There are 10 thoughts on “Inattentional Blindness: Seeing and Not Seeing The Book of Mormon”.

  1. When we Latter-day Saints talk about Moroni’s promise, we tend to focus on Chapter 10 verse 4, getting on to the business of asking God for a revelation whether the book is true or not. We don’t as often discuss verse three, where he asks us first to ponder what the book tells us about the mercy of God, illustrated by the repeated invitations to be reconciled to God, through the grace of Christ. It suggests to me that Moroni is saying that the book itself is an embodiment of God’s grace, a tangible gift renewing the offer of forgiveness and atonement. And when we proceed to the stage of asking God about its truth, we are told that we must do it with the real intent of accepting this offer.

    Reading it so we can ponder it invites us to employ our rational faculties, along with our perceptions and our emotional response.

    Moroni states repeatedly that the test is whether we, the readers, are true in submitting ourselves to God and accepting both the blessings and obligations that come with this book. Those of us who read but cannot put ourselves in God’s hands and accept His mercy, have failed the test, for now.

    Speaking as an attorney myself, it is difficult for me to conceive how Joseph Smith could have pulled off the composition of the book in the way the witnesses said he did it. If he was going to claim the production of an inspired text, he could have just written it out by hand himself. What point in inventing a tale of a metal record when it lent no authenticity to the book, and invited ridicule and demands to see it?

    It is even harder to conceive of why he labored to create a 500 page book, when a 100 page book would surely have sufficed, with much less labor and investment, for whatever function such a book might have had as a demonstration of renewed prophetic power. Many of his contemporaries became prosperous religious leaders with far less effort.

    If this was such a great way to kick off a new religious enterprise, why is it so unique? The book did not even serve as a proof text for his innovative ideas, for him or his followers. When I was a missionary in 1969, teaching investigators from the text of the Book of Mormon was not at the core of our lesson plan, but rather an innovation.

    The only way the creation of the Book of Mormon makes sense to me is if it is an authentic scripture. Unless that is the case, nothing about the contents or the production of the book makes sense. The materialist paradigm makes the book harder to explain in rational terms. How was it created? Why was it created? How has it influenced so many millions of people? And how has it accumulated more and more credible evidentiary support in the last half century, rather than withering away as its Nineteenth Century foundation is exposed to the acid of advancing knoiwledge of antiquity? I don’t see humanists offering us solid answers.

  2. The point I was trying to make is that essentially we are dealing with epistemology—ways of knowing–and it is never cut and dried because each of us has his or her own idea as to what constitutes “truth” and what kinds of “proof” lead to a conviction of what is true. Some people find evidence that convinces them the Book of Mormon is an ancient document, while others find evidence that convinces them that it is a nineteenth century document. If one believes in angels, it is easier to accept Joseph’s explanation of the book’s origins; if one does not believe in angels, then one can’t accept Moroni as a literal figure. Both approaches are legitimate, given their respective construct, and good people can find and defend each on rational grounds. Personally, I find the evidence for a supernatural explanation of the book overwhelming, but I realize that some do not. I don’t denigrate them for holding their position, I simply recognize that we follow different epistemologies. I also recognize that some people do not find the Book of Mormon “true” in the sense that they believe it to be an historic text, but they do find it “true” in the sense that they find beauty and meaning in its narratives that inspire them to lead better lives. In this sense, the “proof” is experiential. Essentially, I think we have to leave room for both kinds of truth and both kinds of proof, and have charity for people who differ from us.

  3. Brett: I appreciate your comment about “proof.” The problem is that most people move in the direction of either trying to prove something rationally or the opposite of eschewing any standard criteria for proof and relying solely on “feelings.”. Even if one has a “spiritual conviction” of the truth of the Book of Mormon one can still use cognitive or rational means for trying to understand and explain it, just as if one has a rational conviction, one can be open to non-rational or spiritual ways of knowing. It is the combination of the two that is important, what the Mormon scholar, Lowell Bennion, called “carrying water on both shoulders.” God gave us hearts and minds and expects us to use both in seeking for truth. Being open to having a dialogue between our hearts and minds, between our cognitive and intuitive processes, gives us the opportunity to honestly weigh and consider, to probe and imagine, and to always be open to challenging our convictions (or have others do so) and willing to revise our conclusions–this is what gives us the best chance of finding the truth. Or at least that has been my experience.

    • Hello and thank you for a wonderful article. I recently read portions of Hardy’s “Understanding the Book of Mormon”. It was insightful but I thought he read Nephi rather negatively and I found his argument that Moroni struggled with Christianizing the book of Ether overly speculative. Jared’s brother could have taught his group about Christ even though he sealed his record. I am interested to understand Hardy’s points better from your perspective, and would like to know how you read those parts of his book.

      • I would be interested to know what exactly you found in Hardy’s reading that was negative. I suspect it might have been Nephi’s inadvertent self-revelations as a first-person narrator. That is, all first-person narrators reveal more about themselves, their point-of-view, their observational limitations, and their prejudices than they intend. That’s true of all of us, whether we are writing a sacred text or telling a story around the dinner table. Nephi’s story is certainly told from the point of view of a transplanted Hebrew living in a strange land and one at that charged with keeping a his family together while his older brothers are rebelling against him and against God. Psychologist have identified certain characteristics and proclivities based on birth order. Had everything gone according to the ancient order, Laman would have been in Nephi’s place as the inheritor of their father’s role as prophet and leadere. When Laman and then Lemuel keep their hearts in Jerusalem, with all its treasures, pleasures and supposed safety, the role they might have played as leaders falls to the next son, Nephi. From a psychological point of view, this turns out to be very challenging and at times mortally dangerous to Nephi, partly because the very brothers who have surrendered the privilege of primogeniture to Nephi resent his leadership, are hostile toward him, and ultimately try to kill him. The narrative must be seen therefore from the point of view of a younger brother. In the beginning of the account of going back to Jerusalem to obtain the gold plates, which we must remember is being told years after the fact, Nephi inadvertently reveals that he is young (“I Nephi, being exceeding young”), immature and possibly a bit self-righteous. At times, he seems like the stereotypical younger brother, the kind that older brothers throughout history have had to contend with. In other words, our sympathies in the beginning may not be aligned completely with Nephi. It doesn’t help that, like Joseph of old, he seems to be favored by his father (at least there are clues of this).
        As with many biblical narratives, the point is to see Nephi’s weaknesses and limitations and then observe how his response to God’s calling transforms him, which is what the command to slay Laban does. Within a very short space, Nephi goes from being “exceeding young” (after all, he is still a teenager) to stating, “Now I, Nephi, being a man.” So, seeing him in this manner, passing over the liminal threshold from adolescents to manhood, is part of what makes for powerful drama. Laman should have been the one holding the sword over his kinsman, Laban, but he was too self-absorbed and resentful about leaving his friends and family treasures in Jerusalem to take on this mantle. Knowing how hard it was to be asked to slay Laban (likely the most difficult thing he ever had to do in his difficult and even tragic life), and looking back from the perspectives of having been tied to the mast on the voyage to the Promised Land, persecuted at every turn by his rebellious brothers, and suffering all of the trials of trying to lead his people in a strange and hostile land, we can understand why Nephi would tell the story in the way that he does. Ultimately, it leads us to admire his great faith, courage and forbearance, and that is what great literature, including great sacred literature, is supposed to do.

        • Actually, wasn’t Sam older than Nephi also? We don’t learn very much about Sam in the books of Nephi, but for whatever reason it certainly appears that the mantle of leadership skipped over Sam from Laman & Lemuel and went straight to Nephi, even though Sam is apparently faithful.

    • Thank you. I agree that the spiritual component and the cognitive component to matters like this have their appropriate place. My point, a minor one no doubt, is that in the matter of “proof,” at least when it comes to the things of God, if one will not accept the Book of Mormon until it is proven true, well, they will probably be waiting a long time.

  4. Thank you. You have a graciousness I lack. If the Book of Mormon is what it purports to be, then won’t it, by definition, be incapable of “proof,” at least to the satisfaction of Wunderli like lawyers and such persons? If it were so provable, where would Faith fit in? I myself find it inconceivable that Joseph Smith could have written the book, but I have a hard time understanding how Handel could have composed the Messiah. Deeper than my “intellectual” appreciation for the wonders of this Book is, to me, its spiritual promise that God will tell you of its truthfulness. I believe He has done that for me.

    • Brett, that’s an excellent contrast you made between Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon and Handel composing the Messiah.

      Handel composed The Messiah after a full career of composing Italian-style operas that were performed in London. Some of the songs in the Messiah actually use the melodies from some of his operas that he composed previously. I believe that Handel was inspired as he composed The Messiah, and it is very moving, but Handel had a lot of visible preparation and a lot of his own prior work to draw upon.

      Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon while in his early 20s. He had never done anything like that before. He had not even the equivalent of a high-school education. He hadn’t learned any foreign language, nor written any books, or anything like that.

      The contrast between Handel and Joseph Smith is staggering. I find it much more plausible that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God than to believe it was composed by Joseph Smith himself, much as I admire that man.

      • A better comparison is not between Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and Handel and “Messiah,” but rather between Joseph Smith and his famous contemporary writers–Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville and Whitman. I made that comparison in an article, “Joseph Smith and the American Renaissance,” Dialogue 35:3 (Fall 2002), 83-112. I have just submitted for publication a follow-up article, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the American Renaissance: An Addendum,” in which I compare the Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon to each of the major American’s writers and his major literary composition–Waden, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass, and Emerson’s Essays. I am also working on a comparison of Joseph Smith and Milton.

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