A quote from Louis Midgley regarding those who question the Book of 
Mormon historicity--Sterling McMurrin, former philosophy prof at the 
University of Utah, typifies this crowd, and was the poster child of 
many of the current followers of the dissident camp.

Revisionist History—The Great Leap Forward

Some are still insisting that the Church must abandon the traditional 
understanding of the beginnings of the faith.  Why is such a revisionist 
history, as it is now being called, especially by RLDS historians, 
either desirable or necessary? Presumably, a competent, honest scrutiny 
of the historical foundations of the faith, that is, a serious look at 
the beginnings, discloses what  Sterling McMurrin labels "a good many 
unsavory things."  McMurrin, for example, charges "that the Church has 
intentionally distorted its own history by dealing fast and loose with 
historical data and imposing theological and religious interpretations 
on those data that are entirely unwarranted."

For McMurrin, the Mormon "faith is so mixed up with so many commitments 
to historical events—or to events that are purported to be 
historical—that a competent study of history can be very disillusioning. 
Mormonism is a historically oriented religion. To a remarkable degree, 
the Church has concealed much of its history from its people, while at 
the same time causing them to tie their religious faith to its own 
controlled interpretations of its history." The problem, as McMurrin 
sees it, is a "fault of the weakness of the faith" which should not be 
tied at all to history. fn He strives to separate faith from history, 
substituting "naturalistic humanism" fn for prophetic faith—promoting 
the enterprise of philosophical theology as a substitute for divine 
special revelations. McMurrin provides the least sentimental statement 
of the intellectual grounds for a secular revisionist Mormon history, 
that is, one done entirely in naturalistic terms. McMurrin sees the 
Mormon past in what Leonard Arrington once called "human or naturalistic 

We should, from McMurrin's perspective, begin with the dogma "that you 
don't get books from angels and translate them by miracles; it is just 
that simple." fn A history resting on that premise would require a 
fundamental reordering of the faith. fn His program would retain only 
fragments of a culture resting on abandoned beliefs. Marty, straying 
from the core of his argument, eventually introduces "many kinds of 
integrity. Some of these are appropriate to insiders and others to 
outsiders, some to church authorities and some to historians." fn But 
given what Marty had already shown about the necessity of the decisive 
generative events surviving the acids of modernity, it is difficult to 
see how he could defend the integrity of a stance such as McMurrin's. 
Certainly McMurrin's denials do not permit the survival of the crucial 
historical foundations. But still, Marty defends the history being done 
by some of those on the fringes of the Church whose arguments are not as 
coherent as those of McMurrin, yet whose premises are not unlike certain 
of his dogmas. fn

The Book of Mormon, when viewed as a fictional or mythical account, and 
not as reality, no longer can have authority over us or provide genuine 
hope for the future. To treat the Book of Mormon as a strange 
theologically motivated brand of fiction, and in that sense as myth, is 
to alter radically both the form and content of faith and thereby 
fashion a new "church" in which the texts are told what they can and 
cannot mean on the basis of some exterior ideology. To reduce the Book 
of Mormon to mere myth weakens, if not destroys, the possibility of it 
witnessing to the truth about divine things. A fictional Book of Mormon 
fabricated by Joseph Smith, even when his inventiveness, genius, or 
inspiration is celebrated, does not witness to Jesus Christ but to human 
folly. A true Book of Mormon is a powerful witness; a fictional one is 
hardly worth reading and pondering. fn Still, the claims of the text 
must be scrutinized and tested, then either believed or not believed 
without a final historical proof.

An historically grounded faith is vulnerable to the potential ravages of 
historical inquiry, but it is also one that could be true in a way that 
would make a profound difference. We are left, by God, with a witness to 
mighty acts, but we must judge, for we are always at the turning point 
between two ways. And listening to the text, not proving it true—an 
impossibility if not a presumption—to discover what its truth is for us, 
both reveals its truth and makes the sacred past plausible and thereby 
gives meaning to the life and deepest longings of the believer.

The truth of the prophetic message found in the Book of Mormon is linked 
to both its claim to be an authentic history and to Joseph Smith's story 
of how we came to have the book. To be a Latter-day Saint is to believe, 
among other things, that the Book of Mormon is true, that there once was 
a Lehi who made a covenant with God and was led out of Jerusalem and so 

 John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by 
Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His 
Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City and Provo: 
Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 
1990], 2: 525.)

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