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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is the Book of Mormon really "chloroform in print"?

Grant Hardy at Slate.com explores the notion attributed to the Book of Mormon by Mark Twain that the Book of Mormon is boring and has no inherent redeeming value as literature or scripture.

I have to admit that, at one point in my teenage years, I agreed with Twain, even if it was mostly in jest, that the Book of Mormon was indeed "chloroform in print". There were many BoM reading challenges in Seminary classes which I found myself dozing off both in class and at home. It was only the gentle prodding and great teaching of my Seminary instructors that kept my interest buoyed.

It was when I became a missionary that I really got serious about digging into the book and its chronology as it related to its core message. I had a testimony of it because of genuinely applying its teachings in my life and praying to know of its truth, but I was missing that "page-by-page" understanding of its sequence. I couldn't quickly turn to a particular story or random page and tell anyone its context and significance as part of the whole book.

Having done that, I can tell you that the Book of Mormon is definitely NOT "chloroform in print". Mark Twain's statement transparently reveals the lack of seriousness and depth with which he explored its pages.

As a parent, I can tell you that I'm grateful to have made more effort than Twain or others who attack the book based only on a cursory or partial reading.

Daily I can turn to a story or example in teaching my kids how to get along with each other. First and Second Nephi are ALL about family ties and the behaviors and consequences of family living, especially within the context of God's will for families.

The Book of Jacob helps me shield myself from the soul-cankering influences of pornography and immorality that surrounds me. Jacob 5 teaches me the causes behind the wars and conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere and the interfaith bickering that happens in our world.

The Book of Enos teaches me how to pray.

The Book of Mosiah helps me understand how a country should be governed, how to treat my fellow men, why the Savior performed the Atonement, and the fact that no matter how small a concern even a portion of a nation is in the context of the world's way of seeing things, God will still send a prophet to warn it of danger and to organize His Church there.

The Book of Alma is rich in just about everything there is to experience in life:
  • distinguishing between truth and error
  • avoiding bringing negative consequences upon oneself through rebellion against God
  • how to share the Gospel with others in a way in which they will most likely respond positively
  • on which criteria mankind will be judged
  • why bad things happen to good people
  • why good things happen to good people
  • why good things happen to bad people
  • the beauty of suddenly having religious freedom when none existed prior
  • the horror of losing religious freedom when once enjoyed
  • why repentance is necessary, and how to do it
  • why the philosophies of the world are bankrupt and without foundation
  • what the purpose of the Law of Moses was (to point to Christ)
  • why bridling your passions is a Godly thing to do
  • who are we
  • why are we here
  • what happens after we die
  • how it's possible to fight a war in a way that God finds acceptable (not appealing, just acceptable in the event that no other option is available)
  • why kings are always problematic in the governance of a nation
  • why division and contention is always problematic in the preservation of freedom
The Book of Helaman teaches us why we must always be careful never to let "secret combinations" or conspiracies, mafias, gangs, government cabals, terrorist groups, etc. become the order of society.

Third Nephi teaches us that Jesus had love for other children not of Jerusalem's fold and that His Gospel doesn't change whether taught in Jerusalem, in Zarahemla of the Americas, or in any other nation. Most importantly, it provides the key second witness that Jesus is the Christ, the resurrected Savior of the world, in every literal sense and reality.

Fourth Nephi, even though only one chapter in length and spanning a period of over 200 years, is most instructive in its preservation of a record of what causes years of peace...and what ends that peace.

The Book of Mormon (meaning, the subsection of the whole book by that name) gives us a thorough rundown of everything we are about to experience as our own world crumbles and decays in a "horrible scene of the blood and carnage" like the sequences of events the prophet Mormon experienced. This is a book to pay attention to if you want to know what we're in for.

The Book of Ether is a microhistory that parallels the history of the Nephites and, again, emphasizes the irreversible nature of mutual genocide and fratricide that emerges from secret conspiracies to "get gain" and obtain the temporary kingdoms of the world.

Finally, the Book of Moroni, in all its brevity, gives us pearls of great price such as the proper manner of baptism, of the sacrament supper of the Lord, of the order and organization of the Lord's Church, and of the necessity of faith in a world of unbelief. Moroni teaches us that if we fail to see miracles in our day, it is through our own lack of faith and not because there are no such things as miracles. If we have gotten to that point, then we are ripe for destruction, just as his own people had become. Faith precedes the miracle.

So, if you had previously been in agreement with Mark Twain about the Book of Mormon being impossible to get anything out of...or if you believe that there is no literary redemption in the Book of Mormon...consider what I have outlined above and ask yourself if any of those items could be useful to you. There's bound to be at least one. Pick that out from the list and resolve to explore how the Book of Mormon expounds on it.

You'll be surprised at how truly interesting the Book of Mormon actually is.