I’ve been thinking for several days about something that Armand Mauss said in the first “12 Questions” post. Speaking of greying intellectuals (which I assume includes me) and their early choices, he said: “Some of them (maybe half – who knows?) opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence, feeling that the latter could not justify the disruption and jeopardy to their largely conservative spouses and families, to their aspirations for respectability in the Church, or to their career plans. Others (maybe another approximate half) decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives.” He is speaking in broad terms here, perhaps in terms of types, so it is probably a mistake to personalize the remark and ask where I fit.
I’ve made the mistake anyway, wondering which of these describes me. The question is complicated by the fact that I’ve not been involved directly in Mormon studies. Nevertheless, my interests have been in areas that often overlap with LDS questions. I’ve given those questions a lot of thought as a consequence, and I’ve written, spoken, and taught about the things that I’ve thought about. I don’t think I have compartmentalized my religious and intellectual life.
In thinking and teaching about the issues that arose, neither did I opt to put my Church loyalty, career, or public image ahead of my intellectual yearnings and independence (though as one who has made temple covenants, I hope I would do so if necessary). But neither did I think that my intellectual yearnings and independence would disrupt or jeopardize my spouse or family, my Church respectability (such as it has been), nor my career plans—and they have not.
I recognize that others have had a different experience than I have had, facing problems I’ve not faced. I don’t want to minimize or deny their experiences, but it hasn’t been mine. I have had almost no difficulty at all pursuing my intellectual interests as they relate to my religious life, and though my politics are mostly moderate (read “left-wing” in Utah County), my intellectual interests are not those one would label “conservative.” I read and write sympathetically about dreaded figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Derrida. Lately I’ve thrown in the less well-known and perhaps more acceptable because they are overtly religious, Marion and Henry—as well as their critical nemesis and my teacher, Janicaud. So far I’ve never had a problem.
I hear one explanation with some regularity from friends of various sorts: “No one knows what you are talking about. If the Brethren knew, you’d be in trouble.” I think that this is said most of the time in jest, but not always. I object on two counts: First, I think—hope—there are people who do know what I’m talking about. I try to write clearly because I’m no genius and I know how hard philosophy can be. I’d like to make things easier, if possible. At the same time, though I’ve come to know what I know through a lot of hard work, the more I work at it, the more I find that lots of people already know what I’m just figuring out. Most of them are not undergraduates, but so what? All in all, I assume that the things I say are reasonably accessible to intelligent members of the Church.
Second, I don’t think the Brethren care very much about what I’m doing, but I’m not concerned about what they would think if they did. Once or twice I’ve had the opportunity to discuss my philosophical beliefs and their relation to Mormonism with members of the Twelve, even to argue with them about why I think differently than they. They seemed to understand me and to enjoy the argument, and I didn’t leave the discussion fearing that some hammer might fall later. So far, no hammers.
I’ve put a lot of things on the shelf over the years, “doubts and intellectual quandaries,” but I’ve never felt that doing so required compartmentalization nor that it meant I’d given up my intellectual yearnings and independence. Polygamy is an example. I don’t know why we were required to practice it. None of the explanations satisfy me. So I’ve put that question on the shelf with other questions that seem to have no satisfactory answer. I take one down occasionally, dust it off, and try again, but usually it goes back on the shelf to collect dust once more. For me, faith trumps intellect, but it doesn’t follow that intellect is irrelevant, unimportant, easy, dangerous or any of the other things that those who denigrate it may wish to use to describe it.
The result is that I think there must be more than the two types that Armand describes. How many more, I’m not sure. How we find ourselves distributed among them, I’m even less sure. But there must be more.