a week off

taking a week off from posting the usual BoM Reading Project. We will start on Volume 3: Delta Cycles next week, and begin Volume 4A in July. 4B will fill out August, and volume 5 will take us to the end of September.

Thanks again for reading this work, and for taking it seriously. If you have questions about chapters or books, respond in “comment” to this email, and I will do my best to answer them. It may be a good time to resolve questions, before embarking on 3Delta.

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8 thoughts on “a week off

  1. LDSDPer says:

    Thank you, again–

    the truth about B.H. Roberts was very illuminating and helped us to connect the dots.

    It just keeps making more sense all the time.

  2. Bryan says:

    Daymon, you mention elsewhere that what remains is for you to say what you believe (in less than a number of volumes). That would be most interesting, and helpful, to all of your readers (though I suppose I should speak for myself only)–even if does take a few volumes–since a lot of us probably are wondering exactly which of the pieces you maintain and how you fit them together. As nearly as I can tell, you hold to the Book of Mormon text as it stands, as representative in some of way of real ur-text, or at least as a revelation about real people. What I wonder is how you put together what we find there with subsequent Mormon “theology”, coming from Joseph Smith, e.g., King Follet Sermon, or with other “modern revelation”. I was reading Mormon (in Mormon 7, I think) and there’s a passage where he talks about believing in Christ and the redemption, and that if one does so believe, one can then sing eternal praises to the father, son and holy ghost (which are “one god”) with choirs of angels, and this is happiness never-ending. Ok, I should just quote it:

    Mormon 7:7 And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

    That seems, although maybe not necessarily, a little different than “eternal progression.” Is the latter teaching to be understood, together with the temple teachings, as God speaking to men according to their idols? Or, what about the Doctrine and Covenants? You seem also to put stock in at least some of the revelations there. Can we pick and choose among them, and if so, on what basis? Take Section 76, for example. Very exacting, nearly impossible to please God in the highest degree. And if one agrees with some current commentary, only a very few souls will ever do it–few are chosen, after all. However that may be, to me, the participation of Sydney Rigdon in that vision–i.e., his subsequent career as a fountain of false prophesy and as general nutcase (epithets thrown out at true prophets, to be sure), casts doubt on the whole thing. Of course God can choose to reveal Himself to whomsoever He will. My point is just that once one moves beyond the BoM in the attempt to understand Joseph Smith as a prophet, how do we decide what to maintain? How does one distinguish a genuine revelation from a spurious one? I mean in some way this is the task of anyone who believes some important and essential truths are to be found here, right, sifting through the ruins of what is called the “restoration of the gospel” and trying to find the genuine artifacts. But what we’re really all looking for is God, now rendered perhaps in a way more sensible but also more mysterious by your account: revealing the Book of Mormon but then allowing the follies of men to run their course, speaking to us according to our idols, watching us all move through the cycles of a deep sleep, waiting for some more or less unspecified something to mark the time when the covenants, including the recovery of the remnant, are to be fulfilled, and all with a view to bringing to pass the immortality . . . etc. I suppose I sit with McCombs in the skeptic’s corner. I, too, am more encouraged than ever to read the BoM. There’s never been anything like your work in all the annals of Mormonism, so far as I know. And I’m really enjoying it. But although critical analysis can have its value, it is (1), however trenchant, not decisive in the face of an orthodoxy that continues to be validated for individuals through (at least what they understand to be) their spiritual experiences and also is (2), without some sort of positive/constructive supplement, still inferior in a socio-political sense to the institution it criticizes, since it depends on the success of the latter. Which I guess brings me to my long-overdue question: you seem to be clearing the ground for something, some new approach to living with the BoM. And I’m really curious to know how you decide what pieces to keep and how they fit together for you (?), since, if I’m to be a believer at all, I’ve got to try to do that for myself.

    1. day2mon says:

      Very insightful writing, Bryan. It is really gratifying to read this. I agree with point (1), that the historical narrative is not going to overturn the link between “spiritual experience” and the institutional end point said to be also generating that experience. One book cannot compete with religious and pop-culture machinery: not the BoM, and definitely not the CH of the BoM.

      For that reason, it seems the story I tell resonates mostly with folks who’ve had experiences of some other variety, common enough, perhaps, but not spoken of in the institutional setting as being suitable for the orthodox. and they have thought honestly about these experiences. It may be angels visiting, or general disillusionment, or some other super-or-mundane-experience, but these are real and seem to find explanation, possibly, in the history I tell. This brings us to (2), which I would disagree with your statement that the story I tell depends on the success of the institution. Indeed, if one’s experience of disillusion came from that institution, and I provide some explanation for the experience, than I suppose in an indirect way, the story depends on it. But the story I tell is designed, as you know, to clear the ground so that we need not come to the history through heartbreak or disillusion.

      If I’m trying to promote “belief” by exposing some few causes of disbelief, than at some point readers of the BoM must see it very differently than it has been treated. Not as scripture, but as something like a poem: inspired by some actual events that really happened in the past, but not binding us by them, to relive or recite them; instead also pointing our minds to other things which must be nonetheless described to us in a manner suiting our current language / idols / beliefs. Like a poem, we cannot have a single reading, but we can say some readings are not as inspired. The difficulty is, as you sense, sifting what is given through the mouth of our idols, and what is not.

      Without something to land in (your constructive supplement), we have a hard time deciding what to keep and what to reject as mere idolatry. Which is almost like saying, we must create another idol to compare the prior one to. A church to compare other churches against; or a movement to match against an institution. Or new prophet against The Prophet. But can we proceed without inventing an idol beforehand, and thus merely perpetuating the cycle of disbelief?

      And I would say, yes. And, if the problem seems insurmountable, it must be because we are approaching the problem from the wrong place. Rather than try to build from stable beams, upward, trying this idol or that, I try in volume five to bring it all up at once. I figure if I can tell a totally different story, using justifiable (textually) readings from the BoM, and append to these readings material from the D&C and PofGP, than I have something just as internally valid as what we’ve received from tradition. We can imagine something wholly different, and as far as i can see, it fits the text and our own history.

      It has no “and thus, let’s start a church,” or, “I’m the new prophet” investment in a new idol, which can be frustrating for many readers. I’m clearing the ground, and believe that eventually something will grow, if we let it. For now we do have basic metrics to weigh one reading against another (without questioning the metrics themselves, yet): I’d say the reading I provide resolves more than few generally ignored puzzles, and also accounts for many puzzling things in our own history of persecution and failure and now seeming success in the world. It is thus worth considering as being more truthful than the alternative, which seems reliable mostly by the force of tradition, institution, and peer-consent.

      Behind that metric is, of course, a theory of truth (itself only questionable after a long while): what is growing as an explanation is more true than what is requiring constant cutting, darkness of ignorance, editing and SEO. How do we decide whether one statement from JS or D&C is true? I’d say we’d need to have at least two systems (simplified into idols, perhaps), as it were, to fit the statement into; and then run some thought experiments: what are implications of the statement being true or false? What does that lead to? What else must I accept or reject? I think the truth leads us to thinking, to greater intelligence, as it were, and to considering more, rather than less.

      Now, too many will say, this is too complex, or I can’t think about all those things at once, or I just need a stable starting point (i.e., an idol). Fine, they will have their laws and idols, and will be blessed accordingly. But I would say, the only long-term option is to believe another man’s voice, or to build an entire world by your word: which if built correctly, can be added to by others, and eventually take on its own life. I suppose the volume five reading is in that provisional phase, and will remain so until either showing itself to be dying by internal error, or by sprouting into life by virtue of the gift of some other author.

      It may be complex, puzzling, and difficult to work out and sift, but it should be delightful, enjoyable, and so on, too, if you are creating for the right reasons. For a better statement, I’d point you to Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Stories,” which explains that though we may create and imagine, if our work is not grafted onto a living story, it will die, and by its death tell us it was not true. I am drawing on Peirce here, too, in that the truth is what a community of believers would consent to, should they continue their inquiry long enough.

      Without faith, hope, charity, etc., we would probably give up in despair. We need not question all things at once, though; but should proceed to doubt or belief at a sensible pace. Which is to say, my inquiry must be driven for now by belief in a good God, who does not delight in deception and mystery, but in plainness, and who shapes all things for our good (described somewhat in a letter cut up into D&C 121). I have no reason to doubt that, although many things remain puzzling; and have I many reasons to believe it.

    2. LDSDPer says:

      Bryan,
      I’m not a scholar at all, but after an entire life in the church and being in my 7th decade, I can tell you that King Follet’s funeral discourse does not resonate with everyone. It doesn’t resonate with me. My husband is undecided. He’s never studied it heavily. But Gordon B. Hinckley, though just a man, stated in a public interview that the concept, made ‘popular’ by Lorenzo Snow, “man is as God once was”–
      is not Mormon doctrine.
      But, for me, after all the other things I’ve read about the CH of the Book of Mormon, I am highly skeptical of a talk that Joseph Smith gave just two months before his death that was published two months after his death and recorded by men who had invested heavily in ‘eternal progression’.
      The Book of Mormon is enough to me, and I’ve never been, nor am I interested in being, RLDS or any of the other denominations that were created from the bursting of the bubble after Joseph’s death.
      How many people would remember the words of a sermon Joseph Smith gave in April–after four months? William Smith had been excommunicated (a brother might remember, but he was outcast), and Samuel Smith had also been killed before that discourse was put in the paper. And few people would have listened to Emma.
      As with so many things, most LDS don’t question anything. If it comes from a Mormon or is purported to have come from a prominent Mormon (by almost anyone), then it must be doctrine and true.
      I think eternal progression is too much for most people who can’t even accept that the Book of Mormon was framed in the meta-text of the bible . . . to understand. If such a doctrine exists anywhere or needs to exist. I have time to find out.
      I don’t have to be a cultural anthropolist not to accept everything that has passed through the hands of ‘some’ Mormon, at some time.
      You are assuming the trustworthiness of all those men–and one of them preached that prophets would never lead anyone astray. There are other things, but what I just said can be documented.

      1. LDSDPer says:

        that sounded sneery–

        “I don’t have to be a cultural anthropologist”–

        I have been helped by many people, including you, Daymon. Education does matter. But I am cautious about accepting anything at face value. If I, who do NOT have advanced education in learning to investigate and question, can wonder about this–

        then . . .

        maybe those who do have those skills can explain why I feel wary about accepting everything. Or not. I’m not asking you to do that, Daymon.

        I saw another person discussing King Follet’s funeral sermon and felt I could speak up and, perhaps, help, as I haven’t studied any of it academically. If a person were to study it all intensely, that person might be even more cautious.

        I’m hoping this makes sense.

      2. Bryan says:

        Hi LDSDper, Yes, I think what you say makes sense. I can certainly see your point about the King Follet discourse. But my point could work just as well for any number of other things Joseph Smith said. What I am trying to get at is just the problem of how to decide what things are really “true”. I mean, should I embrace the (essentially) trinitarian theology of the (1830) BOM, or should I go with the later revelation, if not the King Follet stuff then maybe just the two separate personages with “a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” of the D&C? Or does it matter? But in that regard, Joseph (or Sidney, depending on what you think of the Lectures on Faith) said it’s absolutely essential to understand what kind of being God is, etc., if one is to truly have faith. Now, in some sense, in asking this question, as Daymon pointed out, I am still stuck within the paradigm And I appreciate that he is trying to show a way out of it–and in a really interesting way, no less. Maybe in the end we have the example of Joseph Smith himself, in contrast to any particular thing he said or wrote; he didn’t seem too concerned with discarding previous statements in light of new understandings. And in this sense, maybe a different paradigm could be expressed in the statement “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”

  3. Bryan says:

    Thank you for your reply, Daymon. I find what you say here really helpful. Regarding point 2 (about, as you state it, your story depending on the success of the institution), I agree with what you say, and for the reasons you provide. I had in mind only the problem of public criticism in general and how the larger social institution always has an argument that could seem to be superior. For example, in Plato’s Crito Socrates refuses, after his conviction, to escape from Athens because, he confesses, the city has nurtured him, and he hears the argument of the city’s laws “booming in his ears” that he owes allegiance to the city, etc. The situations are not adequately analogous (and it’s also not the final word from Socrates), I think, but, to stick with it for the sake of sticking with it, the laws/conventions/traditions (nomoi) of Mormonism are very powerful; even when we see their defects, they have a certain kind of claim on us. So that’s where that came from, but, as I said, not adequately analogous. — Otherwise, what you say about standards by which to judge, maintaining an openness to truth and a belief in a good God who delights in plainness and avoiding/eschewing idols. Yes, I mean isn’t the whole problem of the absence of Zion one of idols. Idols beget heirarchies, and then any hope for Zion is already lost? Anyway, that’s what occurs to me on the basis of what you say here, i.e., what you describe looks like an inward way or a path toward Zion.

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