I suspect that I am destined to spend my life feeling inferior to those with Ph.D’s. The summer after my junior year in college, I worked for a law professor and decided that he had about the coolest job in the world. I have been working toward an overpaid tenured sinecure at a law school ever since. One of the disadvantages of pursuing the law is that I am more or less condemned to perpetual dilettantism, constantly dabbling in the disciplines of others. I try to overcome these nagging insecurities by reading books, but I find that this is not working. I am still basically ignorant about pretty much everything. And it looks as though this condition is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
I confess that one of the lures of Mormon studies is that it really is a fairly manageable field. The history is not too long and all of the “major and important books” can fit more or less on a single book shelf. Sheesh. You can read the bibliographic essay at the end of James Allen and Glen Leonard’s The Story of the Latter-day Saints and you will have a basic sense of the content of about 80 percent of everything that has been written. Compare this with the study of law: “Begin with the Code of Hammurabi. Work forward to Moses, Solon, Cicero and Justinian. Master seven hundred years of common law development. Move on to the Code of Federal Regulations. Read five millenia of commentary on the above.”
However, even this promise of easy expertise proves false. The fact of the matter is that a huge amount of work remains to be done a in Mormon studies. For example, you can count serious philosophical treatments on Mormon theology on the fingers of one hand, and some of them are not all that good. There have been, as near as I can tell, exactly two books written on law and Mormonism, both of which are historical rather than jurisprudential. In other words, the relatively manageable corpus of Mormon studies is not a pointer toward easy erudition and knowledge. Rather, it is a monument to our basic ignorance of Mormonism and our essential failure, hitherto, to work rigorously out the implications of what we believe and do.
At this point, of course, we pull out Socrates and console ourselves with intellectual bromides about how the man who recognizes his own ignorance is truly the wisest man of all. On most days, however, I just think that I don’t know anything.