November 4, 2012 by Gregory VanWagenen
The Book of Mormon is commonly interpreted in one of two irreconcilable ways: As the unerring and perfect word of the divine creator, or as a fraud, written by a cheap con-artist. Adherents of these two readings rarely agree, and expend an enormous amount of energy arguing over their own limited interpretations. This is to be expected. As Mormons are many, and not one, the lenses through which the text is interpreted will be diverse.
Mormonism, unlike Christianity, was inaugurated within the context of history. Relevant accounts from reliable contemporary sources allow us to examine its formation relative to social and historical events, drawing coherent conclusions in the process. War and Peace in Our Time is a collection of 17 lectures, compiled and produced by Greg Kofford Books, which effectively detranscendentalizes The Book of Mormon, liberating it from conflicting viewpoints, and applies the principles of the text (with an admirable degree of objectivity) to the historical process of conflict. The positions of the narrators are diverse and expectedly irreconcilable, but all approach scripture as text, from which practical lessons might be derived, relevant to practical human experience in the shared lifeworld.
Despite the diversity of viewpoints within the collection, there are some common themes, and one of the most interesting is the inherent tension resulting from the evaporation of traditional structure from the lives of individuals. The process of modernization is approached as detraditionalization of the social order, leading to the individual’s ability (and subsequent responsibility) to decide for himself on ethical and social matters. Emancipation from dependency is thus linked to the loss of conventional supports bound up in the being of social institutions, namely the LDS church. Matters of official doctrine give way to cultural suggestion, ultimately internalizing the locus of decision.
For modern Mormons, there are few rules which are set in stone, and weighty issues like the morality of conflict are left to the individual to decide and act upon. This is entirely consistent with the original intent of the founders of the religion, who gave priesthood authority to every worthy adult, implying that one clears his own path through the woods. The act of participation, worth more than a ticket to the auditorium, carries the price of making every significant decision an act of applied philosophy. This collection won’t provide any individual answers, but it marvelously succeeds in providing readers with seventeen examples of thoughtful decisions on a weighty topic.