I’ve been reviewing the essays in the groundbreaking (and, unfortunately, still one-of-a-kind) anthology Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives in preparation for a series that I plan on running on A Motley Vision this spring.
One of the impressive things about the work is the high level of professional achievement attained by the contributors. That combined with a passage in “Art: A Possibility for Love” by Johann Wondra got me thinking about Mormons and the professions.
At the time the anthology was published (1980), Wondra, a convert to the LDS Church, was serving as general secretary of the Vienna Burgtheater, one of the premiere theaters of the German-speaking world. In his essay, Wondra recounts how his conversion to the church prompted some soul-searching about his occupation — especially since he had four young children. He consulted with Elder Eldred G.Smith who advised him “to not change [his] profession and said that precisely in the areas of cultural and political life, indeed in those areas where in our time negative powers are seeking to exercise especially strong influences, members of the Church are needed in order to control the adversary, to keep him within limits, and to exert through righteous happiness an ever-increasing influence for good” (149).
Wondra goes on to assert:
“There is no goodness in the world that could not be improved by faithful, prepared members of the Church; there is similarly no evil that could not be countered or at least tempered by believing, skilled members” (148).
T&S bloggers have posted several times on Mormons in the professions. For example, see Nate Oman on Mormonism and the Commercial Virtues, Thoughts From A Professional Sabbath Breaker, and A Mormon Among the Yuppies; Adam Greenwood on Family Businesses: In the World but not of It; and Greg Call on Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?.
But I’d like to raise the topic again — especially since we have academics, lawyers, graphic designers, writers, pr professionals and musicians among the bloggers and commenters here.
What is your reaction to what I’ve quoted from Wondra?
Do you have any examples of how Mormons have influenced a profession for good?
Can we really temper or even counter ‘evil’? [And is the adversary truly working through politics and culture and other influential fields?]
Is it difficult to be both believing and skilled?
I’d like to take Wondra’s exhortations to heart.
But I have my doubts about the extent to which Mormons can influence their workplace for good — let alone their profession and the larger sphere of public discourse. At the same time, however, I do think that truly outstanding people can have a huge impact on a field — reshaping or reorienting its methodologies, assumptions, definitions, practices, etc.
Ref. Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives, Ed. Steven P. Sondrup. Brigham Young University Press: Provo, 1980.