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Historical Fundamentalism and Mormon History

By: Ben P - November 01, 2010

Historical fundamentalism has been a hot topic as of late. Partly as a reaction to movements like the Tea Party, partly as a continuation of the frustrating distance between mainstream and academic history, and partly in response to the growth of constitutional originalism in public discourse as an opposition to societal and political changes—all three parts, it should be noted, are unmistakably interconnected—there has been an increase of ruminations concerning the relationship between the past and the present. (See here, here, here, and here, for example. Also, and especially, here, and here) A recent and significant contribution to these debates comes from Harvard historian Jill Lepore, whose The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History is a captivating account of how people use (and abuse) the past for modern causes, collapsing the distance between then and now in an effort to gain political and intellectual validation. (A great overview of the book, as well as an insightful interview with Lepore, can be found here. For an enlightening previous interview with Lepore on the importance of being a “public historian,” sees here.)[1] Personally, I’ve been looking forward to the book for months.

While sick with a cold (my body is adapting to bicycling in the Cambridge rain), I had a chance to read the book over the weekend, and am happy to say it lived up to my high expectations. Lepore spent a tremendous amount of time with people who associated themselves with the Tea Party, sincerely trying to capture their political and historical views. (Her willingness to leave the academic “ivory tower” and honestly try to understand the common populace is one step toward closing the academic distance bemoaned by another Harvard scholar earlier this year.) Then, Lepore uses the modern debates over history as one corner of a historical triangle for the book: all chapters begin with her interactions with Tea Party members in the 2000s, then jumps back to the actual events that led to the Revolution in the 1770s (demonstrating the complex nature of the historical period as juxtaposed to the simplistic assumptions of modern-day protestors), and often finish with the failed attempts to unify the nation during the 1970s with the country’s bicentennial activities (focusing on the inability of historians to present a compelling historical narrative for the mainstream audience). While there is much to dig into with the book (I hope to do at least one more post on issues Lepore raises), it is the third of these three angles I’d like to consider in this post.

I found it fascinating the Lepore was at times as critical of academic historians as she was of those currently promulgating what she considers “antihistory.” Part of the reason a large segment of America has a distorted view of the past, she argues, is how academic authors have been either unwilling or unable to reach the common reader. During the 1770s, as the government and private organizations sought to depict an American past that could excite and unify the nation, academic historians disregarded the activities as amateur and as a result wanted little part in the festivities. Thus, a large void of the public discourse was left unfulfilled, and unqualified voices were more than willing to take over. From that point, unqualified voices have continued to determine how many Americans understand their history, and the rift between the two sides has only lengthened. The average reader wants an emphasis on exceptional characters and captivating narratives; the average academic emphasizes nuance, heterogeneity, and the difficulty (impossibility?) of constructing these tight syntheses, arguing that such an approach reeks of presentism and generalization. (John L. Brooke [yes, Mormon readers, Brooke has had a successful career since Refiner’s Fire] recently skewered in William and Mary Quarterly two synthetic attempts by acclaimed historians [Daniel Walker Howe and Gordon Wood] for generalizing the early American republic.)[2] It seems one can never please both sides.[3]

Is the reader at fault for yearning for a past that never was, rejecting academic scholarship because it does not fit their desired worldview? Or is the academic at fault for being so focused on impressing the academy—often by emphasizing nuances and frameworks that are simply uninteresting to those not affiliated with departments of history—that they lose sight of the public? Is it even in the academic historian’s interest to educate the general population, or is that primarily the role of elementary, intermediate, and secondary school teachers? More fundamentally (pun not intended), are there set boundaries or expectations for these issues?

These issues have particular relevance to Mormon history. As I’ve written elsewhere, Mormon historians often only focus on writing for fellow Mormon historians, and then bemoan the fact that the general membership of the Church is ignorant of their collective past. We leave the task to indoctrinate the Saints to unqualified authors, and then act surprised that the result does not match the ideal. I fear this problem may only grow, as many academically trained historians (myself included) grow more interested with addressing broader questions, larger issues, and more interdisciplinary frameworks. The next generation—my generation—seem more interested in focusing their work for the Society for Historians of the Early Republic, the American Academy of Religion, or American Society of Church History than, say, the Mormon History Association—let alone Sunday School. Is the bifurcating between academic and general destined not only to continue, but amplify?

In Mormonism, history is important. Some have ventured so far to say that history replaces theology at the heart of the Mormon tradition. To believers, Joseph Smith’s actions really mattered, not just for the historical record, but also for the church’s validity. Perhaps this is why the average member is especially cautious of historical work. The Church embraces history, but only if it is coming from sources deemed “safe.” The dominance of historical fundamentalism among the Church (I’m thinking specifically of LDS history here, but this point may also be related to the abundance of fundamentalism concerning American history among American Mormons) may be because it is the only protected framework for the past. History is too important to be infiltrated with complexity, nuance, and problems.

Thus, perhaps the Mormon equivalent to America’s inability in the 1970s to provide a unifying historical narrative is the battles over New Mormon History in the 1980s and 1990s. (Mormon intellectual debates always seem to lag behind the larger national issues by a decade or so.) With the end of “Camelot” came disillusionment on behalf of many believing Saints toward the usefulness of academic history. The call-out of “alternative voices,” the excommunications, the debates-in-print exacerbated an already tenuous relationship. Though I would argue not to the complete fault of academic historians, the perception of academic histories as an unsafe—and even dangerous—source for understanding the past seemed solidified. John-Charles Duffy may be correct that “Faithful Scholarship” won the period’s war among the intellectual and moderate section of Mormons involved with academia,[4] but historical fundamentalism may have been reaffirmed among the general public. (For an outline of the competing views, see here.)

Or perhaps I am being too pessimistic. At the highest levels of the Church, there seems to be a renewed—if, again, tenuous—trust of professional and academic history. The new library, the continued support of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and the wonderful things taking place in the Church’s History Department (largely thanks to the icon, Marlin K. Jensen) gives hope for the future. It will be most interesting, though, to see how much of it trickles down to the general membership.

________________________________

[1] Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). For originalism, see Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1996), chapter 1.

[2] John L. Brooke, “The Trouble with Paradox,” William and Mary Quarterly 67 (July 2010): 549-556.

[3] For the scholarly critique of popular history, see, for example, Sean Willentz, “America Made Easy: David McCullough, John Adams, and the Decline of Popular History,” The New Republic, July 2, 2001.

[4] John-Charles Duffy, “Faithful Scholarship: The Mainstreaming of Mormon Studies and the Politics of Insider Discourse” (Master’s Thesis: UNC, 2006).



29 Comments

  1. Very helpful review, Ben. I am trying to disentangle Lepore’s definition of historical fundamentalism from the natural disdain that most scholars have for anyone foolish enough to believe that God acts in history. It appears she would be equally dismissive of believing Jews who place great importance on the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai and of believing Christians who place such importance on the events depicted in the New Testment.

    I suspect it is politics and belief, not historiography, that she is unhappy about with conservative believing Tea Partiers. Liberals and atheists can practice historical fundamentalism as adeptly as conservatives and believers. Is there a way to hold that God acts in history that isn’t open to her charge of historical fundamentalism?

    Comment by Dave — November 1, 2010 @ 10:19 am

  2. Dave: thanks for your comment, but I fear you are being a little simplistic with Lepore’s view–most likely as a result of my simplifying her argument for this blog post. I strongly encourage you to check out the book (or some of her New Yorker articles) to get a better understanding than what I can summarize here.

    The pitfall that you outline is definitely present in much of the high-brow literature where elites look down on foolish believers. However, I think Lepore is able to hurdle that problem in much of her book. Sure, there are some underlying political penchants that bubble to the surface every once and a while–such a topic assures that would happen–but as a whole, her critiques come from a historical rather than secularist point of view. One chapter hits the religion element hard, but nothing in a way that I, as a believing Christian, had a problem with. Indeed, in her sweeping narrative of showing how antihistory has pervaded our nation’s history, she shows your very point: that “Liberals and atheists can practice historical fundamentalism as adeptly as conservatives and believers.”

    Though Lepore focuses her narrative around the Tea Party–they are, of course, the most recent (and perhaps most egregious) example of historical fundamentalism–doesn’t mean they are the only ones hit hard by her analysis. Many different ideologies are critiqued here. Indeed, in her running narrative of the 1970s, liberals bare as much brunt as conservatives.

    Comment by Ben — November 1, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  3. Thanks, Ben. You raise some important questions. FPR has had some great recent posts treating the issue of how best to bring academic training to sunday school and CES settings. I think a lot of the issues they’re discussing have applicability for academic historians in the church and how we can familiarize church members with more rigorous approaches to our past in teaching settings, without getting shut down by accusations that we’re straying from the manuals.

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/10/levels-of-understanding-in-isaiah/

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/10/sunday-school-manual-supplementary-materials/

    http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2010/06/are-mormons-ready-for-an-lds-study-bible/

    I think there’s food for thought in these posts that we can perhaps use as we start to think through these issues in a Church history setting.

    Comment by David G. — November 1, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  4. David: thanks for the links. The folks at FPR, as always, rock.

    Comment by Ben — November 1, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  5. Ben thanks for the musings.

    We leave the task to indoctrinate the Saints to unqualified authors, and then act surprised that the result does not match the ideal. I fear this problem may only grow, as many academically trained historians (myself included) grow more interested with addressing broader questions, larger issues, and more interdisciplinary frameworks.

    As a side note, I’d like a further exploration of the idea of a qualified author, who counts, why they count, and where they might fit in when it comes to Church history. Are we talking SS and CES manuals, popular Deseret books, etc.?

    Dave: As you note, what seems like abuse or misuse of history is not confined to the Tea Party movement, and I don’t know that the author of this book confines the problem to them. The debate about science and religion is a great place to see misuse of history.

    but as a whole, her critiques come from a historical rather than secularist point of view.

    Ben: what do you recommend on the subject of the place of God or the “supernatural” in historical investigation? I’ve read a few interesting articles on the subject but haven’t seen a really full analysis yet.

    Comment by BHodges — November 1, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  6. I heard a really interesting podcast the other day talking about tea partiers and the charge of fascism some have made. (Which seems silly on the face of it) The folks in the podcast saw the fascism charge as silly as well but noted that fascism is just an overly used category all too often divorced from the historic situation of the 1920’s and 30’s. They noted that the parallel to the tea partiers is that both they and many in Europe wanted to look backwards historically during periods of stress. This meant back to Rome for many of the fascists. (And an overly romanticized version of Rome obviously) For the tea partiers instead what is looked back towards is an overly romanticized version of the American founding. But because the US founding and Imperial Rome are just so extremely different it’s unfair to draw too many comparisons.

    What is so fascinating to me though is this tendency to try and move the past to the present. Something you note in your opening paragraph. However it happens in odd ways. When looking at Joseph Smith one can’t help but notice he’s doing the same thing: only with ancient Israel (especially Moses) rather than the founding or Rome. The obvious analogy one immediately sees is to William Blake’s tendency to do the same, only with Jerusalem and London equated.

    More broadly I can’t help but notice two tendencies in historicizing. And these tendencies go back long before the emergence of the modern era. We have a pessimistic view that often erupts in various apocalyptic movements wherein the movement of history is seen as a decay. There was some ideal utopian period of time (Adam and Eve, Enoch, Moses, Egypt, Jesus, Rome) and everything has been getting worse since. The only hope is a return to ones roots. The other movement is the progressive or optimistic movement which sees everything getting better.

    What’s so interesting to me is that within Mormonism one finds both movements in a kind of odd tension. Yes Mormonism has that apocalyptic strain but also a strange optimism and “can do” attitude more characteristic of the Yankee spirit.

    Within our services though the pessimistic view tends to dominate. We love talking about how bad things are getting despite the fact that by most metrics the world is getting better and has been better than at any time in history. (Especially if you live in Africa or Asia) Instead we look towards a fabled past that never was and see ourselves falling away from it.

    Comment by Clark — November 1, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

  7. Ben–

    This is a great post. Lepore is my academic hero. She manages the difficult feat of being both highly respected by her academic peers as well as widely read outside the academy. In my few interactions with her (including lately a reading of this book here in the Boston area), she is incredibly approachable and engaging, characteristics that helped her gain interviews and the respect of the Tea Partiers, despite her obvious historiographical problem with their positions.

    Thanks also for the link to McNaughton. I had seen the paintings but didn’t know he was LDS. I find his claims that the “Forgotten Man” is not a racially informed work to be both laughable and infuriating, and not just because of the “Birther” connections to the Tea Party movement. If we look at McNaughton’s other main painting, “One Nation Under God”, one of the only African American faces in this crowd, the “college student”, is holding the Glenn Beck endorsed Five Thousand Year Leap . The irony of a black man holding a book which argues a British Israelite racial superiority, one that would hold the Constitution to its “original” formation, with black Americans as slaves and accounting for “three-fifths” a person, is breath-taking! With the endorsement from Beck, the “Oprah” of the Tea Party, these types of apologetics for a neo-American primitivism, disguised as “History textbooks”, I fear, are getting read more than Lepore’s careful study.

    Comment by Max — November 1, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  8. it is the only protected framework for the past. History is too important to be infiltrated with complexity, nuance, and problems

    An observation that applies in any number places, institutions and systems. But I’m not sure we will ever get past the simplified versions. Using history for conversion complicates things enormously.

    Comment by WVS — November 1, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

  9. Glad you addressed this, Ben. I generally find Lepore’s books overwritten, but I certainly admire the way she engages a broader audience and I generally like her methodology. It’s about time someone addressed political usage of history in an accessible and public way.

    Comment by Ryan T — November 1, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

  10. Blair (comment #5) wisely mentions an issue that I suppose can never fully be analyzed to everyone’s satisfaction (but it is surely a crucial collateral aspect of the present post): “the place of God or the ‘supernatural’ in historical investigation . . .”

    When I was sixteen, I wore a big Goldwater campaign button to history class, where my high school teacher (a new arrival in uber-conservative Boise, Idaho) was a suspected Democrat, and certainly not LDS. However, he was a very good teacher, and I waited with more than casual anticipation as our American History course approached the day when he would have to mention Our Church.

    When it finally happened, I believe that his approach changed my life. It has been nearly half a century (and I don’t wear Goldwater pins any more) but I could not possibly forget the master teacher’s opening sentence that morning:

    “Now, Joseph Smith . . .” (he spoke the name carefully, slowly; he pronounced the “s” in “Joseph” with a soft sound, not a “z”) . . .

    “. . . Joseph Smith felt that God wanted him to start a Church.”

    The sentence was respectful, it was accurate, it was nearly unassailable. Suddenly, Mr. Aucutt became a hero in my eyes, and I think I would have followed him to history hell if he had asked, because he could not be faulted in what he had just said – and a million years later, I finished my degrees in history and am still working with it full-time.

    I think it is best to tell the two kinds of stories separately, most of the time. When the narrator absolutely must integrate his faith with the narrative, then I think it is far more powerful to express, rather than to challenge: Not, “God appeared to Joseph in the grove,” but instead, “Joseph testified (and I confess that I believe him, with all my heart) that he saw God.”

    Just as that high school teacher had me captive with one sentence that allowed me to believe if I wished, while he would not believe at all, so can our narratives today gain their greatest power when we do not throw up barriers of a sort that could be as abrasive and unproductive as they are unnecessary.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — November 1, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

  11. Blair:

    I’d like a further exploration of the idea of a qualified author, who counts, why they count, and where they might fit in when it comes to Church history. Are we talking SS and CES manuals, popular Deseret books, etc.?

    To me, “qualified” merely refers to someone who can get the facts right and is able to place history within its historical context. They do not need to be academically trained, as super-historians like Ardis P. demonstrate. But they have to understand the historian’s craft and understand that the past is a foreign culture.

    what do you recommend on the subject of the place of God or the “supernatural” in historical investigation?

    A great question, but I fear I don’t have a great answer for you at the moment. It seems like it is a popular topic for discussion (the recently released AHA conference program includes 3-4 sessions devoted to that particular question, and recent AHA conferences have been similar), but they, unfortunately, rarely make it into print. (Perhaps no one wants to be nailed down on a position.) Jim Turner and Mark Noll had a great dialogue book on the related topic of religion in the academy in general, but not particularly devoted to the historical investigation. When Bushman finishes his book on the gold plates it may be one of the most important books on the topic–perhaps he is one of the few willing to stick his neck out.

    Comment by Ben — November 2, 2010 @ 5:38 am

  12. Max: As a fellow Lepore-admirer, I fully agree with you. (Now if only your school would admit me so I can work with her…) And you are dead-on with McNaughton. There has been some threads discussing his work elsewhere in the bloggernacle, and they serve as a living caricature of the historical fundamentalism Lepore writes about. And your last sentence is especially important: the worst part about Lepore’s book is the fact that those who need to read it the most would rather read Skousen.

    Ryan: thanks for the comment, and I agree that the book is timely. Concerning “overwritten”: just remember our seminar’s counsel, “go big or go home!” :)

    WVS: an astute point, though I hope we can still progress at some point.

    Rick: thanks for contributing your own experience.

    Comment by Ben — November 2, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  13. Up until the death of Joseph Smith, history was theology/theology was history, and there were, and still are, certain truth claims about Mormonism that one must accept to be a member. Beyond these basic claims, we too often run off the road. How many members believe Joseph Smith was illiterate? Or practically illiterate? It isn’t true, but because it somehow fits the mythology of the boy-prophet, people want to believe it is true.

    Comment by Ray — November 2, 2010 @ 11:48 am

  14. How do we bridge the divide? What will people read?

    I think we can find hope in that Rough Stone Rolling was widely read, but what was the secret to its success?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — November 2, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  15. Thanks for the comment, Ray. the question concerning what parts of history are crucial and what parts aren’t are at the heart of the issue.

    Steve: while I agree that RSR was widely sold, I’ve yet to be convinced that it was widely read. Most I’ve talked to who even bought the book never did much beyond placing it on their bookshelves. I fear it may have gained Nibley status among the average mormon: a must have, but often left unused.

    Comment by Ben — November 2, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  16. I know quite a few people for which RSR was the only historical work on Mormonism they’ve ever read. I don’t know anyone who bought it but didn’t read it, though I’m sure such people exist (they probably don’t advertise the fact).

    Anyway, I still put forward my original question. I mean, even if you do try to write a book for the masses, you’ll likely fail, right?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — November 2, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  17. Ben, thanks for the follow-up. I wasn’t aware that my failure to stumble on a published discussion of the issue was due to a lack of published possibilities! Sorta sucks.

    Comment by BHodges — November 2, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

  18. In my experience, not a lot of people have heard about Bushman. But once they do, a lot of them go out and buy a copy. Some read it and want to discuss it, while others are slower getting to it. I think one obstacle is the length–people who aren’t used to reading non-fictions aren’t usually going to make it through a 700 page book very quickly.

    Has anyone looked at Richard Bennett’s new book on the 1820s, The School of the Prophet? He’s produced some good stuff in the past, so I’m wondering how (or if) he deals with some of the difficult issues from the 1820s.

    Comment by David G. — November 2, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  19. Steve: it is an important question. I think it is at least partly a result of Bushman being one of the dominant talking heads on that “Joseph Smith: An American Prophet” documentary that Church members loved. I think another element was the big hype leading up to the book–I imagine most historically attuned members have pushed this book on their fellow members (I know I have). Another element may be the general common knowledge of Bushman: he has done a remarkable job traveling around to different parts of the country and making himself visible to the Saints (similar to what Givens is doing now, I think). There were even a few talks-on-CDs put out by Covenant Press and Deseret Book that made him better known. All of these helped make him more marketable.

    Also, no small part of his success was Deseret Book’s decision to heavily push RSR. Though they cancelled the book release party they originally planned, they still placed the book front-and-center in many of their bookstores, included it in their marketing ads, had many book signings, and continued to give it a long shelf-life in the stores. Most academic books don’t gain nearly as much support as that from DB, and DB often drives the LDS book market for most mainstream Saints.

    And finally, the topic is at least equally important: most members would love to pick up an “acclaimed” biography of Joseph Smith–interest in the prophet will always continue.

    Comment by Ben — November 3, 2010 @ 4:55 am

  20. One last thought: I wonder (and there is no way in actually determining this) if the fact that Elder Holland has referenced Bushman in a few General Conference talks has helped deem him as “safe” to certain segments of the Church. Who knows.

    Comment by Ben — November 3, 2010 @ 4:57 am

  21. I think that Harper’s D&C commentary does a lot of cool things and doesn’t ignore controversial issues completely. I don’t have any idea how many copies the book has sold, but I’ve recommended it to people in my ward and my family as the best scholarly commentary on the D&C out there. I know at least one GD teacher who used it to supplement her lesson preparation last year, although the way they format the lessons topically kind of militates against discussing the revelations within historical context.

    Comment by David G. — November 3, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  22. Good post, Ben. It seems to me that Sunday School is perhaps not the right environment to engage a lot of these issues, though. Seminaries and Institutes seem more appropriate venues for the dissemination of a more nuanced view of the Mormon past. I’m encouraged by the examples of David G. and mormondeadhead (among others) teaching Institute classes and introducing class members to some of the more complex issues in LDS history and scripture.

    That said, some work can be done in SS. I was going to mention Harper’s book, but David beat me to it. I think it’s an excellent resource for SS teachers. Holzapfel and Wayment recently published Making Sense of the New Testament. I haven’t read it yet, but respect each of those individuals as Mormon scholars and teachers, and imagine it’s similar to Harper book on the D&C. Perhaps the folks at FPR could review it. When I was SS president a couple of years ago, the ward purchased copies of Harper’s book for each of the GD teachers. Each of those teachers commented to me how much they had learned from the book, and some of them made good use of it.

    Additionally, when I’ve taught SS in the past, I’ve suggested articles (and in some cases, books) to the class on particular points and subjects in the chance that a few eager ward members’ interest in the lesson would extend beyond the GD lesson. Most of the articles I suggested were in the Religious Educator or other books published by the RSC or DB. Articles by Bushman, Fluhman, and our own Steve Fleming all received at least one or two positive responses from ward members who actually followed up on securing a copy of and reading the article(s).

    Anyone have a contact at DB? Maybe we could get a copy of Bennett’s book to review for the blog.

    Comment by Christopher — November 3, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  23. I echo the endorsements for Harper’s book. It seems to be the type of bridge we are calling for here. I also agree with Chris that seminaries and institutes are the best places for this type of indoctrination.

    Steve F.: speaking of helpful articles, has there been any headway on getting the papers from the Bushman seminar you were in published in the Religious Educator? I thought that project was most worthwhile, and I’m a little sad I haven’t seen them in print yet.

    Comment by Ben — November 3, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  24. Ben, thanks for the thoughts on Bushman.

    The last I heard on the papers was a couple of years ago when one the RE editors told me that they had sent them around to the faculty and that they had liked some of them but not liked some of them. That does seem to be one place where Bushman’s popularity did not extend. I should ask someone, it would be helpful to me to get those in print.

    Which reminds me of what Chris said. What did you recommend? Lately I’ve been having the problem of not being able to discuss my research with members without them looking really concerned.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — November 3, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  25. Steve, the John Wesley one. I think the way you frame that one (starting with the WW vision) and emphasizing that many Mormon converts from Methodist background spoke positively of the prior religious affiliation works well for a Mormon audience.

    BTW, I just received the most recent issue of Mormon Historical Studies in the mail. Spencer Fluhman’s paper from the Bushman seminar (on JS’s polygamous marriage to teenage girls) is published there.

    Comment by Christopher — November 3, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  26. 19-20 Ben, I waited years for the new Bushman Bio on Joseph to come out. When it did I went shouting from the rooftops at its brilliance. But one by one a few spiritual giants in my life came back to me that it was lacking even slightly “anti-mormon”. Though I didn’t see it that way I used the JRH references to Bushman in GC to assure my elderly friend that I wasn’t reading and recommending “anti-Mormon” books. It is hard to changes ones perception of truth though (even with a rough stone).

    Comment by n8c — November 5, 2010 @ 1:03 am

  27. “It will be most interesting, though, to see how much of it trickles down to the general membership.”

    Trickle is a great word here. Being a decendent of John Mount Higbee has given me an intersting view of our family reacting to the new “Massacre at Mountain Meadows”-complete with a more full and rough account of truth in it’s awefullness. Though the research and it’s authors had some clout of church santion on the matter, some in the family won’t even read it (too painful, and/or afraid of it being too truthful). Yet others are too complacent to rewrite the history told them in their youth and they still comfortably “blame the indians”.

    How does one turn this “trickle” into a steady stream…and in a faith based way?

    Comment by n8c — November 5, 2010 @ 1:16 am

  28. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, n8c.

    Comment by Ben — November 5, 2010 @ 3:02 am

  29. Ray (13), I have to admit I’ve never heard anyone claim Joseph was semi-illerate. What I have found is the “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Most members don’t study. (Let’s be honest: most rarely even read their scriptures let alone do deep study) So they hear something like someone talking about Emma’s reminiscences of Joseph during the translation process and then get it all confounded.

    I don’t think this is really tied to some founding myth or the like but is just best explained by general ignorance. I bet if you ask a few questions about basic civics you’d get even worse answers.

    Likewise even with the “dangerous scholars” bit I think that the typical member just heard indirectly a few things about the Signature/FARMS wars of the early 90’s and lacked any way to contextualize them. Thus they think largely out of ignorance plus a few vaguely heard facts.

    Comment by Clark — November 5, 2010 @ 4:14 pm