Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Interpreting History, Part 7

The topic of our history becomes even more challenging when it is overlaid with emotion and fear. Since the study of Mormonism is also the study of what will save your soul, we associate grave importance to being "right" about things. Therefore, when we make up our mind about a storyline, we defend that story against any challenges offering another view.

As is apparent from the last question posed to Marlin Jensen in the interview referred to previously, there are painful adjustments involved in going back into your belief system, taking part of it down, or adding something new, and then adjusting everything else to accommodate the new data. It is upsetting. We don't like to unsettle what we thought was settled. This is why once a tradition takes hold it is almost impossible to make changes to it.

In the Book of Mormon, the word "tradition" or the phrase "traditions of the fathers" is almost always used in a negative way. Do a word study yourself and see how "tradition" is used. That is one of the Book of Mormon's warnings to us. We have to be very cautious about accepting something as true because it came to us through tradition. Every one of us needs to be converted to the truth.

Also, the "converts" in the Book of Mormon were almost always religious apostates. They had been part of the truth and fallen away. Notice how the splinter groups who were converted were almost without exception being re-converted. From the macro-level (with the Lamanites) to the micro-level (with the Zoramites--who were dissenters from the Nephites (Alma 31: 8)), the missionary effort was to bring believers back to the truth. These apostates were religious. They were firm believers in all kinds of religious ideas handed to them through incorrect traditions.

Our story is similar to the Nephite story. It has been marked by traditions that have time and again discarded what we were originally given through Joseph Smith, and are foundational to the restoration. To go into our history is to discover wonderful, exciting things that were once taught, but now are either slowly or quickly being lost. We need to ask why they were lost? If they belonged in the first place, why did we discard them? When Joseph introduced the teachings and claimed they were from God, why did we fail to preserve them? Did we lose them because we heard from God and He said, "don't do that," or "don't believe that anymore?" Was it because we were jarred from our settled places in Kirtland and Nauvoo, and in the forced migrations had a hard enough time retaining part of our religion? Is our forgetfulness perfectly understandable?

To be able to discuss this openly we need to stop reacting with emotion and fear at the thought of the discussion. We can go back and consider what happened and suspend judgment about the correct narrative until we have studied and discussed the matters more fully. It should be fun. It should be wonderful. It should excite us, but instead we fear it. That is not healthy and will only preserve a continuing dwindling tradition of the faith. The process of Correlation has enshrined the process of dwindling. Go to the Book of Mormon and look up "unbelief" and you'll find it almost invariably associated with "dwindling." That is, the apostates of the Book of Mormon got out of line with the Lord because they "dwindled in unbelief." They lost truths they were supposed to have remembered. Look at the word "remember" in the Book of Mormon and you'll also find it is a very important principle. How can we ever avoid dwindling and be able to remember if we fear a close scrutiny of our history? They go hand in hand. Once again the Book of Mormon proves to be the "keystone of our religion" because it bravely faces the very problems we are currently struggling with but are afraid to discuss openly. We fear what the Book of Mormon expects us to discuss.

If you love your faith, you will allow it to inform you. You will not fight against it and only look at part of it. If you insist it can only conform to your present notions, then you do not really believe the religion at all. You only want to hold to your traditions. You are like the Book of Mormon apostates who have dwindled in unbelief because they refused to remember the original faith given to them by the Lord. None of us should want that. Open discussion should not threaten Latter-day Saints. Nor should those who are willing to engage in the discussion be called apostates or wolves in sheep's clothing. That only ensures we will continue to ignore problems, and as a result of ignoring see a collapse in church membership.

We should be open to discussing our history in our church meetings. We should not be afraid. The discussion itself is healthy even if nothing changes in the lives of most saints. It will leave them better informed and allow those who are struggling a safe place to voice concerns and help find answers. At present, our church meetings are pretty hostile to the whole history discussion. We tolerate only centrally approved propaganda which some good-hearted people have found to be more fiction than fact. The people who view it as fiction shouldn't be renounced for their honest questions. Instead they deserve answers from a friendly, open church.