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Right on, Dave. I think a combination of your three is the way to go.

Dave, much of our history has been unavailable or just plain hidden. Especially history of our doctrinal development.

For instance, Brigham Young's concept of Deity. A look through official pronouncements for the past, say 75 years, will show, at most, an acknowledgment that BY spouted his Adam-God doctrine once, and that once may not have been transcribed correctly. Those pronouncements are are considerable variance from facts regarding theological discourses by BY and others from at least 1852 through early 20th Century.

It isn't just a matter of reading. Rather, one also needs to know what readings to believe.

What's been hidden? Sure, pre-internet you personally (or I personally) may not have been able to access certain information (the public libraries in San Diego county and the various B.Dalton Booksellers probably don't stock a whole lot of Mormon history or theology), but that doesn't mean it was hidden from me growing up. I would assume that good histories of, for example, Latin American cooking or the Jehovah's Witnesses were just as unavailable, hard as that seems to believe in the world of Google and Amazon. Dave's point seems to be that, just because I never heard of something in my first 32 years, doesn't mean it was malevolently hidden from me. Maybe it means I was busy filling my mind with other things, including things more easily accessible to me.

So instead of feeling hurt and lied to when unknown things become known, it is, to some extent, incumbent on us to learn the details and the context. Anything can sound bad in a soundbyte (which we should be especially attuned to in the season where I, at least, am getting all sorts of meanspirited political email forwards from older relatives); it often turns out to be different when we spend the time to find out what the truth is. (Or we can just automatically delete forwarded emails; I'm frankly at about that point in the political process.)

"Knowing what readings to believe" ... yes, that's why I suggest reading a variety of authors, to get a sense of what the consensus is (if any) and, on issues in dispute, to at least read several different views.

Micah, if you lived anywhere near Utah this was hardly hidden. And lots of people had copies of the Journal of Discourses. (It was widely available in Nova Scotia which was hardly a hotbed of Mormonism in the 70's)

I will say that some of the prominent denials of A/G by JFS and BRM were disengenuous at best. They'd have been far better off simply saying BY was wrong.

"A scaled-down-to-reality sense of what human institutions, including the LDS Church, can actually achieve is one of the benefits of reading history."

That was one of the big lessons I came away with from reading the Doctrine and Covenants back in seminary. They were the "Saints," and yet there they were on every other page being chastised, forgiven, or encouraged anew when plans big and small didn't work out.

This post is one of the reasons why DMI is one of the best in the 'naccle.

I seccond Matt's comment.

Dave, you have been doing a great job here. I have read most of the stuff you have been putting up recently, and I am grateful for your efforts.

Thanks, Matt and Eric. I confess, politics has sucked me in like a black hole, but I'm trying to get back to blogging as usual.

Agreed. Excellent post, Dave.

I have been reading the Doctrine & Covenants lately and the same things that John mentions have struck me as well. It seems like God is in a constant struggle to get us to listen and obey and we, mortals that we are, tend to get things wrong and mess stuff up.

Dave, I like your additional ideas here, but they appear to be nuanced variations that fall somewhere inside the linked-to posts "Have Your Cake And Eat It Too" approach or "Post Modern" approach.

The four approaches on the Mormon Matters post are large buckets meant to delineate between four common ways people seem to deal with challenges to their faith (whether historical, doctrinal, or whatever).

On the extreme ends you have: 1.) people that more or less ignore the challenging information and accept the orthodox sunday-school position on faith, or 4.) people who accept the challenging information whole cloth, and lose faith in the church.

In-between these two extremes are people that deal with the information -- by following one of your three approaches above -- and adjust their conclusions and testimonies accordingly. The MM blog post breaks these people into two camps: 2.) those that come to a more apologetic conclusion and maintain a mostly orthodox testimony, and 3.) those that develop a more heterodox or agnostic/univeralistic approach to historical or doctrinal "truths", but nevertheless maintain a testimony and activity in the church.

I think Dave's labels are more interesting and true to experience.

I also don't think you should conflate orthodox and sunday school.

On the "I'm a little bit smarter now" approach, I'm reminded on something actor Kirk Douglas said about his return to Judaism in his old age (if you'll forgive looking to celebrities for wisdom):

"I grew up, went to college, but my Judaism stayed stuck in a 14-year-old boy's Hebrew school book. It has been pointed out to me that no rational adult would make a business decision based on what they knew when they were 14. You wouldn't decide who to marry based on what you knew about love and relationships when you were 14. But lots of us seem satisfied to dismiss religion based on what we learned at 14, and I was one of those that stupid."

Faith and lack of faith can both remain stuck with our 14-year-old or 24-year-old understanding if not prodded along into maturity.


It has long been a mystery to me, what certain historians are objecting to, when the complain about "faithful" or "sanitized" history. Of course it is simple to make the observation that certain things are missing from mainstream accounts. But I object to the pejorative tone in referring to such accounts. Most of the time, more extraneous details would simply distract from the intended message.

None of the historic exposes that I have seen ever contained anything of great merit, but I spent a lot of my younger days pursuing research in this matters. It was a waste of time. I never found anything that changed my view of the gospel. And contrary to what some maintain, it was never "hidden" or "hushed up" or hard to find.

All considered, I think the road to honest history is largely an unfriendly and thankless journey to a pointless destination. People who sacrifice their faith for the sake of devotion to a bit of revisionist history have missed the whole point.

Yes, Jim, I'm not sure what the payoff is for having two shelves full of Mormon history books, except that when someone with just one shelf-full starts blathering, you have a good riposte or two.

Matt, obviously I liked the MM post and the idea of providing "approaches" rather than freaking out. However, I don't like MM#2 because putting the "apologetic" tag on it always makes it sound like an approach that papers over a problem rather then getting to the bottom of it. I think that if something is a real problem, you ought to get to the bottom of it, not paper it over.

I didn't like MM#3 because calling it a "postmodern" approach always sounds like the equivalent of a shell game with nothing under any of the shells. I believe that in some cases there are enough resources available in the historical record to actually provide answers to some historical questions. One can ask too much of history, of course, but I won't write it off as "postmodern."

I have been somewhat amused by the claims about "hidden" things. If I found most of that stuff out - pre-internet - from Church-published material in Europe, I feel safe to say that lack of knowledge of history is a result of laziness rather than a conspiracy by the hierarchy.

Granted, I have been able to add many items to my treasure chest since stuff started being available on the Web. I guess I'm a little more knowledgeable about some things. With some stuff, well, you just can't go back to the 1830's and put Joseph or Oliver on the couch to find out what exactly went on in his head.

I must say that I am also amused by the "hidden" things. I knew a lot about these things before I went on my mission just from reading Church produced material. Like someone else said, the other readings were either different (antagonistic) opinions on the same history or doctrines, or the details.

Maybe it has to do with the huger effect. when a person is seriously malnourished it can kill them to eat a feast. From what I understand most who lose their faith over what they read all of a sudden discover all these "hidden" teachings and historical information. Those who have continually read the scriptures and other material starting out young stay strong, or lose the faith in a different way.

Another curiosity is that for all the "hidden" information, it is interesting that the bulk of the knowledge comes from LDS produced writings. For example, other than a few original sources, Brodie's "No Man Knows My History" mostly uses The Joseph Smith History and Journal of Discources. Aside from that, much of what she talks about can be found in B.H. Robert's Comprehensive History of the Church from a different perspective. Now, if you go to blatant anti-LDS works, they are a compendium of quotes (badly edited and way out of context) from LDS sources. To paraphrase Scully from the X-Files, "the [information] is there. You just have to know where to look."

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