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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » Mr. Card: Questions about "Saints"

   
Author Topic: Mr. Card: Questions about "Saints"
Scooter
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I finally finished reading Saints. Let me first say that it was quite the book. I admit it wasn’t always (ever?) a comfortable experience for all sorts of reasons—mostly because as much of a realist as I try to be, I still tend to romanticize life and like to assume goodness in people (not that there weren’t many of those kind of examples as well). Anyway, I have a few questions I would really appreciate you shedding some light on—

1. What proportion of the story, especially in Nauvoo, is factually based (at least based on how the people who experienced it reported it) versus how much you filled in yourself?

2. My recollection is that the former RLDS church denied that Joseph had plural wives. Where does the balance of evidence seem to be (how an outsider my judge it)?

3. Did you really have some materials taken away from you and put back in the archives that you have never seen again (info about Dinah and her version of what happened when Brigham Young addressed the Saints as their new or soon-to-be leader)?

4. Was Dinah very unusual when it came to how she behaved in ways that one would expect today from only a Priesthood holder, or was that fairly typical behavior among women?

5. What helps you personally not let yourself doubt the calling of a prophet when that prophet does things that appear to be an exercise in poor judgment, blindedness to deception, or boastings in one’s own gifts? It is clear that prophets are people too, and many a person lsot their faith because they expected Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others to be closer to perfection than they were. We know so little about the real lives of prophets as recorded in holy scripture, but we know much more about modern prophets because they have lived among us, and our records are many and personal. Nevertheless, it is difficult to not have some elevated image of what a prophet should be like, especially with all the fantastic examples we have from the scriptures. Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud and am curious about your thought process in this regard, because (at least from my take on your books) you clearly have no problem not holding up beloved church leaders in the best or even especially positive light, yet I don’t doubt your conviction to their callings.

Thanks so much.

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Orson Scott Card
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1. What I fill in is dialogue and much of the dramatic tension. But I tried to be true to what is known of real characters, having them speak the way they were known to speak.

But Saints remains a superbly researched novel, primarily because I did not research it myself. My father-in-law contributed mightily to the accuracy of the book, providing me with his biography of William Clayton (on whom Charlie Banks Kirkham is based) and access to dissertations and other sources that I would never have found on my own (mostly because of laziness). At the time he was Assistant Church Historian of the LDS Church, but he was scrupulous NOT to provide me with anything that would not have been available to any historian with benign purpose.

So the way polygamy was lived in Nauvoo in my novel is as fair a picture as I could paint. Nevertheless, as soon as human motive and the particular details of human conversation come into play, interpretation takes over and the most I can say is that I did not knowingly contradict the facts. However, what makes fiction work AS FICTION is precisely the area of motive and detail of conversation; so I can truthfully say that the facts, so far as they are known, are accurate, but the novel is still most definitely a novel of mine.

2. The RLDS denial of plural marriage is flatly contradicted by all the evidence, both the testimonies of the apostles and others who knew and were in on the principle of plural marriage, and the statements and actions of Brother Joseph's enemies, who knew about it and condemned him for it. I know of no serious outsider who is possessed of the evidence who doubts that Joseph Smith taught and practiced plural marriage in his lifetime.

3. Orson Kirkham is not me. Orson Kirkham is a fictional character. I am not a historian like him, and I most certainly do not share his attitudes toward the Church. I named him Orson, however, precisely so that during the reading of the book readers would not argue that my story was "made-up" or "sensationalized," but would instead receive it as having an authoritative source. This is directly modeled on John Hersey's "The Wall," which purports quite consistently to be taken from a journal or journals smuggled out of the Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw. No such journal exists.

Thus Orson Kirkham is based on a common attitude among certain historians that I knew. MOST LDS historians are like my father-in-law - perfectly aware of all the known facts of LDS history and untroubled by them. However, some few are easily persuaded that any question that arises IS an answer, and read history in order to say "Aha!" That is certainly a misuse of history - to immediately assume that anything negative about the Church must be true, and anything positive about it must be a coverup or smokescreen or p.r., is beyond cynicism and well into the territory of dishonesty, or at least willing self-deception. I did not take Orson Kirkham quite as far as some of the pseudo-historians I've known or known of, but he is well along that road, until meeting up with this fictional journal.

However, the time when I was writing this novel was precisely the time when the official Church was retreating from the openness of the Leonard Arrington years in the Church Historical Department. There were powerful officials in the Church hierarchy who mistrusted historians, because, sometimes through malicious intent, but usually through innocent error, some items had been treated with that "aha" treatment. It's a common practice to throw out babies with the bathwater in the Church, so instead of recognizing where the errors had come and where particular persons had been wrongly trusted, they simply shut down access to much of the most important material in the archive. thus the stories of journals that you could see one day, and that "never existed" the next.

this period of denial culminated with the erasure of Leonard Arrington himself. In a particular room in the Church Historical Department there hung portraits of all the Church Historians over the years. Arrington's portrait had been replaced by a portrait of the General Authority who had been his supervisor; this, of course, was a lie, since Arrington's title had been LDS Church Historian. To claim otherwise was ridiculous - it made the place temporarily into the Church Fiction Department <grin>.

My personal belief is that since the things that really happened in LDS history really happened, AND the Church is truly God's instrument on earth, THEN it must be possible for the facts and the truth to coexist. I think the Church would be better served by freely confronting all the "problem issues" of LDS history; then Mormons would not be shockable, as they are when fundamentalists confront them with John Taylor's statements on polygamy, or anti-Mormons confront them with the Kirtland Bank, the Kinderhook Plates, or the Danite Band.

But nobody asks for my vote. And I do understand part of the reason. I remember when I worked at the Ensign and it first came to my attention that there is NO mention whatsoever of polygamy in official Church publications like the Ensign (of course the Manifesto still remains in the Doctrine and Covenants!). Why? Not to pretend it didn't happen - too many people like me would not EXIST if their ancestors had not been born into plural marriages. Rather it was because whenever there was any official mention, the polygamist ex-Mormons pointed to it and said, "See? they secretly approve of us; this is a signal saying that the official church wants us to keep practicing plural marriage." Of course, those polygamist groups can also say, "Notice that they never mention plural marriage. This is because they are leaving that entirely up to us." You don't deform your own history because pinheads might misuse it. But, as I said, they don't check with me, and I haven't noticed the Lord choosing me to lead his Church lately. So they make the decisions, and I have my opinions <grin>.

Nothing, however, was taken away from ME because I never actually did original-document-level research.

4. Dinah was not unusual, though she was a leader. (She is based on actual events that happened to many different characters; as a leader of women among the Saints, however, she is based partly on Eliza R. Snow and partly on my great-great-grandmother, Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young.)

Nothing she did vis-a-vis prayer and healings etc. was or is out of line. Remember that in the temple, women perform priesthood ordinances all the time. It's all a matter of having divine consent and/or assignment.

5. Prophets aren't called to be puppets. Inspiration and revelation come to them when they are needed, and the rest of the time they study it out in their mind and make the best choices they can. Sometimes, at great need, they plead with the Lord as President Kimball did, leading to the 1978 revelation. But the Lord does not micromanage the Church, and mistakes are allowed to happen; how else would anybody learn anything?

I have not been privileged to be on intimate terms with anyone who has been an apostle (though that may change as I - and my friends - become older and older), but I have had a chance to observe and converse with several apostles and other general authorities at close hand. the ones I have met are compassionate, wise, dedicated, intelligent men. I have never seen a reason to doubt either their authority or their fitness to exercise it. On the contrary, I have felt on each occasion that the Lord's Church is in good hands.

Remember that the scriptures provide us with a "heroic bits" version of the lives of the prophets. What Isaiah ate for lunch or how Jeremiah spoke to a servant who annoyed him or whether President Hinckley has a temper just aren't the kinds of things that get recorded. But my guess is that all the prophets were and are human and sometimes leap to conclusions or let people get away with things they shouldn't or any number of other errors. Why not? But when you're writing inspirational literature, like scripture, what would be the point of that?

Though in the Pentateuch we do actually see wonderfully well-rounded portraits - Joseph's annoying of his older brothers with seeming vanity; Judah and his daughter-in-law; Moses and Zephorah having their incomprehensible quarrel.

And Mormons often take nonprophetic utterances and, when the person is later ordained to an apostolic calling, bestow authority backward. Thus we find "Mormon Doctrine," an outrageously damaging book to real Mormon Doctrine, still being quoted as if McConkie were right about any point on which he differed from or amplified on settled Church doctrine. McConkie was not an apostle when he wrote it, and those who were, with one powerful exception, regarded the book as outrageously presumptuous and dangerously incorrect. If Mormons would keep in mind the humanity of prophets and recognize that their authority has no penumbra - it does not make authoritative that which they did not do in fulfilment of their official duties - then such things would do no harm.

But of course Mormons are eager to find perfection where none exists and none is even claimed to exist. Who isn't?

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Scooter
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Much gratitude for your thorough and time-consuming response. Now I’m confused about who LaDell Richards was (mentioned in your acknowledgments)—there was a LaDell Kirkham Richards mentioned in the book as the adopted daughter of Dinah. What am I missing?

Anyway, let me just take this opportunity to thank you for providing this forum in which you actively participate. My wife laughs at how consumed I can be with anything Orson Scott Card, but I enjoy the deep thinking your materials invite. Thanks again, and I hope you keep it up, even if you come to the point that it takes your bills to remind you of your writing career. *wink*

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Kent
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OSC, thank you for your in depth response, it is most kind of you to take the time to answer this question.
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OlavMah
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I always point out to my students (I'm usually serving as a teacher of some kind or other, I find) that McConkie was both an apostle and a scriptorian, and that what he wrote and said as a scriptorian, even while he was an apostle, is not scripture.

Thanks for the long answer; I had been wondering some of these things myself!

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Kent
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Well, I know that Card is considered an authority on many matters LDS. I remember reading an article where Elder Oaks quoted Card from "Storyteller in Zion."

Scott, any chance you may write a sequel and write some more essays? Any chance Vigor will be coming back as a periodical?

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From my observation McConkie is actually generally falling out of favor, although perhaps more accurately out of use. What used to be fifty percent quotes from him is now at five percent.
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Orson Scott Card
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The acknowledgments in Saints are part of the fiction. The people I thanked, I thanked "in disguise," but LaDell is fictional just like the Orson Kirkham who acknowledged her.

Occasional, from your mouth to the Curriculum Department in the Church Office Building.

Kent, Elder Oaks is an authority. I'm a commentator.

As to a sequel to Saints - there were five or six volumes planned. I still know the whole story, which flows through all of Church history. But Mormons seem to prefer their history with lots more sugar and a lot less meat; while nonMormons couldn't care less. So commercially it would make no sense. The book's not a failure, but it's definitely no "Work and the Glory."

Vigor was expensive and, as far as I could tell, had no discernable effect. But I do, in fact, plan more essays. They will appear, however, as standalones in Nauvoo or, sometimes, at Meridian.

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Shan
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quote:
Remember that in the temple, women perform priesthood ordinances all the time. It's all a matter of having divine consent and/or assignment.

Is this relatively new? Terry Tempest Williams certainly indicated the opposite - and my growing up years with very involved LDS grandparents would suggest the same . . .
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ketchupqueen
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quote:
But Mormons seem to prefer their history with lots more sugar and a lot less meat;
Which drives me INSANE sometimes; if your testimony is shaken by a little bit of harsh reality, maybe you need to work on getting your testimony on firmer ground. [Wall Bash]
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skrika03
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Shan, you are misinformed as is T.T. Williams. However, I was surprised to see OSC mention it. Great reply, especially on Mormon Doctrine. Though I'm not familiar with the statements of John Taylor on polygamy that you reference. I believe he had 8 wives and divorced 2. And, of course, his son who was an apostle practiced polygamy after the manifesto ended it, and was first asked to resign as an apostle and when he married again, excommunicated (reinstated 50 years posthumously). He even performed plural marriages while making apostolic visits to remote towns after the manifesto, apparently. Was it that John Taylor said plural marriage was a prerequisite to the Celestial kingdom or something?
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Speed
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quote:
Vigor was expensive and, as far as I could tell, had no discernable effect.
Really? I still have all my old copies of Vigor, and I re-read them from time to time. I've even copied them for some of my friends. I love them, and if it weren't for the fact that this forum has compensated me many times over for its loss, I'd still be writing you asking when you were going to finish my subscription. [Smile]
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Occasional
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quote:
Occasional, from your mouth to the Curriculum Department in the Church Office Building.
What exactly did you mean by this? That what I said reflects what is happening everywhere? That what I said should be something the CCD should take note? Somthing else entirely?
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Occasional
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Shan, T.T. Williams was a feminist with a particular agenda of downgrading the real role of women in the Church. The statement that you quote about the Priesthood, women, and the Temple is a recent way of speaking. However, it has always been considered a Priesthood function that women participate.
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pooka
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I took to it to be a rephrasing of "from your mouth to God's ear" but since I never really understood what that meant, it kind of blew past me.
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Shan
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Hmmm. I didn't find T.T. Williams' writing to assert a particular anti-Mormon agenda. I did see her calling for wider participation of women, particularly in priesthood functions such as giving blessings to the sick. However, I have only ever read "Refuge", I don't know what her other works talk about.

I was raised to believe as a young girl in the church that women had no priestholder functions and that their primary duties revolved around making sure their menfolk were prepared to perform the priesthood functions. Women didn't bless sick people, women didn't take part in baptisms, blessings, confirmations. Women didn't have priestly authority - period.

This "belief" and "practice" was a part of the wards I attended as a young girl in Wyoming, Utah, and Washington.

Mind, this was in the 70's and early 80's.

One of the neat things about Hatrack for me is meeting other folks from the LDS religion - even just on-line - that talk about the wide variety of accepted belief and practice, and that women can look forward to so much more in the church than just raising babies, making clothes, ironing suits, tying ties, cooking meals, and being called to Sunday School, Relief Society, or choir.

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human_2.0
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Women don't give blessings with priesthood authority. That doesn't mean that they can't speak for God in giving blessing. You just don't say "by the authority". (Of course, actually speaking for God would be a bonus--it probably wouldn't be a good idea to decide what God wants.) I don't think this is talked about for the same reason the Ensign doesn't mention Polygamy.
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Zotto!
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*bumpage*

So I'm halfway thru another reading of 'Saints', and it's even better than the first time. And I'm not even LDS *grin*. Anyone else terribly saddened that there wasn't more of a market for the other books in the series?

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JennaDean
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Thanks for bumping this. I (LDS) would love the chance to just say that "Saints" caused me to really think about the whole polygamy issue, which I had avoided up until then. It was a disturbing book to me, as I couldn't understand why following an inspired doctrine would cause so much pain. The alternative is that it wasn't an inspired doctrine, which would have horrible consequences for my continued membership in the church. So the book had the effect of shaking my testimony (*hides from KQ*) until I was able to come to terms with it. It really helped strengthen my faith in the long run.

So thanks, OSC, although I certainly understand why many LDS don't want their feathers to be quite THAT ruffled.

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Occasional
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quote:
It was a disturbing book to me, as I couldn't understand why following an inspired doctrine would cause so much pain.
What about all the examples of this in the Scriptures?
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JennaDean
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Somehow it's more real when OSC writes it, as fiction, with all the feelings and motivations of the characters drawn out. In the scriptures it's easier to ignore their feelings and just take away the "grand meaning" behind it all.
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katharina
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quote:
As to a sequel to Saints - there were five or six volumes planned. I still know the whole story, which flows through all of Church history. But Mormons seem to prefer their history with lots more sugar and a lot less meat; while nonMormons couldn't care less. So commercially it would make no sense. The book's not a failure, but it's definitely no "Work and the Glory."

This is tragic. Saints is one of the few LDS works I have loved. I would absolutely love to read the rest of the series. The Women of Genesis series is one of the best I've read this decade.
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IanO
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I thoroughly enjoyed Saints and found it quite moving. And as an outsider to the LDS faith, I also found it fascinating. It helped me to understand the practice of polygamy, how God-fearing people might have practiced it without exploiting it. It also helped me understand better the questions that might come up with a modern day prophet. I had to ask what I would have done in the 1st century when, after 400 years, God again became very actively involved in human history. How would I determine if it was true.

Interestingly not long after that, I was working just a few miles from the AZ-UT border and thus had the opportunity to work with one man from Colorado City who was a polygamist. In many ways, he was as devoted to his church and his family as the characters in the book. And he readily acknowledged how difficult and painful a practice it is. It was only his faith that made him stick it out. I worked with him for about 5 years and came to have tremendous respect for him, even as I believed (and still believe) completely that he was wrong. But he was a good man. His experience, together with the book, gave me some insight into the early days of the LDS church and how members faired.

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IanO
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And the characterization of "The Work and the Glory" as sugar is dead on. I read the first volume not long after Saints and the saccharine taste is still hard to wash out of my mouth. The characters where so very cliched, with a tendency to give long historical speeches at the drop of a hat.
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Cashew
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I've just finished reading Saints for the second time. After the first reading I passed it round to a few member friends (mostly women, coincidentally), and they all loved it too. I found it more moving the second time round. Some things made me more appreciative of what Joseph Smith had to go through in carrying so much of the burden of leading the church by himself. His human-ness I also learned to value, and found comfort in the mistakes he made (eg John Bennett), as indicating that ALL of us have to find our way through the dark at least part of the time. If the Lord had warned him to avoid every mistake, where would be the growth?
The only thing I was a little (only a little) uncomfortable with were some of the descriptions of intimacy between the protagonists, especially Dinah and Brigham at the end of the book.
Overall, I gained an even greater appreciation and respect, and yes, even love, for those men and women in the early church.

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seespot
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Loved the book. Never really had a desire to read the Work and the Glory. My husband groaned when Gerald Lund was called as a general authority. Not anything personal, of course. Problem being now his books will probably be held more as "scripture" by some LDS chruch members.
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JennaDean
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quote:
Problem being now his [Gerald Lund's] books will probably be held more as "scripture" by some LDS chruch members.
At least they're labeled as "fiction", as opposed to Mormon Doctrine!
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Zotto!
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What's the story with 'Mormon Doctrine', anyway? I see it everytime I walk by the religions section at Borders as one of the few books on Mormonism that they stock, and based on what I've heard people say on Hatrack, anyone who picks up that lone copy isn't going to be getting a very accurate picture of the faith.
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A Rat Named Dog
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Zot, Mormon Doctrine presents a certain perspective on the Restored Gospel, one which is popular among some Mormons, but annoying to others. It involves taking the scriptures literally wherever possible, asserting with certainty things that are only understood through sketchy references in scripture, taking any and all quotes from Church authorities as canon, and generally making the assumption that the most pious answer is the correct one.

For the most part, this doesn't lead to TOO many problems, though to people with more skeptical, scientific outlooks, it can make the Gospel sound rather arbitrary and unlike the reality we observe.

However, there were a few key places where Elder McConkie's assumptions and extrapolations led him to state quite emphatically a few key doctrines that were not only false, but harmful to the Church. Most of these were removed in later editions, and flatly contradicted by the leaders of the Church, but they did their damage, and for some time were perpetuated by members who didn't get the hint.

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Occasional
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I disagree with the reasoning Dog. The problem isn't what he teaches, at it clearly is Mormon Doctrine. Rather, for me the problem is the presentation of the information. It is, after all, a topical Dictionary that doesn't have time to delve into nuances. Then again, that kind of presentation was perfect for Elder McConkie's personality. I learned much from that book and consider it my formal introduction to LDS theology as a member. True, that entailed a little more background to innoculate me against some of the more wild speculations. But, Mormonism thrives on speculative doctrine and personal insights. What I learned from him, probably more so than what he taught directly, was how to study the scriptures and find answers to questions.

Still, I think the reasons some Mormons hate it is because 1) Elder McConkie was forceful and decisive and 2) Anti-Mormons use it against the Church when he is wrong because of the dictionary presentation. After all, its easy to attack a dictionary presentation if you think there is nothing more to say.

Disliking the book has become a kind of fad in the Church among its members. Only recently it wasn't like that and among some members it is still considered a serious treaties on various theology. It was overused (sometimes still is) and now is over hated. Guess it depends on if you see the book as a starting point or an end point. I am in the middle and see it as one point of many.

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pooka
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I don't hate the book, I just have to assert its irrelevance to the degree that it is promoted by others as being scripture. But then, I draw flack for pointing out that the Bible Dictionary isn't definitive either. (The Bible Dictionary, for the benefit of non-members, is a reference guide that is bound with our scriptures but is not itself considered scripture.) The sticking point that made this important to me is the entry on "Prayer".
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Kent
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I do love to hate the book. There are basically two "theological" (and we truly do loathe theology in the church) camps - Brigham Young/BH Roberts and Joseph F. Smith/Bruce R. McConkie. Most people that believe in the Omni's (Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omniscient) and no progression between kingdoms fall into the McConkie camp.

There is much about "doctrine" that continues to be "best theory" and there is plenty of room in the church for all kinds of differing opinions on this kind of stuff, especially where the quorums have not officially proclaimed a specific understanding of such things.

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Zotto!
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Thanks for the info, Dog and everyone. [Smile]
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Orson Scott Card
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Occasional: It really is more than just the presentation. Some of the doctrines are flat-out false, and many are in the realm of "folk doctrine."

A crucial example: McConkie defines "intelligences" (primordial pre-spiritual beings) in such a way as to remove all individuality from them - a raw material, NOT individuals co-eternal with God. Now, this may seem harmlessly weird, but it radically undoes some of the most crucial aspects of Mormon theology. It is precisely that uncreated aspect of individual existence that eliminates the freedom/responsibility problem: if ANYTHING created you, then you are not ultimately responsible for the choices you make. Including if God made you out of the primordial soup of intelligence. It is only if your "chooser" is uncreated that your choices represent your actual free will. (The problem of freedom is much more complicated, of course; but this is the core of it.) And McConkie wipes it out with a stroke. Why? Hard to fathom. He has no justification for it in scripture. It's probably Orson Pratt's continuing influence: He had weird ideas (weird enough that Brigham Young had to slap him down a bit from time to time), but he passed them on to Joseph F. Smith, who passed them on to Joseph Fielding, who passed them on to his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Sort of a family heritage thing. It was also a family tradition to speak authoritatively without authority. Interestingly, NONE of them made the same blanket statements AFTER becoming President of the Church (which McConkie never was, of course, nor Pratt; I speak of the JFS's). And even McConkie toned down a lot after becoming an apostle.

The fact is that when MD came out, it absolutely outraged David O McKay and many on the 12; but Bruce R. McConkie, then one of the Seven Presidents of Seventy, was under the "protection" of Joseph Fielding Smith, who was president of the Quorum of the 12. There was outrage, but a higher priority was put on "salvaging" his effectiveness as a General Authority; so the book remained in print and was never publicly repudiated, though Mark E. Petersen reputedly found many dozens of outright doctrinal errors, and some aspects of the book were in fact revised for later editions.

This is NOT to say anything against BRM as a man or as a general authority. In fact he was one of the more humble and reasonable of the apostles, and in 1978 was the one who said what no one else that high up dared to say: "We were wrong" [who said various folkloric things about the relationship between the priesthood and people of black African ancestry]. It needed saying; he's the one who said it.

The nice thing is that the actual core of Mormon doctrines is much smaller than McConkie's thick, well-padded book would imply. The doctrines that are officially taught in the church are plain and simple. People are free to guess, speculate, extrapolate, and research to their hearts' content - but when I worked on the Ensign, the things we actually taught with official standing were surprisingly right-down-the-middle. Mormons may love to go off on weird doctrinal tangents, but the official church does not.

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