Modernism and the Mormon Intellectual

July 31, 2009 | 48 comments
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The Enlightenment and its legacy of reason applied to human affairs has been tough on religion. One would think this would apply with even more force to the LDS Church, given how recent are the founding miracles of Mormonism and how prominently they are featured in discussions of our history and practice. But most Mormons seem strangely unaffected by the modernist critique.

Richard L. Bushman discussed this surprisingly robust response of educated Latter-day Saints to modernism in his Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008). I’ve posted on the book already (here, here, and here) but I don’t recall any discussion of it here at T&S. It certainly deserves a discussion. [Comment opportunity #1: Have you read the book and what did you think of it?]

The crux of the problem modernism has with religion is miracles or, more generally, allowing the supernatural to intrude from time to time into the natural world. Bushman notes the prevailing attitude that there is “no room in the modern world for angels.” His summary of the Mormon response:

Over the past century, the church has suffered the loss of many of its educated members, but probably no more than the seepage of believers at every level of education. Studies of church activity show that PhD-holding members are more likely to be fully engaged than high school graduates. Mormons feel that their founding miracles are no more unlikely than the other founding miracles of Christianity. All the revealed religions of the world begin with divine intervention in human life. … These miracles remain controversial centuries after they are purported to have occurred. Critics attribute them to illusion or legend; believers hold on to them as signs of God’s involvement in human affairs.

[Comment opportunity #2: Why are Mormons so unaffected by modernist talking points which are such a worry for Evangelicals, such as evolution and higher criticism?]

One possible answer might be found in the resources listed at the back of the book under the title “Web sites.” There are three entries listed under the category “Mormon intellectuals”: Times and Seasons, By Common Consent, and FAIR. I’m flattered, but not convinced. Here are the description blurbs provided for each of the three sites. Personally, I think there’s a little understated humor lurking between the lines (and in titling the list “Mormon intellectuals”).

  • T&S: A blog with regular and invited authors and responses from anyone who is interested. Basically attracts faithful Mormons but ones with many, many questions.
  • BCC: Like the above, this blog is sometimes irreverent but basically faithful. Also offers links to breaking LDS news.
  • FAIR: An independent organization that tries to answer every criticism of Mormonism and present scholarly defenses of Mormon claims.

[Comment opportunity #3: Irreverent? Moi? And how could anyone describing T&S fail to note our Notes From All Over, yet be impressed by BCC’s Google news feed?]

Perhaps irreverence is part of the answer to the modernist question. When we read about Zelph or hear the latest Three Nephites rescue story, we don’t wring our hands or write letters to the First Presidency … we tell jokes. Some would argue that humor is just a coping mechanism, but the latest thinking (see evolutionary psychology and neopragmatism) is that large chunks of the human reasoning apparatus are really just mechanisms for coping with real life and its many challenges. That’s what life is all about: coping. And Mormons are, for the most part, able to cope with both life and modernism.

Last item: Google “Mormon intellectual” and the first hit is this post from Mormon Momma. No stranger to SEO, I’ve tried to remedy that with the title to this post. [Comment opportunity #4: Perhaps I’ve underestimated Mormon Momma.]

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48 Responses to Modernism and the Mormon Intellectual

  1. queuno on July 31, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Does anyone know from when the Mormon Momma post date? I can’t find a date on it.

  2. Dave on July 31, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Queno, the Preface to the book The Lord’s University, at footnote 5, cites the Ralph Hancock article to the Fall 1994 issue of the magazine This People.

  3. queuno on July 31, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    OK, thanks. I suspected that, given some of the context.

  4. Kevin Barney on July 31, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Many Mormons tend to have a pragmatic streak that conservative Evangelicals, for instance, lack. Not being so rigid means that we don’t break quite so easily.

  5. dangermom on July 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    On #2: Lately I’ve been thinking that perhaps Mormons care less about evolution because we don’t consider Biblical inerrancy and literalism to be a core tenet of our faith. It doesn’t bother Mormons to think that the Genesis account of creation could be a poetic approximation of events, rather than a factual ‘news bulletin’ account. Evangelicals root their faith in an inerrant Bible dictated by God, and we don’t. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it though, despite hanging out on a homeschooling MB filled with creationists of varying sorts and reading their defenses. Why so much energy spent on what seems to me to be a side issue?

  6. William Newman on July 31, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    The “Ralph” Hancock “article” had so many “quotes” in it I had to stop “reading.”

  7. TT on July 31, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I’d be curious if these studies were ever able to break down different kinds of advanced degrees. I wonder, for instance, if the numbers would look different between JDs, MBAs, PhDs in science, and PhDs in the humanities.
    I wonder to what extend the philosophical impact of modernism (especially over the issue of miracles which was more the 18th and 19th c. issue, rather than say, the problem of evil which I think became the central problem of the 20th c.) really has for many who leave their faith. In a way, it is perfectly possible to earn a PhD without knowing anything about modernism, or the modernist critique of religion, even if one is in the humanities and social sciences.
    Even among those that are compelled to seriously grapple with modernism, I wonder if the answer to why LDS PhDs are less likely to become inactive has more to do with sociological factors than intellectual ones. One reason may be because in LDS communities leadership positions are available to such people, while in other communities leadership roles for lay members are fewer. This creates the condition where a more educated lay member may not feel a connection to their possibly less educated pastor. In LDS communities where PhDs congregate, this is not necessarily the case.

  8. queuno on July 31, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I think humor is kind of a defense mechanism. We’ve all been assailed over some aspect of Mormonism throughout our lives, and ultimately have decided that there’s no way we’ll ever convince certain people of our principles. I think at some point we use humor to gently poke fun at ourselves.

    At least, that’s the only way I can explain Saturday’s Warrior and the Mormon Rap. (And on the good side, Robert Kirby).

    Why don’t we worry about certain things as much as the evangelicals? Because certain topics really don’t matter to our core faith, like evolution, as dangermom points out.

  9. Kari on July 31, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Studies of church activity show that PhD-holding members are more likely to be fully engaged than high school graduates.

    I have always wondered about this myself. Is this unique to Mormonism, or does it hold true across other religious faiths as well? Can we really infer that this equates into greater belief or is it just that a higher education level often correlates in a greater level of commitment, and thus church activity?

    If it is a statement of faith/belief (not just church attendance) might it simply mean that greater education allows for greater rationalization and compartmentalization? But with a simpler, less educated faith, it becomes harder to rationalize a belief in angels or miracles when “science” shows these to be false or highly unlikely?

  10. Craig M. on July 31, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    For the record (or not for the record, since Professor Hancock can speak for himself), a couple of years ago a classmate asked Hancock about his article and he had forgotten that someone at “Mormon Momma” had asked him a few years back if they could post his article (previously published in a magazine, as mentioned in #2) on their site. I think its a useful article, though posted on such an unusual site that those who ran into it probably wouldn’t take it seriously.

    While we’re on the topic, I have to say that Hancock provided me with one of the best opportunities to consider these questions in his seminar “Reason, Revelation, and Politics,” in which he read Mark Lilla’s “The Stillborn God” and selections of Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” and Remi Brague’s “The Law of God.”

  11. Craig M. on July 31, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Correction: “We” read, not “he.” BYU may not be the most rigorous school in the country, but I never was read to during my time there.

  12. E on July 31, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I think dangermom and Kevin are right, and I also have a theory that LDS people are less likely to consider other belief systems to be in competition to ours; since “mormonism encompasses all truth” we can look at scientific theories, new discoveries, other religious systems, philosophies, etc. as all containing truth that we might be able to learn from. We don’t expect that we already have all truth, and we also don’t expect other ways of looking at the world to be all wrong. So we can incorporate discoveries like natural selection into our worldview without feeling like it is replacing our previous understanding of creation, just enriching it or giving us some new ideas about it. We can study nonchristian religions and find inspiration there.

  13. Mark D. on July 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    In the strict sense of the term, does Mormonism require anything that is super-natural? i.e. that violates any natural laws? James E. Talmage didn’t think so. Orson Pratt didn’t think so. Joseph Smith implied as much.

    In fact, I don’t think Mormon theology makes any sense unless there are inviolable natural laws. Take away natural laws and God no longer needs a body, no longer needs to be part of the universe, can create individuals and universes for that matter out of nothing, no longer needs a suffering atonement, nor a “plan” of salvation. A magic wand will do.

    And more than anything else theodicy is inexplainable without inviolable natural laws. Is this the best of all possible worlds? Is evil just a collection of interstices between a collection of unmitigated goods? Can any amount of suffering serve a higher purpose if there are no inviolable constraints that couple the two? Why not keep the higher purpose and dispense with the rocky road in-between?

    I don’t think there is any Christian theology that can’t be reconciled with modernism, but Mormon theology seems potentially more compatible with modernism than just about any alternative.

  14. Mark D. on July 31, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Case in point:

    “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man. . . . All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.” (TPJS 181)

  15. S.Faux on August 1, 2009 at 5:53 am

    As a LDS scientist I am comfortable taking a line by line (empirical) approach. I feel NO NEED to swallow supernatural stories from the pulpit. I can accept the basic message of the Book of Mormon with the understanding that the book is NOT teaching me about Aztecan or Mayan cultures. (The BofM does not make such a claim anyway).

    I like much of what was said in comment #13.

    A Heber C. Kimball 1852 statement (JD 1:34) seems applicable to me: “[I]t is my advice and instruction to you – prove all things and try all things, and hold fast to that which is good. …[P]rove these things, to investigate them, and reflect upon them, and prove the truth of that which is called ‘Mormonism.'”

    If Kimball’s comment is Mormonism, then count me in.

  16. Velska on August 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

    I concur with the idea that LDS theology presupposes the idea, that one day science and religion will, in fact, converge. When we know the “doctrine of the Kingdom” (see D&C 78-80 for what it comprises) fully well, we will also be able to run circles around the science of today.

    Which is not to demean scientific rigor. I am just a bit perplexed, that with so many things that scientists see now, that weren’t seen by them before, they are so dead set against the mere suggestion, that there could be something there at all, that they can not measure.

    If science can explain evertything, please explain dark matter/dark energy. So it’s simply God, right? The only way I can observe God is by his influence on me and other people. It’s not as if I’ve seen him face to face in a literal sense.

    There are no miracles, really. There are just natural phenomena that we can not fully explain with the knowledge at hand. So to me, science and religion are by no means mutually exclusive.

    If rebellious = intellectual, then what of the science world, where you have to be very conformist to certain norms (try to publish something that questions dearly held tenets of mainstream science, no matter how rigorously)?

  17. Ben on August 1, 2009 at 8:11 am

    “Why are Mormons so unaffected by modernist talking points which are such a worry for Evangelicals, such as evolution and higher criticism?”

    Ignorance :) At least for “higher criticism” most Mormons are completely unaware of any of the issues there. This became a side discussion on this old post about the revised ANES program with Hebrew Bible emphasis at BYU.

    One commentator asked, “What kind of controversial theories does Near-Eastern Studies have that aren’t already discussed in the English and Philosophy departments?”

    In Kevin Barney’s Dialogue article on authorship issues in the Pentateuch, he has a “category 5 [which] represents those who do not affirmatively reject the Documentary Hypothesis, but simply are ignorant of it. Rather than listing names for this category, I have simply indicated that it is the category under which the vast majority of the Saints would fa11. In order to confirm the predominance of category 5 in the church, I took an informal poll in my ward’s Gospel Doctrine class one Sunday. None of the 28 students present had so much as heard of the Documentary Hypothesis.”

    If you don’t know about the problems, you don’t have a problem with them :)

  18. Jettboy on August 1, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Ben, I would buy that except for those Mormon I know of who do know of the Documentary Hypothesis. The reaction has been to use it to prove, once again, that Biblical inerrancy and literalism is false. I have argued before that the Book of Mormon is rather modernist in its understand of scriptural development. It is self-conscious of itself and of its patchwork use of sources and human weakness. As for the more educated, I have found those who study “humanities” are far more likely to leave the church than those who study the “hard” sciences.

  19. Ben on August 1, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Jettboy, you don’t have any problems with Moses not writing Genesis?

    All I’m saying is that the primary reason the “average” Mormon doesn’t have any problems with higher criticism is because the average Mormon doesn’t know anything about it.

  20. Jettboy on August 1, 2009 at 9:25 am

    “you don’t have any problems with Moses not writing Genesis? ”

    Not really. Depends on what you mean by “not writing Genisis.”

  21. Jettboy on August 1, 2009 at 9:28 am

    grrr, Depends on what is meant by “not writing Genesis.” I can think of ways he didn’t write what we have and yet he still wrote it. Frankly, its less about the Biblical Criticism and more about lack of hypothetical imagination.

  22. chads on August 1, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Ben, I don’t have any problem entertaining as one possibility the theory that Moses did not write Genesis. Do you see an inconsistency that I don’t?

  23. Bob on August 1, 2009 at 9:49 am

    #17: “If you don’t know about the problems, you don’t have a problem with them .”
    I give Ben an ‘A’ for this 14 word essay.

  24. Geoff B on August 1, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Before I was a member, all the stories about angels and good plates were impossible for me to accept. Thus, modernism did have its affect on me, as it does on most people who don’t accept the Church. We cannot ponder the issue of accept the “supernatural” without considering how the Holy Ghost changes hearts toward accepting something that you could not accept before. For me, a convert in my mid-30s who considered himself an intellectual, the Holy Ghost changed my mindset 180 degrees and helped me see things in a completely different way. My feeling is that it is extremely difficult for most Church members who are an intellectual and are exposed to the ideas of the modern world to remain completely faithful without the Holy Ghost guiding them.

  25. queuno on August 1, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    But with a simpler, less educated faith, it becomes harder to rationalize a belief in angels or miracles when “science” shows these to be false or highly unlikely?

    Those who don’t understand science and its limitations and goals are equally likely to either completely dismiss it or to place an inordinate amount of undeserved faith in it (in the latter case, elevating science to religious levels).

  26. chads on August 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Great point, queuno. The history of science, the nature of scientific theories, the scientific method, and the limitations and biases of scientific studies are topics that we are not exposed to enough, and are not discussed enough.

  27. Utahn in CT on August 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    About LDS with post-graduate education having higher levels of activity and belief than those with less education. This is true, but _applies only for men_. For women, just the opposite is the case.

  28. Rachel on August 1, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    So does that mean that many more LDS men have post-graduate education than LDS women? What are the numbers?

  29. Utahn in CT on August 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    #28. No, it’s not absolute numbers I was referring to. It’s just that for women, post-graduate education correlates to _lower_ levels of activity in the case of women; just the opposite for men. For data, look in James T. Duke, ed., _Latter-Day Saint social life: social research on the LDS church and its members_ (SLC: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998). In fairness to Duke, he doesn’t emphasize this point. I’m not sure which article in this collection has this information, but I recall clearly that it’s there. Perhaps Marie Cornwall has written on this issue.

  30. Stephan F- on August 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Alma 32 an exposition on faith, uses the scientific method to help the people some to a testimony.
    In general Mormons don’t stay in the faith zone for very long, we move from hope to faith to knowledge generally very quickly. When you know something faith is no longer an issue, is it?

  31. BC Bill on August 1, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    I think comment #24 by Geoff B. is probably the key for many “Mormon intellectuals”, especially if they are converts as I am. Once you have had a few powerful spiritual confirmations from the Holy Ghost your intellect has to accept the fact, has to “know”, that there is another way of “knowing” about life that is beyond the scientific. Since education ideally builds in us both mental reasoning and at least some degree of intellectual honesty facing up to your own “revelations” means that they become evidence points that you no longer dispute. So for example I have had many “revalatory experiences” about Joseph Smith and his priesthood and the truth of his mission. Those are my bedrock. When I run into the whole polygamy mess for example I really wish he hadn’t done any of that and I think that at least some of them were very unwise BUT it doesn’t affect the testimony of him as a prophet. I accept that he may well have made some serious mistakes but the testimonies given by the Holy Ghost are my key reasoning points, I can’t ignore them nor honestly walk away from them. So the Holy Ghost gives the flexibility, so for example on the question of Moses writing Genesis I think it is almost virtually certain that he did not write the Hebrew document that was then used to translate into the Greek Pentateuch. Do I think there was a prophet Moses? Yes. Did the children of Israel more or less experience that the Bible records? Mostly. So I have more confidence in the Pearl of Great Price Book of Moses than I do in the Bible.

  32. mlu on August 2, 2009 at 12:58 am

    The crux of the problem modernism has with religion is miracles or, more generally, allowing the supernatural to intrude from time to time into the natural world.

    I would have thought that the crux of the problem modernism has with religion is that it believes in constraints on the self and its choice. It asserts a morality external to the self and its desires.

    I’m also surprised to learn that Mormons are strangely unaffected by the modernist critique. Maybe it depends on where you are and what you’re trying to do.

  33. Kristine on August 2, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Utahn in CT–I don’t think anyone has done an extended article on the inverse correlation between women’s education and activity level, probably because there just aren’t enough data. You’d need to test a lot of things–do women earn more liberal arts degrees? (natural and social scientists tend to be somewhat more engaged than Ph.D.s in the humanities) Does higher education level lead to intellectual dissatisfaction with patriarchy? Or does it alienate women socially from less educated women in the church? Or does higher education level correspond with greater professional activity which makes cultural pressures to abandon career (see this month’s Ensign on how quitting a career that you love is the only righteous choice–grr) less tolerable? Those would be tough to measure empirically, and qualitative data are somewhat unsatisfying.

  34. E on August 2, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Kristine, I was rolling my eyes over that article in this month’s Ensign too.

    Utahn in CT, I would be interested in seeing that data, because it seems to contradict what I have heard/read elsewhere, although I have not seen this type of data broken down by gender. It sounds like an interesting phenomenon, if true. My experience seems more consistent with the trend of increasing education correlating with higher levels of church activity for women as well as men. Not sure if that might be a function of where I live (in the Salt Lake valley).

  35. Utahn in CT on August 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    In response to Kristine and E both: I agree, I too don’t know of an extended study on this issue. All I said is that I’ve seen data correlating advanced degrees with less church activity for women. I agree–it would be good to investigate further to see what’s behind it. Does anyone here have access to Duke’s book? I want to say that the data I’m referring to is in Duke’s contribution to the volume, but I don’t recall for certain. (I don’t have the book, but checked it out from a good library I have access to.) It is there, though. For LDS men, the more education you have, the more active you are. For women, this is true, but only up to college-level education. For women with education beyond that, activity falls. If someone does look this up in Duke’s book–the author doesn’t point out these crossing trends, but it’s clear from data presented that this is the case.

  36. Bob on August 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Devel’s advocate: Maybe, for men, more education means more status in the ward, having a wife and children, having a calling, and therefore more likely to be active. Not the same for a women {?} (when she is a post grad.)

  37. Velska on August 3, 2009 at 4:32 am

    BC Bill in #31, and Geoff B before that brought out what my experience is, more or less.

    I had a “genius” IQ, dropped out of some fairly demanding academic programs, because I found them boring; had read well over 100 books a year for years and years, about half of it scientific or other nonfiction and was (still am) fairly cynical in my relationship with organized religion. I figured I was “intellectual”.

    Yet, when the Spirit touched me and opened my understanding, I could not deny that there was another way of knowing. And it’s not just another “feeling”, although it lately makes me emotional, too, because I feel that the love it communicates to me, and the effects of the Atonement in my life has begun to overcome the feelings of worthlessness.

    My anecdotal evidence about highly educated women in Church is this: Their husbands are less educated, feel threatened and resort to some underhanded demeaning of their wife’s education, trying to assert their ‘status” in family by trying to exercise “authority”, because they have the priesthood. One delightful exception to this is a sister with a JD and a judgeship, whose trucker husband admires her and talks to everybody how she is responsible for most of what goes right in their home.

  38. Rameumptom on August 3, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Since joining the Church in 1975, I’ve found it amusing that so many people can accept the miracles and supernatural events in the Bible, but their post-modernist minds will not allow them to believe that miracles, etc., could happen today.

    It is like there was a bunch of miracles occurring anciently, until Isaac Newton said, “Hey! I just discovered science!” Then suddenly, all the miracles dried up, and no one has been stupid enough to believe in it since, except for the Mormons, that is….

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on August 3, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    My recollection of the recently published Pew survey was that Mormons are the only religious group where increased levels of formal education correlates to higher levels of commitment. I don’t think it was broken down by gender.

    I agree with the comments that see reasons for this in the higher level of involvement that educated people have in the Church, because of its lack of professional clergy, and the influence of the Holy Ghost. A Mormon with a graduate degree has gotten there through a process that involves constant challenges to reconcile the viewpoints of the intellectual world and the demands the Church makes on him or her to give service and to teach others, from Primary classes to missions. People who actually read the Book of Mormon and pray in faith get real comfort and assurance about its truth. People who serve in callings that stretch them and ask for God’s help find their abilities being magnified. People who are faithful find their mental abilities to handle challenging curricula perceptibly enhanced.

    By contrast, in many churches there is simply no place for intellectuals to function who are not part of the pastorate.

    Faithful Mormons who pusue intellectual studies know they have “data points” of personal experience and knowledge that are beyond the comprehension of many of their professors. Anyone who is actually learning the intellectual pursuit of testing and questioning knows that those habits are properly employed against the various dogmas of the intellectual class. In particular, anyone who claims “A thing I do not know cannot exist” is on sandy ground in building an intellectual structure based on admitted ignorance.

    It seems to me that a key to understanding Hugh Nibley’s faith was the fact of his personal experiences that took him outside the intellectual mode of acquiring knowledge, like his near death experience and his prophetic dreams just before World War II battles.

    I once heard Henry Eyring, PhD chemist, talk about his definition of God as the smartest person in the universe. If one assumes that between every two individuals, one is smarter than the other, then all individuals can be rank ordered by that criterion. I don’t think Eyring was saying that the smartest person on earth is, by definition, God, but rather that any mortal who claimed the top spot, rather than acknowledging the possibility that there was someone smarter than themselves, was making an unjustified assertion. He was reminding all of us, Mormons and non-Mormons, that the prerequisite for even considering the possibility that God exists is to acknowledge that you yourself do not know vast amounts of truth about the universe, and that there might be someone who does know those things. It seems clear to me that many of the most vociferous public atheists of modern times lack any substantial degree of humility.

    So I would suggest that one of the reasons why Mormons can become more faithful as they become better educated is that they can learn humility as they learn law, literature, chemistry, or engineering.

  40. placebo on August 5, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I’m with Ben that many Mormons don’t know about Higher Criticism (I didn’t until a couple of years ago) and, of those that do, some folks are able to do the mental gymnastics it requires to keep the faith and understand that the Bible isn’t what is traditionally thought of – the word of God so far as it is translated correctly.

    Well, we’ve found pretty old bibles, and it looks as though the translations we have today are pretty good.

    I left the church after a year of studying Higher Criticism, beginning with the book How to Read the Bible by James Kugel. I’ve read every defense by FARMS and find them to be disingenuous and unhelpful.

    Some problems I could not get over:

    The original version of Genesis Joseph Smith tried to get at with his Book of Moses is certainly not anything like the first assemblage of stories, the constant references to Jesus are not the least of its problems.

    Lehi and company could not have had some of the books of Isaiah they purport to have; some of those texts had yet to be written/assembled.

    It became clear to me that the New Testament was simply a creative misreading of the Hebrew Bible, finding foreshadowing and allusions where there were none. (I’m getting broad here, please forgive me).

    If the Adam and Eve story is just a story, what does that say about our temple rituals? Is Michael then not Adam, if Adam was a fictional character? Is he not going to return? Is he not the Ancient of Days?

    The preponderance of schematic, etiological narratives lead me to think the Hebrew bible is just an ancient way of looking at and explaining the world, and not some holy guide for our lives.

    The fact that many ancient cultures had flood stories and that archeological evidence shows the world has not had a flood such as that described in Genesis. So our world hasn’t been baptized.

    The deal-making God with regard to the Ten Commandments. He is a suzerain. The multiple facets of his personality – ready to kill Moses for not having circumcised his son, etc. Not the behavior of a perfect being. Certainly not the God taught in wards across the world.

  41. Adam Greenwood on August 5, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Our world hasn’t been baptized! Nooooo.

    That’s it, I’m going to kiss a guy on main street plaza in protest.

  42. Rameumptom on August 5, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Adam,
    Just let me know when you’ll be at the Main Street Plaza, so I can be somewhere else….

    I think Mormons are learning that God uses holy symbolism in the writings he leaves us. All scripture is written through the weakness of mankind, meaning our perceptions, superstitions, and traditions are all weaved into the mixture. When we talk about scripture mingled with the philosophies of man, isn’t that something that is true for all of us? It’s just a matter of how much actual doctrinal truth we use, versus the amount of the false traditions of mankind.

  43. Alison Moore Smith on August 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Perhaps I’ve underestimated Mormon Momma.

    Totally.

  44. Alison Moore Smith on August 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Does anyone know from when the Mormon Momma post date? I can’t find a date on it.

    I first asked Ralph Hancock for permission to repost his magazine article in 2002, just a few weeks before MM went live. He gave permission to post it on October 30, 2003. He sent the text to me on June 17, 2006.

    It was a long time coming :), but I finally got it posted a short time after that.

  45. Velska on August 7, 2009 at 2:46 am

    What I find a little difficult to understand is why, when some people realize, that perhaps some things from the Scriptures are not to be taken in a perfectly literal sense, they start insisting that therefore nothing means anything it says anymore?

    Who says Higher Criticism has the goods on the Bible. To me, it sounds like a lot of conjecture has gone into it, based on some early texts that have been preserved. When it is perfectly clear that those texts are copies of copies of copies of… when we have plenty of evidence that scribes have been substituting their own words for the originals, where they have thought they can better express the concept. Yes, it is a miracle we have as much as we do.

  46. The Celestial Heretic on August 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I think part of the reason intellectuals can tolerate some of the quirky parts of Mormonism is that we have a reason to want to. Mormonism is more than just an abstract theology; it’s a culture, an identity, and a community. We are willing to shelf some of our concerns in order to stay in the Church.

  47. BCBill on August 13, 2009 at 12:06 am

    I can really appreciate your position placebo (post #40), I am just now beginning a struggle with myself. I am the youth Sunday School teacher and if the pattern holds I will be teaching the Old Testament come January and I just am not sure what I am going to do about modern scholarship and what it offers in understanding (and challenges). I have been able to negotiate most of the problems and issues in the class with the D&C lessons going right now by being completely honest with them and answering any question that comes, always giving my testimony.

    As you can see from my post #31 I have some “truth points” that pull me through the doubts and allow me to keep working on it all.

    So let me run my current “solution” to my relationship to the Old Testament past you. I don’t think that that the 5 books of Moses that we have were authored by Moses. However, much like the theoretical Q source for the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament I like to think that there was an M Source or two (M for Moses, how clever of me don’t you think!! duhh). I don’t think we need to assume that all of the material came down in oral form though it wouldn’t bother me if that turned out to be the case but we have writing going on at this point and many of the Israelites including Moses would have been educated I think. So the key stuff got written down and was available when the the various scribes sat down to create their texts for the various purposes they needed them for.

    However I think part of tha tprocess was purely apolegitics, I think that the invasion and conquering of Canaan was a horriffic affair but fairly normal in the tribal world that they lived at that time. The scribes/priests sitting down to create scriptures for the descendants of that tribe knew by then the ethical issues but chose to make the conquest story OK by saying that God told them to do it. So that’s my take up to Joshua, which as a book keeps the tribal insularity, hatred of outsiders, and brutality and overlays it with some “God gloss” to excuse the past. I look forward to a better version.

    While we are at it I don’t restrict God at all. I don’t mind if homo sapiens evolved and that Adam and Eve were really the first people to be aware enough to make committments to Heavenly Father, in this case they would both have belly buttons ;) . Alternately I don’t mind if there are lots of homo sapiens wandering around the tundra as the glaciers retreat, interacting and probably killing off the Neanderthals they come in contact with and into that mix at the perfect time Heavenly Father comes along, does the creation thing and hey presto we have Adam and Eve, now these may not have belly buttons. I guess the bottom line is that I have a reasonable faith that there was a real Adam and Eve and that the temple ceremony that focuses on them and uses their symbolic story to teach us how to prepare to live with Heavenly Father and Christ is valid.

    Sometime we can talk about Job.

  48. Carlos U. on August 14, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    The Answer to your question? Revelation.

    The scientific method is based on drawing conclusions from evidence we perceive trough our senses and our instruments. They are repeatable, constant. This is a good thing; it has brought great progress and wellbeing to mankind. However, science is a work in progress, constantly finding new truths, thus revealing its limitations also. Mormons see the good that comes from rational, scientific thinking, and accept it.

    Yet faithful Mormons have another proven way to find out reality: Revelation trough the Holy Ghost. For those of us who have experienced it time and time again, it becomes undeniable. To ask me to pretend it’s not real would be like asking me to pretend I can’t see, like demanding I cover my eyes from here on out. I cannot deny what I know. I became a member old enough that I clearly remember life before and after revelation became a tangible, known, repeatable (but not controllable by me) experience. From it, knowledge of the reality of God’s existence, of Jesus and His atonement, of the truthfulness of Scripture and of the Church is imparted to us. The good that comes from it is not only undeniable, but is also of eternal consequences.

    So besides the common, know way of learning of truth, we have an uncommon, but just as real way.

    For most Mormons, the answer to “Science and Rationality or Revelation?” is “Both, thank you.”