So as I’ve increasingly turned my writing towards fiction, and particularly in trying to get the story that’s been lodged in my brain for more than a decade out, I’ve realised I needed somewhere else to write about that, and about anything else in that vein that strikes me. While when I started this blog I planned to write about anything I wanted to, this blog has acquired a very particular emphasis in certain subjects, and the audiences may not overlap. So I’ve started a new blog to focus on such matters, and upon story telling and fantasy and science fiction in particular, which can be found at http://thegatesofday.home.blog. Subjects such as LDS scripture, theology and so on will continue to be written about here of course.
A phenomenon that I have been increasingly struck by is the role that different and shifting definitions can play in debates and arguments. I’m not talking here about mere loose or imprecise language (such as the use of cowardly described by Theodore Dalrymple here; I came across his similarly titled article after the title for this post leapt into my mind). Nor am I talking simply about how the same word can carry different meanings (that’s simply linguistic fact). Rather what I am describing is the situations in which both parties may be arguing over something, but be using different definitions for the same term, even without realising it. More recently, I have become increasingly aware of how participants involved in certain debates appear to be seeking to win an argument by default by redefining the very term from a more common definition.
I’ve written before about several theological examples amongst arguments in LDS circles, namely the terms inspiration and spiritual. But similar examples appear to about in many of the political and cultural arguments at large in society today. Terms such as fairness, justice, equality, consent, racism, privilege and a host of others have been increasingly subject to different and shifting definitions. This is not entirely new (the definition of justice, for example, has been argued over for millennia), but it seems increasingly the case that some of the loudest voices in particular controversies are insisting upon their own private definitions of key terms.
While some cases may simply be the result of different definitions, others appears to be cases where people are seeking to change or even manipulate definitions to win arguments by default. The connection between the thoughts we can have and the language we possess is a strong one, and Orwell and others have warned how changes in language may be used to control political thought. Furthermore, as I observed about the public endorsement of untruths, such manipulation of language can serve to erode the sense of right and promote acts of wrong. Witness, for example, the increasing trend to define the expression of particular ideas as violence. Word are powerful (or this subject would be hardly worth worrying about), but they are not physical force. The claim that they are, however, encourages the idea that actual violence may be used to suppress or retaliate against objectionable statements, and rationalises increasing political violence on the left and on the right.
At the very least, there is often the need to clarify definitions in any such discussion. If we are conversing on the basis of different definitions, then in practice we really have a different language. Like the inhabitants of Babel, our language will be confounded and so will we, and any discussion will profit little.
Furthermore, on some occasions, we must also notice and if necessary refuse to concede to attempts to manipulate or win an argument in advance by adopting a new or alternate definition. Such definitions are often, consciously or unconsciously, loaded dice, designed to win the argument in advance. Accepting them often concedes the argument, not because we are convinced it is right on its merits, but because we’d already accepted their presuppositions and frame of reference without realising it. Such alternate definitions can also limit thought and obscure actual concepts at stake by eliminating the very vocabulary used to describe competing ideas (for example, if the “spiritual” is defined down as simply an emotional event, what term is left to describe the literally spiritual). Accepting such redefinition can thus suppress communication, rather than promote it. Confusion over such terms can also be deceptive, seeking to claim approval for new concepts by cloaking them under more generally accepted ideas. And as described above, it can be used to justify violence and other such acts.
If we are to avoid being manipulated, or to be the manipulator, or simply to avoid confusion with others, then we need to be clear in our own language. This includes, where necessary, explaining how we understand any particular terms at stake and why we understand them that way. We need to allow others to explain their thoughts too. Perhaps we are also best served by avoiding jargon where possible. Language should clarify, not be used as a battering ram against our opponents.
I am reminded of Nephi’s words in 2 Nephi 31:3:
For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
While there are occasions where less plainness may be required, clarity of communication is not just useful to man but is a divine ideal. If we are seeking to become more like him, then seeking to be likewise clear in our own communications seems to be something to strive for. Furthermore, I can’t help but feel that if we are to avoid being misled, or confounded, or caught up in some spiral of political violence or oppression, then we have a responsibility to keep language as something that illuminates rather than let it be used to blind and bind.
Working via Lulu.com, I’ve managed to produce a hardback version of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, for anyone wanting a studier edition. My proof arrived today:
I can definitely say I’m happy with how it came out. It’s sadly not sewn bound, although that’s probably a bit much to expect from POD and at this price point. The hardback itself is suitably sturdy, and the text has come out well. And it has a dust-jacket and gold-lettering and everything!:
Here it is in comparison with the paperback (which I guess could henceforth be called the economy edition):
Overall, I’m very happy with it. It is more expensive than the paperback (not to mention the kindle edition, or the free PDF), but once again it is available for as close to cost as I can get it. My primary concern, obviously, is that my work is available to be read and judged for itself, and so I’m happy for people to read it via the PDF or whatever format suits them best. Should anyone find its contents informative and of value, however, and want to read it in what I feel is its best and certainly most durable setting, the hardback is now available for sale via lulu.com and will be available via other distributors.
And of course the PDF is available via this blog.
My principal aims in releasing my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, have been twofold: Firstly, to share what I believe are a number of original contributions to our understanding of the Book of Mormon, and how it uses and approaches the Bible, that are hopefully of interest to anyone who is interested in these books of scripture. Secondly, to seek vindication for the unfair and inadequate assessment my thesis received at the viva voce. I’ve not sought any financial gain from it (I’d think I’d be pretty silly if I’d had), and for this reason I’ve made the contents freely available as a PDF on this blog, and have sought to keep the price of the books as close to cost as possible.
Up until now, however, the US price has been kept higher due to the requirements of the expanded distribution channels I was using. Recently, however, I’ve been able to re-evaluate this, and have determined that these channels are not necessary at this time. This has allowed me to reduce the US list price of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible to one in line with the UK/EU prices, and so the book is now available from Amazon.com at a new reduced price of $11.99.
I also hope to announce shortly the availability of a hardback edition, again as close to cost as possible, for those wanting an extra-sturdy and durable edition.
For those who wish to read it on mobile devices, a Kindle edition of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible is now available:
Perhaps this is a feeling many authors have when meeting their work “in the flesh” for the first time, but part of me is honestly finding it a little hard to believe I had anything to do with this:
I have to say I’m very impressed with Createspace’s quality, and would certainly both use them again and recommend their services to others.
As readers of my blog may be aware, I’ve been engaged in a PhD examining the Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. I submitted earlier this year (2017). However, to the great surprise of not only myself but also my supervisors, it was rejected with the instruction to rewrite it and resubmit for examination in 2019. I have significant cause to believe that this was an unfair and an inadequate assessment of my thesis, while the requested revisions would utterly change the character of the thesis and cannot be made in good faith, even if I could continue. Lacking other effective recourse, I have thus decided to release my work – with only very slight revisions – to a wider audience, and let the reader judge for themselves.
The book is available both for purchase as a paperback, and for free as a bookmarked PDF. The PDF version may be downloaded from the following link: The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. For those wanting a hard copy, the Paperback is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and various European Amazon sites, and should hopefully be available from other channels soon.
From the book description:
The Book of Mormon is an influential and controversial book. It launched a religious movement, is believed by millions to be scripture, and is derided by others as fraudulent. Despite this (or perhaps as a result), the book’s contents have been subject to both academic neglect and popular myth.
This book challenges some of that neglect by examining the Book of Mormon through the lens of its relationship with the Bible: a work which the Book of Mormon openly quotes and expects to be read alongside, and the only text which everyone agrees is connected to the Book of Mormon.
Through close examination of the Book of Mormon text and biblical parallels, including three substantial case studies, this book addresses questions such as:
How and why does the Book of Mormon draw upon the Bible?
Why does the book quote parts of the Bible at great length?
Why do quotations often differ from their biblical counterparts?
How does the Book of Mormon suggest the Bible be read?
Also included in an appendix is a textual comparison of each explicit biblical quotation in the Book of Mormon with the KJV.
(I’ve also added this post as an extra page so it remains available).
Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
(1 Nephi 19:6-7)
And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;
And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
Stories can be powerful things. I think it is no accident that much of our scriptures come in the form of stories; God, if he’d wanted to, could have chosen instead to give us an inspired Gospel Principles manual… but he didn’t. And in many instance I believe that – while it is important to know that such events took place (particularly with things like Christ’s resurrection) – in many instances there are messages we can learn from those stories that go far beyond the simple fact that such events took place. And I’m not alone in that: Paul writing to the Corinthians states the scriptural events “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11) while Alma looks upon the account of Lehi and Nephi’s journeys through the wilderness as a “type” of our journey through mortality (Alma 37:38-45).
Fiction too can teach powerful things. While fiction can’t serve the same purpose as, say, Christ’s ministry in 3 Nephi (where the text’s ability to serve as a witness depends very much on it having actually happened), I think fiction can teach of true things. I personally enjoy quite a bit of both fantasy and science fiction, for instance, but I’ve long been persuaded that – while talking of quite unreal things – they can teach of really true things like courage, justice, duty, humility and many other things. Balrogs and magic rings may not exist, but the seductive appeal of power and its corrupting effects seen in The Lord of the Rings does.
I occasionally have a desire to write some stories that have been on my mind for a long while, so I think of this sort of thing occasionally. In the last couple of years, my attention has been drawn to more recent fictional franchises, and as it has I’ve become a little more aware, and slightly disturbed, by the “moral universes” depicted in those works. What I mean by that is the morality and the moral consequences displayed in those works. This has been justified as “more realistic” or more “gritty”. But they are not. Even a godless world would be simply amoral, yet in these created worlds fate itself bends so that evil triumphs, even when said perpetrators of evil have behaved in a stupid, reckless or short-sighted manner. The accusation is that works in which good wins because it is good are naive. In some cases it is. But what then are we to make of works in which evil wins simply because it is evil? I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the postulated moral landscape of some of these universes are not godless worlds; they have a god, and he is the devil. A world in which chance itself reliably rewards the most outrageous performer of evil is one based on a thoroughly unpleasant calculus. What sort of world is that imagining? What can that inspire or teach?
So I was very interested to come across the following article by some chap called Tom Simon, who explores this whole issue in fantasy in some depth drawing upon C.S Lewis’s concept of “the Tao“. The whole thing is worth a read, but a couple of highlights:
When I turn from real life to fiction, I find a curious difference. In the stories of the past – in nearly all fiction before, say, the late nineteenth century, and all popular fiction until a much later date – the Tao is taken for granted; only there is a class of people who do not observe the Tao. These people are called criminals, or outlaws, or villains. In the older kind of fiction, the villain upsets the Tao to take advantage of a weaker party, and the hero restores the Tao by avenging the victim.
He then covers some of the directions that fantasy literature has taken, including anti-heroes such as a Conan, the supposed “simplistic” Tolkien (a critique he neatly dismantles) and then the more recent “full-throated reaction against the Tao” seen in things like Game of Thrones and Sin City. And he goes into both why such works caricature reality and why they may be so popular today as they cater “to a thoroughly jaded and desensitized audience”
However, I particularly like how he finishes. His essay is not a counsel of despair, but rather a call for “superversive fiction”:
…But people want stories about violence and criminality? Very well; let us tell them. But let us tell the whole story, with the post-mortems and the blood feuds and the vengeance. And let us contrast it with some instances of actual heroism…
There does, I believe, come a revulsion; a point where people are no longer content to be fifteen-year-old rebels even in their fantasies, but want more sustaining food for their imaginations. Let us be there to give it to them. We can produce better effects – better conflicts – with chiaroscuro, with darkness and light, than the nihilists can ever produce by layering darkness upon darkness.
I highly recommend reading it all.
And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.
Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.
And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish.
It’s funny Laman takes umbrage that Nephi has said that angels have ministered to him: after all, an angel appeared to Laman and Lemuel too. While undoubtedly he rationalises this away as “cunning arts”, his recollection of that incident, and so much else of what has happened, appears damaged.
The same seems very often true for our own spiritual experiences. They can be extremely vivid and concrete when we’re having them, but our memories are imperfect and slippery things, and can make real things seem unreal from a distance. I’m sure the adversary plays on that too, as does the course we choose to take (as in Laman’s case). In part I think this is why we’re encouraged to write them down, as when we turn and reread them it can sharpen our recollection, and I likewise think it is no accident that both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon frequently exhort us to remember.
Thankfully the Lord is merciful, and even when we forget he aims to help us to remember. The problem Laman and Lemuel had is that they kept choosing to forget such experiences.
Incidentally, on steel bows (which to modern ears sounds quite strange), I found one article here talking about historical steel bows in India here, and an article about a rather interesting working example in North America with a puzzling past here.