Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's Either True or It Is Not

President James E. Faust: "The gospel as restored by Joseph Smith is either true or it is not."

To me, this statement is both obvious and profound. As a missionary, the most frustrating thing was not those who rejected the message. It was not those who would not allow us to clarify misconceptions before judging. The most frustrating thing was meeting people who agreed that Joseph's story might be true, but just didn't care. They didn't feel it was worth the effort to find out.

This attitude never made sense to me. Given the gravity of Joseph's claims, it seems to me to be a matter of eternal significance to investigate whether they are true or not. Of course, we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, so ultimately the knowledge of whether Mormonism is true must come from God. However, the vast majority of those who are not Mormons would not say that they have received a witness from God that it is not true. Rather, they have just not found it worth investigating. Certainly I can understand this; I have not felt it necessary to seriously investigate Islam, for example. But those who don't feel Mormonism is worth investigating must at least reconcile with themselves some of the compelling evidences.

Those evidences include the three and eight witnesses, the acceptance of his family (who can con his own mother and father?), supernatural events witnessed by many, and many evidences from the Book of Mormon itself. In the last category, the most recent one that has come to my intention is Jacob 5, and how accurate it is in describing ancient horticulture.

Of course, evidence is not proof. Calling these things evidence is not the same as saying they prove Mormonism to be true. It is possible to find evidence for things that aren't true. And certainly anti-Mormons would counter with their own list of things they feel Mormons must reconcile, which organizations like FAIR attempt to do. And there are likely some questions that might remain unanswered.

But I believe it is valid, even with those questions unanswered, to ask then how we are to explain the evidences of Mormonism's truth. Both sides can argue that the beliefs of the opposite side are improbable, but that does not exempt either side from offering a more probable explanation.

If I had more time, and didn't fear being misunderstood, I think it would be interesting to write a book describing the most probably explanation for Mormonism, assuming Joseph's story is not true. But my book would not just cherry-pick the most supportive facts, but would attempt to explain all of the difficult questions. The result, I believe, would be a story at least equally as improbable as Joseph's. I hereby give my permission to anyone to steal my idea, and you will have a least one customer.


Kim Siever said...

Do you know what President Faust meant by: The gospel as restored by Joseph Smith?

Mike said...

I assumed he meant the gospel as taught by Christ during his mortal ministry, the "plain and precious parts" of which were lost and restored by revelation to Joseph Smith. But I admit that I didn't analyze the phrase very carefully. Did you have alternate meanings in mind?

Kim Siever said...

Not really, but there does seem to be two different definitions of "the gospel". The common one in the Church is that it refers to all the tenets of the church. The other is that it refers to the atonement, repentance, baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If we go with the the latter, a literal definition, then I wonder what Joseph Smith restored regarding those four things.

Mike said...

True, the word "gospel" is somewhat ambiguous. I didn't focus on that in my post, but you make a good point.

Kim Siever said...

You sort of You did focus on it in a way with your opening statement. How President Faust defines "gospel" has a bearing on what your post means, which is why I am not sure it's as obvious as you stated at the beginning of the post.

Mike said...

I suppose I could make my point this way: Either Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus in the grove or he didn't. Either the Book of Mormon is true or it isn't. Whether those points are part of the "gospel" depends on how you define that word. But what I'm talking about here are the events of the restoration. Either they happened the way Joseph said they did, or they didn't. And it seems to be that it's very important to know one way or the other.

Thaddeus said...

Even if we go with the more specific definition of gospel, including faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can see the uniqueness of Joseph Smith's 'gospel.'

We could read President Faust's words as, "The gospel ordinances (of baptism and confirmation) as restored by Joseph Smith (through receiving priesthood keys) [are] either true or [they are] not."

What Do Mormons Believe?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to go with "not".

Kim Siever said...

Imagine that. A troll going with "not".