…from my wishy-washy postmodern perspective, it’s whole lot harder to deal with than other holy books.
The Bible? Sure, I might not be invested in the idea that Adam and Eve were actual people who lived in an actual garden, or that an actual flood came along and swallowed up the entire earth — but at least I know the Jews really did exist and that the Old Testament is their book; and that the Christians really did come along later, and that the New Testament is theirs.
The Doctrine and Covenants? Okay, so that whole D&C 132 thing might be a bit of a stretch, but there’s no question that Joseph Smith was a real dude and the Latter-day Saints were real people and, in the end, who am I to say what God did or didn’t tell them?
Even the Qur’an and the Veda and the Tao Te Ching can be regarded with this same sort of “open” perspective. Maybe God did inspire their authors to say what they said, to write what they wrote.
But the Book of Mormon is harder. Much harder.
Because the Book of Mormon claims to be an actual, translated text of an actual, literal people. People who may or may not have really existed.
There’s just no way around it. Unlike the other books, where you can make the argument that God was speaking in His own way to those people at those times — and they might have gotten the message right or they might have gotten the message wrong — the Book of Mormon has far less wiggle room. If it is of ancient origin, it becomes much harder to deny the literal truth claims of Mormonism.
And if it isn’t…
Well, it doesn’t look too good for Joseph Smith. Either he was a fraud or he was a loony. I recognize there’s some middle ground there — that the stories of the Book of Mormon’s origins were well-meaning fibs or that he had something ancient acting as a springboard for his revelation, even if it wasn’t the golden plates per se — but it’s a far more difficult case to make.
That’s why the Book of Mormon is such a pain in my ass. I want to put it in the same category as the other holy books. I want to approach it as “symbol” and “myth,” like I do with most everything spiritual this side of the Resurrection. But it won’t let me. It shouts at me, claws at me, buries itself under my skin and starts itching. Make a decision, it says, take a stand.
And the worst part?
If I’m a believing Mormon, this is just greater proof of its verity. If I’m a disbeliever, this is just greater proof of its falsehood.
I’m beginning to think that Elder Holland was on to something when he said that the Book of Mormon is the great stumbling block — though I would argue not just for those leaving, but for those coming in…and even those who want to stay put, but are trying to renegotiate their position in the community.
At least I keep tripping over it.