Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Empty Box Faith (by Kurt)

When I was in college thirty years ago, I wrote a paper on the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), and, though I'd known Mormons before (In fact my great aunt was a Mormon), that was my first exposure to the history of the LDS faith, and it was the first time I'd read the Book of Mormon.

Now one of the first things you come to in the Book of Mormon, before you get to the main text is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses. The Three Witnesses were early converts to Joseph Smith's church who claimed to have seen the gold plates on which the Book of Mormon was inscribed. (According to LDS belief, the Angel Moroni reappropriated the gold plates after Joseph Smith was done translating them into English.)

How did Joseph Smith manage to convince these guys that they'd seen gold plates inscribed with ancient hyroglypics, I wondered.

Well all these years later I have my answer. According to Fawn Brodie, author of No Man Knows My History, Joseph Smith got together with his three converts-- Matin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer-- and showed them what was to all appearances an empty box wooden box, and he told them the gold plates were in this empty box. When they said they didn't see anything, he told them it was due to insufficient faith that they didn't see the gold plates, and he ordered them out into the woods to pray. And pray and pray.

And after a couple hours of praying on their knees in the woods in the dark and the cold, they decided that they could see the gold plates after all, and there you have your Testimony of the Three Witnesses.

Now for those of us who don't believe in the founding myths of Joseph Smith's church I think the absurdity of the situation speaks for itself. That's not what faith is, right? Looking in an empty box and seeing something that's not there. That's not the kind of faith we have.

Well, I think sometimes that is the kind of faith we have. I think sometimes we have these empty boxes in our lives, and we want to believe all sorts of things are in those boxes. We tell ourselves "The box is real. So this thing that I imagine inside the box must be real too."

And I think we can see very clearly the empty boxes in other people's lives. I think way back when I first knew Pam, I had a strong feeling that her marriage was something of an empty box. And we had a mutual internet friend, an ex-gay blogger who's since disappeared, and he had this idea that by doing stereotypically male activities with heterosexual men (like remodeling houses), he was going to turn himself into a heterosexual. And boy, did that ever look like one big empty box to me.

So yeah. If the empty box is not part of my life, I can draw you a map and show you right where it is. The Rapture? Empty box. Homeopathy? Empty box. The housing bubble? Ouiji Boards? Pyramid power? Empty, empty, empty.

But where are the empty boxes in my own life? Those I don't see so clearly. But I have a nagging suspicion they're lurking around here somewhere.

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