Our Sunday School class opened this morning with a discussion of the “generals in the war in heaven” nonsense that the Church is trying so hard to quash. Nearly everyone had heard the false quotation, most had heard of the plea to stamp it out, and we all soberly nodded in agreement that we hadn’t been fooled by the story, that we could recognize false tales when we heard them, and that each and every one of us always had and always would demand acceptable provenance for stories before we accepted and passed them along. Then we turned to our Book of Mormon lesson on the Isaiah chapters.
Approximately three minutes later, we were deep in a discussion of how and where and when the Lost Tribes would return, illustrated by a tender testimony that all of the tribes were represented in patriarchal blessings recently given to Armenian converts.
Approximately three minutes after that, a brother stood and declared that the “original manuscript of Isaiah, written by his own hand,” was found among the Dead Sea scrolls and is on exhibit in an unnamed museum in Israel; his testimony was offered in support of the teacher’s printed handout noting that 2 Nephi draws from early and late chapters of Isaiah, thus “refuting the world scholars’ opinions that the first 33 chapters of Isaiah were written by a different person than the last 33 chapters.”
So much for our commitment to reliable confirmation before accepting and passing along tales.
It is easy to fault the credulity of our brothers and sisters who apparently need no citation or even logic before accepting claims like these … but is there not an opposite but just as dangerous a tendency to accept scholarly
speculations conclusions as demonstrated proof?
We no longer often hear a teacher declare that Lehi landed near Valparaiso on the South American coast, but I’ll bet most of us have heard or read scholarly claims, declaring with all the passion and conviction of those old-time teachers, that the Book of Mormon is set in this or that specific (limited) geography. Proponents of this theory or that offer attractive reasons for their choices, and it isn’t uncommon to read Bloggernaclers commenting as though one or another of those theories were settled fact.
And which of us hasn’t read a discussion of the possible mechanisms by which God created this earth and put life here, with the church’s official stance of “that has not yet been revealed” being set aside with a claim that “Apostle X didn’t really sign on to that waffling, but instead endorsed my position,” whether evolution, special creation, intelligent design, or something else?
The one that I personally find most disturbing is speculation on the origin of the priesthood ban. When we hear — with thankfully diminishing frequency — that the reason for the ban had to do with pre-mortal valiancy, most of us can correct the speaker. But that false and harmful speculation has been replaced, I fear, with one that is nearly as pernicious: the assumption that the ban was due solely to racism on the part of Brigham Young. It’s an attractive theory — it absolves God of not being as socially advanced as we are, it distances the founding Prophet from an unpleasant practice, and hey, ol’ Brigham was known to have said and done all kinds of whacky things, so why not this, too? Scholars have collected quotations and dates and events, and in all sincerity have laid out very plausible arguments to lay the ban at Brigham’s feet. This theory has become so widely accepted in the Bloggernacle that people refer to it as an established fact, using Brigham’s racism as a building block to other arguments.
I do not know the origin of the priesthood ban, and I’m not proposing an alternative here. I merely wish to point out what should be obvious, that no matter how logically evidence is laid out in support of speculation, it is still speculation. This scholarly conclusion has not been endorsed by any general authority over the pulpit or in print. It is not taught in the Sunday curriculum. If you brought it up in your Sunday School discussions, chances are that virtually no one else in your ward would be aware of the debate. In other words, this theory, regardless of its plausibility, is not doctrine. It may be true; it may be partly true; it may be entirely false. Scholars have been known to be wrong, especially in matters that are not fully subject to the human record.
We have not come very far, I submit, when we are still so willing to accept one “philosophy of man,” even one as zealously promoted and meticulously footnoted as this one, in the service of demolishing another.
Speculation is still speculation. [Still working on the right way to restate this line.]