Questions to Gospel Answers

Was the Book of Mormon influenced by the Second Great Awakening in America?

This is an interesting one found by reading my son's American history book (Quoted extensively: The American Nation, A History of the United States, John A. Garraty, 1991, ISBN 0-06-042312-9). It would appear that the relationship between parents and children changed in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. When families lived primarily on a farm, children were viewed as future workers. By the beginning of the 19th century many middle class couples made a conscious effort to limit the size of their families. This tended to shift power from men to women but also made the fewer number of children more important to their parents. Relations between parents and children became more caring. Gone was the Puritan notion that children possessed "a perverse will, a love of what's forbid." In its place arose the view described by Lydia Maria Child in The Mother's Book (1831) that children "come to us from heaven, with their little souls full of innocence and peace." Mother "should not interfere with the influence of angel," Child advised her readers. Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May, author of Little Women) went even further in his support for gentle child-rearing practices by insisting that children were the moral superiors of their parents. The English poet William Wordsworth's "Ode on Imitations of Immortality," in which babies entered the world "trailing clouds of glory," served some American parents as a child-rearing manual.

It was at this time that the Second Great Awakening occurred in the U.S. The new belief of the innate goodness of children was of course in direct conflict with the Calvinist doctrine of infant damnation, to which most American Protestant churches formally subscribed. Bronson Alcott wrote, "Of all the impious doctrines which the dark imagination of man has ever conceived, the worst [is] the belief in the original and certain depravity of infant nature." Alcott was far from alone in thinking infant damnation a "debased doctrine," despite its standing as one of the central tenets of orthodox Calvinism. Calvinism came under more direct assault by Charles Grandison Finney who was probably the most effective of the Second Great Awakening charismatic evangelists. He left his promising career as a lawyer in 1821 and worked revivals along the Erie Canal, then moved to Utica in 1826 and finally climaxed his career in Rochester in 1831. He dismissed Calvinism as a "theological fiction." Salvation was available to everyone. But the day of judgment was just around the corner, and there was no time to be wasted.

It is in the context of this American drama that we see the eighth chapter of Moroni in the Book of Mormon being written. This chapter directly talks to the conflict between Calvinist doctrines and the prevailing belief concerning children at the time that Joseph Smith was working on the Book of Mormon. It appears to me that the Book of Mormon was truly a book for its day. It had answers for this hotly debated topic in the America that Joseph Smith grew up and lived in. Joseph Smith was effected greatly by the Second Great Awakening as he records in his own account the events that led up to his "first vision." I don't believe that an ancient prophet named Moroni actually wrote chapter 8 nor was it translated by Joseph Smith. At best it was a revelation in answer to the situation in which Joseph Smith found himself in the early 19th century. The Book of Mormon was a book for his day, it is becoming dated and doesn't speak to our own times and challenges. Does it speak of abortion, cloning, rights for women or minorities, homosexuality, women in the priesthood, social justice, the break down of the family, single parents, drugs, alcohol, space exploration, evolution, science. No, the Book of Mormon is very much a book for its own time, for the burning issues of the 19th century. The historical case of Calvinism under attack in the early 1800's is a good example.

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