Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

No, B.H. Roberts Did Not Abandon Belief in the Book of Mormon

Sad to see an irresponsible critic of the Church pushing the easily debunked theory that a General Authority, B.H. Roberts, lost his testimony due to the overwhelming problems in the Book of Mormon. Ridiculous. B.H. Roberts did examine the leading evidences against the Book of Mormon. Those issues, frankly, were much more challenging in 1922 than they are today as some former weaknesses have become strengths through further discovery and learning, and as some problems have been resolved by better understanding what the text actually say. But to help Church leaders understand the arguments that could be waged against the Book of Mormon, he wrote what might be considered a version of a lawyer's brief detailing what one's adversary might argue. He was frank and open in doing this. But this exercise certainly did not wither his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He remained a firm advocate for the Restoration and the divine power of the Book of Mormon. For evidence about the nature of his work and the strength of his testimony afterwards, see these resources:

 "From The Truth, The Way, and the Life: The Truth About the Way B.H. Roberts Viewed the Book of Mormon at the End of His Life," a 2015 post here at Mormanity.

"Evasive Ignorance: Anti-Mormon Claims that B.H. Roberts Lost His Testimony"  by McKay V. Jones at FairMormon.org. 

"B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon: Exhumation and Reburial" by Stephen Smoot, Ploni Almoni, Aug. 11, 2020.  (Also see his addendum to the B.R. Roberts post where he addresses a radio broadcast used to suggest Roberts was vacillating in his faith.) Here is the interesting conclusion from Smoot's valuable contribution:

The burden of proof now rests on those who wish to portray B. H. Roberts as a closeted unbeliever.54 The published and publicly spoken words of Roberts from 1922 to the time of his death in 1933 are emphatically not the whimpering of a distraught, unsure man racked with doubt. To be sure, Roberts privately expressed frustrations that he felt “stumped” with the Book of Mormon “difficulties” he encountered in his studies and that his concerns were met with either indifference or silence from Church authorities.55 But this is not the same as Roberts being a closet doubter. Not by a long shot. “Roberts’s deeply ingrained commitment to scholarship made him a ‘disciple of the second sort’ who was always open to new information and willing at least to entertain new ideas and suggestions,” observes Allen.56 “This did not mean that Book of Mormon ‘problems’ convinced him that the book was not what Joseph Smith said it was. It only meant that he was willing to look at every possible challenge while maintaining his long-time convictions.”57

At this point, let me take a moment to point out what should now be obvious. Despite John Dehlin’s best efforts to gaslight his audience, B. H. Roberts is not some ex-Mormon role model. Not only is there is no evidence that Roberts lost his faith in Joseph Smith or the restored Church of Jesus Christ, there is, as we’ve seen above, in fact abundant evidence to the contrary. After 1922 and 1927, Roberts repeatedly and publicly declared his testimony and argued for the inspiration and authenticity of Joseph Smith’s scriptural texts. So if Roberts did secretly lose his faith in 1922 or 1927, he lied about it and continued to publicly advocate for the divinity and historicity of the Book of Mormon, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, and the inspiration of the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was, in this scenario, intellectually dishonest to the highest degree. Perhaps he was, as Dehlin ludicrously tried to claim about another eminent Latter-day Saint historian, merely in it for a paycheck and the social clout. After all, Roberts’ books continued to sell well during his lifetime and he remained a General Authority until his death. Perhaps after losing his faith pure avarice and narcissistic vanity motivated Roberts to continue writing and speaking positively for the claims of Joseph Smith. But is that the kind of person ex-Mormons want to gleefully claim as one of their champions and role models? Such a person is not a bold, brave truth-teller, but rather an intellectually bankrupt, morally decrepit impostor.

There is a much more parsimonious explanation for all this that does not require the absurd contrivances of barely literate podcasting hucksters. That explanation is that Brigham Henry Roberts was a faithful, committed Latter-day Saint throughout his life. He was not, as Brigham D. Madsen and other members of the mid-twentieth century Mormon intelligentsia have tried to portray him as, an Elias for the type of pseudo-Mormon historiographical and theological naturalism and skepticism that pervaded their own thinking. And he certainly was not, as Dehlin has tried to claim, “a high-level Mormon General Authority [who] lost his faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” To suppose Roberts was some kind of proto-Redditor who would have found an intellectual home among the likes of John Dehlin or Jeremy Runnells is the absolute pinnacle of nonsense. 

As shocking as this might sound to bigots who suppose members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are nothing but unmindful, unthinking, uneducated, uncritical, and unaware simpletons, there has, in fact, been a rich intellectual tradition in the Church, with many Latter-day Saints who have asked hard questions while also remaining committed to their faith.

B. H. Roberts was one of them.

Smoot is responding to John Dehlin's recent podcasts featuring an "amazing" work of scholarship, a 2019 master's thesis from Shannon Caldwell Montez entitled "The Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922." You can read this online at https://scholarworks.unr.edu/bitstream/handle/11714/6712/Montez_unr_0139M_13054.pdf. As you read it, ask yourself how the author handles the numerous speeches given by Roberts, his many articles, and his several books, especially The Truth, the Way, the Life, the masterpiece he published long after his exercise in Book of Mormon problems, that affirm his conviction that the Book of Mormon is historical, and divine. It's the kind of question that Dehlin ought to have asked as well. But if I'm not mistaken, you won't find much awareness of Roberts's clear positions on the Book of Mormon in Montez's thesis, because such works are not listed in her bibliography. Here is the portion of the bibliography that shows all the sources whose last names begin with the letter "r":

It is simply irresponsible to pretend to tell us what Roberts thought without paying any attention to what he told us over and over in clear and powerful terms in primary sources. His great masterpiece cannot be ignored if we wish to know what he thought. It was clear that he had a powerful testimony of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon and of the Restoration. 

Other resources to consider:



Anonymous said...

B.H. Roberts did not lose his faith in the LDS church. Nobody is claiming that. BH Roberts lost faith in a literal Book of Mormon, and put his faith in the prophetic powers of Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps you should tackle the real argument.

Anonymous said...

Here is the contemporaneous journal entry by his best friend describing the conversation he had with Roberts detailing Roberts' belief in a subjective, not literal, Book of Mormon, taken from the link you provide.

"After this Bro. Roberts made a special Book of Mormon study. Treated the problem systematically and historically and in a 400 type written page thesis set forth a revolutionary article on the origin of the Book of Mormon and sent it to Pres. Grant. It’s an article far too strong for the average Church member but for the intellectual group he considers it a contribution to assist in explaining Mormonism. He swings to a psychological explanation of the Book of Mormon and shows that the plates were not objective but subjective with Joseph Smith, that his exceptional imagination qualified him psychologically for the experience which he had in presenting to the world the Book of Mormon and that the plates with the Urim and Thummim were not objective. He then explained certain literary difficulties in the Book... These are some of the things which has made Bro. Roberts shift his base on the Book of Mormon. Instead of regarding it as the strongest evidence we have of Church Divinity, he regards it as the one which needs the most bolstering. His greatest claim for the divinity of the Prophet Joseph lies in the Doctrine and Covenants"

Anonymous said...

People like Jeff and Steve Smoot, who openly admit they are not believers, complain of suggestions that Roberts was a "closeted" non-believer. Sighh ...

Jeff and Steve do not believe the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the Native Americans, the BoM swords modeled after 600th century BC Old World Swords were really obsidian encrusted wooden clubs, the BoM of did not take place in the Eastern United States but in some small but now submerge locality any where in the Western Hemisphere, on and on Jeff and Steve tired us with their unbelief.

Who do Jeff and Steve think they are, with their relentless demeaning and belittling of others that observed that Roberts was quietly a lot like them.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @ 1:05, although my title is "No, B.H. Roberts Did Not Abandon Belief in the Book of Mormon," to make things more clear, I changed "But this exercise certainly did not wither his testimony" to "But this exercise certainly did not wither his testimony of the Book of Mormon." Yes, I'm certainly talking about a testimony grounded in the Book of Mormon and/or a testimony of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon. Also added a closing sentence to make that clear.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @1:50, huh? Perhaps you haven't read much of what I write, but I am a firm believer in the reality, the historicity, and the divine nature of the Book of Mormon. While I had trouble with Bruce R. McConkie's personal opinion that the Book of Mormon peoples were the "principal ancestors" of modern Native Americans, that concept from an old version of the foreword to the Book of Mormon is not canonized Church doctrine. Note that the current Book of Mormon no longer has that improperly worded statement in its introduction (which is still not canonized), and instead has since 2006 observed that they were "among the ancestors" of Native Americans. See the Church's Gospel Topics Essay, "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," which states:

Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the idea of migrations other than those described in the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found the Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established populations. The 2006 update to the introduction of the Book of Mormon reflects this understanding by stating that Book of Mormon peoples were “among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

I'm with Joseph Smith, other LDS scholars, and now the Brethren on the idea that other populations may have also come to the Americas, making Book of Mormon peoples "among the ancestors" of modern Native Americans.

Understanding that Nephite "swords" might not always have been the metal versions were are used to, or that the setting of the Book of Mormon is not determined by the opinions of early Saints but by the Book of Mormon itself in light of evidence, etc., opens up areas for debate and disagreement, but says nothing about my belief in the official teachings of the Church (there is no official teaching on location of Book of Mormon lands), the divinity of the Book of Mormon, or the reality of the Gospel.

Your statement is offensive and ungrounded.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @1:11 PM, if that entry properly reflects what someone gathered from Roberts, I don't have any trouble with that. At the time, before most of the strongest evidences for the Book of Mormon had come forth and before LDS scholars like Hugh Nibley, Jack Welch, etc. had begun to refute in detail many of the common objections and lay out the powerful case for the ancient nature of the Book of Mormon, it was certainly in great need of buttressing and perhaps the book most in need of attention then. Today I might say the Book of Abraham is the one in need of buttressing, the one where critics can make the seemingly most convincing arguments against it, etc. But I still believe they are wrong and that the Book of Abraham is a miraculous gift and divine scripture, which is not to say everything is perfect, just as it is not in any volume of scripture.

Importantly, in spite of Roberts's awareness of the arguments that could be made against the Book of Mormon, his later works clearly show that he fully accepted it as revealed scripture rooted in antiquity.

Anonymous said...

"I am a firm believer in the reality, the historicity" as is everyone, because, as you yet again demonstrate, no one can say what historicity of the BoM means.

It is not offensive, ungrounded, nor a small detail to observe the fact that you just switched things around. You switched "the Brethern" to now being with you, to you now being with the Brethern.

What is offensive is your demeaning and belittling of Dehlin for merely hosting scholars, a hosting extended equally as well to others you favor, even you if you wanted.

Anonymous said...

"improperly worded", "not canonized", "personal opinion" are all words of gaslighter. You are gaslighter Jeff. Mormons know what they were taught, no matter how much you try to tell them they were not taught those things.

Anonymous said...

Do not discount the effect of ingrained religion and momentum. As someone who has lost his faith but still attends church with his family, I am keenly aware of how social/cultural pressure can keep one going when actual faith cannot.

The evidence strongly suggests that Roberts’ beliefs about the BoM were changed by his research into its “problems.” Just because he “endured to the end” doesn’t mean he believed to the end. There are many, have been many, and will be many, who bear witness to beliefs they do not hold because it seems like the right thing to do at the moment. I can guarantee that most, if not all, members have done this at some point. It is culturally ingrained—if you don’t believe, saying it can make it so. There’s a famous Mormon adage that if you don’t feel like praying, you should do it until you do. The social pressure to believe, and publicly express that belief, is extremely strong in Mormon culture. With Roberts’ high standing in the church, those social pressures would only be compounded. Reading Montez’s work made me squirm in sympathy for what he must have gone through.

All that being said, Roberts is the only mortal who knew what was in his heart before he died. Speculation about what it was will always be just speculation.

Anonymous said...

Gaslighting is an attempt to make something appear not to happen when indeed it did happen. Jeff is not saying that we being taught that the American Indians primary ancestors were the Lehites did not happen, what he is saying that it was incorrect to teach that because there is no precedence in the Book of Mormon to come to that conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Steve -

So Jeff is saying LDS were misled by their Church?

But serious "no precedence"? The official canon had its as the introduction. Millions of LDS for more than a century just pulled that out of whole cloth? Now who is gaslighting Steve? Fact is Steve, it was correct to teach that because that is the narrative the BoM describes and that is the rational conclusion. To say that "there is no precedence" is gaslighting Steve. You are trying make something appear to not have happen the way it happened.

Anonymous said...


There is also nothing in the BoM that explicitly states that its setting is the Americas—we can only go by what has been claimed by its creator and taught by him and subsequent “experts” on the topic.

There are multiple instances of missionaries called, in canonized “revelation,” to preach the gospel to the Lamanites. The Lamanites were understood to be Native Americans, not “among [their] principal ancestors.”

Take Joseph Smith’s account of the coming forth of the BoM:

“He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.”

The book was meant to be an origin, as well as downfall story for the Americas. It sought to explain the origins of the Native Americans Joseph and his contemporaries were familiar with. This was accepted and taught without question until very recently when science finally showed that such claims are outside the realm of possibility. Trying to change the narrative now is extremely disingenuous and more than a bit ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

2:42 - What you say is obvious to anyone vaguely familiar with the subject. The fact that Steve forces it to be said shows how silly and desperate his camp has become. To reduce his argument to its absurdity, the BoM never talks about Christopher Columbus ... of course this absurd, because despite not explicitly saying his name, the BoM is clearly references Columbus.

Anonymous said...

I don't care whether or not he did. He's long dead.
I certainly did, and you were NO help, try as you might.

Glen Danielsen said...

Jeff, is there a way to subscribe to Mormanity?
Cheers, brother! 🙂

Jeff Lindsay said...

Glen, in the sidebar on the right of my blow, scroll down just a little and you'll see options to follow by email or to subscribe. Let me know if there's any trouble. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

In addition, I was recently reminded of this from the Wentworth letter:

“The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.“

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon with the off-topic remark at 10:01, please stop with the Heartland issue here.

But for the record, it's well known that Joseph Smith used terms such as "this country" and "this continent" to refer to Western hemisphere lands that clearly and even explicitly included Mesoamerica.

As reported at http://www.bmaf.org/node/429, "In 1841 The Prophet Joseph Smith was given a two-volume set of books written by John Lloyd Stephens that told about Stephens’s travels in Mesoamerica and the discovery of ancient ruins and vanished civilizations. These were purchased by Bishop John Bernhisel in New York and delivered by Wilford Woodruff into Josephs hands around October of that year. These books were filled with pictures that were drawn by Frederick Catherwood, an artist who accompanied Stephens. The pictures revealed temples and cities that had been lost in the jungles of Mesoamerica for centuries. Joseph Smith wrote a letter regarding these books to Bishop Bernhisel in November which read:

"'I received your kind present by the hand of Er Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.'" (Joseph Smith, "Church History," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707, Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), 501 - 502.)

Anonymous said...

Not off topic at all. My 10:01 comment is in relation to the nature of the Lamanites and their relationship to native Americans (a topic which you brought up and Steve was attempting to defend). As you said earlier, “I’m with Joseph.” Just pointing out what Joseph had to say in his canonized statement about his, and by extension Mororoni’s, understanding of BoM people’s relationship to American Indians. I thought I’d show that his opinion had not changed when he wrote the Wentworth letter—a portion of which was canonized as well. To Joseph, Moroni, and all of the early saints, the BoM was the origin story of early American peoples.

That it also supports his widely taught heartland concept is merely incidental in this instance. The fact that there is room in his theories for a comprehensive North, Central, and South American native population explained by the BoM, is additional evidence of his confidence that the BoM explains the origins of all native Americans.