Saturday, January 2, 2010
Why I Believe (Richard Bushman)
For reasons I cannot completely explain to those who have not embraced LDS doctrine, I have not abandoned my beliefs after forty years of scholarship. I believe in the gold plates, the translation, and the angels, just as I did when I sat in I.B. Cohen’s office [an eminent professor at Harvard who gently informed him as an undergraduate that many people thought LDS beliefs were “pure garbage”].
I am impressed with the fact that Joseph Smith published this immensely complex book [of Mormon] when he was just twenty-four. He had little education, had not attended church as a boy, could scarcely write a letter according to his wife, and yet produced 588 pages of sermons, prophecies, and history that most experienced authors would be hard-pressed to match. * * * No build-up of any kind can be found to the Book of Mormon—no preliminary drafts, no attempts at other kinds of literature, no wide reading that we know of. Joseph Smith dictated the entire work in less than ninety days, going on page after page without interruption or review of what was written. His wife, who watched him while he dictated (and took down some of it herself), said no manuscript was in sight. It all came from the mouth of this plain visionary farmer.
While I consider the very existence of the Book of Mormon an intellectual puzzle that scholars have yet to explain, in the final analysis the marvels of the book are not the reason I believe. I don’t think you can build a life on a few intellectual reasons. My real reasons for believing all these years are more abstract and more powerful. The fact is that I find goodness in my Latter-day Saint life that I find nowhere else. When my mind is filled with scripture, when I speak to the Lord in prayer, when I comport myself in the way of Jesus, I am the man I want to be. I feel wisdom, concentration, compassion, and comprehension to a degree beyond anything I have known as a scholar or a teacher. I do everything better under the influences that radiate from the Latter-day Saint religion. I am a better father and husband. I give more to my children, I connect with the poor and needy, I counsel my student more truly, I am more unselfish. Moreover, I like what the religion does for my fellow Saints, both longtime members and new converts. I welds us together into a community of mutual trust and aid. Latter-day Saints, in my experience, are people of goodwill. They give to each other and to worthy works of every kind. We care for each other the way Jesus said we should. These experiences in my own congregation have persuaded me that nothing is more likely to improve the world than conversion to the beliefs I have treasured all my life.
As a scholar, I know full well the doubts of agnostics. I know that the scientific worldview, now dominant among intellectuals, appears to exclude traditional belief. I have dealt with the arguments against belief all my life. But over against these, I place my own intimate experience of goodness among the Latter-day Saints. I do not see how, as a rational man, I can give up what I have known directly and powerfully for the messages of doubt coming from distant authorities in the realms of science and philosophy. I feel like the disciples who were asked by Jesus in a crucial moment, “Will ye also go away?” And they replied, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)
Posted by theo at 9:03 PM