In the Saturday afternoon session of the recent LDS General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook, one of the newer members of the Quorum of the Twelve, related a fascinating vignette concerning Charles Dickens as part of his address ("Our Father's Plan—Big Enough For All His Children"). Here is the vignette in its entirety.
In 1863 Charles Dickens, the English novelist, went on board the passenger ship Amazon, which was bound for New York. His purpose was to report on the Latter-day Saint converts who were emigrating to build up the Church in the American West. There had been thousands of converts who had already emigrated [from England to America], and much had been written, particularly in the British media, about them and their beliefs. Most of what was written was unfavorable.
"I went on board their ship," wrote Dickens, "to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment they did not deserve it."
After observing and mingling with the converts, Dickens was impressed with them and described these English converts, most of whom were laborers, as being "in their degree, the pick and flower of England."
The balance of Elder Cook's talk was about stumbling blocks to faith. The two he reviewed were the "doctrine that revelation still exists" and the difficulty in reconciling a loving God with "the incorrect doctrine that most of mankind would be doomed to eternal hell." Most people have an easier time with the LDS idea that only a relatively small percentage of people will go to hell ("outer darkness," in LDS terminology). It was a nice talk, although I'm guessing some people are dealing with rather more substantial stumbling blocks.
One last item. I've seen some blog chatter on this talk suggesting the following statement by Elder Cook -- "My principal concern is for the honorable people of the earth who are open to religious faith but have been discouraged or confused by incorrect doctrine" -- slighted nonbelievers or those not open to religious faith. I don't really read it that way. He simply narrowed his discussion to stumbling blocks for believers. I'm sure he could give a different talk (next Conference?) discussing stumbling blocks for nonbelievers. I'm guessing the list would be longer.
Originally published with comments at Beliefnet.