(see the full article)
Reading is Believing
The late Mormon Church Historian, Leonard J. Arrington,
Wrote an article titled "Why I Am a Believer."
But, it should have been titled "Why I Am Not a Believer!"

In January, 1985, the notable Mormon, Leonard J. Arrington wrote an article in Sunstone magazine. (January, 1985, vol. 10:1 pp. 36-38) Arrington has since passed away. He was the Mormon Church Historian as well as Lemuel Redd Professor of Western History at Brigham Young University. The article he wrote back then was "Why I Am a Believer." It was part of a series of articles Sunstone commissioned is a series, "Pillars of My Faith," which invited "Latter-day Saint personalities to explore those principles and experiences which animate their commitment to the restored gospel."

Arrington said his commitment to and belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolved around four religious questions:
1) Is there a living God?
2) Was Jesus a teacher worthy to be worshipped?
3) Was Joseph Smith a prophet deserving of allegiance?
4) Is our Latter-day Saint culture meritorious–worth defending and working for?

Good questions all. What interested me in the article was his response to question three. Arrington devoted five paragraphs to that question. The first paragraph stated that he was glad he had not been introduced, as a boy, to some of the views of Smith’ theology and philosophy being advocated today. He said he read a great book about the Prophet Smith when he was in high school and "gave some two-and-one-half minute talks based on the book." He said he became convinced Smith had "a marvelous intellect and also acute spiritual sensitivity." He thought the Prophet had good values and was an "imaginative thinker" who "accepted truth from many sources."

But what really intrigued me was the way Arrington chose to deal with the "Prophet’s stories." The following four paragraphs, I believe, demonstrate how many otherwise intelligent Mormons deal with the supposedly amazing historical incidents found in Joseph Smith’s life. If you reduce those four paragraphs to one sentence it would read: "It makes no difference if those events really occurred or if Smith made them up." Here they are: [Note: Look expecially at the words in red.

"What about the Prophet’s stories: the First Vision? the visit of the Angel Moroni to tell him about the golden plates? the return of John the Baptist to confer the Aaronic Priesthood and of Peter, James, and John to confer the Melchizedek? Can one accept all of the miraculous events that surrounded the Restoration of the gospel? I was very fortunate to have read George Santayana’s Reason in Religion before confronting these historical problems. I do not say that I fully understood it, but the book gave me a concept that has been helpful ever since–that truth may be expressed not only through science and abstract reason, but also through stories, testimonies, and narratives of personal experience; not only through erudite scholarship, but also through poetry, drama, and historical novels. Santayana used the term "myth"–a term well understood in recent religion literature—to refer to the expression of religious and moral truths in symbolic language.

"The word myth has some pejorative connotations in English. It can mean a story or belief asserted to be true but without any basis in fact. It can be an invented explanation of some natural or historical phenomenon or a wholly fictitious supposition or belief. However, what Santayana calls myth is a traditional or legendary account of events that have religious significance. To say that something is a myth is not to say that it was deliberately fabricated, but to identify it as an account that may or may not have a determinable basis of fact or natural explanation. Examples are the Christian story of the Resurrection, the immaculate conception, and the creation of the world in Genesis. These are ways of explaining events or truths having religious significance that may be either symbolical or historical.

"To say this another way, one can find philosophical and religious truths in a Shakespearean tragedy even though the characters and events are wholly fictional. Examples of novels disclosing religious truths that I had read during the formative stages of my religious beliefs include: Pearl Buck, The Good Earth; Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil; William Henry Hudson, Green Mansions; Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment; and Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. And, for that matter, the philosophical drama in the Old Testament, the Book of Job.

"Because of my introduction to the concept of symbolism as a means of expressing religious truth, I was never overly concerned with the question of the historicity of the First Vision or of the many reported epiphanies in Mormon, Christian, and Hebrew history. I am prepared to accept them as historical or as metaphorical, as symbolical or as precisely what happened. That they convey religious truth I have never had any doubt. Ineffable experiences, religious messages, value affirmations do not always lend themselves to scientific or literal or precise articulation. It does not bother me at all that, in describing a religious experience, a narrator, a testimony-giver, often resorts to traditional phrases in presenting it. Indeed, I do it myself, as those who have heard me bear my testimony can vouch. The Italians have a useful expression for this sort of thing: Se non e vero, e hen trovato, which means, roughly: ‘Whether it is literally true or not, it’s still true.’"