My Journey with The Book of Mormon. Part 1, World-view Construction.
I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:461.
Initial Walk with the Book of Mormon
As a small boy, we had a Book of Mormon with a cover that looked like the Golden Plates! This and a large Book of Mormon, similar to some “family Bibles” are my earliest recollections of the Book of Mormon. I was taught the original Golden Plates contained engravings of an ancient group of (mostly white) Christians who had inhabited the Americas, but had been slaughtered in an act of mass genocide by the ancestors of the present day Native Americans. Joseph Smith, the first Latter-day prophet, translated the plates by “the gift and power of God.” Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830 using proceeds from our “Grandpa Harris,” who mortgaged a large portion of his farm to assist.
My parents absolutely believed in the Book of Mormon and in its power to strengthen and benefit families. Accordingly, we read the Book of Mormon nearly every day as a family. My parents cared to hear whatever insights we had about our reading of the Book of Mormon. It was a time I often felt loved and admired as I met their expectations, and was a “good example” for our siblings as well. (I am the oldest of ten). Over time, I grew to love the Book of Mormon! Not only did it teach me of Jesus, but my Great-great-great Grandfather, Martin Harris (and others) had seen the Golden Plates, seen an angel of God and heard the voice of God testify it was true! Throughout his life, Martin Harris NEVER denied his testimony! There is no good evidence any of the other witnesses did either. They knew it was true! My Grandpa knew!
I began reading, pondering and praying about the Book of Mormon every day in order to gain my own testimony of its truthfulness when I was 15, as encouraged by my parents and church leaders. The days I read, everything seemed to go better. I really did seem to resist temptation better. I really did seem to love others more. And this motivated me to be even more diligent in my reading and prayer. Reading the Book of Mormon also strengthened my belief in the Bible, the “other testament of Jesus Christ.” I rarely missed a day reading the Book of Mormon, literally up until the day I resigned my membership from the LDS Church. The Book of Mormon meant everything to me! It is not an exaggeration to say I probably read the Book of Mormon cover to cover well over 30 times in my life, maybe even more. I was so intent on learning from the “most correct book on Earth,” that I also read most of it backwards once, one chapter at a time. I read the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon twice. I HAD to gain new insights! Yep, I was that guy!
“Pray, read your scriptures, go to church” are the common answers in the LDS Church for how to confront all of life’s problems. If one does this, one is holding to the word of God, the “rod of iron” and will never falter or fall. Hold to the rod! One will never go astray. One will always walk with Jesus. This is particularly the counsel given to Latter-day Saints who may be experiencing a “faith crisis.” My favorite passage from all of scripture for most of my adult life was from 1 Nephi 15: 21-24 in the Book of Mormon.
21 And it came to pass that they did speak unto me again, saying: What meaneth this thing which our father saw in a dream? What meaneth the tree which he saw? 22 And I said unto them: It was a representation of the tree of life. 23 And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? 24 And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.
In this passage, Nephi, one of the Book of Mormon’s main protagonists, is discussing his vision of the Tree of Life. A vision his father, Lehi also received before him. This vision coincidentally is remarkably similar to a dream Joseph Smith Senior also conveyed to the Smith family when Joseph Smith Jr. was a child. In this vision, the Tree of Life (symbolic of the Love of God or Jesus Christ) is near a cliff with a river nearby and a “great and spacious building” on the other side of the river. Those in that building are pointing fingers at and mocking those eating from the Tree of Life. There are mists of darkness (temptations) moving across the land that make it hard for people to find the Tree. BUT there is also a very long rod of iron (the word of God) running along the path leading to the tree. One can make their way to the tree if they but hold to the rod, regardless of any mists that may be present obscuring vision.
I took this passage VERY seriously. I diligently read my scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. I was gonna hold that rod! I WAS gonna make it to that Tree someday!
I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I actively testified of and defended it.
I first gained my testimony early in high school in California, when my beliefs were both questioned and attacked by Evangelical Christians. I also read and testified of the Book of Mormon daily during my two-year mission to the Philippines at the age of 19. After returning home, I went on frequent “splits” or “team-ups” as they later came to be called with local LDS missionaries. I KNEW that I knew it was all true! This type of zealous belief continued for many years. I was absolutely going to hold to the rod. To give you some snapshots into this, here are two Amazon reviews I published in 2006 and 2007. The first review was in response to claims often made by antagonists of the Book of Mormon that over 3,000 changes have been made to the current Book of Mormon from the original. This a true claim, but the VAST majority of these changes are grammatical or spelling changes. The second review is just about the Book of Mormon in general.
A Truthful Review of the 1830 Edition
January 1, 2006
… I was interested in reading a replica of the 1830 edition. After it arrived, I read it cover to cover. Doing so, the Spirit again bore witness to my soul of the Living Reality of Christ, “The Eternal God” (title page BofM, either edition)… The Spirit also again bore witness of the truthfulness of the calling of Joseph Smith as a Prophet of God.Jason Harris, Gaithersburg, MD
In the current edition’s introductory pages The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints notes, “Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
From my own study and reading, I learned that the vast majority of the changes in the current edition are in fact “minor.”…
I highly encourage all who are antagonistic to the “Mormon religion” to continue to encourage the reading of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Those who are honest in heart and truly desire to follow Christ will come to know that the Book of Mormon is of God, regardless of whether they are reading the 1830 or the current edition… Additionally, they will see for themselves of the misleading and dishonest intentions of those who speak of the “3,000 + changes” in the current edition from the 1830 edition in efforts to attempt to invalidate the Book of Mormon…
Jan 13, 2007
To the Humble Seeker of Truth:Jason Harris, Gaithersburg, MD
As you can see, this site has turned into a large debate forum with very polarized views regarding Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can take some reassurance in this because powerful and sacred truths by their very nature draw both strong support and opposition.
Christ’s life is a wonderful example of this. He either is the Son of God or He is a raving lunatic. He really performed miracles or He was involved in some of the most remarkable deceit ever performed. This explains why so many revered (and still revere) Him as the Son of God (which He is) while numerous others wanted to murder Him. Those that knew he was indeed the Son of God (and even those who know now) have not had it revealed to them by “flesh and blood” (or in a debate forum) but by the “Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 16:17)
In a similar fashion, The Book of Mormon, a strong witness of His Divinity, has people that love and others that think they despise it. Ultimately the truth regarding this matter, as with a testimony of Christ, is not going to be revealed to you via “flesh and blood.” Rather, the answer is going to come through the power of the Holy Ghost from our “Father which is in heaven” as you pray to Him about the matter in Christ’s name after having studied and pondered the Book with a willingness to follow Christ (as outlined in “Moroni’s promise,” Moroni 10:3-5). I have tried this promise and have received not just one but multiple very clear and powerful witnesses from the Holy Ghost to my heart and mind for over 20 years that the work is in fact of God and true. For myself, The Book of Mormon has helped answer many of life’s questions, has helped clarify many passages of the Bible and has helped me draw closer to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is my testimony that it will do the same for you if you let it.
I wish you the best. May you receive all of the light, knowledge, truth and answers you are searching for.
I wrote both of these reviews right around the time I finished medical school and my licensing exams, performing strong academically with both. Sometimes there are stereotypes of literal believers as unintelligent, ignorant or uneducated. But this stereotype is often flawed. Many Latter-day Saints are considered to be very “well educated.” A more “extreme” case in point: many members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church are well-trained lawyers.
How Then Does Such Absolute Certainty Change?
There is a very common belief amongst Latter-day Saints that those who leave the LDS Church do so because they are guilty of some great sin, or because they “want to sin” or because they have “been deceived.” At the extreme end, it is believed those who leave are “sons of perdition” (“daughters of perdition” are never mentioned in the LDS scriptures) having “denied the Spirit.” The “unpardonable sin.” Worse than murder. The punishment for such… “outer darkness.” Eternally.
These types of fear-based sentiments are actually very common with every high-demand religion. These justifications comfort the believers because they minimize cognitive dissonance. Those that leave do so because there is something wrong with THEM. NOT because there is anything awry with the religion. In the LDS persuasion, those that leave failed to hold to the rod! Granted, some DO leave high-demand religions because they “want to sin.” But in many cases this belief is a gross over-simplification and markedly fails to understand the journey many have gone or are going through. To be very blunt, this belief is often wrong.
I no longer believe the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be. There can be no doubt the feelings I previously experienced of certainty, enlightenment and even peace as noted above were real feelings. I now interpret these feelings differently though.
Why and how did I leave? Well… it’s almost always a combination of many things for most people. Ironically, for myself, my desire and efforts to “hold to the rod” led me right out of the Church. Something I never expected would be the case years before.
Jason Harris is a Neurologist/Neuro-Ophthalmologist, Dad and Husband who shares his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made and believes there is Divinity in all of them.