Religious and Romantic Need

The Book of Mormon is a tangible fruit of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is a truly remarkable record and testament of Jesus Christ. Indeed, as President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints observed recently, “The central purpose of the Book of Mormon is its testament of Jesus Christ. Of more than 6,000 verses in the Book of Mormon, far more than half refer directly to Him.

The Book of Mormon is primarily a religious text, which contains (and has preserved through nearly 1500 years of Apostacy by virtue of being buried in the ground until the 1820s) essential Christian doctrines. As such, it is a miracle–a “marvelous work and a wonder.” At the recent General Conference, President Hinckley repeated a sentiment that I believe he has said before and that I myself have also contemplated:

This sacred book, which came forth as a revelation of the Almighty, is indeed another testament of the divinity of our Lord.

I would think that the whole Christian world would reach out and welcome it and embrace it as a vibrant testimony. It represents another great and basic contribution which came as a revelation to the Prophet.

Unfortunately, “the whole Christian world” does not welcome and embrace this further testament of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I suspect that it is not based on the content of the book, since surely the vast majority of those Christians who reject it wholesale have certainly never read it. Certainly, however, many find it too difficult to believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ would appear to a boy and call him to be a prophet to restore truths that had gone missing from true religion.

But the Book of Mormon had more to offer Americans of the mid-nineteenth century than this religious dimension alone. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon, which was itself published during the period of Romanticism in literature, could have (and perhaps did, to some extent) fufilled a “romantic” need for the fledgling country:

A nation seized with a conviction of manifest destiny should have rejoiced in the book as symbol. It was so very national. It was, in fact, aboriginal. It gave the young country the immemorial past its poets yearned for. With its central theme of the continent as a favored land providentially preserved for the gathering of a righteous people, it improved the American dream with scripture and endowed it with sacred legend. More faithfully than the Prophet’s neighbors in New England and western New York ever realized, his revelation reflected their most cherished myth. Descendants of Puritans and Patriots should have recognized the doctrine.
William Mulder, Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia (Minneapolis and London: The Universtiy of Minnesota Press, 3d. ed. 2000), ix.

Fascinating to see another reason that people should have been grateful for the Book of Mormon!

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3 Responses to Religious and Romantic Need

  1. Anonymous says:

    I suspect that it is not based on the content of the book, since surely the vast majority of those Christians who reject it wholesale have certainly never read it.”  -

    Since large swaths of the BofM are lifted from the King James Version of the Bible (Isaiah, Paul’s Epistles), you could say that most of those Christians have already read large parts of the book.

    This also raises the question as to why the Church doesn’t celebrate Joseph Smith’s revision of the KJV itself – this seems to be kept under wraps.

    But your comment can be turned around:

    With its central theme of the continent as a favored land providentially preserved for the gathering of a righteous people, it improved the American dream with scripture and endowed it with sacred legend.” –

    Can it not be said that this is partly why the BofM was written? This was indeed the context of the time: the biblical myths were transposed onto the vast American wilderness, giving comfort to those on the fringes trying to be anchored in a sea of uncertainty and physical challenges.

    Preachers, storytellers, and writers, like Ethan Smith and Spaulding, used the ancient myths to explain Native Americans and the wilderness; weaving a biblical narrative around their current circumstances provided a needed antidote to their existential angst on the unforgiving frontier. JS built upon these storylines and took them to another level.

    Interestingly, the Book of Mormon, which was itself published during the period of Romanticism in literature, could have (and perhaps did, to some extent) fufilled a “romantic” need for the fledgling country” –

    Perhaps not as much as intended. Smith, despite his best efforts in a trip to Canada, was unable to successfully sell the copyright to the manuscript.

     

    Posted by Bill

  2. Anonymous says:

    The way that the small sections of the KJV are quoted by Book of Mormon prophets, such as Nephi quoting Isaiah, and by Jesus Christ himself in 3 Nephi, when he gives the people in the Americas the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, give focus to the meaning of these passages as they appear in the Bible. I would guess, however, that most other Christians reject the Book of Mormon without having read it; if they would read it they would see that it is squarely focused on Jesus Christ and that it adds precious truths to our knowledge of the Gospel, including the nature and meaning of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Instead, I would guess that they just reject it and refuse to read it (I have known some who superstitiously refuse even to touch it) based on calumnous statements by their preachers, the truth of which is easily refutable by anyone with a remotely objective view.

    Are you seriously invoking the Spaulding theories here? If so, then the burden of proof is on you to show a connection.

    I think that the book did fill this romantic need to some extent for those who accepted it based on its religious truths. Once they did that (accepted the truth of the Book of Mormon as ancient scripture recording the dealings of Jesus Christ with his followers on this continent), then they were also uplifted by this romantic aspect of the book (at least as far as converts on this continent were concerned). 

    Posted by john fowles

  3. Anonymous says:

    “…Of more than 6,000 verses in the Book of Mormon, far more than half refer directly to Him.”

    50% directly to Christ???

    I wonder how Boyd K. Packer came up with that percentage?  

    Posted by Daylan Darby

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