Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mr. Holland's Onus

It's been a week now since LDS General Conference came and went. As luck would have it I heard only one talk, on the radio as we were returning from California. Turns out it was the one that seems to have created the most buzz among Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about his views on the Book of Mormon. You can read his talk here: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1117-28,00.html although you may want to watch or listen instead to get a sense for how animated and emphatic he was in the delivery.

It was the sort of thing that felt like it ought to be responded to, but I just haven't had the energy before now. Fortunately many others have, though. So for any Mormon readers out there who were wowed by Elder Holland's performance and wonder how any ex-Mormon could not be impressed, here is a sampling of what ex-Mormons and outsiders have had to say about it.

Holland - Insulting those who leave
Jeffrey R. Holland Just Lost His Mind
An LDS Gem: Elder Holland's Opus
General Conference impressions

I don't know Jeffrey Holland. He seems like a genuine and thoughtful man, and he's certainly an articulate and engaging speaker. I think as much as any current LDS leader he has attempted to understand folks like me who have studied Mormonism and choose not to be a part of it. At least he does a good job of addressing the opposing view in many of the questions he answered for the PBS special The Mormons. You can read his interview here: http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html.

And that leaves me quite ambivalent in my feelings about this talk. Does he actually believe the things he's saying? Of course he must, and so I'm inclined to forgive a little evangelical zeal. But the talk is laden with unsupported claims and unsupported accusations and criticisms. Mr. Holland knows there is enough uncertainty about the veracity of some of his assertions to drive a Mack truck through, but you'd never get that from this talk. He's playing to the home crowd here, but I wonder if he gave any forethought to the impact on part-member families or member/non-member relations in general.

So I'll leave the textual criticism to the authors linked above, and just say this. Mr. Holland, in defending the indefensible and abusing the trust so many have in you, you've made the world I live in a worse place. There is by no means a general consensus among informed people that Joseph and Hyrum knew they were about to be killed, that the Book of Mormon is "teeming with literary and Semitic complexity," that other authorship theories have failed, nor that I or anyone else has had to crawl around your stupid book to come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was not trustworthy, and that the truth claims your church makes are ridiculous and impossible to reconcile with what we know about the world today.

You came much closer to the truth with your answer in the PBS interview when asked about the Book of Mormon: "The Book of Mormon," you said, "is a matter of faith." End of story. The onus is on you to show why this book deserves consideration in spite of the mountain of contradictory evidence and the echoing dearth of positive evidence for its claims. Pointing to millions of adherents doesn't work. Lots of faiths have their millions. Pointing to Joseph and Hyrum finding comfort in the book doesn't work. David Koresh and Jim Jones were equally convinced of their various causes. All I see in your words here is desperate name-calling and an adamant refusal to reconsider cherished beliefs. The faithful will love you for it, but meanwhile their worldview is pushed ever further away from an ability to understand and have meaningful relationships with people outside the tribe.