Religious and Romantic Need

April 30, 2005

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!