My Daughter, the Universalist (Part 2)

May 15, 2007 | 56 comments
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Three years ago, I related how Caitlyn, our second daughter, imposed a new ending upon the story of “The Ten Young Women,” in which, after the foolish women who’d left to refill their lamps returned to find the door to the wedding feast closed, the Bridegroom returned, opened the door again, admitted everyone, and everything ended happily. She is seven years old now, and less innocent, but her longings remain the same.

Last night, as I was reading a story to Caitlyn’s younger sister Alison on the bottom bunk, we were interrupted by declarations from the top. “That’s not fair!” Caitlyn cried. “That’s terrible! That’s so sad!” And then she started to cry.

I hurriedly finished the story I was reading to Alison, and turned my attention to the top bunk. Caitlyn was holding her copy of an illustrated Book of Mormon reader which she is working her way through. I asked what was bothering her, and she told me: she’d just read the story of Korihor, about how he’d led many Nephites into doubt and wickedness, how he’d challenged Alma and disputed the prophet’s testimony, how after denying all the evidence and warnings Alma gave him he demanded a sign, and received one, being struck deaf and dumb. And then how he’d piteously admitted that he’d always known there was a God, but had been misled by the devil, and asked to have the curse removed from him, but was refused, and so left Alma to go wandering throughout the land.

And?, I asked.

“And then they trampled him!” Caitlyn cried. “Why did they do that?”

Well, the Zoramites were wicked people, and I guess they didn’t care much about the beggars in their part of the land.

“Why did God let that happen?” she asked tearfully. “Why is something so sad in the Book of Mormon?”

Well, Korihor had turned away from God, and so the story shows that if you turn away from God and choose to follow the devil instead, the devil will not protect you.

“But he was sorry!” she insisted. “He had repented! He shouldn’t have been trampled!”

But repenting takes more than just saying you’re sorry for what you’ve done, and Korihor had done some bad things.

“He still shouldn’t have been trampled. No one should be trampled. People shouldn’t have been mean to him.”

No, they shouldn’t have, I agreed.

“I don’t think there should be sad things in the Book of Mormon,” she concluded, still sniffling. “I don’t like people being trampled.”

I don’t either, I said.

She will, of course, finish the Book of Mormon, and realize that everybody dies at the end. Growing up with the scriptures all around her, she will also realize that sometimes God uses sad stories and ugly tragedies to teach important principles. I hope she accepts those principles. But I also hope she never stops being saddened by the terrible stories behind them.

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56 Responses to My Daughter, the Universalist (Part 2)

  1. Kevin Barney on May 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Fortunately for Caitlyn, there is a strong strain of universalism in Mormon thought. Her tender soul was sent to a family that practices a religion which has within it the resources to be a balm to her sadness at such troubling stories, at least as she gets older. My guess is that she wouldn’t do very well in a faith that insisted on consigning almost all of humanity to hell.

    Your daughter sounds like a gem, Russell. Give her a hug and kiss from us all.

  2. ronito on May 15, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Boy oh boy. You should be sure to keep the Old Testament far, FAR away from her then. Oh and most of the New Testament.

    I have the same problem with my kids. We’ve had to steer clear of a lot of scripture stories as they’re ironically too violent for the kiddles.

  3. SilverRain on May 15, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    The Old Testament is safer if you don’t explain what some of the euphemisms mean.

  4. Adam Greenwood on May 15, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    I think mercy and justice are concepts too large for the same human soul to really accommodate them both.

  5. MAC on May 15, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    This is what happens when kids don’t grow up on a farm.

  6. NorthBoundZax on May 15, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Good for Caitlyn! You have a truly remarkable daughter, Russell.

    I often find it amazing at the number and kinds of behaviors that people in Gospel Doctrine will go out of their way to excuse, simply because that behavior is in the scriptures. Some behaviors simply shouldn\’t be justified (trampling repentant beggars among them).

    Become like a little child, indeed!

  7. Russell Arben Fox on May 15, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Kevin, NorthBound: my thanks for your kind words.

    Ronito,

    “You should be sure to keep the Old Testament far, FAR away from her then. Oh and most of the New Testament.”

    She’s actually already read the illustrated Old Testament which we own…which is, admittedly, very heavily bowdlerized. (But do you really think the NT poses an equal problem?)

    SilverRain, Adam, MAC: I agree with all of you.

  8. john f. on May 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    RAF, great post — thanks for sharing it. I have recently had a very similar experience with my five year old daughter. At our nightly scripture reading, she reads the first few verses of the chapter and then either I or my wife read the rest of the chapter to her and her sister as they listen.

    Recently we read 2 Nephi 23, which quotes Isaiah 13. When we reached verses 15 through 18 I was startled by my daughter’s visceral reaction to those verses. She literally burst out in tears! In this chapter containing Isaiah’s prophesies relating to the destruction of Bablyon and interpreted by Latter-day Saints as a type of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the upsetting verses were as follows:

    15 Every one that is proud shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked shall fall by the sword.
    16 Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.
    17 Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver and gold, nor shall they delight in it.
    18 Their bows shall also dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.

    My daughter’s reaction elicited a substantive discussion with her about her feelings relating to these verses. It was a fascinating experience, but also humbling to see the purity of her heart.

  9. DKL on May 15, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    That’s what happens when you have people read the scriptures: they find objectionable stuff. That’s what reading the scriptures is all about. If it weren’t, then we wouldn’t need to read them.

    Last week, I heard it mentioned that someone’s had written a 61 page essay on what is wrong with our church for his father-in-law. My response was like this: “61 pages? Is that all? Geez. I could write that in my sleep. What a lightweight.” Then there’s Einstein’s statement to the effect, “Don’t trouble me with your problems concerning math. I assure you that mine are much worse.” Whenever your children find something objectionable in the scriptures, take the opportunity to remind them that your objections to the content of the scriptures are much more severe than theirs.

  10. manaen on May 15, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    IMHO, your daughter only got the first chapter of the Korihor story.

    Just as she was upset by the Zoramites’ trampling him, the next two verses say that Alma was upset with their evil ways — presumably Korihor’s trampling was the catalyst — and immediately took a heavy-duty missionary force comprising: Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Amulek, Zeezrom, and two of his three sons, leaving only Himni and Helaman (Alma’s son) in Zarahemla to watch the rest of the Church.

    These missionaries to Korihor’s tramplers discovered strange practices such as Rameumpton. However, Alma — just as he tried to call Korihor to repentance — wanted to bring the Zoramites to repentance (all of this echoes his own recovery from evil). He prayed, “O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ. Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.” (Al 31:34-35). Then came the marvelous lessons and conversions of Alma 32.

    So, Alma, the BoM hero who himself had repented, sought only salvation and repentance of Korihor *and* the Zoramites. He didn’t seek to excuse Korihor’s trampling but saw it as such an evil that he led most of the Church’s leadership try to end it on-site.

    As one who also has felt this forgiveness after repentance, I’m grateful for Pres. Hinckley restating this concept near the end of his remarks in arecent priesthood session of General Conference, “Now the work of the Church is a work of salvation. I want to emphasize that. It is a work of saving souls. […] Our hearts reach out to the offender, but we cannot tolerate the sin of which he may be guilty. Where there has been offense, there is a penalty. […] Nevertheless, we recognize, and must always recognize, that when the penalty has been paid and the demands of justice have been met, there will be a helpful and kindly hand reaching out to assist. There may be continuing restrictions, but there will also be kindness.”

    I believe your daughter can feel very comfortable with this lesson.

  11. ronito on May 15, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    #4. Agreed. But sometimes the scriptures take justice to mean vengance.

    Russel,
    Oh yes the NT poses similar problems what with pigs running off cliffs and Peter going off as Peter does Jesus saying he’s as a sword not as peace. There’s loads of stuff that can be very disturbing to a kid. Not to mention Revelation. Oh my, at the very least BILLIONS of people die in that book and do so in graphic detail.

  12. Adam Greenwood on May 15, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    #4. Agreed. But sometimes the scriptures take justice to mean vengance.

    I’m not sure there’s a clear difference. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.

    But that’s tangential to my point, anyhow.

  13. Wacky Hermit on May 15, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    I\’ve always gotten a lot of comfort out of the part of the BoM where the members were burned in the fire while Alma looked on, the part about how the wicked have to be allowed to do their wickedness. Maybe that would be a good part to have her read next. Korihor didn\’t deserve to be trampled, but on the other hand to stop the people from doing so would have infringed on their free agency and deprived the Lord of a catalyst for good.

  14. Tatiana on May 15, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    All the smiting stuff in the BoM is profoundly disturbing to me. I don’t even know still what to do with it. I’m not one for smiting. Provisionally, for now, I’ve decided that those stories are for people who need a touch of fear to bring them around to the goodness of following the commandments. Just as some children respond well to a pop on the bottom (or the prospect of one) and others don’t. I’ve decided those stories are not meant for people like Caitlyn and me, and we can assume things didn’t really go down quite like that.

    Well, actually, no, I do understand that people can do horrible things and God won’t stop them. He doesn’t do that, except in certain circumstances, and for his own reasons. I’m talking about the times when God directly smites people, like killing everyone in a whole city, even the little kids. I feel sure Caitlyn would agree with me that that’s not cool.

  15. Ardis Parshall on May 16, 2007 at 12:36 am

    This story helps me understand what Jacob meant when he said “And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender … it burdeneth my soul that … those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.” I confess I’ve always secretly thought those wives and children were like Victorian ladies calling theatrically for their smelling salts, that nobody could be *quite* that tender. I was wrong.

    I wonder if there’s something in these verses that would appeal to Caitlyn at some point.

  16. pam smith on May 16, 2007 at 12:51 am

    Is it explained why there is so much violence and tragedy in the world?
    If this scripture really bruises your child\’s feelings, what is the point in that?
    Does anyone know?

  17. Norbert on May 16, 2007 at 1:38 am

    “Why is something so sad in the Book of Mormon?”

    Do we all assume that every word of scripture is intenseful meaningful, that every story and episode was written for a specific lesson to be taught? If it really is a record of an anceint people, etc., then are we surprised that there are elements that don’t seem to work out into neat moral packages? I would be much more sceptical of scriture if the stories were all so ‘neat.’

    Her concerns about justice in the scriptures are the same concerns she will have (or probably already has) about the real world, and with which many adults haven’t come to terms. A friend of mine had his 10 year-old son come home from school very sad. When he had complained that something was unfair, his teacher had said, ‘Well, life’s not fair.’ The boy asked his father, ‘Why isn’t life fair? Shouldn’t people make it fair instead of saying that’s the way it is?’ The kid has a point.

  18. Russell Arben Fox on May 16, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Do we all assume that every word of scripture is intenseful meaningful, that every story and episode was written for a specific lesson to be taught? If it really is a record of an anceint people, etc., then are we surprised that there are elements that don’t seem to work out into neat moral packages?

    Not a major point in this thread, but for what it’s worth: I’m like Jonathan (and many others) in that I assume the Book of Mormon, as we have received it, is a true premodern text, meaning that it is the result of a complicated process of translation and redaction and expansion over centuries of time–guided along its way by prophets and the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but still, very much the work of those ancient peoples who actually lived through and thought about their experiences. Which means that I don’t, in fact, assume that the trampling of Korihor, or any particular passage in the BoM, is or should be “intensely meaningful” in our context today. I can’t imagine that I would ever use the trampling of Korihor as an important part of a moral lesson or testimony about the truthfulness of the book to my children. I’m sure it can be so used, but I don’t think the simple fact that it is in there means that it ought to be. Maybe it’s just one of those sad, perhaps grimly satisfying, but also perhaps meaningless, things that have ended up in our scriptural record, kind of like Elisha calling down the wrath of hungry she-bears on those who mocked his baldness.

    A friend of mine had his 10 year-old son come home from school very sad. When he had complained that something was unfair, his teacher had said, ‘Well, life’s not fair.’ The boy asked his father, ‘Why isn’t life fair? Shouldn’t people make it fair instead of saying that’s the way it is?’ The kid has a point.

    Indeed he does, Norbert; he most definitely does.

  19. Norbert on May 16, 2007 at 8:28 am

    I very nearly referenced Elisha and the she-bears myself! Proof that our shared educational experience (i.e. hanging around the dorms) was truly formative.

  20. SilverRain on May 16, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Why isn’t life fair? Shouldn’t people make it fair instead of saying that’s the way it is?’ The kid has a point.

    Except that what is fair to one isn’t always fair to another. Not all compromises are win-win. It’s important to learn that life isn’t always fair, no matter what people may try to do to change it. Once that’s realized, people can move beyond worrying and whining about the unfairness of *blank* and start working on doing what they can do to make the lives of those around them better.

  21. Russell Arben Fox on May 16, 2007 at 9:15 am

    I very nearly referenced Elisha and the she-bears myself! Proof that our shared educational experience (i.e. hanging around the dorms) was truly formative.

    Ha! I seem to remember Matt Fairholm had a whole routine worked up involving that story which he used in a Sunday School lesson once. Good times.

  22. Tatiana on May 16, 2007 at 9:20 am

    Life’s unfair, but I don’t think there is any law of physics that states that it has to be. I do see a future when we can make life, if not completely fair, then much fairer than it is now. I think that would be a good thing, and it’s something we shouldn’t just give up on and wash our hands of.

  23. Tatiana on May 16, 2007 at 9:33 am

    As for imposing new endings on stories, I do that as well. I don’t change the ending, but I imagine how things turned out years later. After having The Giving Tree read to me (the first time I’d encountered it) a couple of years ago, and crying over it, I dreamed the rest of the story. How a tree lives much longer than a boy, how a stump is far from dead, and by giving its trunk, the tree wasn’t giving anything it couldn’t afford to give. The boy was beginning to learn wisdom when he got old, I think, and I’m sure he sat on that stump and felt gratitude and deep love from and for the tree. When he died, his wife and children had him buried at the foot of the tree, where his body decomposed to nourish the tree which had sacrificed for his sake, in the years before. A beautiful new bole sprang from the stump, and quickly in the rich earth grew into a shapely tree with sound tasty fruit. The man’s children came to sit under its shade often, and remember their father and his favorite tree. His grandchildren played among the branches, and ate the fruits, and were happy. And the tree continued to love and be loved down the generations that followed, and then the tree was happy.

    When I realized that was the ending, it felt completely right to me. I’m now just surprised that anyone else sees the story differently. Some people seem to think it’s a tale of sorrow and not of joy. As though Christ died on the cross but was never resurrected.

    So I see that Caitlyn and I are of one mind on this. Stories don’t stop at the end of the book, and we constantly rewrite them to make them ours. That’s why we’re alive.

  24. Norbert on May 16, 2007 at 9:41 am

    SilverRain: Well, I suppose that’s true. Although children don’t generally have any space to negotiate or have a huge range of choices about how they change their world. I think the boy perceived the response as a lazy and/or indifferent alternative to actually trying to create a sense of justice or explaining the complexity, a feeling with which I can identify.

  25. Russell Arben Fox on May 16, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Tatiana, I love your ending to The Giving Tree–and the ending of your comment. Making–as much as we reasonably and ethically can–the stories of others our own, working out from within them towards something happier, something fairer, something more just and more beautiful…that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Liken the scriptures unto oneself and all that.

  26. Seth R. on May 16, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Contrary to the wishful thinking of many children,

    a mere lip-service apology does not “make it all better.”

    You can apologize for stealing a cookie. But you still don’t get any cookies for dessert tonight.

    Tough beans.

  27. Adam Greenwood on May 16, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Which means that I don’t, in fact, assume that the trampling of Korihor, or any particular passage in the BoM, is or should be “intensely meaningful” in our context today.

    I think we at least have to presume this, which is what I take it means for something to be canonized.

  28. Russell Arben Fox on May 16, 2007 at 10:57 am

    I think I disagree, Adam. I take canonization to refer to the normative status of the text in regards to the rule(s) of the church, not necessarily to its epistemological status in how we take up, explain, or justify those rules. Should we presume that the story of Joshua stopping the sun in its tracks in the (canonized) Old Testament ought to be “intensely meaningful” to our lives today? Only a pretty high level of abstraction, I would guess. (The power of God and His chosen prophets over the elements, etc.) I don’t deny that something similar could be done with the trampling of Korihor; I’m just doubtful that we should assume that to be the case.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m comfortable with the idea of the canonization (and, for that matter, the inspiration) of a text referring to something larger than the sum of its parts. There are, I think, details to stories in the Book of Mormon that are pure functions of storytelling (those rampaging, vemonous snakes in Ether, perhaps?), that need not be morally accounted for. Some things–like maybe the trampling of a pitiful old cursed apostate–might be best understood as just mean and sad.

  29. ronito on May 16, 2007 at 11:32 am

    What blows my mind to think is that children are supposed to be pure and innocent. Jesus said that unless man becomes as a child he can’t enter into heaven.

    So what if Caitlyn is right, and all we’re doing is apologist or conjecture? I mean to a kid trampling someone to death after they’ve repented = not cool. To a grown up, well you got to look at justice and sometimes it’s not enough to just say your sorry.

    Not that I want to start a whole conversation about it. But the thought just popped into head and blew my mind.

  30. Adam Greenwood on May 16, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    You’re talking over my head, Russell Fox.

  31. Seth R. on May 16, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    ronito,

    Korihor never “repented” as such as far as I understand the story. He was sorry he got caught. That’s all.

  32. Nate Oman on May 16, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    RAF: I am sympathetic to your understanding of the scriptures as a pre-modern text, but I also think that it is a mistake to invoke its-just-a-pre-modern-text move too often in our interpretation. I think that if we push on stories long enough they frequently yield much more meaningful interpretations than that-is-just-what-they-said-in-an-unenlightened past. Such an interpretive effort, however, takes a certain amount of faith and requires an investment in scriptural texts that we don’t make for other texts. Hence, I think that your dismissal of Adam’s point it too glib. Cannonization is not simply about giving texts a certain normative status institutionally. It is also a way of warranting our faith in them, a faith that is frequently manifested in the struggle to find a saving interpretation rather than using historicism to avoid it. Indeed, I think think of such struggle as a form of worship (indeed for me, at least, one of THE most meaningful forms of worship), and I suspect that it is one of the reasons that we have scriptures at all.

  33. Rosalynde Welch on May 16, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Nate, from where does the hermeneutic authority derive in your description above of worship-as-interpretive-practice? When I’m working as an historicist, I generally locate that authority in the text itself, or perhaps in the “original meaning” of the author undergirding the text. There are real difficulties and dangers in recovering either original meaning or authorial intent, but to the extent that they can be convincingly reconstructed, they guarantee the legitimacy of the interpretation. If we leave that behind, what authority to we claim for our interpretations? There’s the ecclesiastical authority (that is, priesthood authority) of church leadership to determine binding and authoritative readings for the institutional church, but I assume that’s not the sort of authority you have in mind; otherwise it would be pointless for the general membership to read the scriptures. There’s the authority of the Holy Ghost through personal revelation, but the results of those readings are so opaque, and so unaccountable to the text, that they don’t transfer well in nourishing one another with the good word. Then we’re left with the charisma and cleverness of the reading itself—the novel insight, the neat pattern, the obscure-but-brilliant connection. I find this very performative method immensely appealing, but it leads me to the unsettling (nay, unacceptable) conclusion that clever people have a spiritual advantage in this kind of worship.

  34. Adam Greenwood on May 16, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I find this very performative method immensely appealing, but it leads me to the unsettling (nay, unacceptable) conclusion that clever people have a spiritual advantage in this kind of worship.

    Dance can be a kind of worship, at which physically gifted people will have a spiritual advantage.

  35. ronito on May 16, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Seth.

    Very true. But regardless. I doubt I could find anything that would make my seven year old say someone was worthy of being trampled to death. But this is all tangential anyway.

  36. Jim F. on May 16, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Rosalynde (#33), I can’t answer for Nate, but I can answer for me. I don’t see how Nate’s claim that the canonization of scripture is more than an agreement to live by the “rule” contained in the canonized texts, that canonization also means that we warrant our faith in those texts, implies a loss of authority. Nor do I understand why Nate has to leave authorial intent behind if it means “only the text itself” in whatever historical context we have for it. Most of all, I don’t see why the appeal to worship-as-interpretive-practice is for only the clever. I see not-so-clever people successfully interpreting scripture in their lives all the time.

    In other words, I’m thoroughly confused by your response. Can you help me understand better your question?

  37. cheryl on May 16, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    As we try to teach our children the Gospel, we’re always coming across questions like “Why did Nephi cut off his head, dad?” and “They burned Abinadi? Why would they do that, mom?!?!?” And my oldest is only 6 yrs. old. I’m dreading what else she’ll learn as she gets older…~sigh~

    I think your daughter shows amazing compassion and I’m impressed with her desire to help (save?) all people. True, life is sad, bad things happen all the time for reasons both doctrinal and agency-related, but to have such a good heart is quite a blessing indeed.

  38. Rosalynde Welch on May 16, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Jim, Nate suggested that when we encounter foreign, disturbing passages of scripture, we ought to “struggle to find a saving interpretation rather than us[e] historicism” to deflect their implications for modern readers. I understood him to be saying that we need not finally be bound by the historicist framework with which we approach other ancient texts, even if we begin with historicism. So I’m asking: who decides, then, if one’s interpretation is valid, and by what criteria?

  39. Jim F. on May 16, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Thanks, Rosalynde. That helps me see what you’re asking about.

    It seems to me that to take the scriptures as scriptural texts is to take them as, in some way, having a hold on us and I agree with Nate that the hold of scripture goes beyond it being an agreed on set of rules in often difficult form. The scriptures offer us rules and they offer us stories by which we can define our lives and our relations to others–which is not to limit what they offer to “rules” and “stories.” Our first encounter with genuine evil may be a scriptural encounter. Our first encounter with moral ambiguity may be one, as may our first encounter with things like moral or theological reflection. By canonizing particular texts we agree that these are the places in which we will find the types that form and inform our lives. (I think that contemporary culture loses a great deal by not having scriptures from which to learn, in which to have these encounters.) When we read a canonized text, we ought to strive for interpretations that inform our lives. In Nate’s terms, “we ought to struggle to find a saving interpretation,” to see the scripture as a type or part of a type that is impressed on the soul of a Christian.

    What is the authority of interpretation if we take this route rather than the historical one? There isn’t just one. The texts as a whole are the primary authority. Like the Catholics, I think that tradition is among the other authorities: How have other Christians and other Mormon Christians understood this passage and why? The inspiration of the Holy Ghost, as messy as that can be, is somewhere in this list as are the pronouncements of religious authorities. And, of course, historical considerations are not irrelevant. Interpretation requires taking account of all of these sorts of things and others and then making the best sense one can of the whole. (If it matters, I think that H-G Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur are perhaps the best thinkers on this topic.)

    I like clever people (you and Nate among others), but, when thought of in this way, I don’t think that interpretation requires particular cleverness. It mostly requires participation in a believing community where the scriptural types are at work.

  40. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2007 at 12:12 am

    True, life is sad, bad things happen all the time for reasons both doctrinal and agency-related, but to have such a good heart is quite a blessing indeed.

    Thank you, Cheryl (and others who have said kind things about Caitlyn’s response); your words are much appreciated, not to mention wise.

    Nate (and Adam, Rosalynde, and Jim), regarding the reading of scripture:

    I’ve been thinking about your comment in #32 for a while, and while I understand the validity of the point you’re making–the idea that by canonizing a text, the church is establishing a relationship with said text, a relationship that gives the terms by and within which we work out what it means to be a member of the church in the first place–I don’t see how that point can act against my response to Adam without falling into a kind of inerrancy. If you say, as Adam did, that the fact that the Book of Mormon is canonized means we should presume that everything in it is equally valid to our working out of our way of being (which is what I meant by the “rule of the church”; I wasn’t referring to particular rules but rather the whole order of things), then you’re making what seems to me to be an epistemological claim: specifically, the claim that everything in a canonized text should be a source of testimony and doctrinal confirmation and moral edification. How different is that from saying that everything in a canonized text is the way it is because an inerrant God put it that way? By contrast, I don’t see how allowing for the possibility–perhaps even the likelihood–that some details of a canonized text just don’t go anywhere, morally speaking, but rather are story-telling details that may have served some purpose long ago the same way President Monson’s stories may serve a purpose today, might in any way compromise the ability of member of a church to nonetheless invest their faith in the scriptures.

    I don’t think I’m talking about wanton prooftexting or importing modern-day understandings into the text; I think I’m talking about respecting canonization in light of doctrines and reasonable arguments which make me doubtful of anything which makes too broad a claim about the nature of these texts. If you do think my comment, or my reaction to my daughter’s comments for that matter, fall into the first camp, please help me see why. Because really, I don’t think my original response to Adam was glib at all.

  41. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2007 at 12:21 am

    Jim,

    I agree with Nate that the hold of scripture goes beyond it being an agreed on set of rules in often difficult form. The scriptures offer us rules and they offer us stories by which we can define our lives and our relations to others–which is not to limit what they offer to “rules” and “stories.”

    To add to what I’ve just written, I wonder if Nate may have read too much, or if I might have been less than clear, in my use of the phrase “the normative status of [a] text in regards to the rule(s) of the church.” I do not think the point of canonizing something is so that we members can privately sit down and go through the scriptures marking down and memorizing once and for all the rules of salvation; salvation is worked out through the struggle to live in our communities in accordance with the patterns and types in scriptures. And so we take their stories seriously, holistically. But taking them seriously, it seems to me, also means being aware of and informed by their production, their translation, their expansion and redaction. To say, up front, that canonization means every detail in a text has been cleared by prophetic authority as a likely source of deep meaning that will inform out lives is to say, I think, much more than is warranted.

  42. Jim F. on May 17, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Russell, I (mis)read you as Nate did, but I read you only after reading Nate, so perhaps I was influenced by his reading. In other words, if I’m wrong, its Nate’s fault, Mommy!

    I agree that we do not want to say that canonization means that every detail of scripture has deep meaning. I’m willing to recognize that some elements of a story may just be elements that were once meaningful parts of that story but no longer have meaning for us. And there are probably parts that are mistranscriptions, mistranslations, etc. However, isn’t it also true that our first response to scripture should be to look for “a saving interpretation”? (I like the ambiguity of that phrase: an interpretation that saves the text and an interpretation that does something for my salvation.) I think that this is especially true of the Book of Mormon, whose provenance is so different from other scripture.

  43. queuno on May 17, 2007 at 1:06 am

    @37 – Teach your children that it’s a lot less messy nowadays that we have access to guns and lethal injection, and that we live in more humane times, and that we should give thanks for that. Seriously – Noah wouldn’t have suffered today (as long as they could have found a vein).

  44. Janet on May 17, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I think I love your daughter. I share her dislike for the parable in question: metaphors are tremendously powerful and the lesson of the 12 virgins (we must be spiritually prepared, yadda yadda) has always seemed to me to be overwhelmed by a metaphorical vehicle in which the key character enervates the central principles of Christian community and grace. I “get” the teleological aim of the parable just fine, but my heart has a hard time getting past a story which bugged me as a child and bugs me still. Maybe your kiddo and I can hang out sometime. I just hope she doesn’t get in trouble in primary like I did once, for praying that “our brother Lucifer would repent and come back.”

  45. Janet on May 17, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I think I love your daughter. I share her dislike for the parable in question: metaphors are tremendously powerful and the lesson of the 12 virgins (we must be spiritually prepared, yadda yadda) has always seemed to me to be overwhelmed by a metaphorical vehicle in which the key character enervates the central principles of Christian community and grace. I “get” the teleological aim of the parable just fine, but my heart has a hard time getting past a story which bugged me as a child and bugs me still. Maybe your kiddo and I can hang out sometime. I just hope she doesn’t get in trouble in primary like I did once, for praying that “our brother Lucifer would repent and come back.”

  46. Janet on May 17, 2007 at 1:47 am

    Hmm, don’t know how I executed a double post. Apologies. And just to be clear: I’m not criticizing Christ for telling the parable. I just struggle with the semiotic value of the bridegroom in that tale because of the tale itself, not the theology behind it.

  47. Adam Greenwood on May 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    If you say, as Adam did, that the fact that the Book of Mormon is canonized means we should presume that everything in it is equally valid to our working out of our way of being (which is what I meant by the “rule of the church”; I wasn’t referring to particular rules but rather the whole order of things), then you’re making what seems to me to be an epistemological claim: specifically, the claim that everything in a canonized text should be a source of testimony and doctrinal confirmation and moral edification. How different is that from saying that everything in a canonized text is the way it is because an inerrant God put it that way

    1.) The difference is hugely obvious to me, Russell F., so much so that I’m having a hard time articulating it. I guess I would say the difference is analagous to the difference between believing that the prophet is infallible and believing, as I believe Br. Oaks said a few conferences ago, that one can be blessed for following the prophet even when the prophet is wrong. I don’t think the scriptures are inerrant but I do believe that trying to make religious sense of any part of it, with due humility, is holy.

    2) You are arguing as if I thought the presumption of meaningfulness was irrebuttable. Not so, though I think it should be a strong one.

  48. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I guess I would say the difference is analagous to the difference between believing that the prophet is infallible and believing, as I believe Br. Oaks said a few conferences ago, that one can be blessed for following the prophet even when the prophet is wrong.

    Actually, Adam, that strikes me as a pretty interesting analogy; it would suggest that if we humbly struggle to come up with a moral principle or meaningful insight from some (even any) aspect of a canonized text, and what we come up with is, in fact, wholly wrong (because the aspect of the text we were struggling with is an interpolation or editorial comment or otherwise uninspired in comparison to the rest of the text), it would still be a blessing to obey in accordance with that principle or insight. You could be right about that (though such an interpretive decision leads to problems of its own).

    I don’t think the scriptures are inerrant but I do believe that trying to make religious sense of any part of it, with due humility, is holy….You are arguing as if I thought the presumption of meaningfulness was irrebuttable. Not so, though I think it should be a strong one.

    I think this acknowledgment on your part reduces the practical distance between our positions to managable propotions. Since the editorial line at the conclusion of Korihor’s story presumably came from the pen of someone inspired, and since it is in a canonized text, I ought to direct Caitlyn’s attention towards it. But then, I believe little children can receive inspiration too…and if that editorial line is simply incompatible with what she took to be an obvious sadness amorality in that ending of the story, I ought not easily dismiss that either.

  49. Adam Greenwood on May 17, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    I think this acknowledgment on your part reduces the practical distance between our positions to managable propotions.

    Probably. Note that I’m not criticizing your interaction with your daughter here.

  50. Ardis Parshall on May 17, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I’m working on something involving the story “Corianton” that was a wildly successful Mormon short story/stage play/traveling show/Broadway production/first Mormon movie [well, not so successful on Broadway or on the screen] in the early 20th century. Corianton’s story is woven with that of Korihor as a way to explain Corianton’s willingness to abandon his mission.

    That’s preamble to say that Caitlyn isn’t the first to recognize that Korihor died unforgiven, although Caitlyn weeps in compassion and the Corianton character is embittered. B.H. Roberts, author of the short story version, wrote, “As Corianton walked away with the mangled form of the once bold anti-Christ vividly pictured in his mind, he muttered half aloud — ‘This is one of the judgments of God — cruel, infinitely cruel! He above all others could have been generous and have pardoned him before his justice,’ and he fairly hissed the word, ‘had turned to cruelty!'”

  51. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    “As Corianton walked away with the mangled form of the once bold anti-Christ vividly pictured in his mind, he muttered half aloud — ‘This is one of the judgments of God — cruel, infinitely cruel! He above all others could have been generous and have pardoned him before his justice,’ and he fairly hissed the word, ‘had turned to cruelty!’”

    B.H. Roberts wrote that?! Amazing. Ardis, I’ve heard about this story before, but now I am really interested; please share what you’re working on at the first opportunity.

    Oh, and Adam: I know you’re not criticizing my parenting; my apologies if it seemed like I was suggesting you had.

  52. Ardis Parshall on May 17, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    Russell, my MHA paper is on the Corianton phenomenon. After I deliver it next week, I thought I might inflict it on T&S readers. Right now I’m rereading all the iterations of the story to select quotations to punch up my paper a little bit.

    I should emphasize, if it isn’t clear, that this speech doesn’t necessarily represent B.H. Roberts’ own views; he put the words into the mouth of a rebellious, stiffnecked character to mark a step in Corianton’s progressing apostasy.

  53. DavidH on May 17, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    “as I believe Br. Oaks said a few conferences ago, that one can be blessed for following the prophet even when the prophet is wrong.”

    I have heard many Church members say this, but I cannot recall having heard it in conference. Do you happen to have a link or a place I could find this statement?

  54. Adam Greenwood on May 17, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I’m quite sure it was said in conference a few sessions ago, but less certain that it was Br. Oaks. I don’t have the link handy.

  55. Costanza on May 17, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    FWIW Elder Oaks said something similar in the PBS documentary, although it was phrased negatively (don’t criticize church leaders even if the criticism is true) rather than positively (even if church leaders are wrong one may be blessed for following them). These strike me as different glosses on the same basic premise, namely that 1) church leaders can be wrong and 2) that it should make no difference in terms of our decisions to put our confidence in them. So I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam was right in his first instincts about the source of the quote.

  56. annegb on May 18, 2007 at 10:37 am

    I’m with Kaitlyn, I’ve thought the same thing about many stories in the scriptures.