Ranking books to rankle believers?

Ranking books to rankle believers? August 13, 2022

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Moroni statue on Cumorah's hill
Torlief Knaphus’s sculpture of the Angel Moroni stands atop the Hill Cumorah
(LDS Media Library)

 

I’ve had a very, very long day, and it’s late, and I’m tired.  (For that matter, I’m still not entirely over jet lag.)  So I think that I’ll repost something from about five years ago that you might have missed:

 

There was considerable buzz back in 2014 about the results of a Facebook survey asking people which books had “stayed with you.”

 

A writer for Salt Lake City’s Deseret News emphasized the fact that both the Bible (which came in sixth) and the Book of Mormon (which ranked thirty-fifth) made the “top fifty” out of the first hundred books yielded up by the survey.  I confess that I myself was pleasantly surprised.

 

Predictably, however, some critics of Mormonism, eager for any evidence, real or imagined, of its marginality and insignificance — perhaps a rather ironic stance for them to assume, given the remarkable amount of time and attention that they themselves devote to the Church, day in and day out — rushed to note that fully thirty-four books ranked higher than the Book of Mormon on that list.

 

But perhaps we should examine the list just a bit.

 

It’s a pretty good assembly of books that are worth reading.  Quite interesting, really.  One could do worse than to simply read through the hundred.

 

Ahead of the Bible among the top twenty are J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (listed separately), and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  With the exception of Ms. Rowling’s books — which I haven’t read (I may be the only person in North America who hasn’t even seen the movies based on them) — I can personally say that I really, really like them.  I am, in fact, an unusually passionate fan of them, and have been, for years.  I can see why so many of those surveyed named them as having been influential in their lives and thinking.

 

But it seems very odd to me that anybody would seriously want to conclude from these rankings that Harry Potter is more important than Genesis (or, even, than Pride and Prejudice), or that To Kill a Mockingbird is a more significant book than is, say, the gospel of Luke or of John.

 

Critics guffawed over the fact that, in the list, such books as Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Stephen King’s The Stand, and, even, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game outranked the Book of Mormon.  (I can imagine Scott Card’s reaction  to the news.)

 

Some of these books were simply currently popular.  Fashionable.  Even recently on screen.  (A film based on The Giver was being shown nationally at about that time.)  Would they, will they, they last for decades, like Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (#71)?  For a century, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (#83)?  For millennia, like Homer’s Odyssey (#89)?

 

Who knows?  Who can predict?

 

Yet they beat Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Homer.  As, it should be pointed out, did the Book of Mormon.

 

Those mocking what they chose to regard as the Book of Mormon’s relatively low ranking should have noted that it not only beat out Hemingway, Tolstoy, and Homer, but important volumes by Nobel laureates such as John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Herman Hesse and Elie Wiesel, classics by Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens and Alice Walker and Sun Tzu and Oscar Wilde and Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mark Twain, and bestsellers by such authors as Dan Brown and Anne Rice.

 

If the ranking of the Book of Mormon showed it to be marginal and ridiculous, unworthy of serious attention, what of those books?

 

And what of the many great classics that didn’t make the list at all, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Augustine’s Confessions, Goethe’s Faust, and Shakespeare’s King Lear, or, for that matter, any of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, or Kant?

 

Did their failure to make the cut in this particular survey prove them insignificant and silly?

 

And many of these particular critics, in my experience with them, are secularists — either atheists or agnostics.  So, one might ask, where on this list were the works of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Victor Stenger.  Or, even, those of Bertrand Russell?

 

If the Book of Mormon was to be mocked because it only ranked thirty-fifth, shouldn’t those authors be dismissed because they failed to make even the top one hundred?

 

The fact is that this list, while interesting, was itself of no great cosmic significance.  It didn’t prove the Book of Mormon true, but it also didn’t demonstrate the Book of Mormon to be ridiculous, silly, and marginal.  If anything, the list was pretty good company to be in.  What other books first published in America in 1830 are still read today?  What other book first published in America around 1830 made the rankings?  There are relatively few books on the list, as a matter of fact, that date to before 1900, and even fewer that were first published in the United States.

 

But if there is any significance in the list it is, perhaps, this:  The Book of Mormon is still widely read after nearly two centuries — overwhelmingly, most books don’t last anywhere near that long — which is remarkable in itself.  And it continues to be found meaningful by enough contemporary people that it ranked quite high among the relatively few books that they say have “stayed with them.”  That’s real empirical testimony, broadly based, to real power in a book.

 

And one wonders, by the way, where the New Testament would have ranked among contemporary books if such a survey had been conducted around AD 200.

 

***

 

Here, though, is some real reason to complain and to wax indignant.  As should be obvious, it comes directly from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File©:

 

“Church Donates State-of-the-Art Medical Oxygen Plant in Paraguay: The facility is the most modern in the country’s public health system”

 

Shouldn’t there be a law against such crimes?

 

Re-posted from Matten bei Interlaken, Switzerland

 

 

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