Saturday, March 28, 2015

Avi Steinberg: The Lost Book of Mormon

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This book is unreadable fiction packed in the trappings of readable nonfiction. Avi Steinberg has tried to follow in the shoes of both the writer and the protagonist of the Book of Mormon, that religion that people still love to hate. I'm going to do something that kind of makes me wretch but will explain part of why this book was so fascinating to me and compare this religion to Scientology. Like Scientology (see review of book that I really enjoyed by Lawrence Wright), it's still totally politically correct to make Mormon jokes. Unlike Scientology, Mormons do not appear to torture people. Like Scientology, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have an enormous amount of money (and they aren't afraid to spend it to influence causes they believe in) And like Scientology, Mormonism is a new American religion. This is why I'm interested, and also, I believe, why people don't trust it. Americans tend to think that the Judeo-Christian tradition is THE tradition because it's old. We created our own myths when we landed in America (I'm also a little squeamish using this "we") about divine providence and whose land it was, and we proceeded to act on this. But when anyone else comes along with a new myth, it makes us super uncomfortable. But really, what makes Ron L Hubbard or Joseph Smith's versions of the world any less real or right? They seem outlandish to us, but honestly, walking on water or parting giant oceans are pretty outlandish. We've just had longer to internalize them.

So I liked the premise of Steinberg's book- a Jew like me trying to walk back through this creation myth and explain it to us. And he also seems to take it for granted that religions are just stories that we come to believe. But from the very first chapter I was super confused about what he was talking about. Were we following Joseph Smith (the scribe who wrote down the original story of the creation myth, sort of like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) or were we following Nephi, the guy who found the brass (or were they gold, I'm not quite sure because this is a new myth to me and it wasn't clear, because Joseph Smith found gold plates) plates and was crucial in this new myth, or were we following Avi? And if you're confused by that last sentence, then you can imagine me in the first 30 pages. I almost stopped then, but I was waiting for a bus that didn't come, so I kept reading. I finally stopped about half way through, and this is a short book, but I never really got less confused. Meanwhile there was a confusing conversation with James Frey who wrote that memoir that wasn't, and I was basically lost. I partially liked Steinberg's style- the actual words are really well written. But really, the book is too much, especially with a complex subject like a bible. Can't recommend this one, even though it's super popular.


thb said...

Really liked Running the Books, we listened to this one