This post has two main parts — both involve being Mormon and engaging one’s brain. I think they’re still two distinct issues, but I’ll bring them up together, nonetheless, not least because my guest-blogging days are quickly drawing to a close. (Thank goodness — I feel as if I’ve been sucked into some fascinating and time-swallowing vortex that could be impossible to get out of if I didn’t soon…. How I admire [I think... :-)]all of you permanent bloggers.)
Here are the parts:
1) Whether being a Mormon scholar also means one should be a scholar of Mormonism; and
2) What the responsibilities are of being a Mormon scholar or “Mormon intellectual,” however ill defined those terms might be.
Let’s start with Part 1. I was initially hesitant to guest blog, partly because it’s such a despicable sounding verb, but mostly because I wondered if I would disappoint, somehow, because I am not a scholar of Mormonism. Mormonism — whether doctrine, history, or the contemporary church — is its own content area. I read my scriptures, the Ensign and the Friend and prepare for lessons or Sharing Time I teach in Primary, but I rarely manage much more. I am, as a result, ill-read on most things that are probably standard fare for most “Mormon intellectuals,” which is what many in the T&S crowd seem to be, even if you’re not all scholars by profession. I don’t read Mormon history except when I teach or learn it in Sunday School; I don’t read Sunstone or Dialogue (although I’d be happy to if someone handed me a copy); I have no (current) interest in speaking at a symposium or conference on Mormon issues, as I’ve been asked to in the past. I’m a scholar who just happens to be Mormon, but because I’m a scholar, I have the sense — I’m not sure of its source–that I’m also supposed to know more — or supposed to want to know more — about Mormonism than the average member.
Perhaps my thoughts in this area come from other LDS scholars I’ve met in a wide variety of disciplines — history, law, political science, philosophy, economics, literature, theology — who have been impressively erudite about Mormonism, in particular LDS history. I’ve wondered how they find the time. I wonder if I’m remiss in not finding the same time–if I should, as a scholar, be engaged in a more scholarly manner in my own religion.
Which leads me to my second point or question, namely, what responsibilities Mormon scholars or intellectuals (I’ll let people self-identify in either category) have toward the church. We are taught to seek wisdom, knowledge, and formal education. We are also taught to rely on the spirit as we pursue knowledge. (“To be learned is good ifâ€¦”) But the many wise scriptural teachings that we seek a balance between the spiritual and the intellectual often seemed tilted toward skepticism, if not outright disdain, of intellectualism in more modern church teachings. I can’t find it now, but I recall a talk by Elder Packer, for example, in which he decried three evil influences, among them intellectualism. I’d like to think he meant sole reliance on one’s intellect, but it felt like a broader condemnation of intellectual engagement.
I also recall warnings, in years past, from church leaders against forming discussion groups outside of formal church structures, since such groups could easily devolve into purely intellectual pursuits, and thus apostasy. Others here must remember these warnings. Have we gotten around them with the bloggernacle, since we can’t be found together in anyone’s living room? Is the Lord pleased with T&S? I’d like to think so, at least when it’s at its best — invigorating and faith-affirming. Perhaps He’s not so pleased when it hits its exhausting and confusing low points (although I’m certain that these points are not the same for any participant). And what do the leaders of the church think about the bloggernacle? I’m not so certain. Have there ever been GA statements about or against on-line LDS communities? I’d be curious.
What does the Lord expect of our Mormon brains?