Lesson I: What Mormons Believe about History – Native Americans

Offered without annotation or change from the Encyclopaedia of Mormonism (Salt Lake, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1992), by Thomas Garrow and Bruce Chadwick. rjh


The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, addresses a major message to Native Americans. Its title page states that one reason it was written was so that Native Americans today might know “what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers.”

The Book of Mormon tells that a small band of Israelites under Lehi migrated from Jerusalem to the Western Hemisphere about 600 B.C. Upon Lehi’s death his family divided into two opposing factions, one under Lehi’s oldest son, laman (see Lamanites), and the other under a younger son, Nephi 1 (see Nephites).

Jesus preaches to the Nephites during his visit to America

During the thousand-year history narrated in the Book of Mormon, Lehi’s descendants went through several phases of splitting, warring, accommodating, merging, and splitting again. At first, just as God had prohibited the Israelites from intermarrying with the Canaanites in the ancient Promised Land (Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:3), the Nephites were forbidden to marry the Lamanites with their dark skin (2 Ne. 5:23; Alma 3:8-9). But as large Lamanite populations accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and were numbered among the Nephites in the first century B.C., skin color ceased to be a distinguishing characteristic. After the visitations of the resurrected Christ, there were no distinctions among any kind of “ites” for some two hundred years. But then unbelievers arose and called themselves Lamanites to distinguish themselves from the Nephites or believers (4 Ne. 1:20).

The concluding chapters of the Book of Mormon describe a calamitous war. About A.D. 231, old enmities reemerged and two hostile populations formed (4 Ne. 1:35-39), eventually resulting in the annihilation of the Nephites. The Lamanites, from whom many present-day Native Americans descend, remained to inhabit the American continent. Peoples of other extractions also migrated there.

The Book of Mormon contains many promises and prophecies about the future directed to these survivors. For example, Lehi’s grandson Enos prayed earnestly to God on behalf of his kinsmen, the Lamanites. He was promised by the Lord that Nephite records would be kept so that they could be “brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation” (Enos 1:13).

The role of Native Americans in the events of the last days is noted by several Book of Mormon prophets. Nephi 1 prophesied that in the last days the Lamanites would accept the gospel and become a “pure and delightsome people” (2 Ne. 30:6). Likewise, it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the Lamanites will at some future time “blossom as the rose” (D&C 49:24).

Ancient Israelites in costume

After Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, he appeared to the more righteous Lamanites and Nephites left after massive destruction and prophesied that their seed eventually “shall dwindle in unbelief because of iniquity” (3 Ne. 21:5). He also stated that if any people “will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob [the descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples], unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance”; together with others of the house of Israel, they will build the New Jerusalem (3 Ne. 21:22-23). The Book of Mormon teaches that the descendants of Lehi are heirs to the blessings of Abraham (see Abrahamic Covenant) and will receive the blessings promised to the house of Israel.

THE LAMANITE MISSION (1830 – 1831). Doctrine and a commandment from the Lord motivated the Latter-day Saints to introduce the Book of Mormon to the Native Americans and teach them of their heritage and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just a few months after the organization of the Church, four elders were called to preach to Native Americans living on the frontier west of the Missouri River (see Lamanite Mission of 1830-1831).

The missionaries visited the Cattaraugus in New York, the Wyandots in Ohio, and the Shawnees and Delawares in the unorganized territories (now Kansas). Members of these tribes were receptive to the story of the Restoration. Unfortunately, federal Indian agents worrying about Indian unrest feared that the missionaries were inciting the tribes to resist the government and ordered the missionaries to leave, alleging that they were “disturbers of the peace” (Arrington and Bitton, p. 146). LDS pro-Native American beliefs continued to be a factor in the tensions between Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, which eventually led to persecution and expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from Missouri in 1838-1839 and from Illinois in 1846 (see Missouri Conflict).

RELATIONS IN THE GREAT BASIN. When the Latter-day Saints arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they found several Native American tribal groups there and in adjacent valleys. The Church members soon had to weigh their need to put the limited arable land into production for the establishment of Zion against their obligation to accommodate their Native American neighbors and bring them the unique message in the Book of Mormon.

Brigham Young taught that kindness and fairness were the best means to coexist with Native Americans and, like many other white Americans at the time, he hoped eventually to assimilate the Indians entirely into the mainstream culture. He admonished settlers to extend friendship, trade fairly, teach white man’s ways, and generously share what they had. Individuals and Church groups gave, where possible, from their limited supplies of food, clothing, and livestock. But the rapid expansion of LDS settlers along the Wasatch Range, their preoccupation with building Zion, and the spread of European diseases unfortunately contravened many of these conciliatory efforts.

A dominating factor leading to resentment and hostility was the extremely limited availability of life-sustaining resources in the Great Basin, which in the main was marginal desert and mountain terrain dotted with small valley oases of green. Although Native Americans had learned to survive, it was an extremely delicate balance that was destroyed by the arrival of the Latter-day Saints in 1847. The tribal chiefs who initially welcomed the Mormons soon found themselves and their people being dispossessed by what appeared to them to be a never-ending horde, and in time they responded by raiding LDS-owned stock and fields, which resources were all that remained in the oases which once supported plants and wildlife that were the staples of the Native American diet. The Latter-day Saints, like others invading the western frontier, concerned with survival in the wilderness, responded at times with force.

Native American Rabbis

An important factor in the conflict was the vast cultural gap between the two peoples. Native Americans in the Great Basin concentrated on scratching for survival in a barren land. Their uncanny survival skills could have been used by the Mormons in 1848, when drought and pestilence nearly destroyed the pioneers’ first crops and famine seriously threatened their survival.

The Utes, Shoshones, and other tribal groups in the basin had little interest in being farmers or cowherders, or living in stuffy sod or log houses. They preferred their hunter-gatherer way of life under the open sky and often resisted, sometimes even scoffed at, the acculturation proffered them. Nor did they have a concept of land ownership or the accumulation of property. They shared both the land and its bounty-a phenomenon that European Americans have never fully understood. The culture gap all but precluded any significant acculturation or accommodation.

Within a few years, LDS settlers inhabited most of the arable land in Utah. Native Americans, therefore, had few options: They could leave, they could give up their own culture and assimilate with the Mormons, they could beg, they could take what bounty they could get and pay the consequences, or they could fight. Conflict was inevitable. Conflict mixed with accommodation prevailed in Utah for many years. Violent clashes occurred between Mormons and Native Americans in 1849, 1850 (Chief Sowiette), 1853 (Chief Walkara), 1860, and 1865-1868 (Chief Black Hawk)-all for the same primary reasons and along similar lines. Conflict subsided, and finally disappeared, only when most of the surviving Native Americans were forced onto reservations by the United States government.

Still, the LDS hand of fellowship was continually extended. Leonard Arrington accurately comments that “the most prominent theme in Brigham’s Indian policy in the 1850s was patience and forbearance…. He continued to emphasize always being ready, using all possible means to conciliate the Indians, and acting only on the defensive” (Arrington, p. 217). Farms for the Native Americans were established as early as 1851, both to raise crops for their use and to teach them how to farm; but most of the “Indian farms” failed owing to a lack of commitment on both sides as well as to insufficient funding. LDS emissaries (such as Jacob Hamblin, Dudley Leavitt, and Dimmick Huntington) continued, however, to serve Native American needs, and missionaries continued to approach them in Utah and in bordering states. Small numbers of Utes, Shoshones, Paiutes, Gosiutes, and Navajos assimilated into the mainstream culture, and some of that number became Latter-day Saints. But overall, reciprocal contact and accommodation were minimal. By the turn of the century, contact was almost nil because most Native Americans lived on reservations far removed from LDS communities. Their contact with whites was mainly limited to government soldiers and agency officials and to non-Mormon Christian missionaries.

RELATIONS IN RECENT TIMES. Beginning in the 1940s, the Church reemphasized reaching out to Native Americans. The Navajo-Zuni Mission, later named the Southwest Indian Mission, was created in 1943. It was followed by the Northern Indian Mission, headquartered in South Dakota. Eventually, missionaries were placed on many Indian reservations. The missionaries not only proselytize, but also assist Native Americans with their farming, ranching, and community development. Other Lamanite missions, including several in Central and South America and in Polynesia, have also been opened. Large numbers of North American Indians have migrated off reservations, and today over half of all Indians live in cities. In response, some formerly all-Indian missions have merged with those serving members of all racial and ethnic groups living in a given geographical area.

An Indian seminary program was initiated to teach the gospel to Native American children on reservations, in their own languages if necessary (see Seminaries). Initially, Native American children of all ages were taught the principles of the gospel in schools adjacent to federal public schools on reservations and in remote Indian communities. The Indian seminary program has now been integrated within the regular seminary system, and Indian children in the ninth through twelfth grades attend seminary, just as non-Indian children do.

The Indian Student Placement Services (ISPS) seeks to improve the educational attainment of Native American children by placing member Indian children with LDS families during the school year. Foster families, selected because of their emotional, financial, and spiritual stability, pay all expenses of the Indian child, who lives with a foster family during the nine-month school year and spends the summer on the reservation with his or her natural family. Generally, the children enter the program at a fairly young age and return year after year to the same foster family until they graduate from high school.

From a small beginning in 1954, the program peaked in 1970 with an enrollment of nearly 5,000 students. The development of more adequate schools on reservations has since then reduced the need for the program and the number of participants has declined. In 1990, about 500 students participated. More than 70,000 Native American youngsters have participated in ISPS, and evaluations have shown that participation significantly increased their educational attainment.

In the 1950s, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then an apostle, encouraged Brigham Young University to take an active interest in Native American education and to help solve economic and social problems. Scholarships were established, and a program to help Indian students adjust to university life was inaugurated. During the 1970s more than 500 Indian students, representing seventy-one tribes, were enrolled each year. But enrollment has declined, so a new program for Indian students is being developed that will increase the recruiting of Native American students to BYU and raise the percentage who receive a college degree. The Native American Educational Outreach Program at BYU presents educational seminars to tribal leaders and Indian youth across North America. It also offers scholarships. American Indian Services, another outreach program originally affiliated with BYU, provides adult education and technical and financial assistance to Indian communities. In 1989, American Indian Services was transferred from BYU to the Lehi Foundation, which continues this activity.

In 1975, George P. Lee, a full-blooded Navajo and an early ISPS participant, was appointed as a General Authority. He was the first Indian to achieve this status and served faithfully for more than ten years. Elder Lee became convinced that the Church was neglecting its mission to the Lamanites, and when he voiced strong disapproval of Church leaders, he was excommunicated in 1989.

The Church has always had a strong commitment to preaching the gospel to Native Americans and assisting individuals, families, communities, and tribes to improve their education, health, and religious well-being. Programs vary from time to time as conditions and needs change, but the underlying beliefs and goodwill of Latter-day Saints toward these people remain firm and vibrant.


Arrington, Leonard J. Brigham Young: American Moses. New York, 1985.

Arrington, Leonard J., and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints. New York, 1979.

Barney, Ronald O. Review of Utah’s Black Hawk War, by John Alton Peterson. BYU Studies 38:4 (1999):189-191.

Chadwick, Bruce A., Stan L. Albrecht, and Howard M. Bahr. “Evaluation of an Indian Student Placement Program.” Social Casework 67, no. 9 (1986):515-24.

Christensen, Scott R. Review of Sagwitch: Shoshone Chieftain, Mormon Elder, 1822-1887, by Scott R. Christensen. BYU Studies 39:3 (2000):188-189.

Livingstone, John P. “Establishing the Church Simply.” BYU Studies 39:4 (2000):127-160.

Thursby, Jacqueline S. Review of The Trial of Don Pedro Léon Luján: The Attack against Indian Slavery and Mexican Traders in Utah, by Sondra Jones. BYU Studies 42:3-4 (2003):107-109.

Walker, Ronald W. “Native Women on the Utah Frontier.” BYU Studies 32 (Fall 1992):87-124.

Walker, Ronald W. “Toward a Reconstruction of Mormon and Indian Relations, 1847-1877.” BYU Studies 29 (Fall 1989)23-42.

45 thoughts on “Lesson I: What Mormons Believe about History – Native Americans

  1. Another interesting article, and another reminder of why I like this site.

    It’s certainly an engrossing topic, the ‘civilizing’/conquest of the world throughout history by certain expansionist cults and/or cultures (which two words have a shared etymology, I think). One wonders where we would be today if the, er, moccasin was on the other foot, and some of the Native American, or other ‘aboriginal’ religions around the world were as evangelical, but then, that’s an academic enquiry, because…they aren’t/weren’t ever going to be. 🙂

  2. Many remember Henry Ford well. I don’t. He was a mass of contradictions. A pacifist but violently anti semitic. He was supposed to have a good work philosophy and pay his workers highly but he was anti unions and created a culture of mass production. He made too much filthy lucre and he wasn’t a philanthropist to my knowledge. He is credited with the extraordarily irresponsible words “History is more or less bunk.” – mind you, after having conceded “I don’t know much about history”

    Now I realise he must have been talking about the repulsive Encyclopedia of Mormonism – “history”. Speech marks appropriately become scare quotes. However he neglected to add that it is vile and dangerous lies.

    Mitt the twit threatens the world. He will NOT be elected.

  3. Is the Old Testament really any different, though? The Exodus, for instance, has no more historicity than any of Smith’s tales. Jacob and Esau are just as made up as Laman and Nephi. The NoM is patterned on the OT not just in style, but also in the very specific genre of invented history.

    To me the Mormon movement is proof of concept for how a mythic history can not only be fabricated from whole cloth, but can be indoctrinated into large numbers of people in a short time.

    • This reminds me of a modern historical assumption about a so-called ‘mythic mind’. It has no understanding of the complexity of texts or the nature of writing in ancient cultures or the history of how they were read and used through time. And it also misses the point and relevance of this post at this time in history, or how Mormons read things like fundamentalists. and the fact is in an “encyclopedia” which is more dangerous to the future of the world if a certain idiot gets elected. I’ve never met a liberal Mormon.

  4. I’m certainly not defending Romney, but it’s not like Reagan or GWB were any more informed about history. Reagan used astrologers.

    I voted for Obama the last time and will vote for him again, but Romney’s religion is the least of my worries about him. I suspect that his faith is more accessory than conviction (and I think the same is true Obama. Maybe it’s atheist denial on my part, but I think he’s just too intelligent to actually believe that stuff), and I don’t think his actual policies would deviate much, if at all, from the bog standard set of Republican positions (e.g. “pro-family” posturing, pro-life, anti-gay, etc. as well as the usual pro-gun, anti-immigrant, American exceptionism stuff).

    I’m actually comfortable with insincere religious affect when its worn as indifferently and cynically as it is by both Romney and Obama. It’s the fanatics who worry me. Sarah Palin is terrifying. Romney doesn’t give me the impression that he actually cares enough about his religion to be dangerous with it. He’s nothing but callow, philosophically empty, elitist entitlement. I think he would publicly molest the bones of Brigham Young if he thought it could win him the election.

  5. I know but, but Obama also thinks (or says he thinks) that a Jewish day laborer crawled out of a tomb 2000 years ago, flew up to the sky, waits there still and will one day descend from the clouds with an army of angels.

    Let’s not even talk about the historical claims of Israel.

    I guess I just don’t see any functional difference between taking the Bible literally and the Book of Mormon literally. It’s the difference between believing in Spiderman and Superman as far as I’m concerned. I think all magical beliefs are equal, and I think they’re all really the same belief.

  6. Obama claims to believe literally in the miracle claims of Christianity, including the literal divinity and resurrection of Jesus, so he’s already a little bit pregnant.

    I actually doubt that Romney really believes everything in the Book of Mormon either.

    • @Ken: I cannot say this is not true; but I can say, as I am literally from Missouri (albeit from St Louis), Show me. I have no recollection of Obama pronouncing on any of these things. In print? Extensively? Specifically? Even the Jeremiah Wright Church he was criticized for attending in Chicago was a bastion of liberalism and (alleegd) “socialism” which don’t sit well with the kind of Christianity you’re describing. As for Romney: why would you doubt that a man who has been identified with Mormonism, has been a bishop and a missionary in his denomination, believed the tenets of his faith?

      • PS: What manual are taking phrases like “miracle claims of Christianity” out of–Is this what atheisst used to call ‘supernaturalism”-I’m out of the loop on fine tuning the rhetoric as it moves away from its anchorage in 1756.

    • Are you his personal confidant? How do you know Ken? Where is your evidence.

      The United Church of Christ emphasizes the freedom of the individual conscience over adherence to creeds or hierarchical authority. This is similar to traditional Baptist Christianity and something that is honored more in theory than in practice when it comes to the Southern Baptist Convention. Several historical creeds and catechisms are used by the United Church of Christ as statements of what their faith, but none are used as “tests of faith” which a person must swear upon.

      A 2001 study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found the denomination’s churches are fairly evenly split between conservative and liberal/progressive beliefs. Official policy statements from the church leaders tend to be more liberal than conservative, but the denomination is organized in such a way that disagreements by individuals churches are allowed. For example, the United Church of Christ is the largest Christian denomination to come out in favor of “equal marriage rights for all,” which means full marriage rights for gay couples, but there are many individual churches which do not support this.

      Barack Obama’s religious background is more diverse than that of most prominent politicians, but it may prove to be representative of future generations of Americans who grow up in an increasingly diverse America. His mother was raised by non-practicing Christians; his father was raised a Muslim but was an atheist by the time he had married Obama’s mother. Obama’s step-father was also Muslim, but of an eclectic kind who could make room for animist and Hindu beliefs. Neither Obama nor his mother were ever atheists, but she raised him in a relatively secular household where he learned about religion.

      In his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama writes:
      I was not raised in a religious household. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology.

      On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites. In sum, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.

      As a child in Indonesia, Obama studied for two years at one Muslim school and then two years at a Catholic school. In both places he experienced religious indoctrination, but in neither case did the indoctrination take hold: during Quranic studies he made faces and during Catholic prayers he would look around the room. Eventually, Barack Obama abandoned this non-conformism and skepticism to be baptized as an adult in the Trinity United Church of Christ.

  7. I’m not aware of any manual. My words are my own. I don’t subscribe to any community or group. I am not “activist” in any way. I am not referencing any kind of argot. I haven’t seen this term “supernaturalism,” but then, I don’t read a lot of atheist literature, My interests are in Christian origins and New Testament scholarship, not in atheism as any kind of movement or standard. I admit that my issue with religion is specifically the supernatural claims and defrauding of history. I don’t share Hitckens’/Dawkins’ et al’s hostility towrads organized religion as an institution. I have a problem with magical thinking.

    As for Obama and a literal belief in the Resurrection, he has expressed this belief publicly more than once. Here is a typical example from a prayer breakfast he spoke at in 2010:

    “For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire.
    The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in his tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

    “We are awed by the grace he showed even to those who would have killed him. We are thankful for the sacrifice he gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.”


    As for my belief that Romney might not believe every single thing in the BoM, well, I base that on what I perceive to be a decided religious incuriosity on his part. I don;t think he cares enough about the specific theology to believe it. He was a missionary, yes, but he was a Mormon kid, which means it wasn’t really a choice. I think (and this is completely subjective) that his religion to him is just a social and professional obligation. I don’t see any….contemplative nature in Romney.

    • Hahhha
      Any liberal theologian would say it just this way:

      “For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire.
      The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in his tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen…”

      And you call this “literal”? My goodness.

    • It is not true he said that at all. I’ve read the prayer breakfast. He told a story, a story of significance to many people, as a story, as any decent liberal theologian would.

  8. What’s the non-literal way to read that the tomb was empty three days later? What are you talking about? What did I “make up in my head?” Am I being punked here?

    I highly resent the accusation of dishonesty. Disagree with me. Tell me my interpretation is out to lunch, but don’t call me a liar. That’s not nice.

    • It’s a story Ken. Modern educated Christians know it is a story, written in the first century. Resurrection and God can be understood as metaphors, as symbols. Your interpretation is “out to lunch”, uninformed and irresponsible speculation. Like calling Obama a Muslim.

      • Pointing out that Obama HIMSELF says he is a Christian who believes in the Resurrection is the same thing as calling him a Muslim?

        I don’t think I’m the one whose interpretation is out to luck. This is America. When presidents talk about the Resurrection, it’s ALWAYS
        literal. It’s a political code as much as anything else.

        People really believe this stuff here. It’s not like Europe. Literal is the
        default, especially when the President says it. It would be politically suicidal for a political candidate at that level to hint at anything but a literal belief in the Resurrection of Christ. The one possible excuse would be Jewishness, but only as long as he never talked about it.

      • There are two sorts of people who take it literally: Fundamnentalists who believe in the physical rescucitation of a corpse and atheists who refuse to believe there is any other way of taking it. No one is punking you, but you are hopelessly out of touch with the latest trends and surveys http://religions.pewforum.org/reports/ which show that America is still “religious” but is changing more rapidly than any other nation in that regard. Bluntly, you oversimplify. Don’t fight yesterday’s monsters; there is enough to worry about. Obama’s religion — tepid whatever it is — is not one of them.

      • Yes, Mohler. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in America with a statement of faith. He is a creationist too, writes ‘articles’ against evolution. He’s a fundamentalist and a Christian apologist. Undeniable and arrogant fundamentalism.

    • Ken,

      The ‘non-literal way’ is to believe in the immortality of the soul, but not necessarily the immortality of the actual kidneys, ear lobes, nipples, those little hairs on the palms of one’s hands, etc. Whether this is literally believed to be literal immortality or not is the part that is literally confusing to me. I suspect that some think it important to spend time subdividing the hairs. Why, I’m not entirely sure.

  9. I am well schooled in the varieties of Christian experience and allegory, by the way. I know that large numbers of Christians do not view the resurrection literally. My wife is one of them. Obama is not just an American Christian, though, he’s the President, and there is no room for nuance for a President to make those kinds of public religious affirmations. He got accused by Rush Limbaugh of being an atheist (or maybe it was a Muslim) because he once called Jesus “not just a son of God,” because he didn’t say “THE son of God,”

  10. That’s simply not true Ken. I’ve read it. Obama did not say that at all. He told the story as a story as any decent liberal theologian would. He’s been accused of being atheist and Muslim because he’s simply not a fundamentalist biblical literalist Ken.

      • Of course he does it every Easter. “As fact”. Nonsense. Only a literalist couldn’t tell the difference. All you do is insist on contradicting with no concept of lateral thinking.

      • I tend to agree with ken. Obama is presenting it as fact. If he were to tell his audience that Prometheus was crucified or was resurrected, that would be different.

        Of course, he’s not a bible literalist, but either there is something in there which he believes to be true, or there isn’t. And if he’s just agnostic and undecided about the whole thing, well, that’s fine. But hat’s not what he’s presenting.

        Pardon me for thinking there is something fudged about this. 🙂

      • Of course you agree with Ken, Mills. You have similar literal tools of interpretation. Obama delivered a speech in which a traditional story is presented. This is not a delivery of fact, regardless of how his audience, ie you and Ken and other like-minded people, received it. Read more speeches and monologues and compare the variety within them.

    • Not at all. And not ‘double’. Just rational.

      This is an example of liberal Christianity. It’s a large inclusive progressive Anglican church. It’s about people – all people – not about ‘God’. Beliefs are about people, not ‘God’.




      I’ve become a acquainted with Clay Nelson, one of the priests at St Matthews in the City, and when I talk to him a can see the appeal. I’ve never believed in God even when I was little. In a secular society with many religions, I grew up without believing or taking on any religions. I’m not a Christian. I’m a historian. But I may as well be a ‘Christian’, talking to Clay. He said to me ‘You like us because we’re not very religious’ and I said ‘No, I like you precisely because you are’.

      • Steph,

        I’m sure Clay and the other guys at St matthews are really nice, decent, caring, worthwhile humans. I’m sure I would like them too. As a matter of fact, my most favourite fellow forum members at the Dawkins site were a practicing Roman Catholic and an Anglican minister respectively. In my daily life in the real world, I make no distinctions when choosing or enjoying friendships. I’m assuming you’ll appreciate I’m not just saying that to gain some sort of credentials. 🙂

        I have a lot of respect for liberal versions of Christianity.

        I just happen to think it involves a delusion, and personally, I prefer to deal with my life on those terms, even if it isn’t, in many ways, as attractive a prospect.

      • I might add, to my preceding post, that another of my most favourite fellow forum members at Dawkins was the crankiest atheist you are ever likely to meet. He would make Dawkins et al look like the four horsemen of the apocawimps. 🙂

      • David – it’s not about liking him personally. It’s about liking and appreciating their worthwhile projects, efforts, community and common sense. There are many liberal churches and liberal Christians like this in the UK too. And metaphor and allegory aren’t confusing to them. Why on earth should it be with sensible people? When you deteroriate into silly summaries like “delusion” I realise you haven’t bothered to listen or try to understand or even investigated their website and articles. To suggest there is “delusion” involved in people who believe nothing that contradicts the evidence of science, accept evolution and big bang and probably know more about it than many atheists who claim to love science, and don’t believe in any human constructed being or one which created a heaven and earth, is quite frankly untrue and evidence of your unwillingness to understand.

      • Steph, I do wish you would stop telling those who take a different view from you that they don’t listen or are unwilling to uynderstand. I really do. It makes discourse very difficult. 🙂

        To me,the two things, their admirable worth as people and their (IMO) likely delusion regarding the supernatural are two different things, two aspects of who they are and what they do. I was not ‘summarising’ everything about them as ‘deluded’, just their belief in the supernatural, which considering the lack of any decent evidence for, is not, as you suggest rational.

        And of course, I could be wrong. 🙂

      • The point is these liberal Christians do not believe in super-natural things Mills. God as a metaphor, or ‘God’ as a convenient term for the unknown, or nature etc is not belief is the super-natural. I might add that the definition of ‘liberal’ in some cultural environments seems to vary and some Christians living in predominantly conservative fundamentalist environments might understandably consider themselves liberal, when not all of them qualify with the truly liberal criteria. I do wish you’d stop adorning your comments so liberally with little smiling faces. They don’t reflect the nature of your comments with any veracity.

    • I don’t think your question is formed properly; you don’t believe “in” an allegorical resurrection; you believe “that” it is some sort of story, as that’s what an allegory is. Some sort of story. Anyone who has made that transition in interpretation is already one step ahead of the person who has just come to think it isn’t historically, factually true, unless you think that in religion the only opposite of true is false. I think that in most cases the opposite of not true is what then?I suspect most atheists are stuck in the light-switch mode. But the study of religion isn’t really helped along by applying modal logic to P. The resurrection of Jesus is not stated as a proposition; it exists as a story. It can be formulated as a proposition, just as God (G) created the world (W) can be, but that is already a conversion. Those of us who study religion are a litle amused at the fact that propositional truth and falsity is all that seems to interest some people –I think of Richard Carrier and his absuird Bayesian approach and the mythtics-about these texts, as if they exist for no other purpose than to be judged factual or or fantasy, and provide no other information.
      Partly I suppose this “It’s all a load of rubbish approach” comes from the nature of the topic–Christianity has had a purchase on the western mind for a very long time, and it is probably necessary for many more people to go through the rubbishing stage. Even some fairly bright men like Dawkins seem to have got stuck in that mode. But I don’t think the best scholars in the field of religion can afford to say, e.g., We’ve squeezed the texts for their factuality and found out they weren’t true. We know that. Because that is not the question the texts answer, or more precisely not the questions that are put to them. As I feel a lecture coming on I will stop; but it is probably worth a blog, so thank you for an inspiring question.

      • No prob Joseph. Thank you for an answer which doesn\’t really answer anything.

        I find the matter very confusing. I can\’t help but think that we are dodging around the central issue.

        Where is Jesus now? Or his soul, or whatever.

        If you think it’s anywhere, I think that’s unlikely. It hardly seems to matter in any significant way whether one thinks his actual body literally/actually survived, somewhere, or just his actual soul, is largely irrelevant. Either way, if nothing literally/actually survived, what’s the point in enjoying an allegory, on its own, as it were, without the literality/actuality beneath?

        Look. If people want to be agnostic, that’s fine with me. I was one up until a few years ago, so I know how it goes (at least in my case). At some point, I decided I just wasn’t following through in my thinking.

      • @David: I did do my best to answer in some detail what I thought was your question. Your comment is that “It doesn’t answer anything.” I will not engage further on this, not because it is not an interesting topic but because you do not not acknowledge that the answer was substantive. I think it was. It may not be the answer you wanted: that is not the issue.

      • @ joseph.

        Apologies if that came across as rude. It wasn’t meant to, and it is hard (I find) sometimes to convey lighthearted via a keyboard, but it was badly worded. 🙂

        Actually, I don’t think atheists, at least not all atheists (everyone, atheists and non atheists are on a sort of spectrum I think) are stuck in light switch mode, maybe they just move onto (or simply in the direction of) a different square on the board after ‘what then?’

        Where do you go after that question, bearing in mind that ‘that bit not literally true’ preceded it? Do you go to a ‘this bit maybe true’ square? If so, which bit (do you think may be true)? Or are you undecided and open. Or more to the point (the off topic point, I suppose, what happened to Indians?) which bit does Obama, for example, think is true?

        This is all very much off topic, I’m sure. I hadn’t intended to get into an atheism versus…..something else…discussion. 🙂

  11. What liberal Christianity is, ‘God’ and the ‘divine’ as metaphor.

    “A Comprehensive Vision of God”, by Clay Nelson, a priest at St Matthews in the City Auckland Aotearoa. Liberal inclusive Christianity.

    “I want to begin with Alfred North Whitehead, a mathematician turned theologian. He argued that we cannot account for the creative process without an understanding of the role of the divine. His central insight is that everything becomes whatever it becomes by virtue of how it relates to everything else. Whether you are a Hobbs-Boson subatomic particle, a person or even God, your identity over time develops though a process of relating to everything else.

    Whitehead spent a lot of time observing nature. His conclusion was that the mystery at the base of all that is, is not arbitrary. Our experience of that mystery through our relationships with everything else gives us the confidence to know the final worth of our existence. We matter.

    So why does that matter? It matters because we have chosen to be part of a religion. The purpose of any religion is to seek a comprehensive understanding of the good. There is no aspect of life that religion’s vision of the good doesn’t include. When bad things happen in any aspect of life, including religion, we have become detached from a comprehensive understanding of the good.”

    Read the whole thing. It’s very well expressed.


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