I received email a couple days ago from an ex-Mormon wondering why I refuse to face the truth and recognize that the Church is a corrupt, ridiculous hoax. After a typical list of complaints against the Church (standard anti-Mormon fare), he tossed in a couple of telling statements alleging that the Book of Abraham was a hopeless fraud and that the Book of Mormon was the most empty, ridiculous book he had ever read. What, not even good enough for “inspiring fiction”? That was an important clue. I honestly wonder if he ever gave those books a chance and dug into them in any depth. Had he done so, I don’t think he would have made that statement, at least not sincerely.
There are many reasons one can select for leaving the Church, but my experience is that people who have seriously studied the Book of Mormon tend to be able to be much stronger in the faith. It is a powerful conversion tool. And while our critics guffaw about it being an insipid fraud, the people it appeals most to, in my experience, are not the gullible uneducated people who can barely read a cable TV bill, but the educated and intellectual. It is the people who have the intellectual tools to read, study, interpret and decode a text and who have experience in reading a wide variety of works that are most likely to see the depth and beauty of the Book of Mormon. It takes some educational background to appreciate the power of the subtle Semitic poetry that infuses the Book of Mormon, or to appreciate the significance of its philosophical discourses on agency, redemption, sin, the Atonement, etc, or to enjoy the insights we get from comparing First Nephi to modern field work in the Arabian Peninsula. The people who join the Church because they took the challenge of Moroni 10:4 and dug into the Book of Mormon prayerfully, after serious pondering, studying and prayer, are not airheads. They can’t be. You may argue they are wrong, but those who go on that intellectually satisfying journey are doing something that an increasingly small fraction of Americans can do: read, study, and ponder a complex text. At least give them credit for that.
Yes, there are numerous unanswered questions and annoyances about the Church and our faith, and some genuine flaws we can point to in Joseph Smith (see Rough Stone Rolling – a tremendous treatment of the not-always-pretty aspects of the early days of the Church). But after having encountered the majesty and spiritual power of the Book of Mormon, after having learned through extensive study and through personal revelation that this book is from God, cannot be explained as a nineteenth-century fraud, and has power that has transformed my life for good, how can I dismiss Joseph Smith as just a con-man on the basis of negative testimony from some critics or because of programs or policies in the Church that I don’t like or even offend me? I wasn’t there for the First Vision or the visitations of the Angel Moroni and did not see the golden plates, but there was something there. For me, there has been a world of discovery, joy, and blessings that have come from my testimony grounded firmly on the Book of Mormon as scripture,m with the Bible, and as an authentic ancient record that testifies of Christ.
I’m not saying that those who don’t accept the Book of Mormon or who leave the Church aren’t intellectual, educated, or good readers, or that they haven’t read the Book of Mormon at all. But when I see glib, smarmy statements from some critics about how idiotic and trivial the Book of Mormon is, their credibility plummets. I’d like to challenge them to step back, reconsider, and seriously study the Book of Mormon – especially if they haven’t done this already.