A (minor) defense of official LDS discourse

January 3, 2005 | 28 comments
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Correlation is a dirty word among some Mormons. Or at the very least, in my experience, it is a topic of complaint that often comes up on LDS-related listservs, blogs and Internet fora. The charge usually leveled is that correlation has stripped much of what is interesting, unique and important from official LDS discourse.

The defenses of the church usually break down into three areas.

An international church

A significant (and growing) percentage of the LDS church membership doesn’t speak English. Correlation and the discourse that it produces allow for easier translation of church materials. In addition, content has to be accessible to new and recent members of the church.

Public relations and spreading the gospel

The LDS church has come out of obscurity over the past three decades. It has never had a better nor higher profile among the general public and in the mainstream media. However, a consequence of that is that, like any other major media figure, it has to be incredibly careful about how it handles its image. Everything that it produces in an official capacity (and unfortunately, much that comes out from rogue sources) is broadcast, parsed and taken as an official belief, attitude or doctrine of the church. Correlation is simply part of a needed public relations campaign. And the pr campaign is needed so that we can preach the gospel more effectively — so that doors aren’t automatically shut.

Correlation is the result of inspired leaders

Who cares what the reasons are? The point is that all official church discourse — talks, statements, manuals, magazines and other publications — are approved or in many cases written by church leaders who are inspired by God. The results of correlation are exactly what the Lord wants us to pay attention to right now.

All three of these reasons make sense to me, and I support each of them to a certain degree. At the same time, I admit that I find that some of the critiques of these reasons have some merit as well. And if commenters want to rehash this discussion below, that’s fine with me.

However, I want to explore something that has occurred to me recently.

The problem with official church discourse, as I’ve heard it described and in many cases have even experienced, is that it is bland and boring.

Is that the fault of the reader/listener or the text?

I think the answer is both, but I’m going to argue that we as receivers of the word may be somewhat at fault.

We’re spoiled. We live in a textual world suffering from the effects of modernism (or if you prefer this explanation [and I think I do] — the after-effects of romanticism). A world that values novelty, texture, details, style and sensation. Not only that, but with the explosion in media distribution and modes, we have access to an incredible array of discursive communities. In addition, because of the triumph of history as a mode of organizing facts and creating narratives, we expect a certain amount of depth, and even if we distrust the ability of the facts to get at the Truth, we still want them to be laid out for us. The details are always more scintillating than the spin.

Thus official church discourse comes across as flat, as lacking.

But is that true for all Mormons?

Yes, I too sometimes think many of my fellow church members are rather unsophisticated. I do that little trick of admiring their faith, dedication and humbleness while at the same time decrying their whitewashed view of history, sentimental treatment of what can be complicated, sticky real-life situations, and rather immature explanations and explorations of gospel principles and LDS scriptures.

But am I wrong?

I also do that trick of thinking that many of the general authorities think many of the same things I do and appreciate the discourse qualities that I appreciate, but go along with correlation for the reasons listed above. I believe that they are carnivores who are constrained by church demographics (and, yes, by inspiration) to focus on producing milk for the masses.

But am I wrong?

I’m not prepared to take this too far (thus why it is a minor defense), but it seems to me that it’s quite possible that some of my fellow church members, including some of the general authorities, have developed a way of relating to church discourse where each word, each scriptural citation explodes with meaning. Where each mention of “charity” or reading of, say, Malachi 3:10 opens up a well of experiences, testimony and feeling.

I’m not talking about the sentimental way of approaching things, of being comforted by words that affirm your worldview. I’m talking about listening/reading with charity and intent. Of a state of awareness (a stillness, perhaps) where the words cut deep, slicing open the fruits of the spirit releasing a fragrance that enfolds and sweetens the entire experience. Okay, so that was a little much. But I lapse into metaphor because I’m not sure how to describe it because I’m not sure that I’ve experienced it. I am a restless soul, a discourse junkie, a slave to narrative(s) [as I write this, I'm listening to "Sunday Girl" by Blondie].

There have been glimmers. But I’m trying to describe something I only suppose. In addition, I also distrust this idea somewhat. And I certainly don’t want to set up more categories for us to judge each other. I don’t think that those who complain about official church discourse are necessarily unrighteous or somehow lacking. Nor do I think that those who have no complaints about official church discourse are necessarily righteous. The whole trick (and problem) with what I describe is that it all rests with the internal processes of the listener/reader. Whereas the actual texts produced can be subjected to various forms of analysis.

I also don’t think that this is a primary reason behind correlation (although it may be a bit of an explanation). I think that the initial three reasons above all play a role. And I don’t want to valorize all church discourse. As Nephi and Moroni remind us, the written word often fails us. And, as we know, the Lord speaks to us “after the manner of our language” [D&C 1:24].

I also don’t want to diminish the important role that un-flat discourse can play. After all, one of the passages of scripture I never tire of hearing or reading is D&C 121:34-46, and it honestly seems unlikely that phrases like “kick against the pricks” and “distil upon thy soul” would pop up in an Ensign article if they weren’t found in the Doctrine & Covenants.

But this leads me to the one thing I am definite about. I’m grateful for the LDS canon of scripture. Our discourse — no matter what our proclivities — would all be better if we were more familiar with our scriptures and quoted from them more often and more broadly.

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28 Responses to A (minor) defense of official LDS discourse

  1. Mike Parker on January 3, 2005 at 8:09 pm

    Great thoughts, William. I don’t think you’ll get many people disagreeing with you here.

    The Ensign is a perfect example of a victim of correlation. There used to be some really interesting articles between its pages, especially back in the ’70s and ’80s. The first issue of each year always had something in-depth about that year’s Sunday School course of study. “I Have a Question” tackled difficult doctrinal issues.

    But over the last ten years, anything of any depth or interest has been excised from its pages. “I Have a Question” stopped answering questions about doctrine, and started fielding softballs like, “As well-meaning parents, we sometimes have difficulty distinguished between our children’s needs and wants. Where do we draw the line between responsible parenthood and overindulgence or neglect of our children?” (June 1995.) The New Era actually published a version of Bruce R McConkie’s talk “Are General Authorities Human?” … back in January 1973. Can you imagine something like that showing up in the January 2005 New Era?

    You’ll note that all doctrinal articles in the Ensign are now written by general authorities, not scholars. This is the essence of correlation: Doctrine comes from inspired leaders, not uninspired “experts.”

    The Ensign (along with the Church News and Sunday School manuals) has become the textual equivalent of white bread and plain vanilla. And am not sure the Church is better off because of it.

  2. Ivan Wolfe on January 3, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    Mike –

    You’ll note that all doctrinal articles in the Ensign are now written by general authorities, not scholars. This is the essence of correlation: Doctrine comes from inspired leaders, not uninspired “experts.�

    I find this refreshing, actually. One thing I love about the gospel is that while learning is encouraged and appreciated and useful, it isn’t the be-all-end-all many people think it to be. Experts aren’t always right – and the deepest insights can come from the most unlearned. As the scriptures say:

    For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own dcraftiness (1 Cor. 3: 19 )

    (and that was a bit more than a “minor” defense)!

  3. Rosalynde Welch on January 3, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    If you want to think about it in terms of literary theory, it sounds like you’re talking about about a hybrid of reader-response and hypertext theories: the production of meaning occurs with the receiver, not the producer; and that meaning is generated through a series of spiritual and emotional “links” that accumulate significance through depth of association, not logical exegesis. And you may be on to something. If you will excuse the damning confession that I did not always appreciate or understand Elder Maxwell’s manner, it seems like he may have been working with something like that model: when read, his talks turned out to be largely a series of strung-together scriptural quotations that he arranged to reveal connections.

    I think correlation is an utterly natural–if not wholly unregrettable–effect of the church emerging into the field of sophisticated organizational behavior and dynamics. I wince at its effects on occasion, but I find it wholly unremarkable that the church’s official idioms out of the conference center and the published organs would be dedicated to preserving the integrity of the organization itself.

  4. David King Landrith on January 4, 2005 at 12:05 am

    In answer to your first question: It is absolutely wrong to think many of our fellow church members are rather unsophisticated. This is as self-serving belief that serves no purpose but to privilege our own position and distance ourselves from those with whom we disagree. Perhaps I’m a just a hopelessly simpleminded Mormon, but I just can’t see how the tabloid version of church history is inherently more advantageous than the more common sanitized version. And if not, then why is it inherently bad that anyone (or everyone, for that matter) to believe the sanitized history?

    And so what if it’s boring anyway? We’re supposed to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12, Alma 34:27, Mormon 9:27), but I don’t see fascination (or even active interest) referred to at any point. Nor do I believe that trials of faith must involve (say) startling revelations about church history, subtle casuistry, or superfine theological distinctions.

    Lastly, I think you’ve bought into the “Good old days” brand of myopia. Correlation notwithstanding, it is not at all obvious to me that the church is becoming more boring or sanitized. Just two examples: First, amid all the controversies around the excommunicating of Mormon non-Fiction writers, one very important point gets lost; viz., for the most part, these people are making their arguments using documents that (in many instances) the official archives of the church have made available to them. And it was only a short time ago when church policies prohibited any of the documents from seeing the light of day.

    Second, when Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History appeared, Mormons considered it scandalous, and Hugh Nibley’s “No Ma’am, That’s not History” reflected the conventional wisdom of the time (the Lee Library has a copy for any who want to read it). Far from being a reasonable response, it is utterly ridiculous and completely untenable. Decades later when Mormon historian Donna Hill published Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, she sided with Brodie over Nibley’s supposed scholarship over and over again. And many of Brodie’s most salacious claims are now commonplace among even the most devout; e.g., Joseph Smith’s money digging and pre-revelation polygamy are no longer controversial topics. (Though No Man Knows My History seems to remain a uniquely hated book in many Mormon circles, which is too bad. Though Hill’s biography is more thorough and better overall history, at times it’s rather dense. Brodie’s book is riveting from start to finish; she is a far better stylist.)

    Examples like these abound, and they lead me to conclude that the common understanding may well be less sanitized than it once was.

  5. Geoff Johnston on January 4, 2005 at 2:19 am

    The problem with official church discourse, as I’ve heard it described and in many cases have even experienced, is that it is bland and boring.

    Alas, this is true — and I think the reasons you cite for this are correct.

    But this doesn’t concern me in the least. The scriptures are as spicy, fulfilling and thrilling as they have ever been — and these are the Standard Works of the Church. All the admittedly boring manuals and magazines are simply aids to assist us as we feast on the words of Christ in the scriptures.

    I was just reading tonight (in preparation for Gospel Doctrine on Sunday) the Lord’s directions to Oliver in section 18:3-4:

    …I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.

    I think you were getting at this point in your last paragraph, William…

  6. Mike Parker on January 4, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    David King Landrith:
    “Second, when Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History appeared, Mormons considered it scandalous, and Hugh Nibley’s “No Ma’am, That’s not Historyâ€? reflected the conventional wisdom of the time (the Lee Library has a copy for any who want to read it). Far from being a reasonable response, it is utterly ridiculous and completely untenable.”

    I suppose “ridiculous” and “untenable” are in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I would ascribe those words to Brodie’s attempt at mind-reading the long-dead Joseph Smith. Her work remains one of the classic fool’s errands into the realm of psychobiography.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on January 4, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    DKL wrote, “Perhaps I’m a just a hopelessly simpleminded Mormon, but I just can’t see how the tabloid version of church history is inherently more advantageous than the more common sanitized version. And if not, then why is it inherently bad that anyone (or everyone, for that matter) to believe the sanitized history?”

    Okay, David, if nobody else will take you on this one I’ll step in. You seem to be arguing that one’s faith is equally efficacious whether it’s based on truth or mostly-truth: that is, it’s not the object of one’s faith that has the power to save, but merely the very exercise of faith itself–whatever the object–that is spiritually valuable. That’s an appealing argument in some ways–it allows for an affable ecumenicalism, for instance–but it sits uncomfortably with the absolutist faith-claims of Mormonism: the Lectures on Faith assert that “a *correct* idea of [God's] character, perfections and attributes” is necessary for real faith in God, and perhaps we can extrapolate from there that a *correct* idea of the church’s character, (im)perfections and attributes is necessary for real faith in the restoration.

    Does this mean that any member who’s never heard of the MHA is relying on false faith? Of course not–but it does mean that any truth that is recovered by MHA (or by continuing revelation, or personal revelation, or any other channel through which knowledge flows) will *eventually*–in this life or afterward–need to be incorporated into the great whole. To simply abandon a collective commitment to truth, rather than performing the difficult calculus of balancing the epistemological value of truth with the institutional value of community, seems to undermine one of the very foundations of faith itself.

  8. William Morris on January 4, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks for the comments everybody. Sadly, I don’t have the time to respond to all of them. But three things:

    Rosalynde:
    My knowledge of literary theory is spotty and shallow, but, yeah, I think that way you’ve formulated is in line with what I’m attempting to get at. Of course, as I understand it, the problem with reader response theory is similar to the problem I run into above — how does one know for sure what the response is. Or rather, any communication of the response throws one back into the world of interpretation. This is compounded in Mormonism, I think, by the fact that we believe in this whole other realm of communication — the spirit. In the end, I have to trust that my response is similar enough to the responses of others (or at least how they describe them and how I connect with them) that we’re in the same realm.

    DKL:
    Is the “you” directly addressed to me? I’m confused as to where you got that I buy into the “‘good old days’ brand of myopia.” I think that I’ve been circumspect enough in my post — as well as affirmative enough of correlation — to avoid such a charge. For the record, I don’t buy into that narrative of Mormon intellectual history. And I think I was fairly clear that I’m aware the my “stereotypes” are just that — thus the whole “But am I wrong?”

    After all, the average Mormon has way more access to information on our history, theology, etc. than any of his or her predecessors.

    It’s also not clear to me how your anecdotes relate to “official Church discourse.” To me the access of outside historians to the Church archives and the whole Nibley vs. Brodie thing is a related yet peripheral issue. My post is confined to what the LDS Church publishes — not the entirety of Mormon Studies.

    Here’s an anecdote related to official discourse:

    I have in my possession missionary tracts that my grandfather had saved from his mission to the Eastern States back in the 1920s. He was the mission’s pr person (or whatever it was called) for a good chunk of his three year service. Among those tracts is one that discusses all the “firsts” by Mormon women. For instance, Kanab (coincidentally, the town I spent my childhood in) was the first city in the U.S. to have an all-women city council (I’d love to hear the full story behind that — my History of Kane County doesn’t have many details on it). The first women customs officer was a Mormon women in SLC. Etc. etc.

    In addition, there is a printed series of radio lectures that a BYU professor gave [can't remember the name and don't have access to the materials at the moment]. Among them, is one on why geologic time isn’t a threat to Mormonism (and he may even address Mormonism) and a very interesting lecture on why LDS parents shouldn’t be afraid to send their sons and daughters of to non-Mormon colleges — why “secularism” etc. isn’t such a threat someones testimony as people seemed to believe.

    Again, I can’t make any huge claims here because this is just an anecdote and it would take some serious study of lesson manuals, articles, conference talks, etc. But I honeslty can’t imagine either of these publications coming out in official church organs at the moment — or at least not in the same form and level of detail and rhetorical mode.

    One other anecdote: FWIW, the church magazines have stopped publishing fiction. And even before that policy went in place the Ensign, New Era and Friend published less fiction and poetry than previous church magazines. So there has been a move away from literary discourse as part of official church discourse.

    Of course, whether that is a positive or negative movement is an whole other discussion.

    Geoff:

    RE: spicy scriptures (and hey — another food metaphor!). That’s exactly what I meant by the last paragraph. Thanks for your excellent addition.

  9. David King Landrith on January 4, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Rosalynde Welch: You seem to be arguing that one’s faith is equally efficacious whether it’s based on truth or mostly-truth…

    I’ll say something stronger than that: faith is inevitably based on mostly-truth—the question of faith based on unqualified truth never arises. Answers to all but the most simple gospel questions are underdetermined by available references.

    As far as ecumenicalism vs. absolutist faith-claims, there’s also the matter of authority to consider. Restored doctrine is important, but without restored authority it doesn’t go very far.

    Rosalynde Welch: Lectures on Faith assert that “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections and attributes” is necessary for real faith in God…

    Since the Lectures on Faith doesn’t even characterize God correctly (according to the current orthodoxy), we should take it to allow for some leeway.

    Rosalynde Welch: …any truth that is recovered by MHA…will eventually–in this life or afterward–need to be incorporated into the great whole.

    This is equally true of economics and physics (and even stamp collecting, for that matter).

    Rosalynde Welch: To simply abandon a collective commitment to truth, rather than performing the difficult calculus of balancing the epistemological value of truth with the institutional value of community, seems to undermine one of the very foundations of faith itself.

    This “commitment to truth” rings hollow. Have I abandoned my commitment to truth if I choose to study plumbing instead of economics or Mormon history? Is this commitment to truth so important that I should decline to give someone a blessing or to help someone move so that I have time to read the latest issue of Dialogue?

    Making church history a hobby (or even a profession) does not bring one appreciably closer to exaltation. For my part, I’m a poor failing sinner, and I’ve got at least a lifetime of repentance to struggle with before anything the MHA has to say tips the scales for my salvation.

    I stand by my earlier statement that the belief that adherents to sanitized church history are “rather unsophisticated” is a “self-serving belief that serves no purpose but to privilege our own position and distance ourselves from those with whom we disagree.”

    Rosalynde Welch: Okay, David, if nobody else will take you on this one I’ll step in.

    What? Are you second string nowadays?

  10. Rosalynde Welch on January 4, 2005 at 6:39 pm

    DKL: “What? Are you second string nowadays?”

    No, I merely have the advantage of sex: chances are you’ll slip and refer to me as a “chick,” and then I can simply write you off as a chauvinist without considering your arguments on their merits. ;)

    Rejoinders forthcoming; children must be fed macaroni presently.

  11. Geoff Johnston on January 4, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    Here’s a pre-macaroni nod to DKL’s position on this one.

    Rosalynde: While your arguments about faith needing to be based on truth are sound, I think the premise is wrong. Who bases their faith in the restored gospel on church history? The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If someone is basing their faith on the moving target of modern day Church history rather than the rock of Christ, that person is in serious spiritual trouble.

    I’m always surprised at how much time and effort is put into pouring over very detail of Church history. DKL is right when he notes that the truth about that history is about as valuable to our souls as is the truth about economics or marketing or any other hobby or vocation. The mysteries of the history of the early restored Church are not the mysteries God wants us to seek after. But lots of smart Mormons seem to miss that fact.

    If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.
    D&C 42: 61

  12. Russ Johnston on January 4, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    The fact of the matter is that it is the plain and simple truths of the gospel that will save. Don’t get me wrong, learning the mysteries of the gospel is something that we will all have to do in this life or the next, but the beauty of it is that it can wait until the next. Therefore, when it comes to public address what is it that the leaders think will be of most benefit to those that are listening/reading? Obviously it is those things that will save. We are all still entitled to the revelation that teaches us the mysteries of the kingdom so grab that opportunity by the horns and don’t rely on the inspiration of others.

  13. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2005 at 12:06 am

    Okay–children fed and bedded, house straightened, trash still needs to be taken to the curb…

    On the Lectures–yes, they certainly have their problems; I considered qualifying but then decided to throw you at least one softball. ;) The point still stands, I think: Heisenbergian quibbles about the knowability of truth aside (though these are not insignificant quibbles), saving faith is based on truth.

    And you’re missing the point about MHA: as I said before, individual knowledge of professional church historiography is not requisite for saving faith. I make no argument that individual church members who adhere to “sanitized church history” are unsophisticated, uncourageous or unworthy; the plumber is at no disadvantage beside the BYU religion professor before God. The question revolves around our institutional values–which, as I said, require a complex calculus of organizational and rational energies. I don’t argue against correlation; I argue against your easy relinquishment of rational inquiry into matters of faith.

    More generally, I think doctrine cleaves from history–and history cleaves from authority–far less cleanly than you’d like. In fact, Mormonism seems to require a particular attention to the collusion of history with knowledge: not only do many of our foundational doctrines–including the nature of God, the restoration of priesthood authority, and so forth–originate expressly in historical event, but our understanding of continuing revelation requires a greater attention to context than, say, an evangelical’s unmediated view of scripture.

  14. David King Landrith on January 5, 2005 at 12:20 am

    William, I opologize if I gave the impression that I thought your were being unreflective or unbalanced in your analysis. I just kind of picked up on a couple of issues and went to town (it is the mark of a very interesting post that it is pregnant with thoughts and ideas). Overall, I’d say that our disagreement may be one of emphasis, but I do think that the the situation is much better today than its ever been.

    I think that what you’re describing regarding official discourse falls under the category of specialization of labor. In the 60s there were articles on the Abraham papyri in the Ensign. The Ensign even covered the Hoffman documents before they were exposed. But nowadays there’s FARMS and BYU Studies, both of which receive church funding (albeit indirectly). The Ensign ends up being less eclectic and more specialized as a consequence. I think that, if anything, there is a disproportionate amount of emphasis on more sophisticated positions and that there is a continually expanding array of media to communicate them.

  15. Jim F. on January 5, 2005 at 12:46 am

    I hate to admit it because DLK might start to think I’m coming around to his side of things (heaven forbid), but I think that he has a point: there is an expanding array of media to communicate sophisticated positions. I joined the Church in 1962 when there were very few books for anyone beyond those published by the Church. If you wanted information, 90+% of it came from the Church itself. Now we have many other institutions that provide information and thinking about things Mormon, from the Mormon History Association, to Dialogue, to Sunstone, to Farms, to the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, and on and on–including, occasionally, T&S, BCC, all of the other blogs referred to in our sidebar as well as many not referred to. The decline in official publication of things like Nibley’s essays in The Improvement Era has more than been compensated for by the increase in these other sources.

  16. David King Landrith on January 5, 2005 at 1:31 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Jim F. I know how hard that’s got to be for you.

  17. Geoff Johnston on January 5, 2005 at 1:32 am

    I gave DKL a nod earlier… Rosalynde gets one now.

    Your explanation of why it is difficult to separate doctrine from church history is a good one. Much of our doctrine on the nature of God, angels, priesthood authority, and so forth does come largely from our understanding of the events surrounding the restoration. Thanks for that insight.

    I’m not sure this justifies what appears to me to be nearly fanatical devotion to study of Mormon history by some of the more educated in our ranks (and I have no concrete evidence that this is really a problem — just a hunch). I wonder if such attention is diverting talented saints away from more important pursuits within the gospel like spending more time figuring out how to be taught directly by God through revelation.

    I suspect that among the graduate and post-graduate crowd it is much easier to study church history than to get mysteries directly from God because the type of study is exactly the thing they have been trained in through all those years at school. Learning the Mysteries of Godliness through direct revelation is an whole other process… Am I off base with that suspicion?

  18. David King Landrith on January 5, 2005 at 1:34 am

    Rosalynde Welch: I considered qualifying but then decided to throw you at least one softball.

    Thanks. You really know how to make a Cretan feel like he can stand his ground.

    Rosalynde Welch: The point still stands… saving faith is based on truth.

    Given your introduction of the distinction between true and mostly-true, I don’t think at this point you can say that saving faith is based on truth (as opposed to mostly-truth). I reiterate my point that key gospel questions are underdetermined by available references, and I’ll add examples relating to the conception of deity:

    From 1830 to the present, there has been a variety of LDS conceptions of deity, with each succeeding orthodoxy rendering the previous views heterodox. Joseph Smith’s views changed over time, and he saw God face to face. Abinidi seems to preach a modal form of the trinity (viz., Sabellianism) that doesn’t translate too well into our current conception of deity, but this doesn’t keep him from being a prophet and doesn’t endanger Alma’s faith.

    I conclude that if one must rely on truth in any unqualified sense, then this truth seems to be too elusive to provide salvation for very many people. This amounts to defining the problem in such a way that it seldom admits to a solution.

    Rosalynde Welch: And you’re missing the point about MHA… The question revolves around our institutional values… I don’t argue against correlation; I argue against your easy relinquishment of rational inquiry into matters of faith.

    I don’t think that I’ve missed your point about the MHA. You call it “rational inquiry into matters of faith,” and I call it “Mormon historical trivia.” Either way, it is basically a hobby. There’s nothing to relinquish here, so long as one does it on his own time.

    Rosalynde Welch: …our understanding of continuing revelation requires a greater attention to context than, say, an evangelical’s unmediated view of scripture.

    This appears to simply re-introduce the notion that Mormon historical trivia relates to salvation.

    Rosalynde Welch: …chances are you’ll slip and refer to me as a “chick,” then I can simply write you off as a chauvinist without considering your arguments on their merits.

    And exactly why would this be a slip? Since you are, in fact, a chick, where’s the problem? Nevertheless, please don’t refrain from writing me off as a chauvinist just because this conversation isn’t conducive to the use of the word chick.

  19. William Morris on January 5, 2005 at 2:21 am

    DKL:

    Ah, well carry on then. ;-)

    Jim F:

    Good point. The question for me, then, is how do the existence of these other institutions interact with and impact official church discourse? I may be wrong, but while the narrowing of official discourse has opened the way for alternate discoure communities (or perhaps vice versa or both), the growth of such communities also increases the tension for members and church authorities. Especially when the discourse parameters and modes of one community are seen by another community as defective, too broad/narrow, inadequate, naive, dangerous, etc.

  20. danithew on January 5, 2005 at 7:36 am

    DKL,

    I found your thoughts on Abinadi’s teachings and the way prophets have grown/changed in their perspective of God’s nature very interesting, especially since I hadn’t heard of Sabellianism previously. I found a number of links that were useful on this topic but since we all love wikipedia so much here’s the link to that one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabellianism

    I’m currently working on a paper about Quranic verses that deal with the nature of Allah and so I have the whole “nature of God” topic heavily on the brain. So that was some useful reading.

  21. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2005 at 9:43 am

    DKL: You put me in the unusual position of arguing for the determinacy of truth; I am entirely unfamiliar with the usual tactics here, since I almost always find myself arguing for a qualified indeterminacy (or underdeterminacy, as you put it–I like that term)! I suspect that we are both strengthening our positions rhetorically for the sake of argument, and that we are merely sitting on different ends of a see-saw of emphasis. I can’t believe that you utterly deny the possibility of apprehending truth (which you do not, probably); you can’t believe that I can uncritically accept the results of professional historiography as Truth (which I do not).

    But if you consider an accurate understanding of the First Vision, or of the restoration of the priesthood, to be mere “trivia” or “hobby,” then we have indeed reached a substantive difference of opinion. Your indifference toward a collective project of recovering historical knowledge is utterly natural if that recovery is, in your mind, tantamount to watching football.

    (How about that USC, incidentally!)

  22. Jack on January 5, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    Rosalynde,

    What do we mean by an “accurate understanding” of chuch history? I agree that without a belief in certain historical events it is difficult (if not impossible) to build a testimony. But, how accurate does our knowledge need to be of the Savior’s atonement – and I mean a knowledge of how He performed it – in order for us to bear witness of it?

  23. David King Landrith on January 5, 2005 at 9:45 pm

    Rosalynde Welch: I suspect that we are both strengthening our positions rhetorically for the sake of argument…

    I suspect that you may be projecting…

    Rosalynde Welch: I can’t believe that you utterly deny the possibility of apprehending truth… you can’t believe that I can uncritically accept the results of professional historiography as Truth

    Remember that we’re talking specifically about the role that knowledge plays in faith, rather than epistemolagy in general. As regards faith, I don’t think that the particular details of knowledge necessarilly matter more than (say) the particular details of service. As regards the church, (as I said earlier) “Restored doctrine is important, but without restored authority it doesn’t go very far.�

    Rosalynde Welch: But if you consider an accurate understanding of the First Vision, or of the restoration of the priesthood, to be mere “trivia� or “hobby,� then we have indeed reached a substantive difference of opinion.

    Yes, I do consider the particular details of the First Vision to be mere trivia. Were it otherwise, Joseph Smith would have been more careful about jotting them down in the first place.

    Rosalynde Welch: Your indifference toward a collective project of recovering historical knowledge is utterly natural if that recovery is, in your mind, tantamount to watching football.

    I’m not a hobby relativist. Though football and church history are both hobbies, some hobbies are more worthwhile than others. Likewise, all cash is currancy, but some of its worth more than others.

    Rosalynde Welch: How about that USC, incidentally!

    I never knew you cared.

  24. Geoff Johnston on January 6, 2005 at 4:31 am

    Well I have to admit, DKL; for a guy who comes off as a bit of a nut job you make some pretty good arguments. (As evidence that you are a strange — but funny — duck I offer this post which you busted out in the middle of a somber discussion on divorce. I admit that I laughed out loud.)

    You are also quite a trivia buff considering your first post on this thread. Intimate knowledge of Brodie’s book, Nibley’s response, and the later Hill work attests to that. But as you said, some hobbies are more worthy than others.

    Obviously not all church history can be considered trivial or hobbyish — else how do we explain the JS-H in our Standard Works. Your point about not needing particular details of the First Vision (and I’m assuming you mean in addition to those in the scriptures) in order to develop saving faith is hard to argue with. In fact, it seems that too many who spend gobs of time seeking those particular details end up leaving the church or subscribing to non-believing philosophies like those of the new order Mormons. (As an aside, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to be Mormon if it weren’t true… All those meetings!)

  25. David King Landrith on January 6, 2005 at 10:11 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Geoff Johnston. My divorce post is not as strange as it was when I posted it. The powers that be saw fit to sanitize it, which (of course) is their prerogative, and shows what Rosalynde Welch might call “a collective commitment� to protect me from getting death threats from angry readers. Just the same, when I started posting here, I made a commitment to myself to post things under my full name. If I weren’t in some form accountable for what I write, there’s no telling how bad it might get.

    At any rate, since there is no shortage of Mormon’s willing to offer their opinions under some pretense of profundity, I do better service by making jokes. As I’m fond of saying, “Make a man a fire, and keep him warm for a night. Catch a man on fire, and keep him warm for the rest of his life.�

    And as far as the particular details of the First Vision, you’re right that I’m referring to (for example) Dean Jessee’s work (which is interesting and has merit, but I don’t see any reason why it should be part of the church curriculum), as opposed to the JS-H account.

    As far as your aside, I also do not understand why someone that affirmatively believes that the church is false would remain a member of the club. If fellowship is the issue, why not join a church with a paid clergy? Perhaps there are some readers here that could clarify this.

  26. Geoff Johnston on January 6, 2005 at 11:10 am

    Doh! I just reread your post over there and it has been significantly sanitized! I thought the extremely irreverent original one was even funnier… So over the top it shocked me into a serious laughing fit. Well, it might be best that it was removed. It probably would have earned some lasting enemies — but at least I got a few yuks from it.

  27. David King Landrith on January 6, 2005 at 12:07 pm

    Yeah, I kind of calculated it so that the joke (which is all that’s left) was a soft landing for the hyper-irreverent stuff, creating a combined humorous impact greater than either alone. I’m glad you got to see the unadulterated version.

    Perhaps I should start my own blog to post the un-edited versions of the comments I post here.

  28. Geoff Johnston on January 6, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    I think you should — though the death threat thing may be cause for concern for you. By the way, having only read the original post I was really curious when you called it “sanitized”… much more than the original would have taken some doing…

    I recently (finally) launched my new blog called New Cool Thang and kicked it off with a couple of posts on why God doesn’t care if we live or die… I can only imagine the posts you might come up with in addition to the list of unedited humdingers over here…

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