A Not-So-Novel Way to Read the Book of Mormon

Before moving to Texas for college, my parents spent their youth in a small Louisianan town. My mother comes from Mormon ancestry (her great grandfather Nathaniel Pope Muse donated the land for the first LDS meetinghouse in Louisiana and was called as the Fisher Branch President), while my father comes from a Southern Baptist background.[1] Both in dating and marriage, my father would accompany my mother to her sacrament meetings (his “penance” as he calls it). My dad’s first encounter with Mormon missionaries was a memorable one: the elder accidentally ripped the door handle off my father’s car and began to nervously laugh. This first impression virtually defined his relationship with missionaries until his eventual baptism years later. Without even being challenged to do so, my father took it upon himself to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. After completing it a couple weeks later, the missionaries inquired as to what his thoughts were about their beloved book. “It was a good novel,” he answered. As my father describes it, the excitement drained from their faces at this unexpected and unwelcome answer.

The Mormon concept of the Godhead suggests that the attributes of divinity arise out of the unified, loving relationship between the three distinct members. Human beings are invited to join this relationship and become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).[2] In essence, divinity is a social matter; the apotheosis of prosocial behavior. This is embodied in the doctrines of Zion and eternal marriage. Thus, increasing social and emotional intelligence should be a major goal of Mormon life.[3] General Authorities consistently implore members to study and gain insights from the scriptures, with particular attention being given to the Book of Mormon by the likes of Ezra Taft Benson and Gordon B. Hinckley.[4] There are numerous ways a reader can approach the Book of Mormon (or any scripture). Some readers seek for evidence of Mesoamerican culture and/or 19th-century American influence within the text. Others use it as a kind of reference tool for topical research or devotional preparation. More recent studies take a literary or typological approach.[5] Yet, many members of the LDS Church read the Book of Mormon narrative as they would any other. The sacred text becomes, as my father put it, “a good novel” (or at least an obligatory one). Grant Hardy warns that there are “problems with reading the Book of Mormon as a novel” due to its “multiple narrative levels,” “intricate organization, and extensive intratextual phrasal allusions and borrowings.” Hardy admits that “none of this is foreign to fiction,” but seems to feel that a novel-like reading of the book would diminish the “literary power and religious vision that make it so convincing to Latter-day Saints.”[6] In my view, Hardy is absolutely correct. Without understanding cultural and historical context or an appreciation for the multiple layers the book has to offer, a casual, straightforward read is sure to miss much of the depth and beauty it has to offer. Yet, what benefits can readers still glean from reading the Book of Mormon like “a good novel”? Fortunately for general readers of the Book of Mormon, modern psychological research has uncovered several benefits to such an approach.[7]

After measuring whether participants read predominantly fiction or non-fiction, one group of researchers provided two tests of social ability.[8]‎ One test used photos of people’s eyes and had participants attempt to assess the mental state of the photographed persons based on eyes alone (i.e. “Mind in the Eyes” test). The second test involved 15 video clips of unscripted interactions between two or more individuals (i.e. Interpersonal Perception Test). Following each clip, a multiple-choice question regarding the clip was presented. Each question had a correct answer (e.g. “Who is the child of the two adults?”), yet the answer was not explicitly revealed in the clip. Participants had to pay attention to non-verbal cues in order to discover it. The results found that fiction readers performed substantially better on the Mind in the Eyes test and slightly better on the Interpersonal Perception Test. Fiction readers also had high marks on self-reported empathy scores. “The ability or tendency to place oneself within the fictional world of a story thus appears to be positively associated with both task-based and self-report measures of empathy or theory-of-mind.”[9]

Another study had participants in one control group read a fictional short story, while another group read a non-fiction version that matched the former in information, length, difficulty, and interest. Those who read the fictional account experienced significantly greater change in personality traits and emotion.[10]‎ A follow-up study tested individuals for levels of avoidant attachment.[11]‎ Emotional and cognitive detachment as a psychological defense against painful emotions is “accompanied by an increased sympathetic nervous system reactivity, which is associated with detrimental long-term health outcomes. Given that about 25% of adults identify themselves as avoidantly attached, discovering ways to reduce avoidance of emotion is important.”[12]‎ As before, participants were given a fictional (Art condition) and non-fiction (Control condition) version of a story to read. Those high in avoidance “experienced significantly greater Emotion Change in the Art condition than in the Control condition.”[13]‎ Both studies indicated that the fiction readers (even avoidantly attached ones) were able to empathize with the story’s characters, leading to measurable changes in personality and emotion.

Fictional narratives act as social simulations, allowing readers to experience different emotions and explore the contexts in which these emotions take place.[14]‎ Just as mathematics enable “a mode of thinking about the physical world that is both more abstract and more generalizable than intuitive everyday thinking,” so “narrative clarifies understandings of certain generalizable principles that underlie an important aspect of human experience, namely intended human action.”[15]‎ Exploring one’s emotions in a fictional social world can help uncover personal truths, increase emotional self-awareness, and develop proper self-regulation. Some research has even shown reading to reduce stress levels by 68 percent, outdoing other activities like listening to music or taking a walk.[16]‎ This is important given the fact that stress depletes willpower, thus decreasing the ability to regulate one’s emotions and decisions.[17]

The Book of Mormon is an epic masterpiece. At least one scholar has compared its narrative complexity to that of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.[18]‎ This is not to suggest, though, that the Book of Mormon is a piece of fiction. Whether it is or not is beyond the scope of this post. However, by reading it as if it were, Mormon and non-Mormon readers alike can reap the benefits. For Mormons striving to establish Zion, immersing themselves in the world of the Nephites will help cultivate the necessary traits to bring it about. Readers can connect with Lehi’s family drama, contemplate the social and political changes during Alma’s ministry, and grieve with the war-torn Mormon and Moroni. In doing so, they will better themselves as individuals.

Though it may be much more, my father was right: the Book of Mormon is “a good novel.”

 

[1] Lois Muse Hendricks, “History of the Muse Family,” manuscript in possession of the author; Carol Ann Wagley Burnam, “From Red Rock to Denham Springs,” Ensign (April 1983): https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/04/from-red-rock-to-denham-springs?lang=eng

[2] See Blake T. Ostler, “Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity,” Element: The Journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology 1:1 (Spring 2005): http://www.smpt.org/docs/ostler_element1-1.html

[3] On the subject of emotional and social intelligence, see the work of psychologist and science writer Daniel Goleman.

[4] See Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon–Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign (Nov. 1986): https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/11/the-book-of-mormon-keystone-of-our-religion?lang=eng; Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign (Aug. 2005): https://www.lds.org/ensign/2005/08/a-testimony-vibrant-and-true?lang=eng. See also Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[5] Specifically Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and Joseph M. Spencer, An Other Testament: On Typology (Salem, OR: Salt Press, 2012).

[6] Hardy, 2010, xvii-xviii.

[7] For an overview of the research, see Raymond Mar, Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley, “Effects of Reading on Knowledge, Social Abilities, and Selfhood,” Directions in Empirical Studies in Literature: In Honor of Willie van Peer, eds. S. Zyngier, M. Bortolussi, A. Chesnokova, J. Auracher (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2008); Keith Oatley, “The Science of Fiction,” The New Scientist 25 (June 2008): 42-43; Keith Oatley, “Changing Our Minds,” Greater Good 5:3 (Winter 2009): http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/chaning_our_minds/

[8] Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley, Jacob Hirsh, Jennifer dela Paz, Jordan B. Peterson, “Bookworms versus Nerds: Exposure to Fiction Versus Non-Fiction, Divergent Associations with Social Ability, and the Simulation of Fictional Social Worlds,” Journal of Research in Personality 40 (2006): 694-712.

[9] Ibid.: 703.

[10] Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley, Sara Zoeterman, Jordan B. Peterson, “On Being Moved by Art: How Reading Fiction Transforms the Self,” Creativity Research Journal 21:1 (2009): 24-29.

[11] Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley, Sara Zoeterman, Jordan B. Peterson, “Defenseless Against Art? Impact of Reading Fiction on Emotion in Avoidantly Attached Individuals,” Journal of Research in Personality 43 (2009): 14-17.

[12] Ibid.: 14.

[13] Ibid.: 16.

[14] Keith Oatley, “Why Fiction May Be Twice as True as Fact: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Simulation,” Review of General Psychology 3:2 (1999): 101-117.

[15] Raymond Mar, Keith Oatley, “The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 3:3 (2008): 175.

[16] “Reading ‘Can Help Reduce Stress’,” The Telegraph (March 30, 2009): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

[17] John Tierney, Roy F. Baumeister, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (New York: Penguin, 2011).

[18] Daniel C. Peterson, “Evidences of the Book of Mormon,” Transcript: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=1 


Comments

A Not-So-Novel Way to Read the Book of Mormon — 32 Comments

  1. “It is a short step from the cultivation of the conscience to self-consciousness. Eliot once called the artist ‘the most conscious of men’.9
    Of poets, he asserted: ‘The business of the poet is to be more conscious of his own language than other men, to be more sensitive to the feeling, more aware of the meaning of every word he uses, more aware of the history of the language.’10 In a remarkable passage in a late essay, Eliot invoked superior consciousness not simply as an artistic quality, but as something that gave access to a kind of power. Writing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Eliot observed that ‘Huck is passive and impassive, apparently always the victim of events; and yet, in his acceptance of his world and of what it does to him and others, he is more powerful than his world, because he is more aware than any other person in it.’11 It is common for characters and narrators in Eliot’s poetry to suffer as victims of events without gaining any increase in power. Yet Eliot also wrote of moments when perceptual insight gave rise to a new awareness that became a means to power – not a power to act, but the power to see and therefore to comprehend. Eliot’s early poetry offers instances of this combination of detached passivity with superior awareness, if not yet of its power: Prufrock’s ‘visions and revisions’ (CPP, 14); the speaker in ‘Preludes’ who ‘had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands’ (CPP, 23); and, in The Waste Land, a memory of ‘Looking into the heart of light’ (CPP, 62) and Tiresias who ‘foresuffered all’ (CPP, 69).”
    -Eric Sigg, “New England,” from “T. S. Eliot in Context,” ed. Jason Harding, p. 21-22.

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  3. I am sorry that you give so much respect to the approach advocated by Hardy and Givens on this issue. They are both fundamentally apologists. Therefore they are unwilling to admit that fiction and history are both narratives with identical fundamental features—including multiple narrator perspectives, type scenes, repetitions, artifice, rhetoric, even metaphor, etc. I far as I can discover, the best theorists on narrative (White, et al) are strongly against Hardy’s discrimination on this point.

    But there is something more distressing than flawed methodology in Hardy’s approach. He participated in the Book of Mormon Round Table—a group of Mormon and non-Mormon scholars sympathetic to the Book of Mormon including me, Richard Bushmen, John Welch, David Wright, etc. Hardy singlehandedly destroyed the round table by insisting that non-Mormon were unable to interpret the Book of Mormon and would therefore not be welcome in the endeavor. What I see in Givens and Hardy is an interpretive apologetic colored by a cruel bigotry which is unworthy of the open table espoused by Jesus. It is therefore wrongheaded on both methodological and moral grounds. By giving deference to the techniques of these two apologists, you dismiss the humility and respect for evidence that is the hallmark of the search for truth in all great science and religion.

  4. Mark, I don’t know the backstory with Hardy, but I have been friends with Walker for a number of years, and if there is anyone least likely to dismiss the “humility and respect for evidence that is the hallmark of the search for truth in all great science and religion,” it is Walker.

    As for Hardy’s argument, it seems to be saying something else than that which you are attacking. If you don’t mind, I’ll post the relevant portions.

    “Yet there are also problems with reading the Book of Mormon as a novel.
    Under close scrutiny, it appears to be a carefully crafted, integrated work, with multiple narrative levels, an intricate organization, and extensive intratextual phrasal allusions and borrowings. None of this is foreign to fi ction, but the circumstances of the book’s production are awkward: the more complicated and interconnected the text, the less likely it is that Joseph Smith made it up spontaneously as he dictated the words to his scribes, one time through. A standard refrain in LDS commentary is “Joseph Smith could not have written this book.” This apologetic point, however, is not the subtext of the present study. I will argue that parallels and allusions in the Book of Mormon are deliberate and meaningful rather than coincidental, but literary analysis does not compel belief. (Weighing the relative probability of human creativity against divine intervention is always a subjective judgment, and Latter-day Saints exhibit remarkably low levels of skepticism toward angels and miracles.) My basic thesis is that the Book of Mormon is a much more interesting text—rewarding sustained critical attention—than has generally been acknowledged by either Mormons or non-Mormons. Rather than making a case for Smith’s prophetic claims, I want to demonstrate a mode of literary analysis by which all readers, regardless of their prior religious commitments or lack thereof, can discuss the book in useful and accurate ways.”

    “Adopting the path of narrative interpretation is not to deny the problematic archaeology or anachronisms that can make the Book of Mormon difficult to take seriously, but non-Mormons who are willing to suspend disbelief long enough to read through the text attentively, on its own terms, may discover something of the literary power and religious vision that make it so convincing to Latter-day Saints, even if they themselves have little inclination to join in.33 When the Book of Mormon is approached from the perspective of the narrators, there are aesthetic principles seen to be at work, though they may be distinct from those of mainstream literature.
    It is possible that such a book might have something to say about life and the human condition, and when undertaken in the right spirit, reading the Book of Mormon might even be pleasurable. I will leave it to others to prove or disprove the historical and religious claims of the book; my goal is to help anyone interested in the Book of Mormon, for whatever reason, become a better, more perceptive reader.”

    I have some issues with a few of Hardy’s arguments later on in the book, but I still feel that this is one of the more important Book of Mormon studies to emerge in recent years. It is one of the few to focus solely on the BoM’s internal structure, so ought not be dismissed solely because of any prior history of Hardy’s.

  5. Mark,

    I’m not sure where I advocate for Hardy’s approach. I state that I agree with him on the specific point that if a reader approaches the BoM casually (i.e. reads it like they would ‘Twilight’) without an appreciation for the multiple aspects he names, then there are drawbacks (though he makes it quite clear that these aspects are not “foreign to fiction”). But if you notice, I spend my whole post describing the benefits of novel-like reading. I don’t mean reading novels like a literary scholar. I mean everyday, casual readers. I’m not even advocating for a casual approach. I’m merely pointing out that even this approach has benefits.

    As for Givens, he is only in my footnotes. The reference went along with the GA emphasis on the Book of Mormon. Givens’ book provides a history of the cultural influence of the BoM. I thought it was an appropriate addition.

    As for the dirty label of “apologist” that you give Givens and Hardy, I’m unfamiliar with Hardy’s work outside of his book. Givens’, however, I have immense respect for. Hardy’s actions may have been inappropriate. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. Frankly, it’s irrelevant to what I wrote.

    I hope your dislike for particular authors will not color the way you read my future posts.

    Allen,

    Thank you. That was very kind.

  6. Walker,

    Thanks for your original post. You make two good points: 1) that reading novels enables a empathetic mode of thinking that sharpens our social perceptions and heightens our ability to imagine ourselves in other people’s minds and lives, and 2) the Book of Mormon, if read as a novel, can have that same effect. I agree with both. In fact, I might even go further and assert that novel-reading is an essential component of our modern notions of autonomy, interiority, and emotion. And reading other people’s scriptures–which generally means reading them as fiction–can be one of the most useful ways to understand other cultures and religious sensibilities. I don’t have a problem with people reading the Book of Mormon as fiction or pseudepigrapha, much as I read (and encourage my students to read) the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospel of Thomas, or the Diamond Sutra. I find these works spiritually as well as intellectually meaningful. And there is no reason why people who analyze the Book of Mormon as fiction can’t show traditionally-minded Latter-day Saints how to better read their scripture. For instance, my thinking on the relationship of the Bible and the Book of Mormon has been very much influenced by David Wright’s careful, persuasive articles on way the Book of Mormon uses and adapts Isaiah and Hebrews. And I have widely recommended Paul Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography; as a outsider, he has taken pains to get things right and he offers lot of interesting insights.

    At the same time, it is only fair to point out that the Book of Mormon can be difficult to read as fiction. The grammar, repetitions, theological preoccupations, and quasi-King James diction are a challenge for outsiders, even if the narratives themselves might be evocative, and the undifferentiated verses of the official edition can make it difficult to follow the plot or hear the narrators’ voices. Last week I read both Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the book of Moroni (for Sunday school), and found that they illuminated each other in intriguing ways. Yet there’s a reason why ordinary Americans are much more likely to read, and be moved by, the former rather than the latter.

    Latter-day Saints who accept the Book of Mormon as scripture face higher hurdles in reading the book as fiction because there are elements of the text that seemed specifically designed to thwart such an approach, but these difficulties are not insurmountable. Biblical scholars have demonstrated how it is possible to accept books like Daniel, Esther, Second Isaiah, and Deuteronomy as essentially fictional yet still canonical and authoritative. Belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is not a requirement for church activity or membership, nor should it be. There is often more to learned in talking about the Book of Mormon with someone who is a careful, critical, and skeptical reader rather than someone who simply accepts it all at face value without a second thought.

    Mark, your comment pains me greatly since you attribute to me opinions that I do not actually hold. I was long ago persuaded by Hayden White that “fiction and history are both narratives with identical fundamental features—including multiple narrator perspectives, type scenes, repetitions, artifice, rhetoric, even metaphor, etc.,” as you put it. I adopted this perspective when I wrote on Sima Qian’s ancient Chinese history, and it is the reason why I thought I could adopt a narrator-based approach in Understanding the Book of Mormon that might make sense both to those who read the text as history and also to those who read it as fiction. I deliberately and regularly tried to make a safe, welcoming space in my book for people who regard the Book of Mormon as fiction. I am distressed that you didn’t see that. (Did you miss all the references to Cervantes, Defoe, and Nabokov?)

    I also remember the roundtables you organized, which included both Mormons and outsiders, as very useful as I was working out my ideas on the narrative of the Book of Mormon. If you came away thinking that I believed that non-Mormons had no place at the table, you have terribly misunderstood me and my intentions. And you have apparently carried this misperception for many years, for which I am very sorry. Give me a call or send me an e-mail. This is an issue that I would rather not leave festering, since I have a great deal of respect for your Digging in Cumorah and your efforts to bring new perspectives to bear on the Book of Mormon.

  7. I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks the Book of Mormon can be seen as a “good novel” has not actually read any good novels.

  8. @Kullervo: Perhaps. But the post isn’t about aesthetic taste. It is about the psychological benefits of reading the BoM as a novel. I borrow “good novel” from my dad and he said it to annoy the missionaries.

  9. This was really fascinating, Walker. I wasn’t aware of all the research showing positive outcomes associated with novel-reading, though I have certainly experienced many of those positive outcomes myself! I credit Orson Scott Card’s novels with no small contribution to my personal social development. I have to say, though, that I found Card’s science fiction retelling of the Book of Mormon rather more compelling than the Book of Mormon itself. :)

  10. @Chris: I was fascinated by the research as well. It inspired me to start reading fiction again and to stop criticizing those who aren’t reading the BoM “right.”

    Nonetheless, how did Twain put it? “Chloroform in print?” ;-)

  11. Grant,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree that actually reading the Book of Mormon as a novel could be difficult. I for one have never been able to due to the awkwardness you laid out. I used to be highly critical of members who read it as if it were a novel (e.g. one chapter at a time, focusing only on story, no interest in cultural context). Yet, I noticed they often gained more spiritual power from the text than I did. Not only this, they were more social. I became more negative and more detached the longer I approached the scriptures merely for information to be analyzed. Reading your book and focusing on the internal structure of the BoM was very helpful in rediscovering the power of scriptural texts. For that, I am truly grateful.

    I’ve never read Mark’s ‘Digging in Cumorah’, but after reading both of your comments, I will be reading it in the near future.

    Thanks again to everyone for their comments.

  12. Allen,
    Thank you for the post. I have not had the courage to read the book, after our last Book of Mormon Round Table and its disatrous results. The sermon at his funeral was much more humane, apparently, than the bullet that killed him.

  13. “(Did you miss all the references to Cervantes, Defoe, and Nabokov?)”

    I highly recommend Nabokov on Cervantes, as well as Nabokov’s lectures on Russian literature. In the latter, there is a really good passage on the important role of readers, which compliments the argument in “Understanding the Book of Mormon.” One could also add the bit from “Speak, Memory,” about the general and the matches, in which Nabokov suggests that the most important role of a memoir is to explore the recurring patterns in one’s life. That certainly has something to say about Mormon and Moroni. I’ve been on a bit of a Nabokov binge, reading a miscellany of his in Russian when at work.

  14. “I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks the Book of Mormon can be seen as a “good novel” has not actually read any good novels.”

    Many people consider “Lord of the Rings” a good novel despite its significant shortcomings as a novel.

    Perhaps if you were to elaborate a bit on what you consider a good novel we could get somewhere.

  15. “Allen,
    Thank you for the post. I have not had the courage to read the book, after our last Book of Mormon Round Table and its disatrous results. The sermon at his funeral was much more humane, apparently, than the bullet that killed him.”

    Mark,
    I can appreciate how previous personal interactions (though I don’t know the story at all) could leave you wary of a person’s book, but I do recommend reading Hardy’s book at least once.

  16. “I have to say, though, that I found Card’s science fiction retelling of the Book of Mormon rather more compelling than the Book of Mormon itself.”

    Yet for me, Card’s novels are impenetrable. One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian, I guess. =)

  17. I always have a bit of trouble with the BoM as a novel, mostly because I find it very hard to read. For me personally, a novel counts as “good” if it grabs me through plot, writing, characters, or what it says about the world today/the world it was written in. Most of these don’t work for me in the BoM. I suspect it’s a lot easier if you’re either a lifelong Mormon and reared on these names and places and stories, or (if you’re a convert) if you read it with an eye for its spiritual truth even while reading it as a novel. One of the reasons I say this is because I’m a convert to Christianity and it took me a very long time to be able to read the Bible (especially the Old Testament) in any form, whether for literary or spiritual purposes or both.

    I taught an undergrad seminar on the Book of Mormon and American culture last year, and I had my students read a significant portion of it. They approached it as literature and found it very hard, yet when I gave them one of the Institute manuals in a round of group work, they got there a lot quicker. I would suspect because that then let them approach it as a religious text, with guided questions and right answers..

    One other thing I wonder is if reading the BoM as a fictional text differs from reading the Bible as a good novel (for those as unfamiliar with Abraham as I was with Lehi). Or any other holy book filled with stories, in that regard. I would think not, but I’d like to hear what other people think.

    (Sorry for the jumbled-ness of my thoughts here, I had a late night and an early morning but wanted to weigh in anyway.)

  18. Allan, Maybe someday I will read Hardy’s book. But I will simply say that I have eyewitmesses that have recently confirmed my assertions about Grant Hardy’s hostility to a non Mormon perspective in the Book of Mormon Round table that is contrary to his apparemntly more nuanced statements in his book. We were all shocked. Hardy is apparently more complex than we know. Aren’t we all. These religiously active and mild mannered Mormon scholars that have spoken to me have expressed their surprise at Hardy’s actions.

    The events around those sessions 5 years ago were shocking. In addition to Hardy’s hostilty to non Momrons, there were spies from Church headquarters, interrogations from the trained interrogators from the Apsostle of War intented to frighten and intimidate particpants—in short, I witnessed first hand the workings of a quiet Mormon Inquisition that has been going on for decades. This from a group of scholars who love and simply wish to read the text well. Fortunately, according to my Stake President, President Monson (my next door neighbor), in a meeting of the Quroum of the Twelve, had to stop Elder Packer from continuing the attacks. As open as Hardy appears on paper, he unwittuingly became a partner to the religious threats and intimidation in the Book of Mormon Round Table.

    The idea that the LDS Church could in any way be associated with such aggressive routines seems implausible, at first blush. The Mormon Church is filled with people of good will and kindness. But a deeper look in the shadows reveals that this is precisely the best breeding ground for bullies and Inquisitors. We as a people do not know how to deal with cruel aggression, and we very much want to support authority. So when dark behavior attacks, when secret combination arise, it can easily be hidden and go unchecked. Abuse and secrecy are brothers.

    The Spanish Inquisitors were psychological masters. They used measures intended to frighten and intimidate. For example, they would use the simple technique of bringing into the interrogation a large stack of papers in front of the person being interrogated as sign of the amount of damning evidence they intend to use against them, then firing rapid questions to catch them off guard. Sound familar? Then you don’t know Richard Williams, the grand inqisitor of Mormonism.

    Do not fear the wrath from heaven.
    Do not fear the devils in hell.
    Fear only the Righteous on earth when they think they are infallible.

    I have no doubt that Hardy would be shocked by all of this. He is a decent man and scholar that has had his own run-in with Salt Lake City. But the fact remains, along with Elder Packer, he did kill the open minded scholarship in the Book of Mormon Round Table with his hostility to a non Mormon perspective.

  19. How meta! Mark Thomas composed a bit of historical fiction about Grant Hardy in the course of a discussion about the usefulness of reading the Book of Mormon as fiction. I must say, Mark’s fictional description of Hardy certainly had the effect of making me more emotionally invested in the discussion. Despite not representing reality, I thus found Thomas’s remarks to be useful indeed. Point proven!

  20. “Not every fictional narrative is a novel.”

    Of course not, but LotR is hardly a short story or even novella.

  21. I’ve come down with a cold, so haven’t finished typing it up yet, but I have found an interesting early modern precedent for reading sacred writings like “a novel.” R. Isaac Luria prescribed it as a praxis for gaining the Holy Spirit.

  22. I’ll allow Grant to get in the last word if he wants, but I’m going to delete any other comments that continue the derail about Mark and Grant. WWE isn’t really the place to be having that discussion, even if it weren’t so far off-topic from Walker’s post. It seems to me, though, that Grant and Mark might benefit from continuing the discussion by telephone.

  23. Thanks, Christopher. In an attempt to bring this thread back toward the original post, let me suggest the following links. If any one is interested in what reading the Book of Mormon as fiction might look like when it is done in a sympathetic, open way, take a look at Father Francis Clooney’s recednt five-part series on his reading of Third Nephi, which he posted in his regular online column at America: The American Catholic Review. Part V has links to all the previous installments. http://new.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/reading-mormon-v-future

    Clooney is a Jesuit priest and a Harvard professor with expertise in Hinduism. He doesn’t really read the book as a novel, but as Kullervo pointed out, not every fictional narrative is a novel, and Third Nephi, on its own, is a bit thin on plot. Fr. Clooney graciously invited me to respond to his series, and then he posted my essay, the second part of which you can see here: http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/mormon-responds-part-two

    I hope that our exchange was both cordial and mutually beneficial. I know that it was helpful to me to see his newcomer’s perspective on a familiar text that I have been reading for most of my life. I think it is wonderful when outsiders read, analyze, and comment on the Book of Mormon, and I certainly don’t expect them to approach it as anything other than fiction.

    As I recall, Mark organized three roundtables, in which he brought together both Mormons and non-Mormons to read the Book of Mormon together. I wrote papers for all three years and found the meetings helpful and stimulating, which is why I thanked Mark and his roundtables in the acknowledgements to my Understanding the Book of Mormon. I’m not sure why Mark feels the way that he does, but his recollections may be colored by the fact that he worked for BYU at the time, and my impression was that he didn’t get much support from the university for his efforts to start an ecumenical discussion of Mormon scripture. BYU can be a strange place, and there is often a wariness there about non-traditional approaches to scripture, even if they are done with the best of intentions. I hope that I did not unwittingly contribute to any ill feelings, since I certainly felt none myself.

  24. You’re welcome, though I don’t think it brilliant, merely interesting. I love those moments when the past and present meet.

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