I was just listening to the award-winning FAIR podcast the other day while I was working. Some of my design work I can do while listening to something, without slowing down. This particular episode was an interview with a Brother Kevin Christensen who’s an amateur scholar (meaning he doesn’t have advanced degrees in his subjects) been published in the FARMS Review, Sunstone, and other scholarly publications. He started talking about something that struck me so strongly, that I stopped working, and just sat there listening, trying to mentally keep up and process what he was saying.
It’s somewhat philosophical, but still very logical, and makes a very powerful point about why we should stop expecting perfection in the Church, and not be the least bit surprised to find out that something is different than what we’d always thought. He follows it with a powerful point and illustrative story, about how we should approach the history of the church, the truthfullness of the Book of Mormon, etc. Here’s my summary of what he said, that struck me so strongly, with my thoughts and ideas added in italics.
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Bro Christensen talks (at this particular part) a lot about the problem of people leaving the Church when they find out it’s flawed, or Joseph Smith was flawed, or perhaps even his revelations contain some mistakes or flaws. He says that many anti-Mormons prey upon this hugely, by only needing to point out a few supposed flaws or imperfections to get people to doubt the entire gospel.
He says that if Joseph, the BoM or any of it were, in fact perfect, we (being imperfect) wouldn’t really know, because we can’t judge what perfection is. As long as we are flawed and have no experience with perfection, we can’t judge or know what it is. Therefore, to assume that it 1) exists in Joseph or the BoM or whatever, and 2) that we would know what it looks like, is totally flawed logic. Even if one, or all of it, were in-fact perfect, we wouldn’t be able to recognize it, because it wouldn’t fit our imperfect idea of what perfection looks like. Besides, no language on the Earth is perfect, so the mere fact that the Book of Mormon, D&C, etc are in English (or any other language) makes them inherently imperfect.
BUT, Kevin Christensen points out, we can know what is real. We can ask “were Joseph’s revelations real?” We can’t ask if it was perfect, because we wouldn’t know, but we can ask if it’s real. If it’s real, then that solves it. There’s no concern over whether it’s perfect, because that’s an unanswerable question anyway. We can’t ask if the BoM is perfect or the D&C or even the gospel as we understand it. But what we can ask is if they are real. If the answer is yes, then I’d argue, that’s all that matters. Not that we can’t explore it’s flaws, depths, etc, but we always come back to: it is real, it is from God, and it is what should guide our lives.
To drive home his point, Bro Christensen gave an excellent illustrative example: he said that when he was a child he got to go to a dinosaur dig site. He saw the paleontologists uncovering the bones, but more importantly he saw the bones. So he read up on dinosaurs a lot over the years. One thing he learned a lot about was the “Brontosaurus.” Everyone learned about them (I know I did). Turns out a paleontologist put the wrong skull on the wrong neck, or some such thing, and it was an accidental fabrication of a species (I’ve wondered why I’ve never heard more about them). So some of what he was taught about dinosaurs was imperfect. It was flat-out untrue. But that doesn’t mean dinosaurs aren’t real. It doesn’t disprove the fact that dinosaurs existed, or mean that the paleontologist who made the mistake, got everything wrong. It simply meant that human knowledge of dinosaurs is imperfect, and always will be in this life. We can still ask “are dinosaurs real?” And Kevin Christensen’s answer is “yes, I’ve seen the bones.”
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The FAIR podcasts are awesome. Through it I’ve been taught by great minds like Bro. Christensen’s, as well as those of Terryl Givens, Richard Bushman, Claudia Bushman, Brian Hauglid, and many others. You can find out more about the FAIR Podcast here, or subscribe to it via iTunes or other podcast service by putting in this URL: http://www.fairblog.org/