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Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Golden Bible Question

I've been reading Richard Lyman Bushman's new, expanded biography of the (first) Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling. It's quite good, and interesting because Bushman is both a widely respected historian and a believing Mormon. Which means that his treatment of certain issues, like the visions, is interesting, to say the least . . . as he's cross-pressured between, um, religious faith and empirical evidence.

But anyhoo . . . here's the question. Joseph Smith reported several visions throughout his life. Now, I can't know what Smith actually experienced, subjectively, of course. It's possible that, in the Sacred Grove in upstate New York in 1820, he actually (subjectively) observed a pillar of light, "two personages," God the Father and Jesus Christ, and heard God's voice say, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." I mean, I wasn't there, and even if I had been, I wouldn't have been inside Smith's head.

Here's the question. Let's say that you were walking in the woods one day, all alone, and then there was a pillar of light . . . and two personages appeared . . . and so on.

How would you interpret that event? Would you think that you had actually had a vision of cosmic significance, a new revelation to Mankind? Or would you get to a psychiatrist as fast as you could? What evidence would it take for you to accept the vision as real (true, and not a delusion)?


At 8:09 AM, Blogger Rebecca said...

yes: this is exactly the question I pose to students to try to get them to understand how radical it was for Muhammad to go out and start converting people in the 7th century. According to most narratives of his revelations in the cave, he had to be convinced by his wife Khadija and a Christian associate that what he was experiencing was real and not him going crazy.

and it probably did sound like crazy talk for much of the 100-200 years afterward to many people.

I'm not saying that Joseph Smith will be equivalent to Muhammad at some point in the future, but just that it should raise doubts in your mind. you should question when confronted with an angel talking to you in a cave or pillars of light. and my sense is Muhammad did raise the issue. Smith, in the narratives I've heard, didn't.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Phyllis said...

Straight to the shrink....

That question woke me out of my Thursday morning stupor. Thanks. ;)

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Transient Gadfly said...

Things like this for me always raise a more interesting question: how would I ever see anything like this? I mean, seriously, what if you were, say, sitting in your living room alone and all of a sudden some shiny dude walked in, claimed to be God, told you to start a religion, and then left. I don't know about you, but it's essentially to my sanity that I simply not see things like this. Knowing what my brain is already doing with images it receives (inverting them, filling in the blind spot, white balancing), I imagine that if shiny god people were to appear to me, I simply wouldn't see them.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Crazy people who see visions rarely actually recognize that they're crazy. Being sane enough to think you should see a shrik would probably be a sign that the vision was real.


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