Thursday, April 30, 2015

What is Wrong With Being a Literalist?

Not long ago in a discussion, an acquaintance, annoyed at a scriptural response to his question I gave him, said half in disgust, “Oh, you’re a literalist.” I told him that, if by that comment he meant I accept the scriptural record the way it is written and go by it, I told him “yes.”
When it comes to the Book of Mormon and the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon, I am very much a literalist. I believe, without question, that the Book of Mormon was inspired by the Lord, that both the original writers of it and the abridgers (Mormon and Moroni) were inspired as to what they chose to include in the work, from the doctrines and spiritual experiences listed, to the descriptions (to help us better understand the circumstances, settings and doctrines outlined) were included for our benefit, knowledge and enlightenment. I do not agree with Hugh Nibley, John L. Sorenson, and many other theorists, that some of the Book of Mormon is true, but other parts are either inaccurate, misleading or need to be interpreted differently. I simply do not see the Spirit acknowledging what Joseph Smith wrote as being incorrect, hard to understand, or misleading, such as Mormon thinking of a north-south land that meant something different to him than to us—if the Spirit worked that way, then what is the use of having the Spirit guide an direct if that guidance and direction is going to be misleading.
    Do scriptures sometimes mean more than we think they do? Quite often. Do scriptures mean something other than what they say? No. We may need a deeper understanding of the background of a thought or idea, such as understanding the parables spoken to an agrarian society people if we are an urban society reader, but the wordage of the scripture is not misleading or incomprehensible to the average person who reads it.
Why certain scholars think they are smarter and more capable of understanding the scriptural record than others has always been a mystery. As Nephi clearly told us, “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3)
    Since the Lord talks to us in our language for our understanding, how can someone claim that the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon must be understood by scholars who then need to tell us what things mean. Hugh Nibley continually said that members of the Church needed to stop looking at the simplicity of the Book of Mormon, yet Nephi clearly said that his “soul delighteth in plainness and after this manner doth the Lord work among the children of men.”
    Will study and pondering give us deeper meanings and greater understanding? Absolutely. Will study and pondering show us errors in the scriptures? No. Errors occur when man’s thinking assumes man is smarter than God and other people and only he knows what is meant, and therefore tells others of his “discoveries.”
Did Mormon or Moroni ever include their own thinking in their abridgements? Obviously, (Alma 3:13; 22:35; Ether 2:13; 6:1 9:1; 13:1), but they were also guided by the Spirit (Words of Mormon 1:7; 3:16, 20; Ether 4:5; 5:1); Nephi was constrained by the Spirit (1 Nephi 4:10; 7:15; 2 Nephi 28:1), and the Spirit stopped his utterance (2 Nephi 32:7), and talked to him directly (1 Nephi 4:11-12, 18; 11:2, 4, 8, 11). Judging from these and the numerous other indications of the workings of the Spirit in conjunction with the scriptural record, to think that the Spirit allowed any errors, mistakes, misleading, or inaccurate comments into the scriptural record, or ignored problems, inaccuracies, or errors into the abridgements or translation, does not seem likely.
    It is also just as unlikely that Hugh Nibley and John L. Sorenson’s comments that the scriptural record needs scholars to interpret it for us, or that what we first read is not correct, but that we need to look beyond the obvious for more correct meanings.
    When Mormon said that the time of grace for the Nephites was past, did he not understand the doctrine of which he spoke? Did he misquote that and make an error? The man that speaks of living and working and writing by the Spirit tells us of the descriptions of the land he walked over and fought upon for 65 years—did he not know what he was talking about when he described it for us? When he inserted his descriptions of the land, did he not know which was north and south, which was east and west? Did he not know where he had been, what land was located where in relationship to each other? Did he just stumble through those descriptions? If so, then what makes us think he did not stumble through the doctrines and spiritual matters of which he wrote? How can we be certain he understood the workings of God, the teachings of the Lord, the utterances of the Spirit when he did not know the directions of his land, or where different areas were located?
    Can we trust the words of Mormon on this when he couldn’t even describe a “narrow neck of land” of which it took a Nephite a day and a half to cross without leading to numerous present-day historians and theorists dissecting that and coming up with a score of different meanings?
And what about Nephi? Was he so unlearned that he did not know where he traveled, did not know the direction of that travel when he wrote about it? Was he so inept that he could not tell where his ship went and how it was driven? Did he knot know what “driven forth before the wind” meant? Did he deliberately or accidentally mean to mislead us when he talked about winds and currents, i.e., in being the motive power of his ship and determining its direction? Did he not know enough about the land upon which he landed and walked about to not describe it correctly when he wrote about it?
    Was Jacob so out of touch with the spirit that when he spoke in a two-day conference (2 Nephi 9:54) to the Nephites that he really did not understand that his home, the land of promise was an island when he said it was? (2 Nephi 10:20). And if he did not know that, or was told that in a vision by the Lord, then why on earth would he say that was their home? Was he trying to cause confusion for those who would later read his words? And in speaking that before all the Nephites gathered at the Conference, did not one wonder why he knew that and they did not? Would not someone have said something requiring him to further explain his meaning. When he told them they had traveled over a sea and upon that very sea was the island upon which they landed, would someone not have asked how he came by that understanding if it was not common knowledge among them? If that was a surprise to them, wouldn’t it have required a further explanation on such an important subject as all of them not being cut off from the Lord?
It seems amazing to me that so many writers (theorists) accept the doctrines, but not the descriptions. It also seems that in the writing, the one goes with the other—you cannot separate one part of the writing from the other. Why Olive can accept the doctrines yet show us that the alignment Mormon wrote about of the lands from south to north (Nephi, Zarahemla, Bountiful, Desolation Land of Many Waters) were actually not in that alignment, but on a line west to east with Zarahemla, Bountiful, Sea East, Cumorah and Land of Many Waters; the same could be said for John L. Sorenson’s Mesoamerica east to west alignment. Funny they think Mormon got the doctrines right, but not the land alignment. It is sad, though, that so many people agree with them and ignore Mormon’s perfectly clear descriptions.
    I would rather be a literalist than try to determine which things Mormon got right and which ones he got wrong. How much easier it is to simply accept that he knew what he was talking about in everything, or in nothing, rather than to try and pick and choose which is correct and which isn't.

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