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Kevin Christensen has been a technical writer since 1984, He has a Bachelors in English from San Jose State University. He has published articles in Dialogue, Sunstone, the FARMS Review of Books, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Insights, the Meridian Magazine, including his article in the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture entitled Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay. Kevin comes to us today by phone to discuss that article. (The article is not yet public-visit The Interpreter website to find the text when available.)
Some questions from the interview:
Some of your prior articles for the Interpreter have been dealing with Temple Mysticism and temple theology with an emphasis on the works of Margret Barker, a Methodist who seems to be making her way into the minds of some LDS scholars. This article that you have coming out in the Interpreter has very little if anything to do with such a topic; what brought about the shift in topic?
The title of the article is perhaps a bit verbose so I guess it serves as both the abstract and the title, it is Eye of the Beholder, Law of the Harvest: Observations on the Inevitable Consequences of the Different Investigative Approaches of Jeremy Runnells and Jeff Lindsay. Without knowing the two individuals Jeremy Runnels and Jeff Lindsay the article might be of a diminished value. Why don’t you give a summary of who these two men are and why they are the subjects or case studies of your article?
In a recent devotional at BYU Idaho, Elder D. Todd Christoferson invited the audience to have patience when doing investigation of the history of the church, and its teachings. In some ways it seems as if the subtext of that statement is that if you stop half way you will inevitably find yourself in a faith crisis. The only way to a faithful conclusion is to be diligent in learning by study and by faith. You insert a theory on just such a thing with your article, what is that hypothesis?
You put on a sort of spiritual doctor or maybe even a spiritual mathematician kind of hat as you write this article. I won’t call it an autopsy or audit of Jeremy Runnells spiritual journey, but rather an analysis or a diagnosis of how one comes to negative conclusions about the LDS faith. There is even an equation that you employ to describe this process, can you explain those two, let’s call them, equations?
I want to read a paragraph from your article as an introduction to my next question: “The familiar fable of Henny Penny (also known as Chicken Little) makes a related point. In the fable, a chicken interprets the fall of an acorn as evidence that “The sky is falling!” Another interpretation of exactly the same event would be that “The sky is not falling, but just an acorn. No big deal. No crisis. Acorns fall from oak trees all the time. It’s natural and to be expected.” Another character in the more cautionary versions of the fable, Foxy Loxy, sees not a crisis, or a non-event, but an opportunity to exploit fear and ignorance for his own gain. Same data. Different interpretation. The information does not speak for itself, but must be interpreted within an informational context and a conceptual framework.” This echo’s your title, the Eye of the Beholder. How we see things greatly informs our decisions. This is perhaps not that new a concept for some, but what is happening in the subtext of that statement is putting the onus on one’s spirituality and the way they take their spiritual path is their own fault. In other words Chicken Little’s interpretation of the sky falling is not the acorns fault. Nor is it the tree’s fault. These things just happen naturally. How them does this play into viewing the Jeremy Runnels of the world? For that matter, the Jeff Lindsay’s as well?
You pose the question or the situation, “what are we to do with the issue of perfection, meaning perfection of translation, etc.” That was an opening critique of the CES Letter, and that ends up being a pivotal start in determining Runnells mindset. How so?
When it comes to some of the arguments against latter-day Saint teachings, there is often a complaint about a given topic, such as prophets, but rarely offers an alternative definition. It is not so much that these individuals think that they are right, but that others are wrong.
You continue to go down the row, not necessarily point by point, but you do give some feedback on the faults of the Runnels argument. We don’t need to go into details about each one, but perhaps you could give a listing of some of the other topics that you address in Runnells argument.
You have a phrase in this article that is mentioned with respect to concerns that are raised about scientific issues, here is the quote, “I learned long ago to pay as much attention to the networks of assumptions involved as to the observations which are then fitted into that network.” Expand on that for a minute if you could.
I want to give an encapsulated example of the many issues you address and how you address them. So, I wanted to take on an issue that I am becoming more and more confused by, and that is the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham as a Smoking Gun argument. Let’s consider for a moment that I know nothing of this issue, take me from the beginning of this segment of the article and walk me through how you approach it. You start off by giving Runnell’s claims, “Of all of the issues, the Book of Abraham is the issue that has both fascinated and disturbed me the most. It is the issue that I’ve spent the most time researching on because it offers a real insight into Joseph’s modus operandi as well as Joseph’s claim of being a translator. It is the smoking gun that has completely obliterated my testimony of Joseph Smith and his claims.” That is a heavy indictment indeed. But why is this statement in and of itself quite telling as to what has gone into his research?
There is so much that this over 30 page article goes into, but the end goal of the article is to raise the question, “Why is it that when Jeff Lindsay studied these issues does his faith expand, and Runnells faith shatter? How can two individuals study the same issues and come to complete opposite conclusions?
If you could give one or two pieces of advice for the individual who is approaching various gospel subjects and is facing the junction of heading towards the Runnells conclusion or the Lindsay conclusions? Why is your approach the best approach?
I too have been an avid student of NDE’s and much of what is revealed in the Church and in particular, the Book of Abraham, fits nicely into the world view presented NDE’s. I’ve also learnt that angels have visited numerous people on this earth since Joseph Smith’s time, that were not even LDS. His story becomes very believable in the light of this information. I’ve also learnt to not trust implicitly so called experts in the fields of science and history because they view things subjectively, based on their a priori paradigm.
“The arugments that were presented in the CES Letter are really old arguments. And it almost seems as if those that have taken an ‘anti’ position have progressed very little in finding things wrong with the LDS faith.”
This is literally one of the silliest arguments I’ve ever heard. Would you say that because the theory of relativity hasn’t changed much in the past century that people that accept it have “progressed very little” in finding things wrong with any counter-theories? It would be absurd to make such a statement. These arguments presented in the CES Letter persist for one reason: no one has provided a better counter-argument that silences them. FAIR and others keep trying, throwing the figurative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, but you have nothing. The only way your answers to these problems work is if you start with the conclusion, turn up your confirmation bias to an 11, and find things that confirm your worldview. It takes a lot of humility to break free from that mindset, but I trust that any sincere seeker of truth can do it if they actually want to.