The Book of Mormon: On Its “Imperfect Elegance,” and on Rejecting It Because of any Imperfections it Might Contain
By Ken K. Gourdin
Another poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion faults Alma, chapter 32, which, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a well-known discourse on faith, on how faith develops, on what one might do (indeed, what he ought to do) if he lacks faith, and so on. The poster critiques (indeed, he criticized) the chapter’s clumsy prose (my phrase). Drawing a parallel between my own propensity and need to edit my writing (which is something I do often; indeed, I tend to be compulsive about it) and their limited ability to edit Holy Writ, I told him I’m much more willing to give writers of Holy Writ the benefit of the doubt. I wrote:
Yeah, well, one might be able to say that about many scriptures. When it comes to my own writing, nothing is sacred, nor is it set in stone: I am a compulsive editor of my own writing, and I never stop; If I see an error in something I wrote (particularly if the writing exists solely in electronic form, but sometimes, not even limited to that … sometimes, if all I have is a “hard copy” of something, I have been known to retype the whole damn thing in “soft copy” electronic form just to have a version of it that I can edit :mega_shok:), even if the writing, and, hence, the error, is 10, or 20, or 30 years old. If it’s possible to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder about only one thing, then I have that form of OCD about my writing.
Since I know how difficult it is to produce tight, clean, readable copy even after many drafts, let alone after one draft, of my own writing, I’m more than willing to give the writers of Holy Writ (who couldn’t edit) the benefit of an enormous doubt. In fact, while your mileage my vary, to me, one of the indicia that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it claims to me is the number of “or rathers …” and similar expressions used by the writers when they are striving for more precision and clarity of thought. I don’t think Joseph Smith had that much guile: if the whole thing simply came from his fertile mind, he could have said simply, “Oliver, strike that,” and it never would have ended up in the text in the first place.
While your mileage may vary, I prefer to follow the approach recommended by Mormon in the final clause of the title page to the Book of Mormon: “And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.” I wish you well.
Many contributors to the Book of Mormon plainly were worried about the prospect that the book would be rejected because of the various ways messengers might, despite their best efforts to avoid doing so, impede the delivery of their message. Perhaps I am a simple-minded rube, but that very concern endears both the book and its contributors to me all the more. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “Quiet, plain, unpretentious people have moved this work forward from the beginning, and still do so today.” Among many other things, the Book of Mormon is elegant-if-imperfect testimony of that fact.