From a recent reddit forum with Mormon historian Richard Bushman, I extracted 9 tips for those who are concerned about church history and how to deal with sticky issues.
On what to do when confronted with history that doesn’t match the church’s story.
Question: There are many people with a fraction of your knowledge of church history that throw up their hands and give up. They say looking any further into the truthfulness is futile, because what they’ve come to know negates the possibility of truth. What fundamental difference is there in those who let the knowledge negate their faith and those who let knowledge sustain it?
Bushman: For me that is the question of the hour. It is hard to explain. People on each side dream up explanations of the other. The believers say you must be sinning; the unbelievers say you are biased by your background and emotional factors. I don’t know the actual answer. I have come recently to ask people how they feel about Christ. If they still value him, I think they will be okay. But many have given up on Christ and even on God. Their problem in other words is a Christian, not just a Mormon, problem. I don’t know why that happens. People are left without a spiritual anchor of any kind. My hope is that wherever they land they will have the strength to reconstruct a belief they can live by. I don’t like it when anti-Mormonism becomes their religion. That is not a good way to live.
Question: It seems that if the organisation that taught you who and what God is turns out to be a fraud, the the credibility of the existence of said god comes into question. What would you say to those who feel they can’t believe in God or Christ because they think Joseph Smith made this whole thing up?
Bushman: I believe that is what indeed happens, but it implies Mormonism is the whole world for people. When the Mormon world cracks, everything crashes down. Lots of people believe in God and Christ who are not Mormons. Are they all as flawed as the Mormons?
I will say something a little abrasive in hopes of being informed. Should not Mormons have a connection with God that goes beyond the Church? Do we worship God or do we worship Mormonism? What should we teach our people to protect them from this vulnerability?
PROTIP 1: Avoid Mormonolatry. Stay spiritually anchored in Christ, not just Mormonism. Don’t let anti-Mormonism become a replacement religion.
On the Book of Mormon as a historical document and book of scripture.
Bushman: The Book of Mormon has a lot of nineteenth-century Protestant material in it, both in terms of theology and of wording. I am looking for an explanation of how and why it is there. I don’t think it is enough to say JS absorbed it from his environment. It is too complex and to far beyond his cultural range. But it is there, and we need to explain why and how. Right now it seems possible that the Joseph gave us exactly what he got by his inspiration, but that what was given him went beyond what the Nephite prophets wrote on the plates. The text was augmented in some way.
Question: Can you expound on the “nineteenth-century Protestant material”? Examples?
Bushman: Ah, you catch me unprepared. I said in another post you should not challenge standard belief without evidence in hand. All I can say here is that while reading Alma in the Book of Mormon I began to google long phrases from the sermons, and they came up in sermons in very much the same doctrinal context. All the talk about Jesus in the Book of Mormon, its glory we would say, has a 19th century ring to it. In my opinion, we should become the experts on this material and figure out what it tells us about translation and the nature of the text.
Question: Do you agree that the production timeline for the Book of Mormon along with Joseph’s level of education provide compelling evidence for the divine origin of the book? Why or why not?
Bushman: I think the Book of Mormon is a marvel. I don’t think you can make a case based on historical evidence that Joseph Smith could have written the book. It is entirely too complicated and produced with so little experience. In my opinion that does not allow you to jump immediately to the conclusion that the book was divine. I tell people it was either a work of genius or it was inspired. By genius we mean something that exceeds normal human capacities. That is certainly true for the Book of Mormon. See Wallace Bennett’s book, Leap of Faith for an extended presentation of this view.
PROTIP 2: (Implied) Don’t draw hasty conclusions about complex material.
On evaluating the accuracy of historical stories.
Question: If I remember correctly, in RSR you did not include the story about Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail commanding the guards to be silent as recounted by Parley P. Pratt (and included in the 2011 Relief Society/Priesthood Teachings of Joseph Smith manual). Why did you omit this? Is there anything inherently untrustworthy about Pratt’s account? Or is it that there aren’t any sources other than Pratt?
Bushman: I will confess I am a little suspicious of overly dramatic accounts. We are all so inclined to embellish our stories. In general I tried to avoid accounts written long after the fact. To use them properly you have to consider all the forces bearing on the story-teller when he finally put it down. I leave out a lot of material written in the 1860s and 1870s for that reason. A second account of the incident would have made a big difference.
Bushman: We are in a period of transition with regard to our history. The narrative is in the process of reconstruction. Right now that means there is the standard, comforting story, and then a series of controversies. Teachers are wondering how many of the surprises can be brought up in Sunday School without disrupting the spiritual purposes of the class. In time I think this problem will go away. All the controversial questions will be absorbed into the standard narrative and we won’t have a sense of two tracks. We will explain that Joseph Smith looked in a hat to translate just as now we say he looked in a stone box to find the gold plates. There are already lots of surprising things in the standard narrative. We will simply flesh that out. We must, however, not relent in getting all this material included. We want the story we tell each other to be based on the best possible historical evidence. Any shrinking from that mandate will only lead to more problems down the road. I think the Church is trying to create that kind of comprehensive, accurate narrative. In a few years there won’t be any more surprises.
PROTIP 3: When evaluating history be more skeptical of accounts that are overly dramatic, told decades after the fact, and those told by a single source.
On the recent improvement in transparency and relaying a more accurate historical account.
Question: As a follow up question, what do you think is spurring this change in focus for including the more controversial aspects of the history when it has previously not been a priority?
Bushman: Doubtless the blast of information on the internet changed the situation drastically. The Church had to face that fact that information of all kinds was now in the public realm. But I would like to think it has something to do with maturation as well. Many church members have enough confidence in their belief that they feel they can take the facts straight. They want to know the reality. I think secretly they felt their belief would have to get down to the full story before they could be secure. I can say that many General Authorities, perhaps not all, feel much better about telling it all.
Question: Is there a consensus among the brethren about the history of the church? Are they usually fairly informed about the issues?
Bushman: They were not for many years, but recently they have had to get up to speed. The recent Church historians have done a great job of informing the Brethren. The gospel topics were a surprise to many. They are often charged with concealing the truth. I think the fact is the old narrative was all they knew. I don’t think that all believe we have to tell the whole story. Why bring all that up they are wont to say. But those on the side of transparency are prevailing.
The gospel topics were a surprise to many. They are often charged with concealing the truth. I think the fact is the old narrative was all they knew.
PROTIP 4: Don’t assume a conspiracy among the leaders to hide the truth. Information has never been more accessible than it is now.
Question: I find it troubling that many people feel that if you dig deep academically (in any field really) that you risk losing your faith. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Bushman: Yes you do risk losing your faith if you dig deep. It has happened to lots of people. But that does not mean you should not dig. You don’t want to feel that if you turned over every stone, somewhere there would be a snake. You have to be willing to look at everything or your faith will be shaky. My own belief is that if you run into a problem, you should plunge right into the center of it and learn all you can. Problems that are lit up with knowledge are often less scary than problems lurking in the shadows.
Problems that are lit up with knowledge are often less scary than problems lurking in the shadows.
PROTIP 5: Faith requires trust. Digging in and being open-minded is the only way to build a faith on a foundation of trust. But due to the complexity of the records, don’t draw conclusions hastily.
Question: It seems to me that there is a certain amount of social stigma associated with addressing the more difficult issues in mormon history. Many members of the church (myself included) feel that we can’t openly discuss church history without being accused of promoting “anti-mormon” or “faith-destroying” ideas. In your opinion, how can we can address these issues in a way that is more palatable to those who may not be aware of some of the more troubling issues in mormon history?
Bushman: Contradicting the standard narrative of church history is a delicate matter. People get disturbed and the questioner feels rebuffed. I ran into this problem at Claremont where the graduate students offended Church members with their expert knowledge on the New Testament when it ran against the standard views. I think two things have to be kept in mind. If your secret wish is to be an iconoclast, to break the images, church members will sniff that out. Or if you want to parade superior knowledge as some of the Claremont students did, you will meet resistance. If your wish is to help people understand our history better, you are more likely to be accepted. My second suggestion is be prepared. In a sense you have to begin each comment with the phrase “there is reason to believe . . . ” If you challenge someone’s long held opinion, they will want to know where you got that. What reason do you have to make such an assertion. You can’t simply tell them it is well known, or you found it on the internet, or that some critic came up with this information. You need to know where in the sources this new data can be found. If you are claiming JS looked in a hat to translate you had better know that Emma Smith said this in an interview with her son. That will not only add authority to what you are saying, but take the sting out of your claims. Then you can look at the document together and figure out what it means.
Even the honest must recognize they are dealing with very strong feelings and should not expect to be greeted joyfully when they bring up a sticking point. We have to try to understand each other. If you feel hopeless, move to Manhattan. We love questioners.
PROTIP 6: Check your motives for sharing a more accurate depiction of history that contradicts church versions. Are you trying to help others understand (yes), being an iconoclast (no), or trying to demonstrate your superior understanding (double no)? Realize that people have strong feelings and don’t like to find out they are wrong.
PROTIP 7: Know your sources, not just vague things like “it’s well known,” “internet,” or “read it somewhere.” Know and share the historical reference.
PROTIP 8: Move to Manhattan!
Question: Where can a layperson, such as myself, easily gain access to primary sources (preferably on the internet)?
Bushman: Look at the footnotes of the books you are reading. If they don’t have footnotes, get another book. The Joseph Smith papers are a trustworthy source for lots of stuff.
PROTIP 9: Don’t just rely on secondary accounts or summaries on internet sites. If you really want to know history, dig in to the Joseph Smith papers.
Are these tips helpful? Does Richard Bushman’s perspective give you more hope for the future of our curriculum and the increase in transparency?
Wow, this is just awesome. Here are some of my takeaways:
1. We are a Christ-centered Church , not a history centered Church even though we love our history. It was always meant to point to Christ. Even when slightly wrong….
2. We are a faith centered Church, but not blind faith. We should know our stuff…
3. The truth will set you free. I think Jesus said that. But it’s the real truth and nothing but the truth from reliable, documented sources, not he said, she said….. 100 years later.
I love the post.
I like the post and tips. Let’s see if the takeaways play out in the bloggernacle.
New iconoclast ftw
Also I loved this Ama. How he described being rooted in Christ is exactly what happened during my faith transition. The black or white either everything is true or everything is false approach sure produces a lot of exmos, I think. Now I view the church as a tool I use to access the Gospel….and I loved his pointing out leaders weren’t malicious in covering up–that we have many GAs who have only known correlation themselves.
Bushman just needs to be the new q12, methinks….
Thanks for sharing, I read the whole Q&A. I loved his comments about 19th century origins for the BoM content. I’m willing to accept some inspiration mixed with a lot of creative theological speculation. I personally don’t think that Joseph was the sole author of the content, but I don’t think it came from ancient native American’s either.
It’s a mystery that I’m not sure we’ll ever have the answer to. I just wish more people would acknowledge what I think is clear evidence of modern origins for the concepts being discussed in the text. The ideas about Christianity for one, would have never been known by ancient pre Christian Jews. The myth that all this Christian theology was around anciently, even going back to Adam and Eve for that matter cannot be supported by the evidence. I guess this uncomfortable truth just breaks too many bubbles when it comes to critically dissecting the correlated narrative.
The book, Leap of Faith, is by Sen. Bob Bennett, Sen. Wallace Bennett’s son.
Not to nit pick, but if we avoid experiences written years after the fact, from one source that has “dramatic emblishments” doesn’t that eliminate the various accounts of the first vision, expecially the church accepted one? From my understanding those accounts could be argued to contain all three of his criteria.
I like that he came straight out and said, base your faith in Christ, not just in Mormonism. Because the Church may let you down, but that doesn’t mean the Savior will.
He’s more optimistic that I am that “traditional” history in opposition to “real” history will soon be resolved. Overall, though, it’s a stellar piece with a lot of great ideas.
Thor, why not be skeptical about the entire first vision? Early church members didn’t use it at all as the basis for their faith.
Richard Bushman is one of the good guys and is never afraid to answer tough questions directly and honestly with interesting and often surprising insight. He did a great job with the AMA.
This is great. Thanks hawkgrrl.
Since reading RSR, I have had a deep appreciation for Bushman’s honesty regarding Church history. His current emphasis on being a follower of Christ over being a follower of Mormonism, while commendable, can have its problems. Some followers of Christ believe that in order to be saved, we must accept Jesus as our personal savior. Other followers of Christ believe that, because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, everyone will be saved. Other followers of Christ can believe, as I do, that Jesus came to earth to teach the principle of love and to demonstrate that there is life after death. One question in my mind is the extent to which we can redefine ourselves as Mormons and still remain Mormon. If there was no Adam and Eve to fall then there was no need for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. All recent evidence of the spirit world indicates that everyone upon death has access to God’s love and continued existence as spirit beings without the need for a resurrection, thus going against the teachings of the plan of salvation and against the belief in an anthropomorphic God. Current evidence is against the Book of Mormon being an historical record of an ancient people. Where does this leave us as Mormons?
The story that PPP recounts of Joseph silencing the blaspheming guards took place in Richmond, not in the jail in Liberty. The linked section of the JS manual confirms that.
(See how easily the stories get started down the wrong path?)
Hawk, that’s what I’ve ended up doing, let go of putting the first vision in my foundation. I know he experienced something that day – but how it happened is no longer of utmost importance. Who knows. I still choose to believe.
I find some of these tips helpful. However I still find the idea of prophetic insight (we won’t lead you astray) and its concomitant claims to supreme authority irreconcilable with the claim that ‘that’s the only narrative they knew’. Any appeal to ignorance weakens all claims to authority – doctrinal, priesthood, or otherwise. And the image of prophets morphs into one of deluded administrators.
“Any appeal to ignorance weakens all claims to authority – doctrinal, priesthood, or otherwise. And the image of prophets morphs into one of deluded administrators.” But the truth will out. It seems to me that those who are historians have more patience with people misunderstanding history because they see how difficult it is to get at good historical information.
This was an awesome summary and article. Thanks. And though we all cannot move to Manhattan, let us do our best to construct Manhattan in our own wards and stakes, whereever we are. 🙂
Hawkgrrl, that’s kind of what I was asking–early members ignored it, and bushman is the authority on JSJ; just wondering out loud if he puts stock in it. Also, if we as modern members don’t put stock in it, how does that change his role as a prophet? I’ve always understood it as the lynch pin in his claim….
I have a hard time with Richard Bushman’s statements.
He says, try not to use the accounts not written until 30-40 years after the fact and then he references a vague Emma Smith account (interview) of “the hat.” That account can be interpreted a number of ways and of course it was written 30-40 years after the event and shortly before she died.
To make matters worse, Bushman’s book ignores 95% of that same interview and deems it untrustworthy.
If you read Bushman’s book, most of it is from accounts written at least 30 years after the event happened, some accounts 60 years.
It is too bad Bushman won’t accept constructive criticism from someone outside his inner circle because the next generation won’t be as kind to him as his current critics.
However we approach Mormonism it will bring us to a better place than without it. For those who embrace Mormonism as taught by the Book of Mormon the heavens will be opened to them.
The problem with the culture of our day is that most who call themselves Mormons are so mixed up in the things of the world that they only get to first base, and a few to second base.
What I am saying is summed up the following scripture:
Faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe…signs come by faith, not by the will of men…but by the will of God. D&C 63:9-11
I consider Brother Bushman a great man, but I don’t think brother Bushman’s faith is to second base. If it were his conversation and writings would indicate it.
“See Wallace Bennett’s book, Leap of Faith for an extended presentation of this view.”
This is what Bushman said, but he then corrected it. Should be Robert Bennett (as in former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett.)
Jared #20 you have got to be flippin kidding me, right? All truth is gospel truth, for those who seek and know – and then blaze trails of how to believe even more fervently . . . to call that first base?
Jared, quit throwing stones. I don’t think Richard Bushman was called to be a stake patriarch because he lacked faith–quite the opposite.
I had to look that one up
polite ‘holy shit’. Origin: Made popular by Chris Farley in Tommy Boy.
MH-I didn’t throw stones.
I think Brother Bushman is a great man.
I know he is a patriarch.
What I said is based on having read many things he has written.
I did not disparage him in the least.
19th Century Protestantism was still intensely Bible-centered. They knew the Bible better than any other book. It was less a case of the BOM sounding like 19th Cen Protestantism than the other way around.
“The problem with the culture of our day is that most who call themselves Mormons are so mixed up in the things of the world that they only get to first base, and a few to second base.”
Jared, your posts make me so happy to not be Mormon any more. How can you and your GIANT testimony stand to live with us mere humans?
Some of this is familiar territory, but not all. How useful it is to have it distilled and summarized here. This is excellent, and the comments are also instructive and/or entertaining.
I’m glad to read #5 “Faith requires trust.” My faith in the Lord merits trust, but sometimes I have to work with a purpose to muster trust for all others, including mortal church leaders. It’s good to think about this.
Also, #8 would be lots of fun, until December. Through April.
“The problem with the culture of our day is that most who call themselves Mormons are so mixed up in the things of the world that they only get to first base, and a few to second base.”
About the time that I joined the Church, Billy Joel had come out with a tune on his ’52nd Street’ album, called Zanzibar: In it, he addresses the analogy of base running, stating: “Me, I’d like to get to second base, and I’d steal it if she only gave the sign!”. Obviously the goal of “Mr…William…Joel!” was different than what you described.
I think many LDS wouldn’t appreciate being in effect labeled superficial as you seem to view them. I can only speak for myself and those I intimately know; though many fellow members that I’ve known over the years do seem to exemplify the teachings of the Savior in their personal lives, even they are, as Sarek of Vulcan once said (disappointed in his son Spock’s half-human characteristics right after his human wife, Amanda, has just given birth)…”So Human…” OTOH, they also don’t get hung up on nit-noy details of Church history, they’re too busy writing their own family histories.
Jared, it’s your stock in trade to disparage people softly, with a gentle tone, then feign shock that anyone could have taken your comments in a negative way. When you say someone’s faith isn’t even to second base, that is disparaging. It’s particularly distasteful when you continually compare it to your own hyper-developed faith. It’s gross, man.
In fact, Jared, why don’t you spare us all the suspense and formally roll out your Jared-God Theory. You’ve been hinting at it for years.
Brian + brjones-
A blog is a venue to offer opinions and thoughts. As such, there is going to be disagreements.
I don’t mind disagreements.
If you have a problem with something I offer, that’s fine. However, bullying isn’t OK.
Not sure what you mean, Jared. I didn’t disparage anyone.
hawkgrrrl, et al,
I appreciate this post. I think the 9 tips are useful, depending on the audience.
My concern with Brother Bushman is that he never provides a strong testimony of Joseph Smith. The reason he doesn’t is because he hasn’t gone far enough to obtain one.
A few years ago, I read a piece he wrote. He doesn’t come across to me as having a strong testimony.
He is a fine historian. That is my opinion.
Sorry, Hawkgrrrl, for digressing on a really interesting post. I will forward this to my wife who always wonders how Mormon historians/intellectuals square their minds and hearts. Thanks for posting this. I would not have seen it otherwise.
Don’t fight amongst yourselves. We’re taking notes and jotting down some names.
The Three Nephites
Thanks for the post. Great insight from Brother Bushman.
It is notable that he does parse some sources in interesting ways, but the PPP story from Richmond did not get at a major theme of his book like some of the other sole sourced materials.
My concern with Jared is that he never provides strong arguments in support of Joseph Smith. The reason he doesn’t is because he hasn’t gone far enough to obtain knowledge about him.
A few days ago, I read a piece he wrote. He doesn’t come across to me as having strong knowledge.
He is a fine testimony bearer. That is my opinion.
But his testimony never gets to second base with people here. He usually strikes out swinging. I’ll give him an A for effort, and I don’t disparage him, but I also would bench him if I could.
Jared tries hard, and sounds like he’s speaking from the rameumptom. “Oh God, thank you for blessing me with such a great testimony. I pity poor Richard Bushman for so lacking in faith that he can’t even get to second base! I wish he had a great testimony like me! He’d dream of hitting grand slams like I dream while I’m striking out for being so judgmental! (And I tick off people like MH and brjones when I am so ridiculously judgmental, elevating my own righteousness.)”
Judge righteous judgment Jared. This is exhibit A for your lack of humility. There is none good, but God Jared. Quit tooting your own prideful horn and disparaging Bushman.
“Not sure what you mean, Jared. I didn’t disparage anyone.”
Epic, br jones.
I tend to think Bro Bushman has gone too far for the type of Mormon testimony we generally hear. He knows too much. It’s not that he hasn’t gone far enough. Au contraire.
Most of the New Testament was written years after the actual events. Is this history suspect also? Someone had to know the truth. Does the Lord speak to our prophets or is the Church wandering in the wilderness?
If Richard Bushman doesn’t count as a faithful Mormon (per Jared or anyone), then i feel like Mormonism is kinda doomed.
It is super easy for me to understand why Mormons who reject Mormonism reject Christianity and God – we believed literally that no other churches were/are true. Once we decided that Mormonism was not true there was nothing left.
Because of what I do, I come into contact with a lot of people. I marvel at the variety of faith I find in church members.
I’ll provide an example, a while back I spent about 4 hours talking with a lady. She is a minority. Her mother and dad immigrated to the USA. She has 17 brothers and sisters, all from the same mother and dad.
They are the most spiritual people I have ever come across. She and her husband were on a church mission a few years ago. She humbly spoke of an experience she had on her mission. An angel appeared to her. She provided a detailed description of his appearance.
She also related many other experience about her family. When she was a small girl she was killed in an accident. Her father through the power of faith and the priesthood raised her from the dead. There were scores of witnesses to this miracle.
My orientation for many years has been focused on things of the Spirit. By so doing I approach life differently than those who have a different approach to their faith.
I had no intention of creating tension with my comments. I have learned that if you seek higher ground and speak freely then those who are prone to criticism will criticize. I also believe that many of them are controlling and intolerant by nature. And those they love and who love them have to deal with their hard speeches–their family members.
I’ve observed that those who come to the bloggernacle are open to all kinds of people. Commenters can say just about anything negative and ugly they want about the church, church leaders, and church culture and they are home free. But let someone say things like I did today and the critics have a field day and say the most unkind things.
“Most of the New Testament was written years after the actual events. Is this history suspect also? ”
Yes, very. There was also an effort by early Church fathers to craft a specific agenda based on the books that were chosen for the canon.
Apparently, I didn’t do a very good job communicating my thoughts about Brother Bushman.
I’ll try to put it a different way with the hopes of communicating what’s on my mind.
I do not doubt that Bushman is a faithful, devoted church member. But in comparison to someone like Matthew Cowley their is a huge difference.
Matthew Cowley hit a home run in his example of faith (see audio link below). Most everyone else in comparison is on 1st or 2nd base.
I hope someone comes along who is prominent like Richard Bushman but who is more like Mathew Cowley and can relate spiritually to an equal or greater degree as they do intellectually.
I hope for this so that church members who are losing faith can be influenced with manifestations of the Spirit to the extent they will be like the Lamanites that the four sons of Mosiah converted.
We need men like Ammon and women like Abish to break the grip of apostasy that is sweeping through Mormonism in our day.
I feel like Alma when he expressed:
1 O THAT I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 29:1 – 2)
I would give anything to see you and others who read this to have experiences that would change your hearts like king Lamoni had. To hear you and others bearing a powerful testimony of your experiences of conversion by the power of the Spirit would be the best possible experience.
Because of what I do, I come into contact with a lot of people. I marvel at the variety of faith I find in church members.
I’ll provide an example. Often on the bloggernacle, I find people who fancy themselves as religious, with strong testimonies. They spew their judgments and disparage others, saying things like “I consider Brother Bushman a great man, but I don’t think brother Bushman’s faith is to second base. If it were his conversation and writings would indicate it.” I remind you to read the JST version of Matthew chapter 7:
First get the beam out of your own eye, then maybe your testimony will bear more weight, and be more persuasive to others. Otherwise you sound like “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye;” Otherwise God will judge you with the same harsh judgment you’ve sent Bushman’s way.
My orientation for many years has been focused on church history, but that does not mean I don’t try to talk about things of the Spirit. By so doing I approach life differently than those who have a different approach to their faith. Since you like testimony and scriptures so much, I’m going to try to speak your language.
I had no intention of creating tension with my comments. I have learned that if you seek higher ground and speak freely then those who are prone to criticism will criticize. I also believe that many of them are controlling and intolerant by nature, as evidenced when they disparage others–like Richard Bushman–on blogs. Yet when it is pointed out to them, they then exalt their own spirituality, and don’t back down from offensive comments (kind of like Donald Trump.) Remember Matthew 23:12,
You wrote, “And those they love and who love them have to deal with their hard speeches–their family members.”
Funny thing is Jared, I feel much like Nephi, talking about his brothers: see 1 Nephi 16:2-3,
I’ve observed that those who come to the bloggernacle are open to all kinds of people. “Orthodox” can say just about anything negative and ugly they want about “other members” and they are home free. But let someone say things like I did today and the critics have a field day and say the most unkind things.
It does cut both ways. Jared, I bear testimony that elevating your faith above Richard Bushman pains the Savior you claim to worship. Repent. Apologize. Be humble. Quit elevating your testimony above Richard Bushman or any other human being.
Or you sound just like Donald Trump, who never apologizes for the incendiary things he says. Would you rather be like Trump, or Jesus? The choice is yours. I bear testimony that the words I have written are true.
Be more humble, more repentant, and more apologetic when you offend. I promise you will find the same from others, and I think you will get more converts at W&T by being less offensive. You’re a great man. I love you like a brother.
#47 – Not always have I given your posts the ‘thumbs up’, Heretic, but this one begged for it, and if I’ve been quick to differ with you, then ethics alone dictate I gotta be just as quick to commend.
You might want to abide by the same admonition you give Jared, but AFAIC, I’m applying it likewise to myself. The idea, always, is to uphold what our respective testimonies say is TRUTH, but remember that it’s the TRUTH we’re upholding, but not ourselves.
After all, not that striving for righteousness is bad of itself, but if said ‘striving’ is ENTIRELY of our own selves, OR, is for our OWN puffery rather than the building up of the Kingdom of God…then it’s entirely unacceptable before our Lord (Isaiah 64:6). As Kazim from “Last Crusade” asked Indiana Jones: “Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?”
In short (too late…)
Seek LESS to BE right…
Seek MORE to DO right…
and everything will be ALRIGHT
Richard Bushman said he doesn’t like to use sources written 30 or 40 years after the fact UNLESS he can find other claims that are similar and back it up. “A second account would have made a big difference.” I believe that implies he would believe such a story if someone else can back it up no matter how long after it was written.
MH, et al
If I could be like Bill Murray in the movie “Ground Hog Day” and repeat yesterday, I would approach my comment in #20 differently. In hindsight, it was a mistake on my part to single out Richard Bushman in my attempt to make a point. I’m sorry and hope I never repeat the same mistake again.
If I would have stated my thoughts as follows maybe things would have turned out better.
Thanks for the informative post. It got me thinking about something that I hope will one day will be our good fortune to experience as Mormons in this generation.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an individual to represent Mormonism on the internet who has the credentials of Alma the younger. He was called of God from the most unlikely of circumstances. He was doing all he could to destroy the church when an angel appeared to him.
He experienced a miraculous conversion along with the sons of Mosiah. The angelic visitation and conversion of Alma and the four sons of Mosiah were more public than private miracles. The fame of their conversion was heralded among population.
Alma went on to become the first elected chief judge of the Nephites. After a period, he left his influential political position as Chief Judge and went among the his people as a missionary, urging them to be true followers of Christ.
It would be a great blessing to our generation if the Lord would raise up someone like Alma to defend the church against critics and help struggling church members stay the course.
Jared, much better. Yes “It IS a great blessing to our generation THAT the Lord would raise up someone like RICHARD BUSHMAN to defend the church against critics and help struggling church members stay the course.”
Some people find Bushman more persuasive than Alma the Younger. God’s ways are mysterious, and we shouldn’t pigeon-hole a single solution, AS YOU STILL LIKE TO DO. Alma the Younger works for some people, Bushman works for others. Both are valuable men, and we should never denigrate one method as inferior to the other. Different people need different approaches. I’m glad Alma works for you. Bushman works for me, and I find him JUST as valuable as Alma.
Bushman has kept many people in the church, and should be viewed as a missionary that has not only kept people from leaving, but has batted them around the bases so that they can return to home plate as he has done. He is not just a faithless person who can’t make it to 2nd base, he is a slugger who gets people home by helping them when they are struggling with their faith. I wish you could view him with that lens.
Jared – You know a woman who was raised from the dead, and scores (aka 40+) people personally saw this? I think this is worthy of some exploration, don’t you?
Yes, I met her and know about the family. In fact, church leaders are aware of this events.
The miracle of her death and being raised from the dead after being hit by a car is well known in certain places.
Elder Oaks looked into it for a talk he gave to students in Canada. See the following link for more detail.
I’ll include part of it here. Note how the father was restrained because of the faith of the various onlookers.
Another sacred experience is related in the book Tongan Saints. It happened while Elder ‘Iohani Wolfgramm and his wife were serving a mission in their native Tonga, presiding over a branch on an outlying island. Their three-year-old daughter was accidentally run over by a loaded taxi. Four of the occupants of the taxi sorrowfully carried her lifeless body to her parents. “Her head was crushed and her face was terribly disfigured.” 20 The sorrowing helpers offered to take the little girl’s body to the hospital so the doctors could repair her severely damaged head and face for the funeral. I now quote the words of her father, Elder Wolfgramm: “I told them I did not want them to take her but that I would ask God what I should do and, if it was possible, to give her life back.”
The helpers took the little girl’s body into the chapel. Elder Wolfgramm continued: “I asked them to hold her while I gave her a priesthood blessing. By then the curious people of the village were flocking in to see our stricken little daughter. As I was about to proceed with the administration, I felt tongue-tied. Struggling to speak, I got the distinct impression that I should not continue with the ordinance. It was as if a voice were speaking to me saying: ‘This is not the right time, for the place is full of mockers and unbelievers. Wait for a more private moment.’
“My speech returned at that moment and I addressed the group: ‘The Lord has restrained me from blessing this little girl, because there are unbelievers among you who doubt this sacred ordinance. Please help me by leaving so I can bless my child.’”
The people left without taking offense. The grieving parents carried the little girl to their home, put her body on her own bed, and covered her with a sheet. Three hours passed, and her body began to show the effects of death. The mother pleaded with the father to bless her, but he insisted that he still felt restrained. Finally, the impression came that he should now proceed. I return to his words:
“All present in the home at that moment were people with faith in priesthood blessings. The feeling of what I should do and say was so strong within me that I knew Tisina would recover completely after the blessing. Thus, I anointed her head and blessed her in the name of Jesus Christ to be well and normal. I blessed her head and all her wounds to heal perfectly, thanking God for his goodness to me in allowing me to hold his priesthood and bring life back to my daughter. I asked him to open the doors of Paradise, so I could tell her to come back and receive her body again and live. The Lord then spoke to my heart and said, ‘She will return to you tomorrow. You will be reunited then.’”
The parents spent an anxious night beside the body of the little girl, who appeared to be lifeless. Then, suddenly, the little girl awoke, alive and well. Her father’s account concludes: “I grabbed her and examined her, her head and face. They were perfectly normal. All her wounds were healed; and from that day to this, she has experienced no complications from the accident. Her life was the miraculous gift from Heavenly Father during our missionary labors in Fo’ui.”
#50 – The trouble is, we’re taught correct PRINCIPLES but left to govern ourselves. Else, as enemies of Mormonism oft charge, we’d be looking to Salt Lake for what brand of breakfast cereal to buy and so on. Maybe the Church DOESN’T speak out on took many haggling points or appoint some ‘official blogger’ for a reason. Humans are by nature curious creatures, and it’s that curiosity that leads LDS folk to study ALL aspects of their religion, and debate it all the live long day on a forum such as this. The very fact that we can have a lively discussion at all does kind of prove that we LDS are not mind-numbed robots; that we do think and act for ourselves.
“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by Carl Sagan gives a really good alternate explanation of such events, which happen all over the world for both believers and non-believers.
I can understand your drive to discount miracles. Carl Sagan appears to be an honest man who never experienced a miracle first hand. You have my full endorsement to follow him.
However, that doesn’t mean that every miracle can be swept away as nonsense based on Seagan 25 essays.
In our day, we have very creditable people who are having NDE and telling about it. Of course, the critics are quick to explain that NDE are hallucinations of an oxygen starved brain. But it doesn’t persuade the people who experience them.
Here are two links to medical doctors who experienced NDE.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbkgj5J91hE This is 1:39 minutes
Both of these doctors took risk to their careers in telling their stories
I am sure Mary and Eben’s stories are compelling.
Do you have a good explanation why God refuses to perform healing miracles on amputees?
I do not have a definitive answer. From what I’ve learned from people who have various handicaps, some would say it is part of the experience they are to have in this life. Others curse God.
It depends on the individual and their world view.
I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a few of the survivors from WWII concentration camps. It was interesting to learn from them.
Corrie ten Boom, concentration survivor wrote a book that may provide some insight into your question. “The Hiding Place”
Jared, it is interesting that at least one person with a hip joint shot away had it restored.
The puzzle of why miracles do and do not happen is deep and difficult.
I like a lot of Bushman’s answers — not all of them.
One thing I wanted to mention — I don’t really like the idea of divorcing your Christianity from your Mormonism. To me, that sounds like what members of the Community of Christ (former RLDS) have done. They want to divorce themselves from their history, their “Mormonism” as much as possible and focus on Christ. To me, if you’re going to be or remain a Mormon, you need to accept the whole package. Whether you get the heebie jeebies when you think of polygamy or not, it is a part of our history, etc.
Yes, I remember. Hauns Mill murders. I’m trying to remember the boys name. I do remember that medical doctors came to see him and wondered how grisle replaced his hip bone.
Thanks for the thought. I will reread the history.
I agree with Mormon Milk Dude that Mormonism is a “take it or leave it” proposition. I really wanted to stay in the Mormon Church in some capacity, but it was simply not possible.
Not sure how I got to this page, but it is fascinating and enlightening to see how he is reconciling the obvious contradictions and embarrassments of factual Mormon history (Book of Abraham anyone) by essentially ignoring them and pointing people to Christ. This is a very squishy, mushy idea of truth.
Now that the Internet has made access readily available to so much information for both Mormons and non-Mormons, I don’t think you really can get away with this. It is both intellectually and spiritually dishonest.
The Mormon church has from the first proclaimed it was the only true church. Most younger Mormons don’t even know that until about 30 years ago, when the church’s revised public relations campaign kicked in, the Mormon church proudly proclaimed that it was NOT a Christian church. To call it a Christian church was an insult to a Mormon in the 1970’s. (BTW my wife grew up in Mesa. She remembers the church’s stance in the 1960’s and 1970’s and can easily verify this.)
Back to the topic, IF the Mormon church is the only TURE church, then ALL of its history and ALL of its prophetic words MUST both be true and consistent throughout and with each other. (Sprititual utterances that is, ignoring things like Joseph Smith saying the moon was populated by men walking around in top hats)
If these things are not ALL true, you don’t get to change the test and just tell people to ignore the errors, inconsistencies, no priesthood for blacks, plural marriage being an “eternal principle”, etc. Either it’s all true, or the entire house of cards crumbles. (Just ignore the man behind the curtain.)
People should indeed look to Jesus, but they should be looking to the Jesus of the Bible; not some fictional Jesus who is the brother of Satan.
In your parenthetical statement, you say “spiritual utterances that is”, and dismiss Joseph Smith’s moon comments.
But isn’t this kinda doing what Bushman is doing? There are plenty of people who would say that Joseph Smith’s moon comments cannot be ignored (whereas you think that they can be ignored as not being spiritual utterances). What Bushman is saying is that elements of church history are not spiritual utterances either — that one should not base one’s testimony on history. He’s saying that the spirit utters about Christ, so that should be the base of testimony.
Of course, different people will disagree on details for Christ. But even in your last paragraph, you point that people should look to Jesus. You don’t say that people should look at history, everything that has happened in the history of Christian denominations, schisms, etc., etc.,
Thanks for including the photograph; I had no idea what Richard Bushman looked like. For some reason I pictured him as looking like one of those smiling, shiny-faced CES types. I should have known better.
Bought and read the book Rough, Rolling Stone a few times. IMO: It did veer toward the truth but the omissions of history ended up sinking the premise that this wasn’t an apologist effort.
So touchstone questions for you:
1. D&C clearly states polygamy is by way of a virgin. many church authorities not only married those whom weren’t virgins but also presently married to another. Your take? The scripture was wrong or the authorities blew it?
2. According to church sources there was once four prophets seer and relevators on earth. J.S. , His brother Hyrum, Willian Law and Sidney Rigdon. So, Law was excommunicated since he and his wife rejected polyandry (according to Law), Hyrum died with J.S. ….so why wasn’t Rigdon the leader? Brigham Young held none of these keys… Explanation ?
3. When Prophets lie, is that OK by you? For example, Wooddruff the diary master, didn’t note B.Y. Taking form of J.S. During the fabled event in his diary. Years later, he wrote about it but no entry the day of or short period after– who wouldn’t record such an event. Woodruff also had the dream about American Presidents needing baptism for the dead but most already had been done multiple times in the temple (before the age of computers easy to understand part of this but record keeping is a LDS a strength, right?) Does that mean that a temple ordinance is low probability event? Wooddruff also didn’t end polygamy in 1890– up you ok with that??
4. How can one explain that one Prophet has doctrine such as Adam-God, blood atonement and short while later another says it isn’t so? The first prophet was clear what he said was official doctrine… Hmmm…
5. In your personal value set, should we reopen the fiscal books?
If you answer any of this… THANKS! in advance.
I think Bushman has a very “nuanced” testimony. How could he not, he knows far too much to allow a standard testimony of the kind I once had as a young missionary. I believe he also enjoys being who he is, and loves the role he is playing as a Mormon intellectual and historian with great credibility.
I also have great admiration for people such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krouse. But based on my own experiences and research, I believe in the reality of NDE’s and that there is more to the reality we think we understand. Given there is so much we don’t understand, the only really honest approach is to be open minded. However, if one has been intellectually honest, and done some honest inquiry into Mormonism, its hard to not get “nuanced out” of being a believer.
The story of the little Tongan girl was probably embellished, but could have been a real NDE.
I think one can have it both ways: Its clear the church isn’t what it claims to be, but the really good news is just that. We don’t have to believe in all the goofy stuff these old uneducated (HC Kimball comes easily to mind) white guys said and taught, but there is something going on that is infinitely more desirable and exciting to contemplate.
Mormonism by comparison to what might really be going on, is simple and easily explained. If we are all infinitely powerful beings of energy for example, and just having a mortal experience of our own design with our own spiritual development in mind, the idea of needing to copulate with numerous spiritual wives and populating our own planet seems fun/tedious, but on a fairly small compass. I
enjoy sex to be sure, but Im hoping there is much more to come 🙂
our own planet be a high level of thought for example.
Thanks for this.
I think it is important that we not judge one anothers’ testimonies.
tid wrote: “Since reading RSR, I have had a deep appreciation for Bushman’s honesty regarding Church history. His current emphasis on being a follower of Christ over being a follower of Mormonism, while commendable, can have its problems. Some followers of Christ believe that in order to be saved, we must accept Jesus as our personal savior. Other followers of Christ believe that, because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, everyone will be saved. Other followers of Christ can believe, as I do, that Jesus came to earth to teach the principle of love and to demonstrate that there is life after death. One question in my mind is the extent to which we can redefine ourselves as Mormons and still remain Mormon. If there was no Adam and Eve to fall then there was no need for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus…”
It is nearly impossible for us Mormons to redefine ourselves without having a far more nuanced view of our stories. First, taking stories that are clearly meant as allegory – like the story of Adam & Eve – and interpreting them as history, makes no sense. But why stop with the story of A&E? Many of the stories in scripture are allegorical and metaphorical and were not meant to be interpreted as history IMO. The Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, for me, are certainly in this category; regardless of whether they were always taught by the church as history. And you are also right, when some stories are allegorical and not historical, they can jeopardize other stories that depend on them, as your example of Christ’s atonement so well demonstrates.
But just b/c the stories aren’t historical does not mean they aren’t true. They are myth in the highest sense of the word (I don’t mean lies or errors). Meaning, they teach true and often deep principles, but they are not history. They were written as myth and need to be interpreted that way. They have the characteristics and hallmarks of myth. I have struggled to understand why members feel everything has to be historical to be of value. We have forgotten how to see myth and allegory as a Christian culture and it is killing Christianity and Mormonism. This is not an anti-Mormon view. Actually, I have found this view to be far deeper and more spiritual than the standard historical line.
Tid wrote: “…Current evidence is against the Book of Mormon being an historical record of an ancient people. Where does this leave us as Mormons?”
It leaves us in a very difficult place. There is a way out of this mess that many Gnostics found long ago (notice I didn’t say all Gnostics): that is to recognize myth as myth and treat it accordingly. I highly suggest that if you want to understand what has happened to our stories to read Joseph Campbell’s, The Power of Myth. Or better yet, view it on YouTube. It is the best introduction I know on this problem. Unfortunately, Bushman isn’t hitting this angle. Yes, he tackles the historical problems quite well, but it needs to go past history. There is another way.
It was nice to read an LDS vioce emphasizing Christianity above Mormonism. It is unfortunate that those who leave the LDS faith lose theistic faith altogether. I completely understand the thought process. Mormons are taught that the LDS Church is the only true church. Therefore if the only true church is not true, then there is no true church. The problem, though, is that once one concludes that the LDS Church is not true, so too is its claim that it is the only true church, which means one of the many other religions out there might be closer to the real thing than previously thought.
This realization ultimately led me into the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith. As a Mormon I was taught that early Christianity was corrupted by Hellenism at some point, and while I was still a faithful Mormon I bought into this narrative. However, in college and graduate school I had the opportunity to study early Christian history and I found that, while this narrative might explain Christian development in areas that were heavily influenced by Hellenism, it failed to explain why Christian groups that were far more independent of and out of contact with the Roman Empire, such as those in Assyria, Ethiopia, and India, also held these so-called “Hellenistic” views of Christianity despite the absence of Hellenism.
Another weakness of the “Hellenistic Corruption” narrative is that it disregards Eastern Christian theology, which is in many ways distinct from Western Christian theology. I believe that Eastern Christianity, in general, is much less susceptible to accusations of “Hellenistic Corruption.”
I greatly admire Richard Bushman, and I think he offers some wonderful advice. But I’m dissatisfied with the overall tone and balance (especially in the sometimes contentious comments)–“nuanced” seems to slide toward “tentative” and even “shaky.” My response is complicated (dare I say nuanced?), so I’ve written my own blog post, which you can find here: http://welcomingtheother.blogspot.com/2015/07/a-response-to-richard-bushman.html
I appreciate your comment (and I appreciate that there are in fact very big differences between Mormonism’s understanding of Christianity and various Christian denominations’ understandings of the religion), but I think it’s a little too simplistic. It’s not just that Mormons are taught that the LDS church is the one and only true church (therefore, if it’s not true, then nothing is true). Mormons are raised to believe that their religion provides answers to questions that are weakly answered (or not answered at all) by other denominations of Christianity. So, if the LDS church is wrong, that doesn’t mean that the other Christian denominations are wrong by default. Instead, the former Mormons don’t think that the other Christian denominations can provide anything better.
(Now, as I said before, Mormons will probably understand other Christian denominations from a different perspective. So, a lot of the shortcomings former Mormons may see of other denominations may not make sense from those other denominations.)
Another consideration is the the sorts of things that undergird a Mormon’s testimony (engagement with the spirit, a particular understanding of history, evidence, etc.,) get really flipped upside down when someone disaffects…but when this happens, the same sorts of criticism that are applied to Mormonism get applied to other denominations. (So, even if non-LDS Christians think that the Bible is more historically supportable than the Book of Mormon, for a lot of former Mormons, they will see that it is not credible enough to view it as reliable evidence of the supernatural.)
@ David Hunt: Please provide sources where the LDS church taught, during the 1960s-1970s, that it was not a Christian church.
My husband contacted his older cousins who grew up in Mesa, Arizona in the 60s-70s, and still live there. They never heard this taught, and they said it was not an insult to a Mormon to be called a Christian.
“why Christian groups that were far more independent of and out of contact with the Roman Empire,” did not necessarily converge on Platonic idealism as a model for doctrine, but instead were Nestorians or others? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorianism, etc. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy_in_Christianity#Early_Christian_heresies ]
Otherwise, Andrew S has it nicely.
For anyone who claims that the early Christian movement had uniform understandings, etc. as Cameron seems to believe, I’d suggest that you start with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_heresies and work from there to get an idea of just the broad range of divergent beliefs.
I enjoyed your thoughts at http://welcomingtheother.blogspot.com/2015/07/a-response-to-richard-bushman.html
To go forth in blind faith, or seeketh understanding? To me going forth on blind faith is reliant on testimony and can limit our God-given capacities. Where seeking to understand with an open mind is an action more likened to God (i.e. ever expanding knowledge). Christ said it several times while on earth, love fulfills all laws. LOVE! Isn’t that the true link between God and mortals?
Some questioning examples from my pov: Must we take hours out of our days to be a proxy for the dead, when there are so many suffering that are living?
It’s true that the “church” does a lot of good, no doubt. But my kids see how easy it to write a check monthly without much charity “action” attached. While my Christian neighbors kids are off serving annually for a week helping the poor by building homes. In my UT upper middle class hood, more that 90% of the mormon adult females had augmentation surgery to fit a certain “image”. It was a domino effect over 5 years! Are we now so concerned with a certain mormon look?
When I choose to serve in “other” capacities, my loyalty is questioned. WHY?
What’s wrong with being more Christian and less Mormon, but still attending LDS church? How can that happen?
#63 – unless you’re texting from the ‘beyond’, this can’t be the same Dave Hunt that co-wrote “The God Makers” with Ed Decker, as he passed away two years ago.
The Internet merely makes access to web pages (more precisely, a good search engine is what makes research possible), but it does nothing for the quality of material and editing. Sorry to say, much of what’s out there is quite poor, being of a (lack of) quality that would have never made it past the editor’s desk of any publishing house of worth.
Your wife’s growing up in Mesa, AZ, would mean little as though the original settlements in the late 1870’s were indeed of Mormons, the city itself is no better than 20% LDS (still a large portion for a city outside of UT and eastern ID). Ignorance of actual LDS beliefs and practices is as widespread there as in Kingsland, GA, where the few LDS (1 ward in Kingsland, with then then Stake Center in Jacksonville, FL) in a ‘Navy’ town, with about 2/3 of the locals being Southern Baptist. You’d have to be more specific about whether she was once LDS or how much contact she had with LDS folks. AFAIK, Mormons did not, at least since I joined the Church (1979), emphasize that we weren’t “Christian”, OTC, we’ve emphasized all along that the Church is of Christ, but we’re not just ‘another’ denomination, and in particular, didn’t want to be mis-classified as “Protestant”.
Your professed standards of agreement would doom the Bible itself and much, if not virtually all of, early Church (1st and 2nd centuries) history as well. The inconsistency of the Four Gospels themselves, let alone scholarly concerns about the true authorship of the Gospels (e.g., even Luke is acknowledged to not be an ‘eyewitness’ account), would certainly deep-six a witness of the Savior Himself IAW your standards (not a problem for me, though). Be thou careful when wielding a double-bladed ax if you’re not Paul Bunyan.
Fairmormon.org has well-addressed most of your canards about LDS beliefs and practices (current and former), the way you mentioned them indicates you’re only interested in taking pot-shots and have no intention of a serious and honest exchange of ideas. If you tout the ‘dang-ol-Internet’ (thank you, Boomhauer!) so much, try them on for size.
While I appreciate those who have attempted to poke holes in Bushman’s books, verbal comments, and research, your comments remind me of the hillbilly from Arkansas that couldn’t finish 8th grade…telling a surgeon how to properly do a procedure. When I was completing my Ph.D in history and was first assigned Bushman’s book, Puritan to Yankee, I was informed and found through years of research, that Bushman is one of the foremost scholars in early American religious history. But, of course…all of you commenters, who no doubt know some big words–but who nevertheless can’t hold a candle to Bushman as a scholar, know much more than him and question his abilities and research. It is laughable. One thing I definitely do not miss about school are all the pretentious Wanna be’s that you can find on sites like this anytime you look.
Er…..OK….I missed where anyone was questioning whether or not Richard L. Bushman was a credible scholar…or where he falls short in the areas he claims expertise in. In my terse comment above, one of the first points I made was the fact that he has unquestioned credibility as a Mormon scholar. I think he has invested a great deal in being credible, and supportive of things Mormon as well. What does Bushman really believe? I would love to know. How intellectually honest is he being? I would love to know. Is he in any way or to any degree professing to believe what he deep down in fact does not believe? I would love to know. We must take his highly nuanced “testimony” at face value.
After all of his scholarship and diligence, does the strength of Bushman’s testimony really matter that much? In that respect, he occupies a very difficult space; the fact that he has served as a bishop, stake president and patriarch indicates he at least professes to be a faithful member, and has earned enough spiritual “street cred” and the respect of his priesthood leaders to be trusted with those callings. Plausibly, he could very well have had to work through faith crises and reconcile contradictions in his life, as he makes his living wading through the messiest parts of our history. I don’t necessarily think he is a closeted non-believer or “lukewarm Mormon”, but more likely his testimony is based on different things than those of most LDS people. Testimonies should be unique.
I’ve listened to Dr. Bushman in person and he stated a personal belief in the gospel.
Bushman posted this on another AMA: “I am very much impressed by Joseph Smith’s 1832 History account of his early visions. This is the one partially written in his own hand and the rest dictated to Frederick G. Williams. I think it is more revealing than the official account presumably written in 1838 and contained in the Pearl of Great Price. We don’t know who wrote the 1838 account. Joseph’s journal indicates that he, Sidney Rigdon, and George Robinson collaborated on beginning the history in late April, but we don’t know who actually drafted the history. It is a polished narrative but unlike anything Joseph ever wrote himself. The 1832 history we know is his because of the handwriting. It comes rushing forth from Joseph’s mind in a gush of words that seem artless and uncalculated, a flood of raw experience. I think this account has the marks of an authentic visionary experience. There is the distance from God, the perplexity and yearning for answers, the perplexity, and then the experience itself which brings intense joy, followed by fear and anxiety. Can he deal with the powerful force he has encountered? Is he worthy and able? It is a classic announcement of a prophet’s call, and I find it entirely believable.” https://np.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/1sp4mi/ama_series_richard_bushman_dec_16_300_400_pm_est/
TL: Mormon Scholar did criticize Bushman on grounds of scholarship (comment 19).
Y’all know who David Hunt is, right? Think Godmakers! He has a vested, monetary interest in arguing against the Church.
In addition to his usual rules that are supposed to govern Mormonism, but not his brand of Christianity…..
Jeff, also he is dead. So there’s that.
I am no more a historian than the average church member, but I do want to share my opinion on this matter in hopes it may resonate with some of you. In the least it gives me a forum for expressing what I have held as personal private knowledge. I am an active Lds woman with a hope for a more enlightened future for Mormons based on full disclosure of our history, a realization of the flaws of men, even inspired men and women. Also, truer revelation and understanding of gender identity as currently there is NO revelation on this matter that enlightens our minds, brings the spirit and explains why the Lord in his wisdom created this dichotomy for all his beautiful children, it does effect us all.
My personal opinion is that all he does, his involvement in our development and lack of involvement is to give us the broadest path to learn and grow as individuals and as a whole. That all of humanity from the beginning of earth to the end of it will learn and grow just as an individual child does.
As I pondered one day on the new insights about our Lds history that has been falsely presented and racial and gender discrimination consistent with the mindset of the culture of the times, I received personal insight. That all truth and light is of God, that the things that have brought the spirit to my heart are still of God, that the things that bring confusion and struggle are not yet fully understood at this time and do so for a good reason. That across the planet the ideas and beliefs of people and all faiths will be carried up to him as if through a sieve, bringing forth all that serves his purposes and leaving behind the false, this church not excluded. Not to abandon what is valuable in the gospel as this separation occurs, it is the call of our times and prophesied.
So I value this article, as I have faith it is part of our journey ..separating the wheat from the tares. The ‘baby is in the bathwater’ and will be lift out clean, in the right timing that gives us the most opportunity for learning and growth. Ultimately we will see the wisdom in all things. I try to trust my heart and my own journey. The Lord is our shepherd and what we are learning is valuable to him and questions are not to bring shame but growth. None will be lost that listen to his still small voice, no matter what man may say. We should not fear his voice, nor should we fear new information or truth.
As a long-time genealogist, I am familiar with vague pasts and the need for documentation. I have read stories passed down through families that are so obviously dramatic and full of worse than unlikely narrative, it boggles the mind that anyone would count them for anything more than they are: a beloved narrative, perhaps founded on a tiny marble of truth, embroidered upon, lovingly shaped into a rip-roaring, heart rending tale that ties a family together. Try to explain to them about the marble in the core being true, but the rest a fond fiction, and you will catch the blow-back in your face. They are invested in the story, even though the story itself, and its details, have very little real value. It is a human thing.
It’s hard to prove the past. So very hard. I’ve read formal documents, written by serious clerks, that were completely inaccurate as to names and places and circumstances -and I’ve known them to be so because of a number of other documents having proved otherwise.
To study history is not to study truth. It’s to study the perceived truths of the past. It’s to study reports after the fact, many written by those who were not there, or even by those who were very much there, but only in their own very tiny corner of the event. Very few events are ever reported by dispassionate, disinterested observers watching from a high perch, but close enough to register all the detail. This is why “eye witnesses” cannot really simply be trusted to tell the “truth.”
Stories don’t have to be true. The heart of them is why they were told, and learning from them has to do with getting down to what they were supposed to mean.
But faith is another thing altogether.
Faith is personal. And fairly abstract. Frustrating. Always needing upkeep. It’s so easy for us humans to fasten our faith onto something solid, something we can understand – a man, a woman, a certain group of words, a story. Something in the mortal world that plays by rules we are used to. But we have a problem here, because truth is far larger than our small historical human experience. If we are right, there is a very foreign-to-our-experience universe out there. A God whose size, appearance and nature are really quite outside of our ability to comprehend. A physics that the most knowledgeable scholar on earth would find literally amazing and stunning and stupifying. He or she would have no reference, I think, for that system – and be lost, even in the face of “proof.”
Our belief is really undefendable. It’s personal. So personal, we have a difficult time articulating it. Far easier to come up with clever kibbitzing, mockery, bitter diatribes aimed at the thing believed in.
We all have freedom to choose our perception. We should be grateful for that and allow other people that freedom, too. The past was reported by people who lived lives we don’t really know that much about. We don’t know how they managed the details of their days – what it was like to live without a toilet, with a well – or what it was like to have so very few books, so very little literacy, and no electric light to read by. We don’t know their voices – their everyday characters. We have a few scaps of paper that are supposed to “prove” or not prove the things that were gigantic in their lives, that lead them to give up every normal thing. And I am tempted to say that they didn’t have a fraction of the understanding of science and technology that we have.
I wonder that the liahona hasn’t come up in the discussion. If you can believe in that, why would a seer stone, kept in a hat so surprise anybody? And the hat? Well, I cannot see the words on the screen of my laptop when I sit outside in the daylight. But I could see it if I stuck it in a big enough hat, and plugged the hat with my face.
When he says that our faith should not be anchored to the stories, I think what he’s saying is that we, like Joseph, have to develop our spiritual perceptions as we would do with any talent – by starting small, by focusing, by connecting the spiritual inside of us to whatever it is that makes music live in our hands, to what makes us actively love, to what drives us to learn and seek to find out about the world around us. Our faith has to be anchored on a very personal level, to a God we cannot see (but Joseph did), and his son – the savior. And what proof is there that he ever lived? Only the words written by men who lived so very, very long ago, and whose language most of us would not begin to be able to translate. There is no proof of any of this.
I believe that there is a God. I believe that Christ was his son. That I am his daughter. I believe in the atonement – though I do not understand it. I have never seen these of whom I speak. I have seen no angels, no nephites, no God, no Christ. And yet they are the core of my life, of my perception about everything. I believe that the world was built for us, a place for us to come face-to-face with ourselves, so that we would learn – what would we end up believing? What would we end up loving? What would we be willing to pay for? To collect? And how would we love – when we are on our own, away from our first home, and without any sense of it, or the world to come. I am finding out who I am. What I want. What I love.
I don’t need a story about something that happened almost two hundred years ago to be proved true in every detail. I don’t really care about the details. I know what my heart responds to, what the quality of my life has been with and without my faith. I have no spiritual gifts to speak of. My faith is dogged and dear. I cannot prove anything to any of you. But I will try my hardest to be true to what I believe – to love, to respect, to learn, to give, to serve – and I will make my own choices, following some compass inside my chest that I do not understand, but that keeps turning my face toward the light, even when I don’t think I want it to.
I am sorry about some of the bitter and unkind tones I have read in some of these comments. I am glad for the dispassionate and honest tone of many others. But all in all, I have enjoyed the interview and the posts. Thank you all.
It strikes me that RB is too thoroughly stuck in his own little box. He’s a good thinker within his own square yard of reality, but he doesn’t appear to much value thinking outside the box. He apparently actually believes the drivel that one size may fit all, that one “moral compass” applies to everybody—which I believe is utter nonsense and so thoroughly limiting that the whole idea is probably designed simply to make people laugh. His ideas not relevant and are a total waste of time. If he stepped outside his box, he would realize that his suggestions are as useful as the stomach noises ones belly makes when it encounters a too-rich meal on Sunday afternoon.
It strikes me that RB is too thoroughly stuck in his own little box. He’s a good thinker within his own square yard of reality, but he doesn’t appear to much value thinking outside the box. He apparently actually believes the drivel that one size may fit all, that one “moral compass” applies to everybody—which I believe is utter nonsense and so thoroughly limiting that the whole idea is probably designed simply to make people laugh. His ideas not relevant and are a total waste of time. If he stepped outside his box, he would realize that his suggestions are as useful as the stomach noises ones belly makes when it encounters a too-rich meal on Sunday afternoon. (Duplicate comment because the website notation was misspelled.)
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What do you say about someone who had decided that, after examination of many different religions, they find another denomination’s teachings resonate with them more than those of Brighamite Mormonism? Apostate or fellow believer?
I feel that he has made a lot of good points. He also seems to somewhat understand the ex-Mormon side of the discussion as well, more than most believers. However, critical examination is not truly genuine unless it also includes a desire to challenges all assumptions. For example, Richard’s assumption that atheists are without direction is false. There is much moral direction to be found in the teachings of humanism. It just lacks the supernatural component and focuses on development through science and social progress/justice.
I believe Richard B. is a fine church historian and a fine human being. I also believe he is walking a fine line between renouncing it all and maintaining a posture of faith. One foot still in because he has so much history with and loyalty to his faith and the brethren. One foot out because he wishes to be genuinely honest with himself and others.