Kirby: Stick to the basics when it comes to Mormon beliefs

By Robert Kirby

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: February 6, 2014 01:21PM
Updated: February 12, 2014 09:45AM

Years ago, an acquaintance insisted that one of the Three Nephites saved his grandfather’s life after a horse kicked him in the stomach.

Rescuers showed up. One managed to properly diagnose the internal bleeding and give him a priesthood blessing. Later, no one could find that particular rescuer. He had…(insert spooky music here)…vanished.

For those unfamiliar with this bit of Mormon legend, the Three Nephites were Book of Mormon apostles blessed with physical immortality by Jesus during his appearance in the New World. Their faith was such that they were spared death.

Today, these apostles reportedly wander the landscape in disguise, waiting for the Second Coming. They perform anonymous good deeds, yet oddly manage to be recognized (always in Utah) by someone’s uncle’s best friend who happens to be an especially spiritual stake patriarch.

When I heard the story, my doubt was both obvious and not well received. Scriptural proof was immediately provided regarding the existence of the Three Nephites (although none for them showing up in a Wayne County horse barn).

Sometimes, the attempts to connect the Book of Mormon with actual archaeology take on a more “scholarly tone.” Panama is the “narrow neck of land” described in the book, “the land Bountiful” is in some Central American country.

Actually, that’s just north of Salt Lake City. Look it up.

A fellow missionary in the training center once showed me a picture of an elaborately carved stone pit found in South America and said it was proof that the ancient Nephites practiced baptism by immersion. What else could this picture possibly be other than a baptismal font?

Even though I was young and impressionable, I still managed to come up with a number of possible alternatives.

Me: “Hot tub, bathtub, sauna, fish pool, water cistern, barbecue pit, really small dungeon … ”

Him: “I feel sorry for you, Elder.”

Although I’m LDS, I never concerned myself much with Book of Mormon proofs. Always seemed like a waste of time trying to figure out the ZIP code for Zarahemla or whether Nephites rode elephants into battle.

This lack of interest in a factual basis for a cornerstone of the LDS faith can be interpreted in a variety of ways — apostasy, slothfulness and even a form of true gospel awakening. Nope. It’s that I just don’t care.

Note: I also don’t care about the dimensions of Noah’s ark, the royal pedigree of Jesus, how many years the Israelites wandered in which desert and which ancient cities the Apostle Paul scratched his hams in.

None of those has anything to do with the basis of my beliefs and/or spirituality. When it comes to testing the historical veracity of scripture, I’m still working on “love one another.” It’s a full-time job.

If you’re one of those people who thinks the precise color of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem is a deal-breaking factoid, I have a hard time not suspecting that you’re an obsessive dumb ass, never mind actually loving you.

That was rude, I know. But it does aptly illustrate my struggle. When it comes to definitive proof of any religious text, I’m more of a skeptical anthropologist. I don’t completely trust anything involving human beings, including scripture.

Actually, make that especially scripture. It doesn’t take much reading of any religious tome to start wondering if there isn’t sometimes a line between being a prophet of God and just plain nuts.

I’m not terribly bright. On the other hand, maybe I’m just smart enough to know that when you already have the answer, it’s amazing how much corroborative — or disproving — evidence there is simply laying around.

I better just stick to the basics.

rkirby@sltrib.com