I’ve never taken the Book of Genesis literally. I’ve always assumed its stories were ancient allegories for little-educated shephards.
This belief hit a snag, just before my Mormon mission, when I went through the Salt Lake Temple. But even this experience didn’t change by personal beliefs about much of the Old Testament.
Yet the issue of how literal Mormons should take the Book of Genesis keeps coming up. In a recent article by Bishop Gerald Causse in the August 2012 Ensign there is a discussion of Adam:
When I was 17, I began taking philosophy classes in high school. One day the teacher said to the class, “Surely there isn’t anyone here who believes that Adam really existed!” Then he scanned the class the room with the look of an inquisitor, ready to ponce on whoever dared admit to such a belief. I was petrified! However, my desire to be loyal to my faith was even stronger. I glanced around to see that I was the only one of those 40 students to raise a hand. The teacher, taken my surprise, changed the subject.
Is the implication here that being “loyal to” Mormonism requires stating a literal belief in Genesis? I hope not.
But Mormon literalists still abound. To quote Steven F. Robinson, an instructor at BYU and a literalist: “. . . there is not a single verse of the Bible that Latter-day Saints do not accept,” and “We take the Scriptures to be literally true, and we hold symbolic, figurative or allegorical interpretations to a mininum . . .”
Another literalist Donald W. Perry in a 1998 article published in the Ensign stated that members are required to believe in a literal universal flood, a proposition that troubled many of his colleagues at BYU. For example, there have been two articles, one in Sunstone and another in Dialogue, which point out serious problems with the Noachian flood story.
At first, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of the scholarly discussions of the Noachian flood. I’ve never believed in a universal flood. However, after some deliberation, for me, these studies are an important set in getting Mormons past Old Testament literalism.
Deemphasizing the Book of Genesis, however, will have a rocky road. Take the tribulations of the two BYU professors who wrote one of the Noachian flood articles mentioned above and their earlier efforts to publish their investigations in the journal BYU Studies:
After some three years and about five major revisions to suit the editor, BYU Studies essentially accepted the article. After yet another review by another panel, the article was rejected.
The authors viewed this perceived abandonment of scientific reality as “contrary to the spirit of LDS teachings on the subject.”
On a more positive note, world-class chemist Henry Eyring (father of current LDS Church official President Henry B. Eyring) made the following statement in a letter written in 1954: “Probably one of the most difficult problems in reading the scriptures is to decide what is to be taken literally and what is fiction.”
We Mormons need to quit teaching, preaching, and pretending that Genesis is literal history.