The Book of Mormon is True, But What Does that Mean?
An Ancient Record
I personally believe that the Book of Mormon is true, which is to say that I believe that there was an actual ancient record found which was written upon by many individuals who lived from the time of the Tower of Babel to about 400 AD. I believe that this record existed and was real. Much like I believe that other ancient records and texts have been found and their writings translate and interpreted. Furthermore, I believe that the translation of this ancient record is correct. I believe that the Book of Mormon was a real record, an ancient text, that was discovered by Joseph Smith. I believe that Joseph Smith was shown the location of this ancient record by an angel. I also believe that the angel that showed Joseph Smith where this record was buried was the last individual who wrote in this ancient record sometime around 400 BC.
But what else do I mean when I say that I believe that the Book of Mormon is true?
There have been many ancient texts and records discovered. The writings on those records have been interpreted and translated. It is highly likely that the best experts of ancient writings and languages, who have interpreted and translated ancient records, that their best work is still flawed and imperfect. When I say that I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, I am also saying that I believe that the translation of the Book of Mormon is an accurate representation of the words of those who wrote in it.
I believe that each individual who is represented in the Book of Mormon is the true account of those individuals. I believe those individuals existed. I believe in the historical account of the Book of Mormon. I believe it is a true historical record.
What I think most people are saying when they say that the Book of Mormon is true, is that they believe in the teachings and doctrine that are discussed in the Book of Mormon. I also agree with the Book of Momron being true in this sense. I have read and studied the Book of Mormon many times, and I continue to do so, and as far as I understand and interpret its teaching, I agree with and believe that those gospel teachings are true.
The Actions and Choices of the Individuals
As I have read and studied the Book of Mormon, I have asked myself what in the Book of Mormon is true and what does it mean when I claim that the Book of Mormon is true? If the Book of Mormon is true does that mean that Nephi was in the right in the way that he responded to his brothers? Were the recorded actions of Nephi the “true” way, the way we ought to emulate in similar circumstances? If the Book of Mormon is true, does that to suggest that the actions and decisions of all the prophets were right? The way they set up their government the “true” way? The way they taught the gospel?
I believe that the Book of Mormon talks about some good human beings, but I also believe that good human beings are flawed and imperfect and make mistakes even in their most honest effort to live a good moral life. When I read their biographies and autobiographies as recorded in the Book of Momron, am I to believe that the words, actions, and choices they made are a representation of flawless actions? Or does this record show their flawed and imperfect attempts to live the gospel as they understood it?
When I say that I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, I am saying that this book is a true representation of good people striving to live a good moral life and their flawed, imperfect efforts as they made honest efforts to live by their integrity are noteworthy. I don’t think they always got it right, but I think they lived honorable lives.
I used to see if differently. I used to think if that’s what King Beginiman did, then there is no other way, that he way was the one and true way to do that. I used to think that the Book of Momrmon was a record showing perfect examples of what to do. There’s not a story or part in the Book of Mormon that has caused me to see it this way, it’s just that I see God now differently now than I did maybe ten years ago.
I see God as one who wants me to learn to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong, good from bad. I see God as one who is desirous from me to learn for myself. I don’t think He would give me a book and say “Study these people and do exactly what they did.” But rather I think He would give me a book and say, “Study these people and watch how they strived to govern their lives by truth in their circumstances they faced during their life, and gather inspiration from them to also govern your life with integrity as you strive to live according to truth. Strive to learn for yourself what is true. Watch them as they continue to try to expand their understanding of truth. And be compassionate with their flaws and imperfections and your own flaws and imperfections because coming to know truth is a process that is messy.”
How do I know that it is true?
This one is a little harder for me to answer because I’m not sure I know the answer. I grew up memorizing Moroni 10:4-5 which teaches about the power of asking and seeking to know for your own self and receiving a witness of truth through the Spirit.
Coming to know truth and error, I am discovering, is a lifetime pursuit, an ongoing process. And a process that is flawed and imperfect…let me rephrase that. The process isn’t flawed, but the individual going through the process is flawed and imperfect and so their ongoing conclusions will need constant refinement and/or they will need to continue to be added onto. Much like learning math. You learn counting and then basic addition and subtraction and then you are ready to learn multiplication and division and fractions. Learning one truth prepares you to learn more truth and in the process of learning truth you will interpret things wrong and your understanding will be flawed and incomplete, but as you continue to learn, your imperfect understanding of fractions will become more refined and more complete. The individual who can learn to tolerate the discomfort of “getting the answers wrong” will be more capable of learning and more capable of progressing. Also, the individual who can learn to honestly own their own view and their best judgment, will be more capable of learning and progressing.
For me, I have read the Book of Momron many times, and I have followed the advice given to ask God. I have, in the past, interpreted this to mean: read the whole Book of Momron, then kneel by your bed and pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, and if you did your part, than at some point, most likely in that moment while you are kneeling by your bed, you will feel this wonderful feeling confirming to your heart that the Book of Mormon is true. I was so certain that this is how it would happen because I had heard countless individuals talk about having this experience. But when that experience didn’t happen to me, I was confused and discouraged.
I’m not entirely sure how I know it’s true. I guess I want to believe that it is true, and so far, my simple desire to believe that this is a real record has not harmed me for believing in it. It has brought goodness into my life. I don’t have a problem believing that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by Divine power beyond his own capability and not by his own abilities. One could argue that one day I’ll find out I was wrong all along, like the inevitable day that comes for all children who believe in Santa Clause, and if that day came, I would not regret my belief in the Book of Morom for it has brought goodness into my life.
But beyond that, it just resonates with me. You know when you listen to different podcasts discussing differing views and beliefs and how some ideas resonate with you and others don’t? That’s how I experience the Book of Mormon, it resonates with me and the more I think about it and read it and study it, the more I see that in it that resonates with me.
The Part That Makes Me Sad
In a philosophy class taught by Dr. John Kagg, he points out that the majority of the works of philosophy we have comes from white males. This is one of the great hypocritic ironies of philosophy. Philosophy encourages the individual to seek out wisdom by being willing to understand and listen to the differing views and thoughts of others, yet, historically philosophy has been blind to its narrow fastidious choices in who it deems worthy to listen to.
There is one thing that does make my heart sad when I read the Book of Mormon. I find it disheartening that there are not more voices from women in the Book of Mormon. I feel that the lack of women in the Book of Momron has perhaps been a disservice to the way in which culturally our Church responds to women. I am sad that I don’t get to learn from women and see their roles and their responsibilities. I am sad that I don’t get to watch their most honest efforts to govern their lives by truth in their unique circumstances. I am sad, that even if they weren’t the ones given the responsibilities to go out and be missionaries, that we don’t get to see their partnerships with their spouses, the way they struggled with navigating their lives with moral courage. I would love to hear their thoughts, their teachings, their testimonies, their voices. If the work done within the walls of our homes is so important, why don’t we hear more about that work? Why do we still give priority to the stories of the men and their works, while remaining silent to the works of women?