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A Deconstructionist Testimony of the Book of Mormon

July 5, 2009

I would sustain this testimony I read a few days ago, if I could grasp what it meant.

Here’s a wall of text sampling from it:

…I am given the Book of Mormon. I am told it is a sacred book, true, the only truth. I start to read it. I find a passage that irks me, but because I think the book is sacred — because I am told to read it again and again and again, and because it is supposed to be “true” and therefore must possess a secret that would satisfy my ire — I do exactly that: I read it again and again, and my reading deepens, and I search out all possible answers. Perhaps I find that my original assumption — this initial feeling that the Book of Mormon is racist, maybe — bends toward a reading that shows that this is simultaneously true and untrue. There are racist ideas in the Book of Mormon, and there have certainly been racist outcomes: people have found verses that were ripe for bad use and used them badly (both the book’s fault and the people’s fault). But because I am reading down, deeper and deeper, I must look at everything, and I discover, too, that for Joseph Smith’s time period it is actually quite progressive: a book about the American continent belonging rightly to the Indians, a book about white people needing brown people to save them. And then I must think the next logical thought — namely, how much was this book influenced by Joseph’s personal history and the larger histories unfolding around him — and I am off to the races again, asking questions about the nature of revelation and its dependability, about the possibility of a non-Platonic truth where there is nothing ‘out there’ and only the tension of all the ‘in here’s’.It is the exact feeling of ire, of disbelief, of noticing contradiction, that saves. It saves by making you aware of the passage of time.

That sounds strange at first: the knowledge of time saves you? What could that possibly mean? What I mean by it is this: reading centuries’ worth of sacred texts requires you to admit that truth is very different at different times. It also requires you to admit that some things that were formerly ‘true’ to whole cultures are repugnant and grotesque to whole cultures now. Once you have noticed this, you will have to ask yourself a hard question: “What was ‘true’ about the scriptural ideas you now find repugnant and what was cultural? What parts of these grotesque idea actually came from God and what parts are merely the infinitized preferences of people still in the grip of societal- or self-deception? Did God, for example, really want the Israelites to kill men, women, babies and animals to purify the land from wickedness, or was that a great and odious self-deception that the Israelites attributed to their God to give it sanction?”

You will be forced to ask these questions, but then, as every good book requires, you will be forced to turn the question on yourself, ask, “What ideas in my own time are merely zeitgeist playing God and what ideas are true in spite of the culture?” Or, in other words, “If I took my most intense spiritual feelings and froze them into words that persisted in a book for dozens of centuries, and if a person thousands of years from now opened that book and read my frozen thoughts, what would they find to be true and what would they find to be backward and repugnant?”…

Wow, just pasting that bulldozes through much of my “comfortable article length”…but the blogger goes much more in depth about it.

Even while I enjoyed this part (and others), when I tried to look more into Jacques Derrida and deconstruction, I found it to be…completely unintelligible to me. At best, I could kinda sorta make sense of things by anchoring them back to Project Deseret’s clear and intuitive account, but in general, the words straight from Derrida (or straight from wikipedia about Derrida) seemed simply to scream, “Here be a postmodernist dude who’s trying to sound more important than he is. And there be the reason why Philosophy as an ivory tower field is becoming more and more irrelevant in life.”

Later on the blogger talks about seeing faith and spirituality as processes (e.g., restoration-ing) while the church tries to establish it as an event (e.g., Joseph Smith’s Restoration), with the the trick being to realize that latter is required to give an individual the energy, stress, or pain enough to even consider the former (see also: church’s insistence on “Following the Brethren” while also theoretically valuing personal revelation)…and so I thought, didn’t I see (but ignored) something about processes? But this too was fruitless: between the mild-mannered musings on the subject or the wikipedia musings, process theology came out to me as a bunch of new age, liberalized woo.

…So I guess I’m an unrepentant philistine in the end. :3


From → Uncategorized

  1. Andrew,

    I think “liberalized woo” is not far off the mark as a description of what most postmodern and process philosophy really boils down to. These are mostly feel-good philosophies for right-brained people who aren’t big fans of the modern scientific worldview. That said, Derrida is much more comprehensible when he speaks than when he writes. The problem with his writing is that he considers writing a kind of “play”, and writes a lot of gobbledegook just to prove that language is infinitely elastic.

    I recommend the first chapter of the book “Deconstruction in a Nutshell” as a great, easy-to-understand statement of Derrida’s ideas as he explained them during an oral question-and-answer session at an American university. I believe I have this chapter scanned on my hard drive somewhere and could email it to you if you’re interested.

  2. I’ll check it out — Google has part of Deconstruction in a Nutshell available for preview (and the full first chapter appears to be available), so I may not need the chapter emailed after all.

  3. Gotta love Google.

  4. Just to clarify, the part that’s actually good is “Part One: The Villanova Roundtable”. Don’t make the mistake of clicking on Chapter 1 of Part Two, which is a bunch of meaningless commentary.

  5. lol, then google has the meaningless commentary. It has some of part one’s chapter one, but not all of it.

    so I’ll need the email after all (email is on about me page)

  6. That was a pretty good read. I guess they should’ve “caught” Derrida more often in such a manner to get such clear and simple descriptions.

    Great notes too (especially the lol)

  7. Yes, it’s true: I use cheesy Internet acronyms in the margins of my books. 😉

  8. FireTag permalink

    Perhaps one of the things that the future scripturalist will note as provincial and “backward” about our time will be the unconscious assumptions that we make that (1) cultures that preceeded us were inferior to us, and that we could judge them; and, (2) the future culture will be superior to ours and in position to judge us.

    We are the most progressive culture we know about, so we may not appreciate how rare the assumption of progress actually might be in history.

  9. I saw a blog post commenting about the unconscious assumption of “chronological progressivism” and I was going to link you to it.

    but then I realized it was from your blog!

  10. FireTag permalink

    Glad to know you’d read it.

    I would also concur with the opinions expressed here on process theology. The “process” is so arbitrary in terms of how its concept of God is supposed to relate to the universe that there are few things I can take seriously about it.

    It’s sort of like deciding that God can speak to us any time He wants — but only so long as the message is confined to using the first 18 letters of the English alphabet. Who ordered that?

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