Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism

Several years ago, Dan Vogel published an article in The Journal of Pastoral Practice expressing his view that the Book of Mormon “is a nineteenth-century religious fictional book” filled with anachronisms and other “blunders.” “There can be no other explanation,” he wrote, than that the Book of Mormon is “a modern composition” rather than an ancient text. With Religious Seekers, Vogel has produced a book-length monograph viewing Mormonism in toto as modern religious syncretism. While he has learned to package his argument so as to make it more palatable to Latter-day Saints, Religious Seekers is actually one more in a long line of books attempting to show that Mormonism was more derivative than divine. Through a methodology comparable to a game of definitional “Twister,” Vogel is able to turn almost anyone into a “Seeker,” and then to read Mormonism as nothing less than Seekerism redivivus.

From the outset, Vogel is headed down the wrong path. In order to make his case for “the enormous influence of Seekerism” (217), he first has to reify it. Vogel is not content with the traditional scholarly designation as lowercase “seekers” of those spiritual nomads in any age for whom institutional Christianity was effete and who awaited a recrudescence of genuine religion. The observation that such individuals were attracted to the Mormon church is as old as John Greenleaf Whittier and has been made with regularity ever since. But Vogel insists on portraying them as a coherent “sect” or “movement” with a definite set of beliefs. Hence his use of “Seeker” rather than “seeker.”

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