I received this question from a friend when I posted Elder Uchtdorf’s post about comparing the seer stones to cell phones:
Hi Paul, I saw your post about the seer stone on your FB. I did not want to comment on your timeline to avoid other people attacking me. When I joined the church I knew nothing about the seer stone nor it was portrayed in the church published art. The art shows Joseph Smith looking at the golden plates and dictating to his scribe. Why not tell people the truth the first time?
Here is my response:
Thank you for your message and I apologize for my slow reply. I knew my response would be lengthy and I needed to carve out some time to provide the attention needed for your question.
I understand what you are asking, but I believe it comes from a much deeper concern. However, a quick answer to your question is that an artist’s depiction of the translation of the Book of Mormon hardly constitutes a doctrinal teaching.
My undergrad degree is in philosophy and theology. In my senior year at BYU one of my philosophy professors asked if I would assist him on writing a philosophical dissertation for the Library of Congress on Joseph Smith. My job was to study all the negative material written about Joseph Smith and the Church and provide a summary of it.
For six months I read through a mountain of books about Mormonism. I learned quite a bit about the history of the Church that I hadn’t known before. This doesn’t mean the Church was hiding this material. In fact, most of the history I learned came straight from old Church lesson manuals.
I came across some doctrines that required me to research more into them, and after all my research I gained two very interesting insights. First, many of the attacks on the Church were against people who trusted in the Holy Ghost for revelation. Surprisingly, those who professed a personal relationship with Christ didn’t believe you could gain a spiritual knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through Holy Ghost and prayer.
Instead, many of the detractors would state you could only trust the Bible as the ultimate source of truth and would give some scriptures (with their interpretation) about why the Book of Mormon was false.
My struggle with this line of thinking was how do you know the Bible is true? It is circular reason to believe that the Bible is true because the Bible is true. I found many authors answered this question by pointing to the historical accuracy of the Bible. Yet, there are many books that claim divinity that are historically accurate, but no archaeological fact or proven historical event in the Bible could prove that Jesus was the literal Son of God and that he died for our sins.
To me Joseph Smith best answered the question of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Bible, and even Jesus being our Eternal Savior by saying, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 324). He also declared that “the best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 324, p. 191).
This brought me to the second point I gained by studying the negativity towards the Church — all that matters is finding and believing truth, no matter how bizarre or strange it may be.
Truth is truth, and we are to seek it out and live it. I don’t care if Joseph Smith used a top hat and glowing rocks to translate the Book of Mormon, or if there is a purple turtle that holds up the entire universe, if it is true I want to know it and follow it.
So far, the only way I have been able to validate spiritual truth has been through sincere and earnest study and prayer. I’ve never seen who I pray to, but not only have I felt an undeniable spiritual force, but I’ve seen it at work in my life.
What is interesting is that the Church never declares that they have all the truth (Article of Faith #13 proves that). What the Church does declare is that they are the only ones to have the Priesthood authority. Beyond that it is left up to us to find all the truth we can.
Is it possible I am wrong with my understanding of the truth, yes, I believe so. However, so far everything the Mormon Church teaches me has pointed me towards something that brings deep and sincere happiness to my life. You are welcome to disagree with my understanding of the truth, but it is difficult to disprove the fruits of these truths I follow (e.g. chastity, service, health code, and sacrifice to name a few).
I’ve written about my conversion, which you will see it follows the same reasoning of finding truth and living it. Yet, I didn’t come to the conclusion of the Book of Mormon’s truth in the usual way. Anyway, I share it so it helps you better understand where I am coming from.
If you have any other questions feel free to reach out to me.