How can men and women of intelligence, integrity, scholastic prominence, and with acknowledged expertise, have such divergent views of the Book of Mormon and its origin? For example, take the diametrically opposed conclusions of two prominent anthropology Mesoamerican scholars, who, by the way, are friends. One, Michael Coe, is at least an agnostic, and the other, John Sorenson, a devout Mormon.
Michael Coe: I’m a totally irreligious person.… In my opinion, (Joseph Smith) was not just a great religious leader; he was a really great American, and I think he was one of the greatest people who ever lived.… This man had an incredible memory. He made (the Book of Mormon) up and dictated it nonstop. It’s … an incredible feat of the mind. Even if it is all made up, to do something like that is really extraordinary…. I mean, if it’s a work of fiction, nobody has ever done anything like this before. And I think it is fiction, but he really carried it through, and my respect for him is unbounded. (The Mormons – Interview Michael Coe, PBS)
John Sorenson: I have (written) a large book (800+ pages; nearly 100 pages in references) … (that) presents 420 correspondences between the text of the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican cultural patterns and archaeological sequences. On that basis, I maintain there is no alternative to understanding that the Book of Mormon … could only have originated from the hands of a native Mesoamerican writer and that scholars will do well to study it seriously. (An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Coe by Dr. John L Sorenson)
And I ask the question again: How is this dichotomy possible?
I think the answer is, we see what we want to see. And that ability to choose what we will see, is the crux of agency; the reason we left the presence of God and descended to neutral territory here on this earth (See Abraham 3:25-26). How and what we see, has everything to do with how we want to live our lives. Or, in other words, who we want to become. As we exam the Book of Mormon (or, for that matter, any of the scriptures, the temple, the Church, etc.), we tend to look for that which will confirm the way we think we want to live. Our take, then, maybe isn’t so much a statement of our perception of what is true, as it is a declaration of our desires. What we choose to see, reflects who we choose to be!
The perfect proving ground, huh?
But as we have experience, our desires can change. And if that moves us toward the Savior, who is the source of all truth, what we look for and, therefore, what we see, will also change.
Years ago, when I was a stake president, one of our bishops told me that a man living in the boundary of his ward had approached the missionaries to be taught. The bishop was a little concerned that the investigator may have ulterior motives. The reason? The man was on the board of directors of an international evangelical church. He owned or managed many Christian radio stations and had spent years writing and preaching against the Mormon Church. Though he seemed sincere, we suggested that the missionaries proceed with caution.
A few months later, the man expressed a desire to meet me, and the missionaries brought him over. He was fascinating! He had several advanced academic degrees, was a Biblical scholar, and was conversant in Hebrew and Greek. He told me how he was brought to investigate the Church. An extraordinary story for maybe another time. He then explained that the Book of Mormon was his converter. He said that before investigating the Church, he had read it through cover-to-cover three times. Then he decided he would really read it. In essence, he would open his eyes to see! “It is a perfect, pure book. Not a flaw in it!” he said. “No one could possibly have written that book. No one!”
His conclusion was that there were only two possible sources: God or Satan. And by the Spirit and the book’s contents, he knew it was not Satan. That was what brought him to meet with the missionaries, and he was willing to do whatever was necessary for him to follow what he now knew to be true.
He asked to speak for a few minutes immediately following his baptism. He was filled with gratitude for all that had led him to this moment and especially for the Book of Mormon. None of us who were there will ever forget his concluding, emotional comment: “In all of my experiences, I have never felt as close to the Savior as I do at this moment.”
And the Book of Mormon has affected my own life in the most sublime ways. It has taught me of Jesus Christ. For over 56 years, since serving as a young missionary, I have read it cover-to-cover at least yearly. It is precisely what it claims to be—a revelation from God; a hold-it-in-your-hands miracle. If it were anything less, I would have stopped reading it decades ago.
What we desire is everything. If we want eyes to see . . . then, we will see.