On Mormon Complacency

October 26, 2004 | 132 comments
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As readers of this blog already know, I have a tendency to whine a great deal about the quality Mormon discussions. I have even been accused of being boring on the subject, which is no doubt a fair enough criticism.

I think that my fundamental problem is the complacency that I see in Mormonism. Frankly, I don’t think that this is an ideological problem. I think that it is a Mormon problem. Most members of the Church are – for better or for worse – basically intellectually complacent about the Gospel. They are, by and large, content to toil away at their best attempts at living righteous lives and expect little more than the sustenance of “simple gospel truths� that unfortunately slip rather easily into the endless repetition of vacuous cliches and a sort of self-satisfied contentment in one’s supposed knowledge.

However, it is not clear to me that the dominant lines of discussion criticizing this attitude are all that much less complacent. The Mormon intellegensia seems largely captured by its own set of ruts. (I hope that the phrase “Mormon intelligentsia� doesn’t carry “so-called intellectuals� overtones. I am not talking about “them.� I am talking about you and me.) All too often this discussion amounts to a routinized set of complaints about those “other� Mormons – e.g. they lack curiosity, they won’t think about issues, they treat every question as a spiritual crisis and attack on the Church, etc. – and a rather predictable set of worries about the Church – it is too authoritarian, it is too patriarchal, it is too Republican, why won’t it provide more access to the Church archives, etc. etc. Once one discovers the existence of this conversation and glides around the cocktail party a couple of times you realize that it too is largely a set of comforting Mormon clichés, albeit of a somewhat different flavor.

It seems to me that there is very little discontent with this state of affairs. There is – to be sure – a certain amount of discontent with the Church, but this is not what I am talking about. Rather I am talking about a willingness to be discontented with the ritualized form of Mormon discontent along with the ritualized form of Mormon contentment. I am talking about discontent with the fact that we collectively have not produced something better.

I am awed by the life and thinking of B.H. Roberts. I am less impressed by his intellectual independence (although this was impressive) or even the quality of his thinking and writing (which to be honest is of uneven quality). Rather, I am impressed by his ambition and his recognition that Mormon thinking (of all stripes) was basically crude but full of possibilities. Roberts’s reaction to this insight, however, was niether simple frusration with Mormonism or a retreat into simple pietism. Rather, I at least sense in his writings a tremendous sense of adventure and opprotunity. In the absence of Mormon though, he got to make it up! Of course, this is an exaggeration, but there are few areas of Mormon thinking about history or theology that he didn’t in some way impose a structure on where there had been no structure before.

The current complacency of Mormons (and the ambition-deadening effects of academic specialization) seems to preclude anything as grand as Roberts’ projects. Yet I suspect thatt we are desperately in need of such ambition. That fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that virtually all forms of Mormon thought are incredibly underdeveloped. Pick almost any area and you can write on an almost entirely blank slate. Suppose we take Rodney Stark seriously and we think that Mormonism actually is destined to be a new worldwide religion (although perhaps not on Stark’s exponential-growth time table). If that is right, then Mormon intellectuals are in roughly the same position as figures like Origien, Al-Shafi, Rabbi Akiva, or Ibn Sina. In other words, they stand at the point where a prophetic religion has survived its first violent encounter with the world and become accommodated to its own survival and now becomes self-aware and reflective. It is an opportunity for intellectual creativity that only seems to show up every millennia or so.

Frankly, I don’t think that our discussions have been up to the task. Instead we spend time worrying about whether or not good Mormons can also be good Democrats or all of the ways in which our seminary teachers have disappointed our more mature intellectual expectations. There are the seeds of something worth dignifying with the name of Mormon thought in there, but they germinate with painful slowness. More often, it seems that the intellectual tasks faced by Mormonism are simply beyond our courage or our ability. It is much easier to stick to the things we already know.

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132 Responses to On Mormon Complacency

  1. Times and Seasons » Morphy, Steinitz & Mormonism on November 5, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    [...] nances last October!) I have been mulling over some the ideas thrown about in comments on my last post on Mormon studies. My facination with someone like Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, or [...]

  2. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2004 at 6:43 pm

    Once again you’ve put into words what I was groping for, dimly, in my post immediately below:
    http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1504, and in my Smith and Young post, http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1121, and in m y wild post about space exploration, http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000953.html. We need to spend time groping outward into the dark instead of alternately pummeling each other and going through the routine of our lives.

    Unfortunately, your comment in the post immediately below was probably correct. Group blogs such as this work better at popularizing ideas (a worhty function) then they do at making them.
    And, unfortunately, your comment here is correct also: “it seems that the intellectual tasks faced by Mormonism are simply beyond our courage or our ability.” I know I lack the ability. I’ve tried, but it’s just not there. I take pride, however, in the thought that by talking about things as best I can and having a wide range of interests and exposing them to the members of the Church, and in simply responding to and encouraging actualy Mormon thinkers, I may be laying the ground for whoever it is that God raises up. That’s the most that most of us can aspire to,

  3. Greg Call on October 26, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    If Nate and Adam are in despair over their abilities, we are all doomed.

  4. Ben Huff on October 26, 2004 at 7:21 pm

    Okay, Nate, fair enough . . . I mean, I think there is a lot of very adventurous, challenging conversation on T&S, along with a fair dose of the same old stuff. But you’re right that generally it hardly begins to touch the huge stretches of uncharted territory. Fair enough. But T&S is not yet a year old!

    What T&S has done is bring together a really interesting set of interlocutors and a really interesting audience.
    There is now perhaps an audience for the sort of thing you urge us to. An audience where people can test out that sort of thinking. That’s pretty good, for a year.

  5. Ben Huff on October 26, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Plus, T&S discussions do a good enough job of being grounded in the concrete here-and-now of discipleship and such to provide a great testing ground for those adventurous thoughts, when we get around to circulating them.

  6. chris goble on October 26, 2004 at 7:50 pm

    It is hard to find the balance between not worrying about what others think, and not becoming full of yourself. I think it is easy to underestimate how many different skill sets and behaviours are required to actually do anything exploratory. It really isn’t something that you wake up and decide to do one day (even if it does appear to be so).

    I would say that attitude you describes starts as one begins to enjoy wandering. You enjoy the things that get created as a result of the journey. Of course, for this to be interesting, I think one needs to be able to perceive the small, almost imperceptible shifts that seem to be a hallmark of fundamental change. Basically it is an attitude that says “it really doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, it is a subtle part of something bigger�. Of course, with this type of relativism, it is no wonder it is so easy to abort the process and become self righteous and self convinced.

  7. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2004 at 7:55 pm

    We need more and better Blake Ostlers. I want to say more and better Blake Ostlers, but more would do.

  8. Gilgamesh on October 26, 2004 at 7:58 pm

    A couple of thoughts.

    1.) I do not know if the question is “are we up for the task” or do we even need to have this as a task in the first place. Consider the fact that we believe ourselves to be a church directed by a prophet that recieves revelation for our guidance. Why then, would those that are not in the reveletory loop feel it is their responsibility to formulate and disseminate God’s word. If it did not come from the prophet, then it is not God’s word. I feel there is a lot of room for exploration in Mormon thought, but I know many, with tradition and established doctrine on their side, that feel it is only the prophet’s place to explore, and clarify what we as a church should believe.

    2.) Any theological reflection and formulation involves risk taking. Taking into consideration the above argument, that the prophet recieves revelation for us – who would want to be the one who takes the risk to inform the church and the prophet what we “really” believe? Also it involves risk of being proven wrong and of accepting that we may not know all the truth out there, and may in fact, have contradictions in prophetic statements and scripture.

    So are we up to the task? I feel may have been working at it slowly to avoid seeming to be in opposition to church leaders. Others have been more bold and voiced their views while others have felt the need to leave the church (or have been asked to leave) to accurately portray what they felt was the correct theological position of the church. In all honesty, I don’t know if the desire to explore is the real issue, many have in the past, the real question is are we willing to listen and dialogue?

  9. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    Incoherency, thy name is Greenwood.

    I don’t think trying to figure things out intrinsically threatens the prophet’s authority, except in perception. To the extent that rock-solid believers do the figuring out, that perception will fade.

  10. Derek on October 26, 2004 at 8:30 pm

    I agree with Gilgamesh’s second point. The risk of straying from the strait and narrow path of complacency by snooping around the dark and musty innards of the gospel is one’s own place in heaven. So I wouldn’t expect many church members to go around asking questions that might (to anyone with nagging doubts) jeapordize one’s chance at eternal life.

    To quote the late Douglas Adams: “‘I refuse to prove I exist,’ says God. ‘For proof denies faith, and without faith, I am nothing.’ ‘But the babelfish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it?’ says man. ‘It proves you exist, so therefore you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’ He promptly vanishes into a cloud of logic. ‘Oh,’ says man. ‘That was easy!’ He then goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed at the next zebra crossing.”

  11. cooper on October 26, 2004 at 8:36 pm

    After reading both threads the only observation I can add is:

    1. I think Adam and Nate do a fine job at presenting thoughtful posts.

    2. I believe that the bloggernacle is growing and the more thought provoking the posts the more rounded we can become in our approach to discussing gospel topics.

    3. It is most interesting to me that the perceived liberal stance is absent at this point in this post. They have for and received that which was asked. And their response is nil.

    4. Lastly, polarizing threads are just that.

  12. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 26, 2004 at 9:18 pm

    Well, I try to think a little, from time to time.

    My blog, at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ has my efforts to put that into blog form.

    I need to finish out the latest, but …

    As far as I can tell, no one particularly finds that sort of thing interesting or satisfying.

    I think there are definite needs that are met by the referentially complacent contents and discontents that are not met by trying to engage in typography and extending the framework.

  13. Matt Jacobsen on October 26, 2004 at 9:25 pm

    Assume it is true that most Mormons are intellectually complacent and only gravitate towards things that they already know. Doesn’t that say great things about those of you with posts or blogs that generate little or no response? Just think, perhaps your post was so intellectually innovative that everyone was either scared off or couldn’t comprehend it or was left speechless in awe.

  14. Clark Goble on October 26, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    I tend to agree with Nate. I think there are so many interesting things to discuss about Mormonism. I have about a dozen half-finished posts for my own blog that I’ve simply not had time to work on due to baby duties. It really is a very open religion with lots of stuff that hasn’t been discussed. I get ever so frustrated when discussions go in circles over the same stuff that’s been said a hundred times…

  15. David King Landrith on October 26, 2004 at 10:14 pm

    Nate, I’m sympathetic with your statement that “it seems that the intellectual tasks faced by Mormonism are simply beyond our courage or our ability.” But another part of me wants to hold back a bit from saying what you’ve said.

    Maybe I’m just making excuses, but I’ve got work, a wife, children, a calling, home teaching, church, yard work, dirty dishes, etc. As one who’s not particularly enamored with Blake Ostler (I look elsewhere for my intellectual meat), I might like to say that this daily/weekly/monthly grind keeps the embryonic brilliance within me from blossoming into the intellectual flower that I should become. And many people pretend that if they just had enough time alone, they could become their “real” self. But the truth is much simpler with me: There is no “real self” waiting to be found. The grind is me, and that’s pretty much all that there is to it.

    I’m not despairing or whining here. This daily/weekly/monthly grind includes almost all that I do, and absolutely everyone that I do it for–I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Nor have I’ve given up all of my geeky pursuits; I still post places like this, write political op-eds, create my own research projects, write short stories, take copious notes on the non-fiction that I read, and do other things that would make me blush to enumerate. But at this stage in my life, if I’m going to be an exceptional person, it’s not going to be because I’m intellectually innovative. And I don’t say this to rule out the possibility that I might become exceptional person.

  16. Bryce I on October 26, 2004 at 10:16 pm

    All you old-timers–

    Part of the problem is that the bloggernacle is growing so rapidly that some of these issues that are tired and stale for you pioneers are still relatively fresh for us whippersnappers. It’s taking me a while to get up to speed on what ground has been covered before — you can see evidence of that in my post on the Church’s recent statement regarding same-sex marriage. A lot of it is just me working out the issues for myself, whereas many of the other contributors here have gone through the process several times already.

    Give us a chance to catch up. It’ll make for a better group overall in the long run.

  17. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 26, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    Ok, why is it that it is a greater sin to hold a grudge than to harm someone else? That’s a question with great theological depth.

    Consider truth+light = intelligence
    intelligence -> spirit
    spirit+body -> soul
    ressurrected body

    vis a vis the four types of breath in the Egyptian endowment and the four severances of breath (the five wounds of death are a diversion that doesn’t fit the flow of creation issues in breathing/progressiong). That’s a good point of theological depth.

  18. J. Stapley on October 26, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    I’m new around here and I haven’t perused the blogernacle. So I don’t know where I fit in very well. But I know that my whole life I have had grand ideas (at least in my opinion). From 18 on I felt like I was seeing new things and thinking new thoughts because there was little evidence of similar trails through the forest. I still don’t know. I have had close friends (one or two) here and there, where the relationship permitted deep reflections and “peer reviewâ€?. But these are ephemeral – not because of their nature, but because I get about 18 months out of any relationship before school or work changes (either mine or theirs). And now I am here and now, fresh out of a doctoral program, in a new place, and the forest is still there – virgin.

    I can see why there are no modern trail blazers. There is an orthodoxy that has grown in the church. It is cultural, theological and intellectual in nature. I don’t know if it is a good or bad thing. However, when one reads Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, The Joseph Smiths and B. H. Roberts concurrently, one gets an idea of the pluralism (at least intellectual) that can flourish.

    Like I said, I still don’t know where to go, but I’d like to.

  19. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    “Doesn’t that say great things about those of you with posts or blogs that generate little or no response? Just think, perhaps your post was so intellectually innovative that everyone was either scared ”

    Well, yes. Someone finally got the subtext. :)

  20. Larry on October 26, 2004 at 11:33 pm

    Or consider Word=Truth
    Truth=Light
    Light =Spirit
    =Spirit of Jesus Christ vis a vis 16.

  21. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 26, 2004 at 11:36 pm
  22. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 26, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    Darn, somehow it posted on me.

    I was going to say, I went and visited http://www.splendidsun.com/ again just to see if anything more was there (it is such a splendid name for a website).

    Stephen
    http://ethesis.blogspot.com/

  23. Jim F. on October 27, 2004 at 12:38 am

    Nate, I take the conversations and arguments on T&S to be evidence that there are many who are not merely complacent. I also think that the quality of those conversations and arguments is generally high–considering the limitations that the blog format puts on both posts and comments. But doing the kind of thing you ask is hard work and takes time. Finding the time is difficult, even for academics who have more time than most for such things. Doing the hard work is hard (and takes time). I assume that we will see people produce the kinds of things you are asking for. I suspect that some of them post or comment at this blog. In addition, given the advantages of hindsight, it is even possible that some of what we are looking for has already been done but we don’t yet recognize it or know about it. In any case, even with hard work and time our relatively small size makes it difficult: there aren’t that many Thomas Aquinases or Thomas Mertons per million people.

  24. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Ethesis and Larry, I think it’s useful to consider the contexts (worlds) in which the four “breaths” are found.

  25. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 1:26 am

    Let’s be honest with ourselves about two things. The less gifted (myself) and/or less fortunate (i.e., little or no education) will have to be content nibbling the crumbs that fall from the T&S table.

  26. Keith on October 27, 2004 at 2:42 am

    Nate,

    Your blog is a needed reminder to get off my duff and do more and better work in all areas I should be. I think the complacency you describe has the scriptural name of sloth–my favorite sin (no joking). And our sloth as a people is not only intellectual (and I know you’re not saying it is).

    But, on to the discussion about intellectual sloth and ambition to do something better.

    Nate states:
    “The current complacency of Mormons (and the ambition-deadening effects of academic specialization) seems to preclude anything as grand as Roberts’ projects. Yet I suspect that we are desperately in need of such ambition.”

    Jim adds:
    “In addition, given the advantages of hindsight, it is even possible that some of what we are looking for has already been done but we don’t yet recognize it or know about it. In any case, even with hard work and time our relatively small size makes it difficult: there aren’t that many Thomas Aquinases or Thomas Mertons per million people.”

    I think there is a need for a certain kind of ambition, as you say. At the same time, there could be too much ambition, or ambition can have its dangers. In other words, the ambition to write or do something great is likely to fail or perhaps lead to our putting out something we want to say is the next LDS version of Aquinas but which is nothing near it. I hear this sort of ambition played out painfully when in the last four years or so a certain composer (nameless for this discussion) trotted out the first part of his long oratorio, already making his comparisons of his work to Handel’s Messiah. Far from it. I’m suggesting his very ambition to do something like that got in the way.

    I forget who first put this idea in my head (so I can’t take credit for it–it might be King), but I suspect that someone who writes an LDS oratorio comparable to Handel (or a Summa Theologica, or a Concluding Unscientific Postscript), will not be out to compose something comparable to Handel, but simply to do something well, the very best they can, to the glory of God–and something tremendous will be created. You achieve something great by not trying to achieve something great. It’s kind of the wu-wei of Taoism–action without ambition.

    Wittgenstein once made the comment that the kind of originality one wants isn’t the kind you would produce by tricks, or _trying_ to be original. One is already original enough if they will not try to be something they aren’t but bring out who they are in honesty and in detail. (A rough paraphrase, with my own interpretations added.)

    Work we must, but the Summa is free.

  27. Mark N. on October 27, 2004 at 2:51 am

    I’m an addict of the various LDS and non-LDS discussion forums on the net. I visit as many as I can, hoping to learn some new thing, perhaps in the hope that it will help me sort out, in my own mind at least, what really matters from what doesn’t matter much at all. And yet, for all the discussions that take place, in which I gladly contribute my occasional 2 cents in the hope that I will somehow contribute something positive to the discussion, I often have the sneaking suspicion that all of this discussion gets me nowhere, and that the only thing that really matters is my willingness to serve (along with the actual service itself) others.

    What I think about the Gospel — whether or not Adam is God, or why or how the atonement of Christ is actually beneficial to me and everyone else in the world — probably doesn’t matter much in the end. What does seem to matter is how far I’m willing to go and how much I’m willing to sacrifice in order to make this sometimes painful mortal probation less painful for others, while trying to concern myself less about my own perception of pain and my own tendencies toward selfishness. What I philosophically think about is probably valuable only so far as it causes me to reach out and serve others more, and myself less.

    I sometimes suspect that a true commitment towards service to others will eventually cause me to forswear most, if not all, interaction over the net in favor of face to face service. That’s not to say that valid service doesn’t take place on the net, but that it just might boil down to a question of where the more valuable (to others) service opportunities lie. As much fun as this talk usually can be, it just might be true that driving my neighbor’s aged mother to the store when I have the time and my neighbor doesn’t is actually a better use of my time.

    Christ didn’t seem to be so interested in teaching me how to think as he was in teaching me how to act. I think that so far in my life, I’m guilty of too much thinking and not enough action.

  28. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 2:55 am

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we have had no respondents. Mormons and Mormonism are largely absent on the historical scene and marginalized on the religious scene. That is changing and perhaps changing a pace that we are not ready for. The follow-up comments of the Claremont Conference were directed towards “now that we are going to place Mormons in the historical landscape where do we place them”. You mention Stark…do we want to be considered a world religion (religious studies?). Or do we want to be put under Christian studies? Or American religion studies? These are the kind of questions the academy is grappling with and none of us had the answers. These are the sorts of preliminary things that must be answered. Once we have dialogue partners the conversation will begin to flow because the interest of the academy is going to move towards comparative studies…how does a look into the Mormon experience illuminate the study of something else that has bogged down? We can be participants or observers…but the dialogue will proceed.

  29. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 6:23 am

    Conference on Positioning Mormonism

    Nate, the conference on “Positioning Mormonism in Religious Studies & American History” ended today & I returned home tonite to find your post. I hope you’ll allow me to report what was for me &, I think, everyone else, an exciting conference.

    The conference was jointly sponsored by the Claremont Graduate Univ. Sch. of Religion & the newly-formed Council for Latter-day Saint Studies. There are a number of fine religious studies programs on the east coast. West of the Mississippi, however, Claremont has the premier program. The genesis (& genius) behind the conference came from Karen Torjesen, dean of the School of Religion, & Ann Taves, professor at both the School of Religion & of Theology. I’m very impressed with them. The goals at Claremont are to hold conferences, raise funds, endow a chair in LDS studies, develop courses & textbooks, & pursue comparative studies of the Latter-day Saints & others.

    There was much comparing of this conference with the conference at Yale last year. The broad consensus was that this conference succeeded better than Yale’s. The reasons advanced included that the LDS presenters (Underwood, Flack, Givens, Barlow & Daynes) were among our best & brightest, were well prepared & offered stimulating & provocative papers (&, worth noting, didn’t engage in excessive ChurchSpeak). The (non LDS) respondents were prepared, engaged the arguments of the presenters, showed familiarity with the aspect(s) of Mormonism they treated, were unfailingly civil & respectful, agreed with the proposition that Mormonism had been ignored but should be studied in the academy, then advanced ADDITIONAL reasons & suggestions regarding issues, approaches & paradigms. Praise was given for such seemingly small details as how the sessions allowed interchange between presenters & respondents & between the other specialists in the session. Then there were breakout sessions which allowed informal exchanges among members of the “community” (us nonspecialists).

    I’ll outline the subjects treated in the main sessions, then Prof. Taves concluding remarks. Grant Underwood presented the Sunday nite lecture (“fireside”) on “Is this Safe? Mormon History & the Secular Academy.” During the main conference the presenters & their topics were Kathleen Flake, Vanderbilt addressed “Positioning Mormonism in Religious Studies”; Terryl Givens, U. of Richmond, “The BoM in Literary & Cultural Studies”; Philip Barlow, Hanover, “Positioning Mormonism in American Religious History”; & Kathryn Daynes, BYU, “Positioning Mormonism in Women’s Studies & Western History.”

    Prof. Taves concluded with this “roadmap” of the academic landscape:

    DENOMINATIONAL HISTORY

    AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HISTORY

    HISTORY (< -- with empahsis on race-gender-class -->) LITERARY-CULTURE
    America History Literary Studies
    Western History Cultural Studies
    Women’s History Multiculturalism
    Global History Gender Studies
    Globalization
    CHRISTIAN STUDIES

    HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY

    Globalized Theology Social Ethics Biblical Studies
    Missionary & Canon Formation
    Traditions

    RELIGIOUS STUDIES

    Interreligious Lived Religion Temples Scripture/Sacred Text
    Dialogue
    Contacts & exchange Religious Experience
    Combinatoriness Revelation & Authority

    Initially I interpreted Prof. Taves to argue that Mormonism might be discussed in one or more of these disciplines/areas. However, her actual point seemed to be that, with some adjustment for proper categorization, Mormonism might be advantageously studied in ALL of them.

    I keep coming back to that old expression from the 60s, “mind expanding,” to capture my reaction.

    Grant Underwood started the conference by arguing that the comparative approach of religious studies would illuminate our faith & tradition. By the end of the conference the final picture in my mind was this: I’ve looked at Mormonism from several hilltops (unlike ML King, I haven’t been to the mountaintop, only hilltops.) One hilltop has been from the vantage point of my experiences in my LDS family & ward. Several others have been the hilltop views afforded from the intellectual left (Sunstone, et al), center (MHA, et al.) & right (FARMS, et al). The comparative approach was a new hilltop which afforded new perspectives on old things plus entirely new views of things I’d never seen before.

    I suppose that’s the highest praise of all.

  30. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 6:40 am

    Sorry about my diagram in the above post. All of the spacing between subjects has disappeared. Hope you get the general idea.

  31. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 6:47 am

    I’ll try it in a differnt format.

    DENOMINATIONAL HISTORY

    AMERICAN RELIGIOUS HISTORY

    HISTORY
    America History
    Western History
    Women’s History
    Global History
    Globalization

    LITERARY-CULTURE
    Literary Studies
    Cultural Studies
    Multiculturalism
    Gender Studies

    CHRISTIAN STUDIES

    HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
    Globalized Missionary Traditions
    Theology
    Social Ethics
    Biblical Studies & Canon Formation

    RELIGIOUS STUDIES
    Interreligious Dialogue
    Lived Religion
    Temples
    Scripture/Sacred Text
    Contacts & Exchange Combinatoriness
    Religious Experience – Revelation & Authority

  32. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 6:55 am

    Oh yeah. And Prof. Taves added that the list was not exhaustive. She noted, as will Nate & others, that Legal Studies (among others) was not on the list. Her list included those fields to which the School of Religion & Claremont Graduate University might bring their their strengths to bear.

  33. Nate Oman on October 27, 2004 at 7:42 am

    Thank you everyone for your comments. A couple of thoughts from me:

    Matt wrote:”Doesn’t that say great things about those of you with posts or blogs that generate little or no response? Just think, perhaps your post was so intellectually innovative that everyone was either scared off or couldn’t comprehend it or was left speechless in awe.”

    Oh that it were so. I suspect, however, that silence is generally and indication that I have been boring, incoherent, or both ;->.

    Kieth and Jim: I suspect that you two have hit on the key issues. First, hard work is hard and it takes time. I would like to take issue with one thing that Kieth said. To be sure I think that most Handel’s Messiahs are not composed as Handel’s Messiahs but simply as one’s best effort. On the other hand, there are those who set their intellectual ambitions before them explicitly and succeed. Two examples: Milton, who explicitly set out to write the Iliad of the English language and arguably succeeded, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who self-consciously set out to systematically rethink Anglo-American law and largely succeeded. First year students in American law schools have Holmes beat into their brains without realizing it (and frequently their professors don’t even realize it). This is more or less exactly what Holmes set out to do. It is a rather awe inspiring accomplishment. The only Mormon thinker — as I said — that comes close is B.H. Roberts, who interestingly was a contemporary of Holmes. Maybe there was something about late Victorian arrogance that gave thinkers crazy ambition.

  34. Kristine on October 27, 2004 at 8:57 am

    Nate, despite being the one who always defends the “liberal” independent publishing ventures of the last generation, I mostly agree with you. However, I’m not sure it’s fair to lay the blame entirely on intellectual complacency. David King Landrith points out one obvious deterrent to intellectual adventures–contemporary Mormon would-be intellectuals are *busy.* The current world economy wrings every last drop of productivity out of workers in a way that the Victorian economy did not (at least not for the privileged, educated classes). The economic stratification of the time afforded the kind of time and leisure for grand intellectual pursuits that is simply absent from modern life, even in the academy. In universities, where one might reasonably hope for this sort of adventurous thinking to go on, the “publish or perish” imperative, as well as the need to comply with various orthodoxies to get tenure makes impossible even for those who ought to be thinking to have the time to do it. BYU adds insane teaching loads and a somewhat intimidating ecclesiastical pressure to those who might otherwise be really thinking about Mormonism there.

    Aside from time pressures, I don’t think you can discount the chilling effects of the Strengthening the Members Committee’s activities. I talk all the time to smart graduate students who would love to be working on Mormon topics, but value their church membership and just don’t want to deal with the potential conflicts–not because they are worried about challenges to their faith, but because they might be called to account to a bishop who doesn’t understand or care to understand modern biblical scholarship, but demands that they not write anything suggesting that the flood was not a literal baptism of the earth. There are real problems with the way the Church has treated intellectuals (aside from the problem that occasionally intellectual difficulties really do lead people out of the church).

    Finally, there is the problem of collegiality. It’s hard to do the kind of thinking you’re hoping for all alone–there are, perhaps, the occasional B.H. Robertses or Oliver Wendell Holmeses or Nate Omans who can produce works of solitary genius, but even their work would likely benefit from some genuine critique, and most mortals need places to publish such work and peers to discuss it with. Would-be Mormon intellectuals don’t have many places like that–they spend so much time trying to figure out if speaking or publishing in a particular forum is “safe,” or defending the existence of such forums and even the propriety of thinking seriously about Mormonism that they get distracted from the otherwise good work they might be doing. Which is to say that Blake Ostler might himself be a more, better Blake Ostler if he didn’t have to publish his stuff at Signature.

    So yes, people are complacent–nature tends toward entropy–but they are also busy and afraid and isolated.

  35. danithew on October 27, 2004 at 10:11 am

    Kristine wrote: Would-be Mormon intellectuals don’t have many places like that–they spend so much time trying to figure out if speaking or publishing in a particular forum is “safe,� or defending the existence of such forums and even the propriety of thinking seriously about Mormonism that they get distracted from the otherwise good work they might be doing.

    This is exactly the reason that the bloggernacle and sites like T&S are so beneficial and critical. In the past pre-internet days it was (still is) difficult and costly to create and disseminate an independent LDS-themed publication. And it probably cost little effort and no money for Church officials to criticize these sort of publications.

    Now with the internet, it’s possible to publish and disseminate what you want to say, almost instantly. And the proliferation of LDS blogs and websites means that there are ever-growing swarms of DeserNet bees. Swat at one and the rest of the swarm keeps movin’ on.

    Nate is right on when he says that we need to rise above our routine thoughts and concerns. We’re seeing a lot of routine thinking on the blogs (just check out my blog for an example of rampant randomness — guest-blogging here has taught me some things, I hope).

    We all are enjoying our own pulpits and rameumptoms … our real challenge now is to improve the content on our blogs.

  36. Rosalynde Welch on October 27, 2004 at 10:38 am

    Amen, Kristine!

    I also think we may need to adjust our expectations of what important Mormon thought will look like, especially if we’re taking Origin, Al-Shafi, Rabbi Akiva, or Ibn Sina as our models. Human knowledge is no longer encyclopedic; that is, it can no longer be accommodated in a great integrated circle of thought that is theoretically accessible to one thinker. Even B.H. Roberts did his important work at the very beginning of the unprecedented proliferation and specialization of intellecutal endeavor that has characterized the twentieth century. Great Mormon thought, accordingly, may turn out to be collaborative, contingent, fragmentary; that is, we may need to revise the model of “genius” that has traditionally described a solitary male thinker.

  37. Adam Greenwood on October 27, 2004 at 10:48 am

    “What I think about the Gospel – whether or not Adam is God”

    Aw, shucks. But why not just ask me?

    (This case study in why nothing useful ever gets accomplished here has been provided as a public service by Greenwood Dilation Enterprises).

  38. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 10:50 am

    “You achieve something great by not trying to achieve something great.” Yeah, that sounds like King. (you meant Arthur Henry King, right?) This may seem a little petty, but I’ve often wondered if AHK came out of an academic tradition that has a phobia of real talent – not to assign ill motives to the man himself. Those of you who knew him, feel free to correct me on this if I’m way off.

    As for the nameless composer – I heard him say (this was at a book seller’s concert) something to this effect: “Noone can write like Handle. But you know what? Noone can write like (insert nameless composer’s name) either”. I thought: “you can say that again”.

  39. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 10:57 am

    Would-be Mormon intellectuals don’t have many places like that–they spend so much time trying to figure out if speaking or publishing in a particular forum is “safe,� or defending the existence of such forums and even the propriety of thinking seriously about Mormonism that they get distracted from the otherwise good work they might be doing.

    ——–

    Are you not listening? Read Rob’s excellent summation. These scholars showed extraordinary courage…both LDS and non-LDS and there was a mutual level of respect that I think inhibited the non-LDS scholars as much as the LDS.

    There is too much going on to fall back on the familiar persecution theme. That does not mean that it wasn’t once valid or that some may still have difficulty with a new exchange but we do have to be willing to leave the ghetto if we are being invited out of it. It is unreasonable to think that “the Church” is not very willingly involved in this on many levels when BYU folk collaborate.

  40. danithew on October 27, 2004 at 11:00 am

    One person I know of who is working on an LDS project that has the potential to have a great influence on future Mormon thinking for generations to come is Royal Skousen. His project with the Book of Mormon has a strong basis in both reality and testimony. He’s one of the great examples of someone who takes the Book of Mormon seriously.

    I also feel that his project demonstrates certain principles about scripture that are pretty unique to Mormonism. We believe with all our hearts in our scriptures, but we can also realize that the imperfections of men can enter even into sacred writ. I don’t know if that realization can completely innoculate a person from fanaticism or fundamentalism … but it seems so much healthier than the trend I see in both evangelical Christianity (with the Bible) and Islam (with the Qur’an) — this wacky notion that any book on earth is complete, errorless (perfect) and contains all a person needs to know.

    Nate’s post interests me because it heralds B.H. Roberts. What sticks out to me most about B.H. Roberts was his unique approach to the Book of Mormon, his candid willingness to identify problematic and difficult portions of the BOM — not because we can’t believe in them but because we have to concede that there are matters that need to be resolved and explained. From what I’ve seen of B.H. Roberts (and I don’t know much about him right now), he confronted that issue boldly when perhaps many would simply prefer to tuck those types of things away.

  41. Nate Oman on October 27, 2004 at 11:10 am

    Kristine: I couldn’t agree more with you about the need for collaborative work. Unfortunately, much of what passes for collaboration in Mormon intellectual life is simply intellectual inbreeding. Frankly, I think that things like the Yale conference, the Clarmont conference, and recent publications in non-Mormon forums (eg Givens at OUP) are the hope for the future. Exclusively Mormon forums seem to be hopelessly mired in rather unproductive political squabbles. One disadvantage, however, is that outside of Mormon forums there is a certain constriction on the range of topics that people are willing to tolerate. There are always trade offs, alas.

    Rosylande is no doubt right about the end of enyclopediaism and the rise of decentralized and collective intellectual endeavor. A focus on the idea of genius provides a nice hero for the story, but what I am really interested in are the ideas. It is here, I think, that we have fallen short of what we could have done and where I find what I see as wide spread complancy with the situation frustrating. Hence, I have no beef per se with the collective model of scholarship (although it can have a certain deadening effect on original thinking) so long as it turns out something of value.

  42. Melissa on October 27, 2004 at 11:13 am

    I would echo everything that Kris said.

    I might also add that the deterrent comes not only from from the threat the Strengthening the Members Committee might pose to a scholar but also from within the hallowed halls of academia. In some circles anti-Mormon sentiment is that last legitimate prejudice. I have colleagues who would never make an anti-Semitic comment or say anything derogatory about homosexuality but would quite casually ridicule LDS belief or elements of LDS church history.

    LDS scholar of religions face other challenges as well. Unless you are talking with other American Religious Historians (like Ann Taves) or Sociologists (like Rodney Stark) you aren’t going to have many people who aren’t LDS who are particularly interested in your LDS work. That is particularly the case in Philosophy of Religion, Theology and certain Religioius Studies Departments. LDS scholars must show that their work is relevant to the larger issues in these disciplines to be taken seriously.

    There are thus real dangers for the academic who decides to write on a Mormon topic. Does one do so and risk both ecclesiastical censure and joblessness?

    The Claremont Conference notwithstanding, it is unlikely that there will be many “Mormon Studies” chairs at universities across the country any time soon (if ever). What is going on at Claremont is a fairly isolated situation that has resulted from a particular set of circumstances that the Claremont School of Theology is currently facing. Although the work going forward there is exciting, I don’t see it as a harbinger of things to come. There are also some obvious pitfalls that must be avoided for the experiment going on there to work.

    Until there are many more non-LDS scholars writing on Mormon topics (scholars like Douglas Davies, Jan Shipps, Bednarowski, etc) with whom to be in dialogue in university settings then it will continue be difficult to take LDS scholarship to the next level. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think T&S is going to get us there—as much as I appreciate this forum, academics have to spend our time writing stuff that will please our advisor, land us a job, help us get tenure, etc., etc.

  43. Frank McIntyre on October 27, 2004 at 11:18 am

    Kristine,

    You point out that some set of people who would be intellectualizing are afraid that said intellectualism would put their Church membership at risk. You also note the “chilling effect” of the Church’s committee that looks into cases of heresy or whatever.

    Let me extend your discussion a little. In you rpost the Church’s actions are taken to be largely a given. But they are, themselves, a response to the behavior of a variety of intellectualizers. So here’s the question, why did the Church find it’s current course to be the best one? You have pointed out the costs, but left the benefits out. The Church seems to feel the costs of discouraging a certain set of discussions are worth bearing, perhaps because they believe those discussions are strongly correlated with apostasy and priestcraft. In other words, there are wolves hiding among the sheep intelligencia.

    As the shepherd is an imperfect judge, it is difficult to tell the wolves from the sheep. Especially when wolves wander around in sheep’s clothing. Since the mandate from God to the shepherd is to keep out the wolves, excommunicating wolves or those that look like wolves would appear to be a case of the Church doing what it is the Church’s job to do. Just as much as when the Church tosses out the polygamists. But since the wolf likes to hide, sometimes sheep get hurt in the process of destroying the wolf. Don’t blame the shepherd, blame the wolf.

  44. Rosalynde Welch on October 27, 2004 at 11:31 am

    I forgot to add in my earlier post– thank you, Rob, for the suggestive summary of the Claremont conference. I would have loved to have attended; I especially would have liked to hear Terryl Givens’ ideas. His recent book was superb, I thought, and has received too little attention.

  45. Nate Oman on October 27, 2004 at 11:39 am

    Frankly, I think that the professional pressures cited by Melissa are more important than the ecclesiastical ones cited by Kristine. There are barriers beyond genteel, academic anti-Mormonism however. In some disciplines talking or thinking about religion is simply wierd or irrelevant for many scholars. Obviously this is not the case for religious studies (one would hope.) On the other hand, thinking about the relationship between religion and law (to just pick out an example at random) is beset with threshold difficulties. Harold Berman, a noted law and religion scholar, once approached Erwin Giswold, dean of Harvard Law School, about the possiblity of teaching seminar on Christian perspectives on the law. After taking the time to get Griswald to understand what Berman was talking about, Griswold’s response was, “I don’t want you to do a seminar because there is really nothing to say.” Berman’s writings, fortunately, demonstrate otherwise.

  46. Frank McIntyre on October 27, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Melissa notes that there is low demand for Mormon studies. This seems perfectly reasonable, as active Mormons make up a rather small share of the population. There may be other reasons too, but since most interest in mormonism is going to be from Mormons, having only about 1% of the U.S. population (and dramatically less than that in the world) means that demand for a mormon perspective is far less than demands for perspectives that can be applied to lots more people.

    There are groups that overcome this by generating interest among the gentiles (Gay studies and Jewish studies come to mind), but I don’t see any reason for that to happen for Mormons. The research I would be interested in would take the following form; assume A, B, C (all of which are believed by Mormons), now what does this teach us about D, E, and F? Since non-members tend to not believe A, B, C, the discussion is often not very interesting to them. Just as assuming a bunch of nonsense and then seeing what follows is not particularly interesting to me.

    I can give a recent example. I teach a class on developmnent economics where we discuss population and fertility in third world countries. Gentile theories of population and fertility are woefully inadequate because they seem to presume that agents did not exist before being born and largely fail to account for the utility of being born. But I have a very strong prior belief, based on my religion, about how to model birth. It is a transition from the pre-existence. Further, I believe that since spirits are not created, they will be born somewhere, at some time. So this means that I can think about fertility as a question not of existence, but of optimal placement of children, all of whom exist regardless. We talk about this in class, but it is of only minor interest to a non-member because they don’t believe in a pre-existence.

  47. Keith on October 27, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    Rob and Juliann,

    Thanks for the reports of the Claremont conference. I’m finishing up my PhD in their Religion program, though I’m away from the state. I wish I could have been there.

    I’ve had a little bit to do with the establishment of the Mormon Studies program there (they’ve got a different name for it). By little I mean little–I was in on some discussions here and there about what this might be like, how it might work, what it should and shouldn’t be. There was one particular LDS student, a research assistant to Karen Torjesen (the Dean of the School), who put heart and soul into getting this going. Some of the thinking that went into establishing this was along these lines:

    1. Mormonism is growing and, if some scholars’ sentiments are right, is a new world religion and will soon have very significant numbers. It wouldn’t be long until many programs would have a ‘Mormonist’ or two in their religious studies programs.

    2. There was a real effort by those involved in setting up the program (especially by the Dean) to make this into something that would be scholarly and rigorous, but which would also be recognized as legitimate by average, faithful, educated Saints–not an apologetic enterprise, but also not an institutionalized Sunstone-like enterprise either. (I don’t intend to make this a Sunstone bashing or defending thread–you get the point.) Recognizing that no-one could guarantee the future direction this might take, or who might fill the chair, but also seeing the effort to make this fair, the Church gave permission for the endowed chair to have the name of Howard W. Hunter.

    I think there is another Mormon Studies-like program starting up somewhere on the east coast. No? Somewhere else? Melissa may be right about the lack of interested scholars and venues, but I honestly think it is growing. It won’t happen overnight, of course, and those doing scholarly work on LDS thought might still have to work from the margins so to speak.

  48. John H on October 27, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    “It is unreasonable to think that “the Churchâ€? is not very willingly involved in this on many levels when BYU folk collaborate.”

    Frankly Juliann, I found your post to be a bit offensive in its casual dismissiveness of Kris without actually addressing anything she said.

    Your comment that it’s “unreasonable to think that ‘the Church’” doesn’t want to be involved by citing BYU participation conveniently ignores the constant politicking going on behind the scenes at these conferences.

    At Yale, as soon as Ken West invited Michael Quinn to be on the program, Robert Millet threatened to pull his funding for the event. Last minute maneuvering had Quinn chairing a session but not participating beyond that. Please note, I’m not trying to argue whether or not he should have been on the program – that’s another discussion for another time. I am arguing that it’s naive at best to suggest that all the conferences and discussions that go on are evidence of the Church’s willingness to be involved. I think they are willing, but on their terms and with fairly strict guidelines, which only serves to suggest that Kristine’s concerns are still given merit.

    Your own reaction to Sunstone being at Claremont, and many of your posts on the private Fair email list are evidence of a desire to want to control the discourse and influence the way Mormon studies goes. If we aren’t open to discussions beyond the kind we want, then aren’t we already confirming Nate’s concerns?

    I’ll never forget sitting at dinner at a pizza joint in New Haven after the first evening of the Yale conference. Ben Huff, Dennis Potter, Dan Wotherspoon, and others were discussing the formation of a new group focused on Mormon philosophy. Some repeatedly insisted that this group would not suffer the same kind of problems Sunstone and other groups have gone through. They would be respected and scholarly. I disagreed. Along comes the first conference at UVSC and Margaret Toscano proposes a good paper and lo and behold, conflict, confrontation, and the fragmenting of the group. Her very name, let alone the topic of her paper, made others retreat into their “I don’t know if hosting this is appropriate” mode – hardly a good sign of an academic conference.

    It also came to my attention that BYU has been pushing Jack Welch as the best candidate for the Mormon studies chair at Claremont. I think he’s a smart, great guy, but how can we expect the Mormon studies chair to be taken seriously when BYU lobbies for someone who is more of a manager and less of an academic. Why not push Kathryn Daynes, a truly great scholar, or Kathleen Flake, or Phil Barlow? I think a desire to control the discourse is part of the problem Nate is highlighting.

  49. Keith on October 27, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    Nate:

    “To be sure I think that most Handel’s Messiahs are not composed as Handel’s Messiahs but simply as one’s best effort. On the other hand, there are those who set their intellectual ambitions before them explicitly and succeed. Two examples: Milton, who explicitly set out to write the Iliad of the English language and arguably succeeded, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who self-consciously set out to systematically rethink Anglo-American law and largely succeeded.”

    Your examples are good, of course. I’m just not sure how to solve the paradox of ambition. Is it a good ambition or a “vain ambition”? If it’s the latter, we already lose the influence from God that might make something truly great possible. Aspirations are necessary, but then some aspiring can be sinful. So I’m not disagreeing with you, only bringing out the complications involved.

    Jack:
    “’You achieve something great by not trying to achieve something great.’ Yeah, that sounds like King. (you meant Arthur Henry King, right?) This may seem a little petty, but I’ve often wondered if AHK came out of an academic tradition that has a phobia of real talent – not to assign ill motives to the man himself. Those of you who knew him, feel free to correct me on this if I’m way off.”

    I don’t think his academic tradition feared real talent. He saw good talents as helpful and in and of themselves valuable, but also playing the part of letting the real great talents (who were few) stand out. You appreciate the good and in doing that, when the great talent comes along, you appreciate how and why it is great. Whether he was right or wrong about that, or in his judgments of who was good, bad, or great is another debate.

  50. Sean Harrison on October 27, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    First a quesiton:

    Must mormon thought be confined to questioning doctrine or policy that the Brethren have established?

    Of course that is nothing more than a straw man that I set up so I could easily knock it down. But I wanted to commence with it in order to more fully contrast what I believe to be a much more exciting and worthwile use of thought, itelligence and the hard work of creation. That is to take doctrines with scriptural foundations and delve deeply into them in a way that opens to us the barely explored complexity and potential of the eternities.

    Let me posit in a feeble manner two such opportunities for limitless exploration:

    The eternal nature of intelligence

    In the 93rd section of the D&C we read:

    Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

    In an attempt to explain the vastness of eternity, Moses, and Abraham and Enoch (among others) used such metaphors as sands of the sea to create an image of the scope of both eternity and the breadth of God’s work. And yet in the midst of this Godly work were intelligences, us, you and me. Frail, imperfect hopelessly flawed characters muddling about in a hopelessly flawed world trying not to do too much damage along our way.

    And yet we are told that we are eternal and existed in the begining. From whence this existience? Did we by thought and consideration and agency cause the eternal substance of spirit and matter to coalesce around the mightier powers of reason? And if so how do we tap into such dynamic eternal powers today in the midst of bills, and homework and jobs and arguments with spouses? By what means do we reach back to that genesis and make it relevant today?

    Or perhaps we should consider:

    We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

    This life is a life frought with danger. Real live danger, spiritual, emotional, physical and financial danger. Every day I get out of bed I am surrounded with it. I commit my life and love to my wife and children and by so doing risk pain and heartache through misunderstanding, ignorance, and thoughtless blundering. I am beset with the darts and arrows of satan’s deceptions. I struggle to avoid that which I should not do and to find the courage and more importantly to find the motivation to do that which I should. I drive down the road, I climb hopefully into airplanes, I ski faster than I should on slopes that perhaps I should not, I tread amidst a host of unseen viruses waiting gleefully to strike me down. I totter on the brink of financial ruin and strive to maintian some semblance of security to give the impression to loved ones that we can one day rest from struggle.

    And yet amid all of this uncertainty, while under the yoke of so much burden, while struggling with so much evil, we have been told that the ordinances are our path to preservation. While they sit on the foundation of the Atonement, they are really the only actions available to us (along with repentance and prayer) to carry us along.

    Are the ordinance more than just symbolic manifestations of our commitment to the Gospel? Is there perhaps an inoculative power in the ordinances as physically and spiritually real as the immunizations we take to protect us against physical disease. To what degree are the sealing powers either curtailed or enabled in both our own lives and those whom we love through the careful and worthy participation of the sacred ordinances.

    Hard work it is indeed. Perhaps someone much smarter than I could take such thoughts and produce a work worthy of all acceptation.

  51. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 1:22 pm

    John H. The problem is that the Word is a living thing. Therefore, any scholarly endeavor on the subject must posses the same life and is best delivered in a living context. (as per D&C section 50)

  52. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Following up on Melissa’s comment, someone might do a paper on “The Last Legitimate Bastion of Prejudice) & treat various stripes of Mormon bashing.

  53. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    “Unless you are talking with other American Religious Historians (like Ann Taves) or Sociologists (like Rodney Stark) you aren’t going to have many people who aren’t LDS who are particularly interested in your LDS work. That is particularly the case in Philosophy of Religion, Theology and certain Religioius Studies Departments. LDS scholars must show that their work is relevant to the larger issues in these disciplines to be taken seriously.”

    Be COMPARATIVE. That theme came up repeatedly at the Claremont conference.

  54. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    “What is going on at Claremont is a fairly isolated situation that has resulted from a particular set of circumstances that the Claremont School of Theology is currently facing. Although the work going forward there is exciting, I don’t see it as a harbinger of things to come. There are also some obvious pitfalls that must be avoided for the experiment going on there to work.”

    Kathleen Flake had an interesting take on this. She noted that the groundswell toward Mormon studies/endowned chairs at Utah Valley, Utah State & Wyoming & said they would likely be perceived by Establishment Religious Studies as marginal. But because of its unique position & prestige, Claremont held the potential to being the issue forcefully to the attention of the Establishment — in ways the Inter-Mountain region could never hope to. That, she argued, was why the Claremont “experiment” was important.

  55. Rob Briggs on October 27, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    “It also came to my attention that BYU has been pushing Jack Welch as the best candidate for the Mormon studies chair at Claremont. I think he’s a smart, great guy, but how can we expect the Mormon studies chair to be taken seriously when BYU lobbies for someone who is more of a manager and less of an academic. Why not push Kathryn Daynes, a truly great scholar, or Kathleen Flake, or Phil Barlow?”

    Hey, John, how you doing?! Yes, I agree about Welch. As bright as he is, I think he might push us toward “margine” rather than “acceptance.” However, I would think that all the presenters at the conference would be “on the list.”

    Boy, was I impressed with Kathleen Flake & her abilities to range beyond her area of specialty. And her amazing powers of bridge building. I like to think it’s because she was a lawyer in a past life. Come to think of it, if you had been a civil rights lawyer in the Carter administration who then had to make the (painful) transition to the Reagan administration, you’d learn bridge building too. That’s her background.

  56. William Morris on October 27, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    Rob:

    Exactly. Literary/cultural studies is probably a more open field than the others, but I found that my comparative literature department was very supportive of me using Mormon literature in my work — much more so than if I had been in the English department (even the Western regionalists).

  57. John H on October 27, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    Rob,

    Kathleen Flake also made an important, if obvious, point about Mormon studies and Mormon students. We as Mormons are trained to approach just about everything in the Church from a “are they for us or against us?” perspective. Students aren’t yet ready to go into a classroom setting and hear their faith discussed or taught, IMO.

    Nate mentioned B. H. Roberts in his original post – what a perfect example of the dilemma. Roberts had no problem delving deep into the Book of Mormon, questioning it and raising problems. (Personally I side with Brigham Madsen on his interpretation of how Roberts felt about the Book of Mormon, and I think Truman Madsen’s view is infused with a bit of wishful thinking.) But some of the Brethren didn’t agree with Roberts and his desire to explore the Book of Mormon more fully. He considered this a paramount issue and one that should be taken seriously – other Church leaders didn’t.

    Mormon studies is not an objective topic. It is inherently loaded with politics, assumptions, etc. Although I appreciate the post above that goes into D&C 93, there’s a lot more to a Mormon studies program than fun discussions about LDS doctrine and theology. A good Mormon studies program won’t just discuss Joseph Smith’s ideas, they’ll discuss his influences and background. Are we prepared for that? Are we prepared to entertain naturalistic ideas (not that they’d be the only ideas) without immediately becoming apologists?

    One would never dream of holding a Biblical conference without having the most basic discussion of the J, E, P, and D authors, etc. Are Mormons prepared for the same kind of look at their own faith? Maybe we are, but I’m skeptical.

  58. Rosalynde Welch on October 27, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Rob wrote, “Yes, I agree about Welch. As bright as he is, I think he might push us toward “margineâ€? rather than “acceptance.â€? ‘

    It would obviously be unwise (for many reasons) for me to become involved in this discussion. But I will just say that, though the majority of Jack’s scholarship has clearly done its work inside the church, he has done some important things outside, too: he was the first LDS to present at the SBL conference on a New Testament topic (the holy grail), for example; currently he’s working on an exhibit on Joseph Smith at the Library of Congress, etc.

  59. Melissa on October 27, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    Keith,

    No, nowhere on the east coast that I’m aware of is even considering a Mormon Studies chair. They aren’t even looking at hiring adjunct faculty to teach a course here and there. Mormon themes come up in a lecture or two in Harvard and Yale’s America Religious History courses and that’s the extent of things now.

    Rob, John H. . . .

    to the extent that the Chair is endowed (paid for) with “strings attached” (like the Church instead of the University having the final say on who gets hired, for example) then all scholarly credibility will be lost. Another concern I’ve expressed here in the past is regarding the students. Those who will most likely be attracted to the program are those LDS students who couldn’t major in Religion at BYU (because there’s no such major) and so choose to go on for a Master’s in Mormon Studies at Claremont. Realistically, where will they go after that? What is their skill set? Where will they teach? Will this be the new training ground for CES employees? (that would also be a disaster) I’m sure someone is considering these practical issues, but I haven’t heard anyone address them.

    Rob,

    Comparative work is certainly more likely to be of interest to more people. It will still be an upward battle, I’m afraid. If you are LDS then you will have to fight the widespread suspicion that you are somehow doing apologetic work. As I mentioned, the key is to make one’s work on Mormon issues relevant to larger issues in philosophy, women’s studies, law, sociology of religion, etc.

  60. Keith on October 27, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    I haven’t been part of any recent discussion as to who would be in the Claremont endowed chair or who would lecture (so I can’t say anything about who has been suggesting Jack Welch of not), but I do know that names like Bushman, Underwood, Millet, Faulconer, Paulsen, Shipps, Givens and others (I don’t remember all) were talked about for the early lectures and to fill the chair. Obviously each of these would bring differing interests and concentrations. I think it was decided (at least that was the last word I heard) that the first person ought to be a historian because there was more common ground, more work already done, in that area. It was seen to be the easiest transition into a program like this.

  61. Sheldon on October 27, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    We aren’t in need of more Mormon scholars. I don’t think that is what Nate is talking about. I don’t think we need the 15 thousandth paper or article on some obscure Mormon topic. We need people whose passion for truth spills over into a variety of disciplines and transcends religions boundaries.

    I’m glad that CS Lewis didn’t confine himself to “Anglican Church Studies� and set out to sponsor Church of England conferences. He was powerful in that he didn’t take himself too seriously as an innovator or theologian, and his writing is lucid and compelling for both scholars and nonscholars. He put it best when he said something like “If you set out to try and say something original, you’ll end up being just like everyone else. If you set out to tell the truth, without giving two pence about how many times its been said before, then 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up being original.� Or something like that. I’m too lazy to even look it up, so I guess that counts me out the running for the next big thinker.

  62. Sean Harrison on October 27, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    Nate,

    Interesting. My interpretation of your question was why do we not explore “the adventure and opportunity of mormon thought”.

    While it appears to me that the grand opportunity and adventure is to take eternal truths and to delve deeply, carefuly and thoughtfully into those truths for truths sake and for the sake of our souls, it appears that the conversation has veered back into the “rut” of discussing how to write papers that scholars will accept in order to gain acceptance in their community.

    Sean

  63. Nate Oman on October 27, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    I think that a large part of the difficulty (but not all) alluded to by John H. goes away when Mormonism ceases to be the dependent variable of our study and becomes the independent variable. Here is what I mean:

    In Mormon studies the emphasis tends to be all about US. We are, not surprisingly, very interested in ourselves. There are a couple of problems with this focus, however:

    1. The rest of the world is simply not as interested in us as we are. The result is that we tend to view them as ignorant and they view us as insular. To a large extent both views are true. The discussion gets ghettoized from both directions.

    2. If the focus is always on US and where we came from — if Mormonism is always the dependent variable — than the content of the debate is shifted decisively toward the indepedent variable, namely where did we come from. The structure of the discussion pushes inevitably toward apologist v. critic debates. For example, we study the Book of Mormon and ask questions like “What is it?” “Where does it come from?” “Is it true?” Notice all of these set forth the Book of Mormon as the thing to be explained, as the dependent variable. The nasty, relgiously threatening for some fights are all over the independent variable.

    3. By making Mormonism into the dependent variable we make it exceedingly difficult to use Mormonism to illuminate anything else. This creates a kind of odd tension between our theology and our thinking. Our theology posits Mormonism and the Restoration as the light that breaks forth on the world and illuminates everything else. Our focus on Mormonism as dependent variable, however, means that Mormonism is that which is dark and we use the world to illuminate it.

    If we think about Mormonism as a independent variable the dynamic shifts. What I mean is that instead of asking questions about Mormonism per se, we ask questions about non-Mormon things and figure out if Mormonism can provide any answers or insights. There are several advantages here:

    1. Mormon thinkers will start talking about things that are of interest to the rest of the world. The discussion becomes less incestuous, and I suspect the quality increases because the universe of competent critics expands.

    2. It provides a research program that is not relentlessly pushed toward the issue of Mormon origins.

    3. In a sense it is a more faithful and hopeful approach in that it suggests belief in the ability of Mormonism to really illuminate the world.

    I am not really arguing against studying Mormonism here. I am all for treating Mormonism as a dependent variable. However, I think that the relentless focus on this approach is narrowing and stale. Furthermore, I realize that the categories are more fluid than I suggest. Treatments of Mormonism as a dependent variable may set the ground work for discussions in which Mormonism is an independent variable, and vice versa. This does provide, however, a useful way of thinking about how to link the discussion of Mormonism to broader subjects as Melissa suggests.

    Finally, I reject the notion that scholarlly strategizing is peripheral to the issue of Mormon thought. As a logistical matter, we need Mormon scholars thinking about Mormonism because they are the ones with the time to do so. The trick is to keep grad school cynacism from setting in and constricting the range of ones intellectual ambitions to getting tenure and earning the modest respect of a handful of gentile peers. We should have bigger fish to fry, even though academia is a useful pan in which to fry them.

  64. Ebenezer on October 27, 2004 at 7:40 pm

    I like Nate’s ideas concerning Mormonism as an independent variable. I think that investigating whether Mormonism can provide any illumination in non-Mormon areas is an appropriate direction for Mormon studies to take.

    However, there seem to be some who would like Mormon studies to be a method of modifying and advancing Mormon thought itself–to make it more palatable and compatible to their own intellect if not the whole intellectual world. I completely reject this approach.

    I do think that we as a people are largely complacent, as Nate has said. We should be seeking greater knowledge and understanding. While the intellectual component is important, I am disheartened to see so little emphasis on Revelation in this thread.

    While they may have been brilliant, and may have had some inspiration through the Light of Christ within them in their own times, the Restored Church has no need of a modern Origien, Augustine, or Aquinas to give it direction and infuse it with intellectualism. The amazing contributions Joseph Smith made to our theological understanding were achieved through Revelation, not intellectual insight and human genius. The Lord will guide the church through his chosen and authorized servants.

    While each of us should use whatever intellectual ability the Lord has granted us, an individual with mediocre intellect who qualifies for a revelatory relationship with God through his or her best attempt at a righteous life and a steady diet of “simple gospel truths� can contribute more to the advancement of truth and the kingdom than the most brilliant of any epoch.

    Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing–unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; –Alma 26:22

    Perhaps our real complacency lies more in our love of the world and sin. If we are not living the truths we already have the lord is not likely to give us more. Perhaps our real complacency lies more in the fact that we are comfortable with the knowledge we already have and so we are unmotivated to seek greater knowledge by asking the Lord for it.

    If we strive not for the honors of men but for excellence and to glorify God and the truths he has given us, then God will, in his time, raise up a modern Shakespeare or Milton, a Bach or Mozart, a Newton, &c. from among us. Maybe he already has, but we do not recognize it.

    We should all be striving to establish that revelatory relationship with God and seeking revelation in whatever discipline we may be engaged, be it Medicine, Law, Art, Instruction, or Motherhood.

  65. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    Keith, Dean Torjesen has said in previous lectures that the conference was intended to showcase the candidates for the chair and I have heard her name those who presented on two occasions. Welch has never been among them.

    Rob is giving a superb and accurate rendition of the conference. It was my impression that the focus was not so much on Mormonism itself (although that is considered important, too) but how Mormonism can be used for comparative purposes…a lens through which other areas of study can be developed and expanded. One of the respondents was a brilliant grad student (non-LDS)who was doing her dissertation on revelation. Although I am in New Testament, I can see many ways in which I can take advantage of what I heard to construct a thesis. I see the importance of this as merely allowing Mormonism to become a player along with other religions, however any of them may or may not be used. That religion *itself* is resoundingly ignored in academia was acknowledged. Lingering prejudice in the academy towards Mormons and other marginalized religions was also acknowleged…along with a call to action that scholars had a responsibility to put a stop to it when it reared its ugly head.

    As to “the church”, I think the biggest problem that is going to be faced is open access to private holdings. That is just my opinion. But having organized multiple yearly conferences that often deal with touchy topics, I reserve the right to my opinion that it is not a given that “the church” is going to swoop down on members or scholars. They are just as likely to write about it in Church News. It is more in how you say it than in what you say. I know that others have had different experiences but I do get tired of mine (and the scores of others who work with me) being diminished as irrelevant or unrepresentative. It is not and it is time that is acknowledged along with the less positive experiences.

    If this has not been mentioned, Armand Mauss will be teaching the first class next semester. I had previously had the privilege of hearing lectures by all of the participants except Flake. She is *exceptional*. What a group we have.

  66. Ben Huff on October 27, 2004 at 8:17 pm

    Both Juliann and Kristine are right; both pick out part of the real picture. There has been a real chilling effect from the reactions in the 90s to Sunstone and individuals such as Quinn. Many looking on saw the rebukes (for a generic term) and weren’t sure what to expect next; hence they’ve been reluctant to do anything that seems remotely like what the rebukees were doing. Many have drawn the conclusion that the church will never tolerate any seriously independent thought.

    Juliann is right, too, but the news hasn’t really gotten around yet, and it’s so early it’s hard for some to assess it, and so the chilling effect has hardly been nullified as of yet. To those of us who have been lucky enough to see it happening, it has recently become clear that BYU and the church will tolerate and even sometimes smile on truly original, fresh thought on LDS subjects, and that there are plenty of ways to be both fresh and faithful. Most folks haven’t been lucky enough to see it up close though; most interested onlookers probably either don’t know of the events I have in mind, or don’t know enough about them to evaluate them. I’m thinking of (among other things) the Yale conference, the Claremont conference and chair search, and the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, whose first conference this past March went very well, including the panel with Margaret Toscano that John referred to. FARMS, of course, has been doing real, fresh work for years now, and even getting links to some of its material from lds.org, and people who know about the Sunstone commotion in the 90s tend to know about FARMS; they just don’t all see it as being independent enough. There are also individuals like Terryl Givens, Phil Barlow, Richard Bushman and Blake Ostler who have done extensive, interesting, original work on their own without encountering trouble with the church.

    We are starting to have more models. We are also starting to marshall more resources, both people and institutions. And old institutions (e.g. BYU and Sunstone) are showing interesting new development. I hope that the sort of drama we saw in the 90s will be made more moderate in the future by the richer climate of discussion, a discussion that will be less prone to polarization because there are more voices involved, and because there are more and better models for how to carry on that discussion constructively.

    At the SMPT conference, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders showed themselves to be fine models of how to do fresh, original, philosophical work on religious topics, making controversial claims while keeping the conversation constructive. They’re evangelicals, but I hope we will learn from them how to better do our Mormon stuff.

    The way Margaret Toscano’s panel presentation went at SMPT was another example of how the discussion can go right in the future, in ways it hasn’t in the past. Her submission did lead to some lively discussion among the program committee in advance of the conference, but not (John’s word) fragmentation, and the discussion at the panel itself was great, even though that discussion became overtly personal in a way that stretches the normal bounds of an academic conference. There were serious disagreements expressed and explored, major advances in understanding among the interlocutors, experiences shared, testimonies borne, and afterward even tears and hugs. There were certainly people who came to the discussion with doubts about how well it could go, Margaret among them, but from what I can tell, those people were pleasantly surprised (several said so).

    We are doing things in a new way. Yale, Claremont, Givens, Bushman, etc. have set precedents for the exciting future of Mormon Studies. Let’s see just how exciting we can make it!

  67. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 8:19 pm

    John: Your own reaction to Sunstone being at Claremont, and many of your posts on the private Fair email list are evidence of a desire to want to control the discourse and influence the way Mormon studies goes. If we aren’t open to discussions beyond the kind we want, then aren’t we already confirming Nate’s concerns?
    —–

    It is probably better to ignore this but it is so bizarre I am compelled to ask…who the heck are you and what are you doing with emails from a private elist and why are you throwing that into *this* conversation? If you want to know my thoughts on anything try asking. I’ve never said anything about Sunstone or much else that I won’t say again right here :-)

  68. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 8:32 pm

    Ben: The way Margaret Toscano’s panel presentation went at SMPT was another example of how the discussion can go right in the future, in ways it hasn’t in the past.
    ———-

    I was one who walked in feeling very uncomfortable and left with a hug. I found Margaret to be delightful. I also had the opportunity to talk with Maxine Hanks at Claremont. She was conciliatory and downright sweet. One of my hopes is that these academic settings can provide a needed bridge over the emotional divide that has gone on for far too long.

  69. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    Ebenezer, I agree that revelation is vital in furthering the purposes of the Kingdom. However, the problem that I have with this portion of your comment:

    “If we strive not for the honors of men but for excellence and to glorify God and the truths he has given us, then God will, in his time, raise up a modern Shakespeare or Milton, a Bach or Mozart, a Newton, &c. from among us. Maybe he already has, but we do not recognize it.”

    …is that one is left to suppose that Shakespeare, Milton, Bach, Mozart, Newton etc. must have excelled in their spiritual lives as well. In my biased view, if the saints (collectively) aren’t doing as well ‘spiritually’ as those who have brought forth such great works, then I don’t know who is. If such is the only criteria for bringing forth works of genius within the church, then there’s no real guarantee that it will ever happen.

  70. Ben Huff on October 27, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    Kristine, has Blake published something with Signature? His recent “big book”, Exploring Mormon Thought was published by Greg Kofford Books.

  71. Juliann on October 27, 2004 at 8:45 pm

    One more thought before I turn into a pumpkin. One of the respondents was a Muslim woman. I found one of her peripheral comments almost haunting. She mentioned how Muslim women turned to the veil to reclaim their rightful position in Islam…they dressed for the part. That could be seen as demeaning but it could also be viewed as putting on power. Take away the gender and I see this as a rich metaphor for encountering “the church” and succeeding.

  72. Joe Spencer on October 27, 2004 at 8:54 pm

    The issue seems to be really this: seriousness of Mormon scholarship is really bound up with scripture study. The complacency here under discussion might best be understood as a complacency towards the scriptures themselves, manifest on both sides of an unfortunate divide.

    Understanding it this way, the problem might avoid some of the counter-reactions already evident in this discussion. Further work in the field of Mormonism does not need to be done by throwing aside every practice or policy of the Church. Rather, the work needs to be focused on the text that we have only begun to uncover. It seems to me that the complacency I constantly confront on Sundays or even among the more “intellectual” folks is a constant lack of desire towards the scriptures. Perhaps it is that so much discussion goes on and so little study.

    It shocks me at times that so little, for example, is being published on the scriptures. FARMS does little more than polemics, BYU studies does little more than present on-going research within the established standard, and works like Ostler’s have almost nothing to do with the content of the scriptures. Of course there are works being published, but they are few, far between, and not widely available. I wonder if this isn’t an unfortunate result of some of the insipid works of past decades, things pawned off on the LDS public as “commentaries” or “compendia.” Whatever has brought us to this stage, it seems that the complacency is our total lack of interest in the text we profess to be of the most import.

    Maybe social issues are of great importance, though they are of great interest to most. The complacency is just that–we are not interested in doing the work it takes to unravel what HAS been revealed.

  73. Kristine on October 27, 2004 at 9:01 pm

    Juliann, I don’t deny your experience, and I agree with you that most people who study and write about Mormonism don’t have anyone “swoop down” on them. The problem is that there are no clear rules for engaging in Mormon scholarship–whether one gets in trouble or not depends on factors entirely beyond one’s control. If one of the Brethren (and we don’t know who is in charge of the Committee for Strengthening Members, or whatever it’s called) happens to hear about and dislike your stuff, you *might* get in trouble, but it depends on your relationship with your bishop and stake president, any of whom can be changed at any moment. It’s the perfect panopticon–nobody knows if anyone’s in the tower or not, or what they might be watching for.

    Ben, you’re right, of course–I think I just got the book with a bunch of other things that were from Signature and didn’t look carefully. I shouldn’t have used Ostler’s book as an example, since I’m not remotely qualified to opine as to how it might be better. My point was really only that most academic books benefit a great deal from being worked over by somebody knowledgeable at a good university press, and there aren’t enough people like that who are working on books in Mormon Studies.

  74. Larry on October 27, 2004 at 9:02 pm

    Jack, Ethesis, Ebenezer, Sean,

    Your comments on this blog clearly indicate the need we all have to be able to discuss the Gospel on a deeper spiritual plane (although I’m afraid that when we go thru that process we may become alarmed (?) at how simple it really is).
    Maybe we can start a blog on this topic that is on a secure site that is encrypted. The information we could share is not the sort that should be bandied about on an ad hoc basis for public viewing.
    Having said that I find it difficult to find anything bad or controversial about what these young minds are trying to accomplish. What a marvelous day this is when we have the intellectual confidence to face the world on their ground and work to resolve issues. When I read the comments on the various blogs here at T&S, I marvel at the wit and potential wisdom that exudes from these individuals.
    They seem to come from disparate backgrounds, not privileged, and are working hard to become the best they can be. We ought to be behind them in their quest for academic, as well as spiritual excellence.
    They are not always right but that is part of the quest for excellence.

  75. Ben Huff on October 27, 2004 at 9:15 pm

    Kris, you’re absolutely right about the value of a serious review process, the kind that good university presses conduct. Of course, one thing it seems one needs, in order to have a good review process, is some sort of consensus about what counts as good work on a given topic, and who the people are who know and can apply those standards — i.e. who is qualified to review the work. At the moment I don’t think there is a broad consensus on what counts as good work in Mormon Studies. So we don’t just need better reviewing; we need to develop standards and consensus in order to do better reviewing!

    Of course, for a good review process you also need your expert reviewers to have the leisure to do good reviewing, and that brings us back to Melissa’s point that people generally don’t get academic credit for work in Mormon Studies yet. A bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, it seems. No peer review, no credibility; no credibility, not much enthusiasm for doing the reviewing. On we slog.

    Joe, amen!

  76. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 9:43 pm

    Larry, thanks for the kind compliment.

    I have to say though, that IMO most of these ‘young’ intellectuals of whom you speak are not only exceptional within their respective fields, but are deeply concerned about the things of the Spirit and, indeed, understand the necessity of founding their lives upon that ‘rock’ in order to contribute to the Kingdom in the most powerful way possible.

    I wish that I were more like them in terms of both talent *and* spiritual commitment.

  77. Jack on October 27, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    I second Ben’s amen to Joe’s comment – with the assumption that further digging in the scriptures will only enhance every other worthy endeavor.

  78. Keith on October 27, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    Those interested in this discussion, might be interested to read Mark Noll’s article at “First Things” about some of these issues as they play out for evangelical thinkers. It’s a very good piece. Adam G. has a link to it under Notes from All Over. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make a link to that. Maybe somebody else can/will.)

  79. Ben Huff on October 27, 2004 at 10:06 pm

    I suppose I’m more optimistic than Joe, though, about how much good work on the scriptures has been done. Certainly not enough, and there are too many cases of Mormon Studies work that doesn’t engage enough with the scriptures. But there are lots of posts and posters here at T&S that engage the scriptures, and several other model examples I can think of. Terryl Givens does great work drawing out the Book of Mormon’s message on the nature of revelation, and on the relationship of human agency to the atonement of Christ. I love Phil Barlow’s work on how Joseph Smith used the Bible, illuminating how we can be better readers. Dennis Potter’s work on liberation theology (not yet published) shows close and creative reading of the BoM, as did Adam Miller’s paper at SMPT. (sadly, I haven’t read enough of Blake Ostler’s book to opine about its use of scripture) I think good things are happening.

  80. john fowles on October 27, 2004 at 10:51 pm

    Nate wrote Pick almost any area and you can write on an almost entirely blank slate.

    That is true, if you can find someone to publish it. I agree with Kristine to the extent she talked about the practicalities of “Mormon” Studies in the real academic world (where, as Melissa pointed out, Mormon hate/prejudice is one of the last legitimate forms of hate/prejudice–together with white males). Of course, I don’t think the Church is as sinister as Kristine is portraying it (from what she wrote it sounded like Mao’s China–and that might be what she thinks, and if so, that is fine–she has the right to come to whatever conclusions she wishes). On the one hand, there might be a justifiable concern that people don’t want to jeopardize Church standing by engaging in what is currently the norm in Mormon critical intellectualism: a type of in-bred status quo, as Nate pointed out, and as I would add, which consists mainly, at the current time, of negative, “expository” criticism of policy, history, structure, and authority models. To really move forward, I agree with Adam’s position in his other post, and with Nate in this post, that Mormons need to proceed over those stumbling blocks with some kind of common identity that transcends bickering about the oppressiveness of a Church in which, it is very trendy to point out, a cabal of old men calls the shots and in so doing trample on everyone’s rights and convictions, or something like that.

    I have a question and a comment, though:

    (1) What role does this type of overly self-conscious approach play in the development of such a body of thought? Did those earlier thinkers pursue their work with such a defined and self-concious role? It seems to me that this type of thing has to develop organically and naturally. Does such introspection kill it or hinder it, I wonder, much like the principle that observation of a thing alters its behavior or course?

    (2) On the issue of the role that these blogs are playing in this development, I think that I take a far more optimistic view than many of the contributors on this thread. T&S, for example, is providing daily exposure to Mormon intellectualism for many, both the permanent bloggers and commenters. It is true that the quality of any given individual thread might be lacking (or not–there have been some excellent discussions), but that is not the point. The point is that we are engaging in ideas and it is spawning dialogue, precisely because we are all thinking Latter-day Saints and we don’t agree with each other on these intellectual topics (even while we agree, as Christ admonished, on the principles and ordinances of the Gospel). On Adam’s other thread he lamented his view that his ideal forum has not yet come to pass, but I side with Steve Evans on this in that it is right here. Sure we can all improve the quality of our arguments and our thoughts and engage more deeply and in a more caring many on these topics. We need more courage and capacity, as Nate pointed out, but that does not put his lofty goals out of our reach.

    I think that Nate should look at this blog as his and the other permanent bloggers’ ex ante paralipomena, or in other words, sketches and ideas–theories–that can then be fleshed out through proper research and creative thought. These paralipomena, in contrast to those of many other writers or thinkers, have the added benefit of group input from a large variety of different perspectives, thus participating in the new intellectualism that Rosalynde was referring to which is defintely collaborative, but also by the same measure necessarily fragmentalized. In other words, take heart and look for the value in these discussions and how they might help you personally hone your own thoughts. I know that your complaint was about the dearth of quality and the complacency in Mormon intellectualism. I think that you can continue to disparage that without feeling like this LDS blogging venture is a failure along those lines. Rather, they are two different species altogether, perhaps interrelated, but not to be judged in the same breath.

  81. Matt Evans on October 27, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    Nate,

    Isn’t our intellectual complacency, as you call it, due to our epistemology?

    Because we believe that mans’ minds are unable to find out God and his ways, our efforts to systematize the gospel through intellectual ambition are, it seems to me, futile. It’s fun to connect dots from the scriptures, to wonder about symbolism, and to speculate on the gospel’s meta-picture, but these pursuits are as productive as crossword puzzles. And do we really lament the dearth of Mormon-themed crossword puzzles?

    (By comparing people who spend their time speculating on things they cannot know and people who spend their time doing brain teasers, I do not mean to denigrate either group. I’m a complacent member of both.)

  82. J. Stapley on October 28, 2004 at 12:00 am

    Matt: Do “we believe that mans’ minds are unable to find out God and his ways�? I don’t know that I do.

  83. Jack on October 28, 2004 at 12:03 am

    Well, we gotta start learning about it some time. Why not start right now?

  84. Jack on October 28, 2004 at 12:09 am

    The day will come when hidden (esoteric?) things will be spoken from the house tops. Perhaps we’ll ease into that kind dialogue as we grow in our capacity to understand and receive it.

  85. Adam Greenwood on October 28, 2004 at 12:13 am

    The key link you’re missing, Matt, is that God will not reveal us his ways until we’ve come knocking on the door, sometimes hard and sometimes for a while. That knocking sometimes takes the form of studying things out in your mind and in a peer-reviewed journal.

  86. Adam Greenwood on October 28, 2004 at 12:21 am

    Let me second the recommendation to check out Mark Noll’s article. It’s here: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0410/articles/noll.htm

    He covers all the ground you could want and its almost all applicable to us (not necessarily right, but applicable). Also, he gives all honor to Notre Dame du Lac, so we’re pleased.

  87. john fowles on October 28, 2004 at 12:46 am

    Adam wrote The key link you’re missing, Matt, is that God will not reveal us his ways until we’ve come knocking on the door, sometimes hard and sometimes for a while. That knocking sometimes takes the form of studying things out in your mind and in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Great point Adam. In Jesus’ words: Ask, and it shall be bgiven you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that aseeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

    Still, Matt has a very good point. After all, one of the things that makes us unique as Latter-day Saints is our perspective of God and Truth. That is, man-made philosophies just won’t cut it for us if those theories conflict with revealed Truth, and the fact that all truth will eventually be revealed does seem to render any such intellectual speculation, as has characterized the genius in past movements, superfluous. At least, that would seem to be a logical conclusion to draw from our doctrine. If that is a correct statement, then how can we overcome it in pursuing the types of goals that Nate outlined? (I’m convinced it is possible–Jack Welch is a very good example of this, and I will admit that my view differs from John H.’s opinion above about him: I know him to be a true intellectual in every way; having great management skills and legal skills in addition to an incredibly sharp academic mind and creative capacity just means that he is a 5-talent-person and not that he is merely a “manager” and not an intellectual.)

  88. Ben Huff on October 28, 2004 at 1:09 am

    “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5)

    That doesn’t sound like a limiting or complacent epistemology.

    Ezra Taft Benson said we are under condemnation for neglecting the Book of Mormon. Terryl Givens develops this theme persuasively in By the Hand of Mormon. We’ve had all kinds of truth given to us by the prophets; we haven’t done enough to digest and deploy it. The big hindrance to our learning, I think, is lack of study. We need to read our scriptures carefully and prayerfully and dig out of them the treasures they offer us, and talk with each other about what we find.

  89. Ebenezer on October 28, 2004 at 1:13 am

    Jack,

    I see what you are saying. No, I don’t believe that Mozart &c. were any more spiritual than an average latter-day saint, although I suppose that Bach, Milton, and Handel may have been quite spiritual. The Lord may grant great talent to whomever he will. It is certainly possible that the Lord could choose to bestow unbelievable ability or insight on a dissident member of the church should he choose to.

    However, take Abraham and his knowledge of the heavens or Joseph Smith and his contributions to theology. Their knowledge came from God, not from their intellectual power and keen observation. I think of Elder Nelson’s revelation about how to perform a breakthrough heart surgery technique and I think that that is the kind of thing we as members need to be striving for.

    In my opinion, no degree of study and ambition can make just anyone into an ingenious polymath like Newton, or a musical talent like Bach–there has to be an innate ability. As members of the church, however, we have a greater degree of access to the Holy Spirit and the power of revelation can replace the absence of innate ability and make it possible for any one of us to produce the fruits of a genius–and through the process become more ingenious ourselves.

  90. Ebenezer on October 28, 2004 at 1:17 am

    Re: Ben Huff #86

    Well said. Perhaps blogs could play a beneficial role in helping us talk to each other about what we find.

  91. Joe Spencer on October 28, 2004 at 1:20 am

    I certainly acknowledge some great work that has been done on the scriptures, and especially give a nod in the direction of Brother Givens. My concern is that the complacency under discussion here is really just the lack of interest in the scriptures. My hope is that more can be done with the scriptures than is currently going on. Indeed, the fact that we can mention just a couple of names as an attempt to point out that something IS happening ought to alert us to the fact that not enough is going on. It is frustrating as well that many of our best Hebraists, for example, are spending all of their time trying to pick out one more Hebraism in the Book of Mormon, just so it can be thrust once again in the face of the editors at Signature. It appears to me that much of our efforts could be better focused.

    I wonder how much of this problem is due to publishing concerns. Deseret Book has shown quite clearly their almost absolute refusal to publish anything directly concerned with the scriptures, and it is no question that FARMS’ concerns with scriptures are generally secondary to polemical purposes. Smaller publishers like Covenant and Horizon rarely publish anything but kitsch, “LDS fiction,” and collections of rehashed McConkie-isms. Unfortunately, the other few publishers out there are either focused elsewhere or too retreated to provide much a ground for this kind of work. I imagine that there are quite studies and offices–not to mention the right Sunday School classrooms and such–where great work on the scriptures is being done. Unfortunately, there seems to be little in the way of stages for such work to be put on display.

    I wonder at what might be done about this. Or do those who enjoy the study of the scriptures need to remain in their closets until One comes who will expound all the scriptures in one?

  92. Joe Spencer on October 28, 2004 at 1:21 am

    Ebenezer and Ben…

    Let’s do it. It’s about time, is it not?

  93. Matt Evans on October 28, 2004 at 1:33 am

    J. Stapley,

    The scripture I had in mind was Jacob 4:8

    Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him

    Adam,

    I’m not sure if you’re joking or serious about the peer reviewed journal, but if necessary I’ll point out that none of our revelations have followed the publication of an academic gospel theory. The grandest revelations have usually resulted from questions, but those questions weren’t the yes/no variety that can be distinguished by a burning bosom or a stupor of thought. My main problem with scholarly approaches to the gospel is their rival epistemology. One sign of the apostasy was the switch to directing gospel questions to scholars like Augustine rather than directing them to the prophets.

    All,

    I really don’t mean to denigrate formal gospel speculation, I do the casual variety all of the time. My point is that we must never forget that our speculations are always wrong. Yes, they are interesting, but they’re never true. The philosophies of men never are. I believe the reason there’s little ‘intellectual vigor’ in Mormonism is because Mormonism holds an infinitely greater regard for God’s truths (love your neighbor as yourself, do your home teaching). The gospel cannot be learned except by being lived.

  94. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 2:03 am

    Juliann: “I also had the opportunity to talk with Maxine Hanks at Claremont. She was conciliatory and downright sweet. One of my hopes is that these academic settings can provide a needed bridge over the emotional divide that has gone on for far too long.”

    Here here! Like you, Juliann, until two summers ago, I’d never met Maxine Hanks. Then my uncle (77 y.o. Ralph Hafen, one of the ORIGINAL SUNSTONERS) introduced us. Since then I’ve seen her several times & had lunch with her yesterday. I think she’s a very nice lady. I don’t know if there’ll ever be a “rapprochement” between her & the institution, but I’m a firm believer in bridge building, between people, institutions & both. As Churchill said, Never give up. I think it applies to love as much as to determination & sticktoitativeness.

    On a similar note, Mike Quinn was at Claremont, his work was acknowledged & when I walked by one time, he & Grant Underwood were engaged in friendly conversation. Good for both of them.

  95. Matt Evans on October 28, 2004 at 2:07 am

    Ben,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I believe we’re commanded to have applied knowledge, not academic knowledge, of gospel principles and teachings like the Book of Mormon. Harold Bloom probably has much greater academic knowledge of the Book of Mormon than do any of the saints I worked with on my mission, but I suspect Ezra Taft Benson would be far happier with the applied knowledge of the Spanish saints. It’s hard to square the suggestion that high-level concepts or unified gospel theories matter with the realization that most people couldn’t understand them. Most of the people translated in 4 Nephi were probably illiterates who spent very little time systematizing the gospel. For this reason, I believe that when God says we must learn the gospel, he means learning his word (which is not the same as subjecting his word to the crit lit theory de jour), but mostly, learning his word means living his word.

    As for Moroni 10:5, I’ve had so many people tell me ‘hidden’ truths that they’ve learned through the application of that scripture that I’m confident the “truth of all things” does not mean what they think it means. (Two examples: one woman learned that were Jesus alive today, he would wear Nike basketball shoes. A CES teacher learned that the Holy Ghost and Adam are one and the same. His initial question that led to his fasting and praying to know the truth — Why aren’t all members of the Godhead present in the endowment? Aha, but they are! (Nevermind D&C 130)). Anyway, after grappling with these and many other stories like them, I’ve come to believe that Moroni 10:5 refers to applied knowledge; the kinds of truths that can be learned but not shared.

  96. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 2:19 am

    Joe Spencer said: “Whatever has brought us to this stage, it seems that the complacency is our total lack of interest in the [Mormon scriptural] text we profess to be of the most import.”

    Some years back, John Sorensen impressed me as someone who looked at the BoM text with new eyes, not for doctrine but for underlying culture, ethnology & anthropology.

    Now there’s Terryl Givens, Grant Hardy & Royal Skousen. I’ve heard Givens & Hardy & read snippets about Skousen’s work. They impress me as giving close readings & getting something out of it. But don’t get me started on the redundant & “non-starter” work of too many of the folks in the religion dept. So much talk of “insights” yet you search largely in vain for an “original” insight. Sorry for that bit of negativity. My biases are showing.

  97. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 2:31 am

    Frank: “There may be other reasons too, but since most interest in mormonism is going to be from Mormons, having only about 1% of the U.S. population (and dramatically less than that in the world) means that demand for a mormon perspective is far less than demands for perspectives that can be applied to lots more people.”

    1%, & even less than that in the major engines that drive American culture, Washington DC, the east coast & the west coast. Still, 5% of the US Senate is Mormon, one example of an area/institution where we (currently) have disproportionate representation. Jews are an ethnic group who have largely succeeded in gaining “disproportional representation” in academic studies. Why not Mormons?

  98. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 3:05 am

    John H.: “Kathleen Flake also made an important, if obvious, point about Mormon studies and Mormon students. We as Mormons are trained to approach just about everything in the Church from a “are they for us or against us?â€? perspective. Students aren’t yet ready to go into a classroom setting and hear their faith discussed or taught, IMO.”

    Yes, John I think you’re right about Mormons in general & many Mormon students. Not very different from run-of-the-mill Catholics or Evangelicals, are we? I don’t think either of us is surprised by that.

    But my sense is that T&S is one forum where the majority are prepared “to hear their faith discussed.” You & I see it every day. Most, IMO, have at least a nodding familiarity with the “Sunstone/Dialogue/Signature issues (for lack of a better term), yet I don’t see, or sense, agonized hand-wringing. All good signs, I think.
    __________________
    John H.: “(Personally I side with Brigham Madsen on his interpretation of how Roberts felt about the Book of Mormon, and I think Truman Madsen’s view is infused with a bit of wishful thinking.)”

    I think B.H. followed the pattern of a broad intellectual tradition practiced by philosophers, historians, academics of others stripes, lawyers & Sunstone editors — state the opposition’s case as fully & fairly as possible, then try to state an adequate response, that is, as far as the currently available evidence will allow. B.H. did just that.

    Then, as I’ve said elsewhere, B.H. was a pure intellectual and, thus, able to hold two mutually self-contradictory ideas at the same time.

    Because he had the huevos to ask tough questions — questions to which the available evidence didn’t allow him to frame fully adequate responses — doesn’t mean he abandoned faith. If he believed that what was known in the early 20th century was all that would be known, then, yes, he may have been forced to conclude that the BoM couldn’t be adequately supported & forced to abandon an intellectual defense of the BoM in his era. But I think he recognized that as fallacious thinking. I don’t think he committed that fallacy.
    _________________________
    Rosalynde: “It would obviously be unwise (for many reasons) for me to become involved in this discussion. But I will just say that, though the majority of Jack’s scholarship has clearly done its work inside the church, he has done some important things outside, too: he was the first LDS to present at the SBL conference on a New Testament topic (the holy grail), for example; currently he’s working on an exhibit on Joseph Smith at the Library of Congress, etc.”

    [Doh! I sense some personal relationship here.] Rosalynde, you may be right. However, my take is that Welch may be perceived as too closely tied to Mormon apologetics to be a good fit at Claremont. My sense is that Claremont (& informed LDS) will want a choice that maintains Claremont’s independence & credibility. The last thing that they (or informed LDS) will want is for Claremont to appear to be a satellite campus of BYU! That does neither institution any good.

  99. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 3:17 am

    Matt Evans: “Isn’t our intellectual complacency, as you call it, due to our epistemology?”

    I thot it was due to the Fall, the second law of thermodynamics & to entropy, all of which lead to the same thing: sloth.

  100. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 3:33 am

    Rob: “I thot it was due to the Fall, the second law of thermodynamics & to entropy, all of which lead to the same thing: sloth.”

    But, then, I’m too lazy & tired to think about it now. Pleasant dreams, all.

  101. Last_lemming on October 28, 2004 at 9:37 am

    [W]e must never forget that our speculations are always wrong. Yes, they are interesting, but they’re never true.

    Well, Newtonian physics is also “wrong,” but it is far more than just “interesting,” it is extremely useful. If the best we can hope for is an intellectual breakthrough of Newtonian proportions, that is well worth pursuing.

  102. Jonathan Green on October 28, 2004 at 9:43 am

    Matt, about #91: Augustine was Bishop of Hippo from 396 to the end of his life. Setting aside the matter of revelation, he held an ecclesiastical office that was entirely appropriate for someone answering the gospel questions of his day. If the loss of revelation was the great problem of the early church, then Augustine (via his influence on Luther) was a significant part of what we understand to be the solution. Just sayin’.

  103. john fowles on October 28, 2004 at 10:12 am

    John H. wrote Nate mentioned B. H. Roberts in his original post – what a perfect example of the dilemma. Roberts had no problem delving deep into the Book of Mormon, questioning it and raising problems. (Personally I side with Brigham Madsen on his interpretation of how Roberts felt about the Book of Mormon, and I think Truman Madsen’s view is infused with a bit of wishful thinking.) But some of the Brethren didn’t agree with Roberts and his desire to explore the Book of Mormon more fully. He considered this a paramount issue and one that should be taken seriously – other Church leaders didn’t.

    This reveals what you believe should be the activity of Mormon intellectuals: questioning the BoM and raising perceived problems in it. I’m not sure that is part of Nate’s program at all. Is there any possibility, in your view of Mormon studies, that the starting point can be a presumption of truth to the BoM (that is, after all, our faith)?

  104. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 10:26 am

    John F, John H can speak for himself, but your response brings up an issue that is very old and perhaps at the heart of Nate’s problem of complacency. I have no problem giving a presumption of truth to the BoM, but what does that mean? You appear to be insisting on a presumption of historicity, which is different and not as easy to presume.

    I’d also point out that questioning and raising problems with regards to something does not exclude presuming that thing to be true, despite your implications to the contrary.

    Finally (and again, John H should also respond), I don’t think that we need to engage in the same course as BH Roberts, but a similar intellectual rigor and depth. That’s really what’s missing here, and on that I’m sure we can agree.

  105. Nate Oman on October 28, 2004 at 10:35 am

    A comment on the B.H. Roberts’ debate:

    1. Virtually everyone who has publically argued that B.H. Roberts ultimately rejected the historicity of the Book of Mormon seems to personally reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    2. Virtually everyone who has publically argued that B.H. Roberts ultimately did not reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon seems to personally accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    From this I would surmise that most of this debate is a political fight in which competing intellectual sects within Mormonism compete for bragging rights over an intellectual icon. The argument is something like this: 1. Roberts was a great guy. 2. Roberts thought like I think. (implicit conclusion) 3. I am a great guy.

    Of course they are all wrong. Roberts thought like me ;->!

  106. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 10:44 am

    Which is why both sides of the political spectrum also claim Nate Oman!

  107. john fowles on October 28, 2004 at 11:12 am

    Steve wrote I’d also point out that questioning and raising problems with regards to something does not exclude presuming that thing to be true, despite your implications to the contrary.

    But it is rather limiting, however, if that is the scope of Mormon intellectualism–isn’t it?

  108. Juliann on October 28, 2004 at 11:43 am

    Kristine: The problem is that there are no clear rules for engaging in Mormon scholarship–whether one gets in trouble or not depends on factors entirely beyond one’s control. If one of the Brethren (and we don’t know who is in charge of the Committee for Strengthening Members, or whatever it’s called) happens to hear about and dislike your stuff, you *might* get in trouble, but it depends on your relationship with your bishop and stake president, any of whom can be changed at any moment. It’s the perfect panopticon–nobody knows if anyone’s in the tower or not, or what they might be watching for.
    ________

    One would have to be in a coma to not acknowledge that this has happened. But again, it has *not* happened for just as many if not more of us. I have no fear whatsoever but I have no drive to go public with my opinions when it comes to truth claims. I have had many discussions with Mauss. He said that he had been on the hot seat but at no time was he ever given further trouble when he simply explained himself and made it clear he was not out to do damage. To me that is the control and Mauss should probably be a sociological study unto himself. I was curious to see what would happen when Armand got up for FAIR and announced that there was no indication the Priesthood ban came about by revelation and every indication that it did not. That was the year Church News gave us a full page spread. Go figure. One of the things I really like in this post-modern age (and something that Flake emphasized) is that there is no longer an expectation of objectivity …only a demand for transparency. That is where LDS can maintain their core convictions yet engage in the debate…a point that Flake made quite clear when challenged on her refusal to break temple silence (this was in the break-out group). Because FAIR does not claim to be a part of the academy and is transparently apologetic I think something very important is being overlooked. We use many of the same speakers and topics that Sunstone does…and evidently Sunstone will now be using one of our presentations. Our presentations are beginning to blend…the only difference being in transparency and public perception, public perception probably being almost everything at this point.

    That said, there are always the careful explanations/posturing sprinkled throughout the lectures/discussions…. “I don’t speak for the church” yada yada that should not be necessary. I think that this defenseness will die down as the methodology of straddling these two worlds is pioneered and this group is quite capable of doing that.

    What became clear to me is that our religion is going to be discussed whether we are there or not. This new level of discourse will not always go in the direction that “the church” or many members might like but I can see no advantage whatsoever to “the church” in allowing it to be handed over to outsiders. And I see every advantage in handing it over to the liberal secular academy, a message that Underwood directed to skittish church members in the Sunday night session.

  109. Adam Greenwood on October 28, 2004 at 11:55 am

    As far as I can tell, Steve E., both sides of the spectrum disclaim Nate Oman’s support. No doubt a fitting humility makes them reluctant to force themselves on the Great Man.

  110. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 12:01 pm

    Adam, all too true. I heard that the Canadian Reform Party is looking for someone…

  111. John H on October 28, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    “It is probably better to ignore this but it is so bizarre I am compelled to ask…who the heck are you and what are you doing with emails from a private elist and why are you throwing that into *this* conversation? If you want to know my thoughts on anything try asking. I’ve never said anything about Sunstone or much else that I won’t say again right here”

    I know I’m coming back a bit late, sorry.

    Juliann, this is just another way to shoot the messenger without actually addressing what they said. In your first response to Kristine, which I’ll admit bugged me, you said, “Are you not listening” – clearly implying that the only possible way Kristine could have the nerve to disagree with you and feel differently is because she hadn’t been paying attention. Her points aren’t even worthy of your notice; she only feels this way because she’s ignorant of the issues.

    Now with my response, you’ve simply labeled it “bizarre” and refused to lower yourself to dare to have to respond to what I’ve raised, which I frankly thought were legitimate points.

    My perspective has been that there is a great interest in Mormon studies. But to portray it as if we’ve all dived in, happy as can be, is disingenuous. I pointed to several examples of back-door politicking to control and influence conferences and programs to make them more friendly to the Church. I would argue this in itself shows we’re not all that prepared for a Mormon studies program.

    As for who I am – I’m the managing editor at Sunstone magazine. My name’s John Hatch, and sorry I come across as so “bizarre.” I brought up the discussion here because I felt it was pertinent to your response to Kristine. My apologies if you disagree.

  112. John H on October 28, 2004 at 12:14 pm

    “This reveals what you believe should be the activity of Mormon intellectuals: questioning the BoM and raising perceived problems in it. I’m not sure that is part of Nate’s program at all. Is there any possibility, in your view of Mormon studies, that the starting point can be a presumption of truth to the BoM (that is, after all, our faith)? ”

    John Fowles, this isn’t at all what I said. If you read my other post (and it’s buried in several, so perhaps you didn’t) I made it clear I didn’t think the naturalistic perspective is the only way to go. But it is one perspective, and in any honest intellectual endeavor, I think it must be explored. I actually think an important part of Mormon studies would be to examine Mormon beliefs in the Book of Mormon and recognize and understand how seriously Church members take truth claims surrounding the book. That said, I also think it would be irresponsible to host a Mormon studies program that ignored the research of many who have shown very clear links between Joseph Smith’s environment and the Book of Mormon. It would also be irresponsible to ignore the responses to these claims from FARMS and others. All facets should be explored.

    Steve’s exactly right. This is precisely the problem with Mormon intellectual studies – each person will have a different perspective on what should be discussed and what qualifies as appropriate. Until that can be resolved I see problems for any program.

  113. rosalynde on October 28, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Matt, as to your objections to the very premise:

    What we talk about as “intelligence, that is truth and light” (I’m at the public library now, sorry no D&C to get the reference correct) is, as you say, clearly not referring only to IQ points or peer-reviewed publications. But neither is it simply the social knowledge that derives from living the gospel. I like to think of it as “spiritual capital,” an inapt metaphor infelicitously derived from economics, but perhaps useful nevertheless: spiritual capital can include knowledge of the scriptures and modern revelation, gospel service, knowledge of how the church works organizationally, understanding of church history, insight into church membership–that is, anything that relates in a constructive (note that that does not preclude criticism) way to the building of the kingdom. The metaphor breaks down quickly, of course–God will require no accumulation of a certain amount of spiritual capital upon entrance to the kingdom, of course. But it brings together various kinds of knowledge–different forms of which will clearly be attained by different members of Christ’s body, just as spiritual gifts are allocated differentially.

  114. Nate Oman on October 28, 2004 at 1:06 pm

    John H. wrote: “But to portray it as if we’ve all dived in, happy as can be, is disingenuous. I pointed to several examples of back-door politicking to control and influence conferences and programs to make them more friendly to the Church. I would argue this in itself shows we’re not all that prepared for a Mormon studies program.”

    I think that this is a bit of an exagerration. Frankly, any time that you get academic programs that are devoted to the study of some discrete group that can mobilize itself as a constituency you always gets back-door politicing to control and influence things. It is both niave to assume that there is some ethereal realm in which such things don’t occur, and niave to assume that that their mere presences decisively undermines the legitimacy of some project or demonstrates some sort of global disablilty in engaging in critical discussion. The proof of a Mormon studies program and Mormons preparedness for it in general is ultiamtely going to have very little to do with this sort of overheated Sunstone-water-cooler gossip and will have much more to do with the quality of what it produces and the reaction of Mormons to it. By that measure, by all accounts Clarmont and the Mormons who are interested in such things seem to be off to a good start.

  115. J. Stapley on October 28, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    Matt:
    You stated the scripture “Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him� and commented “My point is that we must never forget that our speculations are always wrong. Yes, they are interesting, but they’re never true. The philosophies of men never are.� And later “I believe we’re commanded to have applied knowledge, not academic knowledge, of gospel principles�

    Several issues: 1) the scripture ends with “And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him�. You may disagree, but I believe his ways are everything within the great circle which circumscribes all truth. I refuse to limit his ways, they include physics, chemistry, law, language, philosophy, art, music and those things which we mostly identify as spiritual knowledge (but in the end there is no true separation). How is it revealed unto him – by pondering (intellectual pursuit) and prayer (revelation).

    2) Our ideas are not speculations, they are hypotheses. And they are not always wrong. They are sometimes wrong, but most of the time they are simply incomplete. What is true and wholly defining from one perspective is completely insufficient from another (a la Newton from last_lemmings comment). Indeed as you allude to in your comment, they will always be incomplete…until the fullness is received. I would argue that just about every aspect of our Theosophy is incomplete, which leads to:

    3) Indeed, a simple Christian life is worth far more than the bulk of academia. However, your assertion is the equivalent of spiritual Luddism and denies humanity its destiny. Mormon theology dictates that we progress in every aspect of our existence. There will be cacophonous failures and misconceptions, but there will also be symphonic successes.

  116. John H on October 28, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    C’mon, Nate, you can do better than that. If I exaggerated a bit, your dismissiveness of the politics as nothing more than “Sunstone-water-cooler gossip” (a contemptuous, if vivid way of writing off my comments) is equally unfair. If we’re talking about naievete, it’s extremely naive to assume that the kind of concerns reflected in the desire to control a Mormon studies program is similar to the kind of politics that occurs elsewhere in academia.

    Mormon studies, until it takes the approach you outlined so well above in your discussion of Mormonism as a dependent vs. independent variable, will suffer from constant scrutiny because of the unflinching absoluteness of some members’ views. These are issues of truth and moral absoluteness for many people, and tolerating discussions that suggest something other than truth isn’t a part of the agenda. We all draw the line different places. Personally, I’d think just about everything is open to discussion in a Mormon studies program with the exception of the specifics of the temple ceremony. John Fowles made it quite clear above that he draws the line before discussions of the Book of Mormon as a modern text. These kinds of tensions will create problems.

    I agree that the ultimate success or failure of programs will depend on what it produces. And I’m not in any way suggesting that Mormon studies is doomed to fail. I was responding to Juliann’s comments that were so utterly dismissive of Kristine’s comments by suggesting we’re all past the days of the Strengthening Church Members Committee (which is actually alive and well) and we’ve all linked arms and are singing kumbaya as Mormon studies rolls forth unmolested. There are problems that I’m sure many other programs suffer from, but there are also problems unique to Mormonism.

  117. Joe Spencer on October 28, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    I think the ongoing discussion here of whether it is more important to focus on the life of action or the life of study is interesting. I think the dichotomy is false. Isn’t this the point of most philosophers that have influenced the way we read in general. I understand philosophies like deconstruction to be teaching us that what we read, the language we use, etc., all has very much to do with how we subsequently are in the world. Perhaps there are not two separate spheres…

    Really, it seems doubtful to me to say that our world of study is one that separates us from the world of action. I think that the difference between, say, Harold Bloom and those wonderful saints in Central America is not one of emphasis, but one of faith. The saints in Central America trust God and trust His word. Isn’t it that simple? Harold Bloom studies a great deal, but he doesn’t trust that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. The complacency we are speaking of is not so much an issue of whether one is willing to be an intellectual, it is whether one is willing to study God’s word as if it were God’s were. Can we at last begin to take the scriptures seriously.

    I wonder if it is clear what I mean by seriously. I mean that so few of the saints seem to care whether a certain scriptures means this or that, so long as they believe it is true and get 50% hometeaching this month. But what is it to take the scriptures seriously? And isn’t taking the scriptures seriously real faith, real trust that God is speaking through those words? To trust my father does not mean to assume that his words are his without paying any attention to them while I try to spend all my time just “being good” as I suppose he would have me do. I think that to trust my father means to listen very carefully to what he has to say, to put stock in how he says it, and then to go about doing whatever he says. Those who focus immediately on “our everyday lives” have missed that God isn’t apparently overly interested in “our everyday lives.” In fact, His word says very little about “our everyday lives.” How do we take the text seriously?

    I think if we do take the text seriously, then whatever actions are required of us are really only available on the other side of study. If we are to be following God’s will, then we ought to find out what on earth His will is, and that seems only to be had in scripture. Complacency ultimately, I think, is the attitude that we already know what we are supposed to do, and so we just do it. Interpretation of Isaiah is, for example, far harder work than getting 50% hometeaching, or even 100% hometeaching. We have received communication from God, and I think He is as serious about that as I am suggesting we should be.

  118. Nate Oman on October 28, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    John H.: To a certain extent all academic politicking is different than other academic politicking. Hence, I would concede that you are correct that politicking over Mormon studies is different than politicking over topics. I think, however, that you may underestimate the intensity of the disagreements involved in other academic disciplines. The only field that I can claim any sort of real experience with here is the law, and this is admittedly a subject that lends itself to rather intense political commitments. With that caveat, however, I have to say that the politicking you described is quite mild compare to, say, what occured over CLS at Harvard in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (The book _Poison Ivy_ nicely lays out a rather sensationalistic version of the battles, but the title nicely captures the intensity of the debates.) Consider the intense feelings (and politicking) that swirl around something like African American Studies or Women’s Studies programs. (Any chance that Princeton will ever hire Thomas Sowell? Any idea about the intensity of the reaction against Chicago’s decision to hire MacKinnon?) I think that a very good argument can be made that these sort of intense fights are often counter productive and tend to ghettoize certain fields. On the other hand, anyone who thinks that Mormons are unusually insistent about their views constituting Absolute Truth should try questioning affirmative action in a meeting full of liberal Harvard Law Review editors. ;->

    I am curious as to why you draw the particular line that you do with the temple ceremony. I can think of couple of reasons. First, you consider it a violation of your temple covenants. However, this would not explain why others who have not made such covenants should draw the line at this point. Second, you could consider the public discussion of such details blasphemous. This would of course explain why you draw the line that you do, but one must acknowledge that one is letting a frankly theological construct dictate the terms of academic debate. Why not some other theological construct? Third, you might think that one should avoid such discussions as a way of not unduly offending believing Mormons. However, here there are some tricky issues. Is the temple ordinance line based on some empirical belief that most Mormons get offended by this but not “attacks” on the Book of Mormon, or is it a normative line, ie Mormons have a “right” to be offended by discussions of temple details but not by environmental explanations of the Book of Mormon? Precisely what level of offense to Mormons is permissible and why?

    BTW, I am not trying to play “gotcha!” with these sorts of questions. I actually agree with you that battle lines over the frontiers of acceptable discussion is a huge issue that has hardly gone away. I am simply curious as to why you draw the lines that you do draw. Finally, while I would certainly agree that there has been no big group hug and kumbya sing alone among Mormon intellectuals yet, I do think that things have softened a bit from the early 1990s. It seems that to the extent that this a trend that we like it ought to be celebrated rather than greeted with suspicious, don’t-believe-it-they-are-still-out-to-get-us warnings.

  119. Keith on October 28, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    Joe (116):
    “In fact, His word says very little about “our everyday lives.â€? How do we take the text seriously?”

    “I think if we do take the text seriously, then whatever actions are required of us are really only available on the other side of study. If we are to be following God’s will, then we ought to find out what on earth His will is, and that seems only to be had in scripture.”

    A few responses to this:

    I agree on the notion of taking scripture seriously. What it then means to take it seriously (how we take it seriously) is the issue.

    While scripture may not, as you say, address all aspects of every-day life, it does give us a framework in which to see and live in that every-day life. So I’m not certain how to take your saying it doesn’t address everyday life. (Perhaps you mean something like, telling me specifics of steps to take, when to do what, what to wear, eat and so on.)

    Careful study of scripture is clearly a good thing. So I’m not questioning that. What I wonder about though is the potential “delay factor” of inaction while we find out what a passage means or doesn’t. And then there’s the delay of figuring out and debating how this should be brought into our every-day lives.

    With respect to the obedient response to scripture, Kierkegaard makes this interesting comment:

    “In other words, when you are reading God’s Word, it is not the obscure passages that bind you but what you understand, and with that you are to comply at once. If you understood only one single passage in all of Holy Scripture, well, then you must do that first of all, but you do not first have to sit down and ponder the obscure passages. God’s word is given in order that you shall act according to it, not that you shall practice interpreting obscure passages. If you do not read God’s Word in such a way that you consider that the least little bit you do understand instantly binds you to do accordingly, then you are not reading God’s Word.”( _For Self Examination_ p.29)

    The point is not to disparage scholarship, but to bring out the inevitable tension that will exist when we approach something that makes a claim on us (scripture, ordinances, covenants and so on) in a scholarly, arms distance way, as opposed to the personal (and communal), obedient response that is required.

    Of course, the tension of the arms distance vs. the personal appropriation approach will also be present in a Mormon Studies effort. It’s the difference, say, of living with and loving my wife, as opposed to stepping back and analyzing her. I don’t mean to say that both can’t be done, but there will always be this tension between the two approaches. And we shouldn’t forget which approach is primary, and which is secondary (when needed and purposeful).

  120. Juliann on October 28, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    John: Thank you for introducing yourself. You say: “Juliann, this is just another way to shoot the messenger without actually addressing what they said. In your first response to Kristine, which I’ll admit bugged me, you said, “Are you not listeningâ€? – clearly implying that the only possible way Kristine could have the nerve to disagree with you and feel differently is because she hadn’t been paying attention. Her points aren’t even worthy of your notice; she only feels this way because she’s ignorant of the issues. Now with my response, you’ve simply labeled it “bizarreâ€? and refused to lower yourself to dare to have to respond to what I’ve raised, which I frankly thought were legitimate points.”
    ————

    You got all of that from one off-hand phrase? I think Kristine is capable of expressing herself just as I am. I am satisfied with her stance and I hope that she can better understand mine. I am still unclear as to why you have “private” emails, what you are bothered about and how I am supposed to respond to your obvious hostility. Again, there is nothing I have said on an elist that I would not say here. I can only repeat that if you want to know something ask directly or take it up with me personally.

    ————

    You also said: Mormon studies, until it takes the approach you outlined so well above in your discussion of Mormonism as a dependent vs. independent variable, will suffer from constant scrutiny because of the unflinching absoluteness of some members’ views. These are issues of truth and moral absoluteness for many people, and tolerating discussions that suggest something other than truth isn’t a part of the agenda. We all draw the line different places. Personally, I’d think just about everything is open to discussion in a Mormon studies program with the exception of the specifics of the temple ceremony.
    ———–

    The very advantage of turning this over to a secular academy is that they do not deal with truth claims nor are they equipped to do so. Having spent a few years at Claremont, I have never heard “truth” or “false” used for or against a religion.. .although fundamentalism is the object of a lot of jokes. But that is likely because it is the fundamentalists who do insist on assigning “true” and “false” to everyone else in public discourse. And I would expect the temple ceremony to be fair game. Again, Flake addressed this in the break out group. The remedy to your concerns is, in her words, transparency. The only people that I think will suffer under these rules of engagement will be those who insist on (overtly or covertly) beginning and ending every dialogue with “[leader of choice] is a false prophet”. Barlow’s Five Commandments were well received, the second commandment was “Thou shalt not assume that if you know 19th century Mormonism that you understand Mormonism.” This goes along with the third, “A Mormon studying Mormonism *must* know something else” alluding to the importance of comparative studies. In other words, to be taken seriously, your research will have to be “periodized”, even at the undergraduate level (per Catherine Albanese)and then it will have to placed in a context beyond that of a conveniently static Mormon ghetto.

  121. John H on October 28, 2004 at 8:20 pm

    Nate:

    I draw the line at the temple ceremony because it’s the one thing Church members have covenanted not to discuss in specifics. So first, I think that one should respect that (though more general discussions, perhaps limited to friendly publications – Packer’s book, Talmage’s, etc. might be appropriate). Second, it would just be dirty pool to delve into a topic that Church members aren’t allowed to discuss, and therefore can’t respond to. So when anti-Mormons publish the ceremony in an attempt to attack or embarrass, I’m bothered that they are so disrespectful of other’s beliefs, but I’m equally bothered that they’re bringing it up when they know members can’t and won’t respond, effectively calling game, set, match to the discussion.

  122. John H on October 28, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    Juliann,

    My apologies if I came across as hostile – it wasn’t my intent. My further apologies for reading more into your response to Kristine than was justified. We all know that online discussions make it hard to interpret another’s intent, and I should’ve used more prudence.

    The FAIR email saga happened a long time ago, and I’m sorry I brought it up. I know how frankly hypersensitive the FAIR list is about their discussions getting out.

    All I’d add is that a secular institution, such as Claremont, can deal with Mormon studies without dealing with truth claims. But can Mormon students deal with it? What about donors? Again, this program isn’t being created in a vacuum. Everything I’ve heard about the recent conference tells me Claremont, Karen and Ann are the absolute right people to be starting this program. But they still need funding from Mormons and other interested parties. The chair is being called the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies, as I understand it. Will the family always have a say in who the Chair is going to be? If so, does that compromise the academics? If not, will they withdraw the use of the name if someone they don’t support is hired?

    I’m not suggesting I have the answers to these kinds of questions, I’m just saying the potential for problems exists.

  123. Juliann on October 28, 2004 at 9:00 pm

    The FAIR email saga happened a long time ago, and I’m sorry I brought it up. I know how frankly hypersensitive the FAIR list is about their discussions getting out.
    ———–

    John, what in the world are you talking about? What email? What discussion? And most intriguing, how *did* you obtain what you consider to be such important and sensitive private emails? Don’t *you* be hypersensitive about letting it all out. Who gave them to you? No fair holding back now ;-)

    You say: All I’d add is that a secular institution, such as Claremont, can deal with Mormon studies without dealing with truth claims. But can Mormon students deal with it? What about donors?
    ——————

    They have been studying Mormonism in the 19th century religion class ever since I’ve been there. Isn’t that like asking how the divinity students dealt with Burton Mack and Q? I guess you just don’t go there if you can’t handle it. The first thing that was done, as far as I can discern, was to set up the Councils. They are obviously political enough to know how to choose influencial players. At the Jan Shipps lecture, the room was filled with VIPs…including the So CA Public Affairs director for the church(forget the proper title). A donation is just that …I don’t see how that can be controlled once it leaves your wallet. But I have no information and am only guessing.

  124. Matt Evans on October 28, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    J. Shapely,

    I agree that we must study and learn about everything. My point has been to challenge the worth of any of our discoveries. I do not believe we have discovered any theological truths or gospel systems through academic methods. It’s interesting to read the competing theories of thinkers like Hyde, Roberts, McConkie, Nibley or Madsen. I enjoy reading the competing theories of those who write and comment here at Times & Seasons. But it’s crucial to remember that Mormon epistemology doesn’t recognize the validity of theology or doctrine based on man’s intellect. God has shown us, again and again, that our intellects are inadequate to discover his truths. One of his central messages in the restoration was that when men rely on their minds, they only fool themselves. That’s why we don’t take this kind of knowledge about God or the gospel seriously and may therefore appear “intellectually complacent.”

  125. J. Stapley on October 28, 2004 at 10:34 pm

    Matt:

    I imagine that we are probably more alike in our perspectives than I think. I concede that the canon of Mormon theology follows the revelatory model of the Priesthood. But I’m uncomfortable at dismissing everything else as entertainment.

    My position is greatly due to my experiences as a doctoral student. Two years before my dissertation was finished I labored over my hypotheses. I worked the academic model but at several points I needed revelation, and received it. I then proceeded to gather the data to verify the hypotheses. It was not until the last 6 months of my work that things finally fell together. Before that, I was able to rely on faith.

    For the hard sciences, it is easy to gather data in order to evaluate the validity of hypotheses. It is more difficult with the social sciences, and is discarded (I think) in the liberal arts. I don’t know what it would mean to gather data on hypotheses in Theology, so I’m guessing that it is not a possibility. In spite of that I’m willing to accept that there are hypotheses that are (partially) true in the field.

    My personal belief system upholds the theosophic canon, but I have plenty of beliefs outside the pillars of recognized doctrine. I look at these beliefs critically and they change, but they are my beliefs – and I think I’m better for them. The bottom line is that I currently couldn’t care less for the bulk of the research in question, but I have the hope that there will be something, somewhere that will be a spring board and advance my intellectual and revelatory pursuits.

    The big question is what we as a community do with these hypotheses that outlie the theocratic convention and whether we can focus on the doctrines of salvations under the convention when appropriate.

    and it’s Stapley not Shapley :)

  126. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 28, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    Comment by Juliann — 10/28/2004 : 11:43 am — good to see that FAIR still rolls on. I’m pleased.

    As for FARMS, just remember that of the twin threads that wove together to make FARMS, the resident half was a group of people photocopying and sharing mostly old Nibley articles (with a little Eliade, et al). Much of what FARMS is doing is brick laying — essential for foundations.

    Maybe we can start a blog on this topic that is on a secure site that is encrypted. The information we could share is not the sort that should be bandied about on an ad hoc basis for public viewing. Made me think of two things, Alma, where he points out the limits to the sharing of revelation and the question of what level of encryption is required to create a holy space (what level do they use for the temple dedications?).

    I’ve had thoughts. I mean, some things are just so useful, without any obvious reason not to disclose them. But …

    Anyway, off to bed. Had a trial today (finished with an abatement in the middle of opening statements), depositions tomorrow.

    Glad to see Pistas3 — I’m a fan of hers from a long time ago. I still want her translation and emendations of Paul vis a vis the place of women in the Church.

    Steve (plugging his new blog at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ )

  127. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 29, 2004 at 8:59 am

    A quote from the latest issue of my favorite newsletter …

    A NOTE ON HELPING OTHERS

    “A Declaration on Christianity and the Future of America” (identified as “A Consensus Statement from Over 1000 Christians”) says “Christian faith requires that those who have received God’s abundance provide for those in need, and so we must insist that God’s abundance be shared.” For me (and for the thousand-plus Christians who signed the declaration) this is not a controversial statement. However….

    Suppose we divide the population of religious individuals — oversimplistically and stereotypically, but adequately for this brief note — into the Right and the non-Right. (“Left” won’t do, because it excludes the middle.) Both groups agree that we are obligated to help others, and are in fact commanded to do so. There’s no disagreement on that as a principle, not for any faith that I’ve ever encountered. It may _look_ as if there’s disagreement, with Rightists talking about “bleeding-heart dogooders pandering to lazy good-for-nothings who refuse to do their fair share” and Non-Rightists talking about “heartless cruel spoiled bigots who wallow in luxury while trampling the poor and the helpless” — but all that is just the froth on the waves. The real disagreement is over how to define “help”.

    The non-Right believes that when people lack the necessities of life we are obligated to give them those necessities, and it defines such giving as help. The Right, on the other hand, believes that giving things to people in that fashion makes them dependent and guarantees that they’ll never get anywhere in life; the Right believes that such giving constitutes not help but harm. (And the Right has the good luck to have available that famous proverb about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish.) They are all using the same vocabulary, but they’re not assigning the same meanings to their words.

    Certainly there are members of the Right who don’t want to help others because they are themselves selfish or greedy, or who don’t want to help because they prefer to punish. Just as there are members of the non-Right who want to give people things because that’s a quick fix and will spare them the bother of doing something more permanent and more tedious. But for the majority of people, it’s a question of how to define “help,” and blaming their actions on their hypothetical character flaws is both an error and a waste of time.

    Until we find a way to solve this “only semantics” problem we’re not going to be able to do anything useful with the common ground the two groups share.

    [The "Declaration" is online at http://www.everyvoice.org/lev/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=86 .]

    Excerpt from:

    THE RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE NEWSLETTER
    Volume 5, Issue 6 — November/December 2004
    =================================================================
    The Religious Language Newsletter is written and published every other month by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. (linguistics), from the Ozark Center for Language Studies (OCLS), PO Box 1137, Huntsville, AR 72740-1137 USA; e-mail OCLS@madisoncounty.net. It’s available by e-mail only, in plain text, and is free to members of the Lovingkindness Network; thanks to generous donations, all issues are posted at http://www.forlovingkindness.org. To join the network and receive its newsletter, send $5.00 (annual dues for each calendar year) to OCLS; please be sure to include your e-mail address with your check, money order, or credit card information. (Supporting Memberships are $15.00.) Donations to Lovingkindness are tax-deductible. For more information, to request a free sample issue, or to cancel the newsletter, please e-mail OCLS@madisoncounty.net.

  128. Juliann on October 29, 2004 at 12:08 pm

    Stephen, your blog essay from your daughter and her clash with bigotry was gut wrenching.

    I’m never sure if it is a positive or negative to be associated with FAIR but I hope you don’t mind if I out you as one of the founders. ;-)

  129. Joe Spencer on October 29, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Keith,

    I did, you are right, mean that the scriptures don’t speak of exactly what I should do, say, now about this very situation. I very much agree that the scriptures “dominate” (is this the right word?) everyday life because of the sort of worldview they provide–or better, because of the ordering they give to experience.

    In response to your passage from Kierkegaard, I have to say that I agree. I imagine that I am addressing here those who have understood the “basics” decently and who should have moved on from those to some serious study of the scriptures. I surely don’t imagine that every person in the church has a responsibility to sort out Abraham 3 or Revelation 6. My point is that serious study of the scriptures will change our views of even the basics of the gospel the more we study, and serious study of the scriptures does not imply scholarly study. I don’t think that looking up etymology or using a copy of Strong’s implies overly scholarly research. Consulting a couple of translations or looking at context is serious, but not scholarly. I worry that the complacency is manifest in attitudes like, “I’ve read the Book of Mormon a couple of times, and I get the stories. I’m done, right?” If the word of God is inexhaustible–and I think it very much is–then we have a lot more work to do.

    In the meantime, let’s live our covenants, and if we are all called to the other side, of course we’ll be judged according to our light and knowledge to this point. I wonder how we’ll be judged when we assume we have enough light and knowledge and stop being like the man Adam, always seeking for further light and knowledge. That seems to me to be the key. I know we live now, but I wonder if the life God wants us to live is the life of study. Complacency is walking away from that very life.

  130. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 29, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    Anyone have a link to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s defense of Bro Highbee at his trial for heresy?

  131. Larry on October 29, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    Joe,
    Good comment! Just to extend the thought consider if this makes sense.
    If a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge, then the obvious question is -knowledge of what. Could it be that he is saved no faster than he gains knowledge of the fact that he is being saved?
    If that is the case then everyone is equal here on earth and no one has any advantage over another except to the degree he accepts the atonement and the Saviour and what He has done for us. Thus, a dumb one like me has just as good a chance as any Einstein because the important knowledge is geared to the weakest among us. (see Alma33:14-20)

  132. Rob Briggs on October 29, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    Juliann, send me your email, will you? Mine (one of them) is rbriggs2000@earthlink.net.

    I’d like to stay in touch on “the Claremont Project.”