add to that list, Are Mormon's Christian, but Brother Robinson. Excellent book on why others claim we are not Christian, and yet those same claims would exclude others that they hold in high esteem as Christian.